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Wish List

The other day I heard a radio station advertising themselves as Pittsburgh’s number one station for Christmas music, and I felt a number of conflicting emotions: panic at the thought of Christmas shopping already, horror at the idea that Christmas is being sold before Halloween is even over and excitement over giving gifts and celebrating the holiday season.

Despite the fact that in my opinion it’s far too early to be looking at Christmas displays, I have to admit that I’ve been dropping little hints to my family about books that I hope to receive this year. Here are a few things on my wish list:

gracejonesI’ll Never Write My Memoirs, by Grace Jones: Grace Jones has been one of my idols for years. She’s so fierce and androgynously gorgeous! I imagine the first time she crossed my radar was when I saw A View to a Kill or Conan the Destroyer, but her career has spanned so much more than just those movies (not least Straight to Hell, the best punk rock western ever!). Model, singer, muse and actress, I can’t wait to read about her life in her own words.

womeninclothesWomen in Clothes, edited by Sheila Heti: I hinted at this book last holiday season, but apparently not loudly enough. I actually forgot about it until I noticed a colleague reading it and remembered how much I enjoyed it. Lovers of clothes, lists and conversational interviews and essays about what clothes mean to the wearer will enjoy this book. Heti, Molly Ringwald, Miranda July and Lena Dunham are among the contributors to this book, which examines what clothes mean in the lives of women.

andywarholAndy Warhol: Polaroids: My love of Polaroid photography began in high school, and has grown to the point where I still have a small stash of aging Time Zero film stored in a lunchbox in my refrigerator. As the owner of several Polaroid cameras and a pre-Instagram love of documenting moments, I enjoy both taking instant pictures and looking at them. Not to mention that Grace Jones adorns the cover of this book!

My apologies for talking holiday season before Halloween! What books are you wishing for these days?



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Unlikeable Characters

I recently read a book that I could barely finish because I hated the characters so much. The only character who seemed even slightly interesting in her dysfunction was a minor character who never felt fully developed. The main characters were all boring or snobbish or outright mean. Despite the fact that I knew going in that this was a book about a dysfunctional family, I couldn’t really find anything of meaning that made me want to keep reading about them.

And maybe the worst thing of all: The characters were boring in their unlikeableness.

Somehow this book just didn’t get the hang of the compelling unlikeable character, but it did make me realize that lots of my favorite novels are about unlikeable characters. In fact, lots of us love novels with characters who aren’t easy to love. So, a short list dedicated to unlikeable protagonists:

The Catcher in the Rye: It’s recently come to my attention that not everyone loves this book as much as I do! It’s hard to believe, I know. Probably a lot of this stems from the fact that Holden Caulfield is kind of a jerk. He is, however, a very sentimental and vulnerable jerk, which is why people like me and the scores of others who love this book find him palatable. And who doesn’t hate phoniness?

Anna Karenina: Another of my favorite books, with a main character who is really pretty awful. To be honest, the things that make me love this have very little to do with the title character, and EVERYTHING to do with Kitty and Levin. Anna really doesn’t have many redeemable qualities aside from being beautiful, but the romance between Kitty and Levin is a wonderful side plot. Also, even though Anna can be pretty awful at times in this book, she’s literally a train wreck, and what can I say—I enjoy melodrama!

Madame Bovary: Like Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary is beautiful and shallow. I’ve read this book a number of times and always find myself rooting for her despite the fact that she continually makes terrible choices. She’s a dreamer, and loves books (like me!); she’s also just so self-sabotaging that it’s hard to sit and watch her downward spiral. The fact that this is one of the most beautifully written novels of all time doesn’t hurt it either.

The StrangerMersault, the main character, doesn’t have much going for him. He doesn’t have much empathy for anyone and winds up killing a man. Like all of these books though, the point of the story isn’t to have a likeable character; it’s to comment on society. This is one of those books that stayed with me, in part because it’s a classic of Existenialism, but maybe a little bit because I’ll always remember struggling through it for the first time as a young French student and suddenly realizing that it was the inspiration for one of my favorite songs.

Lolita: Yep, you don’t get much more unlikeable than Humbert Humbert, the most famous pedophile of all time. It doesn’t stop this book from being one of the most widely-regarded, if controversial, works of 20th century literature.

Do you prefer characters you can relate to, or like me do you like them a little despicable? Who is your favorite unlikeable character?



