Monthly Archives: February 2013

Hot X-Titles From The 1980s!

No, not those sort of X titles!  I am talking X-Men here, the Eagle award winning comic book series from Marvel. Since its inception in the 1960s, X-Men has featured various teams of mutant superheroes recruited by Charles Xavier (aka, Professor X) to hone their abilities and battle the predations of evil mutants, super-villains, and various alien menaces.

While the series experienced its rebirth in 1975’s immortal Giant Size X-Men #1 (re-printed here), and enjoyed a host of epic tales all the way through the late 1970s, my most vivid memories of these salad days of Marvel’s merry mutants come from the 1980s.  Days Of Future Past (circa 1981) posits a dark future where many of the world’s mutants have been hunted and killed, and those remaining imprisoned in concentration camps to await uncertain fates.

John Byrne, perhaps my favorite X-artist, actually completed the bulk of his impressive run in 1981, paving the way for the return of artist Dave Cockrum.  Cockrum’s return did not last all that long, and he left to work on more personal projects in 1982. From 1983 – 1984 X-fans enjoyed the good favor of the exciting work of then new artist Paul Smith. You can find Mr. Smith’s amazing run on the book in Essential X-Men Vol. 4. Smith’s first run on the title lasted only a scant nine issues, but his clean lines and expressive style made him forever a fan favorite. Artist John Romita, Jr. took up the art chores on X-Men for pretty much the remainder of the 1980s. His work during that period is best represented by the contents of Essential X-Men Vol. 6.

Throughout all of these many changes writer Chris Claremont held down the fort. While many fans will agree that Mr. Claremont likely overstayed his welcome on the title, his run from 1975 to the late 1980s remains a singular feat of endurance rarely matched in the history of the industry. After departing the book in the early 1990s, his star dimmed a bit, but his legacy, built largely by his work in the 1980s, lives on through numerous trades and reprints.


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African American Women in Art (For Science)

Ever since Sky wrote about sketching, I’ve had art on the brain: making it, appreciating it, learning more about it, trying to incorporate more of it into my life. Then I took a stroll through the Gallery at Main Library and fell madly in love with the current exhibit from the Nia Quilters’ Guild. You can see why:


Quilt by Barbara Russell, “Flower Garden.”
Photo by Jude Vachon, 2013
All rights reserved to the artists

The history of African American women in the visual arts–both fine and folk–is a rich one, amplified by the wealth of contemporary women creating amazing bodies of work, such as Renee Cox, Robin Holder, and Dindga McCannon. Artist and educator Dr. Cora Marshall maintains an excellent research website where you can learn about these and other women artists of color (because Black History Month and Women’s History Month are points of entry for discovery, not the final word in what there is to know). Thanks to the magic of the internet, you can also catch up on exhibits you’ve missed, such as Subjective Visions, which was hosted by the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Other resources for beginning your exploration of African American women’s art include:

Black American Feminisms: Art. This portion of a much larger bibliography is still pretty darned impressive on its own, giving complete citations for books and journal articles about the intersection of race, gender, and feminism in women’s art.

Makers: Faith Ringgold. In a series of short video clips, the prominent artist-activist provides first-person testimony about a life in the arts. Part of the astonishing Makers initiative from PBS.

Slide Collection: African and African American Art. Main Library owns multiple slide sets in this area, which the helpful staff in the Music, Film & Audio department will be happy to help you locate and peruse. Collections of interest include “I Can Still Quilt Without My Glasses,” “Women of Color in Art Unit 1: African American,” and “Lois Mailou Jones.”

Black Women in America: Visual Arts. This electronic reference work is available to everybody with a Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh card via Oxford Reference Online. You can also get a peek at the contents–which include a survey essay and links to biographies of individual artists–by dropping by any of our locations. See also The African American Experience, a digital repository of black history and culture, for those savvy enough to have a CLP card.

The August Wilson Center for African American Culture. Want to know more about contemporary women in the arts, and possibly meet them in person? Visit this Pittsburgh treasure to see an exhibit or attend an event.

Wondering why I chose to write about the arts for Black History Month instead of this year’s official science theme? My colleagues in the Reference Department already covered that this month in our brand new newsletter. Check it out, then subscribe so you won’t miss a single month of serendipitous discovery and interesting books you might not discover via the usual channels.

–Leigh Anne

who would love to hear from artists and art aficionados in the comments section

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Indelible Notes

If I were to ask you about composers named Bernstein and what their most memorable works are, I’ll forgive you if come back at me with West Side Story, On the Town or Candide – all three truly excellent compositions.  All three composed by the legendary Leonard Bernstein, who pronounced his name burn-stine.  The composer that interests me is the “other” Bernstein – Elmer Bernstein, who as far as I know used the approved New York pronunciation – Burnsteen, like my old next door neighbors.

