June 2015 Recap

You’re a busy person with many worthy internet essays to read, so we thought we’d try something new to help keep you in the loop with all things Eleventh Stack: recap posts!

On the last weekday of every month Eleventh Stack will publish  a list, with brief descriptions, of posts you might have missed the first time around. Since it’s never too late to discover a good book, film, or other library item, you’ll get a second chance to make your TBR list even longer. Read on to see the topics we tackled in June!

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Art by MikaylaM on RedBubble.com (click for portfolio!)

If you enjoyed this highlights reel, you’ll love what the Eleventh Stack team has cooked up for July. See you tomorrow with books, movies, and more!

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What Book Changed Your Story?

Happy end of Pride Month, everyone! We celebrated with you this June at PrideFest by making a community quilt, and now I want to share what a wonderful experience we had. We asked PrideFest attendees to write a title of “A Book That Changed Your Story” on a quilt square, and the finished quilt will start to travel around our 19 branches in the fall. Here’s a teaser:

Photo taken by the author.

Photo taken by the author.

So, “What book changed your story?” I love this question for a few reasons. First, reading is a highly personal activity. We pick what we read, and we read what we love, which makes bookshelves probably the second window into the soul. (Raise your hand if you, too, make a beeline to someone’s bookshelf as soon as you spot it.)

Second, I like that this question makes us think about the profound effect reading has on our lives. There’s probably that one line you’ve read that you never came back from — that changed how you saw yourself, the world and your place in the world.

And then I like this question because, at PrideFest, it became abundantly clear that a concomitant joy of reading is living in the company of readers. There’s the thrill of excitement and sense of affirmation seeing someone read a book that’s dear to you as they wait for the bus and the fun of talking to someone about that book, or them asking you about it.

Photo by Maggie McFalls.

Photo by Maggie McFalls.

At PrideFest, some of you knew right away what book changed you. Others left the table, thought about the books they’d read and themselves, and came back hours later to answer the question. And when you answered, some shared stories about those books: reading Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love in the early nineties after the AIDS crisis, naming a beloved daughter with some clever wordplay from the The Velveteen Rabbit (which is read by Meryl Streep on OverDrive). Many people answered that Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues changed your story, but almost all of you had different reasons why. One person praised Winnie the Pooh’s values and the character’s disregard for “gender role or size”. (It’s all about that honey!) We talked about children’s novels (Mommy, Mama, and Me), YA (I Am J, How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater, The Miseducation of Cameron Post), fiction (Rubyfruit Jungle, The Front Runner) and non-fiction (Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, anyone?).

Another reason I love this question is because we identify ourselves in so many different ways. Identifying and claiming a title is empowering. Sometimes, we find community, and we find ourselves when we do so. The only thing I know for sure is that on a fundamental level I am a reader, and I’ve always loved meeting my own people. Pittsburgh makes a lot of best-of lists, but one thing that isn’t mentioned explicitly is the people. So let me say explicitly that the best thing about Pittsburgh is yinz. Thank you to all who shared, thanks for being… my neighbor.

–Isabelle

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Me and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Part II

I told you I’d be back with a review of the film adaptation of Pittsburgh-native Jesse Andrews‘ debut novel Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

In case you need a refresher on the plot, Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler) make no-budget films inspired by their favorites. The 400 Blows becomes The 400 Bros. Eyes Wide Shut becomes Eyes Wide Butt. Peeping Tom becomes Pooping Tom. You get the idea. Their lives are changed forever (as is often the case in coming-of-age stories) when Greg’s mom, played with subtle shrillness by Connie Britton, forces Greg to hang out with leukemia-stricken Rachel, played by the adorable Olivia Cooke.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, whose only directing credits prior were episodes of Glee and American Horror Story and a remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown, has assembled quite a team for this film. Cyler’s Earl endeared himself to me just as he did in the book. Mann is great at playing dopey and awkward; it makes him relatable. Cooke, who seemed set on becoming this decade’s scream queen, shines in her role as the dying girl. With eyes bigger than hubcaps, you can tell exactly what she’s feeling just by looking into them. She’s got a real silent film star quality about her.

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© Fox Searchlight and Indian Paintbrush

The rest of the casting is pitch-perfect as well. SNL alum Molly Shannon gets to flex some dramatic muscles as Rachel’s mom, always with a drink in her hand and warning Greg to never end up like her absentee husband. Nick Offerman is great, albeit underused, as Greg’s tenured professor dad (but I could watch him all day). Jon Bernthal is also good in his role as Mr. McCarthy, the tattooed teacher whose mantra is “Respect the Research” and may or may not have drug-laced soup that inadvertently causes Greg and Earl to trip.

The camera work, fluidly kinetic and reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film, whip pans around showing off the beautifully simple muted color palette, courtesy of Chung-hoon Chung (cinematographer of Oldboy, Thirst and Stoker). Oftentimes that beautiful imagery is paired with music by the likes of Brian Eno, Ennio Morricone and Explosions in the Sky.

If all that wasn’t enough to entice you, remember that it was filmed in Pittsburgh and as such is peppered with Pittsburgh flair. The Point Breeze house where Andrews grew up is used as Greg’s house. At one point, Earl scoffs at the idea of going all the way to Lawrenceville. Rachel urges Greg to apply to University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh State University. A boy is seen wearing a yarmulke with the Pittsburgh Pirates logo on it. I figured that had to be a prop made for the movie, but it’s totally a thing.

Jesse Andres at a recent Writers LIVE event at CLP - Main. He's such a chill, down-to-earth guy. I wanted to get a beer with him after.

Jesse Andrews at a recent Writers LIVE event at CLP – Main. He’s such a chill, down-to-earth guy. I wanted to hang out with him and listen to everything he had to say.

It’s clear the filmmakers love movies as much as Greg and Earl. When the duo are looking for new inspiration for a film they’re making for Rachel in a High Fidelity-esque movie store, filmed at Mind Cure Records in Polish Hill, we catch glimpses of obscure films such as Chris Marker’s La Jetée along with more mainstream fare like Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and Kubrik’s Paths of Glory on the packed shelves. When Greg finally premiers his film to Rachel it’s a perfect union of visually stunning imagery and moving music. Such an emotionally charged scene would have been ruined if the two had been presented as teens in love throughout.

That Greg and Rachel aren’t presented as star-crossed lovers is one of the things I loved most about this movie. There is no “lifesaving” romance. No grand, sweeping gestures or romantic getaways to Amsterdam. It’s grounded in the world of a weird teenager and his very sick friend; no depictions of manic pixie dream girls (or boys) here. It’s something I’ve been longing to see in cinema since the end of Garden State.

I cannot overstate how refreshing it was that no love story was shoehorned in. Their friendship is more beautiful than any teen romance ever committed to celluloid. It’s also refreshing to see a young adult movie that isn’t set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia; I can only imagine the fun Greg and Earl would have spoofing the current glut of such films.

With Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Gomez-Rejon and Andrews, who doubled as the screenwriter, have given us a new classic in the pantheon of coming-of-age movies. It circles well-known tropes without ever succumbing to their clichés. For me, this earns a spot on the shelf with Stand by Me, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Little Miss Sunshine and The Way Way Back. If you loved the book as much as I did, I’d wager that you’ll also love the movie.  When it opens in a town near you, I hope you’ll get out there and see it. I know I can’t wait to go see it again.

–Ross

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A Summer Reading To-Do List

My blanket summer reading goal is to chip away at my ridiculous to-read list. But I think, more than that, I’d like (need) to be a slightly more intentional and finally get to a few things I might have had checked out a little too long (sorry, owning libraries!).

  

 

–  Jess

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Anniversaries

I like to ponder past significant events. This month there are two giant ones. I would like you to consider: The signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

The Magna Carta was a signed agreement between the despotic King John (1166-1216) and his fractious Barons on a field at Runnymede near Windsor, England in 1215. That was 800 years ago. Hard to wrap your mind around an event which took place that long ago. That initial agreement very quickly failed and John and his Barons were back at each other’s throats. So why do we care? The Magna Carta is described as one of the “most celebrated magnacartadocuments in history.” Some historians claim that this document is thought to be the precursor of modern Democracy. It influenced the American founding fathers as they created the Constitution. Four of the early copies of the Magna Carta still exist. These manuscripts are so rare and revered that during WWII, the British government shipped a copy to the United States for safekeeping. That copy lived at Fort Knox, Kentucky until the war was over.

Many published books discuss this document and the time in England when it came to be. I recommend the fascinating 1215: The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John
Gillingham.

Then there is Waterloo, which occurred 200 years ago. Just about everyone knows about the famous battle, the final defeat of Napoleon, and the end to a European war which had lasted 23 years. The Battle of Waterloo took place on June 18, 1815 in what is now Belgium. Tens of thousands tragically died on both sides; the carnage was enormous.

sageMany books , both fiction and non-fiction, describe the events of this military campaign. A recent edition to this body of work is a small volume entitled The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale by Leona Francombe. This novel relates what happened during that fateful battle. On June 17, 1815, the Duke of Wellington amassed his troops at Hougoumont, an ancient farmstead not far from the town of Waterloo. On June 18th, the French attacked. It is believed that both Napoleon and Wellington thought that holding Hougoumont was key to winning the battle.

What makes this telling so different is that it is told by a modern young rabbit named William who lives on what remains of the old farm. Under the teachings of his mysterious and wise grandmother, Old Lavender, William learns about the famous conflict and begins to absorb the “echoes and ghosts of the battle.” Gradually, William comes to realize how profoundly the deeds at Waterloo two hundred years before continue to resonate.

“Nature,” as Old Lavender says, “never truly recovers from human cataclysms.”

The Sage of Waterloo is a satisfying retelling of a key turning point in human history.

–Audrey

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Life on the Disc

The world lost one of the best recently when Terry Pratchett died. Our own LAF wrote this beautiful piece about it.

I have also written about Pratchett on this blog in the past.

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Fab pic of Terry Pratchett culled form a Google Image Search

Quite recently, the brilliant folks over at Book Riot published a piece by A. J. O’Connell about Pratchett’s daughter announcing that there will be no more Discworld books. She will not write any, and the series will end with the upcoming Tiffany Aching book The Shepherd’s Crown later this summer. In addition, The Long Utopia (co-written by Pratchett and Stephen Baxter) will round out the “Long Earth” series (that featured The Long Earth, The Long War and The Long Mars).

The Shepherd’s Crown marks the 41st Discworld book. That’s a lot. Maybe you’ve read all of them, or maybe you’ve never even heard of them. Might I propose, dear Eleventh Stack reader, that since we know there are not going to be any more, this is the perfect time to discover, or re-discover this excellent series. Starting at the beginning is never a bad idea, and The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic are the first two.

That said, one of my favorite things about the Discworld series is that you can pretty much start anywhere. Might I suggest Feet of Clay, Thud, or Unseen Academicals? They are all brilliant. The Fifth Elephant was the book that got me hooked. I also love Monstrous Regiment and Night Watch. Get into it! They are all wonderful.

Eric

-who is reading both The Long Mars and Raising Steam right now, and thinking about starting Lords and Ladies next!

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Travel Here, Travel There, Travel Everywhere…..Hopefully

Summer is the time to take vacation. Some people like to take vacation at home, just relaxing and reading a good book (a librarian can hope). However, some people like to travel during their summer vacation. The question is always, where to go? There are lots of lists about where you should take your (summer) vacation. I’ve been very lucky with my personal travel experience. I’ve been able to visit a lot of places, and for one semester in undergrad I was able to study abroad. The one thing that I have learned through my travel experiences is that you can have fun anywhere you go; it’s all in how you plan it. Make sure that you are prepared for that plan to fall apart entirely, and then you will be able to explore. Some books that I have found helpful, either because they are awesome reads and take place where I was traveling, or because they provide loads of information, are below.

where to go when

DK books overall are extremely helpful. They provide a lot of information and most of them also contain maps. Where To Go When is great if you are taking a summer vacation … not during the summer. Or in fact if you are taking a summer vacation during the summer too. It will tell you weather and other facts about places, including what is happening during that time of the year.

count of monte cristoIf you are traveling to France, consider taking along this classic. The Count of Monte Cristo has everything a book needs: romance, adventure, mystery, and revenge. This book gives the appeal of old France along with the importance of the City of Love. Plus the movie is awesome!

we were liarsThis book is not your typical beach read, but what kind of post would this be if I didn’t put a beach read on for the summer? We Were Liars is about a girl who is trying to remember her last summer on the private island where she had been every summer before. What was different about this summer? What had happened? A sad, but moving book, I would recommend this book for any time of the year. If this isn’t the type of beach read you are looking for though, there are a lot of lists with plenty of other titles.

I hope everyone has a wonderful adventure-filled (or not, if you prefer quiet) summer. Are you traveling somewhere exciting? Let me know in the comments.

-Abbey

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