Monthly Archives: April 2015

8 Ways to Recover From a Book Slump

I’m emerging – slowly – from that horrible affliction known to avid readers everywhere as …

The Book Slump.

You’ve probably been there, too, in some form or another.

It’s the reader’s version of an endless streak of gray, gloomy days in February. You have hundreds, if not (ahem) thousands of books on your “want-to-read” list, and yet nothing strikes your fancy. You may work in a library with a collection of five million items, yet you’re overwhelmed at the notion of choosing one book to read. Or, maybe you’re staring at an overflowing coffee table or nightstand with no less than your library’s maximum number of books that can be checked out and nothing is grabbing your attention.

Story of my life for the past few weeks and then some.

So, what can a reader do when The Book Slump strikes? Allow me to share some of my tried-and-true ways of getting unstuck, so you can be prepared next time you find yourself in the abyss.

1. Read a really, really short book. The shorter, the better. During my recent book slump, I read We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Acorn, by Yoko Ono. In less than an hour, my reading mojo was rejuvenated and I was powered up for something longer.

2. Find out if one of your favorite authors has a collection of short stories. (Hint: ask a librarian if you’re not sure.)

3. Switch genres. If fiction isn’t striking your fancy, try nonfiction. Or a graphic novel. Or romance. Or horror. Or ….

4. Switch formats.  Can’t seem to finish a print book? Try audio.

5. Read a magazine or a journal.

6. Ask for recommendations!  Here at the Library, we love to match readers up with the perfect book – or even a book that’s pretty darn good. It’s kind of what we do.

7. Take a break from reading. Watch a movie. Listen to some music. Go to a literary event.

8. Ask a friend for the name of a book s/he hasn’t read yet (but wants to) and read the book together. Then, meet for coffee or lunch to discuss it.

Have you ever experienced The Book Slump?  If so, what are some ways that helped you regain your love for reading? 

~ Melissa F., who is currently reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng and cannot put it down (so very good!)


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The Stolen Life

I have just finished reading Jane Green’s book, Saving Grace. Jane used to write bubbly, funny, reasonably sophisticated “chick lit” type stories, but increasingly over the past several years her novels have tackled serious topics and she would be considered now as writing in the “women’s fiction” genre.

Saving Grace details what happens to Grace Chapman when her renowned author husband, Ted, hires a new assistant, Beth, who ingratiates herself to her boss, the job, and their family life. Slowly but surely Beth absorbs Grace’s roles in the community, in the literary world as Ted’s trusted partner, and finally, personally with her husband and within her home. She does that by “gaslighting” Grace and leading everyone into thinking Grace has a serious mental condition, a type of bipolar disorder.

The more drugs Grace is prescribed the more docile she becomes, gaining weight and becoming lethargic. Grace is at a loss, given her passive state, to assert her misgivings about her diagnosis and about Beth. In literary conventions, “gaslighting” comes from the 1940 play/film Gaslight in which a husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is irrational by deviously affecting the small details of their life and convincing her and others that she is incorrect or her memory is wrong and that she is indeed going crazy. Here, through her manipulations, Beth sets a clear path to supplanting Grace in her happy life.

Here’s the official trailer for Gaslight, just to give you the idea:

But back to the novel: I got about this far in the story and almost quit! Honestly, Grace seemed like such a patsy. I just wanted to scream at her – “wake up!” And then the story shifts. In a shocking revelation Grace finds the courage to act, to find herself, and to reclaim her life. The process of reawakening saves Grace, and makes for a most entertaining story of redemption.

“The stolen life,” per se, is a theme found in all types of stories. Here are a few more that I thought of:

In Lisa Scottoline’s Think Twice, Philadelphia attorney Bennie Rosato’s evil identical twin sister, Alice Connelly, drugs her and leaves her to die, buried alive in a remote farm. Alice takes advantage of her physical resemblance to Bennie to assume her identity and to gain access to her job, her wealth and, eventually, her ex-boyfriend. Bennie’s survival depends on her own cunning and her ability to outwit a master-manipulator, her own flesh and blood.

Having a life to be envied, Jo Slater, is married to a billionaire, with multiple homes, an enviable art collection and a respected place in New York society. Then it is all gone in a flash with her husband’s sudden death and the revelation that his will designates a pretty young protégé of Jo’s as his beneficiary, leaving Jo with nothing. By hook and by crook, Jo uses her smarts and her connections to get her revenge and restore her life. A clever, cynical tale, Social Crimes, by Jane Stanton Hitchcock, is a page-turner.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith gives us Tom Ripley, a young American who is commissioned by a wealthy industrialist to get his jet-setting son, Dickie Greenleaf to return home from his wastrel life in Europe. However, Ripley finds himself very fond of Dickie and especially of Dickie’s lifestyle. Indeed, he wants to be like him–exactly like him. So, Ripley, a sociopath, stops at nothing, including murder, to succeed.

