Monday, December 31, 2007

The Shadow Man by Mary Gordon

The book group will meet on Friday, January 4 at 10:30 am to discuss The Shadow Man, a memoir by author Mary Gordon. Everyone is welcome, even if you haven't read it.

Mary Gordon's father died when she was 7. Decades later, as a feminist author and professor, she forces herself to look at the pornographic magazine he published, and read the articles he wrote in support of McCarthy, Mussolini and Franco, as well as anti-Semitic pieces attacking Hollywood and Spanish Civil War volunteers (despite having been Jewish before his conversion). Shadow Man is the story of her reconciling this man with the adoring father who wrote her charming letters, published a children's magazine, left marginalia in his books addressed to her.

How was Mary Gordon's life influenced by the father that she believed in (Harvard graduate, writer and publisher, a European traveler, a devout Catholic) even if he wasn't the man she thought he was? If he had lived, would his influence on her have been different? How or why not?

Were there any extenuating circumstances that might explain why her father lied about so much (and did not tell them about important things from his past)? If you had the opportunity to discover whether a parent had lied to you about something important, would you want to know?

What did you think about the author having her father's body exhumed? Was it symbolic?

Why is it so important to us to think of our ancestors as being successful, especially after they have arrived in America?

Did you find the part about genealogical research interesting? Did it remind you of any experiences you've had tracing your family?

Did you think the section about her mother belonged in this book? Why or why not?

Do you have any early memories that you suspect to be unreliable? Why do memories deceive us?

More discussion questions are available at the Random House web site.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

If You Are Reading This Blog, You Don't Need Our Beginning Computer Classes

But maybe you know someone who would like to take a 1 1/2 hour class for computer or internet or Microsoft Word beginners. BHPL will be offering free computer classes in January and February on Thursday mornings at 10:00 am. Registration begins Wednesday, January 2. For a complete schedule, contact the Reference Desk.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Libraries in the News: Attention Must Be Paid...please?

According to the Library of Congress blog, LC is given ten minutes of screen time in the new National Treasure: Book of Secrets movie starring Nicholas Cage. The LC blogger hopes this might help bring positive attention to our national library.

Library Journal reveals that Cuyahoga Library has extended its toy lending program of 15 years to all branches. Patrons can reserve toys from the library website. The website notes that each toy is inspected and disinfected between borrowers. MRSA anyone?

LJ also reports that the SanFranscisco library has a Book a Librarian service. Patrons can make appointments to meet individually with a librarian. SFPL librarians provide research and technology help. Note that BHPL reference librarians can usually give enough time to each patron to fully answer questions, but if you need more, we are willing to arrange a slightly longer than usual time to help you with your email for example.

Jacob Liebenluft wrote in Slate that Yahoo Answers is a Librarian's Worst Nightmare. Yahoo Answers is a website where people can ask any question and instantly get answers from any person at all who has signed on to be a member. It is very easy to become a member. I signed up last week and have answered a few questions and noticed that Yahoo Answerers rarely cite sources. Answers are generally people's opinions, anecdotes and casual personal experiences. Last fall there was a big push in the librarian universe for reference librarians to answer questions on websites like Yahoo Answers so that people would realize that libraries are a good resource also. This effort was Slamming the Boards which is now supposed to be a monthly event.

Libraries lending toys, lending librarians, being happy to get ten minutes in a major movies and proving our relative value on web answer sites - What do these four stories about libraries and librarians have in common? Again it's the common theme in the library profession: are we obsolete yet? and please notice that we are still useful.
Well, no we aren't and yes, we are. Are we the self-designated buggy whips of professions? We are still here. Quiet, but here. Stop by, give us a call, ask a question.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

December 21

December 21 is best known as the shortest day of the year. But did you know it's also the Elvis Presley Meets President Nixon Anniversary as well as the 95th Anniversary of the Crossword Puzzle? And there's Phileas Fogg Wins a Wager Day. In Jules Vernes' Around the World in Eighty Days, Fogg returned from his trip around the world on December 21.

These strange anniversaries and events come from Chase's Calendar of Events, one of the more entertaining reference books at BHPL. Here are a few more holidays to look forward to:

March 3, 2008: What If Cats and Dogs Had Opposable Thumbs Day

March 7, 2008: Middle Name Pride Day. "Tell three people who don't already know it what your middle name is (even if it's Egbert). Annually the Friday of Celebrate Your Name Week."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Elling is a Norwegian film based on the novel of the same name by Ingvar Ambjørnsen, which on the new book shelf at BHPL. But if you'd like to watch the film, a comedy with English subtitles, please join us tomorrow, December 20 at 7 p.m. for a free viewing.

The synopsis:
Take one timid, neurotic would-be poet afraid of facing the world; add a burly, not-very-bright womanizing roommate and you have the definitive odd couple. Elling and Bjarne, both recently discharged from a state institution, figure their best chance of making it on the outside is to share a flat. This bittersweetly comic portrait of socially challenged people trying to cope with everyday life became Norway’s top-grossing locally produced movie. It won the Lubeck Nordic Film Days award and was Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Picture. The film is rated R.

To sample Elling's reviews from newspapers around the country, visit Elling received 48 "fresh tomato" reviews and 9 rotten reviews on the critics tomatometer.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy Birthday, Transistor

The Independent Press reminds us this week that Sunday was the 60th anniversary of the Noble Prize-worthy transistor, invented in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Berkeley Heights.

Although originally invented as a way to amplify voices over the telephone, transistors are now an essential part of the silicon chips that power your computer. The more transistors on a chip, the faster the computing speed. CNN recently noted that we are reaching the point where transistors can't be made any smaller, which has spurred research on ways to use the transistors on chips more efficiently.

BHPL has a 7 volume history of Bell Labs up to 1975 entitled A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System. For a more recent (and less daunting) history, try End of the Line: The Rise and Fall of AT&T by Leslie Cauley. If you are interested in the transistors' inventors, BHPL has the biography of John Bardeen, True Genius: The Life and Science of John Bardeen by Lillian Hoddeson.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Books That Make You Laugh . . .

is the theme of December's book display at BHPL. Some of the titles we have featured:


A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
"Awed by merely the camping section of his local sporting goods store, he nevertheless plunges into the wilderness and emerges with a consistently comical account of a neophyte woodsman learning hard lessons about self-reliance."
(Publisher's Weekly)

Lois on the Loose: One Woman, One Motorcycle, 20,000 Miles Across the Americas by Lois Pryce
"She bought a small dirt bike, a versatile and affordable Yamaha XT225 Serow, and decided she'd bike from Anchorage, Alaska, to the southernmost city of South America, Ushuaia, Argentina—almost 20,000 miles. . . travelers will delight in this funny, vivid account and—almost—wish they'd done it themselves."
(Publisher's Weekly)

Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide by Peter Allison
"In this fun, fearless memoir, Allison shares his experiences taking "guests" through the African wilderness, trips that often don't go quite as planned-due especially to the unpredictability of the animals around them."
(Publisher's Weekly)

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
"Sedaris also writes here about the time he spent in France and the difficulty of learning another language. After several extended stays in a little Norman village and in Paris, Sedaris had progressed, he observes, "from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. `Is thems the thoughts of cows?' I'd ask the butcher, pointing to the calves' brains displayed in the front window."
(Publisher's Weekly)

Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler by Wade Rouse
"Wade's irreverent look at his career at Tate is laugh-out-loud funny and full of charm, candor, and a boatload of cattiness."


Amazing Disgrace by James Hamilton-Paterson
"The humorous trials and tribulations of a British ghostwriter. . . Gerald, who would rather be writing a serious biography of a notable music figure, instead ghostwrites for popular sports figures to maintain his expatriate life in the mountains of Italy." (Library Journal)

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
"The author has recently added humor to his arsenal of effects, and this thriller also stands out for its brilliant tightrope walk between the amusing and the macabre; one of the dead with whom Odd interacts frequently, for instance, is Elvis, still pining for his long-dead mother, Gladys."
(Publisher's Weekly)

The Impartial Recorder by Ian Sansom
"After 20 years in London, Davey Quinn, the seventh son of a seventh son, returns to his small Irish hometown with a sense of failure. . . Read this book with someone close at hand because you'll want to keep quoting the funny bits."
(Library Journal)

Mermaids on the Moon by Elizabeth French-Stuckey
"In this wonderfully quirky debut novel, 35-year-old France's mother, Grendy, inexplicably disappears from Mermaid City, Fla., where she has been performing with a small group of former "mermaids," leaving a note to her husband, a minister, claiming she has "to find herself."
(Publisher's Weekly)

Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich
"Stephanie Plum, Evanovich's delightfully zany New Jersey bounty hunter, is the star of this too short but hilarious holiday romp."
(Publisher's Weekly)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Writers and Readers

If you are looking for something different to read, you might try reading a book recommended by an author you like. A new website,, publishes authors' reviews of other authors' books. Diane Mott Davidson, the culinary mystery author, canceled her day's plans to read William Boyd's Restless. Tess Gerritsen calls Linwood Barclay's No Time for Goodbye one of the best thrillers of the year.

If you're a reader who would like to become a writer, you may be interested in Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer.
Prose (Blue Angel; A Changed Man) masterfully meditates on how quality reading informs great writing, which will warm the cold, jaded hearts of even the most frustrated, unappreciated and unpublished writers. Chapters treat the nuts and bolts of writing (words, sentences, paragraphs) as well as issues of craft (narration, character, dialogue), all of which Prose discusses using story or novel excerpts.
-Publisher's Weekly

All of the authors and books mentioned in this post are owned by BHPL if you are interested in checking them out.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Free Acres, Berkeley Heights, NJ

Berkeley Heights, NJ has a community within the community called Free Acres. It is often described as a remnant of Nineteenth Century utopian social philosophy made real in the early Twentieth Century (1910) To find out more about the 66 acres that make up this unique community, take a look at the new Free Acres Website.

Other resources about Free Acres:
Linus Yamane's recollections of growing up in Free Acres.
Judith Gay's piece from Associated Content.
Wikipedia's article on Free Acres
1998 New York Times article, If you are thinking of living in...
2005 New Jersey Monthly article

BHPL has newspaper clipping and photo files and books on New Jersey and Berkeley Heights, NJ which may contain some information on Free Acres.

Library Book Group to Discuss the History of Love

The Second Tuesday of the Month BHPL Book Group will be discussing Nicole Krauss' book, the History of Love tomorrow evening, 12/11/2007 at 7:30 p.m. in the meeting room. The New York Times Book Review described the book in an interview with the author:"The History of Love is a significant novel, genuinely one of the year’s best. Old Leo (a new entry in the Jewish-lit canon) nurses the loss of his true love, as well as his only son—a famous writer—and his own great manuscript. Krauss’s novel is emotionally wrenching yet intellectually rigorous, idea-driven but with indelible characters and true suspense."
Norton, the publisher of the book, has a discussion guide on its website, click here.
BookReporter writes; "THE HISTORY OF LOVE, Nicole Krauss's second novel, is a complex story that doesn't lend itself well to being summed up in a nice, neat plot synopsis. For one thing, the book travels back and forth in time, narrated by several characters, sometimes in the form of letters, diaries, and even a novel-within-a-novel (also, not coincidentally, called THE HISTORY OF LOVE). For another thing, the book is a sort of mystery, revealing name changes, betrayals, and secret identities as the plot unfolds."
Saying that the book is difficult to summarize is an understatement. The plot is so confusing that trying to unravel the themes, motives, chronology and meaning can easily become the main focus of discussions of this book. The book is being made into a movie to be released in 2009. Meanwhile, the library discussion leader may have to lead only by the Socratic method as a means to disguise her own confusion about who is who and what is what in this book, not to mention the why.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Go With the Flow When You Read

This article from Oprah's magazine, spotted by an observant NJ librarian, appeared in the Reference Department email inbox: She's Gotta Read It by Pamela Erens. The article describes a busy young mother who looks forward all day to her reprieve from duties and the peace and quiet that reading at the end of each day provides for her. She identifies the total focus and feeling of escape as being "in the flow" as described by psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Erens writes, "I open my book, and the following thought allows me to begin: No one needs me. Maybe no one even remembers who I am! It's too late in the day for me to make any more mistakes, disappoint anyone, complete any uncompleted tasks. However I may have failed or fallen behind, I'm off the hook until sunrise. And time, which all day has pressed like a tight band against my consciousness, slackens. The clock finds a 13th hour."
Whether it's called "time for oneself," "losing oneself," "being in the zone or the flow or the space or whatever", reading is a peaceful escape from the cell-phone buzz, vibrate or trill, computer hum, insistently blinking answering machine, electronic pager, blackberry nag, or other electronic leashes we are all tethered to all day.
Come to the library to get into the flow...

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Yesterday was the 66th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled the United States into World War II. Local Mountainside author Tim Benford wrote this article exploring the theory that President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew about the attack ahead of time, a theory advanced by famed American historian, John Toland. Toland's book Infamy, posits the theory that Roosevelt knew, but chose not to intervene, because an attack by an Axis power would put the U.S. in a position to join the war "without having fired the first shot." As conspiracy theories go, this is a fairly repected one. Benford points out that this theory is disputed in Gordon Prange's two books, At Dawn We Slept and December 7, 1941 which suggest that a failure of intelligence and lack of preparedness allowed the surpirse attack to succeed. Benford himself wrote Pearl Harbor Amazing Facts which would be an excellent gift for history buffs this holiday season, especially middle and high school student who like non-fiction, military history and books of unusual historical footnotes and trivia.
Tim Benford provides articles for

Thursday, December 6, 2007

How Many Books in a Tree?

One highly unscientific estimate: twenty to thirty in a tree much thicker than this one. It depends on the tree's size and species, the book, and how the paper is produced, so there is no single statistic. But here are some estimates:

One cord of air-dried dense hardwood yields 942 100-page, hard-cover books according to TAPPI, a paper industry trade group.

So how many trees are in a cord? According to the Department of Natural Resources in Wisconsin, roughly 15 trees with a diameter of 10 inches. For other diameters, check out this foresters' site.

That comes to about 60 100-page books per 10-inch diameter tree. Most of our library books are at least 300 pages, so that brings the calculations to maybe 20-30 books in a 10-inch thick tree.

The electronic books that can be read by the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader not only use less paper, but also are much cheaper than the same books in printed form (the electronic readers are expensive though). Of course, "reusing" a book by borrowing it from the library is also environmentally friendly!

*The tree in the picture is the one next door at the Little Flower Catholic Church, taken Monday morning before the library opened.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Tipping Point

The First Friday book club is getting together this Friday at 10:30 am to discuss The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. New members are always welcome.

Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer at The New Yorker, and you can read his New Yorker articles here (the latest is an interesting one about the limitations of criminal profiling).

The Tipping Point is a book about the 3 factors that can bring about epidemic change:
1) The people who are agents of change (connectors, mavens and salesmen)
2) The "sticky", i.e. contagious or memorable thing that is spreading (news of a revolution, a fad, etc.)
3) The environment in which the change takes place (what Gladwell refers to as "the Power of Context").

We'll be basing our discussion on questions from Gladwell's web site.

Gladwell has a blog full of the kinds of fascinating stories you find in his books, ranging from Kenyan long distance runners to the stereotypes we use to make conversation with strangers.

Magazines are fond of pitting Gladwell's theories against those of other bestselling authors. Newsweek pointed out in April that Jerome Groopman's book, How Doctors Think, contradicts the main idea behind Gladwell's book Blink (decisionmaking based on instinct). And in April 2006 Fortune reported on the "cyber-spat" between Gladwell and Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, co-authors of Freakonomics. Freakonomics theorizes that Roe vs. Wade led to the drop in the crime rate in the 90s, while Gladwell's theory of broken windows from The Tipping Point points to law enforcement.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Dewey Decimal vs. Color

Believe it or not, librarians are often asked for "that red book that is about this big." When title, author, and even the subject of a book have faded from memory, color still remains.

This reminds me of the San Francisco bookstore Adobe. In 2004 the artist Chris Cobb rearranged all of their books by color, and the result was breathtaking.

Don't count on BHPL rearranging its books anytime soon, though. (In case you were wondering, whenever someone asks for the red book at BHPL, they seem to be looking for our directory of board certified medical specialists.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Seven Turns of the Key

If you missed professional sports agent Angelo Saverino when he came to the library in January to discuss his first book, he's coming back to talk about his latest book (a true story), Seven Turns of the Key, this Saturday, December 1, at 2 p.m. He's a great speaker, or we wouldn't have asked him back!

During a vacation to Italy's Amalfi Coast, a chance meeting with a stranger in a remote parking lot was the beginning of Saverino's search for the reasons behind his family's exodus from Sicily to America, a search that turns up murder, mystery, intrigue, deceit and adultery. More than the story of Angelo Saverino's journey, Seven Turns of the Key is a lesson in Sicilian and Italian traditions, history, geography and the Sicilian language.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Literary Fiction For Beginners

There’s something about being a bestseller that makes a literary novel a little less forbidding. Think of any of these titles, taken from the New York Times' 2007 bestseller lists, as a meal, and save James Patterson for dessert. (This list was inspired by Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children, longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2006 - but what really convinced me to pick it up was remembering that it was a bestseller last year.)

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
Away by Amy Bloom
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer
Exit Ghost by Philip Roth
Falling Man by Don DeLillo
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Heyday by Kurt Andersen
The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Run by Ann Patchett
Songs Without Words by Ann Packer
Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
What is the What by Dave Eggers
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What's That Bug?

Every once in a while the librarians at BHPL are asked to identify an insect that someone has found at home. (For purely squeamish reasons, we prefer a picture of the insect to the real thing!) So how do we go about it? The first step is to narrow it down to which type of insect it is: cricket, beetle, etc. Then we flip through photos in our insect reference books and web sites like What's That Bug until we find a match. For a more scientific opinion, Rutgers will ID it for you for a fee (it also identifies plants and fungi.)
So which insects have been identified in Berkeley Heights in recent months? A camel cricket - originally thought to be a spider – and a stink bug – thought to be a beetle at first.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Staff Picks Display

BHPL has a Staff Picks display on a couple of low shelves in the Reference Book area. The latest theme is medical stories and memoirs of surviving illnesses. Some titles include:
First Person Plural, my life as a multiple by Cameron West (1998),
Passing for Normal, a Memoir of Compulsion by Amy S. Wilensky (1999), and
Courageous Confrontations, Lives Transformed by Life-Threatening Illness (2005) by Richard H. Helfant, M.D. The epigraph page in Dr. Helfant's book has these quotes:
"At the bottom of the abyss, comes the voice of salvation." - Joseph Campbell
"Sweet are the uses of adversity." - William Shakespeare.
These stories of how people deal with adversity seem to be popular judging by the rate the books are being checked out from this display.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Book News this Week

Two stories appeared prominently this week on the ever-popular how illiterate are Americans now? and are books dead yet? themes.

Newsweek's cover story is entitled, "Books Aren't Dead." (Phew!) Subtitled: (They're Just Going Digital.) and further elucidating in a subheading: "Five centuries after Gutenberg, Amazon's Jeff Bezos is betting that the future of reading is just a click away."
I haven't actually READ the piece yet, but I don't think it will hold many surprises for most librarians. BHPL offers digital content, which is a way of saying, you can download books and movies and music from the BHPL website, using your library card as your authentication into the databases (ie: only BHPL cardholders have access to the digital content, but it is free to them.)
News item number two: according to the latest study by the National Endowment for the Arts released yesterday, Americans are reading less for pleasure and reading with less understanding (test scores are down.) The study, To Read or Not to Read, is a compilation of other reading studies and a follow-up to the NEA's 2004 study Reading at Risk. Putting together many dismal statistics about how little people read at every age level and comparing it to how much television people watch, the bottom line is that Americans are less informed and therefore less capable of participating in civic life or succeed in their personal lives. Other implications of widespread illiteracy are asserted in the report.
The view from the BHPL circulation and reference desks is that people still eagerly wait their turns on the holds waiting lists, request books from other libraries through interlibrary loan, travel from library to library to borrow audiobooks and download audiobooks from the BHPL website, check out piles of childrens books after every storytime, recommend books to purchase, donate piles of books they have read and need space for more in their houses, participate in two library book groups and many community book clubs and so on. So the situation doesn't seem so dire from a librarian's strictly observational point of view. People are reading and using various formats (audio, digital, regular old print) to do so.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Happy Thanksgiving from BHPL to all of our patrons and blog readers
It's too late to check out the following cookbooks from the library: Betty Crocker's Complete Thanksgiving Cookbook, Thanksgiving 101 or Talk Turkey to Me so keep this "Turkey Talk Line" phone number handy: 1-800-Butterball or check out the Butterball website for online calculators about cooking time, number of servings, metric conversion charts and more cooking tips.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Free for All by Don Borchert, a library tell-all

If library news was covered by tabloids like the National Enquirer, there would be stories about Elvis appearing at the Reference Desk or Martian babies attending storytime. The real story of working in public libraries is only slightly less surprising as related in a book written by California library worker, Don Borchert, and reviewed in USA Today. Reviewer Bob Minzenheimer writes:
"Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library (Virgin, $21.95) aims to do for libraries what Bel Kaufman's Up the Down Staircase did for urban schools in 1965 or what Bill Buford's Heat did for professional cooks in 2006. "
Borchert says that libraries are dull most of the time, but he writes about the rest of the time, the not-so-dull times that involve patron behavior that ranges from quirky to criminal. These are the incidents that all librarians have experienced and when they tell the stories to non-librarians, people are incredulous that such things go on in the library, the last place most people would expect to find misbehavior. But people don't drop their humanity at the library doors nor are they better behaved just by virtue of the fact that they are library users. Any public place will have similar issues of unruly behavior, it's just the incongruity of say, drug dealers using the library bathroom as the place of business (a story from the book) that makes the story seem more shocking.

On the good side, a library can be like Andy Taylor's police station in Mayberry, RFD, a meeting place for friendly locals to gossip and pass the time of day. On the bad side, well for the bad side, read the book.

BHPL is more like Mayberry and less like Borchert's library, but there are untold stories here too. Did we tell you about the time that... no, nevermind, this is a family blog and Privacy Laws must be observed. Every librarian I know is waiting to read this book. Are his stories better than ours, we wonder?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Watchung Reservation Haunted?

An interesting article appeared in the Westfield Leader on November 8, 2007 by Debbie Hoffman: Bloody Lane and a Headless Ghost: Tales of Watchung Reservation (p. 21) (If you click on the title of the article, it will take you to the full-text in the newspaper which has been archived online since 1996.)
In researching the urban legend (rural legend?) that a car full of teenagers crashed and died in the Watchung Reservation causing the road to appear red as blood by moonlight, Ms. Hoffman interviewed L'Aura Hladik, founder of the New Jersey Ghost Hunters Society; consulted the stories in the books Weird New Jersey, based on the magazine of the same name; interviewed Union County Parks Director Dan Bernier, who lives in the abandoned village of Feltville in the Reservation. And Ms. Hoffman called the BHPL Reference Department and set the librarians on the trail of trying to prove or disprove the legend by looking in our local clippings file (newspaper morgue, sometimes called vertical file.) The librarians ferretted around in the dusty newspaper clips, but could not confirm the story. We were happy that the reporter thought of the library Reference Department as part of her research. A bit like reporters, research librarians love to track down a lead, but while reporters often use human sources (interviews), librarians usually turn to the printed word, much of it local, not indexed and not available by "googling" on the internet. Either way, the point is to get to the truth of a story.
Call or email the BHPL Reference Department with your questions. We will try to find the answer, teach you how to research it, or refer you to a person or other resource that can help you find the answer.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Death Cancels All Engagements

Does that quote sound familiar? It's wry enough to be Oscar Wilde, but "google" it and you find it comes from Max Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson (1911). Who, you may ask, is Max Beerbohm and what is a Zuleika Dobson? As if in answer to those questions, Amazon reviewer C. Brandt writes:
"The fact that I am the first person to review this book on Amazon is unsurprising. Beerbohm is not exactly a household name in this country (or, perhaps, any country), and this book is so quaint and point-specific that contemporary readers might not have the patience to reach the finish-line. "
Yes, indeed, that finish-line seems so very far away to a reader even after reading one hundred pages, a measly third of the book.
Brandt goes on to point out that Zuleika Dobson is number fifty-nine on the Modern Library's 1998 list of the 100 Best Novels. This list has probably haunted book groups and other literary self-improvers ever since and if they happen to choose to read ZD in their quest for excellence, they might begin to doubt the credibility of the list.
The BHPL Second Tuesday of the Month evening book group will be discussing Zuleika Dobson on November 13 at 7:30 in the Meeting Room. To read the book without actually leaving the comfort of your computer chair, click here to read the full-text online.
What will the Book Group's members, those who have braved the twisted prose that passed for humor in 1911, think of Zuleika Dobson, the self-centered, vain, beautiful magician who visits her uncle, a Warden at Judas College of Oxford University, only to cause every callow youth to fall in unrequited love for her, who can never love anyone who loves her, and thus causing a (spoiler coming up here) mass suicide of every single Oxford student, and is last seen heading to Cambridge University. (Zuleika, that is, heads for Cambridge at the end.) If that sentence gave you, dear readers, vertigo, my advice is to forgo Beerbohm's story of before-the-wars, idyllic upper-class England and head straight for P.G. Wodehouse's stories of Jeeves and Wooster, Lord Emsworth and his pig, the Empress of Blandings and the other denizens of Plum's universe.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Arnaldur Indridason

Now that winter approaches, what better to read than a mystery set in Iceland? Harlan Coben calls Arnaldur Indridason’s police procedurals the best series he’s read this year. The hero, a police detective in Reykjavik, is a bit quirky: divorced for decades, he spends his nights reading accounts of travelers who lost their lives in snowstorms. Erlendur's cases at first seem impossible to solve: a seventy-something man found bludgeoned to death in his apartment, an old skeleton unearthed in the foundations of a new house, a doorman with no friends found dead in his room in the hotel basement. But Erlendur carefully fleshes out the few leads he gets, questions everyone and brings the investigations to a satisfying, suspenseful close. A bit of luck and his daughter’s underworld connections help out as well. Jar City came first, but I liked Silence of the Grave (his second) and Voices (his third) best.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The morning book club will be meeting on Friday at 10:30 a.m to discuss F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. Fitzgerald is celebrated for his social observations of America in the 1920s (he coined the term Jazz Age) and his lyrical prose.

Anthony and Gloria were based partly on Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. Like Gloria and Anthony, Scott and Zelda had marathon talks lasting past midnight; drank and went to parties (sometimes taking a nap or a bath directly after they arrived at one); disregarded the housekeeping, lived beyond their means and moved around rental houses and hotels. Fitzgerald was stationed in Alabama in World War I, but the war ended before his unit was sent abroad. Richard Caramel, the writer, is also based on Fitzgerald’s experiences as a successful novelist and short story writer.

James E. Miller Jr. suggests that Fitzgerald was influenced by H.L. Mencken's idea of a hero: an individual who struggles against "the harsh and meaningless fiats of destiny" and ultimately fails (Sergio Perosa, The Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald, page 47).

We'll be using these classics discussion questions to guide our discussion plus a few more:
1. How does Anthony Patch's quote on the title page, "The victor belongs to the spoils" relate to the novel?
2. Who are the beautiful and damned? Do you think Anthony and Gloria are responsible for their miserable lives, or was it fate? What does the title suggest?
3. Do you see Anthony as a man without purpose, or as a man who won't compromise with a brutal world? What are some of his failures?
4. Why do you think Gloria fell in love with Anthony? Would she have been happier with Bloeckman?
5. Did the book glorify Anthony and Gloria's hedonism, or moralize against it? Why?
6. Did you like this book or The Great Gatsby better? Why?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This Sunday - How to Commit Murder

For all you mystery lovers and writers, the novelist Evelyn David will be coming to the library on Sunday at 3 pm to present "How to Commit Murder: A Mystery Author Offers Some Clues". And no, despite the title, she isn't going to outline all the particular ways in which characters can meet their end - the presentation is about writing and publishing a mystery novel. Evelyn David will also be revealing a secret about her own identity (some clues are available on her website). A book signing and chocolates will follow. Yes, chocolate.

If you haven't read her book, Murder Off the Books, the library owns a copy for your perusal. Snappy dialogue, a wolfhound named Whiskey, and a funeral home that's branching out into transporting more than just corpses - what's not to love?

BHPL Blog Linked to the Homepage

If you have clicked on the new Book Blog link on the BHPL website for the first time, welcome to the Berkeley Heights Public Library Book Blog. This blog has been on the web since May 2005 reviewing books, linking to interesting literary websites, finding the humorous, educational, entertaining, or just plain off-beat websites that cover the library-publishing-literary-bookish universe. We surf the web so you don't have to, could be the blog motto.
Reading this blog will keep you up to date on library programs, exhibits, book and non-book acquisitions, the hidden treasure trove of the library's databases, all while entertaining, informing and generally making you a better person. OK, maybe not the latter, but we hope you will enjoy reading the articles (called "posts" in the blogosphere) on this blog.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Jazz Concert at the Berkeley Heights Public Library

The Minzer Quintet will be playing at Berkeley Heights Public Library on Sunday, October 21st. The jazz performance will start at 2:30 p.m. in the Meeting Room. The Quintet is composed of Bob Miller on sax; Jeff Pecca on guitar; Steve Minzer on piano; Vin Maiolo on bass; and Mitch Germansky on drums.
This concert is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Together, the Film by Chen Kaige

Join us for our monthly film this Thursday evening at 7 pm. We will be showing Together, a film in Chinese with English subtitles, about a 13-year-old violin prodigy who moves to Beijing with his father. The film is rated PG. Doors open at 6:45.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Beyond the Fringe alumnus, playwright (the History Boys) and novelist, Alan Bennett has written a perfect little book about what happens when someone becomes a voracious reader. In this case the queen herself, Elizabeth II, happens upon a mobile library (that would be a bookmobile on this side of the pond) while chasing after her infamous Corgis and so begins her journey into literature. The Uncommon Reader, a novella shows the inside workings of the palace, the protocol, the State Dinners, the daily duties of the Royal Family of which the Queen begins to tire. She becomes so involved in reading one book after another that she waves absent-mindedly from her limousine while reading a book on her lap; she no longer cares if she wears an outfit or accessory twice in row and most distressingly she begins to ask people what they are reading rather than sticking to the approved script of, "Did you come far?" "Did you find parking?" and so on.

