Former Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills says she never expected to befriend Harper Lee, much less write a biography-memoir about her 18-month sojourn to Monroeville, Alabama, that included living next door to the reclusive author. But 15 years after Mills' first visit, her highly discussable new book, The Mockingbird Next Door, has ridden the literary wave for its jolt of homey, if not mundane, rituals of Lee's daily life. If a peek behind the curtain is what you are seeking, Mills does not disappoint. The comings and goings of the Lee sisters (Alice is older) are affectionately detailed, leading to the inevitable question as to why Harper Lee would allow herself to be portrayed so simply and unguarded after years of shying away from publicity.
For Mills, this assignment was intriguing for its possibilities, and an opportunity to prove she could still do her job despite a diagnosis of lupus. In 2001, she travels to Lee's hometown to speak to folks who knew the then 75-year-old Harper Lee (Nelle to friends) and to get a feel for Monroeville, the setting for Lee's fictional Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird, the instant classic about the 1930s South. With a reporter's eye for opportunity, Mills meets and impresses Alice, smoothing the way for a meeting with the famous Harper Lee, whose only book won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and was the subject of an Oscar-winning film. When Harper Lee called the reporter's hotel room, Mills recalled, "It was as if I had answered the phone and heard, 'Hello. This is the Wizard of Oz.' I felt my adrenaline spike."
Mills injects a strong sense of place in her conversational writing, along with plenty of quaint colloquialisms. There are towns like Burnt Corn and Scratch Ankle, and fishing trips and coffee-sipping at McDonald's. She captures the Mayberry-like tone of Lee's voice with her frequent "bless her heart," "mercy" and "thanks a bunch, hon." Mills tenderly skims over rumored aspects of Lee's life, dealing with sexual orientation and drinking, although her exploration of Lee's intriguing relationship with childhood friend, Truman Capote, is one of the more interesting chapters.
Knowing Harper Lee's penchant for privacy, it is probably not surprising that Mills' book has come under scrutiny. The author has insisted she had Lee's blessing for the project. Harper Lee's released statement denies the 88-year-old ever gave approval; Alice recalled otherwise. Such matters won't deter readers who will relish this intimate look inside the seemingly uncomplicated life of one of the most complicated and beloved literary figures of the 20th century.
Get ready to laugh out loud as two young actresses share glimpses into their personal and professional lives. Danielle Fishel — remember Topanga Lawrence from the 90s sitcom Boy Meets World? — and Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO’s Girls bare it all in poignant memoirs.
Fishel’s Normally, This Would Be Cause for Concern is more than just a tell-all, although fans will enjoy learning of her celebrity dating roster which included Lance Bass and Ben Savage. She also shares her undying love for Jared Leto, who rescued her from the L.A. freeway following an accident. Fishel, who is reprising her role of Topanga in the new Disney show Girl Meets World, is as entertaining and appealing on the page as on the small screen. Storytelling comes naturally, and she has plenty of juicy gems for readers involving awful auditions, red carpet faux pas and dating disasters. But behind the stories, she shares her neuroses and faults making this a refreshing Hollywood memoir.
In Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, the actress reveals personal struggles which aren’t far removed from the character she plays on TV. Both deal with OCD, therapists and awkward dating experiences. Dunham excels at documenting her coming of age and her professional experiences in a male dominated industry. She tackles big issues with hilarity and honesty in this series of essays, sure to appeal to fans of David Sedaris and Nora Ephron. Dunham has said of this book, “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you with this book, but also my future glory in having stopped you from trying an expensive juice cleanse or having the kind of sexual encounter where you keep your sneakers on. But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle.”
September 13-14 marks the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key writing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Author Marc Leepson takes us deeper into Key’s life and world in What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, A Life. As Leepson explains, “Virtually every American knows the name Francis Scott Key. But they know just one thing about him. There was a lot more to the man than just that he wrote 'The Star-Spangled Banner' under dramatic circumstances." Leepson shares more about Key’s life, his family and his relatively unknown influence on our country’s history. Watch a video of Leepson’s recent talk at the National Archives on BCPL’s Tumblr.
Marc Ferris’ Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem takes a different approach, following the history of the song itself. When it was first published as a broadside, the song was actually titled “The Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Key’s words were intended to match the already well-known tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a song that Ferris refers to as “a bawdy, boozy ballad.” It was instantly popular in Baltimore. Later, when Congress named it our national anthem in 1931, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was one of several contenders for the honor. It was selected over other popular choices like “America the Beautiful,” “Yankee Doodle” and “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” This rich history of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a fascinating read.
