Tag Archives: Shelf Examination

Shelf Examination: African American Fiction

Pittsburgh is a city whose neighborhoods are rich in African-American culture and heritage. Take, for example, the Hill District, home of the legendary August Wilson, whose legacy resonates throughout the Carnegie Library’s brand-new Hill District Branch.  There’s also Homewood, where John Edgar Wideman both spent his youth and set much of his writing. However, I could go on all day and not even begin to do justice to the proud history and hopeful future you can find within Pittsburgh’s borders.

It’s the same way with the African American fiction collection:  because it spans multiple genres, and reflects various aspects of the African American experience, it’s almost impossible to sum it up with three or four titles.  And yet, we soldier on!  Here’s a very quick peek at some of the titles and authors you’ll find on our shelves.

Diverse fiction for a diverse city...

Diverse fiction for a diverse city...

The Book: 72 Hour Hold, Bebe Moore Campbell.

The Plot: A mother struggles to help her adult daughter cope with bipolar disorder, but is limited both by the law and by society’s discomfort with the mentally ill.

Pick this up if you like: mother-daughter relationships, novels that explore contemporary medical issues, style and tone similiar to thrillers, but with literary use of metaphor.

The Book: Talking God’s Radio Show, John High.

The Plot: This dream-like (or is it nightmarish?) novel revolves around Jesse Rivers, his surreal experiences in an orphanage called “Camp Jesus,” and his adventures after his subsequent escape.

Pick this up if you like: Psychological fiction, coming-of-age stories, poetic prose, stories told in flashback, Southern gothic.

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The Book: Man Gone Down, Michael Thomas.

The Plot: The American dream takes a screeching turn for the worse for a young black man who, though successful up to now, finds himself estranged from his wife and children.  Given only a short time to put his life back together, can he figure out a way to keep everything he holds dear?

Pick this up if you like: Narratives that rely heavily on flashback, portraits of contemporary manhood and fatherhood, stories set in Boston or New York, the challenges of earning a living and building a life.

The Book: Short Stories of the Civil Rights Movement, ed. Margaret Earley.

The Plot: A group of short stories and personal recollections loosely grouped around relevant historical themes, such as “Sit-ins” and “Desegregation.”  Contributors include Z.Z. Packer and Alice Walker.

Pick this up if you like: Historical fiction, anthologies, short stories, literary fiction, multi-cultural collaborations.

When you’re done with these, you’ll be ready to explore the collection’s African authors, or perhaps some of its inspirational offerings. You can also try familiar picks from classic authors or dive into the controversial, yet compelling, world of street lit (also known as urban lit).  As ever, if you want to learn more, or have questions about authors and titles, just ask a librarian.

Books?  Yep, we've got those...

Books? Yep, we've got those...

Whew.  Trying to do justice to all of our genres and formats was a mammoth task.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this overview series, and that you’ll stick around for your Nonfiction Fix, the first installment of which was inspired by one of Kaarin’s previous entries.

Happy reading!

–Leigh Anne


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Shelf Examination: Inspirational Fiction

I thought this series had just about run its course, but guess what? There’s a new fiction collection at Main Library! Today’s episode of Shelf Examination takes a quick peek at the New and Featured Department‘s latest contribution to readerly interests: inspirational fiction.

Like some of the other collections featured in this series, inspirational fiction spans genres from mystery to chick lit, with multiple stops at all points between. What unites this diverse collection of stories is the focus on Christian faith and positive endings, regardless of how many issues and challenges the protagonists tackle. If that sounds like your cup of tea, try one of the titles mentioned below.

"If only there were a Pittsburgh library blog that inspired me to read more..."

The book: Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White, Claudia Mair Burney.

The plot: Zora and Nicky, two teens from different backgrounds, meet at a Bible study. They start out butting heads, and end up falling in love…but will their differences (and their parents) ultimately keep them apart?

Pick this up if you like: Frank discussions of racism, class differences, and sexual ethics; strong female protagonists; losing and finding faith; realistic parent-child conflicts.

The book: Perfecting Kate, Tamara Leigh.

The plot: Confused, insecure Kate feels like she needs an all-over makeover, especially after the love triangle she stumbles into inspires some serious soul-searching.

Pick this up if you like: Chick lit; the ongoing struggle between inner and outer beauty; protagonists of realistic size; stories where the girl gets the guy without losing herself; books with discussion questions included.

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The book: Thr3e, Ted Dekker.

The plot: The mysterious “Slater” wants Kevin to confess his wrongdoings, and subjects him to a series of puzzles and threats involving the number 3. The problem is, Kevin has no idea what Slater’s talking about…or has he simply buried secrets too painful to bear?

Pick this up if you like: Thrillers with plenty of plot twists, stories that grapple with both pride and the nature of evil, briskly-paced action, or long-buried secrets, revealed slowly and gradually.

The book: The Apostle Paul, James Cannon.

The plot: A fictionalized account of the life and times of Paul of Tarsus, later known as Saint Paul.

Pick this up if you like: Sweeping historical fiction, formal tone and sentence structure, large casts of characters, the writings of Taylor Caldwell.

Want more suggestions? Ask a librarian!

Intrigued? Ask a librarian about other available books and programs!

Unless there’s a new collection unveiled between now and my next turn in the blog rotation (and believe me, it could happen – we’re creative that way), we really will be saying goodbye to Shelf Examination. Tune in next time for a case of “last, but certainly not least” in the genre department, as well as a sneak preview of “Nonfiction Fix,” a series designed for people hooked on real-life reads.

–Leigh Anne

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Shelf Examination: Magazines

One of my favorite things to do on my days off is to visit a library (stop laughing), find its magazine section, curl up with a beverage in my hand, and pore over the news, fashion, trends, and other curiosities magazines can offer. This usually gives birth to elaborate fantasy lives: someday, I too will make funky furniture out of found objects or run an ultramarathon! Who knows? I might even finally get my life together once and for all. Again, I beg of you: stop laughing! Sometimes everybody needs a cappucino, a glossy periodical, and a dream.

caffeine, dreams, and magazines...

If you’re inclined to idle away a few hours in a similar fashion, you’ll find yourself surrounded by plenty to dream about. You can pretend you’re the next Bob Vila, Anthony Bourdain, or Kanye West. You can plan your next vacation, create the ultimate fantasy sports team, or get ideas for the outfit you’ll wear when you accept an Oscar for your screenplay (which was, of course, based on your award-winning short story).

...like a shiny disco ball of imaginative goodness...

Magazines: like a shiny disco ball of imaginative goodness...

Not a dreamer, per se? That’s okay, too. Magazines can be both practical and sensible. Like many people right now, you might have concerns about your finances. If you’re a news junkie, periodical punditry might intrigue you. Maybe you value matters of religion and faith, or family matters, or both. In fact, that’s one of the best things about magazines: there are so many of them, on so many diverse topics, that you can indulge your sensible and zany sides simultaneously.

From where I’m sitting, though, the shiny disco ball of imaginative goodness that magazines provide definitely trumps any sensible concerns I might have. I might not get to Paris anytime soon, but I can fuzzle over Le Nouvel Observateur. I’m a mediocre poet at best, but with a flip through The New Yorker, I can be inspired by the genius of others, and strive to be a little better. And for sheer mindless, frivolous fun, you cannot beat the guilty pleasures of Cosmo, Glamour, and In Style, especially if you take what you find there and make your next trip to the thrift store an informed adventure.

A cozy nook, a comfy chair...

A cozy nook, a comfy chair...

So, the next time you get tired of squinting at all of your news and entertainment online, consider seeking out one of our cozy magazine rooms. All you need are a few spare hours, some coffee, and a dream to enjoy the power and pleasure of our magazines.

A pleasant place to read and ruminate

A pleasant place to read and ruminate...

All good things come to an end, and the next intstallment of Shelf Examination will be the last. Tune in to see which collection will be featured, and what crazy adventures we’ll embark on next!

–Leigh Anne

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Shelf Examination: Manga and Graphic Novels

Thanks to the success of graphic novels like Fun Home and Persepolis, more and more adults are discovering the power and pleasure of contemporary comics. Today’s Shelf Examination celebrates the renaissance in graphic literature for adults, featuring fiction and non-fiction titles that can entertain, inspire, or educate via the marriage of well-drawn images and thoughtful text.

The Series:  Essex County, Jeff Lemire.

Start With: Tales From the Farm.

The Plot:  Lemire populates a farming community in Southwestern Ontario with an assortment of quirky, yet dignified characters, each coping with life’s privations in her/his own style.  Tales From the Farm focuses on how adult role models help a young boy cope after his mother’s death.


The Memoir: Blue Pills, Frederick Peeters.

The Plot:  Peeters chronicles the delicate dance of creating a relationship with a woman and her son, both of whom have tested positive for HIV.  Images of the absurd and the magical weave through this touching, realistic story of love in a complicated world.

book jacket     book jacket  book jacket     book jacket

The Series: Old Boy, Garon Tsuchiya.

