Monthly Archives: April 2012

Songsters, Writers, Rovers

In California last week a friend taught me a hobo song. The tune flew back to Pittsburgh with me and followed me to work at the library. I still wake in the night with the melody teasing my sleepy brain. “Hobo’s Lullaby” is a beautiful song.

“Hobo’s Lullaby” was written by Goebel Reeves (born 1899). Teen-aged Reeves adored vaudeville and hobos. He traded a middle-class life for the adventure of roaming the U.S., singing, yodeling, and recording under pseudonyms, including “The Texas Drifter.” He wrote and performed autobiographical songs, and limited his chances for a lucrative career by refusing to settle in one place for more than a few months—a dedicated hobo.

Other musicians who hoboed are Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Utah Philips. Writers who hoboed include James Michener, George Orwell, Jack Kerouac (fictionalized in The Dharma Bums), and Jack London.

Hotel de Gink (hobo hotel) — preparing Muligan stew, photo Library of Congress, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915

In its depression-era heyday, hobodom implied an itinerant lifestyle, usually lived by riding the rails (no ticket required).

Hobo, tramp, and drifter, often used interchangeably, are slang terms, lacking definitive etymologies. However, hobos defined themselves like this—hobos worked, tramps worked only when made to, bums did not work at all.

Jack London wrote in The Road (1907) of his adventures riding the rails.

It began to look as if I should be compelled to go to the very poor for my
food. The very poor constitute the last sure recourse of the hungry tramp.
The very poor can always be depended upon. They never turn away the
hungry. Time and again, all over the United States, have I been refused
food by the big house on the hill; and always have I received food from
the little shack down by the creek or marsh, with its broken windows
stuffed with rags and its tired-faced mother broken with labor. Oh, you
charity-mongers! Go to the poor and learn, for the poor alone are the
charitable. They neither give nor withhold from their excess. They have no
excess. They give, and they withhold never, from what they need for
themselves, and very often from what they cruelly need for themselves. A
bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog
when you are just as hungry as the dog.

Also last week in California, I listened to “West London,” a song by Charles Ives, that musically illustrates and elevates a poem by Matthew Arnold.

Crouched on the pavement close by Belgrave Square,
A tramp I saw, ill, moody, and tongue-tied;
A babe was in her arms, and at her side
A girl; their clothes were rags, their feet were bare.

Some laboring men, whose work lay somewhere there,
Passed opposite; she touched her girl, who hied
Across, and begged, and came back satisfied.
The rich she had let pass with frozen stare.

Thought I: Above her state this spirit towers;
She will not ask of aliens, but of friends,
Of sharers in a common human fate.

She turns from that cold succor which attends
The unknown little from the unknowing great,
And points us to a better time than ours.



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Can I buy a vowel, habibi?

Can you read the following sentence?

Ds ths mk sns?

Hint: Add some vowels

Does this make sense?

Where did the vowels go? For speakers of other languages a lack of vowels may be normal. I am talking about you, Arabic and Hebrew. Neither of these distant Semitic cousins spell out their vowels in a way English speakers are used to. Diatrical marks are used in both Hebrew and Arabic to denote vowels, but those generally only appear in the Torah or Qur’an.   So without the requisite vocabulary those road signs you see might be leading you to Tal Avov, Israel or in another case perhaps into the country of Jirdon. It’s a bit of a bummer for the casual language student like me.  Thankfully CLP has tons of material to help me satisfy my curiosity about foreign languages or dive in for some serious self-instruction. Thnks  lbrry! By the way, I hear the beaches at Tal Avov are really nice.

I have always wanted to learn Arabic. For starters, the script is simply gorgeous, even when unadorned. The Islamic tendency to avoid pictorial representations created a drive to perform some incredible feats of design and artistry in calligraphy. Unfortunately Arabic is not the easiest language to learn. And by not the easiest language, I mean one of the hardest languages.  The rather intuitive root system lulls you into a false sense of confidence before the myriad cases and combinations knock the wind out of your sails. Anyway, it’s fun to study, once I abandon my fantasies of wowing the native speakers with my fluency.

