Who Needs Reality Shows When You Have eCLP?

So there we were, enjoying a glorious vacation week at my aunt and uncle’s beach house, and my 12 year old twins were watching the latest episode of America’s Singing Horribly with People Who Don’t Have Any Talent.

(True parenting confession time: my kids are really into reality shows. If you know me and my husband, there’s no rational explanation for how this happened.)

Less than five minutes of this cacophony and I’d had more than enough. Unfortunately, my options were somewhat limited.

Now, my aunt and uncle have a nice beach house — but it’s a tad on the smaller side. Whatever goes on in the living room of the beach house is heard everywhere throughout the beach house. Reading was impossible because I couldn’t concentrate. Going outside for a walk was out of the question: It was thunderstorming. And I am among that pitiful percentage of the population who lacks an iPod or iPad or iAnything that would allow me to listen to music iAnytime.

But what I do own is a Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh library card.

And a smartphone.*

And the OverDrive app conveniently located on that smartphone.

And a pair of headphones.

As the banal banter from the TV continued incessantly, I snuck into the bedroom, fluffed up the pillows on the bed and pressed that OverDrive app button on my phone. Clicked Get Books. Clicked Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Signed in. There, as if by magic (but because I’d told my phone I wanted it to remember it) was my library card number, right there from the last time I used it. I clicked on the nebulous person icon (who I could relate to pretty well at the moment) and brought up my Wish List.

Overdrive - My Account Overdrive - Wish List Available Now

My friends. These are the times that OverDrive Wish Lists are made for, and you’d better believe I was ever so grateful for having created it. This was no time for browsing as a bubble-headed bleached blonde was on the TV yammering about how the only way this incredible talent was going to get his Number One Wish and advance to the finals was if you, America, gotoyourphonesandmakeatollfreecallortweetusingthishashtag….

I was more interested in using my phone to download one of my Wish Listed audio books, and — holy cow! — I had plenty to choose from. As it turned out, of the numerous eBooks and audio books on my wish List, 131 of them were available right at that moment! Right there in the beach house! One hundred and thirty-one books!

(What can I say? I have a pretty extensive Wish List.)

I scrolled through the offerings. I was being pickier than I should have been, given my quasi-desperate circumstances and plethora of e-choices from the Library. I selected Jess Walter‘s short story collection We Live In Water (an appropriate if not ironic title, since we’d just spent the day by the ocean) and by the time I finished the heart-crushing first story “Anything Helps” (so incredibly good!) my kids were finished with their show and ready for bed.

Everybody in this family wins. Everybody gets a trophy. Especially when one can be 500 miles away from Pittsburgh on a barrier island located in a town too small to be listed on most maps and still be able to access the Library’s collection of books within seconds via one’s phone.

Now that’s my kind of reality show.

* Yes, I know I could very well listen to music on my phone (via the Library, too!) but that’s an Eleventh Stack post for another day. 

~Melissa F.

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eCLP for Laughs

Hoopla has nothing to do with the album Knee Deep in the Hoopla by Starship (a.k.a., Jefferson Starship) which contains the song “We Built This City” which I think might be the worst song to emerge out of the 1980s.  No, this hoopla (yes, the company branders always write it without capitalizing) is a newer eCLP library service that is marketed as a provider of movies, TV shows, audiobooks, and music albums.  It indeed has those things.  But you know what I use it for?  Comedy albums.  There are about 250 of them in there to stream or download with classics like Steve Martin and Richard Pryor plus newer sensations like Jim Gaffigan.  TIP: find them in the music category or just search for “comedy.”

Here are some I’ve checked out lately:

wea_824363019666_detail You might know Marc Maron from his WTF podcast/radio show.  For his stand-up comedy, he claims he doesn’t prepare: “In my mind, if I don’t prepare and I pull this off, I’m a !@#$ing genius…and if I don’t pull it off, eh, I didn’t prepare.”  His style is rambling, self-deprecating, and confessional, and I think he indeed does pull it off.

wea_824363010366_detail Pittsburgh’s own Anthony Jeselnik is the opposite of Maron.  He has a measured, deliberate delivery and his comic persona is ridiculously narcissistic.  As for his material, be warned, it is some of the most un-PC, offensive, and if you like that sort of thing, hilarious, comedy out there.

wea_824363011868_detail Also offensive and funny is Amy Schumer (who as it happens, used to date Jeselnik) who smartly takes on and plays with the identity of a promiscuous party girl.

