Lili Coffee*Shop & Copacetic Comics

On the corner of 3038 Dobson St., nestled in the middle of Polish Hill, there’s a red brick building that holds three very exciting destinations:

1. Lili Coffee*Shop – coffee, food, music

2. Copacetic Comics – all sorts of visual fun

3. Mindcure Records – buy,l sell & trade

If you haven’t been to Polish Hill in a while, or thought that it was mostly houses and Gooski’s, then you’ve been missing a lot!  There’s a pool, a Civic Association, a place to make art, a gorgeous church, and these three shops, not to mention an all-around cute, friendly neighborhood.


Polish Hill! photo by flickr user niemster

When the Book Buzz committee was deciding on what titles to pick and where to discuss them, I immediately thought that we should discuss a graphic novel at Lili Coffee*Shop, because I’d recently been there for a talk and signing by 2 new comics luminaries and had had a chance to visit the comic shop upstairs.  Lili is a small space packed with charm (and a delicious tempeh reuben), and they manage to host a variety of events, including live bands and literary readings. Copacetic is a treasure trove of independent comics. It would be the perfect place to discuss a graphic novel!

If Dan’s post on Black Hole piques your interest, I hope to see you at Lili Coffee*Shop on August 20th to discuss the book!



Next Up: Black Hole by Charles Burns

Bieber Fever this is not.

The hormonal upheaval of puberty that coincides with the cutthroat social experiment known as high school can feel make you feel like a mutant.  It’s not unusual during those years to grow a few inches overnight, have to switch from alto to tenor parts within a single song, and have to venture down unknown aisles of the drug store to combat the various fluids, smells, and hairs escaping from your previously predictable body.

So when the teens in the Seattle suburb of Charles Burns’ Black Hole (Pantheon 2005) begin contracting a mysterious, sexually-transmitted infection, it seems very fitting that the virus manifests itself as a mutation, something that is visible to other people and that, in many cases, is a reflection of the character of the infected person.  (One character gets caught in a lie when the tiny mouth he’s grown on his chest spills the beans while he’s sleeping.)  Those infected with this virus find themselves the objects of scorn, and many of them wind up living outside of society in the thick forest surrounding their suburban community.

This is a horror book — there is someone (something?) in the woods that is killing people, and the way in which “the bug” manifests itself smacks of the supernatural – but some of the scariest moments are less about the threat of bodily harm, and are more about the threat of losing control of your identity, and of being an outcast.  This really comes out in the artwork.  There are plenty of frightening images of violence, grotesque mutations, and other creepy things.  But just as frightening are those images that are reminders of the difficulties that come with being young and middle-class in America – a close-up of a bad mustache, awkward sex, bad drug trips.  Black Hole will make you cringe as much as it makes you scream.

This book was much more widely reviewed than most graphic novels and it won a couple of major awards, so there are plenty of good places to read about it online.

The Wikipedia entry is as good a place as any to start.

Time Magazine, of all publications, gave it a good treatment in Andrew Arnold’s review.

It’s always worth reading a negative review or two.  Tim O’Neil describes Black Hole as monotonous and makes fun of Burns’ use of sexual imagery in his Pop Matters review.  Ben Schwartz has some gripes in his Washington Post review; it isn’t exactly a bad review, but I think he misses the point.

Charles Burns gives a good interview.  He talks about his writing process in this Vice interview, and the AV Club had a long talk with him a couple of years ago.

By far, my favorite review was done by Douglas Wolk in Salon.  Salon did comics fans a favor by including them in its book reviews way before many other respectable publications did.  Wolk teases out some of the major themes and concerns raised by the book, and has some interesting things to say about the artwork itself.

Please join us at Lili Coffee Shop in Polish Hill at 6pm on August 20th to discuss Charles Burns’ Black Hole.

Bone Marrow, birthdays, & basement tables

We were going to visit my sister for her birthday. She lives just a train ride away from New York City, and she knew exactly where she wanted to go – Prune. We perused the menu online to have a game plan ready. And there it was in the appetizers list – “Roasted Marrow Bones, parsley salad, sea salt.”

