I’m sure there’s plenty of great non-fiction literature about Pittsburgh. A quick google search yielded The Point of Pittsburgh: Production and Struggle at the Forks of the Ohio, Pittsburgh: The Story of an American City, Pittsburgh Then and Now…You get the gist.
However, if you’re like me, you’re only capable of consuming factual information via podcasts, docuseries (preferably true crime), or maybe the Heinz History Center. I LIKE MY BOOKS FICTIONALIZED, YINZ. Or at least of the autobiographical/memoir variety so they read like fiction, you know?
What I love is when I pick up a book and can connect with the characters, their lives, and what they’re going through. What I really love is being able to connect with the setting, too.
From attending a gala at the Carnegie museum high as all hell, to falling in love at the Hillman Library, these top-notch picks will not only have you turning the page, but also saying “Hey…I’ve been there!”
The Bend of the World by Jacob Bacharach
Conspiracy theories? Check. Love triangles? Check. Hallucinogens? Cheeeeeck. Bacharach’s 2014 novel, his first, drew many comparisons to Michael Chabon’s writing style (yes, of course Michael Chabon is on this list, stay tuned), and is all at once about the Pittsburgh art world, UFOs, corporate mundanity, friendship, and mystery. Did you know that there’s a whole conspiracy theory around Pittsburgh’s fourth underground river?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Heard of this one? Maybe even seen it? Arguably the most well-known on this list, Pittsburgh plays a HUGE part in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Can you imagine that “In that moment, I swear we were infinite” line happening anywhere other than the Fort Pitt Tunnel?! Schenley Park and the Hollywood Theater in Dormont serve as other notable backdrops in the novel, and in the movie as well.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
Also a novel-turned-film, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is a 1988 book about one whirlwind summer of a recent college graduate – sexuality, organized crime, and family ties all play important roles in the twists and turns of the plot. In 2009, it was turned into a movie featuring the likes of Sienna Miller and Peter Sarsgaard, but its 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t much to brag about. That being said, the book is more than worth the read, and combines the best of 80s Pittsburgh nostalgia with the excitement of a summer romance (or two).
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
A piece-by-piece memoir about growing up in 1950s Point Breeze, reading An American Childhood feels like you’re growing up right alongside Annie Dillard. She recounts her mother’s non-conformist views, her father’s lessons on topics like plumbing and On The Road, and many relatable experiences, like snowball fights with the neighborhood kids and adventures around Frick Park.
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Set in the 1980s, Wonder Boys reads a bit more like a humorous autobiography, and the main character is based largely on one of Chabon’s professors at Pitt. A grand misadventure around WordFest, a writers’ conference/festival of sorts, the killing of the college chancellor’s dog, and the theft of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia, the events that unfold occur with Pittsburgh as a prominent backdrop. From various Shadyside and Oakland bars, to Chatham University’s campus, the 2000 film version was originally supposed to be shot in New York City.
After reading the book, the director realized how important Pittsburgh was to the story – that it was a “wonder boy,” much like the film’s main protagonist Grady Tripp: “it’s a city that had this glorious past of wealth and success that ended. And then it had to deal with figuring out what’s next. What happens after triumph?”
Did we miss any of your favorite PGH books? Let us know in the comments!