Matt's New and Upcoming History Recommendations for 2019


As the resident history enthusiast here at Old Town Books, I’ve had to exercise a degree of restraint over my book buying mania, lest I spend my entire paycheck on our own history section. Nonetheless, here are two books from the past few months that I picked up in the store, read, and loved, plus two more which will tempt me from our shelves over the next few months. I know I’m not the only history buff here in Old Town, so hopefully these titles will spark your curiosity, too!

Released in June 2018 from W.W. Norton, Victoria Johnson’s American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic is a fascinating look into the life of a man who, among other things, was the personal physician of both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.  In his day, Hosack’s work in botany and medicine earned the praise of such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander von Humboldt. The young America was a treasure trove of previously undiscovered plants, and Johnson tells the story of its first botanical garden, setting a new benchmark for history of science writing in the process.

In September 2018, The New Press put out Erik Loomis’ A History of America in Ten Strikes. Recently, some politicians have severely curtailed the power of labor unions. Loomis exposes the danger in this enterprise, demonstrating in an engaging and accessible way how organized labor and its concerns have helped shape American society as we know it. From the fight for an eight-hour workday in 1886 to the Air Traffic Controllers’ strike of 1981 and beyond, Loomis’ book provides a fresh perspective on many key moments in American history through the lens of labor relations.

Coming on March 15 from Oxford University Press is Elizabeth R. Varon’s Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War.  While it’s true that a seemingly infinite number of books have been written about the defining event in our country’s history, Varon’s work takes great care to tell the story from the greatest number of perspectives: rich and poor; black and white; male and female; political, military, and social; northern and southern. It’s enough to make this avid devourer of Civil War history and repeat watcher of Ken Burns’ documentary look forward to picking this one up.

Lastly, but certainly not least, coming from Simon & Schuster on March 12 is Edward Wilson-Lee’s The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library. Columbus is one of the most recognizable (and most reviled) names in the history of the world. Ah, but this book isn’t about Christopher at all, but rather his bastard son Hernando, who tried to eclipse his famous father by amassing the greatest collection of books the world had ever seen. Hernando also rubbed shoulders with Erasmus and Thomas More and collected the specimens for the first truly global botanical garden, with time to spare to mythologize his father. This is a story which has never been told in English before, and one that seems too fantastical to be true—and yet it is.

And there you have it: four fascinating titles which ought to be more than enough to keep you reading history well into 2019. Happy reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon!


Carmen Maria Machado and Nicole Chung at the AthenAeum!


Hello Book Friends!

As some of you will already know, we had our first major offsite event this past weekend: Carmen Maria Machado, National Book Award Finalist, was in conversation with Catapult Editor-in-Chief Nicole Chung talking about memoir at the Athenaeum, a lovely arts space on Prince and Lee here in Old Town. We're very grateful to the Athenaeum for providing the space--the event proved so popular that we couldn't host it in our little store! 

Carmen's upcoming book is an experimental memoir detailing her experiences in an abusive lesbian relationship entitled In the Dream House. Nicole's latest release is also a memoir, All You Can Ever Know, which recounts her experiences with being raised adopted and eventually reconnecting with her birth family. Over the course of the hour and a half, Carmen and Nicole discussed the craft of memoir writing, the formal challenge of presenting sections of a memoir as pastiches of various literary genres, the differences between fiction and nonfiction writing and research, and the difficulty involved in opening up one's personal and private experiences for the reading public.  Carmen also read a few passages from her book, and responded to audience questions at the end.

Everyone who attended the event received a pre-order of In the Dream House with the purchase of their ticket. It was a packed house; more than 50 people attended, and it was great to see so many of our regular customers there!

We hope you'll join us at our next event, as we're back in the shop for our Lit Mag Corner at 6PM on Sunday, February 24. It's like a book Club but for literary magazines! We'll be discussing selections from Guernica Magazine, and there will be a Q&A with a senior nonfiction editor for the magazine; local writer and bookstagrammer Phoebe Gennardo (@notphoebebuffay) will be hosting. The event is free to attend and you can RSVP on our website or at this link through eventbrite!

Happy Reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon!

-The Old Town Books Team

February Newsletter: Upcoming Events at Old Town Books

Dear Book Friends, 

Old Town Books is officially two months old! Woohoo! Thank you so much for coming to the shop, sharing your love of books, and helping this small business get off the ground. It's hard to believe that only a few months ago I was peering into the window at 104 South Union Street, wishing a little indie bookshop into existence. Now here we are. I certainly couldn't have done it without you. Your support in the form of spending your book dollars here is what has made all this possible. Thank you.

After a restful January Team Old Town Books is excited to share our upcoming events calendar.
Check out the entire events calendar on our website at

Saturday, February 9th at 6 PM - Carmen Maria Machado and Nicole Chung. 
The thing about opening an independent bookstore is that you can basically use it as an excuse to invite your favorite authors to town. I've done just that — I'm thrilled that short story writer, essayist, and critic Carmen Maria Machado is coming to Old Town on February 9th at 6PM. She'll be in conversation with another one of my favorite writers and editors, memoirist Nicole Chung. This is going to be a special event. It's our first at an off-site venue! We'll meet in the Athenaeum, just up the street, and have a great book talk, signing, and Q+A with the authors. Get your ticket here.

Monday, February 11th at 6:30 PM - Book Lovers Mingle
Lovers of literature seeking bookish dates, as well as those looking for non-romantic reader friends, are welcome. If you love books and you want to meet new people, this mingle is for you. We'll be sending out a questionnaire to attendees the week of the event to make sure we do our best at "bookmarking" compatible pairs. Sign up here. 

Sunday, February 24th at 6 PM - Lit Mag Corner - FREE
This new monthly event is held book club style: We'll all read the same few magazine pieces then meet in the store for a group discussion. Join us in exploring the current literary landscape by reading widely and critically from a range of publications. Join us this month for a discussion of selected writing from Guernica Magazine, followed by a Q+A with a senior nonfiction editor from the magazine. RSVP here.

Saturday, March 2nd at 10 AM - Book Club - FREE 
Our first bookclub meeting filled quickly! Join us next month for our March pick, Sugar Run by Mesha Maren This event is free to join, with no obligation to buy the book from the shop. If you choose to get it here, take 15% off by mentioning the the book club. RSVP here.

We have lots more planned for the shop in the coming weeks - stay tuned for more updates by following us on Instagram @oldtownbooks, and make sure to scroll through our other events on the website. Happy reading!

- Ally 

Week one.

The first week at Old Town Books is, well, in the books!

Thanks to those who came and shopped local with us on Small Business Saturday - our opening day! - and made the whole rainy weekend a huge success.

Thanks, too, to our first event attendees. We managed to fit nearly 50 people in the shop for our inaugural author event with Hannah Bae and Lisa Jakub for their collection Don’t Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation about Mental Health. It was a great first event for the shop, one I hope helped connect readers to a timely, important book about mental health and wellness.

Now the shop event series is in full swing! Join me next weekend for a celebration of all things baked goods on December 8th. Pop by the shop to pick up a copy of Pie Squared by Cathy Barrow or Red Truck Bakery by Brian Noyes and save your seat at their event “I’d Rather be Baking”! Both authors will be here, in conversation with Bonnie Benwick (Dept. Food Editor of The Washington Post) …. did I mention there will be cake AND pie? Hope you can make it.

Ally (+Scout the shop dog)

Visiting author Hannah Bae, her pup Ramona, me, and Scout!

Visiting author Hannah Bae, her pup Ramona, me, and Scout!