Monday, January 31, 2011

Death of Newspapers Vastly Exaggerated.

I've heard the death of newspapers predicted so many times. Maybe no one wants to pay for a paper, but people are willing to beg, borrow and steal them. One of the librarians at BHPL caught the Wall Street Journal thief redhanded recently. The thief stammered, "just looking at the headlines" as he was about to get into his car with BHPL's copy. In the "beg" category we have many calls at the end of the year for our old non-local newspapers, including one from someone who would marry the Investor's Business Daily "if it were a woman".

BHPL has the local paper, the Independent Press, from 1965 to the present, in paper. People seem to prefer looking through paper, but I'd much rather look at The Dispatch, the other local paper which closed in 2007. We have it back to 1956 as PDF files on a computer. (Just ask at the reference desk if you want to browse through it). True, you can only search a few issues at a time using Adobe Reader's search option, but it's better than skimming through paper and wondering if you missed something. And there's no wrangling with the photocopier - just press print.

You don't even have to come in to the library to read back issues of the Star-Ledger (1996-present). Just go to and click on Databases and Articles. You'll need the number on the barcode of your BHPL card to log in. Do the same to read the archives of the New York Times (1857-2006).

Friday, January 28, 2011

It's Ten P.M. Are your children practising violin 'til their fingers bleed?

Amy Chua's recent memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which recounts her strict parenting style, has caused quite a stir lately. The New York Times scathing review reads:
 "Ms. Chua was not about to raise prizeless slackers. She wanted prodigies, even if it meant nonstop, punishing labor. So “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” chronicles its author’s constant demanding, wheedling, scolding and screaming."
Ms. Chua, a Yale law school professor, is an American-born Chinese and claims that her methods of child-rearing are in the Chinese tradition, which is debatable. Her suggestion that Western parents are too lax with their children raises the hackles of American mothers, but it also speaks to American fears of being overtaken by China says this week's cover story in Time Magazine. The book is a stew of stereotypes, but this title has risen to the top of the non-fiction best seller lists. It flew of the shelf at BHPL and has a number of holds.
On a related topic, this morning I read in the Star Ledger that the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that slapping your teenager does not count as abuse.
"The parental decisions made within this family unit may not have been exemplars of stellar parenting, but they did not rise to the level of Title Nine violations," wrote Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, referring to New Jersey’s child abuse laws.

All this angst about child rearing techniques got me thinking. First of all, let me say that the Berkeley Heights Public Library is way ahead of the curve on this whole issue. The library has a "Parenting Collection" in the Children's Room which is popular. We select books that represent the spectrum of child raising opinions and advice from Spock to Brazleton to Penelope Leach.
When my first child was born, my mother-in-law gave me a copy of her generation's pediatric bible: Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care; my OB gave me a Penelope Leach book and a cookbook by Jane Brody; the pediatrician recommended Fraiberg's The Magic Years and Bettleheim's The Uses of Enchantment; and my mother swore by Yale's Dr. Gesell. Not that I had much time to read all those books from cover to cover, but they all had something worthwhile to contribute to the child raising challenge. I found it hard to say to my child, "wait, let me look this up in Spock before I decide whether to give you a "time out" or a politically incorrect smack on the butt," but Spock came to the rescue when my toddler actually swallowed a penny. The index listed, "coins, swallowed" I recollect.  I also got to reminiscing about being raised during the Eisenhower years, possibly the last time when parental authority was still an admired, expected and sometimes achievable goal in America, but at the same time children enjoyed a level of freedom and unstructured playtime that seems rare these days. For example, just today I came across a website that explains how to go sledding in the snow. I'm sure it included safety tips. A friend of mine bemoaned that she did not see one child outdoors during the recent school snow day and she suspected that kids were sledding using a computer game simulation.

Related material: New York Times article about the evolution of child rearing theories.
Jane Brody's website with a link to the Good Food Book the doctor gave me.
A poster of Dr. Gesell studying a baby at the Yale Child Psychology Lab, is that  my mother in the audience?
An article about Selma Fraiberg, author of the Magic Years which my pediatrician recommended to better understand my kids' imaginations and fears.

Anecdotes I wanted to include in this post: The time my mother, totally exasperated with The Brother Who Did Not Study Enough who kept putting a half-nelson hold on the Brother Who Studied a Lot, while he studied, called him out on this behaviour by accusing him of being a "nosy fuddy" and hitting him with an almost empty Kleenex box.  This resulted in gales of laughter by all of us and a great loss of authority on my mother's part.
The time The Brother Who Studied a lot, left a plastic boat of sand crabs in his underwear drawer for a week and mom hit him with a half-empty box of Saltines. Again gales of laughter at how painless this punishment was and many accusations about the shattered inedible crackers and jokes about my brother's hard head etc etc.
The time my mother caught the TV addict brother WATCHING TV ON A SCHOOL NIGHT so she cut the electrical cord off the TV which appalled even my TV-hating father.
And finally, the many tall tales my father told me in what he thought of as teachable moments but which took me years to find out were not true. No, spaghetti does not grow on trees in Pennsylvania and Antonio Stradivarius was not my Uncle Tony. Who knew?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It Was a Dark and Snowy Month

A daily snow record was set in nearby Newark yesterday, plus the record for the most snowfall over the month of January.

Here at the library, we're starting to run out of space to put the stuff.

Given the weather, I'm amazed that the library managed to show all three films in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy without rescheduling any of them. The snow and dark didn't seem to keep the crowds away. Maybe it's cabin fever, or maybe a Scandinavian thriller is the perfect way to spend a cold January night.

Monday, January 24, 2011

What's a Reference Question?

If someone prefaces their question with "I'm not sure if this is a reference question, but . . . " it almost always turns out to be a completely appropriate question to ask a librarian. The opposite is true too. Someone who asks you to look up seven phone numbers and then calls back the next day to ask for them again, because they lost them, is not worried about the nature of their question.

The Encyclopedia Britannica's entry for library mentions catalogs, bibliographies, multimedia databases, indexes and abstracts as the librarian's tools. This is why the practice is called reference. But the questions I've been asked range from resembling a dog's breakfast (a great phrase I read in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall) to yes, requests to be pointed to written material on a narrow subject, or the name of a group offering a service.

So really there's no need to start your question with "I need a reference on . . " when all you want to know is where Harry Potter is. We won't send you away. We can also refer you to books on the knitting pattern for Dobby's socks, political issues raised in the HP novels, and the spirituality of Potterworld. But we might have to search the catalog for that.

Friday, January 21, 2011

No More Dirty Looks by Siobhan O'Connor and Alexandra Spunt

No More Dirty Looks: the Truth About Your Beauty Products - and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics has a waitlist 3 people deep. So forgive me for posting about a book that may not see a shelf till spring. I got interested in the topic after I heard about a study that showed mothers and their newborn babies testing positive for hundreds of chemicals. That's when I threw out my nail polish and got this book for my Kindle, just in case it turned out to be written by nutcases, which it wasn't, so I got a copy for the library. (I also remembered, somewhere in the back of my mind, reading that some dermatologist in a fashion magazine I read wore "medical-grade" sunblock - probably for reasons that become apparent when you read this book.)

No More Dirty Looks' basic premise is that our skin is absorbent (try googling salicylic acid poisoning if you're skeptical about that) and that since the industry is barely regulated, it's a buyer beware kind of situation. On a positive note, the authors swear that switching to clean cosmetics will actually make you look better, since the chemicals added to a lot of products to make them last longer on shelves are harsh on skin and hair. And some of the information is surprising: on a list of ingredients, "fragrance" is bad - because it could be anything - and the weird chemical in self-tanner that turns your skin brown is actually safe.

