Monthly Archives: August 2008

Labor Day reading, watching, and listening

Labor Day is coming up on Monday, and it’s hard to not love a holiday that’s devoted to the appreciation of workers (that’s us!).  According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s page on the history of Labor Day, we’ve been celebrating workers on the first Monday of September since 1882, and the day has been recognized by Congress as a federal holiday since 1894.  That’s over a hundred years of celebrations for us working stiffs!  You might already be familiar with the books Working and Nickel and Dimed (both excellent books), but there are also lots of other books, DVDs, and CDs in the library’s collection that capture the spirit of the holiday.  Below are a few of my picks.

  • Harlan County U.S.A.: This documentary about a Kentucky coal miners’ strike in the 1970’s is tremendously moving, and after seeing it for the first time it quickly became one of my favorite films.  The film shows the hostile conditions that the workers are dealing with, and the strikers and their families face threats, bullying, and even murder, often while simultaneously battling poverty and black lung.  As if the story itself weren’t gripping enough, the soundtrack features lots of classic bluegrass and labor songs. 
  • Without a Net: the Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class, edited by Michelle Tea: This collection of essays is about the working poor, from the point of view of women with a working class background, rather than journalists writing about a phenomenon. The essays cover a range of topics, from making ends meet to the affect poverty has on women and girls.  Tea has also written about her own experiences on the subject in her memoirs Chelsea Whistle and the graphic novel Rent Girl
  • Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip– Confessions of a Cynical Waiter, by The Waiter (Steve Dublanica): Written by the author of the blog Waiter Rant, this book will strike a chord with anyone who has ever waited tables and will prove enlightening to those who haven’t.  Some of the strangest experiences of my life took place during my own stint in the restaurant industry (some too outlandish to recount here!), and this book certainly relates some similar stories.  You’ll enjoy this book whether you’ve worked in restaurants or just eaten in them. 
  • Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line, by Ben Hamper: The author worked as a riveter for General Motors in Flint, Michigan, during the 1970’s and 1980’s, and here relates his experiences on the job. He doesn’t pull any punches in his descriptions of blue collar life on the assembly line, and if you’re a fan of Michael Moore’s Roger and Me, you’ll also find this to be an interesting read.   
  • Classic Labor Songs from Smithsonian Folkways: Music has been used to inspire workers, praise unions, and protest poor conditions throughout the history.  In this collection you’ll hear many well-known labor songs from greats like Pete Seeger, Hazel Dickens, and Woody Guthrie, as well as several lesser-known songs. 

I could keep going, but the list above should keep you busy over the long weekend.  If you’re interested in more books, films, or music on the subject, try looking up the terms “labor unions” or “working class– United States” in our online catalog.  Or check out the American Folklife Center’s web site to find even more books and music.


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36 Hours of a Pittsburgher in Pittsburgh

Recently, the New York Times featured Pittsburgh in their 36 Hours: City by City column.  Perhaps you’re new to the area and you need ideas of things to do spanning more than 36 hours.  Or, maybe you’re old to the area and you ran out of things to do.  Either way, here it is.

36 Hours of a Pittsburgher (on a budget) in Pittsburgh:

Friday                                                                                                                                                                 4 pm: Beat the rush hour traffic, long lines in restaurants and pack a picnic lunch and hop on your bicycle while it’s still summer.  Regardless what neighborhood you live in, there’s a park or grassy area nearby.

7 pm: Now what? The New York Times went to The Warhol on a Saturday afternoon, but this 36 hours is on a budget.  The Warhol offers half-priced admission from 5 – 10 pm every Friday as part of their Good Fridays event.  Often there’s live music, films and other happenings. 

10 pm: This is proving to be an inexpensive and busy night.  If you’re not ready to go home yet and depending on your mood, people watching can provide hours of free entertainment.  A sure way to locate parades of people is going to E. Carson Street in the South Side, where there’s never a dull moment on a weekend evening.

