Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Game’s The Thing: Five Books About The Business Of Games And Toys

When I ordered the latest edition of  Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America for the library a while back, I knew it would enjoy some attention when it finally hit our shelves.  Author Jeff Ryan goes into exacting detail on the history, iconography, and cultural impact of the Super Mario game, and how its popularity catapulted Nintendo and its video game system to the top of the nascent video game industry.

Seeing Ryan’s book also got me to thinking about some of the other great books on games and toys we’ve acquired over the last few years.  Here’s a short list:

These books confirm that the world of games and toys is really serious business.


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Best Poetry Books of 2012: a Baker’s Dozen

Turns out, 2012 was a fine year for poetry.  The following is a selection of 13 (my lucky number) books that deserve consideration if you find yourself hankering after something a tad more lyrical than prose and a bit less weighty than Kierkegaard. Consider any of the following: they won’t do you wrong.


Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert – Gilbert, who was born in Pittsburgh, PA, attended Peabody High School and worked, among other jobs, as a steelworker, died in 2012 after battling Alzheimer’s. He was one of the finest American poets of the last 50 years and this volume contains all his published collections, in addition to some previously unpublished poems. There is a lyrical ennui to his work unsurpassed in recent years.


Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds – Sharon Olds is another prominent poet with a Pittsburgh connection (her early volume, Satan Says, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press). Stag’s Leap is getting lots of positive buzz, hence the occasional wait for her books. Olds digs deeply into the events of everyday, and what she comes back with is always unflinchingly honest and emotionally fired.


The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton Lucille Clifton, who passed away in 2010, finally gets her due with this voluminous collection of her life’s work.  A leading poet of her generation, her poetry addresses issues such as her African American heritage and women’s rights. She was a master of concision, straightforward, and direct, as few modern poets are.


New Collected Poems by Wendell BerryLike Lucille Clifton, the work of Wendell Berry serves as a moral compass for the American experience, if from a different perspective. This is yet another outstanding career-spanning collection (I told you it was a good year). My partner reads everything by the man: essays, poetrynon-fictionlectures, and luminescent fiction.


Thrall: Poems by Natasha TretheweyA brand new volume by the brand new Poet Laureate of the United States, Natasha Trethewey, Thrall is an exploration the poet’s mixed heritage as seen in the greater arc of all of American history. This volume is a must for all those interested in modern American poetry and the all-important subject of race in America.


A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver – There are many things that have been said about Mary Oliver, some of them not so pleasant, particularly within the ‘poetry community.’ In the real world, however, the work of Mary Oliver might best be described in one word: transcendent. Her new collection, A Thousand Mornings, is her best in years, and that is saying something. Do yourself a favor – don’t know where to start with poetry but want to give it a go? Start here.


Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins – Here’s a title I bet you didn’t expect to see on this list: Alien vs. Predator, by poet Michael Robbins.  Jordan Davis, in his Nation review, gives you a good idea what to expect: “These poems are bad for you, the way alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, bacon, carbohydrates, television and the internet are bad for you.” And, of course, by bad, like any incisive critic, he means good.


Slow Lightning by Eduardo Corral – A new selection in the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets, Slow Lightning by Eduardo Corral is a winner in more ways than one.  Selected by Carl Phillips for the series, he observes that “Corral’s point is that language, like sex, is fluid and dangerous and thrilling, now a cage, now a window out. In Corral’s refusal to think in reductive terms lies his great authority. His refusal to entirely trust authority wins my trust as a reader.”


Place by Jorie Graham – A new volume of work, in this case entitled Place, by Jorie Graham is always a welcome event.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and oft cited as one of the most celebrated post-war American poets, she has been compared to both Rilke and Yeats in her philosophical and political scope by James Longenbach. Find out why in the pages of this acclaimed new collection.


Poems: 1962-2012 by Louise Glück – Many of my favorite poets appear on this list, not the least of whom is Louise Glück. To describe her work as strange and wonderful and accomplished just doesn’t begin to glean the depths spanned in this comprehensive 50 year collection. Though I prefer her early work, the appeal of a collection of this type, as with the volumes by Gilbert and Clifton above, is that you can dip leisurely and at random throughout, picking and choosing and heading off in myriad directions, sparking connections that perhaps might astonish even the poet.

