Friday, July 11, 2014

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

The library book group read Kristopher Jansma's The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards this month. The storyline simplified might be described as poor boy meets rich boy and his best rich gal pal and they all become best friends in their college years in a not-quite love triangle, but the friendship eventually breaks up and they all go their separate ways in soul-searching global journeys, only to meet again later, older and wiser. Or are they? Can leopards change their spots?
But this book does not have a simple plot, in fact, this book is a book within a book within a novella as told by the unreliable - (and unnamed) narrator-to-beat-all-unreliable narrators. The book is filled with literary allusions and coincidences and rewrites of the basic story. The whole effect is very entertaining, but a bit hard to keep track of for those readers who prefer a linear narrative with no flashbacks or changes of perspective. If you like to play 'what's that literary allusion,' whether the author meant it or not, you will have a field day. I almost think some kind of parlor or drinking game could be made out of literary allusions in The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. I'll get to that later.
The cast of characters: Julian/Jeffrey, the hard-drinking, neurotic, wealthy best friend of the narrator becomes a best-selling author despite his dissolute habits. Evelyn, the beautiful actress, best prep-school friend of Julian, becomes the narrator's love interest and obsession; she marries, but is not faithful. The unnamed narrator, of the changeable identities and dubious veracity, tries to be a serious and successful author, but keeps losing his manuscripts and struggling to turn out anything as good as Julian does.
Here are some links to reviewers who do a good job summarizing a complicated book:
Heller McAlpin of NPR writes, Can This Hypercomplex 'Leopard' Change its Spots?
which explains the plot and style succinctly (thank you, Heller), but I disagree that the 'meta' novel will mostly appeal to writers. I think it will have broader appeal than that.
Corinna Lothar writes a nicely detailed review in the Washington Times. which notes that while the plot is confusing, there is much to enjoy in this novel. Ms. Lothar seems to have taken good notes while reading or to have a great memory or to not be as distractible as this reader. I felt that I should turn right around and reread the novel upon completion. Our book group readers also found that flipping back and forth and rereading the 'Author's Note' (introduction) was helpful.
Each and every review unearths more literary allusions in the novel. I tweeted to the author one of my favorite Holden Caulfield quotes and he answered:
It's fun to be able to talk to an author and ask him questions by Twitter, or by any other means, and even better when they offer to answer questions, as Mr. Jansma did. So I  twitter-questioned him and he answered each tweet. One of the first literary allusions that came to my mind is that the start of the novel takes the form of a coming of age novel and the narrator seems to be a lot like Holden Caulfield in that he doesn't tell the truth and freely admits it. I had a lot of fun seeing bits of Nick Carraway from the Great Gatsby and also the Talented Mr. Ripley in the narrator.  I pictured bits of Sebastian from Brideshead Revisited in Julian. Evelyn had the careless morals of Daisy in the Great Gatsby. I got so involved in enjoying the literary guessing game, that I did get a bit lost in the plot, but the various reviewers assure me that's ok and more importantly, the author answered my befuddlement this way:

Recommended for book groups that enjoy quirky books that provoke discussions.
Read-alikes: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Parnassus on Wheels

"Oh, you're a librarian..," they say.
Followed inevitably by,
"You must read a lot."
"I'd like to read all day at my job..." wistfully.
"Ha ha, yes, so would I," is my not so clever rejoinder that is always ignored.
How did I get to this librarian place? It might have been in seventh grade when Mrs. Quinn, my English teacher, assigned a 1917 book by Christopher Morley, Parnassus on Wheels, which begins: 


I wonder if there isn't a lot of bunkum in higher education? I never
found that people who were learned in logarithms and other kinds of
poetry were any quicker in washing dishes or darning socks. I've
done a good deal of reading when I could, and I don't want to "admit
impediments" to the love of books, but I've also seen lots of good,
practical folk spoiled by too much fine print. Reading sonnets
always gives me hiccups, too.

