Monthly Archives: September 2011


This month, I stumbled across a movie in our collection that, upon reading the title, I had no choice but to immediately watch it.  Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?  One part murder mystery, one part romantic comedy, one part preparation of the most absurd foods that you can imagine and all parts soft focus.  I like to think that in 1978, everything was surrounded by a fine mist of dispersed color, that edges bled everywhere you looked and that cars only came in the colors yellow and orange.
In this movie, you will see cakes that are set on fire, duck corpses pressed for blood, delicate pigeon pastries baked for the Queen of England and some kind of insane lobster dish prepared by a stereotypical Italian man.  This isn’t a great movie, but it’s definitely fun.  Even though you’ll think that you have the answer to the mystery, a good twist at the end will leave you satisfied that you didn’t.  The most interesting part by far is its discussion of fine dining vs. fast food and the latter’s spread into Europe by using the deadbeat dad from “Look Who’s Talking” as their example.  If they thought it was bad 33 years ago, I wonder how they would feel about getting a Subway sandwich in Madrid (I’ve made this mistake and don’t suggest anyone else repeating it)? 
The second movie is one that I watched a while back.  I had to read the wiki to get myself reacquainted and up to speed.  Tampopo, billed as the world’s first ramen western.  The movie is truly obsessed with food on every level, from preparation to consumption.  Multiple stories are woven together to create a movie that really isn’t even about anything other than people who love food.  Although it is hard to pick one, I think my favorite scene portrays an old man discussing how to properly enjoy a bowl of ramen with a young Ken Watanabe with the most minute of details.  “First caress the surface with the chopstick tips to express affection.”  This man could really teach everyone something about how the little things in life are what make it worth living. I’m also pretty fond of the scene involving a group of young Japanese girls being taught how to eat spaghetti like they do in the West, a.k.a. not slurping their noodles.  This movie is legitimately funny, surreal and will give the viewer a bit of understanding of how the Japanese view ramen and food in general.


Filed under Uncategorized

Song Of Ice And Fire Read-Alikes?

I am just finishing up A Game Of Thrones, the first installment in George R. R. Martin’s epic Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series.

Next up will be A Clash Of Kings, followed by A Storm Of Swords, then A Feast For Crows.   The long-awaited  A Dance With Dragons provides the latest installment in the series.

I am late to the party, I know, but having read and heard so much about these stories, I was still unprepared for how thoroughly sucked in I would become.  Mr. Martin’s unique style allows the reader a laser-focus on his characters, and he masterfully juggles ten or more principal protagonists while weaving their personal stories into the the larger pattern of his tale.  Although Song of Ice and Fire bears the trappings of fantasy, it definitely qualifies as low-magic, humanistic, and gritty.  No fireball-hurling wizards, elves, or Hobbits exist in the lands of Westeros where the action takes place.   Elements of the supernatural do exist, but they’re used sparingly.

The real drivers of the action are intrigue, clannish conflict, and the very setting of Westeros itself, where winters can last for years at a time, and the wild lands hide dark and looming threats.

Serial fantasy this good has garnered Mr. Martin great fame and many fans, but what are those fans to do once they’ve finished the most current book?  Our own Novelist database can provide at least some guidance where Westeros fans might go while waiting for the next novel.  A quick trip over to Novelist garnered a number of recommendations for wayward Westeros fans.

Glen Cook’s Black Company offers some of the same gritty fantasy that Martin fans have come to love.  David Farland’s Runelords series also makes Novelist’s recommended list.

One series not mentioned by Novelist, but still worthy of consideration by fans of Mr. Martin, is Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni fantasy.  This series of books began more than thirty years ago, and features a lot more overt magic and supernatural elements than Mr. Martin’s stuff, but shares his penchant for courtly intrigue, scheming characters, and quasi-Medieval settings.

If you have any more Song of Ice and Fire read-alikes, I’d sure love to hear about them!



Filed under Uncategorized

Come on Feel the Noise

The Music, Film & Audio collection has thousands of unusual music documentaries, live performances, and instructional videos. A few choice offerings…

Popular Music:

Operas and Musicals:

Music Biographies and Concert Films:

Instructional Videos:

Also, this just in: a slew of new and interesting films from Plexifilm.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Plenty to Celebrate

It seems that a lot of people are mourning the loss of summer right now.  I’ve never been a fan of the excessive heat and humidity, but I can understand the reluctance to let go of activities we traditionally associate with warm weather.  So rather than packing away your gear with a heavy heart, why not find ways of extending your favorite hobbies into the colder months?

For example, even though you may be scrambling to collect the last of your harvest right now, your gardening days don’t have to be over when you run out of zucchini.

Fallscaping: Extending Your Garden Season Into Autumn by Nancy Ondra

A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons by Philip Harnden.

