Monthly Archives: July 2012

Back to the Books

The other day a co-worker innocently asked me, “So, how’s that movie-watching project coming along?”

Er, yes. That.

The good news is that I’ve really appreciated the exposure to film as an art form, and I can enjoy cinema in a whole new way; I’m even going to the movies more often, which makes my film-loving friends and family happy. The bad news is, watching all those movies is starting to feel more like a homework assignment, or something I’m doing because it’s “good for me,” like eating more brussels sprouts.  And when something in my personal life stops being fun, I quit doing it.  I feel guilty about it, sure, but…I quit.

Luckily, my first love, books, has been right here waiting for me to come back.  Books knew this whole movie thing was just a phase, and welcomed me with open arms.  Books are very forgiving that way, and do not judge. More importantly, books take hold of my heart and my imagination in a way film simply can’t touch.

Bookfession 622 (tumblr)

From the Bookfessions tumblr

I’m sure I will, eventually, get around to watching more of the 1,001 movies, probably at a slower pace; for now, however, I have a huge, sumptuous pile of things to read.  Here are a few of the titles making me supremely happy these days.

The Year of the Gadfly, Jennifer Miller. A mesmerizing novel that asks, “Do we ever really leave high school?”  Iris, a troubled teen trying to make a fresh start, finds herself ensnared in her private prep school’s long, checkered history. Unfortunately, most of the adults who work at Mariana Prep are having the same problem. Iris’s story alternates with that of Lily, a former classmate of the current crop of Mariana “grownups,” and through her eyes we see how the scars you pick up in high school can sting, itch and burn instead of fade.  Iris’s dogged determination to succeed–to say nothing of her hero-worship for Edward R. Murrow–render her scrappy and sympathetic.  A definite to-read for anyone still haunted by their own high school traumas (and isn’t that just about everyone?).

Hand Me Down, Melanie Thorne. Being a teen is hard enough, but when you can’t depend on the adults in your life for Hand Me Downstability, any shot a  normal life can fly right out the window. Liz and Jamie are two sisters with few options.  Live with mom, who’s dating a paroled sex offender? Live with dad, who will probably drive you to school while drunk?  Live with the extremely religious aunt who’s constantly preaching at you, or the aunt whose husband doesn’t want you around? Thorne’s debut novel is a gritty catalog of misery, demonstrating how, when the adults can’t get it together, the kids’ struggle gets harder.  It’s painful to read at times, but Liz is a fighter, for herself and for Jamie, and her sincere desire for something better will keep you reading along with her while she struggles to get it.

FeedFeed, Mira Grant. Betting odds are still firmly against an actual zombie apocalypse, but that doesn’t keep Grant’s novel from being a delicious-exciting read.  Here’s the deal: the zombie apocalypse has happened (it’s complicated), and America has become a country of virus-checks and paranoia. It’s also become a country where bloggers are trusted more frequently than mainstream media, so when a presidential candidate hires a team of teen bloggers to cover his campaign, it’s really just a sign of the new normal. Or is it something more? Grant–a pen name for noted fantasist Seanan McGuire–has produced a world of fear, government conspiracy, paranoia, and good-old-fashioned zombie slashing, one that’s even scarier by dint of the fact that so much of her matieral is drawn from social attitudes and practices that are already de rigeur. A fun, scare-you-silly summer pick that you’ll flip through quickly, either from joy or terror.  First in the Newsflesh (hee) trilogy.

And The Heart Says Whatever, Emily Gould. A non-fic pic that reads like a novel, Whatever is Gould’s story of her late teens and early twenties, which she spent as a struggling writer in New York.   The former Gawker blogger dropped out of college in Ohio to take writing classes in NYC, worked at a lot of crappy jobs, and slept with a lot of different people, many of whom she didn’t really care for all that much. So far, so normal, except that Gould has the writing chops to infuse her story with something more than typical twentysomething angst. There’s a haunted quality to the fairly mundane stories she tells, a sense that all of her searching has hollowed her out somehow, made her less spoiled, less shallow. And yet, to reach that state of wisdom, she apparently had to behave in some incredibly spoiled, shallow ways, something those of us who survived our twenties occasionally forget. Reading Gould is like revisiting that stumble-fumbling time of your life when you didn’t know who you were or what you wanted, reliving the panic and frustration without actually having to feel those feelings up close again. If you’re still there, or if you’ve started muttering imprecations under your breath about “these kids today who don’t understand anything,” Whatever will serve as an empathy injection.

