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.
Ephram Jennings has spent his life loving Ruby Bell. He’s loved her since the first time he saw her as a wild red haired child who was “the kind of pretty it hurt to look at.” After his beloved mother is committed to a mental institution and his heavy-handed father’s death, Ephram is raised solely by his devout sister, Celia, whom he calls “Mama.” Ruby grows up in the shadow of ancestors accused of witchcraft, with violence swirling around her until she finally packs up and leaves Liberty Township for New York City.
When Ruby returns, the town takes notice. Ruby’s red lipstick, fine clothes and perfume draw the attention of all the wrong kind. Over a decade later, the lipstick and heels gone, Ruby lives like a ghost, walking through the town in rags and caked in dirt. No one speaks to her, no one sees her. No one except Ephram. Under the filth, Ephram still sees Ruby for who she really is and longs for her fiercely. Having spent the whole of his life under the thumb of his Mama Celia and the discerning eye of the town and church, Ephram lacks the courage to speak his mind. He suffers from crippling headaches and finds himself vulnerable to the manipulation of others. The day comes when Ephram decides enough is enough and sets out to save Ruby Bell from the town and herself. He is unprepared for the reality of who Ruby has become and what she has succumbed to in her isolation.
In Ruby, a novel rife with heartache, tragedy, love and a touch of mystery, author Cynthia Bond weaves a story so thick and heavy it could pass for the southern grits served at the church picnics in Liberty Township. The story of Ephram and Ruby reverberates with the enduring power of love and explores the depths of the soul through Bond’s powerful words. Readers of Toni Morrison will appreciate the carefully crafted prose Bond presents.
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.
Travel to the French department of Dordogne and meet the delightful Police Chief Bruno Courreges in the novel The Resistance Man by Martin Walker. Bruno spends his time in St. Denis pining over one lost love while trying to maintain the affections of a new girlfriend. He finds solace in food, wine and the adorations of a rambunctious puppy named Balzac, but his free time is often cut short by deadly events. Bruno is pulled into planning the funeral for a veteran of the French Resistance, one who has some curious currency that may have come from a wartime train robbery. There have also been a string of robberies across the French countryside, including the home of a former British spymaster, and residents are looking to Bruno to get results. An antique dealer is found battered to death and the contents of his van stolen, it appears to have some connection with the thefts. When the main suspect turns out to be the man’s former lover who is now on the run, Bruno has to put all of his skills to the test to track down the killer.
Martin Walker is the senior director for the Global Business Policy Council and the editor-in-chief emeritus of United Press International, and uses skills acquired from these positions to craft quite a story in the sixth installment of the Bruno Chief of Police series. Combining French politics, international affairs and gastronomical delights, Walker creates an intriguing world where events beginning in the French countryside often extend to the entire European continent. Readers wanting to start with the first novel of the series will want to read Bruno, Chief of Police first. Readers who enjoy the French setting should also try Claude Izner or Fred Vargas.
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.
Raising Steam is the 40th book in Sir Terry Pratchett’s incredibly long-running and hugely popular Discworld series. The Discworld is a disc shaped world being supported on the back of four elephants that are themselves being carried through space on the back of a giant turtle called A’tuin. The series is known for its humor and use of fantasy tropes to skewer the foibles of the modern world.
The Discworld has rapidly progressed from late feudalism to early industrial revolution as the era of railroads suddenly comes to the city of Ankh-Morpork. Through the lens of the some of our favorite characters, we watch the explosion of new services and new trade suddenly made available via the railroad as well as the great social upheaval it causes amongst races of Ankh-Morpork. There are definite echoes of Britain’s own rapid industrialization in Raising Steam. Also prevalent is the rise of religious fundamentalism and the attempt of fanatics to arrest progress at any cost to themselves and others. If there is slightly less humor and understated satire on this subject, it is understandable, and Pratchett makes up for with an unusual amount of action and fight scenes.
As the series has progressed, we the readers and the denizens of the Disc are feeling as if we are rushing to some final end – a feeling intensified with Sir Terry’s announcement several years ago that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Sir Terry has named his daughter as successor when the time comes that he can no longer write, and with 40 books and more to come set on Great A’tuin, that time may come sooner than many of us would like. One thing is certain: Sir Terry, like his character Lord Vetinari, has been engaged in a “Great Work.” He has taken a series of light-hearted, slapstick, fantasy satires and transformed them into the one of the longest-running series of literature in the English language. These books are fun, spirited and have a deeper meaning that will hit you when you least expect it.
The book world is smitten with Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. The story centers around Island Books, a small, independent bookstore on Alice Island. The store is run by its curmudgeonly owner A.J. Fikry, a lonely, middle-aged man who has not recovered from his wife’s tragic death. As the story opens, three events occur that irrevocably alter A.J.’s world. First, he meets Amelia Loman, a new marketing representative from Knightley Press. Next, his nest egg, a rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane, is stolen. Then, an abandoned toddler named Maya is found in the children’s section of his store. This quietly witty story is about love, redemption and, of course, books. Author Natasha Solomons calls it “[a] charming and funny love letter to the written word – it will leave you smiling and with a large lump in your throat.”
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry gained the attention of librarians and booksellers even before its publication. Librarians across the country selected it as their top pick for the April LibraryReads list. The LibraryReads list features librarians’ top 10 new titles published each month, and it’s a great resource to find out about hot books before they are published.
Throughout the story, A.J. describes other characters by referring to the titles of the books that they read. What book best describes you? Let us know in the comments!
Steve Berry, bestselling and highly acclaimed author of historical thrillers, including the Cotton Malone series, has over 17,000,000 copies of his books in print internationally. Get to know Steve as he answers questions about his latest bestseller and future writing plans, and even shares the strangest way he’s encountered his readers!
The Lincoln Myth involves Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Constitution, religious zealots and of course, Cotton Malone trying to save the country. Where do you get your ideas? Is it true that there is a little bit of you in Cotton?
The constitutional concept of secession has always fascinated me. It's one of those arguments that have no easy answer. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is likewise interesting. It is the quintessential American religion, and it played some key roles in our history. When I found out that Abraham Lincoln was the first president to ever read the Book of Mormon, and that he made a secret deal with Brigham Young, I knew there was a novel there. So I sent Cotton Malone to get to the bottom of things. And he is basically me. When I created him for The Templar Legacy, I used my personality, so we share a lot of traits, like the love of rare books. He doesn’t like enclosed spaces, I don’t either. He doesn’t like the taste of alcohol. He has finicky eating habits. That's me. I, of course, don’t jump out of planes and shoot guns at bad guys, but I live that through him.
You’ve said in the past that the most wonderful fiction always has a ring of truth to it. What’s the ring of truth in The Lincoln Myth?
The concept of a union of 50 states that is indivisible and forever is not necessarily accurate. Lincoln did not fight the Civil War to save the Union, he fought that war to create the Union. I doubt many of us realize that. I didn't, until I did the research for this novel.
History is so important to you that you and your wife created History Matters to assist communities around the world with historic restoration and preservation. In fact, you’ll be in Baltimore at the B & O Museum for a reception and book signing on May 21 for the Edgar Allan Poe House. Why does history matter?
History is who we are and where we came from. To forget that or, even worse, to just allow it to rot away, robs the future of that past. It's our duty to preserve what came before for the next generation.
With so many copies of your books all over the world, you must encounter people reading your novels all the time. What is the weirdest place you’ve ever seen a Steve Berry book being read? How about the most exotic?
Fiji is probably the most exotic. The oddest happened in an airport. The man sitting beside me started reading the latest hardback, then a woman sitting across from me did the same thing. On the back cover of each book was a full color photo of me, yet neither made the connection. That's the cool thing about being a writer. You don't lose your anonymity, which is wonderful.
Your favorite holiday decoration is your Star Trek themed tree complete with Santa in a transporter. Have you ever considered writing science fiction or fantasy?
I'd love to write a sci-fi novel one day. I even have one churning in my mind, and I just might do it. I've always been a fan of that genre.
How big of a thrill was it to be asked to write the forewords for the upcoming re-releases of James Michener’s novels?
That was truly an honor. He is, hands-down, my favorite writer of all time. I have a complete collection of his novels that I've amassed for over 40 years. To see my name on the same cover with his will be amazing. I hope a new generation of readers will rediscover Michener. He was genius. I write today because of him.
Do you have any sneak peeks for our readers as to what’s in store for Cotton Malone’s 15th adventure? Can you share any news in the development of the series for the small screen?
Cotton will return in 2015. This one deals with another fascinating quirk from the Constitution. It's called The Patriot Threat, and it will be on sale in March. Alcon Entertainment is still developing a possible television series for Cotton. Hopefully, it'll make it to the screen one day. If anyone would like to know more about that, or me, or the books, check out www.steveberry.org.