Tag Archives: CDs

Stuff We’re Enjoying: Early Spring Edition

Summer weather arrived in Pittsburgh this past week, dramatically muscling spring weather out of the way with a flourish, flipping its ponytail over its shoulder and flopping down on a beach towel with a good book.  Your stalwart Eleventh Stack crew has done likewise; here are a few of the library materials we’re enjoying at the turn of the season.


This book will mess you up.

I know that everyone and their grandmother is reading The Hunger Games right now, but I don’t feel that I need to, as I’ve already read Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, and The Long Walk. As a matter of fact, I’m rereading The Long Walk for the fifth or sixth time right now. It’s a Stephen King short novel, written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, from back in the days before King started selling novels by the pound. Basically, every year one hundred teenage boys start at the Maine-Canada border and walk south until there is only one boy left. There are rules, of course. And penalties. And insanity. And death. If you read this one, you’ll never forget it.


Recently I visited some family in Illinois. One of the folks there is a big reader of sci-fi and fantasy, and so I waxed on to him over a couple of beers about a recent title, Embassytown, by China Miéville, that I thought one of the best science fiction titles in years.  He told me that I had to read The City and the City, another Miéville title he insisted was equally fantastic.

And right he was. The basic plot has a noir feel: a dead body is found, a hard-boiled Eastern European detective is investigating. But there’s a twist. The city where the murder takes place (Besz) happens to share contiguous space with another, just barely visible, city (Ul Qoman), where a different population and a very different–though related–language is spoken. And, oh yeah, where the murderer perhaps came from. I’ve just started this one and once again  Miéville is pushing–literally, this time–the boundaries of speculative fiction.

It seems I ought to go to Peoria more often.


The following two CDs have been in heavy rotation during my daily commute:

The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 and Beyond. First things first: contemporary country music mostly makes my brain hurt. However, for some inexplicable reason, I love the current wave of bluegrass/folk-alt-country stuff that’s out there (Avett Brothers, anyone?). Thankfully the music producers went that route for most of this soundtrack, which fits the tone of Katniss and Peeta’s District 12 perfectly. I especially like the tracks from Neko Case (“Nothing to Remember”) and Kid Cudi (“The Rule and the Killer”).

Say Anything’s Anarchy, My Dear. I’ve always admired SA leader and primary lyricist, Max Bemis, for his smart, brutally honest songwriting. Though he’s mellowed a bit with age and marriage, he’s still telling it like it is. Standout tracks include “Overbiter,” which includes backing vocals from his wife, Sherri DuPree of the band Eisley, and describes their long-distance courtship; “Admit it Again,” a sequel of sorts to the “Admit It!!!” track on the …Is A Real Boy album (completely worth tracking down to dissect the lyrics); and the title track, “Anarchy, My Dear,” an almost ballad-y ode to rebellion.

Leigh Anne:

I’d like to be able to tell you I’m reading something incredibly literate, deliciously witty, or professionally advantageous. However, I am forced to confess that, in this unseasonable heat, the best I can do is leaf through magazines. Super Girl Scout Niece #1 was selling subscriptions, and I’m a huge fan of The Girl Scouts, so I’m happily parked in front of a fan with Oprah, yoga, and some warm-weather recipe ideas.


In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic, by Professor X. This eye-opening and provocative treatise caught my eye in a review journal. It’s an expansion of an article originally published in The Atlantic magazine, and deals with the unprepared students colleges recruit and the status and treatment of professors (especially adjunct professors like the author), with a bit of the author’s life story mixed in. I was intrigued because the author is an English professor, and he writes extremely well, so the book is interesting, illuminating, and readable. He writes anonymously because he’s worried he’ll lose his job.


For my birthday I received a Kindle Fire from my awesome husband , who always buys me things I think I don’t want until I get them. To my eternal (but not blushing) chagrin, the first thing I did was purchase the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy from Amazon. In case you live under a rock, Fifty Shades is a self-published “erotic BDSM” e-book by a little-known British author named E. L. James. I zipped through Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker in two days. I was ready to run out and buy some grey ties and an Audi.

For over a week now I’ve malingered on the final book, Fifty Shades Freed. I have simply stopped caring about the characters, the story, and the sex. The controversy surrounding this book reminds me of a quote from Fear of Flying author Erica Jong: “My reaction to porn films is as follows: after the first ten minutes, I want to go home and screw. After the first twenty minutes, I never want to screw again as long as I live.”


