Monthly Archives: January 2010

Help for Haiti

Everyone has been deeply moved by the recent tragedy in Haiti, and the way that communities throughout the world have banded together for relief efforts is truly inspiring.  Recently, our colleague Holly over in the Teen Department blogged for CLP Teensburgh about ways to help, and provided a short list of further readings on Haiti.  I highly recommend checking out her informative blog post if you’re interested in learning ways that you can contribrute to the relief effort. 

In the meantime, if the recent news stories on Haiti have made you eager to learn more about the country, be sure to check out some of our collections on the subject. Our books on Haiti range from histories of the country, to folklore, to music, to fiction


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Mind Your Manners, If You Even Have Any in the First Place

Allow me to add the disclaimer that I am mostly writing this post for myself. Okay. I’m entirely writing this post for myself. Table manners. Something I’ve somehow lost, if I ever had any in the first place. I can only guess that the combination of laziness, eating alone and just being extremely hungry have inspired me to revisit the standard rules of etiquette. In preparing to research this topic, I knew the most reliable source would be Emily Post, the Grandmother of etiquette. In a world of portable wireless distractions and being in a hurry, she’s just as relevant today as ever before.

Post’s first etiquette manual, Etiquette: In Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, was published in 1922 and rose to best seller fame, becoming a reference for all of your mannerly conundrums. Keep in mind, some of Ms. Post’s advice is outdated, however, let us review this piece from a section titled Etiquette of Gloves and Napkin:

Ladies always wear gloves to formal dinners and take them off at table. Entirely off. It is hideous to leave them on the arm, merely turning back the hands. Both gloves and fan are supposed to be laid across the lap, and one is supposed to lay the napkin folded once in half across the lap too, on top of the gloves and fan, and all three are supposed to stay in place on a slippery satin skirt on a little lap, that more often than not slants downward.

This tip of etiquette raises a few questions for me: Who shows up to dinner with a  fan? And how do I get invited to the kind of dinner party that assumes female guests will arrive wearing gloves?

Since I’m a beginner in this matter, I found the children’s guide to be much more my speed. Tips such as “come to the table with clean hands and face,” “stay seated and sit up straight,” and “say ‘please pass the potatoes’ instead of reaching,” are all very basic principles that I’ve let slip in my somewhat small repertoire of manners.

For readers much more advanced than me, here is a selection of books from the Library you might want to borrow:

 The New Book of Table Settings: Creative Ideas for the Way We Gather Today, Chris Bryant and Paige Gilchrist



Elements of Etiquette: A Guide to Table Manners in an Imperfect World, Craig Claiborne



Miss Manners’ Basic Training: Eating, Judith Martin



The Art of the Table: A Complete Guide to Table Setting, Table Manners, and Tableware, Suzanne von Drachenfels



Excuse me, please, and thank you,

– Lisa


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The Drummer: The Movie and the Viewer

As part of its International Cinema Sunday program a few weeks ago, the Film & Audio Department showed the East Asian film The Drummer.  I missed it.  Hey, I can’t get cultured continuously (as much as I try) and I watched the Steelers beat the Dolphins that afternoon.

Luckily, the library has the movie on DVD.  Though I wished I could have seen on the big screen the mesmerizing scenes of Zen drummers on a mountain in Taiwan (the real-life U Theatre ensemble), home viewing had one advantage.  Immediately after the film ended, I grabbed a pair of drumsticks and put my practice pad on the coffee table.  So while my father isn’t a hotheaded Hong Kong gangster and I didn’t foolishly get caught in the bathtub with a rival gang leader’s girlfriend, it was still good to lose myself in rhythm like the protagonist of The Drummer does.

— Tim

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Bound Together!

Setting: 15th century France. A new tapestry has been delivered to the castle. Woven of wool, silk, silver and gold threads, the labor of four weavers over one year, it cost the equivalent of the finest warship, or a wealthy nobleman’s entire year’s income. Queen Isabeau contemplates its placement. 

