I’m still getting to know Boston and all of the hidden treasures it has to offer. On a recent (and rare) sunny day, I ventured to the Downtown Crossing area and just let myself wander. I lingered in Primark, was tempted by the smells of various food carts, and finally turned down a side street called Spring Lane (the oldest street in Boston, built around 1630.) It isn’t an exaggeration to say that I found one of my new favorite places in Boston: Commonwealth Books.
Google calls it a “quaint used bookstore filled with a broad inventory including rare editions, antique prints and maps.” They are open 7 days a week, with expansive hours for a (as they call themselves) actual “brick and mortar” bookstore.
I could have spent hours – and my entire paycheck – in this place, so I set myself a $25 limit outright. No time limit however, and two hours flew by.
The second I stepped foot inside I knew I was going to love this place. Every available space is full of books – they’re packed onto the shelves and stacked precariously on the floor. There are endless nooks and crannies to explore. Every time I thought I had reached the back of the store, I found another little room, or another place where bookshelves converged to offer privacy. Despite the apparent disarray, the books are separated into fiction and non-fiction. The fiction books, alphabetized by author, line the back of the store. The vast majority of the books are non-fiction, dominating the rest of the store, and organized by topic. There are sections on everything from Ancient Egypt to Women’s Studies, Psychology to Literary Criticism, and Poetry to Cooking.
With my $25 limit, I bought the following four books – a pretty wide range of topics, picked from all across the store.
Women on the Margins by: Natalie Zemon Davis
Blurb: “As she did with Martin Guerre, Natalie Zemon Davis here retrieves individual lives from historical obscurity. As women living in the seventeenth century, Glikl bas Judah Leib, Marie de l’Incarnation, and Maria Sibylla Merian, equally remarkable though very different, were not queens or noble-women. Rather they were living ‘on the margins’ in seventeenth-century Europe, North America, and South America. Yet these women – one a Jewish merchant and mother of twelve, one a Catholic mystic visionary, and one a Protestant painter and naturalist – left behind memoirs and writings that make for spellbinding tales.”
The Journals of Sylvia Plath, forward by: Ted Hughes
Blurb: “Sylvia Plath began keeping a diary as a young child. By the time she was at Smith College, when this book begins, she had settled into a nearly daily routine with her journal, which was also a source book for her writing. Plath once called her journal her ‘Sargasso,’ her repository of imagination, ‘a litany of dreams, directives and imperatives,’ and in fact these pages contain the germs of most of her work. Plath’s ambitions as a writer were urgent and ultimately all-consuming, requiring of her a heat, a fantastic chaos, even a violence that burned straight through her. The intensity of this struggle is rendered in her journal with an unsparing clarity, revealing both the frequent desperation of her situation and the bravery with which she faced down her demons. Written in electrifying prose, The Journals of Sylvia Plath provide unique insight, and are essential reading for those who have been moved and fascinated by Plath’s life and work.”
The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and Other Stories by: Ernest Hemingway
Blurb: “The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories contains ten of Hemingway’s most acclaimed and popular works of short fiction. Selected from Winner Take Nothing, Men Without Women, and The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories, this collection includes ‘the Killers,’ the first of Hemingway’s mature stories to be accepted by an American periodical; the autobiographical ‘Fathers and Sons,’ which alludes, for the first time in Hemingway’s career, to his father’s suicide; ‘The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,’ a ‘brilliant fusion of personal observation, hearsay, and invention,’ wrote Hemingway’s biographer, Carlos Baker; and the title story itself, of which Hemingway said: ‘I put all the true stuff in,’ with enough material, he boasted, to fill four novels. Beautiful in their simplicity, startling in their originality, and unsurpassed in their craftsmanship, the stories in this volume highlight one of America’s master storytellers at the top of his form.”
The Surprise of Cremona by: Edith Templeton
Blurb: “Edith Templeton’s highly individual account of her visit to six North Italian towns in the early fifties is wonderfully evocative of the time and the places. Unavailable for many years, this vintage narrative is a classic travel diary.”
I can’t wait to add these to my reading list! And if you’re in Boston with a little (or a lot) of time to spare, check out Commonwealth Books at 9 Spring Ln.
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