Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dumb and Dumberer: U.S. Teens Failing History

Young people are not only failing history, but are just plain all-around dumb-as-dirt claims a new report by Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. USA Today reports that American teens don't understand many common historical and cultural references or terms:
Greg Toppo writes,
"Big Brother. McCarthyism. The patience of Job. Don't count on your typical teenager to nod knowingly the next time you drop a reference to any of these. A study out today finds that about half of 17-year-olds can't identify the books or historical events associated with them."

The article is linked to a related one, Dummy Drumbeat Goes On for U.S. Students which in turn refers to the new Susan Jacoby book on the same subject, The Age of American Unreason (in the new non-fiction section at BHPL, call #973.91 Jac). Jacoby laments the prevailing ignorance of our younger generation. So we can add increasing stupidity to our collective list of failings: failing economy, weakening job market, nasty election process, you name it, we can't seem to do anything right. But wait, there's more. An upcoming book by Mark Bauerlein is titled, the Dumbest Generation. Educators especially are on the defensive every time one of these reports or books comes out. Reporter Toppo calls it "dummy fatigue," and quotes the man responsible for this poor, pitiful us survey,
"There is this kind of Aren't We Stupid? industry," researcher Rick Hess says. "It's a drumbeat: 'Don't we keep getting dumber?' "
The rest of the article debates whether we are or we aren't getting dumber. There is even a quiz you can take, Are You Smarter Than a 17 Year Old?
Here is the link to the report that fueled all these articles, Still at Risk, What Students Don't Know Even Now by Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, which, btw, is generally considered to be politically conservative.
The solution? Libraries! Start at the beginning of Dewey and read on through. Disprove these pundits and at the same time, support your local library! OK, let me go back to YouTube, reality tv, text-messaging ...

Happiest College Students

The first reference question of the day was, "is there a list of the colleges with the happiest students?" This led us to the Princeton Review's list of "Top 10 Schools With the Happiest Students." If you click on the link, you will see that Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington has the happiest students. Just a guess here about the reason for their happiness, but just saying "Whitman in Walla Walla, Washington" five times rapidly kind of makes me giggle. But seriously, the study of happiness is big business these days. By now, many people have heard about the survey of countries which found that Denmark is the happiest nation. Sixty Minutes interviewed a bunch of Danish experts about that and the consensus seemed to be that Danes don't expect much of life, hence they aren't too disappointed by it. Hmm, that sounds kinda gloomy, doesn't it? So just how scientific can these happiness studies be? Searching the BHPL catalog for the subject term "happiness" produces 44 titles. The newest is The How of Happiness: a scientific approach to getting the life you want, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, who claims that people can change 40% of their happiness by doing various things she describes in the book. The remaining 60% of happiness is kind of pre-determined or beyond one's control, is the gist of the theory, I think. The book is pretty serious looking and I'm happy I don't have to read it word for word, but please check it out yourselves. The call number is New Non-Fiction 158 LYU. 158 must be the Dewey Decimal number for happiness if you want to browse for more on the topic. Remember the Charles Schultz book, Happiness is a Warm Puppy? It's only 72 pages and it will probably make you smile even more than saying "Walla Walla Washington" five times rapidly.

A Few Good NJ Books

The Empress of Weehawken by Irene Dische
Grandmother Rother, a cynical, anti-Semitic German who nevertheless marries a Jew (after he converts to Catholicism) tells her family story, from their escape from Nazi Germany to life in Weehawken. Library Journal predicts that this book "may easily become a book group favorite".

Rattled by Debra Galant
A satire about a woman who orders her handyman to kill a timber rattlesnake that lives outside her home. That's a felony here in New Jersey, so she faces jail and animal rights activists descend upon her McMansion. Library Journal said: "Galant, whose witty and topical social commentary has graced the pages of the New York Times, nails it with her first novel."