Queen: Charlie is daft. A 14-by-18-foot tapestry? Hung on the west wall? Sure, the sea scene will reflect the moat. Nice touch. And it will cut down on drafts. But hanging it so close to the dampness of the moat? Hasn’t the King ever heard of reeky mildew? Yech! [steps back to gaze at tapestry] Nice ship, nice looking guys . . . 

After a design by Pieter Coecke van Aelst (Flemish, 1502–1550) The Defeated Pompey Meeting His Wife at Sea, from The Story of Julius Caesar, designed 1540, woven c. 1640, wool. Gift of George Leary to Carnegie Museum of Art, 54.5.1


This is my little fiction. I’ve been reading big fiction (574 pages) to prepare for next month’s meeting of the Bound Together Book Club, the Library’s collaborative program with the Carnegie Museum of Art. On February 11, we’ll stare in wonder at the beautifully restored wall-sized tapestries in the Gods, Love, and War Exhibition, learn how they were made and what the imagery means. We’ll also discuss a relevant historical novel concerning Charles VI of France, In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse.  

In a Dark Wood Wandering follows strict parameters of the historical fiction genre: it presents a story that takes place during a notable period in history (beginning with the reign of Charles VI, known as the Wise, the Well-Loved, and the Mad King); the story centers on a significant event in that period (the second half of France’s Hundred Years’ War with England, which includes Joan of Arc’s military career); and the novel presents actual events from the point of view of people living in that time period (the majority of In a Dark Wood Wandering is from the point of view of Charles VI’s nephew, Charles, Duke of Orléans). To prepare for our discussion, I’ve been reading authoritative background history, none of which is nearly as compelling as this fictional account. 

Please join us for Bound Together. Space is limited. Call 412.622.3288 to register. Gods, Love, and War: Tapestries and Prints from the Collection will be on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art until June 13, 2010. 


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Santōka Taneda: Haiku Master

My begging bowl
Accepts the fallen leaves.

If most people have heard of the great haiku poets at all, it is generally Bashō and that most famous of all his haiku about a frog leaping into a pond:

The old pond;
A frog jumps in —
The sound of the water.
—–translated by R. H. Blyth


Personally, this is not my favorite haiku and I’ve read scores of English language versions: here is a website that has 30 of the best.   Actually, I like Allen Ginsberg‘s rendition, which incorporates the sound of the sound:


The old pond
A frog jumped in,
—–translated by Allen Ginsberg


The other well-known master haiku poets are Buson, Shiki, and my personal favorite, Issa.  Chances are, though, if you don’t read Eastern poetry with any regularity you may not recognize their names.

The one thing most people do know about haiku is inaccurate; haiku in English is not a 17 syllable, three-line poem with 5 syllables to the first line, 7 to the second line, and 5 to the third line.  At least, it is not only that.  It is approximately that way in Japanese (although Japanese haiku are written in one line, not three), but in English 10 to 14 syllables more approximates the length of Japanese haiku because the rough Japanese equivalent to syllables, morae, are much shorter.  Of course, the issue is more complicated than this;  here is one of the best, simplest explanations I could find.

Personally, the best definition I know of a haiku is that it is a poem that lasts as long as the intake and exhale (and rest) of a single breath. 

Along with the other haiku masters, Santōka Taneda, a modern haiku poet, is also not a household name in America.   Of all modern Japanese poets,  Santōka Taneda has the most books published about him in Japan each year.  And there is a reason: he is very good, indeed, if one might judge from translations.

Santōka was born in 1882 and died in October 1940.  He was one of the first haiku poets in Japan to break with the traditional elements of the form; he did not write haiku in 17 syllables and he did not include a seasonal word (kigo).  This was a radical shift in tradition and made for a very different tone and approach.   His work is enjoyed for its bare bones style, and his infusion of Zen elements, such as simplicity, solitude, and impermanence, into his poems.   His overall technique somehow creates a more universal appeal, which explains his popularity beyond the poetic and scholarly communities – Santōka is one of Japan’s most popular poets and in recent years is becoming better known in English.

