Monthly Archives: May 2014

Slowing down

Lately I’ve been busy–I’m sure almost everyone reading this can relate. You would think that the busier I get, the more I would look to finding faster ways of doing things, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. Lately I’ve been drawn to activities that can’t be finished quickly, but force me to take my time and think in terms of long-term goals, rather than short-term. For instance:

Gardening: I’ve gardened in the past, but the difference this year is that I got my act together and planted seeds (from our amazing seed library!), rather than just waiting until mid-June and transplanting seedlings. I’ve been having a lot of fun going out to look for sprouts with my children, although honestly I think I’m more amazed at the little green shoots than they are. (Because, wow! Green things growing from practically nothing!)

Quilting: Full disclosure–I haven’t actually made (or even started) a quilt yet. It’s one of those things I thought I’d never be interested in, and yet I find myself inexplicably itching to make a quilt. And if I’m going to go down this road, I reason, wouldn’t it be neat to hand quilt, rather than use a machine? Part of me thinks that this is insane, and yet I can’t get the idea out of my head. I have no interest in machine quilting, but I’m in love with the idea of doing it by hand.

Oral history: My mother recently told me a story about her childhood that I had never heard before. It was just a passing reference, but it sparked my curiosity to know more about her life and the life of others in my family, and the idea of compiling an oral history of my family popped into my head. This was another one of those niggling ideas that I couldn’t stop thinking of, and now I’m knee deep in a fascinating oral-history project. I’ve been reading some oral histories for inspiration, like this one (one of my favorites!) and the Pittsburgh oral-history project that you can find on our website.

Running: Two years ago I started running again after a long hiatus. Here is the amazing thing about running: first you can’t run at all, struggling to get through a mile, and then you can run two miles, and three, and one day you find yourself running a half marathon. The thing about running is that distances start to seem skewed in your mind; 13.1 miles doesn’t seem very far when you meet all these people who are running 26.2 miles and you start to wonder why you don’t just do that distance. I’ve been reading this book, and I dare you to not feel inspired to try running a marathon after reading these stories!




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Pittsburgh Music – Scrapbooks of Yore


tmc53It has been my privilege and pleasure to contribute to the preservation and archiving of the 200+ scrapbooks about Pittsburgh music that are housed in the William R. Oliver Special Collections Room. These scrapbooks come from many different sources and were put together by significant figures or organizations important to the music history of Pittsburgh. Some were donated to the Carnegie Library by the individual or organization, others bequeathed to CLP by the families after the person passed away. Some had been meticulously put together, and others collect every scrap of paper having to do with music from every region and from every source. Some span years of time, and others a single season. They contain correspondence, photos, concert programs, newspaper and magazine articles, and other various forms of ephemera.

To view an index of finding aids, please see Pittsburgh Music Archives.

A few highlights:

Adolph M. Foerster – A composer, music teacher and music historian Foerester scrapbook 006especially about Pittsburgh, his articles were featured in The Musical Forecast and other national music periodicals. His eclectic scrapbooks contain a wide variety of things. Look especially at Scrapbook #5 which contains articles about the music history of Pittsburgh, the first one being from August 12, 1900: “Musical Successes of Old Pittsburgh.”

William Evens – 6 scrapbooks from 1791-1860. Evens taught singing for 40 years and helped to organize Pittsburgh’s first Musical Society. These books are one of the only sources of information available on the development of music in Pittsburgh during the first half of the Nineteenth Century.

Charles C. Mellor – a scrapbook dated 1858-1875, and his father John H. Mellor, scrapbooks from 1848-1860. John Mellor came to Pittsburgh in 1831 to become the organist at Trinity Episcopal Church. He founded the first music store in Pittsburgh, “Mellor’s,” in 1831. This was billed as America’s oldest piano house. His son, Charles C. Mellor, took over ownership of the store in 1863, and was a trustee of The Carnegie Library, appointed by Andrew Carnegie in 1895.

PoiaWalter McClintock (1870-1949) lived with the Blackfoot Indian tribe for many years, and wrote a number of books about their society and customs. Poia, an opera based on the Blackfoot tribe, was composed by Arthur Nevin at the request of McClintock. The library has a scrapbook from McClintock, half devoted to clippings about one of his books, Old North Trail, and half devoted to clippings about Poia and how it was received (hint – not very well).

Tuesday Musical Club  – 22 volumes of scrapbooks from 1903 – 1973. tmc47I have been working on the preservation of these scrapbooks, and am currently up to volume 16. tmc40They are a wonderful resource for Pittsburgh Music History, and for a look at the role of women in society. The styles of the scrapbooks change with the different secretaries that put them together.











George H. Wilson – Wilson came to Pittsburgh in 1895 to serve as manager for the newly opened Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, as well as for the Pittsburgh Orchestra housed there. He was also manager for the Art Society of Pittsburgh. His 44 scrapbooks have different categories. Some are personal scrapbooks containing things like correspondence, and some are for the organizations that he was a part of, like The Grand Opera, and The Pittsburgh Orchestra. We also have 22 volumes of the associated collection – Pittsburgh Orchestra Correspondence, which contain items such as official letters for the organization, contracts, and programs.

Charles N. Boyd – The library houses over 100 scrapbooks from Mr. Boyd, including the biggest scrapbook I have ever seen. Fifteen of them are primarily about Mr. Boyd himself, articles he wrote, or groups and performances he participated in.

The Carnegie Library is an important resource for primary source material. You need to make an appointment at the Oliver Room to view these in person.



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Solomon Northup: Keeping the Legacy Alive

Last year, a patron named Clayton Adams showed me an amazing story that taught me a lot about injustice, resiliency, and hope. It began with trust, followed by deception and injustice, and ends with justice and reunion. And the fact that this story happened at all and that we can go out and read or watch it (I encourage you to do both) is what ultimately gives me hope that we will progress. This story is called Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.

Northup, a black man born free, was kidnapped from his family in 1841 and sold into slavery in the Deep South. He is threatened into silence by his abductors, being told to never reveal his true identity. For twelve years, Solomon Northup is a Georgia-runaway slave named “Platt” who works for many different owners at different plantations. In 1852, Northup and a Canadian carpenter named Samuel Bass managed to send a letter to Northup’s friends & family in his home state of New York, leading to his freedom on January 3rd, 1853.

Solomon Northup, after regaining his freedom, wasted no time. He wrote and published a memoir called Twelve Years a Slave (1853) detailing his experience. The memoir contains settings and characters also featured in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was released the previous year. At first, his story took off after 30,000 copies were sold. He went around the North, from city to city, to talk about his experience as a slave. But then in 1857, Solomon disappeared. The location and nature of his death are still unknown. The book also went into obscurity and was not published again until 1968 when Sue Eakin (Louisiana State University at Alexandria) and Joseph Logsdon (University of New Orleans) republished an annotated version.

In 1998, a group of students from Union College set out to learn more about Solomon Northup by tracing his descendants. Based on what they had to go on, tracking any living descendants was next to impossible… until the family of Clayton Adams reached out to Union College and explained their heritage.

Clayton Adams is the great-great-great grandson of Solomon Northup on his mother’s side. He’s also a patron at CLP- West End who first told me about this story. His mother, Carla Adams-Sally, first told him about his family history when he was a junior in high school. At the time, “it just kind of went in one ear and out the other”, Clayton said. It wasn’t until he went to college and took a black literature class that Clayton began to wonder more about Solomon and his story.

His mother had once owned an original copy of Twelve Years a Slave, given to her by her mother (Clayton’s grandmother), Victoria, along with her other siblings. Victoria’s grandfather was Alonzo Northup, son of Solomon Northup. In 1990, while he was at college, Clayton enrolled in a black literature course. Hearing mention of Solomon’s name and who he was started to pique his interest. He went to his mother with a newfound curiosity and became familiar with a trilogy of slave narratives called Puttin’ on Ole’ Massa featuring stories by Henry Bibbs, William Henry Brown, and Solomon Northup. He then read Twelve Years a Slave.

