Celebrate Good Times!

This week is National Library Week! 

Here are some reasons to celebrate. 8 Reasons to Hang Out at a Library. 9 Reasons Why Librarians are Awesome.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is celebrating library books that change lives. Visit our website and tell your story. Here is mine!

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The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

MistsofAvalonI knew the tales of Camelot and King Arthur when I was a kid. They didn’t appeal to me then and they didn’t appeal to me as a young adult. I was a feminist before I knew it and all of the tales were dominated by men, which did not interest me. All the chicks in the traditional tales are either dimwits (Gwenhwyfar) or evil, ball-busting witches (Morgan le Fay). None of them have any personality or power; they are boring one-dimensional stereotypes. The Mists of Avalon tells the tales of Camelot from a woman’s point of view. And what women they were! Morgaine (Morgan le Fay) isn’t an evil sorceress, she’s misunderstood and wants to be loved! But her aunt Morgause sure is a jerk. Gwenhwyfar has a three-way! Igraine was a secret bad-ass who fell in love with a not-so-secret bad-ass and produced Arthur! Lancelet isn’t so gallant. King Arthur is wonderful, but sometimes spoiled and petulant. If you’re a reader like me, you’ll also appreciate the boatload of prequels and sequels.

James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl

JamesWhen I first considered what books changed me, this is the first book I went to. I don’t necessarily relate to James: I’m not an orphan, no mean aunts abused me and unfortunately, no one has ever given me a sack of magical, glowing-green, crocodile tongues. What James and the Giant Peach did do was make me realize the potential for storytelling and fiction and OMG books are amazing. This is the first “chapter” book I was exposed to, thanks to my third grade teacher (shout out to Mrs. Cypher nee Garrett.) This is also the book I chose to read from for the library’s 24 Hour Read Aloud.

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

CountOh, Edmund Dantes, how could Mercedes give up on you? Thanks to a very good friend (looking at you, DWR) I was more or less forced to read this book. There was some cajoling involved (“C’mon, you’ll love it. Honest!”) All I knew about Dumas was The Three Musketeers movie- which, no.  Again, being contrary means saying sorry because I loved- devoured- this book. It introduced me to a new genre (ADVENTURE!). I moved on from The Count of Monte Cristo to the rest of Dumas and then to books about pirates and prison breaks. The biography about Alexandre Dumas’ father (the son of an African slave and French nobleman) called The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss shows that many of Dumas’ characters were inspired by his own pops.

The Bachman Books, Stephen King

BachmanYou know the movie The Running Man? It came from this book of short stories. And it’s the worst story of the four! The other three stories, Rage, The Long Walk, and Road Work would all be amazing movies. I was probably too young to read this, but whatever. This book inspired me in two ways. First of all, as a budding writer, it introduced me to the idea of short stories. I mean, I was 11 and wanted to write a novel. There’s not much to go on at that age. But a short story? Oh yes, that could be done! Second, it was the first time I was ever emotionally invested in a character. I loved Peter McVries (The Long Walk) and his scar and his sub-conscious death wish (which honestly was just a preview of coming attractions for me).

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

AtlasAny time I mention enjoying Rand books, I immediately get flamed for being an egoist, an elitist, or a Republican. I’m none of those things. Not too many elitists work for the public library (I’m just saying). Like any book, you should take what you want/need from it. I didn’t swallow her philosophy whole, but you know what? She had some smart things to say about the nature of happiness and joy, and valuing yourself. I’m not going to push an old lady into the street and I donate to charity, but there is something to be said for being aware of your worth. Self-confidence is sexy, yo. It’s also simply a good story, especially if you like heavy industry, politics, and trains. And for readers that object to Objectivism (see what I did there?) as a philosophy, read this awesomeness.

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

WarDuring my final semester as an undergrad, I took 19th Century Russian Masterpieces (I was there a long time, it was slim pickins’ at that point). The reading list was intense. Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky), Chekhov plays, Dead Souls (Gogol), Pushkin, and of course, the granddaddy of Russian novels, War and Peace. I was dreading it. I was intimidated by it. The name alone hurt my stomach. But since I wanted to graduate from college before I was 50, I sucked it up and opened it. Oh. My. Word. Four days later, I finished it, crying. It’s the Russian Gone with the Wind and don’t let anyone tell you different. Go Team Andrei!

I could write about a ton more books that have made a difference in my life. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything taught me how to make a perfect hamburger and boil an egg. I have a line from a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem tattooed on me, so I’ll include him, too.

What books made a difference in your life?

happy reading!

suzy

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April 18, 2014 · 5:00 am

Captain America Primer

Captain America: Winter Soldier hit theaters with the force of a thunderclap two weeks ago, and since it continues to rake in box office “bank”, I thought it might be a good time to provide a quick primer on some of the best Cap comic stories to check out from our fantastic graphic novel collection.

Wint-Sol_covee  Captain America: Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting.  Life and death in comic books is cheap, with miraculous resurrections every bit as common as capes and tights themselves.  But Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky, was different.  While there were a few false flags, Bucky had remained “dead” for more than sixty years of comic and real time, but Epting and Brubaker bring him back in this amazing tale that seamlessly blends the espionage and super genres into one rollicking and gut-wrenching tale of loss and redemption.  This is the one the new hit movie was based on, and it remains a modern classic.

 

Cap-War-Remem_cover  Captain America: War & Rememberance by Roger Stern and John Byrne.  This too-brief nine issue run of Captain America in the 1980′s redefined the character for modern audiences and did it so slickly that the stories seemed like standard superhero fare.  Stern and Byrne took Cap back to England to face a deadly foe from WWII, had him briefly consider a run for PotUS, and redefined his origin to root him firmly in the mean streets of New York, the quintessential American city.  The run also features some of the  most dynamic super-slugfests ever rendered on the comic page!

 

Cap-Omnibus_cover   Captain America Omnibus by Jack “King” Kirby.   While I would be more comfortable recommending Mr. Kirby’s earlier, 1960′s run on Cap (with the inimitable Stan Lee), this later one from the 1970′s remains readily available in our collection.  Calling this collection of stories weird or strange really smacks of understatement.  I am fairly certain Mr. Kirby never did any drugs in the 1970′s (his vice was expensive cigars), but after reading these amazingly kooky stories, you might think otherwise.  Kirby’s penciling powers are on the wane by this point, but his storytelling energy remains strong.

 

Three titles from three different eras of Cap’s storied history should get you up to speed on one of comic books’ most colorful heroes. While Cap plays best as a stranger in a strange land, man-out-of-his-time character, he always manages to embody the timeless aspects of American culture that transcend creed, politics, or other divisive forces.  The ideas of personal liberty, responsibility, and simple compassion for the downtrodden make him Marvel’s ultimate time traveler–he remains relevant in whatever era he shows up in!

And if I might quote the great Stan Lee, “Excelsior!”

–Scott

 

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An Essay A Day

Today’s post is a guest article from Anna, who currently works in the Ready Reference telephone unit Sheila schooled us about in her most recent post. You’ll be seeing Anna’s articles from time to time as her time permits.

I’m here to admit something. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader.

I’ve tried, honestly, time and again, but I always seem to give up after a few chapters. And it’s not that I lack the interest–far from it. I’m fascinated by a plethora of subjects, from psychological disorders, to early radio dramas, to musical theater. It’s just that, try as I might, I can’t manage to finish a book without a good old-fashioned plot.

Even though I have no trouble admitting this shortcoming, I refuse to accept it. Like clockwork, each New Year starts with a proposed fiction cleanse and, along with it, the hope of introducing some variety into my literary palate. A few years back, when I realized the recurring resolutions were doing nothing to vary my reading selections, I decided to compromise with myself by avoiding “real” non-fiction and opting instead for collections of personal essays and literary journalism. For anyone out there searching for a fic to nonfic transition, here are some of my favorite essayists (ranging from easy breezy to packed with facts):

crosley cakeI Was Told There’d Be Cake begins with a confession: Sloane Crosley has a secret collection of toy ponies. And not just two or three, we’re talking an entire kitchen drawer dedicated to a plastic equine family. This is Crosley’s power, dropping cringe-worthy private details of her life until you feel welcomed into her sphere. Or maybe not welcomed in as much as eavesdropping from one table over, at a hip, divey bar in Brooklyn while you envy her impeccable style, shiny hair, and ability to air her dirty laundry like it ain’t no thang. Her follow up collection, How Did You Get This Number?, regales readers with tales of Portuguese clowns, black market furniture trading, and the worst roommate ever. While I wouldn’t call these essays particularly enlightening, they’re certainly compulsively readable.

I will read anything that David Sedaris writes, and then I will read it ten more times. My obsession with the snarky, OCD-addled nakedmemoirist borders on excessive, but read his account of a week spent at a nudist trailer park, the title story in the aptly named Naked, or his reflections on working as a Macy’s elf in Santaland Diaries, and you’ll see why I literally wept tears of fangirl joy upon meeting him at a book signing. While most of his essays take humorous topics as their focus, don’t get too comfortable–Sedaris is the master of the poignant wrap-up. When he’s got you where he wants you, he’ll hit you with an emotional truth-bomb and you’ll be left awkwardly sad-laughing in public.

bethlehemI don’t know why it took so long for me to read any Joan Didion. I don’t know why I waited until last year, at 25, to pick up a collection of her essays. What had I been doing with my life until then? What better things had I been using my eyes for? Now that I see the error of my ways, I will spend the rest of my days reading, underlining, and memorizing anything and everything she’s ever written. I’m not sure if it’s the subject matter (lots of California dreaming, catnip for a homesick West Coast transplant like me), the dark, nostalgic tone, or just the magical way she has of putting words together, but I’m hooked. Start with Slouching Towards Bethlehem or The White Album for a good introduction to Didion’s style and save The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, memoirs centering on the death of her husband and daughter, respectively, for when you’re at your most emotionally stable.

Zadie Smith is, hands-down, my favorite human. She’s smart, funny, powerful, a master storyteller, and, as it turns out, pretty changingdarn good at essays too. Smith’s collection, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, is not a breezy read. It’s a bit dense in places, but oh so worth it. Her essay-ing, like her storytelling, is complex and layered: an exploration of her father’s last days becomes a study on the art of comedy, moving seamlessly from a hospital bed in a seaside English village to an experimental performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. An ode to Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God investigates the meaning of soulfulness and the power of “extraliterary” readings. And a recap of a weekend in LA covering the Academy Awards peeks at our obsession with fame and the notion of celebrity. With so much information and emotion packed into each essay, you’ll be culturally sated upon completion.

–Anna

Thoughts on Anna’s nonfiction picks? Suggestions of your own? Leave us a comment!

 

 

 

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Howdy, Partner!

There have been many great partnerships throughout history – Orville and Wilbur, Hillary and Norgay, the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak), Rodgers and Hammerstein, Ben and Jerry,  the Curies, Bert and Ernie, Sherlock and Watson, Katniss and Peeta  -just to name a few. These partnerships, whether real or fictional, were formed over like interests and are a testament to what can be accomplished when people work together towards a common goal. Right here in Pittsburgh, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is creating some great partnerships with the goal of literacy throughout the city.

I’m extremely fortunate to be a part of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Office of Programs and Partnerships (OPP). Within this department which is housed at the East Liberty branch of CLP, we have a great collection of staff reaching out to a variety of groups in their own unique way, forming partnerships and conducting programs throughout the city to promote a variety of literacies within the community.

The BLAST crew regularly head out to the Pittsburgh Public Schools and related events, connecting with our city’s young readers and future leaders, aiding in early learning and literacy skills.

The Labs @CLP work at providing space and time for teens to connect to new learning experiences via technology.  Teens, an often neglected and misunderstood demographic, are able to engage with fellow teens and library staff through unique, technology-centered literacy.

LYNCS, of which I am a member, reaches out to various groups in Pittsburgh to provide a variety of literacies in neighborhoods, communities and schools. We run the gamut of providing pre-school story times, senior citizen technology programs, information and hands-on technology  at community events, and financial and job literacy to Allegheny County Jail inmates alongside our colleagues from the various neighborhood branches. In addition, the LYNCS crew has managed a temporary, pop-up library in the neighborhood of Allentown, bringing library services and programming to a community lacking easy access to our neighborhood branches and their services.  Over the past year and a half that we have been in this temporary setting, we have had the pleasure of working with great community partners to provide access to library services, unique programming and a community center for this often neglected and little known Pittsburgh neighborhood. A great result of the partnerships formed with various Allentown and other Hilltop groups, has led to the pop-up library  transitioning to the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center (ALEC), a project which would not have been possible without the partnerships formed with our community neighbors.

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LYNCS colleagues at an outreach event.

 

The entire staff of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is working to reach out to all of the city neighborhoods, not only through library services and programming within the neighborhood branches, but also through a variety of outreach initiatives encouraging literacies beyond its brick and mortar locations. We are happily building new partnerships, whether it’s at the circulation desk or in a city park, not just during this National Library Week, but every day of the year.

-Maria J.

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Snow White, Master Swordswoman?!

Happy National Library Week 2014! Help us celebrate by visiting any Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location this week to tell us about the books that changed your life.

Like most any kid, Disney animated films figured hugely into my childhood. My favorite one changed, depending on which villain scared my little brother more at the time. For a while I’d demand we watch The Little Mermaid over and over until, I guess, sheer exposure desensitized him to the terror of Ursula. Then I moved on to torturing him with Beauty and the Beast. When I was feeling magnanimous, we watched The Lion King, which we both enjoyed.

Snow White and the Seven DwarvesOne Disney movie neither of us could get into, either to enjoy or be scared of, was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We thought it was boring. And that the songs were meh. And maybe that the dwarfs were a little creepy.

Fables vol. 1: Legends in ExileSo in high school, when I discovered Bill Willingham’s comic Fables, the story of basically every fairy tale character you’ve ever heard of living undercover in modern Manhattan, the character of Snow White did not interest me. I wanted to know more about Bigby Wolf, the chain-smoking, trenchcoat-wearing sheriff of Fabletown, who in his previous life went by the Big Bad Wolf and can transform into wolf form any time the situation calls for it.

Willingham’s portrayal of this fairy tale princess drew me in, though. Snow is the deputy mayor of Fabletown, the neighborhood of Manhattan the “Fables” created for themselves when they fled their homelands in front of an invading army led by a tyrant dictator known only as the Adversary. When we meet her, she’s already divorced Prince Charming for being a womanizer and all around terrible husband, and she just might be attracted to Bigby.

And then you find out that those dwarfs were definitely NOT helping Snow when she was lost in the woods, and that she forced Prince Charming to teach her sword fighting shortly after they got married so she could enact her revenge. She does so. Bloodily.

Fables vol. 19: Snow WhiteThe latest trade paperback volume to come out, volume nineteen, is aptly titled Snow White and highlights all of this character’s strengths: She’s intelligent, she’s a fierce mother, she’s a loyal and loving wife, and she keeps those physical fighting skills sharp in order to protect her family.

But most of all, she is willing to make hard choices. In this volume, characters who are physically much stronger than Snow fail, and it is she who must save the day, using not only her master sword fighting skills, but her wit and strength of will.

No meek, pale princess, this, but a modern warrior woman.

Once Upon A Time Season 1Snow White has gotten makeovers in other media as well. In ABC’s Once Upon A Time, the fairy tale characters don’t know who they are because of a curse. In this version, pre-curse Snow White is a wiley woods woman who would do anything for true love. Her cursed alter ego Mary Margaret, though, does start out rather meek.

Mary Margaret doesn’t stay meek for long. Even before she recovers her memories, and therefore her true identity, she begins to stand up for herself and the things she wants. When her daughter Emma breaks the curse and Mary Margaret recovers her memory, her ferocity comes out full force.

Although I can’t help but look at the similarities between Once Upon A Time and Fables and think, a little possessively, “Fables did this first!” (I have been reading this series for ten years, so I’m just a little bit attached), I’m exceedingly glad that Disney’s version of Snow White is no longer the only visible version in our culture.

Excellent, woman-empowering retellings of Snow White and other fairy tales give us role models we can look up to, examples we can hope to follow. Willingham’s Snow and ABC’s Mary Margaret are much closer to real women than their fairy tale princess counterparts; they just have a few extra powers. But they have problems, they make decisions, they take actions, and they deal with the consequences themselves instead of always relying on others to protect them.

And when the situation requires, they pull out their swords and fight.

–Kelly

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No big deal, just changing lives…

Next week is National Library Week. The theme this year is Lives change @ your library and as you can see from the sweet header, the honorary chair is Judy Blume (You don’t get much cooler than Judy, right?).

We love that we’re the people you turn to when you have questions. We’re information junkies around these parts and live to spread the news. But we really love when we can match you up with the right book. No lie, we all mentally high-five ourselves when you stop in and let us know that you tore through the book recommendation from your last visit.

This year, the very clever folks in our Development office have put a focus on the later…

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Beginning next week and through May 16, we’re hoping that you’ll consider making a donation to the library and sharing what book has rocked your world in a big way. Each branch will host a cool display of your choices.

Some staff picks from my branch:

  • Charlotte’s Web. This is why I’ve been a vegetarian since childhood.”
  • Into the Wild. Because I hate it that much. But it was really important for me to learn how to dislike a book the right way.”
  • The Giver. I can’t remember how old I was when I first read it, but I do remember that it was first time that a book actually meant something to me.”
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – it opened up the world of dystopian literature for me.”

We can’t wait to see what books changed your life!

- Jess

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‘Burgh on Film: Out of the Furnace

Please welcome Ross to the Eleventh Stack blogger rotation! His quips, tips, and opinions will appear here regularly once a month from now on.

Pittsburgh has a long history with film, and Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace, now available on DVD, is a welcome, breathtaking addition to the tradition.

Photo taken from The Nerdist - all rights reserved to same - click through to read an interview with Scott Cooper

Photo taken from The Nerdist – all rights reserved to same – click through to read an interview with Scott Cooper

The movie, which has no relation to Thomas Bell’s Out of This Furnace, opens at a drive-in movie theater. The image projected on the screen is that of a well-dressed businessman, ascending an escalator. As he rises, the camera pans down into the field of parked cars. This particular scene didn’t stick out for me the first time I saw it, but–re-watching it recently–I found it striking. Drive-in movie theaters have all but disappeared–time capsules from a bygone era. The camera’s descent into this relic, juxtaposed with the ascent of a sharp-dressed businessman exemplifies, to me, one of the many themes of the movie: the times are changing, out with the old and in with the new. I find it interesting that it’s at this intersection that we’re introduced to Harlan DeGroat, the movie’s meth-head villain, menacingly played by Woody Harrelson. An angry, frothing evil practically bleeds out of his eyes. He’s not a villain you love to hate; he’s a villain you hate with a passion and hope he gets his comeuppance.

Beyond the theme of change, the central theme is that of choice. The movie’s tagline, “Sometimes your battles choose you” is characterized through the struggles of mill worker Russell Baze, phenomenally played by Christian Bale. A good, decent man by all accounts, we struggle along with him throughout the entire movie as he is constantly put into trying situations. How far will he go to help his brother, Rodney, fresh from his fourth tour in Iraq and played with subtlety by Casey Affleck, get out of debt? How will he be able to care for his ailing father? How is he going to live if the mill he works at does, in fact, close? Bale’s character even says it’s cheaper to get steel from China, as if admitting that is tantamount to him succumbing to the forces he so desperately tries to control.

There’s really nothing new about the narrative here, but the actors infuse such realism into their scenes that, even if Cooper doesn’t use them to their full potential, you have to take notice of what’s unfolding before you, despite the slow-moving pace of the film.

And that’s one of the reasons why I love this film.

These characters seem natural, organic, born from the blast furnaces that forged our city. There isn’t a false note in anyone’s performance. Even relative newcomer Zoë Saldana holds her own against a heavyweight like Bale.

And speaking of Bale, he might as well be giving a masters class on acting in this film. It baffles me that he got his Oscar nomination for American Hustle instead of this. He has a scene on a bridge with Saldana, barely four minutes long, that is better acted than most of American Hustle’s entire runtime. The scene is so real, bubbling over with palpable emotion, you almost feel like a voyeur watching them.

Bale looks so much like a genuine Pittsburgh mill worker, hardworking and worn, that I’ll forgive him for not having a typical yinzer accent. Despite that, he embodies Pittsburgh, complete with Braddock’s zip code tattooed on his neck. He even goes hunting with his uncle, played by Sam Shepard. He wouldn’t look at all out of place at a bar like Jack’s or Dee’s on the Southside.

And speaking of Pittsburgh landmarks, the second reason I love this movie is because there’s so much about it that makes it genuinely feel like Pittsburgh.

I love seeing Pittsburgh on film. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m seeing the places I’ve been and the streets I’ve walked projected onto a twenty-two-foot screen in a darkened theatre. It makes the city seem monumental, almost mythical. Maybe every New Yorker feels this exhilaration upon exiting the theatre. Maybe that’s why they call it movie magic.

It’s not just the scenery—beautifully shot on Kodak film as opposed to captured digitally—that makes the film feel authentically Pittsburgh. Honestly, Braddock has never looked better and during the film’s climax, the Carrie Blast Furnace almost outperforms Bale and Harrelson with its grandness.

It’s not just the music, which features songs by Eddie Vedder. I don’t even care for Vedder’s music and I must admit that putting it on top of scenes of Braddock works splendidly.

It’s something else.

There’s something so honest about seeing the cracked streets, boarded up houses and laboring smokestacks of Braddock on-screen, alongside a movie that is so much about perseverance despite obstacles. Pittsburgh is no longer “hell with the lid taken off.” Even the fish have returned to our rivers (I still wouldn’t swim in them, though). Pittsburgh has pulled itself up out of the furnace and taken matters into its own hands, just like Bale ultimately does in the end. It’s almost as if Cooper captured the driven character of Pittsburgh.

Also starring Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker, Out of the Furnace is a slow-burning revenge film that has stayed with me since I first saw it in the fall of 2013. I’d liken its tone to another one of my favorite films of that year— Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners . I get the urge to watch Prisoners every time it rains, which—as a result of living in Pittsburgh—is roughly three hundred times a year (I realize this probably says more about me than any psychiatric test could, but I digress). I feel like I could always watch Out of the Furnace, though. Despite its somber tone and deliberate pace, there’s an underlying steadfast hopefulness about the whole thing. When we lose everything, we fear nothing and that spurs us on to take action.

If you love seeing Pittsburgh on film and enjoy character-driven movies, then rent, borrow or buy Out of the Furnace.

–Ross

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