The title of his collection, Mountain Tasting, is taken from his following observation:

“Westerners like to conquer mountains;
Orientals like to contemplate them.
As for me, I like to taste the mountains.”


Mountain Tasting gathers together nearly 400 of his haiku, along with a selection of his journal entries from his many trips throughout Japan as a Zen priest, traveling on foot with only a single bowl for both begging and meals.  Santōka was born to a rich family that soon found itself on hard times.  His mother killed herself over his father’s numerous infidelities when Santōka was still young.   His father subsequently lost much of his fortune, resulting in the suicide of Santōka’s brother and Santōka’s own life of drunken dissipation while at school and later in business.  After an unsuccessful marriage, he was for a time a librarian, but lost this job also due to erratic living.  Finally, after an unsuccessful suiced attempt he was taken to a Zen temple, where he managed to pull himself together.

Here are some examples of Santōka’s haiku:

Young men march away―
The mountain greenness
is at its peak.


There is a great deal in this brief little poem – war, death, regeneration.  It is reminiscent of that other famous Bashō haiku:

Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams


In my mind, these are two of the finest anti-war poems ever written, both taking a global view of simultaneous spiritual and practical proportions.  Of course, they might be read as pro-war also, just a part of the eternal cycle of existence.

Here’s another beauty by Santōka:

Oh! This louse
I’ve caught
Is so warm!


For those familiar with English poetry, John Donne’s “The Flea” comes to mind.  Though Donne’s poem is a convoluted seduction song, Santōka’s is every bit as grand, if barely as long as Donne’s first line. Santōka celebrates all of life: the louse having just lustily fed on Santōka, his own astonished reaction at their shared bond of warmth, the moment of revelation, and its resonance.  The blood shared between humans and the flea in one poem and a louse and a poet in the other inspires both poets to mighty raptures concerning  miniscule things.

This is another war poem:

The bones,
Silently this time,
Returned across the ocean.


This is a tiny poem, perfectly translated; in the complementary clause of the second line you can hear the silence, so one can recall only too vividly how these bones talked on the boat on their way to war. 

One last poem perfectly places man in nature:

The beauty of the sunset
Grieves not for old age.


Since there is only one book by Santōka Taneda currently in our system, here are a raft of web-based resources for you to explore if you’d like to know more:


Santoka Taneda

Taneda Santôka’s Haiku

About Taneda Santoka and his Somokuto  (page down a bit)

Weeds, Falling Rain (a selection of haiku)

Santoka Taneda (1882-1940)

Pathography of Santoka Taneda (pdf)

Walking Zen (Michael Hoffman on Santōka Taneda)



Finally, there is a generous selection via Google Books from the volume For All My Walking, translated by the well known Asian scholar, Burton Watson, a book which is currently on order for the library.

Even the sound of the raindrops
Has grown older.


— Don


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Recently, I’ve been thinking about teachers and what a profound effect they can have on our lives.  I have a special place in my heart for certain teachers I remember, whether it’s the first grade teacher we called “Mrs. Good Guy” because she’d let us have candy from her desk drawer, or the social studies teacher I had my senior year of high school who let me write a fictional account of Romany life as my one and only project because I was stuck in a 9th-grade level course due to transferring schools and making up credits. 

I’ve also been inspired by stories about teachers, particularly in films like Stand and Deliver and To Sir, With Love.  In that vein, I’m offering a film and book list that includes old favorites and new possibilities.


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3 Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa

3 Poems by... Poetry Discussion

Our most recent meeting of the 3 Poems By…Poetry Discussion Group focused on the poetry of Yusef Komunyakaa.  The poems we discussed were “Facing It” from the collection Dien Cai Dau, “The Towers” from Warhorses, and “My Father’s Love Letters” from Magic City.

Depending where you read about him, Komunyakaa is labeled a jazz poet, soldier poet, image poet, southern poet, or literary poet, and, depending which of his collections you read, these are all true.  His work, which includes 15 books of poetry and several works of prose, spans a range of styles and themes, from surreal, imagistic poetry to short-lined elegies for famous jazz musicians to mediations on war heavily laced with mythological and literary allusions.  Komunyakaa has received recognition for his oeuvre with many prestigious awards, including the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for the collection Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems.

