Tag Archives: book reviews

Stuff We Like 2014: CLP Volunteers Edition

Between helping out with special events and programs, teaching global language classes, mentoring teens, and doing community outreach, CLP volunteers squeeze in time for their first love – checking things out from the Library! Here’s a selection of 2014 favorites from a few of our great volunteers:

Caren

The Secret Keeper is the only book I have ever read the second time. The ending was so mortonsurprising and shocking that I wanted to look for clues the second time around to see if I could figure out what would happen. The story takes place over more than 50 years beginning before World War II in England. The relationship of the key characters in the story is intriguing, and amazing how it all comes together at the conclusion. I highly recommend this book and this author. The Forgotten Garden, also written by Kate Morton, is another great book!

Ashley

martianOne of my favorite books of 2014 is Andy Weir’s debut, The Martian. It’s like if Castaway was set on Mars, and Wilson was a potato. It was selected by another member of my SciFi Fantasy book club, and I was honestly dreading reading it.

Survival fiction generally isn’t my cup of tea, but this was engagingly plotted and the main character is impossible not to root for. There’s a great balance between humor and suspense, and everything that happens comes across very believably. If you like audiobooks, this one is superbly narrated by RC Bray. It’s also been nominated for an Audie Award, and won the GoodReads Choice Award in the Science Fiction category. Read it before the movie comes out in 2015!

Lyra

One of my favorite things about the library is that it lets you indulge many of the pleasant obsessions you may find yourself having over the duration of your life. For the past several years I have almost exclusively read memoirs and biographies, mostly of your average person who may have had a not-so-average life.

An impoverished descendant of John Jacob Astor? Yes, please!

Growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution? Sign me up.

Britain’s oldest living nanny? I’ll take it.

Memoir of a Peace Corps Volunteer? Definitely.

As another year of reading about the lives of others comes to a close, I’ve looked back over lastgentlemanthose I read about. My favorite of the year just may be The Last Gentleman Adventurer: Coming of Age in the Arctic by Edward Maurice. It was a cozy tale including all my favorite things: immersion in a new and unfamiliar culture, an exotic locale, and superb writing. This book, written by the author in old age, is about his years spent working at a fur trading post for the Hudson Bay Company beginning when he was 16. He was stationed in the northern reaches of Canada on Baffin Island in the 1930’s and lived among the Inuit people (whom he calls Eskimos). If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with this winter – and something to remind you that, yes, the weather outside could be worse – try this!

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If you’d like to learn more about volunteering with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, click here. If you speak Italian, German, or Spanish we could really use your help right now, but there are many other volunteer opportunities to choose from, too–a little something for everybody. Volunteers play a key role in helping the Library fulfill its mission to engage the community in literacy and learning! And as you can tell from the book reviews above, you would be in great company.

 

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We Don’t Know We Don’t Know: poems by Nick Lantz

In February 2002 at a Department of Defense news briefing, then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, made statements that became infamous for their abstract, almost poetic quality. The part that attracted the most attention was the following exchange between a reporter and Rumsfeld:

Question: Could I follow up, Mr. Secretary, on what you just said, please? In regard to Iraq weapons of mass destruction and terrorists, is there any evidence to indicate that Iraq has attempted to or is willing to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction? Because there are reports that there is no evidence of a direct link between Baghdad and some of these terrorist organizations.

Rumsfeld: Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Eight years later, when the irony of that comment is more shocking than its initial obscurity, Rumsfeld’s words have partly inspired a powerful collection of poetry, We Don’t Know We Don’t Know by Nick LantzWe Don’t Know We Don’t Know is organized into four sections: Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, Unknown Unknowns and Unknown Knowns. Epigraphs from the press conference preface many of the poems. Even more We Don't Know We Don't Knowintriguing, however, is that the book draws equal inspiration from the works of Pliny the Elder, a Roman natural philosopher who died in the year 79 AD.

