Tag Archives: fiction

What Book Changed Your Story?

Happy end of Pride Month, everyone! We celebrated with you this June at PrideFest by making a community quilt, and now I want to share what a wonderful experience we had. We asked PrideFest attendees to write a title of “A Book That Changed Your Story” on a quilt square, and the finished quilt will start to travel around our 19 branches in the fall. Here’s a teaser:

Photo taken by the author.

Photo taken by the author.

So, “What book changed your story?” I love this question for a few reasons. First, reading is a highly personal activity. We pick what we read, and we read what we love, which makes bookshelves probably the second window into the soul. (Raise your hand if you, too, make a beeline to someone’s bookshelf as soon as you spot it.)

Second, I like that this question makes us think about the profound effect reading has on our lives. There’s probably that one line you’ve read that you never came back from — that changed how you saw yourself, the world and your place in the world.

And then I like this question because, at PrideFest, it became abundantly clear that a concomitant joy of reading is living in the company of readers. There’s the thrill of excitement and sense of affirmation seeing someone read a book that’s dear to you as they wait for the bus and the fun of talking to someone about that book, or them asking you about it.

Photo by Maggie McFalls.

Photo by Maggie McFalls.

At PrideFest, some of you knew right away what book changed you. Others left the table, thought about the books they’d read and themselves, and came back hours later to answer the question. And when you answered, some shared stories about those books: reading Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love in the early nineties after the AIDS crisis, naming a beloved daughter with some clever wordplay from the The Velveteen Rabbit (which is read by Meryl Streep on OverDrive). Many people answered that Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues changed your story, but almost all of you had different reasons why. One person praised Winnie the Pooh’s values and the character’s disregard for “gender role or size”. (It’s all about that honey!) We talked about children’s novels (Mommy, Mama, and Me), YA (I Am J, How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater, The Miseducation of Cameron Post), fiction (Rubyfruit Jungle, The Front Runner) and non-fiction (Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, anyone?).

Another reason I love this question is because we identify ourselves in so many different ways. Identifying and claiming a title is empowering. Sometimes, we find community, and we find ourselves when we do so. The only thing I know for sure is that on a fundamental level I am a reader, and I’ve always loved meeting my own people. Pittsburgh makes a lot of best-of lists, but one thing that isn’t mentioned explicitly is the people. So let me say explicitly that the best thing about Pittsburgh is yinz. Thank you to all who shared, thanks for being… my neighbor.



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A Summer Reading To-Do List

My blanket summer reading goal is to chip away at my ridiculous to-read list. But I think, more than that, I’d like (need) to be a slightly more intentional and finally get to a few things I might have had checked out a little too long (sorry, owning libraries!).



–  Jess


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I like to ponder past significant events. This month there are two giant ones. I would like you to consider: The signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

The Magna Carta was a signed agreement between the despotic King John (1166-1216) and his fractious Barons on a field at Runnymede near Windsor, England in 1215. That was 800 years ago. Hard to wrap your mind around an event which took place that long ago. That initial agreement very quickly failed and John and his Barons were back at each other’s throats. So why do we care? The Magna Carta is described as one of the “most celebrated magnacartadocuments in history.” Some historians claim that this document is thought to be the precursor of modern Democracy. It influenced the American founding fathers as they created the Constitution. Four of the early copies of the Magna Carta still exist. These manuscripts are so rare and revered that during WWII, the British government shipped a copy to the United States for safekeeping. That copy lived at Fort Knox, Kentucky until the war was over.

Many published books discuss this document and the time in England when it came to be. I recommend the fascinating 1215: The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John

Then there is Waterloo, which occurred 200 years ago. Just about everyone knows about the famous battle, the final defeat of Napoleon, and the end to a European war which had lasted 23 years. The Battle of Waterloo took place on June 18, 1815 in what is now Belgium. Tens of thousands tragically died on both sides; the carnage was enormous.

sageMany books , both fiction and non-fiction, describe the events of this military campaign. A recent edition to this body of work is a small volume entitled The Sage of Waterloo: A Tale by Leona Francombe. This novel relates what happened during that fateful battle. On June 17, 1815, the Duke of Wellington amassed his troops at Hougoumont, an ancient farmstead not far from the town of Waterloo. On June 18th, the French attacked. It is believed that both Napoleon and Wellington thought that holding Hougoumont was key to winning the battle.

