Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

Nerdfighters, Assemble!

worldsuck

Image obtained from Hannah Lindgren’s documentary website.

Being a librarian is, in my mind, all about making the world a better place, one book recommendation, reference question, or computer assist at a time. Our professional honor society, Beta Phi Mu, takes as its motto the Latin phrase Aliis inserviendo consumor, or, “consumed in the service of others.” I take that pretty darned seriously, in an exuberantly joyful way, and it feels good to go home at night knowing that I did my bit to improve the general quality of the universe, as opposed to, say, pumping a lot of chemicals into the environment or making cheap plastic doodads that will end up in a landfill.

This is why I love Nerdfighters. A group of people from all over the world, dedicated to the overall improvement of things, inspired by the joyful zaniness of the VlogBrothers, John and Hank Green, united by the magical internet, and unabashedly nerdy to boot? What’s not to love?

Here’s a more comprehensive explanation of Nerdfighters, courtesy of the Green brothers themselves:

If you’re smiling now, you won’t want to miss the Pittsburgh screening of the Nerdfighters documentary, A Film to Decrease Worldsuck, a documentary in which self-proclaimed “Nerdfighters” explore what and who a Nerdfighter is, where Nerdfighters came from and what they do. Produced, directed and edited by Hannah Lindgren as her senior honors thesis, this film is comprised of convention footage gathered by two primary videographers as well as crowd-sourced interviews and video from dozens of Nerdfighters.

When and where? Sunday August 18th, 5-8 p.m., in the Carnegie Museum of Art Theatre (use the museum entrance in the Main Library/museum parking lot). The Pittsburgh Area Nerdfighters group will be collecting non-perishable food items for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, so rummage around in your pantry and pack a bag for them (feed people, starve worldsuck). If you go, you’ll also be treated to the sound stylings of Lauren Fairweather and Matt Maggiacomo, plus Tonks and the Aurors. You’ll even have a chance to show off your trivia chops after the film, possibly netting yourself a copy of its poster with your mad skills. French the llama*, it’s going to be exciting!

And if you can’t make it? Please, spread this post around on Facebook or Twitter, using the hashtag #nerdfighterdocPGH. Prefer something more personal? Compose a sea shanty and sing about the film on your next Port Authority jaunt. Do an interpretive dance while holding up a sign in Schenley Plaza. Write the information in pen on your forehead and go make some new friends in a coffee shop. Or, you know, make up something that suits your own particular nerdy idiom. Heck, do all those things even if you can make it (but remember — pics, or it didn’t happen).

DFTBA,

Leigh Anne

*If that phrase gave you pause, you clearly skipped the video. I agree with John that it should become a thing.

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Is your grass blue?

I love bluegrass. The first memory I have of seeing live music is of being at a bluegrass festival with my family. I was VERY young, but I loved it. I’ve always had a soft spot for this music and over the years I’ve listened to more and more. We’re lucky here in Pittsburgh (and thanks to the web, the rest of the world is lucky, too!) that we can listen to the brilliant Bruce Mountjoy play some of the best bluegrass every Sunday night on WYEP.

imagesOne of my all-time favorite bluegrass artists is Hazel Dickens. She has one of the most distinctive vocal styles ever and her songwriting and playing is fantastic. Her work with Alice Gerrard remains some of the best the bluegrass world has to offer. The Smithsonian-Folkways collection Pioneering Women of Bluegrass is nothing short of BRILLIANT.

An artist that I knew while growing up as a mainstream country artist who indeed got his start in bluegrass is Ricky Skaggs. His early recordings are terrific bluegrass, but he shifted to a more mainstream country sound for a while.In 1997 he came back to genre of bluegrass with the FANTASTIC record Bluegrass Rules! I highly recommend it!

Ricky_Skaggs_Bluegrass_Rules_cover

A new tradition here in Pittsburgh, the so-called Paris of Appalachia, is Bluegrass Day at the Three Rivers Arts Festival. It’s a whole day of free bluegrass music in Point State Park. Two years ago we got to see Del McCoury headline (which was fantastic) and this past year we were treated to see a living legend in the bluegrass world, the amazing Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.  Ralph Stanley, aside from having one of the best voices in bluegrass, and keeping the “high lonesome” vocal style alive, is also one of the people literally responsible for bluegrass sounding the way it does! It’s not often that you get to see such a pivotal performer…someone who helped define a genre from the very beginning.Can’t You Hear the Mountains Calling is a great collection. Also, his autobiography, Man of Constant Sorrow is an excellent read.

