Monthly Archives: November 2015

November 2015 Recap

Were you crazy busy with holiday cooking, spending time with your friends and family, buying gifts, taking midterms, and generally trying to get things done before it gets really cold?

Us, too. Which is why we’re posting this handy dandy recap of Library blog goodness.

noplotThis month, Kelly gave some advice on participating in National Novel Writing Month and Leigh Anne reflected on the Library’s birthday, Guy Fawkes Day, and V for Vendetta.

In the food department, Melissa F. covered some books about healthy eating and food literacy. Ginny made our mouths water with her cake project, and Abbey embraced Thanksgiving feasting.

Scott gave us a list of movies similar to James Bond films in anticipation of the new 007 flick, and Tara suggested some dysfunctional holiday movies to get us through our own family dramas.

KwanRoss wondered if size matters when it comes to books, and Kayla recommended the Lunar Chronicles. Leigh Anne reviewed a few urban thrillers, and Melissa F. examined the nuances of Emma Donohoghue’s Room. Scott P. suggested some titles to read and reflect on violence in our society, and Amy looked at an old-time gangster.

adele-25album-1-nme-221015.article_x4Kayla reviewed Adele’s comeback album, and Joelle explored variations on some of Paganini’s hardest pieces.

We covered plenty of Library program and event goodness, too, like Suzy’s write up of the Pop des Fleurs program, Jess B.’s examination of the special Daniel Tiger events we’re hosting and Library patron Dana B.’s reflection on Margaret Atwood‘s visit to Pittsburgh.

-Team Eleventh Stack

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Darn it felt good to be a gangster.

Year of Fear

And it rhymes, too

Plain old George Kelly was doing quite well as a bootlegger and a bank robber until his wife Kathryn decided that they should pull off a string of kidnappings, make a boatload of money, and retire to Mexico.

Their first attempt ended poorly, when they kidnapped a gent whose family was unable to raise the ransom money (p.56). Oops. They decided to try again – but first, Kathryn decided that her husband’s image could stand a little improvement. So she bought him a machine gun and started spreading rumors about his prowess.

…she made her rounds of the local taverns and speakeasies, where she was constantly boasting about her husband, saying he could shoot walnuts off a fence line with his machine gun and write his name with it on the sides of barns (p. 46).

Basically, Machine Gun Kelly became Machine Gun Kelly because his wife wanted him to sound cooler. Sometimes history is awesome like that.

Anyway – their next target was millionaire Oklahoma oil tycoon Charles Urschel (no relation to the book’s author), whom they kidnapped from his swanky mansion on July 22, 1933 (p.75). Urschel was both the most cooperative and the sneakiest hostage ever – by the end of his stay with Kelly and his gang he had learned enough about the remote Texas farm where he was held hostage to lead the feds right to the door,  even though he was blindfolded the entire time.

Before long, he had enough details that he could draw the shack and the farm in his mind and identify and enumerate every animal that populated it. There were two chicken coops out back, a well with nasty, mineral-tasting water out front with a pulley that squeaked with a distinctive sound. There were four cows, three hogs, two pigs, a bull, and a mule (p. 87).

Kelly probably would have gotten away with the kidnapping if he had killed Urschel after collecting the ransom money (as his wife suggested) or if he had just chosen a stupider target. But he didn’t – so we get a months-long, multi-state investigation and pursuit that involves…

  • a bad dye job
  • one accidentally kidnapped sullen teenage girl
  • extremely embarrassing near-misses
  • Melvin Purvis (looking nothing like Christian Bale in Public Enemies, alas)
  • custom-built armored cars
  • deliberately mistaken identities
  • a brief cameo by Al Capone
  • missing codebooks
  • and tiny dogs.

Why don’t they teach this kind of stuff in high school history classes? It’s great!

The Year of Fear: Machine Gun Kelly and the Manhunt that Changed the Nation by Joe Urschel is a very fun and detailed book that’s available in print and book on CD.

– Amy E.

