Monthly Archives: December 2010

This Year’s Best Fiction, Available Now

This is the time of year that everyone and their sister-in-law comes out with a Best of … list (see my colleague Renée’s post two days ago).   Probably the best known, if not most prestigious, is the New York Times 100 Notable Books.

So, are you looking for a well-reviewed, recommended fiction title, one of this year’s best?  Didn’t get that fiction title, or any fiction title, you’d hope to be getting for the holidays and now you’d like a good novel, something to really sink you teeth into?  Don’t feel like going through the Notable Books of 2010 list, title by title, toggling back and forth to see if anything you are interested in is in the library?

Not to worry – we did it for you.  Below is a list of the fiction titles from the Notable Books of 2010 list that are currently in at a local library, just waiting for you to reserve and start reading immediately:

None of the titles on this list has any reserves on it currently.  A handful of them have only one or two copies, so if you see something you like, jump on it;  just like the after holidays sales at the mall, the good stuff flies off the shelf.

I’ve got my eye on one or two of these myself.

From all the staff here at Eleventh Stack, we wish you a happy and healthy New Year, hopefully with plenty of good reading, viewing, and listening to come, courtesy of your local public library.

– Don

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9 more days…

… until we kick off the Winter Read-a-Thon!

What is the Winter Read-a-Thon, you ask?  The Winter Read-a-Thon is like a walk-a-thon, but instead of walking on one day in the summer, you raise money for the collections at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh by reading as much as you can for six weeks of winter! Register in person or drop off your online registration confirmation and $5 registration fee, and get your pledge packet and a handy, dandy bookmark clock. 

Your handy, dandy bookmark clock

Get your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors to pledge you — they can pledge by the hour, or a single amount for the whole six weeks. Then you read, read, read between January 8th and February 19th. If you get hourly pledges, keep track of how much time you spend reading, and collect your pledges when the reading period is over. Turn them in by March 7 and collect a prize! You may even qualify for your own, customized READ poster!

Where do you begin?  At one of our kick-off parties, going on all around the city. At the Main Library, you can come to hear four different authors read from their work, curl up and read in one of our comfy reading chairs, talk to other readers, enjoy a cup of cocoa and win cool prizes! Or you can head to Beechview, Squirrel Hill, Mt. Washington, the Hill District, Woods Run, or West End to join in the city-wide community “Read In.”  Can’t make it on the 8th? Head to Lawrenceville on the 15th, or attend one of these other events.  This reading celebration goes on for 6 whole weeks!

Any time you come to a reading event or a book discussion, it counts as reading, as does reading blogs, newspapers and magazines, reading to your kids or grandkids, and listening to audiobooks. Don’t know what to read?  Our librarians can give you a personal recommendation, or you can browse our many lists of suggestions!

Really, it’s the easiest, and coziest, fundraiser ever, and all the money you raise helps us buy more books and other reading materials for you! How else would you rather spend these dark, cold winter months?

– Kaarin


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Best Best of 2010 List of 2010

Year-end “Best of” lists are a staple of blogs, newspapers and magazines. The trouble is, they become repetitive. After reading three or four Best Films of 2010 lists or Best Books of 2010 lists, I usually see the same artists again and again. Well, this list is not going to conform! You won’t see Joanna Newsom or Jonathan Franzen anywhere here. This is my own personal Best Things of 2010 list, consulting the primary critic and authority on what I like: me. You won’t find another list like this anywhere else, because no one else is making lists of what I did this year. (Insert Santa joke here.)

10. Best Dish to Bake: QuicheQuiches and savory tarts

After cooking for years without an oven, the grocery store is a whole new world to me now that I finally have one. Ovens are magical. And quiche is so easy to make! Who knew?

9. Best Intimidating Home Improvement Project: Refinishing Wood Floors

It turns out that running a four disc orbital sander isn’t nearly as tricky if your friend who knows how to use it does it for you. If you don’t have a friend like that, check with This Old House magazine for instructions and inspiration for all sorts of fixer-upper jobs.

