Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What the Library Staff Read in 2008

I just went around and asked the BHPL staff to tell me what was their favorite book read in 2008. Almost everyone blanked out at that question at least momentarily, but here are the answers off the top of their heads without looking at their book lists if they keep one.

Reference librarian and co-blogger Ellen liked all the 44 Scotland Street books by Alexander McCall Smith. She listened to the whole series in 2008 on audiobooks.

Our Director liked and recommended to many patrons The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

Reference Assistant Linda liked Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson.

Administrative Assistant Susan liked the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Our book mender and Circulation Assistant, Linda, liked Cleo Coyle's first Coffeehouse Mystery, On What Grounds and recommends the whole series.

Our other Technical Services/Circulation Assistant, Elaine, liked Mary Higgins Clark's latest book Where Are You Now? and has put herself of the holds list for Clark's 2009 title, Just Take My Heart.

Children's Librarian Laura liked all of Bill Bryson's books, especially the Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid which made her think back on the good old days of the 1950's.

Head of Circulation, Magdalen, liked 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper.

Circulation Student Assistant, Danny, liked Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns and he was the fastest to answer the question without hemming and hawing and changing his mind.

2008 was the year of rediscovering Agatha Christie for me. I like her earlier mysteries best.

As I type this, Ellen keeps adding more books she liked from the BHPL book groups. Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, Gilead by Marilyne Robinspm. The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell.

A book I enjoyed and which falls into the I never would have read this unless I was in a book group, is The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. It might also be in the weirdest book I've read for a long time category.

The book which our book groupers unanimously found annoying and not-her-best was Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - which is my favorite Austen title. So that goes in the no accountin' for tastes category.

The everyone loves it except for me and it was too long anyway category goes to Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett which I had recommended to my online book group and which ultimately killed the group. So lesson for 2009: very long books may pose problems for books groups.

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard

The morning book group will start off the new year by discussing The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard on Friday, January 2 at 10:30 a.m. Set at West Point Academy in 1830, The Pale Blue Eye is the story of August Landor, a retired New York City constable who must solve the murder of a West Point cadet. Landor asks Edgar Allan Poe, a first year cadet at the Academy, to spy on the other cadets for him and generally help him with the investigation.

A few biographies of Poe, including Kenneth Silverman's Edgar A. Poe, confirm the accuracy of the historical details of The Pale Blue Eye, right down to the books that his French class read and the poem Poe wrote making fun of his instructor Joe Locke. Poe did tell a lot of lies about his family to West Point and the other cadets (among them, that his parents died in the Richmond theater fire of 1811 and that his grandfather was Benedict Arnold - who offered West Point to the British for 20,000 pounds in 1780). A cadet named Thomas Gibson said that Poe fretted over the rumor that Poe (at 21, much older than the other cadets) had substituted himself for his son, who (it was said) had died after receiving his cadet's appointment.

Here's a prank that does not show up in The Pale Blue Eye: Gibson came into the room that he and Poe shared with their roommates and said that one of their officers had been killed. Poe pretended not to believe him, "after which Gibson returned with a bloodied knife, swinging a bloody gander" that was supposed to be the decapitated head of the officer (page 62 of Kenneth Silverman's biography).

About Louis Bayard

Early History of West Point Military Academy

About Edgar Allan Poe

Discussion questions:

What does the title, The Pale Blue Eye, refer to?

What did you think about the plot twists and red herrings?

How important is the setting to the story?

If you're familiar with Louis Bayard's other novels, did this book live up to exceed your expectations?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Shmoop - New Literature Website

T0day the developers of the new homework-helper website, Shmoop, sent an email to the Reference Department asking us to take a look at their site. Shmoop, currently in beta (testing) mode, has three sections: Literature, American History and Poetry. Each section critiques classic books, poems or frequently-assigned historical events in a way that will help students understand, review and write about the work or topic.
I chose to read the section about The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and found it to be fun to read and thorough in its scope. The website developers are scholars and teachers who hope to inspire students to enjoy literature and history. Take a look and tell us or the Shmoopers what you think. Remember that BHPL also subscribes to databases of literary criticism which are accessible from our website like Granger's Poetry, Contemporary Authors, and the Literary Reference Center. These databases have signed articles and can be used for highschool and college research because they are edited and authoritative sources which teachers will allow as valid "works cited" for term papers.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Best Books Lists 2008

Best books lists are typically compiled in November and December each year by various book reviewers. There are lists of best non-fiction, fiction, mystery, science fiction and other genres. There are high-brow lists and lists aimed at recreational readers. There are lengthy, subdivided lists and the punchy best five or best ten lists. The overall effect can be like listening to the weather report, at the end you still don't know what the weather will be like tomorrow. There is just too much information and the mind starts to tune it out. Well, mine does anyhow.

Some library patrons print out best books lists and carry them in their wallets all year, working their way systematically through them. Others produce rumpled scraps of paper with faded or illegibly scribbled titles of books recommended by friends, or heard about on the radio or television. Some people rely on their memory and others just browse the shelves when they get to the library. Some people put themselves on reserve for most bestsellers and others never read bestsellers. Some swear by Oprah picks and others find her taste very depressing.

Fortunately enough books are published each year so that there should be something for everyone. The trick is to figure out what it is. As I was browsing through the New Fiction shelves on Tuesday for myself in anticipation of two days off and optimistically thinking there would be time to read, a patron asked for a recommendation. Since I was stumped myself about what to read next, we looked together. My Director and I recommended the Inn at Lake Devine by one of my favorite authors, Laura Lipman and Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman because the patron seemed to like character-driven, psychological fiction like Jodi Picoult's and Sara Gruen's. I took home Bailey White's holiday stories as told on NPR, Nothing with Strings which was terrific, and Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders as the latest evidence of my 2008 addiction to the Grande Dame of Mysteries.

Take a look at these end of year lists to find what you plan to read in 2009 or come ask at the Reference Desk and we'll see if we can come up with a list made just for you.

NPR, the Complete Holiday Book Recommendations 2008

Amazon's Top 100 Editors Picks and the Top 100 Customer Favorites

Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year

Louisa Ermelino writes in PW, "There were the authors we expected to deliver, and they did: Louise Erdrich with The Plague of Doves, Richard Price with Lush Life, Jhumpa Lahiri with Unaccustomed Earth, Lydia Millet with How the Dead Dream. A breakthrough surprise about cricket, Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, delighted us, while Tim Winton's Breath took ours away. We listened to our elders in How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People; thought about our planet with The Soul of the Rhino; examined our history in The Hemingses of Monticello and Abraham Lincoln: A Life; and, thanks to Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, we even considered Jesus for President."

The PW Fiction list starts with Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News? the third novel featuring PI Jackson Brodie which I just started and expect to be as good as the first two.

Library Journal's Best Books 2008

The New York Times 10 Best Books 2008

USA Today's list of 10 Books We Loved Reading in 2008 probably coincides most closely with my own tastes because it includes Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows which I enjoyed and which both appear on several other lists.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays

The library will be closed all day December 24 and 25.
If you forgot to pick up a copy of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol to read, the full-text is available online with the original illustrations. The poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas (Twas the Night before Christmas) is also available online with illustrations and falling snow!
If you need a last minute recipe, try AllRecipes online.
Don't forget to track Santa's progress on the NORAD website. Every year the North American Aerospace Defense Command takes on this important task for the boys and girls around the world.

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The North American Aerospace Defense Command is again getting ready to track Santa! On Dec. 1, the NORAD Tracks Santa (NTS) Web site,, will go live and feature fun holiday games and activities that will change daily. On Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, NORAD will begin tracking Santa Claus' journey via live video feeds...

The mission started in 1955 when a child accidentally dialled CONAD asking for Santa's whereabouts. The Commander on duty gave him the information and a tradition was born. NORAD celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and the 53rd of tracking Santa by military radar, Santa cams and other up-to-date spyware.

Ho Ho Ho and to all a good night!

Monday, December 22, 2008

On Tea & Coffee

It's currently 14 degrees in Berkeley Heights, so perhaps these titles from this month's book display on tea and coffee will help warm you up:

Uncommon Grounds by Sandra Balzo. This is one of a couple of coffee-themed mysteries (the other being Cleo Coyle's). Author SJ Rozan wrote the cover quote: "If Nancy Drew grew up, got married, ditched her no-good husband, and opened a coffeehouse, she'd be Maggy Thorsen."

Tea: Addiction, Exploitation and Empire by Roy Moxham, who managed tea plantations in Malawi when it was still a British colony. He begins with Europe's introduction to tea (which is originally from China) in the 17th century and ends with his experiences in Africa.

Coffee and Kung Fu by Karen Brichoux. A copy writer who is obsessed with Kung Fu has to choose between a sensitive guy who works at a coffee shop and a debonair sailboat dealer.

Tea and Sympathy: The Life of an English Teashop in New York by Anita Naughton and Nicola Perry. This is a memoir of the life of a teashop interspersed with recipes that made The Sunday Times of London call it "the most important British cookbook for a generation."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Let It Snow

People are still trickling in to the library, despite the snow, to check out books and DVDs and check their e-mail. (Imagine how dreadful it would be to be snowbound without a book.) I am shamelessly filling up the rest of my post with photos of the snow.

The view from a study carrel

The library's neighbor, Little Flower Church

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What's the Magic Word?

When parents ask that rhetorical question, they are trying to prompt their child to say "thank you." What do you do if your child slyly answers, "Now!" You could try a little bibliotherapy by reading them Perfect Pigs, an Introduction to Manners by Marc Brown and Stephen Krensky. Search for 'children and etiquette' in the library catalog and that book and many other gentle approaches to teaching manners will turn up, like Hello Gnu, how do you do?: a beginning guide to positively polite behavior by Barbara Shook Hazen or It's a spoon, not a shovel by Caralyn Buehner. Not everyone's parents have done their homework though judging by the incidents of road rage and other rude behaviour that we all experience everyday.

What do you do when you encounter someone who as a child has not absorbed those gently humorous nudges to say please and thank you and is now tailgaiting you on Route 78, or taking the parking place you have been waiting for, or drinking the last cup of coffee at work and never ever starting a new pot? These daily examples of rudeness and how to respond to them constructively are discussed in P.M. Forni's The Civility Solution, what to do when people are rude. Professor Forni teaches Italian literature at Johns Hopkins University and founded the Civility Initiative in 2000. His book Choosing Civility was a bestseller and the Civility Solution continues the good fight by suggesting very practical ideas for people who want to know how to not only be more polite, but also to encourage politeness in others.
For an interview with P.M. Forni read this article in the Johns Hopkins Gazette.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Alexander McCall Smith's Digital Novel

If you're a fan of Alexander McCall Smith's series 44 Scotland Street, take a look at his newest serially published novel, Corduroy Mansions, which is about a group of neighbors in the Pimlico section of London. Unlike 44 Scotland Street, which is first published in the newspaper The Scotsman, Corduroy Mansions is being published a chapter a week on The Telegraph's web site. Not only can you read it online, but you can listen to it on the site as well.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Booklist's Top Ten Sci-Tech Books of the Year

Earlier this month Booklist named the top ten science and technology books of the year. I was never an avid science student, so I was amazed that all of these books sounded really interesting (The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog or Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect With Others, for example). And some, like Fruitless Fall, seem like essential reading. If you don't have time to read them now, start a list of books you'd like to read using Next Good Book (register and then start a new Book Shelf).

Flash Mob at the UNC Undergraduate Library

A mob of University of North Carolina students converged on the library December 9th to dance and boogie around in an event arranged by cell phone text messaging. It's called a flash mob and this one happened during exam week to break up the stress and monotony of round-the-clock studying. Looks like fun. UNC has exam week flashers too, but since this is a family-friendly blog, we won't link to any videos of those happenings.
What do you do to break up the monotony of studying at the library? Leave a comment.
Daily Tar Heel report on the UL Flash Mob

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Library Usage Up During Recession

NBC News reported on the uptick in library usage during this economic recession. Click here to watch the video. The report notes that ironically tough times also bring library funding cuts. As people increasingly turn to libraries for free bestsellers and DVD's, internet connections, job support groups, movie nights, and programs for children and adults, library hours and in some cases, branches are cut in Philadelphia and other hard-hit towns and cities.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Uncivil Book Groups

The New York Times article "Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?" reveals the hidden world of book groups. No, that doesn't mean the civilized and earnest discussion of classic literature; the NYT article uncovers the rivalries, spats, infighting, powerplays, and just plain dirty politics of belonging to a book group. Who knew? Well, anyone who has ever belonged to a bookgroup, that's who apparently.
The article goes on to say,
"Yes, it’s a nice, high-minded idea to join a book group, a way to make friends and read books that might otherwise sit untouched. But what happens when you wind up hating all the literary selections — or the other members? Breaking up isn’t so hard to do when it means freedom from inane critical commentary, political maneuvering, hurt feelings, bad chick lit and even worse chardonnay."
Not to say that you can't find a group that will fit your style, not just style of reading, but style of group interaction. If you can't find a compatible group, there are bookgroup leaders that can be hired to troubleshoot the situation. These hired guns put a stop to the long-winded members, keep the group on task by cutting back on gossip and non-book related chat. That sounds kind of like going back to school to me. Pay money, listen to teacher, stop daydreaming and above all, don't fall asleep .
What about the snacks, you may ask? Well, that too can become a competitive event at these occasions. One bookgrouper interviewed for the NYT article says that even a tea time book meeting became a war of clotted cream and bigger and fancier teas.
The BHPL book groups are not like the book groups mentioned in this article. We are very civilized, democratic and so far, things have not devolved into an insult hurling fracas.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Early Childhood Library Class and Book Abandonment Issues

This just in from our Director - reminiscing about the start of a lifelong love affair with books.
Ms. Bakos writes,

"I started 6th grade in a newly built middle school with a library stocked with brand new books. My classmates and I were excited about our first in-school library, but we were less than pleased to discover a weekly Library Class, complete with homework and tests. We learned to introduce ourselves to books. First, you look at the front and back covers, then you read the inside blurbs, and finally you read the first page. At any point in this process it is acceptable to return the book to the shelf. I still follow this procedure when selecting a book to read.

I must have been absent the day the Librarian discussed how to separate from a book that is just not living up to its promise. Over the years I have downsized my own rules about how many pages to read before calling it quits from fifty to twenty. When I am listening to an audiobook, I have lowered the standard to two CDs before ejecting and listening to the radio. My arbitrary rules do not lessen the guilt I feel that someone has taken the trouble to write/record this story that I am abandoning.

There is one rule of Library Class that I have never broken. I never read the last page first."

Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes

The Tuesday Evening BHPL book group will discuss Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes tomorrow at 7:30 PM. Ms. Vanderbes's first novel won critical acclaim and was selected Best Book of the Year in 2003 by the Washington Post. The novel follows three stories: that of two women who visit Easter Island 60 years apart and the story of the German fleet that stopped in Easter Island during World War I. The book offers something for everyone: it is quite detailed about the archaeology, botany, and history of Easter Island. The characters are well-drawn and there is mystery, romance and suspense in the intertwined lives of the characters over time.

