Briefing Books / A new tack for assessing Pittsburgh book glut

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We begin this installment of Briefing Books with a confession and a lament. In the few short months this column has existed, we've already received far more locally written books than I could possibly read or even skim responsibly in a year, even if this were my only responsibility at this newspaper.

Each day brings a new shipment of locally written books, much of it -- but not all of it, quite decent. Apparently, people in Western Pennsylvania have two passions -- the Pittsburgh Steelers and writing/self-publishing books in all genres in their spare time.

This has created a dilemma for Briefing Books. I can continue to fall behind in reading thanks to the fact that the math will always work against me like Sisyphus and his boulder -- or I can change the game. After some consultation with my bleary-eyed self, I've chosen to do the latter.

Starting with the next outing, Briefing Books will list books from 2012 and 2013 with a line or two describing them. This will enable me to get through the enormous backlog with my sanity intact. Obviously, writing mini-reviews for all of them is no longer possible because it is too time consuming.

Meanwhile, I'll continue reading and reviewing local books that knock me off my feet from page one, but those will be the exception. Writers who aren't showcased this way shouldn't take offense. Literary judgments are notoriously subjective. We all like what we like. There's no need to apologize for that.

It would be dishonest to pretend that every local book carries equal weight in esteem or affection. Briefing Books will list what's out there and leave it to you, dear reader, to separate the wheat from the chaff.

"Love and Other Subjects" by Kathleen Shoop (self published). Great writing grabs you by the throat from the first sentence without ever letting go. Oakmont-based novelist Kathleen Shoop could teach a master's class in great writing and ratcheting tension in every scene.

Ms. Shoop's latest novel "Love and Other Subjects" opens with middle school teacher Carolyn Jenkins confronting a student with a gun pointed at the belly of a classmate. What happens next establishes the tone for everything that follows in this alternately tense, hilarious and poignant tale of love, friendships across racial lines, inner city public school politics and dysfunctional family relationships.

Ms. Shoop provides some of the sharpest observations and insights into the female perspective that I've read by a local writer since Lori Jakiela, my current favorite. There are so many stunning images and turns of phrases here that it would be criminal to present any of them out of context.

My wife insists that I have inadvertently fallen under the spell of a well-executed and sophisticated romance novel, but other than the title (which I'm not crazy about for that very reason), I don't believe it.

Alas, I'm only halfway through this book, but I can't imagine Ms. Shoop is capable of making a false move at this point. Consequently, I'm recommending "Love and Other Subjects" on the basis of what I've read so far. This is great writing in the service of a great story. "Love and Other Subjects" is solid literary fiction. > Available through and

• Former Plum resident Kevin Fedarko, the author of "The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon" will be reading from and discussing his book at the Oakmont Carnegie Library at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The event is hosted by Mystery Lovers Books.

• Authors Deesha Philyaw and Mike Thomas will discuss their acclaimed book, "Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce," at Barnes & Noble in the Waterfront at 7 p.m. Thursday. After divorcing several years ago, Ms. Philyaw and Mr. Thomas, the parents of two daughters, ages 9 and 14, founded the popular website

Small Press Pittsburgh will have a table featuring small press authors and publishers from Pittsburgh and across the country at the Polish Hill Arts Fest, a street fair for arts from noon to 9 p.m. next Sunday.

Small Press Pittsburgh has been showcasing Pittsburgh's literary scene since 2008 and has existed primarily as a Web directory and Facebook announcement page. Its wiki is: Its FB page is: For more information, contact Karen Lillis, director of Small Press Pittsburgh at:

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Tony Norman: or 412-263-1631. Twitter @TonyNormanPG.


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