Monthly Archives: July 2008

Howard’s Weird Tales

A colleague of mine who shares my interest in the old Pulps and in the work of Robert E. Howard kindly gave me his extra copy of an old paperback entitled Skull-Face and Other Tales. The dog-earred little book collected some of the most interesting stories Robert E. Howard wrote for Weird Tales magazine during his too-short career. The story entitled “Skull-Face” really weighs in as a novella of sorts, spanning some 127 pages and featuring dozens of characters and sinister locales in rundown sections of 1920’s London. Originally run in serial form in Weird Tales from October-December 1929, “Skull-Face” features a flawed protagonist named Steve Costigan, a man driven to hashish addiction by the horrors he witnessed serving as an infantryman in WWI. Costigan must overcome all manner of exotic villains from around the world, all serving under the titular madman himself, the enigmatic Skull-Face!

Despite some cultural insensitivity from Howard (a product of his time), the story stands up remarkably well to modern scrutiny, and will surely please Howard fans only used to reading his Conan material and its many pastiches. With the imminent release of the third Mummy movie, folks seeking some rip-roaring pulp adventure to complement the theme should look no further than this wonderful collection.

Howard wrote a number of other non-Conan tales across many genres, all in his highly descriptive, muscular style that packs maximum detail into an economy of words. Find some of the best listed below:


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Playing games

A recent conversation with a friend about games we played as kids got me thinking about games in general, and the kind of all-consuming passion that we tend to develop for our favorites.  The idea of children sitting blankly in front of a TV playing video games for hours is almost a cliche, but that same kind of obsessive playing can take place with games that are the total antithesis of video games.  Remember how competitive jump rope was in elementary school?  In my elementary school, at least, the girls who were best at double dutch or Chinese jump rope were definitely at the top of the unspoken playground hierarchy, and the rest of us practiced for hours to be as good as they were.  I remember games of tag being similarly competitive, and we all played SPUD or freeze tag (or whatever variation was popular that week) at every chance we had. 


Once we got to high school and began playing “real” sports (although in New York City public schools, anyway, double dutch is now an official varsity sport!), we left games like jump rope and tag behind for the most part and moved on to sports like football, basketball, soccer, or baseball (or track, or tennis, or swim team…). Certainly all of those sports have their share of devoted players and fans at the high school, college, and professional levels, and amateur leagues exist for those of us who didn’t quite make it to The Show.  But even less physical games like poker, ScrabbleDonkey Kong, or pinball have legions of fervent– and very, very serious– players.

Of all the games that we become obsessed with, chess has to be the game that best exemplifies this.  Players like Bobby Fischer serve to illustrate the stereotype of the eccentric genius chess player, and if you walk by nearly any park on a nice day and you will find tables filled with chess players, deeply engrossed in the game.  Because strategy is such an important part of the game, books about the game are crucial.  If you wander down to the “GV” section of the stacks here at the library, you’ll find that chess books occupy several shelves.

Washington Square Park Chess Players by David Shankbone.jpg

My own current gaming obsession is Boggle– I picked up the game at a yard sale recently, and find myself playing daily, often for most of the evening.  It’s strangely addictive.  Are there any games I’ve forgotten?  Childhood or current obsessions?  Let me know in the comments!



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Having a Rodeo of a Good Time

The Triple R Craft Wagon is pulling into town again. In case you missed the two previous wagons or Jude and Renée’s post, you have another chance. Craft curious? This Thursday we’ll try jar and glass etching. Turn your wonky glass jars to whimsical drinking glass. Bring your old and boring glass jars, vases or glasses and a pair of goggles. In the meantime, look for the library’s collection of craft books using recycled materials.

Re-Creative: 50 Projects for Turning Found Items into Contemporary Design, Steve Dodds – Turn yesterday’s trash into swanky items you can use today.

ReadyMade: How to Make (Almost) Everything: A Do-It-Yourself Primer, Shoshana Berger – Can’t get enough of ReadyMade? Practical projects with easy to follow instructions.

Alternacrafts, Jessica Vitkus – Convert an old t-shirt into a rug or newspaper into a flower bouquet. With minimal crafting experience and everyday household objects, discover new uses for discarded junk.

