Thursday, September 30, 2010

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

This Friday morning at 10:30 a.m. the library's morning book group will discuss The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I had always assumed the snatches I caught on TV of the movie would be sufficient until I got around to reading it - which was complete idiocy. Readers who have been lollygagging around since 1992 must go and read this Booker prize winner now. The New York Times review of The English Patient, "Glorious But Impossible Loves" by Judith Grossman, describes the situation that brings the four main characters together best:
One of the uncalculated effects of World War II was the way it turned a generation of young people, conscripts and volunteers, into global explorers without a guidebook. Military orders might with equal unconcern drop a London clerk into the presence of Mount Everest . . Or, as vividly described in Michael Ondaatje's novel of the war in Europe, "The English Patient," a young Sikh from the Punjab into Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, on a bomb-disposal mission at night.

In addition to Kip, the Sikh combat engineer, the other "explorers without guidebooks" who are brought together after the war in a bombed-out Italian villa, are:

Hana, a shellshocked Canadian nurse; her burn patient, Almasy, an explorer of the Sahara; and Caravaggio, the Canadian thief-turned-spy who knew Hana as a child. Hana and Caravaggio are also in Ondaatje's previous novel In the Skin of a Lion, whose main character is Patrick, Hana's father. has an excellent article that compares the book with the Oscar-winning movie. Kip, who was my favorite character for his absolute refusal to get ruffled about anything, even a bomb that might be about to go off, isn't an important part of the movie. The historically accurate details in the novel about how continually changing bombs were defused were fascinating.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the idea of the English patient papering over the parts of Herodotus that he didn't want to reread and wrote notes on those pages - Juliette referred to it as his "commonplace book". If you were to carry one book around with you for the rest of your life, and used some of its pages as your own journal/notebook, which book would you choose?

Discussion questions for the book are available here and here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Eddie and the Cruisers by P.F. Kluge

If you were born before 1970 and you're from Jersey, you've probably heard of the 1983 cult classic Eddie and the Cruisers. In it, Ellen Barkin plays a TV reporter investigating the mysterious death of musician Eddie Wilson and the search for his band's second album, which disappeared from the vaults of Satin Records the day after Eddie's alleged death. (Thank you, Wikipedia, for that summary.) Michael Pare plays the Springsteen-esque Eddie and Tom Berenger played the band's song writer and keyboard player. BHPL will be screening Eddie and the Cruisers tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2 p.m. in anticipation of the P.F. Kluge reading of the book it was based on, which is the next night at 7 p.m.
P.F. Kluge and Tom Berenger

"Yes, this is a novel about sex, drugs, rock and roll and the caesura. How could one not love it?" is what Sherman Alexie says about Eddie and the Cruisers in his introduction. On his website, P.F. Kluge calls Eddie and the Cruisers
a fictional examination of my weakness — lifelong weakness — for the songs of my youth. Hits come and go, the products of a season; but they return — sometimes, they seduce and reproach. The novel is set in New Jersey, much of it in Vineland where I had a summer job on the town newspaper in 1962. The novel and the film have been described as a rock and roll Citizen Kane. To this, I do not object.

So come watch the movie on Wednesday at 2 p.m. or come to the reading on Thursday at 7 p.m.!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Career and College Guidance Online at the Library

The Berkeley Heights Public Library subscribes to Facts on File databases which include history, science and literature materials for students as well as a newly upgraded career and college guidance section.
The latest update to Ferguson's Career Guidance Center includes a database of more than 4,000 undergraduate institutions and a wealth of valuable new career information.
BHPL patrons may search the database for schools based on a number of factors--such as admissions difficulty, curriculum offerings, housing options, location and setting, student body, and tuition--to identify ones that best match their career aspirations, educational needs, and personal preferences. All schools included have full accreditation or are pre-accredited and grant degrees at the associate's and/or bachelor's level. College data is provided by Peterson's, a leading producer of educational databases and planning information.
The newly updated career section of Ferguson's brings a wealth of essential new job information. Users will find concise, helpful tips and practical, real-world ideas from career and image expert Sue Morem on everything from how to maintain a professional image to how to balance life and work priorities and keep a positive attitude when times get rough. Those who aspire to a career in the food and beverage industry, the sports industry, or travel and hospitality will find many new job profiles added on these popular fields. New career profiles include: caterer, health club manager, sommelier.

