Monthly Archives: February 2011

“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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A Valentine

It’s Valentine’s Day. Since I can’t drop handmade cards into each of your mailboxes, I offer another kind of valentine.

My offering is mysterious, powerful, full of word pictures that will burn bright in your imagination.

Between the covers of Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel, Winter’s Tale, live magic and romance.

A fairy tale of Dickensian proportions, Winter’s Tale moves from gritty streets in nineteenth century Manhattan to a lake so far upstate no one can find it, back to the city and forward in time to the dawn of the twenty-first century. One travels on foot, by sleigh, ice skates, river boat, train, on a huge white horse that can leap a city block, and by falling into the white curtain of a cloud wall, which relocates people in time.

In the late 19th century, orphan Peter Lake is raised by illiterate marsh dwellers. At age twelve, they send him alone to live in the city. Ignorant of civilization, he quickly learns what money is, dances for coins, and becomes a thief. He learns the trade of mechanic, joins a gang, makes a lifelong enemy of the gang leader, Pearly Soames, survives by his wits and the speed of his horse. (Now we’re on page 100.)

This 700+ page book divides into four sections with Biblical names: The City; Four Gates to the City; The Sun . . . and The Ghost; A Golden Age. Besides Biblical allusions, readers have identified influences of a host of predecessors: Dickens, Mark Twain, Dante, Shakespeare (whose play The Winter’s Tale shares a title), Hans Christian Andersen.

A background in literature is not required to bring this challenging book to life. A willingness to accept a new set of rules by which the universe operates will help. So will an appreciation for flights of dazzling description, winter in her many forms, and a saga of romantic love.  


P.S. Earlier this month, writer and film producer Akiva Goldsman announced he would begin working on a Warner Bros. production of Winter’s Tale in the spring of 2012. I urge you to read the book before allowing a screen version to do the work of your imagination.


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Loads of Lovely Love

I’m a sucker for a good love story, most likely thanks to my parents. Forty years ago this weekend they tied the knot after a long and spirited courtship that nobody really believed would end in marriage, given how independent both parties were (think Beatrice and Benedick). To this day they remain devoted, affectionate sparring partners in the game of life; it’s inspirational, really, the kind of long-term success story about which epic poems and great novels are written. 

I’ve noticed, though, that in fiction and literature so many of the “great” love stories end badly, be it by death, betrayal, or temporal dislocation. That’s not exactly encouraging, now, is it? Luckily, there are also many wonderful novels with happy endings that can reaffirm your faith in true love without going overboard on the treacle factor. Observe.

PossessionPossession, A.S. Byatt. This is the best kind of love story, the kind where all the obstacles the characters encounter turn out to be worth it in the end. Getting there is half the fun, however, and there’s quite a lot to get through in this long, literary tale of two sets of lovers:  a pair of Victorian poets and the scholars who study them after their deaths. The passion and angst quotients are high, but that just makes the resolution all the better. Read the book, then pick up the film for date night with your favorite lit crit wit. 

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen. No offense to Colin Firth or the entire Sense and SensibilityMr. Darcy franchise, but I’ve always preferred this tale of lessons learned and love won (and the presence of Alan Rickman in the film certainly doesn’t hurt). Flighty Marianne Dashwood learns the hard way that a handsome physiognomy doesn’t necessarily house a gentlemanly heart; meanwhile, sister Elinor discovers that while reserve is admirable, it is occasionally possible to keep one’s feelings too much a secret. After much confusion and mayhem, the sisters’ double happiness is secured. Hurray!

Our Mutual FriendOur Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens. In typical Dickensian fashion, his final novel is jam-packed with enough characters and plotlines to render all but the most careful readers dizzy. These include two romantic storylines in which wealth and social class play pivotal roles. Determined to help her family by marrying for money, proud young Bella Wilfer grows to care for John Harmon, a man she thinks is a pauper. Meanwhile, Lizzie Hexam, a waterman’s daughter, finds herself embroiled in a love triangle with two gentlemen far above her station, one of whom she loves, but fears she can never hope to marry. Dickens definitely turns on the brooding and despair for this episode of his London chronicles, but brings both romances to tender, satisfying endings that will melt even the most hard-hearted reader.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. Three out of four March sisters find Little Women romantic happiness against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction periods (I suppose there has to be a little tragedy to keep a novel interesting, but, still, poor Beth!). Conventional Meg and coquettish Amy are paired off easily enough, but the highlight of the book, for me, is when tomboyish, career-minded Jo manages to pursue her own dreams and find true love, without compromsing on either aspect. A pretty nifty writing feat, that, considering the limited range of acceptable paths for women in Alcott’s era. This is the most sentimental of the lot, so you might want to opt for the most recent film version, and fast-forward through the mushy parts (at least until Gabriel Byrne shows up).

Dared and DoneOf course, one of the best love stories ever was the real-life romance and marriage of the Brownings, poets Elizabeth and Robert. An attraction sparked by poetic skill, a disapproving papa, a miraculous recovery from long-term illness, and a dashing elopement are just the beginning of what was definitely a marriage of true minds. You can read all about it in Dared and Done: The Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, which describes in intimate detail how the couple weathered both the sunny and shadowy elements of their relationship, and helped each other grow as poets and people. 

Scoff if you like, but if life hasn’t beaten faith in true love out of me by now, it probably never will. Do you have a great romance to share, either fictional or biographical? Do you like your love stories sunny or star-crossed? 

Leigh Anne
who is more like Marianne than Elinor, despite her best intentions

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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I’ll give you something to whine about!

I’m cold, I’m tired and I’m hungry.  It seems that I am in the mood to whine lately, and there’s just nothing to be done about it.  Or is there?  Perhaps it’s time to read about people who have it, or had it, worse than I do.  Let’s see how this works…

Strength in What RemainsStrength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder (who is coming to the Drue Heinz Lectures this month, by the way!).  This is the story of Deo, who lives in a tiny village in Burundi.  He wants nothing more than to be a doctor, so somehow he gets to medical school.  Once he gets there, though, the violence in Rwanda spills over to Burundi, and he’s forced to run for his life.  From there, he manages to get to New York City, where he has to learn to survive all over again, since he speaks no English, has no contacts and only $200 in his pocket. 

My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor.  She’s doing well now, of course, but Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist at Harvard, woke up one morning to find herself having a stroke.  It took her eight years to recover from a complete state of no identity and non-functionality.

The Center Cannot HoldThe Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, by Elyn R. Saks.  The brain of a schizophrenic tells its owner all sorts of things, often scary, violent and nonsensical.  Imagine having that going on in your head while you’re trying to go to law school and you’ll have a sense of what life is like with what can be a debilitating mental illness.

Ten Thousand Joys & Ten Thousand SorrowsTen Thousand Joys & Ten Thousand Sorrows:  A Couple’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s, by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle.  It’s hard to say who has a more difficult time with a disease like Alzheimers, the patient or the caregiver.  For Ms. Hoblitzelle and her husband, who is diagnosed at the age of 72, it’s a chance to put all their understandings of psychology and meditation into practice.

I Remember RunningI Remember Running:  The Year I Got Everything I Ever Wanted – and ALS, by Darcy Wakefield.  Living with a terminal illness like Lou Gehrig’s disease could be such a downer – serious whine potential.  Yet so many quotes from this book sum up Darcy Wakefield’s attitude, such as “The real truth of my ALS is that it takes daily acts of courage to get up, live the day fully, be grateful for what I have, and to find the humor and grace and the pleasure, yes, pleasure, in not being able to clip my own nails.”

Best Seat in the HouseThe Best Seat in the House:  How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life, by Allen Rucker. Another title that tells you most of the story, but you’ve got to read it to get the full benefit of Allen Rucker’s humor, such as his idea for a daily flip calendar for people who are paralyzed, “flip” being the operative word.

To tell you the truth, I actually feel better.  Not so much because I’m glad that I don’t have a physical or mental disease, but that I’m grateful that there are folks out there who have had tough rows to hoe and were still willing to share their inspiring stories with me. You never know, though, when I will slip again and start whining.  What would you suggest to get me out of it?


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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Smooth Move

spinach smoothie!

"spinach smoothie!" by Flickr user indigotimbre.

Lately, I’ve adopted a new habit. Every morning, I make a smoothie. It’s easy: I just pile handfuls of fruits and vegetables into my food processor (Don’t ask what happened to my blender; it’s a violent tale of unchecked ambition that ends in smoky disaster), and ta-da: breakfast fantastic-ness!

Part of the motivation for this new breakfast tradition is to incorporate more raw fruits and veggies into my diet. One of the main ingredients to the smoothies is spinach. Don’t cringe! I can barely taste those tiny green leaves once they’re pulverized and blended with other ingredients like fresh or frozen blueberries, mango and strawberries. If it weren’t for the distinctive green hue they add, I might not even know they were there.

Smoothies are a favorite recommendation of lots of vegetarian and raw foods Green for life covercookbooks, but the library also owns cookbooks specifically dedicated to smoothie making. In fact, we even have a book about green smoothies in particular. So far, I’ve experimented with adding ingredients like fresh ginger, coconut milk, yogurt and carrots. I’m planning to try avocado and probably peanut butter at some point. The situation is becoming a lot like that saying “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Pretty much everything in my refrigerator looks like eligible smoothie material to me.

Cool smoothies : juices and cocktails coverGive the morning smoothie a try. Drinking a glass of vitamin-rich, colorful vegetables and fruits is  a nice way to start your day. If, like me, you’re less than a morning person, the promise of a sweet healthy drink might be enough to bribe you out of bed. The drink adds a bright bit of cheer to blue winter mornings. One caution, though: the morning smoothie habit is a contagious one. I’m the third person in my department to join in.

Be healthy and enjoy!


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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