You may not know the name and maybe none of his works come to mind off the top of your head, but I promise you, you know his work. You probably know more of  Elmer’s works than you do of Leonard’s.  Elmer Bernstein is either the first or second most well-known composer of film scores, jockeying for the ranking with John Williams.  Even a short list of Bernstein scores is a respectable demonstration of some of Hollywood’s best known movies. (The bolded titles are Academy Award nominees.)
  • The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955
  • The Ten Commandments, 1956
  • Kings Go Forth, 1958
  • The Magnificent Seven, 1960
  • The Comancheros, 1961
  • Birdman of Alcatraz, 1962
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962
  • The Great Escape, 1963
  • Hud, 1963
  • The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965
  • Hawaii, 1966
  • Return of the Seven, 1966
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967
  • I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!, 1968
  • True Grit, 1969
  • Slap Shot, 1977
  • Animal House, 1978
  • The Blues Brothers, 1980
  • The Great Santini, 1980
  • Trading Places, 1983
  • Ghostbusters, 1984
  • My Left Foot, 1989
  • The Grifters, 1990
  • Cape Fear, 1991
  • A Rage in Harlem, 1991
  • Mad Dog and Glory, 1992
  • The Age of Innocence, 1993
  • Lost in Yonkers, 1993
  • Frankie Starlight, 1995
  • The Rainmaker, 1997
  • Wild Wild West, 1999
  • Keeping the Faith, 2000
  • Far From Heaven, 2002

From 1955 through 2002, Bernstein earned 14 Academy Award nominations for either Best Original Score or Best Song, winning once for Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1967. He also won an Emmy and two Golden Globes.  All told Elmer Bernstein wrote 151 film scores, released 265 albums, and wrote for over 150 television productions (series, specials, mini-series, pilots and documentaries,) corporate promotional works and news specials.

I haven’t seen all the pictures he’s scored, and I can’t say that he’s a criteria for my selections of what to watch, but there’s a definite pattern at work. I really enjoy the music and surprise, the credit is “Music by Elmer Bernstein“.  They aren’t just enjoyable or something that adds to the movie, they’re works that stand on their own; I go out and get the MP3s and look for the soundtracks. His work has legs, and some have become cultural testaments.  You can find them in the movies themselves, in specific soundtrack CDs, and even on Freegal. You’re probably wondering why I haven’t pasted or included an MP3 or a YouTube video, there are many available.  His works are copyrighted and I haven’t found anything that wouldn’t be stretching the bounds of responsible librarianship if I posted them here.

As for my favorites, it’s easy, but the order changes moment by moment.

  1. The Great Escape
  2. The Magnificent Seven
  3. The Sons of Katie Elder
  4. True Grit
  5. Stripes.

– Richard


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Book One-Liners

Note: Although this jovial picture may lead you to believe otherwise, in general we do NOT like it when you sit on the library shelves!

Note: Although this jovial picture may lead you to believe otherwise, in general we do NOT like it when you sit on the library shelves!

In some way, shape or form, all of us here at the library recommend books to people. Most of the time we are telling our customers about a great read, through venues such as displays, booklists, staff picks and this blog. But we also inform each other about what’s new, popular or currently on our bedside tables.

John, one of my co-workers in the First Floor – New & Featured Department, processes our Bestseller collection. This means that he, solely, is responsible for unpacking those boxes of books as they come in, checking them into the system to make them “available” in the online catalog, pulling the titles when they have that not-so-fresh feeling and then boxing them back up to ship out. As you can see from that list of duties, this task is no small feat. But out of the kindness of his own heart, he adds one more step to his bestseller process – he writes brief descriptions of each book that comes in for that collection and periodically sends out the list to the rest of us, so we know what’s on those bestseller tables.

John has become quite well-known throughout the Main Library set for these book descriptions. Whenever possible, he tries to keep them to one sentence each. This brevity is not only to minimize his workload, but is also a challenge he sets for himself, a brainteaser if you will. Can you describe a book in one sentence? It’s not as easy as it may sound.

To help spread the gospel of John and bring him some of the attention he so rightly deserves, I share with you the most recent list of Bestseller titles and descriptions (circa mid-February 2013):


  • Binchy, Maeve A Week in Winter – Chicky Starr turns an old dilapidated mansion into a cozy seaside vacation spot.
  • Collins, Jackie The Power Trip – One Russian billionaire, the latest Latin singing sensation, a supermodel, a famous soccer player, a U.S. Senator and his unfortunate wife, a movie star, the professor and Mary Ann–embark on a pleasure cruise across the Sea of Cortez.
  • Gardner, Lisa Touch & Go – An entire family is kidnapped.
  • Jance, J.A. Deadly Stakes – A fortune in poker chips is found buried in the desert, with an ex-con keeping them company.
  • Kellerman, Jonathan Guilt: An Alex Delaware Novel – An affluent L.A. neighborhood experiences a bizarre crime wave.
  • Patterson, James Private Berlin – Chris Schneider, the most capable member of the world’s most capable investigative force, has disappeared!
  • Steel, Danielle Until the End of Time – In this double narrative: Lillibet, a young Amish woman, writes a bestseller by candlelight then falls in love with her publisher AND a successful New York attorney (now a minister) moves to Wyoming with his socialite wife in tow.
  • Weber, Carl The Man in 3B – Everyone loved the murdered man in 3B, now everyone’s a suspect.


  • Houston, Cissy Remembering Whitney – From the one who knew and loved her best.
  • Sotomayor, Sonia My Beloved World – It’s a long, hard road from a housing project in the Bronx to the United States Supreme Court.

Makes you want to read at least 4 of these titles, right? John’s the best.

For more of John’s work, visit our Fiction and Nonfiction Bestsellers web pages.

Happy Reading!

-Melissa M.

P.S. In this latest email to colleagues, John also included this multiple-choice question. See if you get it right…

Identify the Kafka

Four of the following quotes were taken from the wrapper of a Halls Cough Drop*, the other from the pen of author Franz Kafka. See if you can identify the Kafka!

A) Buckle down and push forth.

B) Turn “can do” into “can did”.

C) You can do it and you know it.

D) Believing in progress does not mean believing that any progress has yet to be made.

E) Nothing you can’t handle.

If you selected the letter D (as I am certain you did) you are correct. Of course there are no winners in Identify the Kafka. Only players.

* John’s favorite medicinal treat

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War and Bromance

About once a year, I try to read the Iliad. Sometimes I make it through the whole thing and sometimes I get a little distracted and lose momentum.  I have a worn paperback of the Fitzgerald translation that I keep close and I have sampled the Fagles too. I like them both.


Everybody knows the general outline. A royal runs off with another royal’s wife which triggers a big war where a lot of people get killed, including Ancient Greece’s version of Captain America. Gods are messing around and arguing with each other while the aforementioned Achilles moves inexorably to his fate. Our hero has a contract dispute with his boss Agamemnon and goes on strike, whereupon his boyfriend gets offed. He comes charging back like any action hero about three fourths of the way through the movie and brutally avenges the death. After the Trojans fall for one of the dumbest ploys ever, their city gets sacked.

It’s all pretty awesome. The Iliad is a titanic pillar of Western literature and has been redone, reworked, translated, and adapted over and over again. There is an Iliad inspired story out there to suit any taste.

As far as which translation to read, I recommend just flipping through an edition and seeing how the language feels. For me, Fitzgerald is a great balance, economical and lyrical. If you want to spend a lot of time listening to educated people argue, just Google which translation is best. People spend a great deal of money and effort for those Classics degrees and they have to use them somewhere.

For adaptations we can look at two ends of the spectrum:


The Rage of Achilles by Terence Hawkins is packed with sex and violence and written in punchy, staccato prose. The book begs you to describe it as “edgy”.

For more sensitive souls, or simply to suit a different mood, is The Song of Achilles, a tender story built around the romance between Achilles and Patroclus.

And what about that most famous of bromances?  It’s fascinating to see how prevailing attitudes shape interpretation.  Every era puts its own spin on the relationship.  In some accounts, from less progressive times, the pair are simply close friends. For the really curious, an impressive non-fiction tome sits waiting on the fourth stack (aka, the Mezzanine). In The Greeks and Greek Love, James Davidson performs a thorough social and sexual survey of ancient Greece.  With the info in this book, you might finally be able to put the Achilles-Patroclus issue to bed.

David Malouf’s Ransom is a retelling of Priam’s mission to recover Hector’s body.  Poignant and poetic, it represents the Iliad’s immense potential for uncovering universal human truths.


In film, we have the clunker Troy, starring Brad Pitt’s physique. There are worse movies. Sometimes serious, sometimes ridiculous, this film is hard to like but somehow equally hard to hate.

There is much fascinating debate concerning whether or not the Trojan War was based on some actual historical event.  The documentary In Search of the Trojan War is a great place to learn about Troy’s discovery and the issues and personalities involved. It’s a story as dramatic as anything Homer could have written.



