Tag Archives: Book Clubs

Help Me Choose: YA Book Club Edition

Before I ever worked for the Library, I was a member of a Young Adult book club. Our book club has gone through a few different iterations, but in the past year or so, we’ve settled into a pretty great rhythm: One person picks the book and the restaurant, and we meet up on a predetermined date to eat tasty food and chat about our book. It’s my turn to pick our title for August, and my deadline to choose just so happens to be tonight. I have so many potential choices I’m having difficulty narrowing it down.  Here’s a look at a few books I’m considering – if you’ve read any of them, please comment and help me decide what my pals and I should read next.

33 Snowfish by Adambookcover (5) Rapp – A gritty-yet-lyrical look at three teenage runaways and their life of crime, this book is sure to be emotional and should inspire some pretty interesting discussions.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills –  Gabe is balancing his transition from female-to-male, his course load at school, and his burgeoning success as a late-night DJ, and he does it all with uncommon humor and honesty.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Written like a journal, this book gives readers a glimpse at the complicated, messy life of Gabi Hernandez as she navigates everything from a drug-addicted parent to her blossoming sexuality during her senior year in high school. Lots of CLP staff have already declared their love for this title, one review I read on GoodReads described this book as “the YA poster child for #WeNeedDiverseBooks“, and it’s the theme book for this year’s Teen Alternative Homecoming, so this one seems like a pretty strong contender.

bookcover (4)Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers – I’m not typically very interested in books about war, but the description of this book sounds really compelling:  it’s told from the perspective of several young soldiers in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with less of a focus on tactics of war and more of a focus on the people grappling with this incredibly difficult situation. It’s easy for us to forget how many members of the armed forces are still teenagers, and I expect this to be a sobering reminder. Also, I think I’ve only ever read one other book by Walter Dean Myers, which seems like a major gap in my reading history.

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin – We’ve only read one other historical fiction title in my book club, and we all enjoyed it. I’m intrigued by the description of this book’s plot, where the main character tries to break free of gender roles in 1920s America.

So, friends, help me decide: What should my book club read next?



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Book Club Bonanza

The nice thing about book clubs is sometimes you’re forced to read a genre or author that’s outside of your regular ‘safe zone.’ And sometimes you can force the other people in your group to read the stuff you like (turn about being fair play and all). I’m in two – one with some friends that started as an excuse to get together and eat a lot, but has produced some really interesting conversations about YA books (these things happen when you mix at least two English majors and someone who studied Philosophy); and a new one with some work friends (they’re making me read a mystery, which isn’t one of my go-to genres).

If you’re looking to push yourself a bit in the new year, have I got something for you. I’ve compiled a list of the book clubs that CLP is offering throughout the rest of January and the first bit of February. There’s options in almost every neighborhood and taste. Check out the links for time and date information!



Downtown and Business

Hill District


Main (Oakland)

Mt. Washington

Squirrel Hill

Woods Run

– Jess

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Spoilers (Warning: Does Not Contain Spoilers)

Unlike the Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club, which is a part of my job as a music librarian, my other book club is an outside of work affair.  I know, one would think we librarians would get enough book learnin’ at work, but sometimes we need a little more on the side.  And my private club reads non-music books so it’s different from my work responsibilities.  Therefore, I was caught unawares when a music item came across my desk and seemingly spoiled a book for me.

For my private club, we’re currently reading Wilkie Collins’ 1860 novel “The Woman in White.”  It’s a big book (my library copy is 609 pages), but once you get going, it’s an intriguing page-turner with seemingly polite gentlemen conspiring to seize a lady’s fortune.  It’s a mystery told from multiple perspectives and one doesn’t know who’s manipulating whom and who might be victimized.

Back to my desk and the scene of the crime. I had the CD to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “The Woman in White” in my hand and just as I was realizing that it was based on the Wilkie Collins book, I flipped over the case, and saw a song titled “_____ Tells of _____’s Death.”  Oh, noooooooo!  I was only a third of the way through the book and I didn’t want to know beforehand who might die!

Then, the next day at lunch, I was putting the book on my book stand when I accidentally saw a blurb before the inside title page that said, “…The Woman in White is also famous for introducing, in the figure of _____ _____, the prototype of the suave, sophisticated evil genius.”  Argh!  I had intentionally skipped the introduction so that the story wouldn’t be ruined beforehand, but the two-sentence blurb had lashed out at me like a snake.

Luckily, there have been enough twists and turns in the plot to keep things very interesting and I now am less than a hundred pages from the end. Until I get there, please shield my eyes, fill my ears with wax, and tie me to the mast of the ship.  I want to get to the end of the book without any more spoilers!