Manless in Montclair by Amy Edelman
A Jewish widow with two little girls is desperate to marry again. After disastrous dates with friends of friends and men from JDate, she offers an all expense paid vacation to anyone who matches her up with a new husband, and the story gets on national TV. This book is based on Amy Edelman's true story.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Susan Wittig Albert's Virtual Book Tour

The BHPL blog has been chosen as one of the stops on mystery author Susan Wittig Albert's virtual book tour for Nightshade, the latest China Bayles mystery. Susan Wittig Albert will be joined by her husband and coauthor Bill Albert here on April 11 to blog about team writing. Susan and Bill co-write a Victorian mystery series under the pseudonym Robin Paige (some of their other pseudonyms: Carolyn Keene and Franklin Dixon!).
We get to pick a few of the questions that Bill and Susan Wittig Albert answer. So please post any questions you have to the comments section of this post (or email or call us), and we'll send the best and most frequently asked questions on to the Alberts to be answered here on the blog in April!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Best Audiobooks of 2007

If you're as addicted to audiobooks as I am, you're always looking for books that lend themselves to being read aloud. Here's a list of audiobooks on CD taken from Library Journal's list of the best audiobooks of 2007 (just the ones the library owns). Book descriptions were taken from the audiobooks' cases.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
"Mariam and Laila are born a generation apart but are are brought together by war and fate. Together they endure the dangers surrounding them and discover the power of both love and sacrifice."

The Quickie by James Patterson
"When Lauren Stillwell, an NYPD cop, discovers her husband leaving a hotel with another woman, she decides to beat him at his own game. But her revenge goes dangerously awry, and she finds her world spiraling into a hell that becomes more terrifying by the hour in this rollercoaster ride of thrills."

The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva
"Gabriel Allon, master art restorer and officer of Israeli intelligence, is summoned to travel to Amsterdam to purge the archives of a murdered Dutch terrorism analyst, where he uncovers a conspiracy of terror festering in the city's Islamic underground."

The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith
". . . Isabel becomes entangled in an art world mystery. At an auction, two paintings attributed to a deceased artist hit the market at the same time, and both paintings have unusual elements--such as the appearance of a person the painter could only have known after his supposed date of death. Could the works be forgeries? Or for that matter, might the artist still be alive?"


Reading Judas by Elaine Pagels and Karen King
"This author team, writing in an engaging, accessible style, is the first to reflect on the recent discovery of the "Gospel of Judas" and how that text provides insight into explaining how Jesus' followers understood his death, why Judas betrayed Jesus, and why God allowed it."

Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams
"Based on a $9 million research project led by author Don Tapscott, Wikinomics shows how masses of people can participate in the economy like never before. They are creating TV news stories, sequencing the human genome, remixing their favorite music, designing software, finding cures for diseases, editing school texts, inventing new cosmetics, and even building motorcycles."

In an Instant by Lee and Bob Woodruff
"Lee and Bob Woodruff share the never-before-told story of their romance, their career pursuits, and their determination in the face of a tragedy that captivated America, Bob's near-fatal brain injury suffered when an explosive device detonated near the tank he was riding in while reporting on the Iraq War."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


On Thursday at 7 pm there will be a free showing of the independent film Arranged in the library meeting room. This comedy/romance/drama centers on the friendship between two first-year teachers at a public school in Brooklyn: Rochel, who is an Orthodox Jew, and Nasira, who is Muslim. The two friends are caught between their colleagues at work, who think they're nuts to have their marriages arranged, and their families, who think they're being too picky.

Last year Arranged won the award for the best film at the Brooklyn International Film Festival. The Internet Movie Database says that the film was loosely based on the experiences of its executive producer, Yuta Silverman, an Orthodox Jew who became friends with a Pakistani Muslim at a Brooklyn public school. The film is unrated, but I watched it and think it would be PG. The film is 90 minutes long.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Eisenhower and the Librarians Next Door

During this morning's Genealogy on the Internet class, we discovered that Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower lived in between two librarians at the Wyoming Apartments in D.C. in 1930, when Dwight was an Army officer. Margaret Smith, an assistant at a public library, lived directly next door, and Mary Shoemaker, a hospital librarian, was a neighbor from a few doors down. (Could they have inspired Eisenhower to later sign the first federal public library grant program, the Library Services Act, in 1956?!) To find out which occupations your ancestors listed on the census, look them up in HeritageQuest. (Dwight Eisenhower doesn't show up in HeritageQuest. We found him in Ancestry, which can only be searched from the library's computers.)

