Jamaica Plain: Boston’s newly dubbed literary district

Jamaica Plain, the Boston neighborhood where I happen to live, has been proclaimed Boston’s literary district by a write-up on Book Riot.

This is a pretty bold claim in a city that is rich in book culture and literary history, but the writer makes a good argument for JP with her many suggestions of places and programs to check out. However, some glaring omissions sell the neighborhood slightly short. I intend to fix that here.

While there is a brief shout out to the JP branch of the Boston Public Library, the article fails to mention that JP actually has two library branches – the Jamaica Plain branch and the Connolly Branch – with a third right on the border with Roxbury in Egleston Square. It also left out Tres Gatos, a tapas restaurant on Centre Street that also has a book and record store inside. And there is also a second Little Free Library in JP on South Street across from the JP branch library. The coffee shop in my part of the neighborhood, Cafe Bartlett Square at the corner of Amory and Green Streets, also has their own little library where you can give and take books, though they haven’t officially designated it a Little Free Library.

If you are going to be in Boston or JP long term, you can also learn book binding and other book-related crafts at the Eliot School, a community fine arts school whose classes are open to the public.

Yes, it is truly a great thing to be a book nerd in Jamaica Plain.

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Bringing Curious George back

Photo from Harvard Crimson

Not the inquisitive ape himself since like Justin Timberlake’s sexy, you can’t bring back something that never left.  No, I’m talking about Curious George & Friends, the children’s book store in Harvard Square that closed its doors last  June, seemingly for good. The Harvard Crimson recently reported that the store would be reopening under new management in the same space – on the first floor of what I like to think of as the Flatiron Building of Harvard Square (right). I have a special place in my heart for this quirky little store as a handful of my friends have worked there over the years and I’ve spent some extended browsing sessions navigating the two levels of toys, games, and, of course, books. In a time when so many independent bookstores are closing their doors, it is encouraging to see one bounce back. The reopening is planned for this spring, and I have to admit I’m hoping for an epic grand opening complete with a guy in a Curious George suit…and maybe some awesome children’s authors and illustrators.

So if you live in Boston or are planning a visit after this spring, show your support and visit the only Curious George specialty store in the world. Also be sure to look for the “law firm” of Dewey, Cheetham & Howe on the second floor of the building, which is just a gag name for the space that actually houses the corporate offices of Click and Clack of Car Talk!

How is a bookstore not a library

I read this article in the New York Times a couple days ago about independent bookstores that charge customers to attend author appearances and book signings. Whether it is through a requirement to buy the author’s book or just charging admission, independent bookstores are using this as a way to help them make ends meet in an era of digital books and online booksellers. I was especially surprised by the comparison in the article of bookstores to libraries:

“Consumers now see the bookstore merely as another library — a place to browse, do informal research and pick up staff recommendations. “

I’ve always been fascinated by the boundaries drawn between for-profit booksellers and publicly funded libraries ever since my public library management course at Simmons. While there are many differences and similarities between the two, I had failed to consider programming differences. This reporter does not state it explicitly, but from this sentence we can follow the conclusion that, like the books they peddle, programming at libraries is free, programming at bookstores is not, or should not be.

When put in such simple terms, I suppose this makes sense. The patrons of the library pay for its existence – programming included – and so should not be charged to enjoy library funded author visits. A bookstore relies on the money it brings in from its customers, so those customers should be, or at least can be, charged for any services rendered. What I worry about in all this is the author, especially low profile or obscure authors who book (pardon the pun!) speaking engagements and readings at independent bookstores as a way to gain publicity (and really, isn’t that the main reason for book tours and author appearances?). Customers are going to be less inclined to pay to see an author they have never heard of but are nonetheless curious about than if, say, Stephen King came to town.

That is why I like the model my local and most favorite independent bookstore, the Brookline Booksmith, has adopted. If a big name author comes for a speaking engagement, they charge $5 admission and hold the appearance in the independent movie theater across the street. All the more obscure and local author events are free and held in the tiny basement of the bookstore. In this way, the bookstore banks on the popularity of some authors and gives free publicity to the unknown authors, who if they are worth scheduling, should at least be compelling enough to rack up a few booksales from the attendees. And two local businesses that in a lot of other places might have been long closed by now work together to bring readers, authors and books together.

But in the end, you do what you have to do, and if requiring that your customers buy a book or pay admission to see an author is what independent bookstores have to do to stay open, I’m okay with that. You just won’t see me paying for an author that I don’t know is any good.