Giffels, formerly of the Akron Beacon Journal and now the University of Akron, has stayed. While industry and people have left Akron in droves, Giffels has stayed. He has investigated what the city once was and has observed what it has started to become. His insights, particularly when it comes to the architecture of decay, are impressive. Where others see sadness or even ‘ruin porn,’ he sees memory and possibility. These essays are both about him and about Akron (as well as the surrounding area). His stories are complicated in a way he says outsiders, including the media, don’t understand (he claims – and I defer). There is more diversity from block to block and neighborhood to neighborhood and city to city than is convenient for those who want to simplify things.
Giffels is an insightful writer. Recent news that one of the tire companies that made Akron famous is opening a plant – somewhere – made the front page of the Cleveland papers, a sign, perhaps, of a kind of desperation. The city is trying to find its way, not back – I think Giffels would reject that notion – but to something new. At the same time, Giffels notes how Akronites are protective of the old, retaining signs from old buildings, even bricks, calling things by what used to be there.
Two things nagged at me. First, the collection could have used some editing. There were unnecessary repetitions that made it seem like the book is not so much a collection as a compilation. Second, perhaps accustomed to length constraints imposed by newspapers, Giffels sometimes seems to stop his pieces short. I wished he’d pushed on the edges a bit more.
A great book for those interested in what’s happening to cities that are not named and not near New York City and Los Angeles.