The new year's first big local book is "Aaron Sopher: Satirist of the American Condition," by Peter Hastings Falk (Sound View Press, Madison, Conn. 06443; $49). Many an author and editor have thought of publishing Sopher (1905-1972, in Baltimore; wife Antoinette, daughters Christina and Erika); Mr. Falk's work, with its art-book format and 593 reproductions, promises to be definitive.
"Sopher" applies an outsider's perspective to this intensely local, immensely prolific artist; the more impressive, for Mr. Falk to declare that "his fineline drawings . . . recorded every facet of daily life in America's cities." Sopher did have an early New York period, and he toured California, wide-eyed, in 1968. But in the main, he delineated Baltimore: Stafford Hotel (he once lived next door), Gayety Theater, Museum of Art (where a Sopher show is in progress), private parties, the nearby laundromat. Yet people peering over his shoulder at that sketch pad and inky thumb would mutter "Daumier," "George Grosz," "Rowlandson."
Mr. Falk profiles his subject with verve. The first recognition for many of that generation's foremost local artists (Sopher, at age 17) was as a prize winner in The Evening Sun editorial page's annual sketch contest. A friend recalls "the distinctive brownish wash" Sopher achieved by finger-dipping in his coffee. Mr. Falk includes some of Sopher's writings.
Last year's big local art book was "Grace Hartigan, a Painter's World," by Robert Saltonstall Pattison (Hudson Hills Press, 230 Fifth Ave., New York 10001; $50), with 64 color reproductions. For 1992, are there an artist, an author and publisher, hop
ing to make it a trilogy?
Fourscore and seven years ago, downtown Baltimore went up in flames. The anniversary of Baltimore's greatest physical disaster, observed variously every Feb. 7 and 8 since 1904, this time has occasioned a new edition of Harold A. Williams' book, "Baltimore Afire" (Schneidereith & Sons, 2905 Whittington Ave., Baltimore 21230; $15.75 plus $2.50 handling).
"Baltimore Afire," with its many old photos, came out in 1954 as a 50th anniversary event and was republished with epilogue for the 75th anniversary. The 1991 version of this basic book for Baltimoreans is new in having paper covers. All told, 6,000-plus copies have been issued.
For the 10th birthday of Baltimore Writers' Alliance, members whooped it up last month at Towson University Club. The founding foremothers were present -- Josephine Gridley (the first president), Marie Forbes, Editha Grice, Sandy Jones -- and six of BWA's seven other heads. (One nice story: the president who wanted to double the dues, halve the number of meetings and work other changes. When the dust settled, he had quit.)
Speeches, prizes, tapings followed -- and always, writers' tales of glorious acceptances and dumb-headed rejections. Praise for BWA work went to George Drake, Bernie Francis, Eden Delcher, Eileen Tarcay, Mary Kearney, Ed Vojik, Chris Stude, Milton Bates, Anne Schwartz. Elisabeth Stevens, short-story writer and BWA member, is the next meeting's speaker: Feb. 13, Grace Methodist Church, 7:30 p.m.
"From Annapolis to the mouth of Baltimore-River you will have from 4 to 10 fathoms. . . . The best mark is the north point, a little open with a gap of woods on Sparrow's Point. . . . 3 fathoms water is the most you will have in this channel; soft bottom."
So wrote Capt. Lawrence Furlong in "The American Coast Pilot" (Newburyport, Mass., 1796), the coast's first non-British navigation guide. A great rarity, the first edition; last previously on public sale in 1938, by A. S. W. Rosenbach in Philadelphia.
The late Vernon D. Tate of Annapolis had a copy, which will go on the block Feb. 11, estimated to bring $1,000 to $2,000, at a periodic Baltimore Book Co. auction, at Towson Quality Inn, York Road and the Beltway, starting at 6:30 p.m.
"The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems" is a biennially published reference work due out next in August. That's much too far off for civilians and others fixated on the Persian Gulf.
What's-it-going-to-say-about questions have made the last few days a telephonic pain, at the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis.