Monthly Archives: December 2015

December Recap

The end of the year is always a good time to look back and reflect on all the challenges you faced, goals you accomplished, and excellent blog posts you read! It’s been an eventful year for us here at Eleventh Stack. We welcomed two new bloggers, Scott M. and Whitney, and said farewell to long-time writer Scott P. as he embarks on a new adventure as Pittsburgh fireman.

Great things have also been taking place at the library. Jess gave us a run-down of the Library’s new video game collection, located at a branch near you. Whitney showed us the Library’s new and growing collection of adult coloring books, and Ginny wrote about a new volunteer program called Reading Buddies that will help kids get interested in reading by paring them with a caring mentor.

To help get us in the holiday spirit, Tara suggested 10 Nontraditional Holiday Movies and Ten holiday albums available to stream on Hoopla. Kayla gave us her five favorite Christmas songs, and Jess made our mouths water with Cookie Time. Melissa F. made us think about consumerism and the holidays with her review of the book Scroogenomics.

In the totally-not-holiday-related department, Sheila explored Napoleonic romances, Scott M. professed his love for all things French, and Scott P. praised Freegal. Leigh Anne gave us an excellent reading list to tackle after watching Jessica Jones, Ross reviewed the new movie Heaven Knows What, and guest blogger Megan took a look at books being adapted into television shows.

Suzy wants you to leave her alone (but only sometimes), Abbey wants you to try listening to an audio book, and we all want you to know how much awesome Star Wars stuff the Library has.

new-years-day-1020125_960_720Finally, check out our own Best of 2015 post, and if this blog has inspired you or helped you in any way, please consider supporting us by making a year-end donation to the Library.

We couldn’t do what we do without you!

Happy New Year!

-Team Eleventh Stack

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… To Listen to Audio Books

Welcome to the end of the year! You’ve made it… basically. There is really only one more day. For me, the past week has been filled with good food (I’m going to take credit for a lot of the baking), good company (I’m hilarious… and I love my family), and a lot of travel (in short, travel increases 23% during Christmas and the New Year). I do a lot of driving during the holidays, and my drives are normally around five hours long (on a good day) but can go as long as… I think 9 hours was the longest on a really bad day. That’s a long time to be alone in a car… or a long time to be with some family, too. I’ve started to download audio books to keep me company, and I’ve found that downloading can be easier than using books on CD, because I never have to switch to another CD and be distracted while driving. Audio books can be awesome, and it helps me start to dwindle my (200 and counting) TBR pile, but they can also be hard to listen to depending on the narrator. The following books I’ve enjoyed because of the story and the plot, but also because I can tolerate the narrator*.

Bone Gap

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby is a great fantasy/magical realism/mystery/young adult book. The story follows a young man who knows about gaps in the town that people can fall through. He believes a person who is important to him, Roza, has been kidnapped and taken through one of the gaps. The question is, can he prove this to a town that doesn’t believe, and can he find Roza before something worse happens to her? This was a book that I really looked forward to reading, and I was happy with the narration overall for the audio book. They did a good job of really giving the different characters voices.

say what you will

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern is a book about a boy who is struggling with OCD, and even admitting and figuring out what OCD is and entails, and a girl who has cerebral palsy. The book deals with a variety of issues that can be hard to read about, but I found overall that the book was good to listen to.

There are so many audio books out there and so many options. Some will be good and some will be bad, but if you find yourself traveling during the holiday season, it may be worth taking something to listen to.


*Full disclosure, not everyone will like the same type of narrator. I get really frustrated listening to narrators that are all breathy and whispery (it’s a word… I think), you know the type I mean. Some people may enjoy that type of narrator, and that’s awesome, but if you try an audio book and don’t like it at first, try and figure out if it’s the book or the narrator, and try other narrators before you dismiss audio books completely.


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Adaptation Nation

I love seeing my favorite books adapted for television. Instead of cramming the entire story into a two or three hour movie, it can be lovingly developed over many episodes, even multiple seasons.

The holidays are a perfect time for some binge-watching, so here are a few book to TV adaptations you might want to check out:

Hermey doesn't like to choose between books and television. Good thing he doesn't have to! Image taken from Rankin Bass Wikia - click through for source page.

Hermey doesn’t like to choose between books and television. Good thing he doesn’t have to! Image taken from Rankin Bass Wikia – click through for source page.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – I’m watching this right now and really enjoying it. It’s such a long book that it could never have been done properly as a movie.  Set in England during the 19th century, this is the story of two magicians who are bringing magic back to the world. Unfortunately, the only thing bigger than their powers is their egos.

The Dirk Gently detective series by Douglas Adams – This was developed for TV with some content from the books as well as some new stories that stay true to the original humor. Dirk is a quirky detective who believes in the interconnectedness of all things. He does not believe in paying his secretary or his bills.

The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin – Known on TV as Game of Thrones (also the title of the first book), this hardly needs an introduction. If you haven’t been watching but want to, why not get caught up now?

I’m also looking forward to the forthcoming TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. If you haven’t read it yet, or the sequel Anansi Boys, I highly recommend them. You still have time to read them to get ready for the show.

What book to TV adaptations haven’t I mentioned? Let me know in the comments!



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Nearest Burning Building

When you do something for a very long time, walking away becomes a big deal. I’ve been a librarian for nineteen years, more than seventeen of those with CLP. At some point in 2013, I realized I wanted to make a change. Luckily I had the resources of our amazing Job & Career Education Center to guide my research into a new vocation. While I always dreamed of pursuing a career in EMS, the career tools there solidified my decision making process.

After twenty months of tests, trials, and waiting, I have earned a place in the January 2016 class at the Pittsburgh Fire Department training academy. In eight months I will be fireman and fulfill a lifelong dream of mine.

I did not get here by magic. After making my decision to switch careers I set about training and reshaping my mind and body for the rigors of the academy’s mental and physical entry exams. This included brushing up on my mathematics. I also read about and developed new training routines to test and challenge myself. This was tough and lonely work. I needed breaks from time to time to recharge. Relaxing meant hiking, and I found plenty of material at CLP to help me with that too. I’ve also vigorously pursued the art of haiku.

The academy is a full-time commitment. This means I will be leaving CLP as a full-time employee effective after the first week of the new year. I will miss it. I will miss my work comrades and the patrons we so diligently serve. Writing for Eleventh Stack and working with its crew of crack library bloggers represents one of my proudest accomplishments at CLP. I’ve been with the blog since near its beginning, and I care deeply for it and the people who work so hard to make it great.

If I can I will try to keep my hand in the library business part-time, and maybe even write a blog post or two from the firehouse. You won’t “see” much of me for a while, that’s for certain.

I did not make this journey alone. Many people helped me get here. You know who you are. Thank you. And thanks to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for being my home away from home for the last seventeen years. In the meantime if you need me, check the nearest burning building.  

–Scott P.


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Each of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods has its own character. If they were people, you could easily pick them out of a lineup. Lawrenceville would be the bearded guy in the trilby earnestly telling you all about the small batch of artisan mead he’s brewing. North Side is the scrappy guy hawking t-shirts outside Heinz Field for extra cash—friendly, but focused on self-improvement. Shadyside is the magazine editor at the launch party, poised and professional. Greenfield is the woman planting a butterfly garden, quietly transforming her landscape into something lush and soothing. And Oakland would be the multi-tasking twins, identical save for the sweatpants on one and the suit on the other, madly texting each other as they zigzag around people on the sidewalk and clutch their enormous coffees.

Staff at every Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location work hard at getting to know their neighbors, scoping out the neighborhood’s general vibe and specific needs, and creating services and connections that will help its users thrive. So far, so good: every day Pittsburghers rely on the Library for computer access, educational programs for children and teens, support for adult goals and dreams, and help finding a good book, CD, or movie.

As a librarian in Oakland, I see this play out every day. The community comes to us for quiet study space, the companionship of a knitting circle, the computer classes and resume assistance that will make the job search a little easier. They have toilets that need to be fixed, curtains that need to be sewn, languages that need to be learned before the trip, and questions about where they’re going. They need to e-mail the document before the deadline, fax the papers before the closing, and photocopy the scholarship application before they send it out. They want to learn Ruby, nail the audition, start a non-profit, repair the bicycle, take a break and get lost in a good book. Every day brings something different, and it’s a privilege to be a small part of it.

You, on the other hand, are a very large part of what the Library accomplishes. Your support makes it possible for Pittsburgh to have a vibrant, resource-rich library system—for you, your family and friends, and for every person in our community. Different people in different neighborhoods need different things, but your donation makes the Library the center of its community, regardless of what that looks like. And that is a beautiful thing.

To make a year-end gift to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, click here. To learn about other ways to help your neighborhood thrive, click here. And the next time you’re in Oakland, stop upstairs and say hi. Especially if you’re brewing a small batch of artisan mead, or are in need of a very large cup of coffee.

–Leigh Anne

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You’ve got a Friend in Me: Reading Buddies at the Library

This summer, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh launched a brand-new volunteer program called Reading Buddies. The program was developed out of an initiative called Hazelwood Reads Together, and here’s the gist: trained volunteers are stationed in the library to read to and interact with kids, one on one or in small groups.

We know that kids succeed when they read, and that having a caring mentor doing the reading can be a big part of helping children develop a long-lasting love of books and reading. What we were also happy to discover is that volunteers love the experience, too.


Reading together at CLP – Hazelwood

One volunteer, Maddie, explains it like this: “I decided to become a Reading Buddies volunteer because I was working full time at a job that I was getting nothing out of … I decided to check out the library’s website and see if any volunteer opportunities were available. I saw the Reading Buddies post and was instantly drawn to it. I have always loved working with kids and I knew I would be a good fit. It became the highlight of my work weeks. My day would go faster knowing I was going to leave work and do something I actually enjoyed while giving back at the same time.”

Another volunteer, Sally, agrees: “The kids love to read, create puzzles and create stories … It’s nice to give all of the kids attention that takes them away from the computers.  The kids are appreciative of the time and I appreciate the opportunity to engage with them in a fun, relaxed way. Reading Buddies is enjoyable for everyone. ”

Besides having the opportunity to give back by encouraging youth literacy, volunteering to read with kids helped some volunteers reflect on mentors who played a role in their own learning.

“My fourth grade teacher used to read my class a chapter of a book at the end of each day. He almost always picked one of Roald Dahl‘s books,” Maddie remembers. “I was always a pretty big reader, but when I started hearing these stories I was hooked. I still think of that teacher today when I see someone reading a Dahl book or see the old copies on my book shelf. I think of how my teacher did a great job of picking books our class would connect with, and I try to do that as a Reading Buddy.”


A kiddo relaxes in the reading nook at CLP – Hazelwood

Adrienne, a Reading Buddy and a twenty-year veteran of teaching, recalls: “As a child, I always enjoyed being read to or reading with someone.  Some of my favorite books were: Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein,  the Dr. Seuss books, the Paddington series by Michael Bond, The Box Car Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner and books by Judy Blume.”

Since June, twelve Reading Buddies volunteers have spent more than 150 hours volunteering to support early literacy at CLP – Hazelwood.  As library staff, we appreciate and recognize the dedication of those who give their time and talents to support young minds in this way.

We’re currently recruiting Reading Buddies volunteers for three different Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations:  Hazelwood, Hill District and Sheraden. If you’re interested, you can apply online or contact us for more information.



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I’m Feeling Colorful

patternsWith the holidays already rearing their heads, we all need to relax. By now, most people have heard about the benefits of art and the suddenly trendy hobby of adult coloring to de-stress.

All I can say, ladies and gents, is that this rocks! I haven’t colored since I was 10, and even then, being the perfectionist that I am, I could not enjoy it because I wasn’t … artistically inclined (I couldn’t stay inside the lines, my colors didn’t go together, blah blah blah). However, 25 years later, I’m much less concerned about my artistic abilities and more interested in having a little bit of fun. And, as I’ve found out, it is.

animalsArticle after article declares coloring to be a much better (and cheaper) alternative to other common forms of stress relief, a way to focus, or way of achieving mindfulness (almost, but not quite, as good as some meditation). Or it can be mindless … *whichever you prefer.*

Psychologists are in agreement: It’s enjoyable, helpful for our stressful existence and gives us something other than our problems to focus on. But, in their words, “Do not confuse this with art therapy” (they’re adamant about that). Their argument is that this is a passive activity, and not one where people actively engage in creating art. Of course, if this is as far as you can engage with art (me! And my amazing stick figures!), then I tend to disagree with the psychologists.

stainedglassIn my humble opinion, I like to think of them as my own version of awesomeness/my own attempt at the Mona Lisa (which, yes, you can color in). So go on with your bad self before you throw that piece of pie at your mother-in-law, switch off your mind’s endlessly spinning thoughts this holiday season, and enjoy some of the library’s resources.
Also, just an FYI, the coloring books are on their way to the branch libraries. We’ll soon have coloring books in themes such as Game of Thrones, Animals, Harry Potter and more. We’ll also have Sudoku books and puzzles in the near future.

