The YA Controversy

Occasionally when I know that I should write a blog, I struggle to come up with something to write about. When that happens, I go to GoodReads and look at my list of books that I’ve read to try and scrounge up some ideas or themes. Occasionally even when I go to the site, I still struggle to come up with an idea.

That’s what happened this time around, so I decided to just Google some favorite categories. For example, the always changing border of adult and young adult fiction. The idea that sometimes “kids books” are really excellent books for adults and sometimes “adult” books are really good books for young adults. The problem with this border is that the age range for young adult books is in flux. Depending on who you talk to, the age range can be from 13-25, 13-40, or 13-17. It just depends. I was looking for more books that I could recommend that was on the border when I happened upon this article.

I have heard that this article is “old news” now, but it still made me think about a couple of things and made me frustrated with the notion that ANYONE should be embarrassed about what they read, and that anyone should be able to tell someone that what they are reading is wrong/inappropriate/not literary enough. The article also made me think about the labels of books in general. I feel as though I have read books that should belong in young adult fiction but have been labeled as adult fiction instead and vice versa.

Here are two books, that I believe truly blur the lines of young adult and adult fiction. One has been categorized as adult fiction and one is young adult. Can you tell the difference? Is it obvious which is which? Oh! And no cheating!

queen of tearlingThe Queen of Tearling is about a girl who must learn how to become a queen. When her mother dies, Kelsea must learn about her past and the past of the country she will eventually come to rule. Facing sorcery and other dangers, she must battle for the light in a land full of dark.

divinersThe Diviners tells the story of a couple of characters who live in New York. There seems to be something in the air, because several begin to discover and become more accustomed to their secret powers.

I hope you enjoy the books, or don’t but either way it’s your choice.



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Tune in Tomorrow

Everybody in Pittsburgh is connected to everybody else; they just don’t always realize it.

Test it yourself: pick a random person at your bus stop, smile, and say good morning. Unless they’re having a super-cranky day, this is most likely going to lead to a conversation. Approximately three minutes into your chat, you will discover that your new friend knows a) somebody you work with, b) somebody you used to work with, c) somebody you went to school with, d) one of your friends/relatives/neighbors, or e) some combination thereof. Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, meet Three Degrees of Yinzer. It’s 99% foolproof.

If you and I were to get into that bus stop conversation, and you were to ask me about local author Thomas Sweterlitsch, I’d have to pick option b: somebody I used to work with. Sort of. Vaguely. I spent one very pleasant day hanging out with him at the  Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped when they needed an extra pair of hands, but we’ve otherwise had minimal professional contact: casual hellos at meetings and such. He’s a nice guy. So you can imagine how tickled I was to get my hands on his debut novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and discover that all the glowing professional reviews of a nice’s guy’s first book were more than justified.*

Free event, but reservations required - click through!

Don’t just take my word for it. Join us tomorrow at 6 p.m. , CLP – Main Quiet Reading Room. This event is FREE, but space is limited, so click here to make a reservation.

If you somehow managed to avoid hearing about the book and its fascinating backstory, here’s a quick summary: In the not-so-distant future, John Dominic Blaxton lost his wife and unborn daughter to a terrorist attack that destroyed Pittsburgh completely. Paralyzed with grief, Blaxton spends most of his time in the Archive, a digital repository that contains a Pittsburgh lovingly preserved down to the last pierogi. Occasionally working, but mostly revisiting scenes from his past, Blaxton haunts the various places where his favorite memories took place. When he stumbles across the digital corpse of a missing girl, however, he finds himself caught up in a high-stakes whodunit that could wipe out every last pixel of the past he holds dear.

"How can I wreck thee? Let me count the ways..." Author photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures.

“How can I wreck thee? Let me count the ways…” Author photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures.

Readers burned out on dystopia, have no fear: Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a literary sci-fi lover’s dream. The writing style has been compared frequently to that of Philip K. Dick and William S. Gibson, and, while the influences are definitely there, I’ll up the ante and argue that there are also shades of Oryx and Crake here: Sweterlitsch achieves the same haunted, poignant tone that Atwood does, with similar poetic grit. Tomorrow is also noteworthy for its concrete scene-setting: Not only does the book capture Pittsburgh perfectly, but there are also passages late in the book about other parts of our region—Youngstown and New Castle, specifically—with potential emotional impact on people who know them firsthand. That same careful attention to detail is applied equally well to other cities that appear in the book, such as San Francisco and Washington D.C., proving that Sweterlitsch has both research chops and a flair for description.