Related websites:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers

Take a look at the New York Public Library's gift shop to find cool gifts for book lovers. I especially liked the purses made from old subway maps or license plates. Not that they have anything to do with books.
Speaking of NYPL, Winnie-the-Pooh and friends have moved from the Central Children's Room; they now live at the History and Social Science Library at 42nd Street.
Photo: a mousepad featuring one of the lions guarding the 42nd Street Library.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

The First Friday library book group will meet this Friday, December 5, at 10:30 a.m. to discuss A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, which is set in a certain unnamed seaside city in India (surely Mumbai, Mistry's hometown) during the Emergency in the mid 1970s. A Fine Balance begins on a train, with a student and two tailors colliding when the train comes to a unexpected halt. It turns out they are heading for the same apartment, where the poor widow who lives there rents a room to the student and hires the tailors. (The book ends with a train, too, bringing the story full circle.)

This 600-page tale of hill stations and slums, beggars and beggarmasters, hair collectors and government "motivators," monkeymen, untouchables and Brahmins, exporters and tailors, policemen and soda bottlers, is an epic. At one point the cook at the Vishram restaurant whom the tailors relate their stories to at tea every day says, "If all our customers were like you, we would be able to produce a modern Mahabharat - the Vishram edition." (The Mahabharata is an ancient Sanskrit epic poem seven times the length of the combined The Iliad and the Odyssey, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.)

Like his character Kohlah, Rohinton Mistry is a Parsi (although this book seems to have a character for every religion in India - Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs as well). He left India shortly after the Emergency began, for Canada. There was a interesting kerfuffle between Rohinton Mistry and Germaine Greer after A Fine Balance was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1996. (Greer said that it was a Canadian book about India.)

There are two sets of discussion questions, which you can find on Oprah's site (it was one of her book club's selections) and on the Borders UK site.

Interviews with Rohinton Mistry have been posted online by the Asia Society, Knight-Ridder newspapers and Oprah.

Winnie-the-Pooh Dedication

A patron walked into the library yesterday and asked who "her" was in this book dedication from Winnie-the-Pooh:

To Her

Hand in hand we come

Christopher Robin and I

To lay this book in your lap.

Say you're surprised?

Say you like it?

Say it's just what you wanted?

Because it's yours--

Because we love you

There are lots of theories floating around, but Our Director came across this one: "Her" is A.A. Milne's wife, Daphne. We'll stick with that explanation for now. Click here for details.

While we were looking for the answer, we read the Winnie-the-Pooh chapter in Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara, the fascinating stories behind 50 of the world's best-loved books by Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy (pp. 82-86, call #820.9 BON) The answer wasn't there, but it did answer the question, which was not asked, about who the original Pooh bear was.

Pooh was named after a Canadian Black Bear named Winnipeg which lived at the London Zoo. The orphaned bear was the mascot of a World War I Canadian regiment. The regiment veterinarian left it with the Zoo while the soldiers went to the front. Christopher Milne, A.A. Milne's son, used to visit the bear and renamed Edward, his toy bear, Winnie. He also added "the Pooh" after a swan in one of his father's poems in When We Were Very Young.

Back to the patron who walked into the library. The patron said that Pooh was a girl not only because Winnie is a girl's name but also because in his Hungarian translation of the book, the bear is treated as female. However, I offered up this tidbit: in the Latin version of Winnie-the-Pooh that my father gave to me as a child, Winnie was Winnie Ille Pu, which meaning Winnie That Pooh kind of dodges the question of gender. In fact, Winnipeg, the real London Zoo bear, was a female. Trying to figure out the literary Pooh's gender is as difficult as trying to figure out who the book is dedicated to. According to our research, Christopher Robin, the real one and the literary one, was rather vague on that point.

As Pooh might say, the fluff in my head is beginning to hurt. I think it might be time for a spot of honey.

Topics not covered here: why would anyone give a child Winnie the Pooh in Latin? Who was Pansy O'Hara anyway? Why did a Regiment have a vet? (Horses.) Why would a swan be named Pooh? And finally, is this what they taught us in library school? (Yes.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Thanksgiving Thank You

A patron gave the library staff a really nice thank you note today:

"Thank you for the superb computer class lessons, for ordering books from other libraries (and renewing them!), for finding Martha Stewart recipes and miscellaneous addresses and facts, and just for being kind, caring, dedicated people (with expertise to spare!)! The B.H. Library is some library! Happy Thanksgiving!"

We'd just like to say thank you for coming to the library (or stopping by the blog). A library is not a collection of books but the group of people who share them, and we would not be around if it were not for you.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cyberchondria: The Internet and Health Information

Do you use the internet to find health information? If you do, you may be a cyberchondriac. Cyberchondria is a new word according to this article ,
" Microsoft researchers coined the term after finding that thanks to a plethora of online medical information, more and more people think they are sick."

The article goes on to say that,
"Information can assist people who are not health-care professionals to better understand health and disease, and to provide them with feasible explanations for symptoms," said the researchers in a report. "However, the Web has the potential to increase the anxieties of people who have little or no medical training, especially when Web search is employed as a diagnostic procedure."

It looks like the key point there is that using the web to diagnose an illness can cause a lot of problems. Even doctors can hear hoofbeats and think zebra instead of horse, but it's a much more common problem for the layman. That refers to the tendency to think that symptoms point to something really rare and serious rather than to the more common cause of the symptoms. For example, a websurfer may conclude that a headache is a sign of a brain tumor rather than just a garden variety stress headache. Add into that the effect of watching TV programs like "House" where the diagnosis is always something really arcane and websurfers may easily jump to the wrong conclusions.

The cure for this cyberchondria is to start with your doctor. Once you have a diagnosis, be sure to use reliable resources to research the disease or condition. Many library patrons come to the Reference Desk to ask for help with medical questions. The medical books in the library have all been reviewed and selected, for the most part, with an eye for accuracy and helpfulness to the layman. Sometimes, bowing to popular demand, we buy a health bestseller which may contain dubious information. The medical reference section has the most unbiased health information in the library's book collection. The Merck Manual of Medical Information (Ref 610 MER) and the Johns Hopkins White Papers (Ref 616 JOH) are two good places to start your research.
To find medical information online, the Reference Staff has bookmarked authoritative health websites to use and is trained to be skeptical of websites that seem to be primarily a marketing tool for online quacks and opportunists.

Here is a list of websites we use for medical information and links to a few articles about choosing reliable health information. One more caveat: make sure you have the correct spelling of the condition or drug you are researching.

The first stop on the web for the BHPL Reference Staff is usually the National Library of Medicine's website,
This website will take you to articles from The Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, various medical schools, hospital centers and universities. It has links to the the National Institutes of Health and other U.S. government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture (for nutrition.)
Notice that many of these websites are dot govs or dot edus, in other words, they are government or university websites, not dot coms, which essentially are commercial,profit-making websites.

The American Cancer Society
Top 100 Health Websites from CAPHIS
Clinical Trials
Healthy New Jersey from UMDNJ, the state medical schools
Household Products Database from NIH
MyPyramidTracker to plan your food intake -for free, no ads for supplements or other dubious or expensive promotions.
Sloan Kettering's website about herbal supplement efficacy and potentially harmful interactions with prescribed drugs.
The ABMS, American Board of Medical Specialties, list of Board Certified doctors

And finally, an entertaining, thought-provoking, possibly controversial website
Quackwatch. You may not agree with the website author, Stephen Barrett, MD, but at the very least you will learn to be very skeptical of medical information you hear about from friends, read online or see on television.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Day after Thanksgiving

BHPL is always open the day after Thanksgiving, but it is slow this morning. Maybe people are shopping, travelling, digesting, back at work or just don't know that we are open.
This morning: one computer monitor didn't work (I fixed it); one printer stopped working (I put up an out of order sign aka - an admission of defeat); one interlibrary loan request came online over JerseyCat for our approval (I approved it): two phone calls for phone numbers were referred to Reference (libraries often serve as phone operators of old did); I remembered to put in the back-up tape for the library's main data server for the person who usually does it but is off visiting family; I signed birthday cards for three staff members born in December (this is top secret, don't tell them); the office email was sparse (yeah! maybe Black Friday can be the emailless holiday I've been hoping for.) Now at 11:00 am our regulars are beginning to trickle in and everyone agrees they had a nice Thanksgiving and the turkey was good.
Happy post-Thanksgiving!

