Book Review: Walking Baltimore

 

WalkingBaltimoreWalking Baltimore
by Evan Balkan
280 pages
Published 2013
Nonfiction – Guidebook

So the first book I want to talk about is a series of walking tours of Baltimore. I’ve only been on two of these walks so far, but I plan to take many more of them. It’s just been SO. HOT. And I’m not a person who likes walking much to begin with! But there’s a new game out that’s made walking so much more fun – yes, I’m talking about Pokemon Go. (Go Team Mystic!) That little bit of motivation of “well, I’ll walk to that Pokestop. Alright, there’s another Pokestop two blocks away, I can make it to that one. Maybe a little further to that next Pokestop. OOoo there’s a Tangela nearby!” It makes it just enough fun that I walk a lot more before I’ve even realized it.

Walking Baltimore gives me general guides for walks so I’m not just wandering Pokestop to Pokestop until I get lost! It has very detailed instructions – turn left at this corner, cross the street here so you can see this monument, then look up at the architecture in front of you – it’s really well done. My only wish is that there was an appendix that rated the walks in order of difficulty – each walk has a rating, from easy to moderate to strenuous – but there’s no way to see all of the difficulties side by side. With 33 walks all over Baltimore, with all levels of difficulty and lengths, there’s definitely something here for everyone, and the history and points of interest covered by the walks are fascinating.

The two that I’ve actually walked are half of #4, Inner Harbor Promenade, and #11, The Civil War Trail: Path of the War’s First Bloodshed. Both are mostly on the Inner Harbor, where my husband works, so I hitched a ride down with him, walked, and caught Pokemon until he got off work and we came home. (We live outside Baltimore City limits.) I’d been down in the area many times, but had no idea the Civil War’s first bloodshed occurred when a mob waylaid Union troops travelling through Baltimore! There are medallions laid in the sidewalks commemorating some of the events of the Civil War march, and most of those are Pokestops too.

Currently I have this book out from the library, but I think this is one I’ll be adding to my personal library soon. I want the walking guides! The author has also written 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Baltimore and Best in Tent Camping: Maryland. So he knows his stuff.

From the back of Walking Baltimore:

BALTIMORE – famous for spectacular harbor views, myriad historical monuments and landmarks, and important cultural institutions. But it’s also much more – a patchwork of small, unique neighborhoods with terrific bars and restaurants, and more recreation and green space than most people realize. All of this combines to make Baltimore one of America’s most fascinating and walkable cities. 

In Walking Baltimore, longtime insider Evan Balkan leads you on 33 self-guided tours from Fells Point to the Inner Harbor, Mount Vernon to Mount Washington, and all the diverse neighborhoods in between. This book will show locals and visitors alike how and why Baltimore was an essential player in the country’s early history and continues to be influential today. You’ll soak up Charm City’s incredible history, culture, architectural trivia, and quirky vibe. Plus, you’ll find tips on where to dine or have a drink. Clear neighborhood maps and vital public transportation and parking details make exploring easy. Whether you’re looking for an afternoon stroll or full-day’s entertainment, grab this book, step outside, and walk Baltimore!

Book Review: Backyard Harvest

Another of the books my mother sent me for Christmas, this is actually a book I’d had from my local library and put on my wish list because it’s amazing. Stats! BackHarv

Backyard Harvest – A Year-Round Guide to Growing Fruits and Vegetables
by Jo Whittingham
Published 2012
256 pages

Backyard Harvest is set up by months, which makes for a unique and absolutely essential (to me, a beginner) book. In every month, it tells you what you should be eating (provided you had planted it previously!), what you should be planting, what you should be pruning or transplanting or otherwise working on, and usually a few pages on a seasonal-appropriate subject. (A section on apples and apple trees in November, for example.) The layout is gorgeous, the instructions are easy to understand, and I feel like after a few years of following this book I’ll be eating from my garden every month of the year with ease.

For January, for example, if I had these things planted, harvested, or stored from last year, I should be eating pickles, stored root veggies, newly lifted Salsify, forced Belgian Endive, and winter radishes, among other tasty-looking things. I should be sowing (indoors, to transplant after the last frost) early-season leeks, summer onions, lettuce, broad beans, cut-and-come-again greens, and early peas and radishes. For tending, I should be amending my soil, keeping an eye on my stored fruits and veggies for signs of rot, pruning some of my fruit trees, and picking up fallen leaves from hardy winter brassicas so they don’t cause rot at the base of the plants. The feature for the month is building a seedbed, both raised and non. In January I should be harvesting celeriac, early broccoli, the aforementioned Belgian Endive, and spring greens. Another feature for the month is sprouting seeds for use in salads. Each of these categories gets its own two-page spread, the monthly features occasionally getting four or more.

