Monthly Archives: September 2013

Idle Worship

Here are a few selections from the table of contents of Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Idle:

(Chapter 3) 10am: Sleeping In

(Chapter 5) Noon: The Hangover

(Chapter  10) 6pm: First Drink of the Day

(Chapter 19) 3am: Party Time

The book features a full 24 hours of this kind of stuff, essays in favor of smoking, throwing away your clocks, taking long walks, and staying up late at parties. If you’re thinking that this doesn’t sound like a typical self-help book*, I’m right there with you! This troublemaker came to my attention when he was included in the 2007 best books list on Slate for a similar book that he put out in 2007, The Freedom Manifesto.** Among the usual middle-high-brow literary fiction and volumes of top-shelf journalism included in this year-end roundup, here was a book about ditching the stress of a fast-paced modern life for the pursuit of happiness through a very active version of idleness that involves working as little as possible for pay but instead gardening, drinking beer, making art, cooking, reading and napping.

Sounds great, right? Of course, most need only skim the books to realize that following Hodgkinson’s advice would have a ruinous impact on our careers, financial obligations, and good standing in the community. But the spirit of the thing is invigorating, and I dip into a chapter or two of one of his books frequently. Why was I so worried about that report I have to write? Will the world end if I don’t cut the grass today? I don’t even think Hodgkinson takes his own advice very seriously – as a fairly prolific writer and editor of a journal, I would guess that he works a lot more than he lets on, for one thing – but this is the ultimate self-help, written by an Englishman, for a malady that has stricken Americans from Ben Franklin to Thomas Edison*** to the working people of today: namely, the unfortunate tendency toward being uptight that causes us to get stressed out over all sorts of things that don’t matter that much.

There are two things that I love about this guy’s writing. The first is that there is not even a hint of preciousness about his prescriptions for a better lifestyle. He’s not crafting an artisinal path to enlightenment by raising goats and doing yoga at the crack of dawn. He’s interested in having time to think, time to pursue things that make him happy, and time to spend with his kids.

The second thing that I love is the sources he cites for his ideas. You will find no double-blind research studies in his bibliography. Hodkinson instead draws on some great literary figures to back up his call for idleness.

If you have even a smidgen of up-tightness that you’d like to overcome, please by all means check out How to Be Idle. And to tide you over until you can get to the Library, here are some of Hodgkinson’s idle idols to give you an idea of where he’s coming from; many of these are in the public domain, so you can find complete works for free on the Internet****:

  • As an Englishman and a counterculture figure, Hodgkinson has a predictable affinity for William Blake. He quotes Blake’s 1794 poem London: “I wander through each charter’d street,/near where the charter’d Thames does flow,/And mark in every face I meet/Marks of weakness, marks of woe.” His interpretation of this? The morning commute stinks, so don’t go to work*****!
  • Robert Burns is central to his argument in favor of beer drinking. Here Burns sings the praise of beer in Scotch Drink: “Thou art the life o’ public haunts;/But thee, what were our fairs and rants?/Ev’n godly meetings o’ the saunts,/By thee inspir’d,/When, gaping, they besieged the tents,/ Are doubly fir’d.”
  • Part of Hodgkinson’s awakening as an idler involved a move from London to a rented house in the country. He identifies, then, with Coleridge, who wrote “For I was reared/In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,/and saw nought lovely but the sky and stars” in his poem Frost at Midnight.
  • According to Hodgkinson, depression  is “a sister to joy and must be embraced.” ******He finds in KeatsOde on Melancholy a way to handle depression — rather than turning to drink or taking antidepressants, instead go for a walk: “But when the melancholy fit shall fall/Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,/That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,/And hides the green hill in an April shroud;/Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,/Or on the rainbow of the salt sand wave,/Or on the wealth of globed peonies…” 

All right: back to work slacker!

-Dan, whose personal favorite lines about the joys of idleness come from a Silver Jews song: “I’m studying the ceiling/On a little afternoon/And when I paint my dining room/I really hope you come around.”

*And its BF 485 call number means it gets shelved with a bunch of self-help books at the library.

**I’ve read a couple of his books, including his parenting manual The Idle Parent, and they are all pretty much the same.