Even if sci-fi, tech-noir, or urban dystopia aren’t in your normal wheelhouse, you’re going to want to pick this one up at some point, because Tomorrow and Tomorrow is, at its core, a story about grief and loss, two burdens that visit everyone sooner or later. It functions as a grim in-joke, too, if you’re local: blowing Pittsburgh to smithereens and reconstructing it as a digital archive transforms the city into the ultimate Thing That Isn’t There Anymore (well-played, sir, well-played). There’s a lot to unpack here, and you don’t want to be the only person in town who hasn’t read it, especially since it’s been optioned for film, too.

If all of that sounds like cake and Christmas to you, you’ll want to click over here ASAP and reserve your free tickets for tomorrow night’s Writers Live event at CLP Main, presented in partnership with Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures, which will start at 6 p.m. in the Quiet Reading Room. Tickets are free, but space is limited, so don’t be left out, especially since Mystery Lovers Bookshop will be there too, with copies for sale.

Once you’ve read the book and attended the program, your next mission is to take Tomorrow and Tomorrow to the bus stop, T, 61C, or other public gathering place of choice and make a new friend. Because until the machines take over, we are the Archive. There’s no permanent inoculation against heartbreak, but a good conversation about a good book in a great city makes for a terrific booster shot.

—Leigh Anne

*If you’re still concerned about reviewer bias, please: read the book, and then let’s go have coffee. If you think I missed the mark, the drinks are on me.


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Don’t Forget to Pack Shorts

If economists came up with a thrills-per-page index for the written word, I suspect that they would find that short stories offer one of the best literary bangs for your buck, second only perhaps to (very good) poems. Short stories are like the punk rock of prose — a great story writer can strip away all of the frills and blow away readers with the essential elements of a great story in just a few short pages.

George Saunders wrote recently that “Short stories are the deep, encoded crystallizations of all human knowledge. They are rarefied, dense meaning machines, shedding light on the most pressing of life’s dilemmas.” (Did I mention that short-stories are unpretentious? That quote comes not from the New Yorker or Paris Review but rather O Magazine, in an imagined conversation with a space alien. If that’s not relatable I don’t know what is.)

Short stories are perfect for times when your attention is likely to be diverted but you still want that gut-punch (in a good way) feeling that a good read leaves you with, which is why I’m always puzzled when I see people hauling gigantic books to the pool, beach, and park in the summertime. I love an aspirational reading project as much as the next person, but why on Earth would you choose to slog through a giant brick of a novel when there are street fairs to go to, spray parks to splash in, movies and music to listen to in parks, and grass that just won’ t stop growing? Infinite Summer should happen in the winter when there’s nothing else to do.

I’ve gone on too long already. Let’s get to the recommendations:

If you want to have your socks knocked off by sheer off-the-wall virtuosity, two collections that I have read recently come to mind:

  • Lorrie Moore’s Self Help is packed with funny and poignant meditations on the absurd quality life can take on upon close observation. These stories of divorce, death, and relationships (I know, sounds hilarious, right?) feel very fresh even though they were written 25 years ago. Moore’s writing is also technically interesting, especially her frequent use of second-person narrative. It often feels like she’s giving you instructions for sinking slowly into oblivion. Also available as an eBook.
  • Each of Rebecca Lee’s stories that are collected in Bobcat and Other Stories may leave you feeling like you just finished a good novel. That is because Lee packs an incredible amount of detail and emotion into the small space of her stories, most of which detail some major life transition for the her characters. In just the same way you might remember what you were having for dinner when your parents told you they were getting divorced, Lee as narrator drops little observations about food, decor, or body language in her stories. Also available as an eBook.

I also have a couple of old favorites that may not be on your radar but are highly recommended:

  • Barry Hannah is, in my opinion, criminally under-read these days. The guy was a master of dropping the reader right into the middle of the bizarre lives of his characters (typically southern troublemakers) and somehow suggesting enough history and setting that it all totally makes sense. These stories (try Airships first) are hilarious, raucous, sad, and filled with a great acid-tinted social commentary reminiscent of Terry Southern and Hunter S. Thompson at his best. These stories have a short-shorted, mustachioed, Aviator-glasses-clad swagger that would feel right at home in the hipster era.
  • The virtues of Jon Raymond’s Livability have already been praised in these pages, and I can’t make a better plea to check out this book than Tara did except to say that it’s still a great book filled with big trees, sad people, and bad weather, and is still somehow uplifting to read. The movies that brought me to the book, Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy (based on the story “Train Choir”), are also fantastic.

