Tag Archives: Wes

A Year in Review

And what a year it has been!  While advocacy was a major theme for the Library this year (and that will continue in 2010!), we also managed to have a great big celebration of summer reading, open a new Allegheny branch, and spend more time in the news than ever before.

Of course, each member of the Eleventh Stack team has been sharing their thoughts, ideas and suggestions with you all year long. We thought we’d take this opportunity to bring you highlights from the Library trenches, where we’ve been discovering new books, DVDs, CDs, online resources, or simply learning something new each day.  Come join us anytime!

Kaarin:  Highlights for me this year were new “My Account” features, Reading History and Wish Lists.  I can now keep track of everything I’ve borrowed and everything I want to borrow without having to keep separate lists!  I was thrilled to discover new ways to find good books to read using librarything and goodreads.  And finally, I thoroughly enjoyed two novels I can recommend, The Shack, by William P. Young, and The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

Leigh Anne:  Every December a book sneaks up on me, completely undermining my sedate recap of a literary year with its sheer brilliance.  This year’s book is The Hunger Games, which wraps pointed questions about social and political justice in the guise of a well-written dystopian fantasy novel.  The Hunger Games pits Katniss Everdeen against other teenagers from the various districts of Panem in a televised fight to the death that’s akin, plot-wise,  to both Battle Royale and the Stephen King novellas The Long Walk and The Running Man.  Get your hands on a copy, absorb the brilliance, and then get back in line, immediately for the sequel, Catching Fire.  I promise that, at the very least, you’ll have had some second thoughts about the excesses and inequities of American culture.

Other highlights of the year include a new countywide subscription to Mango Languages and Pittsburgh’s return to the ranks of America’s most literate cities.  The best thing that happens at the library all year, though, happens every day:  I get the privilege of helping you with your information needs, always learning something from you in the bargain.  It’s only going to get better and more interesting in 2010, dear readers, so fasten your seatbelts…

MA: The year for me has been exhilarating in the terms of literature.  I’ve stumbled across books that have, as Leigh Anne once said, presented me with book serendipity.  A few titles from the list:

Traveling with Pomegranates- a wonderful mother-daughter memoir detailing their growth and understanding with each other over a course of drastic change in both their lives. 

The Time Traveler’s Wife:  Niffenegger takes you through a world of almost science fiction proportions, but not overtly so.  The book encompasses the beauty and the despair that love brings to the lives of two people.  A true pleasure to read.

Bright Lights, Big Ass:  A hilarious memoir (one of the many!) by Jen Lancaster, ex sorority girl extraordinaire!  Written with a zest that not many authors can pull off, she takes you through her days so honestly that you can’t help but feel charmed by it. 

Wes: This year I was extremely pleased with the success of our newly created Black Holes, Beakers, and Books science book club. The book club had some great discussions about science, and a few of them were joined by the authors of the books we were reading, including Ann Gibbons, Lee Gutkind, and Marvin Minsky. Stay tuned for even more from Black Holes in 2010!

Lisa: 2009 can be easily summed up for me with this one book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It’s been my go-to cooking guide, impressed many, and has greatly enhanced what’s for dinner!

Bonnie: My favorite reads of 2009:

American Nomads by Richard Grant: Grant is my favorite writer right now.  This gem recounts the history of nomadism in America—beginning with Indians, conquistadors, and then on to truck drivers, mountain men, hobos, cowboys  and bull-riders.  Grant is a nomad himself, and writes about the tension between the “sedentary” and people on the move—read this when you’re in the mood for an adventure.

First Blood by David Morrell: This was a big surprise—I had no idea Rambo was based on a book—and I was totally blown away by it.  Literally!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: This teen novel helped to alleviate my blood thirst caused by reading First Blood.  It’s chock-full full of edge-of-your seat, heart-pounding gloriousness.  If you read it, you will want to give me five dollars for suggesting it.  But I will turn it down.

Wishing you the best in 2010.

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The College Novel

I’ve long thought college life to be a great subject for fiction writing, but until recently I never knew that there is a recognized “college novel” genre. It was first brought to my attention two weeks ago when a library patron asked me for an old book called The College Novel in America by John O. Lyons. Unfortunately, after she pried it from my hands she checked it out, so I can’t tell you much more about it. However, I found a recent reference work on the subject at neighboring Hillman Library called The American College Novel by John E. Kramer, and I can tell you about that one and some of the hidden treasures it reveals.

Kramer provides annotations for 648 American college novels divided into two sections: student-centered and staff-centered. Some student-centered titles include End Zone by Don Delillo; The Paragon by Jon Knowles; Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis; Big U by Neal Stephenson; Continuing Education by Dorothy Weil; and Hippies by Peter Jedick. In the staff-centered category you’ll find The Human Stain by Philip Roth; The Temptation to Do Good by Peter Ferdinand Drucker; Straight Man by Richard Russo; Japanese by Spring by Ishmael Reed; Intimate Enemies by Caryl Rivers; Unholy Loves by Joyce Carol Oates; and Breakers by Martin Walser.

If you don’t want to sift through 648 books to decide where to begin your college novel reading, no worries, Kramer provides a top 50 recommendation list that includes Fanshawe by Nathaniel Hawthorne; The Women’s Room by Marilyn French; Fall Quarter by Weldon Kees; Rookery Blues by Jon Hassler; The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy; A Friend in Power by Carlos Baker; Stepping Westward by Malcolm Bradbury; and Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon.

Kramer also supplies an index that allows you to find titles based on a character’s staff position at their respective college setting, and yes, there are some that include librarians and archivists as main characters. Four to be exact: Alamo House by Sarah Bird; Lusts by Clark Blaise; The Devil in Texas by Wolf Mankowitz; and The Archivist by Martha Cooley.

Anglophiles, fear not: There is another book I stumbled across here at CLP called The English University Novelby Mortimer Robinson Proctor, that features critical interpretations of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Angus Wilson’s Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Nightand many more.

–Wes

PS. You might have noticed that some of the titles in this post weren’t linked to the catalog. That’s because those titles aren’t available within our library system and will need to be obtained through our Interlibrary Loan service. Unfortunately, Interlibrary Loan was drastically affected by this year’s state budget cuts to library services, resulting in less access to materials by patrons, and increased costs to deliver those materials. Let’s not forget that in 2010 we need to sustain our advocacy efforts to ensure an increase in library funding in next year’s state budget.

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The Emotion Machine

On Sunday, December 13th, the Black Holes, Beakers, and Books: Popular Science Book Club will conclude its Fall 2009 Mortals & Machines series with the book The Emotion Machine by Marvin Minsky. The Emotion Machine is a call for a “back to basics” approach to using the human mind as a model for artificial intelligence. Marvin Minsky finds his academic home at MIT, where he is a scholar of cognitive psychology, robotics and artificial intelligence, among many other things. He is tentatively scheduled to speak to the book club in a teleconference on the day of our meeting.

Our meetings are always free and open to the public, so feel free to stop by!

–Wes

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The Origin of Species

Today is a very big day in the history of science: it’s the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s monumental work, The Origin of Species. Its beautifully simple hypothesis–that life evolves through the natural selection of adaptive traits–was supported with multitudinous data that Darwin collected on his world travels and in his studies at home.

Though today’s evolutionary theory has altered some of Darwin’s original hypotheses–for example, we now understand the role genes play in natural selection, something that had not yet emerged in Darwin’s time–Origin’s central thesis remains highly relevant to our lives, even if we don’t always realize it. Our understanding of mutating viruses and how to combat them, for instance, would not be possible without Darwin’s insight.

Our reference department has done a great job of pulling together a list of resources related to Darwin’s life and his most influential work, and I encourage you to check it out. Beyond those resources, I recommend reading Jonathan Weiner’s The Beak of the Finch, a remarkable book about two scientists’ observations of evolution-in-action amongst the finches of the Galapagos Islands.

And if you thought you could avoid talk of brain-eating in a blog post about evolution, think again. Very interesting research about ritualistic brain-eating and what it tells us about recent human evolution was published recently, and it’s quite an addition to the ever-expanding story of our species.

Thanks again, Mr. Darwin, for providing the framework to that story.

–Wes

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Happy Birthday, Fёdor Mihajlovič Dosto’evskij!

DostoevskyToday is the birthday of the great Russian novelist Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881). If Dostoevsky’s big books have been on your “classics-to-read” back burner for awhile, make today the day you finally pick one up.

Though I started reading Dostoevsky with Crime and Punishment, you might prefer reading The Idiot or Notes from Underground first. Or, maybe you’ll want to start with the big one, The Brothers Karamazov, right off the bat; I’d be willing to bet it lasts you through the winter (or several years, if you’re me).

Once you’ve gotten that far, you might want to try an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s work next, such as the graphic novel The Grand InquisitorOr, perhaps you’ll want to take your reading in a more scholarly direction. In that case, a new biography called Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time looks promising, and Harold Bloom’s various critical interpretations are always winners. And, if you really want to get serious, you can visit our reference department and skim through a copy of The Dostoevsky Encyclopedia

By then you should be able to impress your friends with profound discussions of “Dostoevsky and existentialism,” and if their eyes start to glaze over, you can take your newfound knowledge to another level by rubbing elbows with members of the International Dostoevsky Society!

Baby steps, you say? Ok, fine, but don’t squander Dostoevsky’s birthday reading something piddly — at least read one of his short stories or something. 

–Wes

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Harrowing Halloween Horror

We’ve recently added some great new books to our horror collection, just in time for Halloween!  Check them out:

frostbiteFrostbite: A Werewolf Tale by David Wellington – Since vampires are currently everyone’s favorite creature of the night (thanks a lot, Stephenie Meyer), we don’t see many books about werewolves these days. Fortunately, Frostbite fills in the gaps pretty well with its fairly traditional take on lycanthropy.

vampireVampire Archives: The Most Complete Volume of Vampire Tales Ever Published edited by Otto Penzler — This monster (no pun intended) weighs in at 1,034 pages, and includes vampire tales from masters like Arthur Conan Doyle, Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clive Barker.

bitemarksBite Marks: A Vampire Testament by Terence Taylor — Believe it or not, Taylor has come up with a fairly unique take on the modern vampire tale. This one involves a young girl who is forced to vampirize her newborn baby; the vampire baby then terrorizes New York City. 

redtreeRed Tree by Caitlin Kiernan — This book quickly caught my attention because its description is quite Lovecraftian: a woman moves to a creepy house in Rhode Island and discovers a weird manuscript written by a parapsychologist obsessed with a huge oak tree.

–Wes

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Praising Melancholy With Depressing Books

I recently stumbled upon a new book by Eric G. Wilson called Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy and thought, “Ok, here’s a guy who gets it.” Wilson’s treatise argues that some folks are simply born a little sadder than others, and that there’s nothing wrong with that.

This is a refreshing take on the matter for us melancholy types, who have been pushed and prodded by shiny, happy people all our lives to “smile” and “have fun,” “cheer up” and “stop being so morbid.” At last, we can hold up Wilson as our champion and proclaim “We’ll never change – we prefer to brood, thank you very much!”

And now, in praise of melancholy, I recommend five of my favorite depressing books:

1. Gertrude by Hermann Hesse — While all of Hesse’s work tends to be melancholy, Gertrude is especially so. Life altering injuries, unrequited love, suffering brilliance, and the tribulations of youth are all featured in my favorite of Hesse’s early novels.

2. The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald — The Emigrants tells the story of four Jewish exiles and their far-from-happy post-Holocaust fates. The autumnal feelings invoked by Sebald’s writing will linger long after you’ve finished reading this book.

3. The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq — The story of two half-brothers – one obsessed with sex, the other emotionally despondent – and their bleak treks through life and love. The world will seem just a little bit darker than usual after Houellebecq has shown it to you.

4. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami — Murakami’s “simplest” novel, and his first big hit in Japan, is a bittersweet coming of age story about a young college student’s love affair with his dead best friend’s emotionally unstable girlfriend. This story is pervaded by a quiet sadness that makes it especially suitable for autumn reading.  

5. Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo — The classic tale of a World War I soldier horrifically wounded and left to indefinitely linger – hardly alive, but not quite dead – in a military hospital. Johnny Got His Gun will leave you with that familiar and comforting feeling of hopelessness.

Never cheer up, brave brooders!

–Wes

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Back to school, sort of

Wes’s previous post about literary autodidacts really struck a chord with me. While a formal education can open doors, there comes a point in one’s life beyond which going back to school becomes either financially or logically prohibitive.  There’s only so much student loan debt that fits into a librarian’s budget, after all.  And honestly: who needs three master’s degrees?