Judging from these titles, I seem to be preoccupied with teenage heroines struggling to survive; interesting. I should go back to the movie list and see if there are any films that revolve around this theme. That way I could have my bookish cake, and consume some more movies too.

Onward and upward!

Leigh Anne


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A Short Ode to Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle has directed some great movies over the past twenty or so years, plus countless theatre productions (Did anyone else get a chance to see his National Theatre Frankenstein in movie theaters? It was awesome.), so I was really excited when it was announced he was going to be the guy behind the Opening Ceremonies of this summer’s Olympics games.

Danny Boyle with Olympic Organizing Committee Chairman, Sebatian Coe, and Executive Producer of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, Stephen Daldry. Photo credit – AP

In honor of the hard work he put into the Opening Ceremonies on Friday night, here’s a quick look at my two favorite Boyle films.

  • I think that Sunshine is a completely underrated sci-fi flick. Written by Boyle’s 28 Days Later collaborator, Alex Garland, it manages to balance the mission at at hand – drop a bomb to re-ignite the sun – with being a psychological thriller about highly intelligent scientists facing their worst fears. The cast is a solid mix of international actors including Cillian Murphy, a pre-Captain America Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne, and Cliff Curtis.
  • Slumdog Millionaire was one of the biggest movies of 2008 and with good reason. Starring Dev Patel (who will always be Anwar to me) as Jamal, a young man who has made it to the final round as a contestant on India’s Who Wants to  Be a Millionaire. When he’s accused of cheating, Jamal recounts the events in his life that have led him to knowing answers he, a kid from the slums, shouldn’t know. The movie is based on the book Q&A by Vikas Swarup and features a fantastic score by AR Rahman, who also contributed to the music during the Opening Ceremonies

Some of his other films to check out:

Shallow Grave 
A Life Less Ordinary 
The Beach 
28 Days Later 
127 Hours 

–  Jess, who is on her first beach vacation in about fifteen years this week


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Music of the Whiskey Rebellion

Folk, country, and rock music have lots of songs about whiskey.  But unlike other events in U.S. History, there are not a lot of music or films specifically about the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s.  Here is a list to get you started:

  • The public television series The Appalachians contains a segment on the Whiskey Rebellion.  (During the segment, you’ll hear the traditional song “Boozefighters,” performed by Gandydancer and also on the companion CD.  But this song is more likely about Prohibition in the 1920s and not the taxing of whiskey in the 1790s.)
  • The book Two Hundred Years of Pittsburgh-Region Folksongs contains a song “A ‘Canny’ Word to the Democrats o’ the West” (1799) which includes references to the Whiskey Rebellion in heavy Scotch-Irish dialect such as this: “When, ance, about Whiskey, / Ye a’ gat sae crusty, / An’ swore ye’d na pay for a drap.”
  • The same lyricist, David Bruce, also wrote “A New Song for the Jacobins” circa 1798 and also found in Two Hundred Years of Pittsburgh-Region Folksongs.  According to the notes accompanying the song, American Jacobin Clubs were radical agrarians inspired by the French Revolution and “furnished the leadership and organization for the Whiskey Insurrection.”
  • In 1953, Albert F. Beddoe published a song “Copper Kettle (The Pale Moonlight)” which became somewhat well-known amongst 60s folk revivalists.  It contains the lines: “My daddy he made whiskey, and my granddaddy too, / We ain’t paid a whiskey-tax since seventeen-ninety-two.”  Local group NewLanders, who specialize in songs about the region’s history, perform this song on their Where the Allegheny Flows album.
  • Another song called “Copper Kettle” also appears in folk song collections and tells the story of a jailed Patrick McCrory.  It contains the lyrics: “But Patrick paid no taxes / On any stuff he sold, / That’s why he went to prison,  / So the tale is told.”

— Tim


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Clink, chime!

Boom, clang, tinkle.

Last weekend my husband and I explored Pennsylvania north of Pittsburgh. A converted 5 & 10 store in Franklin, now the home of DeBence Antique Music World, provided irresistible bait. From tour guide, executive director, and ace restorer Scotty Greene, we learned the history of the DeBence collection of over one-hundred working, automatic musical instruments. A retired mechanical engineer, Scotty and his wife Dottie are dedicated caretakers of this mechanical wonderland. It’s impossible not to grin widely while listening to music boxes, player pianos, street organs, fairground organs, calliopes, nickelodeons and other self-playing instruments.

