If You’ve Got the Gin, We’ve Got the Tonic…

A recent Post-Gazette article by local author Sherrie Flick pondered the phenomenon of reading in bars, which has been Quite A Thing in other parts of the country, and has now made its way to Pittsburgh as a trend. The Eleventh Stackers were, of course, tickled to learn that the zeitgeist has finally arrived on our doorstep, and a few of us wanted to chime in with our own thoughts on the matter (especially since today is National Happy Hour Day). Enjoy our book/beverage pairings, and other boozy — or not-so-much — miscellanea.



One of the nicest bars for reading that I’ve ever encountered was in Toronto, Canada. While looking for a café to read in, I stumbled upon the Tequila Bookworm. The name alone clearly announces that readers are welcome! On a summer day, I imagine I’d be reading a dark mystery on their patio and sipping Sangria. Winter would call for something long or possibly Russian, with a Stout or a warming cocktail at my side.







Leigh Anne

I like the idea of drinking in bars, though I don’t frequent them much anymore. If it’s socially acceptable for me to be seen in one with a book, though, I just might go back and give it a try. Kelly’s is still my favorite Pittsburgh bar, and I would very much like to curl up in one of the booths, reading Mary Daly and drinking  whatever LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails) creation is currently featured on the drinks menu.

Image from Marye Audet at SheKnows

Image from Marye Audet at SheKnows

The most fun I’ve had actually reading a book in a bar was a cold, wintry night at The Squirrel Cage. I was waiting for a friend so I treated myself to a Baileys and coffee and snuggled up with A.S. Byatt’s Possession. I honestly don’t remember how long I had to wait, because the moment was perfect, quiet, and timeless (yes, even surrounded by bar noise — good novels will do that for you).


Evil LibrarianBecause of the book Evil Librarian, I thought the best drink would be the drink that suits that librarian. So a Gin and Tonic to toast all those librarians out there.

If you have to pick just one combination, you couldn’t go wrong with a whiskey at Dee’s Cafe, while reading Bukowski’s You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense.



Other resources to consider:

Book Girl’s Guide to Cocktails for Book Lovers, Tessa Smith McGovern

To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, Philip Greene

Cocktail Therapy, Leanne Shear

And a few fiction picks:

Happy Hour of the Damned, Mark Henry

Killer Cocktail, Sheryl J. Anderson

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, Lawrence Block

Not much of a drinker? You can still celebrate happy hour – and you could argue that any hour spent with a book and a beverage is a happy one! Observe.

Melissa M.

My preferred drink/book/location combo, if I’m being safe-for-work, would be The poirotandteaMonogram Murders, the new Hercule Poirot novel by Sophie Hannah, and a cup of English Breakfast tea on my front porch. If you’re a big Agatha Christie fan and were concerned about someone else taking Poirot over, rest assured that it’s fine. Ms. Hannah did well, in my opinion, and I’ve spoken to more than a few other rabid Christie fans who agree.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a late summer Sunday morning. The only thing that I needed was a cat on my lap!


The Litigators, with napkin roll bookmark, and lunch bag in the background.

The Litigators, with napkin roll bookmark, and lunch bag in the background.

I like to have an iced tea while I’m reading John Grisham. If that iced tea is being refilled by a waitress, even better. Most of my reading happens in diners or small restaurants. I have a geographic memory, so I can tell you where I was when I read Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (Keystone Café, Monte Cello’s in Shaler). I read The Mysterious Benedict Society at the now closed Downtown location of Franctuary.

Sometimes a waitress or another customer will ask me what I’m reading. Once a mother came up and said she was so jealous that I had the time to read. At the Johnny Rocket’s in the Pittsburgh Mills mall, I wrote down the name of the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith on the back of a business card for a waitress. My bookmarks are always those pieces of paper used to wrap napkins and silverware. Now that I take my lunch to work more often, I’ll have to add “Break Room, CLP — Downtown & Business” to my list of rotating reading spots.

Your turn: what book would you read at the bar? Which bar? What would you drink?  Designated drivers, we’d love to hear your non-alcoholic alternatives, too.


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Lynn Emanuel and Ann Curran: Saturday Poets-In-Person

Samuel Hazo_postcard flyr (5_5x8_5)

Coming up on Saturday, November 15th, at 3 pm in the International Poetry Room on the 2nd floor of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Main, is the second of four poetry readings in the new Saturday Poets-In Person series with Lynn Emanuel and Ann Curran. The event is free of charge.

Lynn Emanuel is a nationally known poet, author of three previous poetry collections: Hotel Fiesta, The Dig and Then, Suddenly. The Dig received a National Poetry Series Award in 1991. She is also a recipient of the Pushcart Prize. Esteemed poet Eavan Boland observed on the Poetry Foundation’s website  that “Lynn Emanuel’s poems have a rare power: they connect to the world through estrangement.” Her latest volume of new and selected poems, The Nerve of It, will be published in the fall of 2015. What follows is a reading of her poem, “Desire,” with musical accompaniment, during the 2010 Jazz Poetry Concert at City of Asylum, Sampsonia Way on the North Side.

Ann Curran, author of the poetry chapbook Placement Test and the full-length poetry book, Me First, is the former long-time editor of Carnegie Mellon Magazine and staff writer for the Pittsburgh Catholic and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A fine review of Me First, which appeared in the City Papermay be at their website.  You can get a preview of Ann Curran’s work at the Hemingway Poetry Series blog, a rich blog of readings at Hemingway’s Bar in Oakland, one of the longest running, eclectic and finest reading series in Pittsburgh. The reading is from May of this year.

 The first reading in the series, with Toi Derricotte and Vanessa German, was a big success. Come join us and see two more exciting Pittsburgh poets: Lynn Emanuel and Ann Curran.
+ Saturday Poets_poster as EMAIL2
~ Don

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“New” Pulp Conjures Familiar Feelings

Graphic novel (re: comic book) fans seeking something other than standard superhero fare need look no further than two new titles from publisher Image Comics.

Five Ghosts from writer Frank Barbiere  and artist Chris Mooneyham details the exploits of explorer, thief, and bon vivant Fabian Gray. Set in the 1930s, Gray inhabits a world much like the one Indiana Jones made famous, but tinged with even more supernatural power. Gray himself is a haunted man. Cursed by the presence of the fabled Dream Stones embedded in his chest, he possesses the ability to call upon the powers of five “literary” ghosts. This quintet includes the archer (Robin Hood), the swordsman (Musashi), the detective (Sherlock Holmes), the vampire (Count Dracula), and the wizard (Merlin).

Gray and his cohorts face off against threats both magical and mundane, from possessed tribesmen to murderous pirates, and of course, Nazis–I hate those guys!   Mr. Barbiere weaves plenty of cool literary references into the stories, and Mr. Mooneyham’s moody, gorgeous artwork looks like a cross between Mike Mignola and Howard Chaykin.

Start by reading Five Ghosts: The Haunting Of Fabian Gray (that’s volume one); then read Five Ghosts: Lost Coastlines (that’s volume two).

If Five Ghosts inhabits the realms of Indiana Jones and King Solomon’s Mines, Black Science takes its lead from the sort of retro-raygun sci-fi seen in Flash Gordon and DC Comics Adam Strange. Don’t think that these more innocent antecedents make Black Science light or frivolous. Writer Rick Remender and artists Mateo Scalera and Dean White inject plenty of darkness into Black Science. Lead character and rogue scientist Grant McKay uses proscribed experiments to punch his way into a forbidden dimension of madness and chaos.

He and his intrepid crew encounter a host of horrors as they journey through worlds undreamed in search of a way home.

As I have grown more and more disenchanted with modern superhero fare, I take comfort in titles like these. They have a spirit and sense of fun that “modern” Marvel comics lack. If you dig pulp, check these titles out!

–Scott P.

