Monthly Archives: July 2011

Have You Done It Yet?

Well, have you? And by “it,” I refer to the Adult Summer Reading Program. (What were you thinking? Get your mind out of the gutter . . .)

Novel Destinations is the theme for this year's Adult Summer Reading program.

Novel Destinations is the theme for this year's Adult Summer Reading program.

It’s almost half over, but you can still sign up. All you have to do is register, and then if you read, and log, at least 5 books or other items by August 13th, you will be eligible for the grand prize drawing at your selected Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location. Each library has its own grand prize specifically chosen for its customers. For example, the grand prize for the Main Library is a $50 Big Burrito gift card.

And really, how hard is it to read five books over the summer? If you belong to any of our book discussion groups and read the books selected for June, July and August, you’ve already got three on your list.  Then you only need two more.  Might I suggest one of our staff picks? Or a book from our Adult Summer Reading themed booklists? Or you could turn to your fellow readers for suggestions.

So c’mon, you were going to read anyway. You might as well get something for it.

-Melissa M.

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Re-Reading The Hobbit

I am not certain how many times I have re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit since I first read it 26 years ago, but here I am doing it again!  For me it’s one of those books I can go back to and still find something new and interesting with each reading.  And this time, I am reading it alongside Karen Wynn Fonstad’s excellent Atlas Of Middle-Earth.  Call me a geek if you will, but it’s unclear from the text just how long Bilbo and the dwarves are waylaid by the Elves of Mirkwood.  Ms. Fonstad’s atlas clears this up nicely with wonderful maps and supporting text.  The answer is about three and a half weeks, by the way!

Now that production of the live-action movie version of The Hobbit seems well underway, we’re finally getting some spoilers of the characters in full costume and makeup.  This only serves to intensify my interest in Tolkien and will likely galvanize me into re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy again as well!



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Curiosity/Satisfaction: Notes From A Reading Life

‘curiosity killed the cat.’ A very familiar proverb that seems to have been recorded only as far back as the early 1900s. Perhaps it derived somehow from the much older (late 16th century) care killed the cat, but there is no proof of this thus far.” — The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 4th ed.


I am a mediocre poet who lives in a city of very good poets, some of whom sit next to me at the reference desk on a regular basis.  Despite my inability to craft a suitable sonnet or a voluptuous villanelle, I find myself drawn again and again to the poetry section; if I cannot create this particular brand of magic, I can, at least, drown myself in it, hoping I will gain something from repeated dunks.  Gills, maybe.  A mermaid’s tail.

So, too, I devour David Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless.  It’s a guidebook for the uninitiated, everybody who fears that s/he’s just not cool enough for poetry.  Orr’s essays soothe me, make me snicker; who knew the New York Times‘s poetry critic could be so darned frank and funny?  I want to give this book to everyone who has ever felt they weren’t smart enough to read or write poetry, so we can tear down our misconceptions and misgivings together, start all over again.

“As everyone knows, all the best poets eat at Taco Bell,” Orr assures me. I smile, and believe him.


Vampires are sooooo ’97 (by which, of course, I mean 1897).  It is, however, hot, and a little fluffy fiction would not be amiss.   I pick up By Blood We Live and fall into a plush, posh, well-written collection of short stories culled from masters of the horror genre.  Neil Gaiman and Stephen King are here, and rightly so.  There are, however, many new-to-me authors, such as Barbara Roden, Nancy Holder, Carrie Vaughn.  Gleefully I scribble authors and titles into my to-read notebook, marveling at how one good short story anthology can lead to hours of further entertainment and discovery.


Because I’m usually reading multiple books at once, serendipitous moments frequently pop up.  I learn, for example, that both Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City contain tiger symbolism.  One is telegraphed, the other covert; both are delightful surprises.  It is, however, Obreht’s interweave of medicine and magic, nested as it is in a narrative reminiscent of those cunning Russian dolls-within-dolls, that keeps my attention.  As much as I pity Lethem’s tiger, I have far less sympathy for his wealthy, indolent characters, and I cannot wait a few hundred pages for their redemption, no matter how well-written and charming they are.

I parcel out Obreht’s novel slowly, in paragraphs, to make it last longer.  The delicious suspense is killing me, but I do not want this book to end.  I will probably stay up late to finish it the night before it is due, imagining the impatient toe-tapping of everyone else on the waiting list.  “Relax,” I want to tell them.  “It’s worth it.  You’ll love this.”  Like a mother reassuring her children that the long night’s sleep before Santa will, most assuredly, be worth it in the morning.


