A milestone, a parakeet, a rebuke

Books of the Region

October 12, 2003|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Flannigan family, in Colby Rodowsky's new novel for school-agers, Not Quite a Stranger (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 181 pages, $16), is about to increase. Standing on their front porch, ringing the doorbell, is Zachary Pearce, 17. He was living with his mother in Ohio; her death puts him on a bus for Baltimore, with a letter to hand to his never-seen-before father.

Zach's parents, instead of marrying, had gone separate ways; the Flannigan household, unaware of Dad's one-night stand long ago, includes Dad, who has become a pediatrician, and his legal wife and their daughter and son.

Will the family accept Zach (who noticeably resembles Dad)? Does Zach even want to live with these TV-Cleaver people? The youngest talks too much; the daughter immediately resents the diversion of household attention to Zach; mother forever seeks material for her newspaper column - which centers on their home life. Yet temporary dysfunctioning doesn't have to be permanent, in a family of underlying decency.

With Stranger, Rodowsky can count 22 young-people novels, generally set in or near Baltimore and now uniformly published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Born here, graduated from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, Rodowsky has built a nationwide following; her name is a familiar sight on the American Library Association's annual Notable Books list. In some part, her insight and understanding come from observing her own six children, and now their children. But recall is also a factor: the "shaky marriage" of her own parents. For a tribute to Colby Fosset Rodowsky, the time is now.

Nathan Schnaper's field, during half a century at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was psychiatry and oncology. Because cancer often damages a patient's personality as well as his or her body, it helps to have on hand an M.D. who has eased the dying of previous victims. Now in retirement, a life-long Baltimorean (with time out for World War II), Professor Schnaper relives many a strong moment in his book, I Pay You to Listen, Not Talk (PublishAmerica, 254 pages, $21.95, softbound).

Schnaper (in general, suppressing names) harks back to surgeons so haughty they wouldn't tell the patient, or the family, what operation has just been performed. He was there, in the 1980s when the victims of AIDS began arriving. He elucidates a diagnosis of "anticipatory nausea" - when you throw up on the parking lot, before going into the hospital. He remembers R Adams Cowley, founder of the U.of M.'s pioneering Shock Trauma Center and "the most unforgettable person I have known." Schnaper salutes the parakeet that stopped him from cigarette-smoking.

Be aware - there's a lot of dying in these many stories, by individuals whom a reader will have begun to care about. Schnaper (who is good on euthanasia) appends the history of his own two major illnesses. Other physicians, other case histories; but not as vivid as these.

As Kenneth Lasson sees it, our universities and colleges are suffering from three excesses: the hundreds of law-review journals, as they pile up footnoted molehills into useless mountains, so the authors can get tenure (Lasson himself is a law professor at the University of Baltimore); radical feminism ("the radfems get mired in the multi-syllabic muck of over-intellectualization") and, worst of all, political correctness (PC) which has infected "the entire academic enterprise."

Lasson's thinking, research and writings (he apologizes for his own 493 footnotes, plus occasional boxes in the running text, many of them quite readable) are consolidated in Trembling in the Ivory Tower: Excesses in the Pursuit of Truth and Tenure (Bancroft, 250 pages, $22.95). His tone is frequently good-humored. But the phase of PC called multiculturalism gets him down, particularly in the "almost universal abandonment of required courses in history, philosophy, math and other disciplines" common to Western culture. Because its undergraduate catalog says "a strong and broadly-based education is essential," but meanwhile it mandates no "general Western or world civilization course," Lasson rebukes the University of Maryland.

George W. Bush & Co. have been right in expecting support from the plain people, but how careless of the White House cabal to overlook William Hughes.

Wave the flag, and Amurricans aplenty rally round. But some of them, dipping into Hughes' latest book, Saying No to the War Party (iUniverse, 210 pages, $18.95, softbound), may screech to a halt. Just how long will this Iraq mess drag on? At what overload to an already wobbly economy? And who will be quietly profiting from it?

Hughes is a master of epithet, quick to scoff at the "wild rantings" and "idiotic babblings" of top Chickenhawks and Neocons - by name. George Will? "An insufferable Tory." Back in 1991, when Queen Elizabeth II showed up at Memorial Stadium for part of an Oriole game, Hughes, as an Irish sympathizer, was among the bleacher spectators who stood and turned their backs on her.

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