8. Best Pop Star I Previously Disliked Just Because She Is a Pop Star: Nicki Minaj

She outdoes every big name hip hop artist she raps alongside. She boasts the attitude of M.I.A. and the outrageous fashion sense of Lady Gaga. What can I say? I was wrong.

7. Best Internet Cat Humor: Seventeen Things Worth Knowing About Your Cat by The Oatmeal

This comic narrowly won out over the video below because of the expression on the face of the cat unimpressed by the cupcake and because it includes the fact that squirrels also purr.

6. Best Human Use of Feathers: Kanye West’s “Runaway

Kanye West’s new album earned the number one slot on numerous Best Album of the Year lists, but these critics are overlooking his biggest accomplishment: co-starring in a music video with a seriously fabulous phoenix woman (via brilliant costume design by Martin Izquierdo).

5. Best Previously Underrated Vegetable: Kale

This year I learned to love this hearty, bitter leaf in all its forms, including raw, Ethiopian and as a chip.

4. Best Incident of Climate Change Chaos: Snowpocalypse blizzard 2010 - morningside under snow

In February, a blizzard buried Pittsburgh in two feet of snow. The best part about this catastrophic weather? It stranded my visiting friend, so we got to hang out for an extra four days. Thanks, nature!

3. Best Weird Fact About International Communications Infrastructure: Undersea Cables Exist

This fact about the communications grid is especially resonant for me because my sister is in Australia. Now I know how the signal travels from my phone to the operator with the Australian accent. You might have already heard about these cables from the 2008 news story about a ship whose anchor accidentally damaged one, cutting off Internet access to millions of people in the Middle East and India. I discovered them while reading one of the WikiLeaks news stories.

2. Best Reason I’m Glad I Moved Near Millvale: Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery

The master baker of this little Millvale bakery creates the absolute best baguettes, truffles, croissants, cookies and cupcakes (sorry, cats, I remain impressed),  and it’s only minutes from my new house. How do you say “perfect” in French?

1. Most Dearly Departed Celebrity: Don Van Vliet

Don Van Vliet gave the world the gift of  truly odd music. Albums like Trout Mask Replica and Safe as Milk blend his gravelly vocals and surreal, associative lyrics with experimental rock groove. Rest in peace, Captain Beefheart.

 0. Book I Most Likely Recommended to You in 2010: The Ticking Is the Bomb by Nick Flynn

Proving again his ability to wield prose as well as unparalleled poetry, Flynn crafted the year’s most haunting, anti-heroic, heartfelt memoir and combined musings on torture with reflections on love and fatherhood. If I haven’t told you to read it yet, I’m telling you now.


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“TV rots your brains!”

“TV rots your brains!” Right? At least that’s what my grandma would yell at me whenever I was knee-deep in it with the Duke boys, waiting to see how they’d get out of whatever pickle they had found a way into that week. Did your parents say it? Your teachers? Television has long since had a reputation of being associated with the lazy. The more you watch, the dumber you get.

Well, I’d only say that is partly true. Yes, TV does make you dumb. And yes,  TV does make you lazy. But, I’d like to think that TV isn’t responsible for the full on drain of the brainpower. I blame commercials. COMMERCIALS. They are the bane of all of our existences. It’s why I don’t really ever watch network television. I can’t deal with them. The same five things played over and over every couple of minutes.

Over the past couple years, networks have wised up and started selling seasons of television shows on DVD. They are amazing. You get a season’s worth of television, usually around 25 weeks worth, and you get to blast through it in however much time you want to. For me, usually a week is enough. It’s amazing.

The story is completely uninterrupted by either commercials or pesky breaks while waiting a week for the next episode. For the average consumer, let’s say me for example, the price tag on a recently released television season is a bit steep. As much as I needed to find out what happened in the latest season of Lost, I still wasn’t going to drop fifty dollars to find out.

