Reading New England: Massachusetts

Posted July 3, 2016 by Lory in challenges / 12 Comments


And now we come to the heavyweight of New England, the dominant player in literature as well as commerce, culture, and history. Until I started working on the New England Book List, I had no idea how many Massachusetts books there were in contrast to the other states. I ended up dividing the list into Fiction and Nonfiction to make it a bit easier to navigate, and am sure that there are dozens more titles that could have been included, but I had to stop somewhere.

1814 map of Beacon Hill, via Wikimedia Commons

Within this dominant state, Boston is clearly the dominant location. As the largest city in the region, and one of the most important cities in the land since colonial days, it’s only natural that it should play host to many of the narratives that have come down to us. Together with the neighboring towns that have become absorbed by its urban sprawl, including Concord, Lexington, and Cambridge, it’s been home to many of the giants of American literature: Hawthorne, Emerson, Alcott, Melville, Howells, James . . . the list of contemporary authors would be even longer. Boston was the first city in the country to designate an official literary district, which is well worth exploring in person or online.

Cape Cod with the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. NASA photo via Wikimedia Commons

Cape Cod and the islands offshore form another important literary location, with their connection to the whaling industry and their unique, fragile ecology. Here was launched the adventure of Moby Dick, Henry Beston spent a year in The Outermost House, and Dido Twite struggled to escape from Nightbirds on Nantucket. The coastal village of Salem, with its notorious history, has spawned more than its share of strange and dramatic stories, from The House of the Seven Gables to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Meanwhile, the regions further inland, extending west to the Berkshires, also have many stellar books and authors to their credit; Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox is a landmark I especially want to visit, along with reading her classic novellas Ethan Frome and Summer.

Just looking at my personal TBR pile for the challenge, I see that I have Massachusetts books on hand to fit every category. These include:

  • The Art Forger (Fiction)
  • Marmee and Louisa (Nonfiction)
  • The Crucible (Poetry and Drama)
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (Children’s and YA)
  • Delivering the Truth (Mystery and SF)

I can hardly wait to get started on all of this wonderful reading, and I’m sure that I’ll be catching up for years to come. What are your favorite Massachusetts books?













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12 responses to “Reading New England: Massachusetts

  1. j

    Joseph C. Lincoln is a Massachusetts author. He wrote books set on Cape Cod in the early 1900s. He described his writing as ‘spinning yarns’ which gives you a bit of a feel for his books. He was published in The Saturday Evening Post. His books are definitely of their time, portraying strong, stolid New Englanders complete with dialect. They can be great fun.

  2. I loved In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick (non-fiction). Also, Caleb’s Crossing by Gerladine Brooks. I’m sure there are more, but those are just off the top of my head.

    • I love Geraldine Brooks, and I really need to read some Nathaniel Philbrick – he has several books that would fit for the challenge. Thanks for the recommendations!

  3. What a well researched post and such history! I have just gone and put Marmee and Louisa into my Goodreads want to read list.

  4. I’m not sure that I have a favorite Massachusetts book, though one of my favorite quotations is by Ralph Waldo Emerson. This month, I hope to read Elizabeth Elo’s North of Boston, a mystery.

  5. Funnily enough, I’m indexing a book about Massachusetts right now. But my favorite book set in Massachusetts is probably Little Women; I’m also fond of Eight Cousins. And there’s an interesting historical cozy mystery series by B. B. Oak featuring Thoreau as the detective. I’ve only read one, but I enjoyed it. I’d like to read Edith Maxwell’s new historical mystery series about the Quaker midwife, too. (I see you’re reading it. BTW, how did you do that cool widget at the bottom of the page, that shows what you’ve read, are reading, and want to read?)

    • It’s such an fun idea to make real authors into detectives, isn’t it? I’d like to hunt down that series but I’m not having much success so far. I just finished Delivering the Truth, and I think you’d like it too.

      Regarding the widget, thanks to a tip from First Impressions Reviews I used the UBB Goodreads Shelf widget. I put it in Footers 1, 2, and 3, and just changed the title and the Goodreads shelf name each time. If you need more help email me!

  6. Eva

    What a great list for Massachusetts! I’m adding several to my TBR pile. Thank you, Lory.
    I didn’t notice Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s mystery series featuring Asey Mayo, “the Cape Cod Sherlock.” Most were written in the 30’s and 40’s, but still great fun.
    A few years ago I happened upon Cynthia Huntington’s The Salt House, a Summer on the Dunes of Cape Cod. Like Henry Beston’s classic, Outermost House, this is a memoir of summers the author and her partner spent in a small cottage on the dunes. Beautiful evocative writing!