In the meantime, check out what we have to offer:



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Best of 2015

Overwhelmed by the copious numbers of “Best of 2015” lists every publication is putting out? Forget the other guys. We’ve got you covered with our favorite books, movies and music of 2015.


daringgreatlyPlaying favorites is hard for me, and my first instinct is to do some cop-out, like: this was my favorite goofy comic that made me laugh on a bad day and this was my favorite classic I never read before, and this was my favorite memoir and on and on and on, until I mention every awesome book that I read all year and fill up an entire post. So, even though it is causing me more than a little mental anguish to do so, I’m going to stick with one nonfiction pick and one fiction pick. For nonfiction, I’m going with Daring Greatly, a book all about the importance of vulnerability and human connection; it’s not an exaggeration to say that reading this book changed parts of my life.  It was definitely a “right book, right time” situation. As for fiction, I’m giving my top honors to Code Name: Veritya thrilling, page-turning, plot-twisty YA adventure set during WWII. (Neither of these books were published in 2015, but that’s when I read ’em, so by my rules, they totally count).



This was a pretty great year for films, some of which I’ve reviewed on this very blog and some of which I wanted to review but never got around to. About Alex was a nice update of films like The Big Chill and Return Of The Seacaucus Seven. Comet was a great love story that seemed to be the product of a three-way between (500) Days of Summer, Mr. Nobody and The Fountain. At this point it would be repetitive and redundant to gush about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl once again, so I present two other faves of 2015–Before We Go and The End of the Tour.

Before We Go feels like the little brother of Before Sunrise and Roman Holiday. Whimsical and hopeful, first-time director Captain America Chris Evans has given us a quiet, character-driven drama. I was immensely impressed at what Evans did here and look forward to more of his directorial endeavors.  And he might actually be a good actor as well, trading in punches and shield-shucking for pathos and a turn resembling the male equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Plus he and Alice Eve are both beautiful people, so even if the film had sucked—which it didn’t—I would have been fine looking at them for ninety-five minutes.

Another favorite was the equally quiet The End of The Tour. Based on David Lipsky’s book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself:  A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, the plot, in its most basic sense, is just two guys talking. That kind of film has the potential to be a boring mess, but not in this case. Credit must be given to director James Ponsoldt for getting such a great performance out of Jason Segel as the prolific author of Infinite JestDavid Foster Wallace. He’s entrancing as he imbues the part with a reserved kind of sadness hidden just below the surface. I always thought Segel was a good actor; he was arguably the heart of the otherwise mundanely mediocre How I Met Your Mother and shined in Jeff, Who Lives at Home. This film confirms my thoughts.

As a tangential point, The End of Tour and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl both close out with Brian Eno‘s “The Big Ship.” The track on its own fills me with a kind of melancholic joy. I get a similar feeling when I watch movies like Before We Go and The End of the Tour, and I invite you to watch them too.  When the weather is cold  and the sun is hidden behind clouds pregnant with rain, watching these kinds of movies is like a warm hug to me. Savor the quiet filmsThey have the potential to be explosions in your heart.



betweentheworldandmeIt’s usually always hard for me to pick favorites when it comes to books, movies, and music, but I managed to narrow down to one for each part of this post.

For favorite book, I chose Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is a very powerful book from start to finish. Even though it’s only 152 pages, it packs a punch that’s worthy of the length of a Harry Potter novel. The book is told in the perspective of the author talking to his son about his experiences growing up as a black man in America. It’s considered a biography, but I would also consider it a call to action (if such a genre existed). A must-read for, well, everyone.

I’ve seen some great movies this year, but my favorite was Straight Outta Compton, the biopic about the hip-hop group N.W.A. This movie was a slight obsession for me after I saw it. I’ve been impatiently waiting for the movie to come out on Blu-Ray. It comes out on January 19th (late birthday present!). I fell in love with the cast and thought that the movie was excellent. All of the actors made me believe that they were the real people they were portraying. I was impressed. Until the movie is released on DVD, you can check out the group’s album with the same title as the film.

Speaking of albums, boy was this hard for me. I already put a spotlight on Adele’s fabulous new album, 25, so I decided to put the spotlight on another album that I enjoyed this year, which was Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show. This album was Sullivan’s first in 5 years. I was very excited about her comeback and this album was well worth the wait. Sullivan brought back the raw delivery and powerful vocals that is somewhat missing in today’s R&B. Reality Show was nominated for some Grammies (much deserved). Take a listen, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.




I saw one new movie in 2015 and I’m not admitting to which one it was. I’m not a huge music person. I did read! It is hard to choose—should I chose that depressing book, that really depressing book or that other depressing book? For someone with a generally sunny outlook, I read a lot of sad books. I narrowed it down to four (semi) depressing books.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Swiss writer Joel Decker, is a boisterous, fast-paced thriller with a love story, a murder and surprising plot twists. I read it in one day at the pool. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is a coming of age story set during the beginning of the AIDS crisis. I also relate to the main character, as I wrote about here last month. Cue all the crying.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by investigative journalist Jon Krakauer follows the Justice Department’s investigation into the rape crisis at the University of Montana. He follows two acquaintance rape trials with vastly different outcomes, both devastating in their own ways. Although it is non-fiction, the writing is gripping, nuanced and evocative. Krakauer has never shied from complex subjects (Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven) and his approach is no different in Missoula.

Finally, my most recommended book: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by British journalist Johann Hari. Rarely does a book completely change my mind on a subject and this book did. Starting with the story of Billie Holiday’s untimely death (murder?) and the creation of the DEA (which is so shady) it is a comprehensive investigation into the failed “War on Drugs” and what other counties and cities are doing to end it. The Rat Park drug experiment transformed the way I think about drugs and drug use.

Maybe in 2016 I’ll read something happy.



How well do you ever really know your spouse? Are you absolutely sure that events have happened the way you think they did and for the reasons you believe?

There are two sides to every story and Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is the story of the marriage between Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder. On the surface, they seem to have it all. They’re an attractive young couple, very much in love at the beginning of their lives together. But under it all, they both have pasts filled with events and secrets that continue to haunt them. The couple’s actions, decisions and future are ultimately shaped by their past. But while Lotto is an open book, Mathilde keeps everything to herself. You don’t know this for the first half of the book, Lotto’s story. You’ll get to know the real Mathilde when you read her half. But you’ll end up loving them, and their marriage, just the same.

Just FYI, President Obama named Fates and Furies his favorite book of 2015.

-Melissa M.


punysorrowsMy top picks for 2015 are Eighty Days of Sunlight by Robert Yune and All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Both, in different ways, deal with suicide. Yune’s novel delves more into the lives of those left behind by a suicide, while Toews explores the torture of knowing that someone you love wants to die and the ethical implications of assisted suicide. Both novels are beautiful, poignant character studies, and both, at points, made me want to cry, or fling the book across the room, or stay up all night until I knew what happened.

I also enjoyed reading a few brilliant comic series: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Weibe and Roc Upchurch and Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. The first, I’ve written about previously (volume five came out fairly recently). The second is a Dungeons & Dragons-style romp with diverse and awesome female characters, and the last is a funny, heartwarming and beautiful love story that touches on sex, mental illness and of course, crime.


It never fails. I read a lot of excellent books all year long, but then one swoops in at the eleventh hour and knocks me sideways. This year that honor goes to Strangers Drowning: Grappling With Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help, by Larissa MacFarquhar. The question on the table is, how much responsibility do we have for strangers? Some people feel called to go above and beyond normal acts of charity and goodwill and perform larger acts of service, such as adopting 22 children, donating 50% of their salary to charity, or offering a kidney to someone on the transplant list they don’t even know. Known as “extreme strangers drowning  altruism,” this practice has been explored through history via philosophy, psychology, and literature, mostly in terms of discovering whether or not being that good is a good idea (spoiler: sometimes it backfires horribly). Profiles of various “do-gooders,” as MacFarquhar calls them, alternate with debates on the ethics of altruism; the title refers to a classic ethical dilemma in which a person has a choice between saving one person they love, OR two strangers, from drowning: which is the correct choice?  Drink a lot of coffee and be prepared to stay up all night debating with your friends: Strangers raises more questions than it answers, and is guaranteed to make you put the book down and say “Oh my God,” at least once.

crownOn the fiction front, I fell in love with Alex Marshall’s  A Crown for Cold Silver because of its unusual heroine. Zosia,  a warrior queen, gets tired of court politics, fakes her death and abdicates her throne in favor of a peaceful country life. Fast forward a decade or so to when new queen finds out Zosia isn’t really dead and tries to assassinate her, forcing the reluctant warrior to pick up her sword again and round up her companions. Given that everyone’s older now, and somewhat the worse for wear, this isn’t going to be a picnic. However, Zosia and her generals still have a lot of fight left in them, and don’t give up so easily. A middle-aged woman who just wants to be left in peace but is constantly dragged back into drama? Sold to the lady in black. Also a good pick for anyone who likes Game of Thrones in theory, but prefers shorter sentences and more action sequences in practice. If you enjoy it, keep an eye out for the sequel, A Blade of Black Steel, coming in May 2016.

–Leigh Anne


Thirteen Ways of LookingI’m a complete and total fangirl for Colum McCann, so it should come as no surprise that his new collection of fiction has landed on my favorites list. Thirteen Ways of Looking represents some of McCann’s best work to date and is an extraordinary example of how shorter works have the capability to conjure up a range of emotions. McCann leaves his reader reeling, almost breathless at the end of the title novella. Forget 2015—yes, please, and don’t let the door hit ya—this one has earned a place among my favorite books ever.

– Melissa F.


What were your favorite books, movies and music of 2015? Let us know in the comments!

-Team Eleventh Stack


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The Force Awakens!

starwarsStar Wars is a perfect example of what happens when a movie expands far beyond the screens onto which it was first projected. From its iconic music, memorable production design and ground-breaking special effects, it has transcended cinemas and inspired countless artists, filmmakers, authors and other creative types in its wake—from books about the philosophy and religion of Star Wars to Star Wars-themed cookbooks and craft books. As we reflect on our own memories of Star Wars and wait with taut anticipation for J. J. Abrams’ contribution—Star Wars: The Force Awakens—check out some of these materials from your Library, the place that brings a galaxy far, far away a little bit closer to home.

I remember going to see the midnight premier of The Phantom Menace at the drive-in back in 1999. My mother, brother and I arrived early, parked in a prime spot and then, with nothing to do until the film began, we decided to take a nap. I was worried that we’d sleep through the whole thing—it was a school night, after all. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but we decided that we’d tune the radio to the proper channel and crank the volume as high as it would go. There would be no way, we thought, that we’d sleep through John Williams‘ world-renowned theme. So with the radio set, we reclined our seats and drifted off to sleep. After what seemed like several hours of unconsciousness, I heard a violent near-speaker-shattering explosion of sound: Williams’ triumphant, orchestral onslaught yanking me from my slumber. In my delusional, disjointed state, I threw open the door and was about to make an aimless run for it when I suddenly realized where I was and slowly began piecing things together. It was still hours away from midnight, the movie screen was still blank, but the music was spilling out of every car around me. The drive-inn had just decided to play samples from the soundtrack to pass the time. My breath finally catching up with me, I got back in the car where I found my mother and five-year-old brother laughing their heads off.


Pictured: My actual brother … and he’s the pretty one.
© Disney/Lucasfilm

Anyway, an almost-heart-attack and sixteen years later, the wonder and awe of seeing a new Star Wars movie hadn’t really hit me until I bought my tickets (yes, it might suck, but I’m trying to remain cautiously optimistic). Since then, Williams’ cues have been playing on an endless loop in my mind. Listening to the music has reminded me of something mentioned in the commentaries and bonus features on the Star Wars Blu-rays and DVDs (nerd alert)—the music tells the story. The dialogue and sound effects could be taken away and Williams’ score would still be able to provide the necessary emotional beats. That’s kind of wonderful, isn’t it? That the music Williams has crafted is so emotive on its own that other means of storytelling fall by the wayside. Listen for yourself. Download some tracks from Freegal or give each film’s soundtrack a listen. We’ve got them all, along with his other works.

Now, if we could only get another Star Wars parody from “Weird Al” Yankovic



SW-OmMy deepest love for the Star Wars franchise lies with the expanded universe—that vast collection of novels, graphic novels, RPGs, toys and other stuff that grew out of the first trilogy. In many ways Mr. Lucas and Co. invented movie marketing and product tie-ins. Enter Marvel Comics circa 1977 – 1978. They licensed Star Wars and produced some amazing comics for it. Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago collects the first twenty-six issues of that series, including the amazing “Eight Against A World” from issue #8. This incredible story features a takeoff on the classic Seven Samurai Magnificent Seven story line, where a small band of ragtag heroes must overcome a much larger force of marauders. This collection will deliver loads of Star Wars nostalgia.

-Scott P.



I was 11 years old when Star Wars (Episode IV, A New Hope) came out. My family went to see it on opening day. There was a huge line, and we didn’t get in to the show. My step-father convinced us to stay and wait for the next showing, saying something like “Don’t worry, you’ll like it, I promise!” We didn’t get in to the next showing either, and my sister and I were beside ourselves. “You’ll like it! YOU WILL LIKE IT!” We finally got into the theater and I remember my step-father afterwards looking at me with triumph in his eyes. “Well?” Yes, yes, he was right, we were floored. We had never seen anything like it before.

Thirty-eight years later, my whole family is set to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening day. It happens to fall on the date of my daughter’s 13th birthday. We are ridiculously excited. Just in case you were wondering, I showed my kids the movies in the “correct order,” starting with A New Hope. What good would the big reveal be if you didn’t watch it in the order that the movies came out?

bookcover My children (and I) loved the hilarious book The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. An oddball sixth grader has created a prognosticating Yoda finger puppet, who delivers curiously sage advise to the rest of the class. Is Origami Yoda real? It’s up to the detective work of the rest of the class to decide. I guess you can say that this is not part of the canon.


marajadeEven though Disney wiped out the old Star Wars canon (I discuss that decision and the new canon in this post here), my favorite character has always been (and probably always will be) Mara Jade. Originally introduced in the 1991 book Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, Mara Jade became an instant fan favorite, especially among women, who had precious few Star Wars characters in which to see themselves (remember, this was pre-prequels, pre-Disney reboot, pre-almost everything except the original trilogy and very few comics—see Scott’s post above—and novels). Mara Jade starts off as a “dark” Jedi who serves as the Emperor’s Hand. Her last mission is to kill Luke Skywalker, and even though the Emperor is dead, she feels compelled to complete it. The three books commonly known as the Thrawn Trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command) chronicle her attempts to carry out that mission, and what comes of it.

Mara is a capable fighter, tough and a powerful Jedi. She’s the kind of woman who can stick up for herself and knows she’s awesome, and doesn’t take any crap. As a teenager, I wanted to be Mara (so I did what any self-respecting fangirl would do and made myself a Mara Jade costume). A few years ago, I was able to meet Timothy Zahn and thank him for creating a character I could look up to at a time when there weren’t as many of those as there should have been. The copy of Heir to the Empire and By the Emperor’s Hand he signed for me are two of my favorite things (and for me, meeting Zahn equaled meeting Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill—this character is that important to me).

I’m excited for The Force Awakens and the new canon, but Mara will always be first in my Star-Wars-loving heart.


Do you have tickets for tonight’s premiere of The Force Awakens? What’s your favorite Star Wars memory, toy or other piece of memorabilia? Let us know in the comments!

-Team Eleventh Stack


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Cookie Time

I like to bake. I’m pretty okay at it. I’m far better at everything tasting the way it should than it being pretty (I’ll never be a cake decorator); it’s a good thing that cookies are pretty forgiving.

I spent last Friday with the oven cranked to 350 and worked on my holiday cookie stash. Chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, those peanut butter guys with the Hershey’s Kiss smooshed in and I got my first lesson in nut roll.

This book is going on my to-buy list. Baker Ellen Jackson has a great collection of cookies we all know and love, with ‘twist’ options for each recipe. I tried the Snickerdoodles, and they are the best I’ve ever made. They didn’t go flat and still have a little bit of chew.

I know a lot of people swear by this one (our Melissa M. included). Betty is often my go-to when I need something reliable.

I haven’t used this one, but it comes recommended by one of the Woods Run patrons.  It’s filled with recipes that have won or earned honorable mentions in the Chicago Tribune’s annual contest. Our patron loved the apricot cookies!

Our family nut roll recipe? It’s from the June 2, 1988 issue of the Post-Gazette. We add a bit of honey and the filling is divided for the three rolls using the technical measurement system of Corelle teacups (the Spring Meadow set that many, like my mother, received for a wedding gift in 1979/1980, if we’re being precise).

— Jess

PS – Is anyone else obsessed with The Great British Baking ShowPaul Hollywood and Mary Berry are my new heroes.


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