Black-Sci-cov  Five-ghosts-cov1 Five-Ghost-cov


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7 More Ways to Get Sher-LOCKED

If you are patiently–or not-so-patiently–waiting for the next season of the BBC’s Sherlock, consider this:  a keyword search for “Sherlock Holmes” brings back over 900 results in the Library catalog, while a subject search for Holmes, Sherlock (no quotation marks needed) nets you another 600+ results. This means you have plenty of material to obsess over focus on during the show’s hiatus (that is, when you’re not on Tumblr reblogging otters who look like Benedict Cumberbatch).

Original meme by Red Scharlach. Image reposted at RadioTimes.

Original meme by Red Scharlach. Image reposted at RadioTimes.

Given the large number of written pastiches, plus the fact that the character of Sherlock Holmes has appeared in television and film more than anyone else except Dracula, this shouldn’t surprise you at all. You may, however, find yourself overwhelmed by your good fortune: where, with so many adventures to choose from, should you start?

Here are seven suggested points of entry*, in various formats:

1. Sounds familiar…

To bridge the classic and contemporary fandoms, you might want to try the audio book Sherlock1The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries and Other Stories. Author John Taylor uses the conceit of a locked cedar chest that contains Watson’s notes on cases that, for various reasons, were never made public. These tales, which feature the science of ballistics, stolen goods, and a baffling murder, stack up favorably with Amazon reviewers. But, of course, with audio books, it’s the narrator that makes or breaks the story…and our narrator, in this case, is none other than Otterface Whatsisname. Try not to break your fingers while making the catalog reservation, okay?

2. Across the pond

sherlock2American versions don’t always ruin everything. Exhibit A: Watson and Holmes vol. 1: A Study in BlackJon Watson’s internship at Convent Emergency Center in Harlem gets a lot more interesting when the mysterious S. Holmes shows up shortly after the victim of a vicious beating is brought in. Intrigued by what he learns from Holmes, Watson tags along on what seems, at first, to be a simple kidnapping case, then blossoms into a far more sinister conspiracy. A gorgeous color palette of blacks, browns, and purples (with some luscious golds and icy blues for contrast) enriches a comic that is incredibly faithful to Conan Doyle’s vision (Irregulars, fetching haberdashery, and all).

3. Media Studies 101

Rather than start a knock-down, drag-out argument over which actor made the finest manyfacesSherlock**, make the time to familiarize yourself with The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes. This documentary covers eighty-five years of stage, film, television, and radio portrayals of the master detective, and is narrated by Dracula Saruman Sir Christopher Lee. At a run time of only 48 minutes, you can have yourself up to speed on the topic in the space of a lunch hour. And because you can download the film to your portable device, you can still have lunch outside, if you like.

4. Worth the wait…

company holmesLaurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger–two authors you can trust on this topic–invited a group of well-known contemporary authors to write new stories inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work. The result, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, is definitely worth putting yourself on the waiting list for it. Contributors include Michael Connelly, Cornelia Funke, Jeffrey Deaver, Sara Paretsky, and Harlan Ellison, so you know King and Klinger took this project very, very seriously. Tied together with a terrific introduction, and the promise of a second volume to come, this short story collection should be on your don’t-miss list.

5. Three pipe problems

If your vocabulary organically includes terms like “heteronormative,” “deconstruction,” or21st century holmes “paradigms,” you will most likely enjoy Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century, a fascinating bundle of scholarly essays. Contributing editor Lynette Porter has assembled a collection of work that examines the relationship between a broad spectrum of cultural themes (which include sexuality, fandom, information literacy, and tourism) and the recent Holmes canon. The connections the authors draw between present and past iterations of the consulting detective make for a fascinating look at how, in each generation, we create the Sherlock we need, want, and–perhaps–deserve.

6. Get ‘em while they’re young…

death cloudYA readers keen on historical fiction might enjoy Death Cloud, the first in a series of teenage Sherlock Holmes mysteries authorized by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle. If you can imagine the highly functioning sociopath as a bored, bright youngster on holiday, the concept isn’t at all far-fetched. While staying with relatives over the summer, young Sherlock makes a friend, confounds his tutor,  and encounters a mysterious cloud that’s followed by a series of puzzling deaths. Obviously somebody has to investigate, and who better than Holmes? Fun historical fiction that functions as a gateway to the real deal.

