Monthly Archives: July 2011

Witches and Gods

I recently read a book called The Witches of East End that took the current trend for all things supernatural in a slightly different, and unexpected, direction.  You might be familiar with the book’s author, Melissa de la Cruz, as the writer of the series Blue Bloods, which is kind of what you’d get if you crossed Gossip Girl with vampire stories. An unbeatable combination, right?  And yet her adult novel, which draws heavily on Norse mythology, was even more engaging than her teen series. The fact that the mythology on which the characters are based wasn’t revealed immediately only made the book more interesting, in my opinion, and it also led me to poke around our mythology section a bit.  If stories of love, jealousy, quests,betrayal, war, and passion are your thing, the mythology section is defnitely an area of the library you want to check out.  A few books to get you started might be:

Myths of the Norseman: From the Eddas and the Sagas: Thanks to de la Cruz’s book, I’m now fairly obsessed with Norse mythology.  This is among several books we have that tells these ancient stories. 

Bulfinch’s Mythology: Bulfinch may have the definitive books on mythology.  His books on Greek and Roman mythology are classics for a reason.   

Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses: Not sure which culture’s mythology to start with?  This explores the gods and goddesses of various past (and present) religions and mythologies. 

The Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology: Legends of the East: Myths and Tales of the Heroes, Gods, and Warriors of Ancient Egypt, Arabia, Persia, India, Tibet, China and Japan: Greek and Roman mythology is often what comes to mind first, but the far east has more than its share of classic stories. 

Every culture has its own mythology and we’ve got books on most of them!  If you’re looking for something you don’t see here, try searching our catalog for the subject heading “Mythology,” followed by the name of the country you’re interested in.  And of course if you can’t find it in our catalog, ask one of us! 



Filed under Uncategorized

Special Ks: Pittsburgh Musicians

I’ve mentioned before how southeastern suburban Denver, where I grew up, is seemingly dominated by people of Northwestern European descent.  My last name is Williams and the last names of the members of my first teenage suburban punk band were Jacobs, Guthrie, and Swanson.

Then I moved to Pittsburgh, which has many more Eastern Europeans, and the last names of my new band mates were different.  For instance, there were lots of names that ended in the letter K.  I made music (and a fair amount of noise with screaming over top of it) with guys with last names like Jencik, Kasparek, Tlumack, and Potiseck.  And we shared the stage with musicians with last names such as Zentek, Jarabeck, Urchick, Dayak, and Garbark.

Early 1990s Western PA bandmates (Photographer unknown)

None of these punk and indie rock musicians make any music that sounds remotely Eastern European or with any instruments from their forebearers’ countries.  Fortunately, others carry on those traditions.  Nonetheless, these fellow noisemakers of mine are the Special Ks that help give Pittsburgh its distinctive flavor.

— Tim

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

For Wendell Berry’s Birthday

Wendell Berry will celebrate his 77th birthday August 5. If I were going to send him a card, this is the message I would write.

“Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, deerit nihil.” If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

Cicero wrote this phrase to a friend. A more literal translation is “If you have a garden in your library, nothing will fail.” Cicero probably meant the garden as a place to converse, though I like the image of an actual garden in the library. We have an actual garden at CLP — Main. It’s a bamboo garden, a place for sitting out of doors, within the Library’s walls.

I found the Cicero quote on page 402 of Maira Kalman‘s through-the-year picture book for adults, And the Pursuit of Happiness. Fellow-blogger Tony introduced this book in a previous 11th Stack post, and I call your attention to “Back to the Land,” the November chapter, which could easily have been dedicated to Wendell Berry.

In “Back to the Land,” Kalman begins by musing about fast food in this country.

Thanksgiving. Since the beginning, Americans have connected the bounty of the land and the goodness of life to democracy. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison—farmers all—evnisioned an agrarian society. We have since evolved into a very different kind of society. There are those of us who are not farmers. Take me, for instance. I live in a city of pretty fast talkers and fast walkers. And we have fast food. Every city does. And every suburb. And every little bit of the country has very fast food. If you eat too much of this food you become sick and also fatafat. . . . You would need to walk to California to work off the excess. Which is what I did. In my head.

Kalman has lunch at Alice Water’s restaurant Chez Panisse, where the kitchen warms her heart. She visits Bob Cannard’s organic farm. “He believes there is no such thing as a bad bug.” She walks with Michael Pollan, and he picks mushrooms. She visits an edible schoolyard in Berkeley where middle schoolers work a huge vegetable garden, churn butter, roast peppers, eat together and clean up afterwards.

