Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Top 10 of 2009

The snow has brought Berkeley Heights a tabula rasa for the New Year.

Here's a look back at our most popular books and DVDs of 2009. BHPL is closing at 1 p.m. on New Year's Eve and is closed all day on New Year's Day.

The Top 10 Most Checked Out Fiction Titles at BHPL in 2009:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Handle with Care by by Jodi Picoult
Divine Justice by David Baldacci
The Associate by John Grisham
The Shack by William P. Young
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
The Gate House by Nelson DeMille
That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

The Top 10 Most Checked Out Mystery Titles at BHPL in 2009:

Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich
The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
Run for Your Life by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
Cross Country by James Patterson
The 8th Confession by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich
Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell
Gone Tomorrow : a Reacher Novel by Lee Child
The Private Patient by P.D. James
The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

The Top 10 Most Checked Out Nonfiction Titles at BHPL in 2009:

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Kitchen and Bath Ideas
Remodel : Ideas for Your Home
The Outliers : the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Dewey : the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron, with Bret Witter
J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 2009
Freakonomics : a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Eat, Pray, Love : One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
Images of America : Berkeley Heights by Virginia B. Troeger
The Glass Castle : a Memoir by Jeannette Walls

The Top 10 Most Checked Out DVDs at BHPL in 2009 (Excluding Children's DVDs):

Madagascar. Escape 2 Africa
Star Wars Trilogy
Marley & Me
Monk. Season Six
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
John Adams
Monk. Season Four
The Grand : Complete Collection
24, Season 5

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Twilight vs. Peeps

The first time I tried Twilight, I quit before any vampires showed up. My Twimom sister (Twister?) convinced me to try it again, and faith in her recommendations got me through the hundreds of pages in which Bella and Edward awkwardly flirt with/deliberately ignore one another. Twilight starts to get good once when an evil vampire called a tracker begins hunting Bella and vampiric action adventure ensues.

In Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, also written for older teens, vampirism is a sexually transmitted parasitic infection. Cal is a carrier for the disease, and can turn girls into vampires just by kissing them, which he doesn't. Cal tracks peeps (parasite positives) for the secret NYC government agency The Night Watch, which has kept the populace safe from vampires since the city was Nieuw Amsterdam. There are passages of information about parasites in between chapters, which are awesome.

Recap: if you like romance or can tolerate it and want to be able to talk to half the women on earth, then go with the Twilight series. If you want to read something "new and interesting, while still being full of bitey goodness," then read Peeps.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hanging Out with the Vikings in Greenland

The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown is the account of what we know from Icelandic sagas and archaeological digs about Gudrid, a Viking woman who lived a thousand years ago.

Greenland today

Iceland was the last resort of Vikings living in Norway, but Icelanders who got into trouble, like Gudrid's father, had the even worse prospect of Greenland, which is often shrouded in fog and was said to be surrounded by the Ocean Called Dark. Gudrid and her husband decided to sail to a land further west of Greenland that had been discovered by Eirik the Red, called Vinland, perhaps because grapevines grew there. Scholars think Vinland is L'Anse Aux Meadows in present-day Newfoundland, Canada. The saga's accounts of the Vikings being run off by skraelings (natives) made the hairs on my neck stand up.

Some of my favorites parts of the book are the details of Viking women's everyday lives. Imagine walking up to 23 miles a day, back and forth in front of a loom, if you were weaving cloth. I also enjoyed the part about why the Vikings abandoned Greenland (in which Brown tears apart Jared Diamond's explanation from Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed). It is a bit of a mystery, but I found Brown's argument much more plausible.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

5 Books with Very Strange Premises

Yesterday's post listed 5 short, quirky books. Today, in a related theme, I combed my reading journal for books with a premise which requires a certain suspension of disbelief by the reader.
Forever Odd by Dean Koontz, from the bestselling series about Odd Thomas who communicates with dead people. Dean Koontz is a mega-bestselling author whose style is easy to read, entertaining and rather poignant in tone in this book.

Thursday Next in First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde, from the bestselling Thursday Next series about a literary detective in a kind of futuristic/alternative U.K. where fictional characters run loose, puns are rampant and the author's imagination is really, really wild.
I liked the Eyre Affair in this series, but got bogged down in the verbal wizardry in this outing.

The Spare Room by Helen Garner, a friend with end stage cancer moves in and becomes the most annoying house guest imaginable. She won't leave, but what can you say in that situation?

Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton, middle-aged mid-Western housewife encourages an affair between her husband and local celebrity so she will have material for the book she plans to write.

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. A professor of linguistics tries to teach his dog, the only witness to his wife's death, to talk so he can understand what happened.

Bonus book:

Bunnicula, a rabbit tale of mystery by James Howe. Harold the Dog and Chester the Cat realize that the house bunny is a vampire: he sucks the color out of the vegetables in the refrigerator. This series for elementary school readers is fantastically funny and one that I recommend to reluctant readers, 3rd to 5th grade boys and adults who have never grown up.

Monday, December 21, 2009

5 Short, Quirky Books

The following 5 short titles all share a certain quirkiness of plot or characterization. They are "quick reads," perfect for a snowy day and busy holiday season when you don't want to get bogged down in a huge tome.

Swim to Me by Betsy Carter: 17 year old becomes a mermaid performer at the swimming show at Weeki Wachee Springs, FL.
Paper Wings by Marly Swick: growing up in the early 1960's in Madison, Wisconsin.
Local Girls by Alice Hoffman: connected short stories.
The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms by J.P. Donleavy: embroiders the urban legend about the stranger who signs a funeral guest book only to find out she inherits the deceased's estate.
Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead: in this satire of marketing excesses, a small town hires a name consultant to reshape its image.

The first three books could be described as coming-of-age stories, the last two have a dark, satiric tone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Library closed Sunday, December 20 due to snow

The Berkeley Heights Public Library is closed today due to the snow.

Enjoy your books, DVD's, audiobooks and this blog post from last January about Monet's painting The Magpie.

Friday, December 18, 2009

5 Mysteries from 2009: a Book Map or Inspiration Board

In 2009 I read 5 mysteries which were the first in a possible series. If the authors of the books pictured below do decide to write sequels, I will be looking forward to reading about: the narcoleptic detective from the Little Sleep, the precocious teenage sleuth from the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Delhi's finest detective from the Case of the Missing Servant, Chet the Dog and his human partner from Spencer Quinn's Dog On It and the lawyers whose offices are at 221 B Baker Street where letters to Mr. Holmes are still received, and answered, in the Baker Street Letters.

PS: if this blog had an editor, he/she would have helped me with that first sentence. Rewrites welcomed.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The 5 Funniest Books I Read this Year

Be forwarned: the following books range from wryly funny or lightly humorous to understated and ironic, but rarely to roll-on-the-floor-laughing outloud; although Quinn Cummings came closest to the latter. Her writing tends to be the kind one has to read aloud to other people in the room so they can laugh too.

Get Real, a Dortmunder Mystery by Donald Westlake
Notes from the Underwire by Quinn Cummings
Burgler in the Rye, a Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery by Lawrence Block
The Family Man by Elinor Lipman
How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Slow Reading

Lately I've been trying to churn through the books in what Anne dubbed the Towering Pile. But then I decided to read Moby Dick, which is apparently so good my sister reads it every year. It's so dense that I read a page or two of it every other day, kind of like taking a few bites out of a super rich dessert.

You know it's going to take you a while to finish a book if it takes a week just to read the pages numbered with little Roman numerals at the beginning. This section of Moby Dick is a collection of 80 quotes that mention whales taken from the entire history of literature. calls Moby-Dick's epigraphs "little appetizers to the great entrée of a story" in a short, humorous explanation called What's Up with the Epigraph?. Melville couldn't just have one like most books; and he had to invent a character, the sub-sub librarian, to collect them.

All these food metaphors made me think of the slow food movement, and it turns out that yes, there is a slow reading movement too. But I don't think it will be enough to just read Moby-Dick slowly; I'll be checking back with Shmoop and looking at some of BHPL's books written about Moby Dick whenever I feel lost.

If you're interested in reading books more closely, Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer and John Sutherland's How to Read a Novel are on the shelf right now.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why Books are the Best Presents

1. If you get enough coffee table books, you won't actually need a coffee table anymore.

Table by Richard Hutton
2. If you don't like the book, it's easy to give it away, Freecycle it (or just plain recycle it, for those whose veins are icy enough to rip the covers off).
3. Two mass market paperbacks cost less than $20 (see School Library Journal's average book estimates for 2009). And books on the library's book sale cart are only $0.50 or a $1 each.
4. You can take it on a plane. If the book is engrossing, you'll stop worrying about the child next to you spilling his apple juice on you. If it's not, you can leave the book in your seatback pocket.
5. The more "good" books you buy, the more "good" books will be published (and the more the ghost-written photo-filled books, calendars, glittery thingamajigs and other impulse buys in the bookstores will recede.)

Feel free to post more reasons in the comments.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Eat Your Vegetables: they're mushy and disgusting

"Eat your vegetables, they're good for you,” was the dinnertime invocation of my parent's generation. Baby boomer parents might prefer to negotiate whether young Ajax eat his arugula or hummus first, but the dilemma of kids not liking vegetables seems to span the generations. If you are tired of fighting with your children about their picky eating habits, try some of the library's "parenting" cookbooks like KidShape Café: over 150 kid-tested recipes that will help your entire family by Naomi Neufeld (641.563 NEU). To improve the odds of your vegetable dishes actually being consumed, rather than merely idly adorning the tablescape, try Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop (641.65 BIS) or Great American Vegetarian by Nava Atlas (641.5396 ATL)

