Monthly Archives: October 2011

Scar(r)ed for Life

Image from Labyrinth from the site:

There are few modern horror movies that I find truly frightening—sure, a few have made me jump now and then, but most don’t stick with me once I’ve left the theater. Rather than rehash a list of spooky movies for the Halloween season, I’ve decided instead to focus on that most sinister of genres: the children’s movie. If you grew up in the 1980s as I did, then you may also have endured some of the bizarre and frightening children’s movies that were made in that era, often involving creepy puppets. Come with me now, on a journey through time and space…

The Neverending Story

Bastian Bux finds a storybook about a magical world called Fantasia, and soon realizes he’s the only one who can save its inhabitants from a cruel fate. What could be scarier than a flying dragon, a killer wolf-beast, and a swamp of sadness? Why, nothing of course! Even creepier than the actual creatures in this world is the realization that their biggest threat is something called The Nothingness, proving there’s nothing more frightening that existential dread.


A young Jennifer Connelly (Sarah) must rescue her baby brother after he is kidnapped by the Goblin King (aka David Bowie!) Sarah is led through a horrifying labyrinth full of sinister goblins, the Bog of Eternal Stench, and a gang of creatures who try to remove her head. Plus, David Bowie wears tights, and it’s kind of inappropriate.

Return to Oz

Did anyone else accidentally watch this movie as a kid? Although I can’t completely remember the plot, I do recall: little Dorothy is in a mental institution where she’s scheduled for electroshock therapy, creatures named “Wheelers” have roller skate wheels for feet, there’s a man with a pumpkin for a head, and an evil witch keeps people’s heads in cases so that she can switch her own noggin out anytime she wants. Who thought this was a good idea for a children’s movie?

The Dark Crystal

From the mind of Jim Henson, this is the story of a race of grotesque birdlike lizards called the Skeksis. A prophecy tells of a Gelfling (a small elfin thing) who will destroy their evil empire, so in their reign of terror they commit genocide and have the entire Gelfling race exterminated. The orphaned Jen embarks on a quest to find the missing shard of the Dark Crystal (which gives the Skeksis their power) and restore the balance of the universe. Some characters die. Kind of heavy stuff for a little kid.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Although not technically released in the 1980s, Willy Wonka was on TV a lot when I was a kid, and I thought it was pretty great. As the story goes, our hero Charlie wins a magic ticket to tour the candy factory of the great (and somewhat sinister) Mr. Wonka. The film is based on a Roald Dahl book, and so it is a bit of a morality tale: good kids are rewarded, and bad kids are severely punished (or turned into giant blueberries). As Charlie tours the factory with a gang of other lucky winners, the kids are picked off one-by-one until Charlie is the last kid standing and inherits the Wonka fortune. Along the way there are trippy boat rides and oompa loompas. The remake is also creepy, but doesn’t hold a candle to the insane original.

Of course, traumatic children’s movies are not exclusive to the 1980s, as I’ve neglected to mention the ultimate trifecta of depressing animal films: Old Yeller The Yearling, and of course, Bambi

Lest you fear that strange children’s movies are an American thing, here’s proof that Australians also like to traumatize their children with creepy movies:

What about you? What movies do you remember from your childhood?


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China Miéville’s Embassytown: Novel of the Year

Like many of my colleagues at Eleventh Stack, I’ve found myself enmeshed in George R. R. Martin’s mammoth fantasy series, Song of Ice and Fire and basically ignoring all else (except poetry). One item, however, which I’ve read recently, while taking a break from all the boiled leather and endless sigils, gave some much-needed relief from the intense world of fantasy.

It was Embassytown by China Miéville.

Miéville is not everyone’s cup of tea and even those who have liked one of his works have found others to be head-scratchers. Variety, at least for some readers, may be bad; I know sci fi genre readers who will never pick up another book by an author if once burnt.

This is not a twice shy crowd.

I, however, found myself nonplussed by books of Miéville’s that didn’t click with me.  I liked one, Perdido Street Station (though not enough to continue with the series),  so whenever he comes out with something new, I read the reviews and see if it’s for me.  Twice I’ve done this and twice I’ve put the books aside.

Turns out that the third time was a charm.

Embassytown is one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in many a year, maybe a decade.  Conceptually, it reminds me of my favorite speculative fiction writer, Samuel R. Delany.  Yes, this is heady stuff, but also exciting stuff, a high end concept with a plot that matches it step for step.  It goes something like this:

On a distant outpost in the far future, there is a strange race called the Ariekei, whose language only a handful of altered human beings can speak.   These altered humans must speak completely different words in pairs, together, which heard simultaneously is the language of the Hosts or Ariekei.   They are in fact, though two individual humans, named as one (i.e. EzCal, MagDa etc.) and throughout the novel are spoken of in the singular tense (i.e. “EzCal is …” ).    The narrator, one of the human colonists, does not speak the language but has become a simile in the Ariekei language, which opens up another mode of communication between the two races.

