Monthly Archives: February 2010

Hermann Hesse: The Fairytales

Hermann Hesse has all the earmarks of a neglected master.  His books, with the occasional exception of Demian and Siddhartha, are rarely assigned.  Steppenwolf and Siddhartha are read outside the well-manicured groves of academe by the errant, bleary-eyed follower of Kerouac or the clear-eyed seeker of esoteric knowledge, often the same person at different places on the never-ending path.

Yet, master he is, evinced by this simple test: when you meet a follower of Hesse, ask which is her/his favorite book.  Invariably, you will get a broad spectrum of replies: Narcissus and Goldmund, Steppenwolf, The Glass Bead Game, Strange News from Another Star and Other Tales, Demian, Wandering.

Mine is The Journey to the East.

As part of my New Year’s resolution from last year, I was going to dip into some of the lesser-known works of Hesse.  As all but one of those reading resolutions went unrealized, I decided this year I would do some catching up, at least in this case.

Which brings us to The Fairytales of Hermann Hesse, translated by Jack Zipes and published in 1995. And what a wonderful, as in full of wonder, collection it is.  Zipes is one of the most famous authorities on fairy tales alive today and has collected, translated, and annotated some of the classic fairy tales from many cultures, including the complete Brothers Grimm, the unexpurgated Arabian Nights, Aesop’s Fables, as well as French, German, feminist, and Victorian fairytales.  He has also penned a number of groundbreaking non-fiction studies on the subject.

“Märchen” is the German word for fairytale (and roughly translates as “tales of wonder”); this particular type of tale has a romantic tinge,  and it is in this genre that Hesse was experimenting with these stories. In fact, the original German publication of many of these stories were collected together in a volume entitled Märchen.  They contain many fantastical, wondrous elements which at once give them a universal, slightly surreal quality when filtered through Hesse’s consciousness.   The spellbinding influence of 19th century German fantasy writer E. T. A. Hoffmann, the author of The Mouse King and the Nutcracker from which the famous Nutcracker ballet was adapted, may be felt at different times throughout the volume.

For Hesse, Zipes provides a unifying voice and a context into which the tales have been collected.  Previously, 16 of the 22 tales in this book have been translated into English by 3 different translators in 4 different volumes: Strange News from Another Star and Other TalesStories of Five Decades, Pictor’s Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies, and If The War Goes On.  By extracting the stories with fairytale elements and collecting them together, Zipes has given Hesse fans a whole new way of looking at him, an extra dimension that adds depth and understanding not only to these particular stories, but to the whole of Hesse’s output.

The tales themselves are quite marvelous, ranging from traditional style folk/fairytales to fantasy, with varying elements of fable, science fiction, dream, proverb, and allegory.  Among my favorites is the Kafkaesque story, “A Man Named Ziegler,” about a young man who comes to a new town and decides to spend his off day at a museum and zoo; without thinking, he swallows a “tiny globule” from a medieval exhibit, heads off to the zoo and is suddenly able to understand and communicate with the animals.  As one might expect, they are naturally none too happy with human beings.  The brief fable, “A City,” is the tale of the rise, fall, and imminent rise again of a town, told from an omnipotent, god-like perspective and is quite well-done.  Hesse has a bit of fun at the expense of “militant” vegetarians, a  group similar to which he himself had joined briefly in 1907, in the story “Dr. Knoegle’s End.” “Augustus” is a tale stylistically reminiscent of Hans Christian Anderson and yet a perfect example of how Hesse made the form his own.   “The Poet,” too, is also in the style of folklore yet focussed on such familiar Hesse themes as creativity and the quest for self-knowledge.

Dreams, nature, and the consequences of war are recurrent themes, sometimes treated from an apocalyptic perspective and at other times allegorically: “If the War Continues” and “Empire” are prime examples. Like “The Poet,” “The Fairy Tale of the Wicker Chair,” and “The Painter,” the stories examine various aspects of the artistic life.  The volume concludes with perhaps the best story of all, entitled “Iris,” about the secret life of a very young boy in his garden, how he grows up and away from what was most important to him, eventually attempting to recapture the lost magic of his childhood dreams.

