Arts & Culture

Book Reviews: December 2014

The latest from John Dermot Woods, Edgar Allan Poe, and Amanda Petrusich.

The Baltimore Atrocities
John Dermot Woods (Coffee House Press)

This dark and deliberate novel works its way through more than 100 atrocities, all of them concise, tightly constructed tales of murder or malice each accompanied by an appropriately stark illustration. Woods, a Hopkins Writing Seminars grad, frames these pieces with a story of two men, each searching for an abducted sibling. Their investigations involve a degree of reflection, often on barstools, that gives the narrative a keen sense of place and a philosophical tone that helps it transcend being a mere catalog of loss. Chris Ware fans will relate to the deadpan delivery and sense of restraint. Edward Gorey fans will delight in the pageant of dreadful frights. Like those masters, Woods doesn’t build suspense so much as he creates ambiance infused with mystery and meaning.

See our Q&A with author John Dermot Woods.

Edgar Allan Poe: Stories & Poems (Illustrated by David Plunkert)
Edgar Allan Poe (Rockport Publishers)

This gorgeous volume is part of Rockport’s Classics Reimagined series, which pairs contemporary illustrators with works of literature such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Plunkert, co-founder of Hampden’s Spur Design studio, tackles Poe with the same gusto that characterizes his work for clients ranging from The New York Times to the Baltimore Theatre Project. Plunkert’s Dadaist sensibility injects new energy into Poe’s stories, as evocative collages and bold imagery activate key narrative elements or reflect the overall mood of a particular piece. His artwork allows for a fresh reading of these familiar stories, because it doesn’t shy from the aching humanity at their creative core. It serves as a reminder that these are, indeed, tales of mystery and imagination. David Plunkert will sign copies of his book at the B&O Railroad Museum on December 6 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Do Not Sell at Any Price
Amanda Petrusich (Scribner)

A few years back, I spent the day with legendary record collector Joe Bussard at his Frederick home. Bussard wanted to play some of his favorite 78s and asked me to give him a heads-up an hour before I had to leave so he could “start winding down.” Recalling that afternoon, I don’t know what was better—the pre-War country and blues songs Bussard played, or his head-bobbing, eye-bulging, arm-waving enthusiasm for each and every tune. Here, Petrusich captures the intensity of Bussard and other vinyl obsessives like him. Petrusich takes readers into their insular world, revels in their eccentricities, and, ultimately, honors their quest. By the end of the book, you fully understand why folks like Bussard prefer a basement full of records thick as pancakes to an iPhone loaded with mp3s. In fact, it just might inspire you to fetch that old turntable from the attic.