Monthly Archives: October 2008

The Grapes of Wrath as an opera

It’s Halloween and some of you probably find opera to be scary. It’s really not. Also, the economy seems pretty scary right now. It really is. So two of your worst fears may be realized in John Steinbeck’s tale of Depression-era economic woe being turned into an opera. Conquer your fears! In November, go see it live at the Pittsburgh Opera!

Making an opera out of the Grapes of Wrath is an ambitious task. It’s a long book with chapters alternating between the story of the Joad family and observations outside the narrative on such topics as jalopies, diners, the great migration to California on Highway 66, the vicissitudes of farm work, etc. The novel is also political with its rising resentment of the poor against land-owners, companies and banks. Finally, the dialogue is written in dialect.

So the librettist (the person who writes the text of an opera), Michael Korie, had his work cut out for him and he mostly does Steinbeck proud. I do question some of Korie’s departures from the book such as why the character Muley is made to accidentally shoot his son or why half-wit Noah’s decision to literally go “down the river” that’s so understated in the book turns into a overly dramatic suicide replete with Biblical references. But hey, such is the nature of the adaptation of any work. Korie keeps all the characters of the large Joad family and he keeps Steinbeck’s extra-narrative observations which are crucial to the impact of the book.

Photo (c) 2007 Michael Daniel for Minnesota Opera

Photo (c) 2007 Michael Daniel for Minnesota Opera

What about Ricky Ian Gordon’s music? It’s modern but not too thorny or dissonant; the comparisons with Aaron Copland and George Gershwin are appropriate and I might also throw in Benjamin Britten. And, without sounding hokey, it’s peppered with bits of Americana: banjos, whistling, fiddlin’, harmonica, swing, etc. The world premiere recording by the Minnesota Opera was released in August, but since then, enough revisions to the score have been made that the Pittsburgh performance is being called another premiere. This is somewhat fitting since Gordon is a Carnegie-Mellon University alumnus. (You can hear excerpts from the Minnesota recording at the Pittsburgh Opera website.)

Finally, if you have worries or curiosity about opera, the Pittsburgh Opera’s Opera Lady is happy to answer your questions. And at the library, we have a huge selection of almost 1500 opera CDs, over 400 on DVD, vocal/piano and full scores (i.e., bound sheet music), aria collections, and books to elicit and feed your new-found opera passion. Also, be sure to check out more music by Ricky Ian Gordon or Michael Korie’s lyrics for the musical version of Grey Gardens (another ambitious adaptation!).

— Tim

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hallowe’en, A Question

Halloween brings tricks and treats tomorrow, darkness falls an hour earlier on Sunday with the return of standard time, and the 2008 presidential election concludes next Tuesday. For someone who can’t help pondering questions about how we got here, the next few days offer abundant incentive for contemplation.

Halloween. My 1960s childhood Halloweens included costume parties with games like bobbing for apples, treats my grandmother made (popcorn balls and caramel apples), and trick-or-treating for UNICEF. But how did these ways of celebrating come to be? How did an ancient Celtic festival mix with Roman harvest traditions and the influence of Christianity, and bring us to a hugely popular and very commercial holiday?

(Just how commercial? The National Retail Federation reported last month, “Halloween celebrations rise as consumers look to escape everyday realities — total Halloween spending to reach $5.77 billion.”)

The library was designed to indulge wandering interest. I wasn’t actively looking for anything when I walked by a small alcove display on the First Floor. Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History caught my attention, and I checked it out. (Serendipity, a term coined by Horace Walpole in 1754, is the guardian angel of the library.) Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History claims that its readers will “Discover the fascinating & diverse origins of the traditions, celebrations, & superstitions surrounding America’s fastest-growing holiday in the only book that tells the whole story.”

In a public research library like CLP – Main, I was sure this would not be the only book attempting to tell the whole Halloween story. Taking that claim as a challenge, I hand picked a few books to help fill out the history of Halloween. (Hallowe’en is shortened from All Hallows’ Even, the eve of All Hallows’ Day, now known as All Saints’ Day.)