My best friend and I are getting pedicures; I have never had one, so I’m a little embarrassed about my feet.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that they are the ugliest feet ever seen in North America, so to hide my embarrassment over what I’m convinced will be inevitable ridicule and banishment from the spa, I turn to the table next to me, grab a random book and hide behind it, mortified.

Said book turns out to be I Love Your Style by Amanda Brooks.  It’s a how-to-dress guide for those of us who could use a little help, fashion-wise, and  unlike other books in this oeuvre I’ve furtively glanced at, the author actually appears to be on my side.  Rather than foisting a list of dos and don’ts on the hapless reader, Brooks gently makes suggestions about how you can create your own signature look based on what makes you feel pretty.  My reservations about this whole girlie-girl thing lift somewhat.

As I flip through the pages, I read random tidbits to my more stylish friend, who listens indulgently.  “Look, minimalism is TOO a style,” I crow, pointing to pictures of the black-clad, no-nonsense Sofia Coppola.  An hour later, purple polish drying, I teeter home on flip-flops and verify that I can indeed check this book out of the library.  Haute couture, for the win.


Curiosity killed the cat; satisfaction, they say, brought that cat back.  However, I am still sifting through the murky backwaters of the internet–and kicking up heaps of dust in print resources–trying to find a derivation for this phrase that will satisfy the librarian part of my brain.  This chunk of grey matter insists, despite our brave new content-creation world, that there are still certain standards for what is true in any given situation.  A bunch of people on the web saying something is true does not necessarily make it so.

[And yet, I have, as of right now, nothing better to go on, and precious little time to devote to what is currently a matter of interest to me and me alone.  Then again, if somebody should call the reference department tomorrow and want to know “the truth” about the origin of this phrase, I would have a reason to go on.  Hint hint.]

On a grander scale, curiosity is what brings us to the written word, and satisfaction is what brings us back. We read for all sorts of reasons: to lose ourselves, to learn new things, to kill boredom or its variants, which include “time in airports” and “waiting in line at the coffee shop.”  We read to satiate our hunger to know, even if it kills us, the things we do not know.  We come back, again and again, because the only thing knowledge truly kills is ignorance, and the satisfaction we feel–learning the facts, exploring the new subject, discovering the unfamiliar genre–is more than enough to counterbalance any pain that takes place during the process.

What are you curious about today?  What brings you back to the library, again and again?

–Leigh Anne


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Foot N’ Mouth, or 12 years of Social Networking

I’ve had some very interesting experiences over the last few years with what we’ve come to call social networking.  I got to thinking about what for me has been over 10 years of it, once known in the library world as Web 2.0, and in other places as “being on the Internet.”

My experiences have been overwhelmingly constructive; they’ve brought me closer to my nephews and nieces, allowed me to stay in touch with family and friends in the UK, Israel and around the U.S., and in those implausible serendipitous episodes, I’ve been able to reconnect with friends through the most unlikely encounters.  I’ve also had my share of  “I didn’t write that, did I?” moments, one just this past week — but they have been far and few between . . . unless I didn’t want them to be.  This accumulated wisdom has also allowed me to keep pace with my daughter (a 14 year old), though frankly I’d rather be one step ahead of her.

Outside of discussion groups back when there wasn’t a web interface (yes, we used to have to read orange or green text with a black screen, and you needed to know some rudimentary DOS or Unix to navigate around a DEC VAX machine), real time exchanges didn’t take off until the advent of the web-based interface unless you were an intrepid IRC user.  Around 1999 I was a regular reader and contributor to a site that still exists, for those of us building, rebuilding or just interested in the Triumph GT6 or Spitfire roadsters.  I spent 18 months rebuilding my Spit, something I couldn’t have done successfully without the give and take of that website and board. It was a gratifying moment when I crossed the line from being the tutored to being the tutor.

Around six years ago I began dabbling in YouTube, even using it several times as a reference tool for someone asking about the Beatles (specifically the first concert at Shea Stadium.)  In seeing what was out there I made some comments about a clip of an Israeli performer, specifically mentioning where I used to live – Kibbutz Yahel.  A few weeks later someone responded to my comment asking how I knew this place, Yahel.  We danced around each other for 1-2 messages; I think we each thought the other was a Nigerian Minister of Banking with a check for us to deposit.  Once we got past that, it turned out we knew each other very well and had even been part of a midnight group skinny-dipping conspiracy 28 years ago.  Steve and I were casual acquaintances, I know his wife, but more importantly,  I was able to ask him about someone who had been my best friend and neighbor for 6 years until he moved to Holland (Dutch wife, child with CF, etc.).  Because of a comment on YouTube I was able to reconnect with my friend Itzik who had since moved back to Israel.

Facebook  probably doesn’t need an explanation for most of you, but I have to take a moment to note that it has revolutionized communication.  I was a reluctant entrant to FB; I looked askance at my 20 something nephews with 286 “Friends”.  Their father, my older brother, used to ask them “how many of your “friends” will loan you something to cover the rent, or take you to the airport at 3:00 in the morning?”  Since then we’ve both come to appreciate its potential and the connections / re-connections we’ve made.  Maybe it’s a boomer thing, because the responses have been almost universal among those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s.  Some of it is escapism, we want our Rob and Laura Petrie TV lives back, even if we never lived them, or possibly it’s because we’re one of the last vestiges of a time when you went outside to play without playdates and didn’t come home until dinnertime.  I’ve also learned some valuable lessons about really thinking before you write, and the power of words.

When I first joined FB I was unaware or unsure of what a Wall was, and who saw what when I posted.  Someone asked me about a particular person we’d all known and if I was friends with him.  This was someone whose existence I marginally tolerated when we lived on Kibbutz together, no way was I going to be his friend.  Of course I wrote something to that effect and immediately had someone else inform me that “you realize don’t you that blank-for-brains can see that?”  No, I didn’t, and that was my last faux-pas until last week.  In an ongoing discussion about growing up on Long Island when I did (about 2,000+ participants), someone asked about a judge who’d been forced to resign and went to prison.  I made a flip comment about him, nothing incorrect or slanderous (if the newspapers and court record are to be believed,) but nevertheless impolite.  His daughters, both participants in this group took great umbrage at what I wrote, along with what several others had to say.   One of the daughters took the wrong approach and aggressively protested dad’s innocence; that wasn’t going to fly.  The other daughter took a different approach, shaming us a little by asking if that was what the forum we were in was about; exclusion and other’s misfortune.  That worked, and it was a lesson learned, something I will take to heart when I post or comment.


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Be a library advocate!

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you love the library.  Have you ever wondered how you can help support us?  Telling your story is one way to get the word out about the valuable services that the library provides to the community.  Writing a letter to elected officials to encourage them to keep library funding strong is another.  And of course, volunteering or donating  are other ways that you can help the library.

If you’d like to get more involved, you can contact us about the Our Library, Our Future campaign that is currently under way. There is currently a petition drive underway for a referendum question to appear on the ballot in November.  You can learn more or find out how you can get involved here

Coming in, using our resources, and then helping to spread the word about the library are also great ways to help support us! 


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Metal on Metal

One of the best (and most ridiculous) things about heavy metal music is its many proud odes to heavy metal music.

So get ready to pump your fist and bang your head because here are some metal anthems you can find in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Music Department’s CD collection:

Anvil – “Metal on Metal

  • I think Anvil is like Judas Priest but with a less amazing singer, a better drummer, and slightly dumber lyrics.  They’re also lovable especially if you see the documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil.  Their 1982 anthem “Metal on Metal” contains this brilliant stanza: “Metal on metal / Heads start to bang / Denim and leather / Chains that clang.”

Exodus – “Metal Command

  • Exodus are perhaps the best example of 1980s Bay Area thrash and their knuckleheaded lyrics are usually about violence or metal.  Or both.  “Bangers take your stand” and obey their “Metal Command.”

Judas Priest – “Metal Gods,” “Heavy Metal,” and “Metal Meltdown

  • Judas Priest were indeed metal gods of the 70s up until the mid-80s when they started wearing colored leather instead of black leather.  When they wisely switched back to black leather to begin the 90s they sounded good again.

Manowar – “Metal Daze

  • Manowar once held the Guinness record for the world’s loudest performance.  They’re also really into weight-lifting.  I can’t think of a better combination for making music.

Eric Adams of Manowar in 2002 (Photo by Catskingloves)

Metallica – “Metal Militia

  • One of the favorite pastimes of true metal maniacs is complaining about Metallica and how they’ve sucked since bassist Cliff Burton died in 1986.  Don’t worry, this song is from their 1983 debut album.

Quiet Riot – “Metal Health

  • “Bang your head / Metal health’ll drive you mad.”  Whatever that means, it sure sounded good to me while walking home from elementary school carrying a boom box.  Over twenty-five years later, I now offer my apologies to the quiet residents of suburban Denver.