David Frampton woodcut

And as if all this was not enough, the book is charmingly illustrated with 13 woodcuts, including the cover, by David Frampton, which somehow exhibit a classic tone yet have a strangely contemporary feel.

These insightful little tales make for perfect reading during snowbound mid-winter days.  Whether you are a lifelong Hesse fan, interested in fairytales, or looking for something at once meatier yet engaging in a volume of short fiction, this book might be just the ticket.  Who knows, perhaps you too might recapture some of the forgotten magic of an earlier time when a story meant more than a quick read and its resonance might last a lifetime, and beyond.



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My heart is flying to Brazil right now…

… just in time for Carnaval!  While this time of year is celebrated all around the world in various ways, I want to be in Rio de Janeiro so badly that I can taste the feijoada and feel the beat of the samba drum vibrating in my bones.

Beginning tomorrow night and continuing through Tuesday night, a wild, joyful combination of parades, Carnival balls, street parties, and general merrymaking will overtake Rio in the annual celebration that takes place just before Lent, known as Carnival.  According to The Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival & Lent, the country-wide party started with the arrival of the Portuguese in Brazil during the 16th century, when the colonists brought the tradition with them.  Over the centuries, the customs changed, particularly with the addition of African cultural influences following the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, and the development of the samba schools in the 1930s.  Things got seriously organized when they built the Sambadromo in 1984, a half-mile long samba stadium that seats about 70,000 spectators.  There, the elaborate floats, flag bearers, samba dancers, drummers and singers process down the runway, past the judges and the crowd, representing their community and neighborhood through music, dance and prodigiously-costumed spectacle.

A Carnival float - photo by flickr user Marcus Correa

Clearly, I’m not going to make it there in body, but I will get there in spirit, via the library, with these DVDs and CDs from our collection:

  • The Black Music of Brazil:  A documentary that observes the samba schools as they prepare for Carnival, while also looking at other styles of Afro-Brazilian music.
  • Black Orpheus:  This 1959 feature film tells the story of Eurydice and Orpheus, set during Carnival in Rio.
  • Black Rio Vol. 2, Original Samba Soul 1968-1981:  Dance music from the Brazilian soul scene.
  • Dance Today!  Samba and The Samba Reggae Workout:  Learn  to dance two different styles of Brazilian samba from Quenia Ribeiro.  The first is a Rio-style samba – check out the awesomely ridiculous high heels in the performance segments of the DVD.  The second features samba-reggae dance moves.  Samba-reggae is a style not from Rio, but from next year’s destination of my heart:  Bahia.  It’s a combination of Samba and Jamaican Reggae that developed in the 1970s in the city of Salvador.  Don’t be confused by the titles, both are a workout!
  • Brazil, Bahia:  Dance along to more samba-reggae, along with tropicalia and axé, two other styles of Brazilian pop music.
  • Grandes Sambistas:  featuring Velha Guarda da Portela performing sambas by Wilson Moreira, Nelson Sargento, and others.
  • Pure Brazil: Caipirinha: 14 Tracks for Drinking and Dancing:  No post featuring Brazilian music would be complete without some bossa novas, whether or not samba rules the day during Carnival.  Brazilian music has been heavily influenced by jazz, and this CD features many top performers like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso.



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American Life Stories

READ ABOUT IT! American Life Stories is the title of a new book discussion series coming this spring to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-Main. Funded by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, this 4-part series will be held on Tuesday evenings  from 6:30-8:00 pm in the Director’s Conference Room . Titles and dates are:

March 9: The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

March 30: When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

April 20: Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Faroozeh Dumas

Mary 18: Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement by Dennis Banks

We are happy to announce that Dr. Liane Norman Ellison, a local author and poet, will be leading the discussion.


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Top Ten Lies About the Film & Audio Department

It’s time to clear up a few misconceptions about our department.

 1. We don’t buy new movies.

Untrue! We purchase new movies months before they’re commercially released, just like book stores and department stores. Why, earlier this month we purchased 2012 (release date 03/02/10) and Pirate Radio (release date 04/13/10) and there are already hundreds of people waiting for them. That’s the real reason why you never see brand new movies on our shelves – they’re already checked out. 