Sublime Frequencies re-issues strange and wonderful music from all over the world, everything from Bollywood steel guitar to what’s playing on the radio in Morocco. It’s perfect music to listen to while cooking or porch-sitting, and we have quite a few albums available for check-out here at the library.

I’ve also just watched a recently re-released gem on DVD called A Thousand Clowns. Fans of films about eccentric and lovable iconoclasts (and the films of Wes Anderson) should check this one out immediately.


I’m not enjoying this “nice” weather because it’s disturbing to have 80 degree weather in mid-March.  And you know what else doesn’t like it?  Spinach.  Or radishes.  Or any of the other cool weather crops that only grow well when temperatures are in the 60s and 70s.

So I’ll be forced to enjoy such books as The Gardener’s Weather Bible: How to Predict and Prepare for Garden Success in Any Kind of Weather by Sally Roth or The Weather-resilient Garden : a Defensive Approach to Planning & Landscaping by Charles W.G. Smith.

Your turn.  Hot enough for you?  What are you reading / watching / listening to this spring?


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Island Dreaming

Looking for a great vacation location? I lived on the beautiful island of St. Croix, and highly recommend the the U.S. Virgin Islands. No passport is needed since it is a U.S. territory. I’ve identified some library materials to get you in the mood for a trip, or just to immerse yourself in island dreaming.

Travel guidebooks include Frommer’s Virgin Islands, Fodor’s the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Moon Handbooks’ Virgin Islands. While these are great resources to start your research, the best way to learn about the islands and get the inside scoop is to hear from people who live there or have visited there, which you can do before or during your trip.

In the fiction book Don’t Stop the Carnival, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Herman Wouk draws on his own experience managing a hotel on an island near St. Thomas in the 1960s. The comedy about living out your fantasies on an exotic Caribbean island gives a pretty realistic account of the ups and downs of island life.

Wouk’s novel was turned into a short-lived musical by Jimmy Buffet in 1997 and an interactive multimedia CD, Don’t Stop the Carnival, words and music by Jimmy Buffett, can be found at the Library.

Other music and film recordings offer a glimpse of island life:

Zoop Zoop Zoop: Traditional Music and Folklore of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John features folk music field recordings from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Various artists perform the pieces, including “Sly mongoose,” “Me mother had tell me,” and “Cigar win the race.”

Caribbean Dreaming: U.S. Virgin Islands. This DVD brings the island atmosphere to life, with sumptuous visual images and music. From sunrise to sunset, go “behind the scenes” of the islands, visiting the most serene beaches, and observe breathtaking landscapes and ocean views.

Hollywood has shot several films in the USVI. The final scene in The Shawshank Redemption was filmed at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge on St. Croix. It is one of the most beautiful beaches in the entire Caribbean and is only open to the public seasonally during specific times in order to protect sea turtle nests and hatchlings.

Movies with scenes shot on St. Thomas include The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Weekend at Bernie’s II, and Trading Places.


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I’m sorry.

I lost count of the number of mistakes I made in the past week or so, mostly in the “Oh no, I forgot…!” category.  (Did you miss our posting last Thursday, or wonder why there was one on Saturday?  Oops!  My mistake!)   Thank goodness for the phrase, “I’m sorry.” 

I used to be one of those people who apologized if you tripped on the sidewalk 10 feet away from me.  Although I’ve gotten less extreme in my expressions of remorse, I still find that owning up to my mistakes is a helpful, if sometimes difficult, practice.  If you want to learn what apologizing can do for you, or find the perfect way to ask forgiveness, you can read one of these titles:

If you just want to hear someone sing ‘I’m sorry’ to you, you can listen to:


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Today’s post is brought to you by the color blue.

I love blue.  All the many shades of blue.  And in combination with almost any other color:photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt photo credit: DonnaGraysonphoto credit: DonnaGraysonphoto credit: only alicephoto credit: leahphoto credit: 4T9R





Here are a few titles for you to try, brought to you by the color blue:   

Blue: The History of a Color, by Michel Pastoureau: Learn all about blue and its historical, psychological and social contexts.

Messed Up in Love: And Other Tales of Woe: Blues music to make you cry, including such artists as Bessie Smith, Bill Gaither, and Blind Willie McTell.

Blue Collar Comedy Tour: One for the Road:  Check out this DVD or CD and let Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy make you laugh if you’re feeling blue.

The Height of our Mountains: Nature Writing from Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley: Get a true sense of the Blue Ridge Mountains with this collection of essays, fiction, diary entries, and other writings from across history.

The Crow: New Songs for the 5-string Banjo, by Steve Martin: Enjoy the latest Grammy winner for “Bluegrass Album.”

Blue Smoke and Murder, by Elizabeth Lowell: The dangerous world of art collecting may prove to be too much for wilderness expert Jill Breck. Will sexy security expert, Zach Balfour, be able to help?

Blue Ribbon USA: Prizewinning Recipes from State and Country Fairs, by Georgia Orcutt and John Margolies: Get some great recipes, plus a history of state fairs in this quirky cookbook.


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My heart is flying to Brazil right now…

… just in time for Carnaval!  While this time of year is celebrated all around the world in various ways, I want to be in Rio de Janeiro so badly that I can taste the feijoada and feel the beat of the samba drum vibrating in my bones.

Beginning tomorrow night and continuing through Tuesday night, a wild, joyful combination of parades, Carnival balls, street parties, and general merrymaking will overtake Rio in the annual celebration that takes place just before Lent, known as Carnival.  According to The Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival & Lent, the country-wide party started with the arrival of the Portuguese in Brazil during the 16th century, when the colonists brought the tradition with them.  Over the centuries, the customs changed, particularly with the addition of African cultural influences following the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, and the development of the samba schools in the 1930s.  Things got seriously organized when they built the Sambadromo in 1984, a half-mile long samba stadium that seats about 70,000 spectators.  There, the elaborate floats, flag bearers, samba dancers, drummers and singers process down the runway, past the judges and the crowd, representing their community and neighborhood through music, dance and prodigiously-costumed spectacle.

A Carnival float - photo by flickr user Marcus Correa

Clearly, I’m not going to make it there in body, but I will get there in spirit, via the library, with these DVDs and CDs from our collection:

  • The Black Music of Brazil:  A documentary that observes the samba schools as they prepare for Carnival, while also looking at other styles of Afro-Brazilian music.
  • Black Orpheus:  This 1959 feature film tells the story of Eurydice and Orpheus, set during Carnival in Rio.
  • Black Rio Vol. 2, Original Samba Soul 1968-1981:  Dance music from the Brazilian soul scene.
  • Dance Today!  Samba and The Samba Reggae Workout:  Learn  to dance two different styles of Brazilian samba from Quenia Ribeiro.  The first is a Rio-style samba – check out the awesomely ridiculous high heels in the performance segments of the DVD.  The second features samba-reggae dance moves.  Samba-reggae is a style not from Rio, but from next year’s destination of my heart:  Bahia.  It’s a combination of Samba and Jamaican Reggae that developed in the 1970s in the city of Salvador.  Don’t be confused by the titles, both are a workout!
  • Brazil, Bahia:  Dance along to more samba-reggae, along with tropicalia and axé, two other styles of Brazilian pop music.
  • Grandes Sambistas:  featuring Velha Guarda da Portela performing sambas by Wilson Moreira, Nelson Sargento, and others.
  • Pure Brazil: Caipirinha: 14 Tracks for Drinking and Dancing:  No post featuring Brazilian music would be complete without some bossa novas, whether or not samba rules the day during Carnival.  Brazilian music has been heavily influenced by jazz, and this CD features many top performers like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso.



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Simon Winchester: a man who gives his books excessively long titles*

And yet, I enjoy them all the same. Here’s a rundown of the ones that I’ve read or listened to over the years.

This island no longer exists, alas.

Krakatoa: the Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883 – The title pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? Sure, it starts out slowly with some insanely dense geology lessons, but it all pays off when the volcano erupts, levelling the island of Krakatoa and killing nearly 40,000 people. There’s a lot of neat colonial and scientific history here, along with first-hand accounts of the eruption. Available as a book or book on CD.

(Oh, and here’s an amazing article about the eruption from The Atlantic, published in September of 1884!)

It looks like a head but it's really an arch.

The Man Who Loved China: the Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom – The tale of a British biologist, happily married and minding his own business in Cambridge, who falls hopelessly in love with a Chinese exchange student. He then starts to wonder why China seems so scientifically backward compared to the West, and sets out to unearth the history of science in China, cranking out a definitive encyclopedia in the process. Available as a book or book on CD.

book jacket

"The Map That Just Hung There" wasn't as good a title.

The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology – Our hero, the son of a blacksmith (and thus decidedly not among the upper class scientific elite) notices the patterns in layers of rock throughout England and Wales, produces a lovely map, and is promptly ripped off by the Geological Society. But fear not; happy endings prevail. I’ll admit that I didn’t find this book nearly as interesting as the others, but that may be because I was listening to it while trying to repair opera CDs. Available as a book or OverDrive downloadable audio book.

book jacket

They really knew how to grow beards back then.

The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary – An American surgeon goes rather batty during the Civil War and offs an unfortunate bloke while vacationing in London. He’s put into Broadmoor for his crime, where he spends many many many years contributing to the illustrious OED. Contains one particular scene that may cause you to drive off the road if you’re listening in your car. Available as a book or book on CD.

(Did you know that the OED is now only available electronically? You can access it in the library. We have an old print version, too!)

Well, that should keep you keep you busy for a while. And if you need more, check out Simon Winchester’s website or look up his other books in our catalog.

Remember kids, learning can be fun!

– Amy, from the land of Film & Audio

* Neither Simon Winchester nor HarperCollins bribed me to write this post; I just like unusual histories. But if they’d care to stop by and say howdy or throw a little blog traffic our way, that would be fine with us. Really.


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Being green is not for everyone; or why I love my car.

I have a confession to make. Well, it’s not really a confession per se, as it’s not a secret and I don’t feel guilty about it – but still, here goes:

My name is Amy, and I drive a car to work. Alone. Five days a week or more.

“Oh the horror!” you exclaim. “Surely in these days of global warming, economic crisis, and high gas prices, there must be something you can do!”

Well yes, I am doing a few things. My tires are properly inflated, I have taken all of the useless weight out of my car, and I tend to drive at the speed limit now (which is boring, but it does save gas). But all of those other enviromentally-trendy things? Here’s why they don’t work for me.

Hybrids: Sure, hybrids are neato. But I’ve finally paid off my non-gas-guzzling compact, and I really don’t want to be saddled with another car payment, not to mention the potential increase in my insurance. As long as my monthly gas bill is less than a new car payment, I’m not switching.

Walking: I live 15 miles away from this here library, so walking is right out. Though we do have more than one librarian here who walks to work most every day – and good for them, I say! Maybe offering them a ride now and then can be my way of atoning for my continued car ownership. Any takers?

Bicycling: Ah, the smug bicycle-riding public. Now don’t get me wrong, many of them are quite nice and I certainly don’t wish them any harm. But again, I must point out that “I live 15 miles away” thing – and that’s 15 miles straight and true on the parkway. There’s no way I’d survive bicycle + parkway, even if it were permitted. And I’m sure that the library would like me to reach work 1. alive, 2. presentable, and 3. vaguely on time. That’s not going to happen with a bicycle.

(Another thing that annoys me about bicycles – those who park in the same garage as I do sometimes complain about the bicycle facilities, and they don’t even pay for parking! Meanwhile, I lose a chunk of every paycheck for the privilege of parking where I work. So shove it, bicycle peeps.)

Carpools: Sharing a ride and saving money sounds like a great idea, but where am I going to find a carpool that will stick around until 6 or 8 PM to wait for me? The library has some odd hours, you know. And I doubt that I can find three other people willing to listen to my preferred books on CD.

Public transportation: Ah, the bus. Again, great if you live in the city, but not so great for those of us on the outer limits. In the city you can choose from any number of routes and stops, but out where I live, there is only. one. bus. that would take me anywhere useful – and I’d still have to drive ten minutes to the nearest bus stop.

(I used to take the bus now and then when I was an undergrad, until the fateful day when someone puked in the back. Imagine spending a 45-minute trip watching particolored chunks of vomit and soppy bile rolling up and down the grimy rubber floor mats of the bus as it climbs and descends the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania – all the while keeping your feet up on your seat and hoping that the driver doesn’t make any sudden turns or abrupt stops. Nearly poetic, eh? If that doesn’t put you off riding the bus, I’m not sure what will.)

Moving closer to work: Well, there’s the higher rent, the higher taxes, the higher cost of living, the higher insurance, and who knows what else. Heck, even gas is more expensive in the city, sometimes by as much as an extra ten cents per gallon! So sure, I could move closer, but I doubt I could afford it unless I defaulted on my student loans. I like my credit rating the way it is, thank you kindly.

And there you have it – why green transportation is not for me. So the next time you’re sitting in a bus sneering at the people in the cars beside you, stop and think – maybe this is the best they can do. As for me, I’ll turn up my stereo and relax, and I promise to look out for your bicycle.


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