Photo from the Twelve Years a Slave companion website blog - click through to read a post by Clayton Adams

Photo from the Twelve Years a Slave companion website blog – click through to read a post by Clayton Adams

The film by Steve McQueen (which is available for check-out or request at the Library) is an excellent reenactment of the story. There were “important aspects from the book in the movie that wasn’t held back”, says Clayton. Every scene is faithfully executed with a kind of no-holds-barred approach. “[Steve McQueen] is not trying to sugar coat it, and that’s the thing I like.” What makes the story the most interesting is the situation itself: a black man who was born free gets kidnapped from his family, sold into slavery, and owned by slave owners for twelve years before he proves his freedom. Between these points in the story is a brutally honest portrayal of what life as a slave was like. Clayton thinks “it’s about time that it’s been boldly put into the forefront.”

To this day, Clayton is committed to preserving the story and legacy of his great-great-great grandfather. “We’re still learning”, he says. The whereabouts of Solomon are still unknown and the events leading to and trailing his disappearance are still murky. But so much has already been accomplished in piecing together the life of Solomon Northup. His story almost vanished completely and had been rediscovered and preserved by people who see values and lessons-to-be-learned from these kinds of stories. But why are these stories precious? What do we take away from them? I think Clayton’s mom says it best:

“His courage and perseverance should be an inspiration to all humans who face life’s obstacles and tragedies. We are all proud of him and Anne and hope that others will benefit from knowing his story.”
                             -Carol Adams-Sally

If you want to know more about Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave, and more, check out the book companion website, where you’ll find a blog featuring a post by Clayton Adams, reviews from 1853 of the book including reviews by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglas, and so much more!


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Cuts Like An Impossible Knife

Laurie Halse Anderson has made a name for herself by writing young adult fiction that tackles difficult topics like rape and eating disorders, to name just a few. Her no-punches-pulled explorations of tough issues have prompted various classroom bans and challenges, which–as challenges usually do–have only increased her popularity, not just among her target audience, but among adults who read YA fiction. Both sets of readers will find the same issue-driven, unflinching prose in Anderson’s latest novel, The Impossible Knife of Memory; what remains to be seen, however, is how her detractors will respond to her theme, which happens to be combat-related PTSD and its effects on not just veterans, but on their families.

Image via USA Today . Click through to read a Q&A with Anderson

Image obtained from USA Today – click through to read a Q&A with Anderson

Since 2001, over 300,000 veterans have been treated for PTSD at an official VA facility. A 2008 Rand report indicates that many more cases go unreported and/or untreated, due to either fear of stigma or access to adequate medical care, with a resulting cost to the U.S. of $6.2 billion. The Impossible Knife of Memory asks the reader to imagine the stories behind the data with one representative portrait of a father and daughter trying to escape their troubled past.

Andy and Hayley Kincain have just moved back to Andy’s hometown after five years of truck driving and homeschooling on the road. This is supposedly to give Hayley some semblance of a normal life, but the bored, bright teenager is not fitting in well with high school and its comparatively restrictive rules. Of course, it’s hard to concentrate in school when you’re constantly worrying about what’s going on at home, and whether you’ll be seeing normal dad, depressed dad, blackout dad, or flashback dad in any given moment. But Hayley’s just fine, thank you, and she doesn’t need teachers, guidance counselors, friends, or cute boys to help her deal. And yet, they keep trying anyway, much to Hayley’s exasperation.

Told mostly from Hayley’s point of view, but interwoven with haunting images from Andy’s trauma, Anderson has given us a well-crafted portrait of what happens when coping mechanisms no longer work, and things fall apart. The story’s greatest strength, however, is in showing how wounded people can become strong again without losing their dignity or compromising their essential selves, a long, slow process that Anderson skillfully spins out over a series of short, intense chapters. As a result, Hayley and Andy are initially hard to like, but worth getting to know, not only for themselves, but for the untold stories they represent.

“Problem novels” aren’t exactly fun to read, but they are important. They shine light on aspects of the human condition some people would rather keep in the dark. Considering the sacrifices so many men and women have made for their country, I’m grateful to Anderson for making this issue the latest focus of her clear-eyed literary spotlight.

–Leigh Anne

with gratitude to all who have served




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Happy Birthday, Mansfield Park


Two hundred years ago this month, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen was published.

I’m sure it was hard to top Pride and Prejudice. But if there must be a least favorite Jane Austen novel, Mansfield Park leads many readers’ lists, usually right next to the humorous gothic spoof, Northanger Abbey.


