10 good summer reads | Pittsburgh Magazine

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Others
by Dave Housley
Alan Squire Publishing; $19.99

Author Dave Housley didn’t have to look far for the subject of his latest novel. “The Other Ones” is entirely based on the irrational fear that one day he would walk into his office and hear the sounds of the party, only to realize he hadn’t put a dollar in the group lottery. ” Housley, who has spent many years working in offices, is a keen observer of workplace dynamics. It follows the lives of the men and women who are left behind after lottery winners collect their millions and leave the company. Bouncing between the viewpoints of several different characters throughout the book, Housley deftly shows how it’s not just the winners whose lives are irrevocably changed by stupid luck.

Root

The stretched roots
by Mant’s
Philyaw and German, $12.50

In the dedication of her first collection of poems, Mant’s (stage name of author Tyra Jamison) writes, “This is for every black woman surviving a landscape of physical and spiritual abuse. What follows in these poems is an expression of fierce tenderness rendered in a lucid and compassionate voice. To these survivors, she offers this assurance: “We are called Divine. / Our halos and our hearts / transcend lives”. For those who feel their language has been marginalized, and thus their very identity, she offers this Pittsburgh-flavored piece of advice: “Next time they try to teach you / the slums can’t speak right, / tell them they have no right to pronounce the name of August Wilson.

Isalys

Chipped Ham from Isaly, Klondikes and Other Tales From Behind the Counter
by Brian Butko
Senator John Heinz History Center; $19.95

The Isaly empire began in 1892 on a family farm in Mansfield, Ohio. In 1931, the business expanded to Pittsburgh and quickly became a beloved local institution. This sequel to Brian Butko’s 2001 “Klondikes, Chipped Ham, & Skyscraper Cones: The Story of Isaly’s” is a treasure trove of over 400 original photos and advertisements, plus updated and expanded information, including a comprehensive directory of store locations. Butko even manages to reveal a few of the more secret recipes along the way (sorry, but BBQ Ham isn’t one of them). It’s not all ice cream and cozy nostalgia, though; Butko also confronts the discrimination and racism experienced in front of and behind the counter, as well as the sometimes conflicting relationship with the employees’ union. Here’s the inside scoop from one of our top Pittsburgh-iana columnists.

square hill

Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood
by Mark Oppenheimer
Knopf; $28.95

“For a neighborhood to contain so much Jewish, religious and cultural, spiritual and political, liberal and traditional life, all in a walkable space, in the 21st century, is exceptionally rare. So writes Mark Oppenheimer in his exhaustive study of the Squirrel Hill neighborhood nestled in the East End of Pittsburgh. Oppenheimer, who was the New York Times religious columnist from 2010 to 2016, resides in Connecticut but has family ties to the Pittsburgh area. The October 27, 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, what he calls “the largest anti-Semitic attack in American history,” brought the writer to town, but not to examine the shooter’s motives. “I was curious to know how people deal with the consequences of mass violence. When the cameras and the police tape disappeared, what was left behind? Her book is a loving testimony to the resilience of a community.

under the veil

Under the veil of smoke and ashes
by Tammy Pasterick
She writes the press; $16.95

In a brief author’s note, writer Tammy Pasterick reveals the origins of her new work of historical fiction. “I asked my ninety-year-old grandmother a few questions about her childhood and was presented with an album and several shoeboxes of old photos.” These family memories of early 20th century Pittsburgh inspired Pasterick to create the Kovac family and a story of Eastern European immigrants struggling in the coal mines and steel mills of western Pennsylvania. Told from multiple perspectives, the novel follows Janos and Karina Kovac’s wedding, a disastrous affair, and the tragic fallout of a failed robbery. This beautiful first novel is an intriguing mix of “Madame Bovary” and “Out of This Furnace”.

Bastard

American Bastard: A Memoir
by Jan Beatty
Red Hen Press; $15.95

Poet Jan Beatty asks, “Who were these people on my birth certificate?” She goes on to say, “I didn’t want a family, I just wanted the story. Who was I, how did I get here, why did they give me away? Beatty, who leads the Madwomen in the Attic writing workshops at Carlow University, has written tirelessly in her poetry about her life as an adopted child. In his new memoir, Beatty goes even deeper into the trauma of having his true identity taken away. It is a necessary complement to the literature on adoption, to a side of the experience that is too often overlooked.

red glass cat

The red glass cat
by Matthew Ussia
Alien Buddha Press; $10.44

“Out of The Rock Room with / a cloud of second-hand smoke / in the cool thick night air / the silence of Polish Hill” writes the poet Matthew Ussia. “It’s the skyline of / the secret city,” he confides to the reader. Poetry can be an act of cartography; in her first collection, Ussia roams a land of punk-rock clubs, English departments, execrable politicians, urban decay and prowling philosophers. His poems are often acerbic and funny, like “Bishop Berkeley in the Men’s Room at the Altar Bar”, but Ussia is not afraid to confront the darker realities of contemporary America – as he does when he notes, “I forget when care / became an act of war.

Allegheny

The Allegheny Great Passage Companion
by Bill Metzger
Three-wheel press; $39.95

There’s more to a good guide than maps, transport timetables and advice on where to find the best steak dinner. The best guides offer companionship as well as insider information. They become partners in our adventures into the unknown. According to the author, the trail “is nothing short of a miracle”. Metzger offers all the important information, including asides on everything from dealing with ticks to fishing along the trail, as well as history lessons and fun personal stories from his travels.

Laurel

mountain laurel
by Jake Reinhart (photos)
and Matthew Newton (text)
Deadbeat Club; $50

“To live your whole life in the same place is to live in a break in time. Years pass without notice, but hours can feel like seasons. There is neither past nor present. No future. Only at home; here only.” These words, taken from Matthew Newton’s essay “Of Body and Blood,” are woven throughout this evocative collection of Reinhart’s photographs. The photos were taken around the Youghiogheny River watershed, just south of Pittsburgh, and feature portraits of locals and landscapes.Reinhart’s work is reminiscent of Larry Clark’s intimate photo paintings, published in his 1971 work “Tulsa,” but where this book indulged in the shocking, “Laurel Mountain Laurel” has a much more compassionate eye, set on “beauty and awe ‘found’ in unlikely places.”

Common problems

All the Troubles Frequent Today: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of Germany’s Resistance to Hitler
by Rebecca Donner
Little Brown; $32

I would like to make a special mention of this book, because it was the last literary project on which Jude Vachon worked. Vachon’s death in August 2021 shocked many in the Pittsburgh community. She was a tireless advocate for the marginalized, isolated and lost. Her legacy includes the Feminist Zine Fest, Be Well Pittsburgh, and her work as a tutor and organizer of arts and literature events. She spent seven years in Germany and was fluent in the German language, which is how she found herself working on this project about Mildred Harnack’s efforts to stand up against Hitler’s evil. Harnack was executed in Germany on February 16, 1943; Vachon translated the myriad official documents and personal letters used by Donner to tell this story. As Donner notes, “Vachon’s passion for this story sustained me through years of writing.”


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