The poet Toi Derricotte writes of Komuyakaa, “He takes on the most complex moral issues, the most harrowing ugly subjects of our American life. His voice, whether it embodies the specific experiences of a black man, a soldier in Vietnam, or a child in Bogalusa, Louisiana, is universal. It shows us in ever deeper ways what it is to be human.” 

In the journal Ploughshares (via MasterFILE Premier or Literature Resource Center), Susan Conely writes that Komunyakaa:

“has been widely acclaimed by critics for his compassionate and well-crafted poems. His reputation as a poet has grown over the years; early in his career, he was derided for obscure imagery and superficial treatment of subjects. Yet commentators have traced his development as a poet and praise him for providing an insightful perspective on race and gender relations, surrealistic juxtaposition of images, and compelling storytelling. His recurring themes—childhood, identity, the ferocity and dehumanizing aspects of combat, romantic and sexual relationships, and concern for human suffering–have been frequent topics of critical attention. Komunyakaa has been lauded for his portrayal of a collective African-American experience in Vietnam. Critics have analyzed his use of historical allusions, classical mythology, and African-American folk idiom and note his concise use of language as well as the vivid imagery in his poems.  His work illustrates reverence for the oral and musical traditions of African American culture. Considered one of today’s most distinctive poetic voices, Komunyakaa is viewed as a key contemporary American poet.”

 Author, poet and critic Marilyn Nelson writes (in another article archived in LRC):

“…I applaud the courage with which Komunyakaa has confronted his childhood and youth. With his sensitive evocations of the child’s sense of the natural world, the driving curiosity of adolescent sexuality, and the slow transformation of the dreamer-child into the poet, he makes a great contribution to one of the newest genres in the canon: the black male epic of self.” 

At the 3 Poems By… discussion, we were lucky to be able to stream video of Yusef Komunyakaa reading two of the poems.  In fact, quite a bit of streamable audio and video files related to Konunyakaa exist online.  Check out the following links and you’ll get the chance to hear the poet’s cadence and inflection as he reads, while you discover archives of  visible and audible poetry of Komunyakaa and many other brilliant poets.

Here’s a live reading of “Facing It” from PBS’s Poetry Everywhere program:

You can also listen to “Facing It” at Poetry Foundation’s audio and podcast collectionInternet Poetry Archive includes recordings of Komunyakaa reading poems including “My Father’s Love Letters” here.  Also, here is an hour-long reading and talk that Komunyakaa gave for the Helen Edison Lecture Series:



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Historic, Mystery, Science Fiction

If you enjoy a good audio book now and then but just don’t feel like sorting through the 1,600 (really!) or so titles that we have in stock at any given time, check out our display of historic, mystery, and science fiction titles. Each of the books on these shelves is lovingly hand chosen by yours truly, using an exactingly scientific process and a roll of cheerfully colored stickers. And here’s how I do it.


Historic – To me, historic fiction is written in the present but set in the past, where the book’s time period is almost as important to the story as the plot and the characters. For example, although Suite Francaise is set during WWII it’s not historic, because that’s when it was written (it’s just a book that no one bothered to translate right away). But these books have made it into my historic fiction section.

  • Heyday by Kurt Andersen – America, gold rush, blah blah blah. It’s really really long and I couldn’t finish it. Definitely historic, though.
  • The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery – You get two fires in this book, which is about an American orphan in Kyoto in the mid 1800s.
  • The Good German by Joseph Kanon – Don’t misplace your mistress, especially in Berlin, especially in 1945.

Mystery – The easiest way to find a mystery is to look for dead people, or if you’re me, look for the word “mystery” on the CD case. Those who write mysteries tend to keep writing mysteries, so if you find yourself fancying a particular detective you’ll often have many titles to choose from.

  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – Highlight the text between the brackets for a spoiler. (Everyone did it.)
  • Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith – You could argue that this one’s a western (due to the blatant use of cowboys) but it does say mystery right on the cover. So there you go (plus, I don’t have western stickers).
  • Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear – Okay, this one does border on historic since it’s set in the years after WWI. The main character is a charming female private investigator and former army nurse with a tragic love life, intriguing scar, and a sporty little car. What else could you want?

Science Fiction – If there are robots, spaceships, strange planets, hot green alien babes, stuff like that – you’ve got science fiction. Stay away from dragons, though, as that puts you into fantasy territory and I don’t have any fantasy stickers either.

  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – I will lose a little librarian street cred here by freely admitting that I’ve never read the book, but I’ve seen the movie.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert – Okay, I’m really bad at science fiction. You’ve got me. But Scott likes Dune. So you can go talk to him about it, right?
  • Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan – This one sort of veers into mystery territory, since the main character’s a UN investigator. But he’s also doing his detecting in a) the 25th century, and b) a replacement body. That covers the sci-fi requirements nicely.

And there you have it, the three genres that I’ve managed to label. I’m still campaigning for more stickers (Vampire Porn and Manly Adventure come to mind), but that may take a while. Until that glorious stickery day, you can always ask a librarian.

– Amy

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Library Reflections

“Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library.  The only entrance requirement is interest.”

Lady Bird Johnson

With all the attention libraries have received in recent months, I have been thinking back on decades behind the reference desk.  I arrived at a time when paper books were the norm.  Many of the books we used to answer people’s questions didn’t even have indexes, so we perused their contents page by page.  Experienced staff laboriously created and maintained homemade records, clipping, indexing, and filing, while passing on wisdom orally to younger generations. Smaller libraries, with limited collections, had to call even to find out if we had a particular title on the shelf.

The internet, of course, has changed the very nature of the reference process. People are able to do more basic research at home–including students with full-text access to many magazine articles. As in the past, reliability of resources must be considered and librarians are turned to for help in answering more complex problems, or for recommendations.

Today, as more and more experienced librarians retire, we are encouraged that a new generation of energetic, technically-minded and enthusiastic young people are choosing the profession.  One day, in the all-too-near future, I shall walk out the door for the last time to begin the final phase of my life.  When that happens, I shall take with me the memory of many fine co-workers over the decades and an amazement at the human mind’s endless questioning and desire to know.

To quote Samuel Johnson, “Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind.”


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Sick Day Reads

The cold and flu season is upon us, and unfortunately I’ve already been infected. I used a sick day on Monday to try to reduce the severity and longevity of a cold I acquired (I don’t think it worked), and doing so allowed me to catch up on some reading in between sleeping and eating soup. Here are a few of the things that I read in bed:

The House of Lost Souls by F. G. Cottam — F. G. Cottam’s debut horror novel is a recent addition to our horror collection. It’s the story of a man fatefully bound to the Fischer House, an old Victorian mansion haunted by a demon summoned by Aleister Crowley in the 1920s. I’ve been in the mood for reading horror books in the “hauntings” genre ever since I finished Caitlin Kiernan’s amazing The Red Tree, so this book really hit the spot. Excellent pacing, interesting historical references, and the feeling of H. P. Lovecraft meets The Exorcist made this book a winner for me.

Angel: After the Fall, Vol. 1 by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch — After my seven month stint of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I jumped right into its spin-off television series, Angel. This graphic novel picks up where the television series ends and it doesn’t disappoint.

The Once and Future King by T. H. White — This one has been on my must-read fantasy backlist for some time now. My edition of T. H. White’s famous retelling of the legend of King Arthur includes a blurb on the back that describes it as “the fantasy masterpiece by which all others are judged.” Pardon my sacrilege, but so far I find the book a bit boring. While I can certainly see why others might find it great, so far it hasn’t gripped me like other fantasy books have; maybe it needs more blood and guts. Of course, I’ve only just begun to read it, so maybe it will improve.

Have any books sitting around waiting to be read on your inevitable sick day?



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