As a patent librarian, I often hear of interesting or strange new inventions from colleagues. One that I came across recently is this amazing alarm clock that actually makes you coffee! I don’t know of many beverages that are as polarizing as a cup of joe; most of us either love it or hate it, and those who love it usually have strong opinions about how to drink it (black, IMO). In honor of this amazing beverage, here’s a short book (and movie!) list:

God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect CoffeeJournalist Michaele Weissman travels the world trying to find the best cup of coffee. Committed caffeine lovers may relate.

Friends: Does anyone else remember that in the first few episodes Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, Chandler, and Phoebe actually hung out in a bar? For the rest of the series they spent so much time in that coffee shop that it’s hard to think of them going anywhere else.

Coffee and Cigarettes: Both coffee and cigarettes figure prominently in other Jim Jarmusch films, but this one is a paean to both. My favorite vignette in this film is the one with Bill Murray and the Wu-Tang Clan.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work: This book describes, you guessed it, the daily rituals that various artists follow. It’s a fun read, and of course coffee figures in prominently in many of the daily routines. Balzac, in particular, has  feelings on coffee that border on fanatical: “Coffee glides into one’s stomach and sets all of one’s mental processes in motion. One’s ideas advance in column of route like battalions of the Grande Armée. Memories come up at the double, bearing the standards which will lead the troops into battle. The light cavalry deploys at the gallop… Were it not for coffee one could not write, which is to say one could not live.”

from The New York Tribune, 1919

from The New York Tribune, 1919



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Douglas Adams Would Have Loved Guardians of the Galaxy

Is it heretical to suggest a favorite author, now passed on, might have loved something new and hip that’s just hit the scene?  I hope not, because I really believe Douglas Adams would have loved Guardians Of The Galaxy, the white-hot sci-fi movie that has burned up the box office and once again affirmed Marvel’s dominance as the house of ideas when it comes to Hollywood blockbusters.

The protagonists in Guardians and those in the works of Mr. Adams share a certain madcap glee in their roles. They don’t use the same methods. Adams’ work in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy actually lampoons the sort of all-out violence that Star-Lord and his crew of misfits employ to solve the pressing problems in Guardians Of The Galaxy. Despite this, some parallels still remain. Without spoiling things too much, the heroes of Guardians use cinematic violence to achieve their goals, for sure, but ultimately carry the day on the strength of their growing friendship and trust in each other’s abilities. While the Hitchhiker movie adaptation did not enjoy the runaway success Guardians currently basks in, I feel like Mr. Adams would have smiled at the amazingly well-realized CGI characters of Rocket Raccoon and Groot. While both characters generate plenty of laughs in Guardians, they also deliver some emotional moments. Their inhuman appearances juxtaposed with their all-too-human foibles helps communicate the notion of a galaxy brimming with possibility. Intelligent life exists in multifarious shapes and sizes.

Indeed, in many ways, Guardians marks the next step in post-racial sci-fi. We see this in the “good-guy” world of Xandar, an enlightened society teeming with sentient beings of all shapes and colors, living and loving together beyond the boundaries of racial identity. Writer/director James Gunn surely calculated all of this when putting this tour-de-force sci-fi epic together, but the movie’s first aim, like the works of Mr. Adams, is entertainment, and it scores big on that account!

If you have seen Guardians and you find yourself wanting more, or if you have not seen it yet and want a primer on Marvel’s spacefaring characters, now might be a good time for a short list of recommended titles.

Guardians1-cov Guardians Of The Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers vol. 1. Anyone who wants to start at the very beginning need look further than this volume for the origins of Marvel’s first Guardians Of The Galaxy. This distinctively 1970’s take on the 30th century features plenty of classic comic book action, and wonder of wonders, thought bubbles! Yes, before it came uncool to reveal a character’s thoughts in today’s post-modern superhero comics (thanks, Brian Michael Bendis), writers could freely provide handy exposition and story elements by showing you what a character was thinking. If you like this one, be sure to check out Vol. 2 as well!

Guardians-Leg-cov Guardians Of The Galaxy: Legacy Vol. 1. In 2008 incomparable duo Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning revived Guardians Of The Galaxy. The movie that’s tearing up the box office like Michael Rooker chewing scenery would not exist without the stories in this collection. Along with artist Paul Pelletier, Abnett and Lanning redefined Guardians for a new era of Marvel readers. If you like this, be sure to grab Vol. 2 as well!

thanos imperative-cover The Thanos Imperative. It doesn’t get much more cosmic than this one! Abnett and Lanning once again deliver the goods as the Guardians, Nova, and a bevy of other characters first aid, then foil the plans of the Mad Titan, Thanos.



Battlebeyondthestars Battle Beyond The Stars. This campy Roger Corman sci-fi romp is not a Marvel movie, but its characters share the same misfit status and esprit de corps as the Guardians. It’s Seven Samurai in space, what more can a sci-fi fan ask for?




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Last Call: Adult Summer Reading


 Saturday, August 9th is the last day to record your summer reading picks!  It only takes two to be eligible to win the grand prize, and you can choose from any genre or format your readerly heart desires.

Click here to sign in to your summer reading account and tally up those last few books of the sunny season!

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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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