Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

On Friday the library's morning book group will meet to talk about Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. This Norwegian author was not well known in the U.S. until the New York Times named Out Stealing Horses one of the 10 best books of 2007.

In Out Stealing Horses, Trond Sander leaves Oslo, where he grew up during the Nazi occupation, to retire to a remote part of Norway. He lives in a place like the one he spent the summer when he was 15, and he remembers the events of this summer as he makes preparations for the harsh winter to come. This is only one of the ways in which Trond's past and present seem to mirror each other. It's a very powerful, tightly wound book; the New York Times reviewer marvelled,
"A fairly short novel with a timescape of half a century that seems to have left out nothing important is a bit of a miracle."

Discussion questions for Out Stealing Horses can be found at ReadingGroupGuides.com.

The Washington Post has an interesting interview with Per Petterson about his life, his books and the books he reads.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Friday Fantasy

This collage is sort of my version of fantasy football, except there are no winners or losers. Obviously if I could do anything I wanted today, I would
1. be a princess (or lavender queen)
2. eat lots of cake
3. live in a cottage with dream windows

Whatever your dream is, there's a library book to match.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mindset by Carol Zweck

One of the premises of Mindset, which is a book by psychology professor Carol Zweck (now at Stanford, but at Columbia when she wrote the book), is that *talent has little to do with success.* And hard work has everything to do with it.

If you believe your success is due to some innate quality, you're not going to take criticism very well, even if it's constructive. You'll feel like you are being attacked personally. And you might even stop doing whatever it is that you're good at, because any failure will prove that you are ordinary. Or, you might decide that you don't need to work as hard as other people in this area that you're great at, and then you're destroyed when you are eventually surpassed by "lesser" opponents.

But if you develop what Zweck calls a "growth mindset," (as opposed to a fixed mindset), you are free of all these worries and fears. You are limited only by the amount of work you want to put in. You'll have the strength to call up the employer who interviewed you and then didn't hire you, and ask why. Previously underachieving kids who are taught to look at intelligence as something that is learned, not inherited, begin to excel. Zweck draws her examples from sports, business and relationships; I love it when she points out that the high school basketball coach who didn't pick Michael Jordan for the team was not, in fact, an idiot. Michael Jordan just wasn't that great at basketball back then.

I highly recommend the book, but if you can't read it, check out the Mindset web site. It has a lot of articles and excerpts from interviews that Carol Dweck gave to the media, especially on how parents can help their children develop a growth mindset.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Our Most Searched For Blog Posts

Recently a new hit counter was added to the BHPL Book Blog (at the bottom of the page.) The new one, not content to merely click ever upward hit by hit, also leads to a website that shows how web searchers arrived at the blog and from what country, what time of day, which day of the week, which search engine and browser used and whether they like their martinis dry, shaken or stirred.

The source of this remarkably omniscient and slightly scary information is Bravenet.com.

If you don't already realize how someone out there knows what you are up to, what marketing demographic you are part of, this should convince you. Not that the website tells who our readers are specifically, name or ISP, or anything like that, but it gets close. For free. I'm wondering if we paid money for the enhanced service if Bravenet would actually serve up those martinis nicely chilled.

After following the Bravenet statistics charts for the last few weeks , we now know what some of our more popular posts are:

Book reviews for various titles

and the recent post about reference questions librarians hate really struck a chord in the librarian community. Not only did the hit count go up, but comments from librarians turned up with links to librarian blogs.

Also someone way way north in Scotland reads the blog. Hello out there! We love Scotland. If you are a librarian maybe we can arrange a job swap, wouldn't that be fun? Not in the winter though, thanks.

So now we know a bit more about who reads this blog and we hope that it convinces people that libraries are a force for truth, goodness and free stuff all over the world and thanks to all you web crawling people who mostly reside in North America, Western Europe and the U.K.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reference Question of the Day: Google versus Reference Books

Patron: do you have a book on superstitions?

Ref Lib: do you have a specific kind of superstition in mind? (We professionals are carefully trained not to say, "yuh, who wants ta know?")

Patron: yes, I want to know what this silver charm on my watch means; a friend gave it to me.

Patron: shows silver Italian horn charm.

