Monday, March 1, 2010

Follow me...

on over to Reading Local is a collection of blogs about books, authors, and literary events in cities around the United States: Portland (where it started), Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, and now Baltimore. Since our goals were the same--promoting local literary and book-related life--The Baltimore Bibliophile decided to join them. I will now be posting all new entries at Come on over!

Drumroll, please...

This year's pick for the One Maryland One Book program will be Outcasts United by Warren St. John. Read the press release from the Maryland Humanities Council here. September and October events to be announced.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some Events February 26-March 4

Friday, February 26, 7pm: The 6th Annual People's Poetry Awards; Eubie Blake Center, 847 N. Howard Street; $5 before 8pm, $10 after

Sunday, February 28, 2pm: Jerald Walker, author of Street Shadows, talks about his newest book at the Central Library

Sunday, February 28, 7pm: Last Rites Baltimore, Baltimore Youth Hostel, 17 W. Mulberry Street

Monday, March 1, 3:30-5pm: Celebrate National Pig Day! Listen to a pig tale. Learn fun facts about pigs. Make a piggy bank to take home. At the Hamilton Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The Baltimore Bibliophile tries to pick only the most creative or popular events to share. This definitely qualifies.

Tuesday, March 2, 6:30pm: Ted Venetoulis talks about Hail to the Cheat at the Central Library.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Baltimore, the City with Potential

Jessica Crispin (founder of Bookslut) writes at The Smart Set about how well-known creative eras of great cities come about. Where does the spark come from that gives rise to creative communities in certain places, such as  bohemian New York or Paris between the wars? Can this creativity be fostered or does it just happen? Tension, chaos, and coffee shops all seem to be part of the mix. Based on that, I say Baltimore has big potential.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Poe's Funerals

How can I have written a blog on books in Baltimore for a month and not yet mentioned Edgar Allen Poe? Read "Nevermoreland" by Abigail Deutsch at the Poetry Foundation website. Now I've done my Poe duty for the month.

Tonight at the Central Library

If you're looking for a good author at the last minute, tonight Christopher Corbett talks about his new book, The Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the Wild West, , 6:30pm at the Central Library.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reaching the Reader at 510 Readings

Saturday I went to the 510 Readings for the first time. Four writers--two fiction, two memoirists--read their work at an art gallery above a funky vintage store. In spite of my long book publishing background, it was the first reading I’ve been to in quite some time. 

I was in publishing in New York for 17 years. I loved just about every minute of it. I considered myself incredibly lucky to be in the field, and I did whatever I could just to stay in and advance. When it became apparent that I wasn't going to move up the ranks at a large literary trade house quickly enough for my liking, I embraced my love of editing in general and went to a non-publisher to edit their company's books. When I came back from a year or two abroad, I went to a reference imprint at a big house. My career could in no way be considered a boon to literature, which didn’t bother me in the least. After a few years at the large literary house reading one coming-of-age novel after another (that was the fashion at that moment), I thought "literature" was pretty much overrated. After working at a bookstore part-time during a few holiday seasons, I saw that my suspicions were correct. There was plenty to read out there, and no one else needed to add to the glut. I rarely went to readings and was in no way part of the literary scene. I was a very business-oriented editor, concerned with acquisitions and sales, and I liked it just fine.

Now that I'm at a career crossroads, though, I thought I'd attend a reading. Maybe I missed something on my first pass-through. The authors at yesterday’s reading were all quite good. Kevin Sampsell was funny; Jane Satterfield was perceptive and self-aware; and Meghan Kenny gave an unforgettable description of a tornado on the day of a tragic funeral. Ron Tanner's work, though, particularly spoke to me. He wrote about a woman passing through northern California on the way to visit her ailing father. I'm from San Francisco, but I'm not in love with the City (note caps, because to a San Franciscan, it's the only City) and northern California the way practically everybody else is. Nevertheless, I appreciate adoring descriptions of my homeland because I like to hear what everybody else sees in it. The woman in Tanner's novel-in-progress drives over the Donner Pass in winter on her way to the very small town of Exeter, in central California. Few people know enough about Exeter, where my college roommate grew up, to write about the unusually wide streets in such a small town. Ron Tanner does, and he also wrote wonderfully about coming over the Donner Pass in a snowstorm, where a century ago an exploring party cannibalized its dead members during winter. The woman coming over the pass is attracted to the guy putting chains on her tires while heading home to her family during a tragic period. I love the hope inherent in people being attracted to each other no matter how bad the timing. It’s so human. “Yes, we might end up eating each other for dinner, but meanwhile, you're hot.”

