Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Six Bean Story: or why gardening can drive you crazy.

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

The song mothers sing to their babies sounds like a sweet paean to a little girl's garden, but Mother Goose's nursery rhyme about gardening alludes to Bloody Mary Tudor and her habit of burning her subjects at the stake - 300 subjects, to put a number to it. "Silver bells" refers to thumbscrews and and cockle shells were instruments of torture used on areas of the body even more sensitive than thumbs , as explained in this Nursery Rhyme Origin and History website.
My experiences this spring as a novice gardener are what got me thinking about how Mother Goose may have been on to something by linking gardening and slow torture.

Timeline of librarian's garden, 2009:
February: very impatient to start seeds but none are in stores except for a basil kit and a bachelor button kit at the drugstore: dirt, pots and seeds all inclusive. I buy the kits. There are more seeds than pots though so I...
March: plant leftover seeds in egg cartons enclosed in plastic "clamshells" (the things take-out salad comes in) and place on sunny windowsill.
March cont'd: water seeds as needed and stare at plants several times a day. Check local stores for seeds other than basil and bachelor buttons. Told that seeds are late coming in this year to stores (duh.)
Sometime later: green basil and bachelor b. sprouts appear. Announce to all family, friends and colleagues by phone, email and in person, that seeds have sprouted. Strangely, no one finds this as exciting as I do.
Soon after: anxiety about the dread "damping off" sets in, but most sprouts continue to thrive. Friends, f and c not anxious about this possibility either.
April: become impatient to put plants outside but read that Mother's Day is the traditional target date. yeah, right: in Florida maybe, not New Jersey having a cold, rainy spring.
April cont'd: very cold and rainy April continues unabated, no chance of moving plants off windowsill and putting outside even though they have outgrown their clamshells and egg cartons and now there are seedlings all over the house in every available sunny spot and my Director does not want them in the library staff room. If I were the Little Red Hen, I would promise myself not to share in my bountiful harvest when the time comes.
May-ish: fellow librarian takes pity and gives me peat pots to put overgrowing seedlings in. She has given up gardening due to deer, bugs, mildew, diseases, drought, varmints etc etc. I do not take the hint.
Mother's Day: very cold May, cannot put plants I have obsessed over for two months out to die in cold, which brings us to...
Hardening off: plants must spend some time outdoors in shade, being jiggled, exposed gradually to their future surroundings with more light, but no direct sun.
Must find large trays: to transport seedlings outside for their little outdoor recess every day and to bring them back in at night. Cookie sheets pressed into service.
Memorial Day: finally put plants outside overnight. Awake all night worrying.
Last week of May: put seedlings in large pots and place in the few sunny places available in my shady yard. Stare at out of window with dog at my side (she is looking for the mailman and other dogs though.)
Rainiest June in the history of the planet: plants look pale but hang in there.
Still June: still rainy, plants even paler, but the deer seem to like the squash blossoms, something is eating the bean plant leaves, the basil looks all wrinkly, the lettuce is malingering, and sproinging up (forget proper term), the radishes are anorexic and the leaves have been munched into lace, the oregano has brown spots, the sage has spider mites and might not survive.
Insecticides: Do I have to?
Morning coffee for me and my plants: I spray aphids with my leftover morning coffee. It seems to work. Imagine what it's doing to my stomach.
Later in June: tomatoes up to their necks in puddles of water which I dump out twice a day.
Moving: squash plants put in backyard where deer do not go due to my dog and fence but in which there is very little sun.
Finally! Success! June 27: after months of work, I harvest six, count them, six, green beans, mix them with the store-bought variety and have for dinner. I dig through my stir fry trying to figure out which are "my" beans.
End of June: my library colleagues will never let me live down the Six Bean Story.

The Dewey number for gardening is 635.
Apologies for long post, this is only the tip of the iceberg of the emotional rollercoaster that gardening has been this spring for this blogging gardener.

