Two memoirs hit the library shelves recently. One is tender, the other brash, but each author writes with much love. Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Virginia author Carol Wall is a poignant account of her friendship with Giles Owita, a Kenyan immigrant. Celebrity gossip blogger Elaine Lui writes about her Chinese mother in the blunt and brassy Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When a Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter to Do? A Memoir (Sort Of).
Carol Wall looks at her Roanoke neighbors’ verdant gardens and lawns and knows her shabby yard needs help. Wall hires a friend’s gardener, Mr. Owita, and hands him a list of her gardening desires which Owita politely ignores. Wall and Owita cross racial and cultural boundaries as their relationship morphs from one of employer and gardener to student and teacher and eventually, dear friends. Wall is frank about her emotional struggles as a breast cancer survivor, and the support provided by Owita as both a gardening mentor and fellow traveler becomes increasingly important to her. Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening is a lovely and spiritual homage to Giles Owita, whose guidance and example allow Wall to see the beauty in life despite its fleeting nature.
Elaine Lui opens Listen to the Squawking Chicken with a description of her petite mother as a “China Woman Elvis” dressed in a rhinestone-studded, denim popped-collar pantsuit, massive visor and sunglasses. Ma’s Cantonese nickname is Tsiahng Gai, meaning Squawking Chicken, and when she speaks, her daughter compares her voice to a siren. Ma is loud, pushy and controlling, and embraces the use of guilt and threats as parenting tools. Lui ‘s recollections often portray her mother as harsh and judgmental, holding cruel court in her mahjong rooms, but a different picture emerges as Lui shares stories of the atrocious deprivation and brutality of Ma’s childhood. Ma’s methods may be unorthodox, but Lui recognizes her mothering is done out of love and the desire to protect her daughter from the horrors which shaped her. Lui talks about her book and posted an absolutely adorable picture of Ma on her website.
Ah, romance. It is a funny thing. What do you do when your life is nothing like the romance novels you read and edit? Patience Bloom (love the name) has written a charming memoir about her own life navigating the trials and errors of love, relationships and simply growing up in the publishing industry. Her new book Romance Is My Day Job will resonate with those who read romance novels and those who don’t.
A senior editor for Harlequin, Bloom’s road to love and happiness was a far cry from the heroines in the books she loves. She begins her story in the cushy Connecticut boarding school, where she, the daughter of two historians, attended as a scholarship student. Her cutesy chapter headings like "Tragic Heroes Are Romantic on the Page but Sad in Real Life,” and "When in Crisis, Go Party in Paris," give the reader the impression Bloom doesn’t take herself too seriously. Indeed, there are plenty of crushes, disappointments and messy situations along the way, some more serious than others, including an incident of violence. There are high school and college teaching jobs, a master’s degree and eventually a job reading historical romance manuscripts for the biggest romance publisher of “those cute books you can hide in your purse.” She wrings her hands over the fact that middle age is fast approaching and she’s still alone. “I should have this part of my life figured out," she says. Love is her business, after all.
A quick read with interesting tidbits about the publishing industry make this a fun escape for lovers of romance genre and others, too, whose interest may be piqued by the irony of the author’s experience. Bloom’s spunky voice, breathy Harlequin-esque descriptions and romantic novel archetypes are sure to bring a smile to anyone whose life doesn’t quite arc the way they intended.
How does a young mathematician on the cusp of a Yale doctorate end up as a journalist in one of the world's bleakest places? For Anjan Sundaram, it was a desire to experience firsthand the sights, sounds and emotions of a tormented and misunderstood country he only knew from passing news briefs. His story, recounted in his new memoir, Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo, calls attention to a region of the central African continent often on the world's radar for the wrong reasons.