2. We hide the good stuff from you. 

Robot Chicken

Now that's good stuff.

Nope. We want you to check things out. We really really do! Did you know that our funding is partially based on how many people use the library? Please, take our movies! Take five DVDs and five VHS tapes! And you can have ten CDs while you’re at it. Then add thirty books, and you’ll finally hit the fifty item limit


3. Sasquatch rearranges our shelves so nothing’s ever in order.

When the shelves are out of order, it’s usually because people like to leave things in odd places. So if you don’t want that documentary about whistling, please leave it on a book truck and we’ll reshelve it. It’s cool, we pay people to do this stuff. But we’d still rather you check things out (see #2). 

4. We swipe your requests when they come in so we can watch the new stuff first.

Did you know that most library employees suffer from an overdeveloped sense of justice? If your request isn’t here when you come to pick it up, it’s far more likely to be a computer error or human error than it is a library thief. We just don’t do that. We wait our turn, too. 

5. We only buy the things we like.

Angels & Demons


Of course we buy things we like, but we really want to make sure that there’s something for everyone. For instance, some of us can’t stand Tom Hanks, but a quick search of our catalog will pull up 30+ Tom Hanks films here in the Main library. If you find a hole in our collection or an underrepresented point of view, please let us know.

6. Everything we have is downloadable.

Oh, how we wish this were true. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to make everything available online, though we do have thousands of lovely downloadable audiobooks for you to choose from. 

7. You must be at least six feet tall to work in our department.

While most of our staff is tall and gangly, there is one librarian of average height. We would be delighted to hire shorter staffers, if only they were qualified and we had any openings. 

8. We only keep our VHS collection because we don’t want to spend more money on DVDs.

It's a Gift

We should buy this on DVD.

No way! We absolutely love DVDs. They take up less space on the shelves and they never get tangled up in VCRs. We keep our VHS collection because many old movies have not been released on DVD, and because some of our customers don’t own DVD players. And if you desperately need to watch that movie for school, a VHS copy is better than nothing, right? 


9. We only buy DVDs because we don’t want to spend more money on Blu-Ray discs.

Well, that’s partially true, because movies on Blu-Ray cost a lot more than movies on DVD. But the main reasons are a) DVDs are more durable (library DVDs take a lot of abuse) and b) most of our customers don’t own Blu-Ray players. For now, it makes more sense for us to stick to DVDs. 

10. Librarians think that books are more important than movies.

Untrue! For instance, the movie versions of War and Peace are just as much a part of our cultural record as the book (and they’re a lot handier for the student who has to write a book report this weekend).* And if you had to choose, wouldn’t you rather keep Cosmos than the complete works of Danielle Steel?** We sure would. 

And there you have it; mysteries of the Film & Audio Department revealed. 

*Note: The Film & Audio does not condone or support watching the movie instead of reading the book.

**Note: Yes, Danielle Steel is also a part of our cultural record.

- Amy


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Every Month Could Be Black History Month…

LAV has declared that 2010 is “The Year of the Database.”  This is the first in a series of posts about the extensive suite of electronic resources available to Carnegie Library cardholders.  We hope the resources explored in this series will enrich and enhance your library experience.

Did you know that your library card grants you an all-access, year-round pass to information about black history and culture?  Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh users can read, print, or e-mail materials from The African American Experience, one of the many subscription databases we offer for your recreational and research needs.

Why a subscription database, you ask?  Good question.  The free web does have many credible resources, and it’s getting better all the time.  However, subscription databases contain information a Google search won’t turn up, written and published by companies with high standards for accuracy.  And when you’re trying to learn–especially when you’re pressed for time–do you really want to sacrifice quality for quantity?

Not that The African American Experience skimps on either aspect:  you could spend days browsing the subject headings, which include:

  • Arts and Media
  • Civil Rights
  • Children and Families
  • Literature
  • Religion and Spirituality
  • Slavery
  • War and Military Service
  • Women

The database also bundles information into monthly featured topics like “Jazz Music” and “The Great Migration.”  These spotlight bundles include slideshows, timelines, key works, and links to other resources, so that you can explore a new topic every month with ease.