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Blame it on the rain (or Mercury retrograde)

Last week, I was hit with the biggest case of the winter blues. For no reason at all, everything was impossible. My daughter turned into a threenager overnight. I slipped on some ice while running. The muffler on our car broke and the day I was supposed to take it to the shop it snowed and there was nowhere to park so I had to drive my noisy car around and around the block. There were no seats on the bus. And it is cold! And snowy! And dark! Remind me never to move to Sweden.

On the day when I was feeling the worst, I figured out a couple of things:

  1. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing! I remembered that I feel awful every winter. Time for me to start stalking the sunset times again and looking forward to the end of the month when it will still be light out when I leave work. And in only one month it will be daylight savings time!
  2. Mercury is in retrograde. This has never, ever meant anything to me, but articles started popping up on my Facebook feed and it’s as good a reason as any to explain how I was feeling. Supposedly during times of Mercury retrograde, things break, appointments get missed, and everything is just generally awful. I hear from Taylor Swift that this Mercury retrograde is particularly awful. Astrology says I’m supposed to feel this way! (I’m also supposed to be compassionate, creative, idealist, escapist and oversensitive according to astrology. Guess my sign!)
  3. My “problems” are really not so bad. A dear friend of mine, who underwent an actual tragedy not long ago, contacted me to see if I would help proofread a grant she was writing. The combination of doing something to help someone else, and the realization that even in her bad times she was working to improve things for others, really went a long way towards putting my funk in perspective. It’s such common advice that it’s almost cliche, but helping others truly does benefit us as much as it does those on the receiving end of our help.
  4. Spring is coming! I’m keeping my eyes on the prize by planning my garden and dreaming of sunny, ice-free runs. Our Seed Library’s annual seed swap is even happening this month, which is a great harbinger of springtime.

Finally, yesterday Maria wrote a wonderful blog post with some ways that she’s been handling some major life changes. Check it out if you missed it!


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I’ll Just Leave This Here.

And back away quietly…


Last week I participated in an Eleventh Stack group post called Sorry Not Sorry. It was a combination of guilty pleasures and things we oddly dislike. I’m the one who doesn’t “get” the Beastie Boys. I also happen to agree with Irene about The English Patient (unreadable and unwatchable!) and Melissa M. about Tolkien.

Since apparently I’m trying really hard to get run out of town, here are some more confessions.



I don’t like Nirvana. I should. I’m a 90s kid all the way. I love Pearl Jam. I love Smashing Pumpkins. I love Lollapalooza! I love wearing flannel shirts year round and Doc Marten’s with sundresses. But Nirvana? Nope. In fact, I didn’t know who Kurt Cobain was until the day he died. I was looking for a prom dress in Merry-Go-Round (I’m old) and the sales girl was crying. She told me that Kurt Cobain died and I was like, “Who?” Wrong response.



I can’t stay awake for Apocalypse Now. I’m a war movie fanatic. Black Hawk Down, Patton, Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, The Hurt Locker, All Quiet on the Western Front…love them all. I could probably recite Full Metal Jacket in its entirety. I read Heart of Darkness in high school and actually enjoyed it! Yet, as soon as Martin Sheen starts talking, it’s sleepy-time for me, even in a theater!




A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 and is considered a very important work in modern Southern U.S. literature. Unreadable. Ignatius J. Reilly is one of the most repugnant characters in the history of print. He blames his numerous failings on a higher being (Fortuna) and he suffers from Very Special Snowflake syndrome.


Perfect! Image: Yellow Crayon

Image: Yellow Crayon

I am a native Pittsburgher and I won’t eat Primanti Brothers. I was that kid that wouldn’t let the peas touch the mashed potatoes. And if that tragedy did occur, I certainly wasn’t eating it. The idea of putting not only french fries (gross!), but wet cole slaw on my sandwich is anathema to me. I can’t even. (I will hand in my Pittsburgh card and move to Cleveland immediately.)

But I love burned popcorn. Maybe that’s all the needs to be said about me? What do you love to hate?

suzy, currently packing and saying her good-byes



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How I Spent My Winter Vacation

Every year I take a little time off around the new year; not quite as long as a full vacation, but a mini-staycation to recharge for the new year ahead. I’m used to working in a building with books and music and movies at my disposal, so before I spend a few days away I go into panic-mode and start trying to think of everything I might possibly need to read while I’m away. Here are a few things that I was into this vacation:

The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy: I’ve been on a big YA literature kick lately. Between the fast-paced plots, elements of fantasy and magic, and strong female characters, lots of young adult novels just do it for me. This trilogy, in particular, is one worth reading. I’ve been recommending it to friends by saying that although it’s nothing like The Hunger Games, if they liked that series they will like this one. In this series, the princess Elisa has a heavy birthright to live up to, despite the fact that she feels anything but special. Her growth throughout the trilogy and the richly drawn world in which she lives, combined with excellent writing, really won me over.

Gertie Sews Vintage Casual: I’m having a real love affair with our sewing book collection these days. Did you know we have a whole collection of books that have sewing patterns and instructions? I like checking out a pattern book, visiting the Center for Creative Reuse, and seeing what types of clothing I can come up with. This is a fun vintage-inspired book with easy to follow instructions, but I also really like the Japanese pattern books we have in our collection for more modern/bohemian clothing (such as Simple Modern Sewing or I Am Cute Dresses).

Frozen (movie and soundtrack!): I’m not sure why so many kids in the preschool set are so in love with Elsa (I’m an Anna fan myself!), but this movie and soundtrack are just magical for children of that age. They get to sing Let It Go; I get to sew…it’s a win-win situation.

Comfort Knitting and Crochet Afghans: Just before the holidays I came into a huge supply of lovely, soft yarn- enough for an afghan! Because it was all the same color I was on the lookout for a pattern with some texture. I really fell in love with some of the afghans and throws in this book; you get a nice mix of knit and crochet and colorwork, texture, or lace patterns.

The Art of Hungarian Cooking: New Year’s day always makes me think of my (Hungarian, by way of Slovenia) grandmother, who was insistent that you always had to eat pork and cabbage (preferably sauerkraut) on New Year’s Day. She also had this crazy tradition of going outside and finding a green stick and hitting (gently) anyone who came into her house. (I’ve never been able to find out anything about that superstition, nor have I ever met anyone else who’s heard of it!) This year I hosted a New Year’s dinner, and in homage I made sure to cook up some pork and cabbage. I brought this book home for some inspiration.



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2015 Reading Resolutions: Onward and Upward!

With another year of books under our belts, it’s time to look ahead. To bring the blogging year to a close, some Eleventh Stackers have chosen to share their reading resolutions for 2015. There’s nowhere to go, but up, and our team has aimed high — check it out!


Every time someone asks for a mystery recommendation, I cringe. Despite my love for serialized crime shows (Criminal Minds, Veronica Mars, Murder She Wrote…), I just have a hard time with the genre in book form. 2015 is the year I step up my game and have some titles in my back pocket for the next time I’m put on the spot. I have Anthony Hororwitz’s Moriarty on my list (I read The House of Silk last year for our Tuesday book club, and liked his take on Sherlock). And a regular patron suggested the Ian Rutledge series, by Charles Todd. Readers, if you have any must-reads, maybe some non-historicals that are maybe a bit John Grisham-y, please send ’em my way.


Unfinished business.

Unfinished business.

I’m going to finish some books in 2015. This year, for whatever reason, I’d get almost to the end of a book and stop reading it. It didn’t matter whether I liked the book or not: I just stopped. I don’t know if this is a sign of mental illness or a newly shortened attention span. Here is a sampling of the books I started, thoroughly enjoyed, and never finished. Feel free to tell me the endings.


In 2010 I started Stephen King’s It. “Started” being the key word here.  That book is thick, yo.  Maybe 2015 will be the year I finish it.  Or maybe I’ll focus on the classics that I missed out on for one reason or the other, like Animal Farm or Moby-Dick.  Maybe I’ll go back to the books of my childhood, like the Narnia books. Or, since I just started re-watching Gilmore Girls, maybe I’ll focus on a Rory Gilmore reading list.


I’ve never had much use for audio-books, but I recently discovered how much I like listening to them on long runs. So my reading resolution for 2015 is actually more of a listening resolution: to delve into the library’s collection of super-portable Playaways. I just started listening to Runner.


I plan to read some more Anne Sexton. I am also slowly re-reading all of the Song Of Ice And Fire novels using the eCLP format.

Leigh Anne

I like to play along with formal reading challenges, to make sure that I regularly step out of my favorite genres and formats to try a little bit of everything. Luckily the magical internet is filled with such opportunities, most of which I find via A Novel Challenge, a terrific blog that collects news and info about different reading games. Of course, I always load up on way too many challenges, and rarely finish any of them…but I sure do have a great time trying!

Here are some challenges I’ll be signing up for in 2015:

The Bookish 2015 TBR Reading Challenge. I have two bookcases at home filled with books I own that I haven’t read yet (I blame the Library, both for being so excellent and for fueling my book-buying habit). It’s getting a little bit out of hand, so I’ve decided to dive into those TBR shelves and decide whether to keep or regift what I’ve got.

It's not bragging if it's true.

It’s not bragging if it’s true.

Janet Ursel’s We Read Diverse Books Challenge. It’s no secret that the publishing  industry is still predominantly white, which means there are a lot of stories out there untold or overlooked. This bothers me both professionally and personally, so I’m on a constant mission to make sure my own reading and reviewing is as inclusive as possible. This challenge was inspired by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign of 2014.

The 2015 Ebook Reading Challenge. Ebooks are an important part of the reading landscape these days, and I really should be looking at more of them (Overdrive READ is my friend right now, until I finally decide which tablet I want). Ebooks are also sometimes challenging for me because of my vision impairments, but I’m hoping Consumer Reports , a little web sleuthing, and input from other users (maybe you?) will help me pick out the tablet with the best accessibility features. Thanks in advance!

The 2015 Graphic Novels & Manga Challenge. This one’s kind of a cheat, as I adore comics of all kinds. The problem is, I rarely make time to read them, mostly out of guilt because they’re so much fun and there are many other Terribly Serious Things I should be reading dontcha know. However, this means I missed a lot of good stuff in 2014, so I’ve decided to ditch the guilt and spend 2015 savoring the fine art of comics. Woohoo!

Four challenges is do-able, right?  I’ll report back regularly in upcoming blog posts.

Melissa F.

Browsing the historical fiction section

Browsing the historical fiction section

I’ve become a little too comfortable insofar as my reading habits go. On one hand, I don’t see any problem with this, since reading is something I do for fun and entertainment. Still, there’s something to be said for expanding one’s knowledge and horizons.

In 2015, I’m planning to do more of my reading from the World Fiction and Historical Fiction sections on the First Floor of CLP-Main. I’m not setting an actual numerical goal for this resolution, just challenging myself to read more from these areas (which I admittedly tend to overlook while perusing the new fiction, nonfiction, and short stories).  Your suggestions are most welcome.

And there you have it! Do you have any reading recommendations or advice for the Eleventh Stackers? Do you set yourself reading goals or just let the books fall where they may? Share the wisdom, leave a comment!


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Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

A while ago an article appeared on my Facebook feed that was called 11 Things Only Parents of Boys Understand. This type of article drives me crazy; I never agree with the things on the list and usually find that you could cut out the “boys” part and just call the list “Things That Parents of Children Understand.” But a couple of things on this particular list did jump out at me, in particular the point about how a son will form a definite preference about Marvel vs. DC Comics superheroes (I have no idea how my son, who certainly hasn’t gotten this information from his parents, decided he loves DC Comics and doesn’t care much for Marvel!) In some ways, having a son is such a mystery, and not just in how he forms such strong opinions on superheroes. A few books I’ve turned to are:

Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World: In this book Rosalind Wiseman, the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes (the basis for the movie Mean Girls) turns to boys. After interviewing 200 boys, Wiseman breaks down the various social challenges teenage boys face.

The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir: The author of this book, Michael E. Uslan, grew up to produce all the Batman feature films. Before that though, he was a kid growing up in 1950’s New Jersey who just really, really liked Batman. As someone who didn’t find comics until I was an adult, and not really the superhero ones, this book is a fascinating look at someone who grew up on superhero comics.

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys: As a society, we’re no longer as entrenched in the belief that boys are somehow less emotional creatures than girls, but ideas of masculinity and femininity still influence how we expect boys or girls to react emotionally. This book addresses the stereotypical masculine “ideal” and looks at ways parents can provide their sons with “emotional literacy.”

It’s a Boy! Understanding Your Son’s Development From Birth to Age 18: This is a pretty basic book on child development, but focused solely on boys.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman: Wonder Woman has always been my favorite superhero, and fortunately my son loves her too (not quite as much as Batman, but she’s a close second!). This book explores the recently discovered papers of William Moulton Marsten, the creator of Wonder Woman (and the lie detector test!). Feminism, biography, superheroes…this book has it all!


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Baby It’s Cold Outside!

As I’m writing this, it’s a balmy 30 degrees outside and I’m feeling thankful that it’s at least sunny out there. You will never, ever hear me complain about hot weather but the cold is a whole other story. Here are a few of my ideas for surviving the cold weather in Pittsburgh:

Phipps Conservatory: Just up the street from the Main Library, I spend a lot of time here every winter. There’s nothing like escaping the cold by wandering around lush tropical flowers and cacti, not to mention the gorgeous holiday decorations at this time of year. The Winter Light Garden is also a fun distraction from the cold, and on weekends my kids love the Saturdays with the Sugarplum Fairy dance class and photo ops with Santa!

CLP events: I spend a lot of time at the library, obviously. But despite working here, I come here a lot during cold weather weekends too– where else can you find something that will entertain everyone in the family (especially stir crazy kids)? We like to come to the Sunday Lego Club in the Children’s department and the various Sunday music programs (like this one), but whenever I’m stuck for something to do on a weekend I check our events page for other options.

The Oliver Bath House: I love being able to go swimming in the winter! One of my favorite things about Pittsburgh is its extensive network of community recreation centers like this one.

Divergent by Veronica Roth: Really, any series of YA literature would do here, the more dystopian the better. I love reading series of books after they’re already written. This trilogy, set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, is on my reading list for these cold weekends.

I am the Upsetter: The Story of Lee “Scratch” Perry Golden Years Maybe it’s a subconscious longing for warmer days, but every winter I start listening to reggae and dub again. This box set has several hours worth of music so you don’t have to think about what you’ll listen to next.

Who else has some tried and true winter diversions?



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Common misconceptions

Do you use Wikipedia? I find that people either love it or hate it (or just don’t trust it). I rarely go there for the final word on anything, but I do love it as a starting point for topics I don’t know much about (Actually, I checked it just moments ago to find out who Lena Dunham’s mom is– Laurie Simmons, FYI). Most of the time the information on the site seems to be fairly accurate, but I especially love the footnotes! The footnotes are a great way to instantly find a short bibliography of sources.

Another thing I love about Wikipedia is the strange articles that you can find there– like this one about popular misconceptions. (Did you know that Napoleon was actually not that short?) Here are a few other articles that I especially love:

Ampelmännchen, aside from being a great German word that translates to little light man, is also an interesting article about these pedestrian walk signals from East Germany that survived reunification in 1990.

Have you heard of the Borough of S.N.P.J. in Lawrence County, PA? It stands for Slovenska Narodna Podporna Jednota  and is a recreation hall that applied to be a municipality in 1977 to get around liquor laws.

Calculator spelling has a name– beghilos!  Everyone spelled out 5318008 and 0.7734 in elementary school, right?

Need a better word for doodads or whatchamacallits? There’s a whole list of placeholder names here. (Gewgaw, gizmo, gubbins, hoofer doofer…)

The Waffle House Index is a real thing, guys. I actually had to check the footnotes on this one to make sure someone didn’t just make it up, but in this case truth really is stranger than fiction. FEMA actually does consider the strength of a hurricane by whether Waffle Houses nearby are open or closed.

Do you have a favorite Wikipedia article? Do you use it to find reliable information or just steer clear altogether?



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Ten books

If you’re on social media, you’ve probably seen the “10 books that stayed with you” meme that’s been floating around. For those of us who are book lovers, it’s the best kind of voyeurism– finding out what books left some kind of permanent mark on the people we know. The idea is to not pick with too much thought; you just come up with the 10 books off the top of your head that stayed with you in some way. My own picks (with favorite quotes!) are:

Anne of Green Gables (“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think.  It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”)

A People’s History of the United States (“Tyranny is tyranny, let it come from who it may”)

The Secret Garden (“Is it wick?”)

Madame Bovary (“She wanted to die, but she also wanted to live in Paris.”

No Logo (“So, if consumers are like roaches, then marketers must forever be dreaming up new concoctions for industrial strength Raid.”)

The Catcher in the Rye (“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you’ll start missing everybody.”)

The Outsiders (“Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold.”)

Holes (“When the shoes first fell from the sky, he remembered thinking that destiny had struck him.”)

100 Years of Solitude (“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover the ice…”)

The Great Gatsby (“You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well I met another bad driver, didn’t I.”)

I don’t think I could tell you how often I’ve read these books! I wonder if they’ve stayed with me because of how often I’ve read them, or if I’ve read them so much because they left such an impression on me? I think I quote or think of something from each of these books daily, or certainly weekly.

If you like statistics as much as you like books, you’ll love the data that some researchers put together of the top books from this meme, which you can find here.

What are your ten books?




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