Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Master of Visual Fantasy

Frank Frazetta paints worlds. Enjoying a career that has spanned more than six decades, fantasy painter Frazetta has done more for the sales of paperback novels than almost any other artist.  His brilliant and evocative paintings on Lancer Paperbacks’ Conan novels first released in the 1960’s invigorated the genre of adventure fantasy. In his prime his prodigious artistic talents were matched by his amazing physique and the natural-born talent of a gifted athlete. In addition to his work for book publishers, Mr. Frazetta has worked on album covers, animation, comic books, comic strips, feature films, and magazines.

As a longtime fan of Frank Frazetta it came as some surprise to me that his family maintains a museum of his work in East Stroudsberg, PA. The Frank Frazetta Museum offers fans the chance to see his work close up, and if luck prevails, even a chance to meet the master himself. I plan on travelling there over the holiday weekend and I can’t wait to take it all in. If you don’t want to make the drive to East Stroudsburg, but you still want to see what all of the fuss is about, you can check out these titles from the library to learn more:




Filed under Uncategorized

Pittsburgh and belonging.

Flying back into Pittsburgh after a week with family in the SF Bay Area is always a wistful homecoming.  Wistful because there is definitely something to be said for being able to stop at Mom or Grandma’s house for dinner any day of the week; homecoming because there is something about the kind of magnetic combination of land, architecture and people here in Pittsburgh that has kept me here for 20 years. 

It is something that relates to that combination that I want to tell you about today:  the Pittsburgh Architects and Pittsburgh Architecture files here at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main.  There are two things that make up the files, an index, which looks like a card catalog, and the clippings files, which are in several filing cabinets.  The list of topics that appear on the index cards is listed on our web site.  Each card has either a listing of where you can find more information about the architect, building or neighborhood, such as in local architectural periodicals or local newspapers on microfilm, or it will indicate that there is a clippings file. 

You never know what you might find in a clippings file, although it may seem obvious that there are newspaper clippings.  There might also be a flyer or brochure from a house tour, an architect’s resumé, or better yet, photos or floor plans of a home or building from an old magazine.  (I’ll never forget seeing the floor plan for one of the mansions in the North Side that is now a part of CCAC.  It must have taken an army to clean a house like that!)

These two files, plus our amazing collection of architecture books, complement the huge number of resources available in our Pennsylvania Department.  What’s available in there could be the subject of many, many postings, but I just want to mention that they, too, have a clippings file to trawl through, as well as the Western Pennsylvania Architectural Survey.  The WPAS was a survey done in the ’30s of structures built in Western Pennsylvania before 1860, and it contains photographs and field measurements of those buildings.

I think that knowing some of that architectural history is what makes me feel like Pittsburgh is in my bones.  I’m inviting you to come to the library and explore these resources for yourself.  It’s a treasure trove to discover.



Filed under Uncategorized

Pittsburgh Pedals

It’s no coincidence the amount of bicyclists on the road have increased, it is an inexpensive (if you account for maintenance), quick and sustainable method of getting around after all. A two mile commute to work can easily be achieved in about ten minutes. Bike Pittsburgh, an advocacy group committed to the interest of Pittsburgh bicycle safety and awareness, is kicking off its annual BikeFest this Friday. BikeFest runs through July 6 and highlights Pittsburgh’s bike resources as well as raising awareness of biking as a safe and environmentally friendly means of transportation. Whether you’re a regular bike commuter or pedal on the weekends, the library has the resources you’ll need.

Want to know more about local bicycle organizations and advocacy groups? Try this. Need to know about local trails and paths to get around? How about a booklist? Curious about what bike events are happening?Is your bike busted? We have books for that too.

– Lisa

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Get it Right

I’m a product of serendipitous timing; this week’s Time Magazine gives me the introduction I was looking for. In reviewing two new true-crime books, Lev Grossman introduces his reviews with the observation that Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, based on a 1959 Kansas farmhouse murder, was the first real “nonfiction novel.” Most of us are familiar with the genre, and for me at least, it’s my preferred choice in fiction reading.

My first real experience with the genre as a young adult was probably from reading Leon Uris and James Michener. Uris’s Battle Cry is fiction, but it’s unmistakably autobiographical and the places and events mentioned are real. Besides, how can you not keep coming back to a book that begins: “They call me Mac…”? Uris’s other early works follow the same pattern, a good yarn based on extensive historical research, but labeled fiction. The better ones that come to mind, and that I’ll re-read every few years are Armageddon (my personal favorite,) Topaz and Exodus.