I never expected to be an author! But I do think there are some
amusing things about the story of Andrew and myself and how books
broke up our placid life. When John Gutenberg, whose real name (so
the Professor says) was John Gooseflesh, borrowed that money to set
up his printing press he launched a lot of troubles on the world.
You can read the entire book on the Internet Archives  or The Gutenberg Project. You can even download it to a Kindle or other portable electronic device from there. The Project Gutenberg Project reviews it nicely here. So I'll just say it's the story of a woman who takes off in a mobile bookshop, an old-fashioned bookmobile/caravan to get a taste of freedom from the drudgery and responsibility of working on her farm with her rather pretentious brother, a budding author. It is written with tongue firmly in cheek in a rather old-fashioned style. I don't think I liked reading it at the age of twelve or so, but maybe it planted the seed of an idea in my mind. I still think it would be fun to drive a bookmobile around neighborhoods and a horse-driven one would be even better. If you like that idea, take a look at some of the modern incarnations of that dream.
My copy of the book looks like this
Biblioburro which you can follow on Facebook
FabLab in the Netherlands
Mobile libraries on Pinterest


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Three Good Books: Happy, Romantic, and Quirky

During May and June at the library our patrons begin to ask about this year’s popular beach and vacation books, so we try to keep ahead of that demand. The local schools send us their summer reading assignments in early June so those titles need to be ordered and organized for the library before school lets out. Sometimes it is difficult to find something good to read in this transitional reading season when we are preoccupied with preparing for summer reading. This year, however, I have hit the reading Triple Crown of three good books in a row. In no particular order, they are:

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-help That Actually Works by Dan Harris.  While reading this book I could imagine Dan Harris sitting over a cup of coffee and talking to me about his journey to manageable enlightenment.  He starts with the same doubts as many of us and a certain wariness of the spiritual overtones frequently associated with meditation.  Conversations with Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra are just stops along his road.  After finishing this book I started recommending it to various family members – so much more polite than suggesting psychological counseling.  I recommend this book to everyone who thinks being 10% calmer would be a good, attainable goal.  Plus, I like this book so much that I bought it – something I rarely do.

The second book on my list is, strictly speaking, a trilogy by Jill Shalvis.  Shalvis is well known for contemporary romance and the Animal Magnetism series is wonderful fun. Each book features a really attractive (sensitive, but troubled) man, a really lovely (strong with baggage from her past) woman, a collection of rescue kittens and puppies, and mountains found far, far away from New Jersey.  In addition to the rescue animals, a duck, lamb and parrot frequently appear.

My third title, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, is about a bookstore owner on Alice Island.  The main character, A.J. Fikry, is just eccentric and quirky enough that he reminded me of the Richard Brautigan book about the librarian who only accepted books into his library but never allowed anything to leave.  The two books have nothing in common except a certain degree of likeable quirkiness.  Back to Alice Island, however, each chapter starts with Fikry’s take on a classic short story.  I am not a fan of short stories, but I am tempted to try again with his suggestions.  The book is short and sweet, the characters are likeable, and the ending is equal parts sad and hopeful.
Springtime by Claude Monet

Related links:
Amazon's 2014 Best Summer Reads Lists - Use the library's Amazon Smile account when ordering through Amazon.

- S.Bakos

Monday, June 9, 2014

What if Book Reviews Were Written Like Wine Reviews?

Have you ever wondered why wines are described with terms that are more puzzling than helpful, more poetic than realistic? A flyer for a local wine store sat on the table in the library staff room the other day, so of course, because librarians have to have something to read at all times and it was there, we read it. Aloud. The descriptions of wines are inventive, colorful, creative, even whacky. For example:

"Brooding layers of black cherry, pulverized rock, spiced cedar and hints of anise roar with authority, while massive tannins and roaring acidity deliver a crushing blow of flavor that'll have you quivering with delight."
"Deep intense aromatics of blueberries, black fruits, saddle leather and oak spice carry into a long, chewy finish with plump fruit tannins."
"Rich, plush and juicy on the attack, filled with almost chewy, crushed red fruit bramble, the finish remains fresh and vibrant."
Other descriptive phrases included: "a glycerol, creamy mouthfeel," "aromas of ...buttered citrus," "crushed rocks," "smoked earth aromas," "tobacco, underbrush and worn-in leather," "with notes of brioche," and the adjective "purpley."

If we reviewed books using a similar style, it might look something like this:
"This mystery starts with a flinty introduction to the reader's palate, bursts with fruity exuberance in the middle chapters, bringing a worn-leather tone and and rocky robustness, ending with a long finish to a satisfying conclusion."
"The characters in this thriller have a saddle-leather resilience in their blend of cocoa and berry attitudes that take the theme and plot to a roaring finale."
"Hints of live oaks and the smell of the bayou take the reader on a quivering trip through tannin-filled swamps and a lingering aftertaste of southern nostalgia."
"This fresh-faced first novel attacks the reader with purpley prose and continues on the nose with a soupcon of chewing the scenery while quivering with a roaring, fruity first-person narrative with a finish that surprises with its acidity and buttered rocky denouement."
Bacchus by Caravaggio (1595)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Something Funny for Summer Reading

This is a reposting from last May. David Sedaris is funny enough to be recommended over and over :-)

In 'Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, Essays, Etc.' humorist and author David Sedaris offers his wry observations on the topics of living as an American ex-patriot in France and England, traveling the world on book tours and remembering his childhood in Raleigh, North Carolina. His fans will enjoy his quirky obsessions which teeter on the edge of creepy and gross, but then pull back into touching and humane at the last sentence or two.
Standouts from this collection are: 'Dentists Without Borders' in which the author describes his own experiences with the health care system in France. He describes the care he received as inexpensive, accessible and not at all like what the opponents of "Obama care' describe as a health care plan 'where patients languished on filthy cots, waiting for aspirin to be invented." (3)
In 'Rubbish' (211) Mr. Sedaris takes it upon himself to pick up all the litter along the roads in his village in England by riding his bike around every day to pick up other people's trash. He becomes obsessed, "At nights I lie in bed and map out the territory I'll cover the following day... What did my life consist of before this? I wonder." (220)

Recommended for fans of the author. Read-a-likes - other humorous essay writers:
Quinn Cummings, Bill Bryson, Ian Frazier, Dave Barry, Sloane Crosby, Tracy Beckerman. (Click on the 'humor' label on the right side of this blog to find more posts about funny books and authors.)

There really is an app for everything: try the David Sedaris app to watch short videos of his diary entries.

David Carr's review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review (audiobook version)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

More Apps for That - a blog update

About a year ago I posted about the apps I have on my smart phone in There's an App for That! 
Over a year ago, my children had encouraged me to update from an embarrassingly uncool and pre-Diluvian flip phone to a really cool smart phone from a well-known and very cool company that is known for cool computers, cool phones, cool portable electronic devices and advertisements that are so cool I don't really know what they are trying to get me to buy. (But has a very catchy tune from the 'Pixies', watch the Gigantic ad here.)
Before I go any further in my update, let me just say that this is relevant to a library blog, because libraries are now really cool too. The Berkeley Heights Public Library has a phone app, downloadable e-books, a website of course, this really cool blog (ahem) and a very strong presence on social media (ie: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc)
So anyway, in the last year I have added a mini-tablet to my arsenal of techie stuff. The mini-tablet is from the same cool company referred to above. The idea is that my phone and my tablet will 'sync up' with each other, sharing content and reporting it all to the same 'cloud' where my stuff (photos etc) is stored. And my devices and my kids' devices are made by the same company so we can video talk with each other easily without having the battle of rival hardware/software occur. At least that's the idea and that is generally the case except when it's not working, but of course, one always assumes that if one was just 'cool' enough it would all work seamlessly and I would be singing 'Gigantic' and not cursing when both my personal and work to do lists appears on my phone, but not on my tablet.
Here are some of the apps I have added in the last year to my phone and tablet. I'm not saying I couldn't live without them, but they are really cool.
Merlin Bird ID - (free) a bird identifying app that allows you to look up a bird by characteristics and then gives you a best guess list and the calls of the bird plus maps of where it can be found and other information about the bird. That bird with the little beret look? It's a Black Capped Chickadee. Who knew?
BuzzFeed - (free) which is basically the biggest time-waster ever and really fun. If you have ever seen those fun quizzes being passed around on Facebook about which Jane Austen character would you be, or what country fits you best, BuzzFeed is probably the source of those little quizzes.
GasBuddy - (free) for finding the cheapest gas nearby.
United Airlines - (free) for keeping track of my flights and getting a mobile boarding pass.
For real estate searching, I have Trulia and Zillow  (free) which are useful for house-hunting or just for snooping about house values in your neighborhood.
Animoto - (free + fee version) which allows you to make free 30 second slide shows set to music. You can use photos from your phone or device, upload them to your account and make a really nice little slide show very quickly. For a fee, you will be able to make longer videos.
Overdrive Media Console - (free) allows me to borrow ebooks from eLibraryNJ through the library website. The reference librarians help patrons set this up on their devices all the time and it is hugely popular when people find out they don't have to purchase ebooks and e-audiobooks.
Zinio -(free) also available from the library website allows patrons to download magazines to their devices. I love this, the magazines look great on a tablet and they do not ever expire or come due.
I also have the apps for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and GoodReads so I can post to my personal accounts or follow what other people are posting.

