Monthly Archives: January 2015

Librarians Love Clubbing

Book clubbing. You didn’t think…? Well, never mind that. I am not as well read as I’d like to be. That’s a public confession. I read a lot of poetry and short fiction.

I am a slow reader. I am also a “rat” reader. Like a rat repeatedly following the same path through a maze, I read mostly in the same genres (poetry, sci-fi, and fantasy), and I re-read a lot of stuff. Hell, I read Dune once a year! Now that might be because I secretly want to produce, direct, and play in a community theater version of Dune, but that’s a post for another day. Still, if you know me, I have likely sized you up for a part in this epic, so don’t be surprised if one day you are called for a reading. Enough digressions!

I think librarians love running book clubs because they compel us to read outside of our personal comfort zones. That’s why I do. I just participated in a recent Smithfield Critics book club discussion about E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair. This incredibly warm and real fictionalized memoir of growing up in the New York City of the 1930s profoundly moved me. I feel like I have a new friend now. Without the structure of the book club, I would not have read any Doctorow.

Next up for me comes Maya Angelou and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I read this twenty-three years ago. Reading it again after doing so much living gives me a whole new perspective on it. I’ve read enough since then to recognize the lyrical quality of Ms. Angelou’s work, and I appreciate her accessible descriptions of life’s hardships through the eyes of a young African American girl. She makes it look easy, but writing good prose that transports the reader to that place and time is a challenge.

You can find an extensive listing of our book clubs on our web page here. If you look hard enough you should be able to find one that suits your location and areas of interest.

We offer book clubs for our patrons, but make no mistake, they do just as much good for us.


Dune-cover    I-Know-Why-The-Caged-Bird-SingsWorlds-Fair




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If I Stay, I’ll Stay Home

We’re very happy to introduce you to our newest Eleventh Stack contributor, Kayla. Kayla is a page at our Squirrel Hill location, and you can read more about her on the About Us page.You can expect to get Kayla’s take on library materials and services once or twice a month going forward.

If I Stay is a movie based on a young adult novel of the same title. The movie was released last year and got some comparisons to The Fault In Our Stars. Both movies had a female lead and they were both love stories in a sense. That is where the comparisons end.

I must say that The Fault In Our Stars had better acting by far and it grabbed me more than If I Stay did. If I Stay did grab me, but not enough for me to go to the theaters to see it. I’m glad that I decided to wait until it came out on DVD to watch it. It was a cute movie, but it wasn’t worth paying money to see. There were positives and negatives.

First, I felt that the portrayal of Mia’s parents and her brother, Teddy, was accurate. The family dynamic showed that Mia was the odd one out because she played the cello; meanwhile her parents have rock & roll roots because her dad used to play in a rock band. Her mom used to follow the punk rock scene. Her little brother, Teddy, was also into rock & roll.

Mia in the movie was having an out-of-body experience seeing her friends and family watching her to see if she will awaken from her coma. It was like that in the book as well, but it was interesting to see it play out on screen. For an odd reason, Chloë Grace Moretz’s acting was reminiscent of Lindsay Lohan when she was younger. This isn’t a bad thing it was just something that I thought of while watching the movie. Mia’s boyfriend, Adam, played by Jamie Blackley, was also into rock & roll music, like Mia’s parents. He did a lot of singing in the movie and it was surprisingly decent.

One big issue that I had with the movie was the relationship between Mia and Adam. The reason why I had an issue was because I felt that the actors’ chemistry was just OK. Sometimes their chemistry came off as forced and not convincing. There was an age difference between Mia and Adam and you could definitely tell that there is an age difference between the actors. Chloë looks like a little girl and Jamie looks like a grown man. It was kind of weird to watch.

Cute or creepy? Photo via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - click through for their review

Cute or creepy? Photo via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – click through for their review

The movie moved fast, but it kept pace with the book. The movie switched back and forth between the present and the past. There were never any words on the screen saying which was which, but you could tell. I think that it was easier for people like myself who read the book to catch the difference more quickly.

Another little issue that I had was Mia’s narration; I felt that at times it wasn’t needed. In the book, it was better to deal with as compared to on screen.