— Tim


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Not a Devil to Read and Not a Violin Nightmare

Last time around, I gave you a listening list of horn music in preparation for our Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club discussion of Jasper Rees’ A Devil to Play: One Man’s Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument.  Well, I’m pleased to report that the book was a delight and not a devil to read.  Rees warms a librarian’s heart by doing so much in-depth investigation of both the ancient and recent history of the horn.  Then he shows off his storytelling skills by deftly weaving the threads of teenage remembrance, present-day experience, and historical research throughout each chapter.  Also impressive is how the struggling amateur Rees ingratiated himself to the community of elite horn players.  Finally, he grew even further in our book club’s estimation by talking to us via Skype even though it was past midnight in the UK.  Consider us charmed.

Next up for the club is Arnold Steinhardt’s Violin Dreams, also a captivating read.  Steinhardt is first violinist of the esteemed Guarneri Quartet.  Unlike Rees, he is a professional musician who studied for decades with the greatest masters and mentors of his instrument.  But like Rees, his book also weaves together memories with research into the premier players and their instruments.  Steinhardt also includes vivid descriptions of his sometimes anxious dreams.  Finally, the most significant piece of music that threads its way through the book is J. S. Bach’s Chaconne (the final movement of his Partita no. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004), the crown jewel and one of the mightier challenges of the violinist’s repertoire.  The book comes with a CD with two recordings of Steinhardt performing the piece, in 1966 and forty years later.

We hope to see you on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. in the Music Department for another great book discussion with your fellow readers, library staff, Jim Cunningham from WQED-FM, and Pittsburgh Symphony Associate Concert Master Mark Huggins.

— Tim

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It’s a Mystery to Me . . .

Stabbed Book

Photo courtesy of http://www.borinvanloon.co.uk/loonblankpage.html ©2004 Copyright Borin Van Loon

Did you know that there are over  35 awards given annually for mystery books?  How is that even  possible?  It actually depends on who is giving the award and what they are giving it for.  Awards are presented by writers groups and by readers groups — not only for best mystery in general or best new author, but also for specific groups within this genre.  

Honors for authors from specific countries include the Arthur Ellis Award for Canadian writers, and for Australian novelists, the Ned Kelly Award.  

Awards are also given for specific sub-genres.  The Shamus Award is for the best Private Eye book.  The Agatha Award honors the finest traditional mystery.  The Lefty Award is presented to the top humorous mystery. 

The oldest mystery prize is the Edgar Award, named of course for Edgar Allan Poe.  This award has been presented annually since 1946 by the Mystery Writers of America.  And by the way, a local author has been nominated for an Edgar this year.  Kathleen George was nominated for her book The Odds.  Best of luck to her!

The Mystery Book Group at the Main Library is reading recent award winning books this spring.  Next Friday, March 19th at 1:00 pm, we will discuss What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman.  This book won both the Anthony Award and the Macavity Award in 2008 for Best Mystery Novel.  If you can, please join us in the Teen Quiet Study Room. We’d love to see you there. 


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What America Ate

The Food of a Younger LandTonight I will be facilitating Dish! A Foodie Book Club. We will discuss The Food of a Younger Land, edited by Mark Kurlansky. 

This book is a compilation of previously unpublished essays about how Americans cooked, ate, and interacted with food in the period just prior to World War II. This is significant because it’s when refrigeration, transportation, and the manufacture of processed foods became widespread.  These three innovations completely changed the way Americans ate and thought about food.  They were no longer limited to what was local and/or in season.

These essays were the product of the Federal Writers’ Project, which was in turn part of the Works Progress Administration. The federal government created the WPA to provide jobs to the millions of unemployed workers during the Great Depression. I was familiar with various WPA projects: buildings and improvements made to state and national parks, bridges and overpasses here in Pittsburgh, as well as art projects and installations throughout the country. But I was not aware of the Federal Writers’ Project, which employed artists and writers. The FWP had only one significant project prior to the unpublished America Eats project. It was the American Guide Series for each of the United States, modeled on Baedekers guides popular for European travelers. If you are interested in a snapshot of America from that time period, the Library has a collection available in the Reference Department at Main.

But back to tonight’s book . . . For this project, the country is divided into five sections, each containing stories, essays, descriptions, recipes, and even poems, all about local food and customs. In the Northeast section, I enjoyed the description of an “Italian Feed in Vermont” and a list of “New York Soda-Luncheonette Slang and Jargon.”  From the South, I loved reading about the contributions of Eudora Welty and Zora Neale Hurston. In the Middle West section, I was amused by a paragraph on the drinking habits of Kansans. A list of Colorado Superstitions about food from the Far West was fascinating. In the Southwest section, I loved learning that tacos needed an introduction in an article entitled “A Los Angeles Sandwich Called a Taco.”

I found most interesting not how much people from these areas were different, but how much they had in common. They made do with what they had, used every part of every animal, and enjoyed gathering for large feasts and celebrations that revolved around food. Kentucky Oysters, Lamb or Pig Fries, or Oklahoma Prairie Oysters, anyone?

If you are available this evening between 6 – 7 PM, please join us in the Director’s Conference Room on the First Floor.  We’d love to see you there.


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3 Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa

3 Poems by... Poetry Discussion

Our most recent meeting of the 3 Poems By…Poetry Discussion Group focused on the poetry of Yusef Komunyakaa.  The poems we discussed were “Facing It” from the collection Dien Cai Dau, “The Towers” from Warhorses, and “My Father’s Love Letters” from Magic City.

Depending where you read about him, Komunyakaa is labeled a jazz poet, soldier poet, image poet, southern poet, or literary poet, and, depending which of his collections you read, these are all true.  His work, which includes 15 books of poetry and several works of prose, spans a range of styles and themes, from surreal, imagistic poetry to short-lined elegies for famous jazz musicians to mediations on war heavily laced with mythological and literary allusions.  Komunyakaa has received recognition for his oeuvre with many prestigious awards, including the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for the collection Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems.

The poet Toi Derricotte writes of Komuyakaa, “He takes on the most complex moral issues, the most harrowing ugly subjects of our American life. His voice, whether it embodies the specific experiences of a black man, a soldier in Vietnam, or a child in Bogalusa, Louisiana, is universal. It shows us in ever deeper ways what it is to be human.” 

In the journal Ploughshares (via MasterFILE Premier or Literature Resource Center), Susan Conely writes that Komunyakaa:

“has been widely acclaimed by critics for his compassionate and well-crafted poems. His reputation as a poet has grown over the years; early in his career, he was derided for obscure imagery and superficial treatment of subjects. Yet commentators have traced his development as a poet and praise him for providing an insightful perspective on race and gender relations, surrealistic juxtaposition of images, and compelling storytelling. His recurring themes—childhood, identity, the ferocity and dehumanizing aspects of combat, romantic and sexual relationships, and concern for human suffering–have been frequent topics of critical attention. Komunyakaa has been lauded for his portrayal of a collective African-American experience in Vietnam. Critics have analyzed his use of historical allusions, classical mythology, and African-American folk idiom and note his concise use of language as well as the vivid imagery in his poems.  His work illustrates reverence for the oral and musical traditions of African American culture. Considered one of today’s most distinctive poetic voices, Komunyakaa is viewed as a key contemporary American poet.”

 Author, poet and critic Marilyn Nelson writes (in another article archived in LRC):

“…I applaud the courage with which Komunyakaa has confronted his childhood and youth. With his sensitive evocations of the child’s sense of the natural world, the driving curiosity of adolescent sexuality, and the slow transformation of the dreamer-child into the poet, he makes a great contribution to one of the newest genres in the canon: the black male epic of self.” 

At the 3 Poems By… discussion, we were lucky to be able to stream video of Yusef Komunyakaa reading two of the poems.  In fact, quite a bit of streamable audio and video files related to Konunyakaa exist online.  Check out the following links and you’ll get the chance to hear the poet’s cadence and inflection as he reads, while you discover archives of  visible and audible poetry of Komunyakaa and many other brilliant poets.

Here’s a live reading of “Facing It” from PBS’s Poetry Everywhere program:

You can also listen to “Facing It” at Poetry Foundation’s audio and podcast collectionInternet Poetry Archive includes recordings of Komunyakaa reading poems including “My Father’s Love Letters” here.  Also, here is an hour-long reading and talk that Komunyakaa gave for the Helen Edison Lecture Series:



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Get Together and Read

You might not know it, but October is National Reading Group Month. Strangely enough, people all over the country like to get together and discuss the books they have read.  Haven’t you ever finished a great book and wished that you could talk to someone about it? With the Internet available 24/7, it’s now easier to go to a web site like Amazon.com or someone’s blog and leave a comment or a review.  But somehow that’s just not the same as having a face to face conversation, with give and take and a real sharing of ideas and opinions.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh conducts several book discussion groups on a variety of topics. One or more of them would appeal to you, I’m sure.  We have a poetry discussion group – 3 Poems By…, a science book club – Black Holes, Beakers and Books, contemporary fiction – Books in the Afternoon  (which actually meets twice – once in the afternoon and once in the evening), Dish! A Foodie Book Club, Mystery Book Group  (self explanatory), spiritual book club – Pathfinders, as well as two collaborative book clubs – Bound Together with the Carnegie Museum of Art which explores the connections between literature and art, and our newest book group – the Pittsburgh Symphony Book Club, a partnership between CLP, WQED-FM, and the Pittsburgh Symphony.