***Franklin and Edison are the targets of a lot of Hodgkinson’s ire.

****And if you go on to read through these poems and essays for an hour or two while you’re at work, I daresay that Hodgkinson would consider that a small step towards being an idler.

*****Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles” crop up regularly in Hodgkinson’s writing. It is a pretty evocative image…

******It goes without saying that he is in no way qualified to give medical advice.

A day of leisure, a day of giving Click here to learn how you can support the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on October 3rd.



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Beautiful Scars

We close out the week with a guest appearance from Amy R., writer/editor for the Carnegie Library’s Story Pockets blog.

People with power can afford

To tell their story

or not.

People without power

risk everything to tell their story

and must.

from “Telling,” Laura Hershey

A book of poetry saved my life last summer. It took over a year to write about, because I read it the way I always read poetry: at random, skipping back and forth. More than that, I had to read it gingerly. I know “mirror books” and “window books”–one reflects your life, and the other looks out on a different one. But I can only describe Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability as some kind of malleable verbal sculpture. The poems both gave shapes to disabilities I’d never seen before and felt as familiar as my own skin. The latter was no small thing–when a librarian told me, “By the way, we have this book…,” my body might as well not have been mine.

In “Beauty and Variations,” Kenny Fries wrestles with both his nondisabled lover and a question: “Can only one of us be beautiful?  Is this your / Plan?,” he asks as his lover traces his deformities. Beauty here is synonymous with power. There is power between disabled and nondisabled people, with the latter often bestowing it on the former. People with disabilities are often expected to be passive and grateful recipients, objects that are “done to.” Their bodies become nouns immobilized by other people’s adjectives. Their own words do not figure.

“I am all motion and / this motion is neither weak nor hideous / this motion is simply my own,” states Jennifer Bartlett. But in Sheila Black’s “What You Mourn,” we see that the calm, self-evident truth of living in your body can be shaken. “[T]hat body they tried so hard to fix, straighten was simply mine, / and I loved it as you love your own country.” “Simple” is anything but, charged with fear and frustration as well as affirmation: I live in this body; it’s just me. Why is that so hard for you to understand? From here comes Black’s “native anger” at having her legs straightened so she can “walk straight on [her] wedding day,” her wondering who she’d have been if she were crooked; the nostalgic summer imagery of running in her crooked body proves that disabled people don’t always mourn their bodies or need saving the way nondisabled people sometimes assume they do.

One of the hardest things for many nondisabled people to accept is that disabled people intimately inhabit their own bodies. They–I want very badly to say “we”–learn, sometimes instinctively, how to make the laws of physics work for their bodies as best they can. They interact and react constantly to environments and people that may pose physical or spiritual difficulty. They are immersed.

There’s a reason Beauty is “of” and not “about” disability: disability is also the verb. It’s active rather than passive, influencing how the poets do and think and be. This book is immersion, from the cover photo onward: artist Sue Austin in a bright red wheelchair, hair streaming behind her, breathing underwater.

All rights reserved to Susan Austin.

Retrieved from Susan Austin’s webpage. All rights reserved to the artist.

Poetry is a satisfying form for disability to take sometimes. Narrators in poems are called speakers; here are disabled people speaking for and as themselves, which is still a rare thing among portrayals of disability sanitized to the point of meaninglessness and disabled people who never object or say ouch. It feels like a magical and faintly dangerous act to say the words that transform their experiences into what they actually feel like. I never had either the chance or the sleight-of-tongue, and was full of admiration. I caught myself half afraid, wondering what would happen if the poets were interrupted and spoken over–what they would turn into if the words that went down weren’t theirs.

But that does not happen. When Petra Kuppers describes her wheelchair as an elemental plant with historical and figurative roots and “evergreen forces,” I could smell rain and taste metal; I saw her fingers as vines twining the wheels.

Poetry is also a form of protection, Emily Dickinson‘s “slanted truth” that “must dazzle gradually / or every man be blind.” It protects not only the reader, but the speaker. Nondisabled people are not often equipped to deal with the possibility that, according to the social model, they might contribute to the difficulties disabled people face. If they were to take the role of a blind or otherwise disabled person too suddenly, they would realize their own mistakes and become defensive, attempting to discredit the disabled viewpoint. In the time it takes to process a figure of speech, the impact is, if not softened, slowed.

