Monthly Archives: January 2011

Gifted: 29 Thank-Yous for Reading Eleventh Stack

Once a year, everybody in Allegheny County is invited to read and think about the same book, courtesy of the One Book, One Community initiative.  This year you’re invited to experience Cami Walker’s 29 Gifts: How A Month of Giving Can Change Your Life.  The official One Book website is filled with information that can enrich your reading experience via book club kits and discussion questions, related readings and resources on the themes of kindness and civility, and other ways to get involved, which will be updated as the official start date approaches.

The Eleventh Stack blog team has decided to participate in this countywide celebration of goodwill and bonhomie by giving away a gift every weekday for the next 29 days, starting tomorrow, February 1, 2o11.  At the end of each blog post, you will be prompted to leave a comment that reflects on that day’s essay.  A random winner will be chosen each day, and if it’s you, you’ll receive an e-mail with details on when/where to stop by and choose your prize.

Yes, I did say choose.  The blog team has assembled a prize closet of cool stuff for you to pick from, which includes:

  • copies of popular books, DVDs, and books on CD
  • $5.00 Crazy Mocha gift cards (good at any CM location)
  • $10.00 pre-paid fine cards (good at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations)
  • handmade items crafted by library workers and library supporters
  • fashionable black and gold “Pittsburgh Protect Your Library” tote bags
  • other whimsical surprises as we think of them

We’re even assembling a special prize package for the person who wins on day 29, just in case “the good stuff” is already gone. (It’s all good stuff, but who likes to choose last?  Nobody–that’s who.)

The only things we ask of you in return are:

  • Be an Allegheny County resident.  We love our expatriate readers, but postage is a wee bit dear these days.
  • Include your e-mail address with your blog comment. (Otherwise, how can we tell you you’re a winner?)
  • Add the e-mail address eleventhstack at carnegielibrary dot org to your list of approved senders. (So any mail from us doesn’t end up in your spam folder.)
  • Tell us what’s on your mind when you comment!  Responses like “Awesome, dude” make us feel warm and fuzzy, but don’t really help us become better writers.

On an even warmer, fuzzier note,  February 2011  marks the third full year the Eleventh Stack team has been blogging for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  When we started the project, we had no idea whether or not this method of communication would be a good way to reach out to our community.   Over 170,000 visits and 9,400 click-throughs to the catalog later–not to mention the lovely, thoughtful comments you’ve made–we can tell that you really, really like us.

 Of course, that makes us want to work even harder to demonstrate–via our sometimes serious, sometimes silly, but always heartfelt, essays–just how much the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has to offer.  Your attention to, and continued support of, CLP is a great gift.  Please stick around and allow us to continue to give back in our quirky, writerly fashion.

Leigh Anne
who would take you all out for milk and cookies, except that it’s been done


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The Battle of Aliwal And Other Obscurities

Only the most hardcore military history buffs might know that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Aliwal (1846), which occurred in what was then British controlled India.  The battle occurred in the Punjab province.  You can read more about the particulars of the conflict here.

Why does such an obscure battle involving two current U.S. allies rate a post on Eleventh Stack?  Because CLP owns a number of books about this period and the men who fought this battle.  Here’s a short list:

The Sikh Army, 1799-1849 / Ian Heath

A Norfolk Soldier in the First Sikh War : Experiences of a Private of H.M. 9th Regiment of Foot in the Battles for the Punjab, India 1845-6 : Including a History of the Sutlej Campaign, Dec. 1845-March 1846 by Gough & Innes / J.W. Baldwin

A History of the Sikhs / Khushwant Singh

Empire of the Sikhs : The Life and Times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh / Patwant Singh and Jyoti M. Rai

Pick most any obscure battle from the annals of world history–we’ll have something on it.  Or one of our talented librarians will dig something out of a database or deep Internet search.  The Battle of the Bulge is easy stuff, but it’s the little wars that help to make us what we are.

The men who died on both sides at Aliwal on January 28, 1846 are not gone.

They live on at CLP through the  written accounts of their deeds.