Yup, that’s right, a human simile.

That’s the setup, complex enough as it seems. But there’s one more thing.  Culturally, The Hosts have no conception of lying.  Literally, they cannot tell a lie because they don’t know what it is.  Until we teach them.   And they become addicted.

And all hell breaks loose.

So, this is a book, a very intelligent book, about language, language and communication.  And, oh, it happens to be science fiction.

Describing this wonderful book is difficult at best.  However, someone with a more sophisticated point of view – science fiction Grandmaster Ursula Le Guin – has pronounced Embassytown “a fully achieved work of art” in her review for The Guardian.  And if you think science fiction isn’t for you, isn’t “real,” doesn’t engage your soul and improve your life, listen to how Le Guin brings it home:

There are men right now who have never learned how to talk to women. How will we talk to somebody really different – aliens? The Ariekei of Embassytown are immensely unlike us. The problem of communication, the nature of language and of spoken truth, is the novel’s core.

Le Guin points to the opening prologue (click to read) to underscore Miéville’s sheer inventiveness.  His neologisms, a standard trope of science fiction ‘otherness,’ are double down effective considering the novel’s all important linguistic theme.  Rather than fumble along attempting to describe the nearly indescribable (make a movie out this, Spielberg), I’ll let Le Guin give the kind of first hand insight only a master purveyor could on another colleague’s triumph:

In Embassytown, his metaphor – which is in a sense metaphor itself – works on every level, providing compulsive narrative, splendid intellectual rigour and risk, moral sophistication, fine verbal fireworks and sideshows, and even the old-fashioned satisfaction of watching a protagonist become more of a person than she gave promise of being. And all along we thought she was only a simile . . .

Or, put another way, can you say metaphor?

– Don


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Do you have your mother’s wedding dress stored in your attic but don’t know how to keep it fresh?  What about a family bible handed down for generations? Are your old photographs strewn about in some old shoebox? Are you worried about the way you are storing a precious keepsake, and fear doing it damage? Are you a fan of Antiques Roadshow?

If you answered yes to any of these, or have similar questions, you are in for a treat!  The Preservation Fair is coming once again to the Carnegie Museum’s Music Hall Foyer, on Saturday, October 22. Visit the official website for details.  

The Preservation Fair is a one-day public information event at which you can get expert advice on how to protect and correctly display many different types of family keepsakes and treasures. Over 30 professional conservators, archivists, and librarians will be on hand to discuss your individual interests. Exhibitors include conservators specializing in books, documents, paintings, textiles, photographs and films. Historical Societies, Genealogical Societies, Community Preservation Organizations, and vendors dealing in conservation and preservation supplies will also be represented. Ongoing free demonstrations and lectures will be presented throughout the event, with a keynote address at 12:00 noon by Rick Sebak, the award-winning documentary producer!

The event is free with Museum admission.

Here is a special bonus not to miss!  Bring in a family treasure, one item per visitor, for free basic conservation advice. No appraisals or valuations will be given.

Can’t make it?  Don’t worry!  The library has lots of resources.

Your librarians have created a few useful guides to pertinent subjects:

Antiques & Collectibles – Identify and price your antiques with these print and online resources.  This will point you to specific guides like Antique Furniture and Saving Your Family Treasures.

Art Research Databases – Helpful tips for locating resources in print and online, and for learning about art.

Researching Your Art – Evaluation and Appraisal – Where did this come from? Who is this artist? Are they famous? and of course, how much is it worth?!?

Historic Preservation – Resources and organizations for preserving historic homes, buildings, etc.

Historical Societies & Commissions – Join a local group to learn about local history.

Biography & Genealogy – Genealogy resources.

Audio-Visual Resources in Pittsburgh – Vendors that convert film, video, photographs, and analog audio to digital (along with other guides).

These are links to subject headings in our catalog for areas we do not (yet) provide resource guides:

Books Conservation And Restoration Handbooks Manuals Etc

Bookbinding — Repairing — Handbooks, manuals, etc.

Textile Fabrics Conservation And Restoration

Photographs Conservation And Restoration


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Happy Birthday, Robert Jordan!

