Straight from the airport to Stephanie’s on Newbury, just in time for the traditional Boston jet-lag remedy of dinner and cocktails by a roaring fire.
James had already bought All The Books so we spent the next couple of days walking the city. Our mission began with the search for pancakes in a diner for breakfast- New York has hundreds to choose from but we were deep in Good Will Hunting territory before we found one in Boston. There followed the usual English / American accent debacle:
“Tea, please, with cold milk, on the side. And waffles.”
“Yeah, but what you eating?”
[I point meekly at ‘waffles’ on the menu, feeling like an idiot.]
We walked from there over the Charles River to Cambridge and into Harvard. Dry, bright, cold. Autumn leaves underfoot and on the trees, reflecting on a burnished Henry Moore sculpture in one of the yards.
We then spent an hour browsing in the Harvard Book Store, an independent bookshop selling predominantly new books. I was especially taken with the children’s books they stock – a huge range, many beautifully produced. The quality of paper, illustrations, colour, type all very impressive. Then, because we’re from Yorkshire, we had a cup of tea at a table outside a café. I’ve only lived in Yorkshire for ten years so am not as double-hard as James, but the frostbite on the backs of my legs is in a very pretty pattern from the wrought iron chair.
We went to the Boston set up with clear heads and ready for action. The Prudential Centre is a gargantuan building, or series of buildings, connected by walkways and escalators. The Hynes Convention Centre is front and centre and keeps everyone alert with a continual series of electric shocks generated by the carpet. It is always nice to see our trunks waiting for us and luckily the two that were missing were soon located on a colleague’s stand, rather than still in Toronto or prematurely en route to York. The Brattle Bunfight was scheduled for 9.30am. I am usually busy unpacking so hadn’t witnessed it before. Really, it is a sight to behold. Brattle open all their boxes simultaneously and the assembled crowd of ordinarily fairly peaceable and dignified booksellers transform into a Saga Holidays re-enactment of Gladiator: The Movie, climbing over one another, yelling, assembling piles of books to buy and snarling at anyone who mistakes their pile for one of the many other piles balanced on the cabinets and shelves. Eventually, those within the booth are barricaded inside by the towers they have built, and the audience outside can no longer see the action and disperse. The Brattle staff remain serene throughout and somehow parcel up the sold piles, shelve the unsold piles and send the sated and bruised booksellers back to their own booths, bearing their spoils, to apply band-aids and cold-packs.
Opening night is principally an opportunity to catch up with old customers while wearing uncomfortable shoes. I have perfected the art of shifting my weight from one foot to the other to rest each in turn, much as a grazing animal might. We had a Gatsby, an Emma and an inscribed Tolkien in the front cabinet, so lots of people stopped by to have a look and at least one of those was sold by the end of the fair. We closed the fair with plenty of reasons to be cheerful, and returned to York to receive the following letter from one very cool customer: