Notable Regional Books for 2017

From historic candies of Cincinnati to secret atomic bomb research in Dayton and more

click to enlarge These are among this year's books with regional appeal. - PHOTO: Provided
PHOTO: Provided
These are among this year's books with regional appeal.

It’s been a busy year for books either with regional subject matter or by local authors — and those that fit both categories. There are so many that no single story can cover everything, so this is a selective look at some of the most notable.

Or, one might say in the case of Dann Woellert’s new book, most appetizing. His research into the history of Cincinnati foodstuffs and eating trends has already yielded books on the roots of Cincinnati chili and a survey of our historic restaurants. He explores the local connections to the making of opera creams, candy corn, marshmallow candies, French chews and more in Cincinnati Candy: A Sweet History (The History Press).

Another sweet history, so to speak, is the journey of Cincinnati Zoo’s Fiona from newborn to international superstar. It’s the subject of Jan Sherbin’s Hip, Hippo, Hooray for Fiona! (Insight Productions), which features photos by the zoo. 

Inclusion in this article should not be meant to imply that the book inherently makes for a perfect all-ages holiday gift. Some have more serious concerns than that, such as one by Cincinnati’s Poet Laureate, Pauletta Hansel. Her new Palindrome (Dos Madres Press) candidly, lovingly observes — in poems like “My Mother Has Stopped Telling Me She Loves Me” — the process by which her dementia-stricken mother loses touch. It’s tough stuff, but wonderful writing.

Another major Cincinnati poet, Richard Hague, also has a fine volume out on Dos Madres, Studied Days: Poems Early & Late in Appalachia, which anthologizes many poems that first appeared elsewhere.

There are some new coffee-table books that would indeed make excellent holiday gifts. Photographer (and FotoFocus co-founder) Thomas R. Schiff’s Cincinnati Panoramas (SPCA Cincinnati) captures spectacularly colorful wide views of such city landmarks as the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, the downtown skyline, Findlay Market, Vent Haven Museum and much more. 

Photographer Matthew Zory’s other job — assistant principal bass for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra — afforded him much opportunity to observe the recently completed renovation of the CSO’s historic home, Music Hall. Due out Friday is his 272-page Through the Lens: The Remaking of Music Hall (Cincinnati Book Publishing), culled from the 10,000 photographs he shot of the in-progress project. Shelly Reese provided text. 

And ArtWorks celebrates the growth of its program to create large-scale outdoor murals with Transforming Cincinnati: How a decade of ArtWorks murals changed people and communities forever (Orange Frazer Press). The book features 88 murals from 37 neighborhoods. 

Two new guidebooks of sorts might also make good gifts. Rick Armon’s 50 Must-Try Craft Beers of Ohio (Ohio University Press) is especially appealing for those who like a little peanut butter with their brew. It includes both local Listermann Brewing Co.’s Nutcase Peanut Butter Porter and Willoughby Brewing Company’s Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter. Filling out the volume are such additional sections as “10 Coolest Brewery Names,” including Toxic Brew Company and Zaftig Brewing Co.

And from Cleveland’s literary-minded Belt Press comes Edward McClelland’s How to Speak Midwestern, which humorously looks at the speech, slang and dialect variations within the Midwest. It even includes a chapter on “‘Well, That’s Different’: How to Passive-Aggressively Criticize People, Places and Things.”

Turning to fiction, Jessica Strawser — an editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest — found success with her Almost Missed You (St. Martin’s Press), a romantic thriller that found a devoted following among fans of The Good Girl and The Girl on the Train

Jasmine Warga, a Cincinnatian, had her family drama Here We Are Now (Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins) published this month. It tells the story of a young woman — a music lover — who discovers a shoebox full of old letters to her mother from a current Indie Rock star as she tries to learn more about their relationship.

And a new local publisher, Waxing Press, debuted this year with Daniel S. Jones’ novel An Accidental Profession, which dissects the “unspeakable acts and embarrassing situations” that are part of modern corporate life.

History and biography books of regional interest were plentiful in 2017. The great lyrical Jazz pianist Fred Hersch, a Cincinnati native who survived a two-month-long coma in 2007, wrote a heartfelt memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz (Crown Archetype). 

The Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, originally called the Mayor’s Friendly Relations Committee, came into being in 1943 after shocking race riots erupted in Detroit. How has the commission fared in the decades since? That’s explored in Phillip J. Obermiller and Thomas E. Wagner’s The Cincinnati Human Relations Commission: A History, 1943-2013 (Ohio University Press).

Who knew Dayton was so exciting? Two different books explore different secret projects there during World War II. Linda Carrick Thomas’ Polonium in the Playhouse recounts how the U.S. War Department seized a glass-roofed indoor tennis court in the upscale neighborhood of Oakwood to process radioactive plutonium for atom bombs. And the role of the city’s National Cash Register Co. in cracking German and Japanese codes is part of the story in Liza Mundy’s Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II (Hachette Books).

Finally, the 1960s continue to fascinate, and how the decade’s political tensions played out on American college campuses is getting special attention. William J. Shkurti’s The Ohio State University in the Sixties: The Unraveling of the Old Order (Trillium/The Ohio State University Press) looks at the conflicts there. 

It should be noted that, for space reasons, this story omits worthwhile 2017 books that CityBeat either already has featured or soon will be. ©

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