Starting a Business, Starting at the Library

I was reading The Martha Rules by Martha Stewart the other day (she was inspired to write it when a fellow inmate asked her advice about starting a hair salon combined with a restaurant). She has a friend who started his own exotic plant nursery. He often counsels people who want to begin their own nurseries that their biggest investment in the early years will be a wheelbarrow and a shovel (unwelcome news to those who see starting a business as an opportunity to go on a spending spree).

The library has an extensive collection of books on starting businesses. I've listed some titles on starting a home based businesses, for those who want to start small:

101 Best Home Businesses
101 Best Home-Based Businesses for Women
The Best Home Businesses for People 50+
McGraw Hill's Careers for Homebodies and Other Independent Souls
Entrepeneur Magazine: Starting a Home-Based Business
Entrepreneur Magazine's Ultimate Book of Homebased Franchises

and then there are some very specific ones, such as:

How to Start a Home-Based Craft Business
How to Start a Home-Based Catering Business
How to start a Home-Based Professional Organizing Business

You can check out your potential competition (at least, those who advertise in the yellow pages) by searching ReferenceUSA, an online database the library subscribes to, by clicking here. Guided Search will let you choose a type of business via yellow pages heading and you can choose to search by a lot of geographic factors (my favorite is radius, which lets you choose how many miles to search around a particular zip code).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Books I Almost Read

"So many books, so little time." That phrase is bandied about on t-shirts, bumper stickers and stationary sold at librarian conventions or hawked on bookbags for public television fundraisers. I've always found it smug and annoying. If I put that phrase on my car bumper, my kids would refuse to ride in the car. It conveys an image of librarians that librarians claim to try to avoid (bookish, dweeby, bespectacled etc.) I do like the image (minus the smug phrase) of the old-fashioned, shushing librarian with her nose in a book and hair in a bun, and think the profession should embrace it, embrace the kitschy irony of it. Irony because librarians today spend their days with noses, not in books, but pointed toward the computer screen where we blog and Twitter and Facebook and Google and search databases and make websites and email newsletters and answer questions by email, chat reference, cell phone texting, podcasting and so on. Our days are electronic, our commutes may be enlivened by audiobooks, but I suspect that most librarians revert to good old books in the evenings, on our own time. Which is where I meant to start this post: books I almost read or almost finished or mean to read someday. The fact is, obnoxious as it is to proclaim on a t-shirt, it is true that there are so many books and limited time, that as the years slip by, I am more willing to set aside a book that is taking too long to read . Weeks go by in which not a single book seems "finishable" and then one comes along that I wish would never end. Those are the one I review on this blog. What are your favorite books that you wished would never end?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Now, Even More Audiobooks for the Pod People

iPod, that is. If you have A) an iPod or an iPhone and B) a computer that runs Windows, you can now download a whole lot more audiobooks to your iPod now at listennj.com. That's because on Tuesday, the powers that be made it possible for the Windows Media Audio (WMA) audiobooks to be downloaded to an iPod, as long as the publisher agreed.

If you have an iPod and a Mac, you can still download audiobooks for free at listennj.com (but not as many).

Just to give you a taste of what you can line up for at ListenNJ, here are some titles they have that everyone can download, whether you have an iPod, Creative Zen, or what have you:

Losing It by Valerie Bertinelli
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
The Associate by John Grisham
Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver
Dr. Blair's French in No Time
David Sedaris Live at Carnegie Hall

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Crafts on the Internet: the dark side of hobbies

Clicking around on the internet (I don't think anyone says "surfing the web" anymore) can lead to the occasional treasure trove, some subset of the internet of like-minded people who record their experiences in such a funny and fresh way that you keep returning to their website. http://www.craftfail.com/ is a blog where crafters congregate to celebrate and commiserate about their failed efforts and the writing can be hilarious. The sidebar lists links to other craft blogs which are also very funny. Be careful to set aside some time for these (mostly) ladies. There are lots of humorists on the homefront, raising children, crafting and blogging about it on the side. Some of my favorite posts:
"Horton Doesn't Hear a Darn Thing" in which LovingMom describes her efforts to create a cute Horton the Elephant that sadly has only one ear. Sympathetic readers commented that Horton is a cute alien though.
Notagirlymom writes How Not to Knit a Stuffed Toy complete with photo of a very bedraggled toy mouse.
The Felted Frankenstein Bear could befriend the toy mouse maybe: toyland outcasts.
It's not that these crafters don't follow directions, although sometimes that is optional when the creative juices and available materials just call out to start a project now, but sometimes directions just aren't that good. In any case, if you have ever had a craft failure, take a look at this blog.
If you do want directions or craft books, go to the 745's which are shelved behind the circulation desk at BHPL. Wherever your local library is, the Dewey number will be the same.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Moonbows over Yellowstone