Uno the Beagle Wins Westminster Dog Show

For the first time in the history of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, a Beagle won the top prize, Best in Show. Uno the Beagle won over the audience by baying at the judges and by trotting around the ring with a somewhat puzzled look on his face and by looking really, really cute. It may also have helped his cause that he did not have his fur fashioned into weird pom poms like the poodles. How can all this have anything to do with libraries, you may be asking yourself now? Luckily, everything can be related to libraries, books and librarianship, which makes it pretty easy to justify writing about almost anything here at the BHPL Blog.
You may also have been wondering what are those mysterious standards which the judges use to rank the dogs? Well, and here's where the library part comes in, BHPL has your answers in the 20th edition of the American Kennel Club's Official Publication called the Complete Dog Book (call # 636.7 COM in our non-fiction stacks.) Turn to the Beagle pages and notice that the photo (page 147) of the perfect Beagle looks just like Uno! And also, the book explains (page 149) the ears when drawn forward must almost come to the tip of the dog's nose, which test Uno really aced and was very patient about having his ears pulled forward by the judge for a rather unecessarily extended period of time, I thought.
If you browse further in 636.7 in the Dewey Decimal System, you will happen upon lots of really entertaining and informative dog books, from puppy picking, to various training methods, to breed-specific books to heart-warming memoirs. Another source of great dog information, including adverts for dog breeders, dog fashions, and centerfolds (yes, really) of the dog-of-the-month, is Dogfancy magazine which BHPL subscribes to.
And finally, for an hysterical piece about Sasha, her beagle, read Emily Yoffe's "Dog Dancing, My beagle and I try America's weirdest pet hobby" in Slate, the online magazine. Yoffe's book about when Sasha the Beagle first came into her life, What the Dog Did, is a laugh-out-loud story that Beagle owners, dog owners, dog lovers, book lovers and people with a sense of humor will love.

PS: another library/dog connection - The world's biggest dog library is the AKC Library in NYC.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Book Group Canceled

Tonight's book group has been canceled due to the weather. We would have discussed Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor.

The Round House

If you've never had the chance to see the inside of Berkeley Heights' Round House, you can take a virtual tour while it is still for sale. According to some information we have in a folder dedicated to Berkeley Heights' old houses and sites, the round house was built by an engineer and can rotate 90 degrees to provide warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer. After three rotations, the house was no longer rotated.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Paper Marblizing

About 20 people of all ages had a great time at the paper marblizing workshop here on Sunday afternoon, run by Apple Annie of Metuchen. Paper marblizing is an ancient art used to decorate the fly leaves of books and also for important papers, since each pattern is unique and can't be forged. Click here for a short history on Stanford University's web site.

To do this at home, get a disposable aluminum tray or another holder and fill it with liquid starch (we used Linit). Water down some acrylic paint (we used the kind that comes in tubes). Use a popsicle stick to drop various colors of paint in. When you've added all the colors you want, drag another popsicle stick around in the starch to make a pattern. Then briefly lay a piece of paper (we used watercolor paper) on top of the starch. Grab the paper by the corner and let the starch run off. Once it's dry, to flatten the paper, iron the painted side (without pressing the steam button) or put it inside a heavy book. You can keep reusing the starch. Just clean the paint off the top surface of the starch with a piece of newspaper.

To keep informed about upcoming events like this one, you might want to sign up for the Buzz, BHPL's monthly email newsletter, the next time you're at the library.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tonight at 7 - Jack Getze

Former L.A. Times staff writer Jack Getze is coming to the library tonight at 7 pm to speak and sign copies of his darkly comic novel Big Numbers, which is based on his experiences as a stockbroker in New Jersey. He will also talk about his experiences writing Big Numbers and its sequel, Big Money, and getting published by Hilliard & Harris.

Although they now live in New Jersey, author Jack Getze and BIG NUMBERS character Austin Carr both grew up on the east side of Los Angeles, and both share a strong affection for virtually all things of Mexican origin--particularly corn tortillas, tequila, the Cisco Kid, refried beans, crispy stringy-beef tacos, live mariachi music, and yes, even the donning of silly sombreros during certain celebrations in May.

Here's what they're saying about BIG NUMBERS:
"Jack Getze started his career as a newspaper reporter. As a result, BIG NUMBERS is lean and mean, with not a word wasted...A truly fun, genuinely funny read...Keep writing Mr. Getze, and for goodness sake bring back Austin Carr."
--Lisa Guidarini, Member National Book Critics Circle, for Bluestalking Reader
"Wonderful characters...well-written, entertaining...a good read."
-- Connie Anderson for Armchair Reviews
"A fun first novel and I'm hoping for a sequel."
-- Iris for Rediscovered Bookshop

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Focus on African-American History

BHPL's monthly display focuses on African-American history this month. Here is a sampling of what's on the shelf:

Taylor Branch's Martin Luther King, Jr. trilogy. Parting the Waters (which won the Pulitzer Prize), Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan's Edge form a history of America during the King years.

Speak, So You Can Speak Again by Lucy Anne Hurston. A biography of Zora Neale Hurston filled with primary documents, including maps, facsimiles of her writings, and a CD of her speaking and singing.

The Civil Rights Movement: a Photographic History by Steven Kasher. Ten essays accompany over 150 photos, both famous and lesser-known ones, collected from photo agencies, galleries, and private collections.

African-American Art by Sharon Patton. Part of the Oxford History of Art series, this is a survey of African-American art focusing on its historical, political, and cultural setting.

Triumph by Jeremy Schaap. The ESPN anchor has written a biography of Jesse Owens, winner of the 1936 Berlin Olympics in track, that has been called both "dramatic" and "definitive" by reviewers.

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years by Sarah and Annie Delany. Born in the 1890s, these sisters grew up on the campus of a black college in Raleigh, then moved to New York, where they experienced the Harlem Renaissance. Bessie was the only black female student at the Columbia University Dental School in the 20s; Sadie became the first black domestic science teacher in the New York City high schools.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

Back in 2001 Julie Powell started a blog about her attempt to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Childs in a single year, and her blogging led to the very entertaining book I'm currently reading, Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen.
Far from being a Martha Stewart clone, Julie was an office worker who fielded calls all day from people with wacko ideas for the new World Trade Center. Then after work, if she didn't have to go butcher to butcher to find a bone for the marrow she needed for that night's recipe, or some other esoteric ingredient, she headed home to cook a very late dinner in her tiny Queens apartment.
If that doesn't sound horrifying enough, wait until you read the part about eating jelly made from boiled calves' feet.
If you are interested in something a little more recent than this book, check out our our wonderful NextReads lists for the latest and greatest.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Punxsutawney Phil's Prognostication on YouTube

Happy Groundhog's Day Eve! Here's the link to a video of Punxsutawney Phil's weather prediction from last year, just click on the video link to see the action. Starting tomorrow morning, February 2, 2008, the Punxsutawney celebration and live groundhog cams will be webcast from www.groundhog.org.
For groundhog books at BHPL, just type "groundhog" into the Aquabrowser catalog and you will find lots of children's books to read including Punxsutawney Phyllis who is described this way in the catalog annotation:

"Although she can predict the weather much better than the boys in her family, no one thinks that Phyllis the groundhog has a chance of replacing the aging Punxsutawney Phil when Groundhog Day's official groundhog retires."

I'll go out on a limb here to make a prediction of my own; I think Phyllis proves everyone wrong, don't you?
The coloring page image is from groundhog.org.