Monthly Archives: December 2009

A Year in Review

And what a year it has been!  While advocacy was a major theme for the Library this year (and that will continue in 2010!), we also managed to have a great big celebration of summer reading, open a new Allegheny branch, and spend more time in the news than ever before.

Of course, each member of the Eleventh Stack team has been sharing their thoughts, ideas and suggestions with you all year long. We thought we’d take this opportunity to bring you highlights from the Library trenches, where we’ve been discovering new books, DVDs, CDs, online resources, or simply learning something new each day.  Come join us anytime!

Kaarin:  Highlights for me this year were new “My Account” features, Reading History and Wish Lists.  I can now keep track of everything I’ve borrowed and everything I want to borrow without having to keep separate lists!  I was thrilled to discover new ways to find good books to read using librarything and goodreads.  And finally, I thoroughly enjoyed two novels I can recommend, The Shack, by William P. Young, and The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

Leigh Anne:  Every December a book sneaks up on me, completely undermining my sedate recap of a literary year with its sheer brilliance.  This year’s book is The Hunger Games, which wraps pointed questions about social and political justice in the guise of a well-written dystopian fantasy novel.  The Hunger Games pits Katniss Everdeen against other teenagers from the various districts of Panem in a televised fight to the death that’s akin, plot-wise,  to both Battle Royale and the Stephen King novellas The Long Walk and The Running Man.  Get your hands on a copy, absorb the brilliance, and then get back in line, immediately for the sequel, Catching Fire.  I promise that, at the very least, you’ll have had some second thoughts about the excesses and inequities of American culture.

Other highlights of the year include a new countywide subscription to Mango Languages and Pittsburgh’s return to the ranks of America’s most literate cities.  The best thing that happens at the library all year, though, happens every day:  I get the privilege of helping you with your information needs, always learning something from you in the bargain.  It’s only going to get better and more interesting in 2010, dear readers, so fasten your seatbelts…

MA: The year for me has been exhilarating in the terms of literature.  I’ve stumbled across books that have, as Leigh Anne once said, presented me with book serendipity.  A few titles from the list:

Traveling with Pomegranates– a wonderful mother-daughter memoir detailing their growth and understanding with each other over a course of drastic change in both their lives. 

The Time Traveler’s Wife:  Niffenegger takes you through a world of almost science fiction proportions, but not overtly so.  The book encompasses the beauty and the despair that love brings to the lives of two people.  A true pleasure to read.

Bright Lights, Big Ass:  A hilarious memoir (one of the many!) by Jen Lancaster, ex sorority girl extraordinaire!  Written with a zest that not many authors can pull off, she takes you through her days so honestly that you can’t help but feel charmed by it. 

Wes: This year I was extremely pleased with the success of our newly created Black Holes, Beakers, and Books science book club. The book club had some great discussions about science, and a few of them were joined by the authors of the books we were reading, including Ann Gibbons, Lee Gutkind, and Marvin Minsky. Stay tuned for even more from Black Holes in 2010!

Lisa: 2009 can be easily summed up for me with this one book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It’s been my go-to cooking guide, impressed many, and has greatly enhanced what’s for dinner!

Bonnie: My favorite reads of 2009:

American Nomads by Richard Grant: Grant is my favorite writer right now.  This gem recounts the history of nomadism in America—beginning with Indians, conquistadors, and then on to truck drivers, mountain men, hobos, cowboys  and bull-riders.  Grant is a nomad himself, and writes about the tension between the “sedentary” and people on the move—read this when you’re in the mood for an adventure.

First Blood by David Morrell: This was a big surprise—I had no idea Rambo was based on a book—and I was totally blown away by it.  Literally!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: This teen novel helped to alleviate my blood thirst caused by reading First Blood.  It’s chock-full full of edge-of-your seat, heart-pounding gloriousness.  If you read it, you will want to give me five dollars for suggesting it.  But I will turn it down.

Wishing you the best in 2010.


