All about Cambridge
Authors Karen Weintraub and Michael Kuchta have lived in Cambridge for over 20 years, and on long walks around the city, started noting historical plaques and tallying “firsts” for the city. The result of their perambulations is the delightful “Born in Cambridge: 400 Years of Ideas and Innovations,” out this week from MIT Press. The book is a celebration of the People’s Republic, and the energy, innovation, and creative crackle that’s wildly out of proportion with its small size. In their gathering of innovations, they focused on ideas, products, and people which “resonated well beyond one particular discipline.” They break the book into thematic sections, looking at literature, social reform, industry and innovation, basic science, national defense, the digital world, biotech, and pop culture. “The Literary-Industrial Complex” holds discussion of Anne Bradstreet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, author, editor, and publisher Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, poet titans T. S. Eliot, May Sarton, E. E. Cummings, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, as well as information on printing presses, literary magazines, bookstores, and libraries, with photos of literary landmarks and homes of writers and poets, as well as literati hang-outs of yore like Café Pamplona. Weintraub and Kuchta deliver an enormous amount of information, digestibly told, giving insights and new corners of discovery for even the lifelong Cantabrigian. It’s an unconventional history for an unconventional city.
Bookstore comings and goings
One Boston-area bookstore closes and another is slated to open. The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline Village closed its doors on April 30 after 45 years in operation. The 900 square foot store was the oldest independent children’s bookshop in area. The shop raised over $30,000 in a GoFundMe campaign at the onset of the pandemic, but without a robust online bookselling platform, it wasn’t enough to sustain it through a time with lower foot traffic. Terri Schmitz has run the store since 1985, and it’s been a mainstay in the community, earning awards from the the Women’s National Book Association and Boston Magazine. In her announcement on Facebook, Schmitz wrote, “Keep reading. Support independent bookstores. There is no greater gift for young people than the love of good books.” Across the river in Harvard Square, Faro Café is scheduled to open this summer on Arrow Street, around the corner from where the iconic Café Pamplona used to be. Owner Henry Hoffstot hopes the 800 square foot coffeeshop and bookstore will be a community space, one focused on climate change and climate justice, a place for conversation and gathering, as Café Pamplona was for 60 years. He’s also hoping to be able to offer live music outside.
Poetry that soars
Richard Wollman writes poems of the sky in his new collection, “Changeable Gods,” from Western Mass-based Slate Roof Press. Vast, varied, ever-shifting, creating its own world, our world: “The clouds are so far back, / the yellow ridges of the sky / so unreachable—” Wollman, a professor at Simmons, who lives in Amesbury, is deeply attuned to the colors, cloudscapes, streaks, and nightdomes. “Cerulean and nothing else, nothing / because the sea took everything.” But a force of presence in these lines is even more powerful than the sky: A woman named Sarah, to whom the book is dedicated, who died in 2007, thrums throughout. “Sarah was still alive. Gone a few weeks later. / No place before or since a home.” A depth of love and connection, and the gaping void of loss, is implicit, and perhaps, after such a love, and such a loss, perhaps it makes sense that Wollman’s attention is aimed at the sky—its endlessness the only place vast enough to house the feeling of what’s gone.
“Plans for Sentences” Renee Gladman (Wave)
“Acts of Service” by Lillian Fishman (Hogarth)
“Trust” by Hernan Diaz (Riverhead)
Pick of the week
Tom Roberge of Riffraff in Providence, Rhode Island, recommends “Paradise Rot” by Jenny Hval, translated by Marjam Idriss (Verso): “This off-kilter book about one young woman’s increasingly bizarre relationship with her new roommate is working on many levels at once. It’s beguiling in the best way.”