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: 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.

Book Review: Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian

dispatchesQuiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian
by Scott Douglas
330 pages
Published 2008
Memoir

“You catch a guy on a computer jacking off, just get a librarian – don’t try and handle it yourself.” That was the first thing Faren, the library manager, said to me on my first day of work.
I was a library page.

The opening lines of this book caught my attention immediately. I’ve always loved libraries, and have recently applied for a library page position at my local library. Until reading this book, I (perhaps naively) thought that would only mean shelving books. Quiet, Please is a look inside a public library – a peek at the quirky patrons, from the seniors having trouble with computerized book catalogs to the homeless who spend all day every day inside those walls to the teenagers hacking the library computers to look at porn. Douglas points out the eccentricities of librarians – people he thought knew everything about books until he actually began to WORK with them and found that many of them rarely even read. He tells us all of this in the engrossing style of your favorite uncle’s college stories – exaggerated, full of digressions, and sometimes only barely based on a kernel of truth.

One thing I found a little jarring – the opening lines of the book mention a patron using a computer on his first day of work. Yet, a chapter later, he’s describing the day the computers arrived at the library. So did he start before the computers were in the library or after? I don’t know, and that contradiction is one black mark on an otherwise remarkable book.

I had one other disagreement with Douglas; in the closing of the book, he states that libraries need to adjust to the way people are using libraries now, which I do agree with. But in his list of ways to adjust, he mentions organizing books by subject, like book stores do. When I was a child, I always thought this would be a good idea. If I was looking for Sci-fi/Fantasy books, why can’t I just go to the Sci-fi/Fantasy section and browse? As an adult, I see that this is a TERRIBLE idea. My local library arranges its fiction this way, and it’s incredibly hard to find anything I’m looking for. I know the author’s name – but whether it’s shelved in Science Fiction or Romance or Mystery or General Fiction….(they don’t have a Fantasy section, so they always get shelved elsewhere!) It wouldn’t be so bad if the catalog said “Fiction – Mystery” but instead the catalog always says Adult Fiction Stacks. Which could mean ANY of their categories. What baffles me a little bit about Douglas’ idea is that he also mentions non-fiction categories, and non-fiction is already categorized that way through the Dewey Decimal System. They might not be labeled, but they’re definitely arranged by subject. (Which brings up another beef I have with my library – if I want the catalog to display everything they have from Call Numbers 020 to 029, to find everything in library science and library studies, WHY CAN’T I?) /end rant

The book has not helped me decide whether I ultimately want to be a public librarian or a research/university librarian, which I am disappointed by. I thought it would help! His tales repel me a little bit – I want to be a librarian to work with books, not homeless people. But they also attract me – up until now, I’ve worked in retail and food service – heavily customer service oriented jobs. Public libraries seem to be an interesting mix of my past experiences plus what I hope to do. Ah, well. I have years of school ahead of me before I have to make that decision.

From the back of Quiet, Please:

“For most of us, librarians occupy a quiet, inconspicuous role as the occasional shushers behind the desk. But in QUIET, PLEASE, McSWEENEY’S contributor Scott Douglas takes these quirky caretakers of literature out from the safety of the stacks and places them front and center. With a keen eye for the absurd, and a Keseyesque cast of characters, Douglas delivers a revealing and often hilarious look into a familiar, innocuous setting that’s surprisingly anything but.

Witness the librarian who thinks Thomas Pynchon is Julia Roberts’s latest flame, the technician with a penchant for French pop, the patron who believes the government is canceling her print jobs, and the countless teenagers who know exactly where to shelve suggestions for further reading.

Punctuated by his own highly subjective research into library history – from Andrew Carnegie’s Gilded Age to today’s Afghanistan  – Douglas’s account offers insight into the past, present, and future of a social institution entering the digital age. And as his own library attempts to adapt and to redefine its place in the community at large, Douglas also finds himself searching for a place among the odd, exasperating, and desperately human lives around him. The result is a humorous and surprising take on the world of our literary public servants.”