Let’s Read Big, Pittsburgh

Have you ever momentarily surfaced from a great book you’ve been reading in a park, bus, airport, or cafe, only to notice another person reading the same book? There’s an instant connection — despite any perceived difference in age, race, nationality, or sports team allegiance, you know that, at least on some psychic plane, you and this other person are inhabiting the same world. This kind of shared literary experience can lead to a knowing look, a good conversation, a friendship, even a marriage. It’s powerful stuff!

This month, Pittsburghers are going to be much more likely to make these public literary connections. Thanks to the Community College of Allegheny County, our town is participating in the National Endowment of the Arts’ Big Read Campaign.

The basic idea behind the Big Read is simple — the community that reads together stays together, and if you can get as many people as possible to read the same book, you’ll spark great discussions, convene people around important ideas, and support literary reading which is, after all, very good for your brain, a great stress reliever, and can even increase your productivity at work.

The selection for the Big Read in Pittsburgh is perfect: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a classic celebration of the power of reading and its importance to society.

Image courtesy of Random House via our library catalog.

Here’s the description from the Big Read website:

When did science fiction first cross over from genre writing to the mainstream of American literature? Almost certainly it happened on October 19, 1953, when a young Californian named Ray Bradbury published a novel with the odd title of Fahrenheit 451. In a gripping story at once disturbing and poetic, Bradbury takes the materials of pulp fiction and transforms them into a visionary parable of a society gone awry, in which firemen burn books and the state suppresses learning. Meanwhile, the citizenry sits by in a drug-induced and media-saturated indifference. More relevant than ever a half-century later, Fahrenheit 451 has achieved the rare distinction of being both a literary classic and a perennial bestseller.

Now, I’m aware, Eleventh Stack  reader, that I am preaching to the choir when I talk about the power of reading. And you may be thinking “Whatever, Dan, my whole life is made up a series of month long celebrations of reading.” All the more reason to participate! Here are two great reasons to participate in the festivities:

  • You can bring along people in your life who aren’t as jazzed about reading as you are. We need literary leaders in the community to champion the virtues of reading!
  • If you love to read, you probably love to talk about books. And, boy, will you ever have a chance to do that this month.

There’s a great slate of events coming up this month. To get things started, tomorrow night from 6:30-9pm at the Lecture Hall (around the back of the Main Library in Oakland) we’ll be hosting the Big Read Kickoff. Check out this incredible lineup:

It is the Big Read, after all, so we had no choice but to go big. Following the kickoff, there will be a number of events in libraries across the city:

All of these events are free.

And that’s only the list of events that CLP is hosting! Check out the full calendar courtesy of CCAC here (PDF),

Need a copy of the book? We have you covered. It’s available for check out in a variety of formats:

Let’s read big, Pittsburgh! I’ll be on the lookout for all of you on the bus reading Farenheit 451 this October!

-Dan, who is especially looking forward to this as he has somehow managed, despite being a lifelong casual reader of science fiction, to make it a long way into adulthood without having read Fahrenheit 451.

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October: A Month of Movie Adaptations

As it turns out, there are quite a few movie adaptations of great books coming out this month.  So, if reading a book is too much of a commitment for you, maybe you can catch its movie adaptation instead.

Gone Girl (October 3)

When Gillian Flynn’s novel first came out, we couldn’t keep it on our shelves. Actually, we still can’t.  When I heard that David Fincher (Zodiac, The Social Network) was directing an adaptation, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.  Am I ever glad I did.  The titular girl disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary and her husband is the primary suspect. What follows is a story so full of twists and turns that I’d advise you hold onto something while you’re reading it.  The novel is four hundred and nineteen pages, but that didn’t stop me from gobbling it up in three days.  I could have done it in two if I hadn’t had to go to work.

Early rumors suggested that Fincher and Flynn changed the ending, but recent reviews say the ending remains faithful to the book.  I guess I’ll find out for myself this weekend.

 

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (October 10)

Just the other day I was thinking about how totally awesome it is when children’s books are adapted into eighty-minute movies and how they’re almost never ever awful in every single way (That’s sarcasm, Ron Howard and Robert Zemeckis for your versions of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Polar Express, respectively).