Jump on the craft wagon at 7:00 pm this Thursday, July 31.

– Lisa

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Three Cheers for Canonsburg!

Ah, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.  A half an hour southwest of Pittsburgh.  Population currently less than 9,000. 

Why should you care about Canonsburg?  Musically speaking, here are 3 very good reasons:

1.  Perry Como

2.  Bobby Vinton

3.  The Cynics and Get Hip Recordings

You can’t argue with the success of Como seeing as he had over 80 hits on the charts including a streak between 1945 and 1954 where he had 36 hits in the Top 5.  (For Billboard chart stats such as these, the books of Joel Whitburn are invaluable.)  Some of my favorite Perry Como songs are “Let’s Take an Old Fashioned Walk,” “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes,” and “You Won’t Be Satisfied (Until You Break My Heart),” but the one I like best is “Magic Moments.”  “Magic Moments” was an early triumph for the one of the best songwriting teams ever, Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David, and features whistling and a bassoon.  How can you not like a nostalgic, romantic song with whistling and a bassoon?

In front of their borough building, in Perry Como Plaza, Canonsburg has a “singing statue” of Perry Como. Enough said.

Bobby Vinton had eleven Top 10 hits between 1962’s “Roses Are Red (My Love)” and “My Melody of Love” in 1974. Called “The Polish Prince,” Vinton sung part of the latter hit in Polish. How many top 10 singles can you think of that are sung partially in Polish? Go Bobby Vinton! Go Canonsburg! Go Western Pennsylvanians from Eastern Europe!

Speaking of Europe, the underrated Cynics are bigger there than they are here. Emerging out of Canonsburg, The Cynics and the record label they created, Get Hip, have been garage rock institutions for over 25 years.

Canonsburg, you emit more than just radiation. You emit some terrific musicians.

— Tim

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One Man’s Meat

Today is the last Friday of the month, the day of our library’s lunch hour reading program for adults, the Eleventh Stack Read Aloud. I am one of three librarians reading under the tent in Schenley Plaza while you munch your lunch.

Browsing through the library for a Read Aloud book to perk up your Friday, I thought of stories I fell in love with while listening to a teacher or parent read. It’s not surprising that children’s books came to mind, since  reading aloud often involves children. An engaging article in this week’s issue of The New Yorker, “The Lion and the Mouse. The Battle That Reshaped Children’s Literature”, which concerns influential children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore and the writing of E. B. White’s first children’s book, Stuart Little, suggested a solution. I perused E. B. White’s writing for adults, finally choosing to read from a worn copy of One Man’s Meat.

One Man’s Meat is a 1944 collection containing essays first published in a column of the same name in Harper’s Magazine, as well as a few longer pieces from The New Yorker. “One Man’s Meat” (the “monthly piece” as White termed it) ran in Harper’s from 1938 to 1943. In an introductory essay in a reprinted edition, Roger Angell wrote, “One Man’s Meat is too personal for an almanac, too sophisticated for a domestic history, too funny and self-doubting for a literary journal. Perhaps it’s a primer: a countryman’s lessons that convey, at each reading, a sense of early morning clarity and possibility.”

I’ve chosen to read a longer piece dated May 1939, “The World of Tomorrow.” White explored the 1939 New York World’s Fair carrying a box of Kleenex. He wrote, “When you can’t breathe through your nose, Tomorrow seems strangely like the day before yesterday.” His report is funny, skeptical, prescient, sharp and clear.

Hope to see you from noon to one o’clock, across the street from CLP Main for story time. If not, you can make your own story time, anytime you’ve got a book and someone to read to.


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Short Novel, Long Story, Novella: Recommended, 199 Pages or Less …

In the mood for something to read, something with some pop, that you maybe don’t have to mortgage a week of your life to read? How about a romance or some horror or something post-modern or an old fashioned classic or something Beat; some solid Science Fiction or maybe a touch of the existential or something to simply break your heart? Call it a novella, call it a long short story, call it a short novel, it doesn’t matter, if it’s great and it’s under 199 pages (& over 59), it’s on this list. And, oh, if it’s on this list I read it and, in one way or another, it grabbed me. If you read something here and don’t like it, time wasted is kept to a minimum. And besides, the novels on this list are as different from each other as can be, so if you don’t like one, try another.

