Books of the region: birds, Baltimore

February 23, 1997|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's nice when a grueling but worthy endeavor finally wraps up; the more so, when hundreds of the region's birdwatchers spend thousands of hours in the field (or wetlands) on the lookout for nesting species. Between 1983 and 1987, this joint project of the Maryland Ornithological Society and the state's Department of Natural Resources split the Maryland-D.C. map into 1,262 blocks, 5 kilometers on a side, for a species count.

Earlier surveys simply logged sightings; i.e., birds many of which were passing through. Evidence of breeding is harder to come by.

In the end, 13 blocks - mountains, lower Shore - had 100 or more species. Most widespread: barn swallows (1,221 blocks).

The species total: 201.

All this is now on record in the impressive "Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Maryland and the District of Columbia," Chandler S. Robbins of Laurel, senior editor; Eirik A. T. Blom, project coordinator (University of Pittsburgh Press. 479 pages. $55. Oversize). The bulk of the atlas records the species, two pages to each, with narrative, map, charts.

Special honor is given to Hervey Brackbill, retired birder and Sun editor, 96 next month.

That nesting pair on the book's cover? Thrive, Oriole team!

Thirty of Josephine Jacobsen's previously published short stories comprise her fourth such compilation (Johns Hopkins University Press. 335 pages. $29.95), titled "What Goes Without Saying."

What goes without saying is, life pulses in these fine pages.

Govans is a place of landmarks, standing or departed: Senator and Rex theaters, Bel-vedere Square, Gallagher Mansion, Ulery's Govanstown Hotel (now Epiphany House), Branch 22 of Pratt Library, the summer estates of William T. Walters and Enoch Pratt, L. Greif & Bro. clothing factory, seven churches, the No. 8 carline. Yet the overriding feature is that stripe down its middle, called York Road.

Originally a 1755 land grant to William Govane, this became, for farmers coming to market, the last stopover before Baltimore. Then it was a suburb; then, one more city neighborhood. To arrest identity slippage, what better than a book, with text, maps, pictures: "Govans, Village and Suburb," by John Brain (Uptown Press, 96 pages. $15. Paper, oversize). With nine sets of individual recall, going back before 1914.

Brain, who has a feel for socio-economic conditions and forces, calls today's well-knit Govans "in many ways, a model community."

The best new book on Baltimore so far in this bicentennial year is Philip Kahn Jr.'s "Uncommon Threads: The Fabric of Baltimore Jewish Life" (Pecan Publishing. 304 pages. $19.95. Paper, oversize). Kahn himself is a lifelong Baltimorean, a retired businessman and a community activist; he portrays two local centuries against the whole backdrop of Jewish belief and circumstance.

Unlike earlier works, with their rollcalls of dignitaries, "Uncommon Threads" dwells on daily living and group involvements. Here is a pause inside South High Street Public Bath, long ago; there, at the Suburban Club golf course, "one of [Baltimore's] least challenging." Text and footnotes sparkle with gossipy detail.

Kahn is even-handed, as to the familiar rifts: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform (plus Reconstructionism, Hasidism, unaffiliated). He does stress early Centrals versus later-arrived Eastern Europeans, a distinction now lost on most Baltimore gentiles.

So much to remember: P.S. 61, P.S. 49, the Marlborough Apartments; the Phoenix Club and old Sinai Hospital; the move from East Baltimore to Northwest; Sondheim, Lewis, Levinson funeral parlors; the Torah's 613 moral laws; philanthropy, and the Associated; matzohs (for you, square or round?). To Philip Kahn (author of 1989's "A Stitch in Time: The Four Seasons of Baltimore's Needle Trades"), a fluid scene. Above all, a lively one.

To readers of movie reviews, with their rapid-fire, one-viewer verdicts on latest releases, the academic field of cinema studies can be forbidding. But if meaning and trends are there for the seeking in art, music, etc., so also in Hollywood and its outskirts. Fortunately, Thomas Cripps writes entertainingly, and has things say, in "Hollywood's High Noon: Moviemaking and Society Before Television" (Johns Hopkins University Press. 271 pages. $38.50; $13.95 paper).

His previous books on the movies' treatment of blacks have given Cripps, a faculty pillar at Morgan State University, high standing in cinema studies. Here, he eyes the one long, loud, semi-glorious generation of studio supremacy - before network TV.

Across a life of war service, far-ranging journalism and Harford County crop-farming, Mary H. Cadwalader has put her reflections, intermittently, into verse. A sampling, literate and forthright, is now out: "Occasional Poems" (Stockson Press. $5. Paper)

James H. Bready writes a monthly book column for The Sun. He previously worked as a reporter, editorial writer and book editor for The Evening Sun.

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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