Au Revoir, Allentown!

Allentown

Today is the last day that the LYNCS outreach staff of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will be providing library services at 1206 Arlington Avenue. This is a bittersweet transition for our department and our organization, after spending 2.5 years in this location, bringing library programming and services, and forming partnerships in this Hilltop neighborhood.

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In what began as the Pop-up Library in Allentown, our initially scheduled eighteen months in this space ended up becoming a year longer, thanks in a large part to a grant from the Birmingham Foundation and our partners at the Brashear Association. The Brashear Association is a non-profit providing services to families and children out of their offices on the South Side of Pittsburgh.  Our relationship with the Brashear Association began with some simple after school programming at the pop-up library on a monthly basis through which we discovered shared goals, especially where children are involved. Their continued partnering and presence in the space soon highlighted the fact that a need on the Hilltop was being met through the activities and programming in this neighborhood storefront by the library staff, and thus encouraged them to continue to do the same through their afterschool program and summer camp.

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We had some great moments over the 2.5 years – lots of fun programs, and we met so many great people. We’re so happy that the children and adults will continue to be served by the Brashear Association in their new space just around the corner on Warrington Avenue, and where we will continue to partner with them through occasional children and adult programming. You can follow their wonderful work at their Brashear Kids blog: http://www.brashearkids.com/

In the words of one of our pop-up library users:

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Maria J.

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Inconceivable.

I know I’m not alone in stating that The Princess Bride is my favorite movie. I was probably five or six when I watched it for the first time (thanks, Dad) and have seen it countless times since. I have it mostly memorized, and still harbor a small crush on 1987-era Cary Elwes.

Priorities.

However, I was doing a disservice to myself. I had not read William Goldman’s incredible book until very recently. Shortly before the holidays, I caught that a friend had added it as a “to-read” on Goodreads and I impulsively commented, “Hey, I haven’t read this either. Want to do a read along before they take our nerd cards away?” Bless his heart, he said yes. We worked out a loose schedule of about 100 pages a week, then commented back and forth about the things we were fawning over. I recommend this method wholeheartedly – accountability and camaraderie! As two reformed English majors, we both loved the meta-asides as a plot device. Goldman makes it easy to buy into the framework of him adapting the story to just the ‘good parts’ of a classic tale from the far-off country of Florin.

Greatest.

Of course, the book has paired nicely with picking my way through As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess BrideWhich could also be subtitled: Andre the Giant is the Best. Elwes details his experiences with the movie, from his own casting, the work he and Mandy Patinkin put into practicing the sword fighting scene, and the only injury on set – Patinkin bruised his ribs trying not to laugh at Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max. The cast and director Rob Reiner contributed their own stories to the book, so it’s a lovely collaboration from a group that still clearly takes pride in this project, over 28 years later.

– Jess, who reminds you to never get involved in a land war in Asia

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Food Books That Aren’t Really About Food

Cookbooks, memoirs and novels are my most checked-out items, and as I’ve recently discovered, there’s a sort of magical thing that happens when those worlds collide. You don’t have to be a hardcore gourmand to appreciate the fact that food plays a central role in all our lives, making it a vibrant and relatable conduit for storytelling, exploring memories, making analogies and creating a sort of shorthand between the author and food-savvy readers.  Cooking and baking can be the hook that gets you interested or a thread that ties the story together, but it’s never the whole story.   Here’s a look at some of the recent selections I’ve enjoyed in the subgenre I’m calling food-books-that-aren’t-really-about-food, both fiction and nonfiction.

Julie and Julia

“Maybe I needed to make like a potato, winnow myself down, be part of something that was not easy, just simple.”

Julie & Julia – Julie Powell

The movie adaptation of this memoir was released few years ago, when I first started being interested in cooking. I thought it was sweet movie with nice performances, but it was all-and-all pretty forgettable to me. As is so often the case, the book is so much better! I loved Powell’s sharp, foul-mouthed humor. The story isn’t so much a treatise on the wonders of Julia Child as it is about about finding meaning and purpose when you are feeling adrift. After finishing this, I added Powell’s more recent memoir, Cleaving, to my to-read list.

Seconds – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Seconds has been praised time-and-time again by CLP staffers, so I’ll keep my synopsis short: The author of Scott Pilgrim is back with a faced-paced story featuring magic mushrooms, mistakes and second chances, and a house fairy in a graphic novel set in the restaurant world. It takes about one sitting to read, and it’s definitely worth your time.