If none of those are doing it for you, consider Saunders’ recommendations from the O article, which are meant to be read by an alien from outer space who needs a crash course in humanity (links are to electronic copies if available):

Saunders is humble enough to exclude his own work, but he’s not such a bad writer himself.

Don’t over commit this summer! Enjoy these fun-sized reads.

-Dan, whose attention span in the summer sometimes gets bad enough that the back of the cereal box is all I can get through


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Summer Readin’, Had Me a Blast

Summer Reading Sign-up

Is it me, or didn’t we just kick off the 2014 Summer Reading program at Extravaganza like, five minutes ago?

(Insert your favorite cliché here about summer going faster every year.)

I was one of those kids who lived for my library’s Summer Reading Program back in the day. As a full-fledged grown-up (on most days), I love that CLP has a Summer Reading program for adults.

You know that I signed up the second the link went live on the CLP website. (If you haven’t signed up,  you still have time … but not much.  Summer Reading ends on August 9. There are pretty good prizes to be had, too.)

As of today, I’ve read 16 books for Summer Reading and am in the middle of my 17th and 18th books (the Man Booker Prize nominated History of the Rain by Niall Williams and Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver on audio, respectively).  I’d like to get to 20 by the weekend, but if this is as good as it gets, I’m perfectly fine with that too.

I thought it would be fun to do a Best Of list, Hollywood award show style, for my Summer Reading books of 2014:

Summer Reading Book That Made Me Cry: Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir, by Paul Monette

Genre That I Couldn’t Get Enough Of This Summer: Memoir, with poetry and fiction coming in second and third.

Summer Reading Book That I Can’t Believe I Didn’t Read Before Now: The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

Book That I Am Most Likely to Re-Read: Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, by Beth Kephart

Shortest Book Read This Summer: Woolgathering, by Patti Smith

Favorite Book Read From the CLP-Main Bestseller Table: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian

New Author Who I Read For the First Time and Who I Love: A tie between Paul Monette and Sylvia Plath

Best Nonfiction Book That Taught Me Something This Summer: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

Summer Reading Book That Made Me Wish I Was On Vacation When I Wasn’t: French Lessons, by Ellen Sussman

Did you participate in Summer Reading?  What were your favorite books that you read?  Feel free to play along with these categories at home, at work, or on your own blog.  (And share it with us, because if there’s anything we love here at Eleventh Stack, it’s lists of books and seeing other people’s lists.)

~ Melissa F.





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eCLP: Free and Easy



If I wrote a blog post about all that was amazing about the FREE “e” services Carnegie Library provides, it would be the longest one ever. I will therefore force myself to concentrate on one aspect — downloadable and streaming music. So Much! Downloadable and Streaming Music! Whatever Your Tastes!

There is so much that it can get a little overwhelming, so I urge you to start now. All you need is a library card, which is free of course. Downloadable offerings are easily accessible using apps or on a PC. No need to come to the library to take out or return stuff. Best of all it is free, free, free, free, free, free, FREE!

Here is a summary of what Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers:

Downloadable Music

Hoopla100Downloadable music, by album. Hoopla also has lots of movies, TV shows and audiobooks. I personally use this service a lot! I have the app on my smartphone, and plug it in to my car speakers or listen in my kitchen while I’m cooking. I have yet not to find what I’m searching for, and I have very eclectic tastes. I have educated myself about new artists with this service. Everything is always available, no waiting or putting things on hold.


freegalmusicDownload the app, or go through your PC. Three free songs per week. Yours to keep forever. ‘Nuff said.


Streaming Music

Streaming music is not downloadable. You need to be connected to the internet. I use these sites to listen to music on my computer with headphones. Go through this site to access these databases.

Alexander Street Press music databases:

American Song — Songs by and about Native Americans, miners, immigrants, slaves, children and many others.

Contemporary World Music

Smithsonian Global Sound — world, folk (including the U. S.) and traditional music

Classical Music Library

Jazz Music Library

Opera in Video — operas, interviews & documentaries

This site also has help pages listed at the bottom, including Using Your Mobile Device with Alexander Street Press.


Naxos databases:

Naxos Music Library — classical, jazz and world music.

Naxos Music Library: Jazz — lots and lots of Jazz!


DRAM Online:

Digital Recordings of American Music — A scholarly resource of recordings, including liner notes and essays. This streaming site is only available within the Main Library of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.


All this music for free! Educate yourself. Discover a type of music you’ve never heard before. There’s no risk because there is nothing to buy. Each site has new content all the time. What are you waiting for?