Battle Cry Mila 18 In Cold Blood Exodus

James Michener did the same thing, creating a fictional narrative based on extensive historic research. Whereas Uris’s works covered the here and now, Michener’s made up the expanse of human time. Where I later had problems with Michener is that his books became SSDP (same story, different place.) While The Source, Poland, Hawaii and The Covenant are obviously different places and people, the formula became too repetitive and apparent after reading the third book. All of them are excellent, but they need to be spaced out. Ten and twenty years later, I had the same complaint about Tom Clancy and anything with Jack Ryan.

Clancy is interesting to me for another reason and leads into my real reason for writing here. Red Storm Rising and The Hunt for Red October opened up the market for the techno-thriller. Following Clancy’s lead, writers like Larry Bond and Stephen Coonts could spend half a page describing in the most descriptively arcane terms some piece of machinery, weaponry or vehicle. Their characters (crosses between Indiana Jones and James Bond without the tux) don’t just don or put on their coats, instead they pick up their Jacket, Field M-1943, or they board a 3,800 ton, Westinghouse gas turbine powered Knox class frigate preparing to get under way. That the frigate may or may not be rocking gently at the pier is incidental.

book jacket book jacket book jacket hunt for red october

What happens though, when the story isn’t historical fiction? David Hagberg, a well received author of techno-thrillers, has written a non-fiction work titled Mutiny: The True Events That Inspired The Hunt for Red October. Hagberg’s co-author is a man named Boris Gindin. The book is an account of a not very well-planned and short-lived mutiny aboard a Soviet naval vessel in 1975 (a 3500 ton Krivak class anti-submarine warfare vessel – see, I can do that techno stuff too.) Gindin was the chief engineering officer aboard the ship at the time, and spent most of the actual mutiny time locked up in a storage space with the other officers who didn’t join the Zampolit (Political Officer) who led the mutiny. So what we have is an historical narrative, told from the memory of a single individual, who wasn’t in a position to actually see or hear what was happening during the real course of events. According to Hagberg’s own acknowledgements, Gindin was the only participant he had access to for the story, and there are no primary source materials available.

I’m OK with that if the author is responsible and doesn’t project too much. Where I really began having problems with this book, and maybe it’s less about this book and more about the non-fiction I’m reading today in general, is the paucity of research or evidence of research. I’m going to the backs of these works and not finding indexes; there are few if any footnotes or endnotes, and in this case a fairly diminutive bibliography.

What made me seriously question this book is a short comment Hagberg made in a chapter devoted to Stalin’s purges, deportations and mass murder of the Kulaks and Ukrainians. At the end of a succession of atrocities perpetrated against them, Hagberg writes:

“The kulaks ate their pets, then bark from the trees, even their boots and belts and harnesses. Finally they began eating one another. Sometimes parents ate their infant children” (266).

Obviously it’s disturbing and I was curious as to his source. That’s when I discovered and burned that there was no index. I then went to look for a bibliography and came across one of 35 citations; books and articles. Oh yeah, 11 of them are from Wikipedia. Truth be told, most of them are innocuous and don’t effect historical accuracy; the performance of a particular aircraft or class of naval vessel. However 3 or 4 of them were about the histories of the Soviet era security services – the Cheka, NKVD, NKGB and the KGB. To me it’s fact-checking lite; it’s taking “good enough” and diminishing the veracity of research. I like Wikipedia, but use it as a test-bed against things I know about, or as a starting point for additional information gathering. Its problem is that user-generated content harbors the danger of reducing historical fact to truth by “democracy”. If 100 people say this didn’t happen, and only 60 say it did, then it didn’t happen.

Why did my red lights go off here? Take a look at the The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, by Orlando Figes. I was given this book late last year and finally finished it in April or May. It’s over 700 pages of meticulously noted personal accounts of life in the Soviet Union from before the revolution until the end of the Khrushchev years. In and of itself The Whisperers merits its own write-up, but I’ll save that for another day. The book is an ode to ensuring the veracity of personal accounts and their places within historical context. In reading it I may have come across inaccurate detail of events, but those are errors and suppositions of the individual account, not the pronunciations of the author as authority. In reading accounts of 40-50 years of systemic oppression and terror in the old USSR, I never came across accounts of cannibalism in the manner Hagberg suggests. My problem with what Hagberg flippantly tosses out is, his account is so brief that it seems common or expected; it loses its ability to shock and make us question to what levels humans must sometimes reach whether as victim or perpetrator.