Saturday                                                                                                                                                         11 am: Sunday brunches are exploding in popularity.  What this means?  A long wait on Sunday mornings when you are absolutely starving.  My suggestion?  Move brunch to Saturday, plan a menu in advance, call some friends, take inventory of what everyone has so that you buy as little as possible.  Pick a place and time and start cooking

1 pm: Assuming it’s a great day for being outside, riding bicycles is the perfect way to enjoy the day.  Use a free bike map to figure out where to go. 

7 pm: Pizza party.  Everyone knows that pizza is not only cheap, but it is also a very good source of nutrition.  Like any city, Pittsburgh is not lacking in pizza joints.  Pick your neighborhood and pick your pizza place of choice. Eat.

9 pm: We’re staying in.  After picnicking, people watching, making brunch, shopping and bike riding, we are tired.  Good thing the library has a great selection of films.

Sunday                                                                                                                                                           10 am:  Saturday is the default day for many Strip District shoppers.  The down side?  Crowds.  Lots of them.  This is the primary reason I nominate Sunday as my Strip District shopping day.  There may be less stores to choose from, but you’ll have a few less people to navigate around.

                                                                                                                                                                    Along with Pittsburgh guidebooks, the library has a research page to guide you on where to walk, where to eat, what to see and where to shop.

– Lisa


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Guys and Dolls and Mumbles and Ol’ Blue Eyes

“I got the horse right here.” And we got lots of different recordings of Frank Loesser’s terrific 1951 musical, Guys and Dolls. What we don’t have is the motion picture soundtrack from the 1955 film. Turns out, no one really does or, at least, no one really does legitimately.

“No complete soundtrack album was ever released due to Frank Sinatra’s contractual restrictions,” states the 2004 Theatermania Guide to Musical Theater Recordings.

In 1955, Decca Records did release four songs from the film (“I’ll Know,” “If I Were a Bell,” “A Woman in Love,” and “Luck Be a Lady”) on EPs at both 78 and 45 rpm, but of course, they don’t include any of Sinatra’s numbers. The 2000 reissue of the original Broadway cast album includes these four songs as bonus tracks. The liner notes elaborate, “Frank Sinatra’s exclusive recording contract with Capitol Records prevented Decca from releasing a soundtrack of the film featuring Sinatra’s performances.”

Do not despair, Sinatra fans. In 1963, Sinatra and labelmates such as Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and Debbie Reynolds on his new record label, Reprise, recorded key songs from Guys and Dolls as part of the Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre four album set.

Guys and Dolls film

Perhaps it’s better this way. What’s terribly odd about the casting of the movie is that Sinatra was given the largely nonsinging role of Nathan Detroit and that nonsinger Marlon Brando was given the lead role of Sky Masterson! Hmm. Brando’s voice is described as a “tuneless whisper” in an NPR feature on Guys and Dolls (as part of their top 100 musical works of the 20th century). Supposedly, Sinatra referred to Brando as “mumbles.” But somehow the film works with Brando’s voice really being not so bad and Nathan Detroit’s character being given another number, “Adelaide,” to sing. Still, apart from the film, Sinatra regularly performed Sky Masterson’s signature number, “Luck Be a Lady.

Sometimes, you might see copies of the complete film soundtrack for sale. These are unauthorized bootlegs on import or dubious labels such as Motion Picture Tracks, JJA, or Blue Moon. In “Frank Sinatra: A Complete Recording History,” Richard W. Ackelson describes a 1960s soundtrack LP of Guys and Dolls as being “illegally taken from the film’s sound.” Or currently, on, a Spanish import version is described by a reviewer as having its songs recorded directly from the DVD and thus contain dialogue, sound effects, background noise, etc. Caveat emptor.

