Monthly Archives: August 2010

Reservoir of Jazz

Jazz performers in Highland Park

Once or twice I’ve written here about Highland Park – either the neighborhood or the park itself,  because where I live and the paths that cross there provide for some quality moments in time.  Every Sunday in August the Highland Park Community Club and Citiparks presents Reservoir of Jazz; a series of free jazz concerts in the park adjacent to Reservoir No. 1, the uncovered one with the walking path around it.  While the concerts start at 5:00, if the weather is good people begin arriving as early as noon, staking out the better parking along the loop in the park and on Highland Ave. By 6:00 we can sit on our porch and enjoy both the aural and visual stimulation.  We get to hear the music and watch the bee like ballet of cars inching up and down Bunker Hill Rd., turning onto our street, backing out, three point turns, all in the vain attempt to find that hidden spot that precludes a 500 yard walk uphill to the park.

Depending on the performance, the music itself is the gamut that is jazz; electric, Dixie, be-bop and swing, or Afro-Caribbean.  Some of it I truly enjoy while others are lost on me.  That doesn’t mean I don’t stay outside to listen and watch.  This is Pittsburgh.  Outside of the neighbors on our block, there are always friends and acquaintances walking or driving up and down Bunker Hill going to the concerts; there’s always someone to say “hi” to.  Perhaps the funniest episodes are the double-takes from library users who pass by.  We have that disconnected moment that happens when you meet people out of context – at the store, while they’re walking to a Sunday jazz performance, or sitting on their porch in sandals and shorts drinking a beer.  “You’re the library guy.”  I think I enjoy these Sunday afternoons more for their social and community value than for the music itself.

I tend to like my jazz slow, dark, smokey and relaxing.  I didn’t go to my senior prom; instead about 6 of us went to a club in NY called Sweet Basils and listened to Ron Carter play bass all night – back when smoking indoors was legal and you could be 18 to get a drink.  My other favorite jazz memories are from late nights in the garage listening to Israel Radio’s equivalent of WDUQ’s “Nightside” program with Tony Mowod.  Me, a fleet of John Deeres and Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins and all was right with the world.  Here are some of my favorites, new and old that sometimes take me back and always leave me content.

  • Last Call at the Balcony.  A mournful mixed set recorded at a Shadyside landmark the last night it was open in 1997.
  • Jazz for a rainy afternoon.  A compilation of 19 pieces by some of the greatest performers of the last 50 years.  It’s what you’d expect and want to hear at 2 am on a rainy November night.
  • Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.  A beautiful warm session of 5 works by Ellington, one by Coltrane and one by Billy Strayhorn recorded in 1962.  It’s musical honey when you hear it.
  • One night with Blue Note preserved.  A two CD set (originally 2 LPs) recorded in 1985.  A veritable Who’s Who of New York’s preeminent jazz men of the day.  A most ambitious effort if you’re new to jazz.

– Richard

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Le Geek, C’est Chic?

Trends are funny things.  When I started high school, for example,  wearing flannel shirts was a sign that you were a) a farmer’s kid, or b) poor enough to be eligible for free lunch.  By the time I graduated, however, grunge music and its attendant fashion codes had become nationwide phenomena; consequently, if you weren’t swathed in flannel on a regular basis, there was simply no help for you, as you were the epitome of “uncool.”

Flash-forward twenty years and another strange switch-up in trends appears to be afoot:  geek chic.  I’m not sure if society has become more tolerant of differences, or if folks just enjoy watching The Big Bang Theory, but these days it really is hip to be squareGamers, computer buffs, and SCA members rejoice:  your day has finally come.

I confess, I’m a little ambivalent about that.  I know I like what I like because I like it, not because it earns me any kind of “points” or “street cred.”  However, I’m also leery of the notion that things are only worth liking if a small, select group of people enjoys them.  In that spirit, therefore, here are a few geek culture samples from the library’s catalog that everyone is welcome to try on for size.

GeekDadGeek Dad, Ken Denmead.  A popular blogger shares a staggering array of fun projects geeky dads can share with their kids.  This former tomboy finds the “boys only” vibe a little uncomfortable, but the projects here — which range from comic strips to space ships to night kites — are so diverse and interesting, it would definitely be worth sharing them with children and adults of all ages and inclinations.

