Friday, November 7, 2014

Learn Something New from the Teaching Company at the Library

The Teaching Company makes instructional DVD's and CD sets called "Great Courses' which you can borrow from the Berkeley Heights Public Library. These sets cover a variety of historical and artistic topics with  lectures from well-known university professors. You can find them by typing 'Teaching Company' or 'Great Courses' into the library catalog. You can find and read Ellen's blog posts about the courses she listened to and watched by using the same keywords in the blog's search box. Here is a sample of three of Ellen's reviews with links to the full reviews:

Listen & Learn (first posted Thursday, July 3, 2008)
Do you ever carelessly say "gonna" instead of "going to"? That's the way language has been changing and making new words for millennia. The Indo-European root words for "go" and "carry" (words that sounded something like "bear" and "ink") ran together to become the English word "bring". There also used to be a word that meant "repeatedly" that's now just the suffix "le" in English; it's the difference between dab and dabble, drip and dribble.
I learned this from 'The Story of Human Language,' a Teaching Company course on CD which is a series of lectures by linguist John McWhorter. The Berkeley Heights Public Library has over 200 courses, on CD, DVD and audiocassette tapes by the Teaching Company and Recorded Book's Modern Scholar.
Posted by Ellen at 7/03/2008 10:31:00 AM

How to Listen and Understand Great Music (First posted Tuesday, December 13, 2011)
New Jersey's own Robert Greenberg is the entertaining lecturer of the music appreciation course with that name 'How to Listen and Understand Great Music,' which BHPL has in its nonfiction audiobook collection. Dr. Greenberg tells funny and illuminating stories about composers. You get to hear a little of each selection, which is a good way to figure out what you'd enjoy listening to on your own in full later. This audiobook course is located at BHPL at CD AUDIO 780.9 GRE - scan the walls for a pink flamingo to find the nonfiction audiobooks.
Posted by Ellen at 12/13/2011 11:28:00 AM

Museum Masterpieces: the Met  (First posted Thursday, December 1, 2011)
The library has a wonderful Teaching Company course on DVD that you can borrow called Museum Masterpieces: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are 24 half hour lectures.
My favorite part was learning about the historical connections between works of art in the Museum. An amazing engraved helmet, the "burgonet with falling buffe"  is on display in the Department of Arms and Armor. The helmet was given to the Medici court in Florence sometime in the 16th century. The helmet appears in a portrait of Cosimo II de Medici, which the Met web site says is not on display - another reason to check out the DVDs. The lectures will also give you a peek at famous prints, photographs and costumes usually not on display.
The period rooms you can wander around in (like the bedroom from the Sagredo Palace in Venice, above) have always been my favorite part of the Met. The DVDs showed me several rooms I had never come across before, including the Verplanck Room in the American Wing. The Verplanck Room's furniture is from the home Daniel Verplanck grew up in. Daniel's childhood portrait by John Singleton Copley is also at the Met, and the view in the background is that of his family's home in Fishkill-on-Hudson. The walls and cornice of the room were taken from another house in the Hudson River Valley, so the portrait's background gives you an idea of what the view through the room's windows may have been like.
Posted by Ellen at 12/01/2011 11:07:00 AM
Flamingo Signage

Monday, October 27, 2014

New Craft Books

Craft Fail, when homemade goes horribly wrong by Heather Mann (2014) is a laugh-out-loud collection of pieces from crafter and blogger, Heather Mann who has immortalized those moments when the nifty little craft you saw on Pinterest and attempted to reproduce just turns into a lumpy blob, making you join the legions of crafters who realize, "I'm no Martha Stewart!"
Ms. Mann tells us that failure is all part of the learning process, an important part and a pretty funny one too as the examples in her book Craft Fail clearly show.

For examples of funny fails, take a look at her blog 'Craft Fail, where crafters go to fail' http://craftfail.com/
and be sure to check out her book for more laughs.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Browsing the New Non-Fiction Shelf

Working in a library presents constant temptation when new books come in or when browsing through the stacks and happening upon books that look too good to pass up. Like everyone else though, librarians and library staff can't read everything even though we work surrounded by thousands of books. Here are some interesting finds from the new non-fiction shelf today. Check them out and let me know how you like them. Be sure to come in and browse the new books sections for more tempting titles.
'The Hungry Family Slow Cooker Cookbook' by Christina Dymock. Fall seems like a good time of year to dust of the old crock pot (now called a slow cooker) and create some yummy stews, soups and even desserts. 641.5884 DYM 

'The Mom Inventors Handbook, how to turn your great idea into the next big thing' by Tamara Monosoff. Do you wake up at night with nifty ideas that you just know would sell if you just knew how to market it, get the copyright and so on? This is the book for  you. 658.1 MON

'Treat Petites, tiny sweets and savory pleasures' by Fiona Pearce. Teeny, tiny desserts, so small they barely count calorie-wise, right? The pictures in this little cookbook will make you hungry enough to either run to a bakery or whip up a batch of cute little cupcakes or meringues. 641.86 PEA

'I Just Graduated... Now What? Honest answers from those who have been there' by Kathrerine Schwarzenegger. 646.7 SCH For the perennial problem of what to do with a liberal arts degree as well as for any college graduate, celebrities offer stories from their own career experiences. I think parents should hand this kind of book to kids before they pick their major, but this advice may be better late than never.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

'Gone Girl' is back in demand at the library

In 2012 the library acquired many copies of Gillian Flynn's 2012 mega-bestseller 'Gone Girl' to keep up with demand. Topping the 'New York Times' bestseller list for months, in demand by bookgroups and readers of mysteries, we could barely keep up with the lengthy reserve lists for the book. Then demand quieted down for a year or so - until this week. The movie starring Ben Affleck will open tomorrow, the reviews are pretty good and the advertising and p.r. for the film are ubiquitous, so we brought the books up out of storage and put them on display. (Thanks to library staffer A-M S. for that idea:-) Library  patrons instantly checked out every single copy we own and the book is probably checked out at most public libraries and trending on book sales this week.
Our library book group read and discussed 'Gone Girl' a year ago in September and our imaginary blog correspondents, Marian the Librarian and Fleur the Frog wrote 'Gone Girl, the definitive review' in alternating parts to mimic the conflicting points of view of married couple Amy and Nick Dunne that Ms. Flynn uses in her book. In the review, Marian the Librarian presents a dark, obsessive point of view teetering into madness. Fleur the Frog presents a cheerful facade masking a dark side. Both Fleur and Marian frankly seem a bit unhinged, possibly from reading this book and possibly from identifying with the characters in the book a bit too much. To say that this book takes the idea of the unreliable narrator to extremes is an understatement. The twist at the end is worthy of Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith. The creepiness of the characters turns off a lot of readers, but the page-turning suspense will probably make you want to finish the book anyway.
Did the book group like 'Gone Girl?' Well, yes and no. The verdict: it is readable, entertaining, clever, and original, but the main characters are so loathsome that most book group readers found it all a bit unsettling. Still, I would recommend this book to most readers of fiction and mysteries. Just wait a few weeks until the movie is gone, and then the copies will all be back on the library shelves.
The 'Gone Girl' review from last year follows: thanks again to 'special' correspondents Marian and Fleur. We hope they are reading happier books and are recovering from their 'Gone Girl' experience.

Gone Girl: the definitive review

MARIAN THE LIBRARIAN
THE DAY OF THE BOOK GROUP MEETING

When I think of my book group, I always think about how many people will come to the meeting, how many will have read the book, did they like the book, should I have questions ready to ask about the book? The book group starts in 45 minutes. Where to start? I finally read the mega-bestselling thriller/mystery Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012) and I did not go into the reading with an open mind. People either love this book or hate it. The opinions I heard from patrons at the library and from friends and family and the reviews I read had already made me dread reading it. I don't like to read bestsellers; they sell themselves; I like to read literary orphans. I don't like dark books with twisted characters; I like sunny distractions, the book equivalent of a situation comedy on television.

FLEUR THE FROG
AUGUST 26, 2013
JOURNAL ENTRY

Tra and la! I am a happy frog blogger reading the nifty bestseller for the library book group. I am so happy I finally got my book from the holds list so I can see what all the excitement is about this huge bestseller. I put the book in my perfect little froggy book bag and went home to make a cup of green tea and sat down with great anticipation to read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Even though she's not a frog, I hear she's a really good writer. My parents are the famous authors of the 'Fantastic Fleur the Frog' series about the perfect little frog who always does the right thing. They based the books on me because I'm perfect and always cheerful and also I like to make up puzzles just like Fantastic Fleur does.
1. Do I pretend to like this book even if I don't?
2. Do I just read reviews and get back to my fun books that I want to read.
3. Do I read the book, take notes, write a review and ask questions from a list at the book group meeting?
Answer: I think you know that Fantastic Fleur will do #3, don't you? Don't you? You don't? Oh, I might have to punish you, dear reader.