 

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Unapologetic Thanksgiving Eating

Traditionally around this time of year people see so much information about cookbooks for various holidays, sales going on for Black Friday (there is an ENTIRE website dedicated to this day), Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, that even before people have time to relax and enjoy (hopefully) what you did for the holidays, it’s time to start planning your New Year’s resolution. Can you guess what the number one resolution is (before you click the link)? Losing weight, RIGHT after two months of eating delicious food and indulging in favorites.

For this post I want to write about something different. I want to talk about a book that I found really inspiring and helpful, and that I hope will work for someone else too. The book is titled Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living.  things no one will tell fat girls

I bet some of you reading this are thinking, “What in the world does this book have to do with the holidays?” For starters, this book talks about being you and loving who you are (and I mean “you” as in “everyone”). I believe that is an important concept to have, especially around the holidays. There are so many other things going on, and many people feel guilty after so much indulgence (I know I do).  So then they feel the need to correct that, hence the number one New Year’s resolution (see, I had a point). This book helped me realize that enjoying holiday food, or any food, is acceptable and we shouldn’t have to apologize for it.

Aside from the food bit, this book covers a lot of information, and I found all of it valuable and important. Take a chance, pick it up, and let me know if you found it as helpful as I did.

And while you’re at it, enjoy the holidays with no regrets … except for that fruitcake. That’s not a good idea.

-Abbey

P.S. Check out Jes Baker’s blog if you liked her book.

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The Return Of Adele

adele-25album-1-nme-221015.article_x4

Adele makes her triumphant return to music with her third album 25. It’s been four years since her record-breaking, chart-topping, award-winning, critically acclaimed sophomore album, 21 was released. A few things have changed for her since then. She’s won an Academy Award for Best Song for “Skyfall” from the James Bond film with the same title, she’s in a new relationship, and she became a mom.

Her son, Angelo, makes an appearance on 25 on the record “Sweetest Devotion.” Adele has stated that the song is about the 3 year-old. It’s a very sweet song and is one of my favorites from the album. Another great track is “All I Ask.” It’s beautiful record. On this record, Adele sings about having one special moment with her significant other in case it is their last night together.  The vocals and raw emotion on this song are powerful. “Million Years Ago” to me is a like a sequel to her debut single “Hometown Glory.”  Other reviewers have said the same thing. I’ve made this comparison because both songs deal with similar subject matter. It’s very reflective and reminiscent.

25 is by far no sequel to 21 and that’s a good thing. On this album, Adele experiments with different sounds and it works. “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” is an upbeat pop record that’s a diss to her ex. I can see this song being huge on top 40 radio. On “I Miss You” Adele is giving a seductive vibe and it works. The song is all about intimacy and about missing being with that special someone. My favorite song on the album (for right now because it’s bound to change) is “When We Were Young.” This song could come off as Adele singing about missing someone romantically or it could also be interpreted as missing a friend or loved one. I fell in love with this song immediately after watching this performance.

25 is a great album and speaking as an Adele fan it was well worth the wait. Since there’s a long wait list for the album there’s a few things you can do in the meantime while waiting for your copy to come in. You can use our music service, Freegal, and download up to 5 tracks from 25 each week. Also, you can listen or re listen to Adele’s previous albums, 19 and 21, which are both available in our catalog. Adele’s concert special Live at the Royal Albert Hall is also available. Last, but not least you can watch the video for  the first single from 25 “Hello” which is dominating the charts and radio airwaves. Happy listening!

~Kayla

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Evil And Existence Post Paris

Like 9/11, confronting the horror of the 11/13 Paris attacks requires us to recognize the inherent fragility of our lives. We live in an ordered society. We’re lucky like that in the West. Sometimes terror shatters that order. We can confront this evil in a number of ways. We can employ whatever philosophy or belief system we use to give us comfort. We can get angry. We can despair. Or we can ignore it. Some combination of these aforementioned coping mechanisms can work too.

