Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Manu, Yemo and Trito: the 5,000 Plus Year-Old Creation Myth

This past month I've been fascinated by The Horse, the Wheel and Language by David Anthony. Anthony takes linguists' work on Proto-Indo-European (the mother of modern languages as varied as Sanskrit, Latin, Greek and English) and links it to archaeological studies, including his own, to theorize where Proto-Indo-European was spoken and how it spread. Although I tend to skim the many chapters of archaeological evidence, there is some really interesting stuff in here, like the Proto-Indo-European creation myth.

Anthony offers compelling evidence for the theory that horse-riding herders from the steppes around the Black Sea, wanting more pasture land in order to maximize their wealth, spread westward towards modern-day Hungary and beyond (and finally eastward toward India). He argues that the language spread not due to strictly military invasions, but due to a system resembling modern day franchises, where chiefs offered protection to native farmers in return for the best land for their herds. Natives began to speak the more prestigious Indo-European dialect. If you lived within this system, you followed a strict code of hospitality. The English words "guest" and "host" both come from the same Proto-Indo-European root, which has been reconstructed as *ghost-ti.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Belated Thanksgiving Story

This time last year, I posted this shaggy dog story before Thanksgiving. I thought it was funny enough to repost. Enjoy.

The Library Parrot at Thanksgiving

Some libraries have library cats as recounted in Dewey, the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, or aquariums in the children's room like the one at the New Providence Library down the road; one library where I worked had a Guinea Pig in a cage on the big oak library table in the reading room. The G.P was low on entertainment value as he hid in his cardboard tube most of the time during daylight hours. By far, the most remarkable library pet I've ever heard of was a parrot: Decimal.

Decimal, the parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. Decimal swore like a sailor and could peel the wallpaper off the wall at thirty paces with his salty vocabulary. The library staff tried and tried to change Decimal's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and modeling proper library behavior in an attempt to "clean up" the bird's vocabulary, but to no avail. Decimal continued to offend everyone, including the library's patrons. The library Board of Trustees had received many complaints about the parrot's behavior and the Director felt pressured to rehabilitate Decimal or give him away.

One day, the Library Director was fed up and yelled at the parrot. "If you don't clean up your act, you're gone, I mean it, gone to that perch in the sky!" The parrot yelled back. The Director shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. "@!!??""**!!!"
In desperation, the Director grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer in the staff kitchen. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed.
Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, the Director quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out and said,
"I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions.
I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully
intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable
The library staff was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude and wondered what had made such a dramatic change in Decimal's behavior, but before anyone could ask the reason, the bird continued, "May I ask what the turkey did?"

Thanks to my college roomate for sending me the email that is the basis for this story.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Holiday Food Drive at the Library

'Check Out Hunger in New Jersey' by donating non-perishable food at the library drop-off basket. From today through December 16, the Berkeley Heights Public Library will be collecting food for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and other local food pantries. Bring canned meat or fish, powdered milk, infant formula, canned soups and stews, canned vegetables and fruits, peanut butter and boxed pasta and rice to the upper level of the library. We will deliver the donations to food banks. Other Union County libraries are collecting food donations also.
Bring your food bank donations to the library.

Bags of groceries will be delivered to local food banks.
Thanks for your generosity!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I am Half-sick of Shadows

Alan Bradley's fourth Flavia De Luce novel finds our precocious eleven year old sleuth still solving mysteries, poking her nose in where no one wants her, feuding with her dreadful sisters and cooking up surprises in her chemistry lab. In this installment, a film crew arrives at her family's crumbling manor home at Christmastime and murder ensues, of course.  I am Half-Sick of Shadows is recommended for Flavia fans. Others, start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Related website: Flavia de Luce has a passion for poisons
Video book trailer for I am Half-sick of Shadows
Free excerpts from the book

The Lost City of Z: a tale of deadly obsession in the Amazon

I loved reading The Lost City of Z as much as I know I would hate exploring the Amazon jungle in person. Bugs, snakes, mud, disease, searing heat and humidity: who needs it? Luckily New Yorker writer David Grann did the legwork that allows readers to be armchair adventurers.  Author Grann follows in the footsteps of English explorer Percy Fawcett who disappeared in 1925 while searching the Amazon jungle for the lost city of Z. Was there ever such a city? What happened to Fawcett and his team? Can Grann solve the mystery? This non-fiction account is a fascinating adventure tale in the tradition of H. Rider Haggard or the Indiana Jones movies, and it's all true. Recommended for fans of Sebastian Junger and Jon Krakauer.

An Unquiet Mind: a memoir of moods and madness

The author, Kay Redfield Jamison, is a psychologist, a renowned expert on mood disorders and a member of the Johns Hopkins Medical School faculty. In her memoir, An Unquiet Mind, Dr. Jamison reveals her own lifelong struggle with manic-depressive illness.  The author admits her inability to recognize her own illness despite treating many bipolar patients. She recalls her resistance to taking lithium as well as her suicide attempt. A groundbreaking memoir for its honesty and for the risk the author took in divulging her illness publicly.