Speaking of which, those of us who enjoy cooking (and eating!) local, seasonal foods have been looking forward to that harvest.  In addition, dropping temperatures signal the return of baking season.

The Taste of the Season: Inspired Recipes for Fall and Winter by Diane Worthington

Autumn: From the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch

The Fearless Baker: Scrumptious Cakes, Pies, Cobblers, Cookies, and Quick Breads That You Can Make to Impress Your Friends and Yourself by Emily Luchetti

And people who love the outdoors know there’s no reason to head inside yet.  Hiking, birdwatching, and many other activities can become fresh again with the change of seasons.  (In fact, depending on your sport, the ability to wear more protective gear and clothing can be a plus!)

Fall Color and Woodland Harvests: a Guide to the More Colorful Fall Leaves and Fruits of the Eastern Forests by C. Ritchie Bell

The Bumper Book of Nature: A User’s Guide to the Outdoors by Stephen Moss

Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season: Attract a Variety of Nesting, Feeding, and Singing Birds Year-Round by Sally Roth.

So even though summer’s days are numbered, autumn gives us plenty to celebrate.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I Challenge You!

It’s always good to remove yourself from your comfort zone once in a while.  Open yourself up to new experiences and broaden your horizons. I know that human beings like their ruts and it can be difficult to try something different. But that is exactly how you discover new things that you enjoy and want to share with others in your life. Like the old adage says, “How do know you don’t like something if you’ve never tried it?”

I am challenging you to read something other than your usual. I know some people who only read mysteries or romances. And yes, those are great and enough are published every year to keep you happily devouring new material constantly. But are you really reading new material? Or are you merely revisiting the same themes over and over again? Yes, they are comfortable and familiar. But are they exciting and fresh? There is so much out there. The library buys thousands of new books every year and we have a few million on our shelves already. Don’t you think you might be missing out on something?

When I started working on the First Floor over two years ago, I wanted to be able to do the best job possible to serve the customers coming in and using our resources. One aspect of this was familiarizing myself with genres that I wasn’t used to reading. When I find the time to read for pleasure my tastes lean toward mysteries, cookbooks, chick lit, general fiction, and a variety of nonfiction, especially biographies. I also had some familiarity with other subjects and genres in the First Floor collection. I read lots of short stories and magazines after my son was born because my time and attention span were very short. I used to purchase the travel books for the Main Library when I worked in the Social Sciences Department eons ago. (Now combined and known as the Reference Department.) I had a passing interest in horror books as a teenager, as well as steamy romance novels. (Natch!)

I decided the one area where I really needed some work was graphic novels. My only experiences with them were the Archie comic books I read as a kid and the Batman comics collected by my ex. I decided to begin with a graphic novel that I had seen a good review for. I enjoyed it and wrote a staff pick for Far Arden. Since then I have read several others. Some have been turned into other staff picks or become the subject of blog posts and I’ve used at least one as a read-alike for another book. Others just became talking points for me and my friends and colleagues.

Through this experience I have introduced my son to graphic novels. It’s really not a far stretch from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. He has started selecting Pokemon manga for himself. I have brought home graphic novels for him and he’s picked up at least one that was lying around the house. That last one allowed us to have an honest conversation about the book’s subject and now he understands my point of view on the subject of fast food more clearly.

After doing some reading on my own, attending a webinar or two, keeping an eye out for reviews and information, and just helping customers with questions, I am more confident in my knowledge of graphic novels and also feel that I have expanded my reading horizons. I found several books that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading that I would not have encountered otherwise. It’s been good for me. My next stop on the genre list is manga.  I have one series in mind to try that combines some of my other interests. I think that’s always a good place to start; find a book in a new genre that has some similarities to books you already know you like to read.

So that’s my challenge for you. Read something different. Read something new.  Other people are doing it. And please let me know how it goes.

-Melissa M.

P.S. Someone really wants me to read something from the fantasy genre next. That’s never been my favorite. Any suggestions for someone who tried a couple of times to read J.R.R. Tolkien and never got past the first chapter?


Filed under Uncategorized

What’s New in Austenland

“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”– Jane Austen, Emma (1813)

Author's Photo

In an age when (for whatever reason) admitting you admire Jane Austen is akin to saying you loved the Twilight series, I’m proud to be a Jane Austen student. I enjoy the works of the late eighteenth/early nineteenth-century English novelist so much, not only do I re-read her novels (a chapter each evening from a big old fat Modern Library edition of her Complete Novels), I am also a member of JASNA (The Jane Austen Society of North America) as well as the local Pittsburgh chapter, and I enjoy reading critical analysis, reviews, and commentary on her works. There have been some really good ones lately that the library owns (what?! Did you think I actually bought these? Please!).