The Halloween Encyclopedia by Lisa Morton

The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: Celebrating the Dark Half of the Year by Jean Markale

Halloween Merrymaking: An Illustrated Celebration of Fun, Food, and Frolics from Halloweens Past by Diane C. Arkins

Wishing you well, whatever and however you celebrate!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Thomas Hardy: Under the Greenwood Tree

After poetry and property taxes and the dentist and, oh, yes, William Shakespeare himself, Thomas Hardy is perhaps the hardest sell of all. So how, oh how, did I ever get ensnared Under the Greenwood Tree?

The answer is simple, really: the cover. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Did I mention that since finishing One Hundred Years of Solitude in early August, I hadn’t read one page of fiction, instead being up to my proverbials in a two month long poetry blitz in preparation for a couple of library programs?

No? Well, let me begin in the middle then, like many a fine blogger before me.

On lunch one day while in the midst of said fiction drought, I wandered down to the little used book alcove in the Library Shop next to Crazy Mocha Coffee here at the main library. I immediately noticed an odd little pale green paperback, with a distinctive wood block style illustration on the cover. Taking it off the shelf, it was readily apparent from the style, feel, and ambiance that this was not a product of the good ol’ USA. Pliable enough to actually roll up yet tough enough to be virtually indestructible, this little edition was published and printed in London.

Opening to the first page I thought, no harm to just take a peek, and so it begins:

To dwellers in a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature. At the passing of the breeze the fir-trees sob and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings; the beech rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall. And winter, which modifies the note of such trees as shed their leaves, does not destroy its individuality.

And like some bemused Shakespearean protagonist who’d sworn eternal chastity only to be confronted by a dream walking, my fictional stays were undone.

In truth, Under the Greenwood Tree is a simple little book, Hardy’s second novel, published anonymously in 1872. It is pure unadulterated romance, cast as it is within the formidable thrall of another “hard sell,” Jane Austen. Since technology is ramped up in this glorious age of chick lit, the erased cellphone message is every bit as effective as the misplaced letter as a plot device of the twisty, turny variety. There is one such plot device and a number of passages, including the one above, however, that I’ll never forget in this 19th century story. The introduction of the heroine of this light romance, Miss Fancy Day (and, once the guffaws die down, consider the names of some modern protagonists such as Billy Pilgrim and Seymour Glass, Humbert Humbert and Emma Bovary, Major Major Major Major and Willy Loman, and even beloved Dumbledore, whose name comes up in its original meaning in this very book …), has to be unique in the history of literature. At a meeting of the local all-male church choir, the village shoe smith, Mr. Penny, removes from his pockets and

places on the table a boot – small, light, and prettily shaped – upon the heel of which he’d been operating.

‘The new schoolmistress’s!’

‘Never Geoffrey’s daughter Fancy?’ said Bowman, as all glances present converged like wheel-spokes upon the boot in the centre of them.

‘Yes, sure,’ resumed Mr. Penny, regarding the boot as if that alone were his auditor; ‘ ’tis she that’s come here schoolmistress.’ …

‘And that’s the boot, then,’ continued its mender imaginatively, ‘that she’ll walk to church in tomorrow morning.’ …

There, between the cider-mug and the candle, stood this interesting receptacle of the little unknown’s foot; and a very pretty boot it was. A character, in fact – the flexible bend at the instep, the rounded localities of the small nestling toes, scratches from careless scampers, now forgotten – all, as repeated in the tell-tale leather, evidencing a nature and a bias. Dick surveyed it with a delicate feeling that he had no right to do so without having first asked the owner of the foot’s permission.

And, so, it’s love at first, er, apprehension for our hero, Dick. And the rest of the choir, too, leans in around the cobbler’s table and is duly entranced by “a character” who doesn’t make her first appearance for another 10 pages. Pre-dating Holmes and Watson by 20 years and certainly no CSI, still it’s a neat example of extrapolation and induction (as opposed to deduction) that might be admired in any modern fiction writing workshop today.

The usual Austen-like plot twists may be found; a faux beau or two here, a stubborn father there, along with some decided misdirection, keeping things moving at a light, fast pace, all heading to a decidedly un-Hardy-like (happy!) ending. Along the way, village life is chronicled, both in its then present condition and also in its passing. The choir is to be replaced by the singular keyboard talents of the charming Miss Day, with nary a ruffled collar nor constricted brow, as happened in villages and hamlets throughout England at that time.

