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Western New York authors offer a great crop for gifting

Local books, interesting topics - From Larkin to the UGR

Spree regularly receives notices of books published by locally based authors; we think most readers would be amazed to know just how many books are produced in Western New York. It is impossible to even briefly note all of them.


Instead, here is a small selection of 2017–2018’s output. We have focused, for the most part, on topics that relate to the region’s history and culture.



Babel: The First Ten Years

Just Buffalo Literary Center
Barbara Cole, Michael Kelleher
Photography by Bruce Jackson and Nancy J. Parisi

For ten years, Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel series has been bringing the best writers in the world to Buffalo. It has been an amazing gift to the region and deserves a book like this, filled with beautiful photography and quotes from participants (including audience members). Nobody picking up this book and paging through stunning images of writers like Isabelle Allende, V. S. Naipul, Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, and many, many others will find it easy to lay it back down. It is a lovely gift for anyone who cares about reading and writing.



Twelve Towers of Buffalo

William Faught
Fairfax PM Press

Not just another book celebrating Buffalo’s deservedly acclaimed architecture, Twelve Towers attempts to go a step further. Author/photographer William Faught uses each of his Buffalo landmarks to symbolize a segment of local culture. His goal is to pull together all the things that make Buffalo, well, Buffalo, in a twelve-part process. For example, the tower of the Unitarian Universalist Church leads to a discussion of the Elmwood Village and its other attractions. In maybe a larger stretch, the tower of Erie Community College downtown (the “Old Post Office,” dedicated in 1901) becomes a stand-in for the entire downtown medical campus with an “eds and meds” reference. And City Hall encompasses Niagara Square as Buffalo’s civic gathering/protest culture. One tower, located in MLK park, is a tower of water. This is a good choice for local architecture buffs as well as out-of-towners who want a summary of the city.



A Final River to Cross

Gretchen Duling, Ph.D and Dennis Duling, Ph.D
New Idea Press

Exhaustive is the word for this 488-page study of Youngstown’s involvement in the Underground Railroad. The Dulings, a husband-and-wife team of researchers who are twenty-year residents of Youngstown (now living in Orchard Park), have included narratives, archival photos and letters, charts, maps, timelines, and more, providing extensive and conclusive documentation of a moment in history that—for obvious reasons—has been secret for too long. While Underground Railroad activity is commonly believed to have taken place throughout Western New York, solid documentation is minimal, especially in forms that the public can access. A Final River to Cross documents the escapes of eighteen fugitives from enslavement as well as tells the stories, backed up by archival evidence, of those who assisted in these escapes. Anyone with an interest in UGR history needs this book.



Buffalo Trace: A Threefold Vibration

Mary Capello, James Morrissey, Jean Walton
Spuyten Duyvil

From the Charles Burchfield reproduction on the cover to the mentions of Anacone’s and Central Park Grill on the first page, on one level, this screams Buffalo book. It’s also literary nonfiction, using the events of an era thirty years gone to explore the second coming of age that occurs in every graduate student’s life. This period of extended self-exploration, as others leap directly into the working world, can be both a gift and a curse; both aspects are thoroughly covered here. Graduates (at any level) of the University at Buffalo’s English program in the 1980s will recognize many of the names here, including such literary celebs as (now deceased) UB faculty members Ray Federman and Leslie Fieldler. There are plenty of other faculty members mentioned who may not be celebrities but live on (in infamy or otherwise) in the hearts and minds of any English major from this period. That alone makes it fun to read for many of us, but a much larger audience will appreciate the authors’ struggles to live sane and relatively meaningful lives as they also grapple the mysteries of deconstruction, Lacan, Derrida, and other buzzwords of this era in literary criticism. Here’s another choice that needs to go to the right recipient. Spree writer Ron Ehmke recommends it for: Buffalonians from back then and today (particularly those of us who are not natives) who will be able to relate to the phenomenon of being semi-impoverished uncool-feeling young residents of a mostly-impoverished, uncool-seeming aging Rust Belt city.



The Larkin Company

Shane E. Stephenson,
foreword by Howard Zemsky
Arcadia Press Images of America Series

It is always a pleasure to hail yet another WNY title in this deservedly popular series. For those unfamiliar, Images of America titles are filled with archival photography, arranged by theme, and accompanied by long, informative captions. The first group of images in The Larkin Company deals with the historic/geographical context that made what we now call Larkinville a place of industry, including its c. 1825 shipping canals—hence the real name of this area: The Hydraulics. The following “chapters”—really collections of annotated images—follow the Larkin Company from its 1875 founding (by John D. Larkin) to its demise in 1967.'


Writer Shane Stevenson has provided a lively, readable text accompaniment that goes well beyond simple captions. The combination of his well-researched narrative and the archival photographs makes this history come alive. As for the images, they are largely courtesy of The Buffalo History Museum’s magnificent archive. Those who are the least bit interested in Buffalo’s history need to buy this book and then start collecting the dozens of other WNY Arcadia titles.



Explorer’s Guide: Buffalo and Niagara Falls

Christine A. Smyczynski
Countryman Press

That indefatigable guide to everything Western New York, Christine A. Szyczynski, is at it again. In her latest travel guide, she zeroes in on Erie and Niagara Counties, with a sidetrip into Southern Ontario. With this slightly narrower focus, Smyczynski is able to detail such off-the-beaten-track locations as Burt, Middleport, and Barker (Niagara County) and Derby, Blasdell, and West Falls (Erie County). There is plenty of scenic beauty in the two counties beyond obvious sites such as Niagara Falls, Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, and the mansions of Delaware Avenue—this book offers an all-inclusive look. In addition, Smyczynski gives hungry day-trippers all the information they need to feed and otherwise sustain themselves as they pursue the byways of Buffalo Niagara. While it’s always worthwhile to check a shop, restaurant, or any small facility to make sure it’s still open, Smyczynski provides a large and diverse variety of such places. It’s important to have the luxury of choice when faced with an unfamiliar town.


Smyczynski’s focus on the offbeat as well as her inclusion of the mainstream make this book perfect for both the tourists and residents on anyone’s list.



Lake Effect Days

Philip Sultz
Laboratory Books

Don’t expect the cryptic introduction to explain very much about this book. In fact, don’t expect anything. Just pick up the book and open it anywhere. There will be a short block of text with a title (“Sauce, “Crank,” “Pie Truck”). The text will likely tell a little story. A character in the story will likely be named Arnie, with some Barneys and Morey’s thrown in. The stories will be fun to read and won’t have a final resolution.


Author/painter Philip Sultz grew up in Buffalo in the late 1940s and moved to Manhattan to work and pursue art. Later, he taught in a number of art schools and art departments; now, Sultz lives in Maine. This book is not an autobiography, however; it is a series of prose vignettes that occasionally feature Buffalo locations. Don’t read this for the Buffalo connection; just read it. Each page is a perfectly unadorned slice of mundane life, brilliantly told. There are also nine reproductions of the author’s abstract collages. The book has been nominated for several awards; think of it for discerning recipients.



Kevin Guest House

Gerald L. Halligan,
foreword by Denis Garvey
Arcadia Press
Images of America Series

A hyperlocal history of the first hospital hospitality house in the US first tells the story of the house itself and how a family coming to Roswell Park from Pennsylvania, the Garveys, saw the need for a guest house near Roswell. And then it goes from there, detailing the facility’s success and expansion. This is one of the most heartwarming titles in the Arcadia series.



The Potato Patch

L. E. Peeples

This nostalgic story, set in 1950s-era Chicago, is written by a Buffalo author/BPS teacher. Three generations of African-Americans, the Williams family, live in a small town near Kansas City. They are accustomed to segregation but are also aware of the civil rights movement, Jackie Robinson’s struggle to play in the major leagues, and other concurrent sociopolitical happenings. The Williams also experience moments of directed racism. This provides context for everyday family life, punctuated by moments of drama. The story treads a fine line between cozy sentiment and the Williams’ awareness of living on the brink of change. Expect more of the Williams’ saga to continue in future titles; The Potato Patch is the first in a series. 



A Buffalo bucket list

Elizabeth Licata
2018 Reedy Press

Spree’s own editor-in-chief has penned the ultimate Buffalo bucket list. This guide is a primer for enjoying the best that the Queen City has to offer, from dining to music to art, nature, and architecture.


It’s time to discover Buffalo, the city that combines the sophistication of the Northeast with the affability of the Midwest. From world-class modern art to the world’s best chicken wings, Buffalo offers visitors a rich banquet of intriguing history, iconic architecture, lush scenery, fun food, and relentless nightlife. Use this comprehensive guide to create your own best Buffalo checklist. The book is available for purchase at Talking Leaves Books, or call Reedy Press at 314-644-3400 to order a copy.  - Wendy Swearingen


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