Thursday, March 29, 2007

Books in the News: Harry Potter and the Road

The cover of the last Harry Potter book was revealed today. The Associated Press reports today, "What picture shows a dramatic gold and orange sky and a teenage boy in glasses reaching upward?
It's the cover to the seventh and final Harry Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," coming out July 21. As always, the cover was designed by illustrator Mary GrandPre, U.S. publisher Scholastic, Inc., announced Wednesday."
The covers in the U.K. wil be different according to Reuters.
Oprah announced that her book club will be reading the Road by Cormac McCarthy. According to the AP, "Don't expect a lot of sunshine in Oprah Winfrey's latest book club pick. Publishing's leading hit-maker has chosen Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," a bleak, apocalyptic novel by an author who rarely talks to the media."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What's New on the Literary Blogs

Inspired (or possibly exasperated) by the new book, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books by J. Peder Zane (Editor), The Millions, a blog about books, posts about top ten book lists: Top Tens, Their Silliness, Their Allure.
I think I heard somewhere that Americans like lists, compared to who, I don't know. If you "google" the phrase "top ten lists," millions of hits come up. Googling may not be a meaningful research method however, because if you google "jitterbug hamsters," just to pick a random nonsense phrase, 40,000 hits come up. There is no denying that lists are fun, addictive and marketable though, maybe not to everyone, maybe mostly to Americans, but without a doubt lists are out there on every subject imaginable. Probably even lists of hamsters who blog or jitterbug. Oh, nevermind.
Next! Speaking of book lists, Critical Mass posts Lizzie Skurnick's Top Five For Spring which is part of a series of posts labeled "What are you looking forward to reading?" The professional reviewers who are members of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors who contribute to this blog share what 2007 books they plan to read.
Lizzie Skurnick writes, "Christopher Buckley, Boomsday: We recently realized--and we're ashamed to admit--we have always stayed away from Christopher Buckley because of some latent association with William F. Buckley, Jr. We're sorry! And we want to see if he's America's answer to David Lodge." Always on the lookout for really funny humor writing, I've been looking forward to that book too. I read that Buckley, fils, admires P.G. Wodehouse, so that puts him up several notches in my estimation.
Finally, the literary blogosphere brings us Memoir Week at Slate. Starting with The Woman Warrior at 30, columnist Jess Row writes, "Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts was published 30 years ago last fall, at a time when Chinese-Americans evoked few associations in the American consciousness other than laundry, chop suey, and Bruce Lee."

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Deaf History Month, March 13 - April 15

"Many of you already know about the PBS film documentary "Through Deaf Eyes" showing (today) Wednesday, March 21 at 9:00 ET (check local listing) but there may be others who do not know. So please help spread the word @ your library. As quoted in ROLL COLL, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, March 13, 2007 : Filmmakers say this documentary is the first comprehensive film on deaf history. Karen Kenton, the film's executive producer, said "We wanted to broaden people's concept of what is normal." "There's (not just) one way of being deaf." The film tells a variety of stories and touches some of the most fundamental issues, facing the deaf community, including how technology contributed to social change for deaf people and the arguments on how deaf children should be educated. "

from: Friends of Libraries for Deaf Action

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hard to Finish Books

This Associated Press piece reports on a British poll about books people found difficult to finish.
"Bestsellers by Bill Clinton, J.K. Rowling and David Beckham are among the books Britons find hardest to finish reading, according to a survey published Monday.
Although the average reader spends more than 4,000 pounds (5,890 euros, 7,760 dollars) on books in their lifetime, 55 percent admit they buy them for decoration and have no intention of reading them."

There are a few implications of this poll. The first one that comes to the mind of this library blogger is that the poll results argue for borrowing books from a library so that money is not wasted on an unfinishable book.

The second thing that came to mind is an article from the Star Ledger recently which profiled two young New Jerseyans who have started a book rental service called BookSwim. BookSwim is just starting up and aims to be the bookish equivalent of NetFlix. It will offer a rental subscription service that mails books to BookSwim members for a monthly fee.
LibraryStuff blog interviewed one of the BookSwim owners on his blog March 1st and Tame the Web blog also took note of this new business.
Whether libraries should feel threatened by this kind of service seems to be the recurring theme of the articles about BookSwim. Does a books by paid subscription service directly compete with libraries? On a quick review, it seems as though the answer to that is a qualified, "no" probably not too much. Although a quick google search for "BookSwim" turns up a lot of library blogs discussing this new development, so it is getting librarians attention and stirring up a fair amount of discussion.