Never mind the fact from whom he nicked his title, the reason I show up and stay for Hardy is the occasional paragraph thrown off almost casually, as the descriptive opening with the trees, quoted above. Breaking my poetry blitz was most appropriate with Hardy, as might be gleaned in the following:

It was a morning of the latter summer-time; a morning of lingering dews, when the grass is never dry in the shade. Fuchsias and dahlias were laden till eleven o’clock with small drops and dashes of water, changing the colour of their sparkle at every movement of the air; and elsewhere hanging on twigs like small silver fruit. The threads of garden-spiders appeared thick and polished. In the dry and sunny places dozens of long-legged crane-flies whizzed off the grass at every step the passer took.

In one short paragraph, there is enough material for at least a half-dozen haiku and suddenly I realized: in both this and the opening graph above, I hadn’t broken my no-fiction vow.

I hadn’t escaped my poetry blitz at all.



Filed under Uncategorized

The Cold, Cold Ground…and the Warm, Warm Hearts

On October 16th, the weather forecasters were warning that a drop in temperature was about to take place.  Having been rather warm for October in Pittsburgh, we were finally going to see our first chilly evening–some predicting around 37 degrees.

I hate to be cold.  I don’t do well in the cold.  My fingers and toes seem to go numb pretty quickly, and I tolerate it less and less with the passing years.  So I wasn’t that thrilled to know that our first chilly night of the season would be one I would be spending outdoors, sleeping in unity with others to raise awareness about homelessness.  Of course, I also had to acknowledge it was rather appropriate.

October 17th was the date for the first-ever Sleep-in for the Homeless, put together by Community Human Services Organization, and with participants from all over the city. I was pleased to represent our library as an interested party to serving these constituents, while recognizing the complexity of the issue.

A few months ago several librarians put together fabulous resource lists and a new page for our website. Now we were getting to the heart of the event–200 people gathering on the portico of the City-County Building for an evening of talk, music, awards, homeless “jeopardy,” documentary viewing, and perhaps a little sleep (ok, not so much on the sleep).

click here to read more

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Who you should vote for…

…Only you can decide that.  And while plenty of network news anchors, newspapers, bloggers, protesters, lobbyists and the candidates themselves have ideas about which lever you should pull (or glowing rectangle you should touch), the library does not officially endorse any candidates or political views. We do, however, help you find the resources to make the most informed decision. Our Government & Law Research page directs you to information about the 2008 Presidential Elections, booklists about the Presidential candidates, resources on political parties and tools for voters.

First of all, do you know where to vote? If not, you can go to Allegheny County’s Polling Place Locator to find out.  (If you’re reading this from beyond the boundaries of lovely Pittsburgh, PA, you can find polling places from any state at Vote411.)  Secondly, do you know how to work the machine?  Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 will only be the second Presidential election I’ve been eligible to vote in, but I’ve been to the ballots enough times to miss those funky retro curtains and oh-so-analog, Wizard-of-Oz-style voting booths that the electronic machines replaced.  If you’ve never voted before, or just want a rehearsal, Allegheny County Elections Division provides a tutorialof the newer I-Votronicmachines.  Make sure you are familiar with your voting rights in case you run into a problem at the polls.  If that should happen, ask to fill out a provisional ballot, so your vote will still count if a judge determines that you are indeed eligible.

Finally, there’s the big question.  Just who will you vote for?  There is still plenty of time to look into candidates’ positions on important issues–and plenty of guides to help you do it.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette features an online 2008 Voter Guide, which provides your district numbers and lists candidates running for each race.  It also allows side by side comparisons of candidates’ information and answers to questions.  I usually rely on the non-partisan League of Women Voters for voting information.  The PA League of Women Voters provides comprehensive guides for state and county races as well, supplying candidates’ information, priorities and responses to questions.  Other great sources of non-partisan voting info include Votes PA, The League of Young Voters and Declare Yourself.  Many organizations and newspapers provide election guides endorsing candidates based on their unique values and causes, so you can look to those sources for direction on issues especially important to you. 

Most importantly, please, please, please vote!  As the Just Harvest voting guide states, “Politicians listen to those who vote,” and voting turnouts vary drastically according to demographics broken down by factors like economic status, gender, race and age.  If you want to be heard, you have to vote.  If you need any help, by all means, ask a librarian–we’ll be elated.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Music Sale at Main, November 1st and 2nd


Books, CDs, scores, and more await you!