Great reads, less filling …

Persuasion – Jane Austen

How It Is – Samuel Beckett

Hellbound Heart – Clive Barker

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Fup – Jim Dodge

The Malady of Death – Marguerite Duras

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Chronicle of a Death Foretold – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Jacob’s Room – Virginia Woolf

Journey to the East – Hermann Hesse

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Tristessa – Jack Kerouac

The Mist– Stephen King

Swimmer in a Secret Sea – William Kotzwinkle

The Sibyl – Par Lagerkvist

The Fox – D. H. Lawrence

Fifth Child – Doris Lessing

At the Mountains of Madness – H. P. Lovecraft

The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon

Rules of Life – Fay Weldon

PS: Bet you can’t guess which one (make that two) broke my heart (hint: it ain’t the Clive Barker).


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I love you. Yes. You. The patrons and customers of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. You see, this is how I get when I finish a book that I love, particularly when I learned about it from a customer. All of you get credit for it, even though it was only one person who came in, having heard about it on Fresh Air, and asked me to help him find it.

Okay, I’ll tell you what it is… The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett. I have never, ever, had any interest in reading Proust, before I read this book. I had never heard of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, until, in this exquisite little novella, it was the catalyst that got the Queen of England on a reading binge. What happens is, Queen Elizabeth is out walking her dogs, when they suddenly go tearing around a corner and stumble upon a bookmobile parked outside the palace. The Queen apologizes to the librarian for the ruckus, and checks out a book (a novel by Ivy Compton-Burnett), just to be polite. That particular tome doesn’t actually get her started, but when she dutifully checks out The Pursuit of Love the following week, again not wanting to seem unappreciative, her life changes. The next thing you know, she’s suggesting titles to the prime minister and asking people about what they’re reading, much to the chagrin of her private secretary.

What’s so fabulous about this book, aside from the hilarious response of the royal court and the prime minister, is to see the Queen discover what reading does for a person. So while she finds herself seeing others in a new light, for example, thanks to her reading, I experience a renewed joy and gratitude for my own reading, and for those many people, whether they’re customers, friends, talk show hosts, or book-jacket designers, who introduce me to one great book after another. Which, as you can see, inspires me to professions of love for all humanity.

While this particular book got me interested in reading new authors and titles, here are some others that might lead you to something wonderful:

Alright, it’s your turn now. What books are making you gush these days? Tell us about your latest amazing reading experience.



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Happy Birthday, George Clinton!

A good friend once said to me “You’d better like George Clinton, all of the music you like exists because of him.”  She was right.  Clinton’s impressive catalog, bombastic stage presence, wild creativity, legendary influence and downright funkiness command a certain respect. Respect that–especially on his birthday–is best paid with lots of dancing.

While our resident music expert, Tim, could probably fill you in on the facts better than I, you only need ears to appreciate George Clinton.  Over four decades, he has recorded about 50 albums that defied and defined genres and earned dozens of hits on Pop and R&B charts.  The mastermind behind a list of bands with confoundingly similar names, Clinton headed ParliamentFunkadelicP-Funk All Stars, and a web of offshoot bands, all comprised of phenomenally talented musicians (some of whom originally played with James Brown). In 1997, Parliament-Funkadelic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, an achievement emblematic of their crusade to legitimize funk and elevate its reputation to the same level as jazz and rock. 

It only takes a glance at the impressive list of collaborators and inspirations to discover what an impact George Clinton has made on the world (that’s Earth and beyond) of music.  In addition to the musicians who lifted off from Parliament’s Mothership into their own stardom, like Bootsy Collins, Clinton has made music with Tupac Shakur, Wu Tang Clan, Red Hot Chili Peppers and other artists, and recorded albums on Prince‘s record label.  He has also lent his talents to films and even a video game.  His influence is powerfully evident in hip hop: artists like Dr. Dre have made him the second most heavily sampled artist.  (James Brown is the first.)