To me it reinforces our roles as custodians of the veracity of the information we provide. “Good enough” is usually a quantitative qualifier, it also needs to be a qualitative quantifier, meaning it’s good enough that I’d use it too.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

From the train you find the town

Last Saturday my husband and I rode the train from Washington DC to Pittsburgh. We dropped off a relative’s car in DC. Flying or driving back would have been faster, but a one-way plane ticket or car rental were more than twice the price of a train ticket. Even though only one train travels directly from DC to Pgh each day, and the trip takes at least eight hours compared to a 4 ½ hour car trip, I prefer the train, and not just for the price.

On the train are you are free to walk around. Coach seats include lots of leg room. Trains travel a route that feels almost invisible. On a train you sneak up on a town. You come in through the back door. A town that a highway passes by, a train glides through. On this trip, I carried books in my pack just for reading on the train. Looking out the windows held my attention for hours. I never did open a book.

Each town, farm, and river set me to wondering about life in that spot. From the train I saw alternative lives, possibilities not related to actual, probable choices, but exercises in imagination. Richard Hugo, in his book The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing, recommended using strange towns as triggering subjects. Hugo wrote, “You found the town, now you must write the poem.” For me, the train provides ideal access to the town.

If an eight hour train trip is good, a cross country, 45 hour trip is better. My favorite route is Chicago to Seattle. The Empire Builder runs up the Mississippi, across the North Dakota and Montana plains, through Glacier National Park, into the orchards of Eastern Washington, and over the Cascade Mountains. It’s true that the train often runs late, but why worry about a few extra hours added to a two day trip? My husband and I joke that a late train makes the trip an even better value – you get to spend more time on board, and they don’t charge extra.



Filed under Uncategorized

Jacob Lawrence and Aaron Douglas

A few weeks back, my partner and I headed off to Washington, DC, for vacation. We hadn’t done lots of planning; after discovering that booking a direct flight from the Burg to DC was beyond possibility at our late planning date, we packed up the little Yaris and headed on out. Five hours later we were in the land of museums, bookstores, monuments, and fab restaurants and bars. Our favorite place of all, Kramer Books (& Afterwords Cafe), combined three of our shared vices: books, food, and drink.

We’d been to DC a number of times before and had a fair idea of what we wanted to do. Yet, the one thing about DC is, if you’re like us and keep the planning to a minimum, it will always reward your serendipity. Of course, our travel collection at the library has plenty on planning a DC excursion: the basic Fodor’s guide we took out, with pop-out map, did the trick for a couple of micro-planners.

This time round we stumbled into two fantastic exhibits at two different museums that dovetailed together rather nicely, each concentrating on a major artist from the Harlem Renaissance: one was on Jacob Lawrence at the Phillips Collection, the other was on Aaron Douglas at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Here is curator Elsa Smithgall’s introduction to the Jacob Lawrence exhibit, a series of 60 panels entitled The Great American Epic: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, posted on their website and available via this YouTube video:

The series of panels chronicles the hardship and amazing story of the Great African American migration north in the early part of the 20th century. The Phillips has posted a pdf with a number of the panels from the exhibit: be sure to look at page 3, panel #45, which documents Pittsburgh’s place in this historic event. And here’s a tip: it took me awhile to realize the panels can be rotated (as well as zoomed) by right-clicking on each. Lawrence’s strong lines and primary colors do an in-depth job of covering this monumental event while instilling a narrative quality that personalizes history, no easy task. The exhibit will be at the Phillips through October 26th.

The Aaron Douglas exhibit, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, entitled Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist, is a revelation in color, line, and power. Running currently through August 3rd, Douglas’s work is described as combining “angular cubist rhythms, seductive art deco style, and traditional African and African American imagery to develop his own unique visual vocabulary” and that captures the feel perfectly. As a coming together of many stylistic nuances, it distinctly represents the unique flavor of the creative period known as the Harlem Renaissance. Here’s the artwork from the cover of this traveling exhibition’s catalog:

If this whets your appetite for more, you can satisfy your curiosity while staying a bit closer to home by checking out works by and about these artists here at the Carnegie. Here’s a selection:

All that and, if you’re into fab desserts, Afterwords Cafe at Kramer Books is the place.

– Don

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

CLP at PrideFest!



This Sunday is PrideFest 2008, and we’ll be there!  Stop by the CLP table to check out bookslists that highlight the library’s GLBT collections, and even check out some books while you’re there.  Did you know that the library has several areas devoted to GLBT literature and non-fiction?  The first floor of the library has a GLBT collection that features new fiction and non-fiction, the teen collection has books that are written for young adults, and you can find even more non-fiction in the mezzanine, mainly under the “HQ” subject heading. At PrideFest we’ll be on Liberty Avenue, between 8th and 9th Streets (just a few tables over from the GLCC table).  We hope to see you there!

Who: CLP

What: PrideFest 2008

Where: Liberty Avenue, between 7th and 10th St.

When: Sunday, June 22, 1:00-6:00


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

RRR Craft Wagon: Jump On!

The RRR (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) Craft Wagon is about reusing materials in fun and innovative craft projects. We had our first RRR Craft Wagon session on Thursday May 19th and it was a blast!

We taught people a great trick for cutting plastic shopping bags to make “yarn” first. People then knit, crocheted and wove with the yarn to make reusable bags or rugs!

Here’s the schedule for the next three sessions:

June 26, 2008 • Recycle this, craft that.

Make an envelope; mail a button.

July 31, 2008 • Craft Curious?

Jar and vase etching. Wonky to whimsical.

August 28, 2008 • BYOT – Bring Your Own T-shirt

Weave placemats, potholders and coasters.

To get into the swing of things, you should check out related books in our collection. We actually have a great selection of reuse and crafting books here at CLP, like Don’t Throw it Out! or this book featuring projects from ReadyMade magazine. I think you should make a pom-pom rug. That’s on my bucket list. Or a shag rug out of old t-shirts.

There are also some great websites with tips and projects for crafting with recycled materials.

Craft a Green World “features do-it-yourself projects that incorporate reused, recycled, and natural materials.” calls itself “the world’s biggest show and tell” and includes instructions for projects from knitting a Princess Leia wig to turning old CDs into a CD rack.

Etsy Labs is the instructional blog of Etsy, an online marketplace of entirely handmade goods.

Do you have an avalanche of plastic bags stuffed under your kitchen sink? My Recycled Bags can help you craftily reincarnate them.

Day-lab DIY showcases “innovative and creative ideas that focus on smaller budgets, the reusing of found objects, restoration, preservation and the like.”

Craft is the “first project-based magazine dedicated to the renaissance that is occurring within the world of crafts.” Its website features projects, products and articles.

Craftster‘s motto is “no tea cozies without irony,” and their site has tons of great suggestions.

Hope to see you when the Craft Wagon rolls back into town!

-Jude and Renée


Filed under Uncategorized

Break free from the chains

A while back I heard a wise librarian say, “Don’t ever apologize for your reading tastes.”
This is a hard thing to internalize, as I have a terrible, dark, evil secret.  I hate to tell you this because I don’t want you to judge me, even though I feel you would be justified.  It is terribly humiliating, given the nature of my work recommending great books to the readers of Pittsburgh.  Here goes:
I do not like Shakespeare. 
I don’t get him at all.  I’ve read him.  I’ve deconstructed him.  I’ve written long papers about his plays.  I’ve watched his stuff performed at theaters and in blockbusters films and they just don’t do anything for me.  I find him so darn inaccessible.  And understanding him takes so much time

There is a reason for my vulnerability here.  You might have literary shame too.  Do you have a guilty pleasure author or genre that you love, but are afraid that your friends would judge you if they found out?  I was thinking of naming all of the genres people find silly, but I won’t, just to display that I, like all of my coworkers, do not and will not judge your reading tastes.  We like sexy time-travelling professional wrestling fiction just as much as the next person.  We read everything.  We are not snobs.  We do not judge.  And we don’t care what you read—we just want you to read.   The best part?  When you don’t know what to read next, ask us and we’ll help you find other books and authors that suit your tastes.

So is there anything you need to get off your chest?  What books do you feel bullied into pretending to like or not like?

I’ll start:  I don’t like Nathaniel Hawthorne either.



Filed under Uncategorized

Who doesn’t love free movies?

If our bazillion movies on DVDs and VHS tapes aren’t enough for you, why not stop by and watch a movie here at the Main library? You can meet some new people, hang out in our air conditioning, and impress your friends with your newfound cinematic knowledge. Just pick the series that suits you best!

  • International Cinema Sunday
    First Sunday of each month at 2 PM
    Highlighting films from around the world! Watch out, there will be subtitles.
  • Double Dose
    Second Saturday of each month at 1 PM
    Featuring a classic and a current movie in a different genre each month. Come to one or both!
  • Real to Reel Documentary Film Series
    Third Thursday of each month at 7 PM
    Need a reality check? Come see why true stories are as entertaining as fiction.

If you (heaven forbid) miss a film that you really really wanted to see, just look it up in the catalog. All of these movies go into our regular collections after the screenings.


All films are shown in the Center for Museum Education – Classroom A.

  • From the front entrance: Walk straight through the First Floor, down the rear stairs, and through the glass doors. Classroom A is on the right.
  • From the rear (portal) entrance: Walk straight past the museum security office (on the left) and through the glass doors. Classroom A is on the left.

If you get lost, just ask one of the guards or employees!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized