Monthly Archives: May 2010

Inglourious Basterds

Enough time has passed by now that I shouldn’t be ruining the storyline to Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s dual-purpose war movie.  While giving a sidelong glance at the “Final Solution” through the lens of improbable kitsch, the movie also pays homage — on several levels — to Hollywood types and genres.  The frequently-recited premise of the film is that it’s about a group of behind-the-lines Jewish GIs (led by part Apache, part good-old-boy Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raines) exacting murderous revenge on the Germans.  Before its release there was even a hint of the film being based on factual events.

First and foremost, this is a Tarantino film:  think Kill Bill (either one) without the leggy blonde, or Pulp Fiction without the Ezekiel-quoting Samuel L. Jackson character (my personal favorite). Just so you can suspend disbelief a little more than you otherwise might, the story is supposed to bring together the Fuhrer, his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, and a host of other prominent Nazis at a film premiere in a Paris cinema, where they could be killed by Pitt and his Kosher Commandos.  The theater itself is owned and operated by a young Jewish woman — Shosanna Dreyfus — who escaped being murdered with the rest of her family underneath a French farmhouse in the film’s opening chapter.  In the tradition of  Lee Marvin’sC’mon, Jiminez, move it!“, this film’s tagline would be S.S. Colonel Hans Landa’s breezy “Au revoir, Shosanna” as she runs from the farmhouse where her family had been hiding (Landa is a special kind of guy).

When asked what I thought of the film, I had two responses:  one very shallow and reflexive, the other a little more subjective and thoughtful.  Reflexively I liked it, despite my objections to characterizations and historical accuracy — a little knowledge can be dangerous.  It was entertaining, and I have to admit it appealed (for all the wrong reasons) to my own immature and and sometimes unsophisticated emotional requirements.  I happen to like Tarentino films and this one had the added bonus of severe whoop-ass on Nazis, Brad Pitt tripping on his overdone backwoods accent, and a skinning knife the size of Montana.

So that’s the dollar review.  Over time, other thoughts and meanings became clearer.  There’s the obvious homage to Robert Aldrich’s 1967 masterpiece, The Dirty Dozen — obvious to me, anyway; maybe it’s a Boomer thing.  Some of the parallels jump right out, while others are more subtle.  Both groups are deep behind enemy lines, and rely on enemy uniforms in the tried and true “you will be shot as spies if caught” formula to prolong tension.  Raines’s Jews aren’t misfits in the way the Dozen are, but they might be more certifiably psychotic because they’re so otherwise normal.  Would I rather share a taxi with Eli Roth’s “Bear Jew” (whacks Nazis to death with a bat on command) or Clint Walker’s oversized Dozen character, Sampson Posey?  At least Posey killed his victim in a bar fight by accident, without malice.  Having said that, Tarrantino’s Basterds dont have a Maggot  (Telly Savalas’s scripture-quoting social outcast) to make you appreciate how normal the rest of us are.

If a movie can inspire a degree of serious thought, then this one did bring out an unhappy or unpleasant one:  the primacy of and/or fascination with evil.  When I left the theater I started thinking back to Schindler’s List, which is based on Thomas Keneally’s novel (originally titled Schindler’s Ark).

You might be asking yourself why I’d think that — the two movies are like night and day in their premise and execution, and one is pure fantasy.  But here’s the thing:  I hardly remember Liam Neeson’s Oskar Schindler or the Yitzhak Stern character played by Ben Kingsley. In Schindler I was consumed by the malevolent, extroverted charm of Capt. Amon Goeth, as performed by Ralph Fiennes. In Basterds, Tarantino’s Landa affected me the same way. Whether historic (Goeth) or fictional (Landa), evil draws us in.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How does your garden grow?