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a hawk visits the library

A few days ago, some of the librarians and patrons here at CLP Main were lucky enough to catch a rare sight: a large, white and brown bird landed in one of the mulberry trees just outside of the main entrance, and proceeded to eat her lunch: a freshly caught squirrel. 

While we aren’t exactly expert bird-watchers, we do know where to look to identify a feathered creature, and our guess is that this particular bird is a juvenile red-tailed hawk. That might explain her unusual perch.  As WQED’s Kate St. John writes on her blog Outside My Window: A Bird Watcher’s View of the World, juvenile hawks can be boldly unruffled by human proximity when they’re hungry.  This particular hawk was equally blasé about the nearby humans, the below-freezing temperature, and the ferociously icy winds that stirred her feathers.

Because the mulberry tree is relatively short and very close to the building, the hawk’s position created the  opportunity to get very close to a truly impressive natural sight and take some photos! Lucky for us (but not for the squirrel). 

A caution, gentle readers, some of these shots are a little graphic.

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel - lensflare

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel - twisting tree

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel - paparazzi

juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel 10

 juvenile red-tailed hawk with squirrel - eating

Happy New Year, everyone.  May you clobber the squirrelly troubles of the past year with clear-sightedness, feathery grace, and talon-sharp fierceness and internalize their lessons to fuel your flight in the year to come.



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Give and we shall receive

I know it’s completely unseasonal for me to talk about feeling thankful when it’s not even November, but I have to get something off my chest:  I am deeply humbled by the people who go through our library’s doors every week NOT to read magazines, buy an iced coffee or to take a nap, but to work.  For free. 

Our faithful volunteers often work behind the scenes—looking for missing books, repairing damaged items, shelving, making displays or booklists, marketing library programs, hosting language clubs and so much more.  Some volunteers are able to give an hour or two every week for 6 months, while other volunteers have given the library decades of their time and talent. 

Many public libraries are understaffed in these difficult times, and volunteers who contribute a couple of hours per week make such a difference in the quality of service a library can offer customers.  While volunteer work cannot take the place of professional library staff, it can free staff  to work on projects that normally get pushed to the sidelines.   

We have one volunteer (who is also a librarian) who leads a book club for older adults off-campus.  Each month, she rides her bike carrying 12 heavy large print books and then discusses the previous month’s title with a dozen seniors who aren’t able to get to the library.  The staff in our department would love to provide this kind of regular outreach, but have too many constraints of day to day work to allow it.  Because of this volunteer’s selfless giving, there are a dozen seniors who have an opportunity to explore books and worlds that they might not have had otherwise.

If you are interested in volunteering at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, please check out this link: Our volunteer coordinator will help you to match your time, location and talents with libraries and library departments that can best use your help. 

And a big “THANK YOU” bear hug to everyone that has given your time and talents to your public library.  We can’t do it without you! 



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Our Favorite Bad Covers

My Music, Film & Audio coworkers and I have rounded up the best of our worst DVD and VHS covers for your enjoyment. Some of them are old and out of date, some of them are new classics, some are just plain wrong, and some have a quirky charm all their own.

But wait, it gets better – you can (well, if you really want to) check out any of these delightful items and share them with your friends and family! Just jig (don’t jog) down to the Main library today, and we’ll show you where to look.

– Amy


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Santa, Sweetie: Bring Chanel

“Chanel, Dior, Lagerfeld, Givenchy, Gaultier, darling!   Names, names, names!”
–Jennifer Saunders as Edina Monsoon, Absolutely Fabulous

Santa, darling:

You’ve never let me down before, so I’m pretty confident you can make my 2009 holiday dream a reality.  All I want for Christmas this year is a little black Chanel suit.

Not Lagerfeld-era Chanel, mind you, though I’ve nothing against the gentleman personally.  But, darn it, I’m a librarian of old-school taste and class. Ergo, I want Chanel Chanel.  The genuine article.  The real deal.  That’s not so much to ask, is it, Santa? Just one, teensy, vintage, piece of classic couture?