7. And, inevitably, tea

While visiting the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, Julia Carlson Rosenblatt and her dininghusband got the idea for a dinner showcasing food from Conan Doyle’s era. That dinner, held on June 2, 1973, paved the way for Dining With Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Cookbook. The foodies in the fandom will appreciate this Herculean effort, which is clearly a labor of love by people who did their homework (with the help of the Culinary Institute of America). Every recipe is either tied to a direct quote from the original canon, or its inspiration is thoroughly explained. If you’re thinking about having a Sherlock party, and really want to take it over the top, you’ll want this cookbook in your hands…though a healthy dose of kitchen proficiency is definitely a pre-requisite.

That’s a lot of Sherlock, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Do you have a favorite Holmes, or Holmes-inspired book/film? Tell us about it in the comments section!

–Leigh Anne, whose own gateway drug was Young Sherlock Holmes.

*I’m assuming, of course, that you’re already well-versed in the Conan Doyle canon. If you’re not, what are you waiting for? Go get those books!

**Even though the answer is clearly Basil Rathbone.



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It’s Not My Birthday, But I Get a Wonderful Gift

Later this week, my family will be celebrating my daughter’s birthday, and this year she is turning…well, let’s just say that a fatherly concern for her privacy precludes me from saying exactly how old she’ll be, but it’s a milestone birthday in that she is most definitely not a baby anymore.

Parents, like comic book collectors and baseball fans, tend to obsess over “eras” and endlessly catalog and rank different periods of their kids’ lives for various criteria — kids will never smell as good as they do at 6 weeks, for example; they cry the most at 3 months; 9-month-olds have the most infectious laughs; 18-month-olds have the most trying tantrums; etc. ad infinitum (or ad nauseum if you don’t have kids; I understand.). As kids get older and better able to interact with parents, it’s also fun to note the milestones in the parent-child relationship, from the first smiles as a baby to the incessant questions of the toddler era into the boundary-testing that characterizes that brief period starting during toddlerhood and usually lasting only until retirement age or so.

One of the (admittedly self-centered) yardsticks that I’ve used to chronicle my relationship to my daughter has been what I’m reading, or, more specifically, how my parental responsibilities have impacted my ability to read as much as I would like to. I don’t think that this is uncommon; parents of young children since the beginning of time have been heard saying, “Man, I remember when I used to have time to _________,” and for those of us who like to read, that is usually one of the remembered pleasures populating that blank.

I think many dads go through a brief mourning period when they go from thinking that they are cool to realizing that they were never cool.

For me, it’s been kind of an obsession from the start. Before my kid was born, I passed the gestation period by pouring over parenting memoirs from Michael Chabon and Neal Pollack. I also figured, logically I guess, that since I wouldn’t be able to go out much when I had a young baby at home, I’d better lay in some big books to read, you know, when I was rocking the baby to sleep or something. Obviously I had never lived with a young baby. So while The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore and 2666 gathered dust, my cultural consumption during those early days was limited to blankly staring at episodes of Project Runway and Twin Peaks. (I did eventually read those two big novels on the hour long train ride that was my commute in those days, and both were immense, ugly and incredible reads.)

Comics has its ultimate postmodern hero in Segar’s Popeye.

As the dust settled and we began to get the hang of having a little person around the house, we also began to establish some routines that began to free up a little precious time to do a little reading beyond thumbing through the well-used parenting volumes. (For the record, we went the crunchy Sears and Ina May Gaskin route, but I’m convinced now that it doesn’t matter what “method” you follow. Parenting manuals are the ultimate placebos prescribed by pediatricians to give new parents something to do other than obsess over the baby.) I still wasn’t sleeping though, so I had to be strategic with the fifteen minutes of reading I could do before falling asleep. A steady diet of poetry, comics and short stories ensured that I packed a lot of impact into short bursts of reading.

This book stinks the first time through, and does not get any better the 500th.