Engine-EmpireEngine Empire by Cathy Park Hong – Cathy Park Hong has been about the business of poetry for 10 plus years, her innovative novel told in poems, Dance Dance Revolution, in 2007 bringing her work to wider attention. Slate Magazine called Engine Empire “a remarkable book of poetry about the speed at which we’re rushing toward the future.” observed that “underlying the narrative is strong poetic style and an eagle eye for searingly memorable imagery.” That’s what others think. To find out what Park Hong thinks, read this Paris Review interview with her specifically about Engine Empire

bestBest American Poetry 2012, edited by Mark Doty – Maybe this is just all too much – so many poets, which do I choose? Well, there is another solution – the annual publication of the series entitled Best American Poetry, the 2012 edition. Each volume over the years has a general series editor (David Lehman currently) and a different specific editor for each year. What this means is the general editor assembles a boatload of work considered the best of the year and the annual editor then whittles it down to a standard book size selection. Each editor has their quirks – if you don’t like one year, another may do the trick. You’ll find a list of all the guest editors, from 1986 through 2012, here.

li poBright Moon, White Clouds: Selected Poems of Li Po, edited by J. P. Seaton – Last comes a favorite of mine – a new translation of the poems of Li Po, composed fourteen centuries ago. Li Po (aka Li Bai), along with his friend Tu Fu (aka Du Fu), are among the most renowned and celebrated poets from China’s classical golden era. This new selection, edited and translated by J. P. Seaton, continues a long line of distinguished English language renderings of the lyrical wonder of Li Po. The apocryphal story of Li Po’s death – how, drunk, while out boating, he drowned attempting to embrace the reflection of the moon – actually captures something of the romance and flavor of his poems. In closing, here’s a very brief poem from Bright Moon, White Clouds:

Jade Stairs Lament

Jade steps grow dew.
Night, late, has its way with her silken hose.
So let the crystal curtain fall . . .
In its jingling glitter, gaze on many Autumn moons.

– Don


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Journey with Us

Growing up in the 1980s in a distant bedroom community of Washington, D.C., my experience with people of other religions was minimal, to say the least. Everyone seemed to be Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian or possibly Catholic. The few Jewish folks I knew didn’t go to temple and I certainly didn’t know any Buddhists or Muslims.

Several years, cities and countries later, I’m glad that my worldview has expanded greatly. Even so, if you asked me to confidently rattle off more than five sentences about the world’s second-largest religion – Islam – I might start to trail off. The American Library Association and the National Endowment for Humanities got together recently and figured I wasn’t the only one who could use some enlightenment.

Throughout 2013, over 800 libraries across the nation will be exploring Islamic culture, thanks to a grant from the ALA and NEH called Muslim Journeys. We’re excited to be one of those libraries. The Main Library in Oakland will receive a “bookshelf” with more than two dozen books, some films, and a year of access to Oxford Islamic Studies Online. These materials are “intended to address the American public’s need and desire for trustworthy and accessible resources about Muslim beliefs and practices and the cultural heritage associated with Islamic civilizations,” says the NEH. In addition to these resources, we’ll be hosting programs all year long that will introduce themes of Islamic history and culture.

Our book clubs are a marvelous way to explore Islam. Black Holes, Beakers and Books discussed scientific contributions of the Arab Muslim world last Sunday, Bound Together will look at The Art of Hajj in March, the Mystery Book Discussion Group reads a novel set in Pakistan, Broken Verses,  in April and Books in the Afternoon will discuss Orhan Pamuk’s Snow in November. For graphic novel fans, discussions will be held later this year by the Teen Department on Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Out of the Gutter will be looking at Bosnian Muslims in Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde on May 20th.

Our long-running foreign film series, International Cinema Sunday, will present several movies related to Muslim culture or by Muslim directors. First up is Le Grande Voyage, about a conservative Muslim father and his more secular son making a pilgrimage to Mecca, followed by films set in Chad, Turkey, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

A survey of Muslim poets is never complete without Rumi. Three Poems By … will read and discuss his work in November.

In a happy accident, the Muslim Journeys grant dovetails with another local program happening this year. Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book is the 2013 selection for the Allegheny County Library Association’s One Book, One Community programs. In it, a Muslim librarian helps rescue a sacred Jewish text. The phrase “people of the book” has been used by Jews to refer to Jewish people and the Torah. It has also been used by Muslims to refer to non-Muslim adherents of Abrahamic faiths, including Jews and Christians

Of course, Islam is not a religion solely of the Arab world, nor are all Arabs Muslim. Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim community, and many adherents of Islam live in African countries such as Egypt and Nigeria. (Kids can learn more about that in March at Passport to the World: Somalia.) That said, many Muslims speak Arabic, and the library continues to hold free Arabic classes on Sunday afternoons. Films, books, and a magazine in the Arabic language are available to check out. We also offer English translations of books that were originally written in Arabic.

We’re excited for you to journey with us throughout 2013. Look for more information about the grant, materials and programs to be posted soon at


Rita is a librarian with the First Floor, New & Featured Department and is coordinating CLP’s efforts for the Muslim Journeys grant.


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Pride and Prejudice Bicentennial

Today is the 200th anniversary of the publication of British author Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Generally considered Austen’s most read, most famous, and most popular of her six novels, Austen had already made a name for herself  (albeit an anonymous one) with the 1811 publication of Sense and Sensibility, when she published the story of the independent-minded, impulsive, and playful Elizabeth Bennet and the aloof, wealthy, and socially-awkward Fitzwilliam Darcy in 1813.


Personally, I consider Pride and Prejudice to be one of Austen’s more lighthearted, comic* and romantic** novels. Austen herself felt it needed more seriousness:

“Upon the whole… I am well satisfied enough. The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense, about something unconnected with the story: an essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparté, or anything that would form a contrast and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and general epigrammatism of the general style”.
(Letter to her sister, Cassandra, Feb. 4, 1813)

For those who have managed to avoid Jane Austen and her works all these years, Pride and Prejudice is the story of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, a gentleman’s daughter, whose misplaced prejudice conflicts with the haughty and reserved aristocrat, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. The road to love is a mess of misunderstandings, confrontations, and, yes, pride. This novel has some of the wittiest dialogue in the history of the English novel and its first line is one of the most quoted (and quotable) ever:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Of course, it continues to inspire countless continuations, sequels, and spin-offs.

The library has many editions of the novel for the student, including annotated, coffee-table editions as well as books on CD, e-book and e-audiobook, Playaway, and of course, DVD. Check out our displays throughout Main library.

And, for those who still can’t get enough, Pittsburgh’s regional chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America will hold a Jane Austen Festival in March and this year’s national JASNA*** Annual General Meeting in Minneapolis will spotlight Austen’s “own darling child” in September.

~Maria, Austen’s humble servant

*Northanger Abbey is a hilarious parody of the gothic novel & Emma’s antics make for humorous reading.
**Persuasion, about true love lost and found again is, in my opinion, even more romantic.
***The Jane Austen Society of North America.


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We’re Souper, Thanks For Asking!

Looking for something to do next weekend that doesn’t involve pigskin and cleverly-designed attempts to part you from your hard-earned cash? Too depressed by the prospect of a certain sporting event without the hometown heroes in the mix? Interested in supporting your community while enjoying great local music in a warm, comfortable space filled with interesting things to read? You, my literate, music-loving, philanthropic friends, are in luck.

kitty naps while you have fun at the library

Bonus: kitty gets an extra nap while you’re having fun at the library. Image via

On Sunday, February 3rd, Main Library will host the WYEP 13th Annual Alternative Souper Bowl between 12 and 3 p.m. Our friends at the station where the music matters have planned a terrific line-up of performers, including Broken FencesThe Deceptions, and The Billy Price Band. There will even be a special appearance, and performance, by the Pitt Repertory Theatre, and portions of the afternoon will be broadcast live on WYEP.

The really “souper” part about this fun, free event is that you’ll also have the opportunity to make a non-perishable food/sundries donation to HEARTH, a fellow Pittsburgh non-profit that shelters women and children in need.  Suggested donation items include pasta, cereal, juice, personal supplies, and cleaning supplies–click here for a complete list–but why not take a tip from our friends at the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project and make a donation of items that can be easily combined into a meal?

We hope to see you here, foodstuffs in hand, ready to jam. Not quite the invitation you expected from a library? Maybe you should come see us before the event, just to catch up on all the amazing things we’ve been doing since your last visit. We hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

–Leigh Anne


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I Mean to Kill You in One Minute Ned!

In a passing conversation one of my colleagues had an observation about a not so contemporary screen actor – the late John Wayne.  I forget the wording but the observation and concurrent opinion weren’t complimentary – a circumstance I still need to remedy. I was and remain incensed, and not a little baffled.  Who doesn’t like John Wayne?

