From the Archives: A Guide to Blackstock College

Throwback Thursday is a feature of my new blog, Entering the Enchanted Castle, that allows me to take a look back at some of my favorite posts from past years on ECBR. This week I’m linking up one of my most popular posts, which was also one of the most fun to write — for reasons I think will become clear as you read on. This post originally appeared on October 31, 2015, as the kick-off post of Witch Week.

TamLinIn Tam Lin, Pamela Dean takes her college experience and mixes it with elements of the well-known sixteenth-century ballad about a young man entrapped by the Fairy Queen, who is then rescued by his mortal lover from becoming a Halloween sacrifice. It’s a wonderful novel about that time between adolescence and adulthood when the world opens up, revealing both its promise and its dangers. It’s about love and friendship and books and learning and life, and how they all intertwine in the process of growing up.

Because I attended the same school as the author — Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota — every time I reread Tam Lin I find a special pleasure in identifying and imagining the buildings, landscapes, and events that are so lovingly described in its pages. Dean says in a note that “Blackstock is not Carleton,” but really, it’s pretty darn close. For those who don’t have the advantage of having been there in person, here is a guide to help you visualize some of the geography I know and love so well.

As we approached the 25th anniversary of the book’s publication and my own graduation in 1991, it was interesting to note how much the Carleton campus has changed in that time — far more than it had changed since the setting of Tam Lin in the early seventies, which on my first reading seemed like the remote past. The core remains, though, and if you stroll the campus with book in hand you’ll still recognize much of it.

In any case, if you ever do have the chance to go to Carleton, whether for a day, a term, or the whole four years, take it. Even if the fairy queen doesn’t actually ride through the Arb on All Hallows Eve, it truly is a magical place.

Heartfelt thanks are due to Matt Ryan, Carleton’s Associate Director of Web Communications, and to the Carleton Archives for their help with obtaining the images in this post. For requests to use these images elsewhere, please contact the College.

BlackstockCampusMapA map showing the “Blackstock” names for Carleton buildings that existed in the mid 1970s, when Tam Lin is set. Keep in mind that some sizes and distances have been changed in the book, and some buildings eliminated.

Major Locations

In the text the Blackstock name is given first, and then the Carleton name (if different) in italics. Attentive readers will note that the name-pairs often have some obvious relationship — e.g. Watson becomes Holmes. I’d be grateful to anyone who can cast light on the more obscure ones (Dunbar? Murchison?).

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Ericson Hall (Nourse Hall)
Janet, our heroine, lives here with her two roommates during her freshman and senior years, having a distinct prejudice in favor of the old-fashioned style of dormitory. I liked it too, when I lived there as a freshman. There really is a Little Theater in the basement, scene of a highly charged production of The Revengers’ Tragedy in the book and of countless student productions through the years in real life. I never heard of any ghosts, though.

Eliot Hall (Evans Hall)
Janet and her friends live here during her sophomore and junior years, in Column A — the building’s oddity being that it is arranged in vertical columns rather than horizontal floors to reduce noise. In its Carleton incarnation, this unfortunately also did away with much of the floor-based socializing that sustains student life, and so it was remodeled some years ago to a more conventional floor plan. Eliot/Evans also housed Janet’s and my favorite dining hall, where one could enjoy the view across Bell Field without having to trudge all the way to the edge of campus (see Dunbar, below). Alas, that too is gone, replaced by a more central, modern facility. Still remaining is the Cave, the student hangout in the basement where Thomas (the Tam Lin character) drowns his sorrows in weak beer.

Dunbar Hall (Goodhue Hall)
Janet’s second-favorite dining hall is here, with even more spectacular view thanks to its floor-to-ceiling windows, but lower popularity due to its distance from the center of campus. That’s gone too, repurposed into an enormous “superlounge.” Proximity to the Arboretum makes it a good choice for outdoorsy types, and Janet spends a lot of time going back and forth over the bridge that links it to the main campus (as do many of the more unsavory characters).

Masters Hall (Laird Hall)
Home of the English department in Janet’s time and mine, this former science building is a proud edifice facing the center of campus, with a lofty, high-ceilinged interior. She happily spends many hours here delving into the treasures of English literature, as did I. The warren of temporary buildings behind Masters/Laird where Janet has to hunt for her advisor either never existed at Carleton or was gone before I got there, though “Laird Annex” was a computer lab where I printed out my papers using the college computers.

Library (Laurence Gould Library)
Also known as the Libe, due to the Carleton/Blackstock penchant for abbreviating everything. Janet first encounters Thomas in the stacks here, seeks clues to the identity of the Ericson ghost in the archives, and finds peace in its “padded rooms” for studying. Because it’s built into a hill, it’s much bigger than it appears from its front elevation.

Chester Hall (Old Music Hall)
In her most obvious deviation from actual Carleton architecture, Dean makes the comely but rather petite old Music building into a looming, menacing supernatural presence of considerable grandeur. I do remember a listening room and music library, but not a marble-floored hall suitable for roller skating. A significant event takes place in one of the practice rooms, but I can’t say whether that is based in reality or not.

