Monday, July 26, 2021

The Opposite of Beach Reading

Beach reading is an activity I look forward to every year as soon as I get tired of snow and lose my last pair of warm gloves.  I’m already reading reviews of summer releases  before Valentine’s Day so I am ready to move on to my favorite summer authors by Memorial Day.  It is easy to blame Covid-19 and, perhaps, my expectations were unusually high, but summer reading 2021 has been a serious disappointment.  I’m not saying the books were not well written, but the first few pages left no doubt that it would be a bumpy road ahead.

My reaction was to switch to several mystery authors that I had not read before.  I reverted to my old practice of reading only mysteries, preferably in a series, that emphasize location as a crucial component in the storyline.  Books by Sharyn McCrumb, Margaret Maron, Julia Keller, and Adriana Trigiani  are prime examples of the location setting the framework by incorporating local customs, shared history, and a strong sense of community.  On a lighter note, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series would fit in this category because I spent years living in Mercer County and visited that part of Trenton on Sunday mornings to visit the Italian bakeries she mentions. 

On a more serious note, my new favorites include the Geneva Chase series by Thomas Kies, John McMahon’s series featuring Detective P.T. Marsh, and Tom Bouman’s Henry Farrell series.  Geneva Chase, a crime reporter in Sheffield, Connecticut, is faced with keeping her job as print newspapers are rapidly disappearing.  In spite of her ongoing problems with alcohol and an inability to sustain close relationships, she manages to solve crimes and stay to fight another day.   Detective P.T. Marsh works in a more rural setting in Mason Falls, Georgia.  He is also fighting alcoholism and recovering from the deaths of his wife and child in a car accident.  Kirkus has described McMahon’s writing  as “southern gothic mingles with modern noir”.  Henry Farrell has moved home to Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania, to serve as the only law enforcement officer in a town struggling to survive against drugs, a failing economy, and the threat of fracking.  Having envisioned a life of hunting and fishing, Farrell finds himself in the uncomfortable position of knowing too many of the residents and their previous problems with the law.

Be advised that all three of the series should be read in order.  Also, I read every book on Libby or hoopla.

Thomas Kies:  Random Road; Darkness Lane; Graveyard Bay; and Shadow Hill (due in August)

John McMahon:  Good Detective; The Evil Men Do; and A Good Kill

Tomas Bouman:  Dry Bones in the Valley; Fateful Mornings; and Bramble and the Rose

If you are looking for a less traditional mystery, try Concrete Vineyard by Cam Lang.  I learned more than I need to know about the history of Niagara on the Lake (NOTL), zoning regulations in Canada, successful urban planning, growing grapes, and the War of 1812.  I loved it! 

~S. Bakos

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Summer Reading - Fiction edition

 Several weeks ago I described the non-fiction titles I read over the summer.  Yes, I have been reading more than usual during the summer of quarantine, but summer has always been my happy reading place.  Although my summer selections invariably include several beaches, in 2020 only Rachel Beanland’s Florence Adler Swims Forever made the list.  Set in Atlantic City in 1934, Florence is training to be the first Jewish woman to swim the English Channel.  Florence isn’t the main character as much as a way to introduce the other characters and the secrets they are hiding.  Three generations of the family are seriously impacted by one tragic event and life in America’s Playground will never be the same for them.

I was attracted to the title of Julie Kibler’s Home for Erring and Outcast Girls.  Based on the Berachah Industrial Home, an actual place in Ohio in the early 1900’s, the fictional setting is the Berachah Home for the Redemption and Protection of Erring Girls.  The title says it all.  The mission of the church-based home was to assist women facing a variety of hardships while learning a trade or working within the home to care for and educate the children.  We follow two young women, Lizzie and Mattie, from the time they arrive until they go their separate ways many years later.  We also meet Cate, a librarian in 1998 researching the archives of the Home.   Cate had been  raised in a conservative Christian home, but had made the choice to leave.  It sounds like a soap opera, but the story and characters are compelling.

 Another book split between two time periods is Karma Brown’s Recipe for a Perfect Wife.  Wife # 1 is living in the 1950’s and wife #2 lives in a more current time.  Advice on how to be a good wife with a good marriage is scattered throughout the book  along with recipes and gardening tips.  Depending on your point of view, the advice is either really funny, really offensive, or both.  Neither marriage is perfect and the two wives are facing different challenges.  Expect a few surprises along the way. 

Yours, Jean, by Lee Marten, is based on a real crime in 1952.  A young librarian is killed on the first day of school and we meet her murderer, landlady, landlady’s daughter, daughter’s boyfriend, young student, taxi driver, hotel clerk, and local police.  Everyone is impacted in some way and must figure out how to move forward.

Reading reviews for What are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez did not prepare me for the book.  A terminally ill woman asks a friend to stay with her until she decides to end her life.  The two remain nameless throughout the book which is unusual and strangely unsettling since the subject matter is so personal.  Wonderful quotes from famous authors and philosophers appear throughout the books as well as an extremely depressing lecture on climate change and the imminent end of the world.  Yes, it makes sense, but it made me consider going under my bed and just staying there.  As one reviewer wrote, the book is “dryly funny and deeply tender; draining and worth it”.   

My current reading is the new crop of partisan political books.  I am trying to be fair and read both sides of the divide, but only for 25 pages each.  Do people read these books to learn more, to  strengthen their existing position, or to be offended by the opposition?

~S. Bakos

Monday, August 24, 2020

Tic-Tac-Toe Challenge

Back at the beginning of the summer I posted a tic-tac-toe reading challenge to BHPL’s Facebook and website.  People were already reading more downloadable titles and it seemed like a good idea to suggest that readers expand their reading horizons.  I, for the first time ever, made a vow to read more non-fiction before Labor Day than I normally would.

The game categories included a book on any branch of science, a book based on something/anything currently in the news, a non-fiction title about an unfamiliar subject, and a biography or autobiography.    I started with John Dickerson’s The Hardest Job in the World.  Dickerson traces the evolution and expansion of the duties of the Presidency, both mandated by the Constitution and those expected by the public.  By discussing the management styles and philosophies of a variety of past and more current Presidents, he emphasizes the need to build a strong team, knowing when to delegate, and establishing priorities.  The time from campaigning to winning the election and taking office is so abbreviated and demands different skill sets from staff and a different mindset from the incoming President.  Dickerson uses anecdotes and quotes to keep the tone of the book more conversational than pedantic.  As the 2020 elections approach, this book definitely counted as a subject currently in the news.

My science choice was Countdown 1945 by Chris Wallace.  It seemed appropriate as we commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima.  I am still amazed that Vice President Truman didn’t know about the Manhattan Project until FDR unexpectedly died.  I am also still wondering how entire towns, such as Los Alamos, were secretly built during wartime.  I am perhaps most surprised that Wallace successfully added a dimension of suspense to a story when we already know the ending.  The cast of scientists, military personnel, foreign leaders, and U.S. politicians could have been overwhelming, but Wallace juggled the people and timeline to keep the story moving.  Again, the author used quotes and anecdotes to make the people involved more real and the decision, right or wrong depending your own opinion, even more difficult.

Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy by Larry Tye falls into the category of an unfamiliar subject.  I know only a basic outline of his actions, but nothing about his life or motivation.  Tye quotes Ethel Kennedy as describing McCarthy as a good man for a fun time.  Robert Kennedy attended McCarthy’s funeral even after JFK told him not to.  I am still reading this book.

You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe takes a good look at George Washington, warts and all.  I know more about his early life, family relationships, frequent illnesses, military career, and financial difficulties than I would have thought possible in a relatively short book.  Coe credits/discredits Washington with starting the first world war, mishandling Indian affairs, refusing to free slaves, and inconsistent relationships with foreign countries.  She also acknowledges how and why he seemed like the most logical and qualified first President.  Coe’s writing makes me think of Sarah Vowell’s  Layfette’s in the Somewhat United States.  Coe’s books have been described insightful and unconventional.  I consider that to be a recommendation.

I have not ignored my typical summer and beach reading, but that is another blog post.

~S. Bakos

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Berkeley Heights Public Library Plan to Move Forward with Re-Opening (approved 6/18/2020 – Stage 1 – Stage 3)

The Board of Trustees and Staff of BHPL are looking forward to a staged re-opening, focusing on the safety and well-being of patrons, library users, and staff. This plan is broken down into Stages based on regulations and guidance provided by State Administrative Orders and the New Jersey State Library.