Yes he was an unrepentant right-winger with a good heart who covered both himself and the wrongs of the day in a shroud of patriotism that didn’t abide doubts. Somewhere people forgot he was a Hollywood entertainer, not a Washington statesman. I never particularly held his political beliefs in much regard. I like to watch his movies, they entertain me. I don’t watch them to be informed; I go elsewhere for that.

Maybe I’m too much a product of my childhood and its indelible memories – watching the 4:30 movie with one of my brothers; seeing True Grit or Chisum at the Squire or Playhouse theaters when they first came out; going to a John Ford marathon my freshman year of college. I find his pictures or at least the ones I like to be timeless.  I can always watch them; they’re the perfect movies for a rainy day, or a really miserable cold one.

So if I have the blanket, popcorn and the opportunity, what would I watch? Here’s my short list in random order, other than #1, my all-time favorite John Wayne movie.

1. Chisum, 1970. Forrest Tucker, Ben Johnson, Glenn Corbett and Christopher George. A highly fictionalized and entertaining account of the Lincoln Count(New Mexico) Land War. Wayne is John Chisum an established cattleman who has a broad view of the future of the Territory, shares resources with his neighbors, is good to his employees and is ready to enjoy the fruits of his labor.  He’s also nobody’s fool. Forrest Tucker is the Murphy come lately who wants to buy everything up and is bribing the Territorial governor to take army beef contracts from Chisum and use stolen cattle (Chisum’s) to fulfill the contracts.  Among the roles portrayed are those of Pat Garrett and Billy Bonney (Billy the Kid) who were involved in the dispute  both on the “good” side. Chris George gives a great performance as a rattlesnake mean, gimpy bounty hunter turned sheriff who owes his limp to Bonney.

2. El Dorado, 1966. Robert Mitchum and James Caan.  Wayne is Cole Thornton a professional gunfighter who might be hired by the conniving . . . Ed Asner.  Thornton might have to go up against his longtime friend the town sheriff played by Mitchum, who has become a hopeless washed-out drunk.  You have the bad guys, the fewer good guys, each one a little deficient, and a town that’s uninterested or cowed by circumstances.  You learn that gunfighters have ethics and a code of conduct.  Another great supporting role by Christopher George as the other fastest gun.  Conventional views are that El Dorado is Howard Hawks’ remake of his own earlier Duke film Rio Bravo from 1959.  Sort of the same premise though it’s a drunk deputy (Dean Martin,)  and Wayne is the sheriff.  Besides Martin, the cast includes Ward Bond (he’s the cop in It’s a Wonderful Life)  Ricky Nelson (don’t ask, it’s not worth it,) and Angie Dickinson.

3. The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965. Wayne is John Elder the oldest of 4 brothers (Earl Holliman, Dean Martin and Michael Anderson Jr. are the other 3) who come back together to bury their saintly (and destitute) mother in Clearwater, Texas.  John Elder is a professional gunfighter who’s stayed away for many years; mom covering for him with the neighbors.  When the brothers do come back to bury her and settle the estate, the true extent of her poverty surprises them. Turns out they aren’t the best of sons, and . . . their mom was fleeced out of prime real estate by the local tycoon – James Gregory (Barney Miller’s old boss) whose fidgety son is played by a young Dennis Hopper.  Gregory hires George Kennedy (maybe the only other actor with Wayne’s presence and size) to make sure the Elder boys don’t ask too many questions.  Gregory also convinces the law that the Elders are up to no good – he frames them for stealing cattle and murdering the beloved sheriff Billy Watson played beautifully by Paul Fix.  Right prevails, though John Elder shows remarkable restraint until the last 1/3rd of the movie after one of the brothers is killed.  Great performances, great scenery and a great score by Elmer Bernstein.

4. They Were Expendable, 1945. The movie actually stars Robert Montgomery and Wayne is in the supporting role, but it’s a John Wayne movie. It’s based on the actual exploits of a US Navy Torpedo Boat Squadron in the Philippines at the outbreak of WWII, as recounted in the book They Were Expendable. Wayne is Rusty Ryan the Executive Officer of the squadron, chafing at the career opportunities he feels he’s losing in the bathtub navy.  The war breaks out and Ryan reverts to being the loyal and aggressive commander that Montgomery’s John Brickley needs him to be.  Along the way is a very PG romance with a beautiful Donna Reed and backup by one of the best “B” supporting casts in a movie; Ward Bond, Jack Holt, Marshall Thompson, Murray Alper, Jack Pennick (a Wayne regular,) and Harry Tenbrook. The movie does a credible job at showing the frustrations and loneliness of sailoring, the reliance on shipmates, and the inevitability of their situation.  Again, taken from actual events is the role this group of boats played in secreting General MacArthur and his family from Luzon 560 miles to Mindanao in 66ft. plywood boats.

Tossup between Sands of Iwo Jima, 1949 and True Grit, 1969.

5. I have to come down on the side of True Grit; it has a more universal appeal and stands the test of time a little better.  Maybe it’s that he’s just more believable as a cowboy than as a modern soldier or marine.  Wayne is the one-eyed, over-the-hill and under-the-bottle Rooster Cogburn, a US Marshal for the Oklahoma Indian Territory.  Cogburn is hired by Maddie Ross (an oddly asexual Kim Darby) to find Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  They are joined by the dapper (and wholly unconvincing) Glenn Campbell as Texas Ranger LaBeauf.  They take off after Chaney who’s taken up with  “Lucky” Ned Pepper, one of Robert Duvall’s best roles – early or otherwise.  The high point is the lone Wayne on horseback facing off against Pepper and 3 of his gang with the action initiated by one of Wayne’s most memorably delivered lines and an equally erudite retort.

Rooster Cogburn: “I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned. Or see you hanged in Fort Smith at Judge Parker’s convenience. Which’ll it be?”  

Ned Pepper: “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.”

There’s good, there’s bad, there’s the grey area between the two that we sometimes hate to acknowledge in our world, and there’s a story-line that’s easy to follow.

I remember both seeing the movie when it came out and reading the Charles Portis novel, and being impressed at how the movie followed the book.  When I saw the 2010 remake with Jeff Bridges I thought it was nothing less than an homage to the original, not a blatant effort to be a better movie.  Having said that, Matt Damon so outdoes Glenn Campbell that the 2010 production is a worthy successor.

There are of course many others, including The Searchers, considered his best critical role, and I may mention them in another posting, but these are my go-to favorites.  Take note, they’re good for the beginner too.

– Richard


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Bonny Billy Goes to Town

It’s been a good month in Pittsburgh for fans of off-kilter, unsettling, lo-fi indie Americana. Thanks to the Warhol’s Sound Series, we’ve had a rare visit from Jeff Mangum, who brought his pretty-yet-soul-crushingly-sad sound to the Music Hall.  And this weekend, Louisville’s own Will Oldham will travel up the Ohio River (maybe) to give a concert at the Lecture Hall. It’s an intimate venue for a legendary singer-songwriter, and it’s sure to be a memorable show.

If you aren’t familiar with Oldham, aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy, aka Bonny Billy, aka Palace, aka Palace Music, there are about a million places you can start. The guy is prolific – I’ve long since giving up trying to keep up with his EPs and collaborations.  The LPs, which come about once a year, are typically excellent, and the library has a number of them available for checkout. Just about any of those in the library catalog are worth a listen, particularly, IMHO, “Beware,” “Master and Everyone,” and the live “Summer in the Southeast.”

It’s those albums, and the dozen or so others that we don’t have in our collection, plus who knows how many EPs, that have solidified Oldham’s permanent spot on a lot of listener’s playlists, and for good reason. His music is a strange merger of traditional Appalachian music with very modern confessional lyrics, and he always manages to give his music an edge – through an unexpected “explicit” lyric, a brazen synth sound in a sleepy acoustic number, or just a generally sinister vibe that permeates his otherwise pretty songs — that keeps his albums interesting. There is truly nobody putting out records quite like Oldham’s.

But if you’re rolling your eyes and thinking “geez, another sensitive singer-songwriter who makes quiet boring music?  No thanks!” (which might well be a direct quote from my wife), you might be interested in Oldham’s frequent departures from making these records. I think that anyone would have to admit that a person who covers Bjork, R Kelly, Merle Haggard, and the Misfits on the same record is someone who has diverse interests.

Consider the following five unusual moves for an indie-folk troubadour:

He did a cover album with post-rock legends Tortoise and re-recorded some of his early songs with a band of Nashville session musicians.

Are these “essential” albums? Probably not, but come on! A synth-heavy avant gard cover of Elton John’s Daniel? Check.  A glitzy Nashvegas rendition of “Agnes, Queen of Sorrow?” Sure!  These records are a lot of fun, and the library has both of them!

He made a video with Zack Galifianakas for Kanye West’s Can’t Tell Me Nothing

This one really speaks for itself. He’s the one with facial hair (har har).

He tried his hand at stand-up comedy.

He was reportedly not bad, not great, but who knows but those who were there? And you have to give the guy credit for stretching himself artistically. He has also had comedic roles on Wonder Showzen and Squidbillies, an absurdist, gross-out cartoon that runs really late at night on cable.

He had roles in some critically acclaimed movies.

In fact, he was known as an actor (for his role in Matewan) before he put out records. He has recently starred in a couple of movies (Old Joy, The Guatemalan Handshake) and had smaller roles in a couple (Junebug, Wendy and Lucy).

He has a fragrance.

Why should J Lo fans get all the perfume glory? 

Intrigued yet?

-Dan, who will be missing the event because my toddler doesn’t care what time I go to bed, we’re still getting up at 5:30.


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Sweet Revenge

Vengeance!  The word itself is charged with an illicit electricity. It is an ancient impetus from the murky depths of man’s primal past that simply won’t go away. Christianity couldn’t squash it and neither could secular notions about being nice to everyone because that’s the smartest thing to do. The idea of revenge is still with us and I imagine it always will be.

I wish I had enemies so that I could serve it to them. I would serve it cold, of course, according to a proverb from either the French or the Klingons, depending on which movie you are watching.  I have never really had grounds to pursue revenge. I think the worst thing that anyone has done to me was to steal my algebra notes right before the final at the end of my freshman year in high school. I failed the exam, but honestly I was going to fail anyway. Even if I had aced it, I was probably still going to fail the class. I made two good friends in summer school and the kid that stole the notes probably failed too. My notes were garbage. Unfortunately, I really don’t have any dire enemies. I wish I wasn’t so damned charming.

Despite the lack of first hand experience, revenge might be my favorite plotline. The ultimate revenge book, the great granddaddy of them all is, of course, The Count of Monte Cristo.


What can you say about The Count of Monte Cristo? The book has it all. An engaging cast of characters, a convoluted plot, plenty of action, and if you read the unabridged version, Turkish pirates! It might be the most famous adventure novel in the western canon. It is certainly very long. But fantasy pulp and sci-fi authors like George R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan have brought “long” back into vogue, doubtlessly propelled by customer demand. Dumas certainly offers a great deal of escape within Monte Cristo’s pages. The gripping plot is propelled by the true history of France, a factor granting real weight and urgency to the unfolding events.

The plot is so compelling and recognizable that many authors over the years have worked at homage. Here are only a few:


On my short list is Lawrence Watt-Evans Dragon Weather, a retelling set in a fantasy world. I don’t know what dragon weather is exactly, but I imagine Pittsburgh is due for some.

Exact Revenge from veteran suspense author Tim Green is dripping with potential.

Lastly, Crux by Richard Aellen has a Vietnam war angle.


The Count of Monte Cristo has been adapted for the screen many times. You can’t go wrong with the 2002 version starring Guy Pearce and James Caviezel . Luis Guzman is a scene stealing Jacopo. It is a lavish period piece and a perfect Saturday afternoon sort of movie.

For the philosophically bent, there is this interesting book, The Virtues of Vengeance by Peter A. French. French makes arguments designed to bring the idea of vengeance into a positive moral framework.  The scope is large, beginning back with the ancient Greeks and ending with Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. I wasn’t totally convinced, but it is an interesting read. Either way, if you live or work near Professor French it’s probably a good idea to behave yourself.



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The Biggest Scrapbook I Have Ever Seen

Boyd Scrapbook

Boyd Scrapbook

The library houses 100+ scrapbooks of a Mr. Charles N. Boyd. His bio can be found here and here, but briefly, Boyd was the co-founder and director of the Pittsburgh Musical Institute, a music professor at Western Theological Seminary, a long-tenured organist/choir director at North Avenue Methodist Church, the initiator/director of the Pittsburgh Choral Society, president of the Music Teachers National Association, a scholarly writer for Grove’s Dictionary of Music, and (ahem) somewhat of a paper hoarder.

