To commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I this summer, many new books have been and will continue to be released. They range from new analyses of battles, biographies of personalities of the era and wide-ranging assessments of how the ‘War to End All Wars’ set the history of the 20th and 21st century and its continuing conflicts in motion. A furry character study for young readers comes in Ann Bausum’s Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog. As the United States was at last pulled into the war in 1917, a stray, brindle-colored Boston Bull Terrier wandered onto a soldiers’ training ground at Yale University. The soldiers all took a liking to this sweet, short-tailed dog, but none more than enlisted man James Conroy.
Training complete (for both men and dog), the soldiers were sent to sea, and Conroy smuggled the pup onto the ship bound for France. Now considered a mascot, Stubby had been taught to stand on his rear legs and lift his right paw to salute high-ranking officers. This endeared Stubby to all he met, including women of the French resistance, who sewed him a natty uniform. The dog turned out to be a valiant and useful addition to the men in the trenches, as he aided with rat removal, alerted the men to enemies approaching and was even temporarily wounded in action while helping to discover landmines. Bausum illustrates the history of the four-legged hero with plenty of period photographs from the Conroy family collection and other ephemera of the WWI era. Her impeccable research is outlined in endnotes and an extensive bibliography. She also tells of this famous dog in Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation, written for adult readers. This title covers even more of Stubby’s exploits during and after the war. Both books are published by National Geographic, and are excellent avenues into this period. They will be enjoyed by dog lovers as well as by history buffs.
Maryland folklorist Elaine Eff is a champion of local culture and traditions. In her new book, she sets her sights on a much-loved Baltimore icon: the painted window screen and the artists who created them. Eff will discuss her latest work, The Painted Screens of Baltimore: an Urban Folk Art Revealed, on Tuesday, July 1 at 7:00 p.m. at the North Point Branch. The program, which is part of the branch’s “Dundalk Dialogs” local author speaker series, will include a book talk and signing. Eff recently answered questions for Between the Covers about her new book.
Between the Covers: How did you become interested in the history of Baltimore’s painted screens?
Elaine Eff: Serendipity. Two coincidences that changed the course of my life: As a Baltimore girl, I was expected to be an authority on our local folk art – which I was not. In fact, I knew nothing on the subject. When I arrived at graduate school, I found a 19thcentury – not Baltimore, but New York State – painted screen in our museum’s collection, and that started my journey. I needed to learn what history, if any, the two might share.
BTC: Can you share how you conducted your research for this project?
EF: Face-to-face, person-by-person. Visiting artists, walking the streets of East Baltimore, talking to strangers, traveling to libraries, museums and archives nationwide, international research and casting the net wider and deeper as the subject became richer and more fascinating.
BTC: What do you want readers, who may not have any knowledge of this Baltimore tradition, to take away from your book?
EF: Painted screens are a response to a community’s need for privacy. Row houses demand them, and they had the extra bonus of being downright beautiful. “You see out. No one sees in,” and “They used to be everywhere” is what you hear all the time. The book is as much about Baltimore and neighborhood building. It has something for everyone and can be appreciated on many levels: as a whole, in small bites or tastes here and there. Appreciate what an incredible city of resourceful people can make happen.
BTC: Among the painters you researched were there any who were as colorful as the art they created?
EF: Every single one. That is why I first made the film The Screen Painters. Every painter is a movie in him or herself. They needed to tell their own story and did. They are an incredible group of creative individuals who changed the face of a city. Not bad for a bunch of local untrained artists! The book gives you a glimpse into that wonderful era when the sidewalks told a very different – an incredibly colorful —story, in many ways.
BTC: What were some of the favorite images seen around town?
EF: The Red Bungalow was it. Everyone wanted to have the red cottage with a winding path, a pond and swans. Ninety percent of the windows had that scene as interpreted by hundreds of different hands. Today things are very different — strangely, now we see a lot of local landmarks, like the [Patterson Park] Pagoda. One house in Highlandtown even has Formstone painted on the window screen! Big difference is it used to be EVERY window and door — front and back. Now we see the front window and little more. Times and tastes have changed. And that is wonderful.