Note: I am not in the least bit interested in the “fan fiction,” those original works that expand or attempt to rewrite Austen’s works. So there are no zombies, vampires, or bedroom Darcys here.


A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz. A charming and funny analysis of Austen’s major works  as it relates to the Austen scholar and his life. From his first naïve assumption of Austen as an old form of “chick lit” to the eventual realization of the profound impact of her writing, Deresiewicz carefully analyzes each novel centered around a specific theme.


Why Jane Austen? by Rachel M. Brownstein. A professor of feminist criticism and English literature in New York, Brownstein explores the reasons why Austen’s work still resonates almost 200 years after her death. This is more scholarly than A Jane Austen Education but it is an interesting commentary on the novelist’s genius.

Jane Austen and Marriage by Hazel Jones. This one is on my reserve list but I have read some preview pages on Amazon. The author explores why marriage was so important in Austen’s time and why it was a prominent theme in her works. Many people today tend to dismiss Austen as a writer of sentimental women’s novels about courtship and marriage but, the fact is, as Austen wrote in a letter to her niece, “single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor.”

The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen edited by Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster. This one is also on my reading list and is an updated edition of a 1997 publication. This book consists of several essays written by well-known Austen scholars including Janet Todd and Deirdre Le Faye.

The Annotated Sense and Sensibility edited by David M. Shapard. For the Austen student who just can’t get enough, this is the novel filled with notes on unfamiliar vocabulary, contexts, as well as historical references to occasions and manners. Also includes maps and an amazing bibliography for further reading. Shapard has also done annotated editions (which the library owns) of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion (and Emma will be published in 2012!).




Filed under Uncategorized

Orphan Works

Lately I’ve been reading novels about orphans.  It started with me revisiting a few classics I loved in my childhood, but I soon realized that all the books I was reading featured characters whose parents were killed/missing/dead since before they can remember, and I started making a little list of books like this.  Turns out, there are an awful lot.  Orphaning the main character is a technique often used in children’s literature and coming of age stories, allowing the character- usually a child- to have their story (and adventures, or conflicts with adults) without parental “rules” getting in the way. Lots of classics feature orphans as main characters, but modern literature does too: could you imagine if Harry Potter or the Lemony Snicket characters had parents?

My favorite books in the “orphan genre” tend to go something like this:  There is a frail/sickly/unpleasant/spoiled girl who for some reason or another gets sent away to live with someone new, usually a slightly crazy relative.  This slightly crazy relative has some kind of idea that children need lots of freedom and fresh air, and the orphan gradually becomes a charming, adventurous, healthy character making lots of friends and having a lot of fun.  Think The Secret Garden, Understood Betsy, or Eight Cousins.

Then there are the books that are slightly more adult, featuring a young woman who is probably described as “plain” and maybe works as a governess or something, falls in with a mysterious man with a dark past, and of course falls in love by the end of the novel.  Jane Eyre and one of my all-time favorites, Rebecca, both fit this mold.

Yet another sub-genre would be those works that feature a not-definitely orphaned character, but for whatever reason, they are separated from their parents, and could best be described as spunky.  They’re impossible not to love (even when they have grumpy relatives, as they often do), and usually wind up charming every one in the book and either solving lots of problems or having adventures.  Pippi Longstocking and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm both come to mind.

When it comes to books about boy orphans, I’m a bit less well-read, but I plan on remedying that before too long.  A fairly large portion of Charles Dickens’ oeuvre features orphaned (or abandoned) boys, like Oliver Twist, Bleak House, or David Copperfield.  Mark Twain also wrote some of his most famous works about orphans– The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer surely would have been very different adventures if their parents had been around.

The list of books I came up with started getting too long to write about all of them, but is there a book you remember that featured an orphan (or similar)?



Filed under Uncategorized

Crazed Men with Battery Powered Drills: The Slumber Party Massacre Movies

A couple weeks ago, a group of smart-ass friends and I watched all three Slumber Party Massacre movies in one night.  Should you do the same?

Reviewers often mention that the screenplay for the first Slumber Party Massacre was written by lesbian activist Rita Mae Brown who wrote the classic Rubyfruit Jungle before writing lots of mysteries with cats on the cover and bad puns in the titles.

Brown’s one authored screenplay that was produced is considered by some an embarrassment to the lesbian movement, as it is in the super-sexist genre of horror flick. Brown explains that the all-female cast save themselves from the electric-driller killer without male intervention, but she bemoans the fact that, in Hollywood, “to assume that a screenwriter has any power over the process of filming is naive in the extreme.”

“Rita Mae Brown.” Gay & Lesbian Biography. Ed. Michael J. Tyrkus and Michael Bronski. Detroit: St. James Press, 1997. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 2 Sep. 2011.

