Monday, May 27, 2013

Indie bookstores around New England

I find bookstores alluring—more tantalizing than diners and fresh-made pies, streets lined with tiny shops, antique shops with carefully cluttered yards, or old movie theaters playing classic movies. Summer’s the perfect time to visit some; as you travel, keep an eye out for funky bookstores and the opportunity to find new books for the collection at home. I can hardly bear to pass them by, so much so that my husband feels the telepathic pull of my pulse as we drive through a new town. It’s fun to explore bookstores, an activity best accomplished in the company of fellow readers – who won’t hurry you out, or complain about missing lunch.
Here are some funky bookstores to visit while out of state—they are by no means the only ones to see, either. This is a small introduction. Do send in your “finds” over the summer!
Vermonters love their books like they love funky cafés. Snowed-in New Englanders love to read; Vermonters put a passionate, albeit progressive, slant to it. We love the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, with its rambling corners and a café. There is a particularly interesting children’s section as well. Author Neil Gaiman is there June 20 to promote his new novel, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.”
Speaking of children’s books, Yankee magazine cited the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vt., for its children’s book section. Woodstock offers three bookstores – and a July 26-28 Green Mountain Literary Festival (the aptly named “Bookstock”). Look for Yankee Books, Shiretown Books and for old and rare books at the Pleasant Street Bookstore. In Middlebury, the 60-year-old Vermont Book Shop presides on Main Street. In Rochester, seek out Sandy’s Books and Bakery, where whole grains and natural foods are as revered as good reading. And, finally—but not to be overlooked—Brattleboro’s Everyone’s Books, an indie shop specializing in social justice topics and multicultural children’s books.
New Hampshire residents, so in tune with politics and independence, support their indie bookstores with a dedication that approaches worship. In both Keene and Peterborough, we enjoy wandering the aisles of the Toadstool. Typical of independent bookstores, they promote regional authors with displays and talks. It’s not unusual to find a small group crowding one section to hear a local author discuss vegetation, climate or history. We’ve also found some great deals in its carefully juried used books section. Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, N.H., is a cheerful place to find writers talking about their books. On the evening of May 30, for instance, Carrie Cariello shares her memoir about a child with autism in “What Color is Monday?”
A trip to Exeter for antiques might also include the Colophon Book Shop on Water Street, where you can find first editions and collector books in a variety of fields. It’s also well worth a trip to Newmarket, N.H., to experience Crackskull’s Coffee and Books, combining the best of caffeine and literature. It’s located on Great Bay, just west of Portsmouth—an easy day drive. Nirvana.
Maine, too, is plump with bookstores, some of them dusty and delicious. I like being able to peruse new, regional and used books—something you can’t do in the chains. BookMarcs (love the pun) in downtown Bangor is one such place, should you range to the north, perhaps enroute to the lovely land of Nova Scotia. BookMarcs, by the way, is THE place to get a full selection of Stephen and Tabitha King books! Closer to home, Portland’s Longfellow Books is a rich discovery. The store was badly damaged by water during February’s Nemo blizzard, which brought 32 inches of snow to Portland. Maine Publishers and Writers Alliance banded with the community at large to help restore it to full function. It’s back in order, and ready for visitors.
During a trip to Damariscotta a few years back, we happened on a book store called the Maine Coast. It’s been updated and reopened below Lincoln Hall theater as the Maine Coast Book Shop & Café, and we’re anxious to get up there for a visit.
Rhode Island, a small state, has fewer offerings but don’t miss the Other Tiger in Westerly, with seven rooms full of books to explore. Barrington Books is another readers’ favorite.
I’ve skipped Massachusetts bookstores, because they’ll be more familiar to readers, but if you have a favorite, write it and tell me why you like it.
I’ve seen independent stores close up, but still believe they’ll survive the general self-immolation of the giant bookstores when all is recorded in history. They are at the core of readers’ hearts, along with libraries, and deserve our attention!
We're big fans of Chris Bohjalian's books—filled with rich settings, complex characters, and exciting plots, they're the sort of novels that you can't wait to discuss with your friends. His latest bestseller, The Sandcastle Girls, is a sweeping love story set against the backdrop of one of the most haunting events in history: the Armenian Genocide. It's perhaps an unexpected subject for a bestselling novel, and in an exclusive essay for the Reading Group Center, Bohjalian writes that he was often met with skepticism when sharing the premise of the book. That is, unless he was talking to book clubs. "Reading groups especially embraced the book," he says, "and I think a reason is precisely that part of the subject matter was so foreign." Makes sense to us. Book clubs are hungry for great stories—engaging stories that can teach us something about the world, and about ourselves, in the process.
Audio Journal’s “Speaking Volumes” call-in book group airs on the first Tuesday of the month at 8 p.m. All are welcome to listen live at Find the schedule for upcoming books at Coming up June 4 is “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L. Stedman. July 2’s topic is Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.”

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spice up your meetings with a slice of reality

You can add atmospheric fun to meetings with a little time and imagination. If members want to cook the books a little, so to speak, check out, a site which provides regional or time-period recipes, and much other info compiled for and by book groups. It might seem a little far-fetched, but activities like this add to the experience, helping bring to life setting and activities in a book.
One butterybooks selection, for instance, is “Shantaram,” by Gregory David Roberts. It’s an affecting novel about the choices one makes in life, as well as the decisions that may save it. “Shantaram” is based on the author’s life, so it’s fact-based fiction—real life, thinly disguised. He calls himself “a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher who lost his integrity in crime, and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum-security prison.” His life is amazing, and butterybooks shares recipes based on the book’s atmospheric setting in India, one of three continents where life takes him.
Lest you think the site would choose fluffy books, read this excerpt from “Shantaram”:
I don’t believe that there are Good men or Bad men. I believe that the deeds we do are Good and Bad, not the men and women who commit them. … I’ve known mafia men who took responsibility for feeding the poor in their district, and I’ve known cops who were ruthlessly cruel. We human beings are just that—human animals with the capacity to do Good or to do Bad—and we all do both, to a greater or lesser degree.”
So if you’d like to discuss freedom, choices and hope—while sipping mango lassi or eating alu palak—this is the opportunity.
For “The Worst Hard Time,” by Timothy Egan—about the bleak Depression years and blinding dust blizzards of the High Plains—the site suggests German Stewed Apples, a dish commonly made by the settlers on the plains. This book tells the stories of a dozen families, through the rise and fall of the region.
There is a recipe for Strawberry Tarts, mentioned in Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” “The kitchen was sweet with tarts, and some of the berries had boiled over in the oven and burned, making the sharp bitter-sweet smell pleasant and astringent. … There was a quiet rising joy in Lee.  It was the joy of change.”
Readers frequently contribute their groups’ ideas, recipes and photographs to the site. (One has to wonder what kind of pie they made for “The Help.”) Some groups are surprisingly dedicated to the idea of bringing a book discussion to life that way, incorporating visual props as well as food at their meeting. references numerous books a club may enjoy, with plot summary, questions for discussion, specific references in the book, suggested recipes and book club ratings for the reading. Even musical background is considered. It’s all pretty cool.
Another book about bookclubs, definitely on my to-read list, is “The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe. Sitting at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the author asked his mother, diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and six months to live, “What are you reading?” Thus began a deeply personal exchange of views between them, over two years. They discussed faith, courage and gratitude throughout the course of a wide-ranging selection of books, illustrating the ability of reading to gain comfort and guidance, as well as understanding, in life.
In Hartford, Conn., Mark Twain scholar R. Kent Rasmussen begins a series of early evening free lectures May 8 at The Mark Twain House & Museum. Based on wildly eclectic correspondence to the author, “Dear Mark Twain” starts at 5 p.m. (lecture at 5:30).
What the groups are doing:
Books, Brews and Banter, meeting at O’Connor’s restaurant on West Boylston Street in Worcester, is open to men and women, and its book selections are “gender neutral.” Members plan to discuss Jodi Picoult’s “The Storyteller” on Thursday, May 23, at 6:30 p.m. First-timers should look up the group on Meetup ( to register, as room reservations are made based on number attending. Appetizers, drinks available.
Reading, Sharing and Laughing meets Thursday, May 30, 7 p.m. at Chaibo in Fitchburg. Author Phoebe Baker Hyde will attend to discuss “The Beauty Experiment: How I Skipped Lipstick, Ditched Fashion, Faced the World without Concealer, and Learned to Love the Real Me.” Her book has stirred up some controversy and has been discussed on Katie Couric’s television show and major news outlets. The author will give a short talk and answer questions.
The Women’s Issues Book Group meets at 7 p.m. on the second Monday monthly at Barnes & Noble, 541 Lincoln St., Worcester. Organizer Joan Killough-Miller ( says for May 13, participants should “read something from the ‘feminist canon.’ We can share what we’ve read, and talk about differences between generations.” Meetings are free, open to anyone interested in discussing the current topic. Worcester chapter of National Organization for Women supports this group. The book selection for June 3 is “Keepsake” by Kristina Riggle.
The Oakridge Bookers of Leicester, residents of a 55-plus community who meet at members’ homes, recommend author Ed Londergan ( as a lively guest, having recently hosted him for a discussion of his book, “The Devil’s Elbow,” a coming-of-age story about an incident that occurred in West Brookfield during King Philip’s War. Londergan lived in W. Brookfield before moving to Leicester. He is at work on a sequel.
Audio Journal’s “Speaking Volumes” call-in book group airs on the first Tuesday of the month, 8 p.m. All are welcome to listen live at Find the schedule for upcoming books at The May 7 selection is “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak; June 4 will consider “The Light Between Oceans” by M. L. Stedman.