“I’m going to eat that,” declared my then-boyfriend.

photo by flickr user kthread

The menu at Prune can do that to a person. It’s small but intriguing, a selective list of simple things (fennel in butter) prepared with a discerning palate (fennel with Trout Roe prepared in Pernod butter). Overall, it gives one the feeling that the chef respects the ingredients and wants you to have a meal that revels in its own simplicity — a simplicity that’s not lazy, but comes from thoughtfulness and enjoyment, and might possibly give you a food option that you’d never considered before in your life, like bone marrow or Spatchcocked Spaetzle.

Like many restaurants in New York, Prune’s space is small, and we were put in a little booth in the basement, almost underneath the steps. I know this sounds weird, but it was a light and cozy space to linger over our meal and toast the birthday girl.


Gabrielle Hamilton & Debi Mazar at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival. photo courtesy of AP images


If the reviews are to be trusted, Gabrielle Hamilton’s writing is much like her menu and her restaurant – fresh, inviting, and down-to-earth.  In a New York Times profile of her she says that:

“‘I wrote a book in a way that I would like more people to write books,’ Ms. Hamilton said. ‘I’m not afraid of the real truth. There is nothing you can tell me about yourself that is going to make me clutch my pearls.’

On the page and in the kitchen, Ms. Hamilton can be charming, tempestuous, persnickety, vulgar, poetic, provocative and mothering, sometimes all in the course of a single flurry of sentences. Whatever scars she has, she is not inclined to cover them.”

Right on! It sounds like this is a memoir to match Anthony Bourdain or Ruth Reichl.

I have my copy of Blood, Bones, and Butter on hold and can’t wait to read and discuss it over another example of food that’s both simple and complex: barbecue.

See you at Union Pig and Chicken!


More Gabrielle Hamilton coverage:

Her Daily Diet at Grub Street (NYMag)

Her Baked Eggplant recipe at Bon Appetit

The Buzz: Union Pig and Chicken

With this being my first foray into the “Blogosphere” (I just wanted to use that word before it becomes obsolete if it hasn’t already), I’ve chosen to write about two things that I’m reasonably familiar with: books and food.

The food part:

I’m part of a team of librarians that will be taking book discussions into non-traditional, non-library spaces via CLP’s Book Buzz initiative.  Book Buzz will be premiering on Tuesday, July 16th at 7 PM at East Liberty’s Union Pig and Chicken.  I have the distinction of working in East Liberty, and I’ve personally sampled Union Pig and Chicken’s offerings.   The name doesn’t lie – the menu is just that, barbecued pork, chicken, and beef, fried chicken, and a plethora of delicious sides such as mac and cheese, cole slaw, cornbread, and potato salad.  My personal recommendation is the brisket sandwich…the brisket is chopped but not before being smoked to the point of falling apart tenderness.  This sandwich presents the perfect balance of bark and burnt ends on a roll, topped with a tangy sauce.  If you closed your eyes while in Union Pig and Chicken, you’d think that you were in one of Texas’ legendary barbecue joints eating off of a tray covered in wax paper—and that’s a good thing. (Take it easy, Carolina ‘cue fans – I mentioned that UP&C serves pork and cole slaw also!)

The book part:

Union Pig and Chicken opened earlier this year, and is the brainchild of legendary local restaurateur and James Beard nominee Kevin Sousa.  What better location to discuss a book written by a highly acclaimed chef and James Beard Nominee?  July’s Book Buzz will feature Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.  Chef Hamilton is the owner of Prune Restaurant in New York, and has been recognized for her food and her writing.  Oh yeah, another thing…she beat Bobby Flay on “Iron Chef America.”  One more thing – Anthony Bourdain called Blood, Bones, and Butter “Magnificent…Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever.”  I was talking about this book with somebody recently, and she summed it up by saying: “It’s crazy.  She’s (Hamilton) crazy.  It’s great.”  Bottom line: you really need to read this book and talk it over with me while eating barbecue and drinking a sweet tea at Union Pig and Chicken on July 16th.  If you want to order the book to check out with your library card, call or stop by any Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location.  What are you waiting for?  Your food’s going to get cold!

Chris, CLP – East Liberty