It is surprising that record labels Decca and Capitol, the companies that currently control them, Sinatra’s estate, or whoever else might be involved, cannot secure the rights and issue an official, comprehensive, movie soundtrack. The movie was one of the top-grossing films of 1955. The original Broadway production ran 1200 performances and its cast album hit #1 on the charts. The 1992 revival ran over 1100 performances. Other successful revivals or recordings were in 1955, 1965, 1966, 1982, and 2001, plus an African-American cast in 1976, not to mention countless regional, community, and school productions. Soundtrack or not, there are plenty of opportunities to see or hear Guys and Dolls.

— Tim


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It’s Homebrewing Season Again

With the end of summer approaching, I’ll soon be in my basement digging out my big kettle, some five gallon buckets, and a giant spoon.  That’s right, it’s homebrewing season again, which means it’s time to start thinking about homemade beer.

Admittedly, autumn isn’t the only season for homebrewing, as all of the seasons offer their own unique styles worth trying.  However, I have a romantic vision of Belgian peasants of yore brewing their famous saison style during the fall harvest (only the rich could afford to brew at any other time), and so I’ve decided to follow suit by only brewing in the fall (not to mention it’s far more pleasant standing over a hot kettle in the cooler months than during the summer, and some of my favorite ingredient components, such as fresh pumpkins, are readily available at this time).  This year I’ll even be brewing with some of my own harvest thanks to a neat book called The Homebrewer’s Garden.

When people find out that I’m a homebrewer, the first thing they usually ask is, “How hard is it to homebrew?”  I respond with, “Well, it’s really very simple.”  You can get started with a fairly low initial investment (around $150-$200) at your local or online brewing supply store, and by reading some good homebrewing guides:

The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian – Hombrewing is practically synonymous with the name Charlie Papazian.  Papazian writes good introductory homebrewing guides and provides us with the infinite wisdom of his famous motto, “relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.” 

Dave Miller’s Homebrewing Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Make Great Tasting Beer by Dave Miller – Dave Miller’s guide offers slightly more advanced techniques than Papazian’s, so I recommend it for intermediate to advanced homebrewers.


Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home by Sam Calagione – Sam Calagione is the founder of Dogfish Head, one of the biggest and most interesting microbreweries in the United States.  Calagione is famous for his off-the-wall beer styles, and this book provides guidance on how to make clone versions of his beers, as well as advice on making your own “extreme” homebrews.

Brew Chem 101 by Lee W. Janson – If you really want to get serious about your homebrewing, or maybe even become a professional brewer, you’ll need to study some chemistry so you understand the chemical complexities of the brewing process.  This will also allow you to truly fine-tune your brewing.

If you find that you really like homebrewing, you might consider joining a homebrewing club, such as TRUB (Three Rivers Underground Brewers) or TRASH (Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers).  After awhile, your homebrew might even be good enough to win metals at a homebrew competition.

And remember, not only do librarians know a lot about books, we’re also great taste testers.

— Wes


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Big Day in Film, Comics, Sports, Poetry, Cooking, Music, Graphic Novels, Literature etc.

So, where, oh, where, do all these ideas for blog posts come from anyway, you might ask?

Well, when you work for an institution that nominally acts as a portal of all human knowledge, how hard can it really be? I thought I might talk about what I’m reading currently, a volume of poetry and travel writings by the Japanese master poet, Basho, or the graphic novel V for Vendetta by the modern master of the (comic) universe, Alan Moore, or an obscure volume of gothic short stories by the Welsh master of the macabre, Arthur Machen. But since I haven’t finished any of those (grist for future posts!), I thought I’d take a look-see if there has been anything notable about today, August 25th, historically speaking. And indeed there is. So without any further muss, fuss or babble, here’s a list of things we can celebrate today via materials in the library’s rich treasure trove of goods:

  • Birthday of American short story impresario, Bret Harte
  • 95th birthday anniversary of Pogo creator and satirist, Walt Kelly

So, if you are suffering from blogger’s dilemma (aka what will I post about today), how exactly do you find all this stuff out? In the spirit of disclosure (although running directly counter to one of the Wizard of Oz’s most remembered lines, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!“), you simply go to or call your local library and ask for the annual Chase’s Calendar of Events, an encyclopedia size tome listing all of the above (and much, much more) for every single day of the year.


PS If you want that obscure volume by Arthur Machen, interlibrary loan is the way to go.

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Everybody dance now!

To make one of my biggest understatements of the year, I love to dance. The Twist, the Electric Slide, the Funky Chicken, the Chicken Dance, salsa, polka, disco…. You name it, if I know how to, I’ll do it!

If I don’t know how to, I will check out the dance video and DVD collection in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Film & Audio Department. From historical dance to hip hop, they have instructional videos to help with almost any kind of dance you’d like to do! Depending on what you are looking for, you might also be able to find some downloadable instructional dance videos. Our Overdrive collection, for example, has several videos by Gabrielle Roth, a leading instructor in dance as a meditative or healing practice.

Hooked on Dancing with the Stars? There are many ballroom dancing titles, such as Ballroom Dancing Basics, You Can Dance: Foxtrot, or Cal Pozo’s Step This Way, Volume III: The Latin Dances. We even have Dancing With the Stars Cardio Dance. Inspired by So You Think You Can Dance? Try your hand, or rather, your feet, at Argentine Tango, The Bollywood Dance Workout, or tap dancing. You’ll be reading for prime time in no time!

You may be able to tell by now, but you can dance your way around the world with us! African and Caribbean dance, Bulgarian dance, Israeli, Indian, belly dancing… you get the idea.

Now there’s always youtube. What kind of dance do you want to try? Just type it in with the word “lesson.” You’ll get a mix of quality, but with a little patience you can usually find something! Of course, attending a class isn’t a bad idea, either. I, myself, am signing up for beginning hip hop this fall, after a long time of saying, “Wouldn’t it be fun to take a hip hop class?” So what are you waiting for? Even if you just want to get out on the dance floor at your cousin’s wedding (or your own wedding, for that matter), you can come to the library and get started!



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trespassing in the desert

Remember back in June when I was trying to decide whether to read  The Devil, the Lovers, and Me: My Life in Tarot by Kimberlee Auerbach or Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land by Amy Irvine, and I wound up choosing Trespass?  Well, I finally finished it, and it’s my new favorite book.

Trespass captured me from its first line:  “My home is a red desert that trembles with spirits and bones,” and Irvine’s arresting prose continues throughout this unrelenting memoir that chronicles the period of turmoil in her life following her father’s death and during her marriage to a man she describes as the “lion man.” 

Irvine frames her experience against the history of her homeland, the desert of Utah, structuring it with sections named for archaeological terms that summon the symbols and archetypes of the Southwest’s prehistoric inhabitants.  These terms gather increasing weight as Irvine relates them to her own life, continually adding and peeling back layers, as though excavating an archaeological site.  As she refers to the past to inform her present struggle, she summons not only the Anasazi and Basketmakers, but her own ancestors, including her great-great-great grandfather, who was among the founders of the Mormon Church.  Mormon history and doctrine also add dimension, as Irvine outlines its place in the history of San Juan County, Utah, part of the Mormon promised land called Deseret.  The most acute conflict in the book stems from Irvine’s opposing desires to both establish community with her neighbors, and to identify with her belief in wilderness protection and the land’s sacrality—convictions that place her at odds with the rest of the population who are largely religious and culturally conservative ranchers.

In this interview, Irvine discusses the book’s shift in intention and its evolution from an “environmental rant” to an exploration of our shared culpability and responsibility to our environment. 

Trespass is a narrative infused with tension, as Irvine details the internal pull she feels from the conflicting lifestyles and beliefs of the centuries of inhabitants who share only the land in common. Ultimately, the desert is as much the focus as the author herself, and she conjures its images with fierce passion and intimacy, unafraid to implicate herself among those who inhabit it, living imperfectly and seeking transcendence.

Irvine’s intimate knowledge of her home’s history and landscape inspired me to learn more about mine.  If you enjoyed Under the Banner of Heaven, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, nature writing with edge or tough, intricate memoirs, you should check this book out, and even go ahead and listen to Amy Irvine read an excerpt.


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Sing along with Jerry Orbach!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, no matter when you’re flipping through your cable channels, you’re probably going to see the late, great Jerry Orbach starring as Detective Lenny Briscoe in the long-running TV series Law and Order. But did you know that Lenny could sing?

It’s true! Before he was a lovably cranky television detective, Jerry Orbach had quite the career in musical theater. In that spirit, we cordially invite you to sing along with Jerry Orbach as he performs the song “Try to Remember” from the musical, The Fantasticks.

For more interesting theater and music trivia, plus items you can take home, visit the Music and Film and Audio departments on the second floor of Main Library!  Just tell the librarians Jerry sent you.

–Leigh Anne

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It was a dark and stormy night….

Have you ever heard of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? It was founded in 1982 by the English Department of San Jose State University, partially in honor of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (the novelist who composed the mother of all bad opening sentences) and partially because the creator, one Professor Scott Rice, thought it would be a relief to judge a writing contest with short entries (each entry is limited to one sentence in length). This year’s winner, submitted by Mr. Garrison Spick of Washington, D.C.,  was announced on August 14, 2008:

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped “Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.”

Now if that’s not classic literature, I don’t know what is.

If you’d care to learn more, here’s an NPR interview with Professor Rice as he discusses the 2007 contest (for your listening pleasure), and here we have a list of the past winners. Read it and I’m sure you’ll feel inspired – or perhaps vaguely ill!

So now I challenge you, gentle readers, to create your own horrible first line. But since this is the library blog, after all, how about making it library-related? Here’s my entry:

The inner recesses of her mind were dark, musty, and slightly damp…as if someone had dropped an opened and three-quarters full bottle of flat Mountain Dew (not diet, mind you) into an overstuffed book drop full of neglected literary criticism and left it to percolate in the sultry August afternoon heat, attracting both sweat-drenched library clerks and irritated wasps alike.

Ha! Beat that, people! I look forward to reading your attempts.


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Shelf Examination: GLBT Fiction

Today’s installment of Shelf Examination highlights the GLBT fiction collection, which combines genres to please the various reading tastes within the spectrum of people who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, intersexed, or otherwise queer.  So, whether you’re looking for a good mystery, an inspirational heart-warmer, or a supernatural thriller, you’ll find it here, written by, for, and from folks with alternative gender perspectives.

The book:  Murder in the Rue Chartres, Greg Herren.

Pick this up if you like:  cold cases, inter-related murders, and missing persons; family secrets; the sensuality of the French Quarter; stories where setting and geography play a key role; stories steeped in current events.

The book:  Of Drag Kings and the Wheel of Fate, Susan Smith.

Pick this up if you like:  Star-crossed lovers; fluid gender identity; self-chosen families; pop culture themes and metaphors; ethnic and religious plurality; epic Jungian soul quests; passionate, yet tender, awakenings.

book jacket     book jacket     book jacket     book jacket

The book:  And You Invited Me In, Cheryl Moss Tyler.

Pick this up if you like:  inspirational fiction, social justice, realistic sibling reconciliations, well-rounded characters, stories that explore multiple points of view, or the delicate process of negotiating clashing worldviews.

The book:  American Goth, J.D. Glass.

Pick this up if you like:  Paranormal thrillers, multiple trips to the astral, family bonds and legacies, tough choices between desire and destiny, representations of the goth subculture, or wicked-cool swords.

The book: Friends, Lovers and Roses, V.B. Clay.

Pick this up if you like:  Circles of close friends, multiple narrators, gossipy relationship drama, AfricanAmerican families, sassy narration, or plots where secret-keeping plays a major role.


Intrigued?  As ever, you can find more quality GLBT picks by perusing our webrary of booklist goodness.   Tune in next time when we examine more shelves!

–Leigh Anne


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