Overall, I felt that the movie was OK but it would’ve been better if it were shown on Lifetime or ABC Family. I’m glad that I got to see the movie so I could see how the story looked on screen. If you read the book and want to see the movie or are in the mood for a cheesy teen drama-yet-sometimes-comedy, check out If I Stay from your local CLP location.



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Drood Food


I have this thing about food in books. I don’t even know if I can adequately describe it; I just love when characters are eating bizarre (to me) food. I’m not sure why this is, but if yesterday’s Eleventh Stack post (“Sorry, Not Sorry”) didn’t prove anything, everyone has his or her own quirks, literary or otherwise.

Anyway, I recently listened to the audio book of Drood by Dan Simmons, and suffice it to say, there are some rather entertaining gustatory passages in this novel narrated by fellow novelist Wilkie Collins, and a good friend of Charles Dickens. In this scene, Collins is having “supper at a club to which [he] did not belong but at which [he] had guest privileges.”

“I settled down to my solitary meal. I enjoyed coming to this club because of how the chef here prepared lark pudding, which I considered one of the four great works produced by my present age. Tonight I decided to dine relatively lightly and ordered two types of pate, soup, some sweet lobsters, a bottle of dry champagne, a leg of mutton stuffed with oysters and minced onions, two orders of asparagus, some braised beef, a bit of dressed crab, and a side of eggs.”

Wilkie considers this to be a “modest repast.”

He then goes on about the culinary skills of Catherine Dickens, Charles’ wife.

“…one of the few things I had ever liked about Dickens’s wife was her cooking – or at least the cooking she oversaw at Tavistock House, since I had never seen the woman actually don an apron or lift a ladle. Years ago Catherine Dickens had (under the name Lady Maria Chatterbuck) brought out a volume of recipes, based on what she served regularly at their home at Devonshire Terrace, in a book called What Shall We Have For Dinner? Most of her choices were visible on my table here this evening, although not in such plentitude or with an equal glory of gravies (I consider most cooking as simply a prelude to gravies) – as her tastes had also run towards lobsters, large legs of mutton, heavy beefs, and elaborate desserts. There were so many variations of toasted cheese in Catherine’s volume of recipes that one reviewer commented –

“No man could possibly survive the consumption of such frequent toasted cheese.”

(OK, two things. I think I could survive quite well by consuming toasted cheese, thank you.  And, secondly, I cannot possibly be the only one who didn’t know that Charles Dickens’ wife published a cookbook, can I?)

[Note to self: finish your blog post before jumping down that occupational hazard of a rabbit hole of trying to find a copy]

Half a page later, and with Collins still at the table eating the same supper:

“This night, I could not decide between two desserts, so – Solomon-like – I chose both the lark pudding and the well-cooked apple pudding. And a bottle of port. And coffees.”

Even though I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be trying this at home in my vegetarian/gluten-free kitchen, I couldn’t resist finding out what consisted of lark pudding. According to this post from the blog Victorian Gems, this delicacy includes “one pound of rump steak, three sheeps kidneys, one dozen larks, nicely picked and drawn, and all well seasoned with two of salt and one of pepper, and one dozen oysters blanched.”

Yum. Save room for dessert, indeed.

No wonder Wilkie Collins had troubles with gout. I mean, obviously we know a lot more today than our Victorian friends did back then about the connection between food and health but … still.

Bon appetit.

~ Melissa F.

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Sorry Not Sorry

Unpopular opinions: we have them. A spirited behind-the-scenes discussion about the pop culture trends we just aren’t that into blossomed into this blog post, in which we confess how much we really don’t like that thing. Or, conversely, like that thing nobody else likes. Grab a bushel of rotten tomatoes and get ready to pelt us, because we’re sorry-not-sorry about the following things:


Unpopular Opinion: I don’t understand why people like Vertigo. Its overdramatic, ridiculous plot is equaled only by the overacting. I get the cinematography and music are great, but that can be said of some car commercials, too. I’ve watched it several times over the years and I still don’t get the hype. If you want to enjoy some Hitchcock, for my money, you’re better off with Rear Window or Strangers on a Train.

