Some important authors, like Henry David Thoreau and Sylvia Plath, have lived in Boston and written about the city. With one of these books, you can learn more about the history of literature in the city.
‘Shutter Island’ (2003)
Dennis Lehane, a best-selling author, came up with the idea for this best-selling book when he saw an abandoned hospital on Long Island in Boston Harbor. Edward “Teddy” Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, arrive at Ashcliffe Hospital on Shutter Island (an asylum for the criminally insane) in 1954 to find a female patient who has escaped and is on the run. It gets more complicated as the investigation goes on and Teddy tries to figure out what happened. He has to deal with his own unsettling past.
‘Infinite Jest’ (1996)
A videotape of a movie is one of the main things that David Foster Wallace talks about in this multi-plot, 1,100-page long book. Different spies and countries are trying to get their hands on it. The movie is often called “the entertainment.” It is said to be so enjoyable and addictive that people stop doing other things and only watch and rewatch it, which eventually leads to their death. Much of the story takes place on the streets of an alternate future Boston. Readers wind their way through Brighton, through Lower Allston, around the T subway trains, downtown, and near Harvard Square in Cambridge.
Those who are really into the book can go on a tour called “Infinite Boston.” This tour takes people to the places where the book takes place in the city of Boston. With themes like addiction and waste, the 1996 book has become a cult favorite. It’s a funny and poignant (though at times confusing) read with many intertwining plot lines that all magically come together – if you can get to the last page, that is.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (1985)
Atwood’s dystopian novel imagines a not-too-distant future where the US government has been overthrown by a theonomical dictatorship, and people are living in fear. As a way to deal with high levels of infertility in the country, women who can have children are taken away, stripped of their identities, and assigned to a “commander,” one of the country’s most powerful men, with whom they must try to have sex in forced sexual rituals overseen by the commander’s wife, who is not pregnant. The book tells the story of Offred, a lonely but spirited handmaid who is stationed in Cambridge and Boston. As she looks for allies and plans her escape, she hopes to one day be reunited with her husband and daughter again. A quote from Atwood: “People think of Harvard as a liberal democracy, but in the 17th century, it was a theocracy. So I thought it would be good to set the book here, and also, I thought that it was funny.”
‘The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft’ (2009)
A huge art theft took place in Boston on March 18, 1990. It was the largest theft of art that has never been solved. Two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which is named after its former resident, Isabella Stewart Gardner, who was an art collector, philanthropist, and the wife of a well-known Boston businessman. They took $500 million worth of art from the museum. There is a book called The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft that tells the story of how some of the world’s most famous art was stolen and never returned. It includes three pieces by Rembrandt, five by Degas, and one by Vermeer.
‘The Bostonians’ (1886)
Henry James wrote a series called The Bostonians for The Century Magazine before it was turned into a book in 1886. Verena Tarrant is one of the first members of the Boston feminist movement and Olive Chancellor’s protege. Basil Ransom, who is from Mississippi, and Olive are competing for the attention of Verena, who is Olive’s cousin and Ransom’s sister-in-law.
‘Make Way for Ducklings’ (1941)
Make Way for Ducklings was written by Robert McCloskey and published in 1941. It won the Caldecott Medal for its beautiful illustrations the next year. One day, two mallards look for a place to raise their ducklings in Boston. After looking around, they settle on an island in the lagoon of the Boston Public Garden where they raise their young. An artist named Nancy Schön made a brass sculpture of the ducks that fans of the show have always loved. It was put in the park in 1987 for future generations to enjoy.
‘The Boston Girl’ (2014)
The story of 85-year-old Jewish Addie Baum is told by Anita Diamant in The Boston Girl. She was born in the early 20th century and grew up in Boston in the early years of the 20th century. As a taped monologue, it describes Baum as a teenager growing up in Boston’s North End and realizing that her dreams of college, work, and love don’t match up with the ideas her parents had. They were immigrants from Europe.
Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families by Anthony Lukas
People who lived in the Boston area and the city of Boston in particular in the 1960s and 1970s will find this book very interesting. It takes a very long time to read. A lot more than that, Common Ground is a story about how the landscape of cities changed during that time, and how that changed how people live there now.
All Souls: A Family Story From Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald
This is a fast-paced, well-written memoir about South Boston and other parts of Boston in the 1970s. It focuses on the events and effects of the busing controversy. This is the book for bibliophiles who want to remember, but not romanticize, the old South Boston before it became rich.
The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor
The city that Edwin O’Connor’s book is set in is never named in the text. However, everyone knows that The Last Hurrah is about (mostly) Irish-American power players and political sleight of hand in Boston in the early 1900s. The book’s Frank Skeffington is a lot like James M. Curley, a legendary Boston mayor, governor of Massachusetts, and so on. And, of course, the phrase comes from the title.