Boyd’s scrapbooks are housed in the Oliver Room (rare books and special collections). They range in size and scope, from single subject small scrapbooks to six extremely large and fragile ones. The larger contain newspaper articles, magazine clippings, concert programs, and other ephemera from many sources and about many music topics, some of which have a direct Pittsburgh connection, most of which do not. We preserved intact the smaller ones and the ones containing information primarily about Mr. Boyd himself, articles he wrote, or groups and performances he participated in. For the large and larger ones (volumes 31-99 to be precise) we extracted just the articles pertaining to Pittsburgh music. I removed the bindings and created preservation boxes for them, consolidating volumes when possible. We created finding lists, and then collated all of the information to create a web page for this collection:

This project took a little over a year to complete.

On one of Kathie Logan’s last days before she retired as Head of the Music Department in 2011, the whole Department went up to the Oliver Room to see what music-related material there was and take an inventory. That’s when we discovered the biggest Boyd scrapbook yet, sitting sideways on a lower shelf at the back of the room all by itself. I was ready to treat it like all of the rest: extract just the material pertaining to Pittsburgh. As I wheeled it down from the Oliver Room on a book truck, I was struck with the idea that we might preserve this last one in its entirety for its value as an artifact. This would make it unusable for getting information from, but we have seen and saved lots of other similar articles from the others.  After talking with other staff members, we decided that it would be nice to keep it intact. Due to its fragile nature, we will not be able to open it up to make a finding list for it.

We consulted our in-house Preservation Department, and they said that they would make a special box for it.

I think perhaps it might have been serendipity that made us overlook this last Boyd scrapbook.  It will be nice to display this interesting behemoth at special events.

Large and Fragile

Large and Fragile

Interesting Behemoth

Interesting Behemoth



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Maybe in an Alternate Universe, “Fringe” isn’t Ending

Tomorrow night marks the close of a brief, but wonderful era on television as Fringe ends its run (and a sizeable portion of my happiness) with a two-hour series finale. When I think about the show being over, I tear up a little which shows how much I care about it because I normally only cry when I stub my toe or I’m watching a sports movie.

My favorite fake people ever. Found at

My favorite fake people ever. Found at

When it premiered in 2008, it was immediately clear that it was my kind of show: X-Files-ish and J.J. Abrams-created. If you’ve never seen Fringe, I don’t think I can begin to explain it and if I did begin to explain it, I’d probably confuse you and myself. In Fringe, science and technology are such an integral part of the story. Alternative universes, time travel, and nanobots aren’t just plot devices to get the writers through an episode; they’re plot points.

You can’t passively watch Fringe; for the most part, it requires your attention. Even when paying attention, I didn’t always understand what was going on. Sometimes, it would take long discussions with friends for us to figure out what had developed on the show. There are a few things on the show that I chose not to pay attention to, like the glyphs. Before commercial breaks, a glyph appears on the screen. Depending on what it (shown below) is and where a dot is located by the glyph, the glyph stands for a different letter. These letters spell a word and that word is a theme for the episode. But, hey! You don’t need to know that to watch the show! It’s just an added bonus for people who can pay attention to lots of things; so people who aren’t me.

I have no idea what these mean and I still love the show!Found at

I have no idea what these mean and I still love the show!
Found at

Even with the science-heavy aspect of the show, Fringe is, at its heart, a story about a father’s love for his son. In my opinion, the characters are the best thing about the show. As interesting and captivating as it can be to watch people jump from universe to universe or to reanimate dead bodies, the thing that keeps me watching is the family that’s been created by the main characters. When the show started, Walter, Peter, Olivia, and Astrid were all separate people, living separate lives and now, they’re a family knit together by LSD, peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, and the Observers.

But tomorrow night is the end, there will be no more new episodes, and my face will be a sad one. A friend and I have decided to rewatch the show to catch things we missed the first time around so Walter, Peter, Olivia, Astrid, Broyles, Nina, Fauxlivia, Walternate, Lincoln, and Charlie will remain a part of my life. I’m thankful that the show was around for 100 episodes. If you haven’t seen Fringe yet, you should watch it. “Highly recommended” doesn’t even come close to how I feel about it and it will be missed.

-aisha, who will be curled up on her couch Friday night and not remotely ashamed to be crying


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