Sundaram times his arrival well. It’s 2006, and there is cautious interest in the country's historic elections. Settling into the home of a friend's family in the lower class section of Kinshasa, he soon lands a job as a stringer for the Associated Press. Through his experiences, he conveys the turbulent, repressive history of this beautiful, yet troubled land beset by sexual violence, killings and mutilations. Despoiled by corrupt companies and governments, its abundance of natural resources has also cost the Congolese dearly. It is a place where death, as a rule, makes news only if it involves villages and armies or the U.N. Sundaram raises inexplicable contradictions as well, like a boy who dies of typhoid because his family had no money for treatment but whose elaborate, expensive funeral draws hundreds.
For a reporter with no previous journalism training, Sundaram tells a good story with his sharp first-hand narrative and careful observations, especially of children. He acknowledges missteps along the way, and his vulnerabilities become part of the journey. The author, who currently lives in Rwanda, turned down a lucrative career at Goldman Sachs to tell us about this downtrodden African nation, long gripped by civil war. For readers interested in world politics and humanitarian crises here is a rare look by someone determined to tell the story.
For local writer Deborah Rudacille, writing her latest book was a personal odyssey. The daughter of a Bethlehem steelworker knows the heart and soul of the Dundalk community she called home for many years. It's fitting that Rudacille will kick off the North Point Branch’s “Dundalk Dialogs,” the new adult speaker series that takes place this summer. Rudacille will discuss her latest book, Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town that chronicles the rise and fall of the Sparrows Point steel mill and the neighborhoods in its wake. The program, which includes a book talk and signing, will be held Tuesday, June 3 at 7 p.m. Rudacille recently answered questions for Between the Covers about the genesis for her story and her personal connection to Dundalk.
Between the Covers: Your book, "Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town", conveys a powerful message about what happens when the American dream fails right in our own backyards. What drove you to tell this story of the former Bethlehem Steel plant and the local community it shaped?
Deborah Rudacille: I grew up in Eastfield, and my family, like many of our neighbors, owed their homes and their livelihoods to Bethlehem Steel. When my parents bought their house on Harold Road my dad worked in the tandem mill at Sparrows Point and my mother worked as a secretary for United Steelworkers Local 2610. Most of the men in my family worked at Sparrows Point. So the rise and fall of the American steel industry wasn’t just theory for me — it’s the story of my own family and community.
BTC: You present an objective look at an industry in decline. Did the fact that the story was so close to home make it difficult to write at times?
DR: Yes. The reporting was easy and fun because I got to hang out with people who were much like the folks I had known growing up and to listen to their stories. But the writing was more challenging because I had to figure out a way to weave together their stories with those of workers who had very different experiences in a way that didn’t skirt the less savory aspects of the narrative — the systemic racism at the Point, for one — and situate them in the broader history of the American steel industry.
BTC: You use personal narrative along with workers’ interviews. Can you talk a little bit about how you conducted your research for this project? Were people open to talking about their experiences?
DR: Absolutely! Sparrows Point was more than just a job for most of these folks so they loved reminiscing about their experiences there. I started with family members and then worked outward, attending monthly retiree meetings at the union hall and luncheons at various senior centers and churches around town. I like to say that you can’t throw a stone in Baltimore without hitting someone with a Sparrows Point connection, which made it very easy to find folks to tell their stories — not just workers themselves but also family members, and of course people who had been raised in the company town. I also did quite a bit of archival research at the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society, Baltimore County Historical Library, Museum of Industry and other archives.
BTC: There are so many threads running through your book — the danger of the mill work itself, the labor unions, racial tensions, safety and environmental issues, the “company town” concept to name a few. How did you go about framing your narrative?
DR: Well, as I said, that was the greatest challenge in writing the book. There were all these disparate threads and themes, and I knew that I had to include all of them to provide an honest and objective look at life on the Point. Ultimately, I decided to tell the story chronologically but focus each chapter on a different issue using the voices of my sources to carry the narrative forward. Once I settled on that structure, the writing of the book became much easier.
BTC: Roots of Steel, published in 2010, was your third book. Your previous books were science-focused. Can you tell us what is next for you as a writer? What else are you doing professionally?
