Tag Archives: book club

The First Rule of Book Club …

… is to apparently talk about Book Club. Apologies to Chuck Palahniuk.

I belong to the same extracurricular book club that Ginny discussed in her last post.  As you’ll recall, our goals are simple: read good YA books and charm waiters across the city. We’re doing okay on both accounts.

Here’s what we’ve read recently…

Everything Leads to You, Nina La Cour (book, ebook) – Emi, a recent high school graduate, is getting her start in the film industry as a set designer. During a visit to an estate sale with her boss, she finds a letter that leads to Ava – a bit of a manic pixie dream girl. Pros: LGBTQ characters, movie-making fun. Cons: Unrealistic expectations of post-high school job prospects

The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black (book, ebook, audio) – Twins Hazel and Ben live in a small town where humans and faeries mostly co-exist without any issues. Deep in the forest, a boy has been sleeping in a glass coffin for as long as anyone can remember – until one day, he finally wakes up. Pros: Sword-wielding girls, LGBTQ characters. Cons: Static characters (we all agreed that the story would have worked better as a graphic novel)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz (book, ebook, audio) – Ari’s older brother is in prison and no one will talk about it. Dante lives in a house where they talk about everything. After meeting at a community pool, they begin an uneasy friendship that turns into the most important relationship in their lives. Pros: Beautiful writing, LGBTQ characters. Cons: Not many (this book has won ALL of the awards – Lambda Literary Award and Stonewall Book Award for LGBT fiction, an Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award honor, Pura Belpré Narrative Medal for Latino fiction, and Michael L. Printz Award honor for Young Adult fiction.)

And we went with Gabi, a Girl in Pieces for next time.

If you’re looking to get some book club action for yourself, check out our Events page to find one that works for you!

– Jess

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World Fiction: Modern Israeli

Within 4 days of each other this summer, two friends of mine – unknown to each other – and living in different parts of the world came up with book recommendations for the same author – Eshkol Nevo.  The first recommendation came in a letter from my friend Mark who lives in Kfar Sava, Israel.  In the letter Mark comments “You’ll have to read Nevo’s ‘Homesick‘, I want the lads to talk about it when we get together, he touched me.” (a trip several of us make every two years or so.)  Less than a week later on Facebook,  Ranen who teaches Literature at the University of Miami wrote me almost identical words about the book ‘World Cup Wishes‘, also by Mr. Nevo. Cover of book 'Homesick'

Both books (the library doesn’t yet own World Cup Wishes) are absorbing and may well be some of the best examples of modern Israeli fiction that are available . . . in English.   Here’s the rub; many respected foreign language writers find it very difficult to get sold in the US market. The translations are there, these titles are already being sold in the UK, Australia and Canada to critical acclaim, but US publishers aren’t picking them up.  I bought my copy of ‘World Cup Wishes’ from Amazon Canada.  In The Translation Gap: Why More Foreign Writers Aren’t Published in America, Emily Williams points out that the reasons for this aren’t so much cultural as much as economic and some literary pigeon-holing; does the writer get directed or marketed to target audiences in a way not done overseas?

From a reader’s standpoint, I adored both books, but I believe they challenge us because of how they’re written. The storytelling is intensely personal, the narrations are mostly multiple first person.  The style is polyphonic; the various characters narrating from their perspective.  It took me awhile to get used to it and to be able to follow the storyline and who was narrating; I sometimes felt like I was on a merry-go-round where I kept changing seats, but it’s well worth it.  Chapters are short because it’s the perception that changes, not the occasion. This isn’t how we (Americans) normally read a story.

I liked them because the people and places are real, what happens is day-to-day and not the sensationalized fodder we read or see in the news.  Nevo doesn’t run from what makes Israel fascinating (or horrifying if that’s your inclination,) or deny it’s importance; but there’s perspective – catching buses, class assignments, friendships or surgeries are more real for his characters than diplomacy and peace proposals.  The history between Jews and Palestinians underlies much of ‘Homesick‘, as does the unresolved tensions between the religious and the secular, but they aren’t what the story is about – it is a love story.

‘World Cup Wishes’ also touches on the things we see or read about as history and current events, but they’re peripheral.  It too is about relationships, the evolution of friendships, jealousy, forgiveness, and the place of spirituality in a modern society and using the World Cup as the timeline to measure accomplishment.


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Plenty of Horns

Do you like books about music?  Check out Jasper Rees’ book A Devil to Play: One Man’s Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument.  Then come to the library on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. for the first meeting of our second year of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Book Club.

Beforehand, you might also want to check out some music performed on “the orchestra’s most difficult instrument” (i.e., the horn) and I’ve prepared a list below.  To clarify, when talking about classical music, “horn” specifically means the coiled brass instrument also known as a French horn.  See the book cover at left and the picture at the bottom of the post.  The French invented it for hunting; the Germans made it an instrument for the orchestra.  It acquired valves in the early 19th century.  Be sure not to confuse it with the English horn, which is a kind of oboe.

Here are some recommended recordings of pieces for one, two, three and even four horns so you can surround your ears with the sound of wide-belled brass.

1 horn:

  • For an overview with spoken commentary of the repertoire that horn players auditioning for orchestras need to know, listen to Orchestral Excerpts for Horn by A. David Krehbiel.
  • Even though he was a violist, Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) always seemed to write well for brass.  His Sonate für Horn und Klavier from 1939 is an intimate way to hear the horn sing over piano accompaniment.

2 horns:

  • On this recording, the Virtuoso Horn Duo of Kristina Mascher and Kerry Turner play pieces composed for two horns and chamber orchestra by Haydn and his horn-playing contemporary Antonio Rosetti, plus an arrangement for 2 horns of a Vivaldi concerto, and a piece by Turner himself.
  • Baroque concertos were shorter in duration and utilized smaller ensembles than later classical and romantic era works.  Georg Philipp Telemann’s concertos for 2 horns and strings and continuo (TWV 52:D1 and TWV 52:D2) from the early 18th century exemplify concise craftsmanship.

3 horns:

  • Chôros No. 4 by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is scored for the unusual quartet of three horns plus trombone.  Its first half is ponderous, perhaps even menacing, while the last minute or so sounds more like a concert in the park.

4 horns:

  • One usually associates Schumann with works for solo piano, vocal and piano, his great piano concerto and his four symphonies.  But also worth hearing is his 1849 Konzertstück (concert piece) for four horns and orchestra.  Originally composed for two valveless and two modern horns, it’s a bridge between two eras of the instrument.
  • While it might not inspire Spanish-style dancing, Four-Horned Fandango by Mark-Anthony Turnage (1960- ) does have castanets accompanying the four horn soloists and, like a lot of contemporary classical music, gets better with repeated listens.

Interlochen music campers playing the horn.

To add one more to the list, though it wasn’t composed specifically for horn, Richard Strauss’s tone poem Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks) was the most used piece for horn players’ orchestra auditions according to Facing the Maestro.  So you know it will have some impressive parts for the instrument.  (And Strauss did also compose two concertos for horn.)

Last but not least, if you want to get really serious about horn music, use our French Horn Resources page.

— Tim








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It’s 1791 in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club

Last time around, the Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club included a bassoon solo by the PSO’s  James Rodgers and an almost hour long phone call from Vivaldi’s Virgins author Barbara Quick!

The Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club’s second session will be about the book 1791, Mozart’s Last Year by H. C. Robbins Landon.  Read it and find out about Mozart’s debts, his wardrobe, the milieu of Vienna, his declining health, and most important, the stories behind his final masterpieces.

Date:  Monday, November 9, 2009

Time: 6:00 p.m.

Location: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main Library (Oakland) — Music Department


Once again, let’s review why you should attend!

  • a member of the illustrious Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will be participating in the discussion — for this session it’s cellist Charlotta Klein Ross
  • local radio celebrity Jim Cunningham of WQED-FM will also be there
  • since it takes place in the Music Department, other materials relating to the subject will be on hand for you to check out
  • it’s an informal discussion so don’t fret if you don’t finish the book
  • you may attend any or all of the meetings
  • it’s free

Please call 412-622-3105 to register.

— Tim

p.s.  Click here to see the other upcoming meetings of the PSO book club.

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Locked Room Mysteries

A person is found dead, presumably murdered, but all the doors and windows to the room were locked.  How did it happen?  And more importantly, who did it?

This is the premise of the mystery sub-genre known as “locked room mysteries.”  However, this type of mystery doesn’t always happen in a locked room.  Sometimes the people are alone on an island together, alá Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.  Sometimes a person is found dead in the snow or the sand and there are no footprints approaching or leaving the area, such as in The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr or Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Other times the murder mystery is simply an impossible puzzle.

The very first locked room mystery comes to us from that founder of the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe.  You may be familiar with this one from your required high school reading list.  His Murders in the Rue Morgue still serves as the benchmark against which all other stories of this type are judged.  If you haven’t read this since high school, try it again.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much better you think it is now.

John Dickson Carr is generally considered to be the master of the locked room sub-genre.  Other mystery authors who use this device on a regular basis include Andrew Greeley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Herbert Resnicow, and Edward D. Hoch.

The Mystery Book Discussion Group will be starting a series of locked room mysteries this fall.  If puzzles (or mysteries) are your thing, please consider joining us.  We’d love to see you and we promise we won’t lock you out!

