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new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

A history of Boston in flyers and posters and W.E.B. Du Bois’s data visualization

James Brown and his band at the Sugar Shack on Boylston Street in 1971.
James Brown and his band at the Sugar Shack on Boylston Street in 1971.

Vintage Boston

Boston music journalist Brian Coleman has put together a time capsule of sorts in his new book, “Buy Me, Boston’’ (Wax Facts), which gathers more than 390 vintage flyers, posters, and ads from 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s in Boston.

The images, culled from the archives of the Boston Phoenix (R.I.P.), its predecessor Boston After Dark, as well as the Bay State Banner, Boston Rock, and the personal archives of David Bieber, Kay Bourne, Wayne Valdez, and Chuck White, harken back to a bygone era. (Consider, for instance, the stonewash denim jumpsuit in a Filene’s ad, the Parliament-Funkadelic flyer from Boylston Street’s Sugar Shack in 1974, or the eyesore/iconic Hilltop Steak House cactus gracing the pages of a 1987 Red Sox program.)


It’s also a snapshot of a particular time and place when the city bristled with an alt-weekly energy, an underground thrust, and a whole lot of questionable hairstyles. Coleman has created a treasure chest of Boston memorabilia, reminding longtime dwellers of things we didn’t even know we missed.

W.E.B. Du Bois’s ‘Black America’

At the Paris Exposition in 1900, W.E.B. Du Bois, activist, writer, sociologist, historian, exhibited a number of graphs, charts, and maps that illustrate “the color line” and shined a spotlight into how Black Americans were living. In “W.E.B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America: The Color Line at the Turn of the Twentieth Century’’ (Princeton Architectural), published last month, editors Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Britt Rusert, both professors at UMass Amherst, collected these images together for the first time. The result is as visually arresting as it is informative. Du Bois’s use of color and line is elegant and gave form to his sociological theses that would later guide “The Souls of Black Folk.’’ Coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Du Bois’s birth, the book shows the ways, as noted in the introduction, that “data might be reimagined as a form of accountability and even protest in the age of Black Lives Matter.’’


Reading from ‘Sketchtasy’

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s barreling new novel “Sketchtasy’’ (Arsenal Pulp) sets itself in mid-1990s Boston, following 21-year-old Alexa, a debauched, worldly-wise, and dyed-haired queen, as she navigates her world in a decidedly uptight and change-averse city. It’s a window into a gay culture growing in the cold shadow of AIDS, and explores, with a throttling sense of ecstasy and desperation, a search for place, for connection, for understanding, for finding the way with friends who become family. Sycamore’s prose is a living thing, hot in the hands, and moves fast. It reveals a recent past in the city, with nostalgic flourishes (episodes at the long-gone Other Side Cafe, communal living in Dorchester, coke scares in the Combat Zone) while also holding up a mirror to Boston’s provincialism and fear. Sycamore will read and discuss the book on Monday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m., at Papercuts J.P.

Coming out

“I Am Young’’ by M. Dean (Fantagraphics)

“In Search of the Canary Tree: The Story of a Scientist, a Cypress, and a Changing World” by Lauren E. Oakes (Basic)

“An Interface for a Fractal Landscape’’ by Ed Steck (Ugly Duckling)

Pick of the week

Becky Dayton at the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, Vt., recommends “On the Move: A Life’’ by Oliver Sacks (Vintage): “Oh, Dr. Sacks, why did I wait so long to read your work?! Your writing inspires me, stimulates my intellectual curiosity, and fills me with admiration and joy. Best, my responses are not limited to the external, but turned within, kindling a compassion for myself that mirrors yours for yourself, for my loved ones as you for yours. I believe that your work — in both science and the humanities — qualifies you as a secular saint. Bravo and AMEN.”


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Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.