Outreach at the Library

The following post was written by BHPL Director Stephanie Bakos. I posted it a week ago, just before I inadvertantly wiped out all the November and most of October's blog posts. We are gradually reconstructing the lost posts. Here is Stephanie's reflection on library outreach then and now. (Anne)
SB writes -
Years ago, when I started as a librarian at Plainfield Public Library, the Outreach Department was well staffed and quite busy spreading library services throughout the community. Staff gave book talks, showed films at the Senior Center, and visited preschools. Library websites have expanded outreach to everyone with a computer, but many of the services offered online are impersonal. BHPL’s book blog is a great example of traditional outreach and the Internet living in harmony; reader’s advisory service, offered by a librarian that you can reply to by email or phone, is available online.

Understanding that representing BHPL to the community is a major part of my job, I still have my personal outreach experiences. For several years I delivered books to a patron who owned seven cats. Even though I have numerous allergies, I was the only one who believed cat affection to be a perk. My most recent outreach is helping a book group in Arkansas. A good friend moved to Mountain Home and relies on me to provide an annual list of titles. So far, I have been a great success and have been invited to visit.

My next list will include: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows; Loving Frank by Nancy Horan; The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd; Montana 1948 by Larry Watson; and, The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman. At this moment, I am reading Kissing Games of the World by Sandi Kahn Shelton and listening to 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. Perhaps these titles will appear on the next list.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

LiveMocha and the Bald Soprano

Last week I signed up for LiveMocha, a language learning site. Like Rosetta Stone, it teaches you vocabulary through flash cards and other exercises. Its strength, however, is the way it connects you with LiveMocha members who speak the language that you want to learn (and it's free).

Unfortunately I don't think anything can make learning the basics of a language more exciting. Slogging through phrases like "She wore a dress yesterday but today she is wearing jeans, the man is taller than the boy" reminds me of an absurdist play I once saw as part of a French class assignment, The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco , which begins:
MRS. SMITH: "There, it's nine o'clock. We've drunk the soup, and eaten the fish and chips, and the English salad. The children have drunk English water. We've eaten well this evening. That's because we live in the suburbs of London and because our name is Smith."
Ionesco used phrases from The English French Conversation Manual For Beginners as dialogue for part of the play, as he explained in an interesting essay that you can read (most of) here. He was also originally going to call the play English Made Easy.
Wikipedia has a nice summary of The Bald Soprano.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

The library book group met November 11 to discuss The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. Author Maggie O'Farrell was shortlisted for the Thumping Good Read Award for a previous book of hers, which might explain why The Vanishing Act was such a fast read for me. Esme Lennox is an elderly woman whose family shut her away in Cauldstone, a women's mental institution in Edinburgh, when she was only a teenager. The book begins in the current day as the institution begins to close down and Esme's grandniece, the owner of a vintage boutique, discovers her existence.

Many women like the fictional Esme were institutionalized in the UK for reasons other than insanity.

Two different sets of discussion questions were available for the book group to ponder, here and here. (The best questions turned out to be whether or not book club members thought Esme was insane or not, and whether they were sympathetic to Kitty or not.)

People On Reserve at the Library

For a lot of extroverted, book-loving (and music- and film-loving) Berkeley Heights residents, going to the library is a social event. The lady at the circulation desk asks about your dog, you forward a funny email you read on a library computer to the reference staff. You overhear the person getting a library card give their street address - your street - and you introduce yourself as their neighbor. The Santa Monica Public Library has taken it a step further with its Living Library program, which you can read about in the L.A. Times. Individuals are available to be checked out for 30 minute conversations in the library and range from raw foodists to the homeless.

One Perfect Day by Rebecca Mead

One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding is a wonderfully snarky book that grew out of a New Yorker article Rebecca Mead wrote about the Wal-martization of the wedding business. One Perfect Day reminded me of Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, except it was less depressing (because having your wedding reception moved to the Sandals resort's exercise room due to rain is ultimately not as bad as earning minimum wage.) Two parts I especially loved: the story about the bride pinata at the wedding planner conference, and the fact that Donald and Melania Trump registered at Tiffany's, despite the fact that Donald Trump could just buy the whole store himself.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Blog Problem

We just lost all the November posts for this blog. I think I zapped them into cyberspace by fiddling around with the blogger software (specifically by playing with the "labels") so while we try to find our errant posts, I will summarize what I think we wrote lately.
Ellen wrote a really cool piece about a new online language learning site called livemocha and brought in a very creative analogy to a Ionesco play called the Bald Soprano.
Simultaneously this morning (a creative Monday morning) I reviewed the latest Alexander McCall Smith book which I just finished, The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday.
Recently I had posted about the National Book Awards and the Rutgers professor who won for the Hemmingses of Monticello.
Also noteworthy is that I managed to zap to smithereens my very own boss's recollections of her community outreach efforts while she worked at the Plainfield Public Library. Way to go to impress the boss!
And I also sent flying into that great cyber-trashcan of the blogosphere our reviews for the library book groups' books.
Aside from the feeling of embarrasment to have wiped out my colleagues posts, and some vanity about a few of my own that I worked hard on, I guess it's small potatoes to be unblogged or deblogged, isn't it?
We lost a few of those Reference Desk roundup pieces where we tell about the zany questions we get on any given day. People seem to like those.
But the point is that we want anyone who stumbles on this blog to know that libraries offer all kinds of nifty things, services, materials - virtual and actual, that you might like to know about. And it's all free. And we love to answer questions and help people with their research. So this blog is just one form of library outreach. And I just chopped off a bit of that outreaching.
Take it from me. Do not play with the labels in It will lead to nothing good.

Friday, October 10, 2008

No-Ice Skating Rinks And Other Matters

It used to be that no-ice skating meant roller skates. In the course of looking up information about a company named Mitsubishi Plastics for a patron today, I discovered that Mitsubishi Plastics is selling petrochemical resin panels for artificial ice rinks in Japan.

Another interesting question from the past couple of days: how many cardholders does the library have? Answer: over 12,000, including people who come from other towns and register their cards here. We were also asked how to kill wisteria, which led to the discovery that there are 2 opposing schools of thought on this question. From a leaf watcher headed to Massachusetts, came the question of whether we have any books that will help you identify trees by leaf color in the autumn. I gave the person a basic tree identification book and some New England guidebooks. We've also gotten our yearly request for books by the latest Nobel literature prize winner. English translations of some of Jean Marie Gustave le Clezio's books are heading to BHPL, as soon as the publisher can print some more.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Voting Has Begun . . .

Voting has begun for next year's One Book New Jersey selection. The idea is to get everyone from Tony Soprano to Bruce Springsteen (OK, maybe not everybody) to read the same book next year. You don't want to get stuck reading a book you don't like, do you? Vote for your selection here:

Also, if you'd like to vote in that other election, the deadline to register in New Jersey is Tuesday, October 14. You can pick up a registration form to mail in here at the library, or print out your own here. If you don't have time to go to the polls, any voter in New Jersey can vote by absentee ballot.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mrs. Guggenheim and the Mona Lisa

This month's display features books on art. Actually, it's books on art that are not so large and unwieldy as to topple off the shelf and land on readers' toes.

Some that I lingered over as I put them on the shelf:

Leonardo and the Mona Lisa Story: The History of a Painting Told in Pictures by Donald Sassoon

Blue: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau

Art Lover: a Biography of Peggy Guggenheim by Anton Gill

Q: "Mrs. Guggenheim, how many husbands have you had?"
A: "D'you mean my own, or other people's?"