Stage One: Preparation
Continuing to purchase the supplies needed to sanitize books, counters, computers, restrooms, etc. These supplies include gloves and masks for staff, an additional hand sanitizer dispenser (entry way and outside ADA restroom), containers of disinfecting wipes for all departments, and verifying the products used by the cleaning company. A spreadsheet will be maintained to track supplies to facilitate reordering and provide a list of vendors. Signs will be posted to remind staff to wear masks and gloves, sanitize work surfaces, and maintain, as much as possible, social distancing.

Plexiglass will be installed at the Circulation Desk.

Purchasing supplies necessary for curb-side delivery (bags for adults and children).

Creating a list of outlets to promote the re-opening schedule – BHPL website, BHPL facebook, BH Township Newsletter, Recreation Department mailings, BH Schools, Tapinto Berkeley Heights, and the electronic sign on Springfield Ave.

Stage Two: Return of Materials – June 22 – July 3
In order to quarantine materials for 72 hours, bagged returns will be accepted outside the building. Patrons can call from the parking lot or ring the bell. Collecting as many returns as possible during this time will facilitate returning books to the shelves and making more items available when holds are reinstated. The book drop will remain closed until July 6th.

          Hours June 22 – July 3 (closed July 4th and 5th)
          Monday, Wednesday, Friday 9:00 – 4:00
          Tuesday and Thursday 9:00 – 8:00
          Saturday 9:00 – 4:00 and Sunday 12:00 – 4:00

Starting July 6th, the book drop will be available when BHPL is closed. Patrons will still call from parking lot or ring bell to return bagged items.

Returned items will be arranged, in order of date returned, throughout the lower level. Staff will wear masks and gloves when handling items. After 72 hours, book covers will be cleaned with sanitizing wipes, checked in and shelved.

All surfaces (tables, counters, circulation workstations, book carts, etc.) will be regularly cleaned and staff will change gloves when moving from task to task. Checklists for surfaces to be cleaned will be posted in each department.

Delivery of items ordered during the closure will resume.

During Stage 2 – notices to the public will include: updates on Stage 2 progress, specific dates, no donations, no books from other libraries with the exception of previously borrowed ILLs. BHPL cannot assume responsibility for books left outside when BHPL is closed or the book drop is full, reinforce digital services available.

Stage 3: Curbside Pick-Up – July 6th

Public will not be allowed in the building – public interacting with staff must wear masks.

Staff will continue to wear gloves and masks and regularly sanitize workstations, keyboards, and other work surfaces.

Based on NJ State Guidelines, returned items will still be quarantined and not checked in until after the quarantine period and exterior sanitizing.

Pick-up hours will be:
          Monday, Wednesday, Friday 9:00 – 4:00
          Tuesday and Thursday 9:00 – 8:00
          Saturday 9:00 – 1:00 (July – mid-August)

After the initial return period (6/22 – 7/3), staff will restore holds which had been paused when BHPL closed. Cardholders will be able to reserve materials online, by email, or by calling. Email notification will resume.

For Books on the Run (reserve of items available on the shelves) staff will collect the items and call the patron when the items have been checked out and bagged for pick-up. A pick-up time will be confirmed. Patron can call from parking lot or ring the bell.

ILL and delivery service will not be available. Items returned here for other libraries will not be returned until the delivery service is reinstated. Berkeley Heights materials returned to other libraries will remain on patron cards until returned to BHPL.

Stage 3 – notices to the public will include Stage 3 updates with specific dates and reminder of delivery service limitations. Overdue notices will start on Monday, July 20th.


Stage 4: Gradual Re-Opening for the Public – date TBD
Limitations will be determined for how many people can be in the building and for how long.

Signs will be posted limiting the smaller rooms to only 1 person. In the main fiction room and reference area patrons can browse while observing social distancing. In the newspaper room 2 patrons can read while social distancing. Extra chairs will be removed from the rooms to discourage gathering.

Patrons in the hallways will be asked to observe social distancing to the extent possible.

Patrons will be able to come to the Circulation Desk to pick up holds, return materials (to the box inside the door to the main library), and checkout materials.

Signs will be posted asking patrons not to reshelve items while they are browsing and making selections. Items can be left on a table in each room to be collected by staff.

Patrons can call the Reference Department to reserve a public access computer, limited to 3 patrons at any time, with a limit of 2 hours if anyone has called or is waiting.

Staff will continue to wear masks and gloves and regularly sanitize work spaces.

Only the ADA compliant restroom will be open. Staff will check periodically.