MARIAN THE LIBRARIAN
THE EVENING OF THE BOOK GROUP DISCUSSION OF GONE GIRL

The clock on my computer says 6:56 PM so I have to finish my review before the group meets. I have read the book. I'm not sure I liked the book. The book was compulsively readable, but nasty. Oh, I feel so dirty. It drew me in, and I ate it up, but I hated the characters and the plot was so contrived and unbelievable at the end, but I kept reading anyway. I felt like putting it down and reading something fun like Alexander McCall Smith, something light and sunny and uncomplicated, not dark and twisted like Amy and Nick Dunne's story. But that would be cheating. On the book, turning my back on the book group. So I read it. I couldn't help myself. I loved this book, but I hate it too, I just don't know how to tell the truth about this book.

FLEUR THE FROG
AUGUST 29, 2013
JOURNAL ENTRY

I'm so fantastic. I finished the book in less than three days! Here's a quiz I made up about the book:
1. Do you hate Amy or Nick more?
2. Did you guess what the plot twist was?
3. Did you want to kill Amy more than Nick does?
4. Did you want to make as much money as that lawyer of Nicks?
Answer: all of the above!!! Duh.

MARIAN THE LIBRARIAN
ONE MONTH GONE SINCE I CHECKED OUT THIS BOOK

You can "Google" the title and find reviews and, as the vernacular saying goes, unless you've been living under a rock,  you know that this book is the story of a marriage, a failed marriage, between two really twisted people. On their fifth wedding anniversary Amy, the wife, disappears and soon after, Nick the husband is suspected of her murder. The book is told from the point of view of Nick alternating with Amy's journal entries chronicling the story of their marriage up until the day of her disappearance. The second part of the book, and here's the spoiler, is told from Amy in the present tense and continues with Nick's narration too.
Quiz:
1.Did you see the spoiler there?
2. Did you see it coming? I did.
3.Do you feel cheated, manipulated as a reader or
4. Do you just not care anymore.
Oh, wait, I'm Marian, not Fleur. Fleur's the character who makes up quizzes.  I think our characters are merging. Help I hate that frog, I love that frog, I am a frog.

Posted by Fleur: Fleur's other contributions to the blog
Posted by Marian the Librarian: Ms. Librarian's previous posts

Monday, September 15, 2014

Quality of Books Declining: not a new complaint

Whenever I hear that the quality of books is declining, I think of the essay by Washington Irving written over 200 years ago that posits that very complaint. It is not a new complaint at all. Is it even true?
Read excerpts of Irving's thoughts in this blog post 'The Mutability of Literature' from a year ago.
http://bhplnjbookgroup.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-mutability-of-literature.html

Take a look at the New York Times bestseller lists back to the 1950's on the Hawes Publications site, 

then take a look at this list of the Harvard Classics (which can all be downloaded free from this OpenCulture website.) The list of Harvard Classics volume by volume follows. (Courtesy of Wikipedia states the Open Culture website.) What do you think? Do the New York Times bestseller lists have anything to compare to the Harvard Classics?

Vol. 1: FRANKLIN, WOOLMAN, PENN
His Autobiography, by Benjamin Franklin
The Journal of John Woolman, by John Woolman (1774 and subsequent editions)
Fruits of Solitude, by William Penn
VoTexts in the Harvard Classics collection (courtesy of Wikipedia):
l. 2. PLATO, EPICTETUS, MARCUS AURELIUS
The Apology, Phaedo, and Crito, by Plato
The Golden Sayings, by Epictetus
The Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
Vol. 3. BACON, MILTON’S PROSE, THOS. BROWNE
Essays, Civil and Moral, and New Atlantis, by Francis Bacon
Areopagitica and Tractate of Education, by John Milton
Religio Medici, by Sir Thomas Browne
Vol. 4. COMPLETE POEMS IN ENGLISH, MILTON
Complete poems written in English, by John Milton
Vol. 5. ESSAYS AND ENGLISH TRAITS, EMERSON
Essays and English Traits, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Vol. 6. POEMS AND SONGS, BURNS
Poems and songs, by Robert Burns
Vol. 7. CONFESSIONS OF ST. AUGUSTINE, IMITATIONS OF CHRIST
The Confessions, by Saint Augustine
The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas á Kempis
Vol. 8. NINE GREEK DRAMAS
Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Furies, and Prometheus Bound, by Aeschylus
Oedipus the King and Antigone, by Sophocles
Hippolytus and The Bacchae, by Euripides
The Frogs, by Aristophanes
Vol. 9. LETTERS AND TREATISES OF CICERO AND PLINY
On Friendship, On Old Age, and letters, by Cicero
Letters, by Pliny the Younger
Vol. 10. WEALTH OF NATIONS, ADAM SMITH
The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith
Vol. 11. ORIGIN OF SPECIES, DARWIN
The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
Vol. 12. PLUTARCH’S LIVES
Lives, by Plutarch
Vol. 13. AENEID, VIRGIL
Aeneid, by Virgil
Vol. 14. DON QUIXOTE, PART 1, CERVANTES
Don Quixote, part 1, by Cervantes
Vol. 15. PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, DONNE & HERBERT, BUNYAN, WALTON
The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
The Lives of Donne and Herbert, by Izaak Walton
Vol. 16. THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS
Stories from the Thousand and One Nights
Vol. 17. FOLKLORE AND FABLE, AESOP, GRIMM, ANDERSON
Fables, by Aesop
Children’s and Household Tales, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Tales, by Hans Christian Andersen
Vol. 18. MODERN ENGLISH DRAMA
All for Love, by John Dryden
The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith
The Cenci, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon, by Robert Browning
Manfred, by Lord Byron
Vol. 19. FAUST, EGMONT, ETC. DOCTOR FAUSTUS, GOETHE, MARLOWE
Faust, part 1, Egmont, and Hermann and Dorothea, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Dr. Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe
Vol. 20. THE DIVINE COMEDY, DANTE
The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
Vol. 21. I PROMESSI SPOSI, MANZONI
I Promessi Sposi, by Alessandro Manzoni
Vol. 22. THE ODYSSEY, HOMER
The Odyssey, by Homer
Vol. 23. TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST, DANA
Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
Vol. 24. ON THE SUBLIME, FRENCH REVOLUTION, ETC., BURKE
On Taste, On the Sublime and Beautiful, Reflections on the French Revolution, and A Letter to a Noble Lord, by Edmund Burke
Vol. 25. AUTOBIOGRAPHY, ETC., ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES, J.S. MILL, T. CARLYLE
Autobiography and On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill
Characteristics, Inaugural Address at Edinburgh, and Sir Walter Scott, by Thomas Carlyle
Vol. 26. CONTINENTAL DRAMA
Life is a Dream, by Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Polyeucte, by Pierre Corneille
Phèdre, by Jean Racine
Tartuffe, by Molière
Minna von Barnhelm, by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
William Tell, by Friedrich von Schiller
Vol. 27. ENGLISH ESSAYS: SIDNEY TO MACAULAY
Vol. 28. ESSAYS: ENGLISH AND AMERICAN
Vol. 29. VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE, DARWIN
The Voyage of the Beagle, by Charles Darwin
Vol. 30. FARADAY, HELMHOLTZ, KELVIN, NEWCOMB, ETC
The Forces of Matter and The Chemical History of a Candle, by Michael Faraday
On the Conservation of Force and Ice and Glaciers, by Hermann von Helmholtz
The Wave Theory of Light and The Tides, by Lord Kelvin
The Extent of the Universe, by Simon Newcomb
Geographical Evolution, by Sir Archibald Geikie
Vol. 31. AUTOBIOGRAPHY, BENVENUTO CELLINI
The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini
Vol. 32. LITERARY AND PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS
Essays, by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
Montaigne and What is a Classic?, by Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
The Poetry of the Celtic Races, by Ernest Renan
The Education of the Human Race, by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, by Friedrich von Schiller
Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, by Immanuel Kant
Byron and Goethe, by Giuseppe Mazzini
Vol. 33. VOYAGES AND TRAVELS
An account of Egypt from The Histories, by Herodotus
Germany, by Tacitus
Sir Francis Drake Revived, by Philip Nichols
Sir Francis Drake’s Famous Voyage Round the World, by Francis Pretty
Drake’s Great Armada, by Captain Walter Bigges
Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s Voyage to Newfoundland, by Edward Haies
The Discovery of Guiana, by Sir Walter Raleigh
Vol. 34. FRENCH AND ENGLISH PHILOSOPHERS, DESCARTES, VOLTAIRE, ROUSSEAU, HOBBES
Discourse on Method, by René Descartes
Letters on the English, by Voltaire
On the Inequality among Mankind and Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar, by Jean Jacques Rousseau
Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes
Vol. 35. CHRONICLE AND ROMANCE, FROISSART, MALORY, HOLINSHEAD
Chronicles, by Jean Froissart
The Holy Grail, by Sir Thomas Malory
A Description of Elizabethan England, by William Harrison
Vol. 36. MACHIAVELLI, MORE, LUTHER
The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli
The Life of Sir Thomas More, by William Roper
Utopia, by Sir Thomas More
The Ninety-Five Theses, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, and On the Freedom of a Christian, by Martin Luther
Vol. 37. LOCKE, BERKELEY, HUME
Some Thoughts Concerning Education, by John Locke
Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists, by George Berkeley
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, by David Hume
Vol. 38. HARVEY, JENNER, LISTER, PASTEUR
The Oath of Hippocrates
Journeys in Diverse Places, by Ambroise Paré
On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, by William Harvey
The Three Original Publications on Vaccination Against Smallpox, by Edward Jenner
The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever, by Oliver Wendell Holmes
On the Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery, by Joseph Lister
Scientific papers, by Louis Pasteur
Scientific papers, by Charles Lyell
Vol. 39. FAMOUS PREFACES
Vol. 40. ENGLISH POETRY 1: CHAUCER TO GRAY
Vol. 41. ENGLISH POETRY 2: COLLINS TO FITZGERALD
Vol. 42. ENGLISH POETRY 3: TENNYSON TO WHITMAN
Vol. 43. AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS
Vol. 44. SACRED WRITINGS 1
Confucian: The sayings of Confucius
Hebrew: Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes
Christian I: Luke and Acts
Vol. 45. SACRED WRITINGS 2
Christian II: Corinthians I and II and hymns
Buddhist: Writings
Hindu: The Bhagavad-Gita
Mohammedan: Chapters from the Koran
Vol. 46. ELIZABETHAN DRAMA 1
Edward the Second, by Christopher Marlowe
Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, and The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
Vol. 47. ELIZABETHAN DRAMA 2
The Shoemaker’s Holiday, by Thomas Dekker
The Alchemist, by Ben Jonson
Philaster, by Beaumont and Fletcher
The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster
A New Way to Pay Old Debts, by Philip Massinger
Vol. 48. THOUGHTS AND MINOR WORKS, PASCAL
Thoughts, letters, and minor works, by Blaise Pascal
Vol. 49. EPIC AND SAGA
Beowulf
The Song of Roland
The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel
The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs
Vol. 50. INTRODUCTION, READER’S GUIDE, INDEXES
Vol. 51. LECTURES
The last volume contains sixty lectures introducing and summarizing the covered fields: history, poetry, natural science, philosophy, biography, prose fiction, criticism and the essay, education, political science, drama, travelogues, and religion.




Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Group Recommendations

Recommended Titles for Book Groups
with links to our reviews
Young Girl Reading by Fragonard (NGA)



The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin - historical fiction about Ann Morrow Lindbergh's life with Charles Lindbergh
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie - life during the Cultural Revolution in China for two wealthy boys being 're-educated' in the country.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak (fiction)
Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet  - memoir of a savant with synesthesia and Aspergers syndrome (non-fiction/memoir)
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - man accused of missing wife's murder, a psychological thriller (fiction)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (fiction/epistolary novel)
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (fiction)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (non-fiction)
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (fiction)
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (fiction)

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (fiction)
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (fiction)
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes (fiction)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (fiction/fantasy)
Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo (fiction)
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (non-fiction)
Someone by Alice McDermott (fiction)

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (fiction)
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (fiction)

The painting of a 'Young Girl Reading' by Jean-Honore Fragonard can be found at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC or on their website










Friday, August 29, 2014

Nike Missile Site in Berkeley Heights

One of our most popular blog posts and a recurring local history reference question concerns the Nike missile site in nearby Watchung Reservation. Ellen wrote about it here:

'Nike Missile Site

One of the library's perennial reference requests is information on the former Nike missile test site and air base in Watchung Reservation. "With its radar and command on the Berkeley Heights-Summit border and its launching pad in Mountainside, the station was one of 19 Nike AJAX missile bases that ringed New York City, standing ready to blast invading planes out of the sky", according to a Star-Ledger article from 5-28-2000. The Nike air base was in operation from 1958 to 1963 (according to this website).'