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Dewey (Eyed)

It’s the (foreseeable) end of an ERA! Finally, finally, finally! Music librarians and our esteemed music cataloger are working to eliminate the confusing two-types-of-call-numbers system we use for music books and scores. As our regular customers know all too well, we have both LC (Library of Congress) and Dewey call numbers on our shelves. LC call numbers for music look like this, for example: qM 1630.18 .M43 2010x, and Dewey numbers look like this: q 782.4 R19m2.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh adopted the LC numbering system waaaaay back in the dark ages of 1977. Any book or score that came into the library after that was given an LC number. At the time, it was deemed unrealistic to change the entire existing collection of Dewey to LC. Before computers, changing a call number required the music cataloger use a set of strict rules to get a new LC number for each item, and then change all of the cards in the card catalog. Multiply this by a few thousand and you’ll start to understand the predicament.

I started working in the music department in the 1990s, when roughly half the scores were in Dewey and half in LC. I can’t begin to relate how many times I’ve had to explain the numbering systems to customers! Welcome the Age of Information, where we have our entire catalog at our fingertips. It is now a relatively simple task to change the call numbers. Music librarians still evaluate items in question to decide if we should keep, replace, or repair a book or score. We have computers to help us research each item. Then we send them to the cataloger, where they get renumbered (or re-classed in library speak), and finally place them in their new positions on the shelves.

All I have to say is WHOOPIE! Mr. Dewey, your classification system is a fine one, but now I will bid you a fond(ish) adieu.

– Joelle


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My Willpower Takes a Hit, But That’s Okay

Being a reader who works in a library is like being a dieter who works in a cupcake shop. (Or maybe it’s worse because I don’t have to pay, monetarily or waist size-wise, to check out books.) It takes willpower and a lot of “Thanks, but no thanks!” to avoid having piles of books in my apartment, all begging to be read. Books are a huge part of my environment, but unless I’m using or looking for a specific one to help me do my job, I try to make them just the background I’m working around. There are so many that I couldn’t really pay attention to all of them anyway (or I could, but I would lose what little sanity I have.)

I don’t always succeed. I’ve worked at Squirrel Hill for almost six months now and as I walked back and forth through the aisles, I kept noticing a bright red book at the end of one of the shelves. It was The New Yorker: Stories by Ann Beattie. Her name sounded vaguely familiar, but since I usually have a pile of books I’m just about to start reading once I finish reading the three books I’m already reading, I kept leaving it on the shelf. I don’t know how many times I walked past it and thought, “I love short stories! You have too many books at home! Keep moving!”, but last week, I finally caved and checked it out.

The New Yorker Stories

The book is a collection of forty-eight stories published in The New Yorker, starting in 1974 and ending in 2006. I haven’t finished reading them all yet, but I’ve read enough to recommend it. Beattie was considered a voice of her generation, and even though I wasn’t born when her first story was published, her stories have resonated with me. I’d describe Beattie’s style as spartan, but not in a bad way, and if you appreciate minimalism in your fiction, Beattie may be an author to look into.

I’m pleased that I was too weak to keep passing by this book.



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“You Load Sixteen Tons, What Do You Get?”: A Little Labor History

I recently had a conversation with someone in which I made a casual reference to the “company store.” “What’s that?” they asked me, and I tried my best to explain.  “You know, like when workers got paid in fake money and could only buy things through the company?  There’s that song Sixteen Tons that mentions it?” And as my friend asked a few more questions about it, I realized that even though I knew that such a thing had existed and got the basic concept, I really didn’t know much about it at all.

Luckily, I work in a library.  I looked up a few books in our catalog and decided to start educating myself a bit on this piece of labor history.  It’s amazing how little I actually know about events that took place practically in our backyard, like the West Virginia Mine wars, in which thousands of miners protested their unfair treatement by the coal companies (which included, but wasn’t limited to, evictions, bribery, and murder!) Like often happens when I find myself learning about something totally new, my reading list just got a lot longer.  Here is a short selection of what I’m currently reading, and a few things that I plan on picking up next:

Thunder in the Mountains: The West Virginia Mine War 1920-21: This labor battle was too big to be called a skirmish or protest; both the miners and the coal company’s hired men engaged in full-on warfare.  Miners who joined the union were fired and thrown out of their company-owned homes, miners and company men were murdered, and federal troops had to be called in to end this dispute.  This book is a fascinating history of an event that you probably never heard of.

