Saturday, May 31, 2008

Does Carrie Bradshaw have a library card?

Check out this New York Times video about the Sex and the City premiere, in which Sarah Jessica Parker is asked, "So what do you say to all the would-be Carrie Bradshaws?"

"I'd say stop at the library on the way to get the purse."

SJP seems to take her own advice. She discussed the Victorian novel New Grub Street by George Gissing in an interview with New York magazine, and her son, James Wilkie, is named after Wilkie Collins. By the way, if you haven't read Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone (which T. S. Eliot called "the first and greatest English detective novel") I recommend it as one of those classics which is actually fun to read. It's set in the 1800s and revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a precious diamond hours after it reaches a country mansion.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Internet versus Magazines

Digital full-text versions of thousands of magazines and newspapers are available free from several library databases like EBSCO, National Newspapers 9, and Custom Newspapers. These databases are a treasure trove for research, but browsing through the publications in the old-fashioned sense is not possible using databases. Now USA Today reports that Zinio makes entire magazines and newspapers available by subscription that look exactly like the copy on the newstand. Pages are turned by clicking on the upper right-hand corner of the page. Zinio sells hundreds of magazines and newspapers from its website. Readers pay per issue or by subscription.
Before you consider buying an issue from Zinio or another online periodical vendor or magazine website, remember that the library offers over 3,000 magazines FREE going back decades through its EBSCO database. Reference librarians will help you find old issues of Consumer Reports, Fortune, Forbes, Business Week or the New York Times Magazine and teach you how to do the research at the library or from your home computer. Printouts of articles are ten cents a page. To buy a magazine article or issue online can cost $5.00 and issue.

For research, finding a copy of an article, finding articles by subject and to save money, use the library.
For browsing through your favorite magazines on your IPOD, Blackberry, or laptop while on the go, use an online distributor and pay prices similar to subscribing to magazines in hard-copy.

The library and the internet are not mutually exclusive resources. Users just need to decide where, when and at what cost do they plan to use the resources offered by each.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Take Our Memorial Day Poll!

BHPL will be closed on Sunday and Monday for Memorial Day. In the meantime, keep the "little grey cells" sharp with the poll on the right (as Hercule Poirot would say). The choices (self-pursuit, circumvolution, stereotypic whirling and ritualistic motor behavior) are taken from an e-mail discussion that appeared today on the listserv Project Wombat: the Difficult Reference Question Mailing List.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Friendship: See Psychology, Applied

Some cards from the pre-Internet pamphlet file have turned up in the scratch paper supply at the reference desk. We have lots of cards with subjects beginning with O and P. "Friendship: See Psychology, Applied" was so classic that I saved it to take home with me. I shall now refer to my friends as my "applied psychology experiments."

Then there are the cards that are showing their age:

Outer Space: see Astronautics; Satellites, Artificial; Space Flight to the Moon

Physics: See also: Cosmic Rays

You can make your own card catalog cards with the Card Catalog Generator (which is how I made the card above).

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Story of the Great Swamp

Can you imagine a major regional airport in Berkeley Heights' backyard, the Great Swamp?
In 1959 the Port Authority announced plans to put an international airport in the Great Swamp area.

Can you name any of the 25 endangered or threatened species that live in the Great Swamp?
The blue-spotted salamander (pictured below), the bog turtle, the wood turtle are endangered. Some less-endangered species that have thrived in the swamp: blue birds and wild turkeys.

If you'd like to find out more about the Great Swamp, on Wednesday evening (May 21) from 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., the library will welcome Jane Kendall and Ruth Lloyd, two members of the Friends of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. They will show a short film about the history and habitats of the Great Swamp called The Great Swamp: A Story of a National Wildlife Refuge. They will also speak about the latest information from the Swamp, wildlife viewing and volunteer opportunities. Don't miss it!

