Boston Blog

Boston Blog

Bookshops of Boston 1: Commonwealth Books

Leo perusing the shelves of Commonwealth Books

Will bookshops survive the digital revolution? Perhaps some of them may. There is a special pleasure in reading on paper, browsing real books, picking them up and gathering in a moment a sense of their heft and gravitas. This January, among other things, I plan to read more, and to read more weirdly and widely, rambling without the direction or the cognisance of algorithms.

So on a snowy Sunday afternoon shopping for dull household items in Boston’s January sales, my feet turned as they often do towards the alley that houses Commonwealth Books. It’s a fascinating second-hand bookstore which is also the residence of a large ginger cat named Leo. Leo reminds me of a real-life version of the fictional ‘Bagpuss’, a shop-dwelling cloth cat whose magical adventure were narrated by Oliver Postgate on the BBC when I was a child.

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Mysteries are a Great Way of Getting to Know a City


Boston. Photo by Rob Bruce


Exploring the city of Boston, I have enlisted the help of a private eye. A six-foot-one ass-kicking redhead who moonlights as a part-time cabbie and roams the city night and day, rooting out the corruption which constantly reappears, always in a different form.

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Adventures in Boston and Portland, Maine

Jackie Kemp in Boston: Photo by Rob Bruce

“Large, hot Earl please,” the waitress yelled in a cafe this morning. I smiled, seeing in my mind’s eye a dashing peer of the realm with a twirling moustache, like a character from Blackadder, rushing out of the kitchen. But no, just a tepid tea in a paper cup. Spending time in Boston this week, where my husband is working, I have been reminded of the saying, attributed to George Bernard Shaw, that Britain and America  are “two nations divided by a common language”. At the library when the attendant said:  “check your bag, please,” I opened it thinking she meant she wanted to look inside. But she meant it had to be put in a locker.

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Is Farming the New Rock and Roll?

I was prompted to ask this question after meeting some start-up farmers in Massachusetts. They are interesting and unexpected entrants into a profession we are often told has a gloomy future: from a rock promoter to a Harvard educated bio-physicist.

Like other developed countries and the rest of the US, Massachusetts has a large number of farmers over the age of 65 with no identified inheritors. For 30 years, the number of entrants into farming was on the slide. However, over the last decade that has begun to change. It seems, farming is becoming cool again.

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A Walk on the Beach after the US Election

Photo: Rob Bruce

Nov 28, 2016.

Like many people we got out of town soon after the election, seeking the balm of nature. We headed for Cape Cod, to take a walk on the beach.

Friends Rory and Mary from the UK were with us - they were in Washington eight years ago the night Obama won and wanted to be here again to usher in history. The polls were in tune; taking our cue from the media we were confident of another victory for the Democrats.

The night of the vote, we had arranged to meet in the Fairmount Hotel in the centre of Boston where the Mass Dems were holding an eve of poll reception. As soon as I walked in, around 8.30pm,  I could tell something was wrong. The others were slumped in chairs in the lobby, looking as if someone had hit them over the head with a copy of “Stronger Together’, Hillary Clinton’s hefty book. ‘What’s the matter?’, I asked. “Florida,” they answered grimly.

The atmosphere in the hall was sinking fast. Media types on stages in the centre were hooked onto phones and staring at screens with disbelieving faces. Some women in party hats who were clearly ready to welcome a female president looked close to tears.

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