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Talkin Bout My Generation

First a little bombast.  I’m a boomer.  I was born when Dwight Eisenhower was president.  As a matter of record we had the best TV, the best Broadway, certainly the best music, better sports teams, and better literature.  I am willing to concede though, Cold War Kids can’t and don’t do everything.

Sometime this past December we (the family) found ourselves in a weekend with nothing planned.  No reservations, no obligations to be anywhere.  Without ever uttering it (teenage daughter would scowl with the laser eyes of death if we did,) we settled in for a family movie night.  Somehow we agreed on Field of Dreams.  Now my wife and I, we sit back and watch a movie – no books, no phones, no telegraph or backgammon boards.  If we don’t like the movie that’s another story.  On the other hand, my 14 year old sat there with a laptop so she could use Facebook AND an I-phone so she could text.  I was parentally miffed that she could be so aloof to the cultural rewards she was going to miss. Except I was wrong.  Along with being able to manage the different screen-centric social interactions,  she was also able to follow the movie.  She laughed when you’re supposed to, recognized voices (the obvious James Earl Jones as Darth Vader association) and asked us to explain the cultural references and the movie’s historical context (Shoeless Joe Jackson and the 1919 White Sox.)

She and her peers seem to be able to maintain a social multi-tasking level that is impossible for me.  At best I’ve juggled 2-3 telephone receivers, but I don’t pretend to be able to chat, text, Skype, Skype-party, walk and chew gum at the same time.  Her determination to stay in-touch is pretty laudable.  This kind of behavior and ability should make for both interesting family lives and workforce adjustments over the next 10 years.  I have to concede that they may be on to something.

If you’re interested, we do have some titles that talk about the very real generational differences at play today.  They have real bearing on both the home and the salt mine.


Gen Y.

Gen X.

– Richard


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I recently began reading the book No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, by Gloria Feldt. The book is comprised of Feldt’s views on women and power, and she provides what she calls “powertools” for women to use in order to move towards further equality and to take on more positions of power in society, work, and personal life.  While I’m not yet far enough into the book to comment much on it, I was struck by the first tool she discusses:  “Know your history and you can create the future of your choice.”  It is a pretty inspiring statement about the power of knowing your history (and would apply equally to other groups that are under-represented in history books, also).  In a short chapter, she can only get so far into women’s history, but we’ve got a large collection of books on the subject for those interested in delving further into women’s accomplishments.  The collection includes books like:

The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present, by Christine Stansell, which looks at the history of the feminist movement, starting with the publication of of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and continuing to modern day global feminist movements. 

Women’s Movements in the Global Era: The Power of Local Feminism, edited by Amrita Basu, which discusses some of the grassroots feminist movements that are currently sweeping the globe.   

Women’s Roots, by June Stephenson, which takes a look at the role women have played in history from antiquity to the twentieth century. 

To peruse the collection a little more, check out the subject headings Women-History or Women’s Rights- History


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Spoilers (Warning: Does Not Contain Spoilers)

Unlike the Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club, which is a part of my job as a music librarian, my other book club is an outside of work affair.  I know, one would think we librarians would get enough book learnin’ at work, but sometimes we need a little more on the side.  And my private club reads non-music books so it’s different from my work responsibilities.  Therefore, I was caught unawares when a music item came across my desk and seemingly spoiled a book for me.

For my private club, we’re currently reading Wilkie Collins’ 1860 novel “The Woman in White.”  It’s a big book (my library copy is 609 pages), but once you get going, it’s an intriguing page-turner with seemingly polite gentlemen conspiring to seize a lady’s fortune.  It’s a mystery told from multiple perspectives and one doesn’t know who’s manipulating whom and who might be victimized.

Back to my desk and the scene of the crime. I had the CD to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “The Woman in White” in my hand and just as I was realizing that it was based on the Wilkie Collins book, I flipped over the case, and saw a song titled “_____ Tells of _____’s Death.”  Oh, noooooooo!  I was only a third of the way through the book and I didn’t want to know beforehand who might die!

Then, the next day at lunch, I was putting the book on my book stand when I accidentally saw a blurb before the inside title page that said, “…The Woman in White is also famous for introducing, in the figure of _____ _____, the prototype of the suave, sophisticated evil genius.”  Argh!  I had intentionally skipped the introduction so that the story wouldn’t be ruined beforehand, but the two-sentence blurb had lashed out at me like a snake.

Luckily, there have been enough twists and turns in the plot to keep things very interesting and I now am less than a hundred pages from the end. Until I get there, please shield my eyes, fill my ears with wax, and tie me to the mast of the ship.  I want to get to the end of the book without any more spoilers!

— Tim


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Of our five senses, two possess the power to hold us captive against our will. We can close our eyes to a scary film scene, spit out a bad clam, or drop a hot pan. But if we can’t walk away, a terrible smell or grating sound claims us as prisoner.

Last week I boarded a train, looking forward to two days of reading and watching the northern Midwest roll by. The sleeping car attendant outfitted each restroom and the corridor with electric scent diffusers, in several flavors, including coconut, vanilla, and cinnamon. After a few hours aboard, my head floated in a cloud of chemical odor.

I’m guessing that the scent solution had spilled on a bathroom counter during refilling, because that evening, while I was getting ready for bed, my toiletries and clothes absorbed the oily substance.

The next morning I smelled like a candle shop nightmare. At my destination, I laundered and aired everything I’d carried aboard. No amount of fresh water or frigid air could save my favorite carry-on bag with the image of a large polka-dot clad rodent. Forgive me, Minnie. I will miss you. When I finally decided I had to toss that bag, it stunk up the trash. My travel alarm still hints at imitation cinnamon.

It’s a relief to be back home. Here at the Library I was greeted by the mingled fragrance of aging books and the fresh odor of new volumes, a comforting smell. And our books not only please my sense of smell, many also inform it.

From Essence and Alchemy: A Book of Perfume by Mandy Aftel,

Our olfactory sensibility has been marginalized and deadened by the chemicalization of our food and our environment, and the overwhelming proliferation of unnatural smells. The world of natural odors has been co-opted by products; many people cannot smell a lemon without thinking of furniture cleaner. Oversaturation with chemical smells has compromised our ability to appreciate complex and subtle natural odors.

Books for further reading.

A Garden of Fragrance by Suzy Bales



Heavenly Fragrance: Cooking with Aromatic Asian Herbs, Fruits, Spices and Seasonings by Carol Selva Rajah


The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell by Luca Turin


Trees and Shrubs for Fragrance by Glyn Church




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Cloud-Hidden: Alan Watts

Alan Watts was and remains, nearly 40 years after his death, one of the most enigmatic, influential figures of the 20th century.  Revered as well as reviled, Watts, along with D. T. Suzuki, was largely responsible for the re-introduction of Eastern philosophy and wisdom to the West in the 1950s and 60s.

The influence of the East on the various counterculture movements of the 60s cannot be overestimated.   The confluence of East and West, evinced in the Peace, Black Power, and Women’s Movements, changed how we perceive our selves, our culture, and our world. 

Alan Watts played no small part in these changes.

Many people were first introduced to Watts via a series of radio programs, originally broadcast late at night on rock radio stations that were playing their part in the larger cultural revolution.  In recent years, these same programs have begun to be transcribed into book form and have rekindled interest in the philosophy and ways of Alan Watts.

Many found their way East via Watts’ lectures and books on Zen Buddhism,  particularly the book on Zen and its relevance to Beat Literature.   

One book that I have recommended innumerable times to friends and customers alike is The Book: The Taboo Against Knowing Who You AreCertainly a product of its time, The Book still speaks loud and clear to those with open hearts and open minds. 

Besides these particular titles, a number of others worth looking into include:

~ Behold the spirit; a study in the necessity of mystical religion

~ Nature, man, and woman

~ The Way of Zen

~ What is Tao

In addition, there are other books by Watts that are currently either out of print or not available through our local system: This Is It and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience;  Does It Matter?: Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality; Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal; Psychotherapy East and West; The Joyous Cosmology; and  Beyond Theology.  All these titles are readily available at libraries outside our system and may be obtained through interlibrary loan.

Don’t know what interlibrary loan is?  Well, here’s a FAQ that will tell you all about it.

The full list of locally available titles by Watts, including the audio transcripts, may be found here.

Finally, if you’d like to hear some samples of Watts’ lectures, his melodious voice and abundant humor, the Alan Watts homepage has provided some audio to tantalize your curiosity.

– Don

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Chocolate. It even feels good to say it. Chocolate.

In the throes of winter, I think there is nothing better than a delicious cup of hot cocoa.  Of course, I like hot chocolate in the fall, too, and spring, and I’ve been known to drink it in the summer, as well.  Of course, hot cocoa isn’t always available when you need it (need being the operative word).  Sometimes ice cream is your only option, or cupcakes, or cookies, or truffles.  And sometimes you just have to break out the unsweetened stuff and bake a cake with it.  I have heard that you can use chocolate in savory dishes, as well, although I’m not sure I see the point.  Nonetheless, it’s good to have so many ways to enjoy this year-round treat!

If you love chocolate as much as I do, you may want to check out one of these:

The Healing Powers of Chocolate The Healing Powers of Chocolate, by Cal Orey.  It’s a health food.  Really.    


The Chocolate Wars Chocolate Wars: The 150-year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers, by Deborah Cadbury.  Chocolate and intrigue, what more could you want?  


Bitter Chocolate Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, by Carol Off.  Where does your chocolate come from? 


Milton S. Hershey Milton S. Hershey: The Chocolate King.  A home-state chocolate story.  


The Seven Sins of Chocolate Seven Sins of Chocolate, by Laurent Schott. Okay, so is it healthy or sinful?


As always with chocolate, I could keep going much longer than appropriate… 


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Wordless Wednesday

Many blogs observe “Wordless Wednesday,” weekly posts of silent, colorful musings with or without themes. Today’s Wordless Wednesday theme is Round Things. All photographs are from public archives on The Commons.

A participant carves a watermelon in the Food Culture USA program at the 2005 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

"Untitled," Smithsonian Institution

Coloured illustrations of meat and poultry piled onto elaborate silver serving stands, 1901

"Coloured illustrations of meat and poultry piled onto elaborate silver serving stands, 1901," State Library of Queensland, Australia

[Cat posed with Mexican serape]

"Cat posed with Mexican serape ," Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries"

Ceiling Fixture, Rockefeller Center, New York City

"Ceiling Fixture, Rockefeller Center, New York City," Smithsonian Institution

Closeup of a Fence Constructed of Tire Rims in New Ulm Minnesota...

"Closeup of a Fence Constructed of Tire Rims in New Ulm Minnesota...," The U.S. National Archives

Hubble Reopens Its Eye on the Universe

"Hubble Reopens Its Eye on the Universe," NASA

You don’t have to be an institution to contribute to the wealth of Creative Commons images  online. Get started with your own archives.


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I forgot.

Usually I’m quite good at remembering when I should post in the blog, but today it completely slipped my mind. I’m going to blame this one on my four-day weekend, and offer an apology for my lateness in the form a booklist about memory.

Moonwalking with Einstein – This one won’t be released until March, but at least it has a memorable title. Be sure to mark your calendars – but only if you remember where you put your calendar. (Also available as an audiobook!)

How to be a Mentalist – Improve your memory and mess with other people at the same time? Hook me up! (Note to self: remember to buy the TV series for the Main library tomorrow. How did we forget this one?)

100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss – I hope that one of them is “work in a library.” Better yet if it’s “work in a library that likes to rearrange all of its books every five to seven years.”

101 Theory Drive: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for Memory – Bored by dry scientific texts? Try joining a swearing drunken hippie on his quest to understand the mechanics of memory. But it’s okay, he’s a scientist.

The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-aged Mind – I don’t think I’m middle-aged yet, but it’s nice to know that my brain won’t turn to pudding when I do get there. As an aside, I do enjoy pudding.

Well, that’s a decent start. If you’re looking for more books about memory, be sure to ask one of our fine librarians. Most of us can still remember how to find them.

– Amy

P.S. Yeah, I forgot to put these in alphabetical order. I know.

100 simple things you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s and age-related memory loss

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