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Big Books Issue

Megan Hamilton

Program director, Creative Alliance at the Patterson

Photo: Frank Klein, License: N/A

Frank Klein

City Paper: What are you reading?

Megan Hamilton: I read teen fantasy fiction pretty regularly. I reread The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at least once a year. And I read Harriet the Spy usually once a year. And I’ve been slogging my way through a book called Aztecs, by Inga Clendinnin. I guess it’s an anthropology book. I’ve been sort of fascinated by human sacrifice lately.

CP: How did you come to be fascinated with human sacrifice?

MH: I think it might be the biggest taboo subject that I can think of. But the ritual around it fascinates me and the question of why people felt that that was a compelling way to add order to their universe is fascinating to me. And because I’m an events person, because I know what it takes to produce great public spectacle—it’s sort of creepy I guess—but I’m kind of fascinated from a producer’s viewpoint on what went into that. I mean it must have been crazy because these priests were basically covered with gold and they had two-, three-, four-foot-high turquoise feather headdresses and sacrificial knives of, oh I can’t think of the stone, a black volcanic stone they used. The spectacle of it must have been crazy. You know they’re on top of these huge step pyramids.

I also think books about extreme disasters, whether it’s sinking boats or people lost on a glacier or falling off Mount Everest, are totally fascinating. One I read recently that I really love is called Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. His father was shot down during World War II and landed in some German field and had pretty much every bone in his body broken. And he ends up surviving this experience and it’s a beautifully written book. And Laurence Gonzales became fascinated as a boy and then as a professional journalist about why some people survive extreme circumstances and others don’t. . . . I also love The Hot Zone. That’ll scare the piss out of you.

And then my other section is Baltimore history, particularly architectural and art-related history. Cindy Kelly is the author of a book, Outdoor Sculpture in Baltimore. It’s a super-thorough catalog. She has a lovely short essay and a photograph of every single one. Baltimore’s built environment is a big part of why I live here, a big part of why I deal with the downsides of Baltimore. . . . So this book is the Sherlock Holmes answer to all your questions about every obscure weird memorial in Baltimore you didn’t know anything about.

CP: Do you remember a book that struck you as a kid?

MH: Growing up in Louisville, Ky., we had this amazing sort of mansion-y kind of house that we got for cheap because nobody was living in Louisville back then. And we had a three-quarter-round solarium with leaded glass casement windows that cranked open and looked over these three monumental magnolia trees. And my mother had a black wing-backed chair. That chair is where I learned that literature could be a refuge for me, that if my emotional life and my everyday life was just freaking me the heck out, I could sit in that chair. And man, I would sit in that chair and crank through a book in almost a day. It felt like flying.

CP: What books do you reread?

MH: Harriet the Spy, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, A Wrinkle in Time. I reread Winnie the Pooh once a while. I use my library of Baltimore history a lot. You know Baltimore: The Building of an American City by Sherry Olson. I honestly think that everybody in the city that gives even a little bit of a damn about their history should have that book on their desk, you know? You need to know that Frederick Douglass learned to read in Fells Point. That’s a profoundly important fact if you live in Baltimore. That Baltimore had the largest number of free blacks in the country prior to the Civil War. History’s really important to me. I need to know what happened before I feel kind of grounded.

CP: Are there books that you feel you should read but never have?

MH: Sometimes I feel embarrassed because I have what I consider trashy taste in books. I read teen fantasy bestsellers but then I’ll read disaster books and then Baltimore books. I don’t read poetry unless it’s by a friend. I don’t read a lot of the better fiction. I would like to get a B.A. in literature and go back to school and read all this stuff.

CP: When do you read?

MH: I usually read right before bed. And I’m trying to drive less, so I’m starting to take mass transit. And oh my gosh it’s the best. It’s like the densest little mini-vacation ever.I’ve been taking the bus to work sometimes. The fact that people aren’t reading at a bus stop is such a loss. You’re not gonna tell me that listening to your iPod is as rewarding as reading a book. I mean I’m on the bus and I’m going to Peru! What are you doing?

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