Metaphors and linguistic devices are not, however, euphemisms or misdirection. They are, sometimes, the most honest way to convey the spirit of disability when the literal experience is disbelieved or dismissed. When Laurie Clements Lambeth recounts the MS-related tremors that woke her and her partner, there’s a rhyme for “shaking” every other line. It resonates; it demands and insists that you acknowledge it.

I don’t seek out disability studies books because I want to. I do it because, after the 10th or 20th time someone tells me what to feel or that attitudinal barriers don’t exist except maybe “out in the wider world” (never quite meeting eyes), my bones ache to throbbing–I swear grief goes straight to my knees–and I have a terrible sense that people like me aren’t worth listening to or empathizing with. Disability studies gives me back some reality, as hard as it might be. Beauty is a Verb is considered disability studies as well as poetry, but it is more than either.

I don’t exaggerate when I say that it gave me back the spirit of my body. My hands jerked when I realized I had said the same thing as Bartlett and Black, only sobbing and feeling as if I’d been punched in the stomach. “But it was mine!” My knowledge of my body, my adulthood and my personal space had been disregarded utterly, so that I couldn’t even move. What fear or hurt I had was inconsequential; I was “asking for it” by having asked for help with something different; I “didn’t understand what I look like.” I became terrified to accept help from almost anyone, wondering what license it granted them over my body. My stick, which I’d come to regard as an instrument and extension of my body, felt ugly and unwieldy. If my feelings meant nothing, then why feel anything? So I didn’t–for some time, I couldn’t. Beauty was a gift of perfect timing, its recommendation a form of advocacy.

This book is nerved; reading it is a sensitive, sensual and sensory act. I’d never seen so many disabled people feeling things at once: even pain, even, deliciously, anger. I felt the words take shape in my own skin like a ghostly set of senses. Only then did I settle back into my body and remember “the melody of crutch” (Petra Kuppers, “Crip Music“).

No one will ever be required to understand disabled people in quite the same way disabled people need to understand or defer to nondisabled viewpoints just to navigate the world. But if you want an education that sings and rages and puzzles and soothes, Beauty is well worth the shock of the plunge. And you might remember something you forgot.

I wish you’d learn better

before we all totter

into our coffins where

there’s no straight way

to lie crooked.

from “Dramatic Monologue in the Speaker’s Own Voice, Vassar Miller

Related reading:

The Disability Studies Reader, Lennard J. Davis, ed.

Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller, Georgiana Kleege

–Amy R.

A day of advocacy, a day of giving. Click here to learn how you can support the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on October 3rd.



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See You in the Funny Pages

My family subscribed to the daily newspaper when I was a child, including the extra large Sunday edition, complete with the color comic strip section. This was the only part that I read at the time. While I did enjoy stretching out and leisurely perusing the latest Bloom CountyCathy, Garfield, MarmadukeHagar the Horrible, and Family Circus, I really am not nostalgic for the vast amounts of paper garbage that it left behind. Now I get my daily dose of the latest news online, Apps on my phone, NPR, and evening TV. I fill my funny pages void in another way.

puncherDragon Puncher by James Kochalka. This is one of my favorite books. I brought this home for my kids and it was a huge hit. When I brought it back to the library, I made all of my coworkers read it. Yes, it’s in the Children’s Department – so? No, I don’t think I’ll give you a synopsis, you’ll just have to read it. I wish I could read this book out loud to all of you right now. I do a great Spoony-E.

HellboyHellboy by Mike Mignola. Funny ha-ha AND funny weird. Two great tastes that taste great together. This series is about a red guy who is in a secret U.S. government program to defeat the Nazis. It has lots of supernatural Lovecraftian (a real word) things, plus lots of wry comments. It has been adapted for two movies, but read the original – the original is almost always better, and in this case, is much, much better.

calCalvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Comic strips are like short stories, a satisfying whole in bite-sized chunks. I however, cannot get enough of Calvin and Hobbes. Amusing tales told through the eyes of a rambunctious boy and his stuffed tiger. A modern day Winnie-the-Pooh, but so much funnier.

goreyAmphigorey by Edward Gorey. I urge you to read everything by Gorey. Read his biographies as well. The man is as unusual as his work. It’s funny, and creepy, and weird, and icky. Kids love this stuff. If you love this, try Gahan Wilson as well.


beanworldBeanworld by Larry Marder. I am so glad this was republished, for your sake. Marder uses the fact that the piece of paper in your hand is two-dimensional, and creates a  funny and quirky world. Hoka Hoka Hey!


So I am no longer able to press Silly Putty on the newspaper to get the image. It ruined the Silly Putty anyway.


A day of comics, a day of giving. Click here to learn how you can support the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on October 3rd.



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None For Me, Thanks

I am child-free.

By choice.

I made this decision long ago, possibly before I even realized it. Thankfully, my husband agreed. I realize this is not always the case, but it is an important choice worth considering and thinking about.

When I was a teen, I babysat but I just never really liked taking care of children and found the attention required to give a child exhausting. My mother told me it was because they were “other people’s children” and that, when I had my own, I would feel differently.

Society pressures us, but especially women. Being Hispanic, my family didn’t understand but eventually came to accept our decision. I have never felt that so-called maternal urge, if there is such a thing.

Then, when I was 23, I met a woman who was happily married without children. She finally put into words what I could not. It was just something she and her husband did not want to experience and they were content with each other and  did not want to change that.

It was a revelation.

There is a financial cost I did not want either. Did you know that one of the highest bankruptcy predictors is whether or not someone has children? When I asked for financial advice, the first thing a good friend told me was, “don’t have kids.”


Every so often, this topic pops up in the media; Time magazine recently did a cover story about it. And like money, religion, politics, and food, it’s very controversial.

There are several books in the library on this life-changing decision. If you or someone you know is trying to decide, these might be helpful.


Two is Enough : a Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice by Laura Scott


Complete Without kids : an Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance by Ellen Walker


No Kidding : Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood


Beyond Motherhood : Choosing a Life Without Children by Jeanne Safer


~Maria, who loves being the favorite aunt


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Banned Books Week

When I was fourteen or fifteen, I had to write a paper on a banned book.  The book I chose was On The Road. I hadn’t yet read it, but it was on my list of things I’d like to read and this seemed like a good opportunity.  I searched the school library’s shelves but had no luck finding it and decided to turn to the librarian for help.  She didn’t even need to turn to the card catalog to find out where it was; she knew immediately that it wasn’t in the library.  “I saw that on an episode of Quantum Leap,” she told me, “and I don’t think that’s an appropriate book for a high school library.”  Who knew that Scott Bakula would be a driving force of a school library’s collection development policy?

Reading challenged books may shock you!

Reading challenged books may shock you!

Since 1982, Banned Books Week has been celebrated in late September.  According to the Banned Books Week website, over 11,300 books have been challenged since then! You can find lists of the top ten most challenged books for each year since 2001 here. One of the primary reasons that a book is challenged is that it is judged to be unsuitable for the age group.  I’m sure that’s what my high school librarian had in mind, although I would argue that adolescence is the perfect time to read Kerouac.  Of course, it’s possible that she was actually a secret Kerouac fan and that she knew the best way to get a teenager to do something is to tell them they can’t do it: of course I got my hands on a copy of On the Road as quickly as I could and became a huge Kerouac fan.

The manager of CLP Main's Teen Department poses with one of her favorite challenged books.

The manager of CLP Main’s Teen Department poses with one of her favorite challenged books. Stop by the Teen Department to take your own mugshot!

Libraries, and public libraries in particular, serve large communities of diverse people.  Lots of people equals lots of different opinions, and we librarians strive to buy materials that will suit each person’s need, despite the fact that someone (sometimes us!) might disagree with it.  I’d like to think that if we have a pretty good balance of things that make you happy and things that make you angry, we’re doing our job.  In any case, I always like to think of Banned Books Week as a chance to look at those frequently challenged books with a fresh eye and think about them critically, as well as to revisit those books that wind up on the most challenged list that I’m especially fond of. Some of my favorites, like The Chocolate War, The Catcher in the Rye, Cat’s Cradle, and The Call of the Wild are among those books that have turned up on the lists of challenged books (the first two are frequent offenders!).

Do you have any favorites that are frequently challenged?



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The Tangled Knot: Women’s Fiction, Summer 2013

Autumn is officially here, but let’s take one last look at the books of summer, shall we?