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There you have it, dear Eleventh Stack reader! Enjoy the summer and some excellent bluegrass music!

- Eric  (who is listening to lots of bluegrass, and trying to figure out how to get a banjo)

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The Great Bridge Dedication

The Great BridgeDid you know that David McCullough, author of The Great Bridge and many other fabulously in-depth books on various subjects in American history, is getting a Pittsburgh bridge named after him? Henceforth (after the official dedication on July 7th), the 16th Street bridge will be known as the David McCullough Bridge. This recognition celebrates the famed author’s 80th birthday and his status as a native Pittsburgher who has reached great heights in his chosen field on the national and international stage. Mr. McCullough has been a long-time supporter of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and we salute him on this momentous occasion.

To celebrate, you should read one of David McCullough’s books or re-read your favorite, if you have already partaken of his many offerings. Below you will find a fairly comprehensive list of his works. Which is your tome of choice? Let us know how you feel about David McCullough and his books in the comments area.

1776

Brave Companions: Portraits in History

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris

In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story

John Adams

The Johnstown Flood

Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life, and the Unique Child Who Became

Theodore Roosevelt

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

Truman

-Melissa M. (Who is TOTALLY jealous that Mr. McCullough is getting this fabulous bridge named after him. This is her second favorite bridge in Pittsburgh! How “Pittsburgh” is it to have a favorite bridge anyway??)

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The Young Authors Give Back Tour: Pittsburgh Edition

Today at Eleventh Stack we’re happy to feature a guest post from Gigi, a Teen Specialist at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Brookline. For additional coverage of this event, please visit our blog colleagues at CLPTeensburgh.

Calling all YA fans, new adults, teen dystopia connoisseurs, and anyone with a YA book on their laptop waiting to be published: the Young Authors Give Back tour is coming to Pittsburgh!

YAGBTour

Four newly-published YA authors are coming together on a national tour to teach free writers’ workshops to aspiring young authors while hosting book signings for YA fans of all ages. Erin Bowman, Susan Dennard, Sarah J. Maas, and Kat Zhang will be sharing their talents and advice at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Brookline on Thursday, June 6th. The Young Writers Workshop (ages 13-18) starts at 4:30 (click here to register!) and the all-ages book signing begins at 6:00 p.m.

So why do you want to come meet these authors and get your own signed copy? Because with the publication of their first novels, you have the chance to become one of the first fans! Nothing says clout like owning a signed first edition from the next J.K. Rowling, eh? Seriously, though, outliers aside, what are these authors writing about? Is it something you’d like? I’m glad you asked!

The Books

zhangWhat’s Left Of Me, Kat Zhang. It’s the cover on this one. Zhang explores the world of two souls in a single body. One is meant to fade away in childhood, but it doesn’t happen for this character. Told from the perspective of the not-yet-disappeared soul trapped inside a body she can’t control, her autonomous sister helps hide her because it is a crime to be a hybrid (“a house divided against itself cannot stand“). And where could she go if she could move again, if she should fall in love while gazing out of her body prison? It was a theme I thoroughly enjoyed and a story capable of grabbing my emotions, reminding me almost too vividly of certain separation scenes in Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass.

Something Strange and Deadly, Susan Dennard. So Philadelphia thinks they have zombies, eh? Well, I’ll give ‘em a chance to Dennardshow their stuff within a book like this! Dennard considers an alternate zombie history in 19th century Philly, illuminated by a corset-girdled heroine who joins ranks with the charming (even the ones who aren’t supposed to be) Spirit Hunters who wrangle the walking dead that rise at the whims of a deluded necromancer. This one reads like a movie, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you see related cemetery-stained cravats on the silver screen soon.

maasThrone of Glass, Sarah J. Maas. This is the only one I didn’t get a chance to read yet; however, reviews in general seem to be good, and I’m excited to see what the love triangle of a female assassin looks like because I hear it’s one of the better-developed ones in recent years. This book falls under the genre of high fantasy, which is also called epic fantasy, but since I find most fantasy epic, I’m going to call it epic-er fantasy. Follow this fierce lady as she fights her way through an assigned tournament to the death as the only way to win her freedom. There’s also a bit of murder in the book…I mean, besides the kill-everyone assassin stuff.