September 18th, 2009And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
October 16th, 2009 Bloodhounds by Peter Lovesey
November 20th, 2009 The Bishop at the Lake by Andrew Greeley
December 18th, 2009Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler
January 22nd, 2010The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams



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Persepolis book discussion

We’ve got plenty of fantastic book groups here at CLP, but this month we’re  trying something new: a graphic novel book discussion. 

This Sunday, March 29th at 3:00 pm, join us for a discussion of Marjane Satrapi‘s renowned two-part graphic novel memoir, Persepolis.  In the books, Satrapi describes her experience as a rebellious girl growing  up in Iran and moving to Europe alone during periods of war and political upheval.  The result is an honest tale that emphasizes the impact war and tyranny can have on individual lives.  The international success of the recently adapted film version speaks to the universal nature of her story.

As a super special added bonus (librarians are fond of those), attendees to the book discussion can enter a drawing to win tickets to Satrapi’s appearance in The Drue Heinz Lectures series on Monday, March 30th at 7:30 pm in the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland.  For a great writeup of the lecture and its details, you can also check here.





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Share the History: Celebrate Black History Month

Here at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, we are very excited to Share the History this month!  In branches all over the city, there are programs for adults, teens, children and families to celebrate Black History Month

At the Main library, the special events include a lecture and discussion on Pittsburgh’s Underground Railroad, presented by Soldiers and Sailors Museum historian John L. Ford, and a workshop on The History of African American Beauty and Culture in Pittsburgh, featuring Celeta Hickman, oral historian for the Teenie Harris collection at the Carnegie Museum of Art.  These two programs are in addition to the regularly-scheduled Sunday Afternoon Music, World Kaleidoscope!, and Books in the Afternoon book discussions, which this month will feature hip hop artists Lucid Music, Shona Sharif African Drum & Dance Ensemble, and The Time of Our Singing, by Richard Powers, respectively.

At our Downtown & Business location, several lunchtime programs include film screenings of documentaries on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as a classic film starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Portier; a book discussion of Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama; and a live presentation entitled The Souls of Black Baseball: Barnstorming the Keystone State, which examines the rich history of black baseball in Pennsylvania.

In other locations, we have a discussion of African American music at the Carrick library, an opportunity to share your favorite memory at the Hill District branch, a film screening and discussion at the Squirrel Hill branch, and An Evening with Beverly Jenkins, the popular historical romance author, at the Homewood library.  (This one is presented by Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures, and is the only event that is not free; tickets are just $10.)

Now if that’s not enough for you to do, there’s more!  We have partnered with the August Wilson Center for African American Culture to present Family Read-Alouds at East Liberty, Homewood, and the Hill District.  Other read-aloud events, a teen book discussion of The Liberation of Gabriel King, and craft programs round out the activities for young people.

So if you were wondering how you were going to make it through the dark, winter month of February, look no further than the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where you can join your community in sharing history at the library.



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Coming Soon to Our Library: Black Holes, Beakers, and Books: A Popular Science Book Club

evilgenes4There have been a lot of great popular science books written in recent years.  Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought, Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, and Barbara Oakley’s Evil Genes are just a few that come to mind.  To help folks discuss these books and more, beginning Sunday, February 8th, 2009, the First Floor: New and Featured department will host a new book club called Black Holes, Beakers, and Books: A Popular Science Book Club.

2009 marks Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication oforigin2 his groundbreaking Origin of Species.  To celebrate Darwin’s life and his monumental manuscript, Black Holes, Beakers, and Books will devote its first three meetings to recent popular science books that are related to Darwin and his theory of evolution.  The first of these books is Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography by science historian Janet Browne.  Browne’s book is a highly accessible analysis of the history and influence of Darwin’s famed masterpiece.  Our discussion of Browne’s book coincides with her Drue Heinz Lecture on Monday, February 9th.

firsthuman1Our second meeting on Sunday, April 19th will discuss the book The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors by local science journalist Ann Gibbons.  The First Human tells the dramatic story of the discoveries of paleoanthropologists at the forefront of the search for our evolutionary past.  This session of the book club will be especially exciting because Ann Gibbons will be joining us to talk about her book.innerfish

Finally, on Sunday, June 21, we will conclude our evolution theme with the book Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin.  Your Inner Fish explores in splendid detail the evolutionary origins of human anatomy.

Each meeting will be held from 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm on the dates provided; locations will vary per meeting, so please keep an eye out for signs, or ask a librarian for directions.  If you need a copy of any of the books we will be discussing, please stop in, give us a call, or reserve one online using your account.  Oh, and if you have a minute, feel free to leave a comment regarding your favorite popular science books, or mention some you’d like to see the book club read.

We look forward to talking science with you!



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