Mikita Brottman may be a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, but she clearly has a greater passion in her life. In The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Literary, Royal, Philosophical and Artistic Dog Lovers and Their Exceptional Animals, Brottman shares not only her love for her French bulldog but how dogs have been a major sources of inspiration to people throughout history. Grisby, the titular dog, was the influence for Brottman’s book which explores many human-canine relationships, both fictional and real.
While each chapter is ostensibly about such pairings as Prince Albert and his dog Eos or Charles Dickens’ character Dora and her beloved dog Jip, Grisby does turn up throughout the narrative in asides and anecdotes. The stories run the gamut from heartwarming to heartbreaking as Brottman relates tales about the very peculiar bond that exists between people and their furry friends. Just be warned that some of the dogs did meet untimely and even grisly ends which are told in graphic detail.
Have you ever wondered if you are using a word correctly? Or what exactly a split infinitive is anyway? In Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation, author Ammon Shea sets out to explore and explain how English has evolved and why we use (or misuse) certain conventions in our language. Told with a great mix of insight and humor, Shea’s topics include semantics, grammar and even the evolution of certain common words.
For instance, in the chapter “221 Words that Were Once Frowned Upon,” Shea explains how people were advised by Frank Vizetelly in 1906 that the word ‘kid’ was “a common vulgarism for ‘child’ and as such one the use of which can not [sic] be too severely condemned.” Alfred Ayres told his readers in 1894 that “there are many persons who think it in questionable taste to use thanks for thank you.” While modern readers may be surprised to discover that certain words we use today were once considered improper, it does make one wonder which words we currently use will evolve to mean something very different in the future.
Whether you are interested in the evolution of English or just enjoy absurdity, Shea’s book offers plenty of both. One of the funnier parts may be the Shakespeare quote or rap music lyrics quiz which is not as easy as it sounds!
Most anyone with a passing interest in space exploration was wowed by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield while he was commander of the International Space Station (ISS) in 2012 and 2013. Hadfield drew a large following, adeptly using social media to reinvigorate awareness of astronomy and the importance of understanding our place in the larger universe. Now back to earth and an adjunct professor of aviation at the University of Waterloo, his latest book is full of mesmerizing photos from space titled You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes.
Hadfield explains in the introduction that the ISS fully orbits the Earth in 92 minutes, essentially 16 times a day. While he was mostly tasked with scientific responsibilities, over time he was able to take about 45,000 photographs of the wonders down below. While he was unable to capture every shot he desired, as time went on he learned to better compose his images so they became more obviously the work of a photographer rather than mere satellite images. And as he moves from continent to continent in organizing the photos, the incredible topography of our planet comes into focus.
To make the photos come to life, the author/photographer sprinkles humor and his obvious sense of wonder and joy in the captions. Small icons included with some images hint at what Hadfield was seeing in the photo, such as how a dental x-ray is mimicked in the unusual features of a Western Australian coastline. A sense of awe at the size of our planet and the diversity of the Earth’s environment is felt quickly while poring over the glossy pages of this fast read. And those who want more of the same can check out this BCPL interview with local astronaut Reid Wiseman or follow his tweets and posts from the ISS.
If you know the name Inigo Montoya, the secret to a nice MLT and never to go against a Sicilian when death is on the line, this book is for you. Cary Elwes takes readers behind the scenes of the cult classic movie The Princess Bride in As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride. Elwes, who played the film’s hero Westley, was a fan of William Goldman’s novel long before he auditioned for the film. When he was approached about the role, he was thrilled. After meeting with Goldman and director Rob Reiner, Elwes was offered the part, and he became part of the 1987 movie which also featured Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Peter Falk, Billy Crystal, Fred Savage, Wallace Shawn and Andre the Giant.
Moderately successful in theaters, The Princess Bride wasn’t the blockbuster that the studio hoped it would be. However, when the movie was released on video it truly found its audience. As home video collections became popular, VHS copies of The Princess Bride started selling better than anyone could have expected, and the movie’s popularity took on a life of its own.
