Tag Archives: Team Eleventh Stack

Punch a Higher Floor

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.

Art courtesy Marcel L. Walker. Click through for his website.

Around 2011 I was dating a girl who loved Prince. She often talked about how she’d been to a few of his concerts when she was younger. When we got back from the bars, she’d often put his albums on. We spent many nights dancing around her kitchen until the early hours of the morning, frightening her cats and annoying her downstairs neighbors as we sang along loudly and badly with Prince, particularly the Purple Rain soundtrack. It was during these sleepless hours that I was introduced to “Let’s Go Crazy.” That song will always be an anthemic battle cry for me.

Later I was looking up clips on YouTube and found the video below. Watch as Prince reaches heretofore unmatched levels of face-melting as he shreds his way through the solo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” proving unequivocally that Prince was a supremely talented performer. I know I’ll miss him.


I would not be exaggerating if I said Prince was involved in two of the best nights of my life.

Picture this: New Year’s Eve, 1991. I’m at an under-21 dance club called Club Nitro. I’m 14 years old and no doubt I was wearing what I considered “dress up” clothes: black bodysuit, jeans that were far too big for me and Doc Martens. I didn’t have big hair, but it was most certainly curled by the Caruso Molecular Steam Hairsetter. The song at midnight was “Diamonds and Pearls“.

One by one, my friends were asked to dance, until it was just me leaning against a wall. And then a boy that I had crushed on for months asked me to dance. I had assumed he was unaware of my existence. I got to dance to Prince on New Year’s Eve with my crush. He even kissed me at the end of the song.*

Beer Barge, 2014. The Commonwealth Press Beer Barge is an excellent way to celebrate Pittsburgh’s Craft Beer Week. Two hundred of your closest friends set sail on the Gateway Clipper for three hours of bands, craft beer and dancing. The final song on the 2014 barge was Purple Rain. It was an epic night. Look!

*Never spoke to me again.


iwoulddie4uIt’s really hard for me to remember a time that I wasn’t singing Prince songs. His music was everything I wanted to be a part of – dancing, freedom of expression, being yourself, sexuality, fast cars and motorcycles, and on and on. He was an icon of my generation. Not just a rock star or superstar, but a certifiable icon (I run on at the mouth about the book which will convince you of that fact in this post from a couple of years ago. I STILL recommend this book on a regular basis.). Prince’s death has made me put him into a category that I certainly never wanted him to be in – artists I wanted to see perform live, but never got the chance to. It pains me that he’s now in that “box”. I always thought there’d be more time. But don’t you always think that?  Going crazy is going to be a little harder for me now.

-Melissa M.

One of my greatest parental accomplishments is providing my kids with a well-rounded musical education. Her One Direction fanaticism notwithstanding, my 14-year-old daughter proudly shares that she is the only person among her friends who can name all four Beatles. She’s heartbroken that Janet Jackson postponed her tour because, “It’s the closest I’ll ever get to The King of Pop himself.”  She’s not a child of the ‘80s, but an offspring of two of them, her knowledge of these artists acquired from us having their music on heavy rotation.

But whether it was the suggestiveness of his lyrics or something else, somehow I’d failed to introduce my girl to the power of Prince.

Until Thursday.

“He’s a good singer and all, but I don’t quite get why everyone is so sad about him dying,” she tells me.

purplerainDig if you will, then, the picture of us watching Purple Rain, its R-rating be damned. She’s laughing at the outfits, the Aqua-Netted hair.  I start speaking in fragments about how the ‘80s were such a confusing and sad decade — not only for me, but for all of us who were finding love and ourselves in an era of being scared to death that falling in love could kill us.  And then came Prince, singing and celebrating these feelings that were so powerful, so intoxicating and so dangerous enough to be slapped with a Parental Advisory sticker from Tipper Gore.

My nostalgia isn’t quite enough for my girl — she’s been down similar Memory Lanes of mine before — so I go for backup.  Like me, my high school friend Leah also is watching Purple Rain while trying to explain her sadness to her own daughter.

