A refreshing view of the Shore

BOOKS & AUTHORS

October 25, 1992|By James H. Bready

To a proper Eastern Shoreman, the book that really, truly understands his setting will of course be the work of someone with many unbroken ancestral generations of Shoremen. And John R. Wennersten? He has spent only a couple of decades there. So it is for an outlander to point out that his new book, "Maryland's Eastern Shore" (Tidewater, $23.95), is, by considerable, the best book yet published on that subject.

Here it all is, from the Elk River to the Virginia line. The author, an American history professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, has the Shore's past down cold. Its population origins include not just slaves and indentured servants but thousands of Colonial-era English convicts.

Mr. Wennersten is even more interested in its present, from sea duck shooting to crawfish aquaculture, from domestic millionaires (Frank Perdue) to imported (Talbot's Gold Coast, name by name). He remains levelheaded when relating the Shore's ugly record in race relations, when picturing the vacation meccas of St. Teeks (St. Michaels and its antiques and boutiques) and Ocean City ("where people hustle the outsiders and each other"), when recording Sophie Kerr's "intense love-hate relationship" with the Shore. He is quietly lyrical about the Shore's open spaces, waters, wildlife, spirit of community, "rough unfettered individualism" and prospects for the continued good life after the rest of Maryland -- all but the mountains -- urbanizes.

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The nomination of Robert Stone as one of five finalists in the National Book Awards lengthens the impressive list of Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars faculty members in this $10,000 annual competition. John Barth and Stephen Dixon are among previous winners or finalists. Mr. Stone (named this time for "Outerbridge Reach") was a 1975 winner and 1982 finalist. He'll begin teaching at Hopkins in the spring.

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TB

Sophy Burnham's stature grows. This former Baltimorean (Penny

Doub, then) made her mark with books on social observation ("The Landed Gentry," "The Art Crowd"), dramas for stage and broadcasting and, in 1990, "A Book of Angels," which assembled "true stories of how they touch our lives." Now she has written a novel of arresting religious experience, "Revelations" (Ballantine, $20).

An Episcopal clergyman, ill at ease in a socially rigid parish in 1950s Virginia, has an encounter with the divine -- and must pay for it. No angels here to "bridge the gap between the human and the heavenly"; people, rather, and they answer mostly to themselves. Mrs. Burnham (who sometimes assists with services Washington National Cathedral) advances in her understanding of that other realm.

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Things keep happening to Susan White-Bowden. She turns 50, she narrowly avoids apoplexy, she is fired from a radio job. Does this veteran broadcasting host let it get her down?

She turns to the keyboard and, in the same open-handed style as in her earlier books, "Everything to Live For" and "From a Healing Heart," this time writes "Moonbeams Come at Dark Times" (Gateway, $9.95 paper). A career is great, she intimates, but other things in life can be as great or greater.

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Chatter: The game is ever afoot: The Six Napoleons and the Carlton Club, local scions of the Baker Street Irregulars, are putting on their 13th Sherlock Holmes Weekend, Nov. 14 and 15 in Pratt Library's Wheeler Auditorium. . . . Robert J. Jones discusses his new book, "In Praise of Common Things: Lizette Woodworth Reese Revisited" (Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn., $42.95), Nov. 8 at Baltimore County Historical Society, 1-3 p.m. . . . Alumnae news: former Baltimoreans Kathy Neustadt -- "Clambake: A History and Celebration of an American Tradition" (University of Massachusetts Press, $14.95 paper) -- and Natalie Shivers -- "Walls and Molding: How to Care for Old and Historic Wood and Plaster" (National Trust for Historic Preservation, $14.95 paper) -- have books out.

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