Category: Boston

Marathon Monday

Every other third Monday in April that I can remember, I’ve woken up with a school day or work day off, filled with the pleasurable expanse of the day before me. I’ve turned on the TV in time to see the leading runners leave Hopkinton, and then kept it on to see them laboring through the miles, their honest, miraculous, movement through the towns of Massachusetts. Every year before 2013, I was at my childhood home in Newton, and I’d mosey out to Commonwealth Ave in time to cheer on the runners going by. I’d get a special rush of excitement to see the leaders pass, but there was even more pleasure in seeing the steady wave of runners that followed, the swelling phalanx of people surging with good will, with cheer. The joy of their effort was infectious. I think there’s no better sport to be a spectator at than to be alongside the long miles of a marathon. Some of us participate with our cups of water, and are thrilled when the proffered cup we hold is snatched; and others are sure to cheer the loudest when soldiers in heavy packs go tramping by; whoever is our favorite competitor, we get to see him or her, right there, achieving this startling feat of human endurance. There is no wall between us and them; we almost share in their triumphs. That’s yet another reason why the events of a year ago hurt so many of us on so many levels.
The last week has been a fraught one for the city of Boston; inhabitants have been doing their best to honor the survivors, the victims, and to keep our faces turned forward. I’ve noticed how little mention has been made of the alleged bombers themselves. They do not belong to the future of the city, and so we do not even honor their names in this week. In the coming months the trial will no doubt seize hold of our attention, but right now, it’s the marathon we are intent on restoring. The memorials have been respectful, determined, almost upbeat. We’re not looking back. We’ve got our eyes on the finish line.
Last year was the first year I was living in the city proper and so went to the finish line. I saw the winners round that final corner onto Boylston Street, and felt the waves of good will coming from every direction. I went home hours before the disaster struck. This time, I want to be there again; I want to see that first weary face turn the final corner, and the leading runner suddenly begin to sprint, to float on the deafening crowd. After that astonishing trek, the leaders always seem to have something left for a final battle to the finish line. And for all the weary amateur runners who follow him, there is still enough left to cross the line, to raise their arms in triumph. Where does that strength come from?
Will you be at the marathon this year? The crowds are promising to be legendary. Security will be tight, of course; it’s one of those prices we pay these days to feel safe in a modern city. But I don’t think the spirit will be too diminished. From what I’ve seen, this city is ready to make this event an occasion for joy and uplift once again.

What Do Bostonians Do for Fun?

I can’t tell you for sure what the average Bostonian is doing for fun on a Saturday night. We’re a diverse lot, and I’m not a typical representative; I’ve always been firmly in the nerd camp, holed up with a book on weekends rather than out getting my party on. But I think there are plenty of me’s out there in Boston as well. Being a college town, and an elite college town, we have more than our fair share of nerds, quietly reading or studying or playing video games on Saturdays. But we also know how to have a good time.


Boston has a thriving pub scene, thanks to the influence of Irish culture, and the default location for a good weekend night is one of the hundreds of pubs out there. You can go to sports bars like Sweet Caroline’s or dive bars like The Lower Depths, or classy cocktail joints like the Hub. There are more Irish pubs than I can name, and most of them have good greasy food, cheap beer, and just that right frat-boy atmosphere that you want once in a while. That’s where you’ll find half of Boston after a night baseball game, or spilling out of North Station after the Bruins have played.

Art and Culture

We’re also a very cultured town, of course. We’ve got the MFA, a world-renowned art museum, and other cultural sites. A personal favorite of mine are the numerous readings that circle around the city’s best independent bookstores. You won’t want to miss Harvard Bookstore’s star-studded lineup of readers. Last year I saw Nick Flynn and only just missed Rachel Kushner due to snow; they regularly get the best in readers, in both fiction and non-fiction. If you’re closer to Allston, you won’t want to miss Brookline Booksmith, which also regularly has wonderful author events. I recently saw an old teacher of mine, Edmund White, give a reading from his latest work.

Drama and the Outdoors

We also have a thriving little theater district, of course, with regular Broadway hits making stops here, such as The Book of Mormon, which will be arriving in the month of April, and local Boston favorites such as Blue Man Group. But the extra fun of the theater district is its location; it’s right off of Boston Common, and when the weather is warm, as it’s beginning to be, there’s nothing better than strolling through the beautiful common on a spring night. There’s an old-world magic and mystery under the street lights, with the close, intimate shrug of the small city around you, the Boston Public Garden within reach, and the lovely rolling hills of green all within sight. A good city is often defined by its green spaces, and both New York and Boston share some lovely strips of green.

Springtime in the City – Is it Here Yet?

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Are you craving spring? It’s been a hard winter along the east coast this year, as both Bostonians and New Yorkers can attest. We’ve had brutal, biting bold and bitter wind; it’s felt more than usual that Winter was a conscious presence in our lives, breathing its spiteful breath down our necks.
Winter can be demoralizing; I know I’ve holed up a little this season, concentrating on my work, on getting through the week, on binging on food and cheap entertainment on the weekends. Winter encourages us to crawl back inside ourselves a little. But there’s also nothing so liberating as a New England spring, perhaps because we’ve had to suffer a little to earn it. There’s always that first day that looks just as gray as the rest, but when you step outside, you feel an unexpected gentleness in the air, a promise of spring if not spring itself. You still wear your parka and your boots and you end up sweating when you’re outside. The rain washes your old salty coat and washes the filthy crusts of snow down the gutter.
It’s been an especially long winter this year; it had me thinking about one of my favorite books growing up, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, one of the sequels to the classic Little House on the Prairie. In this epic story, the cold is so relentless and fierce that the entire town runs out of food and wood; Laura must weave knots of straw just to make something that will burn. We folk in the city certainly never have to experience winters like that; the worst of our seasons are gentled and insulated against. But still, we work hard, and we’re out there every day, tramping in our boots. And maybe this week or the next, we’ll be rewarded with spring.

Boston Launch Party!

At our second launch party in Boston, we rocked the Middlesex Lounge. We introduced the mission of Two Cities, held a raffle, heard contributor L. Michael Hager read from his work, and met some great new literary friends. Thanks to everyone who came out for the event, and thanks as well to our wonderful writers.

Here’s our reader, L. Michael Hager:

This means that issue 1 is officially launched! You can read it online at our Current Issue page, or you can buy a print copy online at the following link, at Lulu:
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.
Keep following us for more thoughts on the city literary life, and don’t forget to Submit your work for our summer issue of Two Cities Review!

Launch Parties in Boston and New York!

Because of your support, we have successfully completed the first issue of our magazine and will be posting it online at the beginning of March. Please check back then to read the issue and let us know what you think!
If you are in New York or Boston, we hope to see you at one of our launch parties. The information for both is copied below.

New York Launch Party

March 1, 6:30-9pm
Pete’s Candy Store
Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Boston Launch Party

March 7th, 5-7pm
Middlesex Lounge
Cambridge, MA
Hope to see you there and share our work with you. Both parties will feature readings and a raffle to help raise awareness and spread the word about our magazine.

A Trip to Boston's Brother City

I’m just back from a three-week trip to Melbourne, Australia, where I traveled to visit the family of friends and get a taste of a new city. I’ve visited the city just once before and had a wonderful time, and this trip was fantastic too. It was just delicious to get some relaxation away from all screens and devices and spend my days eating and walking and exploring. There was nothing fantastically exotic that I saw in Melbourne, besides a trip to the zoo; it is a distinctly familiar city to me, because Australian culture has so much in common with American culture. Specifically, the city of Melbourne has so much overlap with the city of Boston.

You can start with the size of the city, which at a few million, is right around Boston’s size. As an American, you’ll also be surprised to see all the usual fast food places you know lining the busy, pedestrian-friendly streets. (KFC, for one, is huge there for some reason, but you don’t get biscuits — you get chips, a.k.a. American fries). The Australian accent even shares some commanalities with a Boston accent, with its broad a’s and dropped r’s. You’d “pahk your cah” in both Boston and Melbourne. More than that, though, there’s a kind of cultural vibe that Boston and Melbourne just might share; a friendliness, business, and hopping intellectual life that I saw evidence of. We’re both small, but we act cosmopolitan.

Australia and the United States should get along pretty well, because they’re both the slightly coarser, bumpkin cousins of Great Britain, though Australia holds its ties to Britain much closer. Most of the television is British, as is the interest in British celebrities. Some people I hung out with knew all the details of the royal family, for example, whereas I think most Americans don’t know more than the queen and her direct descendants. Australia maintains a close cultural handshake with Great Britain, whereas a lot of America is disdainful or uneasy of any connection to England.

There were perhaps only two major differences I saw in my brief tourist’s view of this lovely city; the first was the proliferation of Asian culture and cuisine, and the second was something more intangible. Because of its proximity to Asia, Australia has benefitted from the things that Asian immigrants have brought with them. Just as Mexican food is accessible and known everywhere in America, Vietnamese, Thai, and Malaysian food is cheap, ubiquitous, and delicious in Melbourne. You can get fast food or street food from most countries of Asia on every street corner.

The second difference might be the most fundamental shift from American to Australian life. From the little I’ve seen, and from what I’ve heard when I questioned Aussies, it seems that Aussies are far more laid-back than Americans. There’s a certain calm, friendly laisse-faire attitude that fills every part of life. Americans are certainly casual about some things, but we are very heated and violently polarized about others. Politics are deadly serious and can divide the nation sharply. The whole time I was in Australia, the people I saw didn’t get too fussed about anything, even when they didn’t approve of the government’s latest doings. It’s a great place to spend a vacation for that reason — it’s just hard to rile the typical Aussie character.

The mirror image of Boston was presented to me in other ways, too — I happened to be there right in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave. I was watching matches of the Australian Open on a 112-degree day. I’d never felt such extreme heat; it was hard to breathe, and impossible to keep my clothes from getting soaked in sweat. This was at pretty much the same time that Boston was struggling through record-breaking lows in the temperature. Go figure.

There were a few moments of startling discrimination that came from some drunk train passengers, but you can find that kind of attitude in America as well. Again, the attitudes of Americans and Australians seem closely intertwined. It’s funny to think of a brother city, a parallel Boston, or a parallel Melbourne, almost exactly around the world.

Countdown: My FAVORITE Read This Year Is…

I’ve been counting down my top ten read of 2013 as our Kickstarter project counts down. We now have just a few days left and we need your help! Consider donating, and in the meantime, take a look at my FAVORITE read of 2013.

The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner

I just can’t get over Rachel Kushner’s The Flame Throwers. It is so wildly exciting as a story for so many reasons. It’s dark and dangerous; it’s cold and clear and beautiful; it’s got some kick-ass female characters; it’s sensitive and sad; it enlightened me about what a few corners of the world looked like in the 1970’s that I knew virtually nothing about. It does all these things, and is also just a rip-roaring good read.

The story follows “Reno” as she’s known, a young female motorcycle enthusiast who somehow ends up in the landspeed motorcycle racing time trials across the barren salt flats of the western United States. Reno loves racing for the speed, but somehow she becomes caught up in the 70’s intellectual art scene of New York. In this crowd, every act is a statement, every event a creation of art. So her focus on motorcycle racing becomes something of an artistic statement, and it grants her entry into a very exclusive club.

As we’ll see, the world of the 70’s art scene is cruel; even as it claims to espouse liberation of every kind, it actually polices its members. Gender and sexuality are explored here with a stunning eye for detail and nuance of meaning. And that’s only the beginning. The Flame Throwers captures the world of a youthful, transgressive, and misguided, or self-deluded, culture. It captures revolutions in Italy and slave labor in South America. Its reach is truly global, even as its story is inherently personal. I can’t recommend this stunning, original book highly enough.

Thats my top ten! What are YOUR favorite reads of 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014? And can you help get our magazine launched? Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

Countdown: My Second Favorite Read This Year Is…

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year, and we’re almost at the end!. My second favorite read is the oldest book on the list; it’s a classic I only got around to reading recently. Read on to find out that my second favorite read this year was…

Middlemarch, George Eliot

I’m not the biggest Victorian lit fan. Jane Austen has some good moments, but overall I’m usually bored; the writing can be very dry, and the reflections of people and their doings too outdated to apply to people today. I therefore avoided George Eliot and her Middlemarch, thinking it would be typical nineteenth century British literature. How wrong I was!

It’s hard to describe what is so profoundly moving in the large, leisurely story of Middlemarch. Here’s what I wrote in an earlier review:

Middlemarch succeeded in utterly beguiling me. It’s less like Austen to me, and more like Henry James; it is passionate, realistic, and willing to gaze upon the lives of unhappy individuals with great clarity and compassion. Unlike the stories of Austen, which generally bear toward a marriage, several marriages happen in Middlemarch right at the outset. The drama will stem not from who will marry whom, but what life will truly be like after these matches, for better or for worse, have been made. One storyline follows Dorothea, an enlightened, modern women with great wisdom, ambition, and intelligence. She is a wonderful character to follow, full of identifiable emotion, passion, and loyalty. She marries an older man who is a respected scholar because she believes she wants to support him in his great work; but to Dorothea’s dismay, and the reader’s as well, we discover that his work is useless and backward, the scholarship that he has been devoting his life to an utter waste of time. Through Eliot’s graceful writing, we can see a marriage, having lost its foundation, crumbling from within.
There are other married-life dramas within this story, including another marriage that seems to begin on the best of terms, but begins to fall apart as husband and wife discover how little they know about each other and how unwilling they are to understand each other. Eliot’s descriptions of the small bitternesses of relationships, and how wounds can fester, or how chasms can open between people who once loved each other, are sensitive and real. They feel as relevant to relationships today as they must have been about marriages of a previous century. Frequently I felt myself associating guiltily with the character of Rosamond, whose utter self-absorption causes rifts to open in her marriage. She firmly believes each new hardship is done deliberately to spite her or marr her happiness; it’s these sorts of perspectives that I feel I take when I’m at my worst. And it’s these sorts of perspectives that can make relationships fall apart.
Of course, in the time and place of Middlemarch, divorce or breakups are not an option; so the members of these unhappy unions must struggle along the best they can, facing a lifetime of dischord. They realize that unhappy marriages can mean a lifetime of smothering their true selves, or subjugating their wills to others; but a chance for freedom, even at the risk of social disapproval, might just be worth taking.
Middlemarch is a small-town gossip novel; it’s a gripping portrait of troubled family life; it’s a coming-of-age novel; it’s even a murder mystery. I found it riveting, honest, subtle, and true. It’s the first book in a long while that I’ve felt a real, personal connection to. Finally, I get what all the hype was about.

Stay tuned for my FAVORITE read of 2013, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

Countdown: My Third Favorite Read This Year Is…

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year. My third favorite read is the only short story collection on my life. Read on to find out that my third favorite read this year was…

Dear Life, Alice Munro

What a triumph that Alice Munro should win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. The timing couldn’t have been better, considering she published what might be her very best story collection yet a year ago. After a few decades and a few dozen books, Alice Munro’s mastery of the short story is unmatched; her writing has a clear, fluid beauty to it, as though you were holding water in your hands. The stories in Dear Life have that crystalline quality, as well as her usual warm understanding of humanity, but they are also among her most tightly plotted stories, with startling twists and taut suspense at every turn.

In this collection, Munro is making some of the more bold choices of her storywriting career, pushing characters to the brink. I somehow found these stories to hold more deadly emotional violence, more devastating choices, than ever before. Her writing is stunning on every page, her cold weary understanding of the choices we make to grow up, the quiet sacrifices we make, at its very height. There’s warmth here, too — a calm glowing portrayal of the inner life all people have.

We’re almost at my favorite read this year! Stay tuned, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

Countdown: My 4th Favorite Read This Year Is…

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. My 4th favorite read was a Byzantine war story — guessed it?

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra

Much has been said about the stunning novel debut of Anthony Marra, his A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Not enough has been written about the fifty-year night of war, dislocation, flight, and torture of Chechnya. The region suddenly flashed onto Americans’ radars this year due to the identities of the marathon bombers, but long before that terrible event happened, dark stories were unfolding in Chechnya unread. Here at last is a fictional story that brings to light this region. But more than that, this novel captures the complex way people and their choices become interconnected, and the astonishing generosity human beings are capable of even in the cruelest of times and situations.

Even amid unending war, some characters in this dark and epic novel are determined to save each other. The plot is Byzantine in its intricacy; with the skill of an older writer, Marra releases information a bit at a time so that the true complexity of the characters’ interdependence only gradually becomes clear. You’ll be glad you learned about a largely forgotten corner of the world and its suffering — but you’ll also be glad to discover a new writer who is sure to be a major force in coming years.

Stay tuned to find out my favorite read this year, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!