Books

Grit, Striving and Some Redemption Highlight Rust Belt Collection

A Pittsburgher’s first reaction upon completing the 24 essays in “Voices from the Rust Belt” is bound to be: Jeez-o-man, we’ve got it pretty good here. The tales of city woe here are datelined Akron, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Flint, Youngstown… the usual suspects. But the value of “Voices from the  Rust Belt” is not in …

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The Spirit of Animals Glows in Robin Becker’s “The Black Bear Inside Me”

There’s a favorite scene in Don DeLillo’s sprawling masterpiece of a novel, “Underworld,” where a priest asks his student to name the parts of the boots the pupil’s wearing. The young man struggles with the assignment, allowing the priest to walk him through each aspect of this common accessory, an extension of the body, saying …

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Sheryl St. Germain Muses on her Son’s Overdose in “The Small Door of your Death”

According to the National Institute of Health, more than 115 people in the United States die every day from opioid overdoses, adding up to well over 40,000 deaths a year. And while statistics lend a sense of scope to this epidemic, it’s often the tragic aftermath of a single death with its unanswered questions that …

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Recalling Poet Muriel Rukeyser and her Work on the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster

When she was just 23, poet Muriel Rukeyser drove from her home in New York City to the hollers of West Virginia, fueled by a desire to investigate and document the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel mining disaster. By the time she arrived in 1936, many of the men who had dug the tunnel were dead. More …

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Looking for Belonging Underscores Kothari’s “I Brake for Moose and Other Stories”

With hate crimes up nationally according to the FBI, those of Indian descent haven’t been spared. Locally, a 2016 beating incident at a South Hills Red Robin was deemed “ethnic intimidation,” while the 2017 murder of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Olathe, Kansas drew international attention. These are but two prominent examples of the recent …

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A Terrific Look at the Sophisticated History of Black Pittsburgh

“Smoketown” is a gift to Pittsburgh on a number of levels. When an accomplished national journalist and author turns in a deeply researched and gracefully written work about your town, that’s a win. Beyond that, Mark Whitaker, a former editor of Newsweek, gives Pittsburghers the gift of enhanced understanding of their city, stretching back centuries. …

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The Perfect Winter Blend

I loved reading “The Plot to Scapegoat Russia” by Dan Kovalik, a lawyer with United Steelworkers of America in Pittsburgh, even though I disagreed with just about every page of it. We all benefit from hearing sustained arguments by serious people who challenge our beliefs and assumptions. In the end, Dan did not change my …

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Living in Harm’s Way

Lynda Schuster has had quite a life. now safely squared away in Squirrel Hill, she spent the 1980s and ’90s in one danger zone after another. She reported on wars, insurrections and misery in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor. After marrying a U.S. diplomat …

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Short Takes: “Shopping Mall” “North and Central”

Matthew Newton lets you know by Page 10 that he was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder as a teenager. These days, he’s a productive and well-adjusted married man and dad, doing great work at the Carnegie Museum of Art, and his skills as an inquisitive writer and thinker are evident from his latest work. But knowing …

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“The Slide” chronicles the tough years of the Pittsburgh Pirates

For some locals, October 17, 1979 was the date parents all over southwestern PA let their kids stay up late. That night baseball fans young and old got to witness Willie “Pops” Stargell homering against the Baltimore Orioles, propelling the Pittsburgh Pirates to their most-recent World Series title. The sound of pots and pans being …

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Aaron Smith Takes on Big Issues in Readable “Primer”

Dualism, a philosophical concept, asks thinkers to consider the relationship between mind and body, often leading to inquiries such as: What is the self? What is consciousness? Do the physical and mental influence one another? Plato and Aristotle pondered the topic centuries ago, their questions often leading to more questions as humans continue to be …

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Summer Reading List

The forces of the universe have a dark sense of humor. Just weeks before the publication of The Schenley Experiment, Jake Oresick’s revealing history of Pittsburgh’s first public high school, PMC Property Group began to advertise Schenley Apartments, which occupy the former school. “A truly unique historic property modernized to exceed your expectations,” the website …

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Short Takes: “Leave Me” “Perpetual Carnival”

Pittsburghers could read “Leave Me” for the same reasons they’d see a movie filmed and set here. It’s a kick to see the city as a backdrop, collecting references to your favorite coffee shop (Commonplace in Squirrel Hill), local slogans (“I Bleed Black and Gold”) and outright praise (“she stared out the window at the …

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A Well-Woven Contemporary Tale

For his second act, Pittsburgh novelist Jacob Bacharach has turned in another work of enormously entertaining literary fiction set in Pittsburgh. It’s less cosmic than his debut, the 2014 sci-fi sendup “A Bend in the World,” but equally peppered with highbrow cultural references, trenchant social observations and turns of phrase that spin you right up …

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Setting the Steelers Standards

Growing up in a local mill town in the late 1970’s, Steelers’ Super Bowl victories seemed like a birthright. For my generation, it takes little to rattle-off the roster from the ‘79 season, the last of that era’s championship teams. And while the exploits of future Hall-of-Famers Lynn Swann and Jack Lambert live on in …

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Six Books for Your Winter Reading List

This issue, we take up half-a-dozen new books in three groupings: literary works from two creative writing teachers, Pittsburgh sports history from two prominent national writers, and the latest from two great local legal minds. Don’t be surprised if that next national media story about the resurgent charms of Pittsburgh works in a reference to …

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Drue Heinz winner brings humanity to adversity

When Melissa Yancy describes aspects of facial reconstructions, fetal surgery and kidney transplants in her short-story collection Dog Years (University of Pittsburgh Press), she writes knowingly, not gratuitously. The 2016 Drue Heinz Award winner and Phoenix native, comes honestly to this perspective as a fundraiser advocating for health-care causes. And while several of her stories …

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The Challenge of Fighting Back

Reading the latest novel by Stewart O’Nan, the Pittsburgh-born writer who boomeranged home several years ago, is like watching the performance of an experienced athlete who makes it all look so easy. “City of Secrets” is his 16th novel since 1994, and the first to take place entirely outside of the USA. Like 2015’s “West …

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Short Takes: “Whiskey, Etc.” “Death by Cyanide”

Sherrie Flick’s latest collection is described as “short (short) stories”—that parenthetical “short” preparing you for one page tales, even one-paragraph blasts. Scholars of marketing might see this as evidence that fiction creators are getting with the short-attention span condition of the modern consumer, offering an efficient product that can be noshed like a meal replacement …

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Going Back in Time to Ambridge

Growing up in the early ‘80’s as a native-son of a local borough named after a steel-magnate, it’s easy to recall how mill closings affected my hometown. Layoffs were followed by hushed talk of unemployment checks, and later on, businesses shuttered leading to diaspora when folks looked to start fresh elsewhere. In a swath of …

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A Window Into the Marcellus

“Heat and Light,” the latest novel from western Pennsylvania native Jennifer Haigh, has tandem virtues. It possesses not only the urgent feel of a story “ripped from the headlines,” as they say, but also the grace and insight of American literary fiction for the ages. The Marcellus Shale boom in Pennsylvania has been examined at …

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Neither, Either, Or

If you want to explore the vexing subject of global climate change, Seamus McGraw is the guy to have as a tour guide. He will not torture your brain with elaborate science, tax your patience with lectures about evil consumer habits, or bash you over the head with partisan arguments. Instead, he takes you to …

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