The Plot:  Goto wants some answers.  Why was he whisked away and imprisoned for ten years?  And why, suddenly, has he been released with no explanation?  Goto’s Kafkaesque search for the truth seemingly points to a teenage grudge, but can it really be that simple?


The Play: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare, adapted by Richard Appignanesi.

The Plot:  Lovers flee to the woods, fairies hold grudges and make mischief, and Appignanesi illuminates all with light, delicate depictions of the otherworldly creatures into whose domains the hapless humans have stumbled.  Includes eight pages of character introductions.

As usual, the quick picks offered in today’s post are just the tip of the iceberg.  And if you’ve spent this entire post scratching your head and saying, “Huh?,” we can help you there, too.  For graphic novel picks appropriate for kids and teens, please consult our fabulous, knowledgable colleagues in their respective departments.

What readerly goodness lurks within the heart of the stacks?  Shelf Examination knows!  See you next time.

–Leigh Anne

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Shelf Examination: Short Stories

Once upon a time, on a hectic blue planet, everybody was so busy earning a living, doing housework, feeding the dog, feeding the cat, feeding the marmoset, running errands, and surfing the internet, that nobody had time to read anymore.  So everybody in the book industry moved to upstate New York and raised goats instead of writing and publishing, and all the unemployed librarians joined the Venusian zombie ninja resistance movement.  This primarily involved scanning the night sky for warships and composing protest songs, just in case Venusian zombie ninjas actually existed, and had designs on taking over the hectic blue planet.

Okay, maybe the goat-raising part was a bit of a stretch, but it never hurts to imagine what a world without reading might look like.  Consider my scenario a foretaste of the dystopian future that awaits you if you don’t come check out the Main Library’s short story collection.  Still not convinced you have time to read?  Try one of these books on for size, and see if the power of quick, quality fiction can’t change your mind.

The Collection:  Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories, James Thomas & Robert Shapard, eds.

Authors Include:  Dave Eggers, Grace Paley, John Updike, Amy Hempel

Random Sample:  David Galef’s “My Date With Neanderthal Woman,” in which a young man, bored with contemporary women, tries dating somebody from a different era…literally.


The Collection: Many Bloody Returns, Charlaine Harris & Toni L. P. Kelner, eds.

Authors include:  Tanya Huff, Jim Butcher, Christopher Golden, Carolyn Haines.

Random Sample:  Bill Crider’s “I Was a Teenage Vampire” drolly riffs on J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

book jacket      book jacket      book jacket      book jacket


The Collection:  Paris Noir, Maxim Jakubowski, ed.

Authors Include:  Cara Black, Michael Moorcock, Dominique Mantoli, Stella Duffy.

Random Sample:  A jaded man looks back on his carefree past as a busker and rues his loss of innocence in John Williams’s “New Shoes.”


The Collection: This is Not Chick Lit, Elizabeth Merrick, ed.

Authors include:  Aimee Bender, Francine Prose, Curtis Sittenfeld, Mary Gordon.

Random Sample:  Who was Dolly Mae Devine, and what was her story?  Scholarly documents, archival photographs and personal statements tell the tale in Carolyn Ferrell’s “Documents of Passion Love.”


The Collection: This is My Funniest, Mike Resnick, ed.

Authors Include:  Spider Robinson, Connie Willis, Harry Turtledove, Jane Yolen.

Random Sample:  A heated exchange of letters about the ownership of a certain set of genes makes Nancy Kress’s “Patent Infringement” a painfully good read.

Please don’t doom your favorite authors to a lifetime of herding goats!  Try a short story collection on for size today, and remember:  only YOU can prevent the Venusian zombie ninja apocalypse!

How many more genres and formats can there be, you ask?  Tune in to the next installment of Shelf Examination and find out…

–Leigh Anne


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Shelf Examination: GLBT Fiction

Today’s installment of Shelf Examination highlights the GLBT fiction collection, which combines genres to please the various reading tastes within the spectrum of people who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, intersexed, or otherwise queer.  So, whether you’re looking for a good mystery, an inspirational heart-warmer, or a supernatural thriller, you’ll find it here, written by, for, and from folks with alternative gender perspectives.

The book:  Murder in the Rue Chartres, Greg Herren.

Pick this up if you like:  cold cases, inter-related murders, and missing persons; family secrets; the sensuality of the French Quarter; stories where setting and geography play a key role; stories steeped in current events.

The book:  Of Drag Kings and the Wheel of Fate, Susan Smith.

Pick this up if you like:  Star-crossed lovers; fluid gender identity; self-chosen families; pop culture themes and metaphors; ethnic and religious plurality; epic Jungian soul quests; passionate, yet tender, awakenings.

book jacket     book jacket     book jacket     book jacket

The book:  And You Invited Me In, Cheryl Moss Tyler.

Pick this up if you like:  inspirational fiction, social justice, realistic sibling reconciliations, well-rounded characters, stories that explore multiple points of view, or the delicate process of negotiating clashing worldviews.

The book:  American Goth, J.D. Glass.

Pick this up if you like:  Paranormal thrillers, multiple trips to the astral, family bonds and legacies, tough choices between desire and destiny, representations of the goth subculture, or wicked-cool swords.

The book: Friends, Lovers and Roses, V.B. Clay.

Pick this up if you like:  Circles of close friends, multiple narrators, gossipy relationship drama, AfricanAmerican families, sassy narration, or plots where secret-keeping plays a major role.


Intrigued?  As ever, you can find more quality GLBT picks by perusing our webrary of booklist goodness.   Tune in next time when we examine more shelves!

–Leigh Anne


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Shelf Examination: Horror

“Begone, foul demon!” Frantically, I waved my library card at the hideous creature that blocked my path.

The fiend wasn’t buying it. “I scoff at your literary hall pass, librarian,” he hissed, briefly baring a mouthful of razor-sharp fangs.

The smell of sulfur grew stronger as Boredom approached me. The CLP staff had defeated this particular demon many, many times before, but he always came back…especially during the dog days of summer. I knew I shouldn’t have come up to eleventh stack all by myself!

It was too late for regret now, though: with my back to the wall and a Big Bad blocking the staircase, I was going to have to give the demon a taste of his own medicine. I took a deep breath, recited the Litany Against Fear, and tackled Boredom with a sample from the library’s vast arsenal of horrific goodness.

The Book: The Bone Key, Sarah Monette.

Pick this up if you like: Lovecraft homages, socially inept protagonists, subtle eroticism, mysteries, short stories, tales set in New England, or excellent imitations of 19th-century prose styles.

The Book: The Mad Cook of Pymatuning, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt.

Pick this up if you like: Summer camp sagas, novels with local color, coming of age stories, psychological terror, a touch of teenage romance.

book jacket

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The Book: Waking Brigid, Francis Clark.

Pick this up if you like: Tales of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras, unflappable heroines with special powers, stories told partially in flashback, interfaith cooperation in the service of defeating some pretty greusome demons.

The Book: Fledgling, Octavia Butler.

Pick this up if you like: ethical vampires, genetic engineering, African American fiction, interspecies smackdowns, strong-willed female protagonists, or social commentary on racism and xenophobia.

Boredom, visibly shaken but undeterred, staggered toward me, determined to have his way in spite of my efforts. As I closed my eyes and prayed for a swift end, there was a sudden shriek, and then…silence.

I opened my eyes. Boredom was nowhere to be found. Instead, much to my surprise, a small, stuffed kitten lay at my feet. Charmed, I stooped to examine its cuddly white fur and cute hair bow, then scooped it up with a smile.

“Well aren’t YOU just the sweetest little thing?,” I cooed. “Let’s take you downstairs and put you on my desk.” Cheered by the triumph of adorable over evil, I skipped back down to the Reference department, never suspecting that I had not been rescued, but had merely traded one horrifying creature for another.

Will our heroine survive the plush peril? Perhaps we’ll find out in our next episode of Shelf Examination! In the meantime, if you’re craving even more horror, check out our booklists, or stop by the next meeting of our horror book discussion group.

-Leigh Anne

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Shelf Examination: Mystery

When the poor sap stumbled into my office, I could see he was desperate. “You’ve gotta help me,” he rasped. “You’re the only one who knows.”

I eyeballed his lanky form and decided he was more sinned against than sinner.  “Have a seat,” I said, and gestured to the battered computer chair where all my clients tell me their troubles.  “What’s your pitch?”

“I need…” He gulped, then glanced nervously behind him, as if he expected the reading police to show up at any moment. “I need a good mystery.”

A good mystery to idle away a summer afternoon?  I should have known.  Thoughtfully I leaned back in my chair and crossed my legs, inhaling deeply on my cigarette. I could try to brush him off with something simple, like a premade booklist, but something in his haunted, blood-shot, baby blues told me it wouldn’t work.   Not that booklists aren’t swell. But there was more going on here than met the eye, and if I wanted the mystery man to trust me as a professional librarian, I was going to have to give him a personalized list…and it was going to have to be a good one.

