Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Today's Book News

Anyone can vote for their favorite books in the online poll for the Quill Awards. There are nominees for every genre as well as for 'Debut Author of the Year.' In the latter category there are five nominees including William Alexander for The $64 Tomato which is described on the site -
"William Alexander had a simple dream of having a vegetable garden and small orchard in his backyard. It was a dream that would lead to life-and-death battles with groundhogs, webworms, and weeds; midnight expeditions in the dead of winter to dig up fresh thyme; skirmishes with neighbors who feed the vermin (i.e., deer); the near electrocution of the tree man; and the pity of his wife and children. When Alexander decided to run a cost-benefit analysis, adding up everything from the Havahart animal trap ($60) to the Velcro tomato wraps ($5) to the steel edging ($1,200), then amortizing it over the life of his garden, it came as quite a shock to learn that it cost him a staggering $64 to grow each tomato."
Any non-professional (ie: not an actual farmer) who has grown tomatoes can relate to his experience I think.

Monday, August 21, 2006

TumbleBooks Library: E-Books for Kids

BHPL has just acquired TumbleBook Library, an online library of streaming audio books which offers young Berkeley Heights Public Library patrons unlimited remote access to a wide variety of children’s books, read-alongs, animated storybooks, puzzles, games and language learning. Audio books in French, Chinese and Spanish are available for read-along. TumbleBooks are never all checked out, never on hold. Children who enjoy educational software will love these audiobooks and games and improve reading and comprehension skills while having fun. Berkeley Heights Library patrons can access the entire collection from any computer with an internet connection by visiting the Berkeley Heights Library website and first clicking on “Remote Databases.” After entering their BHPL barcode and pin, patrons should then click on “TumbleBook Library.” Netlibrary, the popular audiobook service which the library introduced last summer, also offers downloadable books for teens and children. Netlibrary titles can be transferred to an MP3 player and broadcast over a car radio for vacation trips.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Island Memoirs: Sicily and Harris, Scotland

"Strange and magical things happen on islands," begins the blurb from John Rasmus, editor of National Geographic Adventure on the back cover of Seasons on Harris: a year in Scotlands Outer Hebrides by David Yeadon. Yeadon is a travel writer and visiting the Hebrides, west of Scotland, where Gaelic is spoken, Harris tweed is woven and ancient Celtic traditions survive, is his latest adventure. The author illustrated the book with charming line drawings throughout. Escaping to a remote island is a dream and a dread for people, as Yeadon says (p. 3) "[it] surely must be the fantasy of many of us -- to live simply on a remote island among warmhearted people, sampling strange and wonderful foods, and sipping, in this instance, the glorious malt whiskies so beloved by the Highlanders, and the world in general for that matter." But not a good fantasy for everyone, a Scottish judge once sentenced a criminal to Harris figuring it "would probably be a 'more effective punishment' than sending him to jail on the mainland." (p. xix of the Foreward) This combination of yearning but with dread and condescension towards island life is common, but Yeadon's story goes deeper than that and reflects admiration and awe for it's history and people.
Sicily, three thousand years of human history by Sandra Benjamin is another island history book on BHPL's New Non-fiction Shelves. "Sicily is know for its Mafia and its emigration," states the author (p. xiv Introduction.) That's a provocative statement about a fascinating island's history. Starting in 800 BC and ending with autonomy after World War II, Benjamin covers the sociopolitical history of the island.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Joe Queenan - Reading as Multi-Tasking

