Monthly Archives: April 2008

Bad Things, Good People, Helpful Books (and other things)

“Life is difficult.”  This simple truth is the first sentence of M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, long considered a classic of both psychology and spiritual living. When the chips are down, and things aren’t going your way, it can be comforting to read the words of folks who have experience in these matters, whether you’re struggling with a specific situation or a general malaise. While no book is a substitute for the opinion of a qualified mental health professional, and you should definitely consider reaching out to the community, a quiet retreat with a relevant resource can help you get your thoughts together before you call on a doctor, family member, or friend.

Those seeking comfort from a higher power will find consolation from every spiritual tradition under the sun on our shelves. Those who prefer a more secular approach to problem-solving will find all sorts of hidden gems via a subject search for self-help techniques. And if you’re feeling just a tad skeptical, you might get a laugh out of Beth Lisick’s wacky misadventures with the genre.

Librarians really value your privacy, so if you’re looking for information on personal subjects, we will keep your concerns confidential when you come to the reference desk. If you really don’t feel like talking to us, though, that’s okay too – just be reassured that, no matter what you’re looking for, we try to have it in the building for you, just in case.

That will be five cents, please! Just kidding. Until next time, be safe and well.

–Leigh Anne

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Breathing, Smiling, Walking, Talking Books.

Last week, I was forwarded this article about a library in London where patrons can borrow people for one-half hour chats.  Borrow people, you say?  Yes, borrow people.  Several Londoners volunteered to participate in Living Library program where, as a patron, you can “check out your prejudice.” 

The idea is beautifully simple:  volunteers are cataloged as “books” and tagged with various stereotypical descriptions related to that volunteer’s identity.  Patrons ask a librarian to borrow one of the “books” and then the patron and “book” have a 30-minute conversation with the goals of breaking down barriers and of increasing tolerance.  When the thirty minutes are up, the patron returns the “book” to the librarian.

After I read the article, I just couldn’t stop thinking about this concept and wondering, could we have a program like this here at Main?  I invite you to comment here and let us know what your thoughts are.  If we had a program like this, what living book might you volunteer to be?  What living book would you want to check out?

In the meantime, check out one of our non-breathing books.  We have many autobiographies and memoirs on our shelves.  Read about someone who is Black, White and Jewish or read about the experience of a Person with a Transgender Spouse.  Perhaps you have questions for a Christian Voter or an African-American Single Mom.  Or maybe you just feel like “hassling” a Celebrity.

Comments and thoughts?



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Book meme

What’s a meme? Frankly, despite the fact that I see this word all over the place constantly, I didn’t know what the heck this was until recently.  According to Merriam Webster, a meme is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” While the French major in me wants to pronounce it so that it rhymes with gem, the dictionary also tells me that it really rhymes with theme.  These days a meme often refers to surveys or ideas that get replicated in blogs, sent through email, or posted on social networking sites like myspace or facebook.  Thanks to Karen over at the CLP Teensburgh Blog for passing this one on!

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews? Honestly?   

There isn’t much that I purposely won’t read, and sadly I have to admit that sometimes the worse it looks, the more I like it.  (Chick lit about vampires?  I’m so there.) However, there are a few “must read” books that I still haven’t quite gotten around to reading.  Moby Dick is one, despite the fact that everyone I know tells me how wonderful it is.  And anything by Dickens; somehow I’ve managed to never read anything he’s written.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

I’m a low key girl, so the event would likely be some beers at a local establishment.  Preferably someplace with a good jukebox- the real kind, not the Internet kind.  I would definitely invite Holden Caulfield and Sheila Levine, but the third choice is tricky!  I know there are a million people, but off the top of my head no one comes to mind.  Maybe Rachel Owlglass from V.?  She seems interesting. Despite the slight social awkardness that would permeate the atmosphere, and the fact that good old Holden is a minor, they’re all snarky and independant and funny, and I think would be fine drinking companions. 

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet.  While this immortality is great for a while, eventually you realize it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

I’ve never been able to get very far into The Grapes of Wrath before it started to bore me to tears.  Maybe it’s time I gave it another go though, since some of Steinbeck’s books–like Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday–are among my favorite books, ever.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

I don’t think I’ve ever actually come right out and said that I’ve read it, but I’ve never even read the back cover of The DaVinci Code. Or anything by Dan Brown, despite the fact that I’ve had many conversations with people talking about how much they love/hate Dan Brown,  while I’ve nodded sagely like I know what they mean. 

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realize when you read a review about it/to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

 I can’t think of anything!  This happens to me with movies all the time, but books, not so much. 

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (If you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead and personalize the VIP).

This would be a dream job.  Someone who just wants my book suggestions, ALL THE TIME?!? I can’t think of anthing better, except for being a librarian, which lets me give book suggestions at least some of the time. Since I think that 100 Years of Solitude is pretty much the best book, ever, I might have to make that my first recommendation.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

This is a tough one, so I’ll be greedy and go for two languages (hopefully this doesn’t spoil the deal with the good fairy).  Japanese, because I suspect that there are a lot of poems that lose something in the translation to English. And Spanish, because lately I’ve been pretty immersed in South American authors (Julio Cortazar, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Amado) and again, I always wonder what’s been lost in translation.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

I reread books constantly.  One book that consistently amazes me with its greatness is Madame Bovary. I’ve read it about a hundred times, and like it more with each reading. The language is rich and beautiful, and the story is dramatic without ever feeling heavy.

Happy meme-ing!




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Cupcakes Are a Girl’s (or Your) Best Friend

If I had to choose, a cupcake would indeed be my best friend.  I’d take one (or two or three) over a diamond any day. They are little, cute and oh so delicious.  Capturing everything a cake should and wants to be by existing as the perfect individual size portion, ensuring an adequate amount of icing is enjoyed with every bite and never requiring the use of utensils. 

Cupcakes are utterly indiscriminate. They have become highly evolved baked goods by making themselves available in vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free and organic varieties (just to name a few).  Best of all, unlike cake, cupcakes do not require a special occasion to be eaten and therefore do not make you feel guilty when you accidentally have one for breakfast.  Skeptics of the cupcake revolution might identify the recent cupcake craze as a fad, but hard evidence exists that cupcakes are awesome.  Try one of these maps to locate your closest cupcake establishment.

Bakers and explorers of culinary endeavors can also benefit from the joys of cupcakes, because the next best thing to eating cupcakes is making and sharing them. The library has a nice selection of cookbooks to help you in your cupcake making adventure.  By no means do I consider myself a cupcake making professional, however I’ve had a lot of success using Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and have managed to amaze (some might say trick) dairy fanatic friends and family every time. 

And some good news!  New cupcake books are being added to the collection all the time.  A few years ago when I was visiting Washington D.C., I had the pleasure of enjoying a cupcake so good I wanted to cry.  Thankfully, the host of Food Network’s Sugar Rush and owner of Love Café, Warren Brown has disclosed these recipes.  I’ve never made cupcakes from these cookbooks, but I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.  Get inspired with; Hello, Cupcake!, Little Cakes from the Whimsical Bakehouse, Bake Me I’m Yours – Cupcake and The Cupcake Cafe Cookbook.

Whatever your taste or preference, cupcakes are simply scrumptious.

– Lisa


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Let’s (Not) Have Sax

The world of music is full of bad puns (e.g., “going for baroque!” “can you Handel it?” etc.).

Saxophonists seem to be the worst offenders.  Specifically, they can’t resist substituting sax and sex. If you want to indulge them…

  • You can read Paquito D’Rivera’s autobiography “My Sax Life” (also, notice its original title in Spanish, “Mi Vida Saxual”).
  • Or listen to Kim Waters’ “Sax Appeal” or “Sweet and Saxy.”
  • The Fairer Sax, a female saxophone quartet, might tickle your fancy.
  • Your plans for the evening perhaps involve dimming the lights and spinning an LP titled “The Night was Made For… Sax” by Gene Casciola (a graduate of Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University).
  • Reminisce about our libidinous former president with the Capitol Steps’ “The Joy of Sax.”
  • Crank up your “Sax Drive,” not with some pills purchased from an ad in the back of a magazine, but with some saxophone concertos.
  • You can have “Sax on the Beach” with John Tesh but I understand if you don’t want to.
  • And if you decide to have “Sax by the Fire” with John Tesh, don’t get burned!
  • Finally, you can “Have Yourself a Saxy Little Christmas” if you want to make Santa and Jesus cringe.