Finally, there’s the whole basis of the TV series Mad Men, in which Korean War soldier, Dick Whitman takes over the life of fellow soldier, Don Draper, who was killed in battle, to put his abusive childhood behind him, reinvent himself, and to become one of the top creative advertising executives on Madison Avenue in the 1960’s.

Can name some other stories where the grass is greener?



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Four Times OverDrive Saved the Day


Star Wars Heir to the JediI was waiting in line to see Carrie Fisher’s panel at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim 2015 (remember how I’m a big Star Wars geek?). I did not have a book with me, because I didn’t want the extra weight in my backpack, which I knew I would slowly fill with merchandise over the course of the day. Longingly I thought of the book sitting in my hotel room.

Then I remembered I had also put an eBook copy of that book–Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi–on hold through OverDrive. And it had come in, and been automatically checked out.

I whipped out my phone, opened the OverDrive app, and downloaded the book. In about ten seconds, it loaded, and all I had to do was find my place and start reading.

(Unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi was a disappointment. It’s written in first person from Luke Skywalker’s perspective, and mostly he runs from planet to planet and almost gets eaten by monsters. It was also horribly predictable. I don’t mind a bit of predictability in books like this, but I’d like to at least pretend I don’t know what’s going to happen. With Heir to the Jedi, that was impossible.)


Fifty Shades of GreyDuring the height of the Fifty Shades of Grey mania, my husband and I were eating breakfast for dinner at a diner. He told me about his coworker’s obsession with the book, and how she said it had changed her life and opened her eyes.

Giggling, I pulled out my phone and found an eBook copy on OverDrive. When it finished downloading (again, in about ten seconds), I read out loud in my best fake serious narrator voice.

For the next few days we read segments out loud to each other, making toilet sounds every time the main character “flushes” (which is about every other sentence).

All right, all right, that last example wasn’t exactly a “pinch.” But thanks for the fun, OverDrive!

(It’s not the kink that I find funny, but the repetitive writing style. I recommend Leigh Anne’s post “Fifty Shades Better” for well-written kinky romance recommendations.)


The Non NonprofitAn actual pinch came after the time I found this awesome book in the Nonprofit Resource Center called The Non Nonprofit. It is full of fantastically challenging exercises that get you to think about your nonprofit’s mission, goals, and strategies. I was working through them when the book’s due date reared up, and of course someone had a hold on it.

But not to worry! The ebook copy was available, and before I even returned the print book I had the ebook on my tablet, ready to guide me through the world of effective nonprofit leadership.


On Becoming an ArtistThat same thing happened to me with On Becoming an Artist, which I didn’t start reading until it was overdue, because I forgot to return it and wasn’t about to make an extra trip to the Library just to avoid a thirty-cent fine.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you view it), I fell in love with the book and the author before I had finished the first chapter. Once again, OverDrive came to the rescue–there was a long line of holds on the print copy, but the ebook copy was there, waiting for me to download it.

I’m not a die-hard ebook fan, but I do love having another option for finding a book, especially when it means I don’t have to wait. The next time the book you want RIGHT NOW isn’t available, check OverDrive (and/or our eBook collection through Ebsco), because it just might be sitting there, waiting for you to love it.



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Gallery Crawling

Part of HC Gilje’s “The World Revolves Around You” at the Wood Street Gallery.

A City Without Guns, by Jennifer Nagle Myers, part of the Unloaded exhibit at Space.

This past Friday, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust hosted their quarterly gallery crawl in the cultural district downtown. The library had a buttons-and-fliers booth there, as we do at a lot of downtown events. I just went as a citizen; I love these. I wasn’t always an art fan, but I met a few local artists when I first moved to Pittsburgh, and discovered that these events were a great introduction to the community.

The gallery crawl is a relatively simple event: multiple venues open, often with special exhibits or live performances, and the public is invited to visit and witness art. The downtown Pittsburgh events sprawl throughout about ten square blocks, at twenty to thirty separate venues. Some venues, usually the ones that are actually galleries, showcase traditional art (i.e. art you can hang on a wall or put on a literal pedestal). Others show films, offer dance lessons or yoga classes, present improv comedy, host artist talks, demo cooking techniques, etc. A night market allows local artisans and small businesses to display wares for purchase, and is generally accompanied by food booths from local restaurants. If you missed this one, the next one will be happening July 10.

From Tamara Natalie Madden’s exhibit “Out of Many, One People” at 709 Penn Gallery.

This kind of event is one of the things I love about Pittsburgh. I went to this event as part of a foursome, hoping to see one artist and one musical group that I recognize from previous events around town.  I encountered a handful of unexpected familiar faces, including a few of you I know from the library. I got into conversations about love and pain and funk music and ephemera and and and….

A lot of the artists are new enough or working on a small enough scale that the library doesn’t yet have them in our collection. And let me tell you, we are missing out. Some were beautiful, some were perplexing, and some just felt like they reached in and grabbed the heart out of your chest. To learn more about some of the themes and events, try these from our catalog:

August Wilson’s Fences, currently in rehearsal by the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company.

The Early Mays self-titled second album, songs from which were performed during the “crawl after dark.”

A collection from a National Poetry Month podcast, an event coming to an end in just a few days that was being celebrated at a downtown public school.

Several books in honor of National Jazz Appreciation month, which has been associated with performances downtown throughout April.

To learn more about cool things to see and do around Pittsburgh, look at these:

Pittsburgh Quarterly magazine

Whirlwind Walk: Architecture and Urban Spaces in Downtown Pittsburgh

Food Lovers’ Guide to Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Bucket List

Pittsburgh (travel guide)

Finally, to get more art in your own life, try borrowing materials from the Braddock Library’s Art Lending Collection.

-Bonnie T.


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Children’s Books that Won’t Make You Crazy

Years before I had children of my own, I was given the following advice about buying books for parents: Make sure that the book will not make the parent lose their mind after reading it for the 1,000th time. At the time this sounded kind of funny, but having spent a few years with the full text of Good Night Moon and the entire Sandra Boynton oeuvre running through my head like an ear worm, I now know what that advice was all about.

Now that I consider myself something of an expert on these things, I thought I’d share a few books that can be read to kids as many times as requested, without making you feel like you’re being slowly tortured

Timothy and the Strong Pajamas: This book was recommended to me by one of our very own children’s librarians when I was searching for a superhero book appropriate for a 4-year old. This one delighted both me and my kids: Timothy, who tries very hard to be strong, suddenly gets super strength after his mother mends his favorite pajamas (to make them strong). He and his pal, a stuffed monkey, decide to use his strength for good and he spends his day finding good deeds to do. The comic book-style illustrations and lettering are wonderful, and the comments from monkey are funny enough to keep this book from being too saccharine.

Extra YarnA girl in a drab and snowy town discovers a box full of colorful yarn, from which she knits sweater after sweater and never runs out of yarn, until an envious archduke who covets her yarn steals the box. This story has lovely illustrations and is whimsical in a way that appeals to both children and the reader. This is mostly just a fun, fanciful story, with the subtle message that we control our own happiness.

Anything by Eric Carle: I gained afresh appreciation for the work of Eric Carle after a recent visit to the Children’s Museum. In June they will be having an Eric Carle exhibit, and one day in their art area they had an Eric Carle-inspired activity, in which we painted textures onto paper, cut it up, and used those bits to make collages. Actually playing around with the paper and textures and thinking about ways to put them back together gave a whole new dimension to his wonderful illustrations. He’s a perennial favorite for a reason.

Can You Find It? and Can You Find It, Too?: If you’re tired of looking for Waldo, these books are a great substitute. Featuring paintings, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you and your little ones will look for anything from cats to books to eyes (think Ancient Egyptian art). It’s a nice way to share a love of art with young children, while sneakily teaching them how to look at paintings.

Trucks: Byron Barton is another one of those ubiquitous children’s authors. Yes, his books may drive parents a little crazy after reading nothing else for a month at a time, but your kids will love the simple text and basic illustrations. Trucks was a favorite in our household (I love the finality of the last line: “Trucks on the road. They work hard.”), but I also really like the book Airport for preparing a child for their first time on a plane.

The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit: A mole gets poop on his head and sets out to find out which animal pooped on his head, examining each animal’s droppings as he goes. Kids find this hilarious, and it’s a funny change from your typical children’s book.

What are some books (children’s or otherwise!) that you don’t mind reading over and over?



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I’ve been a fan of Billy Bragg for years. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live a number of times as well. He’s one of my favorite artists and I feel lucky to have seen him often. The mix of punk and rock, with folk and soul sensibilities strikes a great balance. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has number of albums by Bragg available and I highly recommend them all. Specifically:


Talking with the Taxman About Poetry. This album, released in the fall of 1986, is a fantastic snapshot of where Bragg was during this time in his career as a musician (as the bottom of the cover of the album states this is “The Difficult Third Album”) and of the larger world. There are plenty of anthems calling for change in the face of a Thatcher government in the UK (see “Ideology”) and songs that delve into relationships on every level. Some classics from this album that still get time in Bragg’s live sets include “Greetings to the New Brunette”, “Levi Stubb’s Tears” (which, co-incidentally I got to see him perform the day Levi Stubbs died…it was a heart wrenching rendition), and “There Is Power In a Union”. A sleeper hit on this album is “The Home Front”. Beautiful, sad, thought-provoking and wonderful. This album is a classic.


A newer album in the CLP collection worth checking out is Mr. Love & Justice. Released in 2008, this album is a bit more of a rounded venture, including some full band numbers that are quite worth it. The opening track “I Keep Faith” is a fantastic rally cry for folks who try to change the world. “I Almost Killed You harkens back to Bragg’s punk roots inside of a love song. It’s loud and angular and excellent. “Sing Their Souls Back Home” is a beautiful take on a secular hymn for a hurting world. This album is very different from the early stuff, but it’s still excellent.

Also check out:

Billy Bragg: Volume 1

Must I Paint You a Picture: The Essential Billy Bragg

As one final note, I have to mention the recent death of one of my favorite authors. Eduardo Galeano, who I have written about previously on Eleventh Stack, died on 13 April of this year. Rest in Power.


– who is happily ushering spring in with his old-guy soccer team

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The Long Wait

As a part of my job, I am constantly looking for new and upcoming books. Books that teens and young adults may be interested in, or books that inspire and look fun so that I can create a program around them. It’s a fun task and yet it can get overwhelming. There are so many books out there, and so many that I want to read, and so many that haven’t been published yet that I need to add to my list, and so many….well, you get the idea. There are A LOT of  books. However, even with so many titles coming out and being promoted, there are some titles/authors/covers that scream “THIS IS GOING TO BE AN AWESOME BOOK.” Now different books will say that to different people, but I recently stumbled upon one such book, and I thought I would share it here with all of you (although some of you may have already heard about it).

Courtesy of Barnes and Noble.

Courtesy of Barnes and Noble.

Abigail Breslin is coming out with a new book, and the title is This May Sound Crazy. It looks like it will be a fascinating read… at least to me. I remember first watching her in Little Miss Sunshine and I thought for how young she was (granted I’m only 7 years older) that she was a pretty great actress. Then she seemed to grow and become a pretty popular actress with movies like Zombieland and August Osage County where she played opposite some other well-known actors and actresses. Needless to say, I’m excited to see what she has to say in her new book, which comes out on October 6th, about growing up in the film industry and everything she has learned about life and love and Tumblr.

Now I just have to count down until October…


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Work Left To Do: Deep Water Horizon Disaster Turns Five

Yesterday marked the 5th anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Oil Spill. Yeah, that’s an official Library of Congress subject heading. When LC grants your mess its own subject heading, you know you will live in infamy.  BP has spent a lot of money cleaning this mess up, and cleaning up their tarred image. That link also features some pretty funny parody ads as well.

No one can deny a lot of work remains to be done to make things right in the Gulf. Here are a few items on the disaster to bring you up to speed:

Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil And Won…

The Big Fix

Fire On The Horizon: The Untold Story Of The Gulf Oil Disaster

–Scott P.





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Matt and Kim Add Shine with New Glow

On April 7th, alternative band Matt and Kim released their 4th studio album called New Glow. I got introduced to Matt and Kim via MTV (shocking because they hardly play music anymore) but it’s true. I saw the video for their song “Cameras” and was impressed. Another song that I like by them is “Lesson Learned.” Their sound is what I’d call alternative, but with pop, electronic, and rap influences.

The band has released several singles from the album in the weeks leading up to the album’s release. “Get It” is my personal favorite. It’s an upbeat song with rap influences. It’s a good song to dance to. “Hoodie On” should be everyone’s lazy day anthem. “Hey Now” is an upbeat song about love. The other single that was released is for their song “Can You Blame Me”. Three different versions of a music video were released for this song.

