The DP broke the news on May 28 that the Penn Book Center, an independent bookstore on 34th and Sansom, came to an agreement with the University to stay open until August. It had planned to close in April, but now it’s getting a second chance after protests pressured Penn to work out a deal with the store.

The next few months are crucial for the Penn Book Center. However, just a fraction of students are on campus. For those of us who are, now is an amazing chance to visit the store (especially if you’ve never been), buy a book, and support a local business. 

Last week, I went inside to see what the book center had to offer. Here are just a handful of the interesting books I found. (People say to never judge a book by its cover. I’ll admit I did that, but all the books I picked up turned out to be pretty great.) 

Photo: Chelsey Zhu

The Worst–Case Scenario Survival Handbook

Penn Book Center’s eye–catching store window holds a sea of books, but one bright yellow cover stands out. A warning sign with an alligator chasing a stick-figure man sits below the title. The Worst–Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Expert Advice for Extreme Situations gives readers tips and tricks for surviving life’s most hazardous situations. Experts in the field give instructions for all sorts of events ranging from the day–to–day to the apocalyptic, including getting out of quicksand, landing a plane, and even fighting fake news. If you're the kind of person who already has a 10–point plan for the impending nuclear fallout, this book is perfect for you. 

Photo: Chelsey Zhu

The Power of Cute

An adorable lucky cat waves to passersby on the front of a book in the philosophy section, inviting people to take a look. I'm immediately drawn to the cute cat and the bright–colored font, but it's the title that interests me the most. The Power of Cute reads to me like a contradiction; how can cuteness be powerful? As it turns out, that's the exact question author Simon May wants you to ask. 

The book explores the rise of “cuteness” in cultures around the world. Analyzing the popularity of figures like Hello Kitty and Pokémon, May asserts that cuteness is everywhere, and it's not just an innocent trend. This book argues that there may be a dark side, and looking deeper into it could even help us understand more about who we are, who we pretend to be, and what makes us uncomfortable. 

Photo: Chelsey Zhu


Further in the back, past cooking books, the LGBTQ section, and shelves spotlighting Philly authors, there are rows and rows of fiction. One that stands out is a noir book that shows a girl looking out of the window of a dark building: the Thornhill Institute for Children. 

I've always been a fan of darker YA novels, so picking up Thornhill was a no–brainer for me. The book explores two parallel storylines: one follows an abandoned orphan living in Thornhill in 1982, and the other tells about a lonely girl who's just moved near the building in 2017. It's a prose novel, but many of the pages are also filled with bold, black–and–white illustrations. Thornhill establishes itself as an ambitious read as it ties the lives of the two girls together, leading to a haunting conclusion. 

Photo: Chelsey Zhu

P Is for Pterodactyl

At the very back of the store is the children’s section, which is decorated with bright colors, fairy lights, and posters of our favorite kid heroes. It’s the perfect place to page through memory lane or find a gift for a loving kid in your life. 

If you, for some reason, want to get a gift for a kid you hate, consider P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever. For every letter of the alphabet, authors Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter find the worst possible word as their example. Favorite entries include C is for Czar, G is for Gnocchi, and T is for Tsunami. Reading this book might not be the easiest way to learn the alphabet, but the clever word choices and entertaining illustrations still make it a great addition to your bookshelf.

The Penn Book Center was a place I walked past every day without going inside, but I’m glad I finally did. There’s nothing else like browsing through aisles of captivating novels, and I hope readers feel the same. Consider dropping by for a visit and buying a book at Penn’s independent bookstore. 


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