“I told her Prince was my generation’s Justin Bieber and One Direction and Taylor Swift and Jay Z and Beyoncé all rolled into one,” Leah says, via Facebook. “I think she understood that but what I didn’t say was Prince was also our coming of age, our first dances and first dates and first loves. He was the end of our childhood and the soundtrack of our youth and our young adulthood. I’m mourning Prince but I’m also remembering the way I felt back then and realizing that I won’t ever feel that way again, but when I’m watching and listening and singing, I can almost get there.”

The purple-tinged audience is waving their hands (“we had lighters back then, not cell phones,” I explain).  I turn the volume up louder, as one does in homage to Prince. The guitar soars through the TV, through the house, through our souls. And watching my girl, enraptured now, I begin to connect with something I’d long forgotten.

-Melissa F.

When I found out this past Thursday that Prince died I was stunned. It’s still weird for me to talk about him in the past tense. This may be odd to say, but I’ve heard a lot of people these past couple of days say the same thing: I never imagined him dying. I thought that he would be 90 years old still doing concerts singing “Purple Rain.” It’s sad, crazy and strange to think of a world without him, but alas we have to.

His passing didn’t just affect me. It affected my family because my mom is a huge fan of his and she got me into him. She’s loved him since he first came out and she had a poster on her wall of him with a big Afro from Right On! magazine. When my aunt & uncle first met each other, they broke the ice by talking about their common love of Prince. This is a monumental loss. I’ll end this by naming my top three favorite songs of his: “When Doves Cry,” “The Beautiful Ones” and “Adore.”


The summer of 1984, I was home from my freshman year of college. In school, I had been a DJ heavily into prog rock, and worked at the music library where I was introduced to classical and world music. My boyfriend was a guitarist in a hardcore punk rock band that frequently played at CBGB’s and the like. I also happen to be very light-skinned, and my boyfriend, very dark-skinned. This was still fairly rare in the mid-80s, even in New York. We would turn heads walking down the street. Light- and dark-skinned people alike would give us the hairy eyeball.

Our whole group of friends were quite snobbish when it came to pop music. We collectively derided the MTV phenomenon, and all of pop culture as a rule. When Purple Rain came out, my boyfriend and I wanted to see it, but we didn’t want any of our friends to know. We snuck away, even coming up with a cover story of what we were doing instead. It was the first time either of us saw mixed-race couples depicted anywhere. The aspect of one’s race was a non-issue. We were also completely mesmerized by Prince himself. We laughed at ourselves for liking the movie so much. We went to see it again the next day.


In the Spring of 1986 Prince’s “Kiss” was released. At the time, my family didn’t have cable TV, and the whole music video generation was quickly passing me by. But, you know who DID have cable, and MTV? My Grandpap. We would go out to his place on the weekends, visit with him and help him with stuff around the house. Right after that song came out we were over there. I had heard it on the radio, but lacking MTV, had never seen the video. For whatever reason, I was the only one in the living room, as everyone else was in the kitchen, or out in the yard. I turned on MTV and watched some videos. That’s when I saw the video for “Kiss.”

As a 10-year-old boy, growing up in a white, working class, Catholic home, this video opened my eyes in some remarkable ways. I remember thinking “OK…so HE’s wearing high heels … and SHE’s playing the guitar … that’s not … what I expected.” I feel like seeing Wendy Melvoin playing the guitar did a number on me. It let me in on a whole new world of what was possible, and opened up doors of who could do what.

It wasn’t at all what I expected, and I loved it. Billy Bragg and Morrissey (two of my musical heroes) have talked eloquently about how seeing Bowie at an impressionable age really impacted them. I feel that this song and video did something similar for me. The stripped-down funk sounds, vocals still loud and screamy enough to anger a parent, and the gender bending clothes and sexualized dancing was pretty intense, and it hooked me.

The impact of Prince’s music was felt far and wide, not least by me in a fantastic way that I’m fairly certain I never could have expected.

Rest in Power.


