Boston and Book Streaks

For six years now, I’ve traveled to Boston to spend an October Saturday in Copley Square. The occasion has always been centered on books, writers, and publishers. There’s also a “streak thing” going on, too.

Books galore in Copley Square (#BBF2014).

Books galore in Copley Square (#BBF2014).

I attended the inaugural Boston Book Festival in 2009, and each subsequent one. I always meet up with my son, Mark, and we spend the day listening to authors, perusing book tables, talking about writing (along with sports and politics), and scouting out the best offerings of the myriad of publishers who set up shop in one of the Boston’s celebrated public squares, a patch of real estate hearkening back to the city’s storied past.

The last few years, I’ve decided to leave the car behind in Portland, trading it in for a backpack and bus ticket. Concord Trailways the carrier of the MegaBus service making round trip travel to Boston possible for $10!! I couldn’t even park for that.

Mark and I meet up at South Station (he comes up from Providence where he lives, via commuter rail), walk across town to Copley. It’s always an enjoyable walk as we talk about what’s been going on in our lives, while passing through Boston’s Chinatown, and along the Boston Commons, as we make our way up Boylston.

In the past, we’ve always tried to cram too many events into too short a period. This year, I wanted to hear Steve Almond. Mark was down with that, too. We missed out on Nicholas Carr’s talk on technology, which was another one I’d circled on the #BBF2014 event schedule when it came out.

Almond talked about his latest book, Against Football: A Reluctant Manifesto. He also discussed publishing (albeit, briefly), and writers getting paid for their writing. Right on, brother!! Why should writers write for free?

As writers go, Almond’s never boring to hear speak, and as in times past, eminently quotable, with a few zingers like these:

“The publisher called it a ‘manifesto’ to sell fucking books.” (on the title of the new book)

“Football is bigger than religion in America.” (on the popularity of the NFL)

“The Football Industrial Complex exists because we (the fans, of whom Almond admits he is one) gave them (the NFL) that power.” (Almond’s own complicity in the FIC)

“Our allegiances are the truest expressions of ourselves.” (know thyself)

Mark and I were then off for a great lunch at The Salty Pig, an eatery that was a combination of Frontier and Nosh, back in Maine. Loved that the SP also had a Czech-style pilsner on tap, Notch Session Pils, from Ipswich craft brewer, Notch Brewing.

While on the topic of beer and New England, I picked up a copy of Lauren Clark’s new book, Crafty Bastards: Beer In New England from the Mayflower To Modern Day, about beer in New England, especially the craft variety. Readers of the JBE know of my interest in Moxie (of course!), but also craft beer, lagers, and the history of brewing. I’ve already begun reading Clark’s book and it’s wonderful!

Union Park Press, an indie small press based in the Granite State, is the publisher of Clark’s book about beer. They had a table, which is where I picked up my copy, along with another book about New England (Boston) and drinking, aptly titled, Drinking Boston: A History of the City and its Spirits. The author, Stephanie Schorow was at the Union Park table, signing copies. Schorow was personable and warm, and we had a nice chat and then I was off to meet up with my book shopping son, Mark.

We had time for one more event and I suggested the “Another Country” panel, featuring Maine’s own award-winning author, Lily King, along with Joseph O’Neil, and Rupert Thomson. I just happened to notice this panel in passing. I’d actually packed King’s book, Euphoria, for my bus ride. This was mainly to find out what all the hoopla surrounding this book was about. I read most of it on the way down. Contrary to just about every other review out there (and of course, going against the Kirkus grain), I found the novel tedious, but I plowed through it, finishing it at South Station waiting for my 7:15 bus.

Is Fiction a State of Mind?

Is Fiction a State of Mind?

Sycophants (like the pew full of female readers next to me at the Church of the Covenant, where the panel was held) will most likely accuse me of being a “bitter man” and a nobody as a writer compared to King. That’s too simple a default, I’m afraid. Her characters were too shallow, all anthropologists (the book is based upon the life of Margaret Mead), and weren’t anyone I cared to invest time and interest in. For me when I choose to read fiction, I prefer dense and complex characters, not wooden, overly predictable cutouts. If I don’t like the primary cast, I can’t get into the book.

Another point I’d like to make as an aside—Maine’s A-list writing community seems to be a bit too incestuous for my tastes—as evidenced by this excerpt, written by yet another writer from away landing in Portland’s smaller pond, and making a bigger splash than they deserve (IMHO). A frame of reference is often dependent on whether you’re on the inside, viewing it from the cool kids table in high school, or not. I think I just channeled a little Steve Almond right there.

The panel King was on was facilitated by the New Yorker’s book critic, James Woods. It was a tedious hour I’ll never get back, as none of the three writers had much insight about how they came to their topics, or craft. In fact, it was the equivalent of the “being visited by a muse” school of writing.

Boston Review: A magazine where ideas reign supreme.

Perhaps the surprise discovery of the day was the copy of Boston Review that Mark picked up at their table and handed me waiting for the King/Woods affair. Having it allowed me to get through our final BBF2014 event, and provided some spectacular reading with coffee this morning. In fact, there are five nonfiction titles touched on in the latest issue that I’m adding to my ever-growing list of books to read.

Boston Review seems to me to be a publication that’s slanted in the vein of The Baffler, which was also on display, at the MIT Press table.

Another festival’s been put away and is now in the books. Happy to have one of this magnitude so close and accessible.

So What?

I’ve been thinking about this phrase since yesterday when I heard news that affected me and some of the things that I hold dear. If I were to voice my thoughts this morning—when everything seems a jumble and so uncertain—most readers (mainly the drive-by types) would just utter, “so what?”.

Most of the time, the  things that matter to me don’t seem to affect others. It’s that “out of the mainstream” orientation that I’ve held for most of my life. I’m not a fan of the status quo because in most cases, it rarely gets to the core of the matter. Continue reading

Exploring

For six months, I’ve been writing a monthly feature story called Explore for the Lewiston Sun-Journal. Once a month, I spend a few hours in a particular locale and dig beneath the obvious to capture elements of the town that I’m writing about.

Each time I’ve done this, I came away with a much richer appreciation of the community I was profiling. Several times, I’ve featured towns that I regularly drove through, but from the high-speed highways that often whisk us through these places, I knew little or nothing about the town other than what the typical roadside detritus that most communities are afflicted by during our era of Happy Motoring, offered. Discovery always occurs when we slow down, take a look around, and real exploring begins on foot. At least that’s been my experience.

Exploring another Maine town.

Exploring another Maine town.

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Motives

I often wonder what motivates most people—is it purely the love of money—in a capitalistic society that would make sense. What makes people do what they do, and often act in such a way that seems to undercut others? Greed is one of the seven deadly sins afflicting all of us at times.

Philosophers have written volumes about motives—whether it’s possible for them to be pure, or not. Unfortunately, Google isn’t like a library—it’s hard to bring up information about “pure motives” that isn’t oriented towards the Biblical, instead of the philosophical. I do know that Immanuel Kant (and Freud) observed that people’s true motives may be hidden, even from themselves. Even when it seems that people are acting solely to further another person’s good, that might not be the real case. Continue reading

Jesus and Maine Politics

In the world of alternative weeklies, topics covered aren’t usually the same ones that the mainstream dailies cover. If they are, there’s often more depth in reporting, or, a slightly different angle offered. Writing for an alternative weekly (or monthly) often allows a bit more leeway, also.

Maine has a paucity of alternative news outlets. Currently, there are just two places where investigative journalism that isn’t the usual “he said, she said” brand of reporting that’s the norm in newspaper reporting in Maine has a chance to get published. The two are the Portland Phoenix and The Bollard. For the purposes of self-disclosure, I freelance occasional articles for the former, especially when I want to don my investigative journalist cap.

Since my article on economic development was the front page feature in this week’s Phoenix, I was out and about scouting for hard copies on Friday afternoon. There’s still a thrill for me in seeing my name bylined, although it’s happened pretty regularly since the first of the year (and during a previous stint as a freelancer). Since the Phoenix and The Bollard are often side-by-side at the free newspaper pick-up stands, I also grabbed the latest issue of the latter, a monthly, rather than a weekly pub.

Jesus and EcDev in the alt pub universe.

Jesus and EcDev in the alt pub universe.

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Going Back and Moving Forward

I have the 3,000-word front page feature in this week’s Portland Phoenix. It’s about growth in the city of Portland, the current frenzy of real estate development, and whether or not this is best for all of the city’s residents, or just the few that are able to extract value from the current assets.

The article also looks backward, considering past boondoggles in order to have a better understanding of what might be the best way forward. I also am pretty upfront that I’m not enamored with most of the development ideas and plans coming from city hall.

My first extensive piece of writing about Portland and its economy was published back in 2004. It was about Hadlock Field. It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed on this. I’m still employing the same tools of the trade—research, putting boots on the ground and talking with those on the street, and remaining diligent in finding the narrative thread for the story I’m working on. No one has ever bothered to get this kind of up-close-and-personal look at baseball and whether it’s an economic benefit to the city, or not.

Hadlock-Pigeon

The June 2004 cover story in the late, great Portland Pigeon. “Direct Action Journalism” indeed!

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Writing Assignments

Creating structure.

Creating structure.

My Tuesday/Friday self-imposed blogging deadlines have been helpful. They’ve developed the capacity to meet other deadlines as a writer—the kind that actually help in paying my bills. It’s one of the reasons I established them, back before I was getting paid to write regularly.

As a result, this morning’s post is a truncated one, as I’m on assignment, and on a tight deadline for today, with others looming ahead.

Have a comfortable place to work.

Have a comfortable place to work.

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Perpective Requires Time and Distance

Fall Foliage-Rangeley Lake in October.

Fall Foliage-Rangeley Lake in October.

Seeing contrasts and picking out patterns often requires time and distance from the object. Perspective is often missing in the short-term. Comparisons and even side-by-sides appear strikingly different 10 months later, versus one day later.

Sometimes life presents vivid examples—we just require months (and even years) to recognize them.

Coming to the same place (Rangeley) every other week for 10 months has allowed me to observe this in snapshots of the natural world. Continue reading

Brain Shrinkage

According to this report, all our multitasking, especially on social media, is shrinking our brains. This lends new meaning to the phrase, “dumbing down.”

Given that we live in a 21st century world that demands that we attend to multiple things at once—how do we at least keep some of this at an arm’s length, or at least fortify ourselves and temper some of this “shrinkage”?

While it might be grand (or overly dramatic) to demand that you “kill your TV,” I’m guessing that solution isn’t one that most people are going to opt for. However, you might cut your television viewing—I’ve been working at it for the last month and it’s really not that bad. After 29 days of no television, Miss Mary and I watched a classic movie starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert Sunday night. I think we might limit our viewing to TCM on Sunday nights. Continue reading

Summer’s Last Hurrah

I’m not sure you can truly appreciate a late September weekend like the one we just had, unless you’ve lived through a couple of interminable winters similar to last year’s. Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Erica's Seafood--the best lobster roll in Maine? Quite possibly.

Erica’s Seafood–the best lobster roll in Maine? Quite possibly.

A hasty, last minute decision to conclude our 2014 lobster roll campaign resulted in a 25-mile Sunday drive down the South Harpswell side of the peninsula, and a final tasting of succulent lobster meat, stuffed into a buttered roll at Erica’s Seafood. Continue reading