The library has a great selection of titles on Arabic instruction, books to help you learn the script, the spoken languagegrammar (ugh), etc…

Written Hebrew always has that certain aura of the ancient even if you are just using it to print an ad for a used exercise bike. And Rashi script is quite easy on the eyes as well. The library has this amazing book from artist Adam Rhine, a selection of contemporary illuminations and a treat for anyone interested in design or calligrahpy.

The history of the Hebrew language itself makes for an interesting story, resurrected from the liturgy and turned into a living language. It uses the same sort of root system as Arabic but the grammar is much easier. I had a lot of fun looking through the Teach Yourself edition for Hebrew and this kid’s book helped me with the alphabet. As everybody knows, both Arabic and Hebrew use that CH sound, the “ch” from Bach, which is simply fun to make.  I don’t know why, but it is.

I still have a hard time with my ו and נ and I switch up my ب and ت a lot, but it’s all for fun anyway.  If you are not cramming for school or a business trip, then it is very enjoyable and rewarding to just learn an alphabet or pick up a word or two in whatever language strikes your fancy. Even a long way from fluency you can feel more connected to people.



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Paur Play

Once in a while, you hear in the news about how a librarian discovers something interesting hiding on the shelves, like the recent Paul Revere print found at Brown University.  Here’s my story (cue chung-chung Law and Order sound effect):

Before the longtime head of the Music Department, Kathie Logan, retired recently, we conducted a shelf inventory. One discovery was a packet of letters from the early 1900’s, held together with rusty straight pins. The only thing known about them was that they were written in part by the contentious conductor of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, Emil Paur (pronounced Power). Kathie did not recall anything about them. They might have come into the library before she arrived in 1984.

Paur, conductor of the Pittsburgh Orchestra from 1904 – 1910, was somewhat controversial in his day. Our Music Archives house a collection of scrapbooks from George H. Wilson, the manager of the Pittsburgh Orchestra at the time. All I knew was that Wilson did not get along with Paur, and actually quit the Orchestra because of him.

On closer inspection, I found 34 letters from 1905-1914 between Paur and William C. Hamilton. There were typewritten copies of what Hamilton sent to Paur, and original, handwritten responses from Paur to Hamilton. The contents of letters indicated a close personal relationship between the men, with Hamilton acting as Paur’s agent or manager, and describe the atmosphere and circumstances surrounding Paur’s tenure as the conductor of the Pittsburgh Orchestra. The letters include dealings with finances and personalities, “to be kept in strict confidence” gossip, machinations of Orchestra Committee members, warnings from Hamilton for Paur to stay away from this one or that one, and a lot of sour grapes. Obviously, Hamilton was a key player in the dealings and controversy at the time. Passages are peppered with family events and dinner parties.

I knew a little of the back story of Paur, but who was Hamilton? No, he is not found on Google. I went to look at A History of Pittsburgh Music, 1758-1958 by Edward G. Baynham.  This is one of the go–to Pittsburgh music reference books¹. He wasn’t mentioned in there either. I searched the Pittsburgh Music Information File.  Paur is there, but no Hamilton. I looked at A Short History of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, 1896 to 1910 by Richard J. Wolfe² and once again found nothing specifically about Hamilton. Then I went to the Concert Programs of the Pittsburgh Orchestra and found my first clue.

Here was my path:

Clue one –William C. Hamilton is named as an orchestra committee member in early concert programs.

Clue two – from the concert programs: There is a “S. Hamilton Co.” where tickets to the concerts are sold – is there a connection?

Clue three – There is a card catalog (yes, they still exist!) in the Pennsylvania Department that contains names with volumes in which biographies of Pennsylvanians can be found. Aha! Success! I found him (I had to wade through other William Hamiltons, but I did find my man) in Pittsburgh of Today: Its Resources and People by Frank C. Harper. William C. Hamilton succeeded his father Samuel Hamilton as the president of “S. Hamilton and Company,” a prominent music store in Pittsburgh from 1870 through to the 1940s. So there was a connection to “S. Hamilton.”

Clue four – I went to another card catalog (yes another one) in the Music Department for the detailed index to the Musical Forecast, a music magazine from Pittsburgh from 1921-1948. There is a small obituary and small blurb about W. C. Hamilton in those volumes.

Clue five – I went back to Baynham and read about Samuel Hamilton, W. C.’s father, and music entrepreneur.

From all this information, I was able to write a short blurb for the finding list that I posted online:  William C. Hamilton.

With my interest piqued, I went to the Oliver Room to look through George Wilson’s scrapbook all about Paur. Wilson was the manager of the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, as well as the Pittsburgh Orchestra housed there. He also managed the Art Society of Pittsburgh. He rubbed elbows with the likes of Mr. Andrew Carnegie. Wilson’s family donated 45 of his scrapbooks to the library, including the one containing newspaper clippings and correspondence about his feud with Paur. Amazingly, Mr. Wilson saved all of the newspaper and magazine articles pertaining to the feud, including negative press, and (BONUS!), two letters from William C. Hamilton himself, full of vitriol toward Mr. Wilson, with Wilson’s script on the top of the letters reading “not answered.”

Some selected highlights from Mr. Wilson’s scrapbook Pittsburgh Music Archive #37, Box 11:

 From April, 1907, “Paur or Manager, and the Committee Chose Conductor” “Among the matters upon which the manager and the conductor failed to agree, it is said, was the action of the latter in bringing to public notice his abilities as a pianist, and the implied contention of the manager that the orchestra was becoming known as an organization for the exploitation of a piano manufacturing concern.”

[That piano manufacturer was none other than W.C. Hamilton]

From April 18, 1907, “More than Jealousy”  “Luigi von Kunitz, concertmeister of the Pittsburg Orchestra, issued a statement tonight in which he says he has been forced to resign from the organization because he would not obey private mandates from Emil Paur, the conductor. He charges that Mr. Paur is connected with some piano manufacturer, whose make he insists on the musician using.”

From the Pittsburgh Post [Gazette?], May 1907, “Pittsburgh Orchestra has Brightest Kind of Prospects” “Gustav Schlotterbeck and W. C. Hamilton [are] in full charge of organization’s affairs. W. C. Hamilton [will be] Acting Director, who will manage the affairs of the orchestra here. Gustav Schlotterbeck … will book orchestra and manage out-of-town engagements.

Did Hamilton in fact coerce orchestral musicians into using certain instruments to his own gain, as seemed to be the contention of Wilson? Mmmm. Maybe you’ll have to read this amazing original source material from just over 100 years ago for yourself.


1. This book started as a scholarly dissertation for Baynham’s PhD in history and was expanded upon and privately published afterwards.  It is extremely well researched, but unfortunately, doesn’t have great bibliographic notes, and is a fairly dry read.

2. This is another scholarly dissertation.


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What’s New in the Job Center

There’s a lot going on in the Job & Career Education Center these days.  First of all, the Job Club is meeting from 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM today.

What does it take to be successful in your job search? Many experts believe that being part of a group can help. Exchange ideas and offer support to other job seekers during this informal time of networking. As a Job Club member you can share employment experiences, advice and encouragement while participating in discussions and activities geared towards helping you achieve your career goals. Registration not required.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012 
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

We’re also still scheduling Resume and Cover Letter Assistance Appointments on Tuesday afternoons and Wednesday evenings (call 412-622-3133 to register) and offering Mock Interviews on Mondays from 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM (no registration required).

On Friday we’ll be hosting An Introduction to CareerLink in the PC Center.

Elizabeth Neidle of Allegheny West CareerLink will introduce participants to CareerLink services, including their workshops, the Commonwealth Workforce Development System (CWDS), and more.  Registration is required.
Friday, April 27, 2012
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Next week we’re offering a Neighborworks Financial Literacy Workshop.

This Financial Literacy Workshop is part of the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board’s Imagine! Career Week program, and it will cover the steps in how to develop a budget; tracking expenses and creating a savings plan for your goal; and identity theft and what steps to take if you find yourself a victim. This workshop will also include education on laws that were passed to help to protect consumers from predatory practices; what makes up FICO scores; and ways to improve and/or protect it.  Registration is required.
Monday, April 30, 2012 
1:00 PM – 3:00 PM

And the Spring 2012 lineup of Skills for Success Speaker Series events is well underway.  You can still register for the following dates:

Of course, you’re welcome to call or visit the Job & Career Education Center any time you have a career-related question.