The view from the art section on a rainy night.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

The library book group will be meeting on Friday at 10:30 a.m. to discuss The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond. The Year of Fog recounts a year in the life of Abby, a photographer who lets her fiance's daughter out of her sight for a moment on a foggy beach in San Francisco. Emma disappears, and the question of whether she drowned or whether she was kidnapped kept me glued to the book. Abby's convinced that if she can just remember the right detail, that single clue will lead her to Emma. So, the reader learns along with Abby the quirks and vagaries of memories, and how the memory works. (The information about memory theaters may sound familiar to you - we read about "memory mansions" in The Madonnas of Leningrad last September.)

Abby takes a photo of Emma with a Holga camera the day she loses her on the beach. They are cheap plastic cameras that let in a lot of light and therefore take distorted pictures, just like our memory distorts reality. The author points out that "the cover image of the novel shows the bright color-wash and blurry edges you can achieve with the Holga" in case you're wondering what the photos look like. Speaking of distorted memories, check out the Memory Painter exhibit that is mentioned in the book.

Abby wanders through all the neighborhoods of San Francisco looking for Emma. To see photos of the places mentioned in The Year of Fog, check out the Year of Fog Project on Flickr. Reviewers disagree as to whether Richmond “captures the spirit of life in The City" or whether she "was trying too hard to get all these spots [in San Francisco] into the book." Which reviewer do you agree with? What makes a setting important or real?

As you read the book, did you think Emma was alive or dead? What led you to guess one way or another?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Random Picks from the New Non-fiction Shelf

Read on...Crime Fiction, Reading Lists for Every Taste by Barry Trott. Looking for Chick Lit mysteries or hard-boiled or a certain locale or time period? Take a look at these lists.

What Should I Read Next? Jessica R. Feldman, editor. Readings in history, politics, literature, math, science and the arts.

Lost in the Museum, buried treasures and the stories they tell by Nancy Moses. Including a very unusual collection at Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. I can't say what in this family friendly blog...

Introvert Power, why your inner life is your hidden strength by Laurie Helgoe. Shy people strike back, now. Or, well, pretty soon...

Friend or Frenemy, a guide to the friends you need and the ones you don't by Andrea Lavinthal. Includes the Friend Commandments.

Working World, careers in international education, exchange and development by Sherry L. Mueller. All you international relations majors, listen up...

Killing Sacred Cows, overcoming the financial myths that are destroying your prosperity by Garrett B. Gunderson. Personal finance. Maybe congress/ Wall Street could use this title this week?

Let's Talk Turkey, the stories behind America's Favorite Expressions by Rosemarie Ostler. With a whole chapter on politics. Straw poll? Stump speech? Hat in the ring?

In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah, author of the Caliph's House. English travel writer travels across Morocco. My book group loved the Caliph's House, this might be a good follow-up.

Another Day at the Reference Desk

To continue Ellen's post of Monday, September 22, here is a rundown of questions patrons have asked today at the Reference Desk:

4 people asked for the location of and for help with Consumer Reports; one wanted stove ratings (called "ranges" for some reason by CR); one wanted car ratings (the April issue plus a separate CR car book); one wanted information on window replacements and one patron just wanted to know where the CR are shelved. FYI: BHPL also gets CR online through EBSCO database or JerseyClicks.

Several non-Berkeley Heights residents wanted to know how to use our internet computers (just register your hometown library card at the Circulation Desk and then the barcode will get you into BHPL's internet computers.)

Phone calls: several title checks including for CD's of Rimsky-Korsakov's music and bios of Audrey Hepburn. FYI: our catalog is available online, but we do catalog searches and set books aside for patrons who call. BHPL subscribes to thousands of musical recordings which can be listened to online through our website.

2 requests for language tapes: Italian for one patron, Hebrew for another. (We also have downloadable language audiobooks from NetLibrary.)

Request for 2007 tax tables.

Various "directional" questions: "Where is the...?"

Various phone calls about BHPL's hours today. (We don't have a phone menu, humans answer our phones except during closed hours.)

Various office supplies requests: stapler, staple remover, white out, pens etc.

Photo-copier help.

High School reading list books. (Someone's procrastinating!)

Pretty routine so far...

Friday, September 26, 2008

More Than Just a Catchy Title

I want to read these books, which all happen to have great titles and great reviews. However, I don't have time right now, so I am graciously extending the opportunity to you. These books are even in the library right now.

The Highly Effective Detective
by Richard Yancey. A security guard-turned-PI's effectiveness does not extend to actually getting a license to practice.
This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin. A psychologist writes about music's effect on your brain.
Zugzwang by Ronan Bennett. Zugzwang is a chess term referring to a situation in which a player can only make things worse. Zugzwang the book is about a psychoanalyst in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg who must crack a conspiracy in order to prove his own innocence.
Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith. I only teach computer classes, but this sounds great.
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson. Dang, now the truth about librarians is out.

BHPL Fiction "Bestsellers"

These are the most popular books at the library that were published this year. The books that came out earlier this year have a head start, since they've had longer to check out.

1. The Appeal by John Grisham
2. Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich
3. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
4. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
5. 7th Heaven by James Patterson
6. Honor Thyself by Danielle Steele
7. Sail by James Patterson
8. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
9. Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber
10. The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Busy Monday Morning

If you've ever been curious about what the reference librarians are staring at on their computer screens, or what they're doing when they're not at their desks, here are some things that I did this morning:

-Helped a patron find ancient customs relating to the fall equinox - which is today.
-Helped a mom find books about sharks and thunder for her little girls.
-Requested 5 copies of The Friday Night Knitting Club through interlibrary loan for a local book group. If you are interested in having us get books for your book group, let us know.
-Ordered more memory for the computers at the circulation desk because we're upgrading to a new version of the circulation system software.
-Handed a patron the Municipal Land Use Procedures Ordinances (which are not online).
-Took a children's computer out of storage and tested the Internet jacks in the newly renovated children's room (they work).
-Directed someone to the Berkeley Heights fall chipping schedule.
-Helped a patron photocopy a newspaper article.
-Logged a guest without a library card onto our Internet computers.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortenson, an ER nurse and climber who decided to build a school in the village where he recovered his health after a failed attempt on K2 in Pakistan. His fundraising efforts reached Jean Hoerni, a former climber and one of Silicon Valley's pioneers, and the Central Asia Institute was born to build schools in rural Pakistan, especially for girls. It's rare to read a book that's both fast-paced and inspiring. Mortenson was detained by the Taliban, set up schools in refugee camps in Pakistan, and witnessed the aftermath of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan.

In a semi-unrelated note, the last time this many members of my family all ended up reading the same book, it was Blame It On Paris by Laura Florand, a hilarious memoir marketed as a novel that's partially set in my hometown (not Paris, but a town in Georgia). My sister disliked Three Cups of Tea enough to put it in the recycle bin. I think that's what people in California do instead of burning books. =)

Adventure Photographs has pictures of Concordia ("the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods") and other places in the Karakoram that are in the book.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What To Do Once You've Read All of ____'s Books

If you're at a loss because you've finished all the recent books written by your favorite authors, find a new one to try with NoveList's author read-alike essays. (You can get to NoveList from the library home page; click on Remote Databases and log in. Click on EBSCO, then NoveList).

Search for the author you love and see if a "Author Read-alike" tab appears above your search results. (Warning: not every author has a read-alike essay in NoveList). I tried looking up Richard Russo, someone whose books are very sought after at BHPL. Joyce Saricks wrote a wonderful essay recommending Michael Chabon, Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Malone and K. C. Constantine as possibilities for Russo fans.

Another author whose fans wipe out the shelves at BHPL is Jodi Picoult. Kaite Mediatore's NoveList essay suggests Chris Bohjalian as Picoult's closest match, with Jacquelyn Mitchard another strong choice for Picoultites. Also she recommended Luanne Rice, Ann Hood and Sue Miller.

Do any of your favorite authors' books have something in common? If you have any author pairings to recommend, let us know in the comments.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Library Loans Videos from its Website

This weekend a patron asked for a video or DVD about Hawaii. The library didn't have quite what the patron wanted on the shelf, but we do offer travel videos through our website. BHPL subscribes to MyLibrarydv which allows patrons to download videos such as America's Test Kitchen, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen, Antiques Roadshow, and other TV shows. MyLibrarydv also offers travel shows: Globe Trekker, Rick Steves' Europe and TravelView International where we found four programs about Hawaii.
To access this resource from your home computer or any other internet-connected computer, go to the library homepage, and click on the MyLibrarydv logo at the bottom of the page.
With this database patrons can borrow videos (they last for seven days on your hard drive) without leaving home, without paying any fees, without ever worrying about overdue fines, without using a DVR or recording device of any kind.
Try it out. If you have questions, please call the Reference Desk during library hours.
(908) 464-9333.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Library's New Database Explains Lipstick on a Pig

BHPL has just launched a new database, Visual Thesaurus. Type in a word and up pops a "cloud" of related words and definitions. Click on a shortcut to hear the word pronounced. Click on the menu to translate words into other languages. There is also a newsletter attached with articles about language, a word of the day, a crossword puzzle and other linguistic oddities that would appeal to fans of Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots and Leaves and similar books about grammar and language.
Today's Visual Thesaurus News features an article, Of Pigs and Silk and Lipstick by Ben Zimmer which traces the evolution of the phrase from the 16th century to the present day "kerfuffle" as he calls it. He writes,
"I was surprised to see how far back similar piggish proverbs go. Everybody knows "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," suggesting that something without inherent value can't be transformed into something valuable. That saying has been traced back to 1579,..."
Eventually sayings about dressing up pigs in silk clothes evolved into putting lipstick on pigs and the rest is history.
Please try our new database which can be accessed from our homepage through the "Remote Databases" link.
Speaking of databases, I decided to put the phrase "lipstick on a pig" into BHPL's databases and see how many times it turned up in the thousands of periodicals and newspapers indexed in them. The results varied. In EBSCO Masterfile Premier, the phrase turned up 23 hits over the last few years.EBSCO turned up 900 hits in all it's databases combined. You can use JerseyClicks to try this experiment. It will search for a phrase in thousands of articles stored in the databases that make up JerseyClicks. For Gale Custom Newspapers, I got 50 hits. I thought there would be more, but I think the databases do not search phrases as well as they do boolean searches so that throws the results off.
Putting the phrase into the BHPL catalog comes up with Torie Clarke's 2006 book, Lipstick on a Pig which has been getting a lot of free publicity lately.

PS: Visual Thesaurus defines a kerfuffle as a hoo-hah or to-do or hurly-burly or disturbance...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Roberta Isleib on Berkeley Heights and Asking for Murder

Roberta Isleib, a Berkeley Heights native and the author of the Golf Lover’s mystery series and the Advice Column mystery series, has stopped by the blog today for questioning! Her latest book, Asking for Murder, is the third to feature Rebecca Butterman, a divorced 30-something psychologist and advice columnist.

Can you tell us about your experience growing up in Berkeley Heights? Did you ever suspect that you would become an author back then?

Berkeley Heights was a wonderful place to grow up! I moved there just before first grade and my family stayed until I was in my early twenties (minus a few years outside Detroit, which we hardly count!) I lived on Sutton Drive, a brand-new neighborhood packed with kids. The parents threw block parties and Halloween parties and coffee klatches and bridge sessions, and the kids tore around the streets on bikes and built forts in the woods. As a fanatic reader, I also spent a lot of time in the library. My sister and I would come home from school and go directly to our rooms with books. Of course I read every Nancy Drew installment, along with Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames, the Bobbsey Twins, and lots of mainstream novels. But I never imagined I'd grow up to be a writer, especially not fiction. The only fiction I ever wrote during those years was a saccharine short story involving a romance with Mickey Dolenz (one of the Monkees.) Let's just say I'm glad that's been permanently lost:)

I was always picking up interesting snippets of psychology as I read your books (one tip from Deadly Advice: don’t sit between your patient and the door!). Your background as a psychologist is perfect for writing mysteries, isn’t it?

From the very beginning, I wanted to use my training in clinical psychology by including reasonable psychologists in my novels. The challenge was to dream up characters who could use the principles of psychology to help solve mysteries without imploding with self-importance, stumbling over personal issues, or crossing ethical boundaries. Most of the time, shrinks in the media end up looking very foolish! It's been a lot of fun to write about Rebecca Butterman's world--her psychotherapy practice is very similar to the one I had (though of course I wouldn't use my own clients in the mysteries.)

A psychologist has to think like a detective in many ways: start with the patient's problem (the so-called "crime"), look for clues in their history, and follow these trails to find a solution.

Do you ever get to do any real-life research for any of your books? I hope you tasted all of the meals in Asking for Murder to make sure you described them properly!

When I was writing the golf mystery series, the research was a huge bonus! Who else but a writer gets to play on amazing golf courses and write it off on her taxes? Rebecca Butterman's books are set close to home--the town next to mine--but I've still had some fascinating experiences. ASKING FOR MURDER features a sandplay therapist, which I knew nothing about when I started. Based on the principles of Carl Jung, this kind of therapy invites the patient to choose from shelves and shelves of figurines and place them in a large sand box. After the arrangement is "complete," the patient and therapist look it over together and try to understand the meaning--or make the unconscious meaning conscious.

As for food, my character loves to cook and eat (as do I--though she's a more dedicated cook.) I watch my most talented friends for recipe ideas. Rebecca throws a dinner party in ASKING FOR MURDER that includes spaghetti carbonara and red velvet cake. Yum, yum. My previous character, Cassie Burdette, was a junk food addict, so I enjoy trying Rebecca's concoctions. One friend asked if she was on a diet in this book--no, never!

Do you have any favorite advice columnists or one that inspired the character of Rebecca?

I am an advice column junkie. Probably my favorite of all time is "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" published monthly in the Ladies Home Journal. This column is deeper than most because each month it features a real therapist working with a troubled couple. And marriage therapy is hard--the magazine articles make it seem so easy. I also loved Ann Landers, and her daughter Margo Howard, who wrote Dear Prudence. Margo agreed to read and comment on DEADLY ADVICE before it was published. I was so nervous! But she loved it and was very gracious with a quote for the cover.

Cassie the pro golfer and Joe the sports psychologist from your first series have been mentioned in Rebecca's books and vice versa. Do you think Cassie and Rebecca could ever team up to solve a crime?

Rebecca made cameo appearances in the second and third golf mysteries, A BURIED LIE and PUTT TO DEATH. I added the cameo about Cassie to DEADLY ADVICE because I got the news about the series ending before I had the chance to wrap it up in a way that would satisfy her fans.

Unfortunately, both Rebecca and Cassie were interested in Joe the golf psychologist, which got them off on a bad foot. Cassie thought Rebecca was a prig, and Rebecca thought Cassie was reckless. It would be great fun to get them all together, because I'm sure the tension would still be there--but they'd have to work together somehow...

Thank you so much for hosting my return visit to the Berkeley Heights library! Please stop by and visit me at my website and blogs--if your book group is interested in discussion questions--or recipes--you'll find them there! Roberta

Friday, September 5, 2008

Upcoming Book Releases

USA Today has an interactive webpage that previews upcoming books month by month. Click here to see when your favorite authors' and other books will be released.
Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded will be out September 8.
Philip Roth, Garrison Keillor and Philippa Gregory all have titles to be released in September.
Celebrity biographies/autobiographies of Ted Turner, Roger Moore and John Lennon are coming out this fall.
There's something for everyone. BHPL can put patrons on the holds list for titles before the release date. Let us know.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Life of Privilege, Mostly by Gardner Botsford

The library book group will be discussing A Life of Privilege, Mostly by Gardner Botsford at its next meeting (Friday, September 5, at 10:30 a.m.) Gardner grew up wealthy and well-connected in New York in the 20s and 30s, the stepson of Raoul Fleischmann (as in Fleischmann's yeast); Harpo Marx was a friend of his mother's. Botsford served in France during World War II, and his memories of those years are one of the most amusing parts of the book. After the war, he was first a Talk of the Town reporter and then an editor at the New Yorker for 40 years.

To get a feel for A Life of Privilege, Mostly, you can read the New York Times review here, which begins with Botsford's story of having the Germans surrender the city of Carlsbad to him. I disagree with the scathing review that appeared in Entertainment Weekly, but see for yourself.

Compare this book with the other memoir we read this year, Shadow Man by Mary Gordon. How is it different? Which did you like better?

Did the light tone of A Life of Privilege, Mostly amuse you, or did it get on your nerves?

Which of Gardner's stories was the most memorable to you? Did you learn anything interesting from this book?

What did Gardner Botsford seem to leave out when he told the story of his life? Why do you think he chose to do that? (Hint: here's his obituary.)

Would you ever consider writing your memoirs, even if it were just for your family? Do you think you could rely on your memory for the truth?

Library Cards Open Doors

Basketball legend and author Kareem Abdul-Jabar is honorary chairman of the American Library Association's Library Card Sign-Up Month which takes place annually in September. Most people know Mr. Abdul-Jabar for his basketball prowess, but he is also an accomplished author of books on African American history.
The American Library Association website states,
"The master of the sky hook, the 7-foot-2-inch Abdul-Jabbar led UCLA to three consecutive NCAA titles and the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers to six NBA championships. But Abdul-Jabbar’s achievements go far beyond the court. He has written several books, including “On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance; “Giant Steps”; “Black Profiles in Courage”; “A Season on a Reservation”; and “Brothers in Arms.” Four of his books reached bestseller lists.

It's often said that library cards open doors to a whole world of knowledge and human accomplishment. Just yesterday, ALA President Jim Rettig released a statement about the importance of libraries to provide free access to a wide range of materials for all Americans. Click here to see his statement in which he "reminds Americans not to take the precious democratic freedom to read for granted. "
So exercise your right to read, sign up for a library card today.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Isleib Cometh

Roberta Isleib, who grew up in Berkeley Heights and later became a psychologist and mystery author, is stopping by the blog on Tuesday, September 9, to talk about her newest mystery, Asking for Murder. If you'd like to ask her a question, just leave a comment at the bottom of the interview. (All of BHPL's copies of Roberta's books are checked out right now, but you can get on the waiting list.)

If you want to knock the socks off your book group, you can ask Roberta to speak to your book group over the phone. For extra credit, make one of the recipes in her book. And there are discussion questions for all the books in the Rebecca Butterman series too.

Scholarship Opportunity for High School Students

Today's mail brought us a poster announcing a scholarship essay contest for high school students. Go to to submit an essay about a politician for the Profile in Courage Award Program.
Other resources in the library about college scholarships are available from books in the Reference Collection or circulating collection like the College Board Guide to Financial Aid (Ref 378.3 COL).
Students should also look at various websites and resources recommended by their Guidance Office.


U.S. Department of Education
Expected Family Contribution calculator (EFC)
Governor Livingston High School Guidance Office
New Jersey Department Of Education awards list

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Election Year Humor, not an oxymoron

"The good news is, we're ahead in the polls. The bad news is that the election isn't tomorrow."
Who said that during which campaign season? It was George W. Bush in 2004, according to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House by Charles Osgood (p. 217.) The CBS correspondent has gathered gaffes and funny remarks from American presidential campaigns from 1948 - 2004.
Other funny comments:
Apparently Joe Biden isn't the first long-winded vice-presidential candidate. Barry Goldwater remarked about Hubert Humphrey, "Hubert has been clocked at 275 words a minute with gusts up to 340." Humphrey's wife Muriel told her husband, "Hubert, a speech, to be immortal, doesn't have to be eternal." (p.86)
Of course, famous verbal bungler Dan Quayle provides lots of great gaffes, "Republicans understand the importance of the bondage between parent and child," (p. 159). Quayle also clarified an election year problem, "A low turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls," (p. 160). Glad we cleared that up.
George H.W. Bush was often accused of being dull, to which he responded, "What's wrong with being a boring kind of guy?" (p. 168). Before his debate with opponent Michael Dukakis, Bush asked, "Is this the time to unleash our one-liners?" (p.162)
Election years see the publication of many political biographies, exposes and analyses. Osgood's book provides light browsing for primary- and convention-weary citizens.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I think I understand what you thought you said

Or is it, I think I understand what you meant to say but what you said wasn't what you meant? According to a google search the quote in a slightly different form comes from Robert McCloskey who wrote and illustrated Make Way for Ducklings.
What made me think of this quote, however it goes, is that answering questions at the Reference Desk often fall into the category of, for lack of a better word, huh?
Case in point, quite often people ask for a book with a title and author that don't seem to exist and then say they just read the review in the New York Times Book Review. Usually I feel so flummoxed about not remembering what was in the latest NYT Book Review that I run over to grab said issue off the "stick." (What are those things called and aren't they weird?) But it turns out that people often confuse the title of the review and the review's author with the author and title being reviewed. Are you following here? I think the NYT should do something about this so patrons wouldn't feel silly and I wouldn't feel guilty. (Clarifying example: a review of Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey might be called Ducks Cause Traffic Problems in Boston, reviewed by Clack McQuack. You see how confusing that would be?)

Speaking of a perfect world, made exactly to my specifications, all of my book groups would be reading the same book at the same time. For one group I am reading Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth which is due to be discussed online sometime in September. I put off reading it until I could borrow a copy from a neighbor because I'm still pretty far down on the holds list at BHPL. The other day, peering out the tiny window of my front door, I noticed the screen door was ajar a bit. Upon opening the door I found Follet's mighty tome leaning against the screen and pushing the door outward. Not a good sign when you've only got a couple weeks to read a book. I leaned down to retrieve the book and it landed with a thump on the front porch. Nine hundred and something pages worth of resounding thump.

Related links:
Make Way for Ducklings parade in Boston with children dressed as ducks.
The World's Largest Book, no it's not Pillars of the Earth, it just seems that way.
Sculpture of Mother Duck and her ducklings in the Boston Common.
Why students should not pull an "all nighter" to study (or even to read Pillars of the Earth) a video of Mo Rocca at UNC
Wikipedia explains Gothic architecture
Wikipedia explains Pillars of the Earth in much less time than it takes to read it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Frog Relieved Plainfield Avenue Construction Finished

The road construction on Plainfield Avenue near the library is finished. The staff parked on nearby streets or at the Church of the Little Flower on Hamilton Avenue during the construction. That's the big Little Flower, not the little Little Flower on Plainfield Avenue next to the library. There is a woodland path from the little LF to the big LF that crosses swampy areas and has a bridge over a stream at one point. Deer and other wildlife can be spotted by observant walkers. In fact it's hard not to observe deer as they graze in herds on the Church campus.
While walking from through the woods one day, there was a lady holding back a boxer on a leash. The boxer was straining over the embankment, looking intently into a boggy patch with a pipe sticking out of the water where a small green frog sat stone still. The dog owner told me the frog is there every day and her boxer likes to investigate. I never would have noticed the tiny critter if it hadn't been that chance encounter with the dog and his owner. And if it hadn't been for road construction, I wouldn't have been walking through the woods at that time of day. So the inconvenience of August road work had a positive side to it: frog serendipity.
Click here for local photographer, J. Gilbert's, N.J. wildlife photos on Flickr, including many of the common green frog.