What makes this telling so different is that it is told by a modern young rabbit named William who lives on what remains of the old farm. Under the teachings of his mysterious and wise grandmother, Old Lavender, William learns about the famous conflict and begins to absorb the “echoes and ghosts of the battle.” Gradually, William comes to realize how profoundly the deeds at Waterloo two hundred years before continue to resonate.

“Nature,” as Old Lavender says, “never truly recovers from human cataclysms.”

The Sage of Waterloo is a satisfying retelling of a key turning point in human history.


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Ready, Set…. Goal!

Summer Reading has long been the domain of children and teens. In fact, we’re sometimes so focused on getting younger folks to read during the summer, it’s easy for people to forget that Summer Reading is important and exciting for adults, too!

This year, CLP is getting more intentional about Summer Reading by asking adult readers to go a step further than simply logging the number of pages or books they’ve read. We’re asking that you set a Summer Reading goal and let us know how it goes! Throughout the summer, we’ll share tips, book recommendations, supplemental readings and library resources related to your goal.  Your goal can be anything at all related to reading. To prove it, here’s a look at the Summer Reading goals of some CLP volunteers.

Ashley P.:Blue Lily, Lily Blue

I have a problem. I read the first book in a series, love it, plan to continue the series…and then never do! So, to try and combat this problem, my summer reading goal is to finish at least 10 books from series I have already begun but never finished. On my list? Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan, Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater, and Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch.


I’m a mother to an 8-year-old boy who would much rather be playing Minecraft than reading, so one of my goals is to supervise his summer reading program as well as read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to him at bedtime in the hope that it will inspire him to begin reading chapter books. For myself, this summer I’m going to read books with a landscape theme. One of these is Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, another is Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error, the great Annales School historical work by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, and a third is The Great Gatsby. I’m going to read Montaillou with an eye to writing a short story featuring a character in Ladurie’s history, the Cathar shepherd Pierre Maury. Wish me luck!


After weeks of agonizing over what my summer reading goal would be this year, I decided not to decide. Or rather, to decide on a multi-genre goal since I couldn’t settle on all one category of anything. I’m going to read five books, in no particular order.

Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley

  1. Something self-improvement: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I know so many people who have read and loved this book, and I’m a slob, so I’m hoping this will revolutionize my life. Or at least my apartment.
  2. Something hilarious: Meaty by Samantha Irby. I occasionally read her blog, Bitches Gotta Eat. (Who knew that tales of Crohn’s disease could be so funny?) As you may guess from the title of her blog, the profanity is free-flowing, so not suitable for folks sensitive to that kind of thing.
  3. Something sciencey: The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery. Because nothing screams a serious interest in science like using the word “sciencey.”
  4. Something from my culture of origin: Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley by Ann Pancake. I’m a native West Virginian, and have a special affinity for stories about my Appalachian homeland. Also, I was roommates with her brother during college for a while.
  5. Something recommended to me by a CLP librarian: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari. I attended the Volunteer Appreciation event in April (which was awesome, by the way!) and Suzy from the South Side branch suggested this based on my special blend of literary nerdiness.

Ashley H.:

I started out with a pretty ambitions reading goal of all the unread books in my Audible collection.  When I actually checked to see how many unread books I had, it turned out to be about 25 books.  After doing some quick math, this translated to over 320 hours of reading or about 3 hours of reading every single day through August 31.  Since I barely get half an hour of free time every day, this seemed like an over ambitious goal.  So, I broke down my books into 3 categories, fiction, education non-fiction, and history non-fiction.  My new goal is to read three books from each category this summer, which I think is a little more reasonable.  My first book this week was Dead Ice by Laurell K. Hamilton.  Hamilton’s Anita Blake series is one of my favorite series books full of horror, action, sci-fi and more.  My next pick will have to be something from non-fiction, maybe The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner.


I’ve got a long list of books on my ‘to-read’ list. Some of them have been there for ages, and keep getting pushed to the bottom (you know how it is….when someone tells you about an especially good, or new book that you just have to read… the list just never ends). So this summer, I’m going to the bottom of my list and challenging myself to read books that I have been putting off. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, as well as Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles,ASR Landing Page Graphic (2) by Richard Dowden are two that will definitely bump their way to the top! Another mini goal I have for myself is to read a couple of nonfiction books. I have a tendency to shy away from nonfiction!

Ready? Set? GOAL: Sign up for Summer Reading at carnegielibrary.org/summer, set your goal, receive encouragement and tips, and be entered to win some awesome prizes.

Happy Reading!



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And the Winners Are…

Thank you for reading along with us during Pride Week! We close out our 5-day series with a brief look at some award-winning books.


The winners of the 27th annual Lambda Literary Awards were announced on June 1, 2015. The Lammys, as they are affectionately called, honor the best LGBTQIA+ writing in a variety of categories. If you’re new to queer lit and don’t know where to start, why not right at the top?

Here are a few of this year’s award-winners.

Bisexual Nonfiction: Fire Shut Up in my Bones, Charles Blow.

Blow, a dynamic art/op-ed member of The New York Times staff, winds the many threads of his life story around the violation of trust that kept his spirit in chains.

Gay General Fiction: I Loved You More, Tom Spanbauer.

Ben and Hank meet and fall in love in 1980s New York. Years after their affair, Ben falls in love with a woman named Ruth. Their life together is calm and pleasant, until Hank reappears. Whose love will carry the day?

Lesbian Mystery: The Old Deep and Dark, Ellen Hart.

The title refers to an old theatre in downtown Minneapolis two sisters are restoring to its former glory. Unfortunately, there’s a dead body in the basement that’s mucking up the project. Even though she’s hard at work on another case, private investigator Jane Lawless agrees to tackle the problem, and discovers her twin mysteries just might have elements in common.

LGBT Anthology: Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History, Leila J. Rupp & Susan K. Freeman, eds.

Same-sex love and gender fluidity are hardly new concepts in world history. Rupp and Freeman’s textbook collects information and materials teachers can use to incorporate often-neglected queer historical narratives in their classrooms. Also contains essays written by teachers of LGBTQ history describing their experiences.

LGBT Graphic Novels: Second Avenue Caper, Joyce Brabner & Mark Zingarelli. 

Local artist Zingarelli illustrates Brabner’s story about her friend Ray Dobbins, a nurse in New York City. After the government basically turns its back on what was then a frightening new disease, Dobbins and his circle of friends team up to find help for people suffering from AIDS….no matter how risky or dramatic said help might turn out to be.

Transgender Nonfiction: Man Alive, Thomas Page McBee.

In very short chapters that zig-zag through time, Page explores the two traumatic events that shaped his life experiences and questions the mythical elements of manhood.

For a complete list of this year’s winners and finalists, click here. To learn more about queer writing/literature, the Library’s LGBTQ book/film collections, or related programming / community involvement, ask a librarian!

Enjoy Pride Weekend, Pittsburgh, and happy reading.

–Leigh Anne




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No Fooling

Hey, hey, guess what day it is!


No, not that. The other thing. April Fools’ Day, the one day of the year when the Internet tries to deceive you more often than usual!

Not here at Eleventh Stack, though. We’re dedicated to the truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter what day it is. This is, of course, because truth is usually wackier and more interesting than anything we could try to trick you with. For your edification and delight, here are some books with titles that sound bogus, but are 100% real, and available for checkout through the Library.

Eating People is WrongMalcolm Bradbury. Being the English department chair isn’t all eatingit’s cracked up to be. Exhibit A: one year in the life of Stuart Treece,  a professor at a small British university. You’ll cackle–or wince–as the hapless Treece bumbles his way through the school year, making social blunders and questionable moral decisions. A fine example of the academic comic of manners, in the same vein as Kingsley Amis and David Lodge.

Eeeee eee eeee, Tao Lin. Fresh out of college and at loose ends, Andrew spends his time working at a pizza shop, driving around with his ex-girlfriend, ruminating on the meaning eeeeof life, and–occasionally–working on some short stories about “people who are doomed.” Between episodes of navel-gazing, strange things happen. Random celebrity cameos, the occasional bear, and highly intelligent dolphins who could speak to humans, but choose not to, dance in and out of the narrative. Think of it as a somewhat snootier version of the Clerks universe randomly interrupted by acid flashbacks. Ideal for anyone excited about experimental fiction, the daily life of the North American hipster, or dolphins.