wea_656605023465_detail I knew about Tig Notaro’s candid, stunning album that she made after being diagnosed with cancer, but until hoopla, I hadn’t heard her earlier album, Good One.  She is a master of deadpan delivery.

wea_824363016467_detail Those of you who have seen Demetri Martin on TV might think of him as a prop or a visual comic.  But he fares very well is purely audio form.  Here is a joke of his, for example, “Separate but equal is terrible for education but perfect for eyebrows.”

wea_824363017068_detail While I’m quoting jokes, I have to share the lesser known Kyle Kinane’s absurd description of pho soup: “If you don’t know what pho is, it’s a Vietnamese soup that answers the question: what happens when a former child soldier pours hot rainwater over fish nightmares?”

Get absurd.  Get offended.  Get happy.  Get some comedy albums from hoopla.

– Tim

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The Untraditional Summer Reading List

Recently I’ve seen a lot of blogs about cheery/easy/uplifting summer reads. I get it, I understand why so many people like those types of books for over the summer. They are traveling and going to beaches and want a book that goes along with the freedom and joy of summer. However, occasionally I find that this is exactly the time to read sad/serious/scary books, because when you are done with the story you are able to look up and see a beautiful view and remind yourself that it’s just a book. Hopefully.

After the endAfter the End by Amy Plum

This is the first book in the series, and unfortunately the second one isn’t due out until spring of next year. However, it is still a book worthy of a read. Juneau, a young girl that lives in the Alaskan wilderness, is forced to go on a hunt to find her family, that she believes has been kidnapped. During her hunt, she discovers that what she believes (that the world ended in 1984) is not true, and people have been existing and creating for the past 30 years. This book is fascinating and adventuresome, and forces the reader to ask a couple of questions about survival.

we were liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Most of this book takes place at a lake house during the summer. Many people would think that would make this book a traditional summer read, but pick it up and you will discover that it is not as close to a summer read as one would hope. The story is from the point of view of a young girl whose family is owns an island that she gets to visit every summer. And then one summer she meets and falls in love with a boy. What happens afterward is capable of wrenching every reader’s heart strings.

if i stay

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay is the story about a young girl that has a very important and life or death decision to make. That may seem drastic, but that is what the tale is about. Although sad, this book is capable of making the reader think about what there is beyond what we see and deal with on a daily basis.

I hope that you take a chance and read at least one of these books.

Abbey

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Home Again, Home Again.

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I have lived in Pittsburgh my entire life. I didn’t go away to college, I didn’t leave after I graduated, I stayed here for graduate school and I’ve spent my whole library career (so far) at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

I have zero complaints about this.

Yet twice recently I’ve found myself defending my choice to stay in Pittsburgh. I’m sure some of you have had someone say, “Sooooo, you just never left” in a particularly arch voice, implying a provincialism and xenophobia that I’m sure to be chock full of.

Yinz can kiss my dupa ‘naht. 

Garbella

Garbella loves us!

Let me tell you some amazing things about where I live. But promise not to tell anyone because we have enough people here already. We get lots of prestigious awards here in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was listed as one of the best trips in the WORLD by National Geographic Traveler in 2012. This is a list that includes New Zealand, Croatia, Mongolia and Thailand!

We were voted the 4th Most Literate City in the US (because our public library rocks!) and voted Most Romantic by Amazon. Everyone knows that literate people are good at doing it. We are also regularly voted most affordable (6th), safest, most livable (29th world wide), and we have the NUMBER ONE ballpark (PNC Park) as voted on by Fox Sports. We have internationally known museums, theater venues and a bunch of other great art stuff.

According to to Economist Intelligence Unit “It’s official: Pittsburgh is best place live in U.S.”

Also: Cookie Tables.

In an admittedly piqued mood, I went to social media. Of course it turned into a Steel City love fest.

Here’s a snippet what other people had to say:

DO IT FOR SCIENCE!
If you were born and raised in Pittsburgh and never moved away, please explain why in the comments. Thank you!