Any poem could collapse under the expectations of premises like these, but Lantz crafts his poems so skillfully that they catch you by surprise when they suddenly break your heart. Just try to read “Of the Parrat and other birds that can speake” and not feel sucker-punched.

Will There Be More Than One ‘Questioner’?” is composed entirely of questions posed to a would-be interrogator. As they relentlessly progress from tactics to the interrogator’s state of mind, the poem gathers momentum and emotional weight. The way this shapes the questioner’s character is reminiscent of Nick Flynn’s examination of culpability, terrorism and interrogation in his memoir The Ticking is the Bomb.

Lantz isn’t afraid to attempt such feats of bravado, but his tone is so restrained and grounded in detail that he pulls it off every time. He makes use of surprising techniques, like censoring lines in “Will There Be More Than One ‘Questioner’?” In another poem, “[                                ],” which begins,”Eve refuses to name the animals,” he uses blank spaces in the title and body of the poem to emphasize contrast ideas of sound, silence and naming.

Tricks like these would seem gimmicky if they didn’t work on so many levels. The poems consistently refer to knowing and not knowing. “______, For Which There Is No Translation,” lists a series of definitions impossible to articulate in a single term. We’re left to guess whether words exist in other languages to describe them. The poems often associate scientific, historical and personal images to achieve an element of strangeness. “Translation” works across time and experience, juxtaposing a lost boat in a fishing village and  “the bereaved man…seeing some small object / askew: half-flayed orange / left on the table.”

If, once you’ve finished We Don’t Know We Don’t Know, you can’t get enough of Nick Lantz, you’re in luck. We Don’t Know We Don’t Know is his first book, but this year he also published his second one, entitled The Lightning that Strikes the Neighbor’s House. What’s more, it’s an equally solid, compelling work. Here’s a video of Nick Lantz reading from that collection, with “The Year We Blew Up the Whale”:

Publishing two stellar  books of daredevil poetry in one year seems an unlikely feat for a writer. Maybe Nick Lantz knows something we don’t.

-Renée

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Think Warm Thoughts

With the forecast calling for more snow and cold temperatures over the next couple of days, it looks like it should be a perfect weekend for wrapping yourself up in your Slanket or Snuggie and reading a few good books.  Not sure what to read?  Check out a few of these tools that librarians at CLP have put together to help you pick exactly what you’re in the mood for:

  • Booklists: This page on our website has booklists on a variety of topics, from fiction that features Stalin as a central character to books on bicycling or cooking.  We’ve even got booklists that suggest the perfect books for the winter months.  And don’t forget to take a look at our booklists for teens and kids as well!
  • Staff Picks: Looking for a recommendation from someone who’s already read the book?  The Staff Picks section of the website highlights books that staff have recently read, and gives a short annotation of each book.  It’s the next best thing to asking a librarian (which we also encourage!)
  • Reader Reviews: On this page, you’ll find short reviews on adult, teen, and children’s books from other library patrons.  If you’ve read something you’d like to share, you can also write a review of your own. 
  • New Fiction, New Non-Fiction, and Fiction and Non-Fiction Bestsellers: Here you can discover some of the newest books we’ve added to the collection, and find out what everyone else is reading these days. 

Of course, if you’re still stuck, you can always ask a librarian. Stay warm this weekend! 

–Irene

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Poetry as Insurgent Art

Famed and beloved beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s quotable book Poetry as Insurgent Art is part desiderata, part manifesto on the importance of poetry

In four prose poems and a brief essay, its quips vary from rebellious (“Strive to change the world in such a way that there’s no further need to be a dissident”) to koan-like statements to patently-Ferlinghetti comparisons to classic art and canonic literature (“Poetry can be heard at manholes, echoing up Dante’s fire escape”).  Also, there are lots of birds. 

For anyone who needs to be convinced of the vitality of art’s resistance or to be encouraged to pursue the struggle for vitality in life and expression, this little book of poetic affirmations will be a joy to read.

–Renée

photo by by flickr user elgin.jessica

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