October 31, 2018
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Book Recommendation: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Image taken from Amazon.

Looking for something spooky to read under the covers with some tea tonight? Look no further than Shirley Jackson, the master of creeping dread and spooky suspense. You may know Jackson’s famous short story The Lottery from high school, or perhaps you have watched the recent Netflix reimagining of her classic The Haunting of Hill House. Her works are often described as horror, but the subtlety of her writing gives it something more universal. Her themes often focus on the dark side of domestic life and isolation, and they often feature agoraphobia and critiques of the expectations of traditional society.

Jackson also wrote nonfiction about what it was like to be a mother and manage a home, something she considered to hold its own degree of horror. Jackson also felt that she and her family were considered outcasts in her small New England town, and they experienced anti-Semitism in the insidious manner one sees in “civilized society”.  Toward the end of her life, she became so painfully agoraphobic she wouldn’t leave her bedroom. Much of what makes her fiction work horrific is because it is Jackson’s true-life experiences expressed through a fantastical lens, and as such there is something recognizable in it to all of us. We see how easy it could be for us to slip into some kind of madness, or for the precarious society around us to suddenly turn vicious. It is not gore or jump scares that make Jackson’s work terrifying, it is how she exposes the truth and ugliness in us all.

For this fall, I wanted to recommend a lesser talked about Jackson classic: We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This short (under 200 pages) novel is dark, twisted, unconventional, and incredibly beautiful. We enter into the lives of Mary Katherine (Merricat) and Constance Blackwood, two young women who live isolated in their large house with their wheelchair-bound uncle, Julian. The fractured family fell into disrepair after arsenic in the sugar bowl killed the rest of the Blackwoods half a decade ago. The only two who were not poisoned in the incident were Merricat and Constance, while Uncle Julian did not ingest enough of the poison to kill him. Constance, having been put on trial and then acquitted of the crime, now suffers from such extreme agoraphobia that she cannot leave the house. Uncle Julian is so much diminished from the poisoning that he struggles to keep one foot in reality. He depends on his nieces to care for him, which they do lovingly. The town is happy to keep them isolated, making disparaging comments and singing a haunting little nursery rhyme about the murders whenever Merricat comes near. And it is only ever Merricat that leaves their extensive grounds to go grocery shopping and run quick errands.

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August 13, 2018
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Book Recommendation: Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe

 

Image taken from Amazon

Lori Jakiela opens her memoir with a line as humble as the title, describing her memoir “primarily a work of nonfiction.” What follows is a dramatic account of Jakiela’s search to make contact with her biological family after the death of her adoptive parents. Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe is an evocative story of one woman’s yearning for closure, love, and family.

The presentation of these ideals are developed through Jakiela’s description of loss. She articulates her pain in ways that are acute, poignant, familiar. Her pages are decorated with mediations on a particular grief—the kind of unique sorrow that stems from her identity as an adoptee. Through her attempts to contact her native family, for example, she continues, with insistence, to refer to her adoptive family as her “real” family.

Some craft elements will engage readers from the start. Jakiela, a native Pittsburgher, describes a setting that Chatham students will find pleasantly relatable. More uniquely, Jakiela subtly challenges storytelling conventions through experimental use of dialogue. She presents uninterrupted, staccato quotes and repetitive dialogue tags, both of which reveal a one-of-a-kind style—clever and intentional in its pacing.

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April 23, 2018
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National Poetry Month 2018: Suggested Reads!

April is National Poetry Month, and we at the JKM Library have a soft spot in our literary hearts for poetry. This month, student workers Alie Davis and Carina Stopenski worked together to design and curate our Main Book Display. Items selected ranged from classics like Sylvia Plath to Chatham students’ chapbooks and everything in between.

While all the poetry collections on display are worth checking out and exploring, Alie Davis has selected three that stand out to her. Read her bite-sized reviews below for poetry collections you can check out today!

Andrea Gibson’s first book, Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns, inspires action in all of its readers. This collection is brimming with brutal tenderness. Gibson covers topics that are relevant to the current political climate. This collection is full of poems about gender, love, violence, and an overwhelming optimism for surviving no matter what.

 

Lori Jakiela, a local Pittsburgh poet, released her chapbook, Big Fish in 2016. This collection sings with humor, playfulness, and light, but does not shy away from the hard things. Jakiela writes about landscape, motherhood, and giant fish sandwiches. Big Fish is a rich collection to dive into and swim through.

 

Lighthead by Terrance Hayes is his fourth collection to be published. Always blurring the line between story and song, and reality and dream, Hayes engages with how we ground ourselves in the everyday and how we construct experience. Musical and dream-like, Lighthead offers meditations on desires and history. Masterful precision of language and sound moves this collection to a Must-Read for all.

June 9, 2015
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Summer Reading Preview

The summer reading list for first-year Chatham students has been posted! The contents of the list were chosen by your friendly neighborhood librarians, and include entries from different subject areas. There’s something on this list for everyone (and several things that I’ll be adding to my own summer reading list). Here’s a preview of some of the titles; make sure to access the complete list to see some other choices.

 

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth GapCover: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
Matt Taibbi

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the Occupy movement, The Divide focuses on the myriad ways that wealth—or lack thereof—affects the rights afforded to US citizens (as well as the way this system impacts the immigration debate). Mass incarceration, stop-and-frisk, and the contemporary landscape of the US justice system provide evidence for Taibbi’s portrayal of a system that privileges wealth above all else.

 

Cover: Eating Together: Food, Friendship, and InequalityEating Together: Food, Friendship, and Inequality
Alice P. Julier

What is the social impact of shared meals? Julier (director of the Master’s program in Food Studies here at Chatham) writes about the intersection of social eating experiences and social inequality, examining the literal and figurative aspects of who has a seat at the table.

 

 

The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 YearsCover: The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years
Sonia Shah

The Fever addresses malaria as a subject with various historical, scientific, and socio-political resonances. Alongside anecdotal evidence of the way the disease is approached and conceived of in malaria-afflicted areas, Shah takes on the ineffectual attempts of various global organizations to curb its effects. The Fever offers a deeper understanding of the way malaria has shaped and continues to affect human history.

 

Citizen: An American LyricCover: Citizen: An American Lyric
Claudia Rankine

From microaggressions to overt racial violence, Citizen addresses life in “post-race” America. Rankine meditates on the ways that this constant narrative of otherness impacts daily life and, in some cases, even personal safety. Composed of prose poems, verse, essays, and images, Rankine’s work is a form-agnostic witness account of contemporary race and racism in America.

 

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don’tCover: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don’t
Nate Silver

Silver takes on the art and science of forecasting, analyzing the various reasons—from a mastery of statistics to a healthy understanding of uncertainty—why some predictions are successful while others are not. The Signal and the Noise investigates forecasting from multiple vantage points, using examples of correct and incorrect predictions from sports, politics, economics, and more.

 

Source: Music of the Avant-garde, 1966-1973
Edited by Larry Austin and Douglas Kahn

Cover: Source: Music of the Avant-garde, 1966-1973This volume reproduces issues of the avant-garde periodical Source, which published a variety of experimental music bits and pieces. Introductory material provides some historical context, followed by the downright weirdness of the content itself, with pieces from John Cage, Morton Feldman, Steve Reich, Nam June Paik, Harry Partch, and others.

 

 

The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-First CenturyCover: The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-First Century
Brian O’Neill

An affectionate tribute to Pittsburgh that also deals some tough love in response to some of the city’s ongoing problems. O’Neill includes the stories of Pittsburgh natives in his analysis, attempting to capture the character of a city situated somewhere between the East Coast and the Midwest both in terms of physical location and regional character.

May 3, 2013
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Summer Reading List

the-brief-wondrous-life-of-oscar-waoThe books that have been selected for Summer Reading are now on display on the first floor of the Library. No matter what your interests are – art, science, psychology– or if your just looking for a really good story, we’ve got the book for you. Hand-selected by the Librarians, these books are guaranteed to enrich and enliven your summer- we would never steer you wrong! So grab a cool drink from Café Rachel and choose from the titles found here. Some of the highlights include:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

“Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multimillion dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same.”

Middlesex: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides

“To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction. Lyrical and thrilling, Middlesex is an exhilarating reinvention of the American epic.”

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

In The Poisoner’s Handbook, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Deborah Blum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime. Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner’s Handbook investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey’s Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. A beguiling concoction that is equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner’s Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten New York.

Beethoven’s hair by Russell Martin

In Beethoven’s Hair, Russell Martin has created a rich historical treasure hunt, an Indiana Jones-like tale of false leads, amazing breakthroughs, and incredible revelations. This unique and fascinating book is a moving testament to the power of music, the lure of relics, the heroism of the Resistance movement, and the brilliance of molecular science.

April 3, 2013
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Sandman #1 “Preludes and Nocturnes”

sandmanIn 1916 a cult attempts to capture death but they are thwarted when they inadvertently imprison the Sandman.  Held hostage for 72 years by the cult, Dreams (also called Morpheus) is unable to return to the realm of dreams.  As a result, an epidemic of “sleeping sickness” crosses the globe, causing thousands to slip into an unshakable slumber.

