‘The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir,’ by D. Watkins

In 1978, after four years away from American shores and the tempest of public furor, the hypnotic, if sometimes unpredictable, singer Nina Simone released her album “Baltimore.” On the title track, Simone sang of dissonant times in her signature blues-tinged warble: “Oh, Baltimore, ain’t it hard just to live, just to live.” Thirty-seven years later, a two-week protest spurred by the death of Freddie Gray — the 25-year-old black man who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody — seized TV screens across the globe, becoming worldwide news. What links Simone’s album to the death of Gray and others is the inextricable and exacting thrall of Baltimore, a city that has served as cage and coffin for a legion’s worth of black residents living in its western, southern and eastern corridors. And because Maryland’s seaport city figures so commandingly in “The Cook Up,” the latest book from the writer and educator D. Watkins, one is again reminded of Baltimore’s sometimes inescapable pull, and how for those wading through its troubled waters, it is often easier to give in than to get out.

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