Chilly winds and that delightful form of precipitation known as a “wintery mix” provide the perfect weather to curl up on a comfy couch with a warm blanket and a good book. When choosing your next great read, make sure to check out these engaging books recently released by some outstanding Pittsburgh-area authors.
Why Did I Get a B? And Other Mysteries We’re Discussing in the Faculty Lounge, by Shannon Reed
Having spent her childhood in Johnstown, PA, Shannon Reed lived for a number of years in Brooklyn, NY, before returning to western Pennsylvania to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh.
“It was a leap of faith,” Reed said, to leave a successful career in education and theater with the hope of supporting herself as a writer. Six years later, she is a frequently published author and a member of the University of Pittsburgh’s creative writing faculty.
Why Did I Get a B? is a collection of essays and humor about the teaching life. “I wanted to write something that would make teachers feel seen and heard,” Reed said. “The teaching experience isn’t very well understood—there’s sadness, joy, and difficulty—and I was trying to create the feeling of a teacher’s day, which is never typical.”
Though Reed loves Brooklyn and visits often, she said she feels most like herself in Pittsburgh.
“In New York, my life focused on theater,” Reed explained. “In Pittsburgh, I can go to the theater one day and a Pirates game the next—you don’t have to choose just one thing. It’s also beautiful here with all the mountains and forests, and I love being outdoors.”
For the Love of Dog: A Veterinarian’s Tale, by Katti Strahsmeier-Stoller
Veterinarian Katti Strahsmeier-Stoller, owner of BelaCoop Animal Hospital of North Park (belacoopanimalhospital.com), made her literary debut in 2021 with a book about Cooper, her English Foxhound.
“Lots of people want a car after graduating college,” Stoller said, “but I asked for a dog.”
Stoller got her wish, then found out that Cooper had a rare genetic disease with a dismal prognosis. The duo defied the odds and Cooper was her closest companion for the next eight years.
“The book is about my unique relationship with Cooper and how he affected my life and made me a better veterinarian,” Stoller said. Writing the book was a labor of love—Stoller opened the animal hospital and had two children during the six years she spent writing it, carving out time to write whenever she could. The result was worth the effort.
“Getting the story told was important,” Stoller said, and it has allowed her to connect with readers. “I love that the book can evoke such emotion—people laugh and cry—and it’s a way to honor Cooper’s memory.”
Stoller was born and raised in the North Hills and now makes her home in Allison Park. Though she lived in other places during college and graduate school, she chose to return home to raise her family. “The people in Pittsburgh are true, good souls,” she said. “This city comes together for people.”
The Loneliness Epidemic: How the Church Can Cure Our Gravest Sickness, by Tom Parkinson
Cranberry Township, PA, resident Tom Parkinson has a unique perspective into people’s lives and relationships because of his role as a United Methodist pastor. He has spent almost 15 years in ministry.
“People struggle with relationships and loneliness—those struggles pervade our culture,” Parkinson said. “I wrote the book with the hope that I could share encouragement and inspiration, and to help others who are experiencing loneliness.”
A native of Indiana, PA, Parkinson has lived in a variety of other places. He says Pittsburgh is home for a variety of reasons.
“As much as I love the football team, the beautiful geography, and Primanti Brothers, my favorite thing about this place is the people,” Parkinson said.
Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir, by Brian Broome
Brian Broome’s coming-of-age story is raw, powerful and poetic. Arlan Hess, owner of City Books (citybookspgh.com) in Pittsburgh, said, “Punch Me Up to the Gods was by far the best memoir I have ever read.” Focusing on his childhood growing up in Ohio, Broome shares a series of essays examining his experience of being Black and gay in America.
Though Broome is a 2022 Writer in Residence at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA for the spring semester, he makes his home in Pittsburgh and has taught as an instructor in the University of Pittsburgh’s writing program. He is also an award-winning filmmaker. Broome’s debut memoir, Punch Me Up to the Gods, won the 2021 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction and is a New York Times Editor’s Pick for 2021.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, by Deesha Philyaw
Pittsburgh resident Deesha Philyaw is a prolific writer whose collection of short stories, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The nine stories feature women across four generations, grappling with love, sex, death, faith and family within the context of the church.