Boston is the birthplace of American literature. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Frost, Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Sylvia Plath, and countless other authors of note at one time or another called Boston home. With over 50 colleges and universities, it is no wonder that Boston is a literary incubator. But Boston’s writing scene is about more than just the literary elite; with its rich and colorful heritage of Irish mobsters, Southie boxers, and Fenway sports heroes, it has also spawned generations of more down-to-earth authors, writers who wrote about what they and their families saw and lived through. Although there are quite literally hundreds to choose from, here are just five of the Boston authors to put on your summer reading list.
“The Last Bookaneer” by Matthew Pearl
Many students at both Emerson and Harvard have taken Matthew Pearl’s courses on writing, and with good reason. This fellow not only knows how to write – he also knows how many of the great authors were cheated and robbed by literary pirates, the “bookaneers” who raided bookshelves the same way buccaneers raided ships on the high seas. In “The Last Bookaneer” Pearl weaves a tale of how two such unscrupulous publishers sail to the South Seas to compete to steal the final work of Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island). Pearl’s book is both a delightful romp and a gripping yarn worthy of Stevenson himself and mirrors the modern day actions of international property rights pirates. Pearl has several other works to his credit, including “The Dante Club,” “The Poe Shadow” and “The Last Dickens,” each of which are mysteries built around the lives and works of those famous authors.
“Black Mass” by Dick Lehr
Whitey Bulger is one of the most famous and most notorious of the Boston Irish mob, and this novelized story of his rise and fall is a gripping, frightening, yet thoroughly entertaining work. It was created by another Boston legend, Dick Lehr, whose most recent work is about how – in 1915 – the director of the controversial film “Birth of a Nation” and a newspaper editor reignited the Civil War. “Black Mass,” which since its publication has been made into a movie with Johnny Depp in the staring role, is not as intellectually stimulating or as politically controversial as Lehr’s latest book, but it is a darn fine summer read. This is no “Godfather” style homage that romanticizes organized crime families, but a deep, disturbing and captivating tale of what it means to be a mob boss – and a mob boss in Boston at that.
“Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps” by Michael Blanding
Although non-fiction, this work by Michael Blanding reads like a crime novel – one in which the story plays out in some of Boston’s most famous libraries. Blanding is an investigative journalist and his book follows the career in crime of one of the world’s most renowned dealers in antiquarian maps, E. Forbes Smiley III. Smiley made his reputation and fortune by stealing maps from the Boston Public Library and the Yale University Library. Blanding reveals not only how Smiley managed to live this life of cartographical crime, but also how he got caught and was brought to justice.
Related: Boston’s Best Local Authors
“Monkeys” by Susan Minot
Aspiring writers are often told “write what you know,” and Bostonian Susan Minot took that advice to heart in “Monkeys.” This Boston-born poet, playwright, painter, screenwriter, short story writer, and novelist has many wonderful works to her credit, but “Monkeys” in particular will resonate with many of her fellow Bostonians. The heart of the story takes place at that most contentious of all family holidays – Thanksgiving, where a Catholic mother and her seven children essentially do battle with their father’s parents, who are as old New England and as prejudiced as they come. This is no lighthearted feelgood family fantasy, but a deeply emotional tale – and one that launched Minot’s literary career.
“The Drop” by Dennis Lehane
It is both impossible and incomprehensible to write about Boston authors without mentioning the one who is arguably the best-known and most-successful of the current generation. Although best known for “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone,” both of which have been made into popular and award-winning films, those are but two of the many fine works by Dennis Lehane. One of the best of those is “The Drop,” (which, of course, was also made into a movie). Like so many of his works, this, too, takes place in Boston, and like the others is technically at least a crime story. “The Drop,” however, is different from the others, and from the genre, in that it is also a touching love story, and one which begins with the rescue of an abandoned little puppy from a trash can. If that doesn’t get someone turning the pages on the beach, nothing will.
Related: 5 Must-Read Books By Boston Authors
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