Monthly Archives: March 2011

Ball Four Means Baseball

As the nation’s oldest major professional sports league, Major League Baseball (MLB) carries the weight of a long history. The many “good” aspects of its history (things like playing the National Anthem before games, doffing one’s cap after a curtain call) earn the title of tradition, while some of the “bad” aspects of its history (gambling, drug use) rarely get mentioned in polite company.  MLB’s history shines with colorful characters who embody both the good and the bad aspects, and some of these ex-players and managers have written entertaining accounts of their sojourns through America’s Pastime.

Among these many books, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four distinguishes itself as my favorite. Although it’s gone through many editions and revisions, the book’s essence remains constant. You can find the latest edition under the modified title of Ball Four: The Final Pitch. A dominant pitcher as a young man in the 1960s, Bouton ran into arm trouble, and ran afoul of an MLB establishment that frowned upon free spirits. To salvage his career he learned how to throw the knuckleball, that most befuddling of pitches that, when executed properly, can make even the most fearsome batters seem silly.

Plenty of great baseball books show the game from a perspective akin to a fastball hurled straight down the middle. They don’t take chances. They don’t name names. I prefer baseball books that read like Ball Four, the ones that dip and dance like a well-thrown knuckler. I like to peak into the dirty corners of this great game and check out what’s hiding there. As we ramp up for the 2011 MLB season, you might find yourself desiring a baseball book that comes from left field, something else in the vein of what Jim Bouton gave us all those years ago. Here’s a short list of titles to check out once you’ve read Ball Four:

If you can judge the cultural impact of a professional sport by the literature it generates, then MLB hits a grand slam. Over one hundred years of tradition resonates like the crack of a bat striking a 95 MPH fastball on a warm spring day. The anecdotes and information in these books will stay with you, and conjure sensations as vivid as the smell of a freshly cut infield.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Lists, Lists, and More Lists!

Did you know that librarians like to make lists?  I’m not talking about grocery lists or to-do lists. (Although I am fond of both of those.) I’m referring to booklists.

Part of our job, and one we find quite enjoyable, is developing lists of books our readers might find interesting. We make lists of new books. We make lists of fiction and non-fiction titles. We compile lists of mystery, science fiction, and romance books. There are lists of cookbooks, no matter what your eating or drinking preferences. We make lists of books we liked and some we may not have, but that other people might. There are lists of books for people who want to travel far away and for those who stay closer to home. We make lists that recommend other authors based on who you already like. And there are lists to tide you over until that book you’ve been waiting for actually arrives.

Given all of these lists and the fact that we add new lists every month, we have great book recommendations available 24/7, only a few mouse clicks away.

Do you have any ideas for booklists you would like to see ?  We do take suggestions . . .

-Melissa M.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Opening Day!

Is anyone else as excited for opening day as I am?!  It feels like the real start of spring to me.  It’s funny, because it wasn’t until I moved to Pittsburgh that I really started enjoying baseball games. (Insert Pirates joke here).  Spring is such a time of rebirth, and I love that every year we start the season with a clean slate.

President Kennedy throws in the first pitch on opening day, 1961. Image from the National Archives.


It took me such a long time to get into baseball because, well, I always thought it was kind of boring.  I love watching hockey and soccer, and baseball is about as far away from those fast-paced sports as you can get.  But after being convinced to attend a few games, I found that it started to grow on me.  It would be hard to say exactly why.  It’s something to do with the building of tension when you have two outs and the bases loaded, or the fierce loyalty of the fans.  Or the feeling of waiting anxiously for a home run.  Or the fact that spending a summer afternoon or evening outside watching a game is just a really fun way to spend some time.

Of course, baseball also seems to have more quirky lore than other sports, and that might be the thing that really puts it close to my heart.  Sure, you can dig up interesting trivia about football or hockey or any other sport, but have you ever heard of a football player burying their pet monkey under the goal posts?  (Have you ever even heard of a football player owning a pet monkey?)  Some of the stories in books like Ball Four make athletes of other sports seem tame, and the Pirates’ own Dock Ellis set the bar pretty high for crazy athlete exploits. 

Only a few more days until the start of the season, and I for one can’t wait.



Filed under Uncategorized

Movies with a Boston Accent

Perhaps the best and most prominent part of the movie Fargo is its characters’ heavy north-midwestern accents. I remember walking out of the theater saying that someone should do a movie like that with Pittsburgh’s unique pronunciation and dialect.  I’m still waiting.

But while I’m waiting, I’ve been enjoying wicked good movies that showcase thick Bostonian accents.  These flicks focus on working class folk from the Boston area that’s seemingly separate from the city’s dozens of universities and colleges.  Here are some that I saw and liked:

The Fighter (2010)

Gone Baby Gone (2007)

The Departed (2006)

Good Will Hunting (1997)

Okay, film buffs, what are some other Beantown movies that I should see?

And for you aspiring actors, or if you just like to do impressions, the library has the Boston edition of the Acting with an Accent series.  (This is to be distinguished from the editions teaching the “Down East” New England accent and the upper class “Kennedy-esque” accent.)

— Tim


Filed under Uncategorized

The Library’s New Neighbor, a Living Building

As I walk to work and cross the Panther Hollow bridge, I marvel at the twinkling 1893 glass building just ahead. Phipps Conservatory, a steel and glass Victorian greenhouse, shines in the sunlight, sparkles in the snow. Phipps has been a constant neighbor of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh—Main, since construction began for both complexes the same year, 1893.

Lately I’ve see a confusion of equipment behind Phipps. I noticed earth movers biting into the side of the hill, and assumed the work was an effort to shore up the bluff, since the hill appeared much too steep for a building site.

Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes rendering (from Phipps website)

Phipps website informs me I’m wrong about the steep slope. The land is being reshaped to accomodate the third phase of Phipps expansion project, a 24,350-square-foot education, research and administration complex called the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL).

Pittsburgh boasts 24 LEED-certified buildings, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, currently the highest standard for green buildings. Phipps accepted the Living Building Challenge issued by the Cascadia chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, a program that “defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions.” Phipps describes the Center this way.

Designed and built by the people of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania as an innovation for the world, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes will emerge as a Living Building, exceeding LEED Platinum Certification, by generating all of its own energy with renewable resources and capturing all water used on site.

Construction began in October, 2010 and the project is expected to be completed December, 2011. I wonder how I’ll welcome our new neighbor. A bouquet of winter roses? A box of cookies made with sustainably grown chocolate?


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


Right now I live next door to a building that used to house a business.  Said business relocated to a different neighborhood, which is sad for those of us who liked to shop there.  However, it does create the delightful state of affairs in which I can now describe where I live in terms of something that used to be there (and it wasn’t an Isaly’s).  This makes me feel as if, after thirteen years of city living, I am a bona fide Pittsburgher at last.

I’ve loved every moment of my time here thus far, especially getting to know all the wonderful people.  Pittsburghers are just like their iconic spokesman, Mister Rogers:  friendly folks who start conversations on buses, cheerfully perform random acts of kindness , and of course,  give helpful directions.

Feel like being part of — or even more of a part of — Pittsburgh’s neighborly phenomenon?  Next time you stop by Main Library, please consider supporting our colleagues in the Children’s Department by contributing to their latest Rogersian effort.  Between now and April 16 you can support the Mommy & Me Food Drive, which benefits our friends and neighbors at Community Human Services, by bringing a low-sugar, non-perishable food item with you next time you visit.  We always love to see you when you come in, but we’ll be super-excited if you choose to support the library and the Oakland community in this way, at this time.

My own Pittsburgh story is, I’m sure, just beginning, and I can’t wait to see what the chapters ahead reveal.  All I know for certain is that it will never be boring!  Not with wonderful friends and neighbors like you.

–Leigh Anne

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

an alternative to writer’s block . . . snacking

As has happened to the best of us (at least that’s what I tell myself), I have a full-blown case of writer’s block.  Now I could give you a list of books with writing advice, but my colleague, Renée, has done that already.  What I would suggest, and what I always do myself, is head to the fridge, or if you’re in an office environment like mine, to the snack table.  Really, just looking at food can be inspiring, and certainly seeing my current array of options – Oreos, jelly beans, and caramel corn – sent me quickly back to the computer to write.  After a handful of the caramel corn, of course. 

As usual, the library can help you, even in the snacking endeavor.  We can help you understand the nutrition label on the snacks you buy at the store, and we have a selection of books with recipes for making your own, including:

Midnight SnacksMidnight Snacks: 150 Easy and Enticing Alternatives to Standing by the Freezer Eating Ice Cream from the Carton, by Michael J. Rosen and Sharon Reiss.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————Italian Snacks 

Simple Italian Snacks: More Recipes from America’s Favorite Panini Bar, by Jason Denton and Kathryn Kellinger.


Wholesome Junk Food Cookbook The Wholesome Junk Food Cookbook: More than 100 Healthy Recipes for Everyday Snacking, by Laura Trice.

Now sometimes snack food just has to be junk food, and we even have a cookbook for that:

Top Secret Recipes Top Secret Recipes: Creating Kitchen Clones of America’s Favorite Brand-Name Foods, by Todd Wilbur.


And sometimes one’s snack has to be a particular food, or else.  We can offer:

Popcorn!: 60 Irresistible Recipes for Everyone’s Favorite Snack, by Frances Towner Giedt.

Potatoes Potatoes: From Pancakes to Pommes Frites, by Annie Nichols.  (In case you’re thinking “huh?”, this book includes a recipe for potato chips.)

The Complete Jerky Book The Complete Jerky Book: How to Dry, Cure, and Preserve Everything from Venison to Turkey, by Monte Burch.


So there you have it, a cure for writer’s block and a whole lot of snacks for all occasions. 


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Spring Fever!

crocusYesterday The New York Times published a lovely editorial praising the robin as the harbinger of spring. The editors wrote:

Somehow the robin stands for all the birds migrating now, the great V’s of geese heading north, the catbirds that will show up surreptitiously in a month. It also stands for the surprise of spring itself, which we had begun to fear would not arrive. We have all been keeping watch, as though one morning it might come sailing over the horizon. And now it’s here — the air a bit softer, snowdrops and winter aconites blooming, the bees doing their cleaning and the robins building their nests again.

As Denise mentioned yesterday, Sunday’s equinox marked the official beginning of spring, and in celebration I’m engaging in all sorts of seasonal activities. From watching the peregrine falcons at the Cathedral of Learning guard their newly laid eggs to checking up on what the fashion world‘s elite have in mind for post-sweater weather, all things spring have caught my attention. My reading taste has spring fever, too, and I’m checking out lots of books related to nature and the outdoors.

John Fowles The TreeThe other day I stumbled across John Fowles’  The Tree, a naturalist classic whose website describes it as a “moving meditation on the connection between the natural world and human creativity, and a powerful argument against taming the wild.” The newest edition boasts an introduction by Barry Lopez, whose own nature-oriented meditations I’ve recently enjoyed in magazines like Tricycle.

The Tree is light enough to bring it with me on walks, another favorite warm weather Wanderlust : a history of walking / Rebecca Solnit.activity of mine. In the fall, I moved into a new house, so I’m looking forward  to discovering the changes warmer seasons bring to my new neighborhood.  As I read Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking,  my mind can wonder about walking as I wander around.

The spell of the sensuous : perception and language in a more-than-human world / David Abram.One book that’s inspired many a musing since I read it is deep ecologist David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, a philosophical reflection on the ways nature may have shaped humans’ linguistic and perceptual evolution. In lyrical, moving prose, Abrams imagines our place in nature as participatory and reciprocal–both seeing and seen, feeling and felt–by the network of animals and landscapes we’re part of.

Springtime inspires my political activity as well. The more time I spend in our beautiful habitat, the more I appreciate and want to protect it. Locally, concerns about the environmental effects of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale and uncertainly about how our state’s elected legislature will handle it motivate me to stay informed about the subject and tell my state representatives how I feel.

In terms of my personal habitat, I’m preoccupied with all of the possibilities for a raised bed garden I’m planning. To prepare, I’m consulting every gardening resource I see (including my wise coworkers), and tomorrow I’m attending Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s free lunchtime lecture about rain barrels and rain gardens.

Reading, walking, gardening, and generally growing give me plenty to do as the days lengthen. I hope spring fever also brings you lots of ways to spend your ever-increasing hours of sunlight!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Momentum Shift

According to Wikipedia, the March Equinox occurred last night at 7:26 PM local time.   We can finally stop thinking about the groundhog; spring is officially here.  All I want to do is go outside and play.

Even though the nights are getting shorter, they’re warming up enough to do some serious stargazing.  The Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh has published their 2011 schedule of Star Parties at Wagman Observatory and Mingo Creek Park Observatory.  I personally recommend visiting the Wagman site and using the telescope that was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie and built by John Brashear.  But if you can’t make it to a party, or if you just can’t get enough of that night sky, you can always come to the library and grab a guide.

Viewing the Constellations With Binoculars: 250+ Wonderful Sky Objects to See and Explore by Bojan Kambic

Another exciting part of spring is the local Peregrine Falcon nesting season.  Pittsburgh’s National Aviary hosts live Falcon Cams at the Gulf Tower downtown, and Cathedral of Learning in Oakland.  If you want to know more about what you’re watching, Kate St. John of WQED has put together an incredible Peregrine FAQ, as part of her blog Outside My Window: A Bird-Watcher’s View of the World.  She also covers general bird anatomy and behavior, and describes happenings in the local environment down to the appearance and function of the weeds in the winter.   If you find yourself wanting to get a closer look at Kate St. John’s world, we’ve got books that can help you make your little piece of habitat more inviting.

The Backyard Bird Lover’s Ultimate How-To Guide: More Than 200 Easy Ideas and Projects for Attracting and Feeding Your Favorite Birds by Sally Roth

I’m also looking forward to hitting the local trails.  I’ve always been a hiker, but this year I may actually get myself a bike and explore some of the nearby rail trails.  Of course, when starting any new fitness routine, your doctor should be your first stop.  But after you’ve been declared healthy, we can help you figure out what to do next.  Here’s the book I’ve had my eye on –

Knack Cycling For Everyone: A Guide to Road, Mountain, and Commuter Biking by Leah Garcia and Jilayne Lovejoy.

Are you getting ready for any fun outdoor activities?


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I lost on Jeopardy

One of my favorite shows is Jeopardy. Like most people who watch along, I get a kick out of trying to shout out the answers before the on-screen contestants can buzz in their correct reply. The best part? When I’m wrong, I don’t get deducted points. It’s like I win all the time. That is, until recently, when I watched the IBM supercomputer Watson beat up on my hero Ken Jennings, and another former champion Brad Rutter. I still enjoy watching, of course (Who doesn’t like Alex Trebek!? And yes he should grow back his mustache.) but I no longer aspire to be on the program as before. The amount of knowledge required is vast, and what made Watson so impressive was its ability to comprehend human language quickly.  Jeopardy has a way of speaking intricately—phrases that even the human contestants do not always pick up on. To those braver (and smarter) than I, here are some valuable tools to get you started for Jeopardy success.

The go-to memoir for this  is Bob Harris’ Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! Harris was an eight-time winner, and this book tells that story, as well as suggestions for how to be a future success on the show—how to prioritize categories, how to seek out the “Daily Double,” what to expect in “Final Jeopardy.” That this book is so humorous and well-written makes it all the more an essential tool.

Next is the man himself, Ken Jennings. Seventy-four time winner on Jeopardy, and second place only to Rutter for all-time winnings, Jennings is the modern-day authority on all things trivia. To attempt to be a contestant on Jeopardy, or any other trivial game show, for that matter, without consulting his books (or researching his performances) would be detrimental. You would also be robbing yourself of a fantastic personality. In Brainiac, Jennings not only goes through his personal experience on the show, but also its history, and his own history as a “trivia nerd.” Just for an idea of how fast and complex his mind works, fans could also pick up his Trivia Almanac, wherein, much like his former monthly column in Mental Floss, he takes a subject from each day and compiles it seamlessly.

Finally, aside from picking up the encyclopedia and memorizing it, many former Jeopardy champions swear by The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. I’m picking through it, and it has already improved some of my shout out to the television answers, even if I’m not quite sure how I learned what I did—this book is to thank. Compiled by subject (“The Bible,” “World Geography,” and “Business and Economics” are some of the chapters), this book is a pretty handy compendium for any future trivia buff.

There you have it. All the tools you need (you, not me) to be a future Jeopardy champion. Now go take out the computer.

– Tony

* Post title courtesy of one of Weird Al‘s lesser works.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized