Monthly Archives: February 2011


Tomorrow is the twelfth anniversary of my first day at this fine institution. In honor of that glorious occasion, here are twelve twelve-related items from my department!

  • 12 – Ah, we start with a depressing foreign film. This one looks like a Russian version of 12 Angry Men, which is of course also on this list.   
  • 12 Angry Men – See? We thought of it first. In 1956 and with Henry Fonda, no less. 
  • 12 Monkeys – Whenever I see this movie, I have to remind myself that no one in 1996 could have predicted our current cell phone technology.    

Will I last another 12 years? Will this library last another 12 years? Will Brad Pitt ever star in any movies based on Janet Evanovich books? Tune in again in 2023 to find out!

– Amy

Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.


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The Doldrums:

In which an increasingly frustrated hero searches for the perfect book to lift the spirits past the drudgery of the winter, and in turn discovers James Richardson and feels better about his interrupted mind.

Starting  a blog post is almost like trying to decide what to read in February. That is, I struggle. January crushed me – all the good intentions, new novels, year end lists and optimism brought on by the New Year left me overwhelmed. I cannot recall what I read or why. With February, I hoped for better days – for me, for you, for the written word. How did I do, I’m sure you are asking, sitting perched on the edge of your seat. Not well, friends, but not without a story.

I am and always will be interested in reading connections – what creates the impulse that leads us from one topic to another, from one book to the next, wherein seemingly no connection exists? This impulse often takes precedence over any book list or intended reading – it is far and away the way I read. This post is about how I spent my month in the page.

I began with You Lost Me There by Rosecrans Baldwin and immediately followed with Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Why do I mention these together like that? Because I am unable to tell them apart. They were contemporary fiction at its best and worst – thoroughly readable, with flashes of brilliance, but altogether not memorable. My favorite parts of both titles were where I wished the author would be brave enough to continue expanding, instead of the modern idea of maintaining minimalism in its plot and abstraction in its characters. Goon Squad, in particular, would have made for a fantastic novel if increased by about 200 pages, to include all the stuff intentionally left out. It did leave me with a trace, however, by reminding me (somehow – it was mentioned somewhere) of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m fascinated by greek mythology, but I cannot read it. I know this now, but in my optimism remembering a heartbreaking story and then picking up Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Virgil’s Aeneid may have been biting off more than I could chew. Especially after relatively coasting on some fiction, my warmup plan was way off. I got to the story I wanted, thought about the Iliad and the Odyssey, but mostly I thought about watching Troy. One name kept catching my eye, “Daedalus”. Why?

Stephen Dedalus is the alter ego of author James Joyce! It must have stuck out because Joyce is another author who I can’t get through. I thought, that settles it, from now on I will tackle Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and finally conquer a book long on my reading list. Unfortunately, that is not how this month works and how our story ends. Fortunately, it ends with me putting the Joyce aside (for another day, I swear) and finally embracing a book. The good thing about the holds system at the library is that it lends itself to happenstance. And the gods (thanks, Greeks!) put James Richardson into my hands just when I needed it. The National Book Award finalist for poetry was on the shelf. And By the Numbers is worth the accolades. Richardson is at his best with aphorisms, and this immediately woke me up, reminding me that sometimes losing yourself in a month is ok:

“First frost, first snow. But winter doesn’t really start until you’re sure that spring will never come.”

– Tony

*The title of this post is inspired by The Phantom Tollbooth,  which may the greatest children’s book of all time. It also may be the greatest book of all time.

Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.


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How to Chop an Onion

Washington, D.C., circa 1921. "Junior high school: Home Ec."


“After a long day of routine work many people find the creative act of cooking a relaxing change of pace that restores their energy. It’s a gift to be able to cook for others—and it’s wonderful to be cooked for.” —Deborah Madison in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

I recently asked an old friend for some poetry recommendations. Being a literal minded and pragmatic sort of person, I have always avoided poetry, my most oft cited reason being, “Why do they have to talk around everything? Why can’t they just get to the point?” After being moved by a poem at the end of last year, I realized that, as is often the case, I was wrong. I have since set about rectifying the situation, and my friend gave me some sound advice: “Do yourself a favor and don’t think of yourself as a novice poetry reader. Everyone’s a novice at reading good, surprising poetry, you know?”

