Finding quiet in heart of Boston with Charlie Grantham

An interview with Charlie Grantham, a member since 2023.

What drew you to become a member of the Athenaeum?

Charlie Grantham: I came here on Community Day. I had never heard of the Athenaeum, but it came up on my Instagram algorithm as something free to do in Boston and I thought it looked cool. I had no idea how big it was! I think we were only about twenty minutes into walking around, and I turned to my husband and said, “I have to become a member.” I feel so inspired when I’m here. I have told so many people this, but I get my work done better. It’s like time stands still when I’m here and the world goes quiet.

What’s your favorite spot in the building?

CG: My go-to spot is on the fourth floor right outside the Trustees’ Room — not the tables by the window, but one of the tables hidden behind the bookshelves.

What are you working on at the Athenaeum currently? What do you bring with you to work on?

CG: I’m a photographer, so I edit my photos here. I also work on my website, study, and have meetings. Usually, I try to get here right at nine. I like to get my spot and get cozy. If I can sit here all day, that’s my favorite because I get so much done, but I’ll switch up my spots, too.

How has the Athenaeum helped support your interests? Is there anything you’ve discovered here that you’d want to share? 

CG: I’m very interested in the photography collection here — I was drawn to the Developing Boston exhibition. Being in a place surrounded by art inspires me — It’s wonderful being exposed every day to the photographs, paintings, and sculptures.

What’s your favorite perk of being a member of the Athenaeum?

CG: The Athenaeum gives members a space to have quiet and to have stillness, which I think is really rare in today’s world. That’s a big draw for me, and it’s hard to find that in other places in the city.

If any, what fictional character or historical figure would you expect to find in the Athenaeum? 

CG: I have two: One is Louisa May Alcott – I know she was a member here and that was another thing that drew me to membership. I also think this one’s a little silly but Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She would live here!

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Davene Wright finds her “third place”

Davene Wright member sitting in a red chair with bookshelves behind her.

An interview with Davene Wright, a member since 2022.

What drew you to become a member of the BA?

Davene: I love libraries. And I wanted a “third place” that wasn’t home or work, but another place to spend time. And for me specifically, at least for where I live in the city and where I work, I don’t have a reason to come all the way into downtown Boston. So, that’s been really nice to be able to come to this area where I wouldn’t normally spend time and explore other things.

What’s your favorite spot in the building?

Davene: The Bornheimer Room at the end of the Long gallery. It’s a great view — you can see all the tourists in the Granary Burying Ground and know that “I’m in here and they may not even know about it!” — which is wild. That room in particular acknowledges explicitly the role of colonizers and comes to terms with that. That is very, very important.

We have a lot of good spaces, but the fifth floor is a particularly nice one. I love it when people doing research leave books on the tables. I like to look at the stacks and see what they’re interested in.

What are you working on at the BA currently? 

Davene: I’m an academic, and we have to write manuscripts and papers, so being here is a way to focus on that. It’s quiet and I’m not going to get distracted by things at home or by what’s going on at my office — I can come here to a beautiful place and use it as a writing space.

Is there anything you’ve discovered here that you’d want to share? 

Davene: After the book readings, there was a wine and cheese reception and I was not expecting that! Even though I’d made plans to go out after the book reading, we stayed here instead. I’ve come to like the social events; I get to meet other people and find out why they come to the Athenaeum. 

What’s your favorite perk of being a member?

Davene: My favorite perk is the ebooks! Over the holidays I was getting on the plane and thought, “Oh, I don’t have anything new to read!”  I have five library cards and went to see what ebooks were available at other libraries and many had 20-week waits, but when I went to CloudLibrary a book I wanted was available immediately. It’s amazing. 

If any, what fictional character or historical figure would you expect to find in the Athenaeum? 

Davene: President Bartlet from the West Wing. He would be particularly mad about people talking in the silent reading room, not following the rules or not being good members of the community. I think he’d like to read here, he’d like the history, he’d play chess, he’d have debates — he’d like all those things! And he was from New Hampshire, so I think he would love it here.

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Jenn Pellecchia’s journey from discovery to community

Jenn standing next to window that looks out on the Granary Burial ground.

Excerpts from an interview with Jenn Pellecchia, member since 2010

What drew you to become a member of the BA?

Jenn: I found out about it through Wikipedia.  I think I was looking at the page for John Adams or John Quincy Adams, that’s how I found out they were both members. I thought, there’s no way this still exists, but there was a link to the website, and I saw that it was a member library that anyone could join. I showed it to my husband and was like, we have to do this. 

What’s your favorite spot in the building?

