Mothership – Get On.

I recently stumbled across an absolutely cracking good sci-fi collection called Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond. I say “stumbled” because it showed up one day in something I was working on here at the library and I thought to myself “Self, you should probably look into that.” I did. I was not let down.

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This collection features an amazing range of writers, some of whom have been awarded some of the most prestigious prizes in fiction (including winners of the James Tiptree Jr Award, The Richard Yates Short Story Prize, Pushcart Prize nominees, The Hugo, The Nebula and the Prometheus Awards). One (George Tate) teaches at the Yale Graduate Art Program. Another (Charles Saunders) is even from Elizabeth, PA! Others are less well known, but still produce knockout stories that are thought-provoking as well as gripping.

Over the last year or two it has become very popular (and I feel justifiably so) in the book blog-o-sphere to talk about being cognizant of reading a wider range of writers. (For example…HERE, HERE, and HERE.) Discussions about not limiting your reading to white, male authors have been eloquently made (certainly much more-so than I am able). If you are a fan of sci-fi and interested in looking at a more diverse group of writers in that genre, take a look at this collection. Even if you are schooled in discovering diverse voices within the genre, look this one up. But perhaps most importantly, get this book and read it because it is excellent. The stories are fantastic and the introductions by editors Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall are cogent and thought provoking…and all of it is well written. I can’t stop thinking about Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Hungry Earth.” Earnst Hogan’s “Skin Dragons Talk” is also taking up space in my head!

Whatever your reasons are, go get a copy of this, post-haste. You won’t be sorry.

Eric

who is currently reading a bunch of sci-fi and (gulp) getting ready to go back to school for the first time in years this fall!

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Watching the Watchman

This post is mostly spoiler-free discussion of Go Set a Watchman. If you plan on reading the book and do not want to see minor thematic spoilers for it, you may want to skip today’s essay.go set a watchman

There has been a lot of talk about Harper Lee’s new book. I do mean a  lot, but it’s not all bad, and it’s not all good.

This is my take on the story. I think it reads like a first book. There are a lot of flashbacks in the novel, and they don’t always add to the story. The flashbacks felt like rambling thought, and this made it difficult for me to read.

Before the book even hit the shelves, there were a few articles about how Atticus is racist. Many people were upset and distraught by this. They had grown up with the Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbirdthe one that most readers felt had fought injustice and racism. I feel, most readers wanted to believe in the Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird. However, if you read both of the novels together, Atticus doesn’t really change. Most readers’ eyes have been opened to the idea that Atticus was ALWAYS racist. Just like Scout, we saw Atticus go from a good decent man in our eyes, to realizing that he has faults and isn’t all that we dreamed of.

This book is a good book to see comparisons, to be able to grow and learn about the characters much as Jean did. However, even if Atticus had remained a good person in the eyes of the reader, the book and its writing are just not good. Harper Lee seems to struggle with maintaining a plot and rhythm; it’s all over the place.

For those of you that have read it, did you enjoy it? Did you think it was better than I did? I’d love to hear others’ thoughts about the book.

-Abbey

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Pick An Author, Any Author!

Summer is a time for publishing industry doldrums. Most of the spring titles have come and gone and there is that long 6 weeks to wait till your favorite authors’ fall releases start to populate the online catalog. What’s a person who loves to read to do? Well, with all the books from all the public libraries in Allegheny County at your fingertips, try my method: choose a new-to-you author and read as many of their books as you can locate.

My reading taste runs to romances and suspense/thrillers, so if you like those genres here are some of my “read-em-all” suggestions, along with the stories of how I stumbled across the authors.

Vintage German playing cards, posted by Flickr user Valeriana Solaris. Some rights reserved. Click through for source page.

Vintage German playing cards, posted by Flickr user Valeriana Solaris. Some rights reserved. Click through for source page.

Julia QuinnThe Bridgerton series started in the early 2000s. My mom was in the hospital in 2003 having tests and I forgot to take something to read! Shame on me. So I found Julia Quinn’s To Sir Phillip with Love, book five in an eight book series, in the AGH gift store. What a lucky break. These warm, poignant, funny Regency romances kept me charmed that summer as Mummy declined. The British manners and customs of the ton, meddling siblings and a simple bee sting changed everything for this aristocratic family.

Stephanie LaurensBar Cynster series – There are 23 books in this series! I’ve read them all. When I read In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner in 2004, one of the characters was reading Captain Jack’s Woman, one of Laurens’ earliest stories. The Cynster series represents just a fraction of the romances written by Ms. Laurens.

The Cynsters are a noble British family and the time frame stretches from the early 1800s to the 1850s, as generations and branches of the family find love, kinship, mystery and renown. Book one is Devil’s Bride. That got me started with Laurens and with the Cynsters and their lush, sexy, romantic tales. I alternated reading or listening to this series and British actor Simon Prebble really puts his heart and soul into describing those passionate relationships in the audio versions.

Patricia Cornwell – In 2006, I was heading out on a road trip and had to grab something quickly to listen to. I grabbed an audio tape of Point of Origin that was sitting on a display shelf. I’d read and heard that Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta Series were great, award-winning mysteries. This title focused on several connected gruesome deaths by fire. Or are they connected? The forensic details had me hooked.

So from book nine in the series I retreated and began listening to the series from the beginning, book one – Postmortem through Predator. Actually this marathon took me well into 2007. And, I continue reading today, despite Cornwell’s inconsistencies in voice (first person, to third person, to first person), terrible reviews (most not really deserved) and characters’ personalities changing on a dime or sudden aging (niece Lucy is a kid, then seemingly an FBI recruit overnight). Kay Scarpetta is a forensic pathologist par excellence, and her cases, her relationships and her criminal adversaries are worth the time. Suspend that disbelief!

Vintage playing cards of uncertain origin, posted by Flickr user William Creswell. Some rights reserved. Click through for source page.

Vintage playing cards of uncertain origin, posted by Flickr user William Creswell. Some rights reserved. Click through for source page.

Harlan Coben – In 2007, I fell upon Coben’s mystery series about professional sports agent Myron Bolitar. The manager of Main Library’s New and Featured department recommended Coben to me. A talented basketball star with a degree from Harvard Law who flamed out quickly in the NBA, main character, Myron, dedicates himself to seeing to the best interests of his athlete clients, both professionally and personally. His best friend, elitist Win, not only serves as financial consultant to Myron’s clients, but back-up to Myron when he gets into binds with the criminal underworld, unhappy relatives and disgruntled spouses of the sports stars. Coben’s standalone novels often have minor characters in common with each other and with the Bolitar series. Myron makes a brief appearance in The Stranger, published in 2015.

William LashnerThe Victor Carl series. Schlubby Philadelphia defense lawyer Victor Carl takes all of the cases no one else would touch with a ten foot pole. I glommed onto this series when looking at a display of Pennsylvania authors in 2008. Lashner’s writing is spare and beautifully evocative at the same time. When he describes a character (and believe me, the people Victor Carl encounters in his cases are “characters”) you can see, smell and hear them as well as get inside their heads – whether you want to or not! Try Falls the Shadow and meet the strange dentist, Bob. You will see what I mean.

I love Lashner. His recent standalone, The Barkeep, (on order – keep an eye on the catalog) is an Edgar Award nominee. It is also one of my favorite books of 2015.

Janet EvanovichStephanie Plum/By the Numbers Series – books 1 -10. I started these books during the summer of 2010. The Library was fighting for its financial life and closing some CLP branches seemed possible. The senior staff spent the summer in a series of discussions across Pittsburgh to engage the community and discuss the future path for the library. This was a very intense time for us and I really needed a few laughs.

My cousin Kathy recommended Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum stories. These fast-moving, delightful and often hysterically funny stories pit tough bail bondswoman Plum against the low life criminals of Trenton, NJ. After about book ten, Ten Big Ones, the series formula has been firmly entrenched, and while there are still some laugh aloud scenes, Janet is phoning it in … i.e. there’s nothing new under the Trenton sun. But the early stories are fresh and funny and hold the promise that maybe, someday … Stephanie will do something, anything, new.

Kristan Higgins – Higgins writes funny, thoughtful, contemporary romances, distinguished by quirky, relatable characters, a dog or two and small town America. I kept seeing her books appear on the annual “best romances of the year lists.” I tried The Next Best Thing, about a young widow who is trying to get on with her life. So she was my 2014 choice and has only ten titles published. I burned through them last summer, they were that enjoyable. I am anxious to read her next book, If You Only Knew, which comes out in September (also coming soon to the Library catalog).

So, choose an author, any author, and end the summer by devoting your reading just to them. It’s very satisfying!

–Sheila

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Nobody Asked Me, But…

Borrowing this rhetorical device from my all-time favorite sports columnist, Bob Smizik, I will use my blog slot this time around hit on a few unrelated points. A bit of this, and a bit of that. So here goes!

* Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers a Book A Librarian service! Do you need a one-on-one, one hour consultation with a skilled information professional? Just fill out the form the link takes you to and await our reply!

* Haiku writing / A discipline for all time / Inch worm

Ant-Man is out and you’ve seen it! Now what? Read some classic Avengers tales involving the original Ant Man, Hank Pym! I recommend this amazing collection!

* Our Overdrive eBook collection now features roughly 17,000 titles available in the epub and Kindle formats! They make ideal summer vacation reading solutions!

* A colleague and I were talking sci-fi and she recommended James S. A. Corey’s Leviathon Wakes to me. Fair warning–this could spawn another Dune post!

–Scott

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Moonstruck

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I’m in my spot, riveted to the book I am reading: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I know it’s late, so I check the time: 4 AM?! Ugh. I wake up mid-morning (at least it’s a Sunday), do a brunch-thing with the kids, then sit down to “just read a few chapters.” I look up; it’s 3 PM already? I go grocery shopping, make dinner, then squeeze in a quick read before getting the kids ready for bed. Finally, I’m back to my spot for some more chapters…2 AM already?!

