I hate on Greater Boston a lot, and I think I have reason to, but there are some things about it that are awesome, and one of those things is Harvard Square. It’s the place that looks and feels like the reason I always wanted to move to the East Coast and be a city girl when I was young. Lots of independent businesses, students everywhere but not bro-y ho-y students, tons of ways to get there via public transportation, etc etc. Basically it’s where things I like are, and it’s where I feel like myself.
One of the biggest reasons I adore Harvard Square is that there is not one bookstore that I like to go to, but many. Strangely enough, for an intellectual city that’s chock full of students and professors and writers, there really aren’t that many good bookstores. I haven’t the foggiest if there’s even a Barnes & Noble that’s not in, like, Newton or Watertown, and I just don’t love the feel of most of the bookstores I’ve tried. They’re okay–I’ll go to Brookline Booksmith if I have time to kill in Coolidge Corner, and I think it’s interesting that they have both new and used materials; Brattle Book Shop let me unload a bunch of books I wanted to get rid of, and that was nice, even if their trade ratio is way, way low compared to Bookmans. Meh, book-selling establishments in Boston. Meh, I say to (and about) you.
So it’s incredibly refreshing to cross the Charles and check out Harvard Book Store or Raven Used Books or Porter Square Books (not in Harvard Square, but just one stop farther on the Red Line–also the ONLY place in Greater Boston that agrees that soy is gross and bad for you and has other options for coffee drinks, like rice and almond milk) and feel a little bit more like it’s the type of bookstore I like, with organization that works for me, etc. I know it’s all subjective, but when you are a person who uses bookstores as fun, as escape, and as therapy, it’s really important to find the one that works for you. I can’t tell you how much of the depression I found myself in when I first moved to Boston probably could have been
alleviated mitigated (I’m not crazy; I know books don’t cure chemical imbalances, but they are a pretty decent coping mechanism, and they’re a lot healthier than coping with food or drugs) by having a place where I could get lost for a few hours whenever I needed to, as Bookmans has been a mainstay of my mental health since I could drive (and before that was just a place I went to for hours on end with my dad).
Saturday I went on a Harvard and Porter Squares excursion with my favorite and enabling friend Emily (we decided we are probably retailers’ most amusing and favorite people in the world because we are so excited and hypercritical about EVERYTHING and never shut up) and hit up Bob Slate Stationer, Curious George, Wagamama, Papyrus, Follow the Honey, and Porter Square Books. Before the last one, we were walking back from Follow the Honey when we came across a storefront for foreign books. Since Emily speaks Italian and I speak Spanish and some Portuguese, we had to check it out.
Ermahgerd, fereign berks! We died. Figuratively.
If you know me in real life, you know that I sometimes throw around an idea for a book/thesis/dissertation/Fulbright. It involves YA books and reading culture in Latin America, but nobody I email writes back, and it’s hard to find out what’s going on because I have no idea where to look (I am seriously asking that if you have any suggestions of any kind–blogs, publishers, authors, websites, more bookstores in Boston–you please tell me, because I really want to make this happen in some way or another, whether it’s my Master’s thesis or a Fulbright or just a series of incredibly heavily researched blog posts). Wah, wah. Anyway, this store had a children’s section that we went crazy for, obvi, and while a lot of the stuff was just translations of English-language titles or other really famous stuff that we basically think of as part of the English tradition even if it’s not (i.e. Pinocchio, Le Petit Prince, Babar), I started to find some YA stuff that was written in Portuguese or in Spanish originally and that doesn’t seem to even exist in the United States. I was going to go cray cray until I turned the books over and saw the prices and died. Again, figuratively. Because I actually know how to use words.
I understand that they are a niche bookstore with really great quality stuff, and if I could afford to pay $35 for a slim volume of fiction, I would, because this is exactly the kind of business that makes me believe that I won’t die of sadness while I’m living here. What shocked me was mostly that Spanish and Portuguese are not uncommon languages, and Portuguese especially is spoken by a gazillion people in Massachusetts, so I feel like there should be enough demand to lower prices. Unless people from Brazil/Portugal/Cape Verde buy their books elsewhere, in which case, WHERE IS THAT AND HOW CAN I GO TO THERE?
I have been shopping a lot lately, because birthdays mean stores send you coupons, and also it’s the beginning of the school year, and if you read yesterday’s post, you know that I am trying lately to dress and groom like a human, and that means buying things. So I didn’t buy anything at this store. But it’s amazing, and I want to go back, and I’m going to use it as inspiration to get my lazy ass back on LiveMocha for some language practice. Also, seriously, help? Or send money to fund my habit?