Having lived in the Philadelphia suburbs most of my life, I’ve found that when people ask you where you’re from it’s best not to say “I’m from Philly.” You never know when you might be corrected for claiming Philly as your home (even if you live less than 10 miles away). But the older I’ve gotten, the less this bothers me. I’m from the ‘burbs, specifically Delaware County (Delco), and I love it. Why would I not want to rep a beautiful area that is rich with literary history past and present? Grab some water ice and some Tastykake pastries and take a ride with me through the literary Philadelphia suburbs. Along the way we’ll look at fiction set in the area, literary landmarks, and awesome bookstores.
Reading the Philadelphia Suburbs
Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, combined with Delaware and New Jersey, are known as the Tri-State Region, or, as one local radio stations identifies it, “The Cradle of Liberty.” The ‘burbs are widely represented in literature from writers across the genres.
Matthew Quick rose to national prominence when his debut novel, The Silver Linings Playbook (2008), was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. Set in the New Jersey area of the Cradle of Liberty, The Silver Linings Playbook depicts love, redemption, mental illness, and the intense Philadelphia Eagles fan culture. David O. Russell’s adaptation filmed the novel in the Pennsylvania suburbs, and many of Quick’s other novels are set in New Jersey and the Philadelphia area.
Jennifer Weiner (Good in Bed (2001)) is another writer who features the Philadelphia area in her fiction. Weiner manages to get inside the minds of the wealthy Old Money-dense Main Line elite and peel back the veil. Set in many locations around the Philadelphia suburbs, Weiner’s fiction represents relatable heroines with problems that are no stranger to many contemporary women.
Lisa Scottoline, in standalone novels like Every Fifteen Minutes (2015) and in her Rosato and Associates mystery series, sets her novels in the Philadelphia area. My hairdresser is a big fan, as are many suburban readers I know, and there’s definitely a certain thrill that comes with finding references to your hometown in a work of fiction.
Tina Fey. Oh, did I mention that Tina Fey is from Delco? In her sitcom 30 Rock Fey’s character Liz Lemon throws out casual references to White Haven, Pennsylvania, a (very) fictionalized version of real-life Upper Darby. Fey’s memoir Bossypants (2011) elaborates on her childhood and adolescence in Delaware County and drops references to local landmarks and institutions (Hello, Upper Darby Summer Stage). When people say “Tina Fey is from Philly” I have to jump in and correct them: “Tina Fey is from Delco.”
Unfortunately, after scouring the Internet, I could not find any persons-of-color writers from the Philadelphia suburbs who feature the ‘burbs in their writing. Help me out, Rioters. Who are the POC and other diverse writers from the region who we should know about?
The oldest public library in continuous use is the Darby Free Library, established in 1743 and located in Darby, PA. 43 of the volumes purchased by the Quaker farmers and merchants who founded the library. Over 260 years later the library is still in operation and is part of the Delaware County Library System. In recent years the library has been under threat of closure due to financial support. I encourage you to go check it out, or at least read through the Darby Free Library’s history on their website, if you are a sucker for library history and/or bookish landmarks.
Darby Free Library
1001 Main Street
Some of my favorite bookstores are located in the Philadelphia suburbs. Over in Haverford there’s Children’s Book World and in Bryn Mawr there’s Main Point Books and Showcase Comics. Main Point Books hosts author events and a book club (Girls in Capes Crossover Book Club) based around strong, fierce heroines in YA. The bookstore has an eclectic selection, and the owners are friendly and helpful.
Children’s Book World is an independently-owned children’s bookstore that carries books from infant to teen with even some adult selection. In operation for more than 20 years, Children’s Book World has a devoted following and attracts big-name authors (i.e. Sarah Dessen, A.S. King, and Gary D. Schmidt, to name a few). The bookstore is partnering up with other local bookish places for a conference on diversity in young adult and children’s literature this November. It’s the kind of Shop Around the Corner you’d recognize from You’ve Got Mail with a knowledgeable and dedicated staff and a thoughtful selection.
Showcase Comics and Games has locations in Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr. I went to the Swarthmore store and was blown away by the eclectic offerings. My nerdy comic book fan self felt right at home and left exposed to some new works. It’s a definite addition to the bookstore scene in the ‘burbs.
One store I have yet to go to is Baldwin’s Book Barn in West Chester. Open just about every day of the year, Baldwin’s five-story building, built in 1822, is situated in stunning Chester County within the Brandywine Valley. Collecting antiquarian, rare books, fine books, and several thousand used books, the Book Barn boasts comfortable reading nooks, a relaxing atmosphere, and, if the pictures are accurate, a bookstore cat or two.
Main Point Books
1041 West Lancaster Ave
Bryn Mawr, PA
Children’s Book World
17 Haverford Station Road
Showcase Comics and Games
1015 West Lancaster Ave/Bryn Mawr, PA
631 S Chester Road/Swarthmore, PA
Baldwin’s Book Barn
865 Lenape Road