Friday, July 30, 2010

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols

A few weeks ago, Nancy Pearl, a librarian famous for her ability to recommend the right book for the right person and also for being the model for the librarian action figure with real shushing action, tweeted that gardening/readers who like P.G. Wodehouse's books and E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia series might enjoy Beverley Nichols gardening trilogy starting with Merry Hall. In any case, I retweeted her tweet admitting that I fit that trifecta of reader interests. What this all leads to is that BHPL staff member, Mme. P.,  who follows our Twittering, offered to loan me Merry Hall, because the library does not own this 1951 memoir of British journalist Beverley Nichols.
Mr. Nichols' book tells the story of restoring the gardens of an old country house outside London just after World War II. His passion for gardens, bordering on obsession, crossing the border actually, is told with dry wit and some withering accounts of local ladies with whom he has gardening disputes. The book combines British wit with the memoir genre, gardening trivia, eccentric characters and rambling country house dreams.
A sample: "I wanted a house. And I wanted a Georgian house. And I wanted a garden of at least five acres. A garden which, for preference, should be wrecked and lost and despairing...I was in a rescuing mood..." (p. 20)
The author finds a house and it's the spectacular lilies that seal the deal. He must have those lilies. His friend tells him it's "lunacy" to buy the house, but his manservant Gaskin rises to the challenge of taking care of the mansion single-handedly. The gardener Oldfield conveys with the house along with his stubborn methods and gardening opinions and oddly inpenetrable accent, as is the stereotype for gardeners in English books. The neighbors are nosy and opinionated, especially Miss Emily and "Our Miss Rose" whose rivalry regarding decorating the church results in a comical confrontation during the Harvest Festival about whose flowers should adorn the altar.
These scenes of English village life recall Bertie Wooster's visits to his aunts' houses in the country, or Lord Blandings dithering about the pigsty whilst admiring the porcine Empress of Blandings.  I'm pretty sure the church decorating rivalry popped up in the Mapp and Lucia books, or if not, it's a familiar theme. So, Nancy Pearl was right: this is a good book for fans of those authors or for gardeners. Although nothing touches the Master, P.G. Wodehouse, in my pantheon of authors, for he truly loves his characters and never condescends. Nichols' humor is arch and a bit mean at times, so be forwarned. Since "snarky" is in style now, perhaps he is due for a revival.

Related links:
Read Mapp and Lucia online here
The Wodehouse Society website for fellow Plum fans
A list of gardening memoirs from GoodReads

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Fiction

Some of the books on the Beach Read display this month. (Can you use dust jackets for wallpaper?)

Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek
Eleven-year-old Ellie's mother has bipolar disorder and her father falls under the thrall of the tomato girl who sells her produce to their store.

Every Secret Thing by Laura Lippman
On a July afternoon two little girls, banished from a birthday party, take a wrong turn onto an unfamiliar street - and encounter an abandoned stroller with a baby inside it. Dutiful Alice Manning and unpredictable Ronnie Fuller only want to be helpful, to be good. People like children who are good, Alice thinks. But whatever the girls' real intentions, things go horribly awry.

The Love Season by Elin Hilderbrand
When Renata, newly engaged to a wealthy Nantucket summer boy, comes to the island to visit her fiance's family, she visits Marguerite, the godmother she's been forbidden to see her entire life and the one person who can unlock the mystery surrounding her mother's untimely death.

Under the Boardwalk by Carly Phillips
A Jersey girl's twin sister goes missing and she decides to investigate the Atlantic City casino where her sister was working.

Sleeping Arrangements by Madeline Wickham
A friend with a villa in Spain double books two families by accident, and only Chloe and Hugh know of their previous romantic entanglement.

Men and Dogs by Katie Crouch
When Hannah was 11, her father went on a fishing trip in the Charleston harbor and never came back. After a disastrous attempt to win back her husband, she ends up back at her mother's home to "rest up", where she is once again sucked into the mystery of her missing father. Suspecting that those closest are keeping secrets, Hannah sets out on an uproarious, dangerous quest that will test the whole family's concepts of loyalty and faith.