Each year when springtime rolls around I think about putting in a garden, but somehow every year I find myself so busy that my garden doesn’t materialize.  This spring was no exception, but rather than wait another year to put in the raised beds I’m dreaming of, I decided to try my hand at some container gardening.  Container gardening is fairly simple, but if you’re the type of person who likes to read up on things before starting something (like me!), a few guides on what to do can be helpful.  Here are a few books that I found particularly useful:

A Little Piece of Earth: How to Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces, by Maria Finn Dominguez

From Container to Kitchen: Growing Fruits and Vegetables in Pots, by D.J. Herda

Container Gardening: 250 Design Ideas & Step-by-Step Techniques, by editors and contributors of Fine Gardening

Fresh Food From Small Spaces: The Square Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting, by R.J. Ruppenthal

Click here for even more books on container gardening.  And just because my gardening ambitions for the year have been scaled back, doesn’t mean it’s too late to build a raised bed or plant a backyard garden!  Have a look at some of our books, videos, and other resources on gardening for more ideas. 



Filed under Uncategorized

A View from the Moon

I’m guessing that your childhood dream of growing up to be an astronaut never came true–or maybe it did. What do I know? Even if you don’t get the opportunity to launch shuttles into outer space, explore the vastness of the universe or experience zero gravity, you can still have a chance at being a lunar scientists. How?! What?! Yes. A lunar scientist, it’s true.

Moon Zoo, a project designed by NASA, is an interactive tool with high-resolution images of the moon for moon enthusiasts and astronomy admirers alike to pore over and over and over. Your well-trained eye can help NASA see the moon in unparalleled detail by identifying unseen craters, interesting features, odd details and perhaps  abandoned astronaut accoutrements! Read more! 

– Lisa


Filed under Uncategorized

We’re saving a seat for you.

Time is running out for you to use this:

Photo courtesy of HughShows.

What is this twine-wrapped stereo with sheets of comments next to it?  It is the listening station for DJ Responsibility’s FORMALISM, a project by all-around town, genre-defying musician David Bernabo.  The library’s FORMALISM project is well documented at the HughShows blog and in previous Eleventh Stack posts here and here.

Next month, after the twine is unwrapped and the sign is taken down, the 19 minute FORMALISM disc will go into the Music Department’s collection where we keep thousands of local recordings including other David Bernabo projects and bands.  But why not come in soon and sit down for a spell and be entranced by listening to the only available copy of an album?  It’s not on your friend’s iPod, it’s not piping in through the speakers at the mall, and it’s not floating around the Web.  It’s only in your ears when you’re sitting in a wooden chair in the library.  And perhaps it will stay in your mind long after.

— Tim

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Batting Order of Books About Baseball

The Chosen by Chaim Potok
In 1940s Brooklyn, New York, a deep friendship is born after two teenagers face each other on the baseball field. A novel as powerful and tender as when it was published in 1967.


Batting Second
Branch Rickey in Pittsburgh: Baseball’s Trailblazing General Manager for the Pirates, 1950-1955 by Andrew O’Toole
Responsible for the minor league farm system and racial integreation of professional baseball, Rickey began with a losing Pirate team tagged “Rickey’s Rinky Dinks,” then set the table for the Bucs’ 1960 world championship.


Third Hitter
My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer
Poems by a lover of baseball, possessed of lyricism and biting wit. “Poets think they are pitchers, but they are really catchers.”



 Batting Cleanup
Take Me Out to the Ball Game: The Story of the Sensational Baseball Song by Amy Whorf McGuiggan
Written in 1908, baseball’s anthem was a hit in its day, but we sing it today because of a 1970s marketing venture. Here’s the whole story.



In the Five Hole
We Had ‘Em All the Way: Bob Prince and His Pittsburgh Pirates by Jim O’Brien
Bob Prince, The Voice of the Pirates from 1948-1975, is remembered as a colorful, controversial character. Known as “The Gunner,” he was beloved for his “Gunnerisms,” including “The Great Green Weenie has done it again!”




  Batting Sixth
Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo
Hugo’s baseball poems include “From Altitude, the Diamonds,” “Missoula Softball Tournament,” “Letter to Mantsch from Havre.”



 Hitting Seventh
The Great American Novel by Philip Roth
This mock history of baseball ranks as a comic masterpiece.




  In the Eighth Spot
Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
Mark Harris serves up great fiction—a poignant tale  of friendship set against the backdrop of baseball.



Batting Ninth
Kiss It Good-Bye: The Mystery, the Mormon, and the Moral of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates by John Moody
As an awestruck six-year-old, the author’s first hero was Vernon Law, a moundsman for the world champion Pirates in 1960, and the subject of this memoir/history.




