Monthly Archives: December 2008

A Sort of Best of Stuff List…

It’s hard to believe, 2008 is just a blur now and it seems like it was only yesterday the Eleventh Stack team was working on creating our blog.  This being the last post of the year, we found it most appropriate to list our favorite library materials encountered in 2008. 

A Sort of Best of Stuff List (in no particular order):

Leigh AnneSnake Hips: Belly Dancing and How I Found True Love, Anne Thomas Soffee– After a horrible breakup that sends her into a tailspin, Soffee tries to cheer herself up by taking a belly dancing class. Much to her surprise, she loves it, and her subsequent adventures on the amateur bellydance scene are both hysterically funny and inspirational in a snarky, hipster-grrrl kind of way. Recommended for alterna-queens and misfit wimmin who need a little reminder of just how fabulous they really are.

book-thiefAmyThe Book Thief, Markus Zusak – Death tells us the story of a young German girl growing up during WWII. Be sure to look under the dust jacket and enjoy the colors of the book, too. 


RenéeJessica Farm. Volume 1 (January 2000 – December 2007), Josh Simmons – Both Jung and Freud acknowledged the symbolism of houses in dreams and ascribed rooms and floors to coincide with different aspects of the psyche, and both of them would have a field day with Josh Simmons’ graphic novel Jessica Farm, which navigates a plot with dream logic that darts between dread and joy as Jessica wanders from room to room, meeting different “house friends” at every turn.  Simmons, who creates new self-imposed constraints for each of his projects, created a page every month for Jessica farm, meaning that he expects to finish volume 2 sometime around 2016.

indexKaarinJennifer Crusie was my friend on all my trips.  We have downloadable audio available at the library.  She’s just so good and she writes these characters that are really smart and relateable. 



 Tim…Best Live Album for Drummers Who Don’t Need Guitarists: Superroots 9,  Boredoms – With 3 drummers, turntables/DJs, and a 24 piece choir, this live recording from 2004 but released in 2008, fills any drummers’ deep desire to hear ethereal voices and sound effects with pummeling drums underneath.

finding-timeDonFinding Time Again, Marcel Proust                                   



game-of-thrones1Wes…The most life changing reading experience of 2008 for me was George R.R. Martin’s amazing high fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.  I started reading the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, almost exactly a year ago.  It kept me up late a number of nights, and so did the next three books, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows.  If we’re lucky, the fifth book in the series, A Dance With Dragons, will be released sometime in 2009.  If we’re even luckier, HBO will officially announce that A Song of Ice and Fire is being made into a regular television series


JulieHard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami – This compelling novel is really two parallel stories. Hard-Boiled Wonderland is set in near-future Tokyo. The End of the World is an allegorical walled city, whose nameless inhabitants live with dim memories of life outside the walls. Read this novel for a wild ride of mirroring realities.

loveIrene…In 2008 I was lucky enough to read some fantastic new authors (Miranda July, Deb Olin Unferth). But I think I’d have to say that my favorite thing I read would have to be the Love and Rockets series, by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez (aka Los Bros Hernandez). I discovered that the comics had been anthologized by story line, and revisited all of the Palomar stories (in Heartbreak Soup and Beyond Palomar), and the “Loca” stories (in Locas: The Maggie And Hopey Stories and Perla La Loca). Re-reading these reminded me why I had loved them so much in the first place.

middlefingerBonnie…My favorite book of 2008 was God’s Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre, Richard Grant. The first line sold me: “So this is what it feels like to be hunted.”  It was the ultimate travel and adventure book, with a charming author and interesting facts and stories on the people groups of the Sierra Madre Mountains.  The locale’s bizarre history is mixed in with Richard Grant’s perilous and foolhardy adventures.  I highly recommend this title to anyone wishing for an adventure.

drsexLisa…My favorite book of 2008 was The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories, Pagan Kennedy – so great that I checked it out twice this year.  Kennedy mostly writes about eccentric innovators and thinkers of the twentieth century.  There’s also a brief essay on Alex Comfort and a few insightful personal essays.  What do the subjects in Kennedy’s essays have in common?  They are all trying to reinvent the world into a better, funnier, smarter and more responsive place.  Can’t argue with that.


– Lisa (special thanks to everyone who contributed)



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Romania Anyone?


“Your passport is the greatest thing you own.  It is your key to the world.”

                                                                                                          –EB, 2003

 I remember when I first got my USA passport back in 2003.  It was a period of great excitement in my life.  I was just finishing my first year of college and was preparing for my first trip abroad to Romania.  I got many stares as I happily showed off my passport and talked about my upcoming trip.  A few people gave me a blank stare, the kind that makes you think you have a third eye protruding from your forehead; “Where?” they would ask, almost like I spoke an off-the-wall language to them.   I was amazed, in fact, how many people there were that didn’t know where Romania was.  I’m sure some of our dear readers may be a bit confused themselves.  Well, fear not!  I’m about to satisfy your curiosity…

Many of you  have heard of Romania, a part of it anyways, and just don’t know it.  Transylvania, anyone?  The supposed residence of Bram Stoker’s Dracula…AHA!  So that’s Romania?  Well no, it’s only a part, and for a good portion of history a hotly disputed part of Romania, but a part none the less.  Historically speaking, Romania consisted of three parts, Dacia, Transylvania and Dobrodjea. I won’t get into great detail about all of this because we will be here for months if I did, but this is just a little bit of extra info for those ‘need something to talk about’ party moments.

Back to Dracula, who was in fact a real person and was, indeed, from Transylvania.  Stoker did his research…somewhat.  Firstly, Dracula  was no vampire.  Sad, I know, my vampire lovers, but he was actually a voivode, a prince of the country more commonly known as Vlad Tepes, or The Impaler, a name given to him by his enemies due to his favorite method of execution.  Now, even though he wasn’t a vampire, if you went to Bran Castle, the ‘supposed’ castle of Vlad (it’s not, of course, but hey, tourists seem to buy it…) they have what I have fondly dubbed as ‘vampire ville’ for all the crazy little bric-a-brac that you can purchase of the vampiric persuasion.   If you want to read more about Vlad, which I recommend you do, it’s fascinating stuff, I strongly urge you to read both Dracula, Prince of Many Faces by Radu R. Florescu, as well as In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires.   Both books, written by a famous Romanian historian, really dive into the intriguing tale of Vlad.

Please, don’t go and think that Vlad is the only interesting thing to come out of Romania.  He’s by far just a tip of a giant iceberg of fascinating people.  Have any of you read the dynamic works of Mircea Eliade (1907-1986)?  I’m sure many of you had- I should know, I see the holds and send them to all you lovely people!  Eliade is probably one of the most famous  writers around the globe due to his groundbreaking research in the field of religious studies. Many actually argue that his work had led to the development of the field known as ‘religious studies’ today.  If you’d like a taste of Eliade I would recommend The Sacred and the Profane as well as one of his many works of fiction, my favorite being  Two Strange Tales (Nopti la Serampore).

Two last famous Romanians, probably my favorites, are Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889), Romania’s national poet, and Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938).  Eminescu is probably the most quoted Romanian due to his brilliant insights into the world around him. Let me give you a taste: 

I have yet one desire:

in the quiet of the night.

Allow me to expire

Within the sea’s sight;

To have a peaceful sleep

With the forest near,

Above, a sky so clear

Over calm waters, deep.

I want no coffin rich,

A bed for me just stitch,

With branches young bind tight.

Sadly, the library only has one book on my beloved Mihai, so I strongly urge you to check it out quickly- The Last Romantic: Mihai Eminescu, by Roy MacGregor-Haiste. 

Lastly, I encourage all of you who are interested to read the works of Queen Marie of Romania entitled Ordeal: The Story of My Life in Two Volumes.  She is beyond words, and I mean that quite literally.  I accidentally came across her during my last year of college, finding her books at the small corner of my college library.  Her memoir strikes heart chords and drags you into a world that is lost to most modern readers.  I encourage anyone with the time to check out her books.

Are any of you dying to know more about Romania?  Do you want to know where the real castle Dracula is located?  Would you like to learn about an awesome Romanian rock band?  Or what about the culture, the food, the art, the people?  Come now, I know you are!  And I have just the place for you to find out, at the Library’s own Armchair Travels!  On Saturday January 3rd at 3 (in the Large Print Room, per usual) I will be talking, excitedly and with much glee, about my trip to Romania as well as any other little factoid  that you’re dying to know about!  (And the readers who come and say ‘buna’ to me will get a special surprise for being such awesome blog readers!)

I do realize that is a long ways off, so until Saturday rolls around, how about curling up on the couch with a nice Romanian movie?  I suggest either  12:08 East of Bucharest (A Fost Sau n-a Fost?) or The Way I Spent the End of the World (Cum Mi-am Petrecut Sfarsitul Lumii).  Both are excellent films! 

Have a wonderful New Year everyone!

MA :) 

PS- Quick Romanian Phrases for fun!

Buna Ziua – Good day (Buna- Hi)

Multumesc – Thank you

Bine – Good

Ce Mai Facei? – How are you?

La revedere – Good bye


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The Best Use of Opera in a Movie in 2008

In the last couple years, I have seen lots of the Metropolitan Opera’s live opera HD simulcasts so that’s my vote for best use of a movie theater for opera.  But for the best use of opera in a movie, I was surprised to hear an opera excerpt brilliantly used in the soundtrack to the ridiculous comedy, Step Brothers.

stepbrothersIn a scene where young playground bullies are forcing almost-40 year old Brennan Huff’s face towards a piece of dog doo, one hears an excerpt from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.  It’s a hilarious juxtaposition of stomach-churning, screwball comedy with possibly the most heartbreakingly beautiful aria ever written, Isolde’s Liebestod [“love-death”]. 

In a previous post, I discussed the use of Wagner operas in the fantasy movie, Excalibur, but the use of Mild und Liese (another name for Isolde’s aria) in Step Brothers was even more unexpected and, for me, a delightful little moment when my interests in high and low culture converged.

— Tim


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The Man Who Invented Christmas

I don’t read the newspaper very carefully in December. I’m short on time to complete holiday projects, and I do what I can to conserve hours. As I race and skim through the national, regional, business and arts news, one recurring theme catches my attention. Articles that mention Charles Dickens and his holiday story A Christmas Carol seem to appear daily.

Federal Theatre Marionettes present “A Christmas Carol.” Works Progress Administration. From the Library of Congress’s collection: “By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943”

I’ve heard a lot of conversation about a leaner (and perhaps more meaningful) Christmas this year. Newspapers are filled with tales of the uncertain economic climate, and the connections between the economy and the nature of family, community, and national celebrations. A recurring message in the media is that our holiday traditions and expectations require revision in light of the reality of banking disasters, unemployment, rising prices. Whatever the reason, Dickens and the notorious Scrooge are receiving a lot of press.


Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0001069. 1902 photo, courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society, included in Library Of Congress American Memory, online historical collections.

Dickens suffered humiliation at age twelve, when his father was sent to debtors prison. He wrote A Christmas Carol to raise public awareness of England’s poor, especially children. One recent article I read stated, “And today, in the midst of the worst economy in more than 50 years, his story gains new resonance.”

Dickens deserves credit for popularizing the elements that define a traditional Christmas, like roast turkey and mulled wine, and as one article put it, A Christmas Carol “set the tone for Christmas as we know it today: a season of generosity, feasting, and merriment.” Dickens’ legacy also includes an awareness and focus on sharing with people in need. Scrooge embraces the spirit of generosity, and has been an example since 1843. Les Standiford, author of The Man Who Invented Christmas was quoted as saying, “When you walk out of a store at Christmastime this year and see someone standing there beside an iron pot and clanging a bell, make no mistake about it. That is really Charles Dickens standing there, reminding you of the right thing to do.”

For further reading:

xmasInventing Christmas: How Our Holiday Came to Be




battlechristmasThe Battle for Christmas







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At Blackwater Pond: Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver


It is no small irony that, for exactly the reason that Mary Oliver is loved by legions of fans, she is also reviled by many critics: a simple, clear spoken language and a set of themes, predominately nature-based, that she returns to again and again.

Next month, the 3 Poems By Discussion Group will be considering Mary Oliver. In preparation, I have been steeping myself in her work in recent weeks, reading volume after volume in an attempt to come up with a solid overall picture of Oliver the poet. The results of this crash course have been illuminating. But first, a slight digression.

I’ve spent the better part of last year engaged in an online discussion of what exactly a good or great book of poetry is. The discussion has centered around a postulation that the average poetry book generally has two to three very good poems, with an above average book having anywhere from 4 to 6 or beyond. The discussion morphed into a proposed list of “near perfect books of poetry,” which has been very interesting, indeed. Overall, the list consists of the classic poets you would expect (Whitman, Plath, Dickinson, Frost), classic titles, and compilations of selected or collected poems. Oliver herself has two titles on the list: American Primitive and Dream Work. I believe House of Light will be finding its way on to the list very soon.

In addition to her formidable body of work, there are two volumes of selected poems by Oliver. Yet neither the titles noted above nor the two selected volumes represents the very best of her work. The very best is an audiobook compilation entitled At Blackwater Pond: Mary Oliver Reads Mary Oliver.

The audio compilation of Oliver reading her own work contains some 40 poems, a full 24 that I noted as being at the very least very good and in some cases simply transcendent. Her reading is even, unmannered, and precise without being stilted. In a word, natural; a word that fits her work perfectly.

From these poems it is possible to distill something of the ideal Mary Oliver poem. Her work finds it’s initial inspiration in close observation, as she noted in an interview in the Christian Science Monitor on December 9th, 1992. From her observations, mostly in the woods or along the shore, comes a musing or a question. The question sparks speculation, the musing, perhaps, wonder. The result frequently is a transcending of the moment, a rending of the veil, if you will: a glimpse of the unknown.

Of course, if one can reduce a poet’s work to a formula, the criticism alluded to in the opening paragraph of this post gains considerable purchase. However, if in fact the moment is transcendent, the glimpse illuminating, the criticism falls away. For instance, in the poem In Blackwater Pond, the speaker observes the trees and the cattails and the pond itself and suddenly every pond “is nameless now.” She observes that with everything she learns each year, still she is led back to this:

———————–the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Sometimes, the question is evoked and no answer or even speculation provided. At others, the poem opens with the question, as in Bone, when the speaker is “always trying to figure out / what the soul is,” then goes on to describe in some detail her discovery of a whale bone ear on the beach of her native Cape Cod. She moves on to thinking about the bottom of the ocean and how we all know what it’s like though we’ve never seen it but the soul

I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
through the pale-pink morning light.

In Goldenrod, she comes upon a simple field of this colorful if inglorious weed, observing bees and flowerlets and butterflies. Suddenly a breeze rises and she is “happy, and why not?”

Are not the difficult labors of our lives

full of dark hours?

And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that it is better than these light-filled bodies?

All day

on their airy backbones

they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,

they rise in a stiff sweetness,

in the pure peace of giving

one’s gold away.

One final glimpse into Oliver and the world; in I Looked Up, Oliver spots something in the green branches of a pitchpine, a “thick bird, / a ruffle fire trailing over the shoulders and down the back -.” Her mind wrestles beyond the meaning of what she sees:

What misery to be afraid of death.

What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven.

When I make a little sound

it looked at me, then it looked past me.

Then it rose, the wings enormous and opulent,

and, as I said, wreathed in fire.

There are twenty more poems I thought worth their weight in effort, both to write and to read. All is not light and sweet in the world of Mary Oliver; there is Wild Geese and The Alligator, Lonely White Fields and The Bear, and many more. Death is always a hairbreadth away, as it is in life. Which is why we celebrate: without death, life is a party without end. And we all know how those go.

Don’t we?

Please consider joining us in our discussion of 3 poems by Mary Oliver at the Main Library in Classroom “A” on Thursday, January 8th, at 7:30 pm. We will be reading and talking about the poems “Wild Geese,” Music Lessons,” and “West Wind 2.” Preregistration is requested but not required. To register or if you have any questions, please contact either Don (412 622-1975, or Renée (412 622-3151,

– Don


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Happy Winter Solstice

Greetings from Barichara, Santander, Colombia! Being so much closer to the equator, I didn’t get to experience the Winter Solstice yesterday. Here, sunrise and sunset are at the same time through out the year, give or take a half hour or so. And as much as I’m enjoying myself on my vacation, I get a little twinge about missing the shortest day of the year.

The Winter Solstice, and the Summer Solstice, too, are interesting subjects in that there are different ways to think about them, and so information about both is found in a variety of sources. From a scientific perspective, solstice is a term in astronomy that refers to the declination of the sun when at its farthest point north or south of the equator. I learned that by looking it up in Science Resource Center, one of the many databases we subscribe to that is accessible either in the library or from home with an Allegheny County library card. It contains the entire entry on solstices from the Gale Encyclopedia of Science, as well as other magazine and journal articles.

Checking in the library catalog, I found a book entitled Yule: A Celebration of Light & Warmth. This book has a call number that begins “GT,” which puts it in the area for “Manners and Customs.” Of course, that is where we find many books about holidays and celebrations, including the huge one currently looming.

What I am celebrating at Winter Solstice is the beginning of the slow lengthening of the days. I love the feeling that I can see one minute more of light each day until summer. If I were more ambitious, I would look in Medline Plus (a health database from the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health) to explore just how important light is to the human body. As it is, I´m just going to go enjoy it for the rest of my vacation.



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20 Sundays of Pittsburgh Writers

This coming Sunday marks the 20th installment of the Sunday Poetry & Reading Series (which falls on the Winter Solstice this month).  In the lifetime of the series so far, more than 30 poets and writers–nearly all of them from Pittsburgh–have graced the microphone and ears in the Quiet Reading Room

Our next featured writer, Angele Ellis, reads this Sunday, December 21st at 2:oo pm.  Angele Ellis is the author of Arab on Radar, described in Pittsburgh City Paper as “invitingly angular verse…at once passionate and slyly funny,” and a 2008 recipient of a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

In celebration of these past featured writers and in anticipation of the many fine words to come, here’s some weekend leisure reading: selections from SP&RS guests either on the noble shelves of the library or in their nooks and haunts on the web.  Enjoy!


date featured

Nikki Allen, poetry

May 20, 2007



Jessica Fenlon, poetry

September 16, 2007

Jim Daniels, poetry

October 21, 2007

Kristofer Collins, poetry

November 18, 2007

Hodgepodge Society, humor

January 20, 2008

Toi Derricotte, poetry

March 16, 2008

Brandon Som, poetry

April 20, 2008



Terrance Hayes, poetry

May 18, 2008

Sophie Klahr, poetry

June 15, 2008

Typewriter Girls, poetry cabaret

July 20, 2008

Jan Beatty, poetry

October 19. 2008


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Hummerland shout-out!

That's about right.

That's about right.

Today the Film & Audio Department received a phone call from Ms. Suzanne Newman, the director of Hummerland, the documentary that we’re showing tonight as part of our Real to Reel Documentary Film Series. How randomly cool is that? I think that she’s as happy as we are that we’re able to show her movie in our library.

So if you have a chance, stop by tonight at 7 to watch Hummerland, and let us know what you think! We’ll pass your comments on to Ms. Newman.

And if you are tragically unable to attend (perhaps because a Hummer has taken the last five available parking spaces in our lot), just request the movie and watch it on your own!

– Amy

P.S. Thanks to kballard for the lovely photo, made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Love, Forgiveness, and Wisdom

Looking for a great way to welcome 2009? Beginning in January, 2009, the Carnegie Library-Main will begin a five-part humanities book discussion entitled Love, Forgiveness, and Wisdom (LFW). The series will be held on Thursdays this winter, from 6:00-8:00 pm in the Quiet Reading Room at the Main branch.

Our branch was one of 50 public libraries to receive a $2,500 competitive grant from the American Library Association and the Fetzer Institute as part of their “Let’s Talk About It” series. fetzer_color1Through the reading and discussion of five works of classic and contemporary fiction, and facilitated by our program scholar, Dr. Heather McNaugher of Chatham University, LFW will investigate how literature can increase our understanding of ourselves and one another. Space in this program is limited, so register early at the Carnegie Library website.

The five works in the series were chosen by Dr. Betty Sue Flowers, Director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, who has written a wonderful essay describing each selection and how each one relates to our topics. The five books we’ll be reading and discussing (and the dates) are:

We have some special events scheduled, including a presentation of the forgiveness scene from The Winter’s Tale by drama students from Carnegie Mellon University.

If you’d like more information, please email me at



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Red penguins and green grocery clerks, or the wonders of the eighth stack.

Can you find <ul>Swiss Without Halos</ul> or <ul>One Damn Thing After Another</u>?

Be sure to look for "Swiss Without Halos" and "One Damn Thing After Another."

Every December for the past three or four years I’ve scampered up to our eighth stack and pulled out a selection of old Dewey-classed nonfiction books, all rebound in red and green, and made a lovely holiday-esque display out of them.

Last year’s books came from the 500s, where we shelve science. This year I started with the 900s, where history hangs out. As I was pulling books for the display, I noticed that a lot of them had really awesome titles.

Since there are too many to list here (and that would make a really boring post), I asked the Eleventh Stack crew to vote on their favorites from both the red and the green divisions. Check out our winners!

Red Division Winners:

Amy’s Honorable Mention:

Green Division Winners:

Amy’s Honorable Mention:

If you’d care to visit the display, it’s in the Main library in the second floor hallway. And if you’d care to visit the eighth stack, talk to the lovely people in Reference Services and they’ll show you where to go!

– Amy


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