As a self-described “full-time book nerd,” Ehrrin Keenan makes sure to attend as many Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures reading events as possible. She remembers one such event featuring author Margaret Atwood with particular fondness, mostly because she was able to snag an odd souvenir.
“As we’re walking through that hall, I heard her behind me, and I was like, ‘oh my gosh!’ So I got my camera and took a ridiculous, half-blurry selfie that I show off proudly all the time,” says Keenan. “I didn’t even talk to her. I just took this awkward selfie and ran away.”
Of course, her fandom translated into the name of her Battle of the Books team, Margaret N’Atwood, a play on Atwood Street in Oakland. Now in its third year, the adult Battle of the Books (there’s also a teen version) will pit 29 teams against one another in a literary trivia competition testing readers’ knowledge of 10 chosen books.
The latest Battle of the Books takes place on Aug. 21 and Aug. 28 at Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse, and on Aug. 22 and Aug. 29 at Threadbare Cider House.
This year, all the books, which were announced in the spring, are written by authors from the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures series and other programming. The titles include Little Fires Everywhere by Pittsburgh-born author Celeste Ng, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, and Circe by Madeline Miller.
Keenan, a longtime volunteer at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which organizes the event, says she enjoys any kind of “book sports” as a way to make reading more fun.
“It’s a way to be really competitive but still be a total book worm,” says Keenan.
And just like any sport, there’s training and strategy involved. For Keenan and her four other teammates, each person reads four books so each book has two readers. Her fellow teammate, Tara Covelens, even found a chart of characters for There There by Tommy Orange, a book they were both assigned to read.
“We’re studying up,” says Keena, adding that the team came in second the first year. “We are coming to win.”
If victorious, Keenan says they plan on doing their own version of the power stance popularized by Megan Rapinoe, the professional soccer player who became the face of the U.S. Women's National Team as they went on to win the World Cup.
Besides Battle of the Books, CLP also kicked off the Summer Reading Extravaganza, another annual event encouraging people to read and utilize library services. Keenan believes the popularity of both events points to how much the city values reading. In 2015, Pittsburgh ranked as the sixth most literary city in the country according to a report from Central Connecticut State University.
“It’s one of my favorite things about Pittsburgh – it is a very literary city,” says Keenan. “I think we have a lot of great arts infrastructure left over from the robber barons … I feel really lucky to be here as someone who’s really into that kind of stuff.”