Taken, Erin Bowman. There are no men in this book…or so it begins. In Claysoot, any young man who turns 18 is taken by The BowmanHeist, a mysterious phenomenon wherein he simply vanishes. Imagine a place bereft of men, where dystopian young ladies are left to mourn and bear the children conceived through “slatings” organized and encouraged by the elders to perpetuate existence. “You grow up quickly in Claysoot,” says Gray Weathersby. Luckily, brothers are left behind to ask questions and a certain Gray uncovers a note from his mother that might lead to…well, the rest of the book. I felt this was a really strong showing for dystopian fiction. I bought the world; I’d buy the book. If only I didn’t have to wait, since, naturally, it’s a series.

Using examples from their books, the authors will be covering plot, world-building, characters, pacing, point of view, and–most importantly–industry: how do you get your book published once it’s done? During the open signing, come ask these authors all your brain-to-page publishing questions or do your pop-culture duty and pick up a signed copy for yourself, friends, and/or family, becoming a premier fan of these fantastic new authors. Books will be available for purchase, provided by local downtown bookstore Amazing Books.

And now, a word from our authors!

About the Tour

—a note from Erin Bowman, Susan Dennard, Sarah J. Maas, and Kat Zhang—

Simply put, the idea for the Young Authors Give Back tour was born over a series of emails between friends.

The four of us all contribute to an industry blog together and we knew we wanted to organize a group tour in the spring of 2013. A tour that brought us to some not-as-often visited cities. A tour that let us meet readers and sign books, but also a tour that let us do something different.

We wanted to give back. Pay-it-forward. Inspire.

However you choose to word it, we wanted to connect not only with readers but with writers. Young writers.

We’ve been writers most of our lives. We started writing young, we published (relatively) young, and we remember all too well that overwhelming urge to get out of school, rush home, and write. Write-write-write. (Even if there was tons of homework to be done.) We lived and breathed stories and heroes and quests and good vs. evil and happily ever after—still do, actually!—and we couldn’t write fast enough. Or often enough!

And so for this tour, we decided to incorporate small-group workshops into our schedule. Free workshops open to young aspiring writers (junior high thru college/ages 13-22). We’ll talk about craft and answer questions. We’ll write together. It will be awesome.

So that’s our plan and vision for the Young Authors Give Back tour: Travel. Pay-it-forward. Host workshops. Visit bookstores. Meet with readers and writers alike. (And, of course, live-blog the whole epic road trip via this tumblog.)

It should be a blast, and we hope to see you at one of the events!

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Extravaganza’s Almost Here – Can You Dig It?

Late spring is when the phone calls and chat questions start trickling in, first one by one, then in a chorus: “You’re having the summer reading thing again this year, right?” “My kids LOVE Extravaganza–please say you’re doing it.” “Will there be another festival on the library lawn?” Yes, yes, and yes!

SRE2013

This year is lucky number 13 for the Summer Reading Extravaganza, which is brought to you by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and a host of other sponsors, including EQTthe Allegheny Regional Asset District, and Giant Eagle (click here and scroll down to see just how many community groups pitch in to help us make this event a stellar one). The celebration of reading will take place:

Sunday, June 9, 2013
12 – 5 pm
On the lawn at
CLP – Main (Oakland)

and will include fun activities for the whole family, including:

Once again the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will offer summer reading programs for kids

kidssummerread

teens

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and adults.

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But remember…

boromirSRE boromirSREyou’ll need to register in order to enjoy the festivities to the fullest.*

However you choose to participate, we hope you’ll make the 2013 Summer Reading Extravaganza, and the 2013 Summer Reading Program, a part of your warm-weather fun again this year.  Grab your library card and dig deeply into the wonder and magic of a day at the library, followed by a summer of reading bliss.

–Leigh Anne

*On-site registration will be available the day of the event

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Introducing the Red Herring Book Club!

red herring_generalThe mystery book discussion group at the Main Library has been recently re-branded and re-introduced as the Red Herring Book Club. As a special kick-off for this new look, and to try to attract a few additional group members, our theme for the books we’ll be reading over the next 4 months is “Mysteries of Pittsburgh.” (Because there’s nothing Pittsburghers like to read/do more than talk about Pittsburgh!) Each of the novels will be set in our fair city.  Serial killers, murders, mobsters and mayhem abound!

We’ll be discussing the first book in the series, The Burnt District by Gary Link, this Friday at 1pm in the Teen Meeting Space on the First Floor. All are welcome to join us. We’ll talk about the book (and its setting, of course!), plus you’ll be able to pick up and check out a copy of June’s book, Thou Shalt Kill by Daniel Blake.

Besides the four books on our agenda, many other mystery authors have chosen to set their books in our interesting and diverse city. Here are some more options for your reading and puzzle-solving pleasure…

Steel Ashes by Karen Rose Cercone

Never Buried: A Leigh Koslow Mystery by Edie Claire

Compass in the Blood by William E. Coles, Jr

Vengeance for a Stranger by Mary Ellis

Simple by Kathleen George

Resolve by J.J. Hensley

The Prophecy by Chris Kuzneski

Snake Skin by CJ Lyons

Murder in Pittsburgh: A Redmond and Jennifer McClain Mystery by Walter McKeever

Time of Death by Gary Madden

A Toast to Destiny by Ceane O’Hanlon and May Tantlinger

Mirror Image: A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery by Dennis Palumbo

The Headline Murders: A Story of Murder and Deceit Set in the City of Pittsburgh by David W. Rees

Bitter Waters by Wen Spencer

Tonight in the Rivers of Pittsburgh by Brian Lee Weakland

And one for the kids:  The Great Smith House Hustle by Jane Louise Curry

May all your mysteries be easy to solve. (And set in Pittsburgh!)

-Melissa M.

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Radio, Radio!

Back in the day, before Philo T. Farnsworth turned the world upside down with tiny television tubes, the radio was the family’s home entertainment center. Although I’d always been aware of classic radio content, it wasn’t until my husband starting bringing home records–yes, actual LPs–featuring the Marx Brothers, Nick Carter, and Captain Midnight that I could fully appreciate what the radio experience must have been like for my parents and grandparents. Snuggling up on the couch, paying rapt attention to the adventures of the Green Hornet, is very different from watching a television show or film; while I’m certainly not giving up my favorite visual programs anytime soon, there’s definitely a thrill in using my imagination to fill in the blanks TV usually provides.

Enjoying the classic records led us to Dodge Intrepid and the Pages of Time, a blisteringly funny serial tribute to the days of yore, written and performed by local talent. Dodge Intrepid features a time-traveling librarian trying to prevent a very special book from falling into the hands of an evil industrialist out to bend history to his will. With the help of his hyperactive sidekick, Pluck Gumption, Intrepid (a moniker second only to Ford Prefect for sheer amusement value) manages to save the day again and again. If you missed their live performance last weekend at Arcade Comedy Theater, fret not: you can check out the Dodge Intrepid podcasts and catch up with every last wonderful faux advertisement and Pittsburgh reference (trust me–these guys did their homework).

Just one of the many fun fan posters available here.

Just one of the many fun fan posters available here.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’m now officially hooked on the radio experience. Luckily, there are plenty of fun shows for me to explore, and possibly plan parties around. Observe.

maskedmarvelsMasked Marvels, a compilation of programs featuring identity-hiding heroes like The Lone Ranger and The Shadow, sounds like a great introduction to the superhero genre. Obviously you’d ask your guests to show up wearing creative facial disguises. Just to up the ante, though, don’t tell anyone what kind of snacks you’re serving, and make sure you hide all the food under opaque platters. While you’re at it, peel all the labels off of whatever beverages you’re serving, and keep the lights very, very low.

The Saint Solves the Case is a 10-disc collection of digitally remastered episodes in which the notorious crime-solver Simon Templar saint“keeps company with corpses, amnesiacs, publishers, gamblers, and a monkey.” Crime-fighting and a monkey? The party decorations practically plan themselves. You should also definitely serve either angel food cake or devil’s food cupcakes (for the irony!) and listen to one disc at a time, so you have an excuse to have ten parties with monkeys and cakeTemplar costumes optional, but encouraged.

darkfantasyDark Fantasy: Adventures in the Supernatural is the perfect pick for a Halloween gathering. Instead of braving the cold, hoping your neighbors bought the good candy this year, why not stay toasty warm in your own haunted mansion and let these classic horror broadcasts scare you silly? In keeping with the “dark” theme, make sure you serve chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, with perhaps a bit of chocolate for variety. Dress as your favorite mad scientist.

In the same vein, Christmas Radio Classics would be a fun way to put a new spin on the midwinter celebration, don’t you think? christmas_radioHoliday episodes of Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, and their ilk are the perfect soundtrack to a vintage Christmas party. Shake up some classic cocktails, bake a lot of treats, and turn the speakers up high. You can make your own Christmas ornaments while you listen, or try your hand at crafting some homemade gifts. Speaking in period slang is optional, but make sure to wear your ugliest sweater!

Too silly? Probably, but a lot of the classic material can strike contemporary ears as pretty funny, whether or not that was the intention. If you’re not ready for this particular jump in the WABAC machine, you can test-drive more contemporary radio fare, like Car TalkA Prairie Home Companion, The Reduced Shakespeare Company, or Bob and Ray, to name just a few. A catalog search for radio programs will give you more than enough options to get started.

Were you raised on radio, or did video kill the radio star? We’d love to know!

Leigh Anne

who wonders if  Sgt. Preston of the Yukon would freak out the cats…

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We’re Souper, Thanks For Asking!

Looking for something to do next weekend that doesn’t involve pigskin and cleverly-designed attempts to part you from your hard-earned cash? Too depressed by the prospect of a certain sporting event without the hometown heroes in the mix? Interested in supporting your community while enjoying great local music in a warm, comfortable space filled with interesting things to read? You, my literate, music-loving, philanthropic friends, are in luck.

kitty naps while you have fun at the library

Bonus: kitty gets an extra nap while you’re having fun at the library. Image via openphoto.net

On Sunday, February 3rd, Main Library will host the WYEP 13th Annual Alternative Souper Bowl between 12 and 3 p.m. Our friends at the station where the music matters have planned a terrific line-up of performers, including Broken FencesThe Deceptions, and The Billy Price Band. There will even be a special appearance, and performance, by the Pitt Repertory Theatre, and portions of the afternoon will be broadcast live on WYEP.

The really “souper” part about this fun, free event is that you’ll also have the opportunity to make a non-perishable food/sundries donation to HEARTH, a fellow Pittsburgh non-profit that shelters women and children in need.  Suggested donation items include pasta, cereal, juice, personal supplies, and cleaning supplies–click here for a complete list–but why not take a tip from our friends at the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project and make a donation of items that can be easily combined into a meal?

We hope to see you here, foodstuffs in hand, ready to jam. Not quite the invitation you expected from a library? Maybe you should come see us before the event, just to catch up on all the amazing things we’ve been doing since your last visit. We hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

–Leigh Anne

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Best Books N’At: 2012 Edition

Can you handle one more “best of” list this holiday season? We think you can!

The Eleventh Stack tally of favorites differs from other “best” lists in that we don’t limit ourselves to books published in 2012. “New to us” books are welcome on our list because an excellent book doesn’t stop being excellent just because it’s no longer in the public eye (after a certain amount of time has passed, we call those books “classics”). We also don’t limit our format choices, either; while many of us chose to write about books, you will also find movies and music on this list. We can tell from our stats dashboard that you enjoy our music and film reviews as much as you do our literary explorations, so consider their inclusion here a holiday bonus.

Here’s what your favorite lit-savvy pop culture Pittsburgh library mavens appreciated most in 2012:

Aisha

My head turned into a smiley face because I was so happy.

In my music world, the Kills have my body, Wild Flag has my spirit, and Kathleen Edwards has my soul. Kathleen is the only one who put out an album this year (the Kills’ newest, Blood Pressures, came out in 2011; so did Wild Flag’s eponymous album. They were both excellent and I highly recommend them.) Kathleen’s music is in that hard-to-define alt-country-pop-rock world and while Voyageur, her 2012 release, is less alt-country and more pop, but you won’t mistake it for a Katy Perry or Pink album. Even though it’s musically a bit of a departure from her previous albums (Failer, Back to Me, and Asking for Flowers), lyrically, it’s the same Kathleen. She is not one for dancing around an emotion. She writes songs that make you want to jump and yell and curl up on the couch and cry. She divorced in 2011 and many of the songs on Voyageur deal with that in a very honest way that can leave you heartbroken, but also hopeful. She’ll be playing here in February and she’s worth seeing live. I saw her earlier this year (that’s me and her in the photo) and it was one of the best nights of my life.