It’s a lovely, really useful book, and one I HAD to own after getting it from the library. It will be getting heavy use in the coming months, I’m sure!

Whittingham has written or co-written three other books – Vegetable Gardening and Grow Vegetables before this book, and Simple Steps to Success: Fruit and Vegetables in Pots after. The latter appears to be a combination of the first two in a new format, but I could be wrong. So I’m not sure I’d recommend any of those three – I haven’t read them – but Backyard Harvest is awesome!

Book Review: The Edible Front Yard

This is a book my mother sent me for Christmas this year, and I’m OBSESSED with it. It’s really made me look at garden design in a new way – not just what I can grow to eat, but what I can grow to look good at the same time. So first, the stats:EdFrontY

The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-less, Grow-more Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden

by Ivette Soler
Published 2011
213 pages
I would definitely give this book the full five stars. It’s filled with gorgeous, full-color, glossy photographs that really show off the concepts illustrated in the book. Soler describes both some common vegetables (corn and beans, for example) as well as some things I didn’t even know were edible, like daylilies and nasturtiums! She includes a lot of unusual edibles, like artichokes and bananas, the latter of which I can’t grow outside here in Maryland. She lives in LA, though, and I completely understand how it must be complicated to write a book applicable to the entire United States!

Her chapters range from “Curb Appeal” – WHY should we care what our yard looks like, and what actually looks good? – to “The New Front Yard Plant Palette” which is all about classic edibles that also look great. Another chapter is about helper plants – plants that aren’t necessarily edible (though some of them are), but that serve other purposes in the garden, such as pest repellant or predatory bug attractants. Both of these chapters list a TON of plants, with short descriptions about why they’re on the list, how to take care of them, and what to use them for. EXTREMELY useful.

Soler has her own blog – The Germinatrix – but unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s been updated since 2012. Her Twitter seems to have died about the same time, and her Facebook hasn’t seen a post since early 2013. I’m still hoping to find her presence online, as I love her writing style and would love to find more of her work.

Book Review: Free For All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library

freeforallFree For All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library
by Don Borchert
210 pages
Published 2007
Memoir

Like Quiet, Please, Free For All is a memoir from a public librarian. It was interesting, but I didn’t find it as engaging as Quiet, Please. So if you’re only going to read one, I’d recommend Quiet. If you’ve got time, though, this was an interesting second view on public libraries. It felt a little more detached than Quiet did; and there was a lot less biting sarcasm. I find it interesting that both books are written by male librarians, in what has been a female-dominated field for some time. I’ll have to go looking for a woman’s memoir about being a librarian, and see how it differs!

Free For All goes a little bit more in depth on the hiring process, and talks more about library pages, both topics I found interesting. To be honest, though, I found the entire book just kind of…blah. It’s not a bad book, and it’s a quick read at just over two hundred pages, but it’s just…blah.

From the inside cover of Free For All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library:

“Mild-mannered librarian tells all!

Not long ago, the public library was a place for the bookish, the eggheaded, and the studious – often seeking refuge from a loud, irrational, and crude outside world. Today libraries have become free-for-all entertainment complexes, filled with deviants, drugs, and even sex toys.

What happened?

Don Borchert was a short-order cook, door-to-door salesman, telemarketer, and Christmas-tree-chopper before landing work at a California library. He never could have predicted his encounters with the colorful kooks, bullies, and tricksters who fill the pages of this hilarious memoir. 

In Free For All, Borchert offers readers a ringside seat to the unlikely spectacle of mayhem and absurdity that is business as usual at the public library. You’ll see cops bust drug dealers who’ve set up shop in the men’s restrooms, witness a burka-wearing employee suffer a curse-ridden nervous breakdown, and meet a lonely, neglected kid who grew up in the library and still sends postcards to his surrogate parents – the librarians. 

You’ll finally find answers to all those often-asked questions: What’s up with that Dewey Decimal System – do librarians actually understand it? (Yes, but they don’t all like it.) Do the library computers have access to everything, even porn? (Yes.) What happens if you never pay those overdue fines? Do they just keep adding up? (Sort of. It depends on what kind of day the librarian is having and how polite you are.) And what’s the strangest thing to land in the book return bin? (You won’t believe it, and it’s got absolutely nothing to do with great literature.)”