Sadly, no amount of The Black Keys, Of Monsters and Men and CGI kangaroos presented in the trailer makes me want to see this movie.  I’m fully aware that I’m not the target audience, but Pixar has proven for years that family films can be intelligent and still appeal to children and adults alike. Despite being published in 1972, Judith Viorst’s book about a child having a bad day is timeless.  Adding in a subplot about the father getting a job at a “game design firm” run by smug millennials and injecting current Internet slang (“hashtag blessed”) are unnecessary and come across as pandering in the worst way.  And, yes, I already hate myself for typing that quote.  Can you ever forgive me, Noah Webster?

“Forsooth, nay.  I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request.”

Men, Women & Children (October 17)

I talked about this book and its big screen adaptation last month.  Since then, a second trailer has been released that gives us a better look at some of the characters.  Similar to the trailers for Gone Girl, it looks like certain scenes were literally ripped right from the book.  Adam Sandler’s performance looks subdued, subtle even.  That’s never a bad thing.

The Best of Me (October 17)

I haven’t read this book, but I have actually had a small desire to read at least one of Nicholas Sparks’ novels.  Judging from the trailer, this looks like it’s in the same romantic style of all the other Sparks adaptations and it looks like James Marsden might finally get the girl in this one (see his previous failures in the X-Men film series, Enchanted, Superman Returns and The Notebook—another Sparks adaptation.  Why do you hate James Marsden, Hollywood?)

This movie knows what it’s about and knows its target audience.  If you like that kind of thing, you’ll probably enjoy this.  I say step outside your comfort zone and go see Men, Women & Children.  Or Gone Girl again.

White Bird in a Blizzard (October 24)

A mother walks out on her family one day.  Her sixteen-year-old daughter, seemingly unaffected by her mother’s departure, continues on with her life.  In her dreams, however, the girl dreams of her mother, crying for help.  Soon, she can’t ignore her dreams any longer.

This is another book I haven’t read, but I have it on my list.  What first piqued my interest in this film is the director, Greg Araki.  I have a complicated relationship with Araki’s films.  On the one hand, we have films like  The Doom Generationa meandering mess of a movie and Smiley Face, a film just a little too dumb to be funny.  On the other hand, we have  Mysterious Skin.  An adaptation of Scott Heim’s novel of the same name, it remains one of the most disturbing and depressing films I’ve ever seen. I absolutely loved it.  It’s probably one of my top twenty favorite films.  That said, I have absolutely no desire to watch it again.  After I saw it, I literally felt sick.  I can’t remember ever having such a visceral reaction to a film before it.

I feel like Araki deserves the benefit of doubt from me on this one.  While I may not love all of his films, he does capture teen angst and despair quite well.  Plus, there is some beautiful imagery in the trailer and Araki has assembled a pretty knockout cast including up-and-coming It-girl Shailene Woodley, Eva Green and Thomas Jane

Horns (October 31)

I finished reading Joe Hill’s novel about a month ago and really enjoyed it. It was the most twisty-turny book I’ve read since Gone Girl.

The trailer for the movie looks promising, depending on the version you watch.  I’ll admit that summarizing the tone of the book is difficult, which explains why there are different trailers. The book is funny, spooky, unsettling and heartbreaking, sometimes all in one page.  I’m worried that the movie might ignore some of the more nuanced aspects of the story.  If it turns out to be a straight-up horror movie, it will be a huge missed opportunity.  A balance between Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow and American Psycho would be a near-perfect combination. I’m still interested in seeing it though, mostly because I’m probably one of the only people in the universe who doesn’t see Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter; I only watched those movies for the first time last year.  His American accent is on point. Not since Hugh Laurie’s turn as Dr. Gregory House have I heard such a convincing American accent from a Britt.

I’ll probably see it as a prelude to my Halloween activities.  Maybe I’ll see some of you there.

–Ross

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Halloween Movies (for kids!)

This year my daughter asked to see some Halloween-themed (scary) movies so I picked out several titles and we have been watching… or rather starting to watch and then stopping when they get too scary. Although she loves Halloween, my daughter, like me, is a huge scaredy-cat. Everything that goes bump in the night is elevated to serial killer proportions in our minds (I once stayed awake all night while camping CONVINCED that the shadow on the tent was a murderer; turns out it was a tree). I thought I would share some of our recent selections along with our personal ratings, in case you your 6 year old is also a scaredy-cat… you can use my mistakes instead of freaking out your own kids! Win-win.

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Black Cauldron: A 1980s-era Disney animated film about a vision-having pig and her knightly protector. I thought this would be a nice little story for my daughter. Having never seen it myself I settled in for what I assumed would be something similar to the Sword in the Stone. Yeah… no. Ten minutes in and my daughter was freaked out by the horned-king and his grim reaper-like appearance. She left the living room with the parting line “This will give me nightmares, are you crazy?” It does seem like an interesting story that we may be able to revisit once she is older.

Hocus Pocus: This movie really needs no introduction. It is a modern-day classic. My kiddo has caught it in the middle on TV, but never from the beginning. I forgot about the opening scene where a little girl gets her soul sucked right out of her and her brother gets turned into a cat. This freaked her out, but luckily Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy are so outlandish and over the top even during this part of the movie that she quickly got over it and watched the rest of the movie. By the way… this news article broke my heart and smashed all my dreams.

Beetlejuice: Again, another classic film. I loved this movie when I was about my daughter’s age. As an adult I realized there was a TON of stuff that went over my head and luckily the same thing happened for my daughter. The scary stuff is scary but also so over-exaggerated that she found the movie hilarious. And remember this is a kid that got scared by a Disney movie about a pig.

The Witches: another classic (from my childhood) based on Roald Dahl’s book. As a kid I could. not. watch. this movie. Just too scary. Even as an adult something about it just spooks me. My daughter did exactly the same. She was uncomfortable through the whole set up and as soon as the witches showed themselves for who they really were she jumped up and ran out of the room.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: This is what started the whole “I want to watch scary stuff” fad in our house back in early September. We were on Sleepy Hollow Road and I made a comment about the story of the headless horseman, which fascinated my daughter. So after reading a few versions of the original Washington Irving tales (which went right over her head) I got the DVD. This DVD has the Disney version from the 1940s narrated by Bing Crosby. She loved this cartoon. It was really funny and not scary until the end and even the scary stuff is handled with a lot of humor. We really are spineless.

GhostBusters: Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Need I say more? My daughter LOVES this movie. She can’t sit through scary episodes of her favorite Nickelodeon shows, but Bill Murray having a proton pack showdown with Slimer, red-eyed murderous dogs, Zuul? She can’t get enough of it. Apparently 6 year olds really love live-action 1980s movies. Who knew?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: I know this isn’t technically a Halloween movie, but just try and tell me that this doesn’t make you think of fall and cold weather. My daughter loved this movie. I tried to read the book to her chapter by chapter, but it is still just a little too much for her. We haven’t moved on to the next movie either. I figure she has her whole childhood to be introduced to the HP world, why rush it?

The Addams Family: My daughter loves this movie, but it isn’t really scary. It is more about people who are different.

Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin: She loves this. Of course it is completely not scary and about as tame as you can be.

Hotel Transylvania: A story about a dad learning to accept his daughter as she grows up. But, you know, based around vampires and mummies. She gets a kick out of this, I think, because the scary monsters aren’t scary, they are just like you and me.

This is as far as we have gotten with our viewing and reviews, but just in case you have seen these or just really love watching seasonal themed kids movies here is the whole list I have on hold for us this October!

The Haunted Mansion

Corpse Bride

The Nightmare Before Christmas (I have tried to get her to watch this before and she never makes it more than 20 minutes in, we will see if she can handle it this year)

Coraline

Monster House

Paranorman

The Worst Witch (You know you love you some hunky warlock named Tim Curry)

The Vampire’s Assistant (PG-13)

Frankenweenie

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (PG)

Hope these movies help get you ready for Halloween!

-Natalie

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Common misconceptions

Do you use Wikipedia? I find that people either love it or hate it (or just don’t trust it). I rarely go there for the final word on anything, but I do love it as a starting point for topics I don’t know much about (Actually, I checked it just moments ago to find out who Lena Dunham’s mom is– Laurie Simmons, FYI). Most of the time the information on the site seems to be fairly accurate, but I especially love the footnotes! The footnotes are a great way to instantly find a short bibliography of sources.