If you need further evidence of Clinton’s genius, get acquainted with the universe of P-Funk mythology via what must be the crown jewel of all Wikipedia articles. Here, you can trace the imaginative characters and story lines that thread the out-of-this-world concept albums heavy with social allegory and pure fun.

In June of 2001, George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars blew my teenage mind live and in person when they played at one of Hartwood Amphitheatre’s free outdoor concerts. (Scroll down for this year’s schedule.) What could be better than funk in the summertime? Free funk in the summertime! Check some out today and get your groove on in honor of the architecht of funk.


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Ni hao! Konnichiwa! Bonjour! Al Salaam a’ alaykum! Guten Tag!

Do any of these languages ring a bell? The First Floor of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Main has myriad opportunities for improving your language skills. We offer a German Conversation Club, a Chinese Language Club, Le Club Francophone, a Japanese Conversation Club (which will resume in September), as well as Arabic Club. Come to these programs to practice the language and to learn more about the cultures from whence they come. Each one free and taught or led by a CLP staff member or volunteer.

Is English your second language? We also offer a program called Let’s Speak English to give non-native speakers an opportunity to discuss a wide variety of topics. People of all levels of English ability are welcome. These happen every Wednesday from 5-6 pm.

Do you like watching movies? The library also offers International Cinema Sunday on the first Sunday of each month at 2 pm. We show a film with refreshments and subtitles! The next one is a comedic Belgian Academy Award nominee called Everybody’s Famous. Can’t get here? Our Film & Audio department offers hundreds of foreign films on DVD.

Our website also has links to downloadable audio language programs and other resources for those interested in language learning, not to mention the hundreds of books and audiobooks we offer. So get to it! Improve thyself!



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Simon Winchester: a man who gives his books excessively long titles*

And yet, I enjoy them all the same. Here’s a rundown of the ones that I’ve read or listened to over the years.

This island no longer exists, alas.

Krakatoa: the Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883 – The title pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? Sure, it starts out slowly with some insanely dense geology lessons, but it all pays off when the volcano erupts, levelling the island of Krakatoa and killing nearly 40,000 people. There’s a lot of neat colonial and scientific history here, along with first-hand accounts of the eruption. Available as a book or book on CD.

(Oh, and here’s an amazing article about the eruption from The Atlantic, published in September of 1884!)

It looks like a head but it's really an arch.

The Man Who Loved China: the Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom – The tale of a British biologist, happily married and minding his own business in Cambridge, who falls hopelessly in love with a Chinese exchange student. He then starts to wonder why China seems so scientifically backward compared to the West, and sets out to unearth the history of science in China, cranking out a definitive encyclopedia in the process. Available as a book or book on CD.

book jacket

"The Map That Just Hung There" wasn't as good a title.

The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology – Our hero, the son of a blacksmith (and thus decidedly not among the upper class scientific elite) notices the patterns in layers of rock throughout England and Wales, produces a lovely map, and is promptly ripped off by the Geological Society. But fear not; happy endings prevail. I’ll admit that I didn’t find this book nearly as interesting as the others, but that may be because I was listening to it while trying to repair opera CDs. Available as a book or OverDrive downloadable audio book.

book jacket

They really knew how to grow beards back then.

The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary – An American surgeon goes rather batty during the Civil War and offs an unfortunate bloke while vacationing in London. He’s put into Broadmoor for his crime, where he spends many many many years contributing to the illustrious OED. Contains one particular scene that may cause you to drive off the road if you’re listening in your car. Available as a book or book on CD.

(Did you know that the OED is now only available electronically? You can access it in the library. We have an old print version, too!)

Well, that should keep you keep you busy for a while. And if you need more, check out Simon Winchester’s website or look up his other books in our catalog.

Remember kids, learning can be fun!

– Amy, from the land of Film & Audio

* Neither Simon Winchester nor HarperCollins bribed me to write this post; I just like unusual histories. But if they’d care to stop by and say howdy or throw a little blog traffic our way, that would be fine with us. Really.


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