Unexpected Opinion: I’m addicted to Project Runway. No one has ever accused me of being stylish, I have no clue when Fashion Week takes place, I think fashion industry beauty standards are pretty horrible/harmful, and I don’t watch any other competition shows. However, I’ve seen almost every episode of Project Runway, know the name of the dog in the fabric store where the designers shop, and have been the driving force that has devolved more than one book club meeting into a discussion of last week’s challenge.


My feelings about Gone Girl are akin to Elaine’s feelings about The English Patient: I really, really hated the book. I actually couldn’t even get through it, I disliked it so much! I wonder if I hadn’t read this book just before starting it if I would have liked Gone Girl better. That said, I am looking forward to seeing the film of Gone Girl. Even as I was reading it, I thought that it might be one of those rare books that I prefer as a movie.


Forrest Gump

Get. This. Away. From. Me.

I cannot stand Tom Hanks. Something about his characters, and I’m not sure what, makes me want to introduce their faces to a concrete wall – but I would never do that, because I’m sure Mr. Hanks is probably a decent fellow overall. Heck, he collects typewriters, which is just just quirky enough to make me give him a pass.

And even though I don’t like him, I would never try to stop you from liking him – we have a wide array of 53 different Hanksian DVDs here in the Main library (both fiction and nonfiction) for you to choose from. Please, take them home so I don’t have to look at them.


Brace yourself nerds, because I’m about to tell you something you’ve probably never heard someone say:  I don’t hate the Star Wars prequels.

I’ll give you a minute to calm down.

You good? Great!

Now, I’m not saying they’re better than the Original Trilogy, but they’re not as awful as the Internet will have you believe. The Phantom Menace, while giving us Jar-Jar Binks (ugh) and Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker, also gave us Liam Neeson as a bad-ass Jedi, Darth Maul, and podracing, which led to one of the greatest video games of all time. And then there’s the grandness of John Williams‘s music and gorgeous costume design.

Also, can we just talk about Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi for a second. He totally dissolved into the role and flawlessly channeled Sir Alec Guinness. Since Disney is in Star Wars spin-off mode now, I’d love to see more adventures with McGregor as Obi-Wan set between the trilogies, not unlike in Kenobi.

And while I’m irking nerds, let me say this: Having not yet seen Interstellar, Christopher Nolan‘s best film was The Prestige and The Dark Knight Rises, despite being filmed in Pittsburgh (much to my joy), was underwhelming.

I’ll be hiding over there now. Thanks.

Maria J.

There are some beloved cultural icons that, in truth, just make me shudder. In the literary world, The Cat in the Hat always made me nervous, both as a child hearing the story and as an adult while reading the story either in a professional role or in my personal life. I was loath to read it aloud to my kids, for fear my anxiety about the mother coming home to find “Thing One” and “Thing Two” still there with the house a complete mess, would show in the telling of the story and thus I would be passing on my irrational fear of Dr. Seuss characters to them.

spotted on Pinterest

spotted on Pinterest

That same sense of anxiety creeps over me whenever I’m subjected to an old episode of I Love Lucy (especially the chocolate factory episode) or The Honeymooners. I don’t love Lucy but only find her frustratingly bumbling. And her relationship with her husband, for me, borders too closely on condescension and disrespect that I cringe when I see them together. That same cringing is felt whenever I see clips from The Honeymooners. The yelling and threatening between couples and friends makes my skin crawl and my fingers itch to dial the local family welfare office number. I’m probably the only person who isn’t over the moon and in love with these cultural icons. Sorry, not sorry.

Leigh Anne

I’m not sure if this is an unpopular opinion or a dirty secret, but…I still like Duran Duran.

Not just the 80s-era Duran Duran, mind you. I’m talking about 1992’s Wedding Album, a track from which was cleverly used in the film Layer Cake. I’m talking about the abomination of a cover album, Thank You, which is so bad, it’s brilliant. Liberty has its moments. Red Carpet Massacre is dance-worthy, with a little help from Justin Timberlake and Timbaland. And All You Need is Now is a nice reminder that getting older doesn’t have to mean giving up doing what you’re good at. Especially if you’re still pretty good at it (auto-tune notwithstanding).