Heartburn – Nora Ephron

For my first experience with a Nora Ephron book, I went for this short novel about a cookbook author grappling with her husband’s affair. While it doesn’t sound like a setup ripe for hilarity, Ephron manages to pull it off with trademark wryness. A book about cooking-as-caretaking, relationships and Rich People Problems, I have to admit, I don’t know that I would have enjoyed it half as much if I hadn’t listened to the audiobook which is narrated brilliantly (of course) by Meryl Streep.

Excerpt from Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. Online source: http://comicsalliance.com/lucy-knisley-relish-review/

Relish:  My Life in the Kitchen – Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley was born and raised surrounded by an eclectic collection of restaurant critics, artists, chefs, home cooks, farmers and gardeners, and she has the stories to prove it. I quickly devoured (heh, see what I did there?) this adorable graphic novel filled with food-centric memories, stories about growing up, and reflections on the value of friends, family and food. Comic-style recipes, like this one for huevos rancheros, punctuate the book.

Maman’s Homesick Pie – Donia Bijan

I picked this up with a few other Middle Eastern cookbooks for my monthly themed potluck, and was happily surprised to find it wasn’t really a cookbook, but a memoir with recipes (written by an award-winning chef) interspersed throughout the chapters.  Maman’s Homesick Pie chronicles the life of author Donia Bijan and her family members as they adjust from a happy, well-to-do life in Iran, to living as immigrants in America as a result of Islamic revolution, to Bijan’s training as a professional chef in Paris.  All of her memories are woven together with stories about food: how food was used as a bridge to the family’s Persian heritage, and how adapting to American food rituals is a big part of the enculturation process. The story is engrossing, as is the rich, descriptive food writing. Even if you aren’t interested in that, I say it’s worth a checkout for the recipes alone.

Some related selections from my to-read list:

The Language of Baklava: A Memoir – Diana Abu-Jaber
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
Shark’s fin and Sichuan pepper: a sweet- sour memoir of eating in China – Fuchsia Dunlop
Food: A Love Story – Jim Gaffigan
Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India – Madhur Jaffrey
The Sweet Life in Paris – David Lebovitz
The Baker’s Daughter: A Novel – Sarah McCoy
Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses – Meredith Mileti
Cakewalk: A Memoir – Kate Moses
Baking Cakes in Kigali – Gaile Parkin
Yes, Chef – Marcus Samuelsson
Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family – Patricia Volk
The Truth about Twinkie Pie – Kat Yeh

-Ginny

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How the Library Helped Me Buy My First House

I found The House by accident.

I have always been curious about houses and how we interact with them. When I saw a handful of houses for sale on Penn Avenue, I wondered how much they cost, and what was inside. But when I got on realtor.com to check, I got lost in a browsing black hole checking prices for each neighborhood and marveling at the staggering amount of wood paneling that can still be found in Pittsburgh houses.

That’s how I found our house. As soon as I saw it, and the yard that came with it, I said yes (despite the wood paneling in the living room).

You see, I’ve always wanted a space I could lay claim to. When I was a child, I never dreamed about my wedding. I dreamed about the house I would someday decorate with all my Star Wars collectibles and artwork (this involved putting sand down in the basement to make it look like Tattooine).

Normally my husband discourages my house hunting, because we are not exactly wealthy individuals. But when I showed him this house, he said something like, “Wow. We could actually afford that. And it looks nice. And the yard!”

We saw the house. We loved the house. We decided to buy the house. But we didn’t know the first thing about making such a huge investment, except that we needed a real estate agent.

So I did what I always do when I want to learn something. I checked out a stack of books from the Library, some physical, some electronic. These three helped me the most:

The Just Right Home by Marianne Cusato (print and eBook)
justrighthomeThis book taught me so much about how we interact with our most personal spaces, and how houses function within the context of their streets, neighborhoods, and cities. It also addressed the issue of whether to rent or buy by using some sort of math that produced a ratio–the lower the number, the better it is to own your home instead of renting. Pittsburgh was one of the lowest cities listed. Reading this book helped me figure out what I actually needed out of a home, and reconfirmed by good feeling about purchasing The House.

Buying a Home: The Missing Manual by Nancy Conner
missingmanualThe Missing Manual series is similar to the For Dummies and Idiot’s Guide To books. It’s not as chunky as most of those books are, which I appreciated while I was traveling over the winter holidays. It takes you through the entire home buying process, from checking your credit for any surprises to searching for the right home to the mortgage application process to closing. This was a good workhorse book. Nothing fancy, just the information you need to know.