Venom – “Black Metal

  • The mighty Venom aren’t really clever or  talented yet somehow (or perhaps because of this) are enormously influential.  This speedy and bombastic anthem tells you to “Lay down your soul to the gods rock and roll.”  They don’t even fit in the word “of” before “rock and roll.”  Don’t question it.

Let me know some of your favorite homages to headbanging heavy metal!

— Tim


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One Andrea Grows, Another Cooks

Andrea Bellamy raises enticing edibles on her balcony and in a community garden in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her credentials include a certificate in garden design from the University of B.C., and design is a focus of her new book, Sugar Snaps & Strawberries. She writes a blog called Heavy Petal, and both blog and book brim with smart advice on cultivating fruits and vegetables in tight quarters.

For readers in my geographic area, marine-influenced West coast gardening instructions will require adjusting to our more extreme climate. The design ideas, however, are appropriate anywhere space is limited. Bellamy’s work stands out for its artful garden structures and plant placement. Photographs of small and smaller working gardens inspire, teach, and delight. See how narrow planter boxes dress up an alley, basil seedlings thrive in a hanging basket, lush sage plants rise out of a big tin can. Let Bellamy lead you, and before long you’ll savor your own small, tasty harvest.

When it’s time to inventory your garden’s produce or shop at a farmer’s market, have a look at Cooking in the Moment, a new book by Andrea Reusing. With her brother, in 2002 she opened Lantern, a restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C.  I thought her book might focus on simplified restaurant recipes, an approach that doesn’t appeal to me. But these recipes are clearly written for the home cook.

Cooking in the Moment is organized by season, spring through winter. Simple to celebratory fare includes vegetables from every season, poached chicken, pot roast, pickled figs, rhubarb-ginger sorbet and strawberry ice cream (made with buttermilk and cream). One of the author’s seasonal essays bears the title “Seafood Market,” which questions whether there is actually such a thing as sustainable seafood. As part of a recipe for grilled Spanish mackerel that follows her essay, Reusing states, “The fact that our great-grandchildren may never eat a real seafood dinner gives those of us who still eat fish a responsibility not to put blue cheese on it.”

Grow. Eat. Ponder.


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Two Wheeled Mayhem, Part 1

Every now and then something you thought was very hard turns out to be very easy. I have been meaning to get my motorcycle license for years now and was often heard to complain about the complicated logistics involved:  getting a permit and then buying or borrowing a bike and practicing in an empty lot somewhere until sufficient skill is gained in order to try the test. Did you ever see Pee Wee’s Big Adventure? Remember when the bikers lend Pee Wee a motorcycle and he drives straight into a billboard? That actually happens all the time. Seriously, I have heard at least a dozen variations of the “Let me take it for a spin” tragedy. I am deathly afraid to wreck a borrowed bike and I don’t want to buy one and wreck that on day one either.

It turns out the state of Pennsylvania has the solution. A completely free course is offered at various times during the warmer months to train new riders in the fundamentals. Now I can get training and tips by professional instructors rather than take the risk of becoming “that guy” and laying down a friend’s bike. I can flog a bike owned by Tom Corbett with no remorse whatsoever.

Until my course date arrives I have been looking to get my motorcycle fix in the Film and Audio section and have not been disappointed.

Faster is an incredible documentary about the Moto GP, the top level of motorcycle racing. These utterly fearless riders reach speeds in excess of 200 mph in the straights. It must be seen to be believed. Narrated by actor and motorcycle nut Ewan MacGregor, the film takes us through the 2001 and 2002 seasons, introducing the viewer to a range of fascinating characters. Foremost is the hot shot Valentino Rossi, winning race after race with apparent ease. His arch rival is another Italian, Max Biaggi, who sports what must be the world’s most perfect goatee. Aussie vet Garry McCoy’s struggles with painful injury and American rookie John Hopkins’ first races on the Moto circuit are gripping stories. The racers and their supporting cast construct compelling narratives and are rarely overshadowed by the roar and snarl of their dangerous and potent machines.

 A host of past champions like Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey provide commentaries that explain the Moto GP’s rich history, giving immediate context for a viewer new to the sport.  Anyone interested in that peculiar side of human nature, the aspect drawn to fierce competition and danger will be very interested to watch this exciting documentary. After it was over I was left hungry for more. But there was more! Disc two featured the sequel Faster and Faster, a whole other season of coverage to watch.

That still wasn’t enough. Thankfully CLP has the next follow up, The Doctor, The Tornado, and the Kentucky Kid. This one centers on the Moto GP leg in here in America, the Red Bull Grand Prix at Laguna Seca in July of 2005.

A completely different motorcycling experience is available in another stupendous documentary, Exploring the Deserts of the Earth. This grand yet understated film documents a journey by motorcycle across all the deserts of the earth. Director Michael Martin and photographer Elke Wallner spend 900 days on a BMW, stopping periodically to capture some of the most breathtaking desert scenes one can imagine. Difficult customs officials and extremes of terrain and temperature are stoically overcome time and time again in this real life adventure. The film was incredible, the journey was incredible, and yet the documentary proceeds with no fanfare or air of self congratulation. Remarkably, the pair traveled without a chase vehicle of any kind. Just the two on a heavily laden BMW.

The documentary features 12 episodes, clocking in at 357 minutes! The generous length provides a lot of time to feature the people they encounter along the way, ranging from nomads who count their wealth in horses to gulf Sheikhs surrounded in gilt splendor. I found it peculiarly fascinating when the pair came to the good old U.S. to tour our deserts. Michael Martin displayed a detached interest here identical to that which he showed in other places.  Upon encountering an American couple vacationing in Nevada he declares that they are “typical Americans.” I found this jarring and humorous. I am an American, I am supposed to point at things and other people and declare what is typical! Oh well, turnabout is fair play, another illusion justly shattered.

Whether speeding along at over 200 mph or crawling across deep dunes, any one of these documentaries will provide a rewarding view into the world of motorcycling. And do watch Pee Wee again, while you are at it. While it’s only a bicycle he’s after, it certainly does a wonderful job of showing the love one can feel for a two wheeled machine.


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flag waving

In honor of yesterday’s holiday, I want to offer you yet another way to celebrate Independence Day–one that lasts a little longer than the hot dogs and potato salad we typically celebrate with… books! (What did you think? That I was going to make fireworks come out of your computer?)

Stone Cold       





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Cut and Paste and More at HOW: Hands-On Workshops

HOW Collage and Decoupage - picking pictures

Attendees choose source material for their creations.

Earlier this month, CLP – Main’s New and Featured Department held the first in its series of HOW: Hands-On Workshops. June’s HOW focused on collage and decoupage, and I led the session with a brief talk before the 17 participants got to work creating their own masterpieces with the supplies we provided.

As you can see from the pictures, we had alot of fun. Each creation on on paper, bottle, lampshade or book was strikingly unique. If you missed the event, don’t worry. Below are some books to guide you on your own collage experiments.

HOW Collage and Decoupage - scissors

Librarian Melissa demonstrates the zig zag scissors.



HOW Collage and Decoupage - supplies

supplies, including clipart books

In the workshop, we used damaged books and magazines, but plenty of other sources exist for collage fodder. While paging through printed materials for pictures to use can be an experience full of serendipity and inspiration, sometimes a collage calls for a specific image. Plenty of options exist for finding them. The Dover Pictorial Archive Series and other clipart books are copyright-free collections organized by topic. The library owns many of these that collage artists can check out to photocopy or install the accompanying CD-ROM.

HOW Collage and Decoupage - stars and a horse

A crafter assembles her masterpiece.

Another source of images is the CLP Picture Collection, a physical archive of clippings from magazines and books organized by subject. The collection was a common method libraries used before the Internet as a quick way to access illustrations of subjects like telephones, automobiles, different eras’ costumes and more. Patrons can check out up to 50 of the clippings at a time to view or photocopy. For more about the Picture Collection, visit the Reference Services Department at Main.

The HOW series continues in August with monthly workshops from local skilled craftspeople. The upcoming schedule includes:

  • August 2: Bookmaking with Hannah – Local artist and bookmaker Hannah Reiff (Paper Breakfast press) will show you how to make three simple, hand sewn books.
  • September 6: Fermented Foods with Alyson– This workshop will focus on the basics of fermenting vegetables to make tasty foods such as sauerkraut, sauerruben, kimchi, and lacto-fermented pickles. We’ll discuss how microscopic organisms can transform and preserve food, and then we’ll try it out for ourselves.

    HOW Collage and Decoupage - cutting

    An attendee cuts up an animal diagram for her decoupage on a bottle.

  • October 4: Creepy Crafts with Alicia – Join local Pittsburgh Craft Collective member and co-author of Witch Craft, Alicia Kachmar, for a Halloween-inspired crafting session.
  • November 1: Cardmaking with Julie – We’ll combine paper, rubber stamps and ink, embossing powder, glitter, trinkets and doodads to create greeting cards for handmade holiday hellos.

Follow the links for more information, and be sure to register if you’re interested!


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