New England Literary news | Nina MacLaughlin

Touring the new New England Mobile Book Fair

Joyce Simon working at the New England Mobile Book Fair.
Joyce Simon working at the New England Mobile Book Fair.

Even in its new, smaller home the New England Mobile Book Fair retains its distinctive feel.

Owner Tom Lyons moved the Newton Highlands literary landmark down the street to the Marshall’s Plaza this month in response to declining revenue and the end of a lease. He signed a new two-year agreement and is planning an official opening celebration in early September.

The old place had a distinct warehouse feel; it was a high-ceilinged, dimly-lit cavern of a space with crammed shelves and a barely-controlled sense of chaos spanning 32,000 square feet. It smelled like books.


The new book fair, flanked by a CVS and a liquor store, is fronted by a humble exterior. But the interior is a bright and inviting space, a fraction of the size at a little over 4,000 square feet. But Lyons says that with careful planning (like using flat tables with pyramiding shelves) the store was able to maintain a robust selection of offerings.

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A much expanded children’s section dominates the back of the room and lends the space a cheeriness; toys, stuffed animals, puzzles are on display; Maurice Sendak has a shelf to himself, as does Chris Van Allsburg.

The shelves, the same utilitarian wooden ones from the old space, are organized by genre — fiction, nature, science, current events, classics, etc. The mystery section is robust, the poetry section respectable. Self help, humor, and religion have been significantly pared back. The bargain-book area is gone. There are notecards for sale, and art books on display, and gone is the sense of feeling cramped or overwhelmed.

On a recent Sunday, browsers engaged in easy chatter with booksellers, talk of the new novel about Lizzie Borden, and how the new space meant “less sneezing, more light.” The store is much easier to navigate, yet a welcome spirit of the serendipitous remains. And it still smells like books.

New England Book Award winners

The New England Independent Booksellers Association recently announced the winners of this year’s New England Book Awards. In fiction, Brookline writer Jessica Shattuck won for her novel “The Women in the Castle’’ (William Morrow), about three women in Nazi Germany. Michael Finkel’s “The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit’’ (Knopf), about a man who lived alone in a tent in central Maine for 27 years, took the prize for nonfiction. In the young-adult category, the winner was Boston author Mackenzi Lee’s “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’’ (Harper), and in the children’s group, Portland, Maine, writer and illustrator Melissa Sweet won for her biography “Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White’’ (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Overcoming challenges


Patricia Horvath, who teaches at Framingham State University and is an editor at the Massachusetts Review, had an S-shaped spine caused by severe scoliosis that couldn’t be helped by physical therapy or a torso-length brace. As a teenager, she underwent spinal surgery, bone grafts, and had metal rods placed in her back; she spent months immobilized in a cast. In her elegant forthcoming book, “All the Difference’’ (Etruscan), Horvath recounts this difficult time of wrestling both with medical challenges and adolescence. It is a graceful story not of overcoming challenge, but of accepting it.

Coming out

“Hanging on Our Own Bones’’by Judy Grahn (Arktoi)

“A Kind of Freedom’’ by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (Counterpoint)

“After Kathy Acker’’ by Chris Kraus (Semiotext(e))

Pick of the week

Joan Grenier of Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley recommends “Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History’’ by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl (Ten Speed): “This selection of brave and creative pioneering women features names you will recognize and those that will be new to you, including Malala Yousafzai, Frida Kahlo, Buffy St. Marie, Poly Styrene, Sophie Scholl, and many others. . . . Miriam Klein Stahl has created gorgeous papercut illustrations for each of the 40 extraordinary women.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at [email protected].