Spacious and well-lit, with knowledgeable staff and a cafe complete with baked goods, an assortment of teas and fair trade coffee, Porter Square Books isn’t just a place to browse. First opened in 2004 and revitalized in recent years under new owners, it has events nearly nightly, from readings to book clubs to panel discussions that cater to kids and adults, and to everyone from fans of science fiction to poetry to nonfiction.
Among the events: The monthly Roundtable hosted by a collection of local literary journals including Boston University’s Agni, Boston College’s Post Road, Suffolk University’s Salamander, Emerson College’s Redivider and the Harvard Review. Each journal rotates hosting responsibilities, inviting their recently published authors to read work and sit for a Q&A with the audience.
The presence of so many literary magazines is striking. They’re not generally hot-ticket items, though they often feature some of the best new writing from up-and-coming authors. Try to find the literary journals in one of the big-box booksellers and you’re likely to find yourself crouched and digging through the lowest display case in the most remote corner of the store. Not so at Porter Square Books – more than two dozen, local and national journals are displayed prominently, and at eye level, no less.
For the monthly roundtables, a lectern, modest sound system and rows of chairs are set up in the rear of the store.
At the Sept. 30 reading organized by Post Road, every seat is taken. The first author is Suzanne Koven, a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital and a memoirist reading a touching piece about her relationship with her mother through the lens of their respective reading habits. It’s a beautiful commentary on the stories we tell each other, the stories we tell ourselves and the ongoing narratives in which we find ourselves. Koven’s work has appeared on NPR and The Huffington Post, and she is a regular columnist for The Boston Globe.
The second author, Ethan Rutherford, is dressed head to toe in denim, with a tattoo of a sheep peeking out from the rolled-up sleeve on his forearm. He is the author of “The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories,” named a “Best Book of the Summer” by Publishers Weekly and given an honorable mention by the PEN/Hemingway Award. He reads a portion of his short story “The Broken Group,” a page-turner from the book – a perfect marriage of beautiful, well-crafted sentences and compelling, even suspenseful plot.
The audience is a mix of old and young. Some are students; some are aspiring writers, and the Q&A at the end revolves around questions of craft and process: how these authors structure their work, how they push through writers block or resistance, from where they draw their inspiration. Koven discusses points of intersection between being a doctor and writer. Rutherford discusses the importance of finding a character’s voice early on.
There are a lot of things to do on a Friday night in Cambridge, with concerts and performances and events at clubs and bars all over the city. Add this local bookstore to the list.
The next Roundtable event is at 7 p.m. Nov. 11. Organized by Agni, it features Danielle Legros Georges, Kirun Kapur and Steve Yarborough. Information is here.