The ‘burgh in three books

Caliban Book Shop co-owner John Schulman, right, of Squirrel Hill, sorts through used books brought in by Attilio Favorini, of Squirrel Hill, at the store in Oakland on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014.

Caliban Book Shop co-owner John Schulman, right, of Squirrel Hill, sorts through used books brought in by Attilio Favorini, of Squirrel Hill. Guy Wathen, Tribune-Review.

It seems every book ever published can be found on the Internet. But I still have fun walking into an independent book store and letting the books find me. While I was working on a recent story about Caliban Book Shop in Oakland, I stopped long enough to look through the store’s eclectic collection of some 30,000 used titles. In the Pittsburgh aisle, where I typically start my search, I found three books that remind me of why I love writing stories about my hometown.

When I first came to the Tribune-Review in 2001, I covered Pittsburgh city hall. Soon after I started, Managing Editor Jim Cuddy called me into his office and handed me a book: “Don’t Call Me Boss: David L. Lawrence, Pittsburgh’s Renaissance Mayor.” It’s not light reading and I might not have finished it — except that Jim said I had to read it. I’m glad I did. (Spoiler alert: Lawrence dies, in dramatic fashion.) The book gave me a solid grounding in Pittsburgh’s unique machine politics. I bought a copy of “Don’t Call Me Boss” for the Trib’s newest Grant Street writer, Aaron Auperlee.

Caliban Book Shop manager Kris Collins, of Stanton Heights, checks the stock of one of his record distributors online on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. Guy Wathan, Tribune-Review.

Caliban Book Shop manager Kris Collins checks the stock of one of his record distributors online.

“Homestead: The Glory and Tragedy of an American Steel Town” also ranks among my favorites. William Serrin was working as The New York Times’ labor and workplace correspondent when he quit the paper to write this book about the closure of the Homestead Works steel mill in 1986. My grandfather worked in a steel mill, and one of my first bylines, for the National Geographic Society’s defunct news service, appeared on a story I wrote about Homestead. When I came back to Pittsburgh, I read a library copy of “Homestead,” and it shaped my understanding of the region’s labor history. I have long wanted my own copy.

Finally, I wrote a children’s book scheduled to come out in August 2015 about Roberto Clemente, the Pirates’ iconic right fielder. David Maraniss wrote the quintessential biography, “Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero.” I didn’t have my own copy of the book. But now I do.

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Gutting out a Christmas story

Every reporter knows that feeling of coming up against deadline without a story. Point Park student reporter Emily Balser dealt with that pressure by following her gut instincts. She wandered into this Blawnox restaurant and found a nice holiday story. The piece ran in today’s Tribune-Review, and another version appeared on the Point Park News Service.

Spirit of Christmas volunteers prepare for the start of a fundraiser at Bob’s Garage Lounge in Blawnox on Dec. 7. From left: Heidi Corwin, Norma Marencik and Bob's Garage bartenders Melissa McKown and Geneva King.

Spirit of Christmas volunteers prepare for the start of a fundraiser at Bob’s Garage Lounge in Blawnox on Dec. 7. From left: Heidi Corwin, Norma Marencik and Bob’s Garage bartenders Melissa McKown and Geneva King.

Bob Paganico spends about $2,200 a year to transform his Blawnox eatery into a spectacle of lights and ornaments for the Spirit of Christmas, a nonprofit that raises $50,000 yearly to donate gifts to children in need.

Bob’s Garage Lounge on Freeport Road has become known for its elaborate Christmas decorations — lights, garland and ornaments to attract customers and their charitable donations throughout December.

“You’d be surprised at how many grandparents and mothers and dads say, ‘This is all they have,’ ” Paganico said of the gifts his team distributes on Christmas Eve.

Photo 3Paganico hosts 50/50 raffles, prize giveaways and celebrity guest bartenders at the lounge during the fundraising drive. This year’s bartenders include Craig Patrick, former Penguins general manager, and Bill Hillgrove, play-by-play announcer for the Steelers and University of Pittsburgh.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

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