What apps do you like? Click on 'comment' below to let us know.
Here is the link to one of the library's Animoto slide shows
and below is another library Animoto video. You can embed the HTML into a blog or website. How cool is that?

Going to the Library

Thursday, May 8, 2014

If You Like Sherlock Holmes, read these books

Fans of all-things Sherlock will enjoy Moriarty Returns a Letter (2014) by Michael Robertson, the fourth in his 'Baker Street Mystery' series. The premise - a law firm at 221B Baker Street still receives letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes and is required by the lease to reply to all of them. A descendent of Moriarty, Holmes' arch-enemy, returns to seek revenge in this outing. The fine line between the fictional stories and the confusion starting over a century ago about whether Sherlock Holmes existed or not, with some believing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as literary agent to the real Dr. Watson, is explained. This is a series best read in order. Start with The Baker Street Letters (2009)
Related websites
The Baker Street Letters, author Michael Robertson's website
The Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street
The Sherlock Holmes Society of London
Free ebooks by Conan Doyle on Project Gutenberg
New York Times obituary for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

New Self-help books at the library

Self-help books, sometimes called self-improvement, are very popular at the library. A few on our new non-fiction shelf are:
One Simple Idea, how positive thinking reshaped modern life by Mitch Horowitz (150.1988 HOR)

Optimal Living 360, smart decision making for a balanced life by Sanjay Jain, MD, MBA (158.1 JAI)

I Can See Clearly Now by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer (158.1 DYER)

Mr. Horowitz traces the history of the power of positive thinking and explores its efficacy.

Dr. Jain devises methods to improve decision-making abilities.

Dr. Dyer, a well-known inspirational and self-help author writes a memoir with lessons for self-enlightenment.

Browse the 150's on the library new non-fiction shelves or in the stacks for more self-improvement books. Or click on the tag 'self help' in our blog tag cloud for other posts which list self-improvement books the library owns.

For more reading ideas, be sure to sign up for Wowbrary which will send an email to you every Wednesday morning listing the past week's acquisitions at the Berkeley Heights Public Library.
Deer in Berkeley Heights: living in the moment

Monday, April 28, 2014

Walpurgis Night Celebrations

Linda's Lanterns
Walpurgis Night will be celebrated on Wednesday night, April 30, so get your noisemakers and bonfires ready. Most importantly, to learn more about the "European Halloween," read Linda Raedisch's book Night of the Witches, folklore, traditions & recipes for Celebrating Walpurgis Night (Llewellyn Press 2011)

To see the rest of the 2011 post about local author Linda Raedisch's book about the traditional European festival of spring, click here.

Read our  book review of the 'Night of the Witches'
and our interview with the author Linda Raedisch.

After the winter of 2013 - 2014, a big celebration is in order!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fleur Tests the Waters

When the library closes at nine p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, the librarians check that all patrons have left the building, the stacks, the bathrooms, every nook and cranny in the two-story building. We call out, 'library is closing' as fair warning because no one wants to be left behind in a deserted library at night. When we are sure everyone is out, we lock up and get in our cars to go home, but lately the extreme quiet that is a library at night after hours has been filled with the sounds of frogs croaking their little hearts out in the swamp behind the library. That's a sound no librarian wants to 'shush.'
Fleur the Frog

Berkeley Heights 1978: from the library archives

Berkeley Heights Public Library 1978
A promotional pamphlet for Berkeley Heights published by the League of Women Voters in 1978 has some fun old pictures that capture the town 36 years ago. For more images, click on this link to see our Picasa album or this link to see our Flickr album of images.
Governor Livingston Rifle Corp circa 1978

What's New at the Library? Use Wowbrary

Have you ever wanted to poke around the super-secret room at BHPL where all the new stuff is "in process"? Now you can, virtually. BHPL has teamed up with Wowbrary to provide you with a weekly email about all the new books, audiobooks and DVDs that have been added to BHPL's catalog in the past week. It's your chance to put a hold on a book, often before it even hits the shelf. Just click on the title you want in Wowbrary, then click Hold Request. To sign up for the email newsletter, go to the Wowbrary site.

Originally posted by Ellen in March 2009

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring at the Berkeley Heights Public Library

Winter into Spring, 

a slide show made with Animoto's free video maker app for iPad.

Just a few weeks ago, the Berkeley Heights Public Library, and most of New Jersey, was covered in snow. Now spring is beginning to appear as a few intrepid daffodil shoots poke up through the bare, muddy ground. The days are getting a little longer and a little warmer.
I searched our 'Columbia Granger's World of Poetry' database for a poem to express the feeling of relief that the winter of 2013 - 2014 is over. I found hundreds of poems about spring and April. Willliam Leighton's 'April' tells it like it is, don't you think?

'Gusty March is dead and gone!
 April heard his parting sighs,
 Smiling through her tearful eyes
At the sweet days coming on.'

There's more to this poem. To find this and other poems by first line, last line, subject or poet, search the Granger's Poetry database from our  'Databases and Articles' webpage. Type in your Berkeley Heights Library barcode number at the prompt.

Leighton, William. “April.” Columbia Granger's World of Poetry Online. 2014. Columbia University Press. 4 Apr. 2014.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Not So Fast - It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Not So Fast – It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

by Robert J. Daniher

How many times have you tried to write a story, novel, poem, article and given up after a few days because things weren’t going the way you thought they would?  The plot wasn’t working out, the characters didn’t come alive, or maybe you just got…bored.  After all, this writing thing is supposed to happen overnight – right?  I mean, who has time to wait around for an idea to develop on the page?  Didn’t Steinbeck write “The Grapes of Wrath” in just a few months?
Some time ago I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite short story writers, Robert Lopresti.  A prolific award-winning writer, Mr. Lopresti’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies.  He also reviews short fiction on his weekly blog: .  But most importantly, he began his illustrious career as a page at the Berkeley Heights Public Library.  One of his shining moments while at the library was surviving a nasty run-in with a falling bookcase of Biographies.  There’s a nasty rumor going around that he accidentally pulled it down himself, but you didn’t hear that from me.  In late 2012 Mr. Lopresti was passing through NJ on his way to receive the Black Orchid Novella Award from the Nero Wolfe Society and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine when I met him for the first time. 
“You have such a prolific body of work.  How long does it take you to finish a story?” I asked, expecting him to say a week or a month.
“Oh, sometimes years,” he said.
Years?  Could that be?  I think he was half-joking, but there is some truth to that.  Sometimes, you need to put a draft away for a little while so you can come back to it with fresh eyes to revise.  Junot Diaz spent 7 years on “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Woa”, and that won the Pulitzer.  French poet, Paul Valery said, “A poem’s never finished, only abandoned.”  So, if your idea is taking a little longer than expected to germinate into the novel of your dreams, don’t rush it.  Think of writing as a marathon, not a sprint.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Just Do It - the Writing Life

Just Do It

by Robert J. Daniher

I am a procrastinator.  There…I said it.  The secret’s out.  I procrastinate, as my absence from contributing to this blog has proven.  Like most people (especially writers), I allow life to get in the way of things I truly enjoy doing.  And when it comes to writing there are tons of excuses to stay away from that keyboard.  Maybe it’s about the fear of failure, or not knowing how to begin, or even fear of success.  Fill in the blank.  But when you get right down to the nitty gritty, it’s really just about laziness.  And there’s only one way to overcome that.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see author Brad Parks at one of the NJ signings for his latest crime novel, “The Player”.  If you haven’t seen this guy speak, he’s a real cut-up.  A one-man-show, he sings, tells jokes, and acts out scenes from his novels in Oscar-worthy fashion.  We met a year ago at the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference in NJ and became fast friends.  Since then he’s offered some wonderful insight into the world of writing and shared an unlimited amount of zany stories to put the writing life into perspective.  After the crowd thinned out and the event began to wrap up I asked him about his writing schedule and he told me the same thing he always tells me.  “Just sit your butt down in the chair and type!”  It might seem like a minimalist approach to writing but, when you really think about it -- that’s all it takes.  Before you can worry about developing your voice, or style, or schedule, you first have to sit down in that chair and type.  That night I finally took his advice and sat down to write this very post you’re reading right now.  And guess what?  It worked!


Brad Parks links:

 I am happy to welcome back Bob Daniher to our blog. I especially like his observation:
" Like most people (especially writers), I allow life to get in the way of things I truly enjoy doing."
So true, and I hope to follow his lead and get going on some projects of my own. To see more of Bob's posts on the blog, click here 
or type 'Daniher' into the search box at the top right of the blog. Thanks, Bob and welcome back.
- Anne