Another thing I love about Wikipedia is the strange articles that you can find there– like this one about popular misconceptions. (Did you know that Napoleon was actually not that short?) Here are a few other articles that I especially love:

Ampelmännchen, aside from being a great German word that translates to little light man, is also an interesting article about these pedestrian walk signals from East Germany that survived reunification in 1990.

Have you heard of the Borough of S.N.P.J. in Lawrence County, PA? It stands for Slovenska Narodna Podporna Jednota  and is a recreation hall that applied to be a municipality in 1977 to get around liquor laws.

Calculator spelling has a name– beghilos!  Everyone spelled out 5318008 and 0.7734 in elementary school, right?

Need a better word for doodads or whatchamacallits? There’s a whole list of placeholder names here. (Gewgaw, gizmo, gubbins, hoofer doofer…)

The Waffle House Index is a real thing, guys. I actually had to check the footnotes on this one to make sure someone didn’t just make it up, but in this case truth really is stranger than fiction. FEMA actually does consider the strength of a hurricane by whether Waffle Houses nearby are open or closed.

Do you have a favorite Wikipedia article? Do you use it to find reliable information or just steer clear altogether?

-Irene

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Brooding Dukes and Damsels in Distress

Gothic novel: a novel in which magic, mystery, and chivalry are the chief characteristics.

A Handbook to Literature (6th edition) by C. Hugh Holman and William Harmon

Windswept moors, drafty and remote castles, stormy nights, and a dark and dangerous hero suffering lots of angst. Jane Austen spoofed it in Northanger Abbey in 1816 while the Bronte sisters epitomized it in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre in the Victorian era. But what about today? Read on for some historical romances with a darker journey to happily ever after.

Máire Claremont’s Mad Passions series.

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In the Victorian era, it wasn’t considered unusual for powerful men to send their troublesome women to an insane asylum for reasons such as, say, having a nervous breakdown after the death of a child (The Dark Lady) or witnessing a father murder a beloved mother (The Lady in Red). Men, however, are not immune to commitment by a parent for opium addiction (The Dark Affair).

Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed by Anna Campbell. (Sons of Sin series)

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As payment for her married sister’s gambling debts, Sidonie Forsythe agrees to replace her sister in Jonas Merrick’s bed. In doing so, she will give up her virtue to a man haunted by his past and determined to prove his parentage.

Taken by the Duke by Jess Michaels. (Pleasure Wars series)

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Lady Ava Windbury is kidnapped by Christian Rothcastle and taken to his estate in revenge for one sibling’s death and another’s incapacitation in this Romeo and Juliet love story.

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare. (Castles Ever After series)

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Take one penniless and homeless orphan, add one tormented duke, and a dash of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table and you get this charming gothic spoof.

A Duke’s Temptation by Jillian Hunter. (Bridal Pleasures series)

temptation

Lily Boscastle is the biggest fan of the mysterious and handsome Duke of Gravenhurst’s “horrid” novels. When she becomes his housekeeper at his remote estate, she discovers the real secrets behind the man. Another gothic spoof, this one is best listened to aloud on e-audio, read by the enchanting Justine Eyre.

-Maria A.

Note: This post is the fourth in a series highlighting historical romance novels I’ve greatly enjoyed.

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On Not Getting Lost in the Wilderness (or Dying)

Quebec Run Wild Area. Photo by author.

Quebec Run Wild Area. Photo by author.

 “I was in Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, a 75-minute train ride northwest of Tokyo, with half a dozen other hikers out for a dose of shinrin-yoku,or forest bathing. The Japanese go crazy for this practice, which is standard preventive medicine here. It essentially involves hanging out in the woods.” Florence Williams, in an article in Outdoor Magazine

I’ve been trying to exercise more lately, but I’ve had a hard time finding something that I like to do that doesn’t feel like a chore. I’ve tried running, but have never been able to get into it (probably due to poor lung capacity, laziness, or both). I’ve always liked hiking though, and while searching for new hiking trails I came across a backpacking class offered through the Explorer’s Club of Pittsburgh. Backpacking! Finally, something that appealed to me. I checked my schedule and signed up for the class without a moment’s hesitation.

I’m really glad I did. One thing I love about backpacking is that it can be done by a broad range of people, regardless of athletic ability, age or skill level. The trick is to pack carefully and go at a pace that’s comfortable for you. There are plenty of great day and overnight hikes within a 100 miles of Pittsburgh and there’s sure to be a trail for just about everybody out there ( I recently even discovered this really cool Braille Trail in North Park).