If you really want to scare your kids about eating junk food, read Twinkie, Deconstructed, my journey to discover how the ingredients found in processed foods are grown, mined (yes, mined) and manipulated into what America eats by Steve Ettlinger (641.3 ETT) A chapter a night read aloud should do it, starting with chapter one: “Where does polysorbate 60 come from, Daddy?” Mr. Ettlinger does not just deconstruct Twinkies; any snack made with processed flour, chemical preservatives, coloring, flavorings and additives come under his thorough scrutiny. In chapter four, the author explains how enriching flour with vitamins started as a public health initiative in 1938 to fight certain diseases like pellagra, beriberi and other conditions caused by vitamin deficiencies. The program worked like a charm. It’s possible that many young family physicians wouldn’t recognize pellagra or beriberi or scurvy because these conditions have been all but eradicated in the U.S. where everyone eats enriched white flour. That’s not to say you should eat junk food for the vitamins, but a couple of servings of snack foods a day probably has enough added vitamin and mineral supplements that you could skip your Flintstone chewables for the day. I pulled Twinkie, Deconstructed from the shelf this morning and found it almost as addictive as Ding Dongs, Devil Dogs or TastyKake Krimpets (required personal favorite for all Philadelphia natives.)
Back to that 1950’s dinner table scene: in the interest of peace, my family had a small repertoire of vegetables that the pickiest eater among us would eat, namely corn, baked beans and possibly peas, although my father claimed they were more starch than vegetable nutritionally speaking and didn’t think they should fulfill the vegetable category at the main meal. I also had to limit the range of veggies to serve my children– and they had to be raw because my kids liked things that crunched. Our pediatrician assured me that kids won’t starve themselves and not to worry. Do they teach them that phrase in med school? While it’s true that kids won’t starve themselves, they can make cooking and serving family meals a frustrating, boring and contentious activity. The only revenge is to say, “wait ‘til you have kids,” the call of the desperate parent in the wild.

Related websites: MedlinePlus Food and Nutrition
Cornell Division of Nutritional Sciences Extension
FDA Food division
Mayo Clinic 10 Tips for Picky Eaters

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

What can I say about this mystery except that I felt deliciously guilty keeping it out of other readers' hands? Or ears, since I listened to the audiobook. (Thankfully the narrator used British accents, even though the characters were Swedish.)

Journalist Mikael Blomkvst is hired to re-investigate the disappearance of a wealthy industrialist's niece, under the guise of writing his biography. (This happens in the aftermath of Blomkvst being convicted of libel when he prints a story that seems true but whose sources wish to remain anonymous. Subplot A.)

The case of Harriet Vanger is especially cold, because she disappeared 40 years ago, and it's also a vexing one. A traffic accident on the bridge of the island she and 30 or 40 other people lived on cut the island off from the mainland the day that she vanished.

Blomkvst eventually teams up with Lisbeth Salander, a hacker who works for a security firm as a researcher, but who has a strange past that has somehow led the state to declare her mentally incompetent and in need of a state-appointed guardian (subplot B).

I'm looking forward to reading the next two in this trilogy given how fast-paced, original and yet plausible The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was. If you'd like to read a similar book that's actually in the library right now, you could try one of Arnaldur Indridadson's mysteries.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Reading Maps, or Six Degrees of Jane Austen

OK, so librarians don't actually sit around playing Six Degrees of Jane Austen on their lunch breaks. Anyone who reads enough starts seeing intersections between the books they've read, though, and some librarians set these connections down in reading maps.

The reading map pictured above (from the Oak Park,IL Public Library) includes the novels written by Lady Caroline Blackwood, and books about the men she married (among them, the artist Lucien Freud and the poet Robert Lowell).

Neal Wyatt's reading map for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a novel of alternate history by Susanna Clarke, focuses more on that novel's time (the Dickensian world, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Regency world) and place (Faerie, Venice, London and New York).

If you had the time, which book would you choose to map and what would be some of the books you would include?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

The book group will discuss The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff tomorrow, Friday, December 3 at 10:30 a.m. I'm interested in finding out what kind of fate will it receive at the hands of the book group. Last Judgment from the portal of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. (Sorry, but The Monsters of Templeton has put me in a gothic frame of mind.)

Monsters is the story of an archaeology grad student who is trying to discover who her father is, knowing only that he is somehow descended from the Temples. The Temples are the founders of Templeton, a fictional version of the author's hometown of Cooperstown, New York. That's also what James Fenimore Cooper called Cooperstown in his Leather-stocking Tales(The Pioneers, The Last of the Mohicans, The Deerslayer, etc). Monsters also borrows some of Cooper's characters, like Natty Bumppo (called Davey Shipman in Monsters) and Chingachgook.

The Clark family, which made its money from Singer sewing machines, is another inspiration for the Temples. They brought the Baseball Hall of Fame to Cooperstown, and built Kingfisher Tower on Lake Otsego (called Glimmerglass in the book). Willie, the heroine, is descended from the Temples herself, and crashes at her mother's home, which happens to be Averell Cottage, the author's childhood home. Willie's story alternates with chapters narrated by her ancestors and other historical characters.

There is a reading group guide with discussion questions and an author interview on Lauren Groff's website. You can read the New York Times book reviews of The Monsters of Templeton here and here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Books for Book Clubs

This month's reading room book display, Books for Book Clubs, combines fiction and non-fiction titles which have been popular with book discussion groups and were recommended in the following titles:

More Book Lust, 1,000 reading recommendations for every mood, moment, and reason by uber-reader's advisor/librarian, Nancy Pearl.

Between the Covers, the book babes' guide to a woman's reading pleasures by Margo Hammond and Ellen Heltzel.