How did Prince affect your life? Share your memories and tributes in the comments, and put one of his albums or movies on reserve.

-Team Eleventh Stack


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Hey Babe, Let’s Go Out Tonight



Image from:  ca.hellomagazine.com


Monday morning I was home, and had somehow avoided watching or listening to the news or going online to check my social media news feeds. When I finally logged in around noon, the first thing I saw was a sad post in my Facebook feed, mourning the loss of David Bowie (born David Robert Jones).

Surely this must be a hoax, I told myself.

Sadly it was not. Over the course of the day, the main thing that struck me was how many people (from completely different walks of life) where in mourning or disbelief over his passing. It takes a cultural icon of a very unique and special stature to garner this sort of grieving from so many different people around the world.

You too have probably engaged with Bowie’s music or art at some point in your life. Today the Eleventh Stack bloggers would like to share their own favorite David Bowie songs or memories, and we encourage you to share as well in the comments section. Farewell, Mr. Bowie — the world is made a little less interesting by your passing.

It’s nearly impossible to choose just a couple of favorites from Bowie’s vast catalog of amazing music, but if I must, these are my current choices. Ask me next week and I may choose different titles.

station to station“Golden Years” (Station to Station, 1976) – This is one of my husband’s favorites, too. It’s hard for me not to play air guitar or otherwise jam to this song.  I love the refrain: “I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.”

“Modern Love” (Let’s Dance, 1983) – Although the backup singers annoy me slightly, I still adore this song. I had no idea what I was listening to the first time I heard it on the radio, and I kind of hated it and kind of couldn’t get enough of it. It just got into my head, and the more times I heard it, the more I loved it.

My favorite Bowie pop culture moment is when he turned out to be the shape-shifting leader of the Guild of Calamitous Intent on Venture Brothers. I don’t care that he didn’t actually do the voice. It was too awesome for words.


We had a white cat growing up with two different colored eyes that my aunt named Bowie (aka The Thin White Duke). I thought it was such a lame name for a cat. The only thing i really knew about Bowie at the time was that he was the dude wearing tights in Labyrinth that gave me strange and uncomfortable feelings.

Fast forward ten or so years, and Bowie’s music would become an essential part of the soundtrack to the rest of my life. I love so many of his albums, but hold a special candle for Hunky Dory, since it was the first record of his I bought on vinyl as a burgeoning wannabe music nerd.


Special mention should probably go to his 1977 album Low, which I still find haunting and beautiful to this day.


[A tip: the library owns many David Bowie albums on CD, but most of them have a wait list at the moment. However, our streaming service Hoopla has many, many Bowie albums that you can check out right now. If you’ve never used Hoopla and would like some help we’re always happy to lend a hand.]

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Reading Resolutions for 2016

You may not have noticed, but we sure like to read around here! We also love a good challenge, so here are some of Team Eleventh Stack’s reading resolutions for 2016.

My reading resolutions are to read at least 25 books, to read more nonfiction books, starting with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, and to start to read short stories.

Happy New Year!



snicketAfter totally nailing last year’s reading resolution I’m going to try to read everything written by one author for 2016 (probably either Michael Crichton or Chuck Palahniuk–or both!). Fiction, nonfiction, books under a pen name–everything! To add some variety, I’m also going to try to read A Series of Unfortunate Events in its entirety. I missed the hype-train when the books first came out and with a show on Netflix coming soon, I suppose now is a good time to catch up.


beautifuluglyI’m going to try my hand at a dedicated book challenge this year. Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge has caught my eye – it has a nice variety of topics without being too crazy. I already have some titles in mind for a few of the categories…

Don’t be surprised if many of my posts this year are challenge-related!

– Jess

Alas, I didn’t do very well with my 2015 reading resolution, which was to read more broadly from the Library’s historical fiction and world fiction shelves. I mean, I read at least one book in each of those genres (the most notable ones being The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton and Like Family by Paolo Giordano) but for the most part, I didn’t stray too far from my literary comfort zone. I’d like to give this effort another try in 2016.