Now, this blog post isn’t really about poetry (I’m just not ready for that yet), but about something near and dear to my heart: cooking. I am not an authority on the subject of cooking; I am simply someone who likes to cook at home and has realized (as I’ve started getting older and am attempting to grow up) that I really enjoy cooking and preparing food. So I’m saddened when people say they “can’t cook,” as if it’s a skill they are not capable of learning with time and practice, like any other skill. To the stubborn naysayers and non-cookers among us I say: if I can pick up a book of poetry, then you can surely pick up a frying pan. Cooking is for everyone, and I think my friend’s advice about poetry translates well to the art of preparing food—don’t think of yourself as a novice cook; everyone’s a novice when it comes to creating simple, carefully and lovingly prepared food.

Luckily the library holds an impressive cookbook collection. One place you might want to start is with Harold McGee’s new book Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes. This book does not contain recipes, but definitions of different foods and how to cook them. It is all about the science of cooking, which is not as scary as it sounds. For example, let’s say you want to make a cheese sauce (because seriously, who doesn’t want to make a cheese sauce?), and the last time you made one with cheddar cheese, it turned out all lumpy and oily. This does not mean you can’t cook—it simply means you had not realized that you needed to check this book out from the library. According to Mr. McGee, cheese sauces are a cinch:

Cheese sauces are made by melting and dispersing solid cheese into hot liquid. The cheese adds both flavor and body thanks to its concentrated proteins and fats, but these can also cause stringiness, lumping, and greasiness…to prevent cheese in sauces from turning lumpy and greasy, grate the cheese finely. Add the cheese to hot but not boiling liquid. Stir as little as possible to avoid forming protein strings. Include some flour or starch to prevent protein clumping and fat puddling.

Mr. McGee is not a poet (unless you consider discussions of “fat puddling” poetic), but he is a very well-respected food scientist, and Keys is a well-organized reference tool for cooks both new and old. If you’ve ever wondered about all the various ways you can cook an egg, or what the difference between frying, sauteing, sweating, glazing and wilting vegetables is, then this is the book for you.

Of course, food science tips are hard to put into practice without having some recipes to work with. A co-worker recently recommened Deborah Madison’s weighty tome Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone to me, and I can already tell that it’s going to become one of my favorite cookbooks. True to its title, this is not simply a cookbook for vegetarians—I think everyone can find something tasty and appealing in this book. Many of the recipes are straightforward and simple, and in addition to including a primer on cooking methods, utensils and seasoning, there is a section of recipes ordered by vegetable and a short background on what to look for when selecting particular vegetables, how to store them, and, most importantly, how to use them.

And if you’re in need of still more food inspiration, there is always this fine little book.

Of course, as in poetry and writing, sometimes it’s easier to begin from a prompt. I am embarassed to admit this, but I only recently discovered the proper way to chop an onion. If you’re afraid of cooking, and are not sure where to begin, this is as good a place to start as any:



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An Introduction to Some Great Contemporary Horror Short Story Writers

Horror seems to be best in short form. Sure, we’ve got Stephen King and The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby as shining examples of the success of the novelization of horror, but the really great stuff, the stuff that lies in wait beneath the mainstream, the stuff you can be pretentious about, comes in the form of the short story.

Great short horror is usually also the stuff you have to discover or be introduced to. Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen come to mind as examples of classic horror short story writers that I stumbled upon or was told about.  I’m writing now to introduce you to a few great contemporary horror short story writers — via examples of their short story collections — that have stood out as I’ve purchased books for the New and Featured Department’s horror collection:

Tales of Pain and Wonder by Caitlin Kiernan — I’ve probably mentioned Kiernan’s novel The Red Tree at least fifty times while writing for this blog. Sometimes, I feel like every blog post I write should be about that book. Yes, it was that good. It was a revelation. However, among underground horror aficionados, Kiernan is probably best known for her short stories. Tales of Pain and Wonder is filled with short stories that are dark and violent, yet beautifully written.

Occultation by Laird Barron — The first short story of Barron’s I read was “Catch Hell,” which is collected in another great horror short story collection, Lovecraft Unbound. That story reminded me of Lovecraft meets The Wicker Man. Indeed, Barron does a great job of mixing Lovecraft with a kind of pagan revelry; just check out the cover of Occultation to get a feel for what I mean.

Tempting Providence and Other Stories by Jonathan Thomas — Here’s a book of horror short stories about Providence, RI, the hometown of the man himself, H. P. Lovecraft. See those tentacles twisting around the cover of the book? That’s a good sign that Thomas knows what he’s talking about. But seriously, the Lovecraft inspiration aside, this is a strong collection of short stories from Hippocampus Press, which is a very important independent horror publisher to pay attention to. I first learned about them because of the next book . . .

Seven Deadly Pleasures by Michael Aronovitz — . . . which Hippocampus published and which really freaked me out while I was reading it on a creepy, overcast fall day last year. The stories in this collection feel, in a lot of ways, like episodes of Tales from the Darkside, or some similar dark, episodic horror television show. Every story, that is, but the last one, “The Toll Booth,” which was so terribly realistic that I still think of it and feel disturbed.

Consider this a sample of all the great short story collections and writers the New and Featured horror collection has to offer. Are there any other great horror short story writers or collections you’d like to introduce me to?


Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.


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Testing and Education Reference Center

If you’re taking a standardized test, whether it’s the SAT or the Firefighter exam, you can get free test prep materials from the library. 

To access a free, online version of any Peterson’s book, go to and scroll down to “Testing & Education Reference Center.”  Then, if you’re at home, click “Remote Access” and enter your library card number.  (While TERC looks like any other normal website, the library pays to have access to it, so you have to go through these steps to prove you’re a member.)

You’ll have to create an account, which TERC primarily uses to send you the scores to any practice tests you may take.  This should be a quick and painless process.  

On the front page, you’ll see groups of standardized tests.  (They also offer related tools, such as college and financial aid information, career research, and even resume assistance.)   If your test isn’t on the front page, they probably still cover it.  Use the search box in the upper right to find out. 

Of course, you can also come into the library for print materials.  If your local library doesn’t stock a particular title, you can request one to be sent to you.  Or, as always, you can come visit the Job and Career Education Center in Oakland.


Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.


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What Is Your Obsession?

The Night Bookmobile Book CoverAs I was shelving in our Graphic Novel section the other day, I stumbled upon The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger.  Now I already knew that this book existed so the title wasn’t new to me, but this was the first time I had seen it in person. Being an individual of the librarian persuasion, I was compelled to pick it up. I found myself standing there in the middle of the first floor and reading the entire thing from cover to cover. Which, because it’s a graphic novel of less than 35 pages, isn’t really as daunting (or lollygagging on work time) as it sounds.  I then put it back into its display holder and walked away to continue my book shelving duties.  But on my second pass I picked it up again. I put it on my truck and knew it would be coming with me.  But why?  I had already read it. Why was it still calling to me?

Just to give you a brief synopsis without giving away the ending, a young woman out late at night stumbles across a bookmobile. She enters and discovers that every book on every shelf is one she has read at some point in her lifetime. They are ALL there. Her children’s books, those noteworthy classics she ‘tried to read’ as a teenager, college textbooks, magazines, cereal boxes, even her own diary. Then it’s dawn and it’s time for the bookmobile, HER bookmobile, to leave. She becomes obsessed with finding this bookmobile again. Her late night wanderings to locate it cause her boyfriend to think she is seeing someone else and drive him away.

During the long years between its appearances, she reads voraciously to add to her bookmobile’s collection. Reading becomes her obsession. She reads to please the librarian that drives her bookmobile and wonders if he is proud of her choices. She reads to the detriment of her personal relationships. She decides to become a librarian. (Loving to read, by the way, is not the best reason to become a librarian. We deal with people more than books.) Her whole life becomes centered around this obsession to read more books and to become a librarian on her bookmobile.

This book spoke to me on a number of levels. First, the woman was able to revisit her life by perusing her reading history. It made me think about the different kinds of books I have read during the different stages in my life. There are many I would like to revisit. Did my stage in life affect my reading choices, or did what I chose to read affect each stage in my life?

Also, the woman’s reading fixation caused me to stop and think about my own personal obsessions. What have I been obsessed with in the past?  What am I fixated on now that is affecting other parts of my life? What have I lost or overlooked due to my passion for something else?

And now I ask you – what does your reading history say about you? If you were to revisit all the items you had ever read, would there be a discernable pattern? If someone else were to peruse the shelves of your personal library, what ideas about you as a person would they walk away with?  Would they know you better than someone who had met you in person?

What is your obsession? What do you over-engage in to the detriment of everything else? Is it sports? Television or movies? Video games? Food? Shopping? Having to be right all the time, or the first/best?

What have you sacrificed for your obsession? Your friends? Family? Relationships? Career? Taking care of your own self and well-being?

Was it worth it?

-Melissa M.

Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.


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Twain’s August Anniversary

Today is the 126th anniversary of the first publication of Mark Twain’s the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  These days you can find this seminal tale of American literature in numerous formats, and CLP has you covered on most of them! Let’s take a moment to highlight some of your options.

Numerous print editions exist, but here are some good ones:

We’ve got “Huck Finn” in the newer formats as well:

  • EPUB (from Overdrive)
  • MP3 (from Overdrive)

And if you like film adaptations:

And if you feel you might ever need to read some critical analysis on the stories, you need look no further than our complement of wonderful literature databases found here.

No matter how you choose to commemorate this august anniversary, be sure to raise a toast this weekend to Mark Twain and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, both American originals!


Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.


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“What light through yonder window breaks?”

You’ll pardon our tardiness with today’s post, I’m sure.  Today the Carnegie library gang was puzzled–and more than a little distracted–by the appearance of a large, yellow orb in the sky, one that’s giving off warmth and light.  We’ve taken off our cardigan sweaters and opened up the windows to celebrate; mind you, we’re not 100% certain, but we think it might be…

the sun!  Hurray!

It is still February in Pittsburgh though, so this solar good fortune probably won’t last.   Take advantage of the serendipitous break in the gloom and do something outdoors.  And if your travels happen to bring you near the library, pop in to pick up a warm-weather read.

Leigh Anne
who hopes nobody will shush her if she starts singing

Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.

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A Perfect Fizzle

Did you know that in 1861, Abraham Lincoln spent his Valentine’s Day in Pittsburgh?  I came upon this article the other day, describing what sounds to be one of the most dismal Valentine’s Days ever.  Lincoln was exhausted and hoarse, and hoping that the gloomy weather would keep the crowds to a minimum.  He had no such luck though; 10,000 people gathered in Steubenville to hear him speak, and despite the fact that he didn’t arrive in Allegheny City until night, a crowd of 10,000 more people awaited him in the cold rain, prompting a newspaper reporter to say of the event, “A more perfect fizzle was never witnessed.”  His arrival in Pittsburgh found even more crowds awaiting him, and though Lincoln tried to demur they insisted on a speech, until he finally promised to speak to them the following morning. 

Obviously, Lincoln had some fans in the Iron City.  Of course, Lincoln was, and still is, known as one of the best orators of his time.  Books like The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America, and Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural examine some of his more famous speeches.  He was also, by all accounts, a pretty humorous guy. Abe Lincoln Laughing shares some stories from his aquaintances about his celebrated sense of humor, while the fictional movie Young Mr. Lincoln presents an imagined view of what the young Lincoln might have been like, his intensity as a lawyer balanced by his dry wit. And for more books on his oratory, humor, or life, you can search for books on Lincoln in our catalog under the subject heading Lincoln, Abraham– 1809-1865.


Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.


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Congratulations Green Bay

I learned my work ethic in a family-owned sweater factory; tolerable in the winter, miserable in the summer.  All 5 of us kids worked there at some stage in our lives.  The mantra imparted to us was:  “Do your job, and do it with a smile.”

With that in mind we complete our obligation to our fellow librarians at the Milwaukee Public Library – Andrew Carnegie, the Paterfamilias  in the Green & Yellow.  We had full faith in the Black  & Gold, but came up a little short this time.   The Packers played a great game and absolutely deserved the win.  Let it not be said that we aren’t good for our debts, and that our colleagues by the Lake consider our wager to be fulfilled.

Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance at today’s prize in the 29 Gifts giveaway.  Daily winners will be contacted by e-mail.

– Richard


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