It’s that time of the year again, a time when readers, writers, and publishers everywhere are reminded of the fragility of free speech, even within a country that purportedly protects it. Though this will be the 32nd year of the annual freedom to read celebration, the reality is that book banning is still distressingly common. “It takes guts to take a stand against censorship,” free speech activist Chris Finan recently remarked in response to the banning of Emily M. Danforth’s teen novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Finan is president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and author of From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America, the first comprehensive history of free speech in America for general readers, and a book that should be required reading for Banned Books Week.
My outdoor choice is Castle Island in South Boston. Great place to walk anytime, but particularly with the onset of Spring when the ocean air smells great and a hot dog at Sullivan's is the perfect reward for circling the whole Sugar Bowl.
The historic spot is the Old South Meeting House. Though there are many wonderful spots in Boston to experience its history, anytime I'm in this church, I can practically feel the place pulsating with 5,000 angry colonists on the eve of the Boston Tea Party.
And of course, the North End touches me personally in a way no other place in Boston does. All three of my immigrant grandparents lived there, my dad was brought up there, my parents dated at restaurants in the neighborhood, and the Italian experience is still vibrant and unrivaled. I feel comfortable there always, at one with my past, whether walking the crooked, narrow streets, spending a few minutes inside St. Leonard's Church, or enjoying dinner with friends. I've never lived there, but it's always felt like home.
Photos of North End by Jessie Bennett. Photo of St. Leonard's interior by wgdavis on Flickr.
John Hanson Mitchell is the author of The Paradise of All These Parts: A Natural History of Boston. concentrated much of his earlier early work, including, most famously, Ceremonial Time, on a square-mile tract of land known as Scratch Flat, located thirty-five miles northwest of Boston. He is the author of numerous books and editor of the award-winning magazine Sanctuary, published by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Mitchell lives in Littleton, Massachusetts.
Not an easy question, actually, there are so many favorites, but two stand out:
The main one is probably the little warren of cobblestone streets in the North End between the Copp's Hill Burying Ground and the Paul Revere Mall and Hanover Street. I don't even remember the names of the streets and enjoy very much getting lost there.
Do Cambridge or Somerville count? Two of my favorites are: True Grounds Cafe in Ball Square, Somerville-- the best scones and most artful lattes in town. Also Porter Square bookstore in Cambridge, a wonderful independent bookstore with a warm atmosphere and a great series of readings.
Editor's note: I don't usually chime in with my own opinions, but I have to add that Beacon Hill is one of the most beautiful places in the Boston area, and it's an absolute joy to work here, especially in the springtime. Here are a few photos of my favorite spots, including, of course, Beacon Press headquarters! -- Jessie
In the book, Miller relates the scintillating story of how a powerful band of Brahmin moral crusaders helped make Boston the most straitlaced city in America, forever linked with the infamous catchphrase "Banned in Boston." You can read a sample chapter on Scribd.
In their heyday, the Watch and Ward operated from the lofty heights of Beacon Hill, in their headquarters at 41 Mt. Vernon St. This address is very familiar to those of us here at Beacon Press...
... because it's where we work!
Given Beacon's great commitment to publishing "dangerous" work, and our numerous books examining the history and importance of free speech (From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act,Free for All, Worst Instincts, to name a few), it's interesting to think about the meetings held here by the city's moral guardians. The Watch and Ward, in their efforts to keep scintillating material out of the hands of readers, sent out secret orders from this address banning countless works, including modern classics by Hemingway, Faulkner, and Sinclair Lewis, and went to
war with publishing and literary giants such as Alfred A. Knopf and The Atlantic Monthly (who, in another ironic twist, also once had offices at 41 Mt. Vernon).
In this video, Neil Miller explains another surprising connection to the Watch and Ward.