Thursday, May 25, 2006

Summer Reading Lists

USA Today published an article today suggesting fun books to read this summer. Click on this link to look at the article. These links may stop working after a newspaper or other site takes them down to be replaced by newer articles, but the Reference Department will keep a printed copy at the desk if you are looking for it. The library also has access to USA Today and other newspapers, in full-text, from databases we subscribe to. (Click on "Remote Databases") These are available from library computers and from remote (your home) computers also.
Some titles reviewed in the article are:
The Ruins by Scott Smith
The Big Bam: the life and times of Babe Ruth by Leigh Montville
Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst
The Good Pig: the Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery
Telegraph Days by Larry McMurtry

Sunday, May 21, 2006

trolling the net for book news

Here's an interesting interview with Julia Cameron, author of the now classic inspirational book for artists, The Artist's Way. The interview with the author is by Jay MacDonald for BookPage, one of the online book sites I have bookmarked.
Another literary blog worth looking at is Critical Mass written by reviewers, writers, editors etc associated with the National Book Critics Circle.
These critics do the surfing and slogging through piles of books and websites to come up with the good stuff. For example: todays post by John Freeman mentions the book, How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years by Kaye Ballard. A great title, but I can't vouch for the book.
The NBCC blog led me to Words Without Borders online book groups which has a schedule of non-American authors to read and discuss over the next few months. The invitation or introduction to this new venture funded by the New York Council of the Humanities, says,
"As beach season approaches, are all your friends reading the Da Vinci Code rather than Dubravka Ugresic? Tired of the same six titles on display at the store and want some recommendations on what to read next? Looking for a few, cool people to talk about the newest titles from the international scene? If so, join in the Words without Borders book clubs starting May 15, 2006."
Critical Mass also leads to a Washing
ton Post interview with mystery writer Donna Leon.
If you enjoy Leon's books based in Venice, you will be interested in this. If you don't read her books and are looking for a good mystery series set in an interesting locale, you might want to give these a try.
Here is a link to a website that lists all the books that are available free on the internet in full text. Here is the description of the site:
"The Online Books Page is a website that facilitates access to books that are freely readable over the Internet. It also aims to encourage the development of such online books, for the benefit and edification of all."

"The Online Books Page was founded, and is edited, by John Mark Ockerbloom, He is a digital library planner and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. He is solely responsible for the content of the site."
All of the books listed on the site have either copyright permission to do so or are in the public domain. Most people probably don't want to read a book on their computer, but with a little techno-savvy, the books could
be loaded to a PDA (I guess.)
And finally for today, a link to a site that has nothing to do with books that I found in my bookmarks, Japanese(initially called Chinese) Watermelon carving. Just click and take a look, it's unbelievable what can be done to a melon, isn't it?

Friday, May 19, 2006

John Stossel Gets Out the Shovel Again in his New Book

In reporter John Stossel's newest book, Myths, lies, and downright stupidity - why everything you know is wrong, the 20/20 correspondent continues his crusade to debunk various consumer, political, health and other news stories. On his website there are links to some of his reports that are also featured in the book. For example in his piece, Is Bottled Water Better than Tap? he discusses studies that show that bottled water is not safer than tap water. Blind taste tests also show that people generally cannot tell one brand of bottled water from another, or even from tap water. He also points out that bottled water is very expensive. This is one of his better pieces and it is fairly well documented.
Many of his pieces seem to fall into the same hyperbolic and hysterical style as the people whose views he is out to disprove, in my opinion. It would have been better if the book had covered fewer issues more fully: give more facts, figures, statistics and interviews with experts. Again, in that sense, he seems as guilty of simplistic thinking as the mythmakers he calls stupid.
For further exploration into the world of professional skeptics, try the website of the magazine Skeptic or the Skeptic's Dictionary website. But remember, we have to be skeptical about skeptics too. Here again, a plug for librarians and library research. Libraries strive to provide accurate information and have no ax to grind or profit motive to turn them from that path. Try the Librarians Index to the Internet to guide you to Websites You Can Trust.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