Some the advice is borderline humorous - like applying a homemade baking-soda deodorant several times a day - but a lot of it is doable. I am planning to switch to a nontoxic lotion and shampoo once I run out of my current stuff. I've already switched from liquid soap to a bar, which doesn't have preservatives, and I wear gloves when washing dishes (one of the ingredients - DCDM hydantoin - in the dish soap I use releases formaldehyde.) The authors tested a lot of clean products and recommend particular brands of every type of product imaginable.

If you can't wait for your turn to read the book, Skin Deep has a shopper's guide to safe cosmetics and sunblock recommendations for 2010.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle is the journal of the 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, who lives in genteel poverty in a ruined castle in Suffolk in 1934 with her novelist father, stepmother, and her beautiful sister Rose. The family is supported by their deceased maid's son, Stephen, who works at a neighboring farm and is in love with Cassandra. They also live off the meager, declining royalties of Thomas' only novel and whatever his wife Topaz can borrow when she is in London modeling for artists. When two American brothers inherit the manor that their castle belongs to, a Pride and Prejudice-like plot is put into motion (which Smith humorously acknowledges by having Rose exclaim, "Netherfield Park is let at last" upon hearing the news.) I read this during my Harry Potter phase because it is one of J.K. Rowling's favorite books, and it became one of my favorites too. I saw the play last month at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, and it was just as good as the book. Unforunately I got the idea from the theater program that the play is usually only performed in England, where it has been popular since its debut in 1954.

If you loved Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, it is the same type of romantic English tale, except Cassandra is a more independent, free-spirited (and extremely well-read) main character. LibraryThing also suggests Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson; Emma by Jane Austen; and North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell among other similar recommendations.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book Group Meets on a Snowy Night

The Second Tuesday of the Month Book Group was scheduled to meet at the library the other night, but due to a confluence of circumstances, only two intrepid readers turned up in the face of a threatening blizzard.  What follows is the email I wrote to group members to sum up the discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Six Stories of the Jazz Age and other stories.

Hello Readers,

Due to the weather and other factors no doubt, there were just three of us last night to discuss Six Tales of the Jazz Age and other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Before I talk about the book though, I have to apologize for several things: I was out Monday and didn't get an email off to remind the group of the meeting or post a blog piece about the book. Then, adding insult to injury, there was confusion about the exact title and edition of the book. The title on the poster was Tales from the Jazz Age which was published in 1922 and the BHPL catalog notes read:

Note:The Jelly-bean -- The Camel's back -- May day -- Porcelain and pink -- The Diamond as big as the Ritz -- The Curious case of Benjamin Button -- Tarquin of cheapside -- O russet witch! -- The Lees of happiness -- Mr. Icky -- Jemina.
Note:Tales From The Jazz Age was published by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1922. This book has 11 short stories including The Jelly-Bean, The Camel's Back, The Diamond As Big As The Ritz, and Mr. Icky. These short stories were written and published around the time Age of Jazz began.

But the edition I got on interlibrary loan for most people was Six Tales of the Jazz Age and Other Stories which was published later and actually dropped some stories from the original book and added some from another. It was confusing. However there was a good deal of overlap of stories. The later book did not include A Diamond as Big as the Ritz which is rather well-known, so you might want to read that some time if you liked the stories in the second volume.

On to our discussion, two of us had read Six Tales and one had read the earlier edition, so we did get to compare which stories were included and fill each other in on the missing ones. Overall, the themes of youth and beauty and material possessions and wealth, either newly acquired or "old money", along with misused potential and missed opportunities turned up in some combinations in most of Fitzgerald's stories and books. We talked about the author growing up in genteel (relative) poverty in St. Paul, Minnesota on Summit Avenue overlooking the mansion of James J. Hill, the railroad baron. If any of you have been to St. Paul, you will know that Summit Avenue is aptly named, as it is not only elevated geographically, but also has the 19th century mansions of the movers and shakers of the Twin Cities from the turn of the century. It is perhaps comparable to Hobart Avenue in Summit and similar neighborhoods of the superwealthy in cities across the U.S. When Fitzgerald's father failed to succeed in business, the family lived off his mother's small inheritance. The author was sent east to boarding school in New Jersey and then on to Princeton, where he rubbed elbows with more fabulously wealthy people who he could not possibly compete with materially speaking. Like, Gatsby or Nick in the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald was, or felt he was, always the outsider, the unsophisticated midwesterner, looking in on the lives of privilege.