Why I Can't Stop Starting Books, a recent Sunday New York Times Book Review column by humorist Joe Queenan expressed a problem we've heard a lot about this summer. Patrons keep starting books, but, unlike, Queenan, do not wish to finish them. This is the summer of the disappointing book, but maybe that's what happens when you look for mere entertaining "beach reads" instead of going for the classic and serious tomes as he does. Still, despite wide- spread cases of severe trashy-book-guilt, there really should be books that fall somewhere between abysmal schlock and mind-numbing erudition. Shouldn't there? Perhaps Queenan's own 2004 title Queenan Country, a reluctant Anglophile's pilgrimage to the mother country would fall in that category. The reviews are good, the book is short, the author is well-read and the cover is ironic or iconic (?): the famous photo of the Beatles crossing Abby Road with Queenan substituted for the four moptops.
Since the NYT's links go bad after a short while, here is an excerpt from the column. The library has the NYT online, so full-text articles can be retrieved from as far back as 1851 even after blog links go to link heaven. He states at the start of the column:
"... I am never reading fewer than 25 books. I am not talking about books I have delved into, perused and set aside, like “Finnegans Wake” or Pamela Anderson’s first novel — that would get me up way over a hundred. I am talking about books I am actively reading, books that are on my nightstand and are not leaving there until I am done with them. Right now, the number is 27."
Later he names names:
"A few weeks ago, I read Barbara Freese’s “Coal: A Human History,” four chapters of “The Guns of August,” and a collection of harrowing stories about addicts, creeps and losers called “Jesus’ Son,” by Denis Johnson, which served as a 75-minute pit stop between Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination and the coal industry’s offensive against Al Gore in 2000. Simultaneously, I wrapped up “The Pickup,” a brilliant, insufficiently appreciated novel by Nadine Gordimer, and “Henry Miller on Writing,” ramblings by the most overrated writer of the 20th century. Meanwhile, I was blasting away at story collections by Mavis Gallant, John McGahern, Thomas Mann and Marcel AymĂ©, none of whom write about addicts. I was also plowing through A. J. P. Taylor’s heretical “Origins of the Second World War,” Paul Cartledge’s snappy reappraisal of Alexander the Great, and Jeff Long’s gutsy demythologizing of the Alamo legend. A bit farther back on the burner were Flann O’Brien’s uproarious “At Swim-Two-Birds” and Oscar Wilde’s children’s tales. I am also reading not one but two books about Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas. This is madness."
Yes, madness, but impressive. But about that Pamela Anderson title...?

Women Who Write: Madison, N.J.

BHPL just received the new copy of Goldfinch, volume 9, the literary magazine of an authors group based in Madison, NJ called Women Who Write. For more information about them, take a look at their website. The Goldfinch will be kept in our New Jersey Vertical File under NJ - Authors. The information in the cover letter will be kept in our blue community binders. Ask at the Reference Desk for these materials.
There is also a writers group that meets at the Scotch Plains Public Library called the New Jersey Writers Society. Call the Scotch Plains Library for further information (908) 322-5007

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Online Book Clubs

If you would like to try an online book discussion group, try Abebooks' Avid Reader Book Club. The current book is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Previous choices were:
ElleDouglas Glover
Angle of ReposeWallace Stegner
The Kite RunnerKhaled Hosseini
The Time Traveler's WifeAudrey Niffenegger
EmmaJane Austen
Balzac and the Little Chinese SeamstressDai Sijie
Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorrellSusanna Clarke
Life of PiYann Martel

The Reading Group Guides website is currently discussing Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, one of my favorite books in recent years.
On the same website is a reading guide and discussion for the Big Stone Gap Trilogy by Adriana Trigiani and Water for Elephants by Sara Ruen which has been touted as the best new read of the summer.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Boarding School Literature

The fascination with boarding and prep schools noted in this blog not long ago continues with Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Janet Maslin of the New York Times writes in the Sunday Book Review, "Marisha Pessl’s “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” is the most flashily erudite first novel since Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Everything Is Illuminated.” With its pirouettes and cartwheels, its tireless annotations and digressions, it has a similar whiz-kid eagerness to wow the reader. In Ms. Pessl’s case that means sustaining the mock-academic brio of her title throughout a long, serpentine, seemingly lightweight schoolgirl story. It also means that the narrative, described as “Core Curriculum,” is sectioned into chapters named for works by writers familiar from the classroom. "
The website for the book is very weird and I gave up on it, but here's the link if you like interactive and, to my mind, ornery, websites. Googling the title turns up many reviews which discuss the beauty of the author and the size of her advance fee, but most reviewers seem to agree that the book does have merit and isn't just a case of what Justine Ettler in the Australian called "hot young author syndrome." Ettler goes on to say,

"Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a clever, sweet, lovable book. I really liked it. Maybe it's a bit precious in a Legally Blonde kind of way but I can live with that. I loved the PoMo way, even though it was a novel, it used conventions usually found in a university thesis. While it's true that Pessl is young, photogenic and precocious, she's also a very talented writer who has crafted a first-class debut. "

Benezit Dictionary of Artists

BHPL has just acquired Benezit Dictionary of Artists which has been translated into English for the first time since its initial publication in 1911 as The Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs de tous les temps et de tous les pays. BHPL is the MUF library specializing in art (Each of the seven libraries in the Morris Union Federation of Libraries has a subject specialty), so this fourteen volume reference work with it auction records and biographical information in 170,000 entries fills a need for information on artists and their works not easily found elsewhere.
Reviews state:
"The major advantage of Benezit over artist indexes . . . is that it provides more detailed biographical data. . . . And yes, Benezit often has the most comprehensive listing on an artist available anywhere, especially more obscure names. It also lists many artists who are not found in artist indexes or price guides. " -, May 2006

"This authoritative and useful work is the standard biographical listing of artists, outdoing similar resources in both size and scope. As such, it belongs in all major American libraries." - Library Journal, June 1, 2006