On the Courthouse Lawn (Beacon)
A professor at the University of Maryland's School of Law, Ifill accomplishes two things with this important book, which focuses on the legacy of lynching on Maryland's Eastern Shore and throughout the South. First, she quashes the myth that most lynchings were committed, out of sight, by a few vigilantes. To the contrary, she shows that lynchings were often held in public spaces (like courthouse lawns) and witnessed by hundreds and, sometimes, thousands of people. Ifill goes on to note how the black and white communities recall (or choose not to recall) such events, citing great disparities between the two. In the second half of the book, she suggests a reconciliation process to heal that rift. Anyone interested in contemporary race relations will find Ifill's book fascinating. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who claims to not be interested.
Corrections To My Memoirs: Collected Stories (MacAdam/Cage)
Kun dedicates this collection of short stories to "all of my friends in Baltimore. And a few of my enemies." Baltimore has, indeed, been kind to Kun, who graduated from Hopkins before heading out to L.A. to practice law. City Paper serialized one of Kun's early novels in 1993, and The Urbanitefirst published this collection's title story. Like the other 21 selections, the title piece showcases Kun's wit, which is rooted in self-reflection, along with his ability to poke fun—sometimes gently, sometimes not—at himself and others. In this case, he sets his sights on memoirists with an elastic sense of the truth, by listing corrections to a fictional memoir. Using talking points that could have been written by James Frey's publicist—Corrections' cover is a sly allusion to Frey's bestseller—Kun's memoirist claims "poetic license" and condescendingly explains that it "applies to all writers, not just poets, as the name wrongly applies." His corrections include changing "Harvard" to "Hartford," "University" to "Technical School," and "medical" to "refrigeration." Among other things, he also 'fesses up to not starring in Woody Allen's 2004 film Melinda and Melinda—"Not that anyone would know," he adds—and not having a Golden Retriever named Pajamas who died in the middle of the night because of his parents' shameful neglect. He notes that Pajamas was actually a goldfish, "but everything else about him is entirely accurate except for the description of his burial, which I'm sure the reader will understand." Such writing should expand Kun's readership here, and everywhere else.
Blaster Al Ackerman
Corn & Smoke (Shattered Wig)
A Baltimore treasure, Ackerman never ceases to surprise his readers with each book and short story—and even each paragraph and sentence. One never knows what's lurking around the next turn of phrase, as Ackerman's nuanced wit wanders through surrealistic imaginings and outrageous scenarios. A lesser man might come across as little more than an acid casualty with a knack for humor, but Ackerman filters everything through a detached, seen-it-all-twice persona that underscores his work with winking wisdom.