I was walking down Liberty Ave. in Pittsburgh, PA scoping out local hotspots when I came across a bookstore called Awesome Books. Awesome, huh? Total “you-had-me-at-hello” moment. I went in and found an entire bookshelf stocked with novels, poetry, and anthologies by Pittsburgh authors. Score! As a collector of unique finds from my travels and an advocate for supporting local artists, my question wasn’t if I’d be picking up a new read, but which one it was going to be. Narrowing down my choices was tough, but I soon found that the question I was most intrigued with was “how?” More specifically, how did the room come to smell like roses?
I was so excited to begin reading this story, I actually started reading it at the airport on my way home. Airports usually make me too anxious to focus on anything productive, but within paragraphs I was sucked into the story. In the first few pages, narrator and main character Gil is carrying a box of his few possessions down Murray Ave., the very place I was having pizza only hours earlier. The small-neighborhood-nestled-within-a-huge-city was a theme I easily understood, even after only spending 5 days in Pittsburgh myself.
“How the Room Came to Smell Like a Rose” by Eric Lidji seamlessly weaves between Gil’s childhood memories (specifically in regards to his young mother and family friend, Max Papo), current thoughts (adult reflections), and beautiful passages from Max Papo’s own stories. Combined, these excerpts tell the complicated story of Gil and his mother, centered around their moving out of Max Papo’s house and into a home of their own. After his mother’s death, Gil relays his memories through both childish and adult perspectives: as he is now the age his mother was during this move.
I love the idea that we don’t think of our parents as young, scared, or confused until we reach their age and marvel about how they did it all. The times they read us bedtime stories — even after pulling a 9 hour shift at work– are so much more magical when we reflect back on them. Max seems to have this wisdom, and encourages storytelling and reading in this family.
Better than any sequel, Eric Lidji is offering a serialized version of his latest project, Thwarted For The Last Time on his site, The Ongoing History of Pittsburgh: but only until the end of the month! This story is one of the books that Max Papo gives Gil at the end of How the Room Came to Smell Like a Rose.
The killer cover art was a major reason I picked this book over all others at Awesome Books, so I’d like to also give a well-deserved shout out to Pittsburgh local cartoonist, Nate McDonough. Make sure to check out his zine, Grixly, and his new graphic novel, Don’t Come Back.
Each copy of this book is handmade and numbered by the author, so you really get a special treat. Usually I end my book reviews with a short “if you’re interested, check it out here” and provide a link. Here’s your link to buy your own copy online, but I’ll practically demand you order it. You can also pick it up at Awesome Books if you’re in the Pittsburgh area. It’s the best $5 you’ll spend this month.