To my loss, I never spent much time in this enormous natural preserve during my time at Carleton. Janet is wiser, and as a Blackstock faculty child she has a longstanding knowledge of its byways. Her first romantic encounter takes place here, as well as meetings of the more supernatural variety. It’s a good place to locate your fairy court, if it’s going to be attached to a midwestern college.

Janet made a ceremonial stop in the middle of the bridge. She knew this stream in all its manifestations, from cracked mud set about with slimy green rocks to the foaming mass that covered the knees of the trees and lapped at the concrete wall that separated the parking  area from the woods. Today it was about midway between those two. All the rocks were covered, and the grass that overhung the banks like combed hair drifted sideways in a mild brown current. The air was full of dusty sunlight and a slow fall of yellow elm leaves. The woods decay, the woods decay and fall, thought Janet, recalling favorite poems with a pleasurable melancholy. — Tam Lin, pp. 46-47

Minor Locations

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Taylor Hall (Burton Hall) – Janet dislikes the dungeon-like dining hall in the basement of this dormitory on the far west side of campus, which causes a rather sticky situation when she ends up uncharacteristically going there one day.

Womens Center (Cowling Gymnasium) – Site of Janet’s freshman fencing class, this smallish gym is in convenient proximity to the East side dorms where she lives.

Murchison Hall (Musser Hall), Forbes Hall (Myers Hall), and Holmes Hall (Watson Hall) – These modern dormitories get short shrift in Janet’s book, but I lived in two of them and they weren’t so bad. I was definitely glad I never had to live in Musser, though.

Appleton Hall (Boliou Hall) – The building where Janet has her first Greek class is a pleasant place to study art and art history. The fountain in front tempts Carleton students to splash in it on hot summer days.

Olin Hall – The science building that looks like a radiator doesn’t even get its own Blackstock name. It does have an open-air auditorium nearby, though, suitable for impromptu performances by Music and Drama majors.

Observatory (Goodsell Observatory) – This historic building is one of the gems of the Blackstock/Carleton campus. Janet takes astronomy just so she can learn to use the telescope, an aim with which I sympathize.

Student Union (Willis Hall) – In Janet’s time, the student union is crammed into this tiny old building with an iconic clock tower. At Carleton this function was eventually to be taken on by the repurposed Sayles-Hill Gymnasium (see Room Draw, below).

Sterne Hall (Severance Hall) – This attractive dormitory also boasts a “Tea Room” in the basement where Janet and Thomas buy greasy french fries. In my time this was just another dining hall, but we still called it the Tea Room.

Music and Drama Center – Janet frequently walks past this much-maligned modern construction but oddly never sets foot inside it, in spite of her love of music and drama.

Chapel – Janet also admires this lovely building from a distance but never goes inside, even though she must have done so at some point. At Carleton, weekly convocation gatherings in the chapel are a longstanding tradition; once they had a religious element but this has been replaced by secular lectures and presentations. Janet mentions Convocation exactly once.

She looked out the window in time to catch the best view of Blackstock, as the bus climbed the hill that led them out of the river valley the town was built in. The buildings between which she ran and bicycled and trudged laden down with books made one tight cluster, the chapel tower, the brick battlements of Taylor, the black glittering clock tower of the Student Union, the brick stack of the heating plant and the mellow sandstone of the Anthro building crammed in the center of a circle of trees, green and red and yellow. You could have put the whole thing in your pocket. — Tam Lin, pp. 138-139


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The Tunnels – The steam tunnels that so conveniently linked many buildings on the East side of campus were closed due to safety concerns after my freshman year. I don’t remember seeing Homer in Greek on the wall, but there’s a lot of other amazing graffiti down there, including a reproduction of Tenniel’s Jabberwocky, a Twister board, and the yellow brick road.

The Town (Northfield) – Janet and her friends go downtown to buy bedspreads, eat sandwiches at a diner, and pick each other up from the bus — all typical activities for students needing to get off campus for a while.

The Old Theater (Old Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis) – The theater where Janet and Thomas go to attend highly meaningful performances of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and The Lady’s Not For Burning was demolished in 2006, replaced by a new waterfront complex. (I’m not sure why Dean already called it the Old Theater in 1991 though. Did she have some inside information?) This article from NPR gives some historical background, along with interior and exterior photos of the theater. It also includes shots from the first and last plays to be performed on its stage: both productions of Hamlet, appropriately enough.

Schiller – In a significant early scene, Janet gets involved in a pitched battle over the bust of the German poet, which is jealously guarded by groups of students who try to steal it from one another while also making dramatic appearances at public events. Yes, this really does happen at Carleton, and there are more wacky stories about it than you can shake a stick at. The idea is to keep things fun, clever, and nonviolent, which is Carleton in a nutshell.

Room Draw – The dormitories at Carleton (and presumably Blackstock as well) are mixed, without designated dorms for upperclassmen. Rooms are assigned via a quota system, whereby in the spring each student draws a random number that allows him or her a place in line to choose from remaining rooms. Janet and her friend Molly both draw extremely low numbers for their sophomore room, which is why they are so glad that their third roommate Tina is still willing to stick with them even with a high number that might have given her a chance at a single. At Blackstock room draw and registration take place in the old gymnasium, which by my time at Carleton had been made into the new campus center.