Not me, that’s for sure.   Not unless I can then waltz up to the bursar’s office and trade them in for a shiny new PhD.  And since I don’t think most institutions of higher learning make deals like that, I’ve decided to matriculate this fall at what I like to call August Wilson University, otherwise known as…

…wait for it…

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

It’s true!  As we may have mentioned once or twice before, playwright August Wilson is the only person to hold a diploma from CLP – you can read more about that here, if you’re curious – it’s a story that never fails to inspire me to reach beyond what I think is possible.

So, standing on the shoulders of a giant, I continue my never-ending quest to learn as much as I can with The Portable MFA in Creative Writing.  This fall I’m working my way through the chapter on fiction, which includes a very long list of suggested readings, almost all of which are available through the library.  The list includes:

If creative writing isn’t your cup of tea, consider designing a course in soapmaking, Buddhism, classical guitar, ultimate fighting, or anything else you’ve ever wanted to know more about (be careful with that last one). It’s not the same as getting a diploma, but if your thirst for knowledge exceeds the depth of your pockets (or your tolerance for early-morning classes), we can hook you up with a wealth of lifelong learning materials.

As for me, I certainly wouldn’t say “no” to an MFA program that offered me a full scholarship based solely on my mad ninja-blogger skills.  Interested parties should visit the Reference Department, where I will be devouring Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers during breaks and lunch.

–Leigh Anne

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My First Beach Reads

I usually prefer to vacation in New England in the dead of winter, but recently I decided to give the beach a try, and even did what summer-loving folks call “beach reading,” although most of it was done on a screened-in porch, because, thankfully, it rained much of the time I was there. Here are some books that I read:

oldmansOld Man’s War by John Scalzi — This was terrific, fast-paced military science fiction in the tradition of Robert Heinlein. It’s about a time in the far future when elderly soldiers are recruited from Earth to fight space battles against aliens and make the universe safe for human colonists. Two thumbs up! 

oldcapeThat Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo — A truly fitting read because much of the plot centers around vacationing at the beach. Unfortunately, this book was a big let-down after Russo’s last book, Bridge of Sighs, and my favorite of his, Straight Man. Self-indulgent, whiny characters ruined this one for me.  Two thumbs down!

juliusJulius Winsome by Gerard Donovan — One of my colleagues has been pushing this book on me for some time now, and since she was responsible for turning me onto Jerzy Kosinski’s incredible book The Painted Bird, I figured I should finally pick this one up. She was right again. This is the story of a well-read, reclusive man living in a cabin in Maine who avenges, among other things, the murder of his best friend. Probably too dark for your average beach reader, but I give it two thumbs up!

clockersClockers by Richard Price — This book was like a print version of a season of HBO’s amazing television series, The Wire (Spike Lee also directed a film based on the book, but I have yet to see it). This makes sense considering Richard Price wrote a number of episodes for that series. Like The Wire, Clockers is a gritty, incredibly realistic story about urban blight, the drug trade, and the cops and dealers caught up in it. Two thumbs up!

Do any good reading lately?

–Wes

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Fictional Reference Books for Most Library Collections

Ever wish you could add fictional reference books to your library’s reference collection? If I could, this is what I would add:

The Encyclopedia Galactica — What self-respecting librarian wouldn’t want access to Isaac Asimov’s immense encyclopedia containing all the knowledge of futuristic civilizations?

Handbook for the Recently Deceased — Libraries shouldn’t discriminate against the deceased, so every reference collection should carry a copy of this guide from Beetlejuice.

The Book of the Brothers — In George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, this massive tome collects the history of every knight who’s ever served in the much vaunted Kingsguard, the bodyguards of the king of Westeros. This one comes complete with a bleached white leather cover and gold hinges — think your library’s budget could handle it?

Tobin’s Spirit Guide — A ghost identification tool used by the Ghostbusters that could be useful to local ghosthunting organizations.

The Slayer’s Handbook — This is the guide to vampire slaying in one of the finest television shows ever produced, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Maybe it would come with a complimentary subscription to Demons, Demons, Demons, a database featured in Buffy’s spinoff show, Angel.

What fictional reference books would you add to a library collection?

–Wes

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