Ref Lib: recognizes the charm as commonly made in coral and thinks it has something to do with guarding against the malocchio, which affliction she recalls hearing about as a child, not that anyone in her family has it.

Answer: after Googling "Italian horn," - it wards off bad luck/the evil eye

Old way of answering question: wade through superstition and foklore books (we tried this after Googling just to compare results) which took a few more minutes than Googling and required moving away from the Reference Desk computer. (Aack!) (Note: Studies now show that Ref librarians losing muscle mass, in all but keyboarding fingers, at alarming rate.*)

So if you are thinking of becoming a reference librarian, you should realize that every bit of seemingly useless trivia and every one of life's little moments will eventually turn out to be useful in your job. Realize also, you aspiring librarians, that there will never be a cool TV show about librarians: we don't deal in life and death, we don't wear cool scrubs and stethoscopes, we don't stride up and down in front of a riveted jury, we don't deal with funny high school students (well, we do, but not in a classroom setting) we just answer questions. And sometime participate in book cart drill teams for fun.

*made-up information just to illustrate notion that blogs may contain ridiculous blather.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Castaways by Elin Hildenbrand

Reading The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand was kind of like seeing a car-B-Q on the highway. I inched along bored by a novel about the friendship of 4 married couples (having 8 main characters means some of them are going to be shallow, IMHO), but it was fascinating to watch them fall apart after the disaster.

The friends - a wealthy couple in real estate, a farmer and a cocktail waitress, two teachers, and the police chief and his wife - live year-round in Nantucket. The book begins with the drowning of Greg and Tess when they sail to Martha's Vineyard for their anniversary, their marriage having survived a scandal involving one of the members of Greg's female a capella group at school. What's more, the toxicology report shows that Tess, a kindergarten teacher who was a devoted mother of two, had opiates in her blood.

I probably screwed up this beach read by listening to it on audio. I could have read it a lot faster on my own and it wouldn't have felt as slow in the beginning.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reference Questions Librarians Hate

This blog often has posts that recount our interesting daily reference questions. Many people don't realize that they can ask their local librarian to help find information so we like to advertise that fact. What has not been posted are the dismal failures. So in the interest of full disclosure, here are some recent stumpers submitted to the reference librarians.

How to make charts using linear programming? OK, I give up. We searched JerseyClicks and the library catalog and the internet. The patron's table was littered with math and business books we hauled out. But nothing was quite right. In cases like this, I wish I could text or twitter the professor who assigned this problem and say something really scathing like - "huh?"

A patron wanted the Silver Banquet which evaluates railroad memorabilia. It didn't show up in any N.J. library according to JerseyCat. WorldCat showed very few library holdings for it. Googling didn't turn up any copies we could get our hands on. I'm posting this long after the question reared its puzzling head. Anyway, another "huh?" In these cases we often try to do a bait and switch - well we don't have that, but how about this? But when a patron has her heart set on a particular thing that Uncle Fred said was the best, that's it. No bait and switch works. We don't argue with the wisdom of Uncle Fred.

A few commonly asked questions which just don't seem to lend themselves to easy answers are as follows:

Ratings for NJ private schools. The book, Private Secondary Schools describes, but does not rate them.

Ratings of things not rated by Consumer Reports are especially frustrating. Not that CR should rate NJ prep schools, but we can dream, can't we?

Catcher in the Rye on audio? Nope, does not exist. J.D. Salinger will not allow his classic book to be recorded.

A book whose title includes the acronym HIAA which lists costs of medical procedures? We found physician fee schedules , but even the local health sciences library did not have such a book.

Is Sony Reader compatible with Netlibrary? No, the former is text, the latter is audio mostly and they don't play well together.

Specifics from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We found recovery.gov, but it's big, it's complicated and it's a work in progress. Please don't make us look through it.

Virginia Troeger Speaks at Berkeley Heights Women's Club

Local historian Virginia Troeger spoke to the Berkeley Heights Women's Club on Tuesday as part of a celebration of the town's 200th birthday. Mrs. Troeger, author of two books about Berkeley Heights in the Images of America series, began by describing the glaciers that formed the local topography during the ice age and brought the timeline right up to the present day. It was a whirlwind tour made fascinating by the speaker's enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge of her subject.