In As You Wish, Elwes brings fans behind-the-scenes photos and stories told by the film’s cast. Elwes depicts the joy of making this film that has endured and captured the imagination of so many fans. Elwes recently called the book “the quintessential making-of memoir.” As You Wish is a must-read for fans of The Princess Bride, and it will definitely lead to re-watching this beloved movie.
Two little boys growing up in America; one an urban Jersey boy, the other raised in the small towns of the deep South. Both are African-American, poor, with strong, determined mothers and absentee fathers, each a young witness to violence. Both are identified as highly intelligent and both went to college and graduated. One became a reporter and appears on network television news shows; the other is dead, murdered. Journalist Charles Blow tells his own story in Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir while Jeff Hobbs memorializes the life of his Yale roommate in the bestselling The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League.
Charles Blow looks to be sitting in the catbird seat. Op-ed columnist for The New York Times and a commentator on CNN, he is a man who projects confidence and success. His memoir, however, reveals a rural Louisiana childhood of poverty where he saw conflict settled with weapons and one of the greatest insults a boy could endure was to be a called a “punk,” meaning homosexual. Blow was twice the victim of sexual abuse by older male relatives, leaving him wondering what it was about himself that attracted predators. Fire Shut Up In My Bones is Blow’s sensitive and introspective reflection on how his past created his present.
Young Robert Peace idolized his father, a man who seemed to know everyone in Newark’s rough suburbs. Convicted of killing two women, Peace’s father was incarcerated when Peace was in first grade. Rob’s mother Jackie worked in institutional kitchens to afford a private education for her son, determined that Rob would escape the ghetto. Indeed he did, landing a fully funded spot at Yale thanks to his prodigious intellect, focused hard work and leadership qualities. The quick and sad version of Peace’s story is after college, he gradually drifted back to his old neighborhood and slid into the criminal activity leading to his murder. Hobbs chooses to honor his friend fairly by writing The Short and Tragic Life which presents Peace as a complex man who struggled under the weight of opposing expectations and experiences.
This fall, Maryland author Gary Krist will take readers into a little-known chapter of New Orleans history with his new book Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. Krist brings to light the social and political struggles that New Orleans faced at the turn of the 20th century. Focusing on events from 1890 through 1920, Krist tells a tale of vice, politics, economic development, crime, jazz, racism and murder. The most shocking thing about this story is that it’s all true! This engrossing book is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.
Krist recently answered some questions about Empire of Sin for Between the Covers. Read on to learn more about the city’s politics, its remarkable residents and the Axman, a serial murderer who terrorized New Orleans for 18 months.
Between the Covers: Why New Orleans? Was it the story or the city that first captured your interest?
Gary Krist: It’s hard to separate story from city, but I’d say it was a desire to write about New Orleans that first attracted me. For an urban historian, New Orleans is a particularly attractive subject, primarily because of its unique history. As a place with French and Catholic roots, it has a culture very different from that of other American cities. (My favorite observation about New Orleans is that it was the first major American metropolis to build an opera house but the last to install a sewer system.) So it was fascinating for me to see how this unique place weathered the great transition to modernity in this era.
BTC: I suspect that many of our readers don’t know a lot about this chapter in New Orleans history. Will you describe the social and political climate of the city at the turn of the 20th century?
GK: The last decades of the 19th century were difficult for New Orleans. The city’s prosperous antebellum days were long past; years of civil war and reconstruction had been hard on the local economy, and the city had become hopelessly backward in terms of urban development (hence that much-delayed sewer system). Northern capital investment was desperately needed to modernize the city’s infrastructure, but Northern capitalists were reluctant to invest in a place with such a bad reputation for vice and crime. So the city’s “better half” decided that it was time to clean up New Orleans, which meant doing battle with the city’s long-entrenched underworlds of vice and crime. Basically, they wanted to make New Orleans “respectable”—and that was going to be quite a job.
