In the Shadow of the Master
Edited by Michael Connelly
William Morrow / 389 pages / $24.95
For the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe's birth, the Mystery Writers of America have published this collection of 16 of Poe's best works with often-insightful commentary by well-known mystery writers. As editor Michael Connelly explains it, Poe's death in Baltimore in 1849 is shrouded in mystery, as is much of his literary output. Ill, incoherent and dressed in clothes that were not his, 40-year-old Poe could have been mistaken for several of the protagonists of his short stories. Poe's bad temper, excessive drinking and unpredictable nature would fit perfectly into the plots of narratives included here, like "The Black Cat," "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado." But Poe was much more than a reprobate. As Stephen King, Laura Lippman and others discuss their indebtedness to Poe, one realizes the extent of his greatness. Even literary giants like D.H. Lawrence, who admired Poe's impassioned probing of the human soul, fell under his sway.
The Nanticoke: Portrait of a Chesapeake River
By David Harp and Tom Horton
Johns Hopkins Press / 124 pages / $29.95
Although crabbers, fishermen and oystermen ply their trade on the Nanticoke, most of the river serves no purpose other than as a source of natural beauty. That's more than enough, according to former Baltimore Sun reporter Tom Horton and former Baltimore Sun photographer David Harp. The two have again collaborated on a book of prose and photographs dedicated to restoring and preserving a natural wonder. Part memoir of Horton's years growing up near the river and part travelogue - documented by more than 100 color photographs - the book is a paean to this chief river of Delaware and Maryland. Covering the history of the Nanticoke from its discovery 400 years ago by Capt. John Smith to the present, Horton and Harp offer an exquisite look at the people, plants and animals living on the river and its marshlands. If nothing else, they prove that beauty should be its own excuse for being.
The Glen Rock Book of the Dead
By Marion Winik
Counterpoint / 108 pages / $20
A collection of very short essays memorializing the dead, Marion Winik's latest was inspired by Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology. But instead of fiction, free verse and cynicism, Winik offers memoir, prose and warmth - expressed with precise evocative details. There's someone's pink house on the triangular lot at the corner of Catina and Mouton streets in New Orleans; the crystal pitcher peeking out of the sludge left by Hurricane Katrina; one emerald earring from a pair made by a long-ago friend. A professor at the University of Baltimore and a National Public Radio commentator, Winik writes mostly about those she has known peripherally, including her son's second-grade teacher and her mother's golf buddy. Reading about these ordinary people could be boring. But Winik is generally able to bring them alive despite the brevity of the essays.
Diane Scharper is co-editor of the anthology "Reading Lips, and Other Ways to Overcome a Disability," winner of the first Helen Keller international memoir competition. She teaches English at Towson University.