The Berkeley Heights Public Library Reference Department answers many questions about local history by using Mrs. Troeger's books and we often call or email her for help or to refer patrons to her. She has always been very generous with her time and knowledge for which we thank her. The library is currently updating its local history collection which is shelved in the main reference area and includes books, and a file of pamphlets and newspaper clippings. For researching local history, start with these books.

Some titles from Virginia Troeger's Berkeley Heights, NJ, Selected Bibliography 2009

From the Passaiack to the Wach Unks, a history of the Township of Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. 1977

Berkeley Heights (Images of America Series) by Virginia Troeger, 1996

Berkeley Heights Revisited (Images of America Series) by Virginia Troeger, 2005

The Deserted Village and the Blue Brook Valley by the Trailside Museum Assoc. 1964

Utopia, New Jersey - travels in the nearest Eden by Perdita Buchan, 2007 includes a chapter on Free Acres in Berkeley Heights.

More than Just a Party

The premise of Deborah Davis' book Party of the Century is the black and white masked ball that Truman Capote threw at the Plaza Hotel in 1966 for over 500 of his famous friends. More than just a record of the party, the book is a biography of Capote combined with a gossipy look at high society before it changed forever in the late 60s. It's about a time when the Social Register was about to meet its demise, when wealthy women had their own mannequin dress forms stored in Bergdorf Goodman's custom department and helped their powerful husbands choose a mistress.

Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow. Sinatra couldn't understand how Mia was still recognizable to photographers when she was wearing a mask.

Two of Truman Capote's "swans", Gloria Guinness and Babe Paley, with Babe's husband Bill

George Plimpton's book, Truman Capote, has more photos of the ball.

Capote's fascinating life is the other main focus of Party of the Century. After a few years of being locked in hotels and motels at night while his parents went out, Truman was left to be raised by his grandmother in Monroeville, Alabama. He made friends with Harper Lee, who got some of her inspiration for To Kill a Mockingbird from a farewell party that 8-year-old Truman threw himself. The costume party was held one night before his mother took him to New York to live with her new wealthy husband, and it was raided by the Ku Klux Klan. Truman Capote's "nonfiction novel," In Cold Blood, which is the story of a Kansas family murdered in their beds, propelled him to fame and fortune. Truman made friends with the killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, but was put in the moral dilemma of not being able to finish his book until they were executed. Because Truman became rich and famous from In Cold Blood, there were hints that Truman was exploiting the murders, and that his ball was in bad taste.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What I Misheard on the Phone

Four times yesterday and twice today a patron called, spelled a word and asked the reference librarian how to pronounce it. This is a perfectly legitimate use of the library Reference service. The problem is that "b" sounds like "v" which sounds like "t" which, well you get the idea. So I replied to the caller by saying things like "v as in vegetable or b as in baby?" but the phonetic alphabet didn't appeal to him. He thought that if he spelled louder I would get it. I didn't. To make matters worse, the words were in German. We went around in circles with these questions, both of us getting frustrated. In between calls, which I may have answered accurately or not, I looked up the NATO alphabet, also known as the Alpha Bravo Charlie alphabet or radio operators' alphabet. Maybe keeping Alpha Bravo Charlie near the phone would be a good idea.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sudoku vs. Crossword

I was recently bitten by the Sudoku dragon, so in my guilt over not having any books to blog about for a while, I thought I'd cheat and blog about Sudoku books. There are a couple out there, The Mensa Guide to Solving Sudoku and Mastering Sudoku Week by Week, but they didn't seem as compelling to write about as these crossword puzzle books that BHPL owns. My theory is that the Sudoku people aren't as obsessed with words as crossword puzzlers, so they don't write as much. From what I've read online, there are plenty of stories, like this one about the Australian numbats, so I wish a sudoku champion would hurry up and write their memoirs.

Crossworld: One Man's Journey into America's Crossword Obsession by Marc Romano

" . . writer, translator, and lifelong puzzler Marc Romano goes where no Number 2 pencil has gone before as he delves into the minds of the world's cleverest crossword creators and puzzlers, and sets out on his quest to join their ranks." (from the book's annotation)

Cruciverbalism: a Crossword Fanatic's Guide to Life in the Grid by Stanley Newman with Mark Lasswell

"Offering an inside look at the world of crosswords, this guide to life on the grid pulls back the curtain on puzzle-making itself, outlining the history of crosswords and showing how rules and mindsets of puzzle editors have changed over time." (from the book's annotation)

Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) : a Memoir of Love, Exile, and Crosswords by Sandy Balfour.

