Philly authors, publishers and topics to savor.
It’s that time of year again when—theoretically, anyway—we finish up our trashy beach novels and start to look for more substantial fiction and non-fiction autumnal offerings to warm us for the coming winter. Whether you’re stowing your reading material on a bookshelf or an app, these new and upcoming titles promise to add colorful narratives of all kinds to your library.
Quirk Books, one of the city’s finest homegrown publishing companies, starts the season off with Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman, a novel set in a dystopian future where a detective’s dead set on solving a murder, never mind that the world is about to get deep-sixed by a killer asteroid in six months. So what’s his motivation? Meanwhile, pride is the motivation behind Paul Vitagliano’s Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay, an anthology of over 100 profiles detailing the multiplicities of growing up in the LBGTQ community. In historical nonfiction: DNA famously outed our third president as the “fondling father” of his slave mistress Sally Hemings’ children. Now author Thomas J. Craughwell uncovers Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America , recounting how in 1794, Jefferson and another Hemings, Sally’s brother James, traveled to France to study crop cultivation and came back with pasta, French fries, champagne, macaroni and cheese. All hail the foodie-in-chief! Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that bit of presidential history: Denise Kiernan’s and Joseph D’Agnese’s Stuff Every American Should Know, a hip little book full of U.S. trivia, should make up for some of the stuff you forgot in history class.
Philly’s other pop publishing juggernaut, Running Press, brings us Pamela Toler’s Mankind: The Story of All of Us, the illustrated companion to the History Channel’s forthcoming 12-part global history series for a globalized world. Also global: basketball, a sport whose players hail from every continent except Antarctica. Our own Dr. J. adorns the cover of NBA List Jam by former Sixers executive Pat Williams and sportswriter Michael Connelly, with contributors including Sixers coach Doug Collins. The book’s 125 fun lists break down a wide range of topics, ranging from “Best Comebacks” and “Worst Collapses” to “Oddest Hairdos” and “Greatest Players from the Big 5.”
New York’s Latino population has gotten lots of ink over the years; now it’s Philly’s turn, as Hernan Guaracao—the founder and CEO of Al Dia News Media—and photographer David Cruz illuminate 200 Hundred Years of Latino History in Philadelphia (Temple University Press). Their narrative spotlights such historical figures as the 19th-century Cuban émigré Father Félix Varela, who published the city’s first Spanish-language newspaper, along with hundreds of candid snapshots.
The vibrant foodstuffs of Philly’s neighborhoods are on display in Chef April White’s delicious book, Philadelphia Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the City of Brotherly Love (Lyons Press). White, the former restaurant reviewer for Philadelphia magazine, shows there’s more to this town than cheesesteaks; featuring Jason Varney’s visually succulent photographs, the cookbook contains 70 recipes from more than 50 of the city’s vivid and varied chefs across a spectrum of African-American, Jewish, Italian, Hispanic and Asian restaurants. Whether your favorite gastro-crib is Morimoto, Talula’s Garden or Honey’s Sit ’n Eat, White’s compendium is determined to fill you up.
Author Solomon Jones, a former Philadelphia Daily News and PW columnist, paints literary characters who put a soulful spin on the sweet flypaper of life. His new crime-noir detective novel The Dead Man’s Wife (Minotaur Books), the third installment of his Detective Mike Coletti series, is a Philly-centric, Afro-middle-class whodunit, featuring a female cop-turned-defense-attorney with a toney research-scientist husband. Hubby turns up dead after lawyer suffers a blackout; she bails, and her old boo Coletti comes to the rescue. Before you can say Walter Mosely, Jones delivers more dark and twisty turns than the Schuylkill Expressway during a late-autumn rush hour.
Then there’s Tony Danza, who’s played many roles in his life, from boxer to actor. In his heartfelt memoir, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High (Crown Archetype), he recounts his toughest role to date: as an English teacher in Philly’s largest school in 2009, for the A&E reality show Teach. Danza chronicles the rough-and-tumble, day-to-day struggle of educating a student population that encompasses many ethnicities, attitudes and languages. Instead of joining the “fire all the teachers” mantra, he emerges from the experience with a newfound respect for the art of the classroom and the educators who helped make him the man he is today.
One American author sure to be in Danza’s syllabus is Edgar Allan Poe. The new book Edgar Allan Poe’s Philadelphia (History Press) is an expansion of local blogger and literary scholar Ed Pettit’s controversial assertion that Poe, who lived in Philadelphia from 1838 to 1844 while writing masterpieces like “The Fall of the House of Usher,” should be buried here, not in Baltimore. (Hey, for years, B-more has laid claim to Billie Holiday, who was born in Philly, so we’re due for some payback.)
Thankfully, we have a true native son in philosopher/educator Alain Locke, who godfathered the Harlem Renaissance with his 1925 anthology The New Negro . With the exception of W.E. B. Du Bois, Locke was the nation’s most influential African-American intellectual polymath—as scholar, biographer and editor Charles Molesworth lays out in a superb new collection, The Works of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press). It’s an impressive potpourri of Locke’s writings covering the full flower of his passions and prose: literary and cultural criticism, race theory, travel writing, the visual arts, education, multiculturalism. If it was hip, modern and African-American, Mr. Locke had it on lockdown decades ago. Before Locke, of course, there was Booker T. Washington: to some, a black leader who stressed manual labor over politics; to others, an Uncle Tom. The new volume Character Building (Transaction Publishers) collects Washington’s folksy aphorisms, originally published 100 years ago, that speak on timeless subjects such as good grooming, manners and the importance of education.
The same murky waters of race, power and politics that Locke and Washington navigated in their day, of course, chart the historical course that led to Barack Obama’s presidency—a journey that also prominently features a second Washington. Gary Rivlin’s Fire on the Prairie: Harold Washington, Chicago Politics, and the Roots of the Obama Presidency (Temple University Press) comprehensively combs the political minefields that Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African-American mayor, had to negotiate, such as building coalitions with the city’s ethnic groups, communities and business interests—lessons that a young, Afro-Hawaiian student learned and parlayed all the way to the White House.
Let’s face it: The time for summer lovin’ is over. But hey, who needs to fall in love when there’s so much to love in fall? We've got recommendations for beer & food events, books, concerts, theater and more.
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide