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.