Tag Archives: National Book Award

One Book One Community: Colum McCann’s Gift to Pittsburgh and the World

Colum McCann - PAL 3-10-2014

Colum McCann, March 10, 2014

photo credit: Renee Rosensteel, renee@rosensteel.com

event photos generously provided by Renee Rosensteel and Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures

Colum McCann had us at hello.

“Happy to be here with yinz!” the National Book Award winning Irish author said, greeting the delighted sold-out crowd at Carnegie Music Hall in pitch-perfect Pittsburghese.

Colum McCann visited our city on March 10 as part of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Ten Literary Evenings Monday Night Lecture Series, made possible by The Drue Heinz Trust. His lecture, underwritten by UPMC, also launched One Book One Community 2014, an initiative of the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA).  (Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is a sponsor of One Book One Community 2014.)

TransAtlantic, Colum McCann’s latest novel, is this year’s One Book One Community selection. It’s a fascinating novel about three interconnected journeys across the ocean, but also across time and history and generations.  The characters’ stories, like so many of our stories, are woven together.

“Every moment that we live in has been influenced by the past,” McCann said during his lecture. “Everything we do … matters to the future.”

Colum McCann 2 - PAL 3-10-2014

He was referring to TransAtlantic. But the magic of the evening was wrapped in stories about his childhood filled with books from a journalist father who traveled to America and who returned with the best for his young son, cultivating a “love of stories.” It was about  losing faith as a writer and regaining it through the “spectacular generosity of the Rooney family” who gave him “the oomph” to continue writing by awarding him the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 1994.

“I wouldn’t be here without them,” he stated.

Everything we do matters to the future.

It was about Pittsburgh – our beloved Pittsburgh, a city that Colum McCann had visited for the first time this Monday.

“I felt like I was stepping through parts of Dublin, parts of New York,” he observed. Earlier in the day, he’d spoken with students from Woodland Hills High School and he was impressed with how the youth reflected on the city.  You can learn so much about a place from talking and listening to a city’s children and young people, he said.

Everything we do matters to the future.

Indeed, we live in a city of bridges. Our everyday crossings over the Allegheny, the Ohio, and the Mon may seem more insignificant than transatlantic ones – although depending on the time of day, the weather, and the particular bridge, it may feel almost as long. Our everyday lives and actions don’t always seem historical, like they matter in the lives of others.

Everything we do matters to the future.

And especially here in Pittsburgh, our big small town, we are more connected than we ever imagined.

At the end of the evening, I stood in line, juggling my three Colum McCann books to be signed, my cell phone charged for a much-hoped for photo.  I chatted with the ladies behind me, one of whom held a copy of Dancer written in an unfamiliar language.

Igrac - Dancer in Russian

Someone had invited her to the lecture, asking her if she had ever heard of Colum McCann. I’m reading his book now, she had said.

“I could tell him that I came all the way from Serbia to have him sign my book,” she said, and we laughed. “Because it’s kind of true.”

Someone else said hello. The ladies resumed their conversation. I didn’t have a chance to hear her story. I wish that I had.

Upon seeing the book, Colum McCann was amazed. He had never seen that edition of Dancer … until that moment, right here in Pittsburgh.

I took in the electric symbolism of the moment: transatlantic crossings, connections.  “The world grows small around us, it seems.”  That’s what Colum McCann said to a sold-out Pittsburgh crowd moments before, and watching him sign that book, I felt and saw the absolute truth of his words.

Books really do have the power to connect the world.

~ Melissa F.

One Book One Community is an initiative of the Allegheny County Library Association. For details on how you, your book club or your organization can participate, stop by your local library or visit One Book One Community.org.

More information about Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures can be found here.

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And the winner is…

As my fellow bloggers have noted, a couple weeks ago the National Book Award winners were announced. To avid book readers, some of us may pay attention to these winners as heavily as others pay attention to the Oscars (although the attention lavished on what the authors are wearing is much less critical – I’m talking to you, Joan Rivers).  Pittsburgher Terrence Hayes took home the poetry award for Lighthead, and rock star Patti Smith took the nonfiction award for her excellent memoir Just Kids. In this post, I will cover the five nominees for the fiction award – video of the ceremony here.

Carey has won the Booker Prize twice (!) and this title was also shortlisted this year, so he is no stranger to accolades, nor is he undeserving of them. In this historical novel, Carey creates two characters whose lives are driven together from opposing spectrums, only to result in a bond that can only have been created for and in its time, early world America.

I’ve already praised this book in a previous post – so wonderful I needed to have my own personal copy, this was my favorite to take home the award this year.

My favorite book of 2010. For anyone who has not yet read Krauss’ work, Great House is a wonderful place to start. For those who have, we know how rewarding it is to see such a talented young artist get the national recognition she so rightfully deserves. I am pressed to think of an author who can create so many unforgettable characters speaking unforgettable lines. Krauss is a talent to read and reread, and follow her future work in the hope that she continues to get the attention she is warranted. To read about this book and understand that it is only about a desk would be an understatement to regret. This book is not to be overlooked, no matter what the subject matter may be – things are not always as they seem. (Also, it has a great cover.)

Shriver has been on my list for a long time now, because I have been promising to myself to read her Orange Award nominated We Need to Talk about Kevin, a novel concerning school violence. In her newest, she covers another hot topic, this time weighing in on what it means to be a caregiver to those you love when the idea of health care is being redefined. Cutting edge, thoughtful, and provocative, Lionel Shriver is another young female author to keep in mind for years to come.

Finally, we save the winner for last. My reading habits have also saved the “best” for last, as I haven’t picked up this one yet instead opting for Booker Prize winner The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson as my current read. This book won the prize the same week it was published – how’s that for anticipation? I cannot wait to settle down with this book, focusing on several plots outlined around the central story of horseracing. Also, with the last book, did you notice that four of the five novelists in the shortlist for finalists are female? How refreshing.

All of these titles are available for request at your library, stop in and pick one up today, no formal attire required.

– Tony

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Words. Books.

Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.

These words streamed from the voice of Patti Smith when she accepted the National Book Award for nonfiction last week, for Just Kids, a memoir of her life with Robert Mapplethorpe in New York City’s 1970s art scene.

We may think of a book as low-tech. The combined technologies of the printing press and paper mill created an utterly simple and useful object we often take for granted. As Amazon.com’s CEO Jeff Bezos said, “The book just turns out to be an incredible device.”

Open one of those incredible devices over this holiday weekend. Give thanks for books.



—Julie

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