Whether it’s your first time on Penn’s campus or you’re returning for another year, the Penn Libraries welcomes you! Before classes begin, take some time to explore Philadelphia through the lens of your personal area of interest, whether that be a pulpy spy novel, a classic bildungsroman, or a "hip hopera” (hip hop opera).
As always, you can find the selections highlighted below, and many more, on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books.
Note: The descriptions below are collected from publishers and edited for brevity and clarity.
Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City by Nathaniel Popkin and Peter Woodall
Urban observers Nathaniel Popkin and Peter Woodall uncover the contemporary essence of one of America's oldest cities. Alongside photographs by Joseph Elliott, the authors explore secret places in familiar locations, such as the Metropolitan Opera House, the Divine Lorraine Hotel, Reading Railroad, Disston Saw Works, and mysterious parts of City Hall. They ultimately connect Philadelphia’s idiosyncratic history, culture, and people to develop an alternative theory of American urbanism, and place the city in American urban history.
No Good About Goodbye by CT Liotta
15-year-old spy Ian Racalmuto has seven days to stop a war, so it’s a lousy time to realize he has a crush on his best friend. After an embassy raid leaves life in ruins, he moves in with his cantankerous grandfather in Philadelphia. Now he has to find his missing brother and locate a smartphone that could destroy the world, all while adjusting to a new city and dodging assassins sent to kill him. When he pairs up with William Xiang, his feelings quickly grow into something more than friendship. Could the truth wreck their relationship, roll up their mission, and derail a heist they’ve planned at the State Department? There’s only one way to find out!
Alain Leroy Locke: Race, Culture, and the Education of African American Adults by Rudolph Alexander Kofi Cain
Philadelphian Alaine Locke made crucial contributions to the philosophy of adult education. This book fills a void in the scholarly treatment of his life by providing the reader with a comprehensive view of Locke's vision of education as instruments for social change. It is representative of the manifesto of 1925 in which the "New Negro," by virtue of a cosmopolitan education, would become a full participant in American culture. This text provides insights into the ways Locke expected others to use his aesthetic, literary, and anthropological theories as instruments for social and political transformation. Learn more about Locke’s connections to Philadelphia and status as an “LGBTQ hero” in this Hidden City blog post.
City in a Park: A History of Philadelphia's Fairmount Park System by James McClelland and Lynn Miller
As the municipal park system of Philadelphia, Fairmount Park consists of more than 100 hundred parks, squares, and green spaces. Originating in the 19th century as a civic effort to provide a clean water supply to Philadelphia, Fairmount Park also furnished public pleasure grounds for boat races and hiking, among other activities. Millions travel to the city to view its eighteenth-century villas, attend boat races on the Schuylkill River, hike the Wissahickon Creek, visit the Philadelphia Zoo, hear concerts in summer, stroll the city’s historic squares and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and enjoy its enormous collection of public art. This comprehensive history of the 200-year-old network of parks chronicles the continuing efforts to create what founder William Penn desired: a “greene countrie town.”
Disgruntled: A Novel by Asali Solomon
Kenya Curtis is only eight years old, but she knows that she's different, even if she can't put her finger on how or why. A daughter of Afrocentric parents, she stands out even in her all-Black school. From West Philadelphia to the suburbs, from public school to private, and from childhood through adolescence, Kenya struggles to find any place or thing or person that feels like home. A coming-of-age tale, a portrait of Philadelphia in the late '80s and early '90s, and an examination of the impossible double-binds of race, Disgruntled is a novel about the desire to rise above the limitations of the narratives we're given and the painful struggle to craft fresh ones we can call our own.
When Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829 as the world’s first penitentiary, it became one of the most expensive—and modern—American buildings of its time. This documentary is combination of images of the prison, which officially closed in 1972, and stories told by the people who spent a large portion of their lives existing within its walls, including former prisoners and employees such as a guard and the prison psychologist. The film addresses the question of the effectiveness of the prison system and the imposed ideology of reform by solitary confinement, providing a commentary on the philosophy of incarceration.
Amidst the chaos of massive budget cuts and school closures, a pair of newly appointed teachers (Tika Sumpter and Tate Donovan) introduces rugby to an inner-city North Philadelphia high school. With perseverance and a few laughs, they begin to see changes in the ragtag group of players… until a tragic event threatens everything they’ve worked towards. Inspired by a true story, The Nomads captures the grit, love, and inherent underdog mentality that make Philadelphia a special place to call home.
After years of living on the fenceline of the east coast’s largest oil refinery and suffering from several critical health issues – including cancer, asthma, and COPD – residents have come together to stand up to CEOs and fight for their right to breathe. A 2019 explosion at the refinery was the tipping point for the majority of residents. As the now-defunct refinery land has been put up for sale, the opportunity has finally come for community members and environmental activists to shut down operations for good. Viewers are put up-close and personal on the streets with Philly Thrive as this resilient community fights to keep the refinery closed for good.
While serving in the military, a Marine sergeant (James Marsden) believes his family's ties to organized crime are a thing of the past. However, an act of insubordination and a visit from the FBI send him packing to his South Philadelphia hometown, and he discovers that his brother and cousin have become entangled with mobsters, leaving him with only one way to save them.
This film looks at the controversy surrounding the art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, a millionaire who amassed a remarkable selection of significant works during the early 20th century. Barnes sought to keep his priceless pieces together as part of his foundation even after his death, but the involvement of numerous parties led to the scattering of his collection. The documentary sheds light on how his wishes were violated by a handful of opportunistic individuals.
Beyoncé and Mekhi Phifer play star-crossed lovers in this grim, hip-hop musical very loosely based on Bizet's opera, set in a modern Philadelphia. A police sergeant’s world is turned upside down when an irresistible woman enters his life. The star-studded 2001 film has been called a “messy and ridiculous timeless classic.”