Regardless of the genre or format, I’m hoping to read more books in 2016.  As of this writing, this year was my lowest total (52) since 2002, when new motherhood and caring for infant twins impacted my ability to read anything more than board books and nursery rhymes. (Not like there’s anything wrong with those.)

Here’s to new beginnings, do-overs and clean slates, and an adventurous  trip around the sun. To quote Neil Gaiman:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

~ Melissa F.

lightheadLike Jess, I’m going to attempt the Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge. It consists of 24 challenge tasks, which is about two books per month. I have been trying to add variety and diversity to my reading materials, and I think this is a good place to start. I also found a 12-task reading challenge at the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog. There’s some overlap between the two, but enough difference to make it worth doing both.

I did pretty will with last year’s Read Harder Challenge, considering I only found out about in December. I managed to hit 22 of the 24 tasks (well, 23 if you count the fact that I gave up on Wuthering Heights for the second time—that book is just not my cup of tea). I am planning to tackle the final item on that challenge this month, which is to read a book that won a major book award. I picked out Lighthead by local poet Terrance Hayes.)

A few of my picks for the 2016 Read Harder Challenge are:

In addition to my two reading challenges, I plan to make a concentrated effort to read more books by people of color, especially women of color, with a loose goal of one title per month.


I pretty much tanked all of last year’s reading resolutions, and yet somehow managed to complete 205 books in 2015. The problem is that I’ve never met a book I won’t try, and they’re all competing for my attention at once. I get distracted by the shiny title that randomly catches my eye as opposed to the ones I’m “supposed” to be reading. I finish a lot of great books, but I never get around to what I’d planned.

So I’ve adopted a different strategy for 2016:

  1. No more formal challenges! Just pure pleasure and serendipity.
  2. Reading one book at a time instead of fifteen all at once.

massivepissedloveRight now I’m happily snuggled up with Richard Hell’s Massive Pissed Love, a collection of film criticism, art reviews and other cultural commentary, including a number of thoughts on what “punk” actually is/was. It’s the sort of book that leads you to countless other books, films, and albums, so I’m taking lots of notes as I go (The Lady From Shanghai is definitely in my future).

Here’s hoping my new approach will help me hit my goal of 215 books completed by the end of the year. Wish me luck!

-Leigh Anne



What are your reading resolutions? Let us know in the comments!

-Team Eleventh Stack




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December Recap

The end of the year is always a good time to look back and reflect on all the challenges you faced, goals you accomplished, and excellent blog posts you read! It’s been an eventful year for us here at Eleventh Stack. We welcomed two new bloggers, Scott M. and Whitney, and said farewell to long-time writer Scott P. as he embarks on a new adventure as Pittsburgh fireman.

Great things have also been taking place at the library. Jess gave us a run-down of the Library’s new video game collection, located at a branch near you. Whitney showed us the Library’s new and growing collection of adult coloring books, and Ginny wrote about a new volunteer program called Reading Buddies that will help kids get interested in reading by paring them with a caring mentor.

To help get us in the holiday spirit, Tara suggested 10 Nontraditional Holiday Movies and Ten holiday albums available to stream on Hoopla. Kayla gave us her five favorite Christmas songs, and Jess made our mouths water with Cookie Time. Melissa F. made us think about consumerism and the holidays with her review of the book Scroogenomics.

In the totally-not-holiday-related department, Sheila explored Napoleonic romances, Scott M. professed his love for all things French, and Scott P. praised Freegal. Leigh Anne gave us an excellent reading list to tackle after watching Jessica Jones, Ross reviewed the new movie Heaven Knows What, and guest blogger Megan took a look at books being adapted into television shows.

Suzy wants you to leave her alone (but only sometimes), Abbey wants you to try listening to an audio book, and we all want you to know how much awesome Star Wars stuff the Library has.

new-years-day-1020125_960_720Finally, check out our own Best of 2015 post, and if this blog has inspired you or helped you in any way, please consider supporting us by making a year-end donation to the Library.

