“Titles shipping out has been slower, due to the pandemic and now the weather. But I don’t think the writers and the publishers have slowed down,” Chelak continued. “Because more people are using the Internet to buy books.”
For February, both store and website feature a list of books for Black History Month, as well as staff picks which reveal what employees are currently reading. One can check out the Book of the Week, “The Prophets” by Robert Jones, Jr. a novel about two enslaved young men in the plantation-era South, or a latest New Local Release, “Vermilion Pursuit: A Marco Fontana Mystery,” by writer and professor Joseph R. G. DeMarco.
For 2021, Chelak recommends “100 Boyfriends” by Brontez Purnell which just came out in paperback this month. “Gay Bar: Why We Went Out,” by Jeremy Atherton Lin which explores the culture and importance of gay bars while many communities see their venues closing, and Torrey Peters’ novel “Detransition, Baby” which discusses motherhood and family from the perspective of three women across the cis-gender and transgender spectrum.
“In May, we’re excited about local Philly writer Jodi S. Rosenfeld’s ‘Closer to Fine,” which is a novel about a young, Jewish, bisexual woman finding her adult footing in a world full of uncertainties.
One thing that is not an uncertainty, it seems, is the longevity and health of Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni’s Room. To keep their business and brand thriving, Chelak shared they are developing a new podcast to keep in touch with readers who may not be able to contribute to their daily foot traffic.
“This is breaking news, about the podcast,” Chelak shared with PGN. “We haven’t shared this before.”
While they cannot confirm a hard date for the first broadcast, it should be in March or early Spring, and it will build on the curated lists developed by Giovanni’s Room and it’s staff of seven employees. Despite great success with platforms such as Zoom, to host writers such as gay historian and writer of “The Deviant’s War: the Homosexual vs. the United States of America” Eric Cervini, Chelak understands would-be and returning audiences may be tired of such virtual gatherings.
With the COVID shutdown and the political spectrum, the past year has been overwhelming for many. Chelak admits he found it difficult to pick up a book and stick with it. One of the last things he read before the March shutdowns in 2020 was “Real Life” by Brandon Taylor. The sense of ennui he felt brought him to his bookshelf, where he picked up a classic novel many book lovers may have sitting on their shelves unread: “Anna Karenina” by Tolstoy. And, like that classic of Russian literature, Giovanni’s Room continues to be a classic destination for Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community.
“When you look at the history of Giovanni’s Room, it’s a history of a community coming together to make a space for themselves. And when you have spaces like that it’s up to the community to keep it going. That’s what keeps us going. Even if customers are unable to come downtown or if they feel unsafe going into retail stores, we are still getting letters of support and purchases online. They want to continue to see the space for everybody.”
Sebastian Fortino is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.