Although he sadly passed away too soon in 2007, we should still take a moment to acknowledge the birthday of fantasy author Robert Jordan (October 17, 1948 – September 16, 2007).  His Wheel of Time series has been a perennial best-seller on the New York times book list, and his intricate stories and engrossing characters have forever established him as one of America’s most prodigious and prolific contributors to the fantasy genre.

Although Mr. Jordan has passed on, his wife and other contributors have continued The Wheel of Time series, driving it toward its eventual conclusion using his copious plot notes.  Folks interested in epic level fantasy with high-powered magic and plenty of action might want to give The Eye of the World a shot.  If you like this first book in The Wheel of Time series and don’t mind the sometimes meandering story and occasional dangling plot hooks, you’ll likely find the rest of the series to your liking!

Prior to his own epic series, Mr. Jordan earned acclaim for three excellent Conan novels.  CLP owns a collected edition of these three books.

Despite his untimely death, Mr. Jordan’s legacy of hard work lives on in his stories.  Happy Birthday, Robert Jordan!


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While You Were Sleeping

Good morning Pittsburgh!  While you were sleeping, a dedicated group of hardcore library supporters stayed up all night reading to the people…and they’re still reading.  That’s right.  As we slowly inch toward sunrise, and with less than six hours to go, Pittsburghers from all walks of life are reading, staffing volunteer tables, and learning about the Our Library, Our Future voter initiative.

Here are just a few of the overnight highlights:

  • Sci-fi and fantasy ruled the wee hours, from Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams to C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. 
  • Nerdfighters.  Who knew?
  • Poignant readings from The Hunger Games, The Book of Lost Things, and The Fifth Agreement
  • Two words:  David Conrad.  Hilarity ensued!
  • Classic literature from Twain, Salinger and Burroughs
  • Loads of giddy, caffeinated, and/or sleep-deprived laughter and banter

Green with envy?  It’s not too late!  We’ll be reading to the people until noon today, so stop by Main Library in Oakland.  Upcoming highlights include children’s books and family-friendly fun, a visit from some local luminaries, and a grand finale that will knock your socks off.

Hope to see you soon!  If you simply can’t, please check us out, and spread the word, on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

Leigh Anne

blogging and yawning.


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Whole Lotta Readin’ Goin’ On

If you haven’t made it to Oakland for Read to the People yet, you are missing the most enthusiastic, exciting show of library support since Andrew Carnegie dedicated Main Library. Here are just a few highlights from this afternoon and evening’s readings:

  • The Pirate Parrot’s vivacious pantomime of “Casey at the Bat.”
  • The Toonseum’s Joe Wos drawing a magical tale of a fairy flower princess.
  • Councilman R. Daniel Lavalle reading Langston Hughes
  • Lynn Cullen reading David McCullough
  • Kristofer Collins reading from the poetry of Frank O’Hara
  • A dramatic reading from Time Stand Still, the play currently in production at City Theatre, by two of the show’s lead actors.
  • A birthday celebration (really)!
  • Lots and lots of fireworks (really)!
  • A whole hour of readings by local fashion designers.

As I type, there’s an hour of poetry afoot.  If you can make it down here tonight or tomorrow, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.  There are so many interesting readers and readings, as well as so much unintentional hilarity, that I can barely keep up recording it!

With a big thanks to everyone who read today, and with gratitude for those readers yet to come, I remain your faithful onsite blogger.  I’m headed back outside to take pictures and serve as the timer in hour twelve, the halfway mark.

Leigh Anne

who read from The Odyssey, but drank not of the wine-dark sea

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And They’re Off!

Just in case you weren’t here for the Read to the People kickoff, here’s a small sample of what you’ve missed!

State Senator Jay Costa
Senator Jay Costa reading from Andrew Carnegie
After Senator Costa’s opening remarks, the reading was on. And on, and on, and on!  So far today we’ve heard snippets of Lord of the Flies, The Skin I’m In, The Vagina Monologues, and other titles both classic and contemporary.  Between bouts of rain, the sun is shining fiercely, and the readers and volunteers remain undaunted.
To keep up with the deluge of photos we’re uploading, check out our Flickr set!  And if you’re a video fan, you’ll want to keep an eye on our YouTube channel.  If you’re coming to the Read-Aloud and want to upload your own video to YouTube, please tag your creation with the phrase “read to the people.”  And if you’re more of the photo-sharing kind, please tag us on Facebook as Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  Twitter user?  Tag your tweet #read1440, and don’t forget to follow @OLOFPA.
Leigh Anne
whose favorite reading so far today was Brian O’Neill’s excerpts from his own work, The Paris of Appalachia.

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