Tag Archives: history

That one book…

I was struggling to come up with a topic for this blog post, so I started perusing previous posts to try and spark my creative writing. Many of our posts are about items we recommend, because they have stuck with us, had an impact and/or meant something to us (and that’s great!). It made me wonder if anyone else had experienced a book or movie, that afterwards you couldn’t remember what you had just seen or read?

There have been a couple of books that I have had that experience with, and I don’t think it’s because they are poorly written. They just don’t have the same impact that so many other books have had. I mean, I have 773 books on my Goodreads list — I joined it in 2012, so that’s about 200 books a year on average — and sometimes when I scroll through, I see a title and can’t remember what happened or how the book ended. Like at all. I see the title, and I think “Did I really read that? What the heck is that book?”

Here are the top three books that I’ve read … apparently … but cannot remember:

Mystic City by Theo Lawrence
mystic city

In a Manhattan where the streets are under water and outcasts called mystics have paranormal powers, Aria Rose is engaged to Thomas Foster and the powerful Rose and Foster families—long time enemies—are uniting politically; the only trouble is that Aria can not remember ever meeting Thomas, much less falling in love with him.

What I do remember about this book is that it is part of a series, and it is in the dystopian realm. If you like series because you know exactly what you are going to read next, then give this one a try. I know it seems weird that I’m recommending a book that I don’t (entirely) remember, but I gave it 3 stars!

City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
city of falling angels

An intimate look at the “magic, mystery and decadence” of the city of Venice and its inhabitants.

I remember I wanted to read this book because it was about Venice (I’ve traveled there), and it was about a fire that destroyed a historical part of Venice (I was also a history major). I’m not a HUGE fan of nonfiction though. I’ve always struggled getting through them for some reason (I’m working on it).

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
dante club

In 1865 Boston, a small group of literary geniuses put the finishing touches on America’s first translation of “The Divine Comedy.” When a series of murders erupt throughout Boston, only the scholars realize that the style of the killings are stolen directly from “Dante’s Inferno.”

 

What books have you forgotten?

-Abbey

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The Difference: Thoughts during Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, and I have been reflecting on the long history of women’s issues, especially in the workplace where woman have historically had to deal with lower pay, sexual harassment and other types of discrimination. Over the years I have tailored my own actions as a woman in the workplace based on my experiences and the fear that I would appear less than equal to my male co-workers.

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Click for a list of books on back pain available through the Library.

In the last month I had two medical issues to deal with. The most recent happened when I managed to slip while hiking  and wretched my back. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening on the couch with a heating pad and letting the kids destroy the house. It wasn’t until Monday morning when I dropped like a sack of potatoes trying to stand up that I realized I may have done a little more than pulled a muscle. Turns out I am the new owner of a bulging disc. Not a slipped or herniated disc, just one that is bulging, and I have been told this is better, less painful.

The whole scenario was pretty funny and offered some excellent stories for me to tell. In less than 48 hours I over-shared this whole experience with co-workers and my poor boss … texting him at 6 am to tell him I wasn’t going to come in to work and explaining the why and the how. I am sure he was beyond thrilled to be woken up at 6 in the morning to me explaining that my left leg was numb and asking about back injuries.

The other medical issue? Well, it was a miscarriage. This, dear reader, is difficult to discuss. I like to share funny stories, but emotions? Not so much.  It happened in the middle of February and began at work. I had to ask to leave. I spent the rest of the day on the couch experiencing intense symptoms and eventually had to go to the ER. I was then sore, tired and overall pretty off for a few days. I had gone in to work, though, and assumed I would be fine, but it turned out I just wasn’t. Yet I was loath to tell my boss; I needed to explain to him that I was not well and needed to leave, that I had pushed myself too hard but it hadn’t worked. What was the difference? I told him every sordid detail of my back escapades, why didn’t I share this medical emergency too?

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Click for a list of books on handling miscarriage and infertility.

Partially it was because it wasn’t funny. I like to make people laugh, and letting them laugh at my own misfortune is fine, but this went beyond misfortune to misery. The other reason, I think, is because it can’t happen to him, at least to his person. Anyone can have back issues, and it didn’t make me feel weak or “less than” to share that experience, but I was afraid to talk about my miscarriage. I was afraid that it would look bad to discuss a woman’s issue in the workplace and to use it as a reason for missing work.

Of course, this was my own inner projection. My boss is a lovely, caring soul who could not have been more understanding and accepting. The difference though, was my own experience of how it would be perceived. As a younger woman in the workplace I heard the grumbles from co-workers about the moms who would leave early to get a sick child. At the time, I vowed never to be that woman. Then I had kids of my own, and I have left on many occasions for lots of issues, all the while hoping that my co-workers understood.

The experience of women in the work place isn’t something that is the same across the board. It is as different as each person in the work place. We all have our share of obstacles and difficulties, and my recent experiences serve as a reminder to me that we should support each other, because you just don’t know what might be going on behind the scenes. I am lucky to have experienced such support at work, but realize this isn’t the case with every, or possibly most, women in the workplace.

This is a huge issue, and thankfully, the Library has plenty of resources where you can learn more about women’s issues in the workplace:

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-Natalie

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Remember

I find it absolutely hilarious that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh shares its birthday with V for Vendetta day (a/k/a Guy Fawkes day for those of you who don’t speak geek). For starters, V. and Carnegie would not have liked each other at all. Also, V. was concerned about helping the common man by blowing up powerful institutions; Carnegie, for his part, was often unkind to ordinary folks, but was still interested in building institutions for them. The irony is more than a little palpable.

So, in addition to everything else you need to remember today, take note that Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh turns 120 years old this November 5th. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed; much has changed, but many things have remained the same. Governor Daniel Hartman Hastings, one of the speakers at the Library’s 1895 dedication ceremony, had this to say of the enterprise:

The public library is equally a public necessity and a public blessing. Its unfolding and spreading influence for good is beyond calculation. This community already thrills in anticipation of the blossoming and the ripening fruit to come from the tree this day planted.

Here is a temple of enduring stone which will stand through the ages, whose grand and graceful proportions will be a constant source of pleasure to the beholder. Here, Music will charm the ear and gladden the soul. Here, Art will welcome and inspire her devotees. Here, Literature will sit upon her throne and the children of men will gather wisdom at her feet. Here are assembled the representatives of the greatest industrial community in the land to receive the trust committed to their keeping by a benefactor and a philanthropist.

Today the temple of stone is still, indeed, standing*. She’s had a bit of work done, but is all the better for it. Music is still here, and still charming. Art remains welcoming. Literature has expanded her kingdom by leaps and bounds, in ways Carnegie himself couldn’t have predicted. And the Library has consistently—most recently through its current strategic plan—proved itself both a blessing and a necessity to the Pittsburgh region. One of the city’s biggest, best fruit baskets, so to speak.

Nothing there anyone could complain about. Not even V.

Super Science @ CLP - Squirrel Hill, circa 2012 - photographer unknown. Click through to learn more about STEM programming at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Super Science @ CLP – Squirrel Hill, circa 2012 – photographer unknown. Click through to learn more about STEM programming at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Will the Library still be here 120 years from now, when we all have internet chips in our brains and we finally get those hoverboards we were promised? I think so. It might look different, but the mission will still be the same: to engage our community in literacy and learning. Complex characters both fictional and historical will still be here, whispering reason—or revolution—as you walk by. And of course, through our programs, services and community engagements, the Library will still be planting, and harvesting, all sorts of fruit for you to enjoy.

The grandeur of the past, the excitement of the present and the hope of the future. Who could ask for a better gift? If you feel the same, please share your Library story and tell us how CLP has affected your life. To learn about other ways you can remember the Library on this momentous occasion, click here.

–Leigh Anne

*Does this make library workers Stone Temple Pilots?  Hm.

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Authors Hate Him! Local Blogger Discovers Amazing List Of Things To Do Besides Reading. Number 12 Will Blow Your Mind!

Recently we had a behind-the-scenes discussion about pacing in books, the merits of a slower pace versus a faster pace and all that fun stuff. At the time I was reading The Train from Pittsburgh by Julian Farren and didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation. I’ve mentioned before that I have issues with reading during the summer months so pacing is almost a non-issue. But that’s the great thing about books; they never go away.

The Train from Pittsburgh is one book that I wish would have gone away.

I came upon it on an unremarkable day. I was browsing Facebook, as I am wont to do, when it showed up in a post from The Odd, Mysterious & Fascinating History of Pittsburgh, a great page that definitely lives up to its name. Anyway, I thought, “Oh, it’s got Pittsburgh in the title. I must read it!”

“His wife liked his friends… too much!”
The Train From Pittsburgh from 1952
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Posted by The Odd, Mysterious & Fascinating History of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Looking at that cover, I was hoping for a cheesy, pulpy, noir-y book set in 1950s Pittsburgh. What I got was a book originally published in 1948 about white people drinking in excess and whining about their problems with a sometimes not-so-subtle undercurrent of antisemitism and anticommunism. Like if Archie Bunker had been on Cheers and if it wasn’t hilarious.

The main character, Tom Bridges, is an alcoholic who is cheating on his wife, Ellen, but that’s all right because she’s cheating on him, too. Tom is trying to get a man named Mike Myers (no, not that Mike Myers) a job, but Tom’s boss doesn’t want to hire him because Mike is Jewish. Poor Mike is bringing his entire family on the eponymous train from Pittsburgh to New York because Tom practically guaranteed him a job.

Tom gets lit the same night Ellen throws a big party in their New York home and—sixty-seven-year-spoiler-alert—after all the guests leave, Tom decides he’s going to kill Ellen and then himself. His plan is thwarted when Ellen decides she wants to try to get pregnant again.

In the morning he wakes up with a massive hangover and realizes he’s missed the titular train’s arrival. We’re left with no murder-suicide and the presumption that Mike and his family are wandering the streets of New York City.

Pictured: Tom, or me trying to trudge through this book.

Pictured: Tom, or me trudging through this book.

Sometimes unlikable characters can be endearing, as Irene pointed out, but these characters were a waste. Their awfulness compounded with the protracted chapters (I’m sorry, but no chapter ever needs to be sixty pages) filled me with dread each time I picked the book up.

It was so awful that I came up with a list of things that I could have been doing instead of reading:

  1. Finally watch Pink Flamingos
  2. Watch someone Whip and/or Nae Nae
  3. Set the time on a VCR
  4. Find a VCR
  5. Convince myself I like sports
  6. Shop for some sweet Affliction deep V-neck shirts
  7. Finally start a quinoa blog
  8. Have a conversation online using only Tom Hiddleston .gifs
  9. Fill myself with delight reading the Common Misconceptions page on Wikipedia
  10. Picture the actor Mike Myers as Wayne from Wayne’s World as the Mike Myers in the book
  11. Wonder what it would take for our Port Authority to make a cat its stationmaster
  12. Come up with an inane list of activities and publish it on a blog with a readership of about one metric ton [citation needed]

I didn’t do any of those things. I stuck it out because I knew that by reading I was at least engaging my brain. When I finished this book, I didn’t feel like I needed a moment of silence; I felt like I needed to excise the book from me. The next time I get a hankering to read about Pittsburgh in the early part of the last century, I’ll just reread Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.

So, dear readers, I now ask you, how does the pacing of a book affect your desire to read it? Do you prefer a quick pace or a pace where things take their time to unfold? Have you ever wanted to throw a book across the room in frustration of its banality? Let us know in the comments below!

–Ross

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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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Anniversaries

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
Gillingham.

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.

–Audrey

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Going Backstage with Our American Cousin

I select all of my husband’s reading material.

He’s perfectly capable of choosing a book by himself, of course. It’s just that I happen to work at the Library. And after being together for 25 years, I’ve gotten incredibly good at knowing what his preferences are … um … between the covers.

In the bookish sense, that is.

Ahem.

Backstage at the Lincoln AssassinationOne of the books that I brought home recently for the husband’s consideration was Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination: The Untold Story of the Actors and Stagehands at Ford’s Theatre, by Thomas A. Bogar.  Which prompted my beloved to ask me – in the course of his reading and during what passes for two-plus-decades old marital conversation fodder these days  – about some ancestors who are buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, a well-known Philadelphia resting place steeped in history.

“Your Hess relatives are there,” I answered, mentally dusting off some genealogical research I’d conducted years ago.

“Huh. Well. You won’t believe this and I’m not 100% sure, but I think two of them might have been at Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was shot.”

“Please don’t tell me we’re related to John Wilkes Booth, for God’s sake,” I said. “We have enough problems.”

Now, everyone knows all about the main characters who had a starring role in the first-ever presidential assassination, which occurred exactly 150 years ago. We know about the President and Mary Todd Lincoln and the infamous John Wilkes Booth. We’ve heard of Ford’s Theatre, and some of us might even know that the play being performed that fateful night was Our American Cousin.

But there haven’t been many accolades for the people who were actually onstage and those assisting with the production itself.

Until now.

In Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination, theater historian and author Thomas A. Bogar tells his reader about the 46 actors, managers and stagehands who found themselves in the spotlight during one of history’s defining moments.

And among them? Courtland V. Hess, a 25-year-old singer and actor from Philadelphia who was not feeling well on that ill-fated evening and who was scheduled to play the role of Lieutenant Vernon in Our American Cousin.  Also at the play was William Heiss, who was at the performance to see his brother Courtland (who had, apparently, thought it prudent to drop the pesky family “i” on his quest for fame and glory). William Heiss was somewhat of a Big Deal with the telegraph service; it seems that he was involved with the decision to shut down the commercial telegraphs immediately following Lincoln being shot.

(My husband, who earned a masters degree in American history, is physically cringing that I am writing this post from his memory and without double-checking the actual source for myself. I get that, but … well, I’m on deadline for this column and Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination is, as of this writing, currently checked out. To keep a modicum of nerdy peace in the family, my husband is making me promise you, dear Eleventh Stack reader, and especially Mr. Bogar, that I’ll go back and make sure I know what the hell I’m talking about.)

Regardless, this intriguing tidbit of information – along with my putzing around on the Internet and my previous findings while climbing our family tree – is more than enough to pique my curiosity about our family’s potential connection to the Lincoln assassination.

And what do you know?  Fortunately, there happens to be a place where I can find out whether Courtland Hess and William Heiss are, in fact, our very own American cousins 150 years removed.

Are you curious to learn if one of your relatives had a front-row seat to history? If so, the Pennsylvania Department of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers a wealth of genealogical materials, databases and classes for beginner and advanced researchers alike. Contact or visit the Pennsylvania Department at the Main Library of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to find out more.

~ Melissa F.

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