Interior life, faith, neighbors, 1812

Books Of The Region

March 18, 2001|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Special to the Sun

The good short story often feels like a whole novel, minus all that talking. An Ivy Goodman short story collection feels a bit like the latest fiction issue of the New Yorker, plus more focus.

Previous stories by Goodman, who lives in Ellicott City, were collected as "Heart Failure"; her way with words, her momentum, made a noticeable ripple. Now the 16 stories in "A Chapter From Her Upbringing" (Carnegie Mellon, 223 pages, $15.95 softbound) will make a splash. Ivy Goodman is going places.

Her people are contemporary; married, with children; often, divorced; diverse as to jobs, schooling, race, generation and national origin. They have cross purposes. An office worker is fired; a physician has been incapacitated in a car crash; a child has died. Sometimes, a person's word or action gives deliberate hurt. Why? Answers lie elsewhere in the story.

Goodman is ever alert to both -- the material world and the interior life. Now she depicts a painter doing variations in a subject's smile; now a mother alone in a cemetery. A woman reading her way through this book could wonder whether the next story in it will be including her.

In his will, Johns Hopkins provided for a secular university and (founded 16 years later) hospital. During that interval, his board of trustees caved in to the pressures of a conformist age; the hospital was soon home to a religious statue -- 10 1/2 feet tall and weighing 6 tons -- an imagined, not-very-Jewish Jesus. Ever since, occasional visitors, patients and medical personnel have prayed there, or set flowers and thank-you notes at its base, or rubbed a marble toe.

In their introduction to "Here Is My Hope" (Doubleday, 248 pages, $23.95), Randi Henderson and Richard Marek declare that the old dichotomy between religion and science is narrowing, that by now nearly one half of all medical schools teach courses that include religion and spirituality. Their book, subtitled "Inspirational Stories From the Johns Hopkins Hospital," is an assembly of case histories in which people of the Christian faith came away feeling better if they weren't themselves victim to illness or injury; at least they cared about these patients.

Several of these 10 stories are familiar from newspaper coverage: the sufferer from pancreatic cancer at age 8, the cardiac surgeon who bypasses protocol to assist in an operation on his own father, the baby with MIDAS syndrome, the 10-year-old epileptic whose chance for relief hangs on the removal of half his brain. Henderson, formerly a Sun feature writer, and Marek, a novelist and bookman, impart clarity and immediacy to every one of these narratives.

Three done, four still to go: the book series describing a seven-part Baltimore now counts North, West and Northwest as published. That leaves the sponsors, who are the city government and the University of Baltimore, with Northeast, East, Central and South still on their agenda.

Roderick N. Ryon of Towson University has written two: West Baltimore and now "Northwest Baltimore and Its Neighborhoods, 1870-1970" (215 pages, $19.95, softbound). The series, with maps and photos, and edited by D. Randall Beirne, inspects terrain, housing, transportation, life in general. Northwest is subdivided into 52 neighborhoods, no less (Langston Hughes, Glen, Concerned Citizens of Forest Park), and Ryon seems able to visualize practically every one of those hundreds of street blocks.

Much is gone: Gentlemens Driving Park, Highland Park Hotel, the Reisterstown Road toll house in Park Circle. Much, in the so-called second-hand suburbs, amazes: stonework from Barnum's City Hotel downtown, torn down in 1899, that is still in use in Mondawmin houses; the prevalence of avenues, because developers thought streets suggest crowding; Roger B. Taney's summer estate, Roseside, now part of the Coppin State College campus. Say what you will about Northwest, it contains the only Baltimore house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Over the years, there has been a plethora of books about the sack of Washington, the repulse at Baltimore -- 1814 and all that. Notwithstanding, Christopher T. George bravely set out to redo the local aspects, and the news is that his "Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay" (White Mane, 213 pages, $39.95) must be considered that topic's best single-volume treatment yet.

Himself a native Briton and naturalized Baltimorean, George has mined the archives, tramped the sites, arranged for good maps. In County Down, a decade ago, IRA graffiti had been painted on the gravestone of Maj. Gen. Robert Ross, killed at North Point.

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