Ring, jingle, toll.

The music that fills DeBence’s, though composed decades ago, comes to life on instruments unmitigated by the recording process. (Not surprisingly, recording technology rapidly displaced the technology of automatic musical instruments.) A tour of DeBence’s will easily prove that electric amplification is not required to produce sounds capable of traveling long distances.

WurliTzer 125 Military Band Organ, Bayernhof Museum

Drum, thrum,
clatter, throb.

Close your eyes. Are you at the circus? Riding a carousal? You might be standing in front of a live marching band. But this is no parade. It’s live music booming from a 1920s military band organ.

According to the company catalog of 1928, the WurliTzer band organ, manufactured in North Tonawanda, NY, was built for “skating rinks, fairs, carousels and summer resorts. WurliTzer Military Band Organs produce lively, enjoyable music of such great volume that they are sure to attract Crowds . . .” When Scotty flips the on switch, be ready to skate away. The volume directly in front of the mighty WurliTzer, style 165, succeeds in generating “the loud, lively, enjoyable music that everybody likes, and that cannot be drowned out by the noise of the skaters.”

Just across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh, Sharpsburg’s Bayernhof Museum provides an opportunity to hear a band organ closer to home. Their WurliTzer Military Band Organ, Style 125, was also employed in amusement parks for carousels and in skating rinks. Bayernhof’s web site understates the sound when it proclaims, “It’s 101 pipes are a bit overpowering when played indoors, even in a room as large as its home in Bayernhof. In addition, it has percussion in the form of a bass drum, snare drum and top mounted cymbal. It is quite substantial, weighing almost 800 pounds. WurliTzer built band organs in several sizes, with the larger ones having trombone and saxophone pipes, bells, castanets, and crash cymbals, in addition to a larger number of organ pipes.”

Rattle, snap, thunder
Crash, roll!

Next time you’re strolling down a board walk, riding a painted horse, or gliding in a rink, hear the music. You might be in the presence of a self-playing musical instrument from another ear. In the mean time, the Music Department’s mechanical instrument guide books and recordings await you.


Barrel Organ: The Story of the Mechanical Organ and Its Repair, Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume

Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments, Q. David Bowers

Player Piano Treasury: The Scrapbook History of the Mechanical Piano in America as Told in Story, Pictures, Trade Journal Articles and Advertising, Harvey Roehl


Catch the Brass Ring [Recording made from a WurliTzer band organ, style 165!]

The Circus Is Coming: Old Fashioned Calliope Music

Mechanical Music Hall: Street, Penny & Player Pianos, Musical Boxes & Other Automata

Please Don’t Shoot the Piano Player: Old Fashioned Player Piano Music



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Spotlight on Shana Abé

Thanks to Jess and Sheila‘s suggestions, I’ve been having a great time reading romance novels this month. I’ve even done a little branching out on my own, hoping to find an author whose work consistently makes me happy, and I think I’ve found one in Shana Abé. Two of her books made it into my weekend reading rotation, and I’m happy to report that they were both excellent, in different ways, and for different reasons.

Intimate Enemies revolves around Lauren MacRae and Arion DuMorgan, who find themselves in charge of their respective rival clans. A brief meeting as children, one in which Arion saved Lauren’s life, has stuck in both their memories.  However, it’s unclear as to whether or not that one kindness can erase years of bad blood and disputed property; after all, it’s a little nerve-wracking to fall in love with someone who’s forever harping on how their island is really your island. But fall in love they do, and when a common enemy invader threatens to wreck everything both clans hold dear, you just know Lauren and Arion are going to get it together and save the day. This book is packed to the gills with swords, honor, duty, and the angst that comes from fighting your attraction to somebody who drives you crazy, but looks really hot in battle dress. Sheer escapist fun, great for readers looking for a traditional historical romance.

What really sold me on Abé, however, was turning to The Smoke Thief and discovering that her chops in the fantasy department were particularly fine. I’m a little fussy about my fantasy fiction, so I was pleased to discover that The Smoke Thief is the first in a series of novels that does something entirely new with dragons. Abé’s intricate mythology begins with the story of Rue, a jewel thief with a secret, and Kit, the tribal lord who cannot let Rue roam free once he learns who she really is. Kit and Rue are drákon, shapeshifters whose lineage stretches back through history and faroff places, and their love story is only the beginning.