Mother Jones Speaks: Collected Speeches and Writings: Mother Jones, an Irish immigrant, became the face of the labor movement.  She devoted her life to stirring up workers against unfair business practices and helping to organize unions where they were needed, working well into her eighties.  Politics aside, I find it pretty inspiring to read these speeches by a woman who did all this work in the days before women even had the vote.

The Homestead Strike of 1892: Living in Pittsburgh with an interest in labor history, I’m only surprised it’s taken me this long to start reading about disputes between steel workers and the steel mill owners (most notably, of course, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick).  I live just over the bridge from Homestead, and have always wondered about what it might have been like there when the mills were flourishing.

Matewan: So, this one isn’t a book, but I’m still interested in watching this movie.  Matewan, WV is where a lot of the action took place in the first book I mention on this list, and the plot of the film centers around the miners’ disputes with the coal company and the subsequent violence that ensued.

Labor practices, at least in the United States, have come a long way since workers could be paid in company “money,” forced to work in unsafe conditions, and couldn’t do much about it.  Pittsburgh’s labor history is particularly interesting to me, given that it’s such a huge part of the city’s past.  I feel like this is a topic in which one book leads to the next (gotta love those footnotes!), and I’m looking forward to seeing where my reading takes me next.



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Dreaming of Summer Vacation(s)

“A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.” Earl Wilson
It’s only February and I’m already planning my vacations for the year. I’m from Michigan and, while I don’t have nearly enough vacation time to explore my home state as much as I’d like to–most of what I want to see is over 6 hours away– I figured I’d better check out what’s close to me here while I’m living in Pittsburgh.
Clear Creek State Park (author's photo)

Clarion River, Clear Creek State Park (author’s photo)


A co-worker turned me on to Cook Forest, so we have booked a few nights in May (before the Memorial Day crowds descend) at this scenic state park. The cabins are historic–they were built by the CCC in the 1930s–and are situated right on the Clarion River. They are also rustic (and I’m a hotel sort of girl) but I think I can handle it for a few days of hiking, peace, and quiet.


As some blog readers know, I am a big history buff. So of course I have to visit Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent estate in Virginia, especially since I’ve read about him and this place for so many years. We’re staying in historic Charlottesville, which I have heard is quite lovely.

Lake Erie, Presque Isle (author's photo)

Lake Erie, Presque Isle (author’s photo)

As a Michigander, I also have to get my Great Lakes’ fix. And this gem of sandy beaches, salt-free water, and endless vistas is my balm for homesickness (and is a mere 2 hours from downtown Pittsburgh!).

In future, I also hope to visit Mount VernonGettysburg, Old City Philadelphia, Fallingwater, and Washington D.C.

How about you? What not-to0-far destinations might you have in mind?



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Starting Small

Pay attention to what you’re doing, and don’t get in over your head.” – Barbara Pleasant

startergardenMarch is coming, and with that in mind, I am already starting to think about what to plant in my garden this year. Last year I planted my first real vegetable garden, but even with friends and co-workers giving me tips and encouragement along the way, it was a daunting activity in the beginning. There are so many different gardening books/videos/classes out there, and it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Unfortunately the library is as much help as hindrance in that department–browsing the shelves in our home & garden area can be a mind-melting experience.

As a beginner, I needed a book that was simple and fail-safe. As luck would have it, I happed upon Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens by Barbara Pleasant. This is an excellent book for the novice, as it provides easy to follow garden plans with detailed instructions for what to buy, when and where to plant your vegetables, and (of course) how to care for those vegetables lovingly. It’s almost like gardening-by-numbers, which is not a bad way to start learning how to grow your own. As Ms. Pleasant points out in the opening pages of the book, “one worry free way to start your first vegetable garden is by following a “recipe” provided by an experienced gardener, and that’s just what this book provides … these gardens are practically foolproof!”

In addition to detailed garden plans, there are also special sections on everything from starting plants from seed, to the magic of mulch (I love you mulch,

Proof (from the poster)  that some books yield excellent results.

Proof (from the poster) that some books yield excellent results.

it is because of you that I no longer have to mow my lawn!) All of these sections are accompanied by simple and clear illustrations, and in some cases, helpful color photographs.

Of course, the library also offers more detailed lists of resources, on everything from vegetable gardens to composting to local organizations that can help you get started. For those particularly interested in gardening from seed, you will want to save the date for our excellent seed swap and seed saving workshop on Saturday, March 2nd.

So how ’bout you? Do you have any large (or small) gardening plans this year? Do you have any favorite go-to gardening books or resources? Share your thoughts below!

Now lettuce rest, I’m feeling beet,



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