Obviously I don’t expect you to bring it straight to my house.  Pittsburgh is simply crawling with fabulous places to find fashion treasures.  So I’ll tell you what, Santa-pumpkin:  I’ll combine my librarian wiles with loads of legwork, and you can just leave the suit somewhere here in town where I’m likely to find it.

Deal, or no deal?

Why don’t you sleep on it, sweetie?  I know this is a really busy time of year for you.  Keep in mind, though, I’m not really asking just for myself.  I’m asking for all the fashionable women here in the ‘burgh who have champagne taste and root beer budgets.  I’m asking for all those women who still don’t know — or just can’t master — the arts of knitting and sewing. I’m asking for everybody who stays positive and works hard.  So what do you say, Santa?  I’ve been saving my pennies; won’t you make me a shiny example of a bona fide Christmas miracle?


Leigh Anne


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The College Novel

I’ve long thought college life to be a great subject for fiction writing, but until recently I never knew that there is a recognized “college novel” genre. It was first brought to my attention two weeks ago when a library patron asked me for an old book called The College Novel in America by John O. Lyons. Unfortunately, after she pried it from my hands she checked it out, so I can’t tell you much more about it. However, I found a recent reference work on the subject at neighboring Hillman Library called The American College Novel by John E. Kramer, and I can tell you about that one and some of the hidden treasures it reveals.

Kramer provides annotations for 648 American college novels divided into two sections: student-centered and staff-centered. Some student-centered titles include End Zone by Don Delillo; The Paragon by Jon Knowles; Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis; Big U by Neal Stephenson; Continuing Education by Dorothy Weil; and Hippies by Peter Jedick. In the staff-centered category you’ll find The Human Stain by Philip Roth; The Temptation to Do Good by Peter Ferdinand Drucker; Straight Man by Richard Russo; Japanese by Spring by Ishmael Reed; Intimate Enemies by Caryl Rivers; Unholy Loves by Joyce Carol Oates; and Breakers by Martin Walser.

If you don’t want to sift through 648 books to decide where to begin your college novel reading, no worries, Kramer provides a top 50 recommendation list that includes Fanshawe by Nathaniel Hawthorne; The Women’s Room by Marilyn French; Fall Quarter by Weldon Kees; Rookery Blues by Jon Hassler; The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy; A Friend in Power by Carlos Baker; Stepping Westward by Malcolm Bradbury; and Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon.

Kramer also supplies an index that allows you to find titles based on a character’s staff position at their respective college setting, and yes, there are some that include librarians and archivists as main characters. Four to be exact: Alamo House by Sarah Bird; Lusts by Clark Blaise; The Devil in Texas by Wolf Mankowitz; and The Archivist by Martha Cooley.

Anglophiles, fear not: There is another book I stumbled across here at CLP called The English University Novelby Mortimer Robinson Proctor, that features critical interpretations of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Angus Wilson’s Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Nightand many more.


PS. You might have noticed that some of the titles in this post weren’t linked to the catalog. That’s because those titles aren’t available within our library system and will need to be obtained through our Interlibrary Loan service. Unfortunately, Interlibrary Loan was drastically affected by this year’s state budget cuts to library services, resulting in less access to materials by patrons, and increased costs to deliver those materials. Let’s not forget that in 2010 we need to sustain our advocacy efforts to ensure an increase in library funding in next year’s state budget.


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World Literature Today

World Literature Today (WLT), a highly informative journal  about world literature, is one of nearly 1000 periodicals to which we subscribe.  Since limitations on space prevent our showcasing the entire collection at one time, we display them in rotation.  Fortunately, WLT is currently available for perusal on the periodical shelves of the Reference Services Department, and library guests can browse it for a reading on developments in world literature and culture.  CLP has an unbroken run of the journal beginning in 2002 as well as issues published from 1977 to 1979.

Published bimonthly by the University of Oklahoma, WLT features poetry, prose, and reviews about  world literature.  It is an English publication; however, commentaries and reviews encompass books which are written in and/or translated from a variety of languages as well as published within and outside the United States. 

Among its features are respective profiles of established and emerging writers and treatment of specific themes.  The theme of the current issue, “Voices Against the Darkness: Imprisoned Writers Who Could Not Be Silenced,” takes up about one-third of the issue in exploratory essays, interviews, poetry, and prose of writers who experienced or witnessed imprisonment or exile.  “Food,” “Exile and Migration,” “Catalan Literature,” and “Indigenous Popular Culture” are other issues WLT has recently addressed.  Succinct yet substantial, WLT provides a great entrée to world literature.


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Funny Funny Ladies

At this time of year, I am often reminded of how much we need laughter in our lives.  All the stress of the holidays (much of it self-inflicted, naturally) piles up with the baking, cooking, shopping, holiday cards, package mailing, present wrapping, decorating, cleaning–and I haven’t even gotten to the family visits yet!

To help combat some of the stress I have been feeling, I chose to read humorous books this season.  I decided to focus on women who write non-fiction, memoir-style comedies.  Here are a few I read that made me laugh, and one or two classics you might recall and want to re-read…

If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? by Erma Bombeck – Ms. Bombeck is the classic female master of this genre.  When I was growing up, she was a household name.  This is just one of her many, many titles, each one as good as the next.

God Save the Sweet Potato QueensGod Save the Sweet Potato Queens by Jill Conner Browne – “If you haven’t met the Sweet Potato Queens yet, this is the introduction you’ve been waiting for.”  You might want to give this book to your preteen daughter to prepare her for what’s to come in the world of dating and marriage. But then again, maybe you might not…

The Risks of Sunbathing Topless: And Other Funny Stories from the Road edited by Kate Chynoweth – This collection of travel-gone-wrong stories covers the entire globe.  If you have ever had a bad travel experience, these tales will make you feel better, either because you can laugh and commiserate, or because there’s no way your incident was worse than the ones these gals had. 

13 Is the New 1813 Is the New 18: And Other Things my Children Taught Me while I was Having a Nervous Breakdown Being Their Mother by Beth J. Harpaz – Harried and heartsick mother stories are a whole sub-genre of this group.  Ms. Harpaz is trying to raise, and understand, her teenage son in this hilarious and completely current set of stories.  Come along with her as she makes her way through the world of MySpace, enormous cell phone bills, and the ever-present teenage slang.

Tales of Graceful Aging from the Planet Denial by Nicole Hollander – No topic is sacred, from inappropriate dressing to sex on airplanes to hormone replacement therapy.  This is an outrageous look at growing older, and hopefully, but not always, wiser.  Plus, I love the little cartoon drawings scattered throughout the book.

We Thought You Would Be PrettierWe Thought You Would Be Prettier: True Tales of the Dorkiest Girl Alive by Laurie Notaro – Ms. Notaro is fast becoming one of the most popular women in this genre.  Her observations of life are those that we usually think but would never have the nerve to say out loud.  Thankfully, she does, and we can read and laugh along with her.

Not Tonight HoneyNot Tonight, Honey: Wait ‘Til I’m a Size 6 by Susan Reinhardt – Ah, the perils of married life!  Follow along as we navigate these treacherous waters with wit, wisdom, and  a little bit of wantonness. 


You Can't Drink All DayYou Can’t Drink All Day If You Don’t Start in the Morning by Celia Rivenbark – OK, I admit it.  I picked up this book because of the title.  Wouldn’t you?  It completely fit how I feel about this time of year.  And I wasn’t disappointed by what was inside.  This is a great example of the southern belle version of this category.  With utmost honesty and a little bit of potty mouth, Ms. Rivenbark takes us through a view of life below the Mason-Dixon line.  Bless her heart!


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One Lesson From Dune

Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune is filled to bursting with amazing lines.

“The slow blade penetrates the shield” is my personal favorite.  Weapons master Gurney Halleck delivers this amazing line of dialogue when practicing knife combat with Paul Atreides, the book’s main protagonist. In the context of Dune and Herbert’s sci-fi universe, personal energy shields could be housed in a projector and worn on a belt or sash. One only had to hit a button and he was enveloped in a form-fitting corona of energy that would deflect energy weapons, high-speed projectiles, or wild knife slashes.

But in close combat, a cunningly wielded blade can pass through the shield energy and strike the home at the person behind it. It is during this knife-fighting exercise that we learn that slow, deliberate attacks will pass through the shield’s protection.

Here’s the actual script excerpt from the 1984 David Lynch Dune movie:

                    (inner voice)
               What's gotten into Gurney? He's not
     Paul presses forward and the fight moves quickly
     around the room. The smell of ozone grows stronger
     as the shields hit and SPARK off one another. Paul
     directs a parry downwards, turns, and leads Gurney
     against the table, plunging at just the right moment
     to pin Gurney against the table top with his blade
     right at Gurney's neck.

                    (strange shielded voice)
               Is this what you seek?

                    (strange shielded voice)
               Good... the slow blade penetrates the
               shield... but look down.

     Paul looks and sees Gurney's blade at his groin.

                     GURNEY (CONT'D)
               We'd have joined each other in death.
               However, you did seem to finally get the

You can read Herbert’s version of the scene right from one of our copies of the novel:

Dune / Frank Herbert.

We also have both the David Lynch and  Sci-Fi Channel versions of the movie on DVD:

Dune (Motion picture)

Frank Herbert’s Dune [videorecording] / [presented by] Sci Fi Channel

Since I saw the Lynch movie in the theater in 1984 that line has stuck with me. At 14 I didn’t understand it as well as I think I do now, but at different times in my life I have been able to apply its wisdom. Don’t rush. Consider your next move. An action done with care and attention to detail has a better chance of success than one delivered hastily.

It’s not always true, and there have been many times I’ve failed to heed the lesson when it was relevant, but they are words to live by. And they just sound so good rolling off the tongue.



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Best of the decade

Not only is the new year quickly approaching, but so is the new decade!  I’ve been following the Guardian’s Books of the Decade series in their Books Blog (and also enjoyed their post on the worst books of the decade), and it inspired me to come up with a few best-of picks of my own:

Against the Day and Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon: The past ten years brought us close to 1,500 pages of Pynchon, which could be enough to occupy most of us for the next decade!  The two novels couldn’t be more different: Against the Day takes us (in dense prose, and with typical Pynchononian humor) from the Chicago World’s fair to World War I, featuring characters such as Nikola Tesla, while Inherent Vice feels more like Pynchon’s Vineland and features a mostly stoned private eye in Southern California who is searching for his ex-girlfriend’s missing boyfriend.

Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography: In a decade that saw September 11, Hurricane Katrina, an ongoing war, an economic crisis, and a historic presidential election, Tom Cruise might not be the first person to come to mind.  But in such an event-filled decade, isn’t some celebrity dirt the perfect antidote to heavy news?  Cruise’s antics in the past ten years alone (a divorce, his declarations that psychiatry is a pseudo-science, and his very public announcements of love for Katie Holmes) make for some intriguing reading. 

Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood: Atwood brought us both a cautionary apocalyptic tale and its sequel in the past several years.  Both of these dystopian novels show us a future in which corporate greed, rampant genetic modifications, and unethical science experiments have brought about the end of the world as we know it.

Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser: I have a hard time remembering that just ten years ago this book, and all of its followers (such as The Omnivore’s Dillemma) didn’t exist.  The fast food industry is still thriving, and plenty of us eat it from time to time, but many of us are much more conscious about what we eat and where it comes from as a result of this book and similar titles. 

Those are just a few of the books that stand out for me in the past ten years.  Are there any books of the past decade that really struck you? 


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