Monthly Archives: February 2014

Thoughts on The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried

Earlier this week, my colleague Holly wrote about how we’re going big with the Big Read.  I’m excited about these upcoming events here at the Library and especially about Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried as the 2014 book selection.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but when my friend Kim of the excellently-named blog Sophisticated Dorkiness organized a The Things They Carried blogger read-along several years ago, I wanted no part of it.  Even though Kim and I have similar literary tastes (we’re nonfiction junkies). I mean, if your literary diet is similar to mine, you’re not going to readily pick up a “war book.”  Plus, with all I had going on in my life at the time, I wasn’t in the mood for “tough reading.”

Then someone else told me how remarkable this book was. And then someone else. And then my library had a display that mentioned The Things They Carried as being an American novel that everyone should read.

So, I caved.

And I’m so glad I did.

Yes, it’s a hard subject matter, one that most of us would like to avoid.  Yes, there are some tough, heart-wrenching scenes and descriptions.  But Tim O’Brien’s writing?

Absolutely breathtaking.

“To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true.  Almost nothing is true. At its core, perhaps, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life. After a firefight, there is always the immense pleasure of aliveness. The trees are alive. The grass, the soil – everything. All around you things are purely living, and you among them, and the aliveness makes you tremble. You feel an intense, out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self – your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by the force of wanting it. In the midst of evil you want to be a good man. You want decency. You want justice and courtesy and human concord, things you never knew you wanted. There is a kind of largeness to it, a kind of godliness. Though it’s odd, you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead. You recognize what’s valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what’s best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost.” (pg. 77-78)

Is that not spectacular?

I want to elaborate for a minute on this part: “Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. At its core, perhaps, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life.” 

 To me, those three sentences are the very core of this book. The Things They Carried has an element of mystery about it, because while it is billed as “A Work of Fiction by Tim O’Brien,” it reads very much like a memoir due in large part to O’Brien including himself as a character in the book.  That leads the reader, including myself, to wonder how much of the story is true and how much isn’t.

O’Brien uses this technique brilliantly and, I believe, on purpose.  I was born in spring 1969, so I draw my Vietnam references from books and movies, from Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon” played (and sung) too loudly in a college dorm, from my uncle who returned forever changed. By using this literary device of purposefully not telling his reader what is true and what is not, O’Brien is making a similar statement on the nebulous and confusing times of which he writes.

Likewise, the “proximity to death bring[ing] a corresponding proximity to life” is also an intriguing line because, yes, there is so much death in this book but there is also so much life.  The soldiers of Alpha Company are very much alive, even in their deaths as their memory lives on.  And, as The Things They Carried makes clear, so are those who were left behind at home and those gone before their time. Being exposed to death so young has the effect of making one appreciate one’s life and the lives of those we love.

This is an incredibly powerful book, one that should – yes, absolutely – be required reading for every American.  I may not have wanted to pick up The Things They Carried, but once I did, I could not put it down.

~ Melissa F.


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Streaming Pete

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger
Found on; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Pete Seeger’s influence over my life, starting in early childhood, is so large and lasting that it helped inspire me to become a musician and music librarian. I love sing-alongs! I love the feeling of exhilaration from participating in music with a group. I love the fact that a powerful song can incite social change. I love that Pete Seeger recorded tons of American folk songs for the same reason that the Grimm brothers collected and wrote down fairy tales: for posterity.

I have chosen to honor Mr. Seeger’s memory by listening (and singing) to his recordings streaming on our database Smithsonian Global Sound. In fact, the Carnegie Library has a large array of streaming music databases that you can listen to on your very own computer, or on a wide variety of devices. “Remote Access” allows you to get these services outside of the library building with your library card. CLP also has a service called Freegal, that allows you to download and keep three free MP3 music tracks each week with no software to download and no digital rights management (DRM) restrictions. There’s even an app for it!

This library was made for you and me.



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Who Are You?

bookcoverThis March, CLP – Woods Run is running a month-long Saturday Series Genealogy Program focused on helping patrons interested in beginning their family tree, preserving their history and conducting research.

Climbing Your Family Tree: Beginning Genealogy  March 1 from 2 to 3 pm: Marilyn Cocchiola Holt, MLS and Department head of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Department offers an introduction to the process involved in searching for family roots: how to find the who, when, and where of your family.

Preservation: Archives and Artifacts in Your Home March 8, 1 to 2 pm:  Mrs. Terri Blanchette, Historian and owner of TimeSorters, will discuss museum and archival best practices for artifacts and archives as she teaches you how to preserve your family treasures for generations to come.

Hard To Do Genealogy March 22, 2 to 3 pm: Join us as we welcome Ms. Marlene Bransom, former Vice-President of the Afro-American Genealogical Society of Pittsburgh. Ms. Bransom is a genealogist who has experience navigating the often hard to document journeys that brought people to America. She will discuss how to do genealogy when you have issues like slavery standing in your path.

Registration is required for all of these free events. You can register by calling CLP – Woods Run, 412. 761.3730, or by visiting our location website!

– Natalie


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As CLP’s patent librarian, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about inventions.  Most of the time, my job is to help inventors get started with a patent search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark website.  Usually people come in with an idea of something that they think they might be able to make and sell, that will make life easier or more efficient or more useful. Not every invention is destined for a patent, though, and for some inventors patents are beside the point.  The cartoonist Rube Goldberg is remembered for his fanciful drawings of complicated machines that performed simple tasks, and plenty of burgeoning inventors compete each year to see who can build the best Rube Goldberg machine.

My favorite Rube Goldberg machine.

Then I learned about chindogu, a movement in Japan dedicated to “unuseless” inventions. It reminds me a little of groups like Oulipo or Dogme 95, among others; like those groups, chindogu requires certain constraints to be followed, forcing the inventor to work out ways of creatively coming up with an idea that will follow those rules.  According to The International Chindogu Society, there are ten tenets inventors must follow.  You can find all of them here, but a couple of the big ones are: A chindogu cannot be for real use (i.e., this isn’t something you’ll use all the time), it must exist, chindogu are not for sale and cannot be patented, and humor can’t be the sole reason for the invention.  Some examples are a hat that you can wear to prop you up while you sleep on the subway (no more falling over on your neighbor!) or, my favorite, a mop that attaches to your baby’s belly so they can sweep the floor while crawling around. Check out the book Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu if you’re interested in discovering more unuseless inventions.


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We’re Going Big with the Big Read

The Big Read is a nationwide celebration of reading, and locally the initiative is spearheaded by CCAC.  It is a “month-long series of free outreach events designed to promote literacy, reading and open dialogue within our community.”  The Library can definitely get behind this mission, and as such we have a schedule chock-full of events to celebrate this year’s book, The Things They Carried.

This is a beautifully rendered story about the Vietnam War, and the library is working within this theme to present talks, discussions, and film screenings on themes related to veterans.  Below is a well-rounded list of options!  Many of the book discussions will have free copies of the book to give away, courtesy of CCAC.


3/6/2014. 6-8 pm Dr. Todd DePastino

 Todd is co-founder and director of the Veterans Breakfast Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to gathering veterans of all eras and generations together to share their stories of service. Todd will tell extraordinary WWII stories of veterans living in the region and his quest to preserve and celebrate them.


3/11/2014, 6-7 pm Book Discussion 

Tuesday Evening Books Presents: a book discussion of The Things They Carried

3/25/2014, 6-8 pm Vietnam War Documentary

Downtown and Business

3/18/2014, 12:15 pm Return With Honor documentary

American Experience examines the lives of American pilots who became prisoners of war in Vietnam and describes their struggles in captivity.  This documentary includes rare footage of prison camps and captured prisoners.  Narrated by Tom Hanks.  Presented by PBS.

Hill District

3/18/2014 1 pm Tuskegee Airmen: A Neighborhood Legacy.

Join a discussion and film on historic Tuskegee Airmen, focusing especially on those men and women from the Hill District community.


3/11/2014, 7 pm Buzz: Pairings: The Things They Carried Book Discussion

 On 3/11, we’ll discuss The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien at the Lawrenceville Library. On 3/25/14, we’ll discuss Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers  at a neighborhood location. Check for more information.

3/29/14, 2-5 pm Classic Film

Watch and discuss a classic film about a young man who volunteers to fight but quickly discovers that the Viet Cong are not his greatest enemies. This academy award winning film is rated R and includes extreme violence and language. Participation in this program is limited to individuals aged 18 and up.

Main, First Floor

3/13/2013 6:30-7:45 pm The Things They Carried Book Discussion

Bound  Together is a collaborative book discussion. In March, we’ll  discuss The Things They Carried at the Carnegie Museum of Art, with some views of the Carnegie International to boot.

4/17/2014 1 & 6 pm  Books in the Afternoon

Books in the Afternoon will feature discussions of The Things They Carried.

Mt. Washington

3/13/2014 7:00 pm  The Big Read in Pittsburgh:  The Things They Carried.

Mt. Washington will host a lively book discussion.

Woods Run

3/11/2014 11:30 am Book Discussion of  The Things They Carried

Copies will be available at the circulation desk.  Refreshments will be served.