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama
Alexander McCall Smith meets Jane Austen in this Indian novel about finding love. A retired man in a coastal city in India opens a marriage bureau. With a steady stream of clients to keep him busy, Mr. Ali sees his new business flourish as the indomitable Mrs. Ali and his careful assistant, Aruna, look on with vigilant eyes.

Miss Julia Hits the Road by Ann Ross
Miss Julia's invaluable housekeeper, Lillian, and all her neighbors have been evicted from their homes by their greedy landlord, who has bigger plans for the property. So off Miss Julia rides (in the sidecar, naturally)- risking life and limb on a a motorcycle fund-raiser to save Lillian and her friends' home.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a book that somewhat resembles the "vegetannual" plant that novelist Barbara Kingsolver imagined to help you remember what's in season.

At its roots it's the narrative of the year in which she and her family ate nothing but local food, mostly grown or raised themselves. But it's also an indictment of industrial agriculture (via sidebars written by Steven Hopp) and a reasoned look at what is actually good for the environment (like eating heirloom turkeys - the kind that can actually walk & are smart enough to know how to reproduce on their own - raised locally, vs. eating tofu made from soybeans shipped thousands of miles). Also scattered through the book are essays by Kingsolver's daughter Camille reflecting on the experiences of growing up locavore, and her seasonal meal plans, with the recipes linked to the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle web site.

Here are my thoughts on the book:

-It's not preachy, but may induce eye-rolling. The sheer amount of work that the Kingsolvers do in order to eat locally, all the while extolling its virtues, will turn off the average harried supermarket shopper. (Imagine them saying: "I just spend an hour and $100 - I even bought Cheerios and organic apples - so I could feed my family all week, and you're telling me that isn't healthy enough & bad for the environment?!") The book does assure you that it isn't necessary to do this work yourself; just go to the farmer's market, and start asking the restaurants you go to if they buy locally.

-On the other hand, if you bake your own bread and make your own cheese, then simple dinners like bread, cheese & a salad from the garden would taste great and take no time at all to put on the table. Even if you are downright suspicious about people who want to "save the earth," eating locally tastes really good. And meal planning is much simpler if you buy what's in season and then use seasonal recipes, rather than picking a random recipe at home first, then stressing out when even the grocery store doesn't have cabbage or green onions that week.

-If you are interested in being environmentally friendly, but could never give up meat, you'll be happy to read why eating grass-fed, free-range meat is good for the environment & even necessary in some of the world's harsh climates.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot

The Next Stage Ensemble, the summer touring program of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, will perform an hour-long version of the Shakespeare comedy As You Like It in the parking lot behind the Berkeley Heights Public Library tomorrow, Friday, July 23 at 7 p.m. Abigail Isaac, an alumna of The Shakespeare Theatre’s professional training program, directs this comedy, which is recommended for ages 8 and up. Please bring your own chair. In case of rain, call (908) 464-9333 for alternate location.

In As You Like It, Rosalind is banished by her cruel uncle. She disguises herself as a boy and flee to the Forest of Arden. In this fairy-tale setting, surrounded by courtiers and fools, shepherds and outlaws, the plucky Rosalind becomes a catalyst for change, bringing about laughter, love, and reconciliation.

The Next Stage Ensemble performing in 2005

As You Like It is the play in which these famous lines appear:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

Immediately followed by the lesser-known but equally choice verses which my infantile sense of humor finds hilarious:
At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.

Rosalind is one of Shakespeare's strongest female characters. You can read more about her at

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Checklist Manifesto: how to get things right

What do modern aircraft and most surgeries have in common? According to best selling author, Atul Gawande, in his short, fascinating book, The Checklist Manifesto: how to get things right (Metropolitan Press 2009), they are both systems which are designed to make our lives better, but are fraught with complexities which even a super-specialist cannot completely understand. What Gawande asserts is that the modern age has given us tremendous knowledge, but that knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into bettering our lives: airliners do crash; surgeries do go awry; investments fail. What is the solution? The lowly checklist: the simplification of a complex situation into its most basic and necessary components.

Drawing graphic cases from surgical practices and from the annals of aviation (e.g., the test flights of the B-17) at the beginning of the book, Gawande shows how the vast volume of knowledge an individual acquires through long periods of training and specialized education often does not translate into higher success rates. The world has become too overwhelmingly complex for an individual to achieve consistent success. In contrast, Gawande also illustrates how simple checklists can lead to desired outcomes in emergency situations, such as in “the Miracle on the Hudson”.

Underlying Gawande’s theory, that carefully constructed checklists may be the key to higher success rates, is the idea of collaboration -- no longer can one person master everything in even the smallest specialty because of the torrent of new knowledge; teams of people must work together for the success of an enterprise, especially in emergency situations. They must communicate, question, take individual and collective responsibility. And the checklist is the basis for all these activities to take place.

But all checklists are not created equal. Gawande spends a few chapters examining what makes good checklists, and how they are created, and what hinders a checklist’s efficiency. He also spends some time discussing the limitations of checklists, and how their adoption requires a shift in cultural norms.

Given the examples Gawande provides, it hard not to be persuaded that checklists can be the solution to many of life’s vicissitudes. When all is said and done, Gawande would agree with Henry David Thoreau’s advice to “simplify, simplify, simplify.”

Post written by Ted Li

Note from Anne: what happens when you leave a book lying around the house and start another one and another one? People pick up "your" book and read it, but if you're lucky you can guilt trip them into writing a review for the library blog. Thanks, Ted. Now I really will finish The Checklist Manifesto, as soon as I finish Merry Hall and The Mapping of Love and Death.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Bad Book Affair

Israel Armstrong, the most woebegone, befuddled, oddball librarian ever, is back in The Bad Book Affair, the 4th book in Ian Samson's Mobile Library Mystery series.  The sly descriptions of what it's like to work on a mobile library van (aka: bookmobile) in a humdrum town called Tumdrum in Northern Ireland makes me wonder who Mr. Samson has been talking to in the library world, because his satirical jibes at libraries and librarians are spot on. Israel is described as a person who gets along with books better than people (hmm...) What he can afford in rent puts him in a slightly renovated chicken coop on a down and out farm; but he has dreams, or pretensions perhaps, of living in a brownstone in New York and having a circle of very delightful intellectuals and artists as friends. Instead, he has a boss who subjects him to an evaluation (chapter 10) in a hilarious scene that satirizes all the "best practises" nonsense ever produced by human resources bureaucrats anywhere and which ends up with the suggestion that he take a face painting class for professional development in order to improve his SAQ's (self-assessment questionnaires) or possibly his UCT's (User Contact Time.) "You're joking," Israel said.' Sadly, it's not joke, it's his life. His driver Ted, routinely addresses him as "ye eejit", but fondly. The local bars and fast food joints only sell the worst kind of deep-fried artery-clogging fare that makes vegetarian Israel miss his sophisticated London neighborhood with its numerous ethnic restaurants and healthy eating options, not to mention the company of his girlfriend, Gloria.
In this book, Israel is in a deep depression after Gloria dumps him and only bestirs himself to solve the rather slim mystery involving a missing girl who borrowed one of the "unshelved" books (ie: semi-sensored and kept behind the desk) in the bookmobile. (The list of titles that are "unshelved" is very funny because it is so close to the truth with only slight exaggeration.) The police declare Israel a person of interest and therein lies the part of the plot that qualifies this book as a mystery. But really, it's a funny, sometimes poignant, character-driven story that ends on a slightly positive note when the local minister's eulogy for a friend of Israel's advises everyone to "believe in the good of this life" as it is, rather than waiting for paradise (p 341) and Israel begins to realize that some of the friendships he has made in Tumdrum should be valued.
Recommended for fans of Alexander McCall Smith's series, Richard Yancey's the Highly Effective Detective series and John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Authors Should Celebrate Their Successes

It's always a pleasure to hear from blog contributor and New Jersey author Robert J. Daniher. In today's post, Bob reports from the recent Deadly Ink Mystery Conference and shares the words of encouragement he heard from bestselling authors Gillian Roberts and Hallie Ephron.

My Weekend with Hallie Ephron

by Robert J. Daniher

There’s always a reason to celebrate your writing no matter what stage it’s in. Whether a first chapter, first draft or first publication. I learned this a few weeks ago at the annual weekend Deadly Ink Mystery Conference in Parsippany NJ. Three fun-filled days of murder and mayhem with mystery authors and fans of all sub-genres. The guest of honor this year was Gillian Roberts who I discovered was a truly gracious person. She spoke so eloquently about writing and I was also fortunate enough to chat with her later one evening in the lounge with several other authors.

However, the person I chatted with the most was Hallie Ephron, author of Never Tell A Lie. Her book was a nominee (and winner) of the Conference Award for Best Novel of 2009, The David. For those of you who don’t know, Hallie is one in a long line of talented writers. Her parents Henry and Phoebe Ephron wrote classic screenplays such as: Desk Set and Carousel. And her sisters Nora, Delia and Amy are all notable writers as well. I made a point of not gushing about her literary lineage because I’m sure she gets that all the time. Besides, being the mystery fan and writer myself, I was more interested in talking craft with her. She writes suspense thrillers along with books on craft. I attended a seminar she gave at the conference on building suspense. But, as fate would have it we kept bumping into each other all weekend. I sat next to her at almost every meal. It was amazing how warm and open she was in sharing writing tips and advice to an aspiring writer.

One thing she shared with me in particular was the importance of celebrating. When I told her of my forthcoming (and first) paid publication in the October 2010 Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine she couldn’t have been more supportive. “You have to celebrate”, she said. She continued that every moment should be a cause for celebration. I think that’s a great lesson to learn.

It’s very easy to give up when your writing feels likes it’s not working out. So it’s important to make a point of celebrating every tiny accomplishment, no matter how small. Each scene, each chapter, each manuscript are all milestones to celebrate. Writing is full of rejection and self doubt. Celebrating keeps you positive and keeps things in perspective. So the next time you finish a short story or a poem and think, “boy that sucks” celebrate it anyway because at least you wrote. And that’s an accomplishment in itself.

Related Posts: Read Bob's other posts on this blog.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pictures of Mt.Carmel Parade 2010

View our Picasa album of pictures taken at this year's Mt. Carmel Parade

Read more information about this unique festival which ends tonight with a huge fireworks display at the fair on the grounds of Mount Carmel Hall in Berkeley Heights, NJ.

American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson

Listening to the audiobook American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson in your car is kind of like having the late-night show host as a passenger, telling you funny stories. It isn't all comedic though, because it's his autobiography. Ferguson grew up in the Glasgow suburb of Cumbernauld, "the second worst place to live in the UK," where as a teenager he had to tread carefully to avoid violence between Protestants and Catholics. And then there's the fact that he was a drug addict and an alcoholic. He's so cheerful about it though, joking about the "killer ducks" that he believed were after him during one LSD trip.

The early parts of the book are the most interesting, like the time Ferguson had a hit one-man show during the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh yet had to sleep in a photobooth at the train station. The end of the book is unexpectedly meaningful, when Ferguson reflects on becoming an American and knowing his American son won't grow up around sectarian conflict like he did.

Ferguson's USO tour

Monday, July 12, 2010

Moby Dick (Spoiler Warning!)

So, I finished Moby Dick. Nothing I can say is going to compel you to read Moby Dick, but I think Herman himself could probably convince you, so I'm going to quote him. (In fact, that's partly how I got sucked into it: one day I decided I was never going to actually read it, so I read the last page to find out what happened.)

"Any wind but the Levanter and Simoom, might blow Moby Dick into the devious zig-zag world-circle of the Pequod's circumnavigating wake."

"All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side."

"For an instant, the tranced boat's crew stood still; then turned. "The ship? Great God, where is the ship?" Soon they through dim, bewildering mediums saw her sidelong fading phantom, as in the gaseous Fata Morgana; only the uppermost masts out of water; while fixed by infatuation, or fidelity, or fate, to their once lofty perches, the pagan harpooneers still maintained their sinking lookouts on the sea. And now, concentric circles seized the lone boat itself, and all its crew, and each floating oar, and every lance-pole, and spinning, animate and inanimate, all round and round in one vortex, carried the smallest chip of the Pequod out of sight. . . ."

"Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago."

You can read Moby Dick online. I don't usually recommend that, but since a few pages of Moby Dick go a long way, it won't hurt your eyes that much and you won't have to carry around a 10 pound book.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sources for Law Research

Some of the laws that the Berkeley Heights Public Library has a copy of are the Berkeley Heights municipal ordinances (town laws) and the New Jersey Statutes (state laws). Both are available online, but the state laws in particular are easier to use in paper (its index is much more helpful than the keyword search results you get in the online version). The Statutes are kept in the study alcove in the reference room and you can ask for the ordinances at the reference desk.

Sometimes people are looking for case law, which are laws decided by court cases. "How do I get LexisNexis/Westlaw/Shepard's?" they ask.

The law libraries at the Union County, Morris County and Somerset County Superior Courts' law libraries have public access to LexisNexis. Berkeley Heights is in the Union County Superior Court's jurisdiction, but some people prefer the drive to Somerville or Morristown instead to do research on NJ law. You should always call ahead to find out the hours of the law libraries. Also, the Information and Community Relations Center of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex Vicinage (in Newark) has LexisNexis.

LexisNexis and Westlaw are competitors, and even though law librarians prefer Westlaw, that's not what seems to be available around here. Shepard's (which tells you if a case is still valid) is included in LexisNexis.

Some people come to the library looking for legal forms. If it's a form you need to file in a court, try, the website of the NJ Judiciary. Their Self-Help Resource Center has many forms for people who represent themselves in court. The Self-Help Resource Center of the Union County Superior Court (on the first floor at 1143 East Jersey St. in Elizabeth) also can help with forms. Their hours are Tuesday - Thursday, 10 am to 2 p.m. BHPL has many books published by Nolo that come with sample legal forms. Look in the 340 section of nonfiction for those.

If you need a lawyer, Union County Bar Association and the Morris County Bar Association both have lawyer referral services for a small fee (a max of $50 for the first 30 minutes of consultation in Morris County). If your income is low enough, you may qualify for help from the nonprofit Legal Services of New Jersey. The best way to get in touch with them is through their hotline, 1-888-576-5529, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Their peak hours are in the morning, so try to call in the afternoon to reduce your wait time.

*Addendum (posted on 7/14/10): Only a few days went by after this post before I had another law question, this time from someone wanting to call the U.S. District Court's law library in Newark. Anne pointed me to the New Jersey Lawyers Diary, which is in the BHPL legal reference collection in the alcove, to answer this question.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Library Exhibit on Illustrator Will Crawford of Free Acres

In honor of the Free Acres' 100th anniversary, the drawings and carvings of Will Crawford, an illustrator whose work appeared in Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and Life, are on exhibit at BHPL until July 22. Will Crawford was a resident of Free Acres in Berkeley Heights from 1918 until his death in 1944, and the log cabin he built still exists. The library display includes Crawford’s pen and ink illustration “Civil War Carnage,” which was an illustration for fellow Free Acres resident MacKinlay Kantor’s Civil War novel, Long Remember, published in 1937. Kantor went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Andersonville in 1956.

Also on display are the Free Acres mailbox sign carved by Crawford, and “The Flop,” a carving Crawford made for his Free Acres neighbor Thorne Smith in 1926. The name of the carving refers to the fact that Thorne Smith had mentioned to Crawford that he was sure that his next novel, Topper, would flop. Topper went on to be one of his most successful works and was made into a movie in 1953. The art and books on display were loaned by Steve Schade and Thorne Smith’s grandson, Terry Conner.