Winter Reads

The sights are great, world travelers report. But, they insist, you only really get to know a place through its people.
    All around us are people who are the keepers of untold treasure.
    Untold until you scratch the surface. Then you find yourself in the company of people who’ve recorded history being made, and people who’ve delved into the past to recover history made long ago. People who know more than anybody else in the world about this or about that.
    People who can’t bear to leave their treasures forever untold. To reveal their treasures, they write books.
    Each year, I collect a chest full of such treasures, books that authors and publishers have sent me in hopes of finding eyes to see what they’ve seen and ink to proclaim its worth.
    On this rather random list, you may — or may not — find the best books of 2011. But you’ll certainly find wonders, with gems among them.
    “I am especially fond of Dr. Gouin’s essay collection,” writes reviewer Margaret Tearman. “Much like Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, it promises me as much fun learning about composting as I found learning the proper way to chop an onion.”
    We bring these books to you in hopes you’ll enjoy them yourself or share them with friends as holiday gifts.
    Find these books in online bookstores (in paper and sometimes eformats) or as specifically noted.

     –Sandra Olivetti Martin, Bay Weekly Editor


Annapolis, City on the Severn: a History

by Jane McWilliams. $44.95: 478 pages; hardcover

Historian Jane McWilliams’ career has been devoted to study, research and writing about the city that belongs in many ways to every citizen throughout Maryland. For more than a decade, she has been interviewing hundreds of experts on Annapolis and researching perhaps every document, article and book ever written about the city. Annapolis: City on the Severn is the delightful, engaging and masterful result.
    Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, was encamped with 1,200 troops for three weeks during the Revolutionary War in Annapolis. Did you know that after the war, Lafayette and George Washington met for the very last time in 1784 in Annapolis? They parted company while riding in their carriages out West Street. Lafayette traveled north on what is now Generals Highway toward Baltimore, while Washington turned left to head home to Virginia. He probably went down either Spa Road on his usual route to the South River ferry or down what’s now Defense Highway toward Bladensburg and Alexandria.
    Did you know that John Snowden, an African-American Annapolitan accused of murdering a pregnant white woman, was wrongfully convicted and hanged in the jail yard on Calvert Street on February 28, 1919? Three days later, an anonymous writer confessed to the crime in The Evening Capital. Eighty-two years later, Snowden was pardoned by Gov. Parris Glendening.
    Did you know that the Anne Arundel County Public Library began in 1921 on the second floor of City Hall? The library was in Reynolds Tavern from 1936 until the new library opened in 1965 at 1410 West Street, with Esther King as librarian from 1937 through 1971. The Library Board of Trustees opened and operated a branch for African Americans in College Creek Terrace on Clay Street in 1940, with Librarian Eloise Richardson in charge. When the Clay Street branch closed in 1950, Richardson became children’s librarian at the library at Reynolds Tavern. Perhaps you knew Esther King or Eloise Richardson. If so, I’d love to hear from you.
    Annapolis: City on the Severn is a treasure. While reading this book over the past few weeks, I used two bookmarks. One marked my place learning the history of our hometown from 1649 to 1975. The other helped me keep track of the footnotes, which in themselves are extensive, interesting and instructive.
    Great color and black-and-white illustrations, historical maps showing Annapolis through the years and census tables covering the past two centuries’ growth from 2,213 to 40,102 in the year 2000 are all part of the work. Fourteen cemeteries in and around Annapolis are described in an appendix by St. Anne’s Cemetery Historian Emily Holland Peake. Finally, about 15 one-page contributions were written by historians, archivists and local leaders including longtime Maryland State Archivist Edward Papenfuse, Alderman Richard Israel, Naval Academy Professor Michael Parker, Historian and County Council Legislative Assistant Janice Hayes-Williams and former Mayor Ellen Moyer.
    Jane McWilliams has created a landmark work of scholarship, a comprehensive, interesting and very readable work destined to enlighten generations to come.

-Hampton ‘Skip’ Auld

Backroads and Byways of Maryland

by Leslie Atkins: $18.95: 217 pages; softcover.


Bay Weekly has sharpened your appetite. You want to immerse yourself, your family and your friends in Maryland culture and lore, stops and shops, seafood and sharks’ teeth, beaches and mountains, trails and railways, lighthouses and country inns.
    Lucky for you, Maryland is the latest state to enter the Countryman Press Backroads and Byways series. Each state guide in the multivolume series is written by a native who has the inside knowledge to steer you to such secrets as The Frying Pan in Lusby, a favorite stop for readers of Bay Weekly, and the Scottish Highland Creamery in Oxford.
    Leslie Atkins is your guide through Maryland on 18 backroads and byways trips, each unified by geography and history. She tells you how to get to each destination, what to see and where to stay, eat and drink.

     –Sandra Olivetti Martin


The Barns of Southern Maryland

by J.C. Sharp. $24.95: 141 pages; softcover.

Marylander J.C. Sharp fell in love with old barns after retiring from NSA. The first-time author traces the origin of the structure to passengers aboard the Ark and Dove, sailing from England in 1634 to St. Clements Island in St. Mary’s County.
    The first half of the book is devoted to history; the second to people. For Meet Your Neighbors, Sharp drove Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s back roads, searching out people connected to the barns. Through interviews with farm families and local historians, Sharp tells the stories of how barns stood at the center of farming life.
    Together with these interviews, archival photographs and pictures he snapped on his travels, Sharp illustrates the varieties of barn construction, design and use spanning some 300 years.
    Buy it for a local history buff or another lover of old barns.

     –Margaret Tearman

Believing in Horses

by Valerie Ormond. $11.95: 196 pages; softcover.

A girl’s horse story set in our place and our times, Believing in Horses has all the traditional elements: troubled girl and redemptive horse together fighting, and righting, big trouble in the world. Because it’s in our place, there’s politics, the press, even some real places, like Loftmar Stables. Because it’s in our time, there’s a dad deployed in Afghanistan, a family uprooted in Maryland and unwanted — until Sadie comes along — horses destined for auction and uncertain futures.
    Horse-lover Ormond, a naval intelligence officer, lives in Bowie.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

The Boater’s Weather Guide

by Margaret Williams: $12.99: 160 pages; softcover.
The venerable Cornell Maritime Press of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, publisher of all sorts of reliable books about the water for people who venture thereon, has been purchased by Schiffer Publishing and moved to Pennsylvania. Schiffer retains Cornell’s back catalogue and is putting out new editions apace, perhaps with not quite such discretion as its predecessor.
    Among them is this handy book, authored by Seattle-area sailor Margaret Williams. Williams’ excellent introduction explains that while we all live in weather, for boaters weather is a matter of living and dying, so they need take it more seriously than much of the rest of humanity. That said, she writes a book that’s a good explanation for all of us — here and there, boaters or landlubbers — about how weather works. Going can be a bit heavy in these technical waters, but the trip to understanding is worth it. Comparisons and tales make the going easier.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Canyon Chronicles

by Steve Carr. $17.50: 382 pages; softcover. Order at
Take soaring red cliffs, mysterious slot canyons, boiling whitewater, poisonous snakes, killer heat, blinding blizzards and raging flash floods.
    Add copious amounts of hallucinogenic drugs, unabashed amorous couplings and a devil-may-care shrug, and you’ve got the basics of The Canyon Chronicles, Annapolitan Steve Carr’s memoir of the three years he lived, worked and played on the edge of the Grand Canyon.
    Reading Carr’s book is like eavesdropping on a bunch of guys reliving their glory days. When the tales get too tall, you’re tempted to say enough. But instead you lean in so as not to miss any colorful detail.
    The book is not all Indiana Jones swagger. It is also the story of irresponsible forestry management and corporate greed run amok.
    A Bay Weekly columnist, Carr is a rollicking story teller. He entertains with his misadventures and writes with his characteristic what the hell, I did it attitude. This is a book about human foibles in a harsh and often unforgiving landscape, not natural history. Even so, Carr’s first-hand knowledge of the western environment is enough to give you a lesson in geography, history and geology of the Grand Canyon and surrounding area.

–Margaret Tearman

Chesapeake: The Aerial Photography of Cameron Davidson

Text by David Fahrenthold. $39.95: 152 pages; hardcover.
Unless you’re a pilot, you’ve not seen the Chesapeake the way Cameron Davidson has. The glances most of us catch, fleetingly out an airplane window, this pro — who shoots for the likes of National Geographic and Vanity Fair — has perfected. The doing took 20 years, agile helicopters or Cessnas, and skilled pilots.
    “The aerial platform became the perfect vehicle to combine my love of graphic patterns and the grand landscape,” says Davidson. Even when you recognize what you’re seeing — the Bay Bridge, a Baltimore city scape, the capitol, a tanker or the snake of a river — you’re looking past the thing to the patterns made by shape and color. Captions are minimal, so you can read your own story into the photos.
    David Fahrenthold, for five years environmental reporter for The Washington Post, introduces each of the three geographic sections — Upper, Middle and Lower Bay — with blessed brevity so the same old story doesn’t get in the way of seeing clearly.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Crab Decks & Tiki Bars of the Chesapeake Bay

by Bill and Susan Elnicki Wade. $15 + $1 postage: 368 pages; softcover. Order
As a Chesapeake resident, you ought to know all the crab houses and tiki bars worth visiting in not only your neighborhood but also your county.
    But to be ready to pull into one no matter where you are in Maryland or Virginia, you might need a little help. If so, Washingtonians Bill and Susan Elnicki Wade have written the book for you. They’ve made a mission of locating and sampling waterside restaurants that serve crabs and other Bay specialties. This is clearly a labor of love; the Wades extended their visits beyond crab houses, those institutions of Chesapeake culture, to icons of more modern culture, tiki bars. Each of the 158, organized by region, gets a nicely laid-out two-page profile, including a bit of a story plus such practical info as operating season and hours, latitude and longitude and dockage. A cute Atmosphere Meter ranks 10 degrees from cold-beer casual to dry-martini formal. This book is the gift for friends you want to envy your quality of life in Chesapeake Country.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Death in the Polka Dot Shoes

by Marlin Fitzwater. 293 pages. $14.95 softcover; $6.59 eBook
Run into Marlin Fitzwater in Deale at Happy Harbor or sitting with early-morning-coffee buddies outside 7-Eleven, and you’d have no idea this Marlin is the same who Called the Briefing for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
    After that, Fitzwater made a sharp east turn, settling on the shores of the Chesapeake in the village of Deale, which appears as Parkers, the name of a local creek, in his fourth and newest book Death in the Polka Dot Shoes.
    Death in and the two books before it have been fiction, almost. Why not? In his years as spokesman for presidents, Fitzwater surely had seen truth far stranger than fiction, had measured the elasticity in the band that divides — or unites — the two.
    Death in the Polka Dot Shoes recycles the real-life tragedy of an Ocean City fisherman, dragged from his boat to his death when his hands became entangled in his fishing line.
    The bigger truth in this book is Fitzwater’s true picture, and homage, to the community of his retirement. Like the protagonist of the story, Fitzwater himself not only moved to South County but also made it home. He seeped himself in its culture, crossing the line from watching as a bemused outsider to understanding with empathy the people who are of this place and time.
    The tender accuracy of Fitzwater’s portrayal of a culture and people under stress is one of the best things about this novel.
    You’ll enjoy Death in the Polka Dot Shoes for its stories, as well. The suspense driving the book is the unraveling mystery of Jimmy Shannon’s death, presumably by tuna. The human story is the transformation of brother Ned, the protagonist, from D.C. attorney to small-town lawyer and waterman. And yarns abound, as Fitzwater can’t resist giving — or borrowing — weird and fascinating back stories to such walk-on characters as Harve and Catsoup.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

