books, art, culture, and other things I love

Category: Boston

Live at Boston’s Paramount Theater: Cheryl Strayed in Conversation with Tom Ashbrook.

Last night my friend D. and I sat in the balcony of a packed Paramount Theater in Boston to see On Point Live: an evening of NPR radio host Tom Ashbrook in conversation with Cheryl Strayed, author of the fabulous memoir Wild as well as Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of her Dear Sugar columns from The Rumpus.  Now, along with writer Steve Almond, Strayed hosts the podcast Dear Sugar Radio, which provides advice (of the practical and philosophical sort) to letter writers.

Preshow: we had to take a selfie. Me: "This would be a better photo if we had one of those sticks." D.: "Um, we're too old for selfie sticks."

Preshow: we had to take a selfie. Me: “This would be a better photo if we had one of those sticks.”                                                  D.: “Um, we’re too old for selfie sticks.”

When host Tom Ashbook took the stage, there was thunderous applause. Once things quieted down and he spoke, there were even some tears as he paused for a moment to thank his audience and his listeners for the kindness that they showed to him in the months since the loss of his wife to cancer at the end of November. There was another point in the evening when Ashbrook solemnly asked Strayed a question for his own twentysomething daughter–how does one at that age deal with loss of someone so significant as one’s mother. Strayed’s response was heartfelt and touching–emphasizing the importance of accepting the fact that grief is ongoing, but the reason for this is that it is recalling the love that was there. That is, the origin of grief is beauty and love–not ugliness. This insight was very meaningful, and the audience sat rapt as Strayed discussed the loss of her own mother.

Our view from the balcony.

Our view from the balcony.

Their conversation touched on topics (drawn largely from audience questions) that ranged from Strayed’s writing habits to her definitions of feminism in the 21st century–the latter in light of Elinor Burkett’s opinion piece in last Sunday’s New York Times that questions the authenticity of transgender women (previously male) defining what it means to be a woman. Though Ashbrook pushed her a bit on this point, Strayed maintained that there was room for anyone in the feminist movement, and suggesting that as times change, so do boundaries and definitions.

Toward the end of the evening, Steve Almond took the stage and revealed that he and Strayed had just wrapped up three days in the studio, recording 20 (!) hours of Dear Sugar material–I can’t wait for that! The show closed with news analyst Jack Beatty commenting on the impact and growth of On Point, which began as a radio program in the days after 9/11 and has emerged as a forum for a national conversation.

All in all, a delightful and inspiring evening!

Another public radio tote bag. (I have quite the collection going!)

Another public radio tote bag. (I have quite the collection going!)



Here in Boston, we are in a Snowy Vortex–think 2014’s Polar Vortex–only less convenient. In the last two weeks, we’ve had so much snow here that I’ve lost track of the totals. Suffice it to say, it is A LOT. Service from the MBTA (our local public transit system) has been spotty or completely shut down, businesses have been closed, roads have been clogged with traffic and basically everyone you talk to has had enough.

Unless you happen to talk to a school-age child, that is! They love the snow.
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I think my dog does too.

After reading this Cognoscenti piece by Barbara Howard last Friday, I regained my own composure and perspective. It offered a good reminder that while for some, extreme weather is a matter of inconvenience, for others it can mean the difference between making it to work in order to make ends meet or not. So now, I am all about finding my zen–even in the midst of this snowy disruption.

Taking a walk helps–the fresh air and exercise truly does help to stave off cabin fever! And even this reader needs to get her nose out from behind her books.

While I was out for a walk this afternoon with my pup, I thought of this 1921 poem from Wallace Stevens.

The Snowman

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens, 1921.

Maybe thinking of the harsh weather as a catalyst to artistic expression is a good mindset to adopt.

And the snow does look pretty in the moonlight.

Reading interrupted.

So I was all set to read Matthew Gilbert’s book Off the Leash—then this happened:

Clearly, Hildy can’t be trusted alone with good reading material or she’ll try to eat it for lunch. Boo!


Some thoughts on winter.

No one likes a complainer, but I can’t keep it in any longer: I hate winter! There, I said it.

Last weekend I asked my husband to give me just three positives about the season. He had two: Christmas and fireplaces. I said that those didn’t really count because I meant positives about the weather of the season (we could have Christmas and a fireplace in the Caribbean).

There are so many things on my con list: the excess of “stuff” (coats, hats, mittens, boots, etc.), the dry skin, the chapped lips, the static-crazed hair, the barren landscape. I could go on.

I looked for some literary quotes about winter and though I didn’t come up cold (HA!), they were few and far between. Most focused on perseverance. I suppose that’s a holdover from the Puritan ideology of steadfastness?

Here are a few:

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”

Anne Bradstreet, The Works of Anne Bradstreet

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind

“Are the days of winter sunshine just as sad for you, too? When it is misty, in the evenings, and I am out walking by myself, it seems to me that the rain is falling through my heart and causing it to crumble into ruins.”

Gustave Flaubert

“Nothing is as tedious as the limping days,
When snowdrifts yearly cover all the ways,
And ennui, sour fruit of incurious gloom
Assumes control of fate’s immortal loom”

Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen

I like Eliot’s approach:

“I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.”

T.S. Eliot

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

And since I must endure it, at least for a few more months, this is going to be my reverse psychological approach:

“I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”

William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!


Foreign Language Friday: Schoenhof’s Foreign Books.

With the Internet it is pretty easy to get anything—from anywhere—and at anytime. However, some places are worth an in-person visit. And Schoenhof’s Foreign Books is one of those places.


Located just outside of Harvard Square, on Mount Auburn Street, Schoenhof’s boasts the largest collection of foreign books in North America. If that fact wasn’t impressive enough, consider this: the store was founded in 1856!

Last week, I visited with my children to select some French books. Schoenhof’s has a solid children’s and YA selection, so in no time, they had a stack of books in hand.

Here are the books that they selected.

As an added bonus, there was a holiday weekend sale, so all books were 50% off. The staff is cheerful and knowledgeable (and multilingual!), so be sure to ask if you need a recommendation. Patrons can order books online and can also purchase and download e-books directly through the store’s website.

Here is N. offering a reading of Madeline’s Christmas (en francais) and it features some funny ad lib moments throughout. 🙂


Bookminded Recommends: Visiting the New Harvard Art Museums.

We stayed local for Thanksgiving, so the day after, we were looking for a good family activity. And Black Friday shopping wasn’t it. My daughter suggested an art museum—but “one that [she] had not visited before.” As an aside, somehow I have managed to brainwash our kids into not only enduring, but enjoying museum-going (something else to be thankful for!).

As the Harvard Art Museums were newly reopened, we decided to take a short sojourn to Cambridge. After lunch here—because my top secret to getting kids to like museums is to feed them first—we hurried through Harvard Yard and to Quincy Street. Before the redesign by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (also responsible for the recent Gardner facelift) the three museums: Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Arthur M. Sackler were discrete entities. Now they are joined by a glass and steel roof and the effect is nothing short of breathtaking. My first experience visiting the Fogg Museum was years ago as a high school art student (thank you, Mrs. Burns!) but the new unified structure is different in every way.
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The collection is truly impressive beginning with ancient artifacts to engage the history buff.
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While N. was diligently copying down the provenance details of various ancient coins, a man to her left was pontificating about the dearth of "true English art" in the National Galleries of London.

While N. was diligently copying down the provenance details of various ancient coins, a man to her left was pontificating about the dearth of “true English art” in the National Galleries of London.

There are also plenty of recognizable names, like Matisse, Rodin, Picasso, and Renoir.
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They love to "take notes" and sketch what they see. Look out John Berger!

They love to “take notes” and sketch what they see. Look out John Berger!

But there are also interesting exhibits by lesser-known artists. Like this mixed-media one from German artist Rebecca Horn, featuring film, photograph, and object alike. In particular, I loved this one, Flying Books under Black Rain Painting, which is a kinetic sculpture that was commissioned by the Museums.
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If you are in the area, you really must visit. It is truly an impressive collection—and now too, a truly inspiring space.

Bookminded Recommends: Cards for Readers.

Last week, I popped into a local garden shop in search of a new plant for my kitchen after my countertop rosemary tree withered away.

For those in the Boston area, Cedar Grove Gardens (located in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood) is a hidden jewel. Not only is it a great spot for larger plants and garden plantings, but it is a full service florist and gift shop.

After I selected a plant that I was assured would survive under my care (!), these cards caught my eye. I picked up two that I thought would be perfect to send reading friends on the occasion of a birthday. Aren’t they cute?




And here is the plant I picked out, which seems to be flourishing in its new home. 🙂


The Weekender: Framing Boston’s Public Garden.