For the rest of the post, click here
or copy and paste this URL into your browser
http://bhplnjbookgroup.blogspot.com/2011/05/nike-missile-site.html

Friday, August 22, 2014

Revisiting the 'Merry Hall' trilogy by Beverley Nichols

This review of the first book in the Merry Hall Trilogy was first posted on this blog over four years ago on July 30, 2010.  Since then I have enjoyed the entire trilogy which the library now owns. The second title is 'Laughter on the Stairs' followed by 'Sunlight on the Lawn.'

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols

A few weeks ago, Nancy Pearl, a librarian famous for her ability to recommend the right book for the right person and also for being the model for the librarian action figure with real shushing action, tweeted that gardening/readers who like P.G. Wodehouse's books and E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia series might enjoy Beverley Nichols gardening trilogy starting with Merry Hall. In any case, I retweeted her tweet admitting that I fit that trifecta of reader interests. What this all leads to is that BHPL staff member, Mme. P.,  who follows our Twittering, offered to loan me Merry Hall, because the library does not own this 1951 memoir of British journalist Beverley Nichols.
Mr. Nichols' book tells the story of restoring the gardens of an old country house outside London just after World War II. His passion for gardens, bordering on obsession, crossing the border actually, is told with dry wit and some withering accounts of local ladies with whom he has gardening disputes. The book combines British wit with the memoir genre, gardening trivia, eccentric characters and rambling country house dreams.
A sample: "I wanted a house. And I wanted a Georgian house. And I wanted a garden of at least five acres. A garden which, for preference, should be wrecked and lost and despairing...I was in a rescuing mood..." (p. 20)
The author finds a house and it's the spectacular lilies that seal the deal. He must have those lilies. His friend tells him it's "lunacy" to buy the house, but his manservant Gaskin rises to the challenge of taking care of the mansion single-handedly. The gardener Oldfield conveys with the house along with his stubborn methods and gardening opinions and oddly inpenetrable accent, as is the stereotype for gardeners in English books. The neighbors are nosy and opinionated, especially Miss Emily and "Our Miss Rose" whose rivalry regarding decorating the church results in a comical confrontation during the Harvest Festival about whose flowers should adorn the altar.
These scenes of English village life recall Bertie Wooster's visits to his aunts' houses in the country, or Lord Blandings dithering about the pigsty whilst admiring the porcine Empress of Blandings.  I'm pretty sure the church decorating rivalry popped up in the Mapp and Lucia books, or if not, it's a familiar theme. So, Nancy Pearl was right: this is a good book for fans of those authors or for gardeners. Although nothing touches the Master, P.G. Wodehouse, in my pantheon of authors, for he truly loves his characters and never condescends. Nichols' humor is arch and a bit mean at times, so be forwarned. Since "snarky" is in style now, perhaps he is due for a revival.

Related links:
Read Mapp and Lucia online here http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0501131h.html
The Wodehouse Society website for fellow Plum fans http://www.wodehouse.org/
A list of gardening memoirs from GoodReads http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/gardening-memoirs

8/22/14 In memory of Mme. P.; many thanks for the book recommendations.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Very Unusual Visitor: Mother Mary Comes for One Week