The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah

The Caliph's House, a year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah tells the story of the author's move from the safety of rainy England to a ramshackle old house in sunny Casablanca. He, his wife and two young children endure the chaos of house renovation, the unfamiliar customs of a new country and the vagaries of Moroccan workman for the year that it takes to transform the house from an abandoned wreck to a home of great beauty. Click here to see the finished results.
Readers who enjoy travel memoirs with exotic locales, or who liked Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence and similar titles, will enjoy this family's adventure. A good choice for book groups who like to eat at ethnic restaurants to discuss books. Couscous recommended all around.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Patron Calls Library While Appliance Shopping; Road Repairs; and a Bear Wearing a Hardhat

This morning a BHPL patron called the Reference Desk from a local appliance store asking if we could find a review of a washing machine she was looking at. She told us that the item was not reviewed in Consumer Reports which the store had on hand. We found two customer reviews in and read them to her over the phone. Usually we search EBSCO periodical database for reviews in other periodicals when Consumer Reports does not have a review, but since time was of the essence, the internet seemed the way to go for this question.
We have been receiving more questions by phone since the road in front of the library is being repaved. Surprisingly, roadblocks have not deterred many intrepid BHPL patrons. I'm not advocating barreling through roadblocks to get a good book, but it does make us feel needed and provides anecdotal evidence of how valued library services are to people.
Re: roadblocks, Union County has a really cute webpage called Road Construction Update hosted by U.C. Bear, a hardhat-wearing cartoon bear. Just click on the little road cone on the county map to find out the status of any specific road project. Who would have thunk? Road repairs are inconvenient but U.C. Bear makes them bearable. (aargh.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Best Agatha Christie Mysteries to Read

I've tried reading Agatha Christie mysteries over the years and with the exception of Ten Little Indians, I didn't like the books very much. That has now changed. Someone donated a pile of Christie paperbacks to the library a couple of months ago and I took them home to read them to see if they should be added to the collection or at least to our paperback exchange shelf. Whoever you are out there that left these biblio-babies in a basket on the library doorstep, thank you. I now have a new addiction. I plod through the books I have to read for book groups or feel I ought to read, spurred on by the thought that another Christie mystery will be my reward when I finish.
This is the list of what I've read so far with very brief annotations. I recommend all these titles. I have a hunch that Christie's later works may often tend to be too wordy and precious, so don't start with those. Start with books written in the 1920's through early 1950's. I also think I might prefer Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot, but I haven't read enough to be sure and that is purely a subjective comment. Christie's books that have neither of her famous detectives can be quite engrossing too, so give those a try.
My List so far...
Sad Cypress, (1940) a woman on trial for the murder of her rival, Poirot investigates. Christie does trials well.
Destination Unknown, (1954) a cold-war spy story set in Casablanca and North Africa, sort of James Bondish in having a secret location for top scientists who have disappeared and are being tracked by British Intelligence.
The Hollow, (1946) Poirot and the staged murder of a doctor. Classic country house murder.
Third Girl, (1966) set in the 1960's, Poirot and flaky friend/amateur detective, Mrs. Oliver solve a murder. This book was close to being too wordy and meandering for me; Mrs. Oliver particularly is a bit too fluff-headed for my tastes, but try it anyway.
Crooked House, (1949) Greek millionaire is murdered in the sprawling family home.
The Sittaford Mystery, (1931) a seance in a remote house on the moors predicts a murder.Really nice, spooky atmosphere provided by Dartmoor landscape.
The Mystery of the Blue Train, (1928) Poirot solves a murder on a French train to Nice. Stolen rubies make this a classic jewel caper.
What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw, (1957) Miss Marple's friend sees a murder on a passing train. No one believes her until Miss Marple comes to the rescue.

Agatha Christie, a reader's companion by Vanessa Wagstaff and Stephen Poole is the BHPL book about Christie's works that I consulted to review the plots.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Berkeley Heights' Homegrown Author

Roberta Isleib, a clinical psychologist and the author of Advice Column mysteries and Golf Lover's mysteries, will be coming by the blog on September 9 for an interview about her newest mystery, Asking for Murder. Roberta is originally from Berkeley Heights and in a strange twist of fate her books are published by Berkley. There's even a story on her web site, Paying the Piper, that is set at Governor Livingston.

The Advice Column mysteries are set in Connecticut, where Dr. Rebecca Butterman counsels her patients and is an adjunct psychology professor at Yale. In her free time she solves murders, naturally, and also writes an advice column for an online women's magazine. If you'd like to catch up on the series, the first two installments are Deadly Advice and Preaching to the Corpse (available in the large print section at BHPL under ISL).

I enjoyed all the little bits of information about psychology that you pick up as the story unfolds (like never sit between a patient and the door!). There is also a very funny part in Deadly Advice in which Dr. Butterman can predict what her own psychoanalyst will say during their sessions (which she needs because her own personal life and history is not neat and tidy).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Plainfield Ave. Road Work

The railroad crossing on Plainfield Avenue will be closed on or about Friday, August 1. (So come the other way if you're coming to see The Learned Ladies performed in the BHPL parking lot.)

Plainfield Avenue will be closed for road resurfacing between Springfield Ave. and Mountain Ave. on or about Tuesday, August 5, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., for about four days. You'll need to park on a nearby street and walk to the library. Or, plan your visit to the library between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Tuesday, August 5 or Thursday, August 7.

On top of that, on or about Thursday, August 7, Plainfield Avenue will also be closed between Mountain Ave. and Drift Road for a couple of days.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, Beatrix Potter!

Google's logo today features Mr. McGregor chasing Peter Rabbit with a raised rake. It reminds us that we should wish Happy 142nd Birthday to naturalist, artist and children's author Beatrix Potter and Happy 115th Birthday to Peter Rabbit. Peter, eternally youthful, continues to risk his life in Mr. McGregor's garden, where his father went before and ended up in a pie, as Peter's mother warned him. Beatrix Potter's stories can be very hare-raising...

Llibrary of Congress Teams with Flickr

Flickr, the web photo-hosting site, and the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institutions and other museums around the world have created a collaborative project called The Commons. Click here. USA Today has an article, click here, that describes the photography project. LC started by posting over 3,000 photos from its collections on Flickr. Anyone can add comments or information about the pictures. Check it out!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

More Professional Parking Lot Theater!

The Next Stage Ensemble of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (a company of talented early-career actors who blew the audience away with Richard II last week) will perform Moliere's comedy The Learned Ladies this Friday, August 1, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the back library parking lot. Please bring your own chairs.

The Learned Ladies is about two sisters and their mother, a domineering bourgeois (i.e. non-noble, middle class) woman who runs a literary salon. One sister, Henriette, wants to marry her lover, Clitandre, and has the approval of her father. Henriette's sister Armande sides with her mother to oppose the marriage. If Henriette insists on getting married, they believe she should marry Trissotin, a poet from their salon. For more information about the plot, check out Wikipedia.

The choice of "Trissotin" as the name for the mediocre poet was a jab at Cotin, a writer that Moliere disliked. Originally Trissotin's name in the text was Tricotin (meaning "three times Cotin"), but then Moliere changed the c to an s. "Sot" means fool.

Just as Queen Elizabeth I admired Shakespeare's work, Moliere's plays were performed for Louis XIV of France. They weren't contemporaries though; Moliere was born and wrote 60 years later than Shakespeare.


Moliere's life was also the stuff of drama. He married the younger sister of his long-time lover late in life, and gossips said that his wife was actually his own daughter. On the last day of his life, despite feeling very ill and weak, he insisted on playing the part of the hypochondriac in the Imaginary Invalid, and had a fit on stage.

I don't know which English translation will be performed, but most theaters perform Richard Wilbur's verse translation. There is another translation that you can read online by Charles Heron Wall.