1812: The Navy’s War

by George C. Daughan. $32.50: 491 pages; hardcover
Even with the bicentennial of the War of 1812 dawning, we can’t agree with Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley that “Every American should read George C. Daughan’s riveting 1812.” But maritime historians certainly should. For them the award-winning naval historian’s tens of thousands of words tell an astounding story of how a ragtag team of American commanders, seamen and privateers took on — and bested — the most powerful navy in the World. Daughan’s canvas stretches from the Great Lakes to the Chesapeake to New Orleans to the Mediterranean.
    If you buy this book, you’ll also want Ralph Eshelman’s Travel Guide to the War of 1812.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Enough Said! A Guide to Gardening through the Seasons

by Dr. Francis R. Gouin. $20. 250 pages; spiral bound. Order from the Annapolis Horticultural Society: [email protected].
You can almost smell the dirt — as in warm earth — in this collection of 125 essays written by Bay Weekly’s own Bay Gardener, Dr. Francis Gouin for the Annapolis Horticultural Society newsletter, and lovingly edited by pros: Gail Carter, Annetta Kushner and Judy Thompson
    Organized by seasons, beginning with winter, the book is filled with lessons delivered in Dr. G’s familiar dry wit, such as, “Whatever you do, don’t buy dead plants at half price.”
    Written over 13 years, the essays are packed full of the same expert practical advice you read each week in Bay Weekly: how to make sterile potting soil, what are the best tools for the job, how to keep your garden growing through deluges and droughts, how to compost, how to feed, how to grow blueberries, which mulches to avoid, when to prune, how to defeat weeds or what to do this fall in your garden … the list is long.
    Dr. Gouin unravels the mysteries of trace minerals, soil science and pruning, debunks the value of anti-desiccants, delves into topics from azaleas to onions, starting seeds to soil testing, composting to pruning. Practical and easy to use with its comb-bound pages, attractive illustrations and charming photographs, the guide is informative and entertaining, the perfect reference for the beginning, intermediate and even advanced gardener.
    $10 of your purchase endows the Francis R. Gouin Undergraduate Horticulture Research Grant at the University of Maryland.

–Margaret Tearman

Farming in Anne Arundel County

by Frederick H. Doepkens. $21.99: 128 pages; softcover.
Pictures worth thousands of words are what you get in Farming in Anne Arundel County, the newest local picture album in Arcadia Publishing’s catalogue of 7,500 volumes of local history. Author Frederick Doepkens — an Anne Arundel farm boy who grew up to teach agricultural science in Baltimore County public schools for three decades — has collected and captioned hundreds of pictures to tell his story. Black-and-white snapshots and carefully made photos by the likes of A. Aubrey Bodine cover the 20th century and spill into the 21st. The grainy photos, typically printed two to a page, are augmented by captions under 100 words that identify people, place and practice. Tobacco Farming is the largest of the seven sections, which include truck farming, livestock and dairy, grain and forage crops and horticulture and nursery crops.
    Open it up, and you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Me and Snack McGhee

by Peter E. Abresch. $15.95: 434 pages; softcover. Inscribed copies $17 (postage included) at Side Walk Books, Box 548 Prince Frederick, MD 20678.
A fun light-hearted mystery with lots of amusing dialogue, Me and Snack McGhee will be especially popular for readers familiar with Southern Maryland, as much of it takes place in and around Calvert County, home of the author, a self-publishing writer of local-history mysteries and the how-to writing book Easy Reading Writing. The hero of Me and Snack McGhee, Chance Dugan, was introduced in Abresch’s earlier If They Ask for a Hand, Only Give Them a Finger. Dugan lives on a dilapidated boat on Back Creek and gets pulled into one odd situation after another. If you like it, you can keep reading: Abresch has seven other books for you, many set in Elderhostel.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

The Story Within: New Insights and Inspiration for Writers

by Laura Oliver: $13.95: 246 pages; softcover.
Here’s a book you — or the aspiring writer on your gift list — need to turn your own stories into books. Oliver, who teaches both fiction and nonfiction at St. John’s College, has packed her experience into an artful guide that’s more convenient and cheaper than enrolling in her classes.
    Two of the four sections — Getting Started and Caring for the Writer — tell you how to be a writer. They are the smaller parts of the book, which is good, for as she explains, showing is better than telling.
    The other two — Skills of the Craft and Continuing the Journey into the World — show you how to write. Plenty of examples from all sorts of writers, living and dead, help make each point.
    “Packed with new ideas and deeply engaging, The Story Within inspires, instructs and entertains,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning former Baltimore Sun reporter Jon Franklin.
    I agree and recommend it to all Bay Weekly writers as well as readers.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Tidewater: The Chesapeake Bay in Photographs

by Stephen R. Brown. $24.95: 112 pages; softcover.
A second book of Chesapeake photography, Tidewater is an intimate album, composed of the scenes the Bay gives you everyday — if you open your eyes to receive them. Brown, a professional photographer and writer, caught most of these images while sailing his 32-foot Bristol, L’Escargot. But a few are aerials, taken from plane or atop L’Escargot’s mast. Subdivisions of Eastern and Western shores make you suspect he’s organized his book as we would: to record sights caught on our favorite journeys. Big vistas and sharp details keep you sharp-eyed from changing your focal length — and satisfied.
    Meet Brown and see his images at a reception at Annapolis Maritime Museum on Friday, January 27, from 5:30 to 7:30pm. Photos from the book hang at the museum thru February.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

A Travel Guide to the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: Eighteen Tours in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia

by Ralph E. Eshelman: $24.95: 275 pages; softcover.
No matter how good the book, reading the history of the War of 1812 is such a big job it will put you — or parts of your anatomy — to sleep. This book will wake you up and take you out into the world to see for yourself the places in Chesapeake Country you — or the War of 1812 devotee on your shopping list — is reading about in 1812: The Navy’s War.
    Eshelman, the first director of the Calvert Marine Museum, is not only a historian but also a local historian. So he’s alert to the realities of the journeys he sends you on, showing you exactly where and how to go, what to see and why it’s worth your while. Maps and timelines accompany each of his tours.
    Just as Eshelman is a good and caring guide, attentive to your comfort and pleasure, he is also a splendid writer, bringing his story alive on the page as well as in the landscape. He sets the stage and brings on real people to relate the action. Thus a 15-year-old Royal Navy midshipman aboard the frigate Hebrus reports that the British fleet proceeded, with a fair wind, under all sail, up the lovely and romantic river of the Patuxent, whose verdant and picturesque banks attested to the spectator of this rural scene how bountiful had Nature been in her gifts to this favoured country.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Traveling the World for National Geographic

by Tom and Lynn Abercrombie. $60: 352 pages; hardcover.
This big heavy book sits well on coffee tables, but it tells too good a story to let it lie.
    Its author, Lynn Abercrombie, is now a graceful lady of 82 living in retirement in West River. Don’t be fooled by appearances. For 38 years, she lived the high adventures we read about in National Geographic. Indeed, she lived — and photographed — the very stories.
    Traveling the World for National Geographic recounts in first person the stories behind the stories.
    Abercrombie traveled, never easily or conveniently, from the deserts of Saudi Arabia to the jungles of Venezuela, and from the white sands of the Fiji Islands to the Baltic Sea. She saw wonders, braved dangers and endured daily discomfort.
    Even better, Lynn shared those years of adventure with her husband.
    “When we’d get in hot water or some horrible situation,” she says. “Tom would say so this is living it up! But it was still better than housework.”
    In the early year of the Abercrombie partnership, Tom got the credit. But both the high school sweethearts were photographers. Lynn and often their two children joined on many of the adventures.
    Adventuring together each had access the other lacked. Tom was bold, willing to talk or walk his way into anything — “He was crazy. If there wasn’t the way to do it, he’d find the way to do it,” Lynn said. Lynn could win the confidence and take the pictures of women and children. As Tom veered into writing, Lynn took on more shooting.
    Just so, Tom — who died in 2006 — began the story of their daring, charmed, talented and lucky lives, and Lynn finished it.
    Photos of the Abercrombies’ travels are on exhibit in Annapolis City Hall into the new year, during business hours.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin