Tag Archives: book discussion groups

Let’s Read a Banned Book!


Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.


One of the books that has appeared on the Top 10 list of banned books, compiled by the American Library Association, for each of the last 5 years is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. This is a young adult novel (as so many of the books on these lists are) about a teenage Native American boy who chooses to attend school outside his home on the reservation. This decision leaves Junior, or Arnold as he’s called off the reservation, shunned by his people, as well as trying to fit in and on the outskirts of his new community. It is an honest portrayal of his life in high school – girls, bullies, fights, sports, and parents. Junior must learn to cope with a lot of loss in his family and embrace what’s good in his life.

Alexie’s book is most often challenged in libraries and schools due to its themes of sexuality, racism, use of drugs and alcohol, and offensive language. Many of these objectors feel that its content is unsuitable for the age group for which it is written. Considering that I have two teenagers at home who are dealing with and making personal decisions about all of the issues listed above, I find it hard to believe that some people don’t seem to understand what really happens in high school. But I shouldn’t judge, I’m sure they have their reasons. I’m more grateful that there are books like this available to my teenagers, so they know that what they’re going through is typical. They are not abnormal or weird. Being able to relate to a book’s characters and to recognize yourself in their struggles is one of the most important things a book can impart to an adolescent in the throes of indecision and hormones and peer pressure. But that’s just one person’s opinion. Happily for me and mine, those librarians and educators who fight against the banning of books must feel the same way.


Our librarians who lead the Let’s READ English book discussion group at the Main Library have decided that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is also a good vehicle for those who are learning to read and speak English as a second language. As well, it can serve as a catalyst for discussion about life in America amongst this group of foreign language speakers. The Let’s READ English discussion group will be talking about this book at their program on October 10th at 2pm. If you know someone who is looking to improve their English language skills, please have them stop by the library and check out a copy of the book prior to the discussion day.

Today is our last post for Banned Books Week 2014. However, through programming and book recommendations, libraries continue the fight against censorship every week of every year.

Now go out and continue to read banned books all year long!
-Melissa M.


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Déjà Vu All Over Again

Deja Vu Book Club

First, I must apologize. I should have let you all know about this a long time ago. But hindsight is 20/20 and there’s no time like the present. (You can insert here any other belated/late and time related clichés that come to mind.)

areyoutheregodThis Saturday, November 16th at 11:00am will be the second meeting of our newest book group. The Déjà Vu Book Club will be discussing Judy Blume’s coming-of-age classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

The book is a tale about a young girl trying to find her place in her new school, her circle of friends, her religious beliefs and within herself. Margaret is at that age where she knows what’s to come and just can’t wait for it to get here. (Periods, boobs, boys, kissing – you know, the usual stuff!) Yet, she also would like things to stay the same. Her sounding board for all of her adolescent conundrums is her own personal God. While her extended family wants her to choose a religion, she finds it difficult because she just doesn’t feel His presence in those houses of worship the way she does when they’re alone.

Besides waxing nostalgic over this pre-teen female rite-of-passage book, we’ll be sure to discuss a bit of the “controversy” surrounding the re-writing of portions of the book by Ms. Blume, to bring certain details into the more modern age. As an aside, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is one of Judy Blume’s most challenged books.

The Déjà Vu Book Club is for people of all ages who are interested in reading, or re-reading, children’s and young adult classics. Come with your best friends, your daughter or son, or by yourself to meet other people who love and have fond memories of the same books you do.

We’ll also be deciding what titles to read next year at this Saturday meeting. If you have a favorite title from your childhood or teenage years that you’d like to read again and discuss, we’d love to know what it is!

So, if you’ve ever read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, either the original or revised version, please come and talk about it with us on Saturday morning. And for those of you who may not have read it yet, please do! We have copies available at the library. You can check it out today and be done by tomorrow. It’s a slim book and a quick read, I promise.

Also, tomorrow morning there will be doughnuts!

-Melissa M.



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Introducing the Red Herring Book Club!

red herring_generalThe mystery book discussion group at the Main Library has been recently re-branded and re-introduced as the Red Herring Book Club. As a special kick-off for this new look, and to try to attract a few additional group members, our theme for the books we’ll be reading over the next 4 months is “Mysteries of Pittsburgh.” (Because there’s nothing Pittsburghers like to read/do more than talk about Pittsburgh!) Each of the novels will be set in our fair city.  Serial killers, murders, mobsters and mayhem abound!