It's similar to the hope that keeps people going to readings or writing books. Most of what's written isn't going to be that interesting to most other people, but when an author and reader find each other, that's magical, whether the connection is through a reference book (I worked on books about coins and comic books that tens of thousands of people waited for eagerly every year). It's also wonderful when it's more personal, when a writer captures an aspect of my home so well I feel like I’m right there. My New York publishing career was fabulous, but I missed some of those more personal writer-reader connections along the way. I appreciate 510 Readings for giving me a chance to find more of them now.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rebecca Skloot Swings through Baltimore

Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Cells of Henrietta Lacks, discussed here, will be reading and speaking in Baltimore February 19-23. Here's her schedule; check the details before you head out:

Friday, February 19, 6pm: Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars; Gilman Hall, Johns Hopkins University, Homewood Campus

Saturday, February 20, 1pm: Howard County Library, East Columbia Branch; registration required.

Monday, February 22, 6pm: Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute

Tuesday, February 23, 1pm: Howard County Community College (no link or details that I could find; if you have them, please comment)

Tuesday, February 23, 6:30pm: The Ivy Bookshop, 6080 Falls Road, Baltimore, MD 21209; (410) 377-2966

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Making Toast: Simple Gestures for Moving On, by Roger Rosenblatt

Life goes on. Writer Roger Rosenblatt's new book, Making Toast, is receiving wide acclaim for the sad yet forward-looking account of his daughter Amy's sudden death at age 38. She left three very young children, a hand surgeon husband, and a career as a pediatrician. Rosenblatt and his wife, Ginny, immediately moved to Bethesda to be with their son-in-law and grandchildren. Making Toast is an account of the year or so that followed and the expectation that more years will follow. NPR has a written and spoken review here. If the subject sounds familiar, it's because Rosenblatt wrote this for The New Yorker in December 2008.

Bethesda is closer to DC than Baltimore, but sometimes we need to expand our horizons. Which brings me to the question, how far afield should The Baltimore Bibliophile range? Annapolis, sure. Westminster, of course. Columbia, probably. But once we start to really get into the orbit of another city, it seems out of my sphere. I'm not going to review every Washingtonian's big book. Range is an issue I'll be considering, but for now, this one seemed right for a blog focused on Baltimore.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Spaghetti Disco, February 27

Get your tickets for the Spaghetti Disco, benefiting the Village Learning Place in Charles Village, here. Saturday, February 27, dinner 5:30-8, dance 8-11. Fun!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lucille Clifton, Godspeed

Lucille Clifton, poet laureate of Maryland and National Book Award winner, passed on Saturday, February 13, of cancer and other causes.

From Good Woman:

in the inner city
like we call it
we think a lot about uptown
and the silent nights
and the houses straight as
dead men
and the pastel lights
and we hang on to our no place
happy to be alive
and in the inner city
like we call it

Hear her read "Homage to My Hips" here.

A brief biography from the Academy of American Poets here.

Baltimore Sun obituary here.

Purchase her books, including children's titles, here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Kindness of Baltimoreans

Read Street posted the final four contenders for the One Maryland, One Book statewide reading program.

The Baltimore Bibliophile was also at the meeting to winnow the final ten down to just a few, as a volunteer for the Maryland Humanities Council helping out with the One Book Program. The committee includes movers and shakers from libraries around the state, journalists, professors, university administrators, bookstore owners and managers, and others. Everybody I met was genuinely friendly, happy to meet me, and interested in what I'm doing here. No one at the OMOB meeting looked over my shoulder to find someone more important in the room. I didn't get any phony smiles. I wasn’t brushed off.

I'm astonished by the friendliness of Baltimoreans, and in this case, Marylanders in general, all the more so in the literary world, sad to say. My ability to read a situation is compromised because what do I make of a gathering where everyone is pleasant? How do I know who to like if everyone is nice? How do I discuss books and publishing without one-up-manship? My goodness, are we always actually going to listen to each other's opinions and suggestions so pleasantly? How refreshing!

People here are open and happy and interested and interesting and by far the very best part of moving to Baltimore.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What to Read and What Not to for Blizzard #2 in Five Days

One's feelings about living through this historic snow will most likely be colored by one's reading material, especially when reading about events in similar weather. The Baltimore Bibliophile prefers to cultivate a feeling of warm coziness while being holed up for a week--not easy to do, especially with two young children, but a better goal than allowing cabin fever to take over. Hence, she recommends the first list and would prefer to steer clear of the latter.

What to read during a blizzard (or two):

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis: With religious inspiration to boot.
Another Marvelous Thing, Laurie Colwin: Laurie Colwin's books are always good for a happy ending. 
A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, Isabella Bird: A triumph of travel if not always a cheerful book.
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," Robert Frost
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott: I've started and ended with books aimed at children, and several more occurred to me while writing. Do only children's books have comforting snow scenes? As an adult, does it just become all about shoveling?

What not to read this week:
"To Build A Fire," Jack London
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin
The Winter's Tale, William Shakespeare
King Richard III, William Shakespeare

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Book-related Super Bowl Ads

Baltimore is a football town, so we've got to watch. Best book-related ad definitely Bud Light book club commercial. "Do you like Little Women?" "Well, I'm not prejudiced. I love them all."

Dante's Inferno video game ad: Part of me is happy it gives the book more publicity. The other part is just disgusted. You know someone's going to say one day, "They wrote a book based on the video game?!" Random thought: did they have to license rights? Probably not. The book is public domain, though the translation isn't.

The Long Winter

I am obsessing over The Long Winter (Little House series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I wish it had nothing in common with Baltimore, but right now, it does. How did she grind the wheat in the coffee grinder to make bread? Do I need to build a false wall in my house behind which I can hide the flour a la the Wilder brothers? I certainly hope we're not shut in as long as they were. I am amazed at the amount of snow out there.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Baltimore Native and 60 Minutes Correspondent Byron Pitts on BookTV

Baltimore native Byron Pitts, 60 Minutes national correspondent, talks about his memoir, Step Out on Nothing, about rising above tough personal and social circumstances to his current success, on BookTV this Saturday, February 6, at 8am, and Sunday, February 7, at 2am (after you come home from your wild night out). Or you can watch it at a more convenient time here. 

You'll have plenty of time. You'll be snowed in.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Next on the Bestseller Lists: A Poor, Black Baltimore Woman Finds Immortality Through Her Cells

The Baltimore Bibliophile predicts that this first-time author’s story of a poor woman from Baltimore County will soon climb bestseller lists across the country.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot (Crown), a true story that reads like science fiction, goes on sale tomorrow. Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman from Baltimore County who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31. According to protocol, cells from both her aggressive tumor and her healthy tissue were harvested by Johns Hopkins Hospital. What no one could have expected is that her cells – or their descendants – are now the most famous and long-lived in the world.

Seeing that her cells thrived in the laboratory, researchers shared them with colleagues who needed human cells to test treatments for polio, herpes, leukemia, influenza, and Parkinson's disease, among many others; they were essential to the development of the Salk polio vaccine Henrietta Lacks' cells, called HeLa cells for short, formed the first immortal human cell line. They're bought and sold by labs around the world, but Henrietta Lacks' five children and numerous grandchildren, who didn't find out about the cells until 25 years later, have never seen a cent from their mother's unwitting gift. Most grew up in poverty. When a researcher at Hopkins suggests they should receive compensation, they say they'd like health insurance.

This is Rebecca Skloot's first book. She's an award-winning science writer who has written about such topics as goldfish surgery and attack pets for The New York Times Magazine, O: The Oprah Magazine, Discover, Glamour and many others and reported on stories for programs on PBS and NPR. She now runs the blog Culture Dish, hosted by Seed Magazine. She spent a decade and amassed huge credit card debt researching her subject.

Now she's been on ABC and NBC promoting The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, it's a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection for spring 2010, and advance reviews are glowing. A day before publication, her debut book is at #119 in Amazon rankings and #456 at Barnes and With all that, she's still organizing and financing her own book tour. She'll be reading at Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, Gilman Hall, Friday, February 19, at 7pm.
It's a sad story of a Baltimore family and a triumph for the author -- for bringing to light their mother's story and their plight, and for publishing her first book. Maybe it will turn into a happier story for the family, too. 

Excerpt from O: The Oprah Magazine

Boston Globe review, 1/31/10

The Washington Post review, 1/31/10

Publishers Weekly story, November 9, 2009
City Paper story, April 2002

Local author makes good

A shout-out to local author and Johns Hopkins professor Kenneth B. Moss on winning the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, for his book Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution (Harvard University Press). He shares the award with Sarah Abrevaya Stein for Plumes: Ostrich Feathers, Jews, and a Lost World of Global Commerce (Yale University Press).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ten Books Featuring Baltimore

In no particular order, including adults' and children's books:

1. Digging to America, Anne Tyler (Ballantine, 8/07): Most of Tyler's novels are set in Baltimore, so I've picked this one as representative. Two families meet at the airport while picking up their new babies adopted from Korea. One family comes with their liberal contemporary American approach to childrearing; the other with a traditional Iranian background. Both bring a shared silent grief over not being able to have biological children. Over the years the families become ever closer, while unable to erase some deep emotional differences. A warm story about the different ways families are constructed.