the DaVinci Code: the movie opens

The DaVinci Code movie just opened to tepid reviews. Take a look at Claudia Puig's review in today's USA Today, in which she writes,
"The script additions are pedestrian and unintentionally comical. In the midst of searching for clues, Langdon announces: "I need a library. Fast!" (My emphasis.)
Yes, it's comical and clunky, but as a librarian, I'll take any recognition our profession can get. Librarianship is kind of the Rodney Dangerfield of professions. While we might get more respect than Rodney, we still feel overlooked and misunderstood a lot of the time. Pet peeve watch: when people need to find information, do they call the Reference Desk of their friendly local library? No they don't usually do that, research tells us. More commonly people ask a family member, friend or random person who is not in any way an expert or information professional (meaning trained to find accurate answers through research.) Expedience often trumps actual research for most people when looking for answers.
In a recent post, we listed some DaVinci Code read-a-likes. We came up with this list by using actual research methods. Although you could ask your friends what to read, or "google" it, you could also ask a librarian. We would love to help.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

DVD, CD, Video and Audiobook Sale at the BHPL Library

The library will have a sale of DVD's, videos, CD's and audiobooks on the following dates:
Friday, June 9 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Saturday, June 10 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Sunday, June 11 from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Proceeds from the sale will go towards the purchase of audiovisual materials for the library.
Directions to the library.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Martha, Gloria and Walter the Dogs: Go to the Dogs with Books

Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh, first in the hysterically funny picture book series about the dog who realizes she can speak after eating a can of alphabet soup. Putting this new found skill to good use, she orders lots of meat by phone from the unsuspecting butcher and generally drives her human family nuts with her non-stop chattering. I don't know if this is what's called a "high concept" book, but the series more than lives up to the goofy premise about why Martha can talk and what she does now that she can.
Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann, a Caldecott Award winning book about the policeman who lectures to grade schools and bores his audience to sleep until his dog Gloria comes along and steals the show by mugging upstage from him. The pictures are a riot.
Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle, is the first in a series about a, you guessed it, flatulent dog. While the premise here bothers a lot of people, if your humor runs to the juvenile or slightly "potty", the books are quite funny and Walter is very endearing despite his unfortunately odiferous handicap. Since the Captain Underpants series is such a hit with the grade school set, this type of topic is generally considered roll-on-the-floor funny for most children, so get over your squeamishness and give Walter a chance. He means well. And if you can give Peppy La Pew a break, well really, what's the difference?
Dear Mrs. LaRue, letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague. This dog detective also outsmarts his human owners in the noir-ish send-up where the humor comes from the contrast between what personal misfortunes the dog writes to tell his owner and the actual posh circumstances of his time at the dog obedience school where he has been sent for remediation.(This might qualify for a boarding school memoir mentioned in a previous blog.)
Three Stories You Can Read to Your Dog by Sara Swan Miller. Seriously, or rather, not seriously, library programs promote literacy by having children read to visiting dogs, who are evidently not as scary and judgemental as reading teachers and other human tutors or parents.

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate diCamillo, made into a very sweet movie of the same name, is a terrific, Newbery Award winning book about a dog who smiles when he belches, and if that's not cute enough, generally wins over a whole town while changing a girl and her father's life for the better. It may sound maudlin in that little recap, but it's a beautiful and beautifully told tale.

Dogs and cats share billing, Joan Lowell Smith's Concerning Animals column in the Sunday Star Ledger, May 14, 2006 reviews The Gift of Nothing by New Jersey's own animal rights cartoonist, Patrick McDonnell; Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda; Once I Ate a Pie by Patricia and Emily MacLachlan; Bark and Ride by Mark J. Asher, among several others.