You can laugh if you want. It’s not like I can hear you anyway…

Melissa M.

Hi. My name is Melissa. (Response: “Hi Melissa!”) I’m here today because I have a confession to make. Once I tell you this particular fact about myself, you may never look at my blog posts the same way ever again. But that’s sorrytolkeinthe chance I just have to take. It will be good to get this off my chest once and for all. I’m hoping that this announcement will finally free me. So here goes… I don’t like Tolkein. I’ve no interest whatsoever in seeing the movies and I’ve never read any of his books all the way through.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. I have. I attempted to read The Hobbit myself a couple of times. I even had someone special in my life read it to me, thinking that maybe read aloud it would hold my interest. But it was a no go on any of these occasions. I don’t think I ever made it past the first chapter without falling asleep or getting bored. (And I have too many things on my “To Read” list to read something that I’m not completely into.) I’ve always been surrounded by people in my life who LOVE Tolkien’s stories. So, it’s not necessarily that my “tribe” had any sort of prejudice against him. It’s just me.

But please understand that I haven’t passed my biases down to my progeny. My son loves The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and The Hobbit as well. I haven’t convinced him to read the books yet, but I’m working on it. He just prefers nonfiction right now. But eventually I’ll bring one of Tolkien’s tomes home, put it in front of him and we’ll see what happens then. Just know that it won’t be me reading it. Thanks for listening.


fast6 I like quite a few things other people would consider twee–such as Wes Anderson films, Belle & Sebastian, making soup, baking, cardigans, cats, and mix-tapes. I also like some very un-twee-like things that people may not expect, which is good, because otherwise I might be borderline insufferable.

For example, I love AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and many songs others might consider Jock Jams. And do you know what else I like? Really stupid action movies. I like the Fast & Furious series of movies, and not because they’re works of art (although they kind of are), but because they’re super fun and there are lots of scenes where cars drive really, really fast while Jock Jams play.


MOV_3700c28e_bTwo confessions.

I love movies with tons of gratuitous violence (with one caveat: I don’t care about horror movies or cars.) I was cheering in the theater when President Bill Pullman gave his final speech in Independence Day. I am the girl who thinks it’s perfectly appropriate to go see Reservoir Dogs on a first date. Armageddon, Natural Born Killers, Face-Off, anything with “air” in the title (Air Force One, ConAir), everything by Quentin Tarantino. I love ’em all. And OMG, if it has a terrible Aerosmith song as the theme or is historical (Alexander, Gladiator, Spartacus) I’m in Heaven!

I don’t “get” the Beastie Boys. In fact, I find them un-listenable-to. I have no idea why they are considered pioneers.

No shame dear reader, no shame.


Frozen was one of the biggest movies of 2014 even though it technically was released towards the end of 2013. Just by mentioning the word, I’m sure that “Let It Go” is popping up in everyone’s minds. Please try to contain your excitement or anger. A lot of people love the movie and some have even coined it the best Disney movie ever. I was NOT one of those people.

Personally, I think that it was overrated for a couple of reasons. One is because it had elements that we’ve seen before in other Disney movies. For example, the love story. We’ve seen this a dozen times (Aladdin & Princess Jasmine, Ariel & Prince Eric, Simba & Nala, etc.) Another example is the princess element. I mean, there’s a whole section in our series collection at our CLP location devoted to Disney princesses. Nuff said. Also, there was singing which we’ve seen in just about every single Disney movie. It’s rare to see a Disney movie without singing.

Sure, it’s the highest grossing Disney movie of all time, but that doesn’t make it the best. I can name several Disney movies that were better (The Lion King, Aladdin, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and The Incredibles) just to name a few. “Let It Go” was a big part of the movie’s popularity and yes it’s a decent song, but The Lion King’s soundtrack blows that out of the water. Overall, Frozen was a cute movie, but it’s not worth all of the hype.

Melissa F.