During all of this time, I was, of course, reading a lot of children’s books with my daughter. Like, a lot a lot. I wish I could claim that some selfless virtuous parental wish for her intellectual well being was my primary motivator, but the fact is that this kid cried and fussed all the time, and I figured out at an early age that if I read to her she would relax very quickly. So what started, as it often does, with a simple ritual of reading a couple of stories before bed soon evolved into reading together at breakfast, while waiting to go to preschool, when we get home from school, while we’re getting dressed, brushing teeth, riding the bus, etc. It’s our go-to thing that we do together. And while I cherish the time we spend together reading, and am thrilled to have a kid who will happily look at picture books for a couple of hours a day, I will admit here to being not that into picture books.  I certainly appreciate children’s books, and I have my share of classics that I have very much enjoyed. However, like any self-respecting kid, my daughter tends to ignore the carefully selected, age-appropriate masterpieces that I choose and to love and want to read over and over the titles that I think are junk. (Hello Scooby Doo!)

Or that was the case until recently, which brings me to the titular gift that I have gotten for my daughter’s birthday. Recently, I noticed that she was drawn to comic books that I would bring home from the library, most of which were definitely not age-appropriate. After trying to figure out how to answer her questions about the puddle of red stuff that Hulk was standing in honestly without scarring her for life, I decided to take a look for some superhero comics written for kids. I found that Marvel has a pretty decent series of origin stories going, including the Hulk sans blood, and while they were great picture books, I could tell that the kid wanted to read some comics. (Or at least it was a convincing projection on my part.)

After some trial and error, we found a few series of real comics that we both enjoyed, and we have been reading them nonstop for the past couple of months.

Aqualad’s fish is named Fluffy.

First and foremost, Art Baltazar’s Tiny Titans series is an absolute favorite of both of us. These are largely domestic tales of DC universe characters as little kids — Robin, Batgirl, Superboy and Supergirl, Wonder Girl, Raven, etc. Despite the costumed characters, these comics owe more of a debt to Charles Schulz than they do to Bob Kane. The greatest dangers these Titans face is unrequited love, laundry accidentally dyed pink by red superhero capes and boring classes taught by classic DC super villains. These books are hilarious, irreverent and absurd — a geeky send up of comics culture that works on many levels.

Equally appealing to preschoolers and college students.

Another beautifully absurd series that we both love reading are the Adventure Time comics, based on the TV show of the same name. These comics follow the adventures of Jake the dog and Finn the human as they perform heroic acts across the Dali-meets-Steadman landscapes populated by Princess Bubblegum, the Ice King, Marceline the Vampire Queen and many more cute/unsettling characters. Adventure Time is hugely popular with teens and so I hope my daughter is banking a little cultural capital that she can draw from when she gets into middle school.

Three apples tall.

When my daughter chose to check out a Smurfs comic recently, I expected a Scooby Doo level of inanity, possibly based on my recollection of the old Hanna Barbera cartoon. I was pleasantly surprised to find the comics, which are reprints of the original Belgian comic strips made by Peyo, to be funny in a way that is reminiscent of old comics from back when they were considered a deviant art form: clever, somewhat mean-spirited and edgy. I’ve found that I really enjoy reading these, despite their many flaws, and I feel like I’m getting an education in the history of the medium. I have some reservations about, among other things, a dearth of female characters, but I think it’s okay, and perhaps down the road my daughter will write a thesis about the objectification of Smurfette. A dad can only dream…

So there it is! I can’t think of a better gift than a shared love of reading with my daughter. What cultural things do you share with your kids?

-Dan, who is proud of his kid’s ability to name over a dozen DC characters, despite his preference for Marvel


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Gilded Age!

When I was in high school I had a history teacher who was very passionate  about the Gilded Age – but as I was a callow and feckless youth, I thought it was all boring tycoons and railroads and stuff. Well, it turns out that there’s more to the Gilded Age than trains and big mustaches, and a lot of it is pretty darn interesting. So with belated apologies to my tenth grade history teacher (but I was only fifteen, so cut me some slack), I present a list of not-boring Gilded Age books.

