Monthly Archives: June 2011

1977: A Year in Review

As the month of my 34th birthday fast approaches, I find myself wondering what movies came out the year I was born. Do the math. Hurry. I’ll wait.

It was the same summer that guy Sam knocked out all the power in New York and talked to the dog and just one month before Elvis ate his final peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwich. 1977. A glorious spot at the end of the decade that ushered me into this world along to the tunes of “Rich Girl,” “Dancing Queen,” and, it pains me to admit, “Hotel California.”

– First off, let’s get the foreign movie out of the way so I can appear cultured and without boundaries. “House.” Not the American movie that came out a couple years later with the Greatest American Hero and Norm from Cheers. The Japanese one. This movie is insane. It’s one of those movies that you watch and while you’re watching it, you really can’t wait for it to be over, but you know that you have to suffer through it because it’s so awesome and you want to be able to tell people that you watched it. The only thing I’ll really say about this movie is there exists a scene in which a piano eats a girl.

– That segues nicely into America’s response to this; Death Bed: The Bed that Eats. Now, I’ve never actually seen this movie and all I know about it came from Patton Oswalt’s sketch on Werewolves and Lollipops, but from his description, it sounds unstoppable.

– Next up, Romero’s “Martin,” the first ever vampire movie to be set in Braddock, PA. Well, the first guy-who-is-crazy-and-sort-of-acts-like-a-vampire-in-a-roundabout-way movie to be set in Braddock, PA. If you’re a fan of the Twilight movies, you may want to stay clear of this one.

– Now this next one is a personal favorite of mine. “Pete’s Dragon.” What kid didn’t want to hang out with his own animated dragon buddy named Elliot and also Mickey Rooney?

– Who could forget about “Slap Shot?” Paul Newman and a crew of goons skated their ways into America’s heart with their representation of the Jets, a now defunct hockey team from Johnstown, PA.

– Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” won four Academy Awards that year. I’ve never seen it, but am slowly making my way through the Allen catalogue. Maybe I’ll try it out this summer.

– David Lynch released his first movie, “Eraserhead.” He hit the ground running with this title, confusing everyone who watched it and setting the tone for the next thirty years of his career. This film is also in the National Film Registry.

I could probably go on forever, but I’ll limit it to just two vastly different movies from my favorite genre, Science Fiction. And by admitting that here in the blogosphere, I’ll be spending the next four months of Fridays alone in my room crying into my paperback copy of A Princess of Mars.

– “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Richard Dreyfus gets blasted by some alien lights and spends the rest of the movie freaking out and building things out of mashed potatoes. Despite the lack of action figure rights, this movie did pretty well for itself, according to Box Office Mojo, grossing over 116 million dollars.

– And lastly, we cover George Lucas’ “Star Wars.” The movie series that pretty much ran the next ten years of my life into the ground and still, to this day, inspires long and drawn out conversations with people I’d rather not be seen with. I don’t even want to think about the sheer quantity of hours that I’ve dedicated to these movies. I could have probably been a doctor if my brain wasn’t filled up with useless facts about the Dagobah System and how lightsabers were made. And it all started a mere two months before I was born. Thanks George. I hate you. And so does the little kid whose diseases I could have cured if it weren’t for you.

In conclusion, 1977 ruled pretty hard. Check out that list and see what other movies we have that came out that year. We have quite a few. Additionally, please address all birthday cards and gifts to Christopher, c/o Film & Audio.

– Christopher


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ebook help as bad short poetry

We library types are often asked to help customers solve their ebook problems. But after a while, we find ourselves saying the same things over and over again. So why not deliver the message in a new medium?

do not install
Adobe Digital Editions onto your nook
that way madness lies.

inexplicable error message
not so inexplicable
if you Google it.

while an ereader is a portable device,
it is not a “portable device.”
yeah, i know.

it’s not yet a paperless society, despite what they say.
and it’s not a wireless society, either.
where did you put your USB cable?

user not authorized
don’t blame your nook
that one’s Adobe’s fault.

The OverDrive Media Console goes on your computer.
The OverDrive Media Console application goes on your phone.
Of course they would have the same name.

My paperback book
is worth just as much as your fancy iPad
if we drop them both in the pool.

Still need help with your OverDrive ebooks? Drop us a line. Poetry is optional.

– Amy


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State of Mind

It’s time for a vacation, dear readers. And that is precisely what I will be doing at the end of this week, taking time to see old friends in the city of New York. Since not much else is on my mind, I’m using the inspiration for a New York City booklist. There won’t be much time for reading, as I am going to celebrate a wedding, but I will undoubtedly have these books on my mind as I venture out into some of my favorite neighborhoods.

It’s tempting to start the list with Catcher in the Rye, because if we’re being honest, that is the first book that comes to my mind. But it’s a winter book, and I will not be ice skating on this particular trip. (Also, I was always more of a Franny and Zooey guy). So instead I’ll start with where my mind goes next, Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. This book has had a surprisingly lasting effect on me, though at the time of reading I plowed through it so fast I didn’t think anything would stay. Lionel Essrog moves around Brooklyn attempting to solve the mystery of his murdered boss, but also dealing with his own unique problems, including his suffering from Tourette’s syndrome. Essrog, as a result, is a sympathetic and memorable character, and one that is not soon forgotten.

Next up, probably the best book about New York in recent years, is Netherland by Joseph O’Neill. I’ve had a hard time explaining what makes this book so good, because it’s not about plot (unless you are really interested in what happens in cricket). Our Dutch narrator is simply trying to find his place in the world after his wife and child leave him in post 9/11 New York. His attempts at finding new friendship, the risks he is willing to take in order to be granted it, and the means by which he will fight for his family make this a book worth picking up.  Also, Obama read it.

Third, we have Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I feel like I am constantly defending this book, and I will not stop doing so. Safran Foer has been better, but no narrator will be as memorable as Oskar, a nine year old jack of all trades trying to make sense of the mystery of the fallen towers, and how his father will never return from them. The book is stylistically vast, Safran Foer takes interesting risks, but the story never travels far from our wide-eyed young man dealing with immense tragedy.

A quick break, for good reason. These next two are not New York City books. Like my reading habits, I sometimes can’t stay focused enough without letting my mind go on to a new subject. My mind went not to New York, but to the city’s cousin, the great state of New Jersey. Jersey books hold a spot dear to me, as a former resident of a small town that was more of a suburb of New York City than it belonged in any way to the state. When I read books about Jersey, I think about working in a bookstore in Hoboken and catching the train into the city right after my shift, eager to get out, but happy to be there in that moment.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is quintessential Jersey to me, and the narrator as well as our main character are from Paterson, NJ – which is eerily close to my old stomping grounds in Union City. This book is pure nerd bliss. I’ve never read an author with a voice like Diaz, who is seemingly in long conversation with each unique reader as he tells the story of Oscar. This book rightfully got the accolades, it’s a memorable coming of age tragicomedy with enough nerdom (Tolkien speak!) and history lessons to keep your mind whirling.

And I close out my list with Philip Roth, the writer that, for me, most defines what it means to live in a neighborhood. I’m not well versed in Roth, but if American Pastoral is any indication, he knows what it’s like to be in Newark, NJ. Pastoral is a great character piece, Roth taking the common narrator Nathan Zuckerman and describing his childhood hero, Swede Levov. The life and times of Swede are fiction, of course, but Roth’s roots remain unabashedly Jersey, something I can appreciate.

So what about you, dear readers? I know I missed some good ones for length’s sake, but what books are New York City (or Jersey) to you?

– Tony


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Toward a Life of Less

“Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends… Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”  Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Author's photo

I moved to Pittsburgh almost a year ago (gosh, has it already been that long?!), but it was my first ever out of state move. And even though I moved to a much smaller space–from an 1100 square foot single-family house to a 768 square foot rowhouse–as I exhaustedly unpacked box after box, I realized that I still had way too much stuff. While I have been gravitating toward a life of less over the years–I’m constantly donating unwanted stuff to charity— it wasn’t until this move that I knew I finally had to kick it into high gear.

Author's photo

I am striving toward a life of less in all of my possessions, only keeping what I feel is essential and of quality or beauty and removing any excess, from furniture to shoes to dishes to holiday decorations.
Minimalism seems to be the newest term, but it’s also known as Voluntary Simplicity (or just Simplicity), Simple Living and Urban Homesteading. Spiritually, it is seen in Zen Buddhism and Monasticism in the relinquishing of worldly goods and possessions.
Several books (and blogs–specifically Miss Minimalist and Rowdy Kittens) have guided me along this life path; perhaps you’ve been thinking about this yourself?
~Maria, living with LOTS less and LOVING it!


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Livability: Stories

“What is sorrow but old, worn out joy?” –Jon Raymond

I usually prefer to read a story before watching a film adaptation, but somehow the short stories of Jon Raymond slipped past my radar, until I recently discovered that the movies Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy were both based on his work.

The collection Livability is one of the best short story collections I’ve read in some time, and so I’m eager to recommend the book to fellow readers and hear what they think—I know the stories are quite good, but I also feel like I may be somewhat biased. As is the case with both films mentioned above, all of these stories take place in my home state of Oregon, and Raymond has perfectly nailed the feeling and mood of contemporary life in the Pacific Northwest—gloomy, isolating, in transition.

Portland, Oregon is consistently listed (along with Seattle) as one of America’s “Ten Most Livable Cities,” but as this collection makes abundantly clear, the Northwest is not merely a region of clean air, green trees, and impressive mountainscapes. It is also an area haunted by the fall of the timber industry, mass clearcuts, and rising unemployment figures. Portland has certainly remade itself in the past twenty years, but it still remains a largely economically depressed area, albeit a popular one for college-grads and young upper-middle class professionals looking to start families and settle down. Raymond’s stories are not interested in the young, moneyed, and educated though. They instead tend to focus on individuals living in the cracks—loners and longtime locals displaced by economic hardship, widowhood, or divorce. It is a somewhat gloomy, hazy reality, but not completely depressing due to the sympathy and tenderness with which the author treats his rough-edged characters, who carry on despite each setback.

If you find yourself enjoying this collection as much as I did, I recommend checking out both of the film adaptations by Kelly Reichardt, available in our collection:

Old Joy
Friends mostly out of habit, Kurt and Mark reunite and decide to take a meandering camping trip to a hot springs hidden in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Both men have taken significantly different paths in life (one has settled down, the other is still a rudderless traveler), and they awkwardly struggle to connect and understand each other. Based on the Raymond story of the same name, and starring Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy).

Wendy and Lucy
A subtly devastating portrait of life during recession times, where the smallest choices or turns of fortune can lead to dreadful consequences. Wendy is down on her luck, but hoping to turn things around with a summer job in Alaska. On her way there with her dog Lucy, she finds herself stranded with no money in a small Oregon town. After getting caught stealing dog food at a grocery store, her luck abruptly heads downhill. And then she loses track of Lucy. [Side note: the dog will be okay, but I won’t give anything else away.] Based on the Raymond story “Train Choir.”

Word on the street is that Raymond and Reichardt have just collaborated on a new film out in theaters called Meek’s Cutoff, about ill-fated pilgrims on the Oregon Trail. I can’t wait for this to come to Pittsburgh in July!



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Urban Wildlife

Although I live in the city, I’m often reminded that the wild outdoors isn’t too far away.  Over the weekend, a man was bitten by a rattlesnake while hiking in a neighboring county.  Bear sightings aren’t unusual in the suburbs, and even occasionally within the city limits.  We currently have not one, but two sets of peregrine falcons nesting on skyscrapers.  And last Friday, a juvenile bald eagle was spotted passing through Oakland.

If you’re trying to develop an eye for the nature documentary playing out in your city, here are a few things that may interest you –

Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife by Marie Winn

You may have heard of Pale Male and Lola, a pair of red-tailed hawks who nest on an apartment building outside of Central Park in New York City.  Winn explores the whole ecosystem into which they fit, from dragonflies to dogwalkers.

Coyote At the Kitchen Door: Living With Wildlife in Suburbia by Stephen DeStefano

In what is perhaps a clever way of presenting the intersection of wild coyotes and suburban humans, this book is half natural history and half memoir.

Urban Nature: Poems About Wildlife in the City, edited by Laure-Anne Bosselaar

This anthology brings together more than 13o poems that celebrate the overlap of city and nature.

Wildlife of Pennsylvania and the Northeast by Charles Fergus

Get to know the critters in your back yard.  This book describes more than 300 species in fascinating depth.

Animal Tracks of New York and Pennsylvania by Tamara Eder

Say you’ve never actually seen the animal you want to identify.  The detailed drawings in this book can help you determine what’s been prowling around your yard at night.

Deer-Resistant Landscaping: Proven Advice and Strategies for Outwitting Deer and 20 Other Pesky Mammals by Neil Soderstrom

And for those of you who have had about enough of your local wildlife, try deterring it from your yard with these low-impact ideas.



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Ever feel like screaming? Either at someone or the world at large? I am so angry right now. It’s not a good feeling. I don’t like being angry. I prefer to be happy and content. But sometimes people or circumstances get my blood boiling and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. And I probably shouldn’t try to stop it anyway. Suppressing feelings can lead to even worse things, like ulcers, heart problems, spending lots of money on therapy . . .

If you want to examine your anger, or its source, the library offers the following to help soothe your savage beast:

Overcoming Anger book coverWhen You’re Mad at Your Partner:

Overcoming Anger in Your Relationship: How to Break the Cycle of Arguments, Put-Downs, and Stony Silences by W. Robert Nay

The Self-Aware Parent book coverWhen You’re Mad at Your Kid:

The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child by Fran Walfish

When Parents Hurt book coverWhen You’re Mad at Your Parents:

When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along by Joshua Coleman

Honor Your Anger book coverWhen You’re Mad at Yourself:

Honor Your Anger: How Transforming Your Anger Style Can Change Your Life by Beverly Engel

The Anger Trap book coverWhen You’re Mad at the World:

The Anger Trap: Free Yourself from the Frustrations that Sabotage Your Life by Les Carter

Surviving in an Angry World book coverWhen Everyone Around You Is Mad:

Surviving in an Angry World: Finding Your Way to Personal Peace by Charles F. Stanley

—Melissa M.


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Knuckler Delivers Striking Story

Knuckleball pitchers hold a special place in my heart.  The inherent quirkiness of their signature pitch seems to always rub off on the pitchers themselves.  They’re often characters in the most interesting sense of the term.  Anyone who can challenge Major League Baseball caliber hitters with a pitch that averages 60 MPH (the average MLB fastball clocks in at 91 MPH) has to be a little bit crazy.

I’ve written before about one of my favorite baseball books, Ball Four by knuckleball pitcher Jim Bouton.  Great book.  Really, the best MLB book, IMHO.  Now you can add Knuckler to the short list of excellent books that cover this most elusive of pitches.  Although not nearly the quirky character that Bouton was when he played, Tim Wakefield and co-author Tony Massorotti (a Boston Herald columnist) do a great job communicating the zany vicissitudes of surviving in the major leagues on what amounts to a gimmick pitch.  Wakefield’s uniqueness as a knuckleballer comes with the fact that he has no other real “out” pitch.  Many other knuckleballers in history possessed at least a decent secondary pitches, but with Tim it’s the flutter-ball or nothing!

Beyond the mechanics of baseball and pitching, Knuckler also explores the many good works Mr. Wakefield has done in the Boston and Melbourne, Florida areas where he makes his home.  A lot of professional athletes make a show of giving back, but Tim Wakefield makes a life of it.  So yes, read Knuckler if you’re even a little curious about this amazing pitch and how it works, but also read it for what you will learn about how one man can do so much with a second chance.  It’s these sorts of stories that make me a baseball fan, and I am confident they’ll have the same effect on you.


P.S. If you like Ball Four and Knuckler, you may also want to check out the book about Tim Wakefield’s mentor, Phil Niekro, entitled Knuckle Balls.

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Fantasy novels are like pizza:  even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good, and while the “toppings” may vary somewhat, you know what you’re getting when you choose one.  Now imagine you pick up a pizza expecting the same old thing, but then you are pleasantly surprised, as if someone had sneaked chunks of pineapple, or perhaps roasted red pepper, onto your pie.  That’s what reading Stan Nicholls’s First Blood trilogy is like.

Nicholls turns fantasy conventions on their ear by making orcs the good guys this time around.   Human beings have invaded the land of Maras-Dantia, ruining its natural resources and stripping the land of its magic, making it difficult for the elder races—such as orcs, merfolk and trolls—to survive. The humans have also brought their religious quarrels with them, and the constant fighting between the polytheistic Manis and the one-true-god Unis keeps the rest of Maras-Dantia’s citizens off-balance. Our hero, Stryke, and his warband, the Wolverines, grow weary of serving an evil queen and set off on a quest that could lead to complete orc freedom…or, possibly, death at the hands of dragonfire, religious fanatics, the aforementioned evil queen, or one of her equally deadly sisters.

Reversing the “good humans/bad orcs” trope allows Nicholls to make some fairly pointed commentary on colonialism, environmentalism, religious tolerance and the like.  However, you’ll be having so much fun reading the fast-paced, gripping battle scenes that you might not notice the political subtext right away. Stryke is a terrific protagonist, a dedicated warrior who looks after his troops and tries to do the right thing in a low-key, no-nonsense manner. The supporting characters, while less well-rounded, are also sympathetic and endearing, and include Coilla, Stryke’s feisty second-in-command, and Jup, a dwarf who complicates the novel’s racial themes by abandoning his own people and choosing to serve with the orcs. Jennesta, the evil queen, is pretty appalling, even for a villain, and some of her bloodier deeds might be difficult for the squeamish to read. The chapters, however, are both short and thrilling, so you can always let your eyes skim past the more disturbing elements and move on to the next rowdy ambush or dream sequence.

If the First Blood trilogy sounds like fun to you, you can read the collected omnibus volume, called Orcs, in either print or audio formats. And if you find it as thrilling as I did, you can move on to the first volume of the second Orcs trilogy, called Bad Blood.  After that, the sky’s the limit, especially when you have an entire team of dedicated librarians to recommend all the fantasy novels your little heart could ever desire.

 —Leigh Anne
proud supporter of both orc independence and Spak Brothers

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Girl detectives

I loved reading the Nancy Drew books when I was young, and used to daydream about stumbling onto some kind of crime and solving it.  It’s probably no surprise that as an adult I still like to read mysteries, particularly those that feature a plucky, if not fearless, woman who winds up in the midst of a criminal investigation.  A few of my favorites:

Size 12 Is Not Fat, by Meg Cabot: Heather Wells, a former pop star who now works as an assistant residence hall director at a university in New York, has a way of finding herself in the middle of trouble.  From the moment I starting reading the first in the series, I was immediately reminded of a modern-day Nancy Drew. Size 14 Is Not Fat Either and Big Boned are also part of the Heather Wells series. This would make perfect beach reading this summer, too. 

The Spellman Files, by Lisa Lutz: This is a slight twist on the Nancy Drew theme, since the Spellman family runs an actual detective agency.  A dysfunctional family of P.Is makes for some great reading, and Izzy Spellman, the novel’s heroine, is a character that you want to root for.  Also check out the other books in this series. 

Died in the Wool, by Mary Kruger: Frankly, cozy mysteries aren’t generally on my reading list, but as a knitter I was drawn to this one.  When Ari Evans discovers a body in her knitting store, she finds herself in the center of a murder investigation.  And yes, she uses her knitting knowledge to help solve the crime.  You can also check out the sequel to this, Knit Fast, Die Young.

Grave Sight, by Charlaine Harris: You might be familiar with Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books, but you might not know that she also writes another (recently concluded) series of mysteries as well.  Haper Connelly’s business is death: after being struck by lightning as a teenager, she now has the ability to locate dead bodies and relive their last moments.  Clients often hire her to find missing loved ones, or out of plain old curiosity, but Harper’s gift often leads her into the center of murder cases. When you get through this series, if you’re looking for still more Charlaine Harris you might try her Aurora Teagarden mystery series (featuring a librarian as the starring sleuth!). 



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