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Brian O'Neill's "The Paris of Appalachia" Becomes
Carnegie Mellon University Press' Fastest-Selling Book
Award-winning Newspaper Columnist Writes How He Came To Love Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH—Last fall, Carnegie Mellon University Press released "The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-first Century," a book by Brian O'Neill that gives a hopeful and heartfelt account of why Pittsburgh is like no other city in America. Less than a year later, "The Paris of Appalachia" has become the fastest-selling book in the press' 35-year history with a record 7,000 copies printed to date.
"This is an interesting and good book for Pittsburgh - for its history and contemporary living, and it's written by a genuine author and person and devotee of the city," said Gerald Costanzo, founder and director of the press.
Throughout the book, O'Neill, an award-winning newspaper columnist in Pittsburgh for more than 20 years, writes about how he came to love Pittsburgh because of its culture, mentality, cuisine, sports and most importantly, its people.
"The book's original title was 'I Love Pittsburgh Like a Brother, and My Brother Drives Me Nuts,'" said O'Neill, a Pittsburgh transplant. "But I changed it to 'The Paris of Appalachia,' because I'd heard that phrase as a putdown of Pittsburgh and wanted to turn that putdown on its head."
Carnegie Mellon University Press published "The Paris of Appalachia" as part of a series on Pittsburgh's history. "As soon as I read it, I knew we needed to publish it," said Cynthia Lamb, the press' senior editor. "I have read a lot about Pittsburgh's history and was drawn right into Brian's version. His tone was different. And, I liked that, like myself, Brian isn't even from Pittsburgh, yet it was obvious that he thinks highly of it."
And if O'Neill's book doesn't make it clear how he feels about Pittsburgh, his actions do. This past winter when the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh faced a budget deficit and several branch closures, O'Neill reached out and offered to give readings at numerous library locations. He donated money from each book sold at the readings to the library.
"I love libraries. I depend on libraries. And so when the proposal came down to close so many neighborhood branches, I and a lot of other library lovers flipped out. It reminded me that the only task the modern generation of Pittsburghers has is to hang on to all that is worth keeping. A great, walkable city should be able to find a way to keep its libraries," O'Neill said.
According to Costanzo, the success of O'Neill's book is not a surprise. "Brian is a publisher's dream," Costanzo said. "He knew instinctively how to help market the book — by taking it directly to people at readings, signings and other community events."
O'Neill's book does not just hold the press' fastest-selling record.
* "The Paris of Appalachia" was the top seller during the 2009 holiday season and the best-selling local book for 2009 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in the South Side Works.
* Also during the 2009 holiday season, O'Neill outsold Dan Brown, author of "The Lost Symbol" and "The Da Vinci Code," at Bradley's Books at the Macy's location in downtown Pittsburgh.
* The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has 43 copies of "The Paris of Appalachia" and has always had a waiting list.
The book has sold beyond bookstores. It's in bars and coffee shops, and as O'Neill likes to say, "It's the only book in the history of books that's sold both at the Carnegie Museum of Art and Gus Kalaris's ice-ball stand on the North Side."
To purchase "The Paris of Appalachia," visit http://bookstore.web.cmu.edu.
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Pictured above is a cover of "The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-first Century."