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.)