Maryland folklorist Elaine Eff is a champion of local culture and traditions. In her new book, she sets her sights on a much-loved Baltimore icon: the painted window screen and the artists who created them. Eff will discuss her latest work, The Painted Screens of Baltimore: an Urban Folk Art Revealed, on Tuesday, July 1 at 7:00 p.m. at the North Point Branch. The program, which is part of the branch’s “Dundalk Dialogs” local author speaker series, will include a book talk and signing. Eff recently answered questions for Between the Covers about her new book.
Between the Covers: How did you become interested in the history of Baltimore’s painted screens?
Elaine Eff: Serendipity. Two coincidences that changed the course of my life: As a Baltimore girl, I was expected to be an authority on our local folk art – which I was not. In fact, I knew nothing on the subject. When I arrived at graduate school, I found a 19thcentury – not Baltimore, but New York State – painted screen in our museum’s collection, and that started my journey. I needed to learn what history, if any, the two might share.
BTC: Can you share how you conducted your research for this project?
EF: Face-to-face, person-by-person. Visiting artists, walking the streets of East Baltimore, talking to strangers, traveling to libraries, museums and archives nationwide, international research and casting the net wider and deeper as the subject became richer and more fascinating.
BTC: What do you want readers, who may not have any knowledge of this Baltimore tradition, to take away from your book?
EF: Painted screens are a response to a community’s need for privacy. Row houses demand them, and they had the extra bonus of being downright beautiful. “You see out. No one sees in,” and “They used to be everywhere” is what you hear all the time. The book is as much about Baltimore and neighborhood building. It has something for everyone and can be appreciated on many levels: as a whole, in small bites or tastes here and there. Appreciate what an incredible city of resourceful people can make happen.
BTC: Among the painters you researched were there any who were as colorful as the art they created?
EF: Every single one. That is why I first made the film The Screen Painters. Every painter is a movie in him or herself. They needed to tell their own story and did. They are an incredible group of creative individuals who changed the face of a city. Not bad for a bunch of local untrained artists! The book gives you a glimpse into that wonderful era when the sidewalks told a very different – an incredibly colorful —story, in many ways.
BTC: What were some of the favorite images seen around town?
EF: The Red Bungalow was it. Everyone wanted to have the red cottage with a winding path, a pond and swans. Ninety percent of the windows had that scene as interpreted by hundreds of different hands. Today things are very different — strangely, now we see a lot of local landmarks, like the [Patterson Park] Pagoda. One house in Highlandtown even has Formstone painted on the window screen! Big difference is it used to be EVERY window and door — front and back. Now we see the front window and little more. Times and tastes have changed. And that is wonderful.
Readers who would like to learn more can also visit The Painted Screen Society of Baltimore website.
Where can you find out about the hottest new books before they’re published? LibraryReads features 10 new titles published each month that have caught the eyes of librarians across the country. The July LibraryReads list is a mix of books by returning favorite authors as well as some fresh debuts. Don’t forget to pack these two in your beach bag this summer!
Many American readers were introduced to Jojo Moyes when they read her runaway bestseller Me Before You, which Between the Covers blogger Laura told us about early last year. This summer, Moyes returns with One Plus One. Jess, single mom to a genius daughter and an outcast stepson, needs cash fast, so she embarks on a road trip to the Math Olympiad with her family in tow, hoping to use the prize money to pay her daughter’s tuition. Throw in one large, smelly dog and a disgraced tech geek to round out the party, and you have a charming story about a quirky band of misfits who somehow fit together. Fans of the movie Little Miss Sunshine will love this novel.
Told in alternating chapters, Lori Rader-Day’s The Black Hour brings together the stories of Amelia Emmet, a sociology professor recovering from a seemingly random shooting that left her injured and a student dead 10 months earlier, and Nathaniel Barber, her teaching assistant who wants to write his dissertation about the attack. Rader-Day masterfully builds tension as both Amelia and Nath seek answers about why the shooting happened. This darkly suspenseful debut is a perfect match for readers who enjoy novels by Gillian Flynn and S. J. Watson.
We asked some popular thriller authors what books kept them up all night. Their responses include a host of reading suggestions that will help you build the perfect summer reading list.
Chris Pavone, author of The Accident, recommends Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch. He writes, “I couldn't put down Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which I suspect no one is referring to as a thriller, despite its tremendously thrilling elements. I think it's a great book in every way, but in particular I found it heartbreakingly beautiful on the sentence level–one wonderful sentence after another after another, for nearly 800 pages–and filled with moments of truth and insight. Then, of course, there's the terrorist bombing and the stolen priceless painting and drug deals and death by gunshot and hiding out in an Amsterdam hotel. How can you go to sleep with this type of stuff going on?”
Brad Meltzer couldn’t put down Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which he says is “[m]ore history, less thriller, but had me to my soul.” The novel, which has been a favorite of readers since its publication in 2006, was also recently made into a movie.
M. J. Rose, co-president of International Thriller Writers and author of The Collector of Dying Breaths, shared two of her favorite authors. “Two authors guaranteed to keep me up all night are Lee Child and Steve Berry – they both have new books coming out soon [that are] sure to be as un-put-downable as the last.” Find Child’s Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel (available to be placed on hold) and Berry’s The Lincoln Myth in BCPL's catalog. Rose continues, “Both of them are consummate professionals who never miss a chance to stop a chapter with a cliffhanger and get their characters into what seem like impossible situations. These guys can write!”
Matthew Quirk, whose new novel The Directive was just published, recommends a classic. “I recently re-read Marathon Man by William Goldman and couldn't put it down. It has a great voice and unforgettable scenes (you'll never look at a dentist the same way again). It taught me so much about what drives a thriller: relentless threats to your protagonist as you ratchet up the stakes.”
It’s the fall of 1941 in England, and the world stands on the brink of destruction. By night, the bombs drop. By day, exhausted Londoners go about their daily business. As do a network of spies – specialists in deceit – determined to stop Hitler and all he stands for. Maggie Hope never expected to be one of them. Shattered from her undercover experiences in Berlin, she is assigned to share her expertise in the training of future SOE agents.
Britain stands alone; the United States merrily jitterbugs, packing Bundles for Britain, remaining determined to stay out of European affairs. Winston Churchill despairs that FDR will never come to England’s aid. Determined to defend the realm whatever the cost, Churchill authorizes the development of chemical weapons.
But the war is about more than the plans of politicians. It’s about the people who must make deeply personal decisions about their involvement. When a dear friend of Maggie’s is accidentally affected by the secret experiments being conducted in Scotland, Maggie must decide how far she will go to find a killer, save a friend and her country.
Meticulously researched, and based on the stories of true spies, political and military events, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent is sure to please historical fiction readers as well as lovers of mystery and suspense. Susan Elia MacNeal is a master at creating the backdrop of war and the heartbreak of those involved. Readers of Jacqueline Winspear and Laura Wilson will be delighted with this latest entry in the Maggie Hope series.
Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is back to solve another baffling historical mystery in Why Kings Confess by C. S. Harris. The French Revolution is over, and Napoleon seems poised to usurp the French throne from the Bourbons. A secret delegation of royalists has been dispatched to England to try and make peace with the British monarchy. French physician Damion Pelletan is discovered in a back alley, his body mutilated and his companion, Alexi Sauvage, badly injured. Sauvage, a woman trained as a physician but unable to practice in England or France due solely to her gender. Sebastian knows Alexi from an unfortunate encounter in the past, but quickly realizes that he must leave the past behind, investigate the murder and find her attacker. Soon he will become embroiled in a hotbed of political intrigue and conspiracy as he encounters the tale of the “Lost Dauphin.” Is it true that there is a surviving male heir to the throne of France, spirited away under the cover of darkness years before? With concerns for his wife Hero and their unborn child, Sebastian plunges forward, using his preternatural gifts of sight and hearing to try and piece together this rather difficult and dangerous puzzle.
C. S. Harris is the pen name for Candice Proctor, who earned both an MA and PhD in history. This is apparent in Why Kings Confess, the ninth title in the Sebastian St. Cyr series. Regency England plays an important role in the novel, and there is rich historical detail that will enlighten and educate the reader as well as keep them entertained. The mystery itself is complex, with several suspects and plot twists that will delight anyone interested in a traditional whodunit. The audio edition, narrated by Davina Porter, is particularly well done, as her narration brings the text to life. The series, beginning with the novel What Angels Fear, is also available for download as an e-book.
You know who Judy Greer is, even if you don’t know who Judy Greer is. You may know her from her role as Cheryl in Archer, or as Kitty Sanchez in Arrested Development, or as the best friend in movies like 13 Going on 30 and 27 Dresses. You may even know her as the mom from the new “Framily Plan” commercials from Sprint. The point is, with dozens of co-starring roles in TV series and major movies, you know who Judy Greer is, even if you can’t pick her out of a lineup. This famous anonymity suits the actress just fine as she makes clear in her hilarious new biography I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star.
Hailing from outside of Detroit, Ms. Greer has the work ethic of a dray horse and the sense of humor bred from the privations of the rust belt and ungodly cold winters. Her childhood, while not a large chunk of her new memoir, provides some of the funniest fodder. Like her fellow Midwesterner from across the lake, Tim Conway, Ms. Greer is more than willing to embarrass herself and expose her own foibles to make us laugh. The end result is a book that is funny and endearing. You are happy for her success and for her excitement at meeting real celebrities. Whether she is discussing spending her summers in the quaint town of Carey, Ohio, or peeing next to her far more famous co-stars, which occupies a chapter of her book, Greer has an enthusiasm for life and a wide-eyed zeal that will leave you smiling as if you were watching a basket full of puppies frolic.
In one of her best quotes, Ms. Greer notes that a family member once told her that “Work begets more work,” and in pursuit of that ideal she has relentlessly pursued roles that weren’t starring roles, but roles that would keep her working. Along the way, several of her characters have become comedy cultural touchstones. If you like Bossypants or Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, you will love I Don’t Know What You Know Me From. While her career so far has been one as a co-star, something she doesn’t mind at all, you finish this book hoping she will get her chance to find that starring role and join the ranks of actresses like Tina Fey, Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett.
“Oh God, he stabbed me! Help me!” was the cry eventually heard around the world. In Kew Gardens, Queens, on Friday, March 13, 1964, this shout for help was heard by 38 bystanders, all of whom watched a young woman being killed and did nothing. Or so The New York Times reported. In Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America, award-winning author Kevin Cook brings fresh perspective to a case and story which grew and has remained in the public mind as a cautionary tale of urban decline and apathy.
Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old bartender who lived in the Kew Gardens neighborhood, was coming home from a shift that fateful early Friday morning when she was stabbed by an assailant who ran off but then came back and attacked her a second time. As the legend which grew around the crime reports, 38 residents in nearby apartment buildings all watched the attack, more than half an hour long, and did nothing to help. This crime prompted sociological research about when individuals were most likely to help, leading to a theory known as the “bystander effect.” It also encouraged the establishment of a national 911 number so people could more efficiently report crimes.
As Cook reveals, the story, which has been countlessly retold, is not the full story of what happened that morning. There were several individuals who police did consider to be true villains for their apathetic response. However, others saw only a glimpse of what had happened and were unaware that a crime had occurred. Other concerned individuals did phone the police. Covering more than just the crime, Cook explores the vibrant life of the young victim, the cold-blooded calculation of the killer Winston Mosley and the restlessness and explosive nature of the city and country in the ’60s. Alternately dramatic and sobering, this book is a must-read for anyone who remembers this story from the newspapers or a social psychology textbook. Ultimately, in a city that appeared on the brink of social crisis, there were still individuals who did good.
Natalie Baszile tackles several tough topics in her novel Queen Sugar. Protagonist Charley, a single mother, has to create a whole new life for herself as a black woman in rural Louisiana. She has to deal with the loss of loved ones, confront prejudice and raise a strong, proud daughter. It is only with the help of her grandmother, Miss Honey, that she is even able to attempt this new beginning.
After Charley’s father passed away, she was surprised to learn that he had left her a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana. She’d always considered herself a city girl from California, but it had been four years since her husband passed away, and she and her 11-year-old daughter Micah were in need of a change.
When Charley and Micah arrive in Louisiana, they realized that the plantation manager had given up long ago and the fields were in dire need of a green thumb. Feeling overwhelmed, Charley immediately begins to try to turn things around. She had moved Micah against her will and sunk all of her savings into a long shot at a new life, but Charley quickly learns that this new life doesn’t come with the promise of simplicity. More than one curve ball is thrown her way, but Charley is determined to make her father proud and show Micah that perseverance is the key to reaching a goal.
Baszile creates rich characters whose relationships feel warm and authentic. It’s the combination of these character interactions and the vivid descriptions of the landscape that bring this book alive. Though the novel is more contemporary in content, I would recommend it to those who liked The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.
New reporter Rebekah Roberts is haunted by the mother who abandoned her to return to her secretive Hasidic family. After a childhood in sunny Florida with her adoring father and stepmother, Roberts moves to New York with dreams of becoming a renowned journalist. In Julia Dahl’s debut novel Invisible City, the world of print media is fading fast. However, Roberts lands a job as a glorified tabloid reporter, sent to the scene of the seediest crimes where she hopes to eke out a living reporting facts that someone else will write. After receiving a call to report to a crime scene, she finds herself immersed in the murder mystery of a Hasidic woman who is from the same community as Roberts’ mother is.
When Roberts meets Jewish detective Saul Katz at the home of the victim, he recognizes her based on her uncanny resemblance to the mother she never knew and she is catapulted into a world shrouded in tradition and secrets. With each new fact she discovers, another question replaces it. Her past motivates her to dig further, which leads her into undeniable danger.
With each new turn of the mystery, Roberts finds herself learning more and more about her mother’s Hasidic world. Roberts watches the body taken away by Jewish “police” instead of the medical examiner. She learns that an autopsy will not be conducted, and the victim buried before evidence can be collected. Clearly a murder, the case might never be solved unless Roberts can expose the truth behind the crime and her own ties to the community.
Susan Gloss's delightful debut Vintage, set in Madison, Wisconsin, weaves a multi-generational story of three women coping with unique personal problems, and finding love and friendship amidst antique clothes and accessories. Violet Turner’s dream to own a vintage boutique was realized with the opening of Hourglass Vintage. But now, she is in danger of losing the boutique and she simply cannot return to her small home town. Eighteen-year-old April is pregnant and has been dumped by her fiancé, bowing to pressure from his snobby parents. Amithi discovered an unbearable betrayal by her husband of over 25 years and is shedding her clothes and jewels in an effort to remove any memories of a fraudulent life.
These women’s lives intersect at Hourglass Vintage, where they bond over a shared love of beautiful things and gradually develop deep and lasting friendships. April interns at the shop to retain her college scholarship. Her head for numbers make her an immediate asset to Violet’s woebegone accounting system. The two work with other clients, including Amithi, who is questioning her past and worried about her future, to raise funds to ensure Violet retains the store. As Violet realizes she can’t save her store alone, she opens her heart to new friends and to the possibility of real romance for the first time since her painful divorce.
Gloss opens each chapter with a catalog card perfunctorily detailing an item, its date of manufacture, its condition and previous owner. But the engaging narrative reveals the rich life of each item and also exposes another piece of each woman’s history and character. An online reading guide is available, so be sure to keep this multi-faceted story of transformation, healing and friendship in mind for your summer book club.