Theater Geek, Mickey Rapkin.  CAPA kids, stage parents and Glee / Fame fans might enjoy this behind-the-scenes peek at one of America’s most prominent theater camps.  Focused, reverent, and extremely serious about the gravitas of “making it” at Stagedoor, Rapkin’s memoir is sure to appeal to those who eat, sleep and breathe drama.

Suck It, Wonder Woman!, Olivia Munn.  The darling of both G4TV and WonderWomanThe Daily Show, Munn offers up geeky-comedic chops in this collection of essays.  From safe sex to robot invasions, nothing escapes Munn’s off-the-cuff observations, and her stories of what it’s like to not quite fit in will resonate with many a person who has occupied that difficult space.  Mostly for current fans, but with potential to attract new ones, Suck It occasionally bites, but doesn’t, er, suck.


Dungeons and Dreamers, Brad King and John Borland.  Meet the men and women of computer gaming in this inclusive biography of a digital era.  You’ll meet — or reconnect with — notable names in gaming history like Richard Carriott,  John Carmack, and Richard Bartle, and learn how Vangie Beal created the first organized women’s gaming network.  Designed to appeal to both those who remember their first MUD as well as those who have no idea what the heck a LAN is, this book is a neat snapshot of a phenomenon that continues to evolve and fascinate a significant chunk of every generation.

I put it to you, constant reader:  are you now, or have you ever been, a geek?  A nerd, maybe?  Do you have fandoms, and if so, what are they?

–Leigh Anne
who fails her sanity rolls on a regular basis, but always knows where her towel is.


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SilverDocs Part 2: A Galaxy Far, Far Away

This is the second in a series of three posts exploring library resources related to documentary films I saw this past June at the SilverDocs Film Festival.  The first highlighted the circus arts, this one journeys to a galaxy far, far away.

The People vs. George Lucas explores the questions of who owns a creative work once it is released into the world, and what obligation the owner has to the fans of the work.  With the release of the original Star Wars in 1977, George Lucas created a dedicated and lifelong fan base (see Star Wars Uncut for a representation of just how remarkably invested Star Wars fans can be).  Then he altered the original, angering many fans and initiating a torrential and varied response.

See a trailer of the documentary here:

One of the essential changes to the film involves a scene in which Han Solo is sitting across from Greedo in the Cantina.  In the original, when Greedo confronts him at the table, Han Solo shoots him and walks away.  In the revised version, Greedo shoots at Han first, misses, and Han shoots him in self-defense.  This seemingly minor change has a big impact on the development of Han’s character.  Is he a selfish smuggler only looking out for himself until he is reluctantly drawn into doing the right thing, or is he honorable from the start?

See another trailer of the documentary, one that touches on this issue specifically,  here:

Following the screening at SilverDocs, the director, Alexandre O. Phillipe, and Dale Pollock, author of the definitive biography of George Lucas, Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas, took the stage for a 45-minute back-and-forth.  Perhaps one of the most interesting, if distressing, topics of conversation revolved around Lucas’s claim that an original negative of Star Wars: A New Hope no longer exists.  This adds to the ire and sense of betrayal of those who were angered by the Cantina scene and other changes he made.  (Interestingly, The People vs. George Lucas reveals that in the 1980s George Lucas testified before Congress in opposition to Ted Turner’s colorization of some classic films such as Casablanca.  He argued that those films were too culturally significant to be altered.)

While you’re waiting for The People vs. George Lucas to become available at the library, why not check out some of our other Star Wars-related materials?  Of course we have the films (live action and animated), along with the series fiction, but there are countless other options including:

  • Fanboys, a film in which four buddies take a road trip to break into Skywalker Ranch and steal a copy of Episode I before it’s released.
  • A Galaxy Far Far Away, a documentary exploring the Star Wars phenomenon.
  • The instantly recognizable John Williams music from the Star Wars movies, in both music score and CD formats.
  • Star Wars inspired cookbooks with recipes such as Boba Fett-uccine.
  • Star Wars memorabilia price guides to assess the value of all your old action figures.
  • Carrie Fisher’s memoir Wishful Drinking, in which she “chronicles [her] all too eventful and by necessity amusing, Leia-laden life” (p. 15).


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Eat More Dirt

I check out many—too many—gardening books. Some row into piles near my library desk, and some I pack home to plant in my dining room. I first borrowed Eat More Dirt: Diverting and Instructive Tips for Growing and Tending an Organic Garden in April. I glanced at a few random pages, and soon covered it with other books. Maybe I expected it to grow and bloom.

I took it home again the other day, began at page one, and by page four I was inspired to action. Out to the garden I went. Then my husband opened it. Excited to tell me what he’d read, he found me pruning a tomato.

The author, Ellen Sandbeck, writes from her heart. She loves her garden:

We love that which we know intimately. No lover ever knew his beloved better than a gardener knows his garden. Learning to love a single small plot of earth is a good start toward learning to be protective of our beautiful little planet.

Sandbeck offers wide-ranging advice, gleaned from working as an organic landscaper and vermicomposting (worm bin) specialist:

  • Your garden can either bring you bliss or drive you insane, and it is within your power to decide which it will do.
  • There are two main principles by which I garden: Do no harm and Garden to please yourself.
  • Gardening is more like a dance than a race. Garden at a slow, steady pace, and you will be able to work all day, and the next. [From the chapter “Gardening As Exercise.”]

Drawing on library research, the author quotes from Mark Twain, Vita Sackville-West, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Joseph Campbell, taking up an alphabet’s worth of topics, from ants—intelligence of to do-it-yourself concrete removal, worm wisdom to Zen Buddhism.

Read Ellen Sandbeck for wise, kind, surprising approaches to gardening. Eat More Dirt deserves its place in the sun.



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Tim Burton: Director Par Excellence

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd

Today is the birthday of film auteur Tim Burton, one the finest directors of “mainstream” movies over the last 20 years.  Mr. Burton has many fans here at the library and you may count me among them.  If it’s been a while since you’ve seen some of Burton’s films, or if you haven’t had a chance to see his latest, Alice in Wonderland, here’s a list of which ones libraries throughout the county have for your enjoyment:

Are there some dogs on this list?  You betcha.  But, as with any great artist, what is a dog for me may be a winner for you. 

Whenever I think of this axiom, I always recall Gary Larson’s comic The Far Side. I remember many a morning looking in the paper and thinking, huh, and my partner laughing hysterically and, of course, vice versa,  a certain sign of true genius if ever there was one.  Hate Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes?  Not me, I thought it was solid.  Love Mars Attacks!? Go soak your head, you must be oxygen deprived.

You get the idea.

Besides Ed Wood (Plan 9, anyone?) and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (“There’s no basement at the Alamo”),  Tim Burton won my heart with his casting of Vincent Price as the Inventor in Edward Scissorhands, one of Burton’s finest films. During the filming Price was suffering from an illness which deprived him of his magnificent voice and would later claim his life, but Burton managed to convey with great dignity what a true treasure of the American cinema Vincent Price was.  The gleam in Price’s eye, his beautiful visage, and alluring smile  make this one of the finest, most moving homages in popular film, as well as just a plain nifty scene in a sophisticated, entertaining movie.

– Don

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what’s the matter, are you chicken?

When I was in eighth grade, my stepdad spotted a chicken on the side of the highway not far from where we lived. We pulled over, and he picked her up and brought her back to the car. He has a special whistle he uses with birds, and so he whistled to her and cuddled her as we drove home. It happened that we had a little pen in the back yard, so we named her Abigail and she lived back there for a few months before something or someone took off with her head. We figured she had at least a little reprieve before her untimely demise, since she was probably on her way to the supermarket shelf when she fell off the truck. Nonetheless, she was a sweet little bird, and had she been able to lay eggs, I would have been even sadder to lose her.

If you think you might like to have chickens in your back yard, we have a variety of resources to check out.  My family’s chicken arrived rather serendipitously, but you might like to choose which breed you want and learn something about chicken care before you start out.  Joining a group of like-minded people might also be helpful, especially in keeping up with local ordinances.

Photo by mazaletel

Aren't they cute?


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Long Live Anarchy: Poets Respond to the Sacco-Vanzetti Case

On August 23, 1927, the state of Massachustetts executed Italian immigrants and anarchists Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti for the alleged robbery-murder of a shoe factory paymaster and a security guard. Their deaths concluded one of the most scandalous and sensationalized legal battles in U.S. history. Sacco’s last words were “Long live anarchy.” Sacco’s and Vanzetti’s execution “elicited mass-protests in New York, London, Amsterdam and Tokyo, worker walk-outs across South America, and riots in Paris, Geneva, Germany and Johannesburg” and sparked numerous ideological debates all over the world. As with many high-profile events, numerous artists and poets have memorialized Sacco and Vanzetti’s story.

These poems are some examples of writers’ responses to the event.



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Old school librarians didn’t need Google.

My predecessors, who worked here in the days before the internet,  were avid collectors of clippings and filers of facts. Anything that they thought would be useful was either copied down or pasted onto an index card and filed away for the ages – or in this case, until I got my hands on it.  

Somehow (it’s a long story) I ended up keeping the “death” section of our old quotation files. Here are a few examples, for your amusement.  

This is the oldest card in my collection, from January 1, 1922.

One of the newest cards, from February 22, 1965. It's typewritten, too! We still keep a few typewriters in the library, just in case.

You might note that the 1965 card refers to the “Mounted Poetry Collection.” Yes, our librarians typed or copied oft-requested poems and mounted them on sheets of cardboard that were lovingly crammed into filing cabinets. I used the collection myself, back in the day – I started working here in 1999 (when the internet was not so useful), so we still dug into the quotation and poetry files fairly often.  

A nice handwriting sample from 1931. Note the double underline under the author's last name - that's the way librarians roll.

Another handwriting sample, date unknown, but probably from the 30s or 40s. We still have hymnals by this author, but not this particular book. Alas.

They’re still legible, because these long-retired librarians were taught to write in Library Hand. I’m so glad that I’m allowed to type nearly everything, as good old Melvil Dewey would find my handwriting deeply offensive.  

Lousy poem, but a nice card. And it mentions Pittsburgh!

This last card is a wonderful combination of handwriting and clipping, plus it features a special “NEW YORK TIMES” stamp. And if you really really want to read more of that lousy poetry, my excellent coworker Don suggests checking out The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll – though I can tell you by looking at the circulation statistics that it’s not very popular. Oh, well. 

There you have it, a little more library history preserved for the ages.  

– Amy, who keeps writing about things other than Film & Audio


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How to be Happy While Single

Tucked away in our circulating Dewey collection is one of my very favorite old library books, Jean Van Evera’s 1949 gem of manners, etiquette, and relationship advice, How to be Happy While Single.

It’s full of information on everything from choosing an apartment to mending a broken heart, and  while some of the advice is very dated, most of it is either quite liberal (for its day) or just plain hilarious. Here are a few delightful quotes to pique your interest.

On the importance of telephones: (A man) can always go to the corner drugstore to make his calls but a girl can hardly drop in her nickel, call everyone she knows, and say: “I was wondering if you’ve been trying to reach me to take me to the Persian Room for dinner,” or, “Were you planning to invite me to the Peninsula for the weekend?” (p. 29)

On drinking: The girl who gets good and looped but rarely, will find her friends and associates tolerant, sympathetic, amused, maternal and paternal, but if she makes a practice of it, her social life will peter out. Or else she will find it is carried on in strange places with very strange people.  (p. 74)

On when to call: You don’t call a man at his office unless you have something specific, brief, and impersonal to say. Frequently he is unable to converse privately, or he may have a suspicion that his secretary has not replaced her extension phone. (p. 88)

On affairs: The idea of an affair looks good on paper, like those pension plans which pay everybody $200 a month. But sex pour le sport does not work out well for a woman. If she can get by unharmed, she is very strong-minded, very callous, or possibly, in good practice. (p. 128)

On reading: Not so long ago, as time is measured, reading was considered a useless feminine accomplishment. Even today there exists among many women the mistaken notion that merely knowing words, sentences and paragraphs means that they know how to read. (p. 145)

And remember, even though it’s hidden on the eighth stack, How to be Happy While Single is a circulating book – so request it, check it out, and enjoy!

– Amy


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Ode to August 18th

August 18th is Bad Poetry Day. In honor of that fact, I’ve written a bad poem about today.


Oh, August 18th, you wretched day —
Stuck in the middle of endless summer,
Fall leaves and winter snow delayed;
How can I not think you a bummer?

But if blogging on this day must be done,
How about a little trivia, just for fun?
Know that Roberto Clemente was born today in 1934,
He played with the Pirates back when they could score.

It’s a big day for women, don’t forget:
Ninety years ago today they gained the vote
With a ratified 19th amendment.
(That’s certainly good reason to gloat.)

Today’s the day, too, for family planning,
As fifty years ago today first was sold —
All controversy notwithstanding —
The first birth control pill, Enovid, I’m told.

And let us remember Woodstock,
That most singular of events:
Ended today in ’69 three days of rock,
And lots of mud in hippies’ tents.

Comments will only be accepted in the form of bad poetry.



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