Baltimore will be celebrating this important anniversary with a host of exciting events September 10-16.
From panda parents to tiger moms and wolf dads, prescription parenthood has gained a toehold in our culture. And it’s little wonder. In a world of increasingly global competition, it’s understandable that today’s parents question whether the way they were raised is an effective model for the next generation.
Some authors have sought to capitalize on this cultural anxiety, confirming fears of parental inadequacy and boldly prescribing a veritable menagerie of methods for ensuring the success of our children. Perhaps the most controversial of these is Amy Chua, who’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which outlined what she termed “Chinese parenting,” caused a stir across the country.
Now, in The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-American Kids, Quanyu Huang presents a gentler, less abrasive analysis of the differences between Chinese and American parenting.
As a product of Chinese education and culture himself as well as the parent of a child raised in America, Huang presents a uniquely balanced perspective on the subject. Acknowledging the undeniable academic success of Asian and Asian-American children, he also draws attention to the post-academic success of many adult products of the American experience, who seem to “catch up” in the college years. Instead of ascribing to an either/or model, Huang advocates “co-core synergy education;” a compromise between the Asian style of parenting and the American.
Huang’s premise is an interesting one and bears reflection. If The Hybrid Tiger has one flaw, it is that the text occasionally suffers in its execution, feeling at times a little awkward. Huang’s samples of questions from Chinese/American parents feel a little forced and seem to function as a platform for his own interpretation of what these parents should be asking rather than as actual examples of questions he’s encountered from either set. Nevertheless, the overall message is a unifying and commonsensical one emphasizing parental involvement in academic discipline without sacrificing socialization and creativity.
Readers who enjoy The Hybrid Tiger may also enjoy The Dolphin Way: A Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids–Without Turning into a Tiger by Shimi Kang.
'You can run but you can’t hide' could be the motto for Mike Earp and David Fisher’s book U.S. Marshals: Inside America’s Most Storied Law Enforcement Agency. Earp, a retired associate director of operations for the Marshals Service, served with the organization for nearly 30 years, and has the hair-raising stories to prove it. The Marshals are tasked with bringing in some of America’s most wanted, and they do it well. In 2012, they arrested 123,006 fugitives and each marshal averaged four felony convictions apiece. Created by Congress in 1798, the service has both an illustrious and romanticized past, and chapters in this book often begin with historical accounts about the OK Corral, wild west African-American Marshal Bass Reeves or the capture of Billy the Kid. Packed with tales of stake-outs, stings and chases, U.S. Marshals tracks the growth of this law enforcement agency from a deputized posse on horseback to the tech-savvy federal agency with international reach and task force authority doing what Marshals do best: getting the bad guys off the streets.
Detective work of another kind also figures in The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases. Author Deborah Halber says that “tens of thousands of unidentified human remains” are in storage across the United States. Enter the modern Miss Marple; townspeople are sitting at their home computers, using the Internet to match up clues to give these anonymous deceased an identity and provide some closure to families whose loved ones have disappeared. Working independently or using online resources like the aptly named Doe Network forum or NamUs, a federal website for missing persons, civilians sift through images, news stories and databases, connecting dots and solving cases which had confounded the police. True crime readers will enjoy The Skeleton Crew, following the hobbyists’ detective work which leads to real-life mysteries solved.
In some circumstances, 10 percent may seem insignificant. A $50 item listed at 10 percent off, in reality, only saves you $5. Yet Dan Harris, in his book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story, demonstrates that his 10 percent increase in the happiness department really has made a significant difference. Harris is the co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline. His years of covering international combat, followed by hard recreational drug use, culminated in an on-air panic attack about 10 years ago. Realizing that his greatest battle was with the “voice in his head,” Harris researched non-traditional remedies which led to Buddhist meditation and mindfulness development as a way to improve health and his outlook on life.
Described as a book written for, and by, “someone who would otherwise never read a spiritual book,” 10% Happier provides plenty of practical, authoritative information about meditation and its benefits, as well as Harris’ own journey to master his internal struggles. His time at a meditation retreat is especially telling of his progression and introspection. Along the way, readers learn about his career, his encounters with famous figures like the now-notorious Ted Haggard and James Arthur Ray, and his time with news legends like Peter Jennings. Some of the laugh-out-loud moments include his research into famous gurus like Eckhart Tolle, as well as his memories of yoga class as a child.
I recently read The Last Best Cure, and much of Harris’s research and experiences affirm the lessons in that book: There are scientifically founded ways to “green” your mind and repair your brain’s damaged pathways. Hilarious and well-written, this book steers clear of being a hokey, clichéd self-help guide. I especially recommend the audio version, which Harris narrates.
Who doesn’t love a big scoop of ice cream on a hot summer afternoon? These cookbooks will help you whip up delicious frozen treats for your friends and family. For a playful spin on ice cream sandwiches, check out Natasha Case and Freya Estreller’s Coolhaus Ice Cream Book: Custom-Built Sandwiches with Crazy-Good Combos of Cookies, Ice Creams, Gelatos & Sorbets. The creators of the popular ice cream stores and trucks teach you how to construct the perfect ice cream sandwich. The book is filled with color photos, and it reflects their spirited style. They provide the perfect cookie recipe to complement each frozen dessert. Try inventive combinations like Pistachio Black Truffle Ice Cream on Oatmeal Raisin cookies, Nutella Toasted Almond Ice Cream on Pretzel Chocolate Chunk cookies, Whiskey Lucky Charms Ice Cream on Maple Flapjack cookies or Spicy Pineapple-Cilantro-Chile Sorbet on Snickerdoodle cookies. Vegan and gluten free recipes are also included.
Ice cream meets baked desserts in Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts. Don’t look for a scoop of vanilla ice cream as an afterthought on a pie here. Jeni Britton Bauer, the woman behind the Ohio-based company Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, shares recipes for scrumptious baked desserts along with her sophisticated ice cream flavors, allowing you to create unique and complex flavor combinations. Mix and match her Orange-Blossom Bisque Tortoni Frozen Custard, Mango Manchego Ice Cream, Sweet Cream Shortcakes, Magnolia Mochi Ice Cream and Macaroon Cake. The only limit is your imagination.
Former Martha Stewart Living food editor Shelly Kaldunski’s The Ice Creamery Cookbook: Recipes for Frozen Treats, Toppings, Mix-ins & More offers recipes for a range of frozen desserts and all of the great accompaniments that we love. After laying out the basic types of frozen desserts, the ingredients you’ll use and the tools required to make these tasty treats yourself, she jumps right in to recipes for sumptuous desserts like Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Ice Cream on Brioche Cinnamon Toast, Olive Oil Ice Cream with Meyer Lemon Zest, Dulce De Leche Frozen Yogurt, Mango-Ginger Margarita Pops and even Homemade Sprinkles. Kaldunski also includes party ideas to help you host the best ice cream party of the summer.
On August 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned his office following a speech to the nation the previous evening. The exposure of White House involvement in the cover-up of the Watergate scandal was at the root of his resignation, and three new books take readers back to this tumultuous time in American history and examine the events, the people and the lasting impact.
Douglas Brinkley and Luke Nichter’s The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972 carefully examines the final tapes which were released last August. Nichter and Brinkley share the information gleaned in a readable narrative offering readers a better understanding of one of the most controversial presidencies in history. From the burgeoning relationship with China, to the SALT I agreement with Russia along with glimpses of the encroaching shadow of Watergate, Nixon’s complex portrait as a political genius marred by hubris and paranoia is well-drawn.
Former White House Counsel John Dean was in the middle of these events, and in The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It he uses personal transcripts from meetings and conversations along with documents from the National Archives and the Nixon Library to track the extent of Nixon’s knowledge and the timeline. Dean provides portraits of key players and highlights critical mistakes which led to the scandal. Dean’s first-person insight is compelling, and he also answers questions surrounding those 18 ½ minutes of missing tape.
Rick Perlstein sheds light on the lasting impact of the Nixon White House in The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan. The United States was in the midst of turbulent political, economic and social upheaval during the 1970s and, following Nixon’s resignation, appeared on a path toward a more centrist global view. But when Ronald Reagan almost snared the Republican nomination for president from incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976, pundits were stunned. Perlstein’s carefully researched and impeccably written account is an engaging chronicle of the times and their political aftermath.
Check out BCPL’s Tumblr for the Richard Nixon Library’s playlist of online Watergate tapes, videos, photos and documents relating to the resignation.
When the name Abigail Adams is mentioned it generally conjures up an image of an iconic American figure, primarily known as the wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams. However, before she assumed either of these roles, she was a daughter and sister in a very extraordinary family. In Dear Abigail: The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and Her Two Remarkable Sisters, Diane Jacobs introduces the reader to the woman who became the icon and the family relationships that shaped her.