There are some other standout tracks on the album besides my favorite “Get It”. One is “Make a Mess” and I like this song because it reminds me of an old-school video game. I love the production on “Killn’ Me” particularly the horns. “Not Alone” and “Stirred Up” are also good songs as well.

Courtesy of Amazon

Courtesy of Amazon

If you’re in the mood for an upbeat album or you’re just a fan of Matt and Kim in general, then check out New Glow, which is in our catalog. Their previous albums Grand, Sidewalks, and Lightning are also available from the Library.



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A Sword Among Lions

Some books you read. Others, you study.

I’ve spent the past month or so wrapped up in a biography that clocks in at 800 pages, and I’m reading it very slowly to make sure I don’t miss anything important. As I close in on page 300, I’m kind of amazed at just how much American history I wasn’t taught. The text in question is called Ida: A Sword Among Lions, and is written by the noted scholar Paula J. Giddings. Its primary focus is the life and adventures of Ida Barnett-Wells, but it’s also a meticulous portrait of the culture into which she was born. This allows the reader to see how Wells was both a product of her time and a rebel against it.

"Ida B. Wells, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front." Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Visual Materials from the NAACP Records [LC-DIG-ppmsca-23823]. All rights reserved. Click through for source page.

“Ida B. Wells, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front.” Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Visual Materials from the NAACP Records [LC-DIG-ppmsca-23823]. All rights reserved. Click through for source page.

It’s a good thing nobody’s going to test me on the material, because while I’m absorbing it quite well, I’m having a hard time talking about it. Mostly I’ve been shoving the book at people and gesticulating wildly while random agitated noises come out of my mouth. This is, of course, because of the book’s focus on the horrors of lynching and Wells’s passionate crusade to both expose and end the practice.

It’s easy to think of the past as a gentle, sepia-toned land whose problems are mere curiosities. Giddings rips the band-aid off this kind of deception with vivid descriptions of murder and torture, descriptions we have mainly because Wells was there to document the crimes and write them up for the various papers for which she worked. She also made two trips to England to spread the word overseas and make the world take notice of what was being done to her people. She was very well-received, and the trip was beneficial to her spirit also. In a piece for The Chicago Inter-Ocean, dated April 9th, 1894, Wells wrote about what it was like to visit Liverpool, a city considerably more enlightened than some of its American counterparts:

[It] is like being born into another world, to be welcomed among persons of the highest intellectual and social culture as if one were one of themselves…Here, a ‘colored person’ can ride in any sort of conveyance in any part of the country without being insulted, stop at any hotel, or be accommodated at any restaurant one wishes without being refused with contempt; wander into any picture gallery, lecture room, concert hall, theater or church and receive the most courteous treatment from officials and fellow sightseers (290).

One imagines this civilized treatment must have sustained her after she returned home, and spurred her on to other projects, including women’s suffrage and fearless participation in Chicago politics. She was passionate about, and dedicated to, so many social justice efforts that even her allies found her occasionally overwhelming; Booker T. Washington’s secretary, Emmett J. Scott, is on record as having said, “Miss Wells is fast making herself so ridiculous that everybody is getting tired of her” (410).  If by “ridiculous” he meant “impossible to ignore,” then he was right.

Lest we put her up on a pedestal, Giddings also gives her readers a peek at Wells’s more human characteristics. She loved having nice clothes, and frequently went into debt over them in the interest of looking fashionable. She very much wished to love and be loved, exchanging courtship letters with a fairly large number of young men, thus opening her up to the 19th-century equivalent of slut-shaming (Wells was accused of immoral conduct multiple times in her young womanhood, and met those accusations with great distress and fury). She frequently beat herself up in her diary for her temper, constantly vowing to be more lady-like, but never quite pulling it off. And she loved the theater, so much so that even though the one she frequented in Memphis maintained segregated seating, she couldn’t bring herself to stop going. Witty, vivacious, flirtatious, and socially active? No wonder she was the object of so much scorn and ridicule.

I could write all day and not adequately explain just how much you’ll learn from this book. Giddings renders the events of Ida and her time in so much detail that it’s almost like being there. If 800 pages sounds daunting to you, it’s really only 659, unless you’re going to pore over the notes and bibliography like I will. And no, there is no digital version in the catalog, so you will have to make room in your bag for a brick of a book. But if you like American history, and want to treat yourself to a reading experience that’s the equivalent of an AP class, consider Ida. You may miss out on a bit of television, and/or a host of lighter reads, but what you will gain in exchange is worth its weight in intellectual gold.

–Leigh Anne


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