We couldn’t do what we do without you!

Happy New Year!

-Team Eleventh Stack

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Best of 2015

Overwhelmed by the copious numbers of “Best of 2015” lists every publication is putting out? Forget the other guys. We’ve got you covered with our favorite books, movies and music of 2015.


daringgreatlyPlaying favorites is hard for me, and my first instinct is to do some cop-out, like: this was my favorite goofy comic that made me laugh on a bad day and this was my favorite classic I never read before, and this was my favorite memoir and on and on and on, until I mention every awesome book that I read all year and fill up an entire post. So, even though it is causing me more than a little mental anguish to do so, I’m going to stick with one nonfiction pick and one fiction pick. For nonfiction, I’m going with Daring Greatly, a book all about the importance of vulnerability and human connection; it’s not an exaggeration to say that reading this book changed parts of my life.  It was definitely a “right book, right time” situation. As for fiction, I’m giving my top honors to Code Name: Veritya thrilling, page-turning, plot-twisty YA adventure set during WWII. (Neither of these books were published in 2015, but that’s when I read ’em, so by my rules, they totally count).



This was a pretty great year for films, some of which I’ve reviewed on this very blog and some of which I wanted to review but never got around to. About Alex was a nice update of films like The Big Chill and Return Of The Seacaucus Seven. Comet was a great love story that seemed to be the product of a three-way between (500) Days of Summer, Mr. Nobody and The Fountain. At this point it would be repetitive and redundant to gush about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl once again, so I present two other faves of 2015–Before We Go and The End of the Tour.

Before We Go feels like the little brother of Before Sunrise and Roman Holiday. Whimsical and hopeful, first-time director Captain America Chris Evans has given us a quiet, character-driven drama. I was immensely impressed at what Evans did here and look forward to more of his directorial endeavors.  And he might actually be a good actor as well, trading in punches and shield-shucking for pathos and a turn resembling the male equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Plus he and Alice Eve are both beautiful people, so even if the film had sucked—which it didn’t—I would have been fine looking at them for ninety-five minutes.

Another favorite was the equally quiet The End of The Tour. Based on David Lipsky’s book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself:  A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, the plot, in its most basic sense, is just two guys talking. That kind of film has the potential to be a boring mess, but not in this case. Credit must be given to director James Ponsoldt for getting such a great performance out of Jason Segel as the prolific author of Infinite JestDavid Foster Wallace. He’s entrancing as he imbues the part with a reserved kind of sadness hidden just below the surface. I always thought Segel was a good actor; he was arguably the heart of the otherwise mundanely mediocre How I Met Your Mother and shined in Jeff, Who Lives at Home. This film confirms my thoughts.

As a tangential point, The End of Tour and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl both close out with Brian Eno‘s “The Big Ship.” The track on its own fills me with a kind of melancholic joy. I get a similar feeling when I watch movies like Before We Go and The End of the Tour, and I invite you to watch them too.  When the weather is cold  and the sun is hidden behind clouds pregnant with rain, watching these kinds of movies is like a warm hug to me. Savor the quiet filmsThey have the potential to be explosions in your heart.



betweentheworldandmeIt’s usually always hard for me to pick favorites when it comes to books, movies, and music, but I managed to narrow down to one for each part of this post.

For favorite book, I chose Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is a very powerful book from start to finish. Even though it’s only 152 pages, it packs a punch that’s worthy of the length of a Harry Potter novel. The book is told in the perspective of the author talking to his son about his experiences growing up as a black man in America. It’s considered a biography, but I would also consider it a call to action (if such a genre existed). A must-read for, well, everyone.

I’ve seen some great movies this year, but my favorite was Straight Outta Compton, the biopic about the hip-hop group N.W.A. This movie was a slight obsession for me after I saw it. I’ve been impatiently waiting for the movie to come out on Blu-Ray. It comes out on January 19th (late birthday present!). I fell in love with the cast and thought that the movie was excellent. All of the actors made me believe that they were the real people they were portraying. I was impressed. Until the movie is released on DVD, you can check out the group’s album with the same title as the film.