Friends of the Great Swamp

The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Book Lover's Journal

I keep a running list of books I read in a blank book with the title, "A Book Lover's Journal." The journal was a gift from a book group I belonged to almost twenty years ago. Some months and years, my reading is faithfully recorded with annotations, then months go by with no entries. A few years ago I figured that the trick is to just write the date read, title and author and forget the annotations because then the whole list-keeping project becomes such a big chore. I sometimes tuck my library check-out receipts into the journal until I have time to enter the ones I have actually read and finished which is usually a small fraction of the ones that I have checked out. Here are some greatest hits from the last few months as listed in my book journal:
The Miracle at Speedy Motors, which is Alexander McCall Smith's latest addition to the Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. It fully lives up to expectations of this fan and the gentle humor is just a little funnier, edging into slapstick when Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi, her assistant, and one of the feckless mechanics from Speedy Motors go to the supermarket to follow a suspect and decide to do a little shopping as long as they are there. If you are a fan, you will read it. If you haven't discovered this series, start at the beginning.
I started reading classic English mysteries like Agatha Christie and Mary Roberts Rinehart. Rinehart's The Confession and Sight Unseen, bound in one volume kept me guessing up to the end. Agatha Christie's The Body in the Library keeps the reader trying to match wits with Miss Marple who says she knows who did it halfway through. I'm in the middle of Christie's Sleeping Murder, also featuring nosy Miss Marple and it is excellent, the clues lead to several possible solutions at this point.
I also recommend Kate Atkinson's Case Histories and One Good Turn. For reviews. click on the titles.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Our Lady of the Lost and Found

Last night my local book group discussed Our Lady of the Lost and Found: a novel of Mary, Faith and Friendship by Diane Schoemperlen. This was a book that I never would have read, maybe never have heard of on my own. Bookgroups can push you beyond your literary comfort zone, which, aside from the social aspects, is probably why they are so popular. Our Lady... took me into unfamiliar territory and really made me think, but it is a book that probably has narrow appeal.
The narrator is an author who wakes up one day to find a woman in a blue trenchcoat, sneakers, a veil, carrying a large brown purse and pulling a small wheelie suitcase who introduces herself as Mary, you know, Mother of God, the BVM, Blessed of All Women etc etc, she explains rather slyly. She asks to stay for a week to rest up for the coming month of May. May is Mary's month and she is usually really busy then. The narrator of course says ok, what else could she do? So this is the humorous premise. The book goes on to alternate the story of the developing friendship between the host and her very unusual 2000 year old house guest with chapters that Mary tells about some of the thousands of her miracles and apparitions over the centuries. Schoemperlen also weaves in rather difficult to understand musings about quantum physics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, theories of History and ideas about Faith versus Reason, the "thin places" between our real world and the spiritual world.
Anyway, the book was weird and thought provoking, sometimes frustratingly abstruse and I really would like to ask the author a few questions about how does quantum physics relate to Mary and religion etc? Some readers just don't like flashbacks, long digressions and historical narrations in books, so this would not be a good choice for them. But if you like a big dose of philosophy and rambling digressions, try this book but don't expect it to be just a funny story of what if the Virgin Mary came to visit.
This is what Ms. Schoemperlen says about her book,
"The structure of Our Lady of the Lost and Found was determined by the material I wanted to include. At first I intended to write a simple novel about a woman who is visited by the Virgin Mary. But then I began to do the research and the more I learned about the historical apparitions of Mary, the more I realized that I had to find a way to include some of this material in the book. After many unsuccessful attempts, I settled on alternating chapters as it now stands: one chapter telling the story of this woman and Mary, the next giving some history of Mary and also delving into the other topics that arose, such as the Uncertainty Principle, the nature of recorded history, the thin places between fact and fiction, and so on. " from the author interview on the publishers website -
Publisher's website
Interview with the author
The Mary Page at the Univeristy of Dayton

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Come watch Water, the third film in Deepa Mehta's trilogy, at the library on Thursday night at 7 p.m. Set in 1930s India, it tells the story of Chuyia, an 8-year-old sent to live in a house of widows; Kalyani, a woman who tries to escape the social restrictions imposed on widows; and a high-caste follower of Gandhi who has a relationship with Kalyani. The film is rated PG-13 and is in the Hindi language with English subtitles.

Water, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture last year, had to be filmed in Sri Lanka after protests by fundamentalists in India stopped its filming.

You can read the New York Times review here and all the rest of the major critics' reviews at Rotten Tomatoes.

Monday, May 12, 2008

No Books in the House? Heresy!

New York Magazine features a modernist New York apartment in its latest issue. The owners have 11 TVs all over the apartment, but not a single book. The designer is quoted:
“I remember asking them, ‘Don’t you want a bookcase somewhere?’ And they said, ‘We don’t need to have books out. We know that we know how to read.’ ”

Personally, my bookcases are less of a trophy case than a stockpile. I love certain books so much that I can't bear the thought of one day not being able to reread them without forking over the price of a new TV to a used bookseller on Amazon.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Looking for a Graduation Gift? Oh, the Places You'll Go!