The Floor of HeavenThe Floor of Heaven: a True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush, by Howard Blum – If you ever manage to pull off a spectacular gold heist, don’t try to melt down your ill-gotten gains in a frying pan over your campfire, or you’ll just end up with a gold-plated frying pan – that’s what I learned from this book. There are more prospectors and ruffians than tycoons in these pages, so save this one for when you get tired of bankers and millionaires.

The Murder of the CenturyThe Murder of the Century: the Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars, by Paul Collins – Oh, there’s a lot of fun stuff here – bloody ducks (yes, you read that right), a distinctively patterned oilcloth, an army of reporters on bicycles, and best of all – a headless, legless torso with some very unusual identifying marks that couldn’t be discussed in polite company. Ladies, it’ll give you the vapors.

TopsyTopsy: the Startling Story of the Crooked-tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison, by Michael Daly – Turns out that this one’s a great history of elephants in the United States and of the early days of circuses. Thomas Edison appears mainly as the evil villain (NOTE: the link is a spoiler and is NOT for the faint of heart), though to be fair, everyone was pretty evil to animals in those days. Bonus: Topsy and Edison are also the subjects of an excellent episode of Bob’s Burgers.

Conquering GothamConquering Gotham: a Gilded Age Epic: the Construction of Penn Station and its Tunnels, by Jill Jonnes – The Pennsylvania Railroad was miffed that it couldn’t get its trains into Manhattan like its chief rival, the New York Central Railroad. So with typical Gilded Age bravado they said, “Screw this!” and built a tunnel under the Hudson River. It was very muddy, squishy work. This is a neat book about finance, architecture, engineering, working conditions, and getting the bends.

The Devil in the White CityThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson – An architect, a serial killer, a world’s fair, an oddly suspenseful low-speed pursuit – good times! If you’re only going to read one book from this list, make it this one. But it’s such a good book that you’ve probably read it already. (Suzy has, and she even mentioned it in an earlier post, which led me to state that “I am pretty sure that every librarian is required to write about The Devil in the White City at least once in their career”).

The Johnstown FloodThe Johnstown Flood, by David McCullough – The moral of this story? Rich people make lousy neighbors. A classic combination of history and disaster, with strong local ties. Since the book was originally published in 1968, it’s somehow more tasteful than modern disaster nonfiction, if that makes any sense – as if one can be tasteful about people burning to death in huge piles of flood wreckage. Still, good stuff.

AC/DCAC/DC: the Savage Tale of the First Standards War, by Tom McNichol – For those of you who’d like a little science with your tycoons and mustaches, we present Thomas Edison vs. local favorite George Westinghouse (with a little assistance from the nerd’s nerd, Nikola Tesla) in an electrical battle for the ages. Somehow we manage to go from electrocuting dogs (lots of dogs, reader beware) to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (re: The Devil in the White City) in slightly less than two hundred pages. It’s probably the shortest book on this list but it’s well worth the effort.

Passing StrangePassing Strange: a Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line, by Martha A. Sandweiss – Fancypants white geologist Clarence King (one of the most blond-haired, blue-eyed people ever) was able to live a second, secret life with his black wife and their mixed-race children simply by creating a second identity and telling people that he was black. Apparently, that (and some clever scheduling) was all it took. Rather heavy on details from King’s point of view, as his wife (Ada Copeland) wasn’t in a position to leave a mark on history, to put it gently.

In the Kingdom of IceIn the Kingdom of Ice: the Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the U.S.S. Jeannette, by Hampton Sides - Any book that has people freezing to death in it is all right by me. This super fun book relates the chilly seafaring tale of an arctic expedition funded by eccentric (like, pees-in-your-piano eccentric) publishing tycoon Gordon Bennet. Things start out well – they spend lots and lots of money on supplies and a ship, pick up a whole mess of sled dogs (and give them amusing names), and head north. But then their newfangled Edison arc lights don’t work, the ship is crushed by the arctic ice pack, someone has a raging syphilis infection, people are forced to eat their pants, and it’s all downhill from there.