I suspect it’s because readers simply dislike the terribly shy, plain, and quiet heroine, Fanny Price, and the rather dull and proper hero, Edmund Bertram. But if you think of Mansfield Park as a novel of manners in the context of its time in history, instead of a romance–unlike Austen’s most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice, or the poignant second chance love story, Persuasion— you’ll discover both its richness and its brilliance.

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”

At its heart, it’s really about a dysfunctional family. The Bertrams of Mansfield Park are a wealthy family who take in a poor relation Fanny Price when she is ten years old, to give her worn-out and fecund mother a break. Appearances are everything and they congratulate themselves on their benevolence, forgetting that Fanny has been completely uprooted from her immediate family in Portsmouth.

“There is not one in a hundred of either sex, who is not taken in when they marry.” 

With a family like this, you might be as terrified as Fanny is:

  • Aunt Bertram, a bit dim and languorous, and who is more concerned with her dog, Pug, than in anyone or anything else; Fanny serves as her companion and errand girl.
  • Maria, Julia, and Tom, Fanny’s self-interested and privileged cousins who look down on her or worse, ignore her.
  • Uncle Bertram, with his larger-than-life austere manner, who scares her to death.
  • The downright nasty Aunt Norris, who never lets her forget her very low place in the household and how eternally grateful she should feel.
  • Edmund, the only cousin to show her great kindness and consideration. However, he also pursues their new neighbor, the beautiful and saucy Mary Crawford, and talks about her incessantly to the lovesick Fanny.

“Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”

When the elegant and sophisticated Henry and Mary Crawford arrive from London to visit their sister, Mrs. Grant, the vicar’s long-suffering wife, the two families become intimately acquainted. Henry is a dashing and unapologetic rake who lives for his own pleasure and flirts shamelessly with both Julia and the engaged Maria, creating great rivalry and tension between the sisters. Mary is gorgeous, worldly-wise, and attracts Edmund with her boldly direct behavior, much to Fanny’s disappointment. But when Henry sets his restless sights on Fanny merely to make “a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart,” the novel kicks into high gear intrigue and drama.

“If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.”

Many might be surprised to discover all the unsavory and titillating drama that is going on in this novel including:

  • Jealousy
  • Infatuation
  • Lust
  • Adultery
  • Slavery
  • Drunkeness
  • Gambling

All behind an elegant narrative as only Jane Austen could create.

~Maria A.


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National Historic Preservation Month at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

We at CLP are really excited about new places lately–our West End location just celebrated its re-opening on May 17th, after a winter of renovation, and our Hazelwood location is getting ready for its big move to the newly restored building at 5000 Second Avenue in June. But in honor of National Historic Preservation Month we–or at least I–are/am spending May being really excited about some old places too. Pittsburgh is a city with a lot of history to be proud of, and we’ve worked over the years with the U.S. National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places to make sure that some of these significant places remain for future generations to enjoy.

You don’t have to look far to find some great historic places in Pittsburgh–just check out some of the Carnegie Library’s branches! Our beautiful Main location in Oakland was added to the National Register in 1979. The building has been updated over the years, but it still retains the historic charm it possessed as the Carnegie Institute and Library. Up on the North Side, the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny Building once housed one of the first Carnegie libraries and music halls in the United States; today it is the home of the New Hazlett Theater. If you’re looking for information on the history of these and other Carnegie Library branches in Pittsburgh, both old and recent, Main Library’s Pennsylvania Department is a great place to look, both in person and via their portion of the website. The Bridging the Urban Landscape collection, which contains hundreds of historic photographs and descriptions, is especially worth a look.

True confession that might require me to turn in my Pittsburgher Who Loves Old Places card: every December I bemoan my busy holiday season because I’ve never once managed to make it to the Allegheny West House Tour (although I swear this is going to be the year!). But if you’re like me, fear not: CLP carries several fun DVD documentaries that will help you travel in spirit to places like Allegheny West, the Cathedral of Learning (where I like to study and pretend I’m a student at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry), and the Fourth Avenue Financial District. If you’re in a book mood, check out Bob Regan’s The Bridges of Pittsburgh for information on the historic spans that help us get there from here, Melanie Linn Gutkowski’s Pittsburgh’s Mansions for some architectural eye candy, and Walter C. Kidney’s Life’s Riches: Excerpts on the Pittsburgh Region and Historic Preservation for an overview of historic resources around the area.