Born the middle of three daughters to William and Elizabeth Quincy Smith of Braintree, Massachusetts, Abigail and her sisters Mary and Elizabeth were clever girls who managed to supplement their limited formal home education by reading any book they could get their hands on. Often using excerpts from the lifelong correspondence between the three sisters, Jacobs has meticulously pieced together the lives of these women in great detail. In an era where women had few legal rights and very few career options outside of wife and mother, Abigail, Mary and Elizabeth aspired to make their voices heard outside their family circle. While Abigail seems to have achieved the most success, her sisters were able to make their marks during the Revolutionary War era and beyond.
For those who either think they know the story of Abigail Adams or have enjoyed such books as David McCullough’s biography John Adams or are interested in early American history, this book is a must read. Jacobs is not only a thorough scholar but she has a delightful and engaging narrative style.
Local author and news commentator Michael Olesker knows his Baltimore as well as anyone. For a quarter-century, the former News American and Baltimore Sun columnist has captured the changing pulse of the flawed hometown he loves, illuminating countless important issues along the way. Olesker's latest book, Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age, is a nostalgic-yet-edgy look back at a time of relative innocence for Baltimore and the country. Join him as he discusses this latest work on Tuesday, August 5 at 7 p.m. at the North Point Branch. The program, the third in the “Dundalk Dialogs” author speaker series, will include a book talk, signing and light refreshments. Recently, the author answered questions for Between the Covers about his new book.
Between the Covers: You have been a longtime chronicler of Baltimore’s history. How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Michael Olesker: I’ve always felt that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was a real dividing line in American politics and culture, as well as the real dividing line between the 1950s and ’60s. We recall the ’50s as an innocent time. We recall the ’60s as a time of social chaos: assassinations, wars, riots, terrific upheaval, some good, some bad, much of it quite difficult. But a lot of the ’60s changes were bubbling just beneath the surface in the ’50s. Several years ago, with the 50th anniversary of the assassination approaching, it occurred to me that quite a few Baltimoreans had a profound effect on the nation’s history, and they’d come of age here in the ’50s. Having grown up here in that era, I’ve always felt a real connection to that time.
BTC: You tell the stories of many of Charm City’s personalities, including Nancy Pelosi, Thurgood Marshall and Barry Levinson, coming of age before the complicated 1960s changed the way people looked at themselves and their country. Why were these stories important to share?
MO: As a product of the Baltimore City public school system, I always felt we were taught the Great Man theory of history. That is, presidents and prime ministers and kings change the world. But I think a lot of great change comes from the ground up. Nancy Pelosi’s father was mayor, but her mother ran an army of political women in a time when women were still political non-entities. That was a profound lesson. Thurgood Marshall was the product of a segregated school system and couldn’t get into the University of Maryland Law School because of his skin color. That was a profound motivator as he went on to change the nation’s schools. Barry Levinson was a kid soaking up movie and TV culture and knew that it didn’t reflect the world as he knew it. That was a great motivator for him.
BTC: What made you begin and end with the Kennedy assassination?
MO: My previous book, The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the Fifties, was a 50th anniversary look back at the legendary 1958 Colts who won pro football’s “greatest game ever played.” The response to it was so overwhelmingly heartfelt that the Hopkins Press folks suggested the 50th anniversary of Dallas was another real emotional hook for many people. I wanted to profile not only those people who went on to change the country but the Baltimore of that era — the working class town, the sixth biggest city in the country, the city of neighborhoods and people sitting on front stoops to catch up on the world — but a town on the verge of so many profound changes.
BTC: Why did you decide to write in the present tense?
MO: In my mind, the past never entirely goes away — it still flutters around us, still moves the world in ways we don’t always notice. I felt, from the very first sentence I wrote, that the ’50s were still alive and that, by writing in the present tense, I’d give my narrative a greater sense of immediacy.
BTC: You write that, for newspapers, the Kennedy assassination signaled the “opening moment of long decades of coughing and wheezing their way out of existence.” You have lived through a lot of changes. Where do you see the news gathering business in 10 or 20 years?
MO: We’re currently in a shaking-out period where even the brightest people haven’t figured out where journalism is heading. What’s become clear to me — from years at newspapers, from years on nightly TV news and from years teaching at one of our local colleges — is that a lot of people don’t have the attention span they once had, nor the patience for long-form reading. They want instant gratification, easily digestible bites of information, and then they move on to the next amusement. Millions of us now live moment-to-moment lifestyles but don’t know the history of the last 10 minutes, much less 10 years. I hope my book is a chance for people to see, in an entertaining way, how we began to get where we are.
BTC: Do you think there is any charm left in Charm City?
MO: Absolutely. I think the city’s best years are still ahead of it. Are we losing some of our inimitable “Bawlamer” uniqueness? Sure. But change is always inevitable. What’s shocked all of us is the speed of all this change.