Filed under Uncategorized

Gerald Stern Leads a Lucky Life

It is not often that a feature length motion picture is based on a poem.  Thinking about this, in a different context, I once put together a partial list of movies based poems and it looked like this:

The Bells
Casey at the Bat
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Gunga Din
The Man from Snowy River
The Odyssey
Old Ironsides
The Raven
The Set-Up
The White Cliffs of Dover
Wild Party

Recently, I found a couple of late additions:

El Cid

Beyond these classic titles, there have been other movies based on the lives of poets (SylviaIl PostinoBarfly, ByronTom & Viv, Before Night Falls, Stevie, Tales of Ordinary Madness, and Omar Khayyam come to mind), and now there is a new 2010 film, Lucky Life, based on a poem of the same name by the poet, Gerald Stern, and directed by Lee Isaac Chung. As you might imagine, its release is extremely limited and whether it will ever play in Stern’s birthplace, Pittsburgh, is open to conjecture. One can only hope.

If you’ve never experienced the poetry of native son Stern, you are missing out on something very special, indeed. It is at once down to earth and ecstatic, full of great joy and great sorrow, compassionate and soulful, intense and lyrical, imaginative and celebratory.  If you think you might like a brief, insightful introduction to his work while discussing 3 of his wonderful poems, consider attending our next meeting of the 3 Poems by … Poetry Discussion group, when Gerald Stern’s work will be the center of attention. We will meet Thursday, June 10th, at 7:30 in Museum Classroom A. 

“Lucky Life,” the poem, is bit too long to quote here, but you may read it online or the old-fashioned way.  To give you a taste of the man and his work, here is a short, lyrical poem that at once captures his passion, feeling, and sorrow, all precisely pinned to a particular moment in time, in a particular place, and concerning a particular person.

June Fourth
Today as I ride down Twenty-fifth Street I smell honeysuckle
rising from Shell and Victor Balata and K-Diner.
The goddess of sweet memory is there
staggering over fruit and drinking old blossoms.
A man in white socks and a blue T-shirt
is sitting on the grass outside Bethlehem Steel
eating lunch and dreaming.
Before he walks back inside he will be changed.
He will remember when he stands again under the dirty windows
a moment of great misgiving and puzzlement
just before sweetness ruined him and thinking
tore him apart.  He will remember lying
on his left elbow studying the sky,
and the loss he felt, and the sudden freedom,
the mixture of pain and pleasure – terror and hope –
what he calls “honeysuckle.”

Gerald Stern

I must admit that, though no native son myself, I am an unabashed fan of Gerald Stern. (Disclaimer: though born and raised in Pittsburgh, Stern went on to become the first State Poet of NJ; there were only two, but that’s another story.) Though he’s received a great deal of recognition, still I think it is nowhere near what he deserves. Would I call him one of the best American poets of the later half of the twentieth century? Absolutely. Would a great many, more knowledgeable folks disagree vociferously? No doubt.

Yet, if poetry isn’t the speaking of one heart to another, what is it?

And, for the record, Gerald Stern speaks to me.

– Don

P.S. Wonder if there are any more movies based on poems that could be added to the above list?    Wikipedia has a few suggestions that I’ve yet to confirm.  Perhaps that’s the subject of a future post.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Creating your world

A friend recently asked me for decorating advice, perhaps not quite realizing how seriously I take the subject.  As I walked through their house, noting the appalling wallpaper and the flesh-toned vertical blinds, I wondered where to begin!  My friend had no idea, either where to start or even that the wallpaper and vertical blinds were that bad. 

As always, the place to begin is at the library.  Decorative choices are a matter of opinion.  My apartment has every color of the rainbow in it – for me it’s energizing and joyful, for others, it feels like a nursery school.  But when I was designing my personal space, I looked through many, many decorating books and magazines here at the library and gave a lot of thought to how I wanted it to feel.  As I did so, I began to realize what mattered most to me when it came to creating the feeling that I want to have when I am in my own home.

I can’t list all the resources I used in that process – there are just too many.  I highly recommend a trip to the Main Library just to go through as many of the books and magazines as you can!  However, I do have some titles to tell you about, just to get you started. 