But maybe you’d like to start your own book discussion group in your own neighborhood with people you already know.  The library can help you here too. We have many resources for organizing book groups, including recommendations on what you might read.

The New York Public Library Guide to Reading Groups by Rollene Saal – A nice introduction with brief sections on recruiting members, how to lead a good discussion, and making the best use of the resources available at your public library!

The Book Club Companion by Diana Loevy – In addition to touching on the same start-up topics as the book above, this guide expands its offerings to theme parties, suggested field trips, and recipes to serve at your meetings.  Because, as well all know, people are much more likely to show up if there’s food.

Reading with Oprah by Kathleen Rooney – Love her or hate her, you have to admit Oprah’s gotten people to read in staggering numbers – people who might not have been reading before. This book traces the history of the book club, its ending and then rebirth, as well as discussions of selected books.

The Kids’ Book Club Book by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp – It’s not only adults who like to read and talk about books. In addition to organization information, this fabulous guide gives book recommendations divided by grade ranges. These suggestions include craft and activity ideas and recipes to help plan a fun evening for kids of all ages.

A Year of Reading by Elisabeth Ellington and Jane Freimiller – This book has a chapter and a theme for each month of the year: scary stories for October, women and family for May, and heartwarming classics for December.

1001 Books for Every Mood by Hallie Ephron – No matter what you are looking for, this book can help.  There are categories for everything from “For a Good Laugh”, “For a Good Cry”, and “To Remember Dear Ol’ Dad” all the way to “Blame Your Genes”, “For a Kick in the Pants”, “For Revenge”, and “To Run Away from Home”. You will find something to fit your current frame of mind.

Book Lust and More Book Lust both by Nancy Pearl – The ultimate librarian, Nancy Pearl, recommends books for you. (Seriously, she is THE iconic librarian. So much so that she is the model for an action figure.)  No matter what topic you desire, “Ecofiction”, “Lost Weekends”, “Space Operas”, or “Elvis on My Mind”, she has a book suggestion that fills the need.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter what, where, with whom, or how you do it, just read!


P.S.  Remember to keep up the fight for your libraries, their hours, and staff.  Check out CLP’s advocacy web page  for ways you can help. 

“Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.” –Anne Herbert


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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Book Club

On Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 6:00 p.m. in the Music Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Main Library (Oakland), we begin a program about which we are very excited, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Book Club.

vivvirThe first book to be discussed is Vivaldi’s Virgins: A Novel (paperback/large print) by Barbara Quick. This intriguing historical novel is about an orphan violinist at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice where Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was the maestro di violino. This book was selected by James Rodgers, contrabassoonist for the PSO, who will be participating in the discussion. Also appearing at each meeting will be WQED-FM‘s witty and well-spoken Jim Cunningham.

The weekend following each book club event, the orchestra concerts at Heinz Hall will correspond to the book you just read and discussed. After reading Vivaldi’s Virgins, you can hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Let’s review why you should attend!

  • a member of the illustrious Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will be participating in the discussion
  • 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

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

Please call 412-622-3105 to register so we can save a seat for you!

— Tim


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Our spirituality book club has been reincarnated and born again

At our last meeting, we decided to change the Pathfinders Spirituality Book Club schedule to a series format—we will meet in September, October and November, rather than every other month. We also voted on the titles to read next.  And so, our Fall 2009 schedule is:

September 9: Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett

An exploration of religion as a cultural phenomenon and its benefits to human life as well as a plea for world religions to engage in more rigorous self-examination.

October 14: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong

A meticulous, engrossing biography that gives a historical look at this charismatic prophet as well as the history of the West’s hostility towards Islam.

November 11: In the Spirit of Happiness by The Monks of New Skete

Modern day monastics discuss the pathways to happiness in this profound and lively look at spiritual disciplines and devotion.

Just click on the link to reserve your copy. Pathfinders will continue to meet at 6pm in the Directors Conference Room at the Main Library. We hope to see you there!


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