I’ve been answering an abnormal number of reference questions about Pittsburgh history lately, especially regarding photographs of old Pittsburgh. I think there’s a class that has to find an old photo and then go to the same place in the city and take a new one. Much like what Walter C. Kidney did in his thoroughly enjoyable book, Pittsburgh Then and Now. The lovely and forever engaging (to me, at least) Historic Pittsburgh image collection is still growing, with many images having been added to the Pittsburgh City Photographer collection this year.
Anyone who’s read my blogs for awhile or seen my Flickr knows that I grew up around horses and am still a bit horse-crazy. When I played dress-up as a kid, I would put on ridiculous high-heeled shoes that were 12 sizes too big for me and teeter my way across the gravel road to the horse pasture:
My family spent lots of time at rodeos or on extended camping trips that were basically excuses to go riding for days in a row. Since then I haven’t really had anything to do with horses, except for daydreaming about them and living vicariously through movies and, more recently, video games. Or, I should say, just one video game: Red Dead Redemption, of course. I’m really close to beating the game, but I suspect I might just come back to it and ride around on my horse, rescuing ladies and shooting crows. All the virtual horse-riding is relaxing. Of course not as relaxing as riding a real horse, but I’ll take what I can get.
The animation of the horses in this game is really amazing. My pardner and I both got cowboy fever thanks to spending so much time in the virtual Old West. I had never seen any “spaghetti” Westerns, so we watched A Fistful of Dollars and will probably watch other Sergio Leone films once I stop wanting to indulge in season one of The Tudors.
What prompted me to make this post was that today, as I walked past the new book shelf at my library, I saw this book and immediately grabbed it. The first paragraph on the back cover is quite eloquent, so I’ll leave you with that in hopes that it will whet your appetite.
“A corral of cattle rustlers, outlaws, and other desperadoes ride the range in this bronco-busting anthology of nineteen tales set in the Old West. Spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the diverse stories prove there’s no ‘average’ cowboy, but a wide range of rugged individuals. Yet these vividly portrayed characters all seem to posses a sense of freedom, a strong relationship with the land, and a desire to live by their own standards. The result is an action-packed collection that’s a feast for anyone smitten by frontier fiction.”
One more time. Summer 1982. The weather in Pittsburgh is unbearably hot. Two weeks of high temperatures and high humidity. Nights not much better than the days. Nights too hot for sleeping, days sapping what’s left of the strength the sleepless nights don’t replenish. You get sopping wet climbing in or out of a car. Especially if your car’s little and not air-conditioned, like my mother’s Chevette. Nobody remembers the last time they felt a cool breeze, nobody remembers pulling on clothes and not sweating through them in five minutes. “Unbearable” is my mother’s word. She uses it often but never lightly. In her language it means the heat is something you can’t escape. The sticky heat’s a burden you wake up to every morning and carry till you’re too exhausted to toss and turn anymore in your wet sheets. Unbearable doesn’t mean a weight that gets things over with, that crushes you one and for all, but a burden that exerts relentless pressure. Whether you’re lifting a bag of groceries from a shopping cart into the furnace your car becomes after sitting closed for twenty minutes in the Giant Eagle parking lot, or celebrating the birth of a new baby in the family, the heat is there. A burden touching, flawing everything. Unbearable is not that which can’t be borne, but what must be endured forever.
Of course the July dog days can’t last forever. Sooner or later they’ll end. Abruptly. Swept away by one of those violent lightning-and-thunder storms peculiar to Pittsburgh summers. The kind signaled by a sudden disappearance of air, air sucked away so quickly you feel you’re falling. Then nothing. A vast emptiness rubbing your skin. The air’s gone. You’re in a vacuum, a calm, still, vacated space waiting for the storm to rush in. You know the weather must turn, but part of the discomfort of being in the grip of a heat wave or any grave trouble is the fear that maybe it won’t end. Maybe things will stay as miserable as they are.
This post was made possible by LibraryThing, where I tag books I’ve read with the month and year I read them, and keep track of what I want to read in the future. Now that I’m into the swing of it, hopefully the year in review for 2010 will be more complete.
A recent post on the ARLIS email list summarized a collective brainstorm about library-related pranks or (sometimes) unsolicited art projects. Here are some of the best ones:
Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell stole books from the Islington Library, altered the book jackets or endpapers (usually with absurd photocollages), and returned the books surreptitiously.
For a graded project, several thousand receipts of library fines were suspended on strings from the ceiling in an aisle of the library stacks, dozens on each string. The visual effect was like a disorienting blizzard.
Tiny models of books, no more than a half inch tall, each with titles containing the word “big” or “little” were found in the stacks. Later a miniature book truck and miniature bookends were also found.
Several books (not from the library) were found in the stacks, each with a corkscrew driven through it.
A handmade book, shaped like a mountain, was found in the stacks.
Periodical runs bound in separate colors were mixed to create striped patterns.
Pictorial microfiche were misfiled in a manner so that, someone correcting one of the misfilings would discover another, and so on, in a long sequence that ended where it began.
Nickel and dime bags of marijuana were found in between the spine cover and text block of some art history books in the stacks. It was eventually determined that someone was dealing dope by issuing call numbers to paid customers.
John Latham, Art and Culture, 1966-9. (St. Martin’s School of Art, London) — Clement Greenberg’s most famous book was borrowed from the library, chewed by artists at a party, spat into a jar, processed with chemicals, and the pulp sealed in a glass vial. This was returned to the librarian in response to overdue notices and is now in the MOMA collection.
Temporary Services, Library Project, 2001. (Harold Washington Library, Chicago) — 100 books selected or made by 60 artists were given classification numbers and library markings and smuggled into the collections of the main public library.
Kathy Slade, 52 Transactions, 2006-7. (Vancouver Public Library) — The artist charged out one or more books once each week for a year, saved all of the transaction slips, including some service errors, and published them as a book. (Permission was obtained but the workers participating in the performance were unaware.)
The folks at the Prison Book Program (in Quincy, MA) are doing a virtual drive to raise funds to buy dictionaries for prisoners. From their site:
Help us raise $2740 to buy 1000 college-level dictionaries! For the vast majority of people in prison with sub-standard reading skills, a dictionary is the key to understanding the books we send them. One prisoner wrote:
“I have only been reading now for about 21 months. I am 46 years old and when I get out of prison, my son will be 11 years old. And I would love to be able to read and write to my son. So please if you all could see to help me I will be able to help my son when I get home.”
We are planning to buy the dictionaries at the wholesale cost of $2.74 which is over 40% off retail.
Donate 1 or donate 100. All help is greatly appreciated.