  • I like it here. It’s the perfect balance of urban and natural landscapes. It’s inexpensive enough that I can afford to travel. The literary and arts scenes are solid. People are friendly.
  • I seriously feel like an outcast in other cities. I love cities like New Orleans, San Diego, Boston, etc… But no city but Pittsburgh understands that quirky, high strung, angry but funny, serious but carefree attitude people here have.
  • It’s home, it’s roots. I love other places too, but I fit Pittsburgh and it fits me.
  • Carton tea. Also, strangers are nice to each other, I can find at least one person that knows my gram, or uncles, or cousins pretty much anywhere I go and I want my kids to say “dahn” properly.
  • It’s home. I make sense here. Is that scientific enough?

There were another 30 comments. People love this place. (Though we nearly unanimously hate the weather.)

c3d6c6da8da0052fb44b1110.LMy favorite Pittsburgh book recommendation is Out of this Furnace by Thomas Bell

Out of this Furnace is one of my favorite books and my favorite Pittsburgh book of all time. Also, while I was working on this post, I discovered Thomas Bell and I share the same birthday! That kind of made my day. Anyways, Out of this Furnace follows three generations of an immigrant Slovak family- the Dobrejaks. Patriarch Djuro Kracha arrives in the mid-1880s and makes his way to Braddock, Pennsylvania. Working in the steel mills, Kracha’s bad decisions (money and personal) contribute to his downfall. Part two follows his daughter, Mary and her marriage to political idealist Mike. It is an amazing portrait of the immigrant experience in Pittsburgh, a fascinating look at the inhumane conditions in the steel industry, and documents the rise of unions and the people who fought and died for workers rights. I’ll say up front that it’s a heavy read, but it’s worth it. And you’ll love Pittsburgh even more for its history.

My response to why I never left? Everything and everyone I love is here. Why have you stayed? Or left?

Trzymaj się,

suzy

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Swords & History

My last post mentioned a book called Desert Of Souls by Howard A. Jones. Thanks to eCLP, I was able to read Mr. Jones’ book shortly after that post went live, and I was not disappointed! Ostensibly historical fiction, if Desert Of Souls were ever made into a big-budget action movie, it would fall into the “buddy picture” category. Set in 8th century Baghdad, lead characters Asim and Dabir are devout Muslims in the employ of Jaffar, an important judge and close friend of the Caliph. As captain of Jaffar’s guard, Asim knows few equals when it comes to wielding a blade, and his companion Dabir possesses an unmatched level of scholarship and a perceptive eye Sherlock Holmes might envy. Together this formidable pair faces threats both mundane and magical–yes, Desert Of Souls includes supernatural elements that takes it out of the realm of pure historical fiction and into some nether region between it and pure fantasy.

Mr. Jones’ treatment of his Muslim protagonists offers a wonderfully full, real, and nuanced picture of Islamic culture and society in the 8th century, and his protagonists remain devout Muslims while also suffering the normal human foibles that make characters great. He even works in Sabirah, a strong female character who struggles with her role as a privileged royal daughter destined for a political marriage. Having devoured this tale in the span of less than a week (good time for a slow reader like me), I could not help comparing it to Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen Of The Road: A Tale Of Adventureanother “buddy-picture” historical fiction novel I wrote about a while back in this space. While Mr. Chabon’s novel is set in the 10th century and heels closer to pure historical fiction, it compares favorably to Desert Of Souls. Mr. Chabon is fond of calling the book “Jews With Swords,” and his lead characters, Amram and Zelikman, share similar traits of camaraderie won through action that Asim and Dabir possess.

While not historical fiction, if you try the two titles listed above and find “buddy picture” stories to your liking, you might also try some Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. If you want a print book for this CLP’s best option is Thieves’ House : Tales Of Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser.

If you just want some more sword-swinging historical action written in a classic pulp style, you can’t go far wrong reading Robert E. Howard’s amazing Gates Of Empire And Other Tales Of The Crusades. This phenomenal collection of pulp historical tales fails only in one capacity–it does not include a story entitled “Road of Azrael.” This tale would fit nicely into our newly coined “buddy picture” fiction category, as it pairs the Turkish sell-sword Kosru Malik and the Frankish knight Eric de Cogran in a desperate attempt to rescue a Frankish princess from slavery. This story directly influenced Mr. Jones, and he writes eloquently about it and his other sources of inspiration and research for Desert Of Souls here.

Reading this and the titles above has made me hungry for his second Asim and Dabir book, The Bones Of The Old Ones, a short story collection. Once I’ve knocked that one off, I will try one of Mr. Jones’ other inspirations, Howard Lamb’s Wolf Of The Steppes and Warriors Of The Steppes a bit of Cossack historical fiction!

In addition to the links above, you can click on any of the covers below to check out the library catalog record for that item!

Desert-of-Souls_cover   Gentlemen-of-the-road-cover Gates-of-empire-cover    Bones-of-the-old-ones-cover  Warriors-of-the-steppes-cover    Warriors-of-the-steppes2-cover

 

–Scott P.

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Ask Yourself This Question…

Today’s very important question comes to you from guest writer Audrey! You can find out more about her and the rest of the Eleventh Stack team on our About Us page.

Who do you think you are? 

That is the question!  And who is most likely to be asking this question?  Genealogists!

It is the question that propels us to climb our family tree.  It is the question that drives us to a state of obsession.  We forsake all other interests and obligations as we pursue those elusive ancestors through libraries, archives, and yes…even cemeteries.  How many of us have sacrificed our own personal comfort to trudge along endless rows of unreadable tombstones as we are baked by the sun, bitten by vicious insects, and attacked by savage weeds.  Don’t kid yourself.  Genealogy requires grit and stamina and tenacity (as well as assorted bottles of sun screen, insect repellent and hydro-cortisone cream).  If you are lucky, a trip to the emergency room can be avoided.

Everybody's doing it! Click through to see source page and advice from Skipease.

Everybody wants to get in on the act! Click through for more advice from Skipease. Image copyright as cited within photo.

Who Do You Think You Are? 

This is also the name of a wildly popular genealogy television series that traces the ancestry of celebrities.  All seven episodes of Season 4 were rebroadcast on TLC on Sunday, July 20 and will be repeated on July 23.

Episode one will be aired at 1:00 PM (Eastern Standard time) followed every hour by another episode.   The featured celebrities in the fourth season are Chris O’Donnell, Cindy Crawford, Zooey Deschanel, Kelly Clarkson, Chelsea Handler, Jim Parsons, and Christina Applegate. Each episode follows a celebrity as they explore their family tree, uncovering the mysteries of his or her ancestral history.  Their stories are framed within real historic events.   The new Season 5 of Who Do You Think You Are? begins on July 23 when actress Cynthia Nixon uncovers an ancestral mystery of deceit and murder.   This episode will air at 9:00 PM Eastern time on TLC.

[FYI…  the DVDs for Seasons 1 and 2 are available in the Library.  The segment on Ashley Judd in Season 2 is particularly fascinating and poignant.    Even if genealogy is not your thing, you may enjoy watching your favorite celebrity trace their family roots back through time.]

Who do YOU think you are? 

To help you to answer this question and to begin to climb your own family tree, bring your questions to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Department, 4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh PA  15213.

Or call:  412-622-3154.  

Or check out our website.

Answers to your genealogical questions are just a call or click away.

Our experienced staff is here to assist you.

–Audrey

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I Learned How To Spell ‘Gyllenhaal’ Without Looking While Writing This

The last time Jake Gyllenhaal was in Pittsburgh was when he was filming 2009’s Love & Other Drugs.  Now, he’s back in town filming Southpaw. Directed by Hill District-native Antoine Fuqua—who led Denzel Washington to his Oscar win in 2001’s Training Day—the currently-filming drama follows the rising boxing career of Billy “The Great” Hope as his personal life declines. Sadly, this entry has no juicy behind-the-scenes anecdotes.  Sorry about that.

If Southpaw is anything like last year’s Pittsburgh-filmed boxing movie Grudge Match, I don’t have very high hopes.  Have any good sports movies even been made since Space Jam in 1996?

I didn’t think so.

Anyway, I’ll probably still see it because, as I’ve mentioned, I like seeing Pittsburgh on film.  And I like Gyllenhaal as an actor, even if I’ve always seen him as a teenager.  This is probably due to his roles in Donnie Darko, The Good Girl and the 2001 remake of Bubble Boy.  Even seeing him in the spectacular Zodiac and the wonderful Brokeback Mountain, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a kid playing an adult.

Pictured: me in college enjoying Jake Gyllenhaal. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Collins

Pictured: me in college enjoying Jake Gyllenhaal.
Photo courtesy of Caitlin Collins

That all changed when I saw the two films that Gyllenhaal put out last year:  Oscar-nominated Prisoners and Enemy, both helmed by Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve.

I’ll talk about those two films on the next page.

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