All databases should be accessed through the library's homepage "Remote Databases" link where you will be prompted to enter your library barcode number and pin. Call the Reference Desk if you have questions. (908) 464-9333

For more career help, try Universal Class, also available from our Remote Databases link. Universal Class offers dozens of online classes for free which can earn students Continuing Education Credits.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Call From Jersey by P.F. Kluge

Last week I posted a bit about the beginning of A Call From Jersey, the recently published novel by P.F. Kluge, Kenyon College's writer-in-residence and a Berkeley Heights native. You may remember it's about an immigrant who comes over from Germany a decade before World War II began. Within a few years Hans gets a job at the Ballantine Brewery in Newark and starts building a house for his family on Hilltop Avenue in Berkeley Heights. He has a brother, Heinz, who returns to Germany in 1938 and from whom Hans has not heard from since. Or shall I say yet, because when Hans goes looking for Heinz you won't be able to put the book down.

Hans' son George grows up as "college material" in Berkeley Heights, attending a regional high school that drew on "grungy enclaves that staffed oil refineries and old colonial enclaves where genius scientists went to work at Bell Telephone Laboratories. There were Portnoy-ish subdivisons within commuting range of Wall Street and the garment district. There were nests of Old World Italians and Germans and moderately left-wing Jews besides." He becomes a nationally syndicated travel writer whose mediocrity embarrasses his father enough . . to . . . well, you have to read this part yourself. I will just hint that the Berkeley Heights Public Library is involved.

P.F. Kluge will read from A Call From Jersey and one of his early novels, Eddie and the Cruisers ("the book that spawned the movie") at the Berkeley Heights Public Library on Thursday, September 30 at 7 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. This program is free and open to the public. Bring a copy of his book if you'd like one signed. You can sign up here. We'll be showing Eddie and the Cruisers the previous day, Wednesday, September 29 at 2 p.m.

Friday, September 17, 2010

eBooks Hit a Thousand

Actually there are 973 eBooks available to Berkeley Heights residents at, but by the end of the month we'll have passed the one thousand mark. We're not talking free ebooks of dusty out-of-copyright classics, but free ebooks like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
The eBooks are in the Adobe ePub format, which work with the Barnes and Noble Nook, the Sony Reader and the Kobo, the Borders e-reader. Now that Apple and Adobe are taking steps to play better together, the iPhone will eventually be a supported reader (we don't know when).
The easiest way to see what titles are immediately available is to go to Advanced Search and select eBook as the format, check the "Only show titles with copies available" box and click Search. That'll show you about 300 currently available titles. You can also put yourself on the waiting list for up to 5 eBooks.
The eBook will magically disappear from your device on the due date (7, 10 or 14 days after you check it out; your choice). Even if it's turned off (we've tried). Or you can return it early if you hate it (useful because there is a 5-book checkout limit). There is a Quick Start guide available on the ListenNJ site that will help you download Adobe Digital Editions, which is the program that syncs the ebook from your computer to your e-reader.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

(Way) Back to School

Lawrence Fuhro, whom the New Jersey Daughters of the American Revolution named the "Outstanding Teacher of American History" this year, has lent the library selections from his collection of rural and one-room school memorabilia. The exhibit is in the lobby of the library until the end of September. I've overheard an older patron looking at the exhibit say, "I had one of those!"
Slates from the 1880s, plus a report card

Larrabee's Lunch Box

This exhibit reminds me of the excellent novel The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, which revolves around a one room schoolhouse in Montana. We don't have an orrery in our exhibit, but schoolmaster Morrie would have loved to have one of these stereopticons.

The handbell on the far left belonged to Miss Anna Thee, who taught in one-room schools in Nebraska from 1905 to 1945.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Millennium Trilogy

The library book group will discuss Stieg Larsson's The Millennium Trilogy tomorrow night at 7:30 pm. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the two sequels, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest,  have been huge international bestsellers since their initial publication in 2005. Amazon announced in July 2010 that Larsson was the first author to sell over 1 million books in the electronic format for Amazon's Kindle ebook reader. The Telegraph reports that  "Larsson could become the biggest-selling translated author ever." The upcoming American remakes of the Swedish movie are predicted to continue to stimulate sales of the trilogy. Random House's profits have soared, increasing by a billion dollars in 2010 so far, thanks to it's ownership of the U.S. rights to the books. Libraries can't keep the copies on the shelf;   the nine copies of Tattoo owned by BHPL have gone out a total of 112 times and currently have 5 holds (reserves).