Stage 4: Children’s Room – Gradual Re-Opening
The size and shape of this room and the size and ages of the clientele make this room particularly difficult to sanitize and enforce social distancing.

AWE computers, all toys, puzzles, stuffed animals, and craft supplies have been removed. A parent or caregiver with child/children can call to make an appointment to use the room for 20 minutes, time to be extended of no one is waiting. The adult is asked to keep the children in the same area.

Monday, June 15, 2020

What Has Been Your Experience Reading During the Covid-19 Quarantine?

Quarantine Reading

Have your reading habits and choices changed during the Covid-19 Quarantine?  After realizing that mine have, I asked several BHPL staff to write a paragraph about what’s happening to them.  Starting with me, in the very beginning I simply couldn’t find a book that held my interest for more than twenty or thirty pages.  I didn’t like the characters, story, writing, or anything else.  I reverted to a few of my favorite authors for several books before I started venturing back out of my reading shell.   Also, I stopped watching news programs on TV or listening to serious news during my trips back and forth to work.  Unfortunately for my ability to sleep soundly, my next choices were several dark, atmospheric mysteries featuring premonitions and really creepy characters.  I was reading more and enjoying it less.  The weather started to improve and I could, in good conscience, declare it time to start my annual summer reading.  If I read hard covers or even paperbacks, my current reading choices are so light and happy they could fly away.  Fortunately, I download my titles so they can’t escape when I turn off the device.  I am reading more and sleeping better.
~Stephanie Bakos

When I was very young I dreamed that I was in a big comfy chair in a log cabin with a fire place, and a cat, and the walls lined with books.  And more books in piles. And a book in my lap and a cup of hot chocolate.  I could spend the rest of eternity snuggled up with a good read. Aaah.  Two months ago, when our lives took a turn, I tried reading a book but it did me no good.  Non-stop media news was all the new storyline I could process.  After 3 or 4 weeks of learning new rules and practices, while gorging on breaking news, I felt starved for a story about something else.  Even then it took a lot of looking to settle on Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.   I won’t say much about it, but if the time comes when you don’t know what to, read this.  This one book was all it took to set me back on track  and rekindle my reading dream. I fixed up a cozy reading nest with lots of pillows, a blanket, a stack of books, a cat, and, this time, a glass of wine.  Aaah.
~Laura Fuhro

Little did I know when I picked up Chris Bohjalian’s latest novel The Red Lotus that I would be reading a fictionalized, prophetic version of our current situation.  Being a fan of his writing, I had placed a hold on the book not really paying attention to the plot… a biologically engineered pathogen ready to be released by unscrupulous scientists to create a worldwide plague.  It was a slow read, but eerily riveting. Unfortunately, this slowness has become a pattern.  My reading has slowed down and has even become distracted during this time. For someone who works at a library and has access to thousands of books, I am also given many books as gifts by family and friends.  Adding to that, I love to browse, or should I say purchase, at independent and used bookstores.  I decided to focus on the  books from my own shelves, bedside piles and Kindle.  As I looked through the these titles, I saw that they held wonderful memories.  Reminiscing had me picking up books and flipping through, but not really reading them.  At work I read a review of an upcoming novel that sounded interesting.  I saw the author had published previously so I downloaded Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev from hoopla and read it on my phone in two days.  Amazing, perhaps I am out of my slowness rut.  Currently throughout the house I have many half-started or half-finished books depending on how you look at it.  Is it because I’m not focused and my mind wanders to happier, freer times when I acquired these books? Is there just one more chore I need to do around the house before I can sit and read? Or is it that I am asked twenty times a day “What’s for dinner?”.
~Ann-Marie Sieczka

Due to almost everything being closed due to COVID-19, I thought "Great! Now I will have more time to read books!" It's not exactly worked out that way. In some ways, I feel that I have less "me" time because my family is together more with few opportunities for us to run off to do our own things. We do more things together than before, e.g. taking walks, eating, watching movies and TV. I have made some changes in terms of my reading habits; I’m reading newspapers and magazines more (and not just articles about the coronavirus!). I've been reading more variety: I read The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah and listened to Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (both novels) and I also have 2 non-fiction books (one print and one ebook) on my to-read list. The biggest change has been making an effort to read 1-3 chapters of a book most nights before going to sleep. Hopefully, even when we get back to "normal", some of these new reading habits will stick.
~Lisa Wernett