This review was first posted on this blog on Friday, May 16, 2008

Our Lady of the Lost and Found

Last night my local book group discussed Our Lady of the Lost and Found: a novel of Mary, Faith and Friendship by Diane Schoemperlen. This was a book that I never would have read, maybe never even have heard of on my own. This shows that bookgroups can push you beyond your literary comfort zone, which, aside from the social aspects, is probably why they are so popular. Our Lady... took me into unfamiliar territory and really made me think, but it is a book that probably has narrow appeal.
The narrator is an author who wakes up one day to find a woman in a blue trenchcoat, sneakers, and a veil, carrying a large brown purse and pulling a small wheelie suitcase who introduces herself as Mary, you know, Mother of God, the BVM, Blessed of All Women etc etc, she explains rather slyly. She asks to stay for a week to rest up for the coming month of May. May is Mary's month and she is usually really busy then. The narrator of course says 'OK;' what else could she do? So this is the humorous premise. The book goes on to alternate the story of the developing friendship between the host and her very unusual 2000 year old house guest with chapters that Mary tells about some of the thousands of her miracles and apparitions over the centuries. Schoemperlen also weaves in rather difficult to understand musings about quantum physics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, theories of History and ideas about Faith versus Reason, the "thin places" between our real world and the spiritual world.
Anyway, the book was weird and thought provoking, sometimes frustratingly abstruse and I really would like to ask the author a few questions about how does quantum physics relate to Mary and religion etc? Some readers just don't like flashbacks, long digressions and historical narrations in books, so this would not be a good choice for them. But if you like a big dose of philosophy and rambling digressions, try this book, but don't expect it to be just a funny story of what if the Virgin Mary came to visit.
This is what Ms. Schoemperlen says about her book,
"The structure of Our Lady of the Lost and Found was determined by the material I wanted to include. At first I intended to write a simple novel about a woman who is visited by the Virgin Mary. But then I began to do the research and the more I learned about the historical apparitions of Mary, the more I realized that I had to find a way to include some of this material in the book. After many unsuccessful attempts, I settled on alternating chapters as it now stands: one chapter telling the story of this woman and Mary, the next giving some history of Mary and also delving into the other topics that arose, such as the Uncertainty Principle, the nature of recorded history, the thin places between fact and fiction, and so on. " from the author interview on the publishers website -
Publisher's website
Interview with the author
The Mary Page at the University of Dayton
http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/nov/10/what-is-heisenbergs-uncertainty-principle

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Display: dystopia

Check out a book with dystopian themes this month. Popular with teens these days, stories of scary, dysfunctional worlds is not a new literary theme. We have selected new books like the 'Hunger Games' series and classics like 'Animal Farm.'

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Day at the Reference Desk

Q: Does the library own a well-known university's alumni directory.
A: We do not own any alumni directories, but we can search the 'Reference USA' database for people in the U.S. and Canada and we can teach patrons how to access that database from their home computer or by using library computers. Go to our 'Databases and Articles' page, find 'Reference USA', type in your library barcode number when directed.

Q: Can we find an obituary in a local newspaper?
A:We will be glad to look through online databases of 'The Star Ledger' and 'The Independent Press' and other resources that we have at the library, or we can teach patrons how to access these databases so they can search them. See above for how to get to our 'Databases and Articles' webpage.

Q: Can you help me download an ebook to my device?
A:Yes, we can help you do that. The best way is to stop by with your tablet or smartphone, and be sure to have all your usernames and passwords handy. We will help you download ebooks or e-audiobooks to your iPad, Kindle, Nook or other portable electronic device. Go our our 'All Things E' webpage for a list of library ebook providers.

Q: Can you tell me the resale value of a certain car?
A:Yes, we have the so-called 'blue books' which are really orange and called the 'NADA Official Used Car Guide.'  Ask at the Reference Desk where we keep them or we can look up a car for you if you know the model and make and year.

Q:Where do wildfires occur the most, what is the cost of wildfires and who has lost the most from wildfires.
A:The National Interagency Fire Center has a page of statistics that we found helpful to answer these and other wildfire-related questions.

Q: How can I find which cookbook has the recipe I want?
A: We recommend the app 'Eat Your Books' which has indexed millions of recipes. You can even enter the ingredients you have and it will find recipes to match. You can enter the cookbooks you own and it will find the recipes in those cookbooks.

Q: If BHPL does not own the book I want, can you find it for me?
A: Yes, we can tell you which local library owns it by looking in their online catalog and/or we can request it on interlibrary loan.

Q: Do we have downloadable travel books?
A: Yes, we have some travel books available from eLibraryNJ.com and we also have a database called 'A- Z the USA' and 'A - Z World Travel' which has information for travelers.

Q: What are the latest audiobooks you have gotten at the library?
A: If you look on our Wowbrary list, you can find what audiobooks were acquired by the library in the last week and then click back week by week to see what was acquired in past weeks. You can also subscribe to wowbrary.com to get a weekly email of new library materials.
Dave Coverly cartoon http://www.speedbump.com/index.html          



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."
Or,
"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: 

CHAPTER ONE


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