This is not an easy topic to build a book list about, but I am including titles that ponder the nature of evil and violence. I hope that at least one of them might supply some succor.
Violence-covChallenge-covRegarding-covNon-violence-cov

The Challenge Of Things:  Thinking Through Troubled Times / A.C. Grayling

Freedom:  Stories Celebrating The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights / anthology

Non-Violence:  Challenges And Prospects / Bidyut Chakrabarty

Regarding The Pain Of Others / Susan Sontag

Violence:  Six Sideways Reflections / Slavoj Žižek

How we react as individuals and as a nation to senseless acts of violence defines us. I suspect that striking a balance between the closed fist of vengeance and the open hand of peace will go a long way toward deciding how we write the next chapter.

–Scott P.

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Sins of the City

There are a million stories in the Steel City’s library system. These are two of them.

Black Lotus, K’wan

Detective James Wolf is a good cop who gets results; he’s also a loose cannon who bends rules to suit his own needs. This infuriating combination is exactly what’s needed to solve the gruesome murder of a priest. Temporarily transferred from narcotics to homicide, WolfKwan is given carte blanche to find the killer, who left only one piece of evidence behind: a rare black flower. Wolf’s investigation sends him into a tangled web of secrets, lies and scandal that eventually leads to a cold case from his own shady past. Before it’s over, everybody’s dirty laundry will be hung out to dry, for better or worse. Fast-paced, suspenseful stuff for readers who like police procedurals and other psychological thrillers.

Available in print, Playaway, digital audio, Kindle and EPUB formats.

Kiss the Ring, Meesha Mink

Naeema Cole gave her son Brandon up for adoption, but secretly kept tabs on him to make sure he was growing up right. All of her dreams for him went up in smoke, however, when Brandon was murdered at age fourteen. The three other boys he ran with were the prime kisstheringsuspects, but the police couldn’t prove anything, and everybody walked. Desperate for justice, Naeema transforms herself into Queen, a tough-talking character disguise that helps her infiltrate the boys’ social circle … which turns out to be a bank robbery ring.

The atmosphere is tense as Naeema struggles not to blow her cover, taking greater and greater risks as she searches for the truth, including possibly losing her heart to the leader of the gang, against all logic and her own better judgment. Sizzling with suspense, sex and surprise plot twists, Kiss the Ring will have thriller and romantic suspense readers eagerly turning pages until the end, at which point they can pick up the sequel, All Hail the Queen.

Both titles available in print only.

Ask the library staff about these and other pulse-pounding tales of street justice, and tell us about your favorites in the comments section!

–Leigh Anne

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Reading Room

Room

Right on cue for the holiday movie season comes yet another film with its origins in a popular book.  The movie Room — based on the Emma Donoghue novel of the same name  will be released here in the United States next week.

Some people may shy away from the subject matter.  My initial reaction was that I wanted nothing to do with this book. A child and his mother held captive in a small room for seven years? No thank you. But one of the key things to understand about Room is that this novel is about so much more than the actual plot.  So much more.

(That being said, it is the story of a five year old boy named Jack and his Ma. From the book jacket:  To five year old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born. It’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack’s imagination — the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe below Ma’s clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night in case Old Nick comes.  

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held since she was nineteen — for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven foot space.  But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside her own desperation — and she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer. )

It is original in respect to the writing, for it is the mark of a true literary talent to sustain the incredibly authentic voice of a five year old over the course of a novel, which Emma Donoghue (a mother herself) does brilliantly.  The pacing is perfect and has you on the edge of your seat.  While Room is indeed very tense in parts, this isn’t a gory or graphic novel. (Donoghue could have easily gone down that road, but didn’t, and it works just as well.)