That’s where the library comes in. I just hopped on the waiting list and, in a couple of months, was able to watch it. I did the whole season in about three days. I couldn’t help it. You try to watch just one episode of Lost when you know that there are tons of episodes and answers (yeah right) waiting after it. It’s impossible. The only real problem to using the library to get your TV fix is that sometimes you have to wait a bit for the newest titles. Fortunately, there are tons in the collection that have zero wait time.

Television’s real power comes from its ability to develop characters. A typical television season can be ten times longer than a movie. Within that time, there are so many opportunities to tell all the little stories of the characters’ lives that fuel the overall story arc of a season. The story can get sidetracked and backtracked. It has time to breathe and come alive. You spend more time with the characters and the story and before you know it, you feel as though you’ve become part of the show itself. At least, that’s if it’s done right.

HBO’s John from Cincinnati is a great example. Actually, the show did it so right that it got itself cancelled after just one season. Sometimes it’s like that. Just ask the creators of Arrested Development. But, at ten episodes/hours long, JFC gets done what it needs to get done and does so almost flawlessly. I can’t stress enough how much you need to see this, but I will warn you that it’s weird. Really weird. And kind of awkward with some uncomfortable family issues mixed in. I’ve never seen a story with the elements that they were brave enough to combine.

John from Cincinnati tells the tale of the Yosts, a once great surfer family who squandered it all and how their lives are changed by a strange man. I don’t want to say too much about the actual story because I would rather you just go and watch it. I heard that David Milch had created it and picked it up not knowing anything else. But, I will say that you get to see Ed O’Neill talk to a bird throughout the show. Like I said, it’s pretty strange.

By the end of it all, I found myself so immersed in the Yost family story that I had that feeling I get after saying goodbye to a distant friend or family member, driving away knowing that we won’t see each other again for a very long time.

– Christopher

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Another year is soon coming to an end, and with that comes my New Year’s resolutions (subject to change or not be resolved):

Run more, eat better.

After time spent reading about the ills of eating some foods, I am knowledgable, although not entirely convinced that such an extreme approach is for me. However, I have less of an excuse to be picky about what goes into my body, and how I use that energy. Also, it works for Murakami.

Watch more Nicolas Cage films.

I am serious. Cage is the single most interesting actor alive, and he seemingly doesn’t turn down a role – it makes him both fascinating and impossible to keep up with. A true National Treasure . (Sorry, I had to. Really.)

Read a classic.
I am guilty of not putting enough of these down in my time reading – I am guilty of being too contemporary. One way to tackle this is to promise yourself at least one classic a year. This year for me was Don Quixote (full disclosure: it remains unfinished). Next year I’m letting three excellent choices guide me and seeing where I end up. The new translation of Madame Bovary by Lydia Davis is pretty hot right now (again, guilty of being most interested in the newest). Time will tell which one ends up in my hands.

Be more social.

Simple enough, right?

Write more.

No matter how many writing guides I may read, or how many of my favorite novels are about living as a writer, the mantra is simple: write every day. This is an easy one, do what you love. Take what you know, how you live, and put it down. This applies to anything you do.

I plan on feeling better, doing better, and living well in the next year. I hope you, dear reader, will as well. A happy new year to you all.

– Tony

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We love the Criterion Collection






And that’s only thirty titles. We have 474 more.

– Amy


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Twelve Titillating Titles

I believe that a healthy sense of humor is the best way to cope with most of life’s frustrations — yes, even the serious business of a job search.  And judging by these titles, I’m not the only one.

  1. The Idler Book of Crap Jobs: 100 Tales of Workplace Hell
  2. Was Your Boss Raised By Wolves?  Surviving the Organizational Food Chain
  3. Don’t Take The Last Donut: New Rules of Business Etiquette
  4. Never Wrestle With A Pig: And Ninety Other Ideas to Build Your Business And Career
  5. Can I Lie On My Resume?  Strategies that Win the Career Game
  6. The Dictionary of Corporate Bull****
  7. Can I Wear My Nose Ring To The Interview?  The Crash Course to Finding, Landing, and Keeping Your First Real Job
  8. It’s All Your Fault!  (How To Make It As A Hollywood Assistant)
  9. Landing On The Right Side of Your Ass: A Survival Guide For The Recently Unemployed
  10. 99 Surefire Ways to Stay Unemployed
  11. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English
  12. The Slam-and-Scream: And Other Powerful Strategies And Great Career Moves for Secretaries, Assistants, and Anyone Else Who Has Had Enough

May all your holidays be merry, readers.  See you in  2011.



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The Pilgrims Slept Here

Rockin’ and a-rollin’, splishin’ and a-splashin’,
Over the horizon, what can it be?
The pilgrims sailed the sea
To find a place to call their own.
In their ship Mayflower,
They hoped to find a better home.
They finally knocked
On Plymouth Rock
And someone said, “We’re there.”
It may not look like home
But at this point I don’t care.

If you are a child of the 70s and early 80s, you were probably singing along with that. It’s the first verse of No More Kings courtesy of that Saturday morning cartoon staple, Schoolhouse Rock. I’ve included this little ditty not only for nostalgia’s sake (or because it’s just plain fun), but because today is Forefather’s Day

This holiday is celebrated mostly in New England, but as Americans we should all take note. Forfather’s Day commemorates the day the Pilgrims landed on what would become known as Plymouth Rock. We know the exact day because the honorable Governor William Bradford (1590-1657) kept meticulous notes of the events of the Mayflower emigrants in his diary, which was eventually published as the History of Plymouth Plantation. This extremely detailed account is a wonderful record of the difficult voyage of the Mayflower and initial colonization of the area that would eventually be known as Massachusetts.

Just in case you are an American colonial history buff as I am (that was my area of concentration in my college history major), you may want to check out some of these books and DVDs on the subject and have your own personal celebration of Forefather’s Day.

Making Haste from Babylon book jacketMaking Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History
by Nick Bunker – Did you ever wonder exactly why the Pilgrims emigrated? Not just the general “they were persecuted for their religious beliefs,” but the nuts and bolts of why they made their decision, how they carried it out, and what they did once they got here? This book, using documents never before analyzed, answers all of those questions and more. After reading this, you will feel that you not only know the Pilgrims, but understand them as well.

The Times of Their Lives book jacketThe Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony
by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz – When someone says “Puritan” to you, do you think of a somber person dressed in black and white? This is actually as far from the truth as you can get. Puritans wore bright colors, they got drunk, and some had premarital sex! This book tells you all about the authentic, and sometimes scandalous, lives of the early settlers.

A Great & Godly Adventure book jacketA Great & Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims & the Myth of the First Thanksgiving
by Godfrey Hodgson – So, on the first Thanksgiving the Pilgrims and the Indians sat down together to give thanks for surviving their first year and enjoyed a big meal consisting of turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and cornbread. Right? Well, not exactly. Actually, that’s not even close to what really happened.

Mayflower Bastard book jacketMayflower Bastard: A Stranger Among the Pilgrims
by David Lindsay – What could be worse than being an orphan?  How about being an orphan who at the age of five was put on board the Mayflower and sent with strangers to settle a new colony with some of the harshest conditions ever encountered by emigrants? This book follows the story of Richard More, who after arriving in the New World makes a successful life for himself and lives to witness many of the major events of the founding of Massachusetts.

Desperate Crossing DVD coverDesperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower (DVD)
Produced by Lone Wolf Documentary Group for the History Channel – This was no pleasure cruise and it certainly was no three hour tour. During the long two months it took for the Pilgrims to cross the Atlantic, half of them died. This historical documentary feels more like a feature film. It’s educational as well as entertaining and you will learn the true story of their voyage.

Mayflower book jacketMayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War
by Nathaniel Philbrick – This may be the definitive work on the first 50 years of Puritan life in the New World. Follow along with the Pilgrims on their arduous journey on the Mayflower. Meet the real men behind the legends and see them for the flawed, but courageous people they were. Delve into the tenuous relationship between the Wampanoag and the settlers, which culminates in the deadly King Philip’s War. Ultimately understand exactly what it took, and what it cost, to be one of the early American settlers.

William Bradford book jacketWilliam Bradford: Plymouth’s Faithful Pilgrim
by Gary D. Schmidt – This man, William Bradford, was so beloved by his fellow settlers and so instrumental to their survival and the establishment of their new society that he was reelected to the office of Governor more than 30 times. Take that, politicians of today!

Happy Forefather’s Day! (or is it Merry Forefather’s Day?)

-Melissa M.

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Winter Solstice Alert

Tomorrow marks the Winter Solstice for 2010. It will effectively be the shortest day of the year; the day with the least amount of actual daylight. The Winter Solstice has long been a day of significance in the Western world. According to The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism, “the winter solstice was taken from Mithras and given to the baby Jesus.”  Tanya Gulevich’s Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year’s Celebrations states that “early Christian authorities placed Christmas near the winter solstice in the hopes of replacing pagan holidays clustered on and around that date.” You can learn more about the development of those ancient Christmas traditions in Dorothy Morrison’s book, Yule : A Celebration of Light & Warmth.

Although it might seem like a bleak, dark slog through winter once New Year’s Day has passed, try to remember that each day after December 21st means gradually more light as the days slowly grow longer.  At least that’s what I try to remind myself during those early morning treks to the T station. If you do find yourself succumbing to the melancholy of too much darkness, you might want to read up on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)  in these great sources:

In the meantime, enjoy the daylight we do have, and try to think warm thoughts as we make our way through winter and toward spring!


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Making My List, Checking It Twice…

Librarians love to make lists, especially lists of books.  We keep lists of books we’ve read, books we’d like to read, and lists of books for you to read (though we will probably read them first–we’re funny that way).

Although I cherish shelf-browsing, serendipitous book-finding, and suggestions from friends, I’m forced to admit that I’m not getting any younger.  If I truly want to read as many books as possible, I need to have a plan for tackling them.  Luckily, there are more than 250 books about books and reading available countywide, so I’ve been able to scour them for suggestions on crafting an organized reading schedule.

While I’ve deliberately left space for bibliomancy in my plan, I pretty much already know which works I’ll be tackling in 2011.  All of them are books I’ve been meaning to read, but haven’t gotten around to.  Sharing them gives you an opportunity to try them on for size as well, and forces me to put my money where my mouth is, stick to the plan, and report back next December.

Here are a half-dozen of the titles I’ll be tackling for certain:

The Tale of GenjiThe Tale of Genji, Lady Murasaki Shibiku. After researching the different versions of this classic work of medieval Japanese literature, I decided to start with Tyler’s translation. It’s abridged, which I normally don’t care for, but I’ve also never read a medieval Japanese novel! We shall see.

Eminent Victorians, Lytton Strachey. I’ve been besotted with the Victorian era since time out of mind, but I can’t really call myself an aficianado until I read this classic history, can I? Methinks not!

Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier. I never read the “must-read” novels when anyone else is reading them. If it’s truly a good book, it will still be worth reading once the hype has died down, right? I think enough time has passed, in this case, to find out.

Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe.   I suppose if I were a true completist, I would have spelled out the novel’s full title.  But at least I’m enough of a completist to go back and make up for this gap in my reading of the classics!

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov. Russian novels aren’t my long suit. However, in the past six months so many people have asked whether or not we have this novel that I am now intrigued. Will it trump Tolstoy? Time will tell.

Time and AgainSpeaking of time, it’s definitely time for Time and Again, Jack Finney. I’m a sucker for a good time-travel story, and the conversations that flowed from Don’s recent post on the subject have convinced me it’s time to try this one on for size.

I could go on, but I’d much rather hear about your reading plan for 2011, if you have one.  How do you decide what you want to read and when?  Are there any books you know you’ll tackle in the months to come?

–Leigh Anne


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