Boston United States

Making the First Move

Literary Tourist in Boston, Day 2

Next morning we jumped on “the T,” and headed downtown for breakfast on fashionable Newbury Street, a good place to spot funky window displays. Here’s an artsied-up photograph I took of one:

We met this woman at an equally funky basement-level breakfast joint a few blocks up, whose son, she mentioned in passing, had composed an opera which was playing in town that day, about the “Lavender Scare.”  She was here with her retired professor husband to attend.  I’d never heard about this Scare. Turns out it was tied to McCarthyism, a kind of  “moral panic” that took hold in the fifties, propagated by noted slime-buckets Joseph McCarthy and his lawyer Ron Cohn. Their thinking was that gays and lesbians would be more susceptible than others to being blackmailed by the Commies, and therefore had to be outed, and ousted from government. The opera, by our breakfast companion’s son, Gregory Spears, is called Fellow Travelers and is based on a novel of the same name by Thomas Mallon. 

According to Wiki, the Lavender Scare normalized persecution of homosexuals through bureaucratic institutionalization of homophobic discrimination policy. Apparently thousands lost their jobs. 

This fine, informative encounter underlines one of the main benefits of travel: you’ll learn loads of things if you just take the time to 1) slow down and pay attention, and 2) reach out, make the first move – and engage with those around you. The richest, most interesting, rewarding travel experiences always involve other people. Connecting with them always makes your trips more memorable. 

Around the corner I strolled to the College Club. As soon as I saw the entrance I realized that I’d stayed here some years ago with my sorely missed brother (he of Legal Seafoods lunch fame). It’s a lovely, stately place, with sturdy antique furniture, wooden floors, high ceilings, plus a great central location. 

Bookseller/Translator/Composer Simon Beattie stays here every time he participates in the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair (one of the big three in the U.S.A.). We’d agreed to meet before the Fair kicked off that morning to talk, among other things about the incredibly successful Face Book group, We Love Endpapers, that Simon launched a few years ago. It now counts more than 5,000 as members, including me. Here’s a shot of an item I posted a week or so after meeting Simon:

Here’s our conversation about endpapers, brocade papers from Augsburg, Germany (!), and bookseller catalogues: 

and here’s a shot of Simon’s great big award-winning, over-sized first ‘Short List’ catalogue: 

I really admire how Simon sells books. Similar to Heather O’Donnell, he stocks a limited number of items – 200-600 – and spends a great deal of time selecting, researching and presenting them. Much of his thinking is guided by how these books can provide scholars and their students with new angles from which to examine existing subjects, or open up under-explored fields and avenues of study.

After our interview we walked over several blocks to the Hynes Convention Center where the Fair 

was rumbling to a start. I’d teed up an interview with Greg Gibson of Ten Pound Island Book Company to talk about collecting Nautical Books [you’re going to have to listen to find out why the name]: 

After getting shuffled around a bit we ended up in one of the curtained off seminar venues where it was a little quieter. Afterwards, Greg took me to his booth to show me a sailor’s log he’d picked up the day before at the Boston Ephemera Show that I’d hoped to make, but didn’t. Turns out I saw a beautiful example of one when I visited the library at the Royal Military College in Kingston, ON, only a few weeks later, here:

From Greg’s, I trotted over to Robert Rulon Miller‘s booth to see if I could get him to sign my copy of Quarter to Midnight, the bibliography he’d researched and published in collaboration with Gaylord Schanilec, proprietor of the Midnight Paper Sales Press

I’d interviewed Gaylord a couple of years ago out in St. Paul. Listen here:

and Robert, at his home on Summit Drive, quite some years earlier. Listen here ( that background noise is courtesy of his dog’s jingly collar ):  

Robert is a respected member of the antiquarian booksellers profession, instrumental in establishing the annual Colorado Antiquarian Book Market Seminar.

Robert wasn’t at his booth, which was just as well, since it was time for me to meet my friend, book collector par excellence, Mark Samuels Lasner. We met at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair in St. Pete’s one April. Two things stand out from that weekend: a great curb-side dinner with Mark and Brendan Sherar, CEO of Biblio.com, and the interview I conducted with Mark about collecting John Lane’s Bodley Head imprint. Listen here: 

Mark is one of the planet’s pre-eminent ‘British literature and art of the late 1800’s’, collectors. He focuses on the Pre-Raphaelites and writers and illustrators of the 1890s. His collection is comprised of more than “9,500 books, letters, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, and artworks, including many items signed by such figures as Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, Max Beerbohm, William Morris, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Aubrey Beardsley.” In 2016 he donated this collection, worth more than $10 million, to the University of Delaware.

We talked over steak and salad about books, of course, and all things related: Mark’s activities with the Grolier Club, for example, and its just concluded Peter Koch show; how great it is that James Daunt, the new CEO at Barnes & Noble, is a bona-fide bookman and not a bean-counter; and how sharply the antiquarian book business seems to have turned toward selling unique items, typically ephemera, that have intriguing, culturally relevant stories attached to them. 

Mark had an appointment with a bookseller to check out some correspondence between the publisher J.M. Dent and Aubrey Beardsley, Rebecca West, and H.G. Wells, among others. He figured they belonged with the Dent archive at Chapel Hill, but nonetheless wanted to see them. We parted where we’d met, at the entrance to the Fair, vowing to see each other again in a couple of months, when I planned to drive through Washington, D.C. where Mark and his partner, Margaret, have a place. I decided to make my way over to Brattle Books for a good long browse of the ‘Book on Books’ section. I’ve always done well there. Back in 2008 I interviewed owner Ken Gloss in the basement of the building. Listen here

Ken launched his own podcast last year. Check it out here.

It had started to rain by the time I got to the store with its lustrous outdoor bookstalls. Then I noticed that it was closed on Sundays. And this was Sunday.

Disappointed, I turned to the street thinking I’d grab a taxi and head for the nearest train station. In doing so I noticed this Tex-Mex restaurant next door – Fajitas & ‘Ritas. Next thing you know I’d dialed up this frozen margarita, and the rest of the day was history.

To be continued

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