Roundup / Local Interest

November 16, 2008|By Diane Scharper | Diane Scharper,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin

By Bill Kauffman

ISI Books / 202 pages / $25

After graduating with honors from the College of New Jersey, Luther Martin (1748-1846) took up law, married the daughter of a prominent Maryland frontier family and became one of the country's most successful lawyers. According to Bill Kauffman's biography, Martin was also a loquacious anti-Federalist sot whose ideas may have benefited the country - if people could have stayed awake long enough to listen to him. A delegate to the Constitutional Convention (1787), Martin opposed the U.S. Constitution. As Kauffman tells it in this entertaining though overwritten account, Martin liked brandy as much as he did the sound of his own voice. One fueled the other until alcoholism, old age, dementia and family tragedies got the best of him.

The Toss of a Lemon

By Padma Viswanathan

Harcourt / 640 pages / $26

Padma Viswanathan mines her family's past in this exquisite debut novel. The plot grew from stories told to Viswanathan by her grandmother. Beginning in India in 1892 with the marriage of 10-year-old Sivakami and ending in Canada in the 1960s, the story concerns the effects of arranged marriages, child brides, superstitions and Brahmin rituals. Viswanathan (Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, Master of Arts, 2004) changes names, invents history and shifts the point of view of her 600-page novel in the last four pages - ultimately breaking the rules of memoir and fiction. The effect is electrifying.

New Lines from The Old Line State

Edited by Allyson Peltier

MWA Books / 227 pages / $15.95

Lauren Beth Eisenberg's essay, "Fear to Freedom: Maturing as a Writer," offers these secrets of successful writing: care about your subject; explain why you care; make your reader care; and tell a story. The advice, which Eisenberg received from her former teacher, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Frank McCourt, is one of the gems in this debut anthology of fiction, memoir and poetry from the Maryland Writers' Association. Featuring 29 Maryland authors, the anthology contains some can't-be-missed work. These include Scott Frias' poem, "Four Memories of Fear," and Sherry Bosley's gripping literary essay, "Probable Cause."

Diane Scharper is the co-editor of the anthology "Reading Lips, and Other Ways to Cope with a Disability," winner of the first Helen Keller international memoir competition. She teaches English at Towson University.

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