Traying – The temptation to take trays from the dining halls and use them to sled down Bell Hill is something few Blackstock/Carleton students can resist, and Janet and Thomas are no exception.

They had made the bottom of the slide properly: instead of stopping abruptly in the hollow made by everybody’s stamping feet, the tray skimmed halfway across the huge expanse of Bell Field, slowed, and slowed, and stopped somewhere in the middle. The setting sun lined the bare branches of the trees across the stream with gold, but down here there was a blue and gray twilight. — Tam Lin, p. 285

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of the Blackstock/Carleton campus, and that if you don’t know it through either its fictional or real-life incarnations, it’s intrigued you enough to take a look!

Literary Pilgrimages: Salem, Mass.

As I prepare to leave New England, at least for the time being, there are lots of places I still haven’t visited and would like to. So I’m making an effort to do some of these long-deferred trips, even if it means putting off some other important tasks.

One of these places is Salem, Massachusetts, site of the infamous Witch Trials in 1692. One can’t help but wonder whether the individuals behind that particular episode of persecution would have done so if they’d known it would cause their town to become a tourist mecca focused on occult pursuits, with spooky museums, crystal readers, and body piercing parlors thronging the streets.

It’s a weird twist on that tortured history, for sure. Such kitschiness was not my personal reason for visiting Salem, however. It’s also the hometown of the great American author Nathaniel Hawthorne and contains many memories of his life and work, including the Custom House described at length in his prologue to The Scarlet Letter, and the original House of the Seven Gables.

The House of the Seven Gables is now a museum and Hawthorne’s birthplace has been moved to the site as well, along with several other historic buildings. A tour took us into the labyrinthine depths of the house and its history, which later owners retrofitted to suit Hawthorne’s invented narrative.

Gables that had been removed over the centuries were restored, a “cent shop” was added to represent a scene in the novel, and a secret staircase was even put in to explain the mysterious comings and goings of one of the characters. Literature imitating life, or vice versa?

It made me think some rereading of Hawthorne might be in order during Witch Week. It occurs to me that his dark imaginative vision would be a wonderful subject for this annual celebration, the theme of which this year is Villains.

I also wanted to go to the Peabody Essex Museum, which is one of those small, slightly under-the-radar museums I enjoy the most. There was a lovely special exhibition of American art along with the regular collection. Here I especially liked seeing two paintings by Sophia Hawthorne, Nathaniel’s wife, which she created as an engagement present. In her fanciful views of Italy she included tiny images of the betrothed couple. She had a vivid imagination as well!

Inside the museum is also an entire house that was brought over from China, showing evidence of its eight generations of history. It really felt like being transported to another world.

There would have been much more to see in Salem, but I ran out of time. Still, I’m glad I got at least a glimpse — and I encourage any visitors to New England to give it a look. There’s much to learn and to explore.

Niantic Book Barn haul

Last Friday, I took one of my few remaining days of vacation to make a trek to the Niantic Book Barn on the Connecticut coast, a sprawling complex of barns, huts, sheds, trolleys, outdoor shelving, and even a former outhouse filled with used books on every imaginable subject. Three additional, more conventional buildings down the street have even more books to explore, all neatly shelved and labeled. It was a book-hunter’s paradise!

I was so glad that I also got to meet up with Erica Robyn of Erica Robyn Reads (and her friend Alex), who like me drove down from New Hampshire, and Chris of WildMoo Books, who lives not far from the store. In between our browsing sessions, we sat down to refresh ourselves with some pizza and conversation. I always appreciate the chance to meet some blogging friends in person!

Thanks Chris for letting me use your selfie!

I sold some books at the hyper-efficient sales counter — and immediately used my store credit to buy more books. Here’s what I got at each of the four locations:

Main Store – The New Arrivals shelves were plentiful and fun to pore through here, along with a good selection of kids’ paperbacks.

Downtown – The bulk of SF and horror were in this location. I picked up a couple of titles that I wanted to reread.

Midtown – This store had a huge children’s section. I had already gotten several books for my son in the main store, so I just got him one more here.

Store Four – This had a good selection of literary fiction, criticism, and Folio Society and other fine press books. I had to restrain myself to buying just a few lovelies.

Have you been to Niantic Book Barn? What’s your favorite used book store?

Reading New England: The Institute Library (guest post)

Reading New England

For a final Reading New England feature, I asked Chris of WildMoo Books whether she might like to contribute one of her wonderful library posts. Chris is a Connecticut resident, but she also travels far and wide, and wherever she goes she likes to take pictures of interesting libraries and share them with us. Please be sure to check them out here!

For her guest post, Chris picked the Institute Library in New Haven, Connecticut — a place I’ve never heard of, but definitely want to visit now. Many thanks to Chris for this virtual tour of one of New England’s hidden treasures.


The Institute Library
Guest post by Chris of WildMoo Books

When Lory invited me to write a library post for her Read New England challenge I immediately said yes. There are so many fantastic libraries in New England—from charming small community libraries to powerhouse city libraries to Ivy League college libraries. There was no lack of inspiration, rather the challenge was to narrow down the options. I kept coming back to The Institute Library of New Haven, CT.

Founded in 1826, The Institute Library is one of the last remaining membership libraries in America. It also has its own classification system developed by one of its early librarians, William A. Borden. You can read about the library’s history and current events at their website:

The mission of the Institute Library is to fulfill its historical purpose of “mutual assistance in the attainment of useful knowledge” for its members and the New Haven community at large through literature, civil discourse, and the arts.

I hope you’ll enjoy this short look into The Institute Library.


The Institute Library had several homes since its founding in 1826 until this four story brick building was erected for the Institute in 1878. The ground floor is a retail space (currently for rent).


The entrance to the library. Members and guests ring a bell and are buzzed in via intercom.


The staircase leading from the front door up to the library are lit via transparent kickboards on the staircase directly above which gets direct sunlight from large windows facing the street. An elevator installation is one of the library’s upcoming improvement projects.


Through doors at the top of the stair members are greeted by a display of the library’s newest acquisitions. Behind this is the circulation desk. Notice the card catalog to the right.


When you turn to the right from here there are two displays of recent acquisitions, one for fiction, one for nonfiction.


Turn to the right one more time and you’re facing the front of the library. The tall windows provide excellent lighting. In the daytime lights are not needed for reading in this room.

Comfy reading chairs in front of the windows offer an excellent place to curl up with a good book.


Looking from the front of the library toward the back. The bookcase on the left is a complete set of the Library of America editions.


A periodicals spinner near the front windows. Notice the stairs in the background and their transparent kickboards—these light the staircase below.


Some of the early librarians who served the Institute Library.


The library’s card catalog stands tall in the reference section, just across from the circulation desk.



Looking through the card catalog is a joy, so many graceful and diverse handwriting styles to admire from various hands.



Taken from the middle area of the library. The reference section is to the left and library offices to the right.


Standing in the stacks looking toward the back of the library.


In the stacks. Each aisle has its own light with a long pull. Members turn on lights as needed.


The back room where events take place and board meetings are held. This table has been at the library since it opened. The door to the right leads to a small lounge and the bathroom.


The lounge features comfortable reading chairs and there’s also a writing desk in a small alcove just across from the chairs.


There are several skylights in the building. Notice the gears. The writing above the doorway reads: “instructions: create what you long for.”


A reproduction of an original bookplate from the Mechanic Library of New Haven, 1792.


If you’re near New Haven or find yourself passing through, be sure to stop and visit The Institute Library. It is a vibrant historical treasure that continues to play an important role in the literary life of its members and New Haven.

The Institute Library
847 Chapel Street
New Haven, CT 06510 |
(203) 562-4045

Bookstores of New England

Wherever I go in my travels, I try to visit local independent bookstores. And for Reading New England, I wanted to especially feature some of the fantastic stores in our region, which I’m still exploring. I turned to my fellow bloggers to give some suggestions, and they came through with a great selection.

Of my personal favorites, I heartily second the recommendations for the Toadstool Bookshops (the Peterborough location is my local literary hangout) and Brookline Booksmith. But I hope to visit all the others on this list before too long!

Have we missed any of your favorites? What would be your suggestions?



Gifts from Booksmith
Gifts from Booksmith

Porter Square Books
Porter Square Books

From Katie of Bookish Illuminations:

Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA
Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA

I love Brookline Booksmith for its fantastic displays and the quality of its titles, both new and used. Porter Square is lovely because of its excellent children’s and young adult collection and its wonderful coffeeshop!

Toadstool Bookshop, Keene
Toadstool Bookshop, Keene

Bull Moose, Portland, ME
Bull Moose, Portland, ME

From Emily of Red House Books:

Toadstool Bookshops, Keene, Peterborough, and Milford, NH
Bull Moose – locations in ME and NH

The Keene location of the Toadstool is my absolute favorite bookstore. A recent move to a bigger and better location (with a cafe coming soon!) has been the highlight of my summer. I love the friendly staff, the ease of placing special orders, the holiday sales and all the fun little extras like bookmarks, journals, calendars, and cards. I don’t know what I would do without them!

Bull Moose is a family favorite. There are stores throughout Maine and New Hampshire, with a new location in Keene opening this past year. Their book selection is small, but everything is sold at a discount and it’s not just books – movies, music, games, pop culture novelty items – it’s a pretty unique place.


R.J. Julia
R.J. Julia

From Ann Marie of Lit Wine and Dine:

Diane’s Books, Greenwich, CT
R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT

Diane’s has been in business for over 20 years. Unassuming from the exterior, Diane manages to pack her space with a fabulous selection of books of all genres. Her staff is very friendly and knowledgable. You can browse away or, if you have an idea of  what you’re looking for, they will give you spot-on suggestions. She has frequent author events usually held off-site because her space is so packed with books.

She locally well-known for her gift wagons and she will also hand select a book or books each month if you want to send a book-a-month type gift to someone.

I have recently started taking my children there more often. They are 5 and 8. At school they are encouraged to read leveled books via an online program the school subscribes to but I found my daughter (8) just wasn’t enjoying it in the way I wanted her to. She was starting to say things like (gasp!!) “I don’t like reading.” I’ve found she does much better, as I expected she would, when she can choose her books and hold them in real book form. Diane’s has a great selection but I was especially impressed with the amount and quality of children’s nonfiction titles.

Though I don’t visit R.J. Julia as often (just a distance issue), they are also a fabulous store with great service and selection. They seem to be one of the bigger Indie stores I’ve been to. They have been around for more than 25 years. They have a little cafe and, if memory serves me correctly, they also sell stationery, cards, etc. They also host a number of book clubs.

Northshire Bookstore
Northshire Bookstore

The Savoy
The Savoy

From Chris of WildmooBooks:

R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT
Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT
The Savoy Bookshop & Cafe in Westerly, RI
The Book Barn in Niantic, CT

R.J. Julia is my local indy and THE place for author events on the CT shoreline. They host big name authors and also support local authors with both solo and joint-author events. There’s an indoor/outdoor cafe that serves sandwiches and salads. It’s a great place to browse, pick up the latest hot book or an older title you never go around to, and meet a friend for a meal before attending an author event. They’re also very involved in the community and do lots of kids and other bookish events as well.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending three Booktopia events at Northshire. The first two were hosted by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, creators of the Booktopia concept and podcasters of Books on the Nightstand and the third, this past spring, was hosted by the bookstore itself, which took over producing the event. This is a large store with excellent depth in most of its sections. They also have a wonderful used section with recent best-sellers, classics, collectables, and an eclectic assortment of nonfiction. Their sideline gifts are a delight to browse/shop and range from the quirky bookish novelty item to unique kitchen wares to handmade clothing. The attached cafe offers meals and baked goods and there is ample seating to dine with a group of friends or spend some time writing or studying. They have a second location in Saratoga Springs, NY.

The Savoy is the new kid on the block, and—WOW—is it a gorgeous place! This is the second bookstore adventure for Annie Philbrick (her first, Bank Street Books in Mystic, CT, is also an excellent bookstore and one I regularly frequent). The Savoy isn’t as large as the other bookstores I’ve listed, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. Everything inside is new, but you feel transported back in time by the handsome dark wood shelving, exposed brick, and black iron railings of the staircase, which is a central feature of the store. There are secret fairy doors, a rustic cabin reading room for kids, and prism ship lights in the floor. Comfortable seating is available in front of the picture window that faces the street and the cafe in the back of the shop has tables. The cafe sells delicious baked goods and coffee/tea.

The Book Barn is my absolute favorite used bookstore. It’s actually not just one store, but is now comprised of four locations around town. Each location focuses on various subject matter. For example, the downtown location focuses primarily on cookbooks, religion, and horror. The main location has a central building and a half-dozen or so smaller out buildings dedicated to their own subjects. They buy books by the bag/car/truck load from visitors who come from all over the region and boast an inventory of 500,000 titles. If I can’t find an older title at the Book Barn I consider it a sign from the book fairies that it is just not my time to read that particular book. I’ve also found ARCs here—shhh!—sometimes months before the pub date.

Literary Pilgrimages: Washington DC

As promised, here are a few pictures from my recent trip to Washington, DC. On the first day we visited Washington National Cathedral, where I sang 32 years ago on a choir tour. It was as beautiful and impressive as I remembered, with amazing stained glass windows (fortunately undamaged by the recent earthquake) that depict human achievements as well as biblical stories. These do not come out well in pictures, alas, but are well worth a visit.

An elevator to one of the towers gives access to an enclosed walk with a nearly 360 degree view of the city.
An elevator to one of the towers gives access to an enclosed walk with a nearly 360 degree view of the city.

The nave and west rose window.
The nave and west rose window.

A detail from the Canterbury Pulpit, which shows the translation of the Bible into English and includes stone from Canterbury, England.
A detail from the Canterbury Pulpit, which shows the translation of the Bible into English and includes stone from Canterbury, England.

On Day Two, we visited the Library of Congress, where my brother works. There are over 3000 employees in three huge buildings; his office is in Adams, but we skipped that for the Jefferson Building, which includes most of the public exhibits as well as an iconographical extravaganza in its interior decoration. In the main rooms every surface is decorated with paintings and statues representing aspects of history, government, art, literature, science, and so forth. It’s quite something.

My brother got us into the main reading room, but we were not allowed to take pictures there, so here are some of the other places we visited.

A copy of the Gutenberg Bible is one of the treasures on display.

Even the elevators are decorated: Here, "Anarchy" is part of a series depicting forms of government.
Even the elevators are decorated: Here, “Anarchy” is part of a series depicting forms of government.

Only congresspeople and library employees can check out books, but you can look at them. There were recent children's releases and cozy reading spots in the Young People's room.
Only congresspeople and library employees can check out books, but you can look at them. There were recent children’s releases and cozy reading spots in the Young People’s room.

The exhibit "America Reads" displayed some of the most influential and memorable books published in the US, chosen by readers. This case included early editions of Leaves of Grass and Little Women.
The exhibit “America Reads” displayed some of the most influential and memorable books published in the US, chosen by readers. This case included early editions of Leaves of Grass and Little Women.

A round room showcases the books from Thomas Jefferson's library, which formed the seed for the original collection.
A round room showcases the books from Thomas Jefferson’s library, which formed the seed for the original collection.

Just around the corner was the Folger Shakespeare Library, so we took a peek. I was sorry there were no performances going on in the lovely small theater, but there was an exhibition of artifacts and videos around the theme of “America’s Shakespeare.”

The exhibition gallery shows the Elizabethan touches on the interior.
The exhibition gallery shows the Elizabethan touches on the interior.

In true American style, Shakespeare has been used to advertise everything from sewing machines to chewing tobacco to perfume.
In true American style, Shakespeare has been used to advertise everything from sewing machines to chewing tobacco to perfume.


Relief of "Romeo and Juliet" from the Art Deco exterior.
Relief of “Romeo and Juliet” from the Art Deco exterior.

On the third day we visited museums and bookstores. We saw an interesting exhibition on The Greeks at the National Geographic Society, but no photos were allowed there.

We then went to the Phillips Collection, a small museum housed in a collector’s former home. The permanent collection is free on weekdays and is well worth seeing, with many wonderful pictures from the Impressionists to today.

From Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series, which tells the story of African-American movement north during WWI.
From Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, which tells the story of African-American movement north during WWI.

We browsed in two small bookstores in the Dupont Circle area; KramerBooks was a bustling spot with new books as well as a cafe, and Second Story Books had used books, music, maps and prints.

The children's selection at KramerBooks.
The children’s selection at KramerBooks features some local interest titles like “Of Thee I Sing” and “Madeline at the White House.”

We finished off with a short visit to the National Gallery of Art, but it was nearly closing time so we couldn’t do much. I’ll just leave you with a few bookish details from some of the works we saw there.

It was a wonderful trip and we’re already looking forward to going back. If you have any favorite DC spots let me know!

IMG_1096 IMG_1097 IMG_1099

Reading New England: A Visit to Amesbury with Author Edith Maxwell

Delivering the TruthCoverWhen I heard of Edith Maxwell’s new “Quaker midwife” mystery series, I was immediately intrigued. What a fun way to investigate a corner of New England history — the series is set in late nineteenth century Amesbury, Massachusetts, a former mill town at the mouth of the Merrimack River north of Boston —  from an unusual angle.

In Delivering the Truth, Quaker midwife Rose Carroll becomes a suspect when a difficult carriage factory manager is killed after the factory itself is hit by an arsonist. Struggling with being less than a perfect Friend, Rose delivers the baby of the factory owner’s mistress even while the owner’s wife is also seven months pregnant. After another murder, Rose calls on her strengths as a counselor and problem solver to help bring the killers to justice before they destroy the town’s carriage industry and the people who run it.

I enjoyed the character of Rose, an intelligent and caring young woman, and was fascinated by all the details of her midwifery practice. I also loved learning more about the Quaker community and about poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier, a real-life citizen of Amesbury who appears in the book. The story is well-paced and keeps you guessing as Rose races to try to find the killer before there is more loss of life. I sometimes was distracted by a modern-sounding word or phrase, but the language in general flows easily and serves the storytelling.

Maxwell’s love for and knowledge of her historic home town are especially evident in the way she brings it to life on the page. I’m looking forward to a visit some day, but until then I’m so happy that the author agreed to share a description of a recent tour she gave to celebrate the book launch. Enjoy this glimpse of Rose’s world, and I do hope that you’ll look into her adventures — book two is coming in 2017.



Because my new historical mystery, Delivering the Truth, takes place in the northeastern Massachusetts town where I live, I decided to create an historical walking tour to help launch the book two months ago. I ordered up a custom-made Quaker dress for myself from a local seamstress, made myself a bonnet, acquired an apron, and we were off!

Many of the buildings still standing in Amesbury were already built and in use in 1888 when my Quaker midwife Rose Carroll is walking around delivering babies and solving crimes. I started the tour in Market Square in front of one of the many Hamilton Mills buildings. The square was the center of activity in any old New England town.


I was surprised, pleased, and a little concerned that sixty people showed up, but all went well. I introduced the book and the tour, and read a short scene that takes place as Rose walks through the square the morning after a disastrous fire.

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We moved up Main Street, pausing to admire a mural that depicts carriages and life in the period when my book is set, as well as the lower falls of the Powow River rushing below, where one of my (fictional) bodies was found. We proceeded to the Josiah Bartlett statue. This tribute to the native son who was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence was dedicated on July 4, 1888 – which is the opening to my second book, Called to Justice (April 2017).

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I led the group to the historic Friends Meetinghouse, a thriving Quaker church (mine, actually),which John Greenleaf Whittier help design and where he worshiped. I shared a short scene from the book before we moved on to Whittier’s home on Friend Street. My guests got a quick tour and listened to part of a scene with Rose talking to Whittier in his study.

