Thursday, November 29, 2007

Seven Turns of the Key

If you missed professional sports agent Angelo Saverino when he came to the library in January to discuss his first book, he's coming back to talk about his latest book (a true story), Seven Turns of the Key, this Saturday, December 1, at 2 p.m. He's a great speaker, or we wouldn't have asked him back!

During a vacation to Italy's Amalfi Coast, a chance meeting with a stranger in a remote parking lot was the beginning of Saverino's search for the reasons behind his family's exodus from Sicily to America, a search that turns up murder, mystery, intrigue, deceit and adultery. More than the story of Angelo Saverino's journey, Seven Turns of the Key is a lesson in Sicilian and Italian traditions, history, geography and the Sicilian language.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Literary Fiction For Beginners

There’s something about being a bestseller that makes a literary novel a little less forbidding. Think of any of these titles, taken from the New York Times' 2007 bestseller lists, as a meal, and save James Patterson for dessert. (This list was inspired by Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children, longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2006 - but what really convinced me to pick it up was remembering that it was a bestseller last year.)

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
Away by Amy Bloom
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer
Exit Ghost by Philip Roth
Falling Man by Don DeLillo
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Heyday by Kurt Andersen
The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Run by Ann Patchett
Songs Without Words by Ann Packer
Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
What is the What by Dave Eggers
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What's That Bug?

Every once in a while the librarians at BHPL are asked to identify an insect that someone has found at home. (For purely squeamish reasons, we prefer a picture of the insect to the real thing!) So how do we go about it? The first step is to narrow it down to which type of insect it is: cricket, beetle, etc. Then we flip through photos in our insect reference books and web sites like What's That Bug until we find a match. For a more scientific opinion, Rutgers will ID it for you for a fee (it also identifies plants and fungi.)
So which insects have been identified in Berkeley Heights in recent months? A camel cricket - originally thought to be a spider – and a stink bug – thought to be a beetle at first.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Staff Picks Display

BHPL has a Staff Picks display on a couple of low shelves in the Reference Book area. The latest theme is medical stories and memoirs of surviving illnesses. Some titles include:
First Person Plural, my life as a multiple by Cameron West (1998),
Passing for Normal, a Memoir of Compulsion by Amy S. Wilensky (1999), and
Courageous Confrontations, Lives Transformed by Life-Threatening Illness (2005) by Richard H. Helfant, M.D. The epigraph page in Dr. Helfant's book has these quotes:
"At the bottom of the abyss, comes the voice of salvation." - Joseph Campbell
"Sweet are the uses of adversity." - William Shakespeare.
These stories of how people deal with adversity seem to be popular judging by the rate the books are being checked out from this display.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Book News this Week

Two stories appeared prominently this week on the ever-popular how illiterate are Americans now? and are books dead yet? themes.

Newsweek's cover story is entitled, "Books Aren't Dead." (Phew!) Subtitled: (They're Just Going Digital.) and further elucidating in a subheading: "Five centuries after Gutenberg, Amazon's Jeff Bezos is betting that the future of reading is just a click away."
I haven't actually READ the piece yet, but I don't think it will hold many surprises for most librarians. BHPL offers digital content, which is a way of saying, you can download books and movies and music from the BHPL website, using your library card as your authentication into the databases (ie: only BHPL cardholders have access to the digital content, but it is free to them.)
News item number two: according to the latest study by the National Endowment for the Arts released yesterday, Americans are reading less for pleasure and reading with less understanding (test scores are down.) The study, To Read or Not to Read, is a compilation of other reading studies and a follow-up to the NEA's 2004 study Reading at Risk. Putting together many dismal statistics about how little people read at every age level and comparing it to how much television people watch, the bottom line is that Americans are less informed and therefore less capable of participating in civic life or succeed in their personal lives. Other implications of widespread illiteracy are asserted in the report.
The view from the BHPL circulation and reference desks is that people still eagerly wait their turns on the holds waiting lists, request books from other libraries through interlibrary loan, travel from library to library to borrow audiobooks and download audiobooks from the BHPL website, check out piles of childrens books after every storytime, recommend books to purchase, donate piles of books they have read and need space for more in their houses, participate in two library book groups and many community book clubs and so on. So the situation doesn't seem so dire from a librarian's strictly observational point of view. People are reading and using various formats (audio, digital, regular old print) to do so.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Happy Thanksgiving from BHPL to all of our patrons and blog readers
It's too late to check out the following cookbooks from the library: Betty Crocker's Complete Thanksgiving Cookbook, Thanksgiving 101 or Talk Turkey to Me so keep this "Turkey Talk Line" phone number handy: 1-800-Butterball or check out the Butterball website for online calculators about cooking time, number of servings, metric conversion charts and more cooking tips.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Free for All by Don Borchert, a library tell-all

If library news was covered by tabloids like the National Enquirer, there would be stories about Elvis appearing at the Reference Desk or Martian babies attending storytime. The real story of working in public libraries is only slightly less surprising as related in a book written by California library worker, Don Borchert, and reviewed in USA Today. Reviewer Bob Minzenheimer writes:
"Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library (Virgin, $21.95) aims to do for libraries what Bel Kaufman's Up the Down Staircase did for urban schools in 1965 or what Bill Buford's Heat did for professional cooks in 2006. "
Borchert says that libraries are dull most of the time, but he writes about the rest of the time, the not-so-dull times that involve patron behavior that ranges from quirky to criminal. These are the incidents that all librarians have experienced and when they tell the stories to non-librarians, people are incredulous that such things go on in the library, the last place most people would expect to find misbehavior. But people don't drop their humanity at the library doors nor are they better behaved just by virtue of the fact that they are library users. Any public place will have similar issues of unruly behavior, it's just the incongruity of say, drug dealers using the library bathroom as the place of business (a story from the book) that makes the story seem more shocking.

On the good side, a library can be like Andy Taylor's police station in Mayberry, RFD, a meeting place for friendly locals to gossip and pass the time of day. On the bad side, well for the bad side, read the book.

BHPL is more like Mayberry and less like Borchert's library, but there are untold stories here too. Did we tell you about the time that... no, nevermind, this is a family blog and Privacy Laws must be observed. Every librarian I know is waiting to read this book. Are his stories better than ours, we wonder?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Watchung Reservation Haunted?

An interesting article appeared in the Westfield Leader on November 8, 2007 by Debbie Hoffman: Bloody Lane and a Headless Ghost: Tales of Watchung Reservation (p. 21) (If you click on the title of the article, it will take you to the full-text in the newspaper which has been archived online since 1996.)
In researching the urban legend (rural legend?) that a car full of teenagers crashed and died in the Watchung Reservation causing the road to appear red as blood by moonlight, Ms. Hoffman interviewed L'Aura Hladik, founder of the New Jersey Ghost Hunters Society; consulted the stories in the books Weird New Jersey, based on the magazine of the same name; interviewed Union County Parks Director Dan Bernier, who lives in the abandoned village of Feltville in the Reservation. And Ms. Hoffman called the BHPL Reference Department and set the librarians on the trail of trying to prove or disprove the legend by looking in our local clippings file (newspaper morgue, sometimes called vertical file.) The librarians ferretted around in the dusty newspaper clips, but could not confirm the story. We were happy that the reporter thought of the library Reference Department as part of her research. A bit like reporters, research librarians love to track down a lead, but while reporters often use human sources (interviews), librarians usually turn to the printed word, much of it local, not indexed and not available by "googling" on the internet. Either way, the point is to get to the truth of a story.
Call or email the BHPL Reference Department with your questions. We will try to find the answer, teach you how to research it, or refer you to a person or other resource that can help you find the answer.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Death Cancels All Engagements

Does that quote sound familiar? It's wry enough to be Oscar Wilde, but "google" it and you find it comes from Max Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson (1911). Who, you may ask, is Max Beerbohm and what is a Zuleika Dobson? As if in answer to those questions, Amazon reviewer C. Brandt writes:
"The fact that I am the first person to review this book on Amazon is unsurprising. Beerbohm is not exactly a household name in this country (or, perhaps, any country), and this book is so quaint and point-specific that contemporary readers might not have the patience to reach the finish-line. "
Yes, indeed, that finish-line seems so very far away to a reader even after reading one hundred pages, a measly third of the book.
Brandt goes on to point out that Zuleika Dobson is number fifty-nine on the Modern Library's 1998 list of the 100 Best Novels. This list has probably haunted book groups and other literary self-improvers ever since and if they happen to choose to read ZD in their quest for excellence, they might begin to doubt the credibility of the list.
The BHPL Second Tuesday of the Month evening book group will be discussing Zuleika Dobson on November 13 at 7:30 in the Meeting Room. To read the book without actually leaving the comfort of your computer chair, click here to read the full-text online.
What will the Book Group's members, those who have braved the twisted prose that passed for humor in 1911, think of Zuleika Dobson, the self-centered, vain, beautiful magician who visits her uncle, a Warden at Judas College of Oxford University, only to cause every callow youth to fall in unrequited love for her, who can never love anyone who loves her, and thus causing a (spoiler coming up here) mass suicide of every single Oxford student, and is last seen heading to Cambridge University. (Zuleika, that is, heads for Cambridge at the end.) If that sentence gave you, dear readers, vertigo, my advice is to forgo Beerbohm's story of before-the-wars, idyllic upper-class England and head straight for P.G. Wodehouse's stories of Jeeves and Wooster, Lord Emsworth and his pig, the Empress of Blandings and the other denizens of Plum's universe.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Arnaldur Indridason

Now that winter approaches, what better to read than a mystery set in Iceland? Harlan Coben calls Arnaldur Indridason’s police procedurals the best series he’s read this year. The hero, a police detective in Reykjavik, is a bit quirky: divorced for decades, he spends his nights reading accounts of travelers who lost their lives in snowstorms. Erlendur's cases at first seem impossible to solve: a seventy-something man found bludgeoned to death in his apartment, an old skeleton unearthed in the foundations of a new house, a doorman with no friends found dead in his room in the hotel basement. But Erlendur carefully fleshes out the few leads he gets, questions everyone and brings the investigations to a satisfying, suspenseful close. A bit of luck and his daughter’s underworld connections help out as well. Jar City came first, but I liked Silence of the Grave (his second) and Voices (his third) best.