Speaking of albums, boy was this hard for me. I already put a spotlight on Adele’s fabulous new album, 25, so I decided to put the spotlight on another album that I enjoyed this year, which was Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show. This album was Sullivan’s first in 5 years. I was very excited about her comeback and this album was well worth the wait. Sullivan brought back the raw delivery and powerful vocals that is somewhat missing in today’s R&B. Reality Show was nominated for some Grammies (much deserved). Take a listen, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.




I saw one new movie in 2015 and I’m not admitting to which one it was. I’m not a huge music person. I did read! It is hard to choose—should I chose that depressing book, that really depressing book or that other depressing book? For someone with a generally sunny outlook, I read a lot of sad books. I narrowed it down to four (semi) depressing books.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Swiss writer Joel Decker, is a boisterous, fast-paced thriller with a love story, a murder and surprising plot twists. I read it in one day at the pool. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is a coming of age story set during the beginning of the AIDS crisis. I also relate to the main character, as I wrote about here last month. Cue all the crying.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by investigative journalist Jon Krakauer follows the Justice Department’s investigation into the rape crisis at the University of Montana. He follows two acquaintance rape trials with vastly different outcomes, both devastating in their own ways. Although it is non-fiction, the writing is gripping, nuanced and evocative. Krakauer has never shied from complex subjects (Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven) and his approach is no different in Missoula.

Finally, my most recommended book: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by British journalist Johann Hari. Rarely does a book completely change my mind on a subject and this book did. Starting with the story of Billie Holiday’s untimely death (murder?) and the creation of the DEA (which is so shady) it is a comprehensive investigation into the failed “War on Drugs” and what other counties and cities are doing to end it. The Rat Park drug experiment transformed the way I think about drugs and drug use.

Maybe in 2016 I’ll read something happy.



How well do you ever really know your spouse? Are you absolutely sure that events have happened the way you think they did and for the reasons you believe?

There are two sides to every story and Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is the story of the marriage between Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder. On the surface, they seem to have it all. They’re an attractive young couple, very much in love at the beginning of their lives together. But under it all, they both have pasts filled with events and secrets that continue to haunt them. The couple’s actions, decisions and future are ultimately shaped by their past. But while Lotto is an open book, Mathilde keeps everything to herself. You don’t know this for the first half of the book, Lotto’s story. You’ll get to know the real Mathilde when you read her half. But you’ll end up loving them, and their marriage, just the same.

Just FYI, President Obama named Fates and Furies his favorite book of 2015.

-Melissa M.


punysorrowsMy top picks for 2015 are Eighty Days of Sunlight by Robert Yune and All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Both, in different ways, deal with suicide. Yune’s novel delves more into the lives of those left behind by a suicide, while Toews explores the torture of knowing that someone you love wants to die and the ethical implications of assisted suicide. Both novels are beautiful, poignant character studies, and both, at points, made me want to cry, or fling the book across the room, or stay up all night until I knew what happened.

I also enjoyed reading a few brilliant comic series: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Weibe and Roc Upchurch and Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. The first, I’ve written about previously (volume five came out fairly recently). The second is a Dungeons & Dragons-style romp with diverse and awesome female characters, and the last is a funny, heartwarming and beautiful love story that touches on sex, mental illness and of course, crime.


It never fails. I read a lot of excellent books all year long, but then one swoops in at the eleventh hour and knocks me sideways. This year that honor goes to Strangers Drowning: Grappling With Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help, by Larissa MacFarquhar. The question on the table is, how much responsibility do we have for strangers? Some people feel called to go above and beyond normal acts of charity and goodwill and perform larger acts of service, such as adopting 22 children, donating 50% of their salary to charity, or offering a kidney to someone on the transplant list they don’t even know. Known as “extreme strangers drowning  altruism,” this practice has been explored through history via philosophy, psychology, and literature, mostly in terms of discovering whether or not being that good is a good idea (spoiler: sometimes it backfires horribly). Profiles of various “do-gooders,” as MacFarquhar calls them, alternate with debates on the ethics of altruism; the title refers to a classic ethical dilemma in which a person has a choice between saving one person they love, OR two strangers, from drowning: which is the correct choice?  Drink a lot of coffee and be prepared to stay up all night debating with your friends: Strangers raises more questions than it answers, and is guaranteed to make you put the book down and say “Oh my God,” at least once.

crownOn the fiction front, I fell in love with Alex Marshall’s  A Crown for Cold Silver because of its unusual heroine. Zosia,  a warrior queen, gets tired of court politics, fakes her death and abdicates her throne in favor of a peaceful country life. Fast forward a decade or so to when new queen finds out Zosia isn’t really dead and tries to assassinate her, forcing the reluctant warrior to pick up her sword again and round up her companions. Given that everyone’s older now, and somewhat the worse for wear, this isn’t going to be a picnic. However, Zosia and her generals still have a lot of fight left in them, and don’t give up so easily. A middle-aged woman who just wants to be left in peace but is constantly dragged back into drama? Sold to the lady in black. Also a good pick for anyone who likes Game of Thrones in theory, but prefers shorter sentences and more action sequences in practice. If you enjoy it, keep an eye out for the sequel, A Blade of Black Steel, coming in May 2016.

–Leigh Anne


Thirteen Ways of LookingI’m a complete and total fangirl for Colum McCann, so it should come as no surprise that his new collection of fiction has landed on my favorites list. Thirteen Ways of Looking represents some of McCann’s best work to date and is an extraordinary example of how shorter works have the capability to conjure up a range of emotions. McCann leaves his reader reeling, almost breathless at the end of the title novella. Forget 2015—yes, please, and don’t let the door hit ya—this one has earned a place among my favorite books ever.

– Melissa F.


What were your favorite books, movies and music of 2015? Let us know in the comments!

-Team Eleventh Stack


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The Force Awakens!

starwarsStar Wars is a perfect example of what happens when a movie expands far beyond the screens onto which it was first projected. From its iconic music, memorable production design and ground-breaking special effects, it has transcended cinemas and inspired countless artists, filmmakers, authors and other creative types in its wake—from books about the philosophy and religion of Star Wars to Star Wars-themed cookbooks and craft books. As we reflect on our own memories of Star Wars and wait with taut anticipation for J. J. Abrams’ contribution—Star Wars: The Force Awakens—check out some of these materials from your Library, the place that brings a galaxy far, far away a little bit closer to home.

I remember going to see the midnight premier of The Phantom Menace at the drive-in back in 1999. My mother, brother and I arrived early, parked in a prime spot and then, with nothing to do until the film began, we decided to take a nap. I was worried that we’d sleep through the whole thing—it was a school night, after all. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but we decided that we’d tune the radio to the proper channel and crank the volume as high as it would go. There would be no way, we thought, that we’d sleep through John Williams‘ world-renowned theme. So with the radio set, we reclined our seats and drifted off to sleep. After what seemed like several hours of unconsciousness, I heard a violent near-speaker-shattering explosion of sound: Williams’ triumphant, orchestral onslaught yanking me from my slumber. In my delusional, disjointed state, I threw open the door and was about to make an aimless run for it when I suddenly realized where I was and slowly began piecing things together. It was still hours away from midnight, the movie screen was still blank, but the music was spilling out of every car around me. The drive-inn had just decided to play samples from the soundtrack to pass the time. My breath finally catching up with me, I got back in the car where I found my mother and five-year-old brother laughing their heads off.