Happy Big Reading!



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Put the Book Back on the Shelf*

 “The family’s principal entertainment…was for everyone to recount their dreams.”  – Vasily Peskov quoted in this fascinating Smithsonian article

Fairly often, I’ll be walking down the hall on the second floor of our library, when one of the nonfiction books on display will jump out at me. The question then becomes, do I pick the book up or leave it there on the shelf.


I’m a sucker for beautifully designed covers so I couldn’t resist picking up a book the other day called Illusions in Motion. Before cinema, artists and showmen were already experimenting with visual storytelling through the use of moving panoramas, all in the service of keeping people entertained. According to Erkki Huhtamo’s impressively researched tome:

The moving panorama was a long painting that unscrolled behind a ‘window’ by means of a mechanical cranking system, accompanied by a lecture, music, and sometimes sound and light effects. Showmen exhibited such panoramas in venues that ranged from opera houses to church halls, creating a market for mediated realities in both city and country.

The book traces the history of the panorama, and its influence on the creation of complimentary and competing types of entertainment media—from panoramic toy theaters, to dioramas and magic lantern shows—that likely paved the way for modern film & television.


Toy panoramic theater from the book Illusions in Motion.


Panoramic peepshow box from the book Illusions in Motion.


Toy panoramic theater lit by candlelight, from the book Illusions in Motion.

I studied printmaking and book arts as an undergraduate, so after perusing Illusions I had to learn more about these toy theaters made from paper. Amazingly enough, we happen to have not one, but TWO reference books on the topic: The History of the English Toy Theatre and Penny Plain Two Pence Coloured: A History of the Juvenile Drama.


Pollock’s toy theatre shop in London, from The History of the English Toy Theatre.


Benjamin Pollock in his shop with one of his toy theaters, from the book Penny Plain Two Pence Coloured.

And from these books I was eventually led to discover Pollock’s Toy Museum in London, along with the irresistible urge to make my very own toy theater.

So beware. Go ahead and take that book off the shelf, but if you do, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in some very unexpected places.

Happy Friday,


PS – Title partially sponsored by this Belle & Sebastian song.

Moving panorama from the book Illusions in Motion.

Moving panorama from the book Illusions in Motion.


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When Life Gives You Lemons, Give Them to Me!

Happy National Limoncello Day! No seriously, it is. I know it sounds silly, and it may be. There are so many of these food and other “holidays” that it could start to make you apathetic about celebrating the ones that really count. Well, this one counts, for me at least. Lemon is my favorite dessert flavor and limoncello is my liquor/liqueur of preference. I add it to champagne, iced tea, lemonade and put it on strawberries. Have you tried it on vanilla ice cream? OMG!!  Do you know how easy it is to make you own limoncello? Four ingredients and a little patience are all you need. I’ve included a basic recipe and instructions below.

lemonsWhat if alcohol is not your thing, but lemons are? We actually have several cookbooks that concentrate on citrus fruits and lemons in particular, including…

The Lemon Lovers Cookbook by Peg Bailey – Believe it or not, this book contains more savory lemon recipes than sweet. My favorite section was the Lemon Pantry chapter, which included instructions for making lemon syrup, oil, vinegar, pepper, sugar, butter, chutney, marmalade and more!

Lemons: Growing, Cooking, Crafting by Kate Chynoweth and Elizabeth Woodson – Fascinating facts about lemons and their lore, yummy recipes, and homemade lemon lip balm, cold remedies, and cleaning products. The almighty lemon can do anything!

Lemons: A Country Garden Cookbook by Christopher Idone – I adore the artfully arranged, full-color photographs on each page of this lovely cookbook. Each chapter is pared down to a handful of essential lemon recipes. And fried lemon fritters? Yes, please!

Lemon Zest: More than 175 Recipes with a Twist by Lori Longbotham – Lemon recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between, including stocking up your pantry with lemon flavored items. The highlight of this book, however, is the 30+ recipes for lemonade.

Luscious Lemon Desserts by Lori Longbotham – TWO lemon cookbooks by the same author?!? I think I found my new favorite person…

bookcoverWant to try growing your very own lemon tree? Yes, you can, even in our climate. It just has to move indoors for the winter. I found this book to be very helpful when learning how to grow citrus trees for personal use — Growing Tasty Tropical Plants in Any Home, Anywhere by Laurelynn G. Martin and Byron E. Martin. We started our own Meyer lemon tree from seed last summer. So far it has grown to about 4 inches tall. Now, if we can just keep the cats away from it!

Stay Sour My Friends!
Melissa M.