100 Questions Every First-Time Homebuyer Should Ask by Ilyce Glink
100questionsThis book also takes you through the entire home buying process, but organizes it as a series of questions. The book’s only major flaw is that it was written before the housing bubble burst, so it’s very optimistic about how much your new home will appreciate in value (though in the author’s defense, she does caution her readers that most homes do not appreciate forty percent in one year). She’s also all about adjustable rate mortgages, which scare the heck out of me. I want to know exactly how much I’m going to be paying every month! But the organization makes it easy to jump around and find answers to specific questions you might have.

I learned a lot about buying a house, but I never did discover how much those houses on Penn Avenue were selling for.

-Kelly

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My Favorite Mediocre Book

It seems to be the season for unpopular opinions here in the Eleventh Stack. We are denying the touchstones of our generation, swearing off the big hits, and gearing up to not go see the 50 Shades movie. With that in mind, I figured it was time to share my favorite not-very-good book.

Freckles,* a 1904 classic by Gene Stratton-Porter, tells the story of a plucky, one-handed Irish orphan making a life and a family for himself in the woods of Indiana (the Limberlost) at the turn of the last century. If you think that sounds like a plot worthy of Horatio Alger, you’re pretty much right. As in Alger’s 100-plus novels, our brave hero is a proponent of honest work and clean living, which eventually cause a fortune to fall into his lap. The author achieved commercial success (her novels eventually made her a millionaire), but railed against the literary critics who rejected her popular fiction.

While Horatio Alger dignified his work above pulp fiction with highbrow literary allusions, Stratton-Porter glorifies hers with nature. The woods where Freckles lives and works were right outside her family home, and she was a committed naturalist who went on to publish several non-fiction books on the local species. While the environment is relevant to the story—Freckles works as a guard for a lumber company, protecting part of their territory from poachers—the descriptions of the wetlands seem to interest the author more than her own characters do.

The flow of the story gets interrupted for pages at a time to describe scenes “[that] would have driven a botanist wild with envy.” And yet, as the New York Review of Books points out, “she performs the brilliant feat of fudging that permits the reader to feel ennobled by the natural world while rooting for its extirpation.” The wilderness Freckles loves is actively being destroyed by his allies and mentors, and he is helping them do it.

The writing is, at its best moments, so wildly overblown that it can be hard to take seriously. The dialogue drips with sentimentality and questionable dialects. Freckles falls in love with a girl known for the entirety of the book (and its sequel) as the Swamp Angel. “Me heart’s all me Swamp Angel’s,” he says, “and me love is all hers, and I have her and the swamp so confused in me mind I never can be separating them. When I look at her, I see blue sky, the sun rifting through the leaves and pink and red flowers; and when I look at the Limberlost I see a pink face with blue eyes, gold hair, and red lips.”

The plot hangs on ideas of genetic inheritance that are beyond ridiculous—namely, that the orphan Freckles’s biological family can be identified not only by similar looks but also similar character attributes such as pluck, honesty, capacity for loving, and (even stranger) vocal training. As is said of his gentility, “No one at the [orphans’] Home taught you. Hundreds of men couldn’t be taught, even in a school of etiquette; so it must be instinctive with you. If it is, why, that means that it is born in you, and a direct inheritance from a race of men that have been gentlemen for ages, and couldn’t be anything else.” This also comes with a few uncomfortable moments of ethnic stereotyping, where his traits are as much attributed to his Irishness (he grew up in Chicago) as anything personal or familial.

And yet, I love this book. It may help that I was introduced to it by my mother, who was introduced to it by her mother, when I was much younger and less sarcastic than I am now. It certainly helps that I’m sentimental and respond well to outpourings of emotion. I identify well with the Angel’s proclamation, “I never have had to dream of love. I never have known anything else, in all my life, but to love every one and to have every one love me.” Particularly during the dark of winter, it’s nice to have something overflowing with spring life. And as excessive as the language is, the characters are charming, and the morality is uncomplicated. Spoiler alert—the bad guys are defeated and the good guys are rewarded and get to live happily ever after in a place that’s really pretty. And some days, that’s as much as I need.

-Bonnie T. *There’s only one copy in the library system, but the full text is available for free online through Project Gutenberg.

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Busy Busy Busy

Lately I’ve been finding it hard to fit books into my life. Reading is a huge part of my life, but at times the obligations of work, family, and other hobbies can make it tough to get through an entire book. I’ve always been the type of person to find something to read, though, and these days it’s been magazine and journal articles. Like a lot of people, when I think of the library I think of books, computers, and programs. But between our print and e-collections, we have a huge selection of popular magazines to scholarly journals that are great for when you want to read something but just don’t have the time or inclination for an entire book. Not to mention that articles are a great way to read some really quality nonfiction. Here are a few things I’ve read recently:

The Miracle of Minneapolis (by Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, 3/2015): Minneapolis is a city that often appears on those “Best Places to Live” lists (much like Pittsburgh!). It’s also home to several of my favorite musicians, making this a city that’s always intrigued me. I’m not packing up and moving there yet, but I enjoyed this article about the city.

Federer As Religious Experience (by David Foster Wallace, New York Times, 8/20/06): I loved this article by David Foster Wallace on the tennis player Roger Federer. I’m not a tennis player or even a particular fan, but this article captures what I love about some other sports: “Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.”

Remote Control: Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, and the Spectacles of Female Power and Pain (by Sarah Marshall, The Believer, 1/2014): I was 16 when Tanya Harding hired someone to break Nancy Kerrigan’s leg, and I can only assume that everyone followed this story as closely as I did. 20 years later, I’m still reading about it.

Shame and Survival (by Monica Lewinsky, Vanity Fair, 6/2014): The Monica Lewinsky scandal was another media (and political) scandal that I couldn’t help but follow. In this article she discusses not just how the affair affected her life, but also the feminist reaction (or nonreaction) and the implications of being an ordinary person who has to deal with unwanted fame on a daily basis.

50 Cent Is My Life Coach (by Zach Barron, GQ 6/2014): It was impossible to pass up this article based on the title alone, but this one was surprisingly touching. As the author puts it: “I’d come to hold up a mirror, get 50 Cent to talk about himself, his dreams, his fears, his regrets. Except here he was—enthusiastically inquiring about my dreams, my fears, my regrets—holding up the mirror first. He did it without irony or skepticism—it wasn’t a joke to him, even if it sort of was to me.”

I’ve linked here to both the online versions and the catalog record for these magazines, but we also have a great collection of magazines in Zinio and in our databases. And the collection of print journals that we have at Main Library is extensive– stop by the desk if you need help locating something!

-Irene

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The Cozy and The Metal

The New Year started off well enough, but by a week into 2015 I was already in the middle of some difficulties. My beloved feline companion of 17 years got very ill and died. That was bad enough to set me back a while. Added to that, however, we had an ice storm, and my wife slipped on said ice and broke her foot. Later that week I took a series of particularly shady hits in a dek hockey game and ended up with some soft tissue damage and some bruised ribs. With all of these things happening, I wasn’t living my normal routine (including running, which has become like medicine for me). There are a few things that have helped me immensely. Of course, I’m talking about old metal records and cozy mysteries.

 

this is what happens when you do a google image search for 'cozy mysteries'

this is what happens when you do a google image search for “cozy mysteries”

It’s no secret that I love cozy mysteries. See HERE and HERE. The books that I’ve been into early this year are the “kind-of-cozy” books by Jane Langton. They are a bit rougher around the edges than most cozy titles, especially concerning graphic language. That said, the way that Langton tells stories is engaging and entertaining. Emily Dickinson Is Dead is a great example of that. The way that the narrative winds back and forth weaving the lives of the characters together is quite remarkable. Plus, if you have a soft spot for literature (as I do) the book is filled with bits from Dickinson’s poems. A Transcendental Murder didn’t engage me quite as much, but it has a similar approach and a great connection to Emerson and Thoreau.

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I also got into Carol Miller’s Murder and Moonshine. This is an interesting beginning to a series set in rural southwestern Virginia. Daisy is a waitress at the local diner and gets to hear all the local gossip. When a reclusive old man shows up there one day and drops dead a few minutes later, Daisy finds herself in the middle of a case involving local law, moonshiners, the ATF and, of course, her famous peach cobbler.

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What goes well with a nice cozy mystery better than some classic metal? Early Metallica has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Ride the Lightning has been in rotation. (Listen to “Creeping Death” on repeat you ask? Yes, please!) Likewise, Master of Puppets has been getting some well-deserved attention. (Put on “Disposable Heroes” and try to mosh around your living room – then, if you’re anything like me, you remember you have bruised ribs and ease yourself back to the couch and the heating pad).

 

this is what happens when you do a google image search for "metal music"

this is what happens when you do a google image search for “metal music”

Round it out with a bit of Celtic Frost … To Mega Therion, to be specific. Turn up “(Beyond the) North Winds” as a cold, icy gale blows outside and be reminded that, in the face of broken, busted-up bodies, and the death of our friends, we still woke up today, and have a chance to live, love, read books and listen to music. Add the classic Black Metal by Venom, and you have a fitting soundtrack for anything the winter can throw at you.

 

Eric

who is currently ensconced on his couch, cozy in hand, metal on in the background, and a heating pad on his ribs

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