If you are finally traveling after COVID, but suddenly find yourself homesick for Italy, land your plane pronto in Boston and head over to IAMBOOKS for a good dose of all things Italian. You’ll find a dazzling cornucopia of books, magazines, games (Briscola and Scopa), and tasty treats (Cioccolato Di Modica) in the flavors of Italy.
Nestled in the north end of Boston at 124 Salem Street, I AM BOOKS is not only a fantastic book store, but a cultural hub that showcases acoustic music concerts, documentary films, and monthly Open Mics with readings by emerging and published Italian-American authors.
First and foremost, it is a book lovers paradise with popular novels such as Elena Ferrante NEAPOLITAN SERIES and Juliet Grames’ The SEVEN OR EIGHT DEATHS OF STELLA FORTUNA – books that will instantly carry you back to your beloved Italy. The minute you cross the threshold of I AM BOOKS, the electric atmosphere buzzes with cultural and political books such as CAIN’S ACT: THE ORIGINS OF HATE by Massimo Recalcati and WOMEN, GENDER, and TRANSNATIONAL LIVES, edited by Donna Gabaccia and Franca Iacovetta.. Adjacent to history books is the wall of classics in both English and Italian (think Dante Alighieri’s DIVINE COMEDY). Nearby are the popular shelves of regional cookbooks (recipes from the Amalfi coast to Venice plus all they ways to cook pasta). You’ll find children’s books, mystery and travel tomes, poetry plus your favorite trendy magazines. And don’t forget the books by physicist Carlo Rovelli who decodes quantum mechanics so science Luddites like me can understand. My favorite by Rovelli is THERE ARE PLACES IN THE WORLD WHERE RULES ARE LESS IMPORTANT THAN KINDNESS.
We could all use a dose of that!
Nicola Orichuia, and Jim Pinzino are co-founders of I AM BOOKS, but the heartbeat of this cultural hub is Orichuia who scours the universe for wonderful books, most of which orbit around the “sun” of Italian subjects. The vast collection is a labor of love from a man who reads, reads, reads, confirmed by his backpack full of books, including HARRY POTTER-with which he was rushing off to read aloud with his son.
When you visit I AM BOOKS, you will enjoy the welcoming atmosphere and the staff of book aficianados who eagerly give specific and thoughtful recommendations. Eleni Sacre who speaks English, French, Greek, German (plus a solid understanding of Italian if you speak slowly), will steer you to the perfect book – or perhaps regional olive oil – or maybe handcrafted chocolates. High up in her top ten favorite books is THE SEVEN OR EIGHT DEATHS OF STELLA FORTUNA, which she enthusiastically recommends if you want total immersion into Italian family life spread out over several generations. Author Juliet Grames was a guest speaker on Open Mic night. Her novel takes a deep dive into the tenderness between sisters who grew up in a harsh pre-World War II village that denied women independence. The story of Stella is so riveting and intimate that this reader felt like a member of the Fortuna family! Grames delightfully makes an occasional appearance on the page to let us know the story is based on her relatives. Sacre, says of the book, “It is an excellent reflection on the reality of poverty, patriarchy and anger. I am so grateful that I read it.” Grames pulls the curtain away on the ferocious brutality of love hidden inside marriages that seem normal to the outside world.
Grames writes of Stella:
For the rest of her sexual life, which would last fifteen years, Stella gave her body to her husband without resistance or comment, even when she was so pregnant she thought her spine would snap or when she was so tired she fell asleep in the middle. As time passed Stella learned complete separation of her mind and her interrupted body. She learned to crouch in the window of her mind, gazing out past the shantytown of her subconscious and far beyond, to the silvery blue of the Tyrrhenian marina and the mountain crowned by the Ievoli church chiazza, where the Most Blessed Madonna of Sorrows stood, ever patient, ever beatified, her golden heart bleeding for her dead son.
Another treat of Open Mic night was a reading by author Olivia Kate Cerrone from her upcoming novel DISPLACED, that delves into South Boston life when the city took a wrecking ball to Italian-American neighborhoods. Many of the Open Mic participants are Italian-Americans from the Boston area and also members of the Italian-American Writers Association IAWA an extended writing community that partners with a NYC branch. Open Mic is a petri dish of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction where the audience can hear works in progress. The group is headed by authors Julia Lisella and Jennifer Martelli. Regarding Italian-American women writers, the words of Helen Barolini resonate deeply with Lisella. In THE DREAM BOOK, Barolini writes:
Italian-American women were, instead, susceptible to the idea that excelling or drawing attention to oneself was not womanly, not good. This notion was prevalent in a society in which belief in malocchio – the evil eye- was present at all levels . . . The taboo is against being seen in excelling in anything, or in that close seeing which is self knowledge.
Lisella admits she “had to fight, emotionally against 1,000 years of this belief, to learn how to advocate for my writing, to showcase it, to offer it up for others to see.”
This is exactly why the readings at I AM BOOKS have become a sacred space for creativity and discourse. When Jenn Martelli read her poem to the audience, the room fell silent, mesmerized by her words. (published in Stirring: A Literary Collection)
To Keep Me From Wandering Off My Mother Told me
two women fought with coat hangers down at Filene’s Basement.
They’d grabbed the same dress from the tangle of satin
during the Running of the Brides sale: a back buttoned
ivory lace thing you could alter to fit any size. They swung
the wire hangers so the hooks could catch skin: one woman
aimed for the lower blue-lined eyelid; the other snagged a tuft
of the black lacquered updo. This caused the nest of spiders
living in her hair to scramble down her back and across
the tiled floor into the deep bins of loose silk underwear:
camisoles, slips, bras. No, wait—the spiders were sewn
into the satin lining of the coats on their 25th markdown day,
before they’re sent to the poor. Or were those snake eggs
warmed and ready to hatch within the wool? No matter—
they would bite some woman who would die from the venom.
My mother and I rode the subway on Thursdays. I could ride
for free then, straight into the Basement. I feared my mother
would get bitten by the snakes or the spiders hiding in the bins
she pawed through for a bargain. I feared those women, too,
who stripped down to their demi-slips, their garter belts and stockings,
to try on these steals. One had a mole on her stomach. One had a bruise
on her thigh crawling with blue veins.
As poet Julia Lisella reminds us, “I think some of the same prejudices and stereoptypes of Italian Americans still dominate in our culture, so we need literary artists to counter these stereotypes, to defy them.” At I AM BOOKS, when you walk through the door, you will enter a world that is the very best of Italy, never mind it’s 3,958 miles away from Venice. And if you’re not traveling to Boston, do not fret, because you can always visit I AM BOOKS in cyberspace at Iambooksboston.com