As a reader, you don’t know where this story is taking place nor do we ever learn Ma’s full name and those elements add to the absolute straight-from-the-headlines feeling that Room has. (This inspiration was the Fritzl case in Austria and I found myself thinking a lot about Elizabeth Smart and the stories of the women held captive in Cleveland as I read.)  We also know that this takes place in the modern day; there are references to a website with “lots of faces,” and emailing friends, and Lady Gaga and children’s show characters such as Dora the Explorer and Barney. There are so many small details that add meaning and depth to the novel, such as the time of year in which it takes place (springtime, right around Easter weekend, symbolizing death and resurrection).

You find yourself caring about these characters, rooting for them, wondering what exactly happened for Ma and Jack to wind up in this predicament in the first place.  (And when that is revealed, you realize how this could have very well been a memoir.)  You find yourself falling in love with Jack, wanting to adopt him and cheering his mother’s feisty spirit.   From a literary perspective, everything works in this one.

This is the type of book that you want to buy a hundred copies of and give to everyone you know who hasn’t read it yet.  It is that good, that powerful, that affecting.  This is a book that completely engulfs you, that you are compelled to read in practically one sitting. (It took me three, but one was spent reading almost 200 pages straight, and I vowed not to go to bed until I knew what happened.)

But most of all, you read Room in utter and complete awe, for this is a story about love and the lengths to which someone will go to in order to give a child the best life possible, despite being trapped in horrific circumstances.

~ Melissa F.

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All Cakes Considered

Eat Cake for Breakfast

Good Advice.

Without the structure of an Official Project™, I’m liable to spend every evening sitting on the couch with my dogs reading comic books and feminist essays. So, I recently decided to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to my enjoyment of cooking and baking and commit to getting really good at it by making lots and lots of cake.

The inspiration? All Cakes Considered, a book by NPR staffer Melissa Gray about how she made a cake each week and brought it in for her co-workers to taste-test and enjoy. The book includes a year’s worth of weekly cake recipes, and all of the baking lessons Gray learned along the way.

I’m not as hardcore as Gray — I’m not going to make arrangements for my co-workers to have a substitute cake brought in when I don’t bake (sorry, guys) — but I have decided to make fifty cakes in one year, and, five cakes in, I’m already learning a lot. For example: bundt cakes can actually be ridiculously delicious, and it is truly worth it to spend the full minute beating the batter between adding each egg.

I love how this book is structured; rather than assuming you know it all already, Gray explains everything in detail, teaching you new skills and techniques as the book goes along.  It starts with simple, easy-to-master recipes like sour cream pound cake and cinnamon-almond coffee cake, and works up to more complicated fare. The book concludes with something equal parts astonishing and formidable, Stephen Pyle’s Heaven and Hell Cake, which Gray deems “The Liberace of Layer Cakes.”

I do really like All Cakes Considered, but I’m not planning on following along with it exactly. Here are a few of other books I plan to consult during the course of my 50 Cakes experiment:

-Ginny

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On Virtuosity

Nicolò Paganini (image taken from Wikipedia.org)

Niccolò Paganini (1819), by Ingres – image taken from Wikipedia.org

Attaining virtuoso status is elusive and exclusive; a virtuoso is someone who has achieved the highest level of technical skill on their instrument, while also attaining the height of musicality. Showmanship, charisma and innate ability factor in as well.

Nicolò (or Niccolò) Paganini (1782-1840), is considered by many to be the greatest violinist of all time. He was so amazing that his audiences thought he was demonic. It was rumored in his day that when he was six, his mother made a pact with the devil to trade his soul for a career as the greatest violinist in the world. He was once forced to publish letters from his mother to prove he had human parents. He would pull off stunts to show his astonishing ability, like severing strings on his violin so that they would break during a performance, then continuing to play on the remaining strings.

The Music Department at CLP – Main has a few different editions of the music score to one of his most famous compositions, a notoriously difficult series of pieces to play: 24 Caprices for Violin Solo, Op. 1, composed between 1805 to 1809. The Music Department routinely obtains various editions of music scores with different editors who have diverse takes on how to play the pieces. Below are examples of Caprice No.5 in A minor (Agitato). The little numbers above the notes are the fingers you are supposed to use. Other marks denote accents and other technical aspects of how it is to be played. Look closely and you can see each has subtle but distinct differences.

24 Caprices for Violin Solo, Opus 1. International edition 1973, edited by Ivan Galamian.

2-int ed

From the International edition

Twenty-four Caprices for the Violin. : [Op. 1] – G. Schirmer edition 1941, edited by Harold Berkley.

3 - schir

From the G. Schirmer edition

Just for reference, here is the same piece in Paganini’s own hand. He supposedly was able to play this using just one string.

24 [i.e. Ventiquattro] Capricci Op. 1 : per Violino : Facsimile Dell’autografo.

1 fac

From the facsimile edition

Now listen to them! One of the music streaming services that CLP offers is the “Classical Music Library” from Alexander Street Press. Follow the links for remote access here: http://carnegielibrary.org/eCLP/music/. There are 10 different recordings of the full 24 for solo violin. You can open each one in a different tab to compare and contrast the individual performances.

Who played it best? First of all, bravo on being able to play these at all, and being good enough to record them. Who am I to judge you? Just an active listener who knows what she likes. I am looking for artistry, tone, technical prowess and that je ne sais quoi.

Here are my three favorite:

Itzhak Perlman (Warner Music, 2005) recorded in 1972, Massimo Quarta (Chandos, 2005) recorded in 2002, and Marco Rogliano (Tactus, 2004) recorded in 2000.

Do you have aspirations to become a virtuoso on the violin? You have to start somewhere. Practice, practice, practice!

-Joelle

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On Margaret Atwood, Flawed Characters, and Connection

This blog post was written by library patron Dana Bell, after the recent Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures visit from Margaret Atwood. Thanks for sharing your impressions, Dana!

At sixteen years old, most of my friends were spending afternoons draped over their beds singing with MTV’s Total Request Live while dreaming about Gavin Rossdale (I hear he is currently free again, although it be weird to drape yourself over a twin bed and dream about him while reading Tiger Beat). I would be lying if I said that that sort of activity hadn’t taken up a small portion of my time as well, but a far larger portion of my time was spent escaping my own personal dystopia by immersing myself in the speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood.

This is something for which I have thanked my English teacher, Judith Totty, numerous times. You see, when I selected Ernest Hemingway for my end-of-semester author project, and she nicely but firmly denied my request, I was forced to select Margaret Atwood. She said to me, “Dana, I know you like classics but you need to read Margaret Atwood. I’ve already assigned her to you.” She couldn’t have predicted how life-shifting this author would be in my world.

bookcover (1)Margaret Atwood is a hero. She writes stories about real people. People who have been broken. People who have defined “resilience.” People who have faced pain and hurt and kept moving even though the situation is less than hopeful.

In writing real people, she captures what it means to be human and to have the human experience, because — let’s face it — humans are not “all good” or “all bad,” as she stated in her lecture on October 28, 2015 at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Lecture Hall, after someone in the audience expressed concern over HBO picking up Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy.

The questioner wanted to know how much creative control the author would have and stated that her major concern was that they would potentially make the character Jimmy (the protagonist of the first book in the series, Oryx and Crake) a “good guy” instead of a “bad guy.” Atwood contested that Jimmy was merely human and hadn’t the questioner ever “met someone like him in real life?”

While she shared in the concern of feminist undertones and meaning potentially being stripped from the story (something she admits she has little control over), she disagreed that her characters are definable as good or bad, saying “I have no interest in writing angels.” She even discussed how she’d had a young man read through Jimmy’s character to give her tips on his authenticity, of which the young man could only come up with two: the first being the semantics of how to use profanity, and the second being how to properly smoke a joint. Otherwise, the young man was curious as to how she had pinned him down so well.

One might wonder how Atwood knows us (fans, ordinary people, broken people, etc.) so well. Perhaps it is because she is so in tune with us and our world. She tweets regularly (with nearly a million followers), remains tied to environmental activism and is always aware of the most current political news; in fact, she is often tied to that political news bookcover(check out #hairgate on Twitter in conjunction with the article “Stephen Harper’s Hair Problem”).