Lost in My Own Backyard by Tim Cahill, a deliciously short and often humorous book about hiking the backcountry in Yellowstone National Park, only took me a couple of days to read. (And by couple, I mean two. I am always getting asked at the fish counter if I would like two after I say "a couple". I guess they have to make sure. Anyway, end of digression.) Since hiking off trail in Yellowstone means no emergency services & the risk of encounters with grizzly bears, statistically this is something you're probably never going to do. Which is why you should read Cahill's book, because it sounds like the experience of a lifetime.

The photographer who went with Cahill on his trip, Tom Murphy, gave us a taste of some of the things that Cahill describes in Lost in My Own Backyard: moonbows, hoodoos (strangely shaped pillars) and the River of Reliable Rainbows.

Moonbow over Duanda Falls by Tom Murphy

Now I'm obsessed with the idea of seeing a moonbow of my own. Google Image Search has a lot of photos, which is the next best thing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Summer Reading

School isn't even out yet, but the summer reading list has arrived for the Berkeley Heights public schools. Here are some I enjoyed/would like to read:

Funny in Farsi by Firzoozeh Dumas
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Some GL students will be lucky enough to continue to get these assignments right up through college (but by then they are called "common reading programs"). If you'd like to find your alma mater's summer read on a more comprehensive list, click here.

Appalachian State & Ohio State: Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Duke: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
Texas Tech: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
University of North Carolina: A Home on the Field - Paul Cuadros
University of Washington: Dreams From My Father - Barack Obama

Friday, June 12, 2009

More Paperback Fun

One of the books I read on the plane (taken from the shelf of paperbacks in the room behind the circulation desk - no fines if you lose those on vacation) was Hot Mahogany by Stuart Woods. This is the second-latest in the Stone Barrington series and the copy I read came with a money back guarantee. I read a lot of mysteries and this series is refreshing because it doesn't revolve around murder. Usually Stone, a cop turned attorney, helps his clients out of various types of hot water. He has a plane, a house in Connecticut, and a continually rotating bevy of beauties to take to dinner at Elaine's in New York. The pages at the back of Hot Mahogany have a message form Stuart Woods, who says he'll reply if you email him through his web site (but only if you type your email address in correctly & don't send him story ideas).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

P is for Philistine

I must be the only person in America who has not read every single one of Sue Grafton's books. I'm working on it, OK? This weekend I finished up D is for Deadbeat, which was OK, but I didn't love it (primarily because the person who got murdered deserved it). Also, there were no peanut butter and pickle sandwiches involved. My favorite of the series is S is for Silence. In that one, Kinsey Millhone, the no-frills private investigator/heroine of the series, has to crack a cold case when a woman hires her to find her mother, 3 decades after she has disappeared. This is another series that I like better as an audiobook; BHPL has Q through T on CD. U is for Undertow will come out this December.