Finally freed from his captors in 1988, Dreams must reclaim his kingdom from chaos, but he is badly weakened from his captivity.  To regain his full powers, Dreams sets out on a journey to track down a serial killer with mind control powers and a demon in Hell that is set on shaming the Sandman.

Written by award winning novelist Neil Gaiman (Stardust, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens, Smoke and Mirrors), Sandman #1 is a dark and gritty storyline that entices and captivates the reader.  Although Sandman is a comic book, this is not a story for young readers.  Readers will enjoy Dreams’ somber and philosophical nature as his journey entangles him with citizens of this world and many others.

Reviewed by Melissa Frye, JKM Library Student Worker

March 19, 2013
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Who Watches the Watchmen?

watchmenAlan Moore sets his Hugo Award-winning graphic novel in the political dystopia of the 1980s.  Published in comic book form between September 1986 and October 1987, Moore manages to encapsulate the nuclear tensions of the United States and the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.

Moore focuses his narrative on an unlikely group of costumed vigilantes called “The Crimebusters.”  The Crimebusters are the second generation of “heroes” that patrol the streets of New York City but they are very different from their idyllic 1950’s predecessors.  As a faceless enemy begins to kill off the Crimebusters, the fractured group revisits their pasts in an attempt to decipher a mystery that threatens the world.

The multiple threads of characters, history, politics, and encroaching world destruction are masterfully woven together by Moore to create an intense and gripping drama.  In the end, the story leaves the reader questioning her own grasp of morality vs. humanity.

A great read not only for comic book fans but avid readers as well.

Reviewed by Melissa Frye, JKM Library Student Worker

June 12, 2012
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Display: Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Sadly, on June 5, 2012 we lost one our greatest artists and visionaries, Ray Bradbury.  Bradbury defies genre categorization writing everything from science fiction in the Martian Chronicles, to dystopian fantasy in Fahrenheit 451, to creepy horror in Something Wicked This Way Comes and October Country. A simple Google search on Bradbury’s name will quickly show what an impact he had on the lives of many including Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood.

Mr. Bradbury was a staunch advocate for libraries having typed out the first draft of Fahrenheit 451 in the library at UCLA. He believed that books were not just ideas, but the authors themselves, and mirrors to those who read them.  His fear expressed in Fahrenheit was that if people lose books we will lose ourselves.  You can watch a reading of his poem “If Only We Had Taller Been” before the launch of the Marnier 9 here and see a wonderful interview with the author here, speaking about his life, his inspiration, and “loving what you do and doing what you love”. You will be missed, sir. Thank you for the legacy- and the mirrors- you have left behind.

April 18, 2012
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Display: National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month! Here at the Library we have selected a few new, modern, and classic titles for your enjoyment and exploration of the art form. JKM Library has a very strong collection of books on poetry from appreciation to writing to teaching to samplings of verse from around the world. The Library also has a strong collection of poetry from the Pittsburgh area and from Pennsylvania, as well as faculty publications and independent chapbooks. The Library’s own Amy Lee Heinlen, along with many others, published a chapbook in the most recent chapbook class through the Creative Writing Department.

Philip Levine has been selected Poet Laureate for the 2011-2012 year. Levine is known for his direct and tense verses on 20th century working class life. You can listen to a poetry reading and interview with Levine archived by the Library of Congress or check out a few select poets at the Academy of American Poets site.

Sadly, in March we lost one of America’s most influential poets, Adrienne Rich. Her quote on poetry relates beautifully to what can be found in its reading and its creation: “Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.” Take some time, now that the semester is winding down, and check out some poetry. You’ll be glad you did.

March 27, 2012
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Book Review: Devil in the White City

If you’re looking for a good book to read, Melissa Frye, one of the library’s student workers, highly recommends:

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

1893: the cusp of the 20th century. A time of industry, beauty, mystery, and madness. The World’s Columbian Exposition (better known as the Chicago’s World’s Fair) was meant to mark America’s rise into the industrious and intellectual heights dominated for centuries by Western Europe. It was to be America’s crowning glory. What was born in those magical, innocent final days of the 19th century was a blood thirsty madness that would change the American psyche forever. Eric Larson’s historical narrative The Devil in the White City moves the reader through the ambitions, triumphs, and downfalls of the creators and designers of the World’s Fair, the magicians of an industrialized world, set to change the future but still dwarfed by their own nearsightedness. Living alongside these visionaries is a monster that uses the World’s Fair as his hunting grounds to prey on the naïve populace of young women pouring into Chicago that would make him America’s first serial killer. A twisted tale of intrigue and horror, The Devil in the White City is sure to be a thrilling tale of the heights of human ingenuity and the depths of inhuman savagery.

~Review written by Melissa Frye.

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