DR: I’ve been working as professor of the practice at UMBC for the past couple of years, teaching journalism and science writing. I’ve also done some preliminary reporting for my next project, a kind of Catholic “Roots of Steel” which tells the story of the post-Vatican II church from the perspective of lay Catholics. I’ll be talking with people who have left the church as well as people who remain about their feelings on the sex abuse scandal, the status and role of women in the church and the struggle of LGBT Catholics and divorced and remarried Catholics to remain part of an institution that (officially at least) does not consider them worthy to receive the sacraments. As with Roots of Steel, it will tell a big story through the lens of individual experience.
Today, the world lost Maya Angelou. Yet we will never lose the irreplaceable voice she used to shape our world to make it a more compassionate and stronger place.
She is most widely known for her first memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in which she reveals the hardships she endured being both an African-American and a girl in the Jim Crow South. In her memoirs, she expresses such complicated themes as race, identity and womanhood in an honest style that illuminates the human condition. In her last book, Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou investigated the loving yet complex relationship she had with her robust mother, an exceptional person in her own right.
Along with telling her own story, Angelou used her unique voice in other transformative ways. She was a poet. Her stimulating poetry is gathered in The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. She was a singer, a dancer, an educator and her voice continues to reach far beyond the literary realm. Angelou was a vigorous civil rights advocate, working alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Multiple presidents honored her linguistic power by having her speak as the heart of the nation. In her words and throughout her life, Angelou proved "one isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous or honest." She embodied these virtues and instilled them in others, to the benefit of us all.
Summer weather is here, and these new cookbooks will help you wow the guests at your next cookout or tailgate party. These delicious and creative new spins on barbecue favorites are the perfect way to fire up your summer grilling season.
Food Network star Guy Fieri is kicking off summer with Guy on Fire: 130 Recipes for Adventures in Outdoor Cooking. The book is packed with color photos and Fieri’s tips to help you look like a star. Try mouthwatering new recipes like Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs with Spicy Relish, Chipotle Corn Salad with Grilled Bacon, Cast-Iron Beef Tenderloin with Huckleberry Sauce and Korean Fried Chicken Wings. Guy on Fire will help you make your backyard barbecue an official stop on the Flavortown Express.
If you’re looking for tips from a barbecue champion, pick up Melissa Cookston’s Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room: Southern Recipes from the Winningest Woman in Barbecue. Cookston, who has appeared on shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and BBQ Pitmasters, includes recipes for smoky barbecue favorites and her must-have Southern sides and desserts. Color photos and easy-to-follow instructions will help home cooks get the same delicious results as the pros. Recipes include basics like rubs and sauces as well as showstoppers like Grilled Quail with Bacon BBQ Sauce, Cayenne Grilled Peaches and Fire-Grilled Pork T-Bones with Hoe Cakes and Mississippi Caviar.
For lighter fare, try Better Homes and Gardens’ new cookbook Fresh Grilling: 200 Delicious Good-for-You Seasonal Recipes. These recipes celebrate the fresh flavors of summer and help you provide lighter, healthier alternatives. Their recipes for Chili-glazed Salmon Burgers, Grilled Vegetable Tostadas with Mole Sauce and Heirloom Tomato Salad with Grilled Tuna and Cannellini Beans will make your mouth water.
Other notable new grilling cookbooks include The Nolan Ryan Beef & Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes from a Texas Kitchen by baseball legend Nolan Ryan and The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook: More Than 100 Years of Sizzling Food Writing and Recipes.
Well, gee, who doesn’t want the ease of a life cushioned by wealth and the power that big money confers. Don’t forget a name to go with that money: A name which, when used, causes a table to open up at a restaurant or a museum open after hours for an impromptu private tour. Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter wanted all of this, too, so he took a shortcut and started calling himself Clark Rockefeller. Marylanders may remember when the “Rockefeller” scams unraveled; he was arrested in Baltimore in 2008, subject of a much publicized manhunt following his abduction of his daughter during a court-supervised visitation. Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn reveals Gerhartsreiter’s long term deceits spanning over a quarter century involving multiple identities.