Pictured: My actual brother … and he’s the pretty one.
© Disney/Lucasfilm

Anyway, an almost-heart-attack and sixteen years later, the wonder and awe of seeing a new Star Wars movie hadn’t really hit me until I bought my tickets (yes, it might suck, but I’m trying to remain cautiously optimistic). Since then, Williams’ cues have been playing on an endless loop in my mind. Listening to the music has reminded me of something mentioned in the commentaries and bonus features on the Star Wars Blu-rays and DVDs (nerd alert)—the music tells the story. The dialogue and sound effects could be taken away and Williams’ score would still be able to provide the necessary emotional beats. That’s kind of wonderful, isn’t it? That the music Williams has crafted is so emotive on its own that other means of storytelling fall by the wayside. Listen for yourself. Download some tracks from Freegal or give each film’s soundtrack a listen. We’ve got them all, along with his other works.

Now, if we could only get another Star Wars parody from “Weird Al” Yankovic



SW-OmMy deepest love for the Star Wars franchise lies with the expanded universe—that vast collection of novels, graphic novels, RPGs, toys and other stuff that grew out of the first trilogy. In many ways Mr. Lucas and Co. invented movie marketing and product tie-ins. Enter Marvel Comics circa 1977 – 1978. They licensed Star Wars and produced some amazing comics for it. Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago collects the first twenty-six issues of that series, including the amazing “Eight Against A World” from issue #8. This incredible story features a takeoff on the classic Seven Samurai Magnificent Seven story line, where a small band of ragtag heroes must overcome a much larger force of marauders. This collection will deliver loads of Star Wars nostalgia.

-Scott P.



I was 11 years old when Star Wars (Episode IV, A New Hope) came out. My family went to see it on opening day. There was a huge line, and we didn’t get in to the show. My step-father convinced us to stay and wait for the next showing, saying something like “Don’t worry, you’ll like it, I promise!” We didn’t get in to the next showing either, and my sister and I were beside ourselves. “You’ll like it! YOU WILL LIKE IT!” We finally got into the theater and I remember my step-father afterwards looking at me with triumph in his eyes. “Well?” Yes, yes, he was right, we were floored. We had never seen anything like it before.

Thirty-eight years later, my whole family is set to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening day. It happens to fall on the date of my daughter’s 13th birthday. We are ridiculously excited. Just in case you were wondering, I showed my kids the movies in the “correct order,” starting with A New Hope. What good would the big reveal be if you didn’t watch it in the order that the movies came out?

bookcover My children (and I) loved the hilarious book The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. An oddball sixth grader has created a prognosticating Yoda finger puppet, who delivers curiously sage advise to the rest of the class. Is Origami Yoda real? It’s up to the detective work of the rest of the class to decide. I guess you can say that this is not part of the canon.


marajadeEven though Disney wiped out the old Star Wars canon (I discuss that decision and the new canon in this post here), my favorite character has always been (and probably always will be) Mara Jade. Originally introduced in the 1991 book Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, Mara Jade became an instant fan favorite, especially among women, who had precious few Star Wars characters in which to see themselves (remember, this was pre-prequels, pre-Disney reboot, pre-almost everything except the original trilogy and very few comics—see Scott’s post above—and novels). Mara Jade starts off as a “dark” Jedi who serves as the Emperor’s Hand. Her last mission is to kill Luke Skywalker, and even though the Emperor is dead, she feels compelled to complete it. The three books commonly known as the Thrawn Trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command) chronicle her attempts to carry out that mission, and what comes of it.

Mara is a capable fighter, tough and a powerful Jedi. She’s the kind of woman who can stick up for herself and knows she’s awesome, and doesn’t take any crap. As a teenager, I wanted to be Mara (so I did what any self-respecting fangirl would do and made myself a Mara Jade costume). A few years ago, I was able to meet Timothy Zahn and thank him for creating a character I could look up to at a time when there weren’t as many of those as there should have been. The copy of Heir to the Empire and By the Emperor’s Hand he signed for me are two of my favorite things (and for me, meeting Zahn equaled meeting Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill—this character is that important to me).

I’m excited for The Force Awakens and the new canon, but Mara will always be first in my Star-Wars-loving heart.


Do you have tickets for tonight’s premiere of The Force Awakens? What’s your favorite Star Wars memory, toy or other piece of memorabilia? Let us know in the comments!

-Team Eleventh Stack


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