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Solidly Thrilling Haunts and Monsters

Being a horror movie fan follows the cycle of addiction. The more you consume, the more you are inured to the thrills of the product, making you “need” to watch more to find said thrills, with less chance of actually being thrilled. Mostly you will encounter the same predictable tropes, until you find yourself watching a never-ending stream of B or C-grade films, just to see how bad they can be, or re-watching the classics from years past.  That can be fun.  It has its charms.

But sometimes I find myself wanting to be surprised, or wanting a chill of real terror from a new movie. I’m here to tell you that there are fun, genre-bending scary/monster movies out there. They’re not straight horror, but they all deal with the unknown. Here are five of my favorites from the past four years or so:

Lake Mungo (2008)

Lake Mungo was distributed under the banner of the Afterdark Horrorfest, a group of films that are supposedly “too disturbing” for regular distribution. I’ve watched my fair share and have been less than disturbed. Sometimes I found myself feeling sleepy.

Lake Mungo, on the other hand, is a quiet gem of a movie that plays with the concept of being haunted; it’s also won several film festival mentions and awards. After Alice Palmer accidentally drowns at a local dam, her brother catches glimpses of her around the house (even catching some on film). The family brings in a parapsychologist to help them make sense of these appearances, and Things Get Revealed. There’s a twist in this movie but instead of the twist deflating the tension, things get creepier afterward.

Baghead (2008)

A group of friends and would-be lovers are feeling the need to get their big break into Hollywood. After seeing a terrible independentBaghead film made for almost no money, they decide to travel to a cabin outside of L.A. and write their own script–starring themselves–to get their names out there. Pretty soon bitter jealousy, awkwardness, and apathy get in the way of actual scriptwriting…until one of the group stumbles outside the cabin in the wee morning hours to puke and catches a glimpse of a man with a paper bag on his head, watching the house. Was it real? Who cares–it’s a great idea for a movie! But then things get waaaaaaay more creepy.

Written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass*, anointed kings of the dubious “mumblecore” designation within indie filmmaking, this movie is made more of build-up and realistic interactions between people than it is of serial-killer stalking. And it’s so much the better for it, because it gives you the feeling that you know the characters, so you’re more invested in the terror when Stuff Happens. This film has a twist, too, but even when I remembered it my second time through, I still enjoyed the movie. It’s hard to beat some silent guy in a paper bag mask standing outside the window for creepiness.

Troll Hunter (2010)

Another group of filmmakers are the protagonists of this movie, but here they are Norwegian documentarians doing a film for a university class. They think they’re on the trail of an infamous, unlicensed bear-poacher who is–of course–taciturn and ornery, and wants nothing to do with their eager questions and boom mics. So they follow him into the woods and abruptly discover that he is actually a secret government troll-hunter.

About five minutes into the film I was compelled to text a friend, “I MUST GO TO NORWAY” because the scenery was so beautiful. Luckily the special effects are just as breathtaking, and more of them than I expected were done without CGI. These are not wacky trolls. They don’t talk, and most of the humor in the script is the type that arises in truly dire situations. I’m pretty much convinced that trolls exist now.

Rare Exports (2010)

Continuing on the mini-theme of foreign films that dissect legendary figures of childhood, we have the Finnish movie Rare Exports. What started as clever film shorts about a company that hunts and trains the Santa Clauses who run wild in the Finnish mountains– shot by Jalmari Helander for his friends and family–became a full-length movie combining the powerful forces of childhood belief, the uncanny, and by-the-skin-of-your-teeth rescue missions.

A group of scientists is excavating a mountain in Finland. But it’s not really a mountain–it’s a containment unit for a folkloric being. The main scientist is a little obssessed with his mission, and he overlooks its possible danger. Of course things go awry, and a few miles away a little boy finds a naked old man cowering in a barn, just staring into space. The boy enlists his father and their community–a group of reindeer herders–for help. They suspect the old man may be Santa Claus, or perhaps the reason why all the reindeer have been slaughtered during the migration. It just gets weirder from there. i09 called it “the most disturbingly awesome Christmas movie ever.”