Not being a great athlete, I was quickly won over by one of the more surprising aspects of backpacker culture—it’s nerdiness. Even if you are not a very skilled hiker, you can become an A+ packer. The idea is to include everything that is essential, but to keep your pack as light as possible. There is even a class of extreme backpacking called Ultralight, and these hikers will go as far as cutting the handle off their toothbrush to lessen their load. I’ve already learned a lot from the folks in the Explorer’s Club, although I don’t anticipate becoming an Ultralight extremist. Still, there are other sub-genres of backpacking to get into if you want to get nerdy in the woods. You can become an excellent map reader by joining an Orienteering Club, or a gourmet backpack cook by pouring over tons of blogs and books, or become a master of survivalist skills by taking a wilderness survival course.

Whatever your interest or skill level, there are tons of resources available to get you started. Here are just a few:

Books

The Backpacker’s Field Manual

This was the textbook for my backpacking class with the Explorer’s Club, and I found it indispensable. This book covers all the basics.

The Complete Walker

I’ve been told that this is the old stanby for backpackers. It covers all the basics, with some additional philosophical musings.

60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Pittsburgh 

These are mostly days hikes, but if you’re just getting started hiking around Pittsburgh, I can think of no better book to begin with.

Websites

Keystone Trails Association 

A vital website for any Pennsylvania hiker or backpacker.

Venture Outdoors 

These guys are great, and can help get you started with everything from hiking and camping, to kayaking and snow-shoeing.

R.E.I. 

A great place for gear and maps, and also a few classes.

Explorer’s Club of Pittsburgh 

A volunteer group that currently offers once-a-year classes in backpacking, rock climbing, and mountaineering. The also have gear available for rental for first timers.

DVDs

Appalachian Trail 

This National Geographic special highlights this great trail, which runs all the way from Georgia to Maine.

Mile Mile & A Half 

This documentary follows five friends who leave their daily lives behind to hike California’s historic John Muir Trail, a 211 mile stretch from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney.

Tell it on the Mountain

This documentary follows a dozen thru-hikers who try to complete the Pacific Coast trail–a trail that is over 2,663 miles long.

Be safe and happy exploring,

Tara

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Let’s Read a Banned Book!

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Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

 

One of the books that has appeared on the Top 10 list of banned books, compiled by the American Library Association, for each of the last 5 years is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. This is a young adult novel (as so many of the books on these lists are) about a teenage Native American boy who chooses to attend school outside his home on the reservation. This decision leaves Junior, or Arnold as he’s called off the reservation, shunned by his people, as well as trying to fit in and on the outskirts of his new community. It is an honest portrayal of his life in high school – girls, bullies, fights, sports, and parents. Junior must learn to cope with a lot of loss in his family and embrace what’s good in his life.

Alexie’s book is most often challenged in libraries and schools due to its themes of sexuality, racism, use of drugs and alcohol, and offensive language. Many of these objectors feel that its content is unsuitable for the age group for which it is written. Considering that I have two teenagers at home who are dealing with and making personal decisions about all of the issues listed above, I find it hard to believe that some people don’t seem to understand what really happens in high school. But I shouldn’t judge, I’m sure they have their reasons. I’m more grateful that there are books like this available to my teenagers, so they know that what they’re going through is typical. They are not abnormal or weird. Being able to relate to a book’s characters and to recognize yourself in their struggles is one of the most important things a book can impart to an adolescent in the throes of indecision and hormones and peer pressure. But that’s just one person’s opinion. Happily for me and mine, those librarians and educators who fight against the banning of books must feel the same way.

book

Our librarians who lead the Let’s READ English book discussion group at the Main Library have decided that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is also a good vehicle for those who are learning to read and speak English as a second language. As well, it can serve as a catalyst for discussion about life in America amongst this group of foreign language speakers. The Let’s READ English discussion group will be talking about this book at their program on October 10th at 2pm. If you know someone who is looking to improve their English language skills, please have them stop by the library and check out a copy of the book prior to the discussion day.

Today is our last post for Banned Books Week 2014. However, through programming and book recommendations, libraries continue the fight against censorship every week of every year.

Now go out and continue to read banned books all year long!
-Melissa M.

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