As for which stories we liked: we all agreed that the Camel's Back was just plain funny and diverting and it seemed fitting that Fitzgerald wrote it for the sole purpose of using the $600. he was paid for it to buy a fancy watch he had his eye on. We compared The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to the movie and to other time traveling books like The Time Traveler's Wife and The Confessions of Max Tivoli which the book group has read in the past. Thank you Dina, for bringing up those comparisons, both books were good according to her. I can vouch for TTTW but not Tivoli, but will put the latter on my "to read" list.

So that's it for now. Thanks for reading if you have got this far. Ellen will be leading the discussion of Feed at next month's Tuesday Book Group.

PS: the predicted snow storm started just after the group broke up and by closing time a thin veil of icy snow coated the library parking lot and sidewalks.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

Since BHPL is showing the three Swedish films based on Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, I thought I'd review the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire. Fire begins with Mikael Blomqvist's magazine about to expose several johns involved in sex trafficking, among them journalists and policemen. Lisbeth Salander is still hacking into Mikael's laptop, and she discovers a connection with her past that draws her into the case.

I've heard other people say the second book/film was even better than the first one (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), and I have to agree. The way Tattoo began made me think it was a financial/political thriller/missing persons case, but the end was a little too creepy for me. Fire unfolds in a more believable fashion than Tattoo, but just was just as compelling to read, and Lisbeth Salander's past makes her a more interesting character this time around. Be warned that you'll want to dive right into The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest once you've finished, since the ending of Fire is a cliffhanger.

There are discussion questions available for all three of Larsson's books. However, those don't address a really interesting point, which is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's original Swedish title, Men Who Hate Women. Manohla Dargis's New York Times review of the film version points this out:
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was originally published as “Men Who Hate Women,” which apparently wasn’t sexy enough for English-language bookshelves. The title change certainly spices things up, no matter how commonplace body art is, at least outside of Stockholm, and it plays down its overarching theme, which the movie only does further. Just as significant is the substitution in the title of “girl” for “women,” a categorical displacement (and diminution) that also shifts the emphasis from the crime (and criminals) and places it on Salander’s slender back.

It’s an attractive back in the movie, as is the tattoo adorning it, even if, like all the prettily photographed winter landscapes, the dragon covers up something the filmmakers seem loath to reveal and simultaneously eager to exploit.

If you've read the Millennium trilogy, or one of the books in it, what's your opinion about the violence? How do you deal with the fact that you're being entertained by tale whose central plot depends on some very violent acts? Are the books OK but the movies too graphic?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mbiras, Budongas and Likembes at the Library

As musician/craftsman Michael Delia set up his collection of handmade musical instruments, I could not resist plucking a string on the instrument made with a wine bottle and weathered, upcycled wood and tapping the metal keys of an equally rustic-looking hand-sculpted instrument.  Delia, a graduate of The School of Visual Arts in NYC with an MFA in Sculpture, has been building and performing on his home-made instruments over the past twenty years in the U.S. and abroad and has donated two CD's of his music to the library. The CD's will be available to borrow as soon as our cataloger figures out how to classify this music (Subject heading suggestion: Music - stringed wine bottle, indigenous or folk? I'm just saying, Laurel (our intrepid cataloger)) The library already owns the CD Zimbabwe (CD #46) featuring the music of the Shona people of that country playing the traditional African instrument mbira. This was easily found by typing the keyword 'Mbira' into the online catalog.(Note to librarians: You can see that while I was thrilled to learn of something completely different, at the same time I wondered how in the world does this fit into the library classification system? What would Melville Dew? But I digress.)