BTC: During this time, a red-light district called Storyville was created in New Orleans. Tell us a little bit about its development.
GK: Interestingly, Storyville began as part of this clean-up campaign. Reformers knew that abolishing prostitution entirely would not be feasible in a city like New Orleans, so they tried instead to isolate and regulate the trade. An alderman named Sidney Story identified a particular 18-block neighborhood and wrote an ordinance making prostitution illegal everywhere EXCEPT in this one, out-of-the-way area. Reformers figured that this would be a good way of lowering the profile of vice in the city. But the plan backfired, and Storyville (as the district came to be called, much to Alderman Story’s annoyance) soon was making New Orleans world-famous as a virtual supermarket of sin. And when reformers decided that they needed to close the district after all, it turned out that Storyville was a lot harder to kill than it had been to create.
BTC: Another notable thread of the story is the Axman murders, a series of grisly murders that took place from 1918-1919 and remain unsolved. What impact did these events have on the city?
GK: The Axman appeared at a critical time, just when the champions of respectability thought they had won their battle for New Orleans. Storyville had finally been closed in 1917, and the city’s crime problem seemed to be under control at last. But then an anonymous murderer dramatically upended this sense of victory with a series of bloody nighttime ax attacks that terrorized the city for 18 months. With each succeeding murder, panicked New Orleanians became increasingly paranoid and irrational. Then an open letter—purportedly from the Axman himself—appeared in The Times-Picayune, claiming that the murderer was a devil from hell with a liking for the new jazz music. He threatened to kill again on St. Joseph’s Night, promising only to spare any household in which jazz was being played. And, well, I don’t want to reveal too much, but you can just imagine what a night of music and dancing took place in New Orleans that night.
BTC: Empire of Sin is filled with unbelievable characters, and the most amazing thing is that they were all real people. Do you have a favorite? Which person in this book will stick with the reader the longest?
GK: Oh, I could probably name a dozen—like Josie Arlington, the wealthy brothel madam who for decades kept her sinful life a secret from her beloved niece; or Buddy Bolden, the almost-legendary cornetist who is credited with being the inventor of jazz music; or Tom Anderson, the poor kid from the rough Irish Channel neighborhood who rose to become one of the most powerful (and strangely likeable) vice lords in the country. But my favorite character is probably Louis Armstrong, who grew up in the hardest and most degrading circumstances imaginable, but whose unfailing good-heartedness and matchless musical gift allowed him to rise above his harsh childhood to become one of the great artists of the century.
BTC: What is the most shocking thing that you learned in your research?
GK: Some of the beliefs of the so-called reformers shocked me. For instance, one of the leaders of the anti-Storyville campaign was a woman named Jean Gordon. She was firmly convinced that she was on the side of virtue, but as with many self-styled moral champions, her idea of “virtue” was often distorted by class and racial prejudice. So while she fought hard for female suffrage and child labor regulation, she also lent her support to the rise of Jim Crow discrimination and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Even worse, she held some astounding beliefs about eugenics, advocating for the forced sterilization of children who showed signs of a future in crime, prostitution or alcoholism. “Took Lucille Decoux to the Women’s Dispensary July 17 [for an appendectomy],” Jean once wrote in her diary. “This was an excellent opportunity to have her sterilized…and thus end any feeble-minded progeny coming from Lucille.”
BTC: What are you working on next?
GK: My fascination with cities in the early 20th century hasn’t gone away, so I’m working on a book about Los Angeles in roughly this same time period. The book will center on the Hollywood of the silent-film era and weave in a few other elements. But the idea is still taking shape in my mind, so it’s probably too early to talk about it.
When he was a child, Bryan Stevenson’s grandmother would tell him, “You can’t understand the most important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close.” That’s exactly what Stevenson does for all of us with his new book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. The book focuses on the case of Walter McMillian, a man who was wrongly convicted and sent to death row.
McMillian was arrested for the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison, the 18-year-old daughter of a well-respected family in Monroeville, Alabama. Despite a lack of physical evidence and the existence of several witnesses who could place him miles away at the time of the crime, McMillian was convicted of capital murder. Stevenson took on his appeal while working for the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee in Atlanta. After a lengthy appeals process, McMillian was exonerated and released in 1993 after spending six years on death row.
Readers will be astonished that these events actually took place as the book reads like a legal thriller that would do John Grisham proud. The story has a unique literary connection as well. McMillian lived in Monroe County, Alabama, home of To Kill a Mockingbird-author Harper Lee. Just Mercy is a gripping and thought-provoking read that would also be a great choice for book clubs.
Stevenson is now a law professor and the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to those who have been denied fair treatment in the legal system. His TED Talk on race and justice has been viewed over 1.25 million times, and it was named one of five essential TED Talks by The New Yorker. You can view it on BCPL’s Tumblr.
As the temperatures cool down and the days become shorter, a new season has arrived. With leaves falling and warm sweaters unpacked comes the desire for foods that exemplify warmth and coziness. Three recently published cookbooks express strong autumnal flavors that will surely bring pleasant aromas to your kitchen.
One style that always warms the heart and belly is Indian cuisine. Aarti Sequeira, winner of season six of Food Network Star, brings her winning personality and complex-tasting but simple-to-create spice blends to Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul. After a short introduction discussing her background, she explains the many spices in the Indian pantry as well as a quick guide to lentils and the mystery of curry powder. Vegetarian dishes are well-represented, as well as Sequeira’s fondness for sweets and desserts. Her recipes incorporate exotic flavors into American favorites, creating intriguing concepts such as South Indian Tomato Soup, Bombay Sloppy Joes and Masala Shrimp ‘n’ Grits.
Averie Sunshine, the popular food blogger at AverieCooks.com, has her finger on the pulse of one of this decade’s hottest food trends in Cooking with Pumpkin: Recipes that Go beyond the Pie. She brings 50 of her favorite savory and sweet recipes together to create a group of mouthwatering fall dishes. From Parmesan and Cream Cheese Pumpkin Puff appetizers to Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, this is a book for the pumpkin lover. She also has suggestions for perfectly roasted pumpkin seeds and a number of pumpkin beverages that surpass the tired spiced latte.
A well-known British chef and international culinary superstar is back with Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook, a compendium of hearty-but-healthy recipes perfect for the home cook. Each recipe includes the preparation time and the caloric intake per serving, in addition to attractive photographs of the foods. Oliver states in the introduction that these recipes are intended for a leisurely experience, to celebrate and savor, and not simply for the everyday routine. Respected for his charge to improve school lunch menus worldwide, the chef returns to his roots with this cookbook to pore over and plan cold-weather weekend meals around.
Fabio Viviani, chef, restaurateur and charismatic entertainer is a familiar face from Top Chef where he was voted Fan Favorite. He is also becoming a major player in the world of American restaurants, owning spots in California, Chicago and, soon, Miami. In his newest cookbook Fabio’s American Home Kitchen, Fabio offers over 100 recipes for American classic dishes, from Chicago-style deep dish pizza to spaghetti carbonara all with his own Italian flair. The recipes include basic ingredients that can be found in any well-stocked supermarket and are accompanied by stunning photographs and a taste of Fabio’s charm. Between the Covers was lucky enough to ask Fabio a few questions in the midst of his hectic schedule which includes opening a new restaurant and embarking on a book tour. Buon Appetito!
Between the Covers: Readers will relish your newest cookbook, Fabio’s American Home Kitchen, which is a feast for the eyes. What prompted you to put your Italian spin on American recipes?
Fabio Viviani: I’ve been in America for many years now, and I love it and wanted to put my Italian spin on American food. In my new cookbook, I try to keep my Italian heritage by keeping dishes lighter but also incorporating the deliciousness of American food with approachable recipes.
BTC: Your suggested menus are so helpful, as are your ideas for entertaining and make-ahead dishes. What are the five ingredients you think a home pantry should never be without? What is your best tip for saving time in the kitchen?
FV: Five ingredients a home pantry should never be without: olive oil, cold cuts, fresh pasta, eggs, herbs/spices. You can make anything with these ingredients in your pantry! My motto for saving time in the kitchen is always, ‘Keep it simple stupid, keep it stupid simple.’ If a recipe feels very complicated then it’s a problem! Simple recipes will always come out the best.
BTC: Thank you so much for making your recipes incredibly accessible to the home cook and your style so easy and encouraging. Who gave you your love for food and cooking? When did you realize you wanted to be a chef? Did you have any tough teachers or bad experiences that made you want to throw in the apron?
FV: For me it always comes back to my family. When I was eleven, my mom developed a problem with her hands and had to quit her job, so I decided to find a job since there was no money. I ended up working a night job unloading 50-pound bags of flour and baking pies from one in the morning until seven and did that job for two and a half years, which was how I was introduced to the kitchen for the first time. From a very young age I was surrounded by cooking with my family so I knew I loved it, but it wasn’t until I had my first kitchen job that I realized I wanted to be a chef. My grandma was my toughest teacher, probably because I wasn’t always the best student!
BTC: You grew up in Italy - was there much culture shock when you moved to the United States? What do you miss most about living in Italy? Do you get a chance to go return often?
FV: I go back to Italy about twice a year. What I miss most about Italy is the smell. Italy smells different; it smells of fresh cut grass. There are no traffic noises or people screaming, and very little trash around. If you ever find the smell of paradise, you will know you’re in Italy.
BTC: We know all about your hatred of cilantro and your love of Nutella. Any other food favorites or dislikes? What is your number one comfort food? What is your go-to dish for a romantic dinner?
FV: My number one comfort food is pasta, and, of course, a jar of Nutella if it’s available. My go-to dish for a romantic dinner is wine. If you have lots of good wine, the rest will take care of itself.
BTC: As a former contestant on Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars, what’s your take on reality television? Would you do it again?
FV: Reality TV is great exposure and it’s good for your business. However, there are many situations where reality TV does not make you look good and that can be bad for your business. Reality TV should be taken with caution, but I would definitely do it again if the opportunity came up.
BTC: Sienna Tavern Miami is about to open. As you build your restaurant empire, can those of us living in Baltimore hope to see a Fabio restaurant close by in the near future?
FV: Baltimore is a beautiful city and I would love to have a restaurant there one day!
We all have that friend who doesn’t have a filter and says whatever she thinks. Blogger Jen Mann’s new book People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots and Other Suburban Scourges is just like sitting down next to that friend and listening (and laughing) as she tells it like it is. Mann, whose writing style has been called “Erma Bombeck with F Bombs,” takes on modern inconveniences, marriage and motherhood with humor and sarcasm. Mann explains why she covets a minivan (a.k.a. mobile command center), the danger of wearing pajamas in the school pickup line, the complexities of enrolling your kids in summer camp and the challenges of navigating playgroup politics.
Mann’s blog was a small project that she worked on for herself and a few followers until a post called “Over Achieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies” went viral in 2011. This book will bring Mann’s witty and, yes, often profanity-filled observations on life in the suburbs to an even wider audience. Her irreverent, brutally honest essays are a perfect match for readers who enjoy Jenny Lawson and Jen Lancaster’s humorous memoirs. Mann has also edited two humor anthologies called I Just Want to Pee Alone: A Collection of Hilarious Essays about Motherhood and I Just Want to Be Alone: A Collection of Humorous Essays, both of which will be treats for her always-growing fan base.