If You Liked the Movie, try the book: Chocolat by Joanne Harris

I just finished Joanne Harris' Chocolat on which the 2000 movie of the same name was based. I would definitely recommend both the book and the movie. The movie changed some very basic plot points though. In the book, the village priest, not the mayor, is the candymaker Vianne's nemesis. In fact there is no mayor character at all in the book, plus the ending is very different, but I won't give it away here. Nevertheless, the movie did capture the magical feel of the book, the atmosphere of a small French village and the personalities of various villagers. The picture here is of the village of Gordes, in Provence, France, which is how I imagine the village in Chocolat. It is in the mountains of the Luberon, made famous in Peter Mayle's charming and very funny books about his life in Provence. If you like to "travel" by looking through coffee table books, try the Most Beautiful Villages in Provence which Summit Public Library owns, but not BHPL. Your Berkeley Heights Library card can be used at Summit and dozens of other area libraries. The book includes Gordes as well as Roussillon, another of les plus beaux villages de France. The book is part of a series called the Most Beautiful Villages of....(fill in the blank here) various countries.
Books of interest if you liked Chocolat are: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquival, Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun, (both made into very picturesque movies),
Across the Bridge of Sighs, more Venetian Stories by Jane Turner Rylands, The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

what else you can do with books and libraries?

Take a look at these articles in Publisher's Weekly's March 15, 2006 edition: a brief article about "Lib-Dating" and one about the "Book Bar." Libraries have many challenges in these days of the internet, one is to get young people to leave the comfort of their homes and computers and actually enter the library, perhaps to take out a book or go to a program. Another problem, which predates computers, is what to do with books that are out-of-date, no longer current, take up space that is needed for new books or which are just plain worn out? Hence the book bar and the library date.
Here's another interesting idea from Glasgow's public libraries: Healthy Reading. Doctors and libraries have a joint program where a doctor can "prescribe" a book for a patient to check out from the library to find out more about common mental health conditions such as stress, alcoholism or other addiction, eating disorders and so on. The library website says:
"How the Healthy Reading Scheme works
If your doctor has decided that you suffer from stress or have other emotional problems, they might prescribe medication or refer you to another health professional. This scheme gives your GP another option. If your doctor decides that a book may be helpful for you, they will give you a prescription for the book that they think is most likely to help. You can then take your prescription to your nearest library where you can borrow the book."

Local physicians have picked a list of books with current health information. The service is confidential of course. All transactions between librarians and patrons are never divulged to anyone, just as lawyers, priests and doctors have professional confidentiality with their patients, clients etc.
see the NJ Statutes Annotated for that law:
N.J.S.A.18A:73-43.2. Confidentiality of library users' records
Library records which contain the names or other personally identifying details regarding the users of libraries are confidential and shall not be disclosed except in the following circumstances:
a. The records are necessary for the proper operation of the library;b. Disclosure is requested by the user; orc. Disclosure is required pursuant to a subpena issued by a court or court order.
L.1985, c. 172, § 2.

At BHPL, we do not have the "Healthy Reading" program like the Scottish program, but at the Reference Desk we do help many patrons find information on their health concerns. We use our reference book collection, the circulating collection and the internet. Our favorite internet medical site is which is run by the National Institutes of Health in conjunction with the National Library of Medicine.

Dog stories: Marley and Me

I just finished the bestseller Marley and Me: life and love with the world's worst dog by John Grogan. The Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, Grogan , tells the story of his crazy yellow labrador retriever, Marley, and tells it in a way that even non-dog people will enjoy. But for dog people, especially anyone who has had a crazy dog, (are those two categories synonymous?) it will really resonate. Throughout the book, Grogan is sure that Marley is the "world's worst dog," as it says in the subtitle, but when he writes a column for the Inquirer after Marley dies (yes, it is another dead dog book, but read it anyway) he gets hundreds of emails, calls and letters from dog owners assuring him that their dog was as nutty or worse. At this point if any non-dog lover is reading this and asking that un-dog lover question: why do you put up with these hairy, smelly, dirty, disobedient, house-destroying, totally wacked-out animals and even let them on the furniture and in your beds? I can only say, read the book; you will find the answers to that and many other questions about the meaning of life that can only be learned from dogs and maybe from dog-lovers who can write well like John Grogan.
Here is my dog, Addie , who was featured in a recent post on this blog. Addie is pretty sure she is not as nutty as Marley was, but that's just her opinion.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Prep School Memoirs