The Tetherballs of Bougainville, Mark Leyner. If you like satire, black humor, and endless discussions of literary/film culture, this is the Godiva truffle of a novel you didn’t know you were searching for. Leyner’s protagonist is…a 13-year-old Mark Leyner, who has just won tetherballs$250,000,000 a year for life in a screenwriting contest. The problem is, the screenplay is due in 24 hours, and he hasn’t actually written it yet. Wait, what? It gets weirder. Luckily for Leyner, his dad is about to survive his execution by lethal injection due to a very high drug tolerance. And onward and downward and around we go, into a world where Leyner and his dad are ghostwriters for some of America’s most popular novelists.  Add in the use of three different narrative styles, and this novel is a head-scratcher only a dedicated lit maven could love. Includes one incredibly intense sexual situation, for those of you who are leery of (or fond of) such things.

Theatre of Fish, John Gimlette. If you like travel memoirs, you might enjoy Gimlette’s tale of retracing his great-grandfather’s footsteps across the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. Dr. Eliot Curwen spent the summer of 1893 tending the sick of the region, and fishhis frank account of the inhabitants’ difficult life inspired Gimlette to travel there himself and see what it’s like in the present day.  Gimlette’s approach was simple: arrive in a town, head for the bar, and find the area’s most talkative people (no mean feat with this crew) to spin him some yarns. As a result, bear-fighting goats, nearly impenetrable dialects, tall tales, bizarre pasts and strange presents await the curious reader who can appreciate the absurdity of life in a region where, despite changes, much has remained the same.

I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems By Cats, Francesco Marciuliano. April peeis National Poetry Month, so why not start it off on the right foot with this collection of the finest feline verse in America (and, quite possibly, the planet)?  If you’ve ever wondered what your kitty is really thinking about you, her/his psyche will be laid bare in poems such as “Kneel Before Me” and “This is My Chair.”  Marciuliano, who is also the current writer of “Sally Forth,” includes all the common cat foibles, such as knocking over Christmas trees and dipping their paws in whatever your were drinking, organized into four categories: family, work, play, and existence. Dog lovers, fret not: the companion volume, I Could Chew on This, ensures that puppy poets also get their day in the sun.

Believe it or not, there is an actual prize for weird book titles, the Bookseller/Diagram Prize sponsored by–who else?–The Bookseller (UK). Some of the winning choices strike me as unfair and unkind, given that they actually make sense in the context of what the author was trying to do (this mostly happens with non-fiction). But even so, there are definitely a lot of titles out there that fall into “what is this I don’t even” territory.

What’s the weirdest book title you’ve ever seen? Did it make sense in some way, or was it a complete mystery to you? I’d love to hear your choices in the comments section…no fooling.

Leigh Anne



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Action, Adventure, Monsters! or Some Comics I Want to Read

Since mid-December, I’ve been neck-deep in the process of buying a house and then renovating it. This has severely cut into my comic book reading time.

To keep me from going insane with all the (hopefully) good books I’m missing, I’ve compiled a want-to-read list.

Fables Volume 20: Camelot by Bill Willingham and various wonderful artists
fablesFables starts out with showing how fairy tale characters have adapted to life in present-day New York City, but has morphed into something much deeper and more epic over the ten-plus years of its run. The past few volumes have been beautifully devastating, so I’m both excited and scared to find out what happens next.

Fatale Volume 5 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
fatale5I’ll read anything by Ed Brubaker. He does crime noir so well, it’s like he invented it. This particular series mixes the femme fatale and horror genres to create a dark, twisted mystery.


Ms. Marvel Volume 1 by G. Willow Wilson

msmarvel1When Marvel announced the new Ms. Marvel would be a shape-shifting Iranian immigrant Muslim lady, and that it would be written by a real live Muslim woman, I was psyched. Sales for this have been going steady, so I’m thinking it’s going to be even more awesome than the concept alone implies. I suggest following author G. Willow Wilson on Twitter–she posts interesting tweets about religion, social justice, and of course, comics.

Rat Queens Volume 1 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and various artists
ratqueensLike a Dungeons and Dragons quest, only with ladies kicking butt. Need I say more?


Have you read any of these? What did you think?



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