We’ll be discussing the first book in the series, The Burnt District by Gary Link, this Friday at 1pm in the Teen Meeting Space on the First Floor. All are welcome to join us. We’ll talk about the book (and its setting, of course!), plus you’ll be able to pick up and check out a copy of June’s book, Thou Shalt Kill by Daniel Blake.

Besides the four books on our agenda, many other mystery authors have chosen to set their books in our interesting and diverse city. Here are some more options for your reading and puzzle-solving pleasure…

Steel Ashes by Karen Rose Cercone

Never Buried: A Leigh Koslow Mystery by Edie Claire

Compass in the Blood by William E. Coles, Jr

Vengeance for a Stranger by Mary Ellis

Simple by Kathleen George

Resolve by J.J. Hensley

The Prophecy by Chris Kuzneski

Snake Skin by CJ Lyons

Murder in Pittsburgh: A Redmond and Jennifer McClain Mystery by Walter McKeever

Time of Death by Gary Madden

A Toast to Destiny by Ceane O’Hanlon and May Tantlinger

Mirror Image: A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery by Dennis Palumbo

The Headline Murders: A Story of Murder and Deceit Set in the City of Pittsburgh by David W. Rees

Bitter Waters by Wen Spencer

Tonight in the Rivers of Pittsburgh by Brian Lee Weakland

And one for the kids:  The Great Smith House Hustle by Jane Louise Curry

May all your mysteries be easy to solve. (And set in Pittsburgh!)

-Melissa M.


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Journey with Us

Growing up in the 1980s in a distant bedroom community of Washington, D.C., my experience with people of other religions was minimal, to say the least. Everyone seemed to be Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian or possibly Catholic. The few Jewish folks I knew didn’t go to temple and I certainly didn’t know any Buddhists or Muslims.

Several years, cities and countries later, I’m glad that my worldview has expanded greatly. Even so, if you asked me to confidently rattle off more than five sentences about the world’s second-largest religion – Islam – I might start to trail off. The American Library Association and the National Endowment for Humanities got together recently and figured I wasn’t the only one who could use some enlightenment.

Throughout 2013, over 800 libraries across the nation will be exploring Islamic culture, thanks to a grant from the ALA and NEH called Muslim Journeys. We’re excited to be one of those libraries. The Main Library in Oakland will receive a “bookshelf” with more than two dozen books, some films, and a year of access to Oxford Islamic Studies Online. These materials are “intended to address the American public’s need and desire for trustworthy and accessible resources about Muslim beliefs and practices and the cultural heritage associated with Islamic civilizations,” says the NEH. In addition to these resources, we’ll be hosting programs all year long that will introduce themes of Islamic history and culture.

Our book clubs are a marvelous way to explore Islam. Black Holes, Beakers and Books discussed scientific contributions of the Arab Muslim world last Sunday, Bound Together will look at The Art of Hajj in March, the Mystery Book Discussion Group reads a novel set in Pakistan, Broken Verses,  in April and Books in the Afternoon will discuss Orhan Pamuk’s Snow in November. For graphic novel fans, discussions will be held later this year by the Teen Department on Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Out of the Gutter will be looking at Bosnian Muslims in Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde on May 20th.

Our long-running foreign film series, International Cinema Sunday, will present several movies related to Muslim culture or by Muslim directors. First up is Le Grande Voyage, about a conservative Muslim father and his more secular son making a pilgrimage to Mecca, followed by films set in Chad, Turkey, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

A survey of Muslim poets is never complete without Rumi. Three Poems By … will read and discuss his work in November.

In a happy accident, the Muslim Journeys grant dovetails with another local program happening this year. Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book is the 2013 selection for the Allegheny County Library Association’s One Book, One Community programs. In it, a Muslim librarian helps rescue a sacred Jewish text. The phrase “people of the book” has been used by Jews to refer to Jewish people and the Torah. It has also been used by Muslims to refer to non-Muslim adherents of Abrahamic faiths, including Jews and Christians

Of course, Islam is not a religion solely of the Arab world, nor are all Arabs Muslim. Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim community, and many adherents of Islam live in African countries such as Egypt and Nigeria. (Kids can learn more about that in March at Passport to the World: Somalia.) That said, many Muslims speak Arabic, and the library continues to hold free Arabic classes on Sunday afternoons. Films, books, and a magazine in the Arabic language are available to check out. We also offer English translations of books that were originally written in Arabic.

We’re excited for you to journey with us throughout 2013. Look for more information about the grant, materials and programs to be posted soon at http://www.carnegielibrary.org/muslimjourneys.


Rita is a librarian with the First Floor, New & Featured Department and is coordinating CLP’s efforts for the Muslim Journeys grant.


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