Attack the Block (2011)

The excellent tagline for Attack the Block tells you all you need to know about the plot: “Inner City vs. Outer Space.” In this case the inner city is a housing project in London, where a group of teenagers introduce themselves to the audience by mugging a young nurse on her way home from work. Straightaway afterwards a sizzling light falls from the sky into the park where they’re standing. When they investigate they find a small furry creature that’s black as night that’s just emerged from a metal pod. Their first instinct is to kill it; they follow through on that instinct, then bring the corpse to the lair of the council drug dealer for safekeeping (because they figure it can make them some money). What they don’t know is that the girl they mugged lives in the same building they do; that there are many more, much bigger versions of the creature they killed on the way; and that they have a long night ahead of them when all these paths cross.

I want The Cabin in the Woods and Prometheus to be as good as the ones I’ve listed here. Are there any scary movies you’re looking forward to, or have enjoyed lately?


*You may have seen their bigger-budget efforts Cyrus and/or Jeff Who Lives At Home


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The Lost Art of the Handwritten Letter

Dear Eleventh Stack Readers,

Even in (or perhaps despite?) this digital age I live in, I’ve always loved handwritten letters. There’s just something special about someone willing to take the time to craft a newsy letter and it’s even more fun to receive it in the mail; it’s a bonus if it’s handwritten on lovely paper. For over twenty years now, I’ve corresponded with a grad school friend whom I have not seen since 1991 but, every month, we exchange letters. In fact, she refuses to correspond with me via email and, to tell the truth, it wouldn’t be the same. Email makes it too easy to be short and abbreviated but, with paper and pen, I can take my time telling my news; it’s almost meditative.

My minimalist tendencies, however, get in my way. Currently I am trying to use up all of my stationery stock before I even consider buying more. But it has made me even more creative (okay, let’s face it, cheap) and I’ve even taken to using old library book due date cards and old postcards. My friend, on the other hand, always seems to have a limitless supply of beautiful writing papers and cards for every occasion.

I love to write so writing letters and coming up with things to write about has never been a problem for me but, if it is for you, the library has several books to help:

For the Love of Letters : a 21st-Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing by Samara O’Shea

The Art of the Handwritten Note : a Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd

Just Write : the Art of Personal Correspondence by Molly O’Shaughnessy

In closing, as an English major, I can’t let the moment go by without mentioning a few of my favorite epistolary novels that tell a story through letters:

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Until next time,

P.S. There’s even a lovely little zine in our Zine Collection about letter writing:  All This is Mine #12 by Sugene

Source: All This is Mine


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Where have you gone, Nancy Dowd?

I recently spent a pleasant afternoon in a theater watching the new hockey movie Goon, and although it was completely entertaining and I recommend it to fans of hockey/brutal comedy/Canadians, it couldn’t hold a candle to the ultimate hockey movie, Slap Shot. Full disclosure: the first time I watched Slap Shot, I was just a kid. I had no idea what was going on–the only memory I retained into adulthood was of the ultimate goon-trio, the Hanson brothers. Little else made sense. In hindsight, I never should have been allowed to see this movie as a kid, as it’s one of the most vulgar, foul-mouthed, violent sports movies ever made. It also has that 70s movie magic going for it–thoughtful, raw, subversive–and later screening it as an adult I’ve come to realize that it’s a really special movie about rust belt America around the time of the steel mill decline in the late 70s. Even more strange, I found out that this amazingly vulgar (and genius) movie was written by a woman, Nancy Dowd. In interviews she has revealed that the movie was based partially on her own upbringing in a mill town, and partially on her brother Ned Dowd who played for a minor league hockey team (the Johnstown Jets) in Western Pennsylvania during the 70s.

Even more of a mystery is what has happened to Ms. Dowd in the remaining years. After a few writing gigs–Slap Shot, SNL, and an Oscar for Coming Home–she all but dropped off the map. Where has she gone, and what happened? I had very little luck digging around to see what she’s been up to lately (other than selling her Caribbean home). But I must make mention of one of her great (largely uncelebrated) triumphs, a little film called Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains. It’s finally available on DVD, after years of being out-of-print and only shortly viewed on late-night cable in the 80s. It’s a sloppy film–but so good, and so ahead of its time. The film is rumored to be loosely based on the career of UK band The Slits, and follows a group of working-class teen girls in Western Pennsylvania who decide to start a girl punk band and go on the road–even though they can’t sing or play instruments. Notably, it stars a very young Diane Lane, Laura Dern, and Ray Winstone, as well as Paul Simonon from The Clash and Steve Jones and Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols. It has also been credited with inspiring many ladies in the Riot Grrrl movement such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney. It’s not a great film, but its music and forward thinking ideas make up for any amount of shoddy moviemaking.

How strange that one lady wrote a film that is one of the greatest sports movies ever made, another that inspired a generation of girls to start a movement, and another that won an Oscar, and then totally dropped off the map. Where have you gone, Nancy Dowd?

Not gonna goon it up for you,


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10 Somewhat Short Reviews of Not Quite Japanese Fiction

Unlike the books I listed in 28 Super Short Reviews of Japanese Fiction, these ten books are not written by Japanese authors, though they are connected to Japan in some way. Enjoy!

 Adamson, Isaac – Tokyo Suckerpunch – First in a series of black-humored detective-thriller-noir-parody books featuring Cleveland’s own “Youth in Asia” (yes, really) magazine reporter Billy Chaka. He’s a hard drinkin’ man who’s got mad martial arts moves, wears the same outfit every day, and always takes the stairs – more than enough quirks for a detective series.

Avery, Ellis – The Teahouse Fire – The story of an American semi-orphan who is constantly mistaken for a really ugly Japanese girl, packed with crazy 19th century historic details and more than you ever wanted to know about tea ceremonies. It also has two fires, in case you’re counting. (Bonus: book on CD!)

Brown, Alan – Audrey Hepburn’s Neck – A young Japanese man raised in a remote northern village moves to Tokyo to pursue both his career and his interest in American ladies, with complicated and sometimes hilarious results. It’s not all fun and games though, because along the way he learns the disturbing truth behind his parents’ estrangement and his mother’s wartime past.


Gibson, William – Idoru – A clever, determined teenage fangirl travels to Japan to stop her musical idol from marrying a virtual idol – though of course, there’s way more to it than that. If the technology seems a little wack to you, remember that it was written in 1996. I didn’t even have a cell phone in 1996.

Golden, Arthur – Memoirs of a Geisha – Do I really need to describe this one for you? Okay, how about this: poor girl has an unhealthy obsession with the guy who once bought her an ice cream cone. It’s partially based on the life of Mineko Iwasaki, who went on to write her own book (Geisha: a Life) because she was pissed at Golden. Like, lawsuit pissed. (Bonus: movie and ebook and book on CD!)

Hayder, Mo – The Devil of Nanking – An English girl who’s done a very bad thing scours Tokyo looking for an elderly gangster who’s also done a very bad thing. Also features nightclubs, professors, mysterious film footage, messy apartments, English teachers, and creepy old men. (Bonus: book on CD!)

Kramer, Gavin – Shopping – A tall goofy-looking English lawyer falls hard for a sixteen year-old Japanese girl who is far more interested in his paychecks than his personality. He also finds the absolutely worst possible way to introduce himself to her parents. I’m not kidding.


Massey, Sujata – The Salaryman’s Wife – The first in a series about spunky half-American half-Japanese antiques-dealer/detective/nosy girl Rei Shimura and her assortment of boyfriends and ex-boyfriends. Not classic literature or anything, but still good readin’ for long flights or rainy days.

Talarigo, Jeff – The Pearl Diver – A nineteen year-old pearl diver contracts leprosy, is forced to sacrifice her name and family, and is transported to a leper colony where she becomes a caretaker for the more severely afflicted. Not a cheerful book, but darn interesting.

Yu, Miri – Gold Rush – A fourteen year-old boy with some unsavory hobbies kills his father and tries to take over his gambling empire, with predictable results. (Note: this one was written in Japanese, but the author is Korean – so she didn’t make it onto the Japanese fiction list.)