If you can add to the list, please let us know!  If you’re a saxophonist, please take a cold shower before you continue this trend.

– Tim


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Life on Mars & The Mezzanine

Are we alone in the universe? Do aliens exist? Or are we, ourselves, the strangers in our own worlds?

These questions inform the 55th Carnegie International, opening May 3 and running through January 11, 2009, at the Carnegie Museum of Art. In his Curator’s web introduction, Douglas Fogle writes “Life on Mars is a collective self-portrait of humanity colliding with the economic and political events that define daily existence. Questions of our survival are humorously and poignantly brought to the fore in films, installations, paintings, sculptures, and photographs that search for the sublime in the banality of everyday life.”

Searching for and finding the sublime in everyday life is also the subject of one of my favorite novels, The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker. The Mezzanine will be the first subject of the Life on Mars Book Club, co-hosted by CLP’s First Floor – New & Featured Department and CMOA.

The Mezzanine describes a single escalator ride. The plot is simply an office worker returning to his desk after lunch. But Howie, not an ordinary office worker, is fascinated by the minutiae of everyday life.  His analysis of the way shoe laces wear out, or his method of using only one ear plug while he sleeps, take the form of extensive footnotes – essays that elevate often overlooked, commonplace objects and events to poetic heights.

Life on Mars Book Club details are being finalized, but we do have the time, dates, and titles set. We’ll meet in the museum exhibition galleries on the following Thursdays, 6:30-7:45 PM. 

We invite you to delve into six fascinating works of fiction that tackle the humor, the peril, and the irony of being human.

June 12            Nicholson Baker: The Mezzanine
July 10             Haruki Murakami: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Aug. 14            Daniel Quinn: Ishmael
Sept. 11           Antoine de Saint Exupéry: The Little Prince
Oct. 9               Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire
Nov. 13            Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot



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Mingus, Mingus, Mingus!

Charles Mingus is one of a handful of the most important jazz composers of the 20th century.  He  was a giant of jazz, an innovator whose music blends classical, bop, and free jazz to create something else again.  In addition, in the volatile time that he lived, he was an unapologetic advocate of civil rights in the United States. 

Today we celebrate the anniversary of his birth, April 22, 1922.

Two distinctive documentaries have been made of his life: Mingus: Charlie  Mingus, 1968 and Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog.  The former is currently out of print, but was issued in both VHS and DVD formats (maybe you’d like to try to interlibrary loan it). Shown by many PBS stations across the country, Mingus 1968 chronicles a harrowing eviction  from his East Village apartment, during a particularly troubling period of his life, as well as some perfomance highlights.  Some of this footage was used in the later Triumph video, which presents a good, balanced view of his career with some fine performance footage.  If you’re jonesing for a more complete live performance on DVD, check out  Charlie Mingus: Live in ’64 (with the incomparable Eric Dolphy) for concerts in Belgium, Norway, and Sweden.

Mingus was no stranger to the written word: his Beneath the Underdog: His World as Composed by Mingus is an excellent autobiography, well worth the read.  Also on the personal level, there is Sue Graham Mingus’s Tonight at Noon: a Love Story by wife and keeper of his legacy.  For perhaps more objective points of view, there are Myself When I am Real: the Life and Music of Charles Mingus by Gene Santoro (2000), Mingus/Mingus: Two Memoirs by Janet Coleman and Al Young (1989), and Mingus, A Critical Biography by Brian Priestly (1982).

Ultimately, it is the music that matters; there is plenty to be had in library collections throughout the county and more performances seem to be discovered every year.   In the last year and a half, three excellent concerts have been released: Charles Mingus in Paris: October 1970, the Complete American Session, Cornell 1964  (perhaps his finest live set ever) and Music written for Monterey, 1965: not heard – played in its entirely at UCLA, September 25th, 1965Music written for Monterey was originally issued on vinyl on Mingus’s own label, one of the first independent releases of its kind and a precursor of today’s thriving indie music movement.  The breadth and depth of Charles Mingus the man and Charles Mingus the musician are immeasurable; in an era of giants, such as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, Mingus stood very tall, indeed. 

And, oh, yeah, let’s not forget Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus: “Better get hit in yo’ soul!”

– Don


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How do you want to spend the next 6 months?