Other treasures in The African American Experience include:

  • Audio samples of historical African American music
  • Interviews with key historical figures
  • More than 5,000 primary sources, including full-text speeches
  • 4,000+ WPA interviews with former slaves
  • Over 2,500 photographs, illustrations and maps
  • Lesson plans and classroom guides
  • A writing/research skills center for students

The very best part of The African American Experience is, however, the fact that you can use it from any computer that has internet access, provided you have your Carnegie Library card handy.  Whenever possible, we provide 24/7/365 access to our digital resources, so that even when the physical library is closed, you still have access to the very best information.

Think outside the month.  Take a look at The African American Experience and consider making 2010 your own personal Black History Year.

–Leigh Anne

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(Birth)Day of the Dead


Today is the 70th birthday of Pittsburgh’s own “Grandfather of the Zombie,” George A. Romero

To say Romero’s work changed my life would not be an overstatement. As a kid growing up around Scranton, PA, I spent a lot of late Friday and Saturday nights watching horror movies. Two favorites that I watched again and again were Romero’s Night of the Living Deadthe movie that defined the modern zombie—and its incredible sequel, Dawn of the Dead. Little did that young, horror-crazed version of myself know that years later I would (fatefully?) move to Pittsburgh, where Night and Dawn were born, and where I still have nightmares (and daydreams) about zombies.

Shortly after my move a friend took me on my first tour of the Monroeville MallDawn’s arena of zombie mayhem—where I walked around with my mouth agape, finally seeing in person the locations of the film’s important scenes that I had watched so many times before on my television. More recently I was able to visit Night’s Evans City Cemetery, resulting in another jaw dropping experience as I approached the hilly cemetery entrance made famous in the film’s opening scene (shown around 1:24):

I eventually came to strongly appreciate the finale to Romero’s zombie trilogy, Day of the Dead. Though often forgotten in the shadows of Night and DawnDay is arguably the best looking film of the trilogy, and it’s a terrific final (and gory!) statement in the trilogy’s allegorical assessment of the human condition. (Out of respect for Romero’s birthday, I won’t talk about my feelings regarding the post-trilogy Dead films, Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead. Let’s just say that I hope his upcoming Survival of the Dead sees him return to form).

Yes, Romero has made more than zombie films. His filmography includes some of my favorite horror movies of all time, including his creepy Pittsburgh-filmed take on the modern vampire, Martin; his horror comic book inspired Creepshow, which was written by his pal, Stephen King, and had some scenes filmed right up the road at Romero’s alma materCarnegie Mellon University; and the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired Two Evil Eyes, which was co-directed with another horror master, Dario Argento. Yet, for better or worse, Romero will always be most memorable to me—and surely many others share this feeling—as the guy who started me down the road to zombie obsession.

Happy birthday, Master . . . I mean, George!


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On Class

 The deaths of Howard Zinn last week and Studs Terkel in 2009  have drawn me more deeply into my decades’ long  interest in social class, since their respective works, A People’s History of the United States and Hard Times . . . and  Working . . .  (here ,  here, or here ) either allude to or directly address the issue.  

U. S. citizens tend to be individualistic, so it’s not surprising that class and its influences are often downplayed; witness, for example, the success of Horatio Alger and contemporary literature where individual pluck trumps all. 

Yet our very words confirm its existence. Is it conceivable for the average adult in this country to think “creative class” or “low-rent” or “ghetto” or  “underclass” or  “ivy league” or “trailer” or “trash” or “soccer-mom” or “race-car dad” or ??????????? without instantly conjuring up a specific person of specific race, education, income, lifestyle, or even social worth? A number of  materials available at CLP attempt to address this and other questions and issues about class.



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What America Ate

The Food of a Younger LandTonight I will be facilitating Dish! A Foodie Book Club. We will discuss The Food of a Younger Land, edited by Mark Kurlansky. 

