Food Column: Books + drinks = The Buzz

When in doubt, offer food -- or at least a cup of java.

A couple years ago, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh began looking for ways to attract the young-adult crowd to the library.

"We noticed that there was a gap in library usage," said Karen Brooks, manager of the Lawrenceville branch. Young children come to the library with their parents, she said, and then they resume usage when they become parents themselves. But young adults who are not parents were tending to not be library users.

So Ms. Brooks and some of her colleagues decided to start what they call "The Buzz" -- book groups that discuss edgier topics and meet in coffee shops, pizzerias or restaurants.

Branch managers can decide whether to opt into this particular program. In Lawrenceville, Ms. Brooks does what she calls "Pairings" -- two meetings per month featuring books with related themes. Often she chooses one adult book and one young-adult book on the same theme. The first meeting of the month is held at the library, and the second is out in the community -- usually a Lawrenceville location, though the March meeting will be at Brillobox in Bloomfield.

She says she tries to choose restaurants or coffee shops where it will be acceptable for five or six people to order only a drink and then take up a table for an hour or more, so "not places where they get most of their business from food." But most business owners have been supportive and excited about the concept.

She's had up to a dozen participants at a time (for "The Handmaid's Tale" at Church Brew Works). "Ender's Game" at Kickback Pinball Cafe in January also was popular.

In March, the group, which she leads, will discuss two war books: Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, at the library and "Fallen Angels" by Walter Dean Myers at 7 p.m. March 25 at Brillobox.

Even though the groups are small and not all attendees are in the young-adult age range, she considers the program successful because "we're getting people to use the library differently."

For instance, one regular attendee drives to the events all the way from Greensburg. His daughter, a Penn State student, turned him on to the group, and they've been able to Skype her into the discussions for the past couple of meetings.

And in Brookline, events are scheduled once each month throughout 2014. The Brookline group used to meet strictly at Cannon Coffee, but this year they've decided to vote each month on where to hold the next month's meeting, though they'll select the venues mainly from those along Brookline Boulevard because some members walk to the meetings. The March book is "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline, a futuristic story of people escaping to a virtual world in 2044.

Shayna Ross, clerical specialist, heads up the Brookline group, which usually attracts 8 to 10 members ranging in age from about 19 to late 50s, many of whom like being able to get a cup of coffee.

"You usually wouldn't eat and drink in the library," she said. "This has opened up some barriers."

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Carla Hall: This host of TV's "Top Chef" and "The Chew" visits Giant Eagle Market District stores on April 5 for cooking demo and a debut of her new cookbook, "Carla's Comfort Foods." 11 a.m. in Bethel Park; 3 p.m. in Robinson. Free, but register at

Michael Pollan: The "Food Rules" and "Omnivore's Dilemma" author comes to Shady Side Academy's Hillman Center at 7:30 p.m. May 10; Chef Bill Fuller of Big Burrito Group will interview him on stage. $55 ($175 VIP tickets include dinner with Mr. Pollan). 412-968-3040.

Charitable events

Pancakes in the PM: Breakfast-for-dinner buffet includes crepe-style hotcake bar, croissant French toast, lyonnaise potatoes, eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, fruit, bagels and open bar with mimosas and Bloody Marys. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. tonight at Pamela's in the Strip District. $35, or $10 for kids ages 12 and under; full proceeds goes to East End Common Ministries' fight against hunger.

Spring Carnival: The country-western-themed event includes chili, corn dogs and root-beer floats. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 16 at Temple David in Monroeville. Free admission.

Spaghetti Dinner: Boy Scout Troop 905 serves spaghetti with meat sauce, salad, Mancini's rolls, homemade desserts and beverages. 1 to 6 p.m. March 16 at St. Margaret Mary Parish Hall in Moon. $9 for adults; $6 for children.


Kinks, Locks & Twists: Environmental & Reproductive Justice Conference: Topics include urban farming, food security, fracking and safe cosmetics. Presented by New Voices Pittsburgh, today through Sunday, March 9, at Carnegie Mellon University, Oakland.

Sustainability School-Backyard Chickens: Learn to raise urban chickens. 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, Fox Chapel. $65. Reservations: E-mail

Rebecca Sodergren: or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.


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