It must be May, because Dr. Seuss' perennially popular graduation gift book, Oh, the Places You'll Go is creeping back up the bestseller list. Not only that, but there's a new batch, or batchlett, of books designed for the market which must be known in the publishing world or gift world as what-the-heck-can-I-get-for-a-graduation-gift? niche market. Maybe they call it simply the grad market, I don't know. Here are a couple of additions to the sub, sub, genre of the recycled commencement address/advice book: the much hyped, Just Who Will You Be by Maria Shriver (in New Non-Fiction 170.44 SHR at BHPL) and Ann Patchett's What now? (also in New Non-Fiction 158.1 PAT at BHPL.) Writing these short gift-type books is a nice safe little money maker for established authors and their publishers, much as the holiday books by famous authors or children's books by celebrities are. It's hard not to be skeptical about their literary value. The funniest one I ever read, maybe the only one I ever read, was Oh! the Things I Know (2003) by Al Franken, a satire on the advice book genre.

Here's my (absolutely free) advice to graduates and parents and friends of graduates: don't buy these books, just borrow them from the library (absolutely free...)

I'll be off for the weekend in a couple of hours, frantically trying to find a gift for my daughter who graduates on Sunday... maybe a nice little book about student loan consolidation wrapped up in Tarheel blue gift paper?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

The evening book group will be convening on May 13 at 7:30 p.m. to discuss The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (hereby referred to as TLRATFIH). Everyone's welcome. If you haven't heard of TLRATFIH, it's a collection of stories about life on the Spokane reservation written by Sherman Alexie, a Coeur d'Alene/ Spokane Indian.

I'm finding that interviews with Alexie Sherman (The Guardian recently compared him to Robin Williams) are a lot more fun to read than TLRATFIH, but then the book isn't meant to be light. Alexie takes the two stereotypical Indian roles - warrior and shaman - and subverts them with Victor and Thomas (this isn't my idea: Joan and Dennis West, two university professors who interviewed Alexie for Cineaste magazine, came up with it). According to The Guardian, Alexie hopes his next novel, about Thomas Builds-the-Fire, will be the "great American Indian novel that examines everything in our world."

One of the book group members has already told me she hated the all the drunkenness and alcoholism in TLRATFIH (and everything else about it too, actually), which may be explained by the fact that Alexie was still drinking when he wrote TLRATFIH. It turns out that the book club member may like the film version, Smoke Signals, better; Alexie explained to Cineaste in an interview about Smoke Signals: "As I've been in recovery over the years and stayed sober, you'll see the work gradually freeing itself of alcoholism and going much deeper, exploring the emotional, sociological and psychological reasons for any kind of addiction. . . I'm looking for the causes now, rather than the effects, and I think that's what Smoke Signals is about." Smoke Signals is mostly based on the story of Victor and Thomas going to Phoenix to get Victor's father's ashes, which in itself is based on a real event in Alexie's life (read the interview for more autobiographical details).

"An Indian Without Reservations" is a fascinating article by Timothy Egan in the New York Times Book Review about Sherman Alexie, detailing everything from the unexpected stand-up comedy he performed at a book reading to the Alexie's feud with Barbara Kingsolver and other "Indian poseurs", that is, non-Indian writers who write about Indians (Alexie's preferred word for native Americans).

Here are the discussion questions that we will use as a jumping off point.

Monday, May 5, 2008

You Can't Please Everyone All of the Time, Or, Selecting Book Group Books

The evening book group will duke it out (in a very polite and civilized way, of course) over which titles to read for the next six months next Tuesday, May 13 at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome to recommend titles; just bring a little information about the books you're recommending.

Last week I heard Chris Bohjalian speak at a conference about his experiences with reading groups and the backstory to The Double Bind, so that's why I am going to suggest The Double Bind, a literary thriller with references to the Great Gatsby.

Jodi Picoult's review of The Double Bind summarizes, "The story centers on a young social worker who stumbles across photographs taken by a formerly homeless client and tries to understand how a man who'd taken snapshots of celebrities in the 50s and 60s might have wound up on the streets . . . Bohjalian resurrects details from The Great Gatsby, which become 'real' in the context of his own novel Laurel lives in West Egg; part of her hunt for her photographer's past involves meeting with the descendants of Daisy and Tom Buchanan."

The library director suggested that the book club read the very short epistolary novel-with-a-twist, Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor (read Anne's short review here), first published in 1938, paired with Fred Wander's The Well. The Well is a collection of stories based on the author's experiences in German concentration camps and was first published in 1971 in Eastern Germany.

Then there's Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles, which was recommended for book groups in a newsletter put out by our book distributor, Ingram. Keddy Ann Outlaw of Library Journal gave Stormy Weather a great review: "While their father was alive, the Stoddard family followed him to the booming oil towns of Texas. Then came the dust and drought of the 1930s, and the family crawled home to its abandoned farm in central Texas. To survive, Elizabeth Stoddard and her three daughters concoct two schemes that go beyond hardscrabble farming: shares in a wildcat oil well and ownership of an untrained racehorse named Smokey Joe. Told mostly from the perspective of the plucky middle sister, Jeanine."

My last pick is Leaven of Malice by Robertson Davies (because I loved his novel Fifth Business). It won a Canadian literary prize for best humor novel and has drawn comparisons with Mark Twain and P.G. Wodehouse's work. You can read another blogger's review here; it's on his advice that I'm skipping the first novel in the Salterton Trilogy and going straight to book 2, Leaven of Malice.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Commercials for Books

I am alternately fascinated and disturbed that books are getting their own trailers, just like movies. Now a book doesn't even have to be made into a movie to screw up how I imagine a character to look and sound!

Barnes and Noble's Studio is currently featuring The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (which is on order at BHPL). Scroll down to see more, including one for Septimus Heap by Angie Sage.

You can see a trailer for Jodi Picoult's latest book, Nineteen Minutes, and other book trailers on YouTube. If there is a particular book you are looking for, like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, just search for the author's name along with book trailer.

I'm not exactly sure that a book trailer is as useful as a friend's recommendation or a magazine's book review. Take a look at one for a book that you've read, and let me know if you think book trailers are faithful representations of books, or just slick promotional materials.

Discussing Northanger Abbey

The library book group met this morning to discuss Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, a parody of the gothic novels popular in the late 18th century which Jane herself enjoyed reading. (see previous three posts on the subject.) The turnout was quite high which seemed to indicate that the book was a hit with the group. Of the nine book group participants present: three wholeheartedly liked the book; but a few did not want to reread it or could not get through it; several thought it was not her best work; most found the wordiness made it harder to read than a contemporary novel; all detected some humor in it, but none wanted to read any more Jane Austen as a selection for the group. Many had seen the recent PBS version of the novel or at least had seen some film version of various Austen novels and found those easier to enjoy than the books.
The BHPL Book Group obviously are not Janeites, but I enjoyed my visit to Austen's world, reading critiques of her work online and in the reference collection and rereading the book more carefully than the first time around when I was in school. The book group found my story of visiting and applying for citizenship to the online website the Republic of Pemberly, a community for Janeites and all things Austen, very amusing. So I thank the Pemberlians for their kind hospitality and for sharing their love of Jane Austen. Next in my Jane adventure - an online discussion of NA with several of my former highschool classmates.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Reading Northanger Abbey continued

This is the third post about Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey which the BHPL book group will discuss on Friday, May 2 at 10:30 a.m.
Having left all our faithful blog readers at the point where I had read the first three chapters online, I then read three more chapters using the actual hard copy this time and felt there was no difference in the reading experience other than the relative comfort of my sofa versus computer chair. In chapters three to five we find that our heroine, the naive and overly-imaginative Catherine Morland, meets the worldly social-climber Isabella Thorpe and they become fast friends who share a love of "horrid" (ie: gothic) novels. We read Austen’s Defense of the Novel which famously posits that novel reading is just as respectable and worthwhile as reading other forms of literature. And we find Isabella’s list of scary/romantic/gothic/"horrid" novels which she recommends to Catherine. The list has become known as the Northanger Canon.
Here are links to websites of interest for readers of Jane Austen's works: (found by searching the Librarians Index to the Internet.)
Jane Austen website from Brandeis University
Jane Austen's World
Hampshire, the Inspirational World of Jane Austen (travel info from the U.K.)
Book a Minute Classics which are very, very short synopses of classic books including the entire works of Jane Austen summarized in several sentences.

I have now finished 25 of the 31 chapters and rather than reinvent a summary, here is a link to a synopsis of the plot from Vanderbilt University by way of the Republic of Pemberly website.

Here is a Reading Group Guide list of discussion questions.