P. S. Did I mention that all this content is FREE (with your free library card)?


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eCLP Saves the Day!

Start 'em young!

Start ‘em young!

So we have been talking a lot about our e-resources available here at the library and a lot of people are interested in the e-books and music available to them through CLP while others love the downloads and videos. When I first started working here I had a general knowledge of what the library had to offer but one day last year the incomparable, genius Jess from Woods Run showed me the DIY Auto Repair database available on our website. I swooned! You see my husband is an auto mechanic of the highest order. In his spare time he works on vintage cars, normal cars, off road vehicles…anything with wheels really. When not doing that his actual paying job is working on vintage World War II vehicles. This is a man who, without a tire changing machine on the side of the highway, took a tire for a 66 VW bug off the rim using the guardrail, a screw driver and just pure brute strength and replaced it with a new tire on the same rim. Okay so if you don’t know anything about cars this doesn’t sound that impressive…but it is, really, ask your mechanic.


The Stig ..aka my husband

Since Jess showed me the database I have helped out countless patrons who came in with questions or requests for auto manuals by showing them this resource. But I never thought it would help me out since my husband is part human part car (yes, technically this makes him a Transformer). Earlier this summer we were making our monthly trip to visit my in-laws in Southern West Virginia. We make this trip so often that I know the terrain by the mile markers and can tell you exactly how many minutes it will take from where we are to exit 9, our destination right outside Charleston. This particular trip was cut short when our car, an Acura, suddenly lost power. Several times my husband had to gently guide us off I-79 on to the shoulder. He had a general idea of what might be happening (fuel pump failure) but the truth is that our make of car, and its sister Honda, rarely has this issue. While he knew the pump was in a completely inconvenient place (the middle of the car, under the middle seat) he wasn’t sure where the fuel pump lines were and needed a schematic of both the lines and the fuses (or something like that, listen I honestly had stopped paying attention somewhere around the 10 minute mark in to his explanation; long-winded is a trait we share).

So while we were stranded my husband began searching on-line forums for a schematic to point him to the right lines. At this point I was a little nervous about offering up my beloved database. What if it didn’t help? What if it didn’t show him what he needed? Would he mock its very existence? I hesitated but due to the fact that I was really hungry, needed to use the bathroom and wanted to get the trip over with, I brought up it up on my phone using my library card and showed it to my husband. He was doubtful at first (what could the library offer him that 20 years of real world experience couldn’t?) but within 5 minutes he had the needed schematic in hand  AND it eventually helped him when we got in to Charleston and had to find parts for the car. It totally saved us from being stuck in the dark on the road in WV (there was no banjo music playing…yet) or from having to get a tow truck!

So as far as e-resources go feel free to fight over your e-books and music downloads; I will happily stick to the DIY databases, history databases and genealogy websites!


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Moving, with a little help from eCLP

I’m in the process of packing up my apartment in preparation of a move into a new house. It’s amazing how much stuff you can accumulate when you live in a place for almost 9 years! This process of packing and cleaning and getting everything ready to move from one place to another place 5 minutes away is just miserable. Never will I be one of those super-organized people for whom packing is a breeze (do those people even exist?). As I’m writing this, I’ve reached the point in my packing where I’m kind of ready to just chuck everything and start from scratch. And while I’m normally a library “super user,” the thought of accumulating anything else, even a library book or DVD that I can return, makes me feel a little ill. Because of this, I’ve been relying more heavily on our e-resources than ever. Here are a few things that are making my life easier these days:

Overdrive: I could write a love letter to Overdrive. I use it when I want to take some books on vacation, can’t decide what I’ll feel like reading, and don’t want to weigh down my already too-heavy suitcase. I use it when I want to read a book that is a bazillion pages long while commuting by bus to work. And this week it’s helping me read as much as I want without adding more bulk to the piles of things I still have to pack.

Zinio: This has been one of my favorite resources since CLP started subscribing. Like Overdrive, it lets me feed my magazine habit without checking out a physical object. Since we decided to move, my focus has shifted slightly from Star and In Touch to Dwell, Do It Yourself, and Elle Decor.

Hoopla: This resource is actually one I hadn’t used before, but in the week or so since I discovered it, it’s been kind of life changing. The thing is, I have two kids under the age of 5 who are eager to “help” pack. Not much distracts them from their (admittedly sweet) urges to do what I do, but watching Caillou videos on my iPad does the trick.

What resources from eCLP do you love?




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