Meet You in HellMeet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership that Transformed America, by Les Standiford – More local heroes. I’m gonna be honest here and tell you that I read this one a while ago, and I can’t remember any particularly fun anecdotes other than maybe “Alexander Berkman is a lousy assassin.” But there’s a really good overview of the Homestead Strike, for those of you who (like me) zoned out for this particular chapter in our local history. Gunfights on barges would liven up any history lesson, right?

The Richest Woman in AmericaThe Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age, by Janet Wallach – Hetty Green was the daughter of a New England Quaker family, the original People Who Don’t Take Anyone’s Crap. And Hetty spent the rest of her life refusing to take anyone’s crap – and amassed a spectacular fortune in the process. Just read it.

A Disposition to Be RichA Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor’s Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States, by Geoffrey C. Ward – Ferdinand Ward was, by all accounts, a smooth operator and a complete jerk – but to be fair, his parents were pretty jerky, too. Things start out slowly, as there’s a lot of religious and family history to wade through, but it really picks up when our little Ferd moves to the big city. This account was penned by his great-grandson, most widely known for his work on the PBS documentary series The Civil War (and apparently not a jerk).

These last few books are not quite Gilded Age; they’re early 1900s. But they’re pretty darn close, they have a lot of Gilded Age influences, and they’re super fun (“super fun” being a relative term).

Sin in the Second CitySin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul, by Karen Abbott – A romp through the seamier side of Chicago that focuses on the high-class Everleigh club and the sisters who ran it. You’ll learn the origin of that “drinking champagne from a shoe” thing and some inappropriate things to do with gold coins. This book ties in nicely with The Devil in the White City and is nearly as awesome, though not nearly as murdery.

Empty MansionsEmpty Mansions: the Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, by Bill Dedman – Huguette Clark, the daughter of a wealthy senator, lived in her own little world and never wanted things to change. It’s the story of a lonely woman who was never really independent, who never learned the value of a dollar, and who was severely taken advantage of by her caretakers before her death. Part sentimental, part pathetic, and entirely fascinating (if you need more convincing, Eric wrote an excellent post about this book last year).

American EveAmerican Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the “It” Girl, and the Crime of the Century, by Paula Uruburu – Another one with a local connection! Somewhat batty Harry Kendall Thaw, son of a Pittsburgh coal baron, marries turn-of-the-century hottie Evelyn Nesbit. He learns of her past affair with fancypants architect (and somewhat pervy) Stanford White, and shoots him in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Trials and scandals and secrets and madness abound.

- Amy, who didn’t have access to interesting nonfiction when she was in high school


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Instrumental Choice

musical instruments

My daughter is in 4th grade, and was able to choose a band instrument to learn in school. I play the drums and her father plays the sax. We were each talking up our instruments, while teaching her the differences between the sounds and the mechanics of playing the different instruments of which she could choose*.

I have always wondered why a person selects a specific instrument. Why pick a trumpet over a harp? Why does a cello call to some, while the accordion calls to another? Why play an organ instead of a piano or even a marimba? Why pick a high, middle or low pitched instrument? Is it an extension of your personality or self-image?

Is it a function of trying to emulate someone you admire? “I like my cousin, and he plays the trombone.”

Is it a function of what is needed for the school band? “We have too many drummers, we need a clarinet player.”

Maybe you are a front person. You might choose the guitar.

Maybe you are more laid back. Then you might choose the bass guitar.

Can it be the type of music you are exposed to? “My mom plays bluegrass CDs; I want to play the banjo.”

What instrument is at hand? “Here are my uncle’s old harmonicas.”

Perhaps you are just gifted with a golden voice?

And indirectly related to this topic; are drummers really superior in intellect?

I play the drums, but I could never figure out why. It’s almost as if the drums chose me. When I am lugging around the cases, setting them up, and breaking them down for every show, I lament the fact that the flute didn’t choose me. But while I am playing, all that falls away and I’m in the groove.

Why did you pick the instrument that you play or want to play?


*She chose percussion ;)


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