This book is a compilation of previously unpublished essays about how Americans cooked, ate, and interacted with food in the period just prior to World War II. This is significant because it’s when refrigeration, transportation, and the manufacture of processed foods became widespread.  These three innovations completely changed the way Americans ate and thought about food.  They were no longer limited to what was local and/or in season.

These essays were the product of the Federal Writers’ Project, which was in turn part of the Works Progress Administration. The federal government created the WPA to provide jobs to the millions of unemployed workers during the Great Depression. I was familiar with various WPA projects: buildings and improvements made to state and national parks, bridges and overpasses here in Pittsburgh, as well as art projects and installations throughout the country. But I was not aware of the Federal Writers’ Project, which employed artists and writers. The FWP had only one significant project prior to the unpublished America Eats project. It was the American Guide Series for each of the United States, modeled on Baedekers guides popular for European travelers. If you are interested in a snapshot of America from that time period, the Library has a collection available in the Reference Department at Main.

But back to tonight’s book . . . For this project, the country is divided into five sections, each containing stories, essays, descriptions, recipes, and even poems, all about local food and customs. In the Northeast section, I enjoyed the description of an “Italian Feed in Vermont” and a list of “New York Soda-Luncheonette Slang and Jargon.”  From the South, I loved reading about the contributions of Eudora Welty and Zora Neale Hurston. In the Middle West section, I was amused by a paragraph on the drinking habits of Kansans. A list of Colorado Superstitions about food from the Far West was fascinating. In the Southwest section, I loved learning that tacos needed an introduction in an article entitled “A Los Angeles Sandwich Called a Taco.”

I found most interesting not how much people from these areas were different, but how much they had in common. They made do with what they had, used every part of every animal, and enjoyed gathering for large feasts and celebrations that revolved around food. Kentucky Oysters, Lamb or Pig Fries, or Oklahoma Prairie Oysters, anyone?

If you are available this evening between 6 – 7 PM, please join us in the Director’s Conference Room on the First Floor.  We’d love to see you there.


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Ashenden Update and Lit Crit Databases

In my last post I detailed my plan to read some Somerset Maugham this year.  I am now about 100 pages into Ashenden, and I am enjoying it very much. From my perspective, it reads a lot like F. Scott Fitzgerald, but maybe without quite so much of the “music” that one hears in Fitzgerald’s prose.

While reading Ashenden, I got curious about what some of the literary criticism on the book was like, so I popped over to our suite of “Lit Crit” databases and did a simple search in Gale’s Literature Resource Center. There were several nice write-ups to choose from. Here’s a small excerpt from one of them that nicely illuminates the titular character:

Ashenden is a cultured and cosmopolitan writer who approaches intelligence work with detachment, a sense of irony, and a talent for careful observation of human beings. He works unobtrusively and efficiently, according to a regular schedule. Ostensibly writing a play, he leaves the manuscript easily in sight of visitors to his room yet carefully avoids putting in writing anything that might suggest his true purpose. He is pleased to be known as a successful novelist and playwright and is flattered when a customs agent who has read his short stories lets his baggage pass uninspected. Although he finds intelligence work inherently dull, he is not bored by his fellow human beings, for they are his “raw material.” Like his chief, R, he prefers knaves to fools. He reveals a touch of snobbery when he gives R his fashionable London address as 36 Chesterfield Street, Mayfair (Maugham’s was 6 Cadogan Street, Mayfair). While he is basically tolerant, he contemplates the deaths of traitors and enemy agents with indifference, and it never occurs to him to be disloyal to his nation or class. Though he often views his fellow human beings with interest and sympathy, he is given to flippancy and ironic asides in response to dullness or clumsy attempts at humor.

Folks who want more insight into  the work of someone  they’re reading about will find a wealth of support in these databases. Not every author will be there, but most of the “heavy-hitters” will be, and more contemporary and less well-known writers than one might think are also represented.


Archer, Stanley. “Ashenden; or, The British Agent and Six Stories Written in the First Person Singular.” W. Somerset Maugham: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993. 39-54. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 208. Detroit: Gale, 39-54. Literature Resource Center. Gale. CARNEGIE LIBRARY OF PITTSBURGH-EIN. 28 Jan. 2010 <;.

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