Finny (Random House)
The protagonist of this debut novel brings to mind the main character of Natalie Standiford's How to Say Goodbye in Robot, another fantastic coming-of-age story that's, coincidentally, penned by a native Baltimorean. Like Standiford's Bea, Finny forges a bond with a peculiar and big-hearted guy who profoundly deepens her concept of friendship and family. Both stories opt for nuance and complexity over cheap sentiment or tawdry romance, and they unfold at a blissfully measured pace. But the scope of Kramon's story is wider, following Finny over the course of 20 years, from her Northern Baltimore County home to boarding school in Boston, college, and the post-graduation period where she's struggling to find her place in the world. Kramon wisely includes a few memorable characters—including a narcoleptic pianist, a well-heeled heiress, and an eccentric dorm matron—that help us gauge Finny's emotional growth over that span. By book's end, she's found herself, and we've discovered a unique and memorable heroine. In a perfect world, film producers would be falling all over themselves trying to bring characters like Bea and Finny to the big screen.
Prejudices: The Complete Series (The Library of America)
In a recent review of this handsome, two-volume set of Mencken's opinion pieces, Los Angeles Times critic John Lippman wrong-headedly characterizes the Sage of Baltimore as little more than a master of the "negative" review and "hatchet job." That sort of drivel is considered fighting talk in the East—east of Pigtown, that is—because Mencken wrote exuberantly about all aspects of American life, not just those he found unappealing or offensive. In fact, he could be downright sentimental, especially when writing about his beloved hometown. And that contagious exuberance, coupled with the man's keen intellect, is why these 1,200 pages remain so compelling nearly a century after they were written.