How could Gerhartsreiter fool so many people for such a long time? Author Kirn is particularly well-placed to examine this issue since he considered Clark Rockefeller a friend for over 10 years, a friendship which began when Kirn traveled cross-country to deliver a paralyzed dog being adopted by Rockefeller. Kirn was never adequately reimbursed for his trip expenses, setting a precedent which remained unchanged throughout their association. From landlords to exclusive social clubs to women, Gerhartsreiter duped them all, impersonating Ivy League grads, British aristocracy and America’s hoi polloi. He lived by leeching off people willing to turn a blind eye to discrepancy in return for the satisfaction of rubbing elbows with what Gerhartsreiter purported to represent.
Blood Will Out unmasks Gerhartsreiter to reveal not an urbane gentleman but a dangerous and manipulative con man who ultimately was convicted of the grisly killing of a former neighbor. Kirn’s honest evaluation of his own willingness to believe an obvious liar and become part of the deception exposes the symbiotic nature of a relationship between the swindler and the swindled.
Two new cookbooks by three noted celebrity chefs offer modern twists on favorite comfort food which are sure to appeal to the most skittish of home cooks. Both volumes are beautifully photographed with functional layouts and come complete with tips and instructions.
Hootie Hoo! The Chew co-host and Top Chef fan-favorite, Carla Hall, offers an international spin in Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World. This sumptuous feast will tantalize the senses as readers travel the culinary globe in search of delectable delights. Featuring over 100 recipes, Carla selects a cooking technique or main ingredient and follows with international variations. For example, partnered with Italian-American lasagna are Irish shepherd’s pie and Mexican enchiladas. The mouthwatering variations are all readily accomplished at home, and Carla’s easy, conversational style is encouraging. The international spice chart is an education in seasoning, and is at the root of Carla’s philosophy that food is food around the world – it’s the spices that make all the difference.
For married couple Pat and Gina Neely, restaurateurs and hosts of the hit Food Network series Down Home with the Neelys, food is at the center of a happy home. In their latest cookbook, Back Home with the Neelys: Comfort Food from our Southern Kitchen to Yours, this dynamic duo revisits 100 family recipes passed down through generations and creates new dishes using the past as inspiration. Think Bourbon French Toast, Crunchy Fried Okra and Mama Rena's Brunswick Stew. Mmmmm! The Neelys share family anecdotes along with the recipes which will lead readers on their own journey down memory lane. While rooted in tradition, the Neelys also capture the spirit and flavors of modern and fresh Southern cooking.
Baltimore author Rob Kasper will discuss his book Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing, at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 6, at the Perry Hall Branch. This program is sponsored by the Friends of the Perry Hall Library. Kasper, who also had a prolific career as a writer and reporter for The Baltimore Sun, recently answered questions for Between the Covers about his book.
How long had the idea for Baltimore Beer been, well, brewing, before you put pen to paper? At what point did you decide to make a serious study of Baltimore beer and the history of local breweries?
About 10 years. One day at The Sun I got a call saying National Premium was no longer being bottled (it has since been revived). Reading the clips to write the story, I realized there was no current history of Baltimore breweries. Originally I had a contract with the publishing arm of Bibelot bookstores to write the book. They went bankrupt and the project lay dormant, then I got a contract with History Press and finished the book.
What was the most interesting or the oddest piece of information about Baltimore beer or breweries that you discovered in your research?
Three things come to mind that show how breweries were a major part of Baltimore’s social fabric. One, how German the city of Baltimore was. In addition to all the breweries, city council notes were printed in German and English until World War I. Two, how the Lone Ranger’s silver bullet and some National Premium executives coaxed the owner of the Washington Senators into letting the Orioles move to Baltimore in 1954. Three, when a fisherman caught Diamond Jim III (a rockfish tagged by American Brewing Company) and won $25,000, the fisherman argued that catching the fish was civic achievement and therefore tax free. A judge was amused but said the fisherman owed $6,000 in taxes.