Books, CDs, scores, and more await you at the Friends of the Music Library Music Sale!

The Friends of the Music Library Music Sale will be held on Saturday November 1, 2008 from 10am – 4pm and Sunday November 2, 2008 from 1 – 5pm at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Main in the second floor International Poetry Room. Music books, music scores, CDs and more are all gently used and priced to sell.

DVDs and CDs start at $1 each, and individual pieces of sheet music start at a mere 10 cents each! If you’re feeling a little nostalgic, pick up a few VHS tapes at 50 cents each. And if you’re looking for things that never go out of style, we have books starting at $1 each and miniature scores for $2 each.

We hope to see you next weekend!

We even have cassettes. Do you remember how to use them?

We even have cassettes, for those of you who remember how to use them.

– Kathie and Amy

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized


DragonflyA couple of months ago I had the pleasure of meeting the American “scary fantasy”/horror novelist Frederick Durbin. Mr. Durbin was visiting Pittsburgh from Japan, where he has been teaching English at the university level for almost 20 years. My friends contacted him after reading and loving his best-known work Dragonfly, a Christmas Carol-like homage to Halloween. They kept in touch over the years and this summer Durbin came to visit. My friends showed him some of their favorite Pittsburgh haunts, and finally he responded: “Okay. If you show me one more cool thing I’m moving to Pittsburgh.”

And then they brought him to our library. Frederick Durbin is moving here from Japan in the spring.

One might think that after working at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for a while, the magic would give way to the humdrum. Today is my one year anniversary working on the library’s First Floor, and I want to tell you that I still get giddy walking under the “Free to the People” sign and through the giant bronze front doors into the marble foyer with the resplendent mosaic floor.

You might want to congratulate me on my special day. And I’ll be honest, I, like everyone, always love hearing a genial, heart-felt felicitation. But in turn, I would like to congratulate you, Pittsburgh bibliophiles, on your magnificent libraries. Because when you walk from the library’s stacks into the First Floor with a bright smile and your cheeks ablaze with the delight of knowing you are surrounded by well over a million stories, histories, maps, facts, guides, magazines, DVDs, CDs, scores, microforms, etc, I know exactly how you feel.



Filed under Uncategorized

I’m not a music librarian!

For the past few years the Music Department and the Film & Audio Department have been sharing a room and a reference desk. Our powers combined have formed the Music, Film & Audio Department!

But what does this mean to you, our wonderful customers? Basically, it means that you have approximately a one in four chance of approaching a film person with your extra complicated music questions. But fear not, we’re trained librarians and we’re getting better at this all the time.

So while I may not play an instrument or read music or spend my weekends going to the opera, I can still do a lot for you. For example!

  • I know that if you want Christmas music you should get here before November, because it’ll all be checked out soon.
  • I’ve learned that not every version of a musical score will have the same songs in it. And sometimes you don’t know what’s in there until you go looking for it.
  • I can track down Russian composers, even when I’m not sure how to spell their names. You need Vocalise for piano and cello by Rachmaninoff? Not a problem. How many Ns in that? Twelve?
  • I know enough musical notation to tell where a song ends, which is handy when people want to make copies. Not that I couldn’t just turn the page and say, “Ah, there’s the next song title. I should stop here.” What fun would that be?
  • I’ve learned that Rite of Spring and Sacre du Printemps are the same thing. Darn Stravinsky.
  • I can find four different recordings of Franz Schubert’s Trout quintet, even though I’ve never heard it and the mere notion of a “trout quintet” makes me giggle madly.

Of course, I also know when to retire gracefully from the field. So if you want someone to puzzle out the title of the piece you’re humming, or you need someone to help you compare editions of a score, I’d be delighted to find one of our awesome music librarians to help you.

And if you happen to meet one of the music librarians? Ask them to find you a documentary about Tupperware, or some color footage of WWII. Then they’ll come looking for me.

– Amy


Filed under Uncategorized

Shelf Examination: Inspirational Fiction

I thought this series had just about run its course, but guess what? There’s a new fiction collection at Main Library! Today’s episode of Shelf Examination takes a quick peek at the New and Featured Department‘s latest contribution to readerly interests: inspirational fiction.