I sighed heavily, sat up straight, and fixed the stranger with my steely gaze.  His face brightened as I pushed a piece of paper and a pencil across the desk. “Here,” I said, “listen up good, and write this down.”

 classy dame


The Book: The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, ed. Otto Penzler.

Check this out if you like: Short stories, pulp fiction, men’s adventure magazines, danger, suspense, dark alleys, dames both classy and treacherous, gumshoes, shysters, shamuses, double-crosses, or any of the other noir-y tropes common in Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.

The Book:  Big Boned, Meg Cabot.

Check this out if you like: Wrongly-accused protagonists, celebrity/fashion namedropping, stories set on college campuses, love triangles, heroines of realistic size, loyal friends, cute shoes, or other chick-lit elements.

book jacket          book jacket          book jacket


The Book:  Casanegra, Blair Underwood et. al.

Check this out if you like:  Hollywood highs and lows, street lit drama, heroes with troubled pasts, father-son conflicts, tales of redemption, celebrity authors, African American film history, the seamy underbelly of the rap business, or erotic fiction.

The Book: Death of a Cozy Writer, G.M. Malliet.

Check this out if you like:  Cozy mysteries, English country houses, family feuds, dry humor, a hint of self-conscious parody, drawing room scandal, secrets and lies, or stories reminiscent of Agatha Christie.

mysterious library

 The mystery man, visibly relieved, tucked the booklist into the breast pocket of his jacket and beamed at me from under the brim of his shabby fedora.  “Thanks to you, miss, I’m feeling a lot more literate and entertained.  How can I ever thank you?”

I smiled.  This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, I could tell.  “For starters,” I said, “how about you open up that briefcase you’re carrying and show me what kind of McGuffin you’ve got there?”

Cue the saxophones! And don’t forget to tune in next time for Shelf Examination!

–Leigh Anne


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Shelf Examination: Historic Fiction

Ready to do the time-warp again?  Part three of this ongoing series whisks you around the world, by way of the wayback machine.

The Book: The Religion, Tim Willocks.

The Setting:  Malta, 1565

Check this out if you like:  Rogues, ruffians, and adventurers; extensive descriptions of bloody battles, religious or political intrigue, occasional touches of earthy eroticism, or subplots fueled by secrets and scandal.

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 The Book: The Sister, Paola Kauffman.

The Setting:  19th-century America.

Check this out if you like:  Domestic fiction, sisterly love, Emily Dickinson’s poetry, tales of quiet sacrifice, family secrets, courtroom drama, a restrained tone, or a heavy reliance on historical documents for background information.

 book jacket

The Book:  Saturnalia, Lindsey Davis.

The Setting:  Rome, 76 A.D.

Check this out if you like:  Hard-boiled mysteries, women on the lam, dry wit, races against time, competition between arch-rivals, or descriptions of ancient festivals and customs.

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The Book: China Star, Bartle Bull.

The Setting:  Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the 1920s.

Check this out if you like:  Transcontinental chases, scandalous love affairs, spies seeking revenge, reckless aristocrats with crisp manners, exotic locales, culture clashes, or detailed descriptions of lavish clothing and parties.

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 Can’t get enough of bygone eras?  See our extensive array of additional booklists.

And with that, this entry is history! As ever, happy reading.

–Leigh Anne


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Shelf Examination: World Fiction

The second in our series of quick guides to the fiction shelves tackles the world of world fiction.  Here are four picks that show off the diversity of this collection, which features books from around the world, translated into English.

 The Book: The Chess Machine, Robert Lohr.

 Check it out if you like:  chess, con artists, 18th-century Europe, German authors, political intrigue, scandal, mystery, or scrupulous attention to historical detail.

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The Book: Stories of Little Women and Grown-Up Girls, Sonia Rivera-Valdes.

Check it out if you like:  Interlinked short stories, coming-of-age narratives, contemporary Cuban issues, the joys and challenges of women’s friendships, or down-to-earth prose styles.

The Book:   Nightwatch, Sergei Lukyanenko.

 Check it out if you like:  urban fantasy,  ill-fated romances, stolen artifacts, intricate plotting, dark humor, the Moscow scene, books that eventually become movies.

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 The book: Everyday Life, Lydie Salvayre.

Check it out if you like:  Unreliable narrators, office politics, troubling portraits of the perils of growing older, generation gaps, or the rapidly changing corporate world.

book jacketJonesing for more?  Take a peek at this booklist, and this one, for good measure.

Until next time, enjoy exploring brave new (or new-to-you) worlds!

–Leigh Anne


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