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the biennial conference of the Public Library Association in Minneapolis.  I went to all kinds of sessions, with topics ranging from leadership, services to the GLBT community, readers’ advisory, a romance author panel, to recruiting and educating new librarians.  I learned about many fun and exciting things that other libraries are doing, and it was truly inspiring to gather with thousands of other librarians who are working so hard to serve you, The Public.
One of the most interesting sessions I attended, however, was one called “Bridging the Divide:  Libraries Transform Communities.”  All about civic participation and citizen engagement, the session focused on the use of deliberative dialogue to discuss the most challenging and divisive issues we face, both locally and nationally.  As we get ready to go to the polls tomorrow, and again in November, the ideas and approaches I discovered seemed especially timely.  Politicians seem to find it necessary to debate, differentiating their point of view from their opponents and doing their best to convince us that they know best; however, as a society, we may want to take a different course.
The basis of deliberative dialogue is gaining an understanding of multiple perspectives of an issue.  In fact, an essential part of the process is to explore at least three or more approaches to each issue, which serves as a starting place for developing entirely new solutions.  Which is where the library comes into the picture as a central place that provides information on any topic one might want to address.  These programs, in which groups of citizens gather to speak with one another, to explore the issues, and to build consensus, are offered all over the country, in libraries, schools, community centers and other settings.
While I would love to offer such a program here at this library (let us know if you’re interested by commenting or emailing!), we don’t have to wait for a formal session to learn about viewpoints other than our own.  In addition to many, many books, and several magazine and newspaper databases that provide news articles about a myriad of topics, there are three databases that are here for the purpose of learning the multiple sides of current issues.  Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center, Issues and Controversies, and CQ Researcher gather book chapters, articles, essays, and other full-text reports.  All three are available from inside and outside the library with a Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh library card, so you can start discovering how others might be thinking about an issue right now!  Bring your new-found knowledge to your next “discussion” with your brother-in-law or your neighbor.  It could make the next six months a whole new experience for you.


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Have you read any 2008 Eisner Awards nominees?

This week the 2008 Eisner Award nominations were announced. The Will Eisner Comics Industry Award, named after the “father of graphic novels” himself, is one of the most esteemed recognitions comics creators can boast. The Awards recognize excellence in comics, webcomics and graphic novels.

Hopefully, it will come as no surprise that CLP includes nearly all of the nominated works in our Juvenile, Teen and Adult Graphic Novel collections. Why not see for yourself how great they are?

  • Rutu Modan was nominated for her critically acclaimed Exit Wounds.
  • Shaun Tan–who has beautifully illustrated children’s books as well–earned three nominations for the stirring, silent The Arrival.
  • Naoki Urasawa’s manga thriller Monster earned a nod–or was it a shudder?

Other nominees include:

Some folks have noticed the glaring omission of Frederick Peeters’s Blue Pills, about a man who falls in love with an HIV-positive woman.

What about you? Did you read any stunning graphic novels or comics this year that didn’t make the list? What did you think of the nominated titles you were savvy enough to read?


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You can read every book, EVER

The title of this post is a little bit of an exaggeration, but it’s also kind of true.  You may not have the time, let alone the intellectual capability to read every book (oh, don’t act offended: you know it’s true).  But in theory, your library card gives you access to just about every book that exists, and the magical key is only three little letters long: ILL.


ILL stands for Interlibrary Loan, and it simply means your library can borrow items from other libraries for you, usually at no charge.  I hate to admit it, but sometimes the local library doesn’t have a book or journal article you need, or an album you would like to hear, or a movie you would really love to see. Maybe you don’t want to buy it.  Or maybe you can’t buy it, because it’s out of print or very rare.  No PROBLEM-O!


When I’m helping customers look for items that aren’t in CLP’s collection, I first check, which is a comprehensive catalog of more than 1.2 billion items in more than 10,000 libraries worldwide.  I verify the title and then check to see what libraries own it.  Sometimes, customers are happy to see, a nearby library has the exact item they are looking for.


To place an ILL request, go to our homepage and then select Using the Library, and then choose Interlibrary Loan (ILL).  To create your account, select First Time Users, which explains how your ILL account works.  Enter your library card and contact information, and then you are free to order your items, all by yourself.  You can even check the status of your items later by signing in on the Interlibrary Loan Logon page.  But of course we are always happy to help if you feel confused. 




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