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the more recent in a long line of books based in a "prep" or boarding school. Similar coming of age stories include:
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Both novels are often assigned for high school English classes (which can ruin the experience of reading any book I've always thought.)
There are also the true prep school stories, biographies or memoirs like Stand Before Your God: an American Schoolboy in England by Paul Watkins (1995), Old School by Tobias Wolff (2003), and Black Ice by Lorene Cary. These and many other such books explore the idea of the outsider's experience which is made more painful by being an adolescent.
From the teacher's perspective there is the classic, if sentimental and dated, Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton. Even the Harry Potter series could be considered part of this (sub)genre.
A subject search of the catalog using the phrase "preparatory school students - fiction" or "boarding schools - fiction" yielded Limony Snicket's Austere Academy, The Little Princess by Frances Hodgkins Burnett, The Finishing School by Michelle Martinez (2006) and The Headmaster's Wife by Jane Haddam (2005) among others. Clearly there is an enduring interest in private school life. Often the portrait painted of those schools is anywhere from horrific and brutal to, at best, bittersweet and poignant. The students who attended the schools often seem to have mixed feelings and conflicted memories, those people who didn't enjoy/endure this form of education wonder what they missed.
Have you noticed that the word of the last week is schadenfreude? "The enjoyment obtained from the mishaps of others,"(Webster's Third) which is used lately in connection with the Opal Mehta plagiarism story, but is now popping up everywhere in that virus-like way that ideas/phrases/words have on the internet and blogs (discussed in this blog entry, the L-Magazine noticed this word-overuse first apparently.)
What got me thinking about all this was my high school reunion last weekend. One topic of this reunion was the book that one of our classmates wrote about our girls boarding school and specifically about our class at "Brangwyn." Not a pretty picture was given in the Moth Diaries, a gothic story of vampires, petty jealousies and lust, drugs and rock and roll at an "elite" (aren't they always?) boarding school on the Philadelphia Main Line. In the book, Lucy dies (am I giving too much away here?) after being bitten by a vampire -cum-boarder and another girl dies by falling off the gutters of the Victorian residence where the boarders live. Did this provide a literary schadenfreude for the author? Schadenfreude as literary revenge? What e v err! as todays teens would say.

College Guides - Hysteria in the Stacks

Peterson's, ARCO, Fiske, College Board, U.S. News: all these publishers have college guides. The library keeps the most recently published version on the reference shelves; the older copies in the stacks circulate for twenty-eight days. (Dewey # 378.) There are also books about scholarships, writing essays, and studying for the SAT's, AP's and other tests. A subject search using the terms "colleges and universities" yielded 224 "hits" in the BHPL catalog. As if there isn't enough stress and hysteria for parents of high school seniors and the seniors themselves, even the library has "TOO MUCH INFORMATION!" But wait, that's not all: every university has a website and the internet in general is teeming with college information. What's a parent/senior to do? Take a deep breath and ask your friendly reference librarian to guide you through the muddle of college publications.
College directories: The Insider's Guide to Colleges 2006, students on campus tell you what you really want to know, compiled and edited by the staff of the Yale Daily News. This is the guide that is "written by students for students" as the book jacket tells us. It has statistics and quotes from students who attend the university as well as some quirky lists like "Top Ten Schools with the Rowdiest Parties." (Unfortunately my own offsprings' university is on that one, I just realized.)
U.S. News- America's Best Colleges ranks 1,400 schools.Like most of the other college directories, there are sections on the application process, scholarship information, and advice for the parents and student on everything from decorating your dorm room to health concerns and so on. There is a pullout (please don't pull out the library one though) calendar from freshman year of highschool through senior year that details what to do when. In this way, college anxiety can be spread over four years instead of just one or two. Isn't that helpful?
There are specialized college guides like The Hidden Ivies, Thirty Colleges of Excellence and Colleges that Change Lives, 40 schools you should know about even if you're not a straight-A student. There are guides to individual colleges like the new College Prowler series which features student opinions.
Next are books on how to get into college like Peterson's Best College Admission Essays and many others along those lines. Then there are the books that prepare parents and students for life after leaving home like, A Parent's Guide to Sex, Drugs and Flunking Out and Getting Ready for College, everything you need to know before you go from bike locks to health care. (Just researching for this article is giving me flashbacks to the "college process" in my household not long ago.)
But we end with the part of this whole adventure that really makes the stressometer go off the scale: financial aid! Again there are piles of books about this topic. How to Go to College Almost for Free was written by Ben Kaplan, a young man who made it his mission to find every financial aid dollar available to him and then topped that feat off by writing a book about it. Don't you just hate it when that happens?
Here are some online guides to websites that are helpful:
A "Pathfinder" for higher education from the Camden County Library System website which lists books and websites for the college bound. Here is another Pathfinder for financial aid from CCLS. BHPL does not have all the same books as Camden, but we do have a lot, and of course the websites are available to anyone.
Good luck, future collegians, and remember, if you want to earn money for college while enhancing your chances for admission, consider writing a college guide with some kind of original gimmick - everyone else on the planet seems to be writing college guides, why not you? Just remember, don't plagiarize.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Exhibits of Children's Book Illustrators

MSNBC reports that the Rhode Island School of Design Museum has created an exhibit with a real room just like the "great green room" in the classic picture book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown with pictures by Clement Hurd.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art currently features and exhibit of Dutch picture book artists and an exhibit of Leo Leonni and Eric Carle's art.
At Rutgers University, the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum features children's book illustrator Petra Mathers until July 16 (2006.)

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

"Novel Twists" a collaborative book

From the Glasgow Herald yesterday comes this piece about a new novel written as a collaborative effort. The right to write each page is auctioned on E-Bay for one cent. Phil MacArthur of Argyll, Scotland, came up with this unique approach to creating a novel. So far ten pages have been written. If you are interested in contributing, go to Phil's website and read through his FAQ's.

Monday, May 1, 2006

The Da Vinci Code Read-a-Likes:

BHPL's own Reference Department Assistant, Linda, has suggested that the following book will interest fans of the DaVinci Code, The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley (c.1996)
Publishing books that have religion and mystery themes combined has become a whole subset of publishing lately, a new genre. This month's book display features books that will be enjoyed by fans of The DaVinci Code. Some "read-a-likes" are:
The Sixth Lamentation by William Broderick
The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
Genesis Code by John Case
Kissed a Sad Goodbye by Deborah Crombie
The Darwin Conspiracy by John Darnton, reviewed in this blog in February
Geographer's Library by Jon Fasman
Mary, Called Magdalen by Margaret George
Enigma by Robert Harris
These are just a few of the books on display and the Reference Department has a list of many more read-a-like titles.

If you click on each title above, the hyperlink will take you to a review of the book. There are many review sources on the internet, some more objective than others. I linked some titles to the publisher or author's website, some to book review blogs or journals, some to online bookstores to show the variety of opinions on the internet. Here is an interesting article from Rebecca Skloot of Critical Mass, the new book blog of the National Book Critics Circle. She refers to an article in the Boston Globe in which Scott Kirsner notes that, "Have you noticed how many no-name critics are suddenly serving up pithy opinions about movies, books, music, and video games on the Net?" He wonders if professional book critics may be replaced by bloggers and other amateurs. I think there is room for all of us, professional and amateur, because there is so much readily available information to sift through these days that we need all the help we can get.