2. The Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau, 1/09): Moving story of a father trying to keep his sons from being swallowed by crack- and poverty-ridden Baltimore while staying true to his roots. Told by one of the sons in a voice that's true to the story's time and place, as well as its particular kind of English.

3. The Corner: A Year in the Life of An Inner-City Neighborhood, David Simon and Edward Burns (Broadway, 1998): When the beautiful struggle fails. The Corner is a depressing account of drugs taking over a poor black community. Simon wrote Homicide and created The Wire. Not a book to hearten a tentative newcomer.

4. Pumpernickel Tickle and Mean Green Cheese, Nancy Patz (1978, then re-released by the Baltimore Sun in 2000, but now OP): Wonderful, fun children's picture book featuring a boy and his elephant walking to the store through Baltimore's streets--a staple of my childhood. Laugh-out-loud language: "Bumpernickel!" "Belly stickel!" Unfortunately, the book is out of print. There's one new copy for sale on Amazon for $399.98, and two used at $39.81 and $225.00. If you're in the mood to get someone a very expensive gift, it's worth it.

5. Charm City, Laura Lippman (Avon, 10/97): I picked Charm City to represent the Tess Monaghan series, ten entertaining mysteries to date with surprise twists and colorful characters. Monaghan is a former reporter turned PI solving crimes and getting in the way of the Baltimore establishment. The Baltimore Bibliophile loves that Baltimore and her unique places and customs are characters in their own right.

6. A Walk in Charm City, Madison Smartt Bell (Crown, 11/07): Bell moved here from elsewhere, and despite second thoughts made the city his own. This is his love story written while walking around his beloved's neighborhoods. An inspiration for the Baltimore Bibliophile. Note that the book never made it to a paperback edition, so the hardcover probably didn't do spectacularly. The hardcover is now available for a bargain price, which means the publisher is getting rid of copies and is unlikely to reprint. Get it now if you don't want it to see the fate of Pumpernickel Tickle and Mean Green Cheese. (Note: generally the Baltimore Bibliophile will try not to link to bookstores outside the area, but no bookstores that sell online here appear to have copies. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.)

7. Knight's Castle, Edward Eager (first published in 1956 and reprinted in various formats ever since; currently Odyssey Classics): One of Eager's wonderful magical series, featuring four children who have magical adventures, this time based in Baltimore. Long predates Harry Potter and The Mysterious Benedict Society.

8. A Brief History of Charles Village, Gregory J. Alexander and Paul K. Williams (The History Press, 2009): You have to LOVE Charles Village to want to read this somewhat dry account of a great Baltimore neighborhood. Fortunately, the Baltimore Bibliophile does, and and this is one of a kind.

9. Ace of Spades, David Matthews (Holt, 2007): Set in Bolton Hill, which is why it's included here. I haven't read it yet, and I'm not sure I will. Seems like just another entry in the "my father is one race and my mother is another and I didn't know where I belonged as a kid" genre. I look forward to the day this is a non-issue.

10. Michael Olesker's Baltimore: If You Live Here, You're Home (JHU Press, 1995): The Baltimore Bibliophile wishes this were true and looks forward to reading the book.


No Baltimore connection, and I've been searching for even the most tenuous one. But no self-respecting book blog can ignore J.D. Salinger's passing. Baruch dayan haemet.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Baltimore Bibliophile

I'm the Baltimore Bibiliophile. Welcome to my blog. I'll be reviewing books, bookstores, and readings in and about Baltimore, listing book-related events and news, and offering my personal take on literature of all stripes in Charm City. Please feel free to contribute to the discussion.

I've just moved to Baltimore with my husband and two young children from the Lower East Side of New York, a city I had wanted to live in since I was a child and loved living in as an adult. We had to leave for my husband to take a great job. Sadly, we were ready to go. Manhattan is no longer the edgy, creative place I had fallen in love with as a kid growing up in San Francisco reading avidly about New York, with its intriguing eccentricities and little-known patches memorialized in countless books and movies--the All-of-a-Kind Family series, Harriet the Spy, The Young Unicorns by Madeleine L'Engle, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Woody Allen's Manhattan. Now it's too sleek for my taste. These days Baltimore is more creative and edgy than New York.

In an odd twist, I have a long family history here. My great-grandmother was born in Baltimore in 1868, and my grandmother spent her teenage years with an uncle's family a few blocks from where I now live. My parents, who grew up in Park Heights, moved to San Francisco before I was born. I've visited Baltimore every year of my life, so I have a lot of affection for the place and great hopes for its future. I hope that as the arts scene here becomes even stronger, Baltimore will become a pleasanter and safer city without losing its creativity.

I've moved here through necessity, but perhaps true love could be nurtured through literature.

Come with me and see.