Students of John Berger will likely have thoughts about how frames affect what we see—that is, our decision what to include in a frame (when taking a photo, for example) and what to leave out is a deliberate choice that affects what we see as the end product. For example, if there is a beautiful flowering plant blooming alongside an abandoned shed that has fallen into disrepair, I have multiple choices for how to frame a photo of my subjects. Do I zero in on the beauty of the flowers and ignore the building? Or do I try to fit everything in? Whatever my framing choice, it will affect what I (or others) ultimately see.

That’s why I find the current installation in Boston’s Public Garden so great. The Friends of the Public Garden installed multiple frames around the park for people to frame their own views (or themselves) in the park. The frames swivel to allow for multiple views and subjects to be framed and will be on display for the next two months. Check them out! People are encouraged to post their photos on Twitter and Instagram using #FOPG. For more information on the project, read this piece from Boston Magazine.

The Weekender: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at Boston’s Huntington Theater.

Last month, I bought the first four seasons of the 80s classic sitcom The Cosby Show on DVD. In fact, did you know that today actually marks the show’s 30-year anniversary? My husband and I have been watching a few episodes each weekend with our kids, and I have to tell you, the show is even funnier than I remembered. Who can forget the episode when Denise volunteers to sew Theo a replica of a Gordon Gartrell shirt for his big date. Or when Vanessa struggles through clarinet lessons with guest star Dizzy Gillespie. Such a great show–and I would argue, funnier than a lot of what passes as comedy today. (I feel 100 years old saying that, but it’s true!)

One of the biggest reasons that the show was such a hit was the acting of Malcolm Jamal-Warner in his portrayal of Theo Huxtable. Now Jamal-Warner is in town starring in a stage adaptation of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The show runs through October 5 and tickets may be purchased online here. Student tickets are $15 and if you are under 35, they are only $25! I am looking forward to seeing the show in its final week and I will report back with my review.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Out on a school night: Four Stories at Cambridge’s Middlesex Lounge.

Let me set the scene for you: last night I threw together a dinner for my kids and when I spotted my husband pull up to the house from work, I skipped out to jump in my car. On the way, after I tripped over a scooter and two bikes, I was stopped by S., my daughter’s classmate and our neighbor.

“Are you going out, Mrs. M?” he asked, wide-eyed.

I explained that I was going to hear four authors (Robin Black, Julia Fierro, Jennifer Haigh, and Joanna Rakoff) read from their work. “But it’s a school night!” he exclaimed. He thought about it for a moment. “Do they write books? Because my grandfather met a writer from The Boston Globe who writes about the Pats,” he said. When I confirmed that yes, these four authors that I was going to hear did write books, he seemed unimpressed. “Well, maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll get an autograph,” he said, as he scooted away.

I arrived at the Middlesex Lounge shortly before the scheduled start time of Four Stories, which is a regular series (founded by writer Tracy Slater) that features notable authors reading together under a common theme. Last night’s theme was “Girls Night Out” and it was a lot of fun to listen to the authors read from their latest work–Black read from her novel Life Drawing, Fierro read from her novel Cutting Teeth (recently recognized by The New Yorker), Haigh read from a novel in-progress, and Rakoff read from her acclaimed memoir, My Salinger Year. I was already familiar with the work of three of the presenters (Black’s short story collection, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This is terrific, Haigh’s Baker Towers is a favorite, and Rakoff’s memoir and her novel A Fortunate Age are not to be missed) but I haven’t yet read Fierro’s book–a work about four Brooklyn couples that rent a beach house together. After hearing her read a hilarious chapter from the perspective of character “Tiffany,” however, I can’t wait to start!

Four Stories is described as “like a 19th-century salon, only 150 years later–same socializing, same witty banter, corsets optional.”  So much fun! I can’t wait to go to another. I met some other writers, an opera singer, and even had the chance to chat with the delightful and charming Julia Fierro and Joanna Rakoff–the latter being gracious enough to sign my book and kindly listen to me gush about her work. 🙂

All in all, it was the perfect way to spend a Monday evening. Even if it was a school night. (And I am a bit tired this morning.)

I have no idea why I am in a weird rabbit pose here--maybe I am just full of glee?

Thank you to my friend R. for capturing this interchange. I have no idea why I am in a weird rabbit pose here–maybe I am just full of glee to be chatting to Joanna Rakoff?