Speaking Volumes

Edward Everett Hale, 1904 (via Wikimedia Commons)

An online debate broke out earlier this week over two otherwise unremarkable lines in a 1648 poem by the English poet Robert Herrick: Tumble me down, and I will sit / Upon my ruins, (smiling yet :) The couplet includes something that most modern readers would immediately recognize, in another context, as a smiley-face emoticon . Not everyone is buying it , but the character string's juxtaposition with the word “smiling” has struck some readers as perhaps more than coincidental — or, failing...

ACLA Now Boarding for TransAtlantic Flight

Mar 5, 2014
Brendan Bourke

National Book Award winner Colum McCann will speak to Pittsburgh-area high school students Monday as featured author for the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA)'s 2014 "One Book, One Community" program. McCann will appear at Woodland Hills High School to discuss his 2013 novel TransAtlantic, which combines historical research with fictional elements in a story that spans centuries, continents, and multiple generations of characters. The talk will also be attended remotely via...

Closing the Book on Speaking Volumes (For Now)

Dec 30, 2013

For more than a year and a half, the Speaking Volumes project has brought 90.5 WESA listeners weekly conversations about books and reading with Pittsburghers from all walks of life . As Speaking Volumes moves from a weekly series to a more occasional segment, host and producer Josh Raulerson shares his recent reads with 90.5 WESA's Larkin Page Jacobs. Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh Set in industrial Pittsburgh in the mid-eighties, Michael Chabon's breakthrough coming-of-age novel...

The Power of Being Magnanimous with Kevin Acklin

Dec 16, 2013
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Kevin Acklin is the chief of staff for Pittsburgh’s Mayor-elect Bill Peduto . To get ready for his new position, Acklin has been brushing up on some political non-fiction. Michael Weber, “ Don’t Call Me Boss: David L. Lawrence, Pittsburgh’s Renaissance Mayor ” The first biography of David L. Lawrence, the best of the city bosses, who became mayor of Pittsburgh, modern municipal manager, governor of Pennsylvania, and a power in national politics. ~University of Pittsburgh Press Buzz Bissinger,...

Revisiting the Classics with Audrey Russo

Dec 9, 2013
Courtesy photo

President of the Pittsburgh Technology Council Audrey Russo talks about the books she keeps piled on her nightstand and drawing inspiration from strong female role models. Sun Tzu, " The Art of War " Like Machiavelli's "The Prince" and the Japanese Book of Five Rings, Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" is as timely for business people today as it was for military strategists in ancient China. Written in China more than 2,000 years ago, Sun Tzu's classic "The Art of War" is the first known study of...

At Work in America With Dave Newman

Dec 2, 2013
Josh Raulerson/90.5 WESA

Dave Newman worked as a house painter, a truck driver, a bookstore manager and a college teacher before taking on his latest job as an award-winning novelist. As in his own fiction, Newman's reading interests reflect both his working-class background and an interest in life at the margins of the Rust Belt. Noah Cicero, Collected Works Vol. I The supreme introduction to the neurosis of Noah Cicero, The Collected Works of Noah Cicero Vol. I contains the early masterpieces by the greatest...

Reflections on Billy Strayhorn with janera solomon

Nov 25, 2013
Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

In celebration of what would have been jazz legend Billy Strayhorn's 98th birthday, janera solomon, executive director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, talks about her insights from his biography and legacy. Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In” Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most...

The Values of Genre Fiction with Teacher Justin Aion

Nov 18, 2013
Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

Woodland Hills math teacher Justin Aion uses young adult novels in the classroom and enjoys genre fiction in his downtime. Lately he's been reading: Orson Scott Card, “ Ender’s Game ” Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the...

The Density of Short Fiction with Mason Radkoff

Nov 11, 2013
Courtesy Braddock Avenue Books

Author and Pittsburgh native Mason Radkoff talks down and out characters, fatherhood, day-to-day reality in writing, and the comeback of the short story. Richard Russo, “ The Risk Pool ” A wonderfully fun and perceptive novel in the traditions of Thornton Wilder and Anne Tyler, "The Risk Pool" is set in Mohawk, New York, where Ned Hall is doing his best to grow up, even though neither of his estranged parents can properly be called adult. His father, Sam, cultivates bad habits so assiduously...

Leaving an Imprint on History with Rep. Dan Frankel

Oct 21, 2013

When he's not busy representing Pittsburgh's East End in the state House of Representatives, Rep. Dan Frankel enjoys pleasure-reads about the political process. To him, it never feels like work. Robert A. Caro, “ The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. 4 ” Book Four of Robert A. Caro’s monumental The Years of Lyndon Johnson displays all the narrative energy and illuminating insight that led the Times of London to acclaim it as “one of the truly great political biographies of...

