2 new books can help you enjoy Baltimore

June 20, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

Many times my enjoyment of another city has been heightened by a reliable guide book.

And now there's a new guidebook that provides another way to see Baltimore.

The book's author tells you to forget your car, and wear sensible shoes. Light clothing and dark glasses are also advised in this season of heat and humidity.

The new guidebook is "Walking in Baltimore, an intimate guide to the Old City," by Bolton Hill resident Frank R. Shivers Jr. The 316-page book sells for $16.95.

Here is a book that explains Baltimore beyond the National Aquarium and Harborplace, a work that rounds up information that's been hidden away in file drawers and conveniently packs it into a paper-bound volume.

You won't be cheated for sheer bulk of fact and data on these tours. I can imagine the author clipping and filing mountains of newspaper stories written about Baltimore. Then, after his pile hit the dangerous level of falling over or catching fire, he collated all this material so that we won't have to do it on our own.

The book suggests 12 self-conducted walking tours, beginning with an Inner Harbor-Federal Hill jaunt and ending with the author's home turf, Bolton Hill. In between are routes through Little Italy, Mount Vernon Place and Canton. Many of these treks are complete tours. Give yourself plenty of time.

And if you don't feel like walking, you can read the book on its own merits. Shivers has read shelves' full of commentary about Baltimore, which he has boiled down and quoted liberally throughout the text.

One of the quotes is from Christina Stead's 1930 novel, "The Man Who Loved Children" -- "Baltimore is multifarious, has the attractive dirt of a fishing town, the nightmare horizons of a great industrial town; it is very old, sordid, traditional, and proud."

Shivers cites New York Times columnist Russell Baker: "Baltimore is permissiveness. The pleasures of the flesh, the table, the bottle, and the purse are tolerated with a civilized understanding."

The guidebook is respectful. It puts the city in a good light. This is not a down-and-dirty commentary on the Big B. Read this book for a traditional, unemotional version of Baltimore's history and explanation of some of its neighborhoods.

And remember, this is a walking tour. While there is a cursory list of shops and restaurants, this book is not really interested in places to get great meals. You'll have to get that information from other sources.

And while the book is well illustrated, I wish the publisher (Johns Hopkins University Press) had gone the extra distance to grace this book with superlative photos and the knock-out color plates that some of the newer generation of guide books employ. Baltimore merits the better treatment.

Another new book is by Herbert H. Harwood Jr., the dean of Baltimore's rail historians. "Baltimore's Light Rail, Then and Now," is a 96-page explanation of the transit system that connects the hills of Baltimore County with the sandy soil and holly trees of Glen Burnie.

Can a book about trains be funny, caustic and telling? It can if Herb Harwood wrote it.

Harwood, a former B&O-CSX executive, spins the light rail story with wit and occasional sarcasm, qualities not often found in the literature of railroad prose.

The light rail streetcar system in operation today was created from two former conventional railroads, the Northern Central division of the Pennsylvania and the Annapolis Short Line, variously known by other names [B&A or WB&A].

If light rail's ancestry seems complicated, this is the book that explains it all. It's a bonus to find many beautifully printed photographs.

It is not often that a piece of railroad engineering is accorded such a thorough and readable tribute. The book also gives us considerable information about the neighborhoods the rail lines have served: Ruxton, Riderwood, Woodberry, Ferndale, Glen Burnie.

The book, at a cost of $15.95, is published by Quadrant Press, 19 W. 44th St., New York, N.Y. 10036. Some local book stores carry it.

Try the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, 1900 Falls Road, or the B&O Museum, Pratt and Poppleton streets, west of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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