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.

2 thoughts on “Boston and Book Streaks

  1. I like the Boston Book Festival tradition. Why is Aunt Tomato never invited?

    So, I’ve lived under a rock for the last 15 years or so and I haven’t had access to the wisdom of “Oprah’s Book Club.” When I learned that the doyenne of daytime talk shows had become an influential book “critic,” and had created a strange writer’s feeder system, I was…sickened. “Will write for Oprah!” seemed to be the mantra of many women writers. That’s what I think of when you mention the “Another Country’ panel and the thoughts it spurred for you.

    The allure of a writer’s clique is understandable. The Algonquin Roundtable still fascinates in spite of Zadie Smith’s reminder to “Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.”

    • No intended slight, JAB. The Boston Book Festival has been something Mark and I started attending together back in 2009. The first year, it was fun and kind of new, given that Boston and Deb Porter had launched a new lit festival in Boston (the only major American city without one at the time). When he was living in LA, we attended a book fest at UCLA, so I guess the seed was planted for us to hang out at festivals centered on books, authors, and reading.

      Now that he’s back on the east coast and just a train ride from Boston (and I’m a MegaBus ride away, too), BBF is something I always look ahead to each summer, planning my fall events. Each year when I get back home and contemplate that year’s experience in Boston, I wonder if this might be the final year that Mark and I spend a Saturday in October focused on writing. As he gets older, his life changes, and the day may come when we don’t make a date to do this.

      It’s been interesting for me, tracking my own life changes in terms of Book Festival “seasons.” Back in 2009, Moxie was still a new book experience for me. Now, I’ve got four titles of my own, and I’m no longer a neophyte as a writer and publisher. This year’s writing clips prove that I can get my name out there in a variety of publications.

      Interestingly, I think the very first panel we attended back in 2009, featured Richard Russo, a Maine writer I am happy to say that I’m a fan of. I’m pretty sure Russo doesn’t drink at Sonny’s, nor is he a member of Portland’s Literary Industrial Complex. I might be wrong, however, since I’m not a member, either. I’m probably not “extremely good-looking” enough to fit the criteria of some of the female members’ tastes, as this seems to matter at “the writers’ bar of Portland, Maine.”

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