Johns Hopkins Has the Best "Search Engines"

This 2004 piece from the Hopkins Gazette by University President William R. Brody is a nice tribute to librarians. Trying to think of finding a new and marketable search engine, Brody writes,

"Then the light went on! Full of Google-envy, I suddenly realized that we already have the ultimate information search engine right here at Johns Hopkins. It's one that is readily accessible and highly trusted. And it can be used to locate important references from credible sources, without getting a lot of extraneous garbage. Just think of what this Hopkins search engine would command on the NASDAQ market.
Therefore, any day now, two prominent New York investment banks will announce the initial public offering for, the newest and most powerful search engine yet — better than Google, Yahoo, MSN and AskJeeves by a long shot. Already traders have lined up across the world to purchase shares. Why this excitement? It's all in the discernment. What is so great about is that when you perform a search, say on "16th-century weapons of mass destruction," you will get only one or two dozen references — the ones that are really meaningful and helpful — rather than the 50,700 that came up in the Google search I tried.
What is this great technology, you ask? Well, JHUSL stands for the Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries. You see, our library has the most effective search engines yet invented — librarians who are highly skilled at ferreting out the uniquely useful references that you need. Rather than commercializing the library collections, why not export to the public market the most meaningful core of Hopkins' intellectual property — the ability to turn raw information into useful knowledge.

I hope by now you realize that any talk of taking our library public is simply to emphasize the point missing in all this Google mania: Massive information overload is placing librarians in an ever more important role as human search engines. They are trained and gifted at ferreting out and vetting the key resource material when you need it. Today's technology is spectacular — but it can't always trump a skilled human.
Have you hugged your librarian today?"

(Emphasis in bold added by this blogger.) O.K., hugs not necessary, just support your local libraries. Thanks.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

The Dublin City Library's website has a page on Irish writers as well as a Dublin and Irish collection. To trace Irish genealogy, try this link for Family History Research.
Read the Irish Times to get the Irish perspective of the world and the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin. Here is the story of St. Patrick, separating fact from myth.
The Aran Islands, photo by Sarah Lycan

Monday, March 12, 2007

Steve Minzer Quintet will play at library Friday night

The Steve Minzer Quintet will play at the Berkeley Heights Public Library on Friday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m.

featuring: Steve Minzer on keyboard, Vin Maiolo on bass, Bob Miller on sax, Jeff Pecca on guitar, and Mitch Germansky on drums.

Admission is free.
For more information call

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Free Books Online

If you like to own books and share them, try this paperback sharing site: Paperback Swap. Members lists and mail books to each other for free. The mailing person pays the postage and gets "points" in exchange. Here is the explanation for how the site works:

"List at least 9 or more books in the system to become an active member and receive 3 free credits to get you started trading. List as many books as possible to be more successful in trading.
Browse our online list of books posted by club members, and use your credits to order books.
Selected books are delivered right to your mailbox, for free!
When other members order books that you’ve listed, you mail them from your mailbox and you pay the postage (usually $1.59).
You get one credit (good for one book) for every book you mail when it is received by the club member who requested it.
List as many books as you like. The more books you mail to other members, the more credits you'll receive. "

The Namesake: movie opens this weekend

The Namesake, the movie based on Jhumpa Lahiri's novel about Indian immigrants opens this weekend. This was a terrific book that my bookgroup just finished and was universally enjoyed by all group members. BookReporter offers a review and a reading group guide of the book.

Artists' Showcase at the Mountainside Library

Tomorrow, Sunday, March 11 from noon to 4:00 PM, the Mountainside Public Library will be hosting the second Artists' Showcase, "A special one-day exhibit and sale of fine art created by local artists."