That’s how much I have been enjoying this book. Set at first in the near future, the Moon is blown apart by an unknown agent, and the humans on Earth have just two years to launch life boats into space before the surface of the planet becomes uninhabitable. 5,000 years later, it’s time to return. This book is richly detailed and beautifully written. Stephenson is not afraid to include advanced scientific concepts in psychology, physics and biology. He uses real-life modern technology as a starting point in many of the plot details. I enjoy a science fiction book that has a basis in real scientific facts.

I have a love/hate relationship with Neal Stephenson. I was blown away when I read the cyberpunk thriller Snow Crash, so much so that I purchased my own copy. The Diamond Age did not disappoint, with a thoroughly engaging young female protagonist. I didn’t like Cryptonomicon as much as I thought I would, a speculative fiction book about WWII, secret codes, conspiracy, sunken treasure and high-tech business. It became bogged down in the mathematics of cryptography, which I didn’t mind, but I stopped caring about the plot before the book came to an end. I got fed-up with Anathem about halfway through the book. The setting was a future world where monks held all of the scientific knowledge safe from the aggressively ignorant masses. The hyper-focus on the esoteric and convoluted narrative was a little much for me to keep in mind from reading to reading. I gave Quicksilver, the start of a massive trilogy called The Baroque Cycle, a 50 page tryout, but put it down. I was not prepared for such a huge undertaking (yet).

Stephenson’s plot visions are multi-layered. He focuses on the minutiae but keeps his eye on the whole world. His brilliance is evident in everything he writes. I feel that the books I did not like might be a failing of intellect on my part. Perhaps I am enjoying Seveneves so much because he is writing about something that I myself think a lot about.

What time is it? I think I have a few minutes to sneak in another chapter.

-Joelle

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Double Sweet Sixteen

Today is my birthday. I am 32. A double sweet sixteen, if you will.

I’m actually spending my birthday at the same location as my sixteenth, at Sandcastle. Only, in 1999, I was there as an employee – making cotton candy, dodging the bees that circled the sno-cone syrup, and trying not to burn my hand on the pretzel oven again. Oh, those hazy, sticky, green polo-shirted days of summers past …

In honor of the day, here are some of the items that apparently rocked our collective worlds that year. Walk with me, down memory lane.

Books

Movies

Music

– Jess, who is reading under an umbrella today

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In Divine Nothingness, Pittsburgh’s Gerald Stern Proves He’s Still Around

One of my very favorite poems is “Lucky Life” by Gerald Stern, born and raised in Pittsburgh and now living in Lambertville, New Jersey.  It is somewhat embarrassing for me to have discovered this well-known poem only two years ago – I mean, it was published in 1977 – but discover it I did, last year, while spending some time down at my beloved Jersey shore. It found me at exactly the most perfect time, as if he was writing directly to me. I thought about it during our vacation this year and I’ve thought about it again, several times over the course of what has been a rather challenging month, personally-speaking.

It’s one of those poems that describes exactly what fellow treasured Pittsburgh poet Toi Derricote means when she says, “Gerald Stern has made an immense contribution to American poetry. His poems are not only great poems, memorable ones, but ones that get into your heart and stay there. ”

How could they not, with lines like these?

“Dear waves, what will you do for me this year?
Will you drown out my scream?
Will you let me rise through the fog?
Will you fill me with that old salt feeling?
Will you let me take my long steps in the cold sand?
Will you let me lie on the white bedspread and study
the black clouds with the blue holes in them?
Will you let me see the rusty trees and the old monoplanes one more year?
Will you still let me draw my sacred figures
and move the kites and the birds around with my dark mind?

Lucky life is like this. Lucky there is an ocean to come to.
Lucky you can judge yourself in this water.
Lucky you can be purified over and over again.
Lucky there is the same cleanliness for everyone.
Lucky life is like that. Lucky life. Oh lucky life.
Oh lucky lucky life. Lucky life.”
~ from “Lucky Life” by Gerald Stern

Love that. And words like these are what made me pick up Divine Nothingness, Gerald Stern’s latest collection of poetry, published last November.

Divine NothingnessAt 90, this is Gerald Stern’s seventeenth poetry collection and there is a definite sense of the passage of time. Divided into three simple parts (perhaps to symbolize childhood, adulthood, and the final years of life? Or a nod to Pittsburgh’s renaissance and rebirth, as one might interpret “Three Stages in My Hometown”) Divine Nothingness  contains the reflections of a life.

There are the places (‘so let me take you back to the meadow/ where the sidewalks suddenly become a river …”) and the people (“There was a way I could find out if Ruth/ were still alive but it said nothing about/ her ’46 Mercury nor how the gear shift ruined/ our making love ….”) of particular moments experienced during a time gone by. These poems segue into an acceptance of life’s finality and the self that is left behind.

“…and, like him – like everybody – I scribble words
on the back of envelopes and for that reason
and for two others which I’m too considerate to mention 
I’ll be around when you’re gone.”
(from “I’ll Be Around”) 

~ Melissa F.

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