PHL 2012: A Year in DIY
You don’t need to have heard of the bands in PHL 2012: A Year in DIY to appreciate the visceral energy of this handsome little photo book. The mostly word-free pages — assembled by esteemed Philly-music-scene site diyphl.com — are packed with sweaty drummers, screaming singers and crowds getting into it, often at the sort of small, off-the-beaten-path venues City Paper usually can’t write about for fear of risking their livelihood. Zia Hilty’s overhead shot of local hardcore heroes Paint It Black captures singer Dan Yemin dramatically pointing toward the heavens, or at least the ceiling of West Philly’s Golden Tea House. In a powerful two-pager by Alyssa Tanchajja, Steve Pid of Providence band White Load prowls the confines of Cloud City (also in West Philly), microphone at his side, blood pouring from his head. Though the photos in PHL 2012 were taken just over the last year, there’s an eerie and exhilarating sense of timelessness that connects this collection to the larger punk picture.
(Feb. 16, 60 pp.)
William H. Gass
The most immediately relevant fact about Middle C is how long it took to be written — William H. Gass’ previous novel, The Tunnel, came out nearly 20 years ago in 1995, when the author was a spry 70 years old. Middle C wears its author’s labors on its sleeve; even incidental bits glow with the effort of the polishing. When his hero unaccountably aces a test in high school, Gass points out how “guys smiled or winked at him, and Joey had to assume they felt he had somehow cheated his way to perfection. They did not honor good grades — on the contrary — but they prized chicanery, and any successful dodge, so long as it didn’t threaten the curve, and Miss Gyer had no curves. She was a tall woman made entirely of posture. The y in her name was her best feature.”
Gass sustains the same pressure on his language throughout Middle C. He’s everywhere as witty and effortful as in that play on the two meanings of “curve,” and he builds up late-style sentences that would, for a lesser writer, make entire paragraphs. But the intensity and concentration that made The Tunnel so vengeful here make ironic counterpoint with the story, about a man at pains “to be a person who disappears because he is so like everybody else as not to count.” Even when it digresses into the obscurities of Thomas Hardy or the complexities of music history, Middle C remains a bleak black comedy.
(March 12, Knopf, 416 pp.)
236 Pounds of Class Vice President
South Philly native Jason Mulgrew has certain gifts, including a flair for colorful footnotes, a spectacularly mortifying family photo album, an encyclopedic knowledge of local junk food and, apparently, a variety of inventive techniques for masturbating. One thing he lacks is a sense of shame.
That’s lucky for readers, since his coming-of-age confessional, set first in the rough-and-tumble vicinity of Second Street in the ’80s and later in the more rarefied halls of St. Joe’s Prep, is an extremely funny (if stomach-turning) look at life as an overachieving, overweight and occasionally overcompensating city kid.
Blogger-turned-author Mulgrew picks up where his first childhood memoir, the bestselling Everything Is Wrong With Me, left off, drawing us into a world crowded with outsized and perversely lovable characters, starting with himself. Mulgrew spent much of high school wearing a fur cape and trying to move beyond the “gay best friend” zone before running for student government on the campaign promise that he’d deliver no less than the titular 236 pounds of class vice-president.
Hometown boosters will appreciate Mulgrew’s comprehensive taxonomy of Philly’s favorite foods (and South Philly’s best underage drinking spots). And anyone who was at one time a teenage boy will likely relate to Mulgrew’s retelling of his discoveries of the Beatles, beer and blue balls.
Writing a memoir funnier than the childhood photos scattered throughout the text (again: the fur cape!) is a tall order, but Mulgrew mostly manages it. Expect consistent humor, but not necessarily a point to it all: These are less tales of redemption than stories of poor decisions that happened not to lead to disaster.
(Feb. 12, Harper Perennial, 240 pp.)
The Phillies Experience
As the Phillies celebrate their 130th anniversary this season, they’ve amassed more one-volume histories than World Series trophies. Adding to the library is Tyler Kepner’s excellent new book detailing the team’s many joys and heartbreaks — sometimes both simultaneously, in the case of 1964 or 1993.
The book’s 220 illustrations include lavish color photographs of Citizens Bank Park, several rare action shots from the Baker Bowl and, amazingly, even one in-game photo from their original home, Recreation Park (at 24th Street and what’s now Cecil B. Moore Avenue) where the Phillies played from 1883 to 1886, plus pictures of vintage baseball cards and memorabilia. Despite this, though, if The Phillies Experience has a major flaw, it’s that while each season from 1900 onward gets at least one page (the 2007-2011 seasons are understandably given greater detail), the 1883-1899 teams are summarized in just six pages.
Kepner, a baseball writer for the New York Times, grew up in Philadelphia an ardent Phillies fan during the lean mid-1980s. He describes the recent renaissance: “The team that bumbled through 30 losing seasons in a 31-year span; that once tried to change its name to Blue Jays; that lagged behind every [National League] team in integration; that traded Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg … somehow, that team would one day become the envy of baseball.” The Phillies Experience is likely to be the envy of every local baseball fan come Opening Day. (March 23, MVP Books, 224 pp.)
Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division
This is the kind of book we want to never end. Not because it’s so brilliant, but because there’s no way to twist the final act into anything other than what it inevitably is. No matter how Peter Hook tells the story of Joy Division, the Manchester band for which he played bass, he can’t stop frontman Ian Curtis from committing suicide one day before their first U.S. tour. On May 18, 1980, we know Debbie Curtis will walk into the kitchen to find her 23-year-old husband with a noose around his neck. And as we get closer, each page is more devastating than the last.