Homemade Limoncello

Quantities in this are not exact. Everyone makes it to their own tastes, so you’re going to need to experiment to find your personal recipe. (You mean I need to make multiple batches? Darn!)


1 bottle (750 ml) of vodka -unflavored, 75-100 proof, but brand and expense is up to you

6-10 lemons, washed and dried (stickers removed!)

2 ½-4 cups sugar

3 ½-5 cups water


1. Empty vodka into a large jar or pitcher.

2. Peel the lemons, being careful to remove only the yellow layer, leaving all the white pith behind.

3. Put all the lemon peels into the jar with the vodka, making sure they are submerged in the liquid.

4. Cover the jar/pitcher and put it in a cool, dark place to steep for 4-14 days. DO NOT keep opening the lid to check it and DO NOT stir!

5. When the steeping process is complete to your satisfaction, strain the vodka mixture to remove the lemon peels.

6. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil, making sure all of the sugar is dissolved.

7. Let the sugar syrup cool completely.

8. Add the sugar syrup to the strained vodka mixture.

9. Store in lidded jars or bottles with caps in the freezer until ready to use.

This mixture will keep for months, but I can guarantee it won’t last that long!


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Things That Have Made Me Cry (Lately)

Me and Sarah McLachlan. Bringing you down.

Me and Sarah McLachlan. Bringing you down like a champ.

I cry over everything. Or as my best friend put it so eloquently, “I feel all the feels.” If you live in Pittsburgh you may know that the sun hasn’t come out in like eleventy months. The whole city of Pittsburgh (including me) has looked like this forever:

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We have a city-wide depression going on. Everyone I know is miserable. When it started snowing again Monday night, I burst into tears.  All I want to do is sleep and eat potatoes. I am longing for Spring and bike rides and reading outside and swimming and sunshine and fresh vegetables


Hah! None for you.

But since that’s a million years away and I enjoy going from one extreme to another, let’s talk about things that have made me cry lately (besides everything).

118700851. This insanely quotable book: The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.

Angsty, funny teenagers. Cancer. Dream trip to Amsterdam to find the author of a favorite book. First love. Friendship. Death. Grieving. Coming out in movie form (filmed in Pittsburgh!) on June 6. See the trailer here. See a ton of librarians watch it en masse and cry together. See me cry if someone says “okay” in a certain tone of voice. 

MV5BMTQ5NTg5ODk4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODc4MTMzMDE@._V1_SX214_2. This movie: Blue is the Warmest Color

But I have infinite tenderness for you. I always will. All my life long.

Blue is the Warmest Color was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. In an unprecedented move, the award was granted to not only the director (Adbellatif Kechiche), but also the to the lead actresses, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux. Based off of the graphic novel by Julie Maroh,  and showing at the Hollywood TheaterBlue follows the life and love of two young lesbians. It beautifully captures that obsession you feel when you first fall in love, when you can’t stop thinking about it and your world revolves around them. And then. There is also a break-up scene that is harrowing in its realism and flat-out pain and fury. Did I mention I saw this on Valentine’s Day?

3. This song: Say Something by A Great Big World

Say something, I’m giving up on you. I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you.

I know, I know. Don’t judge. I’m not the only one. Oh the tears! Other songs making me cry recently include: Song for Zula by Phosphorescent, All I Need by Radiohead and Love Out of Lust by Lykke Li. I dare you to listen to any of these and not want to get under the covers until April.

4. This photo of Otis smiling:

I don't know why this makes me teary-eyed. I'm fragile.

I don’t know why this makes me teary-eyed. I’m fragile. He’s cute.

5. This text from my best friend:

I love u and ur awesome!!

Because we all need to know we are loved and awesome.

Here’s to spring flowers and blah, blah, blah-

suzy, the saddest librarian


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Orders Militant & Battles For The Soul

Today marks the anniversary of the defeat of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword by Dovmont of Pskov in 1268 at the battle of Rakvere. Sounds like something from Game of Thrones, right?  I’ve written it here before, but it’s worth writing again, truth often trumps fiction.  Sometime after their defeat, the Livonians were absorbed into the Teutonic Knights, a much more well known military order that also fought for the church.  We remember the Teutonic Knights for their successes in battle, but also because of what they built.  This history serves as a reminder that at one time, the Roman Catholic Church existed as a political and military entity.  Its leaders, the popes and bishops of the time, wielded temporal power every bit as potent as the spiritual authority they claim to this day.

So much amazing writing has been done on this topic that someone needs to point a few Hollywood producers in the direction of CLP’s back stacks!  If you have time, and you can make a trip to Main library here in Oakland, do yourself a favor and request our copy of F. C. Woodhouse’s The Military Religious Orders Of The Middle Ages: The Hospitallers, The Templars, The Teutonic Knights, And Others. With An Appendix Of Other Orders Of Knighthood: Legendary, Honorary, And Modern.  If you search the catalog under the Library of Congress subject heading “Military Religious Orders” you will hit the jackpot on this topic. To save the less industrious among you the trouble of a click, I’ll cherry-pick a few titles from that search and post them below!

Decoding_Past_TemplarsDecoding The Past: The Templar Code.  This History Channel DVD provides plenty of juicy details on perhaps the world’s most famous and conspiracy heavy holy military order, the Templars.  While it does not pursue the Sasquatch linkage I might have wanted, it does provide some pretty good thrills thinly disguised as a history lesson.

Knights-Templar Knights Templar Encyclopedia : The Essential Guide To The People, Places, Events, And Symbols Of The Order Of The Temple by Karen Ralls.  This is the last book I will recommend on the Templars, I promise.  They remain tough to avoid when discussing this topic.  How can you not spill a ton of ink on a group of quasi-mystical medieval bankers burned at the stake in a vicious plot to seize their assets?  This is why so many books were written about the 2008 stock market crash, right?

Monks of War  The Monks of War by Desmond Seward.  This one provides an excellent entry into the whole business of Military Religious Orders.  Yes, you know who are covered, but Seward also supplies plenty of info on the Hospitallers, the Spanish and Portuguese orders, and many others.

Holy_Orders  Warriors Of The Lord : The Military Orders Of Christendom by Michael J. Walsh. Much like Monks of War, Mr. Walsh offers excellent research and information on the littler known orders and the big names you might expect. Written in 2003, it benefits from the additional years of research into the topic done since Mr. Seward wrote his book.

Once you read a title or two from this list, you will wonder why Ridley Scott, the Weinstein Brothers, and others have not dipped into this fertile ground.  I understand period pieces cost lots of money, but so do bad sci-fi productions.

Until such time as the Hollywood cognoscenti wake up to this fact, we’ve got the books, and there’s always the History Channel!



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Celebrate Music: Two Quick Picks

Catalog links may be unavailable on 2/17/14 due to library software upgrades. Please bookmark this post to return to links of interest once the upgrade is complete, and click here to learn more details about the service outage.

If you’ve been to the library, its webpage, or its social media presence lately, you’ve probably noticed that our Black History month theme, Celebrate Music, is in full effect throughout the library system. With so many great sounds floating around, it can be difficult to pick just one to explore, so here’s a sampler duet of music-related materials you might enjoy.


hendrixStarting at Zero, Jimi Hendrix. Alan Douglas (his producer) and filmmaker Peter Neal took it upon themselves to edit letters, interviews, random napkin scribbles, and other writings Hendrix left behind into a coherent, poetic facsimile of an autobiography. As he walks us through his early life, time in the Army, and first forays into musicianship, Hendrix reveals himself to be a thoughtful, passionate young man with a vision larger than his abilities could express. After leaving for England and becoming part of the scene there, his writing grows more confident and sure, and his dedication to his practice begins to produce the results of those wild, extraordinary visions. Reading this book will make you want to sit down and listen through the entire Hendrix catalog again (we can help you with that), and wonder what rock music would be like today if he had lived even a little longer. The book’s companion website is equally stunning, too.

Kansas City Lightning, Stanley Crouch. Turning from the crouchScreaming Eagle, we go back through time to the man called Bird and the musical community that nurtured and influenced him. Crouch’s book, the first of a two-part biography of Charlie Parker, mingles tales from the musician’s childhood and growth to maturity with the stories of the men who became his mentors, comrades and rivals, a list that includes–but is not limited to–Lester Young, Chu Berry, Buster Smith, Jay McShann, and Walter Brown.  This alone would have been terrific, but Crouch takes it a step further and a generation back to paint the entire portrait of the Kansas City jazz scene, with such luminaries as Count Basie, Bennie Moten, and Walter Page and their legendary bands. If this book doesn’t keep you hopping back and forth between the page and the library catalog–and/or YouTube–you might want to check to see if you still have a pulse, because this book swings. Hard.

It’s really difficult to pick just two musicians to talk about when your choices range from Jelly Roll Morton to Janelle Monae, but I’ve always been partial to jazz and classic rock. Luckily, other library workers throughout the Carnegie system have created a dazzling array of music-related programs, including a screening of ROCKSTEADY: The Roots of Reggae on 2/18/14,  that explores your full range of choices. Which African American musical artists are you celebrating this month?

–Leigh Anne

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