Booker Literary Prize Goes to Irish Author

The Associated Press reports, "Irish writer Anne Enright won the Man Booker fiction prize Tuesday for The Gathering, an uncompromising portrait of a troubled family."
The book is described as "a family epic set in England and Ireland, in which a brother's suicide prompts 39-year-old Veronica Hegarty to probe her family's troubled, tangled history."
Click here for the website of the Man Booker Prize, which is awarded yearly to authors from the U.K. and Commonwealth nations.
Readers who liked the following memoirs: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, the Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, and the Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer might like Enright's the Gathering.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Doris Lessing Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

"They can't give a Nobel to someone who's dead so I think they were probably thinking they had better give it to me now before I popped off," author Doris Lessing, age 87, said in reaction to winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Read the full BBC News report for more bon mots from the feisty author.
The article continues:"she made her breakthrough with The Golden Notebook in 1962. 'The burgeoning feminist movement saw it as a pioneering work and it belongs to the handful of books that informed the 20th Century view of the male-female relationship,' the Swedish Academy said. But Lessing herself has distanced herself from the feminist movement.The content of her other novels ranges from semi-autobiographical African experiences to social and political struggle, psychological thrillers and science fiction."

Thursday, October 11, 2007 Librarians' Favorite Bookmarks

The BHPL blog has a new feature at the bottom of the right hand side of the webpage; it's a rolling, constantly growing list of our favorite websites. Using a webtool called, the reference librarians add websites that they find useful in answering patrons' questions. The latest to be bookmarked is Zillow will show the property values of many houses when given an address or zipcode. Aerial views of the houses can also be seen as well as a description of the house and property. Big Brother may not be watching, but Zillow is. Respect for privacy? not so much. Cool website? yes.
Click on the links on this blog to find other nifty websites.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Danielle D'Amico art exhibit

Danielle D'Amico's paintings will be on display at the library through the end of December.

Artist Bio:
Danielle Auriemma was raised in Union, NJ. She enjoyed doing anything creative from early on, but it wasn`t until a few years after becoming Danielle D`Amico that she decided to pursue her dream. At the age of 30, she began attending classes at The Art Students League and Parsons School of Design, both of Manhattan. These classes confirmed what she always knew, that the art world was home, and that it still wasn`t too late. After five years, with the help and patience of her family, Danielle earned a BFA degree with concentration In Illustration from The School of Visual Arts in New York City. She continues to keep her drawing skills fresh by sketching weekly at both the Art Students League and The Society of Illustrators of NYC. She has recently been awarded a bronze medal for the prestigious International Award Show. She is currently working as a freelance Illustrator and Fine Artist out of Gillette, NJ.
Her work can be viewed at

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

This Tuesday evening at 7:30 pm, the library book group will be discussing Michael Chabon's Pulitzer-Prize winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,
a big, generous book that was both an ode to the golden era of American comic books and a bravura epic that somehow managed to forge the disparate subjects of World War II, fictional superheroes, Harry Houdini and the Golem of Prague into a sad-funny-moving meditation on life and loss and the consolations of art.

(as Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times described it).

For a preview of our discussion questions, click
here and here.

Here is some background information on a few of the wonderfully disparate topics mentioned in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay:

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica's entry on golems, the word first referred to "an embryonic or incomplete substance" in the Bible (Psalms 139:16) and in the Talmud. In the Middle Ages, "many legends arose of wise men who could bring effigies to life by means of a charm or of a combination of letters forming a sacred word or one of the names of God." By the 16th century the golem had become a protector of persecuted Jews, like the golem of the Rabbi Low of Prague (the best known golem folktale).

From Prague and golems the story segues to New York City and its all-American version of the golem, the comic superhero. Sam and Joe's experiences in the comics industry mirror that of the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to Superman along with the first Superman story for $130, when they were only 24 years old (according to the American National Biography). Not until they were 62 years old were they given annual stipends and benefits, plus their name began to appear on all Superman products.

Dark Horse Comics has turned the story of the Escapist into a comic book called "The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist" - published in 3 volumes. The most famous escapist artist in history was Harry Houdini, who got his start in vaudeville, like Sam's father. To see film clips of some of his escapes, check out the PBS site about him.

Salvador Dali did in fact exhibit at the 1939 World's Fair in Queens, NY. To look at photos of his pavilion, click on this link to Amazon and click on See All Product Images under the photo of the book Salvador Dali's Dream of Venus. The story of the party that Joe and Sam attend at Longman Harkoo's must have been inspired by a talk of Dali's in London on July 1, 1936, at the Burlington Gardens. Dali wore a diving suit helmet with a car radiator on top of it. According to "The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali" by Ian Gibson, Dali got hot and asked someone to take off the helmet, which was stuck. "Dali later claimed that he had been on the point of asphyxiation when help arrived." (page 416)

Al Smith really did plan for the Empire State Building to have a dock for airships, but wind currents, the Chrysler Building's spire, and the safety of pedestrians below were but a few of the considerations that killed the idea. According to John Tauranac's book about the building, during World War II, volunteers like Sam patrolled the 86th floor and called Army Interceptor Command when they saw an airplane.

While there was no such thing as the Kelvinator Station in Antarctica, Richard Byrd did lead a U.S. Navy expedition from 1939-1941 in Antarctica. It is more likely that the British base Port Lockroy, established in 1943, inspired Chabon's Kelvinator Station. The Nazis did not have a base in Antarctica (see the March 2007 article in Nature).

Thursday, October 4, 2007

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Library Journal ran this feature: 'Ten Titles for Breast Cancer Awareness Month' in the September 1, 2007 issue. Click here.
Three of the titles mentioned in the article which are owned by BHPL are:
Favre, Deanna with Angela Hunt. Don't Bet Against Me! Beating the Odds Against Breast Cancer and in Life. Tyndale House. Oct. 2007.
Jarvis, Debra. It's Not About the Hair: And Other Certainties of Life & Cancer. Sasquatch. Oct. 2007.
Cohen, Deborah A. with Robert M. Gelfand, M.D. Just Get Me Through This! The Practical Guide to Breast Cancer. Kensington. Sept. 2007.

Related Internet websites:
The American Cancer Society
Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Related Library Research:
Subject heading: Breast -- Cancer
Dewey number: 616.9944
BHPL databases: EBSCO Healthsource - Consumer Edition; Biomedical Reference Collection
ask at the Reference Desk for information about accessing databases.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

The BHPL First Friday of the Month book group will be discussing Digging to America by Anne Tyler (Knopf 2006) on October 5, 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM.
The story follows an Iranian American couple who adopt a Korean infant. They meet another couple at the airport when both families await the arrival of their adopted daughters. The American born couple and the Iranian American couple become friends. The two families celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of their daughters each year. The Arrival Day Celebration is the focus of the book. The themes are: assimilation of immigrants into American culture, friendship between women, intercountry adoption. Here are links to reviews and discussion questions: review questions
New York Times Book Review

Friday, September 28, 2007

Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week kicks off on Saturday and runs through October 6.

According to the American Library Association, the most challenged book in American libraries last year was And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. It's a picture book about the pair of male penguins who hatched and raised a penguin chick at the Central Park Zoo in 2004.

Last year during Banned Books week, readers voted online at the ALA web site for their favorite banned books. The Harry Potter series won, with 3 times as many votes as the runner-up (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee). James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey were also in the top 5.

The ALA defines challenges as "an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library". It gets its information about challenges from schools and libraries directly, and from newspapers.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

If Alan Greenspan Met O.J. to Discuss Their Bestsellers

An article in this morning's USA Today's book review section referred to a funny piece in the current New Yorker. In the Shouts and Murmurs section, Andy Borowitz imagines what a conversation between bestselling authors Alan Greenspan and O.J. Simpson might be like. An excerpt from the column:
'Every now and then, we ask authors whose work we admire to come to our offices to discuss their work and the craft of writing. Last week, we invited two writers who have just published new books: Alan Greenspan (“The Age of Turbulence”) and O. J. Simpson (“If I Did It”). Here is their conversation.

Greenspan: I’m sure you get tired of people asking you this, but here goes: Where do you get your ideas?

Simpson: (laughing) Boy, do I ever get tired of that question! Sometimes I think I’m going to kill the next person who asks me that. (Makes a gun gesture.) Bang bang!

Greenspan: But as I was reading “If I Did It”—which I loved, by the way—

Simpson: Thank you.

Greenspan: —I couldn’t help but ask myself, How the heck did he come up with this? I mean, some of this stuff is really out there.

Simpson: I thought it would be interesting to put myself inside the head of a sociopathic killer—sort of like what Bret Easton Ellis did in “American Psycho.” '

Bestseller lists can make strange bookfellows. For example, The Dangerous Book for Boys which is currently on the bestseller lists will be followed by The Dangerous Book for Dogs: a parody by Rex and Sparky with some help from humans. Publishers Weekly gave it good review: (Caution: some things dogs write about can be in bad taste.)

'This gentle parody of the bestselling Dangerous Book for Boys-identical in look and tone to its source material-offers an often funny, surprisingly insightful take on dog behavior that's sure to resonate with the Spot set. With the "assistance" of their human companions, canine authors Rex and Sparky relate practical and authoritative information on topics simple (baths, fleas, bones, poop, "things you can chase") and complex: the rules of fetch (it's not officially over until a player earns 17,572 points), tips on crotch sniffing (under the heading "How to Make Your Owner Look Like an Idiot") and a critical guide to frequently ingested items (vomit and poop receive top marks; rocks and keys rank considerably lower). Among more than 50 short entries, the authors seem to have thought of everything, including escape tips for humiliating costumes, stirring true stories ("Great Dog Battles-Part Two: Pepper vs. A Patch of Light") and even a report on Pavlov (written by his two dogs). Though it occasionally pushes the envelope of good taste... this goofy, gleeful guide to the dog life will tickle anyone with a soft spot for canines. '

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Week in Review: Books

Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan's book, The Age of Turbulence, (reviewed below) came out this week - nicely timed to debut with the latest headline grabbing rate cut by his successor Ben Bernanke, continuing mortgage woes, market volatility and so on.

O.J. Simpson is back in the news on two fronts, arrested for armed burglary in Las Vegas and also in the headlines because his book If I Did It which was withdrawn from the market several months ago has been repackaged by Ron Goldman's family with the subtitle, Confessions of a Killer. If you buy it, the money goes to the reparation funds awarded to the Goldman family in the civil case against Simpson for the murder of their son, Ron.

Alan Alda has been hitting the talk show circuit to promote his latest memoir, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. His popular 2005 memoir Never Have Your Dog Stuffed and other things I have learned had a breezy light conversational style and was a quick, diverting book.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan tells the story of Frank Lloyd Wright's turbulent and tragic love life.

President Bill Clinton discussed his book Giving with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show and also discussed his favorite presidential candidate.

Jeffrey Toobin discussed his expose of the Supreme Court on the Stephen Colbert Show: The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, in which we learn that Stephen Breyer was so disturbed by the Court's intervention in the 2000 presidential election that he was brought to tears.
Take a look at Stewart/Colbert Books a list of authors interviewed on the Colbert Report and on the Daily Show.

Book Discussion groups may be the force that is fueling the continuing popularity of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert; The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards; The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and other psychological novels and memoirs of misery or womanly journeys both actual and metaphorical that members of women's bookgroups often request at the Reference Desk. Not that there's anything wrong with literary angst mixed with women's friendships, but as a constant literary diet...the craving for non-fiction may be a side effect.

Sue Grafton's alphabet series starring tough but sensitive but capable but commitment-phobic P.I. Kinsey Milhone continues with T is for Trespassing, always a sure bet for suspense and readability (unlike this run-on sentence.)

Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones) is coming out with The Almost Moon.

Celebrities continue to take ghostwriter to paper and produce tell alls or almost alls like: Celebrity Detox by Rosie O'Donnell.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Greenspeak: Alan Greenspan's New Book Out Today

In a 2005 speech, Alan Greenspan said,
"The apparent froth in housing markets may have spilled over into mortgage markets. The dramatic increase in the prevalence of interest-only loans, as well as the introduction of other, more-exotic forms of adjustable-rate mortgages, are developments that bear close scrutiny."—September 26, 2005
Indeed! For "Greenspeak" that seems pretty clear and even clairvoyant. For more Greenspan wisdom, readers will be turning to Chairman Alan's new book, The Age of Turbulance out today.
To read Mr. Greenspan's blog, click here.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Quill Awards for Popular Books

The third year of the Quill Awards will be broadcast on October 22, 2007. The awards were created in 2005 to be a kind of Emmy or Oscar award for books. Anyone can vote online. The list of this year's nominated books can be found by clicking here. To vote for your favorite book of 2006, click here.
General Fiction Nominees are:

American Youth by Phil LaMarche
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe
Brothers by Da Chen

Uff Dah! Garrison Keillor Returns to Lake Wobegon in Pontoon

Garrison Keillor's latest account of the news from his popular fictional town, Lake Wobegon, can be found in his just-released book, Pontoon. Take a look at the Pretty Good Goods catalog for a review and excerpt of the book:
"In Lake Wobegon lives a good Lutheran lady who is quite prepared to die and wishes to be cremated and her ashes placed inside a bowling ball and dropped into the lake, no prayers, no hymns, thank you very much. Meanwhile, the Detmer girl returns from California where she has made a killing in veterinary aromatherapy to marry her boyfriend Brent aboard Wally's pontoon boat, presided over by her minister, Misty Naylor of the Sisterhood of the Sacred Spirit. Brent arrives on Thursday. On Saturday, a delegation of renegade Lutheran pastors from Denmark come to town on their tour of America, their punishment for having denied the divinity of Jesus. And Barbara Peterson, whose mother, Evelyn, left the startling note about cremation and the bowling ball, is in love with a lovely fat man who slips around town in the dim light and reconnoiters with her at the Romeo Motel."
Mr. Keillor visited the Colbert Report on Tuesday, and as is customary on the Comedy Central show, subjected himself to the strange experience of being interviewed by Stephen Colbert. To see the video, click here. The dry, understated fantasy world of the Prairie Home Companion radio show host was in contrast to Colbert's bombastic satirical style and the result was sometimes awkward as these interviews often are.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What Presidential Candidates Read May Surprise You

Publishers Weekly (July 30, 2007, p. 17) reports that bestselling mystery author Diane Mott Davidson lived in the same dormitory as Hillary Rodham Clinton at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Davidson's website states,
"Diane started writing in 1963, encouraged by her high school English teacher at St. Anne’s, an Episcopal girls’ school in Charlottesville, VA. Diane gave up writing to study political science at Wellesley. There she lived across the hall from Hillary Rodham (now Clinton), who drafted her into the Young Republicans! "
According to this week's Newsweek cover story on Mrs. Clinton,
"Hillary Clinton has always put great faith in The System. Hugh Rodham's dutiful daughter stayed up late finishing homework assignments and kept Barry Goldwater's "Conscience of a Conservative" on her bookshelf. While others in her generation were turning on, tuning in and dropping out, she was running for student-body president at Wellesley College and applying to law school at Yale."
As reported in the Newton Reads Blog, the Associated Press asked presidential candidates what they are reading. Click here for the answers.

Butchered Book Titles

Have you read Khaled Hosseini's recent bestseller, A Thousand Splendid Sins? Or the classic by Thomas Hardy, Tess of the Ooba-Doobas? The librarians on the Fiction_L mailing list have come up with a hilarious list of books they have been asked for at their libraries. Some book titles are misheard - "Fire Hydrant 415" (Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury) - and some have been misremembered - "Angry Raisins" (Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck). Then there's the request for a book on "How to turn your dad into a bagel" - i.e. the country Trinidad and Tobago.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Today in History: Lascaux Caves Discovered

On September 12, 1940, four teenage boys looking for their dog discovered the Lascaux Caves in France which is painted with 17,000 year old paintings of hunters, animals and other scenes of prehistory. This and other fascinating facts can be found on Grolier Online from Scholastic Publishing, the online research database that BHPL has recently added to its collection. To access this and other databases, BHPL patrons may click on "Remote Databases" from the BHPL homepage, enter their library barcode and pin to get a menu of databases available for research.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Borgia Bride

The library's evening book club will be discussing The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis on September 11 at 7:30 pm. For discussion questions, click here.

The Borgia Bride is the story of Sancha of Aragon, an illegitimate princess from Naples who is married off to the 12-year-old son of the infamous Borgia pope Alexander VI. Once she arrives in Rome, having survived baronial uprisings and the French invasion of Naples, she falls in love with her husband's older brother, Cesare, and initially attracts the jealousy of her sister-in-law Lucrezia.

You can read the first chapter here:

This site has photos of many of the Naples landmarks mentioned in The Borgia Bride.

The Sala dei Santi in the Borgia Apartments of the Vatican has a fresco painted by Pinturicchio, the Disputation of St. Catherine, that is said to depict Sancha (left) and her husband Joffre(right):

If you are interested in a factual account of the Borgias, Sarah Bradford's biography of Lucrezia Borgia is recommended.

There are a couple of historical mistakes in the novel: in one episode the pope eats chocolates from the bosoms of courtesans, but chocolate did not reach Europe until Hernando Cortez returned to Spain with cacao beans from Mexico in 1528. Also, tarot cards were not used to tell the future until the late 18th century (in France). At the time Sancha lived, they were used to play a card game (see The Tarot: History, Mystery and Lore by Cynthia Giles or Tarot: Talisman or Taboo? by Mark Hederman).

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Armchair Travel

This month's book display theme is "Armchair Travel" featuring travel memoirs and non-fiction works recommended in this NextReads Newsletter. Authors Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence), John Berendt (The City of Falling Angels), Joe McGinnis (The Miracle of Castel di Sangro), John McPhee (Uncommon Carriers) and others are featured.
It seems as though Italy is the most common destination of the writers. Who wouldn't want to travel to sunny climates, eat good food and pay for it by a publishing deal? The titles are intriguing: Falling Palace: a Romance of Naples by Dan Hofstadter, The Stone Boudoir: Travels through Hidden Villages of Sicily by Theresa Maggio, City of the Soul: a Walk in Rome by William Murray, and On Persephone's Island: a Sicilian Journal by Mary Taylor Simeti.

To subscribe to NextReads Newsletters, click here

Click here to see the blog of someone who really did start life over in Italy: Life Italian Style

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Madonnas of Leningrad

On September 7th, The BHPL First Friday of the Month Book Group will be discussing Debra Dean's The Madonnas of Leningrad (click on the title for a discussion guide.) Look at this National Public Radio webpage for an excerpt from the book. The Madonnas of Leningrad, Dean's first novel won critical acclaim and several awards including the Quill Award for 2006, and ALA Notable Book of the Year 2006. The book will appeal to readers interested in psychological fiction, historical fiction, art history, World War II and Russian history.

Set during the 900 day Siege of Leningrad, (1940 - 1944) Marina, a docent at the Hermitage Museum, lives in the vast museum basement with her family and hundreds of other starving citizens of the city during the Nazi bombings. Increasingly frail and malnourished, she stands watch nightly on the huge roof of the museum buildings spotting enemy aircraft.

The World War II scenes are interwoven with the present-day story of Marina as an old woman living in Seattle, Washington attending a grand-daughter's wedding. Suffering from Alzheimer's disease, Marina's mind floats freely between the clear memories of her past and her confused experience of the present. During the siege, to distract herself from hunger pains, Marina had memorized much of the huge collection of art treasures, creating a "memory mansion" of paintings and sculptures of the great masters of Western European art. The art lives on very clearly in her disease-riddled brain many decades later giving her the pleasure of viewing the art again as she "walks" through the miles of galleries in her mind.

Visit the State Hermitage Museum website to see panoramas from the roof overlooking St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) perhaps showing views that Marina looked at every night. Click on the various collection links to see the art and to see the splendor of the buildings themselves, including the main staircase that Marina describes in the book. Click here to see the timeline of the museum from the design and construction of the Winter Palace by architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1754-1762) to last year's Rembrandt Exhibit featuring works described in the book. The madonnas by Raphael, daVinci and others are also featured on the website.
Pictured: Raphael (1483-1520) Madonna Conestabile, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Read this piece in Wikipedia about Method of Loci or Memory Palace as a classical method of memorizing.

Friday, August 31, 2007

USA Today Turns 25

USA Today, the national newspaper, will celebrate it's 25th birthday September 15. According to an interview with Al Neuharth, founder of the paper:
"When we decided to create a national newspaper we knew it had to be vastly different," said Al Neuharth, founder of USA TODAY and former chairman and president of Gannett. "USA TODAY was designed to make newspaper readers out of the television generation. The innovation set in place 25 years ago did change the face of the new media and continues to have influence today."
This article in the Dallas Business Journal elaborates:
Neuharth acknowledged that American newspapers are, by and large, in an uphill battle to retain and grow readership. But this "the-sky-is-falling" mentality has come and gone before. If newspapers can adapt to an electronic world and pour resources into Web sites, he said, they will survive this false alarm, too.
"Radio was supposed to be the death of newspapers," Neuharth said. "And TV was absolutely supposed to be the death of newspapers."

USA Today is currently running a series of articles on 25 years of change and innovations. Today's article is about 25 changes in travel and tourism. Take a look at this article about the 25 most significant books in the last quarter century. Topping the list is the first Harry Potter book.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Berkeley Heights Library Blog Featured in New Book

The author of a book on library blogs popped up in the Reference Department email to tell us that the BHPL blog is featured in his book about library blogs, a kind of how-to for putative librarian bloggers. We are flattered that we fit the criteria to make the list. The criteria seems to be mainly persistence in posting, and a certain longevity: we plead guilty to those characteristics in the ephemeral blogosphere where many entities and people begin blogs but do not keep them up. The book is Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples by Walt Crawford.

Speaking of library blogs, BHPL has a new blog for the younger set, The Berkeley Heights Kids' Page which is linked to our home page from the tabs just under the picture of the library. Check the Kids' Page often to find out about programs and storytimes offered in the Children's Room.

Local Berkeley Heights News on Topix

Local Berkeley Heights news stories can be found on a new website called Topix. According to the Topix "About Us" page:
"Topix is the leading news community on the Web, connecting people to the information and discussions that matter to them in every U.S. town and city.
A Top 25 online news destination (Hitwise, February 2007), the site links news from 50,000 sources to 360,000 lively user-generated forums. Topix also works with the nation's major media companies to grow and engage their online audiences through forums, classifieds, publishing platforms and RSS feeds."

Topix is looking for editors from every community. Currently, the Berkeley Heights news is edited by a Topix "roboblogger" and by the Berkeley Heights Public Library blogger (me), but anyone can apply and add news stories to the site.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

One in Four Did Not Read Books in 2006

The Associated Press reported the results of their reading poll the other day. The article states,
"One in four adults read no books at all in the past year." Furthermore, women read more than men, mid-westerners more than easterners, Democrats more than Republicans. The bottom line is that the U.S.A. is not a nation of voracious readers on the whole.
In response to the poll, former Democratic congresswoman Pat Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers, takes the opportunity to comment that conservatives only want simple slogans rather than the in-depth analysis that liberals prefer. The White House volleyed back that quantity should not be confused with quality.
If this is what passes for an exchange of sparkling repartee, then both parties should return to the books to find inspiration for a really interesting exchange of ideas.