Readers who would like to learn more can also visit The Painted Screen Society of Baltimore website.
You know who Judy Greer is, even if you don’t know who Judy Greer is. You may know her from her role as Cheryl in Archer, or as Kitty Sanchez in Arrested Development, or as the best friend in movies like 13 Going on 30 and 27 Dresses. You may even know her as the mom from the new “Framily Plan” commercials from Sprint. The point is, with dozens of co-starring roles in TV series and major movies, you know who Judy Greer is, even if you can’t pick her out of a lineup. This famous anonymity suits the actress just fine as she makes clear in her hilarious new biography I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star.
Hailing from outside of Detroit, Ms. Greer has the work ethic of a dray horse and the sense of humor bred from the privations of the rust belt and ungodly cold winters. Her childhood, while not a large chunk of her new memoir, provides some of the funniest fodder. Like her fellow Midwesterner from across the lake, Tim Conway, Ms. Greer is more than willing to embarrass herself and expose her own foibles to make us laugh. The end result is a book that is funny and endearing. You are happy for her success and for her excitement at meeting real celebrities. Whether she is discussing spending her summers in the quaint town of Carey, Ohio, or peeing next to her far more famous co-stars, which occupies a chapter of her book, Greer has an enthusiasm for life and a wide-eyed zeal that will leave you smiling as if you were watching a basket full of puppies frolic.
In one of her best quotes, Ms. Greer notes that a family member once told her that “Work begets more work,” and in pursuit of that ideal she has relentlessly pursued roles that weren’t starring roles, but roles that would keep her working. Along the way, several of her characters have become comedy cultural touchstones. If you like Bossypants or Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, you will love I Don’t Know What You Know Me From. While her career so far has been one as a co-star, something she doesn’t mind at all, you finish this book hoping she will get her chance to find that starring role and join the ranks of actresses like Tina Fey, Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett.
“Oh God, he stabbed me! Help me!” was the cry eventually heard around the world. In Kew Gardens, Queens, on Friday, March 13, 1964, this shout for help was heard by 38 bystanders, all of whom watched a young woman being killed and did nothing. Or so The New York Times reported. In Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America, award-winning author Kevin Cook brings fresh perspective to a case and story which grew and has remained in the public mind as a cautionary tale of urban decline and apathy.
Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old bartender who lived in the Kew Gardens neighborhood, was coming home from a shift that fateful early Friday morning when she was stabbed by an assailant who ran off but then came back and attacked her a second time. As the legend which grew around the crime reports, 38 residents in nearby apartment buildings all watched the attack, more than half an hour long, and did nothing to help. This crime prompted sociological research about when individuals were most likely to help, leading to a theory known as the “bystander effect.” It also encouraged the establishment of a national 911 number so people could more efficiently report crimes.
As Cook reveals, the story, which has been countlessly retold, is not the full story of what happened that morning. There were several individuals who police did consider to be true villains for their apathetic response. However, others saw only a glimpse of what had happened and were unaware that a crime had occurred. Other concerned individuals did phone the police. Covering more than just the crime, Cook explores the vibrant life of the young victim, the cold-blooded calculation of the killer Winston Mosley and the restlessness and explosive nature of the city and country in the ’60s. Alternately dramatic and sobering, this book is a must-read for anyone who remembers this story from the newspapers or a social psychology textbook. Ultimately, in a city that appeared on the brink of social crisis, there were still individuals who did good.
Orange Is the New Black is back! The second season of the popular series starring Taylor Schilling, Jason Biggs and Laura Prepon was released a few weeks ago exclusively on Netflix. The first season’s dramatic ending left fans on the edge of their seats, and the second season brings us right back to the drama at the fictional Litchfield Correctional Facility.