– Amy

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Springtime is for Job-Hunting

As an intern and soon-to-be graduating grad student, I’ve had my share of worries when it comes to the job market. After earning my undergraduate degree a few years ago, I had two part-time jobs: retail sales associate and substitute teacher’s aide. As much as part-time employment is the dream of every college graduate, I aspired to find passion in my work. So I asked myself: what did I like about my jobs?

I liked answering questions and conversing with customers. I liked stocking shelves and “facing the store,” which is the fun retail way of saying you want to keep everything neat, organized and presentable to the public. Working as an aide in elementary and high school classrooms, I enjoyed watching and encouraging the learning process. As I recalled once working as a desk assistant in a university library and made connections to my current skills and interests, I suppose it isn’t a big mystery how I came to study library science.

Considering my options as I’m about to enter the professional workforce once again, I was drawn to reading Sean Aiken’s The One-Week Job Project. As a young man not sure what he wants to do with the rest of his life, he embarks on a one-year journey to take one new job for every week in the year. After 52 weeks and 52 jobs, he hopes he can learn enough from his constantly changing employers and co-workers to discover what he enjoys, what he would like to avoid, and what makes him passionate about going to work every day.

Like Aiken, I learned that if you take time to consider where you are in life, whether you’re pleased or wanting more, you can always benefit from a little self-assessment. And sometimes you might find yourself packing a bag and hitting the road, whether for fun or for grad school (like me!). I met a lot of new people on my own self-assessing adventure and learned a lot about life and work as well. Most importantly I learned that no matter a person’s role–friend, colleague or manager–the ability to positively influence another, whether personally or professionally, is one of the best qualities that anyone could have and share…and one quality I look forward to bringing to my next employer.

Happy springtime everyone!



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Working and Writing

When I was a kid, I never wanted to be a ballerina or an astronaut. I wanted to be a writer. I wrote all through school. My undergraduate degree is in Writing. I kept a journal for twenty years. Yet I haven’t written a creative word since 2006. I often wonder if I’m being a sell-out because I have a totally square day job. *

Then I heard author Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone, My Own Country: A Doctors Story) at the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures Monday Night Series. Verghese is an Infectious Diseases doctor who also happens to have an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. He spoke eloquently about having a calling in life. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham is what inspired him to become a doctor. A very specific quote from it motivated him to write:

“Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five. Without an adequate income half the possibilities of life are shut off. The only thing to be careful about is that you do not pay more than a shilling for the shilling you earn. You will hear people say that poverty is the best spur to the artist. They have never felt the iron of it in their flesh. They do not know how mean it makes you. It exposes you to endless humiliation, it cuts your wings, it eats into your soul like a cancer.”

Verghese believes that if you have a job you love and pays the bills, you’re darn lucky. (Because despite the prevailing wisdom, suffering doesn’t make you more creative.)  And if you are able to write too, well, that’s gravy.

So. I’m going to write. Here are the books that inspire me to write.

For the language

For the characters

  • City of Thieves by David Benioff, a Jewish soldier in Russia, a dead German paratrooper, larger-than-life deserter Kolya.
  • World Without End by Ken Follet, a peasant’s wife, a knight, a builder and a nun.
  • Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende, the beautiful slave Zarité, French aristocrat Toulouse, Haiti, New Orleans.

For the story

  • Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefons Falcones de Sierra, the building of the Santa Maria del Mar in 14th Century Barcelona.
  • A Blade of Grass by Lewis DeSoto, two young woman surviving a civil war in post-colonial Africa.
  • So Much for That by Lionel Shriver, a darkly moving (and funny) story about the failure of the United States health care system.

For the voice

  • Room by Emma Donoghue, the voice of Jack, a five year old boy.
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak, the voice of Death (quite kind, actually.)
  • Dog Boy by Eva Hornug, the voice of an abandoned Russian toddler and a pack of wild dogs.

Hopefully I write the next Great American Novel and get filthy rich. However, in the event that I don’t, at least I have a job I love.


*This is a patently ridiculous worry, as I went to graduate school (and I hate school) to get this specific job and kind of love it.


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