Probably the simplest way to make a space feel different is to paint.  Do you want to feel uplifted? Calm? Protected?  Take a look at The Color Scheme Bible or The Color Palette Primer, both of which offer pages and pages of color combinations.  See how you respond as you look through them.  Remember two things:  painting is fun when you make it a party, and it’s easily changeable, just have another party!

The Color Bible  The Color Palette Primer

Getting a feel for your own style is also important.  Perhaps you grew up surrounded by lace curtains and antique furniture.  You know that floral wallpaper gives you scary flashbacks, but you don’t know what the other options are.  Paging through The Home Styling Sourcebook or Home Therapy will help you know what else is out there, how it looks, and whether it inspires happiness or the heebie jeebies.

The Home Styling Sourcebook  Home Therapy

Some basic introductions to home decorating can help break down the different areas you can focus on if you’re overwhelmed by all the different things you might like to change in your space.  I so agree with the title of Ty Pennington’s book, Good Design Can Change Your Life; and anyone can use The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Decorating Your Home, even if you’re not an idiot.

 The Complete Idiot's Guide to Decorating Your Home  House of Belief

Saving my absolute favorites for last, no discussion of decorating that I’m a part of is complete without a mention of Tricia Guild.  Part of my quest to make the world more colorful is to recommend Tricia Guild on Color to everyone.  Finally, another decorating heroine of mine is Kelee Katillac, author of House of Belief: Creating Your Personal Style.  Katillac takes a fairly deep approach to design by using a variety of exercises to explore what you value in your life, then helps you translate that into creations and spaces that reflect your values, your dreams, and your spirit.  With a home like that, how could you go wrong?



Filed under Uncategorized

The Beautiful Rent Girl Sister Spit Without a Net

Recently, I was lucky to catch the poetry and spoken word tour Sister Spit, an LGBTQ-oriented, “rotating crew of female-centric performers, writers and artists across the United States,” that stages “cabaret-style shows in The beautiful : collected poems / Michelle Tea.universities, bars, discos, art galleries, indie bookstores and community spaces everywhere.”

While I wasn’t familiar with most of the writers beforehand, I especially enjoyed the graphic novel readings (yes, you heard right) from Nicole J. Georges and Elisha Lim, the powerful poetry of  Lenelle Moïse, and the overall humor and fun of the evening: PowerPoint! An advice segment! Audience participation! Keep Valencia / Michelle eye out for some of these touring terrors’ books on a library shelf near you–they were too good not to share. Even better than discovering so many new writers to follow, Sister Spit’s lineup also included one of my favorite authors, Michelle Tea, who founded Sister Spit.The Chelsea whistle / Michelle Tea.

With so much to read, I rarely revisit the same author, but Michelle Tea is kind of irresistible. I’ve made time to read several of her books, including her poetry collection The Beautiful and her illustrated novel Rent Girl, and I plan to come back for more. Will it be her novel Valencia or her memoir The Chelsea Whistle?

Without a net : the female experience of growing up working class / edited by Michelle Tea.Michelle Tea’s own writing celebrates honesty and wildness, and her skills as a selecting editor are equally vivacious. In the anthologies she edits, each piece segues gracefully to the next through common style or subject matter, and the pace rarely drags or stutters. One of her anthologies is Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class, whose moments of young women surviving and navigating childhood vary from heart-breaking to hilarious, but always remain poignant and immediate. The Baby remember my name : an anthology of new queer girl writing / edited by Michelle Tea.contributors to another Tea anthology, Baby Remember My Name: An Anthology of New Queer Girl Writing seethe with exuberance whether their essays, stories and comics depict a poor trailer park resident’s birthday, an acid trip in San Francisco, or a gender-bending six-year-old on a bike.

If you are a fan of  queer-friendly, class-conscious, feminist, real, personal, feisty fiction and memoir writing, you’ll love Michelle Tea and the writers she publishes and tours with. Start reading, and maybe, if Pittsburgh is lucky enough to warrant another Sister Spit tour stop, you can listen for yourself next year!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


Tired of watching internet videos of skateboard accidents on your smartphone? Looking for something a little more educational? Check out our massive new collection of super awesome* downloadable PBS videos, now available to us through OverDrive. There are 538 different titles to choose from (or from which to choose, if you prefer), and at approximately one hour each, that’s more than three weeks of solid public television goodness.

Here are some of the super awesome things that I found when I did an advanced search and chose PBS as the publisher (from that super awesome list of 49 publishers):


  • If you think Ian McKellen is good as Magneto, be sure to check him out as King Lear.
  • The Secrets of the Dead series is full of crazy things, like this documentary about the mysteries of female East German Olympic athletes. (We have more of this series on DVD, mainly because I’m in charge of buying nonfiction and I think they’re interesting.)
  • If you’ve ever wanted to learn way too much about life on an aircraft carrier but just can’t bring yourself to join the navy, try the series Carrier.


And just so you remember, OverDrive videos only work on Windows based computers and Windows compatible smart phones. Be sure to check out OverDrive’s FAQ page for more details.

– Amy

*apologies to Julie.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Locus Pocus!

Rumors of my doing cartwheels in the foyer are nothing but lies, and sensible persons should disregard them.  I will confess, however, that I’m super-excited about the 2010 Locus Awards finalist list, because there are some darned spiffy books on it.

It’s hard to predict the winners when everything nominated is of such high quality.  I have, however, favorites in each full-length fiction category that I’m definitely rooting for.

Here are the titles I’m hoping will bring home the prizes:

Best Science Fiction Novel: Boneshaker, Cherie Priest.  Many people say being a mom Boneshakeris the toughest job on earth.  When you factor in protecting your son from zombies, toxic gas, and a mad scientist who may or may not be his father, the job becomes exponentially more difficult.   “Steampunk” is an overused word these days, but in this case, if the goggles fit, strap ’em on!  An excellent specimen of the sub-genre.

Best Fantasy Novel: Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett.  Thirty- seven novels into the Discworld saga, and Pratchett hasn’t exhausted his supply of tales regarding the mythical city of Ankh-Morpork?  For that alone he’s clearly winning material.  Never one to rest on his laurels, fantasy’s reigning king of snark delivers another pointy satire, this time focusing his razor-sharp wit on politics, academe, and sports.  Painfully funny.

Best First Novel: Soulless, Gail Carriger.  It’s really simple:  if you can  write a 19th-century urban paranormal romantic comedy of errors, you deserve to win whatever prizes exist.  Especially when your quirky heroine’s most interesting quirk — she has no soul — is refreshingly original.  First in the Parasol Protectorate series, Carriger’s novel redecorates the Victorian novel with wit and verve.

Best Young Adult Novel: Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins.  I hesitate  to praise this novel any more than I already have, lest you grow sick of it.  And yet, there’s nothing more thrilling than watching Katniss Everdeen fight a corrupt government.  Seriously.

Best Novella: The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, Kage Baker.  The most exclusive brothel in Whitehall is actually an intelligence-gathering ring for a clandestine organization.  You’ve got to love a spy novel that turns the tables on an era by giving the derring-do and techno-gizmos to the ladies, who succeed precisely because of their low/underrated societal status.  Bonus points for the madam with mechanical eye implants.  Juicy, risqué fun.

Best Anthology: Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance, George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, eds.  This loving tribute to one of the best authors ever — Vance’s genius both illuminates and transcends his genre choices — contains short stories from various authors, including luminaries like Matthew Hughes and Neil Gaiman.  Set in the universe of Vance’s classic Dying Earth saga, these tales made me weep with pure pleasure, and resolve to buy my own copy, something I never, ever do.  But this is genius, and must eventually be owned.  Try it for free here first.

My “Victoriana or bust” tendencies  indicate that I’m highly biased, which is why I’ve not been asked to serve on any book awards committees (and rightfully so, I might add).  Which of this year’s nominees are your favorites?  Whom are you rooting for?  And if you don’t read sci-fi or fantasy, how can I change your mind?

Tune in towards the end of June,when the Locus awards are handed out.  And if you stop by the library between now and then, be careful while crossing the foyer, just in case the waiting drives me crazy, and I change my mind about those cartwheels.

–Leigh Anne

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized