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Friday, November 20, 2015

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2015 at 4:31 PM

If you were looking for rays of hope about the planet in Monday’s talk by the author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe and The Sixth Extinction, they were few and far between.

click to enlarge Elizabeth Kolbert - PHOTO COURTESY OF NICHOLAS WHITMAN
Photo courtesy of Nicholas Whitman
Elizabeth Kolbert
But I’ll point to one glimmer: Last time Kolbert visited Pittsburgh, in 2008, I interviewed her, and I recall the conversation taking place in a context of widespread climate denialism. After all, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth movie was only two years old, and lots of people didn’t really understand how climate change worked, or care to know.

This past Monday, the hopefulness resided in the fact that Kolbert assumed that what looked like a full house at Oakland's Carnegie Music Hall all agreed that climate change was real, and a real threat. She explained the science briefly, but didn’t seem to feel she had to address any possible deniers in the audience. That’s a start, I guess.

Trouble is, things would be a lot better today if we’d been at that point, say 25 years ago, when there was already overwhelming evidence that human activities were causing the planet’s climate to change in drastic and sometimes unpredictable ways.

Which brings us to the rest of Kolbert’s talk. She focused on The Sixth Extinction, her 2014 Pulitzer-winner that explores how human activity is likely driving a mass extinction of historical proportions among plant and animal species.

Climate change is just one reason, and on this front Kolbert offered little hope. Despite the stated intentions of everyone from the president down, global emissions of greenhouse gases keep rising.

Many scientists have said a safe concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide is 350 parts per million. This year, we passed 400 ppm, a figure not seen on earth in literally hundreds of thousands of years. Some activists hold out hope that the upcoming global climate talks will result in agreements that bring emissions down. But Kolbert presented projections that even in a low-emission scenario, we’re likely to reach 550 ppm by 2100.

That’s a level sure to spell increased disaster in the form of rising seas and extreme weather, not to mention a level of ocean acidification (from ocean absorption of carbon) that would leave us with effectively dead oceans.

And that’s the optimistic scenario. Wish I could leave you with something happier, but that's the way it is sometimes.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2015 at 12:30 PM


Chicago-based author Mary Morris visits CMU's Steinberg Auditorium for a free lecture and reading from her acclaimed novel, The Jazz Palace (Nan A. Talese). The book, inspired by Morris’ own love of jazz and her hometown, is about two fictional Jewish families and a black trumpeter in 1920s Chicago who are united through music. Booklist calls it a “graceful and involving affirmation of the transcendent power of art.”

Morris has written 15 books to date. The Jazz Palace is her seventh novel. Her first book, Vanishing Animals & Other Stories, was published in 1979 and awarded the Rome Prize in Literature by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She is also a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, and a professor of writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

The event takes place at 4:30 p.m today. Steinberg Auditorium is on the CMU campus, at 5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland.

For more info click here

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 12:00 PM

By many accounts, independent bookstores are a dying breed. But some are bucking trend. And in Oakmont, Mystery Lovers Bookshop celebrates 25 years this weekend — a testament to the fact that, more than just where you buy your books, bookstores can also be staples of a community.

Mystery Lovers Bookshop opened in 1990, and was honored by the Mystery Writers of America with a Raven award in 2010. The store carries new copies of a wide variety of crime, thrillers and espionage fiction, and hosts an annual Festival of Mystery.

The store celebrates its longevity with a free event tomorrow from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The event includes a special edition of its Coffee & Crime series, with local mystery author Nancy Martin, at 11 a.m. Martin will speak about her newest book, Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything (Minotaur Books), which will be available for purchase before its official Nov. 3 release.

Founders Mary Alice Gorman and Richard Goldman then arrive for a meet-and-greet, and to make a  special announcement. (The store's current owners, married couple Natalie Sacco and Trevor Thomas, took the place over this past May.)

The annual $0.10 book sale follows. Proceeds will be donated to a local charity that has yet to be announced.

Mystery Lovers Bookshop is located at 514 Allegheny River Blvd., in Oakmont. Light refreshments will be provided, and costumes are encouraged.

Click here for more info.

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Posted By on Thu, Oct 8, 2015 at 1:32 PM

click to enlarge Frances Southwick - JUDTIH AVERS
Judtih Avers
Frances Southwick
Few people know that medical students are more likely to commit suicide than to die from things like cancer or heart disease.

The U.S. loses between 300 to 400 physicians to suicide each year, and a 2011 study by Australia's beyondblue Doctor’s Mental Health Program reports that as many as 30 percent of medical students and residents suffer from depression.

Frances Southwick, a Pittsburgh-based family physician, hopes to break the stigma surrounding doctors and mental illness with her first book, Prognosis: Poor: One Doctor’s Personal Account of the Beauty and the Perils of Modern Medical Training (BookBaby).

Southwick moved to Pittsburgh from West Virginia with her wife in 2010 and completed her residency at UPMC Shadyside. It was there that her depression started.

Her wife’s mother, father and sister died during Southwick’s training, taking an emotional toll on the couple. Southwick also worked between 90 and 100 hours per week, and her training required her to rotate between different specialties, like working in the ER or delivering babies.

Southwick, who lives in Edgewood with her wife, says by phone, “The nature of family medicine is knowing a little bit about everything, so you constantly feel out of place and like you don’t know anything.”

She started Prognosis: Poor as a way to cope with her feelings of helplessness.

The majority of the book covers Southwick’s residency, though it also touches on her experiences as an undergraduate and med student. She was inspired, in part, by psychiatrist Stephen Bergman’s The House of God, a satirical novel that looks at the psychological effects of residency on a group of medical interns. Prognosis Poor, however, provides a more candid and personal look at those effects.

Prognosis: Poor also advocates for changes in residency training, such as cutting the amount of time physicians spend training for situations they aren’t going to encounter in their field. She points to the two months she spent in surgery as a resident, despite being a family physician who does not perform surgery.

Ultimately, Southwick hopes Prognosis: Poor will comfort residents and pre-med students who feel isolated by their depression. As Southwick says, “I think it’s helpful to have personal stories so that people don’t feel as alone.”

Southwick will hold a book-release party at Schenley Park Cafe and Visitor Center, 101 Panther Hollow Rd., in Oakland. The free event takes place from 4-6 p.m. this Saturday, and features a book reading and signing, and live music by local singer Heather Kropf.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2015 at 12:42 PM

Victoria Christopher Murray visits the Carnegie Library’s Homewood Branch on Wednesday with a new novel whose themes are pulled from the headlines.

Stand Your Ground (Touchstone) tells the story of three women involved in the murder trial following the death of a 16-year-old African-American boy, including a juror, the mother of the victim, and the wife of the white man who shot him.

The book was sparked by the Trayvon Martin case and other recent deaths of unarmed black men and boys. (Here’s Murray’s author’s note.)

Since self-publishing her first novel, in 2000, Murray has published more than 20 other adult novels, including The Ex Files and The Deal. Her books have made best-seller lists (she has more than 1 million books in print, according to her website), and Murray herself has received awards including the Phyllis Wheatley Trailblazer Award as a pioneer in African-American fiction.

Stand Your Ground, published in June, has gotten strong reviews from Library Journal and Booklist.

Murray, who is based in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., speaks at the Homewood Carnegie from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday.

Copies of the book will be on sale with an opportunity for signing. The event, sponsored by the United Black Book Clubs of Pittsburgh, is free, but registration is required, and you can register here.

The library is located at 7101 Hamilton Ave., in Homewood. For more information (or to register by phone), call Dan Hensley at 412-731-3080.

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