Book Review: The Library – An Illustrated History

libraryThe Library – An Illustrated History
by Stuart A. P. Murray
308 pages
Published 2009
Nonfiction

This is one of those books that I could only read a chapter, sometimes two, at a time. It was really interesting, with lots of GORGEOUS pictures of libraries, but it’s still a history and sometimes boring. It was very in-depth, though, starting with “The Ancient Libraries” and moving through the middle ages, to the Renaissance, to the early modern period, to the 21st century. Murray talked about all the books lost to religions, primarily Christianity, suppressing other religions’ ideas and burning their books and records, and also mentioned in many places the casualties of war – bombed, burned-out libraries, priceless ancient books being lost to fire and looters. The latter was preferable, as that usually meant the book would resurface somewhere!

I was a little disappointed that he didn’t talk more about the development of cataloguing systems, and barely mentioned the Dewey Decimal System at all. I thought that was really odd, considering it’s the most-used cataloguing system today! He talked about the difficulty of maintaining a catalogue, but didn’t discuss a lot about how that changed in the modern age.

If you’re interested in libraries, I would definitely recommend this book. As histories go, it wasn’t nearly as dry as some I’ve read, and the pictures were fabulous. I’d definitely like to own this book someday, but for now it will have to go back to the library.

From the inner cover of The Library: An Illustrated History:

“The first libraries appeared five thousand years ago in Southwest Asia’s ‘Fertile Crescent’…the birthplace of writing, some time before 3000 BCE,” writes Stuart A. P. Murray, introducing his fascinating exploration into the history of the library. With the dawning of advanced civilization, the written word flourished and the need for libraries became paramount in many societies.

Throughout the history of the world, libraries have been constructed, burned, discovered, raided, and cherished – while the treasures they housed evolved from early stone tablets, to beautifully illumined vellum, and to the mass-produced, bound paper books and the digital formats of our present day. The Library opens doors to the libraries of ancient Greece, early China, Renaissance England, and modern-day America. This volume speaks to the book lover in all of us while offering a panoramic view of the history of libraries across the centuries.

Book Review: My Ideal Bookshelf

bookshelfMy Ideal Bookshelf
Edited by Thessaly La Force
Art by Jane Mount
225 pages
Published 2012
Books/Libraries

So this is a bit of an odd, but fascinating, little book. In My Ideal Bookshelf, just over a hundred people were asked what was on their ideal bookshelf. I didn’t recognize a lot of the people interviewed, but I did see a few. James Patterson, David Sedaris, Alice Waters, Tony Hawk, James Franco, these were all people that I knew. Even the people that I didn’t know had interesting books and interesting things to say about them, though. Each person has a two page spread – one page is an illustration of their ideal bookshelf, and one page is an excerpt from their interview talking about why those books. There’s almost a voyeuristic pleasure in reading this book. (I can’t be the only one that always peruses my friends’ bookshelves when I go their houses, right?)

I find myself getting both inspired and depressed by books like this – books about good books. Depressed in that there’s so many things I haven’t read! I haven’t read Nobokov, or Lolita, or Austen’s Emma. The only Steinbeck I’ve read was The Grapes of Wrath in high school. I’ve never read Hemingway or Frankenstein (though the latter will be getting rectified shortly). I haven’t read Dickens, or Tolstoy, or Pride and Prejudice (I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, does that count?) or To Kill a Mockingbird (another one that I’ll be reading soon). But inspired, at the same time, for the same reason. There are books that appear again and again in this book, like A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, or Lolita, or Nobokov. Books that make me think I should find them at the library to see what everyone is so excited about. I consider myself fairly well read – I love Shakespeare, Jane Eyre, Dracula, The Comte de Monte Cristo. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Anne of Green Gables; Heinlein, Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin. There’s still so much to read, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The very last page of the book is bookshelf with ten blank books on it. The book asks you to create your own ideal bookshelf and submit it to them via their website or Twitter with the hashtag #myidealbookshelf. They have an online template which I think I’ll be filling out, talking about here, and then submitting. So stay tuned for my Ideal Bookshelf!

From the inner cover of My Ideal Bookshelf:

The books that we choose to keep and display – let alone read – can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. In My Ideal Bookshelf, more than one hundred leading cultural figures, including writers Chuck Klosterman, Mary Karr, Junot Dias, and Jonathan Lethem, musicians Patti Smith and Thurston Moore, chefs and food writers Alice Waters and Mark Bittman, Hollywood figures Judd Apatow and James Franco, and fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, share the books that matter to them most – books that define their dreams and ambitions and in many cases helped them find their way in the world. 

Jane Mount’s original paintings of the colorful and delightful book spines and occasional objets d’art from the contributors’ personal bookshelves showcase the selections. Each painting is accompanied by a short first-person essay drawn from interviews with Thessaly La Force that touch on everything from the choice of books to becoming a writer to surprising sources of inspiration.