For a thorough summary of the book, take a look at Shmoop's recap.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Berkeley Heights in Literary News?

I know, that was my reaction too. (Free Acres was a literary hotbed what with MacKinlay Kantor and Thorne Smith, but that was over 50 years ago.) Anyway, yesterday I opened the Star-Ledger and read on the front page of the New Jersey section:
"To Finish His Journey, Author Returns to New Jersey":
Author P.F. Kluge’s life has been a global travelogue, taking him far from his childhood home in Berkeley Heights . . .

Not only is P.F. Kluge from Berkeley Heights, but parts of his latest novel, A Call From Jersey, take place in and around Berkeley Heights. A Call From Jersey begins with a German steel worker named Hans, joining his brother Heinz, an inveterate gambler, in New York in the late 1920s. Not too much later Hans tags along with Heinz on a visit to Madame Bey's training camp for boxers in Chatham, watching Max Schmeling prepare for his match with Jack Sharkey. (The road in the following passage is River Road, the valley the land that slopes down to the Passaic.)

I heard a last car pulling out of the orchard, onto the road that led out of the valley where the training camp was located, already falling into darkness, while the sun just caught the top of the trees, beech and oak and maple. This was the first I'd seen of the country outside New York. It was different from Germany, where every inch of ground, field, forest was spoken for. America was untended. Uncared for. The woods were full of fallen trees and branches that no one collected, all that firewood going to waste. I liked it in New Jersey. But not Heinz. He reminded me of how someone sits next to a car that's broken down, waiting for the mechanic to come.
P.F. Kluge will read from A Call From Jersey and from Eddie and the Cruisers on Thursday, September 30 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Berkeley Heights Public Library. Feel free to bring questions and a copy of one of his books if you'd like one signed.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

Balthazar Jones, Yeoman Guard, aka 'Beefeater', lives in the Tower of London with his wife and his almost 200 year old tortoise, Mrs. Cook. Summoned to Buckingham Palace one day, Jones is informed that he will be in charge of the collection of animals given as gifts to the Queen. When the pungent zorrilla, the quarrelling love birds, the misplaced giraffes and other assorted creatures are moved from the London Zoo into their new home in the Tower property, the strange daily life of the Tower residents becomes even stranger.
 In Julia Stuart's new novel The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise, ghosts of Tower prisoners mingle with the Yeoman Guards who live there and hundreds of years of history are interwoven with the love story of Yeoman Guard Jones and his wife Hebe.

Reviews of this book will compare it to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The words "charming" and maybe even "whimsical" may pop up. And that's all true, and I really liked both Guernsey and this book and Stuart's previous novel, The Matchmaker of Perigord, but I find all three novels hard to describe without resorting to comparisons and words that might put some readers off. If you like humor in your reading and some local color and facts, characters who are good and decent if flawed and a depiction of lives that are not without sadness, but overall full of hope, if you like the humanistic tone of McCall Smith's the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency, try The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise.

How Much is a Library Card Worth $$$

As both a librarian and library user, I am pleased by the number of articles, news stories and blogs reminding everyone that using public libraries is a thrifty thing to do. Whether you are downsizing, simplifying, de-cluttering, embracing a greener lifestyle, or just being frugal, public libraries can help. If nothing else, libraries have the books telling you how to downsize, simplify, de-clutter and become more green and/or frugal. Purchasing any of these books would defeat the purpose.

Embracing this idea, I calculated my average monthly savings for borrowing 4 hardcover books, 4 paperbacks, 2 audio books on CD, and 2 DVDs. I am saving a minimum of
$ 80.00 on the hardcover titles and $ 35.00 on the paperbacks. As far as listening to audio books on CD, these unabridged sets start at $ 40.00 and go up to over $ 100.00. I am also saving on DVDs by eliminating a Netflix subscription or stops at the Redbox. The savings are significant over the course of a year.

When I become more technologically adept I will save even more money by not driving to the library. I will be downloading ebooks and audio books to my compatible ebook reader and MP3 through the library’s website. Saving on gas will help me recoup the cost of the devices in no time.

Although I consider myself a diligent library user/money saver, I must admit that I subscribe to eight magazines at home. I just can’t resist knowing that I can take my time reading the articles, looking at the pictures, fantasizing painting my living room that shade of green and making rash promises to actually cook the recipes. Of course, I always read the articles on downsizing, simplifying, de-cluttering and becoming more green and/or frugal.


Related websites: NJ library value calculator

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Gone Tomorrow by P.F. Kluge

National Public Radio named Gone Tomorrow by P.F. Kluge, a writer who is from Berkeley Heights, one of the best books of 2008. After finishing it in 2 days, I agree that it's a novel that will stay with you. Gone Tomorrow is about a professor, George Canaris, who hasn't submitted anything for publication in 30 years, ever since his first book became an instant classic (88th on a list of top 100 modern novels). Gone Tomorrow is one of those books that voracious readers will love, with references on almost every page to other books that you've either read or suddenly must read.

"The Beast" is the novel which the world expects will be Canaris' best yet, if it actually exists, and it's my favorite part of Gone Tomorrow. Canaris' parents fled Karlsbad after the Nazis annexed Sudetenland in 1938. The Beast seems to be a saga set in Karlsbad, with characters from Beethoven to the present, including one based on Canaris' cousin, who hid in the forests around Karlsbad rather than flee, as well as real-life actor Kurt Gerron, who performed in Karlsbad before being sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp and eventually dying at Auschwitz.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times Book Review really does a much better job at describing Gone Tomorrow than I can. She even quotes the lines in the book that I wanted to underline, had I not been reading the library's copy.

P.F. Kluge stopped by BHPL to introduce himself when he was in town for the Free Acres Bicentennial, and we arranged for him to come back on Thursday, September 30 at 7 p.m. for a reading of Eddie and the Cruisers (one of his first novels and "the book that spawned the movie") and his latest novel, A Call from Jersey. So get started on reading one of his books or watching one of his movies - and come by on the 30th with any questions that you may have, chat with the author and have some coffee, cookies & whatever else I can rustle up.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Skype Me In, Cathy*

In a very futuristic turn of events, today the library's book group talked to Toronto-based author Cathy Marie Buchanan via webcam about her book The Day the Falls Stood Still, which is set in Queenston, Ontario on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls between 1915 and 1923. Making the world seem even smaller, it turns out that when Cathy was growing up, she went to summer camp with kids from Berkeley Heights.

The book group asked Cathy whether she had always planned what happened with one of the main characters (I'm trying to avoid spoilers here). At first Cathy planned to base the book more strictly on the life of William "Red" Hill, and his wife Beatrice, but Tom and Bess took on lives of their own during the writing process. We also wanted to know what she's working on now (a historical novel about a real-life ballet dancer in Paris in the 1880s like the ones Degas painted and sculpted). And if you're out there reading this, Cathy, we thought of this question after we hung up - who gets to choose the title of the book, the author or the publisher?

A clearer photo of the author

Of course, we also amused ourselves by asking Cathy questions about Niagara Falls that we could have just Googled, but she did not mind at all. We wanted to know if people still go over the Falls, even though it's illegal. It turns out they do, including the brother of a friend of hers, who went over in a barrel and survived, and a man who tried to commit suicide and also survived. And we asked, is there still a riverman like Fergus or Tom around today? She told us that after the last of William Hill's sons (who helped with the logistics of filming Superman at Niagara Falls) passed away a few years ago, it's now the fire department that rescues people.

Your book group can arrange to Skype Cathy on her web site.

One question a book club member thought of later was, "Is there still an ice bridge linking the Canadian and American banks of the river in the winter?" I found the answer (no) here. In 1964 an ice boom was installed to prevent the ice bridge, which threatened to plug up the intakes of hydroelectric stations and damage the docks of the tourist boats. Makes you want to go back in time and see what Niagara was like before electricity was invented (but time-travel would probably require electricity, ironically).

*Lame pun on Star Trek reference: "Beam me up, Scotty"