Reconciling Theory and Practice with Tim Cook

Oct 14, 2013

Tim Cook, founding director of the nonprofit The Saxifrage School , speaks about grounded ideas, finding the fantastic wherever we are, reserving winter for fiction and "gift-like" value. William Carlos Williams, “ A Sort of Song ” Considered by many to be the most characteristically American of our twentieth-century poets, William Carlos Williams "wanted to write a poem / that you would understand / But you got to try hard—." So that readers could more fully understand the extent of Williams...

Speaking Volumes: Mike Doyle

Oct 7, 2013

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) likes page-turning crime dramas and thrillers with a political bent. He has a unique vantage point on novels set in Washington, which as it turns out are more true to life than you might think. David Baldacci, The Forgotten Army Special Agent John Puller is the best there is. A combat veteran, Puller is the man the U.S. Army relies on to investigate the toughest crimes facing the nation. Now he has a new casebut this time, the crime is personal: His aunt has...

Adapting Truth into Visual Drama with Karen Dietrich

Sep 30, 2013
Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

Karen Dietrich is the author of a memoir, The Girl Factory (Globe Pequot Press, 2013). She earned an MFA in poetry from New England College. Her writing has appeared in Bellingham Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Specter, PANK, Joyland, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and elsewhere. She recently joined the faculty of the online creative writing MFA program at University of Arkansas at Monticello. She lives in Greensburg, Pa. Visit her online at karendietrich.net . Piper Kerman , Orange is the New...

Courtesy Brian O’Neill

Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer and author of "The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-First Century," muses on the value of location-based writing, fiction set in Pittsburgh, writing about sex and appreciating poetry as a bad poet. Kaui Heart Hemmings, “ The Descendants ” Fortunes have changed for the King family, descendants of Hawaiian royalty and one of the state’s largest landowners. Matthew King’s daughters—Scottie, a feisty ten-year-old, and Alex, a seventeen...

Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

Braddock Mayor John Fetterman speaks on the lessons he has learned from literary accounts of history. Joshua Wolf Shenk , “ Lincoln’s Melancholy ” "Lincoln’s Melancholy" tells — for the first time — the full story of Lincoln’s lifelong depression, how he managed it, and how it came to fuel his epic work. Drawing on seven years of research, Joshua Wolf Shenk shows how the science and literature on depression offer insight into Lincoln’s remarkable journey, and how Lincoln’s story challenges...

A Literary Delivery with Mr. McFeely

Sep 9, 2013
Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

Entertainer David Newell — better known to audiences as "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" resident deliveryman Mr. McFeely — talks with Speaking Volumes about biographies, his own literary future and the reading habits of his lifelong friend Fred Rogers. Lee Child, “ Killing Floor ” Welcome to Margrave, Georgia—but don’t get too attached to the townsfolk, who are either in on a giant conspiracy, or hurtling toward violent deaths, or both. There’s not much of a welcome for Jack Reacher, a casualty...

Andy Warhol Museum

Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner ’s reading interests are eclectic in a way that Andy would surely appreciate. Grace Coddington , “ Grace: A Memoir ” Beautiful. Willful. Charming. Blunt. Grace Coddington’s extraordinary talent and fierce dedication to her work as creative director of Vogue have made her an international icon. Known through much of her career only to those behind the scenes, she might have remained fashion’s best-kept secret were it not for The September Issue, the acclaimed...

Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

Not all Ayn Rand fans are small-government conservatives. Take Allegheny County Controller and self-professed liberal Democrat Chelsa Wagner, for example … Wally Lamb, “ She’s Come Undone ” In this extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey, Wally Lamb invites us to hitch a wild ride on a journey of love, pain, and renewal with the most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years. Meet Dolores Price. She's 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Stranded in front...

Finding Meaning in Frivolous Times

Aug 5, 2013
Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Paper editor Chris Potter takes his social commentary with a little ironic distance and a healthy dose of the absurd. Chuck Palahniuk, " Lullaby " Reporter Carl Streator discovers the song’s lethal nature while researching Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and before he knows it, he’s reciting the poem to anyone who bothers him. As the body count rises, Streator glimpses the potential catastrophe if someone truly malicious finds out about the song. The only answer is to find and...

Larger Realities from Smaller Perspectives

Jul 29, 2013
Courtesy PublicSource

Freelance reporter Leah Samuel writes about social and environmental issues for PublicSource and others . As a journalist, and as a reader, she finds the lessons of history are best learned from the margins. Philip Beard, " Dear Zoe " Striking in its characterizations and brilliantly precise in its dissections of both adolescence and human nature, "Dear Zoe" deftly juxtaposes a national catastrophe with personal tragedy. While acknowledging mass suffering, it also reaffirms the need of...

Interesting People and Fascinating Interactions

Jul 22, 2013
Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

Essayist and improv comedian Andrea Laurion reads an eclectic mix of non-fiction, but all of her picks remain grounded by a strong narrative voice. Rona Jaffe, The Best of Everything When Rona Jaffe’s superb page-turner was first published in 1958, it changed contemporary fiction forever. Some readers were shocked, but millions more were electrified when they saw themselves reflected in its story of five young employees of a New York publishing company. Almost sixty years later, The Best of...

courtesy Kathy Newman

Carnegie Mellon University professor Kathy Newman offers a look at six novels that changed America with their ability to cross genres and transcend their original forms. Harriett Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin Nearly every young author dreams of writing a book that will literally change the world. A few have succeeded, and Harriet Beecher Stowe is such a marvel. Although the American anti-slavery movement had existed at least as long as the nation itself, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)...


What does a good novel have in common with an orchestral score? More than you might think, says Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor Fawzi Haimor . Lewis Lockwood, Beethoven: The Music and the Life

This brilliant portrayal weaves Beethoven's musical and biographical stories into their historical and artistic contexts. Lewis Lockwood sketches the turbulent personal, historical, political, and cultural frameworks in which Beethoven worked and examines their effects on his...

Pleasure Reading: Alive and Well on RMU Campus

Jul 1, 2013
Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

Young people these days. Too busy to read books. Too worldly to seek meaning in fiction. Too addled by social media to read anything critically. Right? Wrong. J.R.R. Tolkein, The Hobbit Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely travelling further than the pantry of his hobbit-hole in Bag End. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard, Gandalf, and a company of thirteen dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an unexpected journey ...

Lewis, Tolkien and the 'True Myths' of Faith

Jun 24, 2013
Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

Steve Tuell studies Hebrew and the Old Testament at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary . As a theologian and a scholar of ancient languages, he has a special appreciation for the fantasy fiction of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Alastair McGrath, C.S. Lewis — A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

In C.S. Lewis—A Life, Alister McGrath, prolific author and respected professor at King’s College of London, paints a definitive portrait of the life of C. S. Lewis. After thoroughly...

Around the World and Beyond with Steve Sokol

Jun 17, 2013
Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA

President of the World Affairs Council in Pittsburgh Steve Sokol describes his picks in both nonfiction and fiction. Peter Bergen, Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad In Manhunt , Peter Bergen delivers a taut yet panoramic account of the pursuit and killing of Osama bin Laden. Here are riveting new details of bin Laden's flight after the crushing defeat of the Taliban to Tora Bora, where American forces came startlingly close to capturing him, and of the...

Weird and wonderful fiction picks from Tom Sweterlitsch

Jun 10, 2013

Pittsburgh writer and librarian Tom Sweterlitsch has wide-ranging reading interests in fiction. Stewart O'Nan, Songs for the Missing In his twelfth novel, following the critically acclaimed bestseller Last Night at the Lobster, Stewart O’Nan demonstrates an uncanny ability to delve into the lives of ordinary, well-meaning people confronting tragedy. Here, in a story of a girl gone missing, he finds the quieter emotional narrative behind the sensational events. O’Nan’s clear, sharp prose and...

Yes, George Saunders is that good

Jun 3, 2013
Josh Raulerson/90.5 WESA

Gary Terner of Mt. Lebanon was blown away by the new short story collection from George Saunders. George Saunders, Tenth of December One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, George Saunders is an undisputed master of the short story, and "Tenth of December" is his most honest, accessible, and moving collection yet. In the taut opener, “Victory Lap,” a boy witnesses the attempted abduction of the girl next door and is faced with a harrowing choice: Does he...

A Moveable Feast of Language

May 27, 2013
Josh Raulerson/90.5 WESA

Lori Jakiela is a poet, a memoirist and a devotee of sparse, unsentimental prose. A few of the books you might encounter in her writing class at Chatham or Pitt-Greensburg: Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

A restored edition of the posthumously published book eliminates changes that were made to the manuscript before its original 1964 release, in a volume that draws on Hemingway's personal papers, features sketches of his experiences in Paris with his son and first wife, and...

A history lesson with Prof. Patrick Dowd

May 20, 2013
Josh Raulerson/90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Councilman Patrick Dowd started out as a historian, and while he's no longer in academia, his reading still reflects that background. These days Dowd reads historical nonfiction mixed with fiction "with a serious historical bent." Edwin Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command The Battle of Gettyburg remains one of the most controversial military actions in America's history, and one of the most studied. Professor Coddington's is an analysis not only of the...