My usual reading agenda of popular fiction consists of regency and contemporary romance and mystery/thrillers. I usually toss in a book or two that is classified as “women’s fiction.” Typically, while there may be elements of romance involved, the focus is on the personal transformation of the main female character and how she responds to the trials and tribulations of life. Publishers target the marketing of these stories to women readers. Some of these tales are funny while others take a more serious look at problems and relationships. This summer, marriage at its various stages formed the common theme of all of these books.

Andrews, Mary Kay. Ladies’ Night.

ladiesWhen lifestyle blogger Grace Stanton discovers her husband in a compromising position with her personal assistant, she drives his cherished sports car into their pool. The divorce judge declares she must attend expensive anger management sessions. There, Grace meets other women and a man in similar straits. Their post-therapy cocktails reveal they have much in common, including a need for friends, suspicion of the methods of the wacky therapist assigned to them, and distrust of the no-nonsense judge who was put them all in this odd, court-mandated situation. Andrews’ stories always have a light touch, and her characters are just like someone you know.

Cook, Claire. Time Flies.

When Melanie’s husband of many years hooks up with a younger woman, she becomes more and more reclusive. Her grown boys keep fliesin touch, but are focused on their own lives. Melanie has a paralyzing fear of driving on highways. She’d rather dance with a mop than face dating after all the years of marriage. Her welded junk sculptures are cathartic and meaningful to her creative side, but she wallows in her isolation. Then her friend BJ nags her into attending their high school reunion. As they journey down memory lane with an oldies soundtrack, catching up with each other in that way only best friends can after being parted for a long time, Melanie comes to understand that looking forward is better than looking back. Cook’s breezy, personal writing style engages and satisfies as her funny observations about people and life make Melanie’s trip a satisfying experience for the reader as well.

Delinsky, Barbara. Sweet Salt Air.

sweetsaltair Friends from childhood, food blogger Nicole invites Charlotte, a professional travel writer, to visit for the summer and help her prepare a cookbook based on the cuisine of her family’s Maine island summer retreat. As the weeks pass, and Nicole’s surgeon husband faces a medical crisis of his own, the friends reconnect, share and uncover secrets that can pull them back as close as they once were…or drive them forever apart. Delinsky never fails to provide a thoughtful look at life’s problems and the choices we make.

Hilderbrand, Elin. Beautiful Day.

Could a Nantucket wedding be anything less than perfect? Following the wedding planning advice left behind by her deceased motherbeautiful in a “Notebook,” Jenna, the bride, and her groom’s families gather for a dream wedding. However, their complex, intertwined, and often dysfunctional interactions make for a funny, sad, satisfying read, even if you need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the family members.

Kinsella, Sophie. Wedding Night.

weddingHa! Told from the alternating points of view of two British sisters, this comedy of errors almost meets the high expectations for laugh-aloud humor of other Kinsella stories. Disappointed when her long-time beau presents vacation tickets instead of an engagement ring, frustrated Lottie drops him and runs directly into a whirlwind relationship with an old boyfriend, Ben. Within days the couple hie off to Greece to get married! Lottie’s practical older sister, Fliss–recently and bitterly divorced–feels she must step in to thwart Lottie’s impulsive rebound wedding. Hilarity ensues.

Porter, Jane. The Good Daughter (A Brennan Sisters novel).

Life is becoming complicated for Kit Brennan. She’s pushing 40, single, teaches school, and is a middle sister among four, all of whom daughterare coping with the reality of their mother being in the last stages of cancer. Kit is fresh from a long-term relationship with a man who just would not get married. She has a student facing dangerous family issues at home, a new house, a loudly ticking biological clock, and she’s just met a new guy who could be “the one”…except that he doesn’t quite meet her family’s high expectations to be a suitable match for the “good” daughter of the family.

Wiggs, Susan. Apple Orchard.

apple Who knew that there are apple orchards in Sonoma wine country? Not antiques expert Tess Delaney, who also discovers the family she never knew she had there. A workaholic, totally focused on her career, Tess has the shock of her life when an attorney appears out of the blue to tell her she may soon inherit a business she knows nothing about–growing apples. As she begins to unravel her own life story, Tess learns about the perils and sufferings of WWII on resistance fighters, and the impact of that experience as they began life afresh in America. Why did her parents separate? Why didn’t she know she had a half-sister? Wiggs can spin a family tale like few others–her Lakeshore Chronicles series is top-notch. Check them out too!

Weisberger, Lauren. Revenge Wears Prada.

Ten years have passed since Andrea Sachs worked for demanding editor Miranda Priestly at Runway magazine. Andrea and formerrevenge enemy/colleague Emily become reacquainted and start their own successful bridal magazine, The Plunge. After a few years, its commercial popularity has drawn the attention of Miranda’s magazine publisher. So, the partners face a dilemma: should they sell out for big bucks and be affiliated with Miranda’s controlling editorial influence, or remain their own women? This conflict has the potential of splitting up the partners, and what impact will coping with marriage,  in-laws, babies, and lost friendships have on this weighty decision for Andy? This is a satisfying sequel to the popular novel The Devil Wears Prada.


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Once Upon A Fairy Tale

To close out our blogging week, say hello to Abbey, our third new team member. Once a month you’ll get Abbey’s perspective on books, reading, libraries, and other pertinent things.

I have what I would call a healthy obsession with fairy tales; I find the ways in which authors interpret traditional tales fascinating. Some rewrites are completely different and some are very similar to the original story. Fairy tales have also always fascinated me because of the purpose for which they were first written. Many were originally written as warnings for the children who heard the stories, but as time has gone on, the fairy tales have more often come to be fun and fantastical tales for children.

While I was wandering around Main library I happened upon the Once Upon a Time series in the Teen section, and I fell in love with the books. Here are some that I particularly enjoyed.

Snow, by Tracy Lynn, which is a retelling of Snow White.

The Diamond Secret, by Suzanne Weyn, which is the story of Anastasia.


The World Above, by Cameron Dokey, which is a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk.


There are many others in the series, but these three were my favorites. If you like one, though, you could easily like them all!



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Getting to Know Allentown All Over Again

Today we welcome another new blogger to the Eleventh Stack team, Maria J. You’ll be getting her take on the Carnegie Library, and librarianship in general, monthly from now on.

As a staff member of the CLP LYNCS (Library in Your Neighborhood, Community and School) department of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, I have had the pleasure of working in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh since October 2012.  Carnegie Library has established a temporary pop-up library at the corner of Arlington and Warrington Avenues in the southern Hilltop neighborhood, with the goals of bringing library service and creating community connections through February of 2014.

You can like the pop-up library on Facebook here

You can like the pop-up library on Facebook here

Allentown is one of those little surprises in the city of Pittsburgh which may only be recognizable to many for the reputation it has garnered through some unfortunate stories in the news. I have known this neighborhood since my childhood, when my siblings and I would come from Ohio to visit relatives who lived on the South Side slopes. It was a sense of homecoming for me to be able to come back to the community after decades of change–change for both me, and for this neighborhood.

While there are more empty lots and empty storefronts in Allentown these days, what hasn’t changed is the fact that these hills are filled with friends, families, and children. You may not realize this, as you travel along Warrington or Arlington on your way to the South Side or the other Hilltop communities, but if you were to stop in at the Pop-up, you’d soon realize the vibrancy of the neighborhood.

The little storefront which houses this temporary library quickly fills up with a variety of people and sounds. The clicking of keyboards and the laughter of children are often mixed with music from YouTube videos watched by patrons, the sound of ukuleles occasionally used in our programming, or the echo of traffic rushing by on Arlington Avenue on those days when we prop open the front door. The day I’m writing this happens to be a school holiday, and there are folks ranging from preschool to retirement in this little storefront-cum-library. While the adult patrons may be searching for jobs or reconnecting with old friends online, the younger kids are playing games on our iPads or XBOX, or creating works of art at the craft table we’ve set up to keep them busy during the day. This is definitely not your grandmother’s library, but nevertheless, the neighborhood grandmothers are no strangers to it!

Many of our visitors are familiar faces to us now after our having been here for nearly a year. They’ve become our friends, and sometimes we spend more time with them during the day than we do with our own families. We have made friends with young and old alike: staff and visitors have come to know and interact with each other on a first name basis, and we have come to know their personal stories, too. These are stories you couldn’t imagine by driving quickly along the cross streets, full of presumptions about the Hilltop neighborhood, but they are stories to which many of us can relate: stories of happiness and heartbreak, of homework troubles and homelessness, and also stories of hope. And every day, with each new visitor, we are introduced to another story, another friend, and, hopefully, soon, a familiar face and name.

–Maria J.


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Out to Lunch by J. Seward Johnson

Out to Lunch by J. Seward Johnson

The crowning fortune of a man is to be born to some pursuit which finds him employment and happiness, whether it be to make baskets, or broadswords, or canals, or statues, or songs.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

First thing you should know about me: I have my dream job. Yesterday was my one year anniversary as the manager of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh- South Side.  I often walk into work and think, “Wow, I get to work here.” I’m surprised I have any sort of career, let alone one that brings me so much personal and professional satisfaction. (See next paragraph.)

Second thing you should know about me: I hate school. I hated grade school, middle school and high school. I hated college so much that it took me eight years to graduate. When I was done it felt like I had completed a prison sentence. I vowed I would never go back. I wouldn’t even go to Oakland.

In 2004 I was hired as a library clerk at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh- East Liberty. I loved it. Wait a second! I get to talk to people all day about books and I don’t have to work in a cubicle? Sign me up! I had to grit my teeth, suck it up and go back to school. Gross. But it was worth it. I am doing what I was meant to do.

(Every advisor I ever had dropped the ball on this one, including the jerk who suggested secretarial school.)

Find your perfect career at the library!

There are so many job and career resources at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. One of my personal favorites is a database called Career Cruising. I love the Assessment Tools. Take the Matchmaker test and discover what you should be doing! My first recommended job was cement mason. Roofer and chimney sweep also made the list. I think because I said I like working with my hands and being outside? Or because I love swearing? (I really do.)



There are a lot of other neat tools at Career Cruising, including financial aid and employment searching, resume building and school comparison profiles. And don’t forget, you can always, always, always ask a librarian for help!

I’m not really a Who Moved My Cheese?/7 Habits of Highly Effective People/How to Win Friends and Influence People kind of reader. I’m less Oprah, more this. However, there are a few books that I have found worthwhile, especially when talking about having a calling in life.


The Butterfly Hunter, Chris Ballard

Stories of people who found their callings way, way, way off the beaten path. Learn how glass eyes are made, learn the history of window-washing and meet a dude named Spiderman Mulholland.

Getting Unstuck, Timothy Butler

Feeling stuck in a rut, personally or professionally? Find yourself thinking that there definitely should be more of…whatever? Business psychologist Timothy Butler will help you recognize your rut and unstick yourself from your paralysis.

A Life at Work, Thomas Moore

A little touchy-feely, but if you are like me and define yourself by your job then you’ll enjoy this book.

Do you have a dream job? Or a very, very worst job?



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Embracing A “Poly-Libris” Reading Life

book_stack  I used to be a one-book man, but of late, I have taken to reading multiple books at once.  Here’s a quick peek at what’s checked out on my CLP library card:

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.  I have never read this book before, and I find its stirring environmental message to have the same deep impact on me as it did on those first readers in 1962.

Collected Poems: 1955 by Robert Graves.  I am still not quite through with this little gem.

Robert Graves: His Life And Work by Martin Seymour-Smith.  My fascination with Graves’ poetry has now bubbled over into a desire to learn more about the man’s life, so this biography fills the need nicely.

Backpacking: Essential Skills To Advanced Techniques by Victoria Steele Logue.  I’ve been doing a lot of walking and hiking in the local area of late.  Once I decide to branch out to a more serious, overnight jaunt, this book will come in very handy.

The Complete Guide To Climbing And Mountaineering by Pete Hill.   I’ve been bouldering too (an essential outdoor survival skill), and I confess to not really knowing what I am doing.  Mr.  Hill’s book provides lots of good advice on bouldering techniques.

Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert.  A friend turned me on to this local poet and I snagged our eBook copy.  His poems are at once rough and erudite, and sometimes difficult to read because of the raw emotions and memories they conjure in the mind’s eye.

So while perhaps a bit unfocused, I’ve found my new, “poly-libris” approach to the books in my life refreshing.



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