"Think Word Freak with international flair. A nonfiction "Ella Minnow Pea" with a built-in book-length puzzle. Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) will enthrall--or obsess--anyone interested in words." (from the book's annotation)

Four-letter Words : and Other Secrets of a Crossword Insider by Michelle Arnot

"Crossword puzzle expert and champion Arnot has complied this irresistibly fun and entertaining manual filled with fascinating facts, puzzle miscellany, and surefire tips for puzzle solving." (from the book's annotation)

Are you a Sudoku person, or a crossword puzzle person? Can you be both?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Friday book group is meeting at 10:30 a.m. on September 4 to discuss The Shadow of the Wind, a gothic coming of age story which revolves around a novel written by a Julian Carax. Daniel, the son of a bookseller, discovers the only remaining copy of this book in 1945 in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books (the guildhall of the secondhand-booksellers of Barcelona). The insidious Inspector Fumero and the diabolical Lain Coubert will do anything to stop Daniel from learning more about Julian Carax's life and his mysterious death.

This site has a description of a walking tour of places in Barcelona mentioned in The Shadow of the Wind; if you'd rather look at photos of the places, check out this Google map (click on the blue markers to see the photos).

ReadingGroupGuides.com has posted the publisher's discussion questions for The Shadow of the Wind.

The Telegraph has an interesting interview with Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

To visualize the Spanish Civil War better, check out Cary Nelson's photoessay.

To learn about the three books that will follow The Shadow of the Wind, check out Carlos Ruiz Zafon's web site.

Star-Ledger Archives Now Available

OK, so you might spill coffee on your laptop if you tried to read the Star-Ledger online at breakfast, but the point is that you could if you wanted to. The Berkeley Heights Public Library has just begun a year's subscription to the Star-Ledger archives (which has articles and obituaries from 1996 to the present). You'll need to log in to the library's Remote Databases page before you can search the Star-Ledger.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

People Magazine Recommends

I just finished reading How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely which was reviewed in the September 7 issue of People Magazine. While The New York Times Book Review tends toward Literary with a capital L in its reviews and Oprah's recommendations are famously gloomy and depressing, People Magazine, not surpisingly, usually reviews bestsellers, thrillers, chick lit, vampire romances and beach reads all year round. Reading People's recommendations is just like watching television, except you have to turn the page instead of clicking the remote. Hely's book was an antidote to Every Patient Tells a Story, the book about medical mysteries I had just finished.

Pete Tarslaw, fictional narrator of How I Became a Famous Novelist, decides that writing a popular book simply requires understanding the formula that sells books and then fitting the plot and characters into that trusty template. He studies the bestseller lists and concludes:
"The financial success of an author is inversely proportional to the literary worth of the book." (p.47) Cynical, but hard to argue with in many cases.
He makes a list of rules for bestsellerdom: "Rule 4: Must include a murder." (p. 50) "Rule 6: Invoke confusing sadness at the end." (p. 52) and so on. Hopped up on coffee and ADHD drugs, Tarslaw writes The Tornado Ashes Club, a patched together family saga/road trip/war story/mystical-spiritual saga with the hokey prose of The Bridges of Madison County meets every sappy war story you've ever read mixed with a heavy dose of quasi-philosophizing as in the Secret or the Alchemist. Meaningful gazing, pregnant pauses, wise old people, wily peasants, salt-of-the-earth types who are smarter than book-learned types: they're all there. Throw in every dreadful literary cliche you can think of and you will get a sense of The Tornado Ashes Club. It rises to the heights of the bestseller list of course.

How I Became a Famous Novelist mocks the pretensions of publishers, authors and readers especially well in the fake bestseller lists included in the book. The comments on Amazon and other websites are very favorable and report much laughing out loud hilarity while reading this book. I didn't laugh out loud, but I did read bits of the fake "Bestseller Lists" aloud to people, which was at least less gory and stomach churning than the medical book excerpts I shared last week. (See previous blog post.)