Like some of the other collections featured in this series, inspirational fiction spans genres from mystery to chick lit, with multiple stops at all points between. What unites this diverse collection of stories is the focus on Christian faith and positive endings, regardless of how many issues and challenges the protagonists tackle. If that sounds like your cup of tea, try one of the titles mentioned below.

"If only there were a Pittsburgh library blog that inspired me to read more..."

The book: Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White, Claudia Mair Burney.

The plot: Zora and Nicky, two teens from different backgrounds, meet at a Bible study. They start out butting heads, and end up falling in love…but will their differences (and their parents) ultimately keep them apart?

Pick this up if you like: Frank discussions of racism, class differences, and sexual ethics; strong female protagonists; losing and finding faith; realistic parent-child conflicts.

The book: Perfecting Kate, Tamara Leigh.

The plot: Confused, insecure Kate feels like she needs an all-over makeover, especially after the love triangle she stumbles into inspires some serious soul-searching.

Pick this up if you like: Chick lit; the ongoing struggle between inner and outer beauty; protagonists of realistic size; stories where the girl gets the guy without losing herself; books with discussion questions included.

book jacket book jacket book jacket book jacket

The book: Thr3e, Ted Dekker.

The plot: The mysterious “Slater” wants Kevin to confess his wrongdoings, and subjects him to a series of puzzles and threats involving the number 3. The problem is, Kevin has no idea what Slater’s talking about…or has he simply buried secrets too painful to bear?

Pick this up if you like: Thrillers with plenty of plot twists, stories that grapple with both pride and the nature of evil, briskly-paced action, or long-buried secrets, revealed slowly and gradually.

The book: The Apostle Paul, James Cannon.

The plot: A fictionalized account of the life and times of Paul of Tarsus, later known as Saint Paul.

Pick this up if you like: Sweeping historical fiction, formal tone and sentence structure, large casts of characters, the writings of Taylor Caldwell.

Want more suggestions? Ask a librarian!

Intrigued? Ask a librarian about other available books and programs!

Unless there’s a new collection unveiled between now and my next turn in the blog rotation (and believe me, it could happen – we’re creative that way), we really will be saying goodbye to Shelf Examination. Tune in next time for a case of “last, but certainly not least” in the genre department, as well as a sneak preview of “Nonfiction Fix,” a series designed for people hooked on real-life reads.

–Leigh Anne

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Cities of the Dead in Pittsburgh

Egyptian Mausoleum

The ancient Egyptian-inspired Winter mausoleum, located in Allegheny Cemetery.

Of Pittsburgh’s many outdoor attractions, its famed cemeteries are by far my favorite.  If that seems morbid, then perhaps you’ve never strolled through the splendors that are the Homewood and Allegheny Cemeteries.  These “cities of the dead” were designed with beauty and relaxation in mind, and the myriad of graves and mausoleums, more architecturally stunning than scary, are at times a mere afterthought amidst the greenery.  Indeed, both cemeteries were modeled with peaceful, park-like ruralness in mind when they were established in the 19th century.  More specifically, the Homewood Cemetery was designed in the Lawn Park Style popularized in the mid-19th century, while the Allegheny Cemetery is described as a Romantic Garden Cemetery.  (As an interesting aside, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose subtle influence on Allegheny Cemetery is mentioned in this Lawrenceville Historical Society article, has a birthday today).

Evans City Cemetery, where Night of the Living Dead was filmed.

I wouldn’t be a true Pittsburgh horror movie aficianado if I didn’t use this opportunity to mention Evans City Cemetery, which lies just north of Pittsburgh.  Evans City Cemetery, which is perhaps more a “village of the dead” than a city, was made famous by George Romero’s phenomenal film Night of the Living Dead.  In Pittsburgh it is common to hear the claim that Night of the Living Dead was filmed in the locally infamous Livermore Cemetery, but in fact this is a myth, as evidenced by the photos on this fun website.

If you decide to visit any of our famous cemeteries, maybe to run, birdwatch, do research, or even ghosthunt, be sure to stop by the library before or afterward to peruse our collections.  Here are a few cemetery-related book and film favorites you might want to check out:



Filed under Uncategorized