For more than three decades, you were a reporter, columnist and editorial writer for The Baltimore Sun. What are a few notable moments or highs from your career with the newspaper?
I won a handful of national writing awards for my columns which buoyed me, but the most gratifying part of the job was the feedback from readers – phone calls, letters and comments from folks I bumped into who had read something I had written. Mostly they liked what I had written, but sometimes not.
You’ve made a career in Baltimore, but you grew up in Kansas. How did you find your way to the East Coast?
All the great seafood lovers grew up in the Midwest. That is because when folks out here were eating rockfish on Fridays, we were chewing on fish sticks. When I came to Maryland to work at The Sun, (after a five-year stop at the Louisville Courier-Journal and Times and a one-day – yes, one-day – stint at the National Observer) I tasted crab soup, crab cakes, steamed crabs and soft crabs. There was no going back. I once beat Brooks Robinson in a celebrity crab picking contest – not bad for a guy from Dodge City. But I later got demolished by Shirley Phillips, of Phillips Seafood. She used a knife to slice up the steamed crabs. The way she wielded that knife, you wouldn’t want to cross her.
Okay, we need to ask: Your favorite beer?
Well, like Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, the girl who cain’t say no, my favorite depends on whom I am with. At Brewer’s Art it is Resurrection; at Union Craft it is Duckpin; at Heavy Seas it is Loose Cannon; at Pratt Street Ale House it is Extra Special Bitter; at DuClaw it is Black Jack Stout; at Flying Dog it is Snake Dog. The beer I still pine for is pilsner from the long-gone Baltimore Brewing Company. That was exceptional. I make do substituting with Victory Prima Pils and the Pendulum Pilsner from RavenBeer.
Tell us a little about Baltimore Beer Week, a nonprofit that celebrates local brewing, which you helped to found.
My contributions to Beer Week pale compared with those of Joe Gold and Dominic Cantalupo and the late Mick Kipp. But basically it is a 10-day celebration in October of all things beery in Baltimore. There are tastings, beer dinners and tours of breweries, including the classic old American Brewery, now home to the nonprofit Humanin. I try to provide historical background and remind beer drinkers that the good stuff they are enjoying today was built on the shoulders of generations of brewers before them.
Take a ride 25 years into the past to April 1989, when side ponytails, shoulder pads and acid-washed jeans were ubiquitous amidst a wash of ever-present neon. The “Why Not?” Orioles were rebounding from a terrible year and headed toward second place in the American League East, and Billy Ripken’s obscenity-laced baseball card was the talk of the nation. In theaters, moviegoers were being entertained by Field of Dreams and Pet Sematary. On the small screen, viewers were enjoying debut seasons of Roseanne, Murphy Brown and China Beach and getting ready to say goodbye to favorites such as Dynasty, Family Ties and the long-running American Bandstand. Wonder what was going on in books? Well, readers in 1989 had good taste! The top titles on both the fiction and nonfiction New York Times best seller lists have withstood the passage of time and remain perennial favorites.
The top fiction title was The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. First published in the United Kingdom to positive reviews, this title was a Booker Prize Finalist and won the 1988 Whitbread Award for novel of the year. Major controversy surrounded the book, with some conservative Muslims calling it blasphemous and a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran. Rounding out the list were Star by Danielle Steel, a tale of star-crossed love, and two titles that are now staples on high school reading lists: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.
And who could forget the fervor surrounding the top nonfiction title? All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum contained inspirational essays about everyday matters and struck a chord with readers and gift givers everywhere. Today, there are more than 7 million copies in print in over 90 countries. Also on the nonfiction list were two regularly read titles that have become contemporary classics – A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, which has sold more than 10 million copies to date, and Blind Faith by Joe McGinnis.