And, as she highlighted on October 28, she spends a large portion of time researching. For her current novel The Heart Goes Last, she came back to research she did for Alias Grace (one of my favorite books) that involved the for-profit side of prisons.

Although all of that should give her substantial insight into the human condition, I myself know from studying anthropology that historical research is not nearly enough to hone in on the essential nature of a culture, nor the way we as humans respond to it, and neither is watching the news or discussing politics or ideals with people. Someone who truly wishes to understand people will collect so much more than the passing opinion. They will collect the motive, the connections, the psychology behind all that they do and encounter. They will absorb elements of a culture and turn those elements over in their head and think about the significant roles they play.

I think Margaret Atwood’s skill in character writing comes from her ability to listen and remain open and engaged in her research and in life, and in some ways she succeeds in forcing us to do the same. She is changing the world by placing her readers in the role of anthropologist. Her books are a catalyst for processing a number of feminist and ethical quandaries. By showing us realistic, albeit dismal, situations, we observe humans like ourselves facing actual issues, making logical mistakes and thinking sometimes disturbing thoughts. We are forced to witness and remain open for the entirety of the story (which we don’t often do in real life) and are often left with more questions when the final page is turned, which allows our wonderful brains to mull over the more philosophical questions raised.

I think it is her firm grasp on reality and human nature that draws so many of us in. The lecture on October 28 sold out in about six hours, and there was not a single empty seat in the lecture hall that evening. I told my mother that morning, when expressing that I was on day two of a migraine, that I would have to be in an ambulance to miss seeing and hearing Margaret Atwood speak. No one forces me to think quite as freely and deeply as she does, and it is refreshing.

It was also refreshing to be at an event with literally hundreds of people who feel as much admiration and appreciation for an author as I do. I was no longer the girl sitting on my bed reading, aware of how different I was from my peers. I was surrounded by people who are just like me and just as excited.

As my husband and I made our way to the signing line, I struck up several conversations with other admirers. There is something about talking to another person who reads what you have read that breaks the awkward barriers of being a stranger. We’ve walked to the Paradice Dome together, we’ve witnessed Offred’s longing for human touch, we’ve peeled apples with Grace Marks at midnight on Halloween and lived to tell the tale.

Conversation between nerds of the same fandom is truly a beautiful thing. Some of the people I spoke with stated that this was one of the most epic events that the library has hosted, and I have to agree. While I have been to past events, there is nothing like having a classic author in your city, at one of your most beautiful libraries, making you laugh and think and talk with strangers. It was beyond wonderful to hear Atwood read from her latest book but also to be connected with other people with similar interests I might otherwise have passed on the street without a word.

Collage of photos taken at the Margaret Atwood lecture and signing on 10/28/15, provided by Dana Bell.

Collage of photos taken at the Margaret Atwood lecture and signing on 10/28/15, provided by Dana Bell.

The signing line was fairly quiet, reverent even.  I watched as she quietly signed hundreds of books, interjecting wit here and there as people spoke to her, though many were rendered speechless. When I made it to the front of the line, I am pretty sure I was anything but articulate (I may have even said “Wow” or “Oh my god”), but she smiled and seemed to appreciate my sincere thank you and the small gift and card I sheepishly gave her. In her own open and understanding way, she allowed me to be my weird brand of human (in this moment a total fangirl, complete with loss of speech, something I am not used to). That night, I fell back into who I was at sixteen, draping over my now queen-sized bed and diving into The Heart Goes Last, very happy in the knowledge that this time, I would not be alone.

-Dana Bell

I want to say a very special thank you to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures for hosting this event. Meeting Margaret Atwood has been on my bucket list for a very long time, and it is because of these associations that I had the chance. I also want to thank Classic Lines Bookstore. I lost my copy of The Blind Assassin years and years ago and was so happy you had it for sale at the door.

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