"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book."
"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."
Groucho Marx (1890 - 1977)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Blogging from Afghanistan

Today The Sandbox, the website where soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan can post their thoughts, ran this piece from Captain Benjamin Tupper of upstate New York, telling about his uneasy dreams while waiting to return home.
The Sandbox is described this way:
"Welcome to The Sandbox, our command-wide milblog, featuring comments, anecdotes, and observations from service members currently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. This is GWOT-lit's forward position, offering those in-country a chance to share their experiences and reflections with the rest of us."

The Library of Congress subject heading for books by soldiers serving in Afghanistan is:
United States - Armed Forces - Afghanistan
For Iraq, one of the headings is
Iraq War, 2003 -- Personal narratives, American, for which there are 30 hits in the BHPL catalog.
Observations of the war often start out as weblogs; some are published later as books.
The Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Internet: Library Death Eater or Not?

This recent article in the Boston Globe debunks the idea that the dawn of the internet would be the demise of public libraries.
"Library directors remember the talk, not long ago, of technology rendering libraries obsolete. But statistics show that the opposite has occurred.
Over the past decade, library circulation has climbed, driven partly by demand for audiovisual materials and enabled by the Internet, which has allowed patrons to easily scan catalogs from home and request interlibrary loans with a few mouse clicks."

So, it turns out that for many libraries the change the internet brought about was not fewer users, but different kinds of library usage. More interlibrary loans, more database and other online services and content being offered 24/7. The new virtual library is open around the clock and provides information through the internet. It also turns out, and the Globe article does not go into this, that patrons need as much assistance from librarians now as back in pre-automated days. Help with computers, the automated catalog, the downloadable books and other online content demand librarians' times and cannot be solved by "googling."

Read-a-likes: If you liked A Thousand Spendid Suns

If you liked the Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, try the following books in this list researched and assembled by the BHPL Reference Department.

The quotes are from the reviews linked to many titles in the BHPL catalog.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - China. "Foot binding; nu shu, a secret language used exclusively by the women of Hunan Province for 1000 years; and laotong, the arranged friendship between little girls meant to last a lifetime, provide the framework for See's riveting look at a little-known chapter in 19th-century Chinese history."
The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra - Afghanistan. "Contrasts the criminally absurd world of the Taliban's theocracy with touching and ultimately heartbreaking relationships of love and sacrifice."
The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif - Egypt. "Soueif weaves the stories of three formidable women from vastly different times and countries into a single absorbing tale."
The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad - Afghanistan. (nonfiction) "Its real strength is the intimacy and brutal honesty with which it portrays the lives of Afghani living under fundamentalist Islam."
Madras on Rainy Days by Samina Ali - India. "Ali explores the stifling world of Indian Muslim domestic life and the odd partnership forged by husband and wife in an arranged marriage fraught with secrets."
Nadia's Song by Soheir Khashoggi - Egypt. "Khashoggi's third novel blends romance, class conflict, and familial betrayal, all set in the context of half a century of Egyptian history."
Kabul Beauty School : an American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez. Nonfiction. "Rodriguez (a hairdresser) understands the needs and fears of the Afghan women who befriend her because she, too, has left a brutal husband back in the United States."
The Cry of the Dove by Fadia Faqir. "Salma, a member of a bedouin tribe in Hima, the Levant, at 16 becomes pregnant out of wedlock - considered by her tribe a crime punishable by death. . . Salma is imprisoned eight more years before being secretly released and sent to Southampton, England."

Friday, August 10, 2007

Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai

The library's evening book club will be meeting Tuesday, August 14th at 7:30 pm to discuss Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai. It was her first book (of 3) to be nominated for the Booker Prize. (FYI: her daughter Kiran won it last year for her own novel, The Inheritance of Loss).

Anita Desai explains how the novel is partly autobiographical in an interview:

The setting is autobiographical, but [being partly set in 1949] it is also about India becoming independent and de-colonized. It is set in my home city of Old Delhi, in a period of my childhood, during a time when I was becoming a woman. It was the coming together of two momentous events in my life, growing up and India transforming from a colony to independence. Even such a quiet, protected, enclosed place as the family’s home could be affected by the great events of history. But Bimla in this novel and also Moyna, in the story “Rooftop Dwellers,” stay alone to represent the growing independence of women in India and having the choice of not getting married."

Clear Light of Day is notable for the atmospheres and textures that it conveys. In her review of the book in the New York Times, Anne Tyler says,
This is a book without apparent movement. It hangs suspended, like the family itself, while memories replay themselves and ancient joys and sorrows lazily float past. . . But above all else, what keeps us reading is the invisible motion - first the journey downward as the sisters sink into the past; and second, the interior journey that Bim undertakes as Tara's visit lengthens.

Here are a few discussion questions to be thinking about as you read the novel:
1. How are Tara and Bim different? Tara says that they are more alike than ? Which one can you identify with the most?
2. How is the book structured chronologically and why?
3. How are poetry and reading important in the lives of the Das family? What are the 3 types of readers the author describes on page 120? Are you a passive or an active reader?
4. What is the atmosphere of the house? Do you think Bim has changed it for the better, as Tara says, or is it still a malevolent place?
5. What part of the parents' neglect was most horrifying to you? How did this neglect continue to affect the children's lives and choices once they became adults?
6. What does the title mean? (It is taken from page 165.)
7. How is the role Bim now plays in the family like her aunt Mira’s? Why is she so angry at her family?
8. What is the significance of the story of the pearl that turned out to be a snail, which is retold more than once in the book? Why is Baba compared to a snail on page 103?
9. Pay attention to the passages that mention the well, especially those on pages 149, 152 and 157. What different things does the well come to stand for in the characters' minds?
10. What parts of the book did you think were funny?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Book Suggestions from LibraryThing

LibraryThing is a website where members can make a catalog of the books they own. Anyone can easily sign up for a free account, add up to 200 books by title, author or ISBN (international standard book number) and produce a rudimentary library catalog of their very own book collection which can then be searched and shared with other people on the website. After 200 books there is a nominal fee charged to the user. LibraryThingers (LibraryThingites?) can also see which other users own the same books. Members can review and rate books. Books can be tagged with subject terms which makes the books searchable by that term.
I couldn't really imagine that there would be so many people out there who wanted to catalog their books, but there are currently almost 250,000 users who have collectively entered almost 17 million books into the website. LibraryThing offers many features that result from all this classifying and organizing of books. Under "Zeitgeist" it lists the most popular books, the most reviewed books, the biggest collections: one user has almost 15,000 books cataloged.
The website describes itself like this:
"If you want it, LibraryThing is also an amazing social space, often described as "MySpace for books" or "Facebook for books." You can check out other people's libraries, see who has the most similar library to yours, swap reading suggestions and so forth. LibraryThing also makes book recommendations based on the collective intelligence of the other libraries."
One feature not to miss is the book suggestions. Enter a title and lists of similar titles or works you might like pop up.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Free at Your Local Library: More Than You Know

The New York Times ran this article recently, Steal This Book? Don't Bother, which states:
"Chances are you are buying, subscribing to, or stealing something you can get for free with a library card."
An example of that point, which we hear about frequently at the BHPL Reference Desk, is when patrons tell us that they have bought a Consumer Reports article or other articles from a newspaper or magazine website. Don't do that. Your tax dollars have already paid for that content and much more. Librarians can either find and print out the articles for you or show you how to find it for free. Specifically, the New Jersey State Library offers JerseyClicks to all library card holders in the state. JerseyClicks holds the content of thousands of periodicals and published research sources. Take a look:
JerseyClicks, a gateway to free, published information which is not available or searchable on the internet using Google or other search engines in many cases.