Then Kalman muses.

Now I am getting flashbacks to the ’60s. But it is different. It is not dropping out (though that sounds tempting now and then). It is bringing elemental things to the present time with commerce and optimism. Can that work? Can giant agribusiness shrink, while true organic farms grow? Can the elitism of a farmer’s martket shift so that the organic farms can be subsidized and that prices are reasonable for all people? That would be a democracy of healthy eating.

Wendell Berry’s message that “eating is an agricultural act,” explored in four decades of his poems, essays, and novels, continues to resound. I close with a Berry quotation from an essay in Orion magazine.

We need to confront honestly the issue of scale. Bigness has a charm and a drama that are seductive, especially to politicians and financiers; but bigness promotes greed, indifference, and damage, and often bigness is not necessary. You may need a large corporation to run an airline or to manufacture cars, but you don’t need a large corporation to raise a chicken or a hog. You don’t need a large corporation to process local food . . . and market it locally.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

get inside a book

As any regular reader of this blog will know, the library is much, much more than books. Yet our history is built on books and all they provide, and many library lovers are also book lovers. And we have two upcoming programs that for book lovers are sure to enjoy.

First, next Tuesday, August 2, we will be having a bookmaking workshop as part of the HOW: Hands-On Workshop series. Hannah Reiff of Paper Breakfast press will be demonstrating how to make three simple kinds of books, and you will get a chance to try each of them.  Then, on Saturday, August 6, Lucy Stewart, Assistant Curator of Education at the Carnegie Museum of Art, will be giving a free lecture on the History of the Book as part of the People’s University lecture series. She will trace the book and its form from ancient to modern times, the many ways it has changed, and the ways that artists have responded and used its various structures.

You bibliophiles can get ready for both programs with these titles that cover the art, craft and history of making books:

The Book as Art The Book as Art: Artists’ Books from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, by Krystyna Wasserman, with essays by Johanna Drucker and Audrey Niffenegger

Real Life Journals: Designing & Using Handmade Books, by Gwen Diehn

Bookbinding Basics Bookbinding Basics, Paola Rosati

The Penland Book of Handmade Books The Penland Book of Handmade Books: Master Classes in Bookmaking Techniques

The Art & History of Books The Art & History of Books, by Norma Levarie


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

You should read this.

The physics of imaginary objects / Tina May Hall.The book I’m recommending to everyone right now is The Physics of Imaginary Objects, a short story collection by Tina May Hall. I first discovered Hall by listening to an interview with her, and I was immediately taken with her poetic writing and its elements of fantasy and dark humor. Just listen to this excerpt from her author bio: “She teaches at Hamilton College and lives in the snowy Northeast with her husband and son in a house with a ghost in the radiator. Some days, she spends with her ear pressed to the wall. Some days, she snowshoes with her son to the wolf-ring in the woods where they drink hot chocolate and howl until the crows chase them home.” If the copy on the book jacket is this good, just imagine your delight when you get to the pulp.

Tina May Hall is clearly a writer who pays exquisite attention, a collector of news stories and ordinary facts whose inclusion in her prose sparks it to life. I picture her going about her day hastily scribbling notes in a tiny notebook as she browses the produce aisle, or pauses at the podium in the middle of a lecture, or waits in an intersection to make a left turn. The collection abounds with quotidian detail and quirky trivia that instantly develop characters and settings. Her writing is electric and sizzles with precise description, impeccable timing and masterful rhythm.

While her eye for the ordinary grounds her writing, her knack for surprising language elevates it. The table of contents is enough to pique any reader’s curiosity, with titles like “Skinny Girls’ Constitution and Bylaws,” “Faith Is Three Parts Formaldehyde, One Part Ethyl Alcohol” and “There Is a Factory in Sierra Vista Where Jesus Is Resurrected Every Hour in Hot Plastic and the Stench of Chicken.”  While a darkly magical tone and vivid detail connect the stories, they vary in style, including fables, flash fiction, a novella, lists of fragments from poems and historical records, even a prose sonnet. Some sentences are weighted with so much implied narrative, their collective force creates worlds more than stories, as in “Our mothers won’t let us sit on their laps” or “For a moment, I think you are going to propose to me in front of the fry-bread cart, but you are just tying your shoe.”

Her characters call to mind the reserved and slightly deluded antiheroines of Miranda July and Lorrie Moore, and fans of those writers will surely appreciate Hall’s work. If all of this piques your interest, you can read on her website When Praying to a Saint, Include Something Up Her Alley, a story not included in the collection, or check out one of the library’s many copies of The Physics of Imaginary Objects.



Filed under Uncategorized

What’s Your Pinterest?

Be honest: you’ve picked a book by its cover.  Said cover may have been bright, pretty, scary or fun.  Want a new way to choose a book by its cover? Let your search begin at Pinterest. is a website that allows users to “pin” their favorite images to a virtual pinboard. Users can pin pictures of anything they want and, luckily, some users take photos of their favorite book covers. These users have pinboard titles or captions such as “must read,” or “books worth reading,” making the books easier for you to find.

Once you’re on Pinterest, you can use the search box at the top-right side of the page to find whatever you’re interested in. Pinterest covers topics besides books, so it’s best to narrow down your search with good keywords. A simple search for “books” returns pictures with books in them, crafts using repurposed books, and book covers. However, if you narrow the search to “book covers,” you can find great books like Emma, Post Secret, and I Like You.

Okay, maybe Pinterest is not what you’d normally think of as a book recommender, but it can be a fun way to use it. After you’ve found a great book, you can search the library’s catalog to request it. You can also use it to find cool things on our webpage. If Pinterest piques your interest in crafts, for example, a simple search will lead you to our upcoming bookmaking craft event.

–Melissa F.


Filed under Uncategorized

Space is the Place

Yesterday marked the 42nd anniversary of when Neil Armstrong, (shortly followed by coolest name for an astronaut ever Buzz Aldrin– who you shouldn’t mess with), walked on the face of the moon. Take a minute and think about the glory of that statement, and then share the discontent that comes with knowing that NASA has no plans to launch another mission into space in the near future. Twelve days ago, NASA had its last manned mission to speak of, the successful launch of the aircraft Atlantis. With that in mind, I can’t help but think that my favorite space movies will never come to fruition – they imagine an existence in space that we have all but abandoned. OK, so most of these movies have to do with catastrophe and/or alien invasion, but they’re still great movies. They harbor an appreciation of space and technology that is looking rather bleak to me currently, so bear with me, dear readers. (Oh and I’m going semi-recent, because picking 2001: A Space Odyssey would effectively end this list with its sheer power – same goes for The Right Stuff.)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

I know, I know, I can hear the whiners already. It wasn’t as good as the books! What else is new? Books are generally way better, but this movie was really well done. The casting was top notch – Deschanel, Def, Freeman, and Rockwell rounded out the gang (Marvin the Martian voiced by a perfect Alan Rickman) – while staying faithful to the story and keeping the humor intact. Considering it ran on a limited budget and didn’t perform in theaters, they won’t get the opportunity to reunite for the rest of the series. A shame, it’s fun imagining a universe outside of Earth that is as idiosyncratic and bizarre as this.

Moon (2009)

Hey, Sam Rockwell again – he must have a vision for space as well, even if in this movie he’s all alone with a robot voiced by Kevin Spacey (in the role he was born to play!) Directed by David Bowie‘s son Duncan Jones, creating cinema like this will allow some room outside of that large shadow. This movie has cloning, philosophical dilemmas (existentialism and solipsism), and all the beautiful solitude of living alone on the moon.

Solaris (2002)

Soderbergh remade this Russian film with stud George Clooney and it flopped tremendously. I, for one, cannot see why. It’s beautiful, desolate, and opens an entire wormhole about space and isolation that is often unexplored. A psychological space movie, I can see why people didn’t flock to the theaters, but when it’s available now you shouldn’t continue missing the chance. Oh, and Jeremy Davies (of Lost fame) totally steals the show.

Sunshine (2007)

Before Danny Boyle got all Slumdog on us, he came out with perhaps his most experimental and vast film. It’s also one of my favorite movies. Ever. The “Icarus II” is on a mission to reignite the sun with a nuclear device big enough they mined out the entire planet to comprise it. It is humanity’s last hope, but the film is a reminder that the human condition exists  no matter where you place it. It’s striking and haunting, and you will never look up at the sun without quiet appreciation ever again.

Alien (1979)

This one is way older than the rest of the list, and yeah I said it was more recent, but try to watch this without knowing the year and guess when it came out. It looks beautiful. That this movie is only 10 years after the actual moon landing blows my mind. Also, terrifying – why can’t anyone make a movie this scary anymore?

What do you think of my choices, dear readers? Anything you disagree with? Anything I foolishly omitted? What movie reminds you of the vast awesomeness of space?

– Tony

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Summers Gone By

During the summer, I enjoy historical novels and short stories as well as historical non-fiction set in summer locations, specifically the seaside or the English countryside.  (Come to think of it, I enjoy these types of books year round because I love summer so much!).  These are a few of the titles that evoke (for me) quiet summer days when all you want to do is read, daydream, and escape.

  Summer by Edith Wharton. This little-known but exquisite novella published in 1917 tells the story of Charity Royall’s forbidden affair with an engaged man. Unlike many of Wharton’s other novels which have city society settings (say that three times quickly), this is set in the New England countryside, which is richly evoked in its descriptions of nature.

  The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt. I so wish my family had a summer cottage or house (preferably on the Big Water somewhere in Michigan, my home state) but I can dream about it with this wonderful story. Colt traces the history of his family’s house, from its humble beginnings through the twentieth century, to its present condition. Woven together are descriptions of the development and history of the  Cape Cod area and his personal family history.

 The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Chopin’s 1899 masterpiece (another novella) caused such a sensation that it devastated  Chopin’s career. Edna Pontellier is summering in Grand Isle with her husband and children, when she falls in love with Robert LeBrun. Her “awakening” to a realization of what she believes she wants is in direct conflict with her status as an upper class married mother in the Victorian era.

The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway. Many are not aware that Ernest Hemingway spent almost every summer of his life until he was eighteen in northern Michigan; the family still owns property on Walloon Lake. These stories, linked chronologically in the life of Nick Adams, are based on his experiences and memories there. 

The Alchemist’s Daughter by Katherine McMahon. In early eighteenth century England, Emilie Selden lives a life of seclusion and protection with her widowed father, an alchemist, whom she helps in his laboratory at their country estate, Selden Manor. Under the influences of Sir Isaac Newton, they conduct experiments in alchemy, a combination of the study of chemistry with philosophy. But their world is turned upside down when Emilie falls for sophisticated city merchant, Robert Aislabie, who threatens to disturb their quiet, untraditional life. 

Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 by Michael Capuzzo.  In New Jersey, vacationers are terrorized by the first documented attacks by sharks. Fascinating, well-written account, reads just like a thriller.

 Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve. In 1899 New England, precocious teenager Olympia Biddeford embarks on a romantic affair with a married man nearly three times her age, threatening her lifestyle, her class status (and his), and her future. One of Shreve’s little-known gems.



Filed under Uncategorized

Short shorts.

Summer is shorts weather. I’ve been reading a lot of collections of short stories lately, which has led me to start checking out more short films. We have over 300 short film titles (most are collections of short films!) here at the Main Library alone—a recent favorite of mine being The Patterns Trilogy and other unnerving but beautiful short films by a Mr. Jamie Travis:

Other short films available for check out:

And some by famous directors like Brakhage and Truffaut, and with actors like WC Fields:

And some from the McSweeney’s folks, who put out a quarterly DVD magazine of rare and unseen short films called Wholphin:

Enjoy some shorts while the summer lasts!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reuse, Repurpose, Re-create

I love finding new uses for stuff I already have lying around.  Not only do I get to feel clever, I don’t have to make a trip to Goodwill and nothing goes in the trash.  And sure, it’s okay to make cleaning rags out of old towels or “tupperware” out of margarine containers, but the best inventions are the creative and unexpected ones.

For example, my bathroom is tiny and featureless, so I store bottles in a clear vinyl shoe organizer on the wall.  I also like to keep ongoing crochet projects in reusable grocery totes, which I hang on an attractive but broken three-light floor lamp.  And rather than paying upwards of $100 for a cat tree,  I put an empty tiered bookshelf in front of one window, and a waist-high wooden cabinet with the doors removed in front of another.   (Sometimes the cats even use them.)

If a repurposed object would function well in its new role, but you’re afraid it looks a little sad, don’t worry. It probably takes less effort than you think to spruce it up. Whether you’re a veteran upcycler or just looking to redecorate on the cheap, the library has plenty of inspiration –

Vintage Fabric Style: Stylish Ideas and Projects Using Quilts and Flea-Market Finds in Your Home by Lucinda Ganderton

Re-creative: 50 Projects for Turning Found Objects into Contemporary Design by Steve Dodds

Handmade Home: Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materials into New Family Treasures by Amanda Blake Soule

Restore, Recycle, Repurpose: Create a Beautiful Home by Randy Florke

Craft Challenge: Dozens of Ways to Repurpose a Pillowcase by Suzanne J.E. Tourtillott

Sew Green: Recycle, Repurpose, Restyle (DVD)


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized