Calling all readers who have enjoyed recognizing Charm City landmarks in the novels of Anne Tyler – Matthew Norman’s entertaining new domestic comedy, “Last Couple Standing,” is Baltimore to the bone. While Tyler’s characters traditionally shop at Eddie’s on Roland Ave, Norman’s crowd has moved to the suburbs, so shop at Graul’s. But they frequently come into town for scenes at Bar Vasquez (where they reminisce about when it used to be Pazo), the Greene Turtle, Bond Street Social, Towsontown Mall, the Ivy Bookshop, the Under Armour store, the Senator Theatre, Tark’s, and more. And they don’t need a GPS to get around. “In the city, Falls Road is as congested and annoying as any other street in Baltimore. In the suburbs, though it opens up into a scenic highway through horse farms, like you’re time traveling.”
In the face of a bizarre disaster that has derailed daily life everywhere, in the face of isolation, fear, disappointment, and a constant flood of bad news, a spring-green fuse of creative energy is sizzling and popping all over the world. The memes and parodies, the YouTubes and TikToks, the Italians singing to each other from their balconies, the New Yorkers pounding pots at 7 pm. The Getty Museum art challenge, the family in London with their adorable rendition of Les Mis, the spandexed mom doing her Jane Fonda workout to I Will Survive. The Israeli woman in dark glasses ranting in Hebrew about online elementary school.
In the late 1980s, after struggling for years to write fiction and poetry, I stumbled on the possibilities of the personal essay. I was inspired and energized by the possibility of telling the truth about my life and experiences. It was a challenge to see how honest I could really be – how far I would go. There were things it seemed impossible to discuss in public. What the hell, I thought, and did it anyway. And once I did, I experienced the redemptive and sometimes thrilling powers of confession, which is what this essay celebrates. Later, after “Telling” became the title essay of my first collection from Random House, I experienced some of the less fun aspects of baring one’s life and soul, like being criticized for being exhibitionistic and seeking only to shock. Reading this essay 30-plus years later, I think I may in fact have gone a little overboard. Welcome to the “Oy Vey” edition of Telling, with illustrations.
In 2015, popular Baltimore novelist Jessica Anya Blau (The Trouble With Lexie, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, etc.) decided to try her hand at something completely different — ghostwriting. After working behind-the-scenes on a few books, including a bestselling memoir of child abuse and dysfunction, she was offered the opportunity to collaborate on a very different project – the memoir of a sorority girl from the University of Southern California who ended up working for the CIA and the FBI. An ex-spy named Tracy Walder, then a high school teacher in Dallas, was ready to tell her story.
Toward the end of winter break, my daughter Jane and I took a one-week trip to Sevilla, Spain, with a detour to another Andalusian all-star, Granada. In the olden days, I would have written a piece called Ten Reasons to Go To Sevilla or Thirty-Six Hours in Sevilla or What’s New in Sevilla for a newspaper or magazine travel section; unfortunately, here in 2020 both my freelance career and print-media travel sections have fallen on hard times. But you know me, I gotta write it down. And now it turns out, Jane’s gotta take pictures of it. And so the spunky little Ten Reasons story lives on, with about twice as many words as I would have had in the days of ink and paper.
I don’t know if I’m going soft in my old age or what, but I didn’t hate the holidays at all this year. From the morning I ran outside barefoot in my bathrobe to give the garbage men a twenty-dollar bill, it was just one sweet moment after another. Since my children don’t live here anymore, it was lovely to have a couple of them return. Jane helped me get the Christmas tree and Vince found Chanukah candles for 89 cents a box. Then I cooked their favorite dishes as they sat side by side on the couch joyously playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch. Hayes and Maria were in Ecuador with her family but showed up on Facetime at key moments.
It’s hard to do much better in describing Malka Older’s unusual new collection, “…and Other Disasters,” published by Baltimore-based Mason Jar Press, than sci-fi king Bruce Sterling, who commented that Older is like “a psychoanalyst in a planetary refugee camp.”
My neighbor Pam has three wild boys, and all have begged for years to get a dog. Particularly Rocco, the middle one, a born animal lover. But who will take care of this dog? asked Pam, knowing perfectly well who it would be. Sorry boys, no dog. It’s already too much around here.
In February 2019, about six months into my empty nest lifestyle, I realized how many more hours there are in a day when you live alone. I thought I might need a hobby. Since I already speak a little Spanish and have been wanting to improve, I signed up for online lessons at Berlitz.com.
The Baltimore Book Festival returns two months later than usual, now merged with Light City into a 10-day event called Brilliant Baltimore. Most of the book festival events take place over the first weekend, Friday, Nov. 1 to Sunday, Nov. 3, with a few evening events through Wednesday.
The location has changed–take a look at the map on the website before heading over. Almost all of the staged events and the book sales are in the Columbus Center, the big glass building on Pier 5. The CityLit stage is in the Pier 5 Hotel, and the exhibitors are still at tables encircling the harbor. The Children’s stage and the Comic Pavilion are over there too, in their traditional spots.