Reading Books about Boston, New England, Home
by Mallary Tenore Tarpley
Senior year of college I took a “Literature of Boston” course in which I came to know Boston through a literary lense that spanned decades of the historic city’s past.
We read the usual suspects, including: Edwin O’Connor’s “The Last Hurrah,” John P. Marquand’s “The Late George Apply,” and Henry James’ “The Bostonians.”
My favorite book in the course was Jean Stafford’s “Boston Adventure,” primarily because of the dozen or so books that we read, it was the only book aside from “The Scarlet Letter” that featured a female as its protagonist.
I felt as though i could relate to the main character, Sonie Marburg, a young working class immigrant who lives by the seaside and longs to move to Boston in her search for meaning and love. What she finds when she eventually gets to the city is not what she had imagined.
My classmates said they didn’t mind Sonie, but they thought the book was dry. When it came time at the end of the course to vote on which book we liked best, I was the only one who raised my hand for Stafford’s book. Poor Stafford, a talented author who’s fame is perhaps more commonly defined by her infamous relationship with Boston-born poet Robert Lowell than for her skills as a writer.
Given how much my classmates didn’t like Stafford’s book, it didn’t surprise me to see that “Boston Adventure” was ranked last on Boston.com’s new “Essential New England Books” feature. I’d argue this is more so because most people probably haven’t read the book and therefore wouldn’t have an occasion to rate it.
I know I’m not giving you much of an incentive to read “Boston Adventure,” but really, if you can find it, (I doubt most bookstores sell it), read it and let me know what you think. Hey, Boston.com thinks it’s “essential” reading!
Other “Essential New England Books” include Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” (if you ever go to Concord, Mass., check out Alcott’s house, which I used to visit all the time growing up); Slyvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” (not the most uplifting read, but none of Plath’s work really is…); Mike Stanton’s “The Prince of Providence” (a good read about the former mayor of Providence, Buddy Cianci, who revitalized the city but was brought down by corruption and crime); and Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Woa,” which I recently read for the book club I’m in and loved.
And we can’t forget the children’s books that made the list: Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings” (reminds me of visiting Boston Common and climbing on the gold statues of these ducklings); Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” (a little hardcover book that I used to carry around with me when I was little); and E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” (what child doesn’t love Wilbur?!)
Given how many great books are on the list, “Boston Adventure” may not be the best, but it’s up there. The book, as well as so many others from the list, remind me of home.
Which New England/Boston-based books would you recommend?