Indeed, all three of the Slumber Party movies were written and directed by women, but are somewhat indistinguishable from other male-created slasher flicks of the 80s.

Slumber Party Massacre I

The template is set here: high school girls have a slumber party, voyeuristic boys hover around and prank them, but the true danger is a psychopathic killer who wields an enormous battery-powered drill.  Men, his drill is probably bigger than yours and one friend commented that he looks like Rahm Emanuel.  My favorite moment is when after the pizza man is killed, one girl still wants to eat the pizza.  This movie is worth seeing for horror movie fans.

Slumber Party Massacre II

A survivor (played by a different actor, Crystal Bernard, before she achieved fame with the sitcom Wings) is haunted by nightmares and memories of the carnage from the previous movie.  Yet she still agrees to go to a slumber party with her girl-group band mates.  But this time around, the killer that haunts her is now a leather-clad, dancing rocker with a pompadour!  And his battery-powered drill is refashioned as a guitar!!   Other reas0ns that I enjoyed this movie:

  • One of the girl’s boyfriends has a voice that’s so California surfer that it makes Keanu Reeves sound like Laurence Olivier.
  • The protagonist’s hallucinations make a zit on her band mate’s face look grotesquely enormous and then, of course, it pops.  Great make-up and special effects on this scene!
  • You could make a drinking game for every time a character says “weird.”  (“I had the weirdest dream,” “I feel weird,” etc.)  One fellow watcher exclaimed, “Buy a %$#@ thesaurus!”

Slumber Party Massacre III

I figured that we’d already watched I and II in a row, why not go for III?  Not a good idea.  The formula was tired even though the filmmakers tried two new things.  One, they actually tried to conceal the killer’s identity for more than 10 minutes.  Okay.  Two, they tried to give him a back story and reveal his motivation.  Trouble is, character development doesn’t work so well when an actor is terrible at acting.  Watch I and II.  Skip III, unless you really want to complain about how inept the victims are at operating doors and windows to escape the killer.

Organize your own slumber party and enjoy watching or enjoy criticizing these movies.

— Tim


Filed under Uncategorized

The Vac. The Bucket.

Who is that person vacuuming her porch ceiling, then dragging the vac into the front garden to reach the awning? Who is that lady prowling her yard, bucket of soapy water always at her side? It’s me, enemy of stink bugs.

If you haven’t been bothered by the prehistoric little shield bug, I am happy for you, and jealous. Many hours of my summer gardening time have been spent interacting with BMSB nymphs (“brown marmorated stink bug” babies). By interacting, I mean holding a small bucket of soapy water below the leaf or fruit where the baby bug perches. Nudging the leaf causes the bug to drop into the sudsy mixture.

In my front garden, nymphs appeared last summer on a butterfly bush. I cut the plant down. It grew back, and early this summer the bugs appeared again. Two years in a row were enough—goodbye to that shrub. The problem soon moved to a neighboring rhubarb patch. In Pennsylvania, females continue to lay new egg masses June to September, which explains why I have observed nymphs of varing sizes on the same rhubarb plant.

This year I’ve unwillingly shared my garden produce with BMSBs. Stink bugs don’t have mouths (they don’t bite or sting). They feed by penetrating leaves, stems, and fruits with a piercing/sucking kind of mouthpart. I’m upset, even despondent at times, about losing tomatoes, peppers, chard, and rhubarb. And I’m concerned for farms and farmers.

BMSBs are not picky eaters. I’ve read that they eat 90 to 600 different types of plants. Vulnerable Pennsylvania crops include peaches, apples, green beans, soybeans, and pears. This year stink bugs have infested fields of corn. Thirty-three states report BMSBs. Wine makers are concerned that just a few bugs in their grape harvest will taint the flavor of wine, making it worthless. Even cows are reported to refuse silage that contains stink bugs.

Brown marmorated stink bugs are native to Asia, where they damage crops and overwinter in buildings. They arrived in the U.S. in 1996, on a wood pallet in Allentown, PA. No known natural predators in this country keep the BMSB population in check. One thing is different in their native lands, though. There a predatory wasp lays its eggs on BMSB eggs which destroys them. Scientists are testing to determine if importing wasps is the answer to our problem, but that will take a few years. Predators in this country include birds, spiders, and praying mantises, but they are ineffective combatants, because they feed on a variety of things.

A four-year-old neighbor thinks the black spider-like baby stink bugs are cute. She does not like the idea of killing them. But I know they develop into flying nightmares, that after wiping out my garden, when the weather gets chilly they’ll flatten themselves and enter homes through even extremely narrow openings. That’s not my idea of cute. Yes, I am armed with my vacuum and my sudsy bucket, and I am on a mission.



Filed under Uncategorized