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We moved on, pausing to talk about the original library and the Opera House, neither still standing, then walked along the upper falls of the Powow, with a brief stop to talk about the mill industry and mill girls like Rose’s niece. The tour ended with a last reading in the amphitheater.

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People seemed to very much enjoy the stroll, the history, and the readings. I conducted a second walk in late June during Amesbury Days, also well received. You can see a taste of the walk on my YouTube channel.

I’m delighted that the Amesbury Library and the Whittier Home are sponsoring Delivering the Truth as an All-Community Read this summer. Several high school teachers are also assigning it to their classes, which I’ll be visiting in the fall. The summer activities will culminate in a staged reading by two costumed actors of the four scenes in the book that feature both Rose and Whittier, and the event will take place in the Friends Meetinghouse.

Readers: What’s your favorite historical site? Have you ever gone on a walking tour connected with a mystery? Would your town like to host an All-Community Read of the book, too?

Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie Day), and the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker), as well as award-winning short crime fiction. Her short story, “A Questionable Death,” was nominated for a 2016 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. The tale features the 1888 setting and characters from her Quaker Midwife Mysteries series, which debuted with Delivering the Truth in April, 2016.

Maxwell is Vice-President of Sisters in Crime New England and Clerk of Amesbury Friends Meeting. She lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats, and blogs with the other Wicked Cozy Authors. You can find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, and at her web site,



New England Book Blogger Meetup

As winter drew to a close, and it started to be possible to make social plans without fearing they would be cancelled by bad weather, I thought it might be fun to try to get together with some local book bloggers. The Boston literary district seemed a logical place for such a meeting, and so a date was picked and I put out an invitation. Alas, scheduling proved to be difficult for many, but at least last Sunday I got to meet up with two terrific bloggers I’ve followed for some time, Laurie of Bay State Readers Advisory and Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library. With three New England states represented (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island), it was quite a respectable showing.

Laurie, Charlotte and me at our last stop, Commonwealth Books.

We had a lovely brunch at Carrie Nation on Beacon Street, and exchanged some review copies that we had gathered. I somehow ended up with more books than I started with…

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Ooh, new books!

We then walked across the street to the Boston Athenaeum, a private library with a first-floor gallery that is open to the public. We viewed the current exhibition of recent print acquisitions (no photos were allowed in there), and then looked around at some of the other art on view.

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Portraits of Boston worthies lined one wall in this spacious room.


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Charlotte was perplexed by the bizarre ring displayed on the artist’s left hand in this self portrait. “It looks like liver flukes!”


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A statue of Adam and Eve in front of a window overlooking the adjoining Granary Burial Ground, where Paul Revere is buried.

We then walked to a nearby cafe, followed by a visit to Commonwealth Books, a narrow space on a crooked old side street, well-lined with used books stuffed into every available space. I enjoyed browsing, but found that carrying around a heavy bag of books is a very good deterrent to buying more books.

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Laurie examines the fiction selection at Commonwealth.

It was a marvelously bookish day, and I’m so glad that Laurie and Charlotte were able to make the trip to share it with me. We’ll definitely try to do it again sometime!

Literary Pilgrimages: Yankee Publishing

As I was planning Reading New England, a year of celebrating regional books, authors, and publishers, I immediately thought it would be marvelous to visit an iconic regional publisher that happens to be located half an hour’s drive from me: Yankee Publishing in Dublin, New Hampshire. Founded 80 years ago with the start of Yankee Magazine, and shortly thereafter taking on The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well, Yankee is something of a rarity in today’s world of giant media conglomerates: an independent, family-owned company that still operates out of its original, small-town premises, and continues to be firmly based upon its original flagship publications. I was curious to see how Yankee has grown and transformed to meet the readers of the digital age, even as it still honors the traditions and culture of the region that gave it birth.

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My tentative email inquiry was met immediately by a cordial invitation from Jamie Trowbridge, the president of the company and grandson of its founder, Robb Sagendorph, to come by for a short tour the following week. I drove to Dublin, a charming village on the shoulders of Mount Monadnock (population 1597). Here the company’s long, low barn-red building is found alongside the church, town hall, library and other buildings from an earlier century.

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The Yankee building used to house the town post office and store, though eventually the growing enterprise took over the whole space. A chalkboard outside is still reminiscent of the location’s past as the center of Dublin news and communication.

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Inside, Jamie led me up to where the company’s two main publications are produced. In this modest interior, with its low ceilings and uneven floors, is found a warren of offices for many busy employees. Reference books are stacked floor to ceiling in corners and corridors, perhaps not often consulted in these days of electronic research, but holding a treasure-trove of information about New England’s towns and inhabitants.

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I got to peek into the office of editor-in-chief Judson Hale (with Yankee since 1958), who unfortunately was not present to show me through his collection of fascinating clutter that includes a stuffed bird and Napoleon’s handkerchief. I did have a look at some old issues of the magazine, which started out letter-size, then was diminished around the time of World War II partly due to paper shortages. It kept that dimension for many years until it was recently redesigned as a full-color, standard-size magazine for today’s more visually oriented readers.