The show is based on Piper Kerman’s bestselling 2010 memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison. When Kerman was sentenced to 15 months in a minimum security federal prison for a crime that she committed 10 years earlier, she entered a world unlike anything she had ever known. Kerman’s memoir takes readers through her entire sentence as she learns to navigate this world with its unique set of rules and social norms. The book is about more than just Kerman’s experiences, though. The reader gets an up-close view of the American correctional system, and we are introduced to her fellow inmates, whose lives and circumstances are very different from her own. Kerman’s memoir is heartbreaking, uproariously funny and sometimes shocking.
Reading is a popular way for the Litchfield inmates to pass the time. A lot of scenes take place in the prison library, and the characters are frequently spotted reading or holding books. The books in the background have taken on a life of their own, becoming a popular topic for fan discussions and blogs. Entertainment Weekly’s Stephan Lee breaks down what the characters are reading in the new season episode by episode. (Contains spoilers.) Popular novels like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Ian McEwan’s Atonement are featured alongside classics like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. If you want to read along with the ladies of Litchfield, this list will help you get started.
What do catchers and umpires really talk about during a ballgame? Longtime Major League catcher Jason Kendall reveals the secrets of that mystery in Throwback: A Big-League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played. Co-authored by Kansas City Star sportswriter Lee Judge, this is not a personal memoir with a few details about what happens on the field, but instead it is chockfull of insights that any casual or ardent baseball fan will relish.
Kendall spent more than half of his decade-plus career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was known as an unusually speedy catcher with an unconventional batting stance. This resulted in him being the fifth most hit-by-pitch player in Major League history, and he divulges the methods used to reach base no matter what the cost. But for the bulk of the book, the self-described badass talks about the relationships a catcher has with the rest of his team and opponents when on the field. Kendall starts with the pitcher and discusses in great detail how statistics, while valuable, often take a back seat to keen observation. After several seasons in the big leagues, he could identify when a pitcher needed to hang it up, and when batters were simply phoning it in and when they were on fire. Most intriguing of all are the discussions between catcher and pitcher and the ever-evolving, incredibly exhaustive language of signs between the two critical players.
Written conversationally, but containing considerable detail, Throwback is a rare look into how contemporary baseball is won and lost. While other big leaguers are mentioned, this is all about the game and not about the personalities. And those catcher-umpire conversations? Kendall discloses how it is an all-game affair of compromise, conniving and convincing to make sure there would be a win for his team at the end of nine innings.
It has happened to most of us at some point. You’re reading a book on a plane or on the beach. Suddenly, there is a heartbreaking plot twist or a beloved character dies. You try to fight it, but it’s a lost cause. You’re crying in public, and it’s not pretty. These sad stories highlight the deep emotional power that books have over us.
• Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is one of the first books that made many of us cry. This novel about the friendship between a boy and his two hunting dogs is a modern classic.
• Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is an unforgettable story about a girl named Liesel living in Nazi Germany. The novel was recently adapted into a movie, but this is a book that you simply must read.
• Me Before You by Jojo Moyes follows Louisa Clark, a young woman who takes on a job as a caretaker for Will Traynor, who is a quadriplegic. The two of them quickly grow close, but Will’s plans for his assisted suicide loom ahead of them in this tragic, romantic tale.
• Ian McEwan’s Atonement is an elegant exploration of guilt and forgiveness. During the summer of 1935, 13-year-old Briony accuses the family maid’s son Robbie of sexually assaulting her cousin. The consequences of her testimony haunt her for the rest of her life.
• Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is a beloved childhood favorite for many readers. Despite their differences, Jess and Leslie become inseparable friends. When tragedy strikes, Jess must use the lessons that their friendship taught him to heal.
• Set in a post-apocalyptic America, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the story of a father and son who walk through the desolation, depending only on each other while they try to make their way to the coast.
