One of my favorite ways to get to know a place is through literature set there, including guidebooks and travel pictorials, if they’re particularly well-written. I reluctantly moved to Baltimore from New York for a career change, but have found this funky, creative place an endearing new home. The following books helped me appreciate its quirkiness. Charm City, indeed.
by Anne Tyler
No list of Baltimore books would be complete with one of Anne Tyler's novels about ordinary people making it through life's extraordinary situations. Here, though, the characters are more complex, more diverse, and — all in all — just happier. Tyler's is an upper-class, shabby genteel Baltimore, like a rambling, priceless old Victorian without air conditioning in Roland Park or Mt. Washington.
by Laura Lippman
Another Baltimore staple author, mostly known for her Tess Monaghan series about a private investigator learning her trade, committing the occasional misstep while making the rounds of Baltimore’s classic restaurants and other notable attractions. She's a native Baltimorean in the gentrifying Fells Point, living upstairs from her Aunt Kitty’s store and near her Uncle Spike's bar: there’s more of the working class here than in Anne Tyler.
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A powerful story about an African-American boy whose father struggles mightily to get his sons over the "abyss," the teenage years when young black boys in Baltimore are devoured by drugs, guns, and premature fatherhood, to "Mecca," Howard University. The story, which takes place in the 1980s, the peak of Baltimore’s crack epidemic, is told in a poetic patois appropriate to the setting. Think Push by Sapphire (without the abuse) with a boy as the main character.
by Madison Smartt Bell
An inspiration for me, Madison Bell moved to Baltimore from elsewhere and made the place his own. This is his love poem to the city, neighborhood by neighborhood.
by Mike Strzelecki
I haven't yet had the opportunity to take my children to many of the places mentioned in this book, but I've been reading it just for fun. Strzelecki writes with humor and love about even the sketchiest parts of this crime-ridden city. Regarding Druid Hill Park, an area avoided by most law-abiding folk: "It’s worth mentioning that the urban decay being experienced by some communities adjacent to Druid Hill Park has caused a decrease in park use. I've always found Druid Hill Park to be safe and fun in daylight hours." Now there’s an optimist, and Baltimore needs them.
by Nancy Patz
A boy and his elephant walk to the store along Baltimore's streets reveling in some laugh-out-loud coinages: "Bumpernickel!" "Belly stickle!" "Mean Green Fleas!" This book does for the city what Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline does for Paris.
by Edward Eager, illustrated by N. M. Bodecker
One of Eager's wonderful magical series featuring four children who have adventures, this time based in Baltimore. A childhood favorite of mine — who knew that some day I'd call this quirky city my home?
Recommending books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. more...
About The Baltimore Bibliophile
The Baltimore Bibliophile is a longtime book publishing veteran who transplanted herself from Manhattan's Lower East Side to Baltimore. For all things Books + Baltimore, visit me online at the Baltimore chapter of Reading Local.
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