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In a conference room across the hall the mockups for the January/February issue had just been taken down, but Jamie showed me some sample spreads for a story on White Mountain tourism that had been created for another project under Yankee’s umbrella, New Hampshire magazine. The NH tourism folks were dissatisfied with the somewhat misty, atmospheric images — which I personally thought were stunning — and opted to replace them with their own posed models on bicycles under blue skies. That’s life in the media these days, it seems.

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On the third floor, we looked in on the offices where digital content is created: the “Jud’s Journal” podcast, mobile-friendly versions of the magazine, and the new digital “Yankee Plus” enhanced with video content and other original features. Glimpsing a cover story on “New England’s Best Winter Towns,” Jamie joked that he thought the word “winter” had been outlawed since whenever it appeared sales seemed to go down. He noted that when New Englanders were polled on what they liked best and least about our region, the answers were “The seasons” and “Winter.” Alas, we can’t have four seasons without it.

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Coming back down, I paused to ask about a curious chart on the wall, which does not come across well in my photo, I’m afraid. Turns out this was part of Robb Sagendorph’s method for creating the weather predictions in the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which he did himself for many years. (Now it’s based on Accuweather.) He meticulously graphed sunspot activity and all kinds of other data, leaving a graphic record of how a scientific mind grappled with New England’s weather obsession. What a remarkable person this multi-faceted founder must have been.

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After my brief visit, I left with a new appreciation of the hardworking, dedicated folks who continue to uphold the standards of their founding principles, while adjusting to meet today’s readers. Many thanks to Jamie Trowbridge and to everyone at Yankee Publishing for all they do, and for letting me have a glimpse behind the scenes.

Literary Pilgrimages: Emily Dickinson’s House

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The Dickinson Homestead

This visit was made in anticipation of next year’s challenge, Reading New England. To learn more and sign up, click on the link.

In Amherst, Massachusetts stands the house where Emily Dickinson lived during most her life and wrote much of her incredible poetry. It’s now a museum where you can see some of the original furnishings owned by the family, view a reconstruction of Emily’s bedroom, and hear about her life and work.

Though I had been there more than twenty years ago, I had almost no memory of the visit and I thought it was time to make another pilgrimage. I was so glad I did, as I gained a new appreciation and understanding of the poet’s family and surroundings. Although in comparison to some other author-house-museums I have seen the physical furnishings are spare, our tour guide was able to bring them to life through stories, anecdotes and quotations from the poetry. I found it especially enlightening to stand in Emily’s corner bedroom, with its large windows giving a sweeping view of the hills to the southeast (if we imagine away the trees and power lines that have grown up since her time). Without leaving the house she could make observations such as “I’ll tell you how the sun rose, a ribbon at a time” and “A bird came down the walk: He did not know I saw.”

We looked briefly at some facsimiles of the manuscript poems, with their multiple variants of many words and phrases scribbled in the margins, and considered how differently they can read when different editorial choices are made. Seeing Emily’s actual handwriting, even if only as a photocopy, brought us closer to her creative process.

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The Evergreens

It was also very illuminating to hear about Emily’s family: her father, who bought her all the books she wanted and then begged her not to read them; her mother, from whom she remained somewhat distant until the older woman needed care in old age; her sister, who burned her letters on Emily’s request after her death but thankfully preserved the poems; and her brother, with whom she shared the illicit reading of novels and conspired to hide them in the piano.

This brother, Austin, married one of Emily’s close friends and moved next door. Their house, The Evergreens, was also part of the tour, and is in a fascinating state of decrepitude. The furnishings and wallcoverings are largely original, a marvelous collection of Victoriana, but have suffered much during the years and have not all been restored to glossy museum-style perfection. This was a bit unusual, but somehow made them more poignant and real.

Here we heard more about family feuds and scandals, particularly in connection with arguments over Emily’s poetry after her death. It’s strange and sad that such a legacy of genius became a bone of contention among her heirs, but the fact that she never settled upon a final, “publishable” form for her poetry in some ways invited in this response. She remains an enigmatic, ambiguous figure, leaving us with much to decipher and wrestle with in our understanding of who she was and what she meant to say.

Here are a few more images, which the museum graciously granted me permission to share with you:

The wallpaper in Emily's room has just been restored from fragments found during remodeling. Photo courtesy of The Emily Dickinson Museum.
The wallpaper in Emily’s room has just been restored from fragments found during remodeling. Photo courtesy of The Emily Dickinson Museum.


Vintage cooking implements in the kitchen of The Evergreens. Photo courtesy of the Emily Dickinson Museum.
Vintage cooking implements in the kitchen of The Evergreens. Photo courtesy of the Emily Dickinson Museum.


A poetic fragment shows how the poet worked with many variants for a single word or phrase. Photo courtesy of the Emily Dickinson Museum.

In 90 short minutes there was only time to touch briefly on the many mysteries of Emily’s life, and I left wanting to know more. I bought a biography, My Wars are Laid Away in Books, that I hope to read next year for Reading New England, and I’m inspired to revisit the poetry as well. Do you have a favorite Dickinson poem?