Although both books were great, I preferred The Smoke Thief; it’s a regency romance wrapped up in a high fantasy saga, something I didn’t expect to find, and can’t wait to pursue further; other books in the series remain set in the 18th century, but carry readers around the world, from Transylvania to Spain, pursuing the epic loves and power struggles of the drákon, in sensuous prose. Highly recommended for fantasy-lovers looking for something truly innovative, and romance fans willing to try something new.

I love Abé’s versatility, and, if you like romances, I have a feeling you will too (if you haven’t, already–I know how voraciously you romance fans read!). Try her tales on for size and, as ever, report back.

–Leigh Anne

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Sois Sage*

I’ve spent the past week immersed in the book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, and like the friends who recommended it to me I’m intrigued.  I’m something of a Francophile as it is, so it’s not much of a stretch for me to be so interested in a book on French parenting.  Like all of those other things that the French do better than us (cheese, wine, baguettes), they apparently know something we don’t in the parenting arena as well.  The book’s author, Pamela Druckerman, is an American ex-pat living in Paris who observed that most of the French children she met were mysteriously well-behaved.  Very few tantrums, sleeping through the night by the time they were two months old, and behaving like angels when taken out to dinner.  She decided to investigate and discovered that the French take a very different attitude toward child-rearing than Americans do, being both stricter and more relaxed. It’s a fascinating book, and worth a read whether you’re struggling with a willful toddler or just interested in cultural differences.

A very happy toddler, making the gateau au yaourt from the recipe in Bringing Up Bebe.

Next on my reading list is a book that, in a happy coincidence, arrived on my holdshelf at the same time as Druckerman’s:  The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women, by the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter.  As you can probably tell from the title alone it’s a little more of a provacative read.  I don’t agree with everything Badinter writes about, but it’s definitely food for thought, and although I’m only a chapter in I’m noticing some of the same attitudes towards motherhood and parenting that are discussed in Bringing up Bébé. Pretty fascinating stuff all around.


*Sois sage is what French parents say to their children instead of “be good.”  Although it means something similar, it’s more of an admonishment to be “wise”– giving the child some control over judging how to act appropriately in the situation.  Such a nice way to tell a child to behave, non?


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Surprise inside

I recently stumbled across this set of flexi discs while helping a customer look for violin instructions materials. Neat, eh?

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– Amy, who sometimes likes to write short posts


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The Completist

Dear readers, when I’m not busy being totally amped for the final season of the best thing I’ve ever seen on television (Breaking Bad),  or musing on how Louis C.K. is modeling himself as his generation’s Woody Allen, I’m generally thinking about the big issues. Like being a completist. (Full disclosure, I totally thought I was making up a word, but it’s real! Thanks, research databases.) Sounds fairly infinite and frightening, but I’m not referring to obsessive collection, instead the joy of comprehensiveness. I’m talking about books, friends. This post is about going the distance, in which your hero talks of completing an author’s entire bibliography.

That said, I don’t think there are not many authors for which I can claim this to be true, as the authors’ I enjoy most are prolific. I hadn’t even thought this concept as being possible until I picked up Glamorama, a seemingly random book by Bret Easton Ellis that I realized would complete my reading of him – he’s only written novels and been a prolific twitter presence, to my knowledge. Ellis is a strange author to be “complete” with, sometimes brilliant, sometimes grating, most times droll. What draws me back to him repeatedly is that his novels often exist within the same existing universe – jaded, desensitized, “LA” characters you can’t help but be fascinated by, if only for their removal from their surroundings. I never know if it’s satire or just how Ellis may really be, but it doesn’t stop me from turning the pages. Reading Glamorama did allow me to realize that keeping up with contemporary authors is easier than I had previously thought – with the days of letter writing unfortunately gone, the sheer amount available on authors has dwindled. I’m currently complete, and keeping up with the work of Franzen, Eugenides, Eggers, Hornby, Frey and Vlautin, to mention a few. As long as they don’t all drop books at the same time, I should be able to continue growing with them, without fear that they will start releasing their pen pal adventures, or too many collections of essays on birding (I’m looking at you, J Franz).

It’s the pesky older (i.e.: dead) authors that are difficult. How do Bukowski, Bolaño and Vonnegut keep releasing things from beyond the grave? My count is that I have read twenty-five by Buk (counting poetry collections and correspondences) and twenty by Kurt, and I don’t even know how many books keep getting found and translated by Bolaño in order to keep up. I have no sense of whether I am complete or not! Salinger, however, I have no qualms with. It’s easy when the guy stopped publishing for most of his life (on top of that I fully believe he did not leave anything behind – if there’s anyone who burned his work it’s him).  I will never be done reading Franny and Zooey, and revisiting the misadventures of the Glass family in any form. It feels complete.
So what say you, constant companion? Do you have any authors or artists you can’t get enough of? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Post below in comments for interactive fun!

– Tony


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I’ve been vegan for almost five years but I still continue to look for ways to improve my health even more. During this time, I’ve removed all processed sugar and most processed foods from my life, stopped drinking my usual espresso in the morning and tea in the afternoon and, during the last month, have been eating more raw food every day.

Raw food is something I’ve been curious about for awhile now. Summer, of course, makes eating more raw much easier. During the summer months, I tend to eat less and I avoid anything heavy (read: cooked). I’ve also joined a fabulous local CSA to make this process even easier (and also for the variety of foods they send weekly) and save me some time shopping on my precious weekends. I’ve started to drink daily green smoothies; it’s a great way to make sure I’m getting extra greens in my life.

Of course, I could never do this without the help of the library and, while there are quite a few raw food books and guides out there, I want it simple and I want it vegan (because many raw foodists still eat dairy). Here are a few books that have inspired me with beautiful photos, sound advice, and delicious recipes:

Going Raw: Everything You Need to Know to Start Your Own Raw Food Diet and Lifestyle Revolution at Home by Judita Wignall. This inspiring guide is filled with both simple as well as elaborate recipes, colorful and appetizing photographs, and step-by-step instructions on getting more raw foods into your life. What I especialy liked about her book was her encouragement that you don’t have to eat 100% raw all the time to reap the health benefits of raw foods. The book comes with a very helpful and useful DVD demonstrating kitchen techniques and equipment demonstrations.

Photo courtesy of Raw Food Recipes for Beginners

Raw Food: A Complete Guide for Every Meal of the Day by Erica Palmcrantz and Irmela Lilja. Swedish authors Palmcrantz & Lilja’s book is filled with gorgeous photography, very short ingredient lists, encouraging testimonials, as well as tips and shortcuts to make the raw transition easy.

Live Raw : Raw Food Recipes for Good Health and Timeless Beauty by Mimi Kirk. This book caught my eye because the author is an older woman (she’s in her  70s!) who looks amazing and her recipes are very easy to make. There’s a lot of variety, too, and they are delicious. Kirk also discusses lifestyle, including mindfulness, exercise, and stress and how those can affect the body as much as the food you eat.



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Where Were You…?

…On Sunday, June 10th?

Hopefully, you were on the front lawn of the Main Library participating in the 12th Annual Summer Reading Extravaganza. This year was out of this world!! We had beautiful weather and lots of smiling faces. It was certainly a great day for the Library. Over 5,000 people registered for the event, there were over 80 groups that participated, 83 people signed up for library cards (that’s 1 card made every 3.5 minutes!), and 427 items per hour were checked out at the Customer Services desk during the Extravaganza!

Alice and the White Rabbit entertain the crowd

To see exactly how much fun we all had, check out some amazing photos and a nice little story from a first time Extravaganza guest and volunteer photographer, Bridgett Kay.

Wishing String – Lots of people made a wish!

Of course, the main reason for having the annual Extravaganza is to celebrate the beginning of and to encourage people to participate in the Summer Reading programs. There’s one for every age group: children, teens and adults. There’s still plenty of time to join. The Summer Reading programs run thru mid-August.  Just registering for the programs and visiting your library even once gets you a great bag or other nifty prizes and qualifies you for giveaways, but the best part is the reading. Make sure your kids’ brains stay alert and active during the summer to retain knowledge from the school year. Take time as an adult to read for pleasure and find your stress levels reduced. Read together to interact and engage with each other. Reading during the summer is fun and important!

Storytime with the East End Food Co-op

The Library’s Summer Reading Extravaganza is a great reminder to the community about just how integral the Library wants to be to life here in Pittsburgh. I hope that you’ll join us for next year’s Extravaganza!

-Melissa M. (With more than a little help from Sara W.)

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