A Year of Reading, a month-by-month guide to classics and crowd-pleasers for you or your book group by Elisabeth Ellington and Jane Freimiller

Read It and Eat, a Month-by-month guide to scintillating book club selections and mouthwatering menus by Sarah Gardner. Book discussions can make you hungry.

Books currently on display are:

I am Charlotte Simmons, a rollicking tale of undergraduate life (at UNC?) by Tom Wolfe, original master of the snarky turn-of-phrase.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a memoir by Dave Eggers.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, you won't eat fast food for a while after reading this; factory-farmed, feces-laden beef patty your way? Om-nom nom...

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, an English butler's view of a wartime household. Emotions stifled? check. Nazi sympathizer? check. Good movie? check. Even better book? yes!

The Abstinence Teacher by Summit, New Jersey's own Tom Perrotta treats hot-button issue.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, wife of time-traveling librarian has unique marital issues...husband randomly disappears and reappears - naked. Better than movie.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, rare book dealer traces the history of the Sarajevo Haggadeh.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, a sure bet for book groups, travel with Depression-era circus veterinarian on animal- and clown-laden train.

My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult's thought-provoking, ripped-from-the-headlines story of a sister conceived to save her ailing sibling. Her formula works for most groups.

One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus, what if the U.S. had traded institutionalized white women for horses in a swap with Native Americans?

Related websites:
Reading Group Guides
Random House Reading Group Center
Penguin Book Clubs
Amazon Book Clubs

Library Databases for literary criticism and reviews, available from website:

NextReads: sign up for book newsletters by genre
Contemporary Authors: the reference series online
Literary Reference Center: reference books online
Online Book Clubs: get book chapters by email
Next Good Book: browse booklists by subject

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two More Mystery Recommendations

Lately I seem to have hit a winning streak for choosing good mysteries to read. (See the post from last week for the first two in this lucky run.) I just finished New Tricks by David Rosenfelt and Donald Westlake's latest Dortmunder mystery Get Real - both fun, entertaining, quick reads for fans of those authors and fans-to-be. If you are not a fan or a fan-to-be, it's possible you are a humorless-mystery-avoider and there is no hope for you. You can stop reading this post now.
Mr. Rosenfelt who grew up in Paterson, N.J., brings back Paterson attorney and dog lover, Andy Carpenter whose client Waggy is a Bernese Mountain puppy, the center of a doggie custody dispute initially and a murder investigation later. Carpenter's patter with his team of eccentric investigators and hypochondriac legal partner is sharp and sarcastic and the courtroom scenes and prosecutor/defense attorney tactics, as explained by Carpenter, are presented clearly to the laymen and seem plausible. For example, Carpenter hopes for a "Perry Mason" moment to save his case, that is, one where the witness breaks down and confesses everything, but it doesn't happen in the real world, only on TV, he adds.
Recommended for readers who like legal mysteries, love dogs, New Jersey, fast Jersey dialogue, believable characters and satisfying plots. Addie gives it 4 bones out of five.

Mystery author Robert Crais in his L.A. Times review of Get Real, the 14th Dortmunder criminal caper cuts to the chase, so to speak:
'Here's the premise: Reality TV producer Doug Fairkeep of Get Real Productions wants to film Dortmunder and his crew planning and committing a major crime. Fairkeep doesn't care so much what this professional burglary crew does; he just wants them to commit a crime -- preferably a felony -- and he wants to broadcast it on national television as his latest reality show. (Working title: "The Gang's All Here." Canyoudigit?)'

The obvious problem, how not to end up in jail, is one that Dortmunder and his gang work around because the TV show money is too good to pass up. Read Mr. Crais' review for more on Get Real and the late, greatly funny Donald Westlake.
For fans of crime capers, humorous mysteries and the many movies made from Westlake's books, like the Hot Rock.

Visual Thesaurus

To think we used to have to look up vocabulary words in a dictionary and copy the meanings down by hand {rubs eyes and pretends to cry}. Today's fourth graders and word lovers in general now have the Visual Thesaurus, which is a dictionary and thesaurus rolled into one. It's great for finding the word that's on the tip of your tongue, or a better word when you know the one you're thinking of isn't quite right.

Using the vocab grabber, you can copy and paste the text of any document and automatically create word maps for each word found in the text.
If you never understood the pronunciation symbols in the dictionary, and therefore can never remember how to pronounce libel, the audio pronunciation feature in VT is a godsend. And the daily column is always interesting. Today's topic is going as in going rogue and going quant.

To log into Visual Thesaurus, go to the library web site and click on Remote Databases.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On Secret Pseudonyms

While reading a review for Boston Teran's latest book, it occurred to me that authors who don't want to reveal their real name, and yet want you to know that they are already "well-known," drive me crazy. You can't have it both ways.

But I think it's OK if you later plan on telling the world. Donald Westlake originally did this with his pseudonym Samuel Holt. He wanted to see if he could still make it in fiction without his famous name. In an interview with the University of Chicago Press, he explained:

Some years later, I had reached that point known by a lot of writers: What if I were starting now? In this changed market, would I succeed? So I tested the waters the same way Stephen King did with his Richard Bachman novels: throw it out there under cover of darkness, and see what happens. That’s where Samuel Holt came from.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Throw Out Your Diet Books (Unless You Borrowed Them from Us)

If you’ve ever fallen asleep trying to read a book that tells you exactly what to eat and how much of it, complete with diagrams, give one of the following books a try instead.

In Defense of Food
Journalist Michael Pollan points out that we’ve been eating plants for 10,000 years. Sticking with what worked for our ancestors is the genesis of his motto: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And by food, he means things that have been around since your great-grandparents’ time, not chemicals, additives, food with packaging that declares itself to be healthy, or Tootsie Rolls.

The End of Overeating
Physician and former FDA commissioner David Kessler takes a look at activity in the brain when you eat fat, salt and sugar. In lab experiments, they motivate rats as much as cocaine would. If you already knew this, skip straight to parts 4 and 5, The Theory of Treatment and Food Rehab.

Mindless Eating
Psychologist Brian Wansink explains why we’ve become conditioned to overeat, even when it doesn’t taste that good. Most helpfully, he has some strategies for overcome mindless eating: serve vegetables family-style, but measure the pasta onto plates in the kitchen. Don’t leave unhealthy food in plain sight in the kitchen, and don’t watch commercials at dinner time.

I think all of these authors would recommend that you cook most of your own meals, so if you don’t, you may want to search the BHPL catalog for quick and easy cooking. This will give you a list of the 80 cookbooks BHPL owns that won’t drive you insane.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

H1N1 Vaccinations for Berkeley Heights

Reposted from the Township of Berkeley Heights website:

H1N1 Vaccination Clinic
Monday November 30th
4PM – 8PM
At Columbia Middle School 345 Plainfield Ave. Berkeley Heights
Notice there is no parking onsite until after 3:30 PM.

Open to residents that are;
• Pregnant women
• Household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months of age
• Healthcare and emergency medical services personnel
• All people from 6 months through 24 years of age
• Persons aged 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.

You should be aware that the clinic lines will be cut or doors closed before 8 PM to allow the clinic to close at the stated time.

We only have inject able vaccine with preservative.

Parents or legal guardian must accompany a minor.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday's Inspiration Board

Some worldly suggestions for the weekend.

Compare photographs of what is considered to be a week's worth of food in 25 different countries in What the World Eats by Peter Menzel.
Consider the point of modern monarchies in On Royalty: a Very Polite Inquiry Into Some Strangely Related Families by Jeremy Paxman.
Find out if your ability to curse in three languages means you're Jubana in Jubana!: the Awkwardly True and Dazzling Adventures of a Jewish Cubana Goddess by Gigi Anders.
Learn how to speak the King's English with the audiobook Acting with an Accent: Standard British.
Read a biographer's biography (Michael Holroyd's Basil Street Blues).
See what happens when every tourist's dream of moving to Ireland comes true, but with 3 teenagers in tow, in Jaywalking with the Irish by David Monagan.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Two Mystery Recommendations

Two mysteries in a row from the towering pile on my bedside table have turned out to be fun, readable, entertaining and above all, finishable. Not all books in the T.P. are finishable; one just never knows when cracking open a book whether it will entertain, educate or bore you to tears. I recommend the following books for fans of light, humorous, "cozy" mysteries.
A Slice of Murder by Chris Cavender in which N.C. pizza parlor owner, Eleanor Swift delivers a pizza only to find the customer dead on the floor of his house. The police consider her a suspect and so she investigates to clear her name, but not before she uncovers a lot of dirty secrets in her little mountain town.

The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson in which a lawyer whose offices are at 221b Baker Street in London receives mail addressed to former fictional tenant, Sherlock Holmes, and by wording of his lease, must answer all correspondence. A twenty year old letter from an eight year old girl in L.A. leads the lawyer and his eccentric brother to the U.S. to solve the mystery of her father's disappearance.

Related websites: Read North Carolina Novels from the UNC Libraries
221B Baker Street
Lesa's Book Critiques

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

Being immunized against Oprah's book club picks (in fact, every time she chooses a book, it's practically a guarantee I won't be able to read it until it reappears on the shelf 2 years later), I've never read Wally Lamb. That is, until my best intentions went out the window and I checked out Wally Lamb's recently released Wishin' and Hopin' a couple days ago.

Wishin' and Hopin' reminds me of a teenaged-boy, 1960s version of the movie A Christmas Story (or the book it was based on, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd). Felix Funicello attends 5th grade at a parochial school, where he inadvertently pushes Sister Dymphna over the edge into the loony bin. Their new substitute teacher, Madame Frechette, has big plans for his class' Christmas pageant. Since the Funicellos are distantly related to former Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, they have several posters of Annette at the lunch counter they run at the bus station, and her hit "Pineapple Princess" playing in the jukebox. Felix spends his time worrying about things like being eavesdropped on by kids in the confession line, and what people mean by "the birds and the bees."

This is one of my favorite lines from the book, taken from the passage when Felix, as a Junior Midshipman, gets to be in the audience of a local TV show, Ranger Andy:
"Anyone else have a joke?" And I was the only one who raised my hand, so he picked me. "How is a lady like a stove?" I asked . . . When I said the answer, nobody laughed and one of the kids in the Hebrew school row went, "Whoa!"

Wally Lamb has posted several YouTube videos from the 60s to give you a taste for the book on his web site.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time Management in Libraries: some thoughts on continuing education classes

Anyone who has ever attended Continuing Education (CE) classes knows that sitting in a chilly meeting room, drinking coffee that tastes like styrofoam, while watching a Power Point slide show, which duplicates the handout slide-for-slide, are the order of the day. A popular CE topic is time management. Obviously, time would be better managed if the presenters just put the slide show on their website, but the irony seems to elude the presenters. Regarding the frustrations of CE, we present this letter sent to us by a frazzled librarian somewhere in Libraryland:

'Greetings and Salutations Fellow Librarians,
Inspired by the Regional Symposium on Time Management which I attend annually, I submit the following ideas for your consideration.
Has everyone seen the TV ad for the search engine Bing that shows people madly babbling tidbits of unrelated factoids? The ad appeals to the overwhelmed in all of us. The phrase “information overload” is decades old, but the situation only got worse with the advent of the internet. Time, they say, waits for no man, but what it does do is get cluttered up with too much to do and too much information. Since every malady should have a remedy, here is a plan to solve the problem of how to fully acknowledge the many worthy causes which we just don’t have time for and how to manage other demands on our time and attention. Clearly autumn is overburdened with serious causes and holidays, so I propose that we move several fall events to February which has a dearth of activities, followed closely by the month of March. Using the ever-popular multi-tasking approach, we could even double-up some holidays. For example, Valentine’s Day and Banned Books Week (last week of September) are perfect together. Just think of the possibilities. Give your significant other Lady Chatterley’s Lover or some other racy banned book instead of those fattening chocolates, dying roses and expensive jewelry. Not only will it be a lasting tribute to your love, it may easily outlast your love, as your S.O. may realize what an unromantic cheapskate you are.

Library Card Sign Up Month (September) could coincide with Saint Patrick’s Day. Libraries would set up tables in bars and sign up unsuspecting revelers by intimating that they may win all the green beer they can drink if only they get a library card. You could even have green library cards with scratch and sniff beer smell as a little marketing gimmick. Will those beer-swilling bar patrons become best seller-swilling library patrons? Who cares, your library membership stats will shoot up.
But wait, there’s more! This multi-tasking/ schedule-rearranging approach to the information-glut can also be enhanced by using the web 2.0 mashup time-management tool, which no one really understands, but has something to do with elevating ones anxiety level by simultaneously blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, RSS reader-ing, texting, IM’ing and so on ad nauseum. When I say ad nauseum, take that literally. Take one aspirin and call me in the morning. Not by cell phone. Not email. Not texting. No tweets please. In fact, just take the pill and leave me alone because you can find this Time Management Power Point presentation posted on my website: Marian the Librarian Tells It Like It Is.

Yours in eternal bibliotherapy,

A librarian squished flat on the Information Highway

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hard-boiled Detective Novels

Last month, the Tuesday night book group read Agatha Christie, the premier author of "cozy" or English village mysteries. Across the Atlantic, the mystery took on a very different form: that of the hard-boiled detective story which first appeared in such pulp fiction magazines as the Black Mask whose contributors included Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The tough-guy detective operates in an entirely urban environment, rather than in the cozy village settings of Miss Marple and M. Poirot. Hammett’s Sam Spade and Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and other such gumshoes do not ratiocinate successfully to solve the crimes, but rather they blunder through their books being bopped, “packing heat”, meeting shady dames, drinking too much hootch, with or without a Mickey Finn, and all that hooey. The plots are not as logical as in the British mysteries; the language is colorful, the action violent.
The Tuesday Night Book Group members will each read a book or story by Hammett or Chandler to discuss at the November 10th meeting at 7:30 pm in the Library Meeting Room.
Suggested titles: Hammett’s most famous book was the Maltese Falcon, his best, the Glass Key and his most successful – the Thin Man.
Chandler’s first four Philip Marlowe books were among his best (The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake); his successes were The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake and the Long Goodbye.
For a list of the authors’ books in chronological and series order, go to
The Black Mask lives on at with newly published stories by contemporary hard boiled authors like Ed Lynskey and also featuring some archived material.
Recommended contemporary hard-boiled authors are John D. MacDonald (1916 – 1986) who wrote the Travis McGee series and Robert B. Parker (1932 - ) who writes the Spenser series. Parker also wrote two sequels to the Philip Marlowe books called Poodle Springs and Perchance to Dream.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Few Reading Resolutions

There are so many books I want to read (upwards of 50 at last count) that I need some sort of plan to get through them all. This is embarassing to admit, but spending more time reading is not really an option.
So this is my plan:
1) Only check out books on my "to-read" list and books for the book group. No more checking out books on the spur of the moment!
2) Quit reading a book if it isn't as good as I expected.
3) Download some of these books from or NetLibrary, or check them out on CD, so I can listen to them on my computer as I do other stuff around the house.

Am I the only person with this problem? I ask because sometimes I see people in the library who don't know what they want to read (a condition that Marian the medical librarian could probably treat).
Clockwise from top left:
The Far Traveler, Trail of Crumbs, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Once a Runner, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, The Lost, Born to Run, This is Your Brain on Music, The Museum of Innocence, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Atonement, The Madonnas of Leningrad

Harriet and Isabella by Patricia O'Brien

The library book group will meet Friday at 10:30 a.m. to discuss Harriet and Isabella, which is the story of the relationship between half-sisters Harriet Beecher Stowe, an abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, a suffragist. The two sisters' loyalties were divided when their brother Henry Beecher, a famous minister, was tried for adultery in 1875.

Simon and Schuster has discussion questions for Harriet and Isabella. You can see Patricia O'Brien talk about her book here.

It seemed to me that Henry, Harriet and Isabella got upstaged by Victoria Woodhull, one of the minor characters in Harriet and Isabella. Woodhull was the first woman in the U.S. to run for president (before women could even vote), an advocate of free love, and a spiritual medium. She broke the news of Henry's affair in her newspaper Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly (using it to further her case against marriage). I thought Harriet and Isabella was worth reading just for her.

I checked out The Beecher Sisters by Barbara A. White as part of my research for the book group meeting. Some of the things I learned about the Beechers were surprising. For instance, Calvin Stowe had to read Harriet Beecher Stowe's speeches when she toured Britain for Uncle Tom's Cabin because, as a woman, she could not speak in public. The same was true of Catharine Beecher, who had to have her brother Charles read for her in public (p 58, 158).

When Harriet and Isabella met Abraham Lincoln, everything seemed perfectly what you would expect at the White House until they were seated in the President's office in front of an ugly water cooler ("much worse than Eddie is accustomed to feed his chickens from," according to a letter that Isabella wrote). When Harriet told a funny story, Isabella describes Lincoln laughing as "such a shaking -- & wiggling up of his indefinitely long nose I never before beheld" (p 92).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Loving (and Hating) Frank

Loving Frank is a fictionalization of Mamah Borthwick's relationship with the architect Frank Lloyd Wright (written by Nancy Horan). Mamah and Frank met in Oak Park, IL when Mamah and her husband commissioned a prairie-style house from Frank Lloyd Wright. Mamah left her two young children to live with Frank in Europe, and then in Wisconsin, at Taliesen.


Loving Frank was difficult for me to read, because I sympathized with Mamah so much, and yet I despised Frank Lloyd Wright. When he didn't have the money to pay his workers, he told them that they should be honored to have the privilege of working with him, for one thing.

And Loving Frank reminds you that women's lives at the turn of the last century were really hard: women didn't get the right to vote until 1920, and the percentage of women who die in childbirth has declined 99% since the turn of the century.

I would recommend it as long as you don't mind tragic stories of ill-fated lovers. It's not the cheeriest read.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween

While the library does not give out candy, if you go up to the circ desk and say "Trick or Treat" on Saturday, they will lend you a book for free.

The Cat in the Hat was shelving books in the Zoological Science section today.

The library's early literacy workstations have inspired one little girl to dress up as Stellaluna this Halloween. Stellaluna is the story of a fruit bat that gets separated from her mother (something we hope does not happen to the costumed Stellaluna).

Years ago at another library I once wore butterfly wings on Halloween, a decision I came to regret whenever I was called on to answer a serious reference question that day. Dressing up some year like a retro librarian with snazzy glasses and sensible shoes is still a possibility.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Prep School Library to go Bookless

USA Today reports that New England boarding school, Cushing Academy, has decided to discard most of its book collection and replace it with electronic books and databases. The library had about 20,000 volumes which is now down to half that number, in the physical sense, but pumped up into the millions of volumes in the virtual sense. The library circulates Kindles onto which the librarians will download whatever title a student needs for a course. This decision has caused a strong reaction on blogs, according to USA Today reporter Greg Toppo. A small private school library with a generous budget and a small student population to serve seems to me to be the ideal petri dish for this bookless experiment. Rather than gnashing teeth with fear and loathing over this library's plan, librarians, publishers and anyone interested in the question of how fast print will be replaced by online information should be glad that Cushing Academy is trying on the future for size.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Library Joins Facebook

Now you can be a friend of your local library:
Berkeley Heights Public Library is now on that exclusive online community of a mere gazillion people - Facebook. We'll show you pictures of our library family, friends and events and you can show us yours! In addition to FB-ing, BHPL librarians tweet, blog, email, fax, phone, semaphore, FTP, Photoshop, have a Flickr account for pictures, a Gmail account for the staff calendar, a PBWiki for staff training, an email newsletter and lots of other web 2.0 apps we've tried a couple of times and lost the passwords for.(If you find those accounts wandering around, let us know.) All to reach out to the community with the good news that libraries support good over evil and have lots of swell materials and services, all free, free, free, as long as you return what you borrow on time. If not, you will be hit with the punishing fine of ten cents a day. You can't afford not to be a friend to your local library, can you?

The Anthologist Could Give Writer's Block a Bad Name

A friend recommended Nicholson Baker's latest book, the Anthologist , noting that it would be right up my alley. The book is 256 pages of fictional poet Paul Chowder's stream of consciousness angst about writing the forward to an anthology of poetry he has compiled. To call his condition 'writer's block' is an understatement. Paul procrastinates, ruminates, dithers, worries and babbles. I'm wondering why my friend thought I would be uniquely qualified to appreciate this book. That can't be a good testament to the incisive, decisive habit of mind we all try to cultivate. The only way to get a sense of the book would be to quote it, but it is currently checked out. So, just imagine being inside of the head of a person who thinks about everything and nothing, who jumps from one thing to another and meanders off on various topics, including, but not limited to poetry and this person is gentle and thoughtful and not very confident and mourning the fact that his girlfriend left him and anxious that he can't seem to write a single coherent thought and his thought patterns somewhat resemble a cross between Alexander McCall Smith's philosopher Isabel Dalhousie and the Mad Hatter and if this sentence makes you dizzy then you get the feeling I had while reading the Anthologist.
What I liked about the book: the narrator is likeable, unless you hate people who dither and babble.
You can learn a little about poetry, but you don't need to know about poetry to appreciate the book.
It's short.
It's completely different.
What I didn't like about the book: I had to read it in small doses; a little dithering goes a long way.
Spoiler alert: it had a happy ending.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is There a Librarian in the House?

People don't become librarians for the fame, fortune or excitement, but there's a little Walter Mitty in all of us...
Marian the Librarian is flying to a librarian convention, nodding off in her middle seat, which she has thoughtfully not tipped back to avoid annoying the passengers behind her, and trying not to snore or drool or touch either arm rest lest she infringe on her seatmates' personal space, she hears the P.A. announcement,
"Is there a librarian on board? we have a slight emergency in Business Class requiring immediate biblio assistance."
Marian jerks awake instantly, eye's pop open, she nods apologetically to the passenger in the aisle seat and indicates she needs to get by. Grabbing her bookbag from under the seat, she hurries up the aisle to the Flight Attendant and whispers,
"I'm a librarian. How can I help?"
"There's a passenger in extreme distress, hyperventilating over a book he's reading and looking pale and clammy, almost like he's in shock," the FA explains as she leads Marion through Business Class to a seat where, indeed, a male passenger, middle-aged, well-dressed, is breathing unevenly with his hands gripping the latest Dan Brown best seller tightly.
"Oh dear, that's the third case I've seen this week. Deadly Prose Syndrome with Implausable Plot Complications. We have to act quickly."
Marian carefully pries the stricken man's fingers from the Lost Symbol and places it in a sick bag for disposal.
"I'm afraid the only treatment for this patron, er patient, is an immediate infusion of The Classics or failing that, any book with sufficient character development, three-syllable words and dependent clauses to act as an antidote. I think this will work."
Marian riffles through her black bag and pulls out Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and places it gently in the man's hands.
"That should do it. I may have to read it aloud to him at first but then his ability to read on his own should kick in and he'll be right as rain."

New Curb Appeal

If you have ever been stuck in school traffic in front of the library, you may have noticed we used to be shrubbery-challenged. However, today John Gallic, a local landscaper who grew up using the library, volunteered his services and donated the shrubs and a stone border out front. Thank you, John, BHPL is now beautiful.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Favorite Book

Every time I get asked what my favorite book is, I get a little tongue-tied. How can you just narrow it to one? On the other hand, I'm a librarian, I ought to have a favorite book. So I've been thinking about it.

Favoriting a book is a process that takes years. If a year passes and I can't remember what reading the book felt like, then it's out. (This seems to kick out the vast majority of books that I read, mysteries and nonfiction.) Last year I read a couple of books that have potential (The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond and Crow Lake by Mary Lawson), but I need to wait a few years and see if I keep thinking about them off and on.

Your favorite book should have the same effect on you the second time you read it. I'm a little worried that rereading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is going to spoil it, because I already know what happens at the end.

Then there are all the books you can't admit to loving, at least to anyone over the age of 16, which for me are the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. Also, if you love humonguous classics like Ulysses by James Joyce, you might want to keep that to yourself (it just depends on who's asking).

The only book I've read that meets all those criteria is .... The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. That's my answer and I'm sticking with it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lightbulb Jokes

I was reading High Season by Jon Loomis this weekend, a tale of a homicide detective who has moved to Cape Cod to avoid, well, homicides, which give him panic attacks and nightmares. There are a lot of lightbulb jokes (with real estate developers and cross dressers in the punchlines) told about Provincetown, MA in the book.

This led me on a search for New Jersey lightbulb jokes. The only one I could find online seems to involve disposing of the witness who saw the lightbulb get changed, so I came up with this one: How many people does it take to invent a lightbulb in New Jersey?

You would think the answer would be one, but according to American National Biography, Edison didn't even invent the lightbulb. He invented the first commercially practical incandescent lighting system, not the lightbulb, and he had a lot of people helping him at his lab.

Here are a few library lightbulb jokes which were collected by LIS News:

Q. How many librarians does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Usually 645.5. Sometimes 808.882.
(Dewey Decimal numbers for home repair and humor.)

Q. How many reference librarians does it take to change a light bulb?
A. Well, what kind of light bulb were you thinking about?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Break out the piano . . .

Today's weather is little drab, so I'm