Inspired by the musical heritage of non-Western cultures and early American folk traditions, Mr. Delia assembles his instruments from found objects and materials that are whimsical and humorous with a delicate sense of beauty. Would you ever have imagined a stringed instrument made from an empty tomato can or the body of an instrument made from the box-like form of an olive oil can? This was all new to me. Other than the steel drums used in the Caribbean, I wasn't familiar with this whole realm of make-do and make-music that is very common in Africa, the artist told me. His work falls in the category of bricolage, which in the visual arts corresponds somewhat to assemblage or collage - a style I work in myself and which has led to any extremely cluttered studio as anything at all might prove to be useful for such work. Mr. Delia expressed some relief that he was able to put some of his works on display and I imagined that might have given him a few square feet of workspace, a feeling I am familiar with. In any case, it's great that he can share these treasures with the community and I'm very much looking forward to hearing him play them on his CD's.
The Shona Mbira of Zimbabwe was an important influence on Delia's musical development. Also on display is a selection of Mbiras made by Delia, along with original Mbiras from Zimbabwe, and Budongas and Likembes from Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.You have to come in to see this exhibit, but unfortunately, the instruments are locked in the cases, so you won't be able to give them a try as I did during the set up. Your fingers will itch to try them out though.

Photo collage of Michael Delia's musical instruments on display through January at the Berkeley Heights Public Library, upstairs lobby.
Related links:
More of Michael Delia's work can be viewed at
Biographical information about the artist
Wikipedia's article on Bricolage the art of using found objects to creatively repurpose it into something else, useful or decorative. See the music section specifically.

Forays into Knitting Humor

I recently read Yarn Harlot, which happens to have the subject heading of Knitting - Humor in the library catalog. If you look up Knitting - Humor in the Library of Congress catalog, only nine titles are found, four of which are by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, author of Yarn Harlot and blogger at (One of the other titles is by Stitchy McYarnpants! But I digress.)

"Harlot" seems to refer to the author's yarn proclivities, and several essays are about her yarn hoard. In an attempt to hide her yarn stash from her family (who thinks it's reasonable that she would actually knit things with the stash, instead of buying yarn for a new project) she stuffs skeins into a chest freezer that otherwise only contains a package of pork chops, and even the sleeves of her suits. The passages in which strangers in public places marvel at her ability to knit are hilarious (knitting is actually easy enough that the library has several books for kids on the subject).

I recommend it as a quick read (only 219 pages!) if you like knitting or even just crafts in general. However, crocheters may get crochety about the chapter called Sour Grapes, which is a compilation of reasons why knitting is superior to crocheting (including, knitting takes a lot longer, so you have more time to contemplate whether making Santa Claus toilet lid covers is actually a good idea.) It isn't 100% humor, as there are some moving essays about parenthood & knitting in there as well.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Photograph by Penelope Lively

A couple of years ago The Guardian interviewed the English author Penelope Lively for the series "A Life in Books," in which she put forth one of the central themes of her books, memory: "What we have in our heads is a collection of frames. As to time itself - can it be linear when all these snatches of other presents exist at once in your mind?"

The library book group will discuss The Photograph by Penelope Lively on Friday at 10:30 a.m. The title refers to the photo found by Glyn, a landscape historian, of his deceased wife holding hands with another man. As the publisher's summary puts it, "Reading the past, uncovering and deciphering its strata, is his stock in trade, but now it is his own personal landscape, and the history of his marriage, that he must reinterpret."

Each chapter focuses on the different people affected by the discovery of the photograph and how their relationships with each other, and their understanding of Kath, are eventually changed by it. I couldn't put the book down, wanting to find out more about Kath and why she died.

Penguin has a short interview with the author specifically about The Photograph. The Photograph got a mixed review from the New York Times, which you can read here.