Wednesday, October 22, 2008




It was a crisp, autumnal morning when I walked into Porter Square Books in Porter Square. It was the kind of classic New England day that made you want to chat about books, and feel their presence around you. Porter Square Books is nestled on the border of Somerville and Cambridge, in the Porter Square Shopping Mall. Whenever I go in to browse, or have a cup of coffee at their Café Zing, there is always the bustle of customer traffic, and lively conversation. In her regular corner, sipping a cup of Zing coffee, long-time Somerville resident Laurinda Bedingfield, told me: “You can live here.” She loves the store’s sense of community. She feels that it is welcoming to the book lovers, her dogs (at the outside café), and the person who wants to sit and sip and tap on their laptop.

Porter Square Books is certainly known for their diverse selection of books, but they are equally known as a store that reaches out to the community. I talked with Dale Szczeblowski, General Manager, Carol Stoltz, Children’s Books Buyer, and Jane Dawson, Personnel Director. They gave me a good idea about the wide reach of the store.

Porter Square Books, has been in business for four years, and is still doing well in spite of the climate of recession. The store has birthed a few new programs since I last talked with them. On their website they added a Blog. The Blog is an indisputable part of our culture now. To the staff it seemed like a great way to get the word out, and is yet another way to market books. Many employees contribute to the Blog, including Somerville resident and master bookseller, Josh Cook.

Porter Square Books has also partnered with the Literary Volunteers of America. They promote this program which sends volunteers out in the community to teach adults the basic reading and writing skills needed to survive in the world-at-large. The volunteers go to many venues, and spend 8 to 10 hours a week teaching.

Porter Square Books participates in many book fairs, is involved in fundraising efforts, some of which were held at the Somerville Library, and they are a participant in the “Reach Out and Read” program (that started out in Boston, but now is national), that gets books into doctors’ offices, and teaches parents how to read to their kids in the most effective manner.

Recently Porter Square has started a book club, run by Joan Sindall that meets at 4PM the third Monday of the month. So far it has been well-attended, and there have been raves about Sindall, and the group itself.

Szcbelowski, talked about some of the bestsellers at the store which include: “The Condition” by Jennifer Haigh (Haigh will read at the Somerville News Writers Festival), and Dennis Lehane’s “the Given Day.”

I asked the group if there were any Somerville residents among the helpful and knowledgeable staff. And of course, the ubiquitous Josh Cook came up, who has been with the store since its inception. Also—Robert Smyth, a long-time Somerville resident, and founder of the highly -regarded Yellow Moon Press, has worked at the store for a year or so.

The store responds to the “intellectual” demographics of its surroundings. So they offer readings of high brow and serious authors, as well as well- known local writers. Some who will appear in the coming months are: Anita Shreve, Allegra Goodman, and two well-regarded local poets Deborah M. Priestly and Joyce Jillison.

As always, Porter Square Books will be sponsoring The Somerville News Writers Festival Nov 22, 2008 at 6:30PM. I could think of no better supporter of a community event than this great community bookstore!

For more information about Porter square books go to
Somerville News Writers Festival

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