PRAXIS Practice and more tests online free

This seems to be the time of year for taking PRAXIS tests. We noticed that the library's supply of PRAXIS practice test books is dwindling fast. (Say that five times fast.) Probably neighboring libraries are experiencing the same run on test books. To provide patrons with an unending, always available supply of test prep materials, The Berkeley Heights Public Library subscribes to the online practice test website Learning Express Library which is kind of like the goose that keeps laying golden eggs. Patrons can set up free accounts and take practice tests for the GED, ACT, AP, CLEP, PSAT, SAT, TOEFL, ASVAB and other civil service tests for police and firefighters, real estate tests, citizenship tests, tests for commercial drivers license and for allied health care. Learning Express Library also provides help with resume writing and job searching, a newly added feature. With this test prep website, the tests are available 24/7 for anyone with an internet-connected computer. Students don't need to worry that the test book they want is too old, checked out or missing from the shelves. Virtual tests cannot be misshelved, there are no overdue fines and the whole website if free for anyone with a Berkeley Heights Public Library card.
Just today a patron came in to tell me that the test website was not working, but it turns out that Learning Express is working, but patrons need to know to go through the Berkeley Heights Public Library home page to access it. I can't stress this enough. The databases and resources offered by your local libraries must be accessed through the library's website and patrons will be asked to authenticate themselves with their library card barcode. These resources cannot be found by Googling and cannot be accessed from the company websites. It's a clunky system which we could explain in detail, but we try to keep this blog lively and engaging so you will love your library. Go to the BHPL homepage, click on "Remote Databases" and follow the screen prompts to find resources not available through googling: decades of full-text newspapers and magazines, downloadable music and audiobooks, streaming movies, interactive children's books, language materials, reference books and e-books. Call or stop by the Reference Desk, we love these databases and have the bookmarks to prove it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Most Important Rule for Book Groups

What follows are the most important rules for selecting books for a book group:

1. Most Important Book Choosing Rule: Choose an older book which is available in paperback and not currently on the bestseller list.
Reasons for rule # 1: old books tend to be available, sitting on the shelf at your local library or at some other library from which your local librarian can borrow it on interlibrary loan. Bestsellers tend to be checked out and have waiting lists, not only at your library but at every library everywhere.

2. Most Important Book Choosing Rule, part two: do not pick a book that was turned into a movie which is currently being shown at theaters.
Reasons for Rule #1, part 2: the book-into-movie will be checked out and it will have a long waiting list not only at your local library but at every library everywhere (see also Rule 1, part 1)
On the plus side, if the group could just skip reading and go see the movie, everyone will actually have some idea what the book is about, which is not the case when people are expected to actually read a book. This is especially true if the book is by Jane Austen or some other dead writer.

3. Most Important Book Choosing Rule, part three: plan ahead. Reasons for Rule #1, part 3: while it's true that planning is probably a good idea in all life's endeavors, in book choosing it is essential. Consider your local librarian here - it takes time to track down enough copies for everyone. At one copy loaned per library, a ten member group can wipe out the collections of libraries for a radius of many, many miles. Think about it. If this were Numbers, the TV show, there would be a nifty graphic on clear plexi showing just how that works, but we don't need to draw a picture, do we? See rules #1 and #2.

4. Most Important BCR, part four: select something unusual. Reasons etc: Unusual, but not too unusual, books are easier to borrow and if it's in paperback, it can be purchased cheaply if push comes to shove in the planning horizon which is inevitable given human nature and the well-documented phenomenon that readers procrastinate more than non-readers. The drawback to unusual is that, unlike a bestseller, unusual books can be hard to slog through, whereas bestsellers are usually real page-turners unless everyone is buying a book just to impress people and not actually reading it as was the well-documented case with Godel, Escher, Bach which adorns the bookshelves of well-intentioned people everywhere, and to this day has only been read by the critics, if we can believe them.

Of course, book groups don't select books based on what's easy for their local librarian, nor should they, but having realistic expectations will result in a happier book group with more members getting the book and possibly even reading it, maybe all of it, and maybe even showing up at the group and just maybe talking about the book rather than talking about the newcomer who broke into the carpool lane and, well nevermind. But speaking of realistic expectations...that's a lot of "ifs." Which brings us to -

MIBCR, part 5: choose a short book. Reasons? Do I have to spell it out?

Another option is to choose an out-of-copyright book which is available full-text on the internet. My experience with this is that 9 out of 10 people hate reading classics and hate reading books on the computer screen, but in terms of convenience, availability and cost, this option is a real winner. There are thousands of books available on the internet. Just google the title of the book with the word "text" or "full text" or go to Project Gutenberg to view free online e-books. My local bookgroup "read" Saint Exupery's The Little Prince that way. The Little Prince is short, it's available for free, it's a classic, it's discussable, it's universal in its theme. The book is available in dozens of languages, complete with illustrations and links to explanations and literary criticism, chapter by chapter explanations and so on. In fact, The Little Prince, or Le Petit Prince as the French insist on calling it, is the perfect book group book. It fits all the criteria listed in this blog post:
Most Important Book Choosing Rule of All: Read The Little Prince.
Despite being the most perfect book choice of all, in my book group (not affiliated with the library in any way) No One Read the Book. Not a one. We disbanded the group. This brings me to -
The Final Most Important Rule for Book Choosing: just read what you like.If you want a social life, go out to dinner and if you want to suffer through a book, read anything from any high school Summer Reading List.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Frank Lloyd Wright's Birthday

Frank Lloyd Wright was born 142 years ago on June 8, 1867. The publication of Nancy Horan's novel, Loving Frank (2007) and T. Coraghessan Boyle's The Women (2009) which explored Wright's extramarital affairs and were popular with reading groups, has brought Wright back into the spotlight. Searching the BHPL catalog reveals at least 22 books about Wright's life and works owned by the library. For more information on the architect go to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website or check out:

Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan (364.1523 DRE)

The Fellowship: the untold story of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship by Roger Friedland and Harold Zellman (Bio Wright)

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater a DVD in the Documentary section (DVD DOC FRA)

Frank Lloyd Wright: Force of Nature by Eric Peter Nash (720 Wright)

or buy Dover's Stained Glass Window Design's of Frank Lloyd Wright, a Dover Coloring Book and spend some relaxing time coloring Wright's designs in nature's subtle prairie colors.

Window pictured from the Avery Coonley Playhouse, MOMA collection.

Friday, June 5, 2009

D-Day 65th Anniversary

Tomorrow is the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day landing. On June 6, 1944, 150,000 Allied soldiers landed in Normandy, France, 9,000 had died by that night. 800 planes flew paratroopers over that day. 5000 boats carried troops. To read about this huge military operation, search the library catalog using keywords D-Day, Normandy Campaign, Operation Overlord,or browse the stacks in Dewey # 940.54. Read Stephen Ambrose's D-Day, June 6, 1944; Russell Miller's oral history, Nothing Less than Victory; or Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day.

Related Websites with video clips, maps, photographs, chronologies, statistics:

The D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, UK features photos of veterans and the history of the Overlord Embroidery
Top right: Photograph of General Eisenhower from the National Archives

Book Group Reacts to the Witches of Eastwick

Seven people came to discuss the Witches of Eastwick at today's library book group, not including the librarian. No one loved it. As is customary in reacting to John Updike's books, the sexual content was a major distraction for at least one reader. Many felt it was entirely satirical - poking fun at the feminist movement in particular. One reader suggested that the joke was: look what happens when women become "liberated and empowered," they become witches. We noted that all three witches became supernaturally empowered only after they were widowed, as the book said this was the prerequisite for becoming a witch or "getting in touch" with one's essential female witchiness. There was disagreement over whether the witches were entirely as bad as critics suggested. Some felt that Alexandra was the most fully-developed and sympathetic character and that the author seemed fond of his witches in spite of their jealous and destructive tendencies. Several who had read other works of Updike felt it was not his best work. Not a one of the readers were particularly interested in witchcraft or Wicca. Most agreed the style was quite elaborate but this didn't bother anyone as much as it bothered the librarian, who likes a more straightforward narrative and descriptive style.
Would the group recommend this title for other book groups? Maybe, maybe not. Some readers felt the book was dated and has not stood the test of time (it was published in 1984 and takes place in the late 1960's.) It would probably be a better choice to read the Rabbit series by Updike if no one in the group has read those yet.
Rating for bookgroup reading: two out of five bookmarks.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Minister's Sermon in the Witches of Eastwick

At the Unitarian Church in Eastwick, RI, Brenda, the minister, denounces the witches of Eastwick, sounding to me like Harold Hill in The Music Man saying there is "trouble right here in River City!" There is something satirical about the scene, although the author may not have been parodying Harold Hill specifically.

"There is evil in the world and there is evil in this town," she pronounced ringingly..." (p 269) She continues for several pages along these lines, working herself up from high dudgeon to higher dudgeon, to coin a phrase.
Referring to the town's coven of three witches,
"Their jealouthy hath poithened uth all --" Brenda bent her head, and her mouth gave birth to an especially vivid, furry, foul-tasting monarch butterfly, its orange wings rimmed thickly in black, its flickering casual and indolent beneath the white-painted rafters." (p.272)

Not just vitriol and indignance, but actual bugs fly out of her mouth. Witchcraft at work? Reminiscent of the spell cast upon the sisters in the fairy tale that caused the good sister to utter words adorned with pearl and precious stones and the bad one to spew forth toads and lizards when speaking.

As Margaret Atwood pointed out in her review of the book (NYT, May 13, 1984 - available from the library's NYT database)
"These are not 1980's Womanpower witches. They aren't at all interested in healing the earth, communing with the Great Goddess, or gaining Power-within... These are bad Witches... and go in for sabbats, sticking pins in wax images, Kissing the Devil's backside..." and more activities not suitable for discussing in this family-friendly blog.
Mr. Updike said in an interview with Andrea Stevens about the book ("A Triple Spell" NYT, May 13, 1984)
"I've been criticized for making the women in my books subsidiary to the men. It was true enough. Perhaps my female characters have been too domestic, too adorable and too much what men wished them to be."
This is not a problem in the Witches of Eastwick. These women are not subservient, not adorable or domestic, but did the author have to go to the extreme of describing witches to find more powerful women for his fiction?
The Witches of Eastwick is a tour-de-force of a master wordsmith at work, it's funny, sly, satirical and it gives a weirdly skewed vision of American suburbia in the 1960's. It will be interesting to find out who in the book group liked the book and who did not and why.

PS: In 2009, ABC started a television series, Eastwick, based on this book. For a description of the series, try tv.com.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Witches of Eastwick

The Tuesday night and Friday morning library book groups are meeting in one grand mashup session this Friday at 10:30 a.m. to discuss John Updike's the Witches of Eastwick. Many people remember the 1987 film version directed by George Miller (Mad Max etc) starring Cher as Alexandra the witch and with Jack Nicholson chewing the scenery and leering as the devilish new neighbor in the small Rhode Island town infested, or infected, by witches. The Internet Movie Database offers pictures, a cast list and a trailer to watch.

Mr. Updike wrote Witches in 1984 and the story takes place in one year in the late 1960's, using the Viet Nam War, the feminist and hippie movements as background for this story of witches causing trouble again in New England, a subject that had long interested the author.

So far, I have found the book hard going because Updike's style is highly descriptive. The metaphors and similes and symbols and abundant adjectives slow down the pace of reading. For readers who enjoy his sly, satirical style, the book would be a feast to be savored. For me, not so much, but that's just a personal preference. However it seems that critics do divide into two big sides on the Updike issue. The pro-Updike revere him as a great American novelist, the best chronicler of 20th century American life in the suburbs and a superb stylist. The not-so-enthused critics find that very florid style is used to describe essentially - nothing. Everyone agrees that the author writes about sex a lot and that can't have hurt his popularity.
Illustration: Albrecht Durer's copper engraving of Four Witches (1497) from the novel's cover.

To be continued in tomorrow's post.
Postscript: ABC started a television series, Eastwick,which is loosely based on the book, the Witches of Eastwick. This has caused many Google searches to lead people to this series of blog posts about the library book group discussion of John Updike's book. I haven't watched the series or seen the movie, but the book is worth reading, so go to your local library and give it a try. 10/06/2009

Monday, June 1, 2009

Native American Beading Program

Program participants learned how to bead and sew a chamois pouch under the guidance of artist and Library Assistant, Linda Raedisch (in pink shirt) on Saturday, May 30.