Related websites: Reading Group Guides review and questions
Personal Reflections on Manic-Depressive Illness, a video of the author
Mood Disorders Center, Johns Hopkins
Creativity and manic depression link

Laughter on the Stairs

English author, gardener and raconteur Beverley Nichols' second volume in his Merry Hall trilogy continues the story of the renovation of his country house and garden. Laughter on the Stairs concentrates on the house rather than the garden. Eccentric neighbors and friends and loyal but quirky household staff return. In one chapter, the author and his friends fill a dry well by hand by lugging water from a nearby stream all night in order to ensure the sale of a cottage for their shy neighbor Miss Mint of Bide-a-Wee Cottage. They fill the well to fool the buyer, an obnoxious author who pretends to be a gypsy and writes terrible, but bestselling, drivel about her adventures in a caravan. These are all true stories and I wonder how Mr. Nichols had any friends left after he wrote these memoirs in the early 1950's. The book is illustrated with lovely black and white drawings throughout. For fans of English cozies/memoirs/humor and above all - for gardeners.
The library owns the Merry Hall Trilogy which is shelved in non-fiction 635 NIC.  For my review of the first book in the trilogy, Merry Hall, click here.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lower Level Is Open

After flooding caused by tropical storm Irene in late August, and lengthy repairs and renovations to the children's room, the children's room is now open!

Movie night will be November 17 since the meeting room is also open now. To celebrate the children's room reopening, there will be two family-friendly events on Saturday, November 19: a dog adoption talk at 11 a.m. and a magic show at 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cleaning Up after Irene: Part 6

The painting finished up last week, the carpeting has been completed and the bookshelves have been moved back into place. The shelves along the periphery have been bolted to the walls. Library staff and volunteers are working to move all the books from the meeting room and reshelve them in their correct order. The furniture and computers will be moved back into the children's room today.

Catch previous posts about the clean-up efforts here:
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 1
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 2
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 3
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 4
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 5

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Live: or, a Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell

Although BHPL owns this year's National Book Critics Circle winner for biography, How to Live, I ended up buying it at Green Apple Books in San Francisco because I was running out of books to read on my trip.*

Montaigne was the mayor of Bordeaux, but he is famous for his Essays, which he began writing in 1572. Montaigne spoke only Latin as a child; he survived the plague and the religious civil wars of France; and he traveled in an age when most people didn't. Sarah Bakewell tells these and other stories from Montaigne's life, with each chapter of How to Live answering that question with examples from Montaigne's life and writing. How to Live is also a history of the Essays: the author describes them as
“a centuries-long conversation between Montaigne and all those who have got to know him: a conversation which changes through history, while starting out afresh almost every time with that cry of 'How did he know all that about me?'”
If you read How to Live, you'll want to read or re-read Montaigne's Essays next. BHPL owns a book of selections (made by Salvador Dali, no less) from Charles Cotton's 17th century translation of the Essays. Cotton has old-fashioned language compared to Donald Frame's 1958 translation. However, Cotton translated the essays as they were published during Montaigne's lifetime, and his translation is free online. Frame's translation - 908 pages in paperback- is based on Marie de Gournay's posthumous edition of the Essays.

*Unrelated but cool (like one of Montaigne's tangents!): check out Green Apple's photos from their recent midnight launch party for Haruki Murakami's 1Q84.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Teaching the Low-tech Way

I sometimes wonder if the greatest invention of the late 20th century was the PC or the Post-it note. Some days I would definitely go for that little sticky piece of paper. In fact, when a patron comes up to the desk and hands the reference librarian a small crumpled-up piece of paper with an almost illegible scribble on it, that is usually the beginning of a very interesting interaction. Do you have this book? Can you figure out who called me from this number? Can you find me information on this disease/drug/procedure? Can you find the actual law from this citation?A recent article in the New York Times describes a Waldorf School in California where many Silicon Valley employees enroll their children. The irony is that Waldorf Schools do not use computers in the classroom until middle school and then in a very limited way. The Waldorf philosophy is very low-tech and old fashioned. Read about it here:
This article in the New York Times 
What do you think the best way to teach young children is? Are computers helpful or harmful at that age?
Despite all the advances and changes in public library services, most people still think of the old-fashioned book as the centerpiece of the library mission. Quick: I say "library", you think insert word here_________!

The Carpet Squares Have Landed! Flood Damage Update

Today the carpet squares for the lower level were delivered.
The pattern with the circles which covered the Children's Room before the Wrath of Irene took out our Lower Level is now out-of-print or whatever it's called in the world of floor coverings.

Catch previous posts about the clean-up efforts here:
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 1
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 2
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 3
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 4
We hope our young patrons will enjoy the new pattern of blue squares.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day After Night by Anita Diamant

The library's morning book group will discuss Day After Night, Anita Diamant's latest novel, on Friday, November 4 at 10:30 a.m. on the upper level of the library. Readers may know Diamant best for The Red Tent, in which Dinah from the Book of Genesis narrates the story of her life.

Based on true historical events, Day After Night tells the story of four young women thrown together in a British internment camp for Jews fleeing to Israel in 1945. Tedi, Leonie, Shayndel, and Zorah are from the Netherlands, France and Poland and are learning Hebrew at Atlit, the camp. I read it quickly, wanting to find out how each of them survived the Holocaust and how their new lives in Israel would begin.

Anita Diamant's web site has a great interview with her here. She grew up in Newark and her Amazon biography tells about her experiences with her childhood library.

Simon and Schuster has published the discussion questions for Day After Night.