After I knocked my goal of reading 100 books out of the park last year, I needed a new goal to focus on. My own search for Szechuan sauce, if you will. I’ve decided to travel more and, serendipitously, I’m a plus-one for a wedding in California this summer. As someone who’s never been further west than Chicago, I couldn’t be more excited! What I’m not excited about is just how expensive traveling can be.
Instead of pampering myself into a coma in lavish hotels, I’ve also decided to try Airbnb for the first time. Because a stranger is letting me sleep in his spare room, I thought I’d show my appreciation by gifting him with some of my favorite books set in Pittsburgh (books are the only thing library workers give as gifts). Soon, the following books will be on a shelf somewhere in San Diego, but you can always check them out at your local Library.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
“At the beginning of the summer I had lunch with my father, the gangster, who was in town for the weekend to transact some of his vague business.” And just like that, Chabon’s 1988 debut novel begins. This was my first Chabon book, and if you don’t mind him flexing his vocabulary muscles every now and then, it really is a great introduction to the fictional side of Pittsburgh. Taking place mostly over one summer, the novel features neighborhoods like Oakland, East Liberty and Downtown as well as the Lost Neighborhood (actually Junction Hollow), where the characters find The Cloud Factory (actually an old boiler plant). The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is a wonderful coming-of-age novel that expertly balances the trials of life after college with the tribulations of navigating a newly discovered side of one’s sexuality. If you’re craving more of Chabon’s Pittsburgh after you read it, stay away from the truly abysmal film adaptation and check out Chabon’s 1995 novel, Wonder Boys. Both available on Hoopla.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
If you’re interested in a Pittsburgh-based book with a wonderful film adaptation, check this one out. I have to read this book at least once a year. Each time, it’s like meeting up with an old friend for a long-overdue hug. It’s a book that can be laugh out loud funny as well as severely serious all within the span of a few paragraphs. Another coming-of-age tale, Perks is about a group of high schoolers and that trepidatious time when you just begin to learn who you are as a person. A love letter to both the mainstream iconography of Pittsburgh (the view of the city as you emerge from the Fort Pitt Tunnel) and the fringe (shadowcasting The Rocky Horror Picture Show in Dormont), Chbosky’s debut—and so far only—novel deserves a place on the shelf of every yinzer who’s ever felt like an outcast. And speaking of yinzers …
The dialectic quirks of the Pittsburgh region are truly fascinating. Whether you hate or love our local dialect, this little tongue in cheek “dictionary” is a great collection of the violent aggression against the English language that is Pittsburghese. It’s a quick read that yinz could finish before ya get dahn 28, n’at.
If you have a real interest in linguistics (which, honestly, don’t we all?), be sure to also check out Barbara Johnstone’s Speaking Pittsburghese: The Story of a Dialect. It’s a comprehensive history and study of our region’s slang and shorthand. The Heinz History Center also put out a book on our vernacular variants called Pittsburghese: From Ahrn to Yinz.
And if you don’t hear from me again, it’s either because my Airbnb host ended up using my body as a grow room for alien seedlings, or because I’m laying on a sun-soaked beach underneath the Pacific sky.
Want more fictional Pittsburgh?Check aht these reads!
Ross works as a Clerk at the Mt. Washington branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He loves reading books and watching movies and will often ramble about the two here. He will always feel infinite every time he enters the city through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. Thanks, Stephen Chbosky.