Pittsburgh’s history is a long, wild story of conflict and togetherness, of industrial smoke and ecological preservation, and of old and new. The city continues to evolve and change every day, and its ongoing story is written on the buildings, bridges, and homes that we preserve for future generations–and on the people who inhabit them, too. This is a month to get excited about places both old and new, and to get even more excited about what these places tell us about ourselves.



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Thriller Time with Chevy Stevens

I was introduced to Chevy Stevens a few years ago with her debut novel, Still Missing. I devoured that first book in one sitting, staying up way past my bedtime on a school, er, um… I mean work night. I liked the way the story unfolded; each chapter was a session in the therapist’s office for Annie. She was abducted and held for over a year by her captor, suffering unspeakable horrors on a daily basis.  You meet Annie after her return. But even though she is now free, many parts of Annie are “still missing”, making it difficult for her to reintegrate into her family and society. You might think that knowing the end of the story before it even begins would make the book boring, but you would be so wrong. Having the story doled out in sections made it more compelling and I often got chills while Annie was recounting her past and talking about its impact on her present. The ending included a curve ball I never saw coming.

Ms. Stevens’ next two thrillers, Never Knowing and Always Watching, were also full of suspense, masterful use of flashbacks and clever plotting. I liked the connecting thread between the two novels. Sara Gallagher is visiting a psychologist, Nadine, to talk about her experiences when trying to reconnect with her birth mother in Never Knowing. Nadine then becomes the main character in Always Watching and you get to understand, through her history, why she became a psychologist. I found myself lost in the world Ms. Stevens created and time flew by as I was absorbed in her stories. I was often surprised by how many pages I had read when I thought that hardly any time had passed.

I recently had the pleasure of getting my hands on an Advanced Readers’ Copy (ARC) of Chevy Stevens’ latest book, That Night, which is due to be released on June 17th.  ARCs are uncorrected proofs put out by the book publishers, prior to the book’s official release date. They are often sent out to reviewers so that reviews of the book can be created in advance to convince people (and librarians!) to purchase the book. There are many ways librarians receive ARCs from publishers. We typically get them in person when visiting publisher booths at conventions, or online from sites such as Edelweiss and NetGalley (Disclaimer: I received my advance copy of That Night due to an application with Chatterbox by

My ARC of That Night arrived in the mail about two weeks ago. Hopping up and down as I tore open the package, I hugged my new book and showed it off to my family members: “Look what I got!” Unfortunately, due to other reading commitments (darn Book Club!), That Night had to wait. But once I was able to curl up with my new acquaintance, I was not disappointed. Again, you meet the protagonist at what you think is the end of the story. Toni Murphy and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted 16 years ago of killing Toni’s younger sister, but they didn’t do it. Now that they have served their time and been released, will they be able to move on? Will they finally be able to prove their innocence? Back were Ms. Stevens’ signature flashbacks, compelling characters, suspense-building storyline and unforeseen twist at the denouement. You may think you know how the story will end, but rest assured there will be a surprise. I finished this book in record time and am now regretting that I’ll need to wait for a long time before meeting up again with Chevy Stevens. But I am looking forward to that day.

Thanks once again, Chevy!
-Melissa M.

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The Found Art of Letter Writing

letters cover

What would you say if I told you there is a brand new collection of letters that you just have to see?

“Letters,” I can hear you saying, “who writes letters, let alone reads letters, anymore?”

Well, bear with me a moment. I think you’ll find this worthwhile.

Might you be interested in a letter written by Emily Dickinson to her one, true love? Or one written by Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler? What about one by Philip K. Dick on getting a brief preview (he didn’t live to see the final cut) of Bladerunner, the movie adaptation of his novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Or maybe a letter by Groucho Marx to Woody Allen might hit just the right spot?

Still not sold? There is a smoking note by Nick Cave to MTV, written with appropriate sarcastic grace (often referred to as the “My Muse is Not a Horse” Letter), in rejection of their nomination of “Best Male Artist of the Year.” Or a letter from Jack Kerouac to Marlon Brando saying he’d be great as Dean Moriarty in a film version of On The Road. Or Mark David Chapmen to a memorabilia expert inquiring as to the possible worth of an album signed by John Lennon mere hours before he murdered him?

I could probably go on and on tantalizing you with glimpses into Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving a Wider Audience.

Nearly as amazing as the contents, however, is the presentation. It is something of a coffee table book, though perhaps a bit on the smaller end of the format. The fact that it is a tad oversize is put to great advantage – it reproduces, in large format, the original typed or handwritten letters, telegrams (one from the Titanic), plus a clay tablet, alongside transcripts (particularly useful in deciphering the dodgy handwriting of creative types), as well as brief summaries giving context to the various exchanges.

May I mention just a few more? How about letters by Charles Dickens, Jack the Ripper, Charles Bukowski, Leonardo da Vinci, Mary Stuart, and Albert Einstein addressing, respectively, the topics of public executions, unimaginably abominable behavior, censorship, employment as a military engineer, final thoughts before being executed, and a sixth grade class’s query as to whether scientists pray?

And, oh, yes, there is the thousand plus years old ancient Chinese form letter written in apology for drunken behavior at a dinner party the evening before. It begins:

Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language I used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject I realized what had happened, whereupon I was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame.  …

That’s right, it’s a form letter – and you thought you knew how to party!

Billed by the publisher as a “spectacular collection of more than 125 letters,” this is no adperson’s hyberbole: it’s the real deal.

In my estimation, this collection is not the mourning of a passing art form but a celebration, a celebration perhaps not so much of the specific form itself (though it is, of course, that), but of the human races’ constant striving to communicate, to understand, and to survive.

Even if we don’t continue to write letters much anymore, we continue to communicate, which is reflected in the fact universities and libraries worldwide are collecting electronic correspondence as they once collected letters. The form may differ, but the creativity behind it is, if anything, becoming more varied and incredible as the years go by.

I do believe it might just be worth the wait to read the curated email correspondence of say, Margaret Atwood, or Neil Gaiman and, perhaps even of the notoriously reclusive Thomas Pynchon.

Just sayin’ or, more accurately, just readin’.

What follows is a letter from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol in Letters of Note, at once charming, practical, and endearing, if sprinkled with casual obscenity, in a manner only Brits seem to be able to pull off with aplomb.

~ Don

jagger to warhol











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In the Kitchen With Books

We begin our library blogging week with a guest post from Suzi (not to be confused with Suzy), who will, hopefully, be joining us at least once a month going forward. 


Note: this post is not vegetarian. It is gluten-free, nut-free, and soy-free.

In her book, How to Save A Life, Sara Zarr writes, “Everything tastes better when someone else fixes it for you.” I love good diner food and a waitress refilling my iced tea. For too long I was seduced by advertisers who, wanting to sell me their packaged food, told me that chopping vegetables is too much work.

However, at some point, endless club sandwiches for lunch and frozen entrees for dinner dull the taste buds and rob the pocketbook (did I mention tip the bathroom scale?). I started taking cookbooks out from the library, but I still wasn’t cooking, so the books just sat there, silently, on my kitchen table for three weeks until their respective due dates.

It’s not that I never learned how to cook. But for me, cooking is like riding a bike: I do it so infrequently each time I try a new recipe is like the first wobbly time without training wheels. I make three things well: meatloaf, quiche, and scrambled eggs. My mother and I made meatloaf together when I was a child, I have made quiche a thousand times, a thousand ways, and doesn’t everyone know how to make scrambled eggs?

I came across The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: how a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks, one day at work. I started reading it and was hooked. Maybe there was hope for me (the subtitle serves as a good summary: a chef works with nine women who for one reason or another have been subsisting on prepared food and the women together learn how to chop onions, braise beef and make tomato sauce from scratch).

I still wasn’t cooking, but my interest was piqued.

In time, I found two more books: Charlotte au Chocolat and Bread and Wine.  I happened to walk past a shelf at work and Charlotte au Chocolat whispered my name. A pink book always catches my eye, and this book happened to be a memoir about a girl whose mother managed a restaurant called “Upstairs at the Pudding” in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The book starts when Charlotte is about five and ends when she is about twenty. It is the story about a girl growing up in a restaurant. It is romantic, well written, and it makes you hungry while you are reading it.

While this book is decidedly not about cooking, and contains no recipes, it is about good food, and the people in this book believe in eating well. I found that by reading about good food, I became inspired to root around my fridge and make something. Before I knew it, I was taking leftover rice and duck and creating a sauce using mustard and marmalade. Do not be deceived: I had not made anything initially with duck—I had leftovers from when my parents took me to The Original Fish Market on their way to Michigan.

Suzi’s Leftover Duck and Rice


Leftover rice, 1 serving

Frozen broccoli, 1 serving

Leftover duck (or other meat),1serving

1 Tablespoon Mustard

1 Tablespoon Marmalade

Heat the rice and frozen broccoli in the microwave, about 1 or 2 minutes. Pull duck off the bone. While the rice and broccoli are heating up, take 1 T mustard and 1 T marmalade and mix them together, making a sweet and sour sauce. Serve immediately. Pour sauce over rice, meat, and broccoli. May be served with Greek yogurt. Makes 1 serving.

I found myself rereading Charlotte au Chocolat three times, for three reasons: it was well written, it fit in my purse, and I didn’t have another book about food on the horizon. That is when my friend Suzannah suggested the book Bread and Wine.

Bread and Wine is written in the same style as The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, essays with an occasional recipe. Shauna Niequist writes about food, writing, hospitality, and being the mother of small children and the wife of a musician. This was the book that wooed me back into my kitchen. The other night, I fixed chicken. I went to my cookbook shelf, found a recipe for chicken in Cheap Fast Good, and got out my dog-eared copy of The Kitchen Survival Guide to find out how to make rice. Yes, my skills are this basic.

I improvised. Instead of sautéing two onions, I used one, and I used the rest of the mushrooms in the fridge, since they were about to go bad. I forgot to add spices beforehand, so I added them afterwards, sprinkling my rice with dried orange peel, parsley, and basil. I had some salad, some Greek yogurt, and voila! Suzi is back in the kitchen, preparing food.

What are your favorite recipes? Cookbooks? Do you have trouble in the kitchen, or do you have tips for novice cooks? Talk to me in the comment section!








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The Neverending (Library) Story

Much like Michael Ende’s novel (and, to a certain extent, the movie it inspired), the Library’s story is never-ending. In fact, it’s re-written each day…it’s true! Every chat you have with a library worker, every time you skim a book’s jacket copy, every time you log in to a computer (ours or yours), and every time you join us for a special event, the library’s story gets richer, longer, and stronger. Even when you’re not physically here you’re adding chapters, by using our website or downloading our digital content. Even reading our blog makes you a recurring character in the powerful play of words, ideas, actions, and events that has made Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh a bestseller since 1895.

How’s that working out for you?

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Feel free to use this image in your blog posts if you’re participating in the “My Library Story” blog carnival!

We’ve been collecting stories from library users like you to learn what kind of impact Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has made in your lives (click here to read a representative sample), but we never get tired of hearing new ones. That’s why we’ve created the “My Library Story” blog carnival, which will run between Sunday, May 18th and Saturday May 31st. Here’s how it works!

  1. Write a blog post in which you tell us how Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has affected your life. Did we introduce you to the pleasures of a certain author or artist? Provide quiet space for you to think and dream? Whatever you can remember, whatever it is about the Library that has enriched your life, we want to hear all about it.
  2. Publish the post on your blog, with a link back to this post about the carnival, and invite your readers to share their stories, too.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your blog post, so that we can visit your blog and read your story.
  4. Bonus round: share your post on social media, and encourage your friends and followers to tell their Library stories.

That’s it! And just for playing along, you’re welcome to use the image posted above in your blog and social media postings:

We can’t wait to hear your library stories. If you have questions about the blog carnival, comment below, or e-mail us at eleventhstack at carnegielibrary dot org [humans only, please, no robots or spiders!]. Not currently living in Pittsburgh? No problem: expats, former residents, and anyone with a Pittsburgh connection is more than welcome to play along.

Please share this link with your friends and networks, and happy storytelling!

–Leigh Anne

the “also a client” librarian, who promises to share her own story, if you share yours.






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