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Books in the Bookbag

Books in bookbags and backpacks, stuffed in a purse, piled on the coffee table or bedside table, waiting on the kitchen counter to be returned to the library, stuffed sideways on bookshelves waiting to be read: wherever you keep the books that buffer you from the possibility of being bookless when you finish the one you are reading might be the bibliophilic (word?) equivalent of keeping milk and bread on hand in case of a snowstorm.
BHPL has uncataloged paperbacks which patrons borrow without actually checking them out so there is no due date. When finished, return the book or another paperback of your own. Think of these books as security blankets which can be kept on hand without worrying about due dates. Turn to them if your current pile of checked out books prove to be duds and snow has shut down all the roads to the library. (BHPL rarely closes for snow, though.)
Lately, I've found another kind of bookish security blanket: books of very short short-stories, which is called either "sudden" fiction or "flash" fiction. Stuffed in the necessarily largish reticule (as S.J. Perelman would have said) is New sudden fiction : short-short stories from America and beyond / edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas. One story told in just five pages tells the surreal tale of a bank clerk who covets a red fox fur coat, really obsesses on this coat, puts a downpayment on it and suddenly becoming athletic, starts to run in the forest, develops an accute sense of smell, craves bloody can see where this is going. It was kind of Twilight Zone-ish in mood. Like most of the stories in the collection, it was beautifully written and the story and character fully developed, but in a very short format. This makes the stories perfect for any odd moment, standing in line, waiting for an appointment and so on. No need to be at the mercy of ten year old Field and Stream magazines in your doctor's waiting room.
Even shorter than sudden fiction is "flash" fiction, some of that is included in the anthology: The best American nonrequired reading 2006 / edited by Dave Eggers ; introduction by Matt Groening. Here is part of the table of contents:

Introduction Matt Groening
Best American Fake Headlines from The Onion
Best American Daily Show Exchange on the Anniversary of Watergate from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Best American Ringing Defeat of Religion Masquerading as Science from Kitzmiller v. Dover
Best American Answers to the Question "What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?" from The Edge Foundation
Best American Excerpt from a Military Blog from A Soldier's Thoughts
Best American Epigraph Wherein a Contemporary Writer Quotes a Great Writer Who Died in 2005 from Saturday Ian McEwan
Best American First Sentences of Novels of 2005
Best American New Words and Phrases from The Oxford Dictionary of English, Revised Second Edition
Best American New Band Names
Best American Things to Know about Chuck Norris from Chuck Norris Facts
Best American Things to Know about Hoboes from The Areas of My Expertise


Book excerpts, reviews, tables of contents and annotations are available from the BHPL catalog by clicking on the links in the catalog record, a handy feature to know about.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Born on a Blue Day, book review

Born on a Blue Day, a memoir by Daniel Tammet

Daniel Tammet, now in his late twenties, has written a memoir of his life - full of challenges, great gifts and unusual disabilities. He has savant syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome and synesthesia, a very rare combination of neurological/developmental characteristics. As Mr. Tammet points out, savant syndrome became well-known after the release of the movie Rain Man featuring Dustin Hoffman as a savant. Like the movie character, the author has preternatural mathematical abilities. He explains that Asperger’s syndrome is a mild form of autism which affects his ability to interact and communicate with people, but as an adult he has learned to function quite well in the world and doesn’t feel the severe sense of isolation that he did as a child. Synesthesia occurs when people experience numbers and letters as having distinct colors, sounds, feelings or other attributes.

“There are moments, as I’m falling into sleep at night, that my mind fills suddenly with bright light and all I can see are numbers ­­– hundreds, thousands of them – swimming rapidly over my eyes. The experience is beautiful and soothing to me.” (p. 9)

In that passage and throughout the book the author eloquently describes what it feels like to live with his unusual combination of abilities and impairments. As such, he is a treasure trove of information for brain researchers. He has participated in scientific studies, written this book and made himself available publicly because he feels that it will lead to an understanding of disabilities on the autism spectrum and also to acceptance and tolerance of people who are different in any way. But the book is in no way preachy about disabilities; the chapters about his childhood and the challenges his parents faced raising him tell of the frustration and isolation that he felt and the stress felt by his family at times.
In something of an understatement, the author tells about his collection of bags and bags of chestnuts and the hours he spent collecting, sorting and counting them:

“One of the greatest sources of frustration for my parents was my obsessive collecting of different things…” (p.60) There were so many chestnuts in his room that his parents thought the weight might actually cause a cave-in of the floor so they moved them outside, still allowing Daniel to play with them until he lost interest and moved on to his next obsession.
The book provides a unique inside look at a person who has a very different way of looking at the world and yet is always striving to connect with the world, to strengthen his relationships, and to use his unique abilities to their best purpose. His writing style is clear, spare and succinct. He explains his literal reactions to events, his anxieties, rituals and compulsions quite candidly. He is honest and has no subterfuge or false modesty. He has a very realistic view of himself and comes across altogether as a person who would not only be fascinating to meet, but also as a basically good person.
Daniel Tammet, who speaks many languages fluently and learned Icelandic in less than a week, has an online business that sells language-learning software that he designs at
and an accompanying blog for those interested in learning more about the author.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys memoirs, has an interest in disabilities of any kind, autism in particular. It would be of interest to teen readers and parents of autistic children. If you like this book, you might also like the fictional The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, a murder mystery told from the point of view of an autistic teenager, and A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Maas, the story of a teenager with synesthesia coming to terms with her gift. Daniel Tammet also makes reference to the writings of neurologist Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) and of Temple Grandin, an animal behaviorist with Asperger’s syndrome.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Happy Birthday Cat in the Hat

He's always a mischievous kid at heart but, The Cat in the Hat turned fifty recently and was feted nationwide. To join in the fun, kids can send the Cat a birthday card from this Seussville site. Or consider a visit to the Dr. Seuss Memorial Garden in Springfield, MA, the author's birthplace.
According to the biography on the Cat in the Hat website:
"The Cat in the Hat, perhaps the defining book of Ted's career, developed as part of a unique joint venture between Houghton Mifflin (Vanguard Press) and Random House. Houghton Mifflin asked Ted to write and illustrate a children's primer using only 225 "new-reader" vocabulary words. Because he was under contract to Random House, Random House obtained the trade publication rights, and Houghton Mifflin kept the school rights. With the release of The Cat in the Hat, Ted became the definitive children's book author and illustrator."

The Dick and Jane readers that were commonly used at the time were lifeless and boring and so Dr. Seuss's rhyming, rollicking story of the subversive feline was a breath of fresh air in the world of children's books.

Library Blog Banned in China

Brenda Coulter writes today in her blog, No Rules, Just Write, that her blog is blocked in China and gives a link to a website that checks URL's to see if China has blocked it. It's kind of fun to plug various URL's into the Great Firewall of China's test page to see what's considered subversive enough to be banned in China. As Ms. Coulter points out though , there are more serious issues to consider here, namely the right to free speech and free access to information which is of paramount importance in a democracy like the USA.
And yes, this blog is blocked in China. Go figure.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Whaaa? Radio Host Judi Franco Hates Libraries!

Poor Judi Franco, a talk-show radio host on 101.5 in New Jersey who was brought to my attention for the first time by an inter-librarian listserv alerting us that Ms. Franco had "dissed" libraries on her show yesterday. She suggested that it is just easier to go buy a book instead of going to the library. Here is the response to that from the Live Journal of EELNJ. The d.j. may never read that blog or this one, but she will probably be barraged by emails from librarians statewide. We librarians have our secret societies (covens?) that enable us to pounce when threatened by these pronouncements of our obsolescence. These P of O come pretty frequently and this blog has addressed them accordingly, most recently in the post just before this one! (Scroll down to "Born on a Blue Day.") What a coincidence you might be saying. No, actually, defending libraries seems to come with the territory for librarians these days. For example: "No, I haven't been replaced by the internet." "Yes, we still have books and the Dewey Decimal System." Great cocktail party chat, not. Next, I predict with great confidence, that other library blogs will pick up this insult and run with it. However, we are preaching to the choir, probably most library blogs, if read at all, are read by other librarians, their friends and fellow bibliophiles. It's the rest of the world which needs to be set straight on this libraries-are-a-thing-of-the -past issue. To this end, librarians attend many continuing education classes urging us to offer customer service the "Nordstrom Way" and generally to make our libraries more like Barnes and Noble or a Fish Market in Seattle (honestly.) I felt so vexed by this that I just jumped up and helped a patron way more than he wanted to be helped. He backed away from me slowly waving the brochure listing BHPL's many databases at me and professed amazement and gratitude for all the info I threw his way.
Anyway, if I ever do go legit with writing (ie: not blogging,) my first editorial will be titled, "Am I Obsolete Yet?" But I've been too busy to get to it.