• Gail Caldwell’s Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship will make you want to call your best friend. In this poignant memoir, Caldwell chronicles her friendship with her best friend Caroline Knapp from their first meeting through Knapp’s death of lung cancer at age 42.
Bill and Willie Geist have a great deal in common. They are both TV personalities: Bill on CBS News Sunday Morning and Willie on The Today Show. They both have a deep love of sports. They are both raconteurs with a wickedly insightful sense of humor. As a father and son, they have shared, and sometimes not shared, many of life’s milestones, and in Good Talk, Dad we are lucky they have decided to share those milestones with us.
The book is designed to feel like an ongoing conversation between a father and son as well as to serve as an oral history for generations of Geists yet unborn. The extremely well done audiobook is especially a treat as both Bill and Willie do the narration. Each section of the book is divided into a topic like sports, parenting or sex. Each Geist weighs in with his thoughts and their shared experience or recollections on the issue, and they take the opportunity to fill each other in on the parts the other might not have known about. The two points of view are clear and unique. Bill is a Midwestern, who served in Vietnam and spent much of his career in print journalism. Willie grew up in New Jersey and had easy access to New York City; he was accomplished in sports and practically fell into a series of jobs in broadcast journalism. These differences play extremely well off one another like discordant syncopation in a jazz number. The feel is like Bill Bryson meets Sh*t My Dad Says. It is funny, real and heartfelt.
Good Talk, Dad, above all else, feels genuine. In your mind’s eye, you can see these two men who clearly love and respect each other hunched over a computer rapidly emailing each other back and forth. They share laughter and feelings in a way that men in our society are not often comfortable doing in person. The resulting image is of a family where laughter is more common than anger, where people like and support each other, and where they are just plain comfortable around each other. It might just leave you a little bit jealous that you have not experienced life as a Geist.
Don’t forget dear old dad’s special day is this Sunday. In the spirit of the day, enjoy this list of some of the most fabulous father figures in literature. If you have a favorite we missed, share in the comments.
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Atticus Finch is the gold standard of fathers. He is handsome, honest, a sharpshooter and just the world’s greatest dad. Harper Lee’s iconic character was given life by Gregory Peck in the film adaptation which prompted the American Film Institute to call Atticus the “greatest movie hero of the 20th century.”
Horton in Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss. Horton the elephant is tricked into sitting on a bird's egg while its mother, Mayzie, takes a permanent vacation. Horton overcomes a variety of challenges, but remains committed to his task, stating, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred per cent!"
William in Danny, The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. Danny has the best life. He lives in a gypsy caravan, he works on cars and his best friend is his storyteller father, William. When the two embark on an adventure of a lifetime, their relationship deepens. This story of father-son love highlights a dad who Danny calls, "the most marvelous and exciting father a boy ever had."
The Man/The Father in The Road by Cormac McCarthy. An unnamed father and his young son journey across a grim post-apocalyptic landscape. As the duo search for safety, the father realizes he is dying, yet still struggles to protect his son from the constant threats of attack, exposure and starvation.
Will Freeman in About a Boy by Nick Hornby. Will Freeman is a 36-year-old bachelor focused on wine, women and song. Marcus Brewer is an introverted middle school boy whose mother is suicidal. While their initial friendship is based on deceit, they come to respect and genuinely like each other, and a real relationship is formed.
Harry Silver in Man and Boy by Tony Parsons. Harry’s one-night stand starts a chain reaction of events immediately prior to his 30th birthday. His wife leaves him, he loses his job and he is suddenly a single parent to a 4-year-old. As Harry navigates the daily details of parenting, he focuses on the important relationships in his life – his son and his father.
Be sure to check out two new nonfiction titles which tackle the tricky world of fatherhood with humor and honesty. Good Talk, Dad by Bill and Willie Geist is a hilarious tribute to the special bond between fathers and sons, and Dave Engledow offers a hysterical photo-centric parody of one clueless dad and his adorable daughter in Confessions of the World’s Best Father.
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.