My husband claims that if he really knew how much I disliked Elvis, there’s a good chance that we wouldn’t have made it past our first date, much less down the aisle. He says it’s absolutely un-American to hate Elvis.  Maybe so. Regardless, I can’t stand anything about him. (Elvis, I mean; The Husband’s all right … most days.) Doesn’t matter whether it’s the sappy, every-song-sounds-the-same music or the cheesy-looking movies I have no intention of ever seeing, I’m the girl holding the door wide open whenever Elvis leaves the building.


Quick and dirty: I’ve never seen Jurassic Park. Why? I dislike Hometown Hero Jeff Goldblum that much. Like Tara, I love the Fast & Furious movies (Tokyo Drift!). My love of crazy action movies also extends to both 300 and 300: Rise of an Empire (I am here for Queen Gorgo). I’m more than happy to help Ginny derail book club to talk about Project Runway (We love Fabio and Dmitry). I think Woody Allen is overrated. Yes, even Annie Hall.

We’ll give you a few moments to recover from shock. But once you’ve mustered up your outrage, make sure to leave us a comment and tell us why we’re wrong. Or, quite possibly, why we’re absolutely, positively right.


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Help OverDrive Help You!

Ah, the ebook – it can be your greatest friend or your worst enemy. One day you’re reading along merrily, the next you’re staring sadly at an unintelligible error message that just might possibly mean something in Sumerian. But you don’t speak Sumerian – so where do you turn when your ebooks turn on you?


A shipment of new eBooks waiting to be checked in by our staff.

I always like to start with the OverDrive help pages, for three reasons: one, they’re detailed and always up to date; two, they’re super searchable; and three, I like to think that the people who make a product are the most likely to know how to fix it (this theory works equally well with ebooks, dryers, and nuclear weapons).

Anyway, to reach the OverDrive help pages all you have to do is click on the happy little question mark – it’s at the top of every page on our OverDrive site.

OverDrive banner


That will take you to this general help page. There’s a lot of useful stuff there, including the “Recommend to Library” page – great if we’re missing a title from your favorite series – and a link to our email help form, down there at the bottom.

But if you’re like me (or it’s two in the morning and no one’s home at the library), you’ll want answers NOW. And if you want answers NOW, you should click on the first link, the one for “OverDrive Help.” Trust me here; I’ve been working with OverDrive since 2006. They gave me a frisbee once.

Help page

So many buttons, so little time.

And now you’re into the super searchable OverDrive database of awesomeness. The bar across the top has many fine drop down menus that link you to articles and videos about all of the formats that OverDrive offers (note: we don’t have all of them; we have ebooks, audiobooks, and video).

But if you still want answers NOW, just drop a couple of keywords into that old search box. Let’s pretend that I checked out a James Patterson book by mistake (I do not like James Patterson, but here I am promoting him anyway), and I want to return it early, instead of waiting three weeks for it to expire. So I’ll type “return” into the search box.

OverDrive help

You can even keep refreshing the page until you get a background picture that you like.

Just hit enter, and BOOM. Look at at that, the very first result is exactly what I need to get rid of that James Patterson book. Perfect!

Your time is up, Patterson.

Your time is up, Patterson.

That link will take you to an article that explains how to return OverDrive titles in lotsa different formats (EPUB, Kindle, MP3), and from lotsa different devices (Android phones, iPads, Kindles, nooks). So you’re pretty much covered, no matter what you’re doing.

You can even copy and paste your esoteric Sumerian error message into that handy search box, and OverDrive will explain it to you. Nice.

So remember, even if you don’t know what the heck is happening with your ebook, OverDrive probably does. Just give them a chance!

– Amy


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[sic] Music

Sounds Upstairs: The Music Department’s collection comes to life!

Sunday, February 1, 2015
3:30 PM – 4:30 PM


[sic] Music

Can words alone be music? Since the early 1900s, poets and composers alike have said YES. Call it sound poetry or text-sound, here is a concert of word sounds alone. Various performers – TEXT-NICIANS – will present pieces as solos, duets, trios and choral readings in this ear-opening experience.


4400 Forbes Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Bringing together multiple departments from CLP-Main (Music, Film & Audio, Reference, Customer Services, JCEC, and Children’s), 10 library staff members will be performing in next month’s Sounds Upstairs concert under the direction of local composer David Mahler.

This concert will present music made with speech, not singing. Written by a variety of composers/poets, some pieces include instructions on how the performers are to interpret the verse. Each is very different from the next. Various inflections and cadences or lack thereof, and paying attention to the silences and spaces between words are a few of the techniques that will be used. Some pieces use parts of words, sounds, implied beats, or other nuances to produce unique effects. One piece has a choreographed element, using the space of the room and the direction of the sounds to illuminate a meaning. Another uses a piece of text as a basis for a round (like Row, Row, Row Your Boat).

In the words of one of the participants, this event can be summed up as “sound poetry, found poetry, round poetry.”


P.S. Some of the pieces will be recorded and broadcast from WQED FM. Stay tuned…

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Reaching for Emotional Comfort Food

Season 2 contains my favorite episode, "The Alien in the Spaceship."

Season 2 contains my favorite episode, “The Alien in the Spaceship.”

I like to think that everyone has something—a book, a movie, a TV show, a radio drama—that they turn to when life isn’t going so super awesome, or even when they’re just tired or a little stressed.

My favorite emotional comfort food is the television show Bones, which is now in its tenth season. I’m glad there are new episodes to look forward to, but I’m equally happy watching previous seasons. Over. And over. And over (much to my husband’s consternation).

The reason for this obsession is simple: Bones features confident, intelligent women using their brains to fight bad guys.

This isn’t one of those police procedurals in which there’s a token lady or two (often a tomboy cop). From the second season on, fully half of the starring cast is composed of brilliant lady scientists, and two of them are people of color. Frequent guest stars include more awesome ladies, as well as more people of color.

The basic premise isn’t all that different from other science-based procedurals like CSI or NCIS: A team of scientists examines the evidence using advanced knowledge and technology, and the cops use their guts to hypothesize and suss out motives.

The evidence, however, consists primarily of human skeletons. Dr. Temperance Brennan, nicknamed Bones, is a forensic anthropologist who can reconstruct a person’s life and how they were murdered from the impressions and marks left on the bones.

The murders Bones and her partner FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth solve are fascinating, but the dialogue between the two of them is stimulating as well. Brennan relies on hard science to inform her worldview, and has a tendency to reduce everything from body functions to human emotions to scientific facts. Booth believes in god and his instincts, and their differences come out in frequent discussions about culture, love, children, work, and religion.

Bones isn’t perfect—in later seasons there’s a tendency to reduce female happiness to getting pregnant—but compared to most other shows, it holds up pretty well against my stringent feminist criteria.

The next new episode won’t air until March, so you have plenty of time to watch the previous nine seasons.



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This Blogger Did Not Know Cold

When winter reaches its coldest and darkest, some people like to fill their brains with escapist fiction full of warm beaches and sun-kissed romance. I find the cold too consuming for those fantasies. I magnify it into blizzards and ice ages. And while for every icy thriller, one can find a cozy ski lodge, this year I’m stuck in the permafrost.

The man starts building his small fire under a snow-covered spruce. He may live to regret this.

There’s a Jack London short story you might remember from a high school English class—I certainly can’t forget it. It’s called “To Build a Fire.” The protagonist is trekking with a husky across a frozen Yukon trail, ignoring the advice of the old-timer to never travel alone below fifty degrees. As London says, “This man did not know cold. Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seven degrees below freezing-point.” When, halfway through his journey, he meets with disaster, he knows that his only chance of survival is starting and maintaining a fire. But the chill that necessitated the fire also attacks his coordination, and his numbed fingers can no longer manage delicate tasks. More than a century after it was first published, London’s story remains both compelling and horrifying.

Jack London’s body of writing extends past the frigid short story. His two most famous works are the novels White Fang and The Call of the Wild. And while the winters they portray are just as disturbingly frigid, the real violence of the stories comes from the wolves, sled dogs, and the humans around them.

The Call of the Wild is a sensational work, full of the feeling of running, the sting of a first snowflake, and the passion of love. The main character, Buck, is a pampered San Francisco estate dog, kidnapped and brought north for the Yukon gold rush. And while his understanding is enhanced and anthropomorphized for the sake of narrative, it’s an ultimately canine story. It’s also a fierce story, and the sensational delights are more than matched by the dizzying force of clubs, the taste of fresh blood, and the bone-wearying effects of pride and cruelty. It shows its age only in a few unfortunate moments of thoughtless racism, where the dog—having shed most of the trappings of civilization—is still treated as more human than the (fictional) Yeehat Indian tribe members he is attacking.

To see how a more modern author addresses similar questions of civilization and survival in the same setting, try Julie of the Wolves, a Newbery Medal-winning juvenile novel by Jean Craighead George. The protagonist, a thirteen-year-old Yupik girl, is torn from safety by her mother’s death, her father’s abandonment, and her own child marriage and domestic abuse. She packs a bag and runs away, hoping to eventually reach the home of her pen pal in California. But miles of tundra separate her from the shipping ports, and she is dangerously underprepared for survival. Craighead George, unlike London, develops within her heroine humility, ingenuity, and compromise. Her story, while violent, accepts violence as only one part of natural law.

For more stories of wolves and sled dogs to chill your bones:

True Stories

Could-have-been-true Stories

Not-remotely-true Stories

-Bonnie T.

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Girl Online: Or The Unexpected Enjoyment of Going Outside Your Reading Comfort Zone

Sometimes I’ll read something and see a book or movie mentioned or used in comparison and I’ll think, “Oh, that sounds interesting” and order it and then completely forget why by the time it comes in. That happened recently with Zoe Sugg’s Girl Online, a book I ordered before Christmas.


Don’t let the cover fool you. This book is actually about the Crusades.

I think I ordered it because I saw a blurb about how Sugg—a fashion and beauty vlogger—was the first British female author to outsell J.K. Rowling or something like that. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

Girl Online follows Penny Porter, a teenage blogger from Brighton who ends up traveling with her family and best friend to New York City because her mother is organizing a Downton Abbey-themed wedding for a wealthy American couple. While she’s there, she meets Noah, a dreamy and mysterious boy (is there really any other kind?). The two fall madly in love—as teenagers are wont to do—and the romance causes Penny’s blog to go viral and costs her her online anonymity.

As I read it, I was reminded of those great first loves we feel when we’re teenagers—loves that are often as transient as they are transcendent and are all the more beautiful because of it. And that’s never a bad thing to think back on. It also seems like Sugg is trying to warn her impressionable teenage demographic about the dangers of sharing and oversharing aspects of their lives online.  If the only thing a young adult—or anyone, really—gets out of reading this book is to think before you share, then that’s a pretty good takeaway. Less selfies, more self-restraint!

My fellow coworkers teased me about ordering it, saying that it didn’t seem like a book that I would read and I have to admit that it’s not the kind I would normally seek out; I’m clearly not Sugg’s intended audience. I couldn’t care less about fashion and beauty tips, nor about the ghostwriting “scandal” surrounding the book, which I only learned about while doing some very light research for this post.  Nevertheless, I’m a firm believer in going outside your reading comfort zone (and now I can check off one of the reading challenges from Abbey’s post the other day). I’m also a firm believer that reading a crappy book is better than watching a crappy television show or movie. And I have the science to back it up!

"Back dat asymptote up."

“Back dat asymptote up.”

No matter how awful a book is, reading is still something you actively do. Your brain has to create entire rooms, wardrobes and people. Sometimes it has to create alien worlds and things that literally no one has ever seen.  On the other hand, when you’re watching television, you’re a passive participant. The creation is already done for you.

Girl Online didn’t reinvent the wheel; it’s riddled with clichés and it’s so saccharine that I should probably go to the dentist now that I’ve finished it, but I didn’t hate the time that I spent reading it. If you have a few listless hours, I see nothing wrong with filling them with a simple story.

Were you ever pleasantly surprised after reading a book outside your comfort zone? Sound off in the comments below!



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