Jenn: I love to browse the new books. It’s so nice to not have to be in a huge queue and reserve everything, just to be able to browse, like a bookstore, but not have to pay for anything. And when I actually need to get some work done I like to go to the basement, especially in the summer. It’s really nice and cool, and if I want to take a break, I can check out the art books. And the views are great down there. It’s a nice, quiet place.

What are you working on at the BA currently? What do you bring with you to work on? Do you work, or do more reading?

Jenn: I like to do both, work and read. This is a great place to try to get stuff done. I work from home, and my discipline there kind of varies, but I’m a bookbinder and a book conservator, so this is a great place just to be. 

How has the BA helped support your interests? Is there anything you’ve discovered here that you’d want to share? 

Jenn: I discovered book conservation as a career! Through a lot of the exhibitions I’ve learned about other bookbinders and book artists. It’s great that Special Collections is buying from current artists and has an interest in contemporary book artists and bookbinders. I’m discovering people all the time, and even older works from people I actually know or have heard of. 

And also it’s fun to have people you can talk about things with. You know, it’s great to just ask John [Buchtel, Athenaeum Director of Special Collections], “Are you shopping, what are you excited about, what have you acquired?” and then being able to make an appointment and go look at stuff. I’ve been able to do a lot of learning that way. 

What’s your favorite perk of being a member at the Athenaeum?

Jenn: I love the events. It’s nice that there’s such a range of people that the BA attracts, different ages, different careers, coming from different areas of the country and sometimes the world. There’s been so many fascinating people working here too. You can have a good conversation anytime you come to the building. 

I’ve never been to something that I thought wasn’t interesting. There’s always a level of quality, and there’s always something to learn, and the speakers do such a great job that any time you end up here for an event, you’re going to come away with something. It’s like, “I’m free, is there something happening?” And there usually is. I think being in a room full of people who are learning things together, you can’t really top it. 

If any, what fictional character or historical figure would you expect to find in the Athenaeum? 

Jenn: I know that Louisa May Alcott was a member, so I’d like to think of Jo March, or really anybody in the March family, having access to this. Not just Jo, but all of the sisters. Music for Beth, and art for Amy, and maybe some social events for Meg. It’s really easy to picture them fitting in here. I always like that this is a family place, too, so it makes me happy to think about the March family being able to visit as a group.  

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Clive Martin shares his love of the BA

Man with white hair reading a book while sitting in a comfy red leather chair.

Excerpts from an interview with Clive Martin, member since 2013 and docent

What drew you to become a member of the BA?

Clive: I’ve been a member of the BA for 10 years. Before I retired, I used to work just down the road actually, and I would come in here on my lunchtimes and just look around.

Ten years ago, my Boston Globe subscription came with promotions including a reduced-price membership to the BA. I thought, “So anyone can join? I’ll try it!” I love libraries, I’ve always loved learning and reading and meeting like-minded people, so it was a no-brainer…I never looked back!

What are you working on at the BA currently?

Clive: It’s rare that I just get a chance to sit down and read! That’s what I always think of doing, but what I come here for is my docent tours, and my book groups, Dickens and Literary Conversations, and I’m also a member of Poetry, and all three of those are very active. It just keeps me very very busy.

How has the BA supported your interests? What have you discovered here?

Clive: Oh, what have I discovered?! …I mean, it stretches your mind and your intellect. The book talks, the concerts, the discussions, the book groups, and the friends you make. …and I love the collections.

I’ve learned a lot about cultural history, and how it’s presented. We [docents] must ensure our cultural history is presented honestly. For instance, the rehanging of the paintings here was so thoughtfully done. Now we tell a much fuller story, with the re-hanging, about our country’s art and history, including so much that’s been neglected or ignored.

What’s your favorite spot in the building?

Clive: Oh, I have a lot of favorite spots… Now you’re going to give away all my good secrets! My favorite place to sit and read is on the fourth-floor gallery. There’s a winged armchair. You get lost in it. I do like the art library. It’s fantastic. Great places to sit, surrounded by all the art books.

If you go to the gallery levels, you can find chairs no one knows about. It’s nice to sit down and get lost. The only person who will find you there is the security guard

What is your favorite perk of being a member of the BA?

Clive: There’s so many… If you boil it all away, it’s the people. There’s no lack of people to talk to, who are glad to engage in conversation– really good discussions with interesting people.

What fictional character or historical figure would you expect to find in the Athenaeum?

Clive: Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch. And her husband Rev. Edward Casaubon. I would not be at all surprised if I ran into them in here. Dorothea Brooke is full of the delight in learning and the love of literature, the love of philosophy, and the love of theology.

I would expect to find her reading on the 5th floor. And Rev. Casaubon would be studying the books in the King’s Chapel Library collection, turning the pages, and inhaling the accumulated dust that has built up since 1698 when they were shipped to Boston.

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