Hey Babe, Let’s Go Out Tonight

 

david-bowiememorial

Image from:  ca.hellomagazine.com

 

Monday morning I was home, and had somehow avoided watching or listening to the news or going online to check my social media news feeds. When I finally logged in around noon, the first thing I saw was a sad post in my Facebook feed, mourning the loss of David Bowie (born David Robert Jones).

Surely this must be a hoax, I told myself.

Sadly it was not. Over the course of the day, the main thing that struck me was how many people (from completely different walks of life) where in mourning or disbelief over his passing. It takes a cultural icon of a very unique and special stature to garner this sort of grieving from so many different people around the world.

You too have probably engaged with Bowie’s music or art at some point in your life. Today the Eleventh Stack bloggers would like to share their own favorite David Bowie songs or memories, and we encourage you to share as well in the comments section. Farewell, Mr. Bowie — the world is made a little less interesting by your passing.


It’s nearly impossible to choose just a couple of favorites from Bowie’s vast catalog of amazing music, but if I must, these are my current choices. Ask me next week and I may choose different titles.

station to station“Golden Years” (Station to Station, 1976) – This is one of my husband’s favorites, too. It’s hard for me not to play air guitar or otherwise jam to this song.  I love the refrain: “I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”

“Modern Love” (Let’s Dance, 1983) – Although the backup singers annoy me slightly, I still adore this song. I had no idea what I was listening to the first time I heard it on the radio, and I kind of hated it and kind of couldn’t get enough of it. It just got into my head, and the more times I heard it, the more I loved it.

My favorite Bowie pop culture moment is when he turned out to be the shape-shifting leader of the Guild of Calamitous Intent on Venture Brothers. I don’t care that he didn’t actually do the voice. It was too awesome for words.

-Megan


We had a white cat growing up with two different colored eyes that my aunt named Bowie (aka The Thin White Duke). I thought it was such a lame name for a cat. The only thing i really knew about Bowie at the time was that he was the dude wearing tights in Labyrinth that gave me strange and uncomfortable feelings.

Fast forward ten or so years, and Bowie’s music would become an essential part of the soundtrack to the rest of my life. I love so many of his albums, but hold a special candle for Hunky Dory, since it was the first record of his I bought on vinyl as a burgeoning wannabe music nerd.

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Special mention should probably go to his 1977 album Low, which I still find haunting and beautiful to this day.

-Tara

[A tip: the library owns many David Bowie albums on CD, but most of them have a wait list at the moment. However, our streaming service Hoopla has many, many Bowie albums that you can check out right now. If you’ve never used Hoopla and would like some help we’re always happy to lend a hand.]


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On Reading 100 Books, Part II

Another year over, and once again I failed miserably at reading 100 books.

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But I did succeed in garnering the silent judgement of cats everywhere.
Source

All right, maybe “failed” is a strong word. I ended up reading 70 books and that’s nothing to scoff at, right? Scornful sideways glances from feral felines aside, I decided to highlight five of my favorite books and three of my least favorite books of 2015. If it tickles your fancy, you can look at the whole list on the next page.

The Five I Liked the Most:

loveLove is a Dog from Hell: Poems, 1974-1977 by Charles Bukowski
I learned about this book of poetry by way of The Limousines’ song of the same name. This was my first foray into the writings of Bukowski and it didn’t disappoint. With lines like “I have gotten so used to melancholia / that / I greet it like an old / friend.” and “I am going / to die alone / just the way I live,” this certainly isn’t Lord Byron or John Keats.  This is the kind of stuff you read after a breakup, right before rushing out to do it all over again. These are a few of my favorite lines from the poem Chopin Bukowski:

people need me. I fill
them. if they can’t see me
for a while they get desperate, they get
sick.

but if I see them too often
I get sick. it’s hard to feed
without getting fed.

youYou by Caroline Kepnes
Stephen King—of whom I officially became a fan in 2015 thanks to It and Four Past Midnight—called this book “hypnotic and scary.” What more of an endorsement do you need? You illustrates how easy it is to stalk a person in the digital age. It’s an eerie, well-written page-turner that’s left me eagerly awaiting the sequel, Hidden Bodies, due out in February.

mosquitoMosquitoland by David Arnold
It’s very seldom that a book bring me to tears (in a good way), but this YA debut did just that. The premise—a teenager has to return to her home town via Greyhound when she learns her mother is unwell—was what interested me in this book. Whether in real life or in fiction, I love a good road trip. Just like the tumultuous teenage years, Mosquitoland is equal parts happy and sad. It’s now one of my favorite YA novels of all time.

treesSea of Trees by Robert James Russell
I came across Aokigahara—a dense forest at the bottom of Mt Fuji and a popular place where people go to commit suicide—while reading one of my favorite websites. Doing a simple Google search for more information on the location led me to this novella. It’s a quick, creepy mystery about a couple searching Aokigahara for the woman’s lost sister. What’s even creepier is that two movies have been made about this forest, one starring Matthew McConaughey released in 2015 and one starring Natalie Dormer that came out just last week. The creepiest bit, though, is that this is a real place. Check out this great documentary short put out by Vice for more on the Suicide Forest.

linesPoorly Drawn Lines: Good Ideas and Amazing Stories by Reza Farazmand
This book actually came in for someone else, but I saw it and ordered it for myself. It’s hilarious, nonsensical and was a welcome break from the previous book I’d read, The Price of Salt, which was neither hilarious nor nonsensical. Visit the website of the same name for more giggles.

The Three I Liked the Least:

watchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
I went into this book with almost zero expectations. I’ve experienced first-hand how disappointing a decades-later followup can be (I’m looking at you, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Part of the charm of To Kill a Mockingbird was the way that Lee wrote Scout. Everything that happens is seen through a rose-colored, knee-high lens of childhood. That’s not the case with Watchman. Scout is twenty-six and has returned to Maycomb to visit Atticus. Events transpire that make her question the truths she clung to during childhood. The readers question these truths right along with her and I normally love a good existential rumination, but it’s handled in such a bland and unforgettable way here. And that’s not even mentioning how certain characters are almost unrecognizable (ethically speaking) from their Mockingbird counterparts or how the death of a beloved character from Lee’s first novel is only eluded to rather than shown. How this ended up on Goodreads’ Best of 2015 list is baffling, especially when almost every patron I talked with about it also didn’t like it. I don’t want to waste anymore digital ink complaining about it, so I’ll just echo Philip Hensher‘s comments:  it’s “a pretty bad novel.”

starwarsStar Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Unlike Go Set a Watchman, I had at least one expectation for this book–that it would prepare me for the galactic landscape after the fall of the Empire. Sadly, this book did little to elucidate the mystery of what happens between the end of Return of the Jedi and the beginning of The Force Awakens. The plot takes its time getting started and by the time it does, I wasn’t nearly as invested in the characters as I should have been. These weren’t familiar characters like Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, so I didn’t particularly care what happened to them. Not to mention the new characters all came across as annoyingly self-assured. Because of this, I felt like there were no real stakes in book at all. But maybe that’s on me; it’s been a long time since I’ve read supplemental Star Wars material. There is one scene of Han Solo and Chewbacca aboard the Millennium Falcon, but as a whole, the book skews toward poorly-written fanfiction. In the plus column, I’ve got to give credit to Wendig for introducing the first gay hero in the form of ex-Imperial soldier Sinjir Rath Velus as well as a lesbian couple. In a universe where there are literally hundreds of different alien species, Star Wars has never been that concerned about diversity … but that’s a blog post for another day.

americanAmerican Pastoral by Philip Roth
This is up there (or down there) with The Train from Pittsburgh as one of my least favorite, most hated, severely unenjoyable reads of 2015. The actual plot of this book–an all-American family is torn apart after their daughter blows up a convenience store at the height of the Vietnam War, with musings of the rise and fall of the American Dream sprinkled in–could be boiled down to probably fifty pages. The other 350 pages of Roth’s novel are made up of tangential ramblings including, but not limited to, the history of Newark, the minutiae of Miss America contests and more information on glove-making than any human ever needs to know. It was frustrating for me to read through these prolonged chapters filled with walls of text and just when I thought that there was no point to be made–that maybe I’d picked up a New Jersey history book by mistake–and I was about to give up, Roth would wrap up his tangent and continue with the narrative. In It, Stephen King was similarly long-winded while detailing of the history of the fictional town of Derry, but King held my interest far more than Roth did in describing a place that’s only a six -hour drive away. Again, I have no one to blame but myself–I only read this because first-time director Ewan McGregor filmed the adaptation here, but getting through this book was such an ordeal that I’m now in no hurry to see the movie, despite my well-documented love for Pittsburgh on film.

Did you set or reach any reading goals in 2015? Do you have any reading goals for 2016 or any tips on how I can finally get to 100? Sound off in the comments below!

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Suzy, my friend! Curry chicken?

My favorite take-out place closed on December 31. I am devastated. I never thought I would live in a world without Zaw’s Asian Food (2110 Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill.) I was a college freshman, working at the Green Grocer on Hobart Street when Sonny Lee, the manager, convinced me to try something other than white rice (I’m that kid that didn’t let their food touch.). The first thing he introduced me to was their curry chicken. I’ve eaten it at least once a month since 1995. And I’m not the only person, according to this recent Yelp review:

I am so upset about this [closing] I can’t even express it. The curry chicken here was my favorite thing to eat to the point where I would consider it as a last meal. It was a red spicy curry sauce with garlic and ginger and chicken broth. I will miss it so much.

Last meal indeed. It is named Zaw’s Asian Food for a reason. Owners Marvin and Esther Lee are originally from Burma (Myanmar), so the food was never typical take-out; it was a little bit of everything. Through 20 years, 11 apartments, 6 boyfriends, 8 jobs, and 2 degrees, Zaw’s has been there. I live on the South Side. I willingly crossed a bridge for take-out. That’s some serious business. Not only did Sonny know what I wanted to order, he recognized my voice on the phone, he asked about my husband, he noticed weight loss and new haircuts! When I picked up my very last order, Sonny shook my hand and told me it had been a pleasure knowing me all of these years. His voice broke; I left in tears.

I sincerely hope the Lees have a wonderful retirement. And that they pass their recipes on to someone. I have a lead: Ron Lee, the owner of the Spice Island Tea House, is Mr. Lee’s nephew. Anyone have other ideas? I really don’t want to use these cookbooks. Let’s have lunch!

CompleteCurryBookComplete Curry Cookbook, Byron Ayanoglu and Jennifer MacKenzie

Authentic curries made easy. Curry is enjoyed throughout the world. This wonderful selection of curry recipes draws its inspiration from India, Thailand, China, England, Indonesia and the Caribbean. These quick, easy and tantalizing recipes feature ingredients found in supermarkets, yet the dishes maintain authentic tastes and flavors.

BurmaFlavors of Burma (Myanmar): Cuisine and Culture From the Land of Golden Pagodas, Susan Chan

Susan Chan depicts the culture and traditions of Burma, providing ample information on the Burmese market, commonly used ingredients, and eating and serving customs, explaining, for example, that Burmese eat with their fingertips. She also familiarizes her readers with the language, festivals, and principal cities of this country. Complete with b/w illustrations and photographs.

BurmaRIversBurma: Rivers of Flavor, Naomi Duguid

The best way to learn about an unfamiliar culture is through its food, and in Burma: Rivers of Flavor, readers will be transfixed by the splendors of an ancient and wonderful country, untouched by the outside world for generations, whose simple recipes delight and satisfy and whose people are among the most gracious on earth.

TheCurryBookThe Curry Book : A Celebration of Memorable Flavors and Irresistible Recipes, Nancie McDermott

Whatever its incarnation — in a lightly seasoned deviled egg, a cold chicken salad, or a spicy Indian- or Thai-style dish — curry is one of the most popular seasonings in the world. Nancie McDermott explores endless variations on the curry theme, from Jakarta to Senegal, Tokyo to Jamaica, and Sri Lanka to South Carolina. The result is an untraditional — and accessible — celebration

BigBookofCurriesThe Big Book of Curries: 365 Mouthwatering Recipes From Around the World, Sunil Vijayakar

The Big Book of Curries details the intricacies of these delicious dishes, from the numerous herbs and spices that flavor them to essential equipment and accompaniments. The recipes are organized by main ingredient–meat, poultry and eggs, fish, and shellfish–with a special section on vegetarian meals. Techniques for cooking the perfect rice are included, and there is even a selection of starters to prepare the palate. With these 365 recipes to try, an amazing culinary experience is only a few minutes away.

sad & hungry for curry,
suzy

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A Shameless Plug About Shameless

shameless-us-5358c4707987aWhile my regular TV shows are still on hiatus, I thought that I would get into some TV shows that are on my long to-watch list. One of those is Showtime’s Shameless. The show stars William H. Macy as Frank Gallagher, the patriarch, so to speak, of the Gallagher family. Frank spends a lot of his time at the bar so he doesn’t take care of his six children.

The real leader of the family is Fiona Gallagher; she’s the oldest of the children. She’s the mom & dad to the rest of the kids. There’s Phillip (Lip), Ian, Debi, Carl and Liam. This family is no Brady Bunch. Each family member has their own quirks. I’m only halfway done with season one, but I love this show. My favorite characters are Veronica, Fiona’s friend and next door neighbor, Fiona, Lip, Debi, and Ian. This family has a lot of issues, but there’s a lot of love and they are willing to help each other whenever and however they can.

We have seasons one, two, three, four, and five available in our catalog. Season six starts Sunday, January 10th at 9 pm on Showtime. If you have Hulu, you can add Showtime to your plan and watch all of the seasons on there as well. Happy watching!

~Kayla

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Continents

It’s interesting how where you grow up and the education you receive shapes your world view.  I grew up here in Pittsburgh, but married someone from Latin America.  We do everything we can to keep our children connected with Latin American culture, as I’ve written about before.  In one of the Latin American events we were at, someone mentioned “the five continents of the world.”  Five continents?  Don’t they mean seven?  After some investigation I learned the difference.  First, they don’t consider Antarctica a continent.  Second, America is one continent, which kind of makes sense since it is one continuous landmass. I like it too, as it brings us all closer together.  We do share one vast and diverse continent.  Here is a small sampling of materials that are from/about life in the diverse places on our continent.

blackinlatinamBlack in Latin America – Henry Louis Gates Jr.  This title is available in book and on dvd. I’d advise reading the book first and then watching the documentary, which is essential viewing.  Henry Louis Gates travels to several nations that share our great continent and examines the Afro descendant experience.  He interviews scholars and locals, reviews history, visits museums and brings to light their plight in well-researched yet very accessible terms.  The countries he visits are Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Peru and Mexico.  Although these are about very serious issues of inequality and ethnic relations, Gates also manages to capture the beauty of these countries and cultures and even some great cultural expressions, such as merengue dancing in the Dominican Republic.

Even the Rain  Easily one of my favorite movies of all time.  A Spanish film crew shows up to make a movie about Christopher Columbus in Bolivia, while at the same time the political situation in the country turns sour after the government privatizes the water supply.  While the story is fiction, the historical backdrop is not.  This story has elements that are present in every country on our great continent:  inequality, exploitation and the lack of recognition of the indigenous peoples.  The movie also has many powerful story lines like the value of friendship, the ability to change someone’s heart, standing up for what’s right, courage and love.

elnorteEl Norte–  Two war orphans in Guatemala make the daunting journey through Mexico to enter the United States illegally.  What awaits them in the USA is less than the American dream.   

Brazil, Bahia –   Bahia Brazil is the Brazilian state with the most Afro descendants, and African heritage is present in many aspects of the culture, such as religion, dancing and music.  This collection of music gives you a great feel for the rich cultural heritage of Bahia and Brazil.

bookofunknownamThe Book of Unknown Americans –  Stories of immigrant life in the United States.  A powerful human and family story.  Great characters that demonstrate the diversity of Latin American immigrants in the United States.

Made in America:  An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson – Brison gives us the biography of the English language and how it evolved in our country.  An in depth study of the various forces that shaped the way we speak.  The book even mentions the Pittsburgh/Western Pennsylvania region several times for our contributions to our nation’s shared tongue.  Bryson also brings his characteristic wit and charm to this work, I laughed out loud several times while enjoying this book.

-Scott M.

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3 Poems By…Gregory Pardlo

One of the things I run into surprisingly often is people saying to me, “I’ve never heard of you before”…Yet I’ve been publishing in “mainstream” journals and my book won that prize, so what is it that is making me invisible? It’s not the work and it’s not the publishing credits. — Gregory Pardlo in The Guardian.

“That prize” is the 2015 Pulitzer for poetry, and Pardlo’s question is a good one, one I hope we’ll wrestle with when 3 Poems by… kicks off its 2016 season.

pardloIf you’re new to Eleventh Stack you might not know that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh hosts a spirited poetry discussion on the second Thursday of most months. Pittsburgh’s poetry lovers include a wide cross-section of your friends and neighbors, from casually interested laypersons to (extremely modest) local celebrity poets. Normally the poets we discuss are chosen by a facilitator, but this year the group will be reading the work of writers who will also be reading at Poets on Tour. This reading series, a collaborative Library project with Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, brings some of the best contemporary American poets to a Pittsburgh stage, and I’m more than a little psyched about being in the same room with a Pulitzer prize-winner.

But first, a look at his work.

Digest, the volume for which Pardlo won “that award,” is a tightly-knit collection of masterful code-switching. Highly structured poems that both mirror and mock academic rhetoric rest alongside the looser, more conversational rhythms of personal lyric pieces. The collection’s initial poem, “Written by Himself,” indicates which voice we are meant to accept as most truthful/genuine:

I was born still and superstitious; I bore an unexpected burden
I gave birth, I gave blessing, I gave rise to suspicion.
I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air,
air drifting like spirits and old windows… (3).

Don’t think for a second, though, that Pardlo is bluffing his way through academe. In some ways it is a mask he wears, and in other ways it’s a mask that wears him. Either way, though, it’s a highly conscious costuming that results in some gorgeous images and wicked wit, as in the following passage from “Corrective Lenses, Creative Reading, and (Recon)textual/ization”:

In this course we
will venerate the subjective mind, or rather, examine how subject/
object share the fuzzy circumference of a lone spotlight
beneath the proscenium arch. There is no reliable narrator. For example, tea
leaves or cloudbursts in the shape of ladybirds.
(19).

If you’ve ever been anywhere near graduate school, the title alone is pure comedy gold. And yet, the deliberate use of academic language to cut through its own usual fog to a different level of awareness isn’t just amusing: it’s sensuous, gorgeous. Perhaps you can dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools?

Having said all that, what really matters is what you think. If you’d like to read a smart, self-aware, dazzling collection of poetry, click here to reserve a copy of Digest for yourself. If you just can’t wait, click here to register for 3 Poems by…Gregory Pardlo and receive an e-mail with the three pieces the group will be discussing on January 14th at 7:30 p.m.. At the very least, leave a comment below and let me know your best answer to Pardlo’s question: How is it possible so many of us have never heard of him before now?

–Leigh Anne

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Starting the Year with Some Big Magic

I place a lot of importance on the first book I read each year.

(I’m not alone in this.)

I give a lot of thought to this choice. Some years, I start with a collection or two of poetry. Sometimes I need to be inspired or I’m looking for something to help me deal with my  overhead compartment of baggage that I’m flying with through this life. Sometimes it’s a book related to a work or personal goal.  It all depends on the year and what’s happening in my life when we start a new trip around the sun.

If, by some chance, you’re still searching for your first book and you’re a creative type, I’d like to recommend Big Magic: Creative Living Through Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Big Magic.png

I will admit that Big Magic isn’t my first book of 2016, but I wish it was because it would be perfect. One of my personal goals is to focus more on my own writing — the actual writing itself but also submitting more of my work to publications and pursuing creative opportunities that nurture that goal.

You may be thinking that Big Magic is just another gimmicky book about creativity and following your passion, the likes of which you’ve probably read before. And you also may be judging this based on perhaps a negative impression of Eat Pray Love or any other of Gilbert’s work. And you would be wrong on both counts.  (I can say that because I did both of those things.)

Big Magic was refreshing because it was different from other books of this nature — you know, the ones that make you feel that you need to win a Powerball jackpot of $500 million in order to pursue a creative path in life, mortgages and student loans be damned.

(Don’t get me wrong.  I could be very creative with $500 million, or even a portion thereof, in case any of you happen to be holding the golden ticket.)

Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t advocating that we creative types go into the office tomorrow and quit our jobs or commit to waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to write The Best Novel Ever or build a wing onto our house for the studio of our dreams. If you are able to do those things, more power to you. That’s not reality for most of us, however. And if we’re looking to our creativity to solve the bigger questions of our lives, we might be missing the point altogether.

Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir — something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.

I really enjoyed this book and Elizabeth Gilbert’s direct and down-to-earth approach to creativity was exactly what I needed at the end of last year to make this one magical.

~ Melissa F.

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