TrailoftheSpellmansPicking my favorite book of the year was a tough thing to do because I read a lot of excellent ones. It came down to the graphic novel, Building Stories by Chris Ware and Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz. In the end, I went with Lisa Lutz (though, please read Building Stories. It made me worry about a bee; that’s how good it is.) Trail of the Spellmans is the fifth in Lutz’s Spellman books so you should read the first four (The Spellman Files, Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans, The Spellmans Strike Again) before you read this one. The series is about a family of private investigators who sometimes use their investigative skills against each other. What I adore about this series is that while it’s funny, it also has heart. Lutz has created a family who clearly loves each other, but doesn’t always show it in appropriate ways.

Photo source: imdb.com

Photo source: imdb.com

The movies Netflix usually recommends for me fall into categories like “Critically-acclaimed Quirky Independent Movies” or “Visually-striking Emotional French-Language Movies” or “Understated Comedies” so it might be surprising to them (it?) that my favorite movie of 2012 was Warrior. This came out in 2011, but I saw it this year and cried; for some reason, sports movies reduce me to a sobbing mess. Rudy, Rocky IV, RedbeltWhip It, and now Warrior. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about two estranged brothers, one a former Marine, the other a schoolteacher, who for differing reasons, take part in a mixed-martial arts tournament and end up battling each other for the top prize. It stars Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte and is worth your time and Kleenex.

Amy

fullbodyburdenKristen Iversen’s memoir, Full Body Burden: Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats (also available as a book on CD), is really two stories in one. On a personal level, it’s the tale of a crazy dysfunctional family headed by an alcoholic father that goes through an awful lot of pets (and cars – drunk father even causes an accident that breaks young Kristen’s neck, something she doesn’t learn about until years later). On the nuclear side of things, there’s the history of Rocky Flats, a plant that used to manufacture plutonium triggers for atomic bombs (they somehow managed to lose a few TONS of plutonium in the air ducts and survive a few fires that should have destroyed large portions of Colorado). So yeah, disturbing and illuminating. (If you want to learn more about Rocky Flats, check out the documentary Dark Circle.)

Holly

220px-Channel_ORANGEFrank Ocean is an R&B/Soul genius, who came from seemingly out of nowhere and blew my mind in 2012 with Channel Orange.  His huge, weird, gorgeous, Wizard-of-Oz-referencing single, “Thinkin Bout You” shows vocal range, song-writing talent and the rare ability to bring a tear to Beyonce’s eye.  I think I listened to this song 100 times in a row.  Channel Orange contains many songs worth more than one spin.   “Pink Matter” and “Bad Religion” are also must listens.  And to be fair,  Frank Ocean didn’t really come from out of nowhere, he came from New Orleans by way of Odd Future.  He’s nominated for 6 grammys, so get a hold of the CD now, before he wins them all and the holds list goes through the roof.

Irene

I love fairy tales: not the happily ever after, princesses being saved by princes type, but the darker stories that the Grimm brothers immortalized.  Graham Joyce’s novel Some Kind of Fairy Tale is about a woman who appears on her family’s doorstep twenty years after her mysterious disappearance and appears not to have aged at all in the interim.  Her perplexing explanation– that she was spirited away to fairy land– would seem delusional, but as the story unfolds details emerge that make it hard for even her fiercest critics to continue doubting her.  The story itself is dark and intriguing, and the writing is wonderfully done.

Another book in a similar vein is almost too obvious to mention, but I will anyway because I loved this one too: Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version.  I love Pullman, I love the Brothers Grimm, and this book is a great marriage of both.  The simple retellings are gruesome enough to win the Grimm brothers’ approval, and the notes at the end of each tale about its origins are a great addition for those of us who like that kind of thing.

Jess

 Grave Mercy may best be explained as “Alias set in the Middle Ages…”  But instead of the great Sidney Bristow, we have Ismae, an assassin trained at the convent (yes, convent) of Saint Mortain – otherwise known as the god of death. Set in the French duchy of Brittany, Ismae escapes her awful father and even worse arranged marriage after her husband-to-be discovers the red scar across her back, a sign that she had been sired by Saint Mortain himself. She soon finds herself settling in with the sisters of the convent, learning to kill those who have been marked for death by her patron saint. A few training montages and a successful field test later, Ismae is assigned to help the very handsome and very mysterious Gavriel Duval protect his half-sister, the duchess. There’s lots of court intrigue, questions about Ismae’s own beliefs, and ultimately, the future of a kingdom hangs in the balance.

This is a young adult novel that manages to successfully flirt with the notion of being an adult book, especially in how author Robin LaFevers handles the historical aspects. The convent of Saint Mortain was likely based – at least the location – on the Abbaye Blanche, in Mortain, France. She incorporates a number of real people, such as Anne of Brittany and her court, while balancing the myths and legends of these “daughters of Death.” The second book in this series is out in the spring and I can’t wait.

Leigh Anne

I have a teensy–and by “teensy” I mean “massive”–authorcrush on Cheryl Strayed, and I am not ashamed.

It started with Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which I picked up solely because Oprah chose it for her book club, only to be blown away by talent and surprise. Wild is a sucker-punch to the soul by way of the gut, a wrenching memoir about the excruciating grief of losing a parent, and the hard-fought recovery from that grief, by way of an extremely long walk. Vision quests and pilgrimages have been rites of passage for many cultures for ages, and Strayed shows you how that theme is still relevant to the 21st-century heroine’s journey. Enthusiastically recommended for anyone coping with great loss, or who has survived it (and really, that’s everybody, no?).

Wild certainly could have stood alone as my favorite book of the year, but then I found out that Strayed is also the genius behind Dear Sugar, the internet advice column that reads like Dan Savage and Anne Lamott’s  literary love child. Tiny Beautiful Things, a selective collection of various Dear Sugar columns, is an instruction manual on how to be a fearless, compassionate bad-ass, and is guaranteed to knock you on your behind, then extend a loving hand to pick you back up again. No topic is taboo in Sugar’s world, and her willingness to share her own mistakes and character flaws gives her advice heft and weight: you know you should do what Strayed tells you to do, because she’s not just preaching it–she’s lived it. And yet, her advice is always delivered in such a way that you believe she has your best interests at heart, and really cares about whether or not you succeed. That’s no mean feat; you can’t fake that. After you read the library copy, buy this book. In fact, buy two: one for yourself, and one for somebody you love enough to give the gift of radical honesty.

Maria

Detroit: A Biography, Scott Martelle. As a Motown girl born and bred, I snatched this one right up. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, but it was entertaining and enlightening (and still managed to make me feel homesick). From the history of the Motor City as a French trading post to Indian warfare and through the explosive growth of the auto industry to its nasty and tragic race history, this book is the story of a city’s failures, hopes, and dreams, and of the resilient spirit of its people. Of local interest: the last chapter (“Pittsburgh: A Different Case”) is all about Pittsburgh’s resurgence after its decline, and the lessons learned that Detroit can hopefully implement.

Melissa

My hands-down favorite book I read this year was Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. You know how every year you read one book that you recommend to everyone you see? This is mine. If I haven’t told you about this wonderful piece of fiction yet, it’s because you haven’t seen me or my staff picks. So I’m sorry to be redundant, but I still think about this book almost daily. The prose was vivid. The dialog, witty and sharp. I found myself picturing the whole novel in my head as I was reading it. It was like my own personal moving picture. Rules of Civility was everything I want a book to be.

Suzy

This kid will kill you.

This kid will kill you.

Little Star, John Ajvide Lindqvist. There is something alarming going on in Sweden. Lack of sunlight, possibly? Too much salted herring? Frostbite? Whatever is going on, every single book I’ve read from the Land of the Midnight Sun has been unbelievably dark and twisted. And awesome. In fact, my favorite book in 2012 is from heir apparent to Stephen King, John Ajvide Lindqvist. Lindqvist , best known as the author of Let the Right One In (Swedish movie and U.S. movie,) is redefining the horror genre. Yet the book I love best is his first “non-supernatural” novel. Little Star, released in English in October, definitely has elements of the supernatural, but ultimately it’s about alienation, bullying, fame and teenage angst. Because nothing says Happy Holidays like a gang of murderous teen girls.

Left for dead in the woods, Theres is rescued (if you can call it that) by D-List musician and wife beater Lennart Cederström.  Upon discovering her perfect pitch, Cederström makes the (odd) decision to hide her in his basement and raise a perfect singing machine. By the time Theres is a teenager, she is eerily beautiful with a spooky stare, and clearly has no concept of right or wrong. When events takes a gruesome turn (with a drill) she ends up in Stockholm with her “brother” Jerry, one of the many adults in her life who treat her like a commodity. After appearing on the Swedish American Idol, Theres hooks up with the overweight, bullied Theresa and together they make a chilling duo. They create a gang of alienated, disenfranchised teenage girls who are fiercely devoted only to one another, to the point of torture and murder. Twisted and grisly, Little Star is a compelling and horrifying tale of the suffering of modern living with an equally compelling and horrifying cast of characters.

Oh, and you’ll never listen to ABBA the same again.

Tara

My Heart is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart
This was one of the most enjoyable essay collections I’ve read in a while. Mr. Rothbart is something of a good-hearted raconteur, willing to try anything at least once for the sake of a good story. I dare you to read the second essay in this collection, entitled “Human Snowball,” and not walk away grinning from ear-to-ear—which is quite an accomplishment when you consider that it’s a story about riding around wintery Buffalo, NY in a stolen van.

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
This is something of a genre mash-up. At its heart it’s a mystery novel, shaded with classic noir hues, but there’s an intriguing twist–the world is about to end in approximately six months. With an asteroid plummeting towards earth’s surface, Detective Hank Palace has to wrestle with the ultimate existential dilemma: what’s the point in solving a murder if everyone is going to end up dead anyways? This is a quick, fun read (and hopefully the first in a trilogy), with many uncanny speculations about what a pre-apocalyptic USA might look like.

Have you tried any of these? Have favorites of your own? Get the conversational ball rolling in the comments below.

The Eleventh Stack bloggers wish you a holiday season filled with harmony, good food, and safe travel conditions. After a short posting break, we will resume our regular publishing schedule on December 26th.

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When there’s something strange in the neighborhood…

About two weeks ago, I went on the Haunted Pittsburgh Ghost Tour of our fair Downtown. As we wandered from Market Square to First Ave. and up to the old County jail, the guide shared a fun mix of urban legends and ghost stories about our city. And of course, I came home wanting more information.

One of the more interesting tales we heard on the tour was about Kate Soffel and the Biddle brothers, Jack and Ed. In 1901, Jack and Ed were imprisoned on murder charges as part of the Chloroform Gang – a charming group of burglars who would chloroform their victims to gain entry to homes or businesses. During a robbery gone wrong, the owner of a grocery store was shot and killed. While waiting for their day to hang, Jack and Ed became friendly with the warden’s wife, Kate Soffel. She spent many an hour with the inmates trying to rehabilitate them by reading from the Bible. As these things tend to go, Kate and Ed became a little more than friends. She eventually helped them coordinate an escape, only for the authorities to catch up with them in Butler County. The men died from gunshot wounds and Kate was seriously injured. She was brought back to Pittsburgh, stood trial for her part in the plot, and served time in the very jail she helped the brothers escape. Since her death, she’s haunted the warden’s office of the old County jail. We have two non-circulating items at Main about this story for some further reading or you can visit Kate at her other favorite haunt – her post-prison home on Mount Washington is now the Shiloh Grill.

……….

After talking about the tour with some co-workers, one mentioned the former Dixmont State Hospital. The psychiatric hospital opened in 1862 in Kilbuck Township and remained in operation until 1984. And like any state hospital worth its salt, the property is completely haunted. When the remaining buildings were torn down in 2006 to make way for a new Wal-Mart, so many issues happened during construction - namely massive landslides - that the property was abandoned.

……….

The dorm I lived in for two years at college is very haunted. Hillside (originally the Ladies Hall and Music Conservatory) was constructed in 1885, making it one of the oldest buildings on campus. Plus, it was supposedly used as a hospital during WWI. Lots of potential there. Particularly in the left wing, dorm residents have reported hearing typing on their computer keyboards in the middle of the night, seeing doors opening and closing, and things flying off of walls in ways that defy physics. There is also a weird acoustic “dead spot” at the foot of the hill leading up to this dorm – if you can find the right location on the sidewalk, conversations with the person next to you become muffled and it’s even difficult to hear yourself talk.

Do you have any favorite local legends or ghost stories? Let us know and check out a few more in these books…

- Jess, who ain’t afraid of no ghosts

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