Bookish Sites Around Boston

Alison Morris - December 28, 2009

Heading to Boston for ALA Midwinter and wondering what other book-related stuff you could do or see around town? Here are a few tips!

The most obvious suggestion is to point you in the direction of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile red-brick walking trail that wends its way past 16 significant historic sites. Stop at Old South Meeting House where Phillis Wheatley (the first published African-American poet) was a member of the congregation, then practice your recitation of Longfellow’s "Paul Revere’s Ride" as you walk by (or stop to visit) Paul’s house and head up the hill to Old North Church. (Think "One if by land, two if by sea…".)

Visit the Literary Trail of Greater Boston website, which outlines a 20-mile trip and some 17 stops at places like the Old Corner Bookstore and the Boston Athanaeum (see photo above right). It’s ten years old now, but in 1999 the New York Times featured a lengthy article in which a new Boston resident describes his literary trip around the city, beginning with the stops on this tour. It’s a fun look at some of the featured places, and includes nice mentions of the literary bits of Boston that lie a bit further off the beaten track.

Do not pass up the chance to visit the Boston Public Library, "the large free municipal library in the United States" and marvel at the architecture of the McKim Building, one of my favorite buildings in all of Boston. While there you’ll want to be sure to poke your heads into the Reading Room of Bates Hall, see the John Singer Sargent murals, and admire the beautiful Italianate courtyard. In the Johnson Building, visit the Margaret & H.A. Rey Children’s Room and take a peek at the current Literacise exhibit, which I haven’t seen yet but look forward to checking out myself. (Public transit directions: take any Green Line train to the Copley stop.)

Fans of Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings will, of course, want to take a stroll through the Public Garden in downtown Boston, following the ducklings’ route and admiring the sculpture erected in their honor. Sadly, at this time of year you won’t have the option of taking a ride on one of the famous Swan Boats depicted in the book, but you can put that on your calendar for next time. (Public transit directions: take any Green Line train to the Arlington stop.)

Mount Auburn Cemetery (which I’ve blogged about previously) is a beautiful spot, even in the dead of winter, and home to the graves of such literary significants as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Julia Ward Howe, Harriet Jacobs, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Amy Lowell, John Ciardi, Robert Creeley, and Fanny Farmer — to name just a few. It’s located on Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge and is easily accessible by car or by bus. Additional tip for cemetery visitors: find an excuse for food at nearby Sofra. Yummmm! (Public transit directions: take the Red Line to Harvard Square, then switch to the 71 or 73 bus. After about a five-minute ride you’ll get off in front of the Star Market, which is right across the street from the cemetery.)

Want to wave to the places where your favorite books are published? Houghton Mifflin Harcourt‘s offices can be found at 222 Berkeley Street in Boston, a few short blocks from the BPL and/or the Public Garden. Candlewick Press is at 99 Dover Street in Somerville, right near the Davis Square stop on the Red Line. (Note that, no, you cannot just drop in and expect to be given a tour of either of these places. But I’m including them here in case, again, you want to wave at them from the street or stand outside and hope for autographs from passing literati.)

Got time to get outside the city limits? A half-hour drive west will get you to Concord, Mass., where you’ll be in literary Heaven. Visit the homes of Louisa May Alcott (there’s nothing quite like seeing the actual home in which all those lovable girls had the adventures that inspired "Jo’s" story), Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Visit the land that so inspired Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond. Visit the graves of all of these dignitaries at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Drive or take the Commuter Rail north to Salem, Mass. and visit the House of the Seven Gables, or the Witch Trial Memorial and the Old Burying Point Cemetery.

Prefer to read your way through town? has a Reader’s Guide to Literary Boston that provides excerpts from books, each highlighting or describing specific spots in the city.

AND, of course, if your real goal is to go home with books beyond those you pick up up at the trade show, you might want to visit a few bookstores. My next post will feature suggested spots for browsing (and buying!), so stay tuned!

Fellow locals, help me out! If there are spots of note I haven’t included here, please let our visitors know what they are and where they can find them.

See you all at ALA!

6 thoughts on “Bookish Sites Around Boston

  1. EM

    Anastasia Krupnik is the reason I live in Boston (no joke). But don’t forget the other Boston-area publisher, eh? Charlesbridge is at 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA, just steps from the Charles River, along which one can take a lovely winter walk.

  2. Sam Musher

    Anastasia Krupnik is the reason I live in Boston (no joke). EM, I don’t know you, but I love you for that. Alison, don’t forget the brand-new Cambridge Public Library! If library tourism is your thing, it’s a gorgeous and creative renovation/expansion. 5-10 minutes from the Harvard Square stop on the Red Line.

  3. Peni Griffin

    Are any Alcott sites highlighted in Boston? Because a lot of her life and professional career took place there. Lost on Boston Common and converted to abolition when rescued by a black boy as a child; editing Merry’s Museum,contemplating suicide, and eventually raising her niece as an adult; living in a basement while Bronson floundered and Abba ran an employment agency as a YA – it’s not just Concord I would be interested in seeing. If I were going. Which I’m not. But I’ll go to Boston someday, and I’ll want to know.

  4. TW

    It’s a sad sign of the times, however, that you will find very few actual book shops still operating in Boston. Over the last 10 years, book stores in Boston (as in other cities) have been closing at an alarming rate. Literary Boston isn’t so literary anymore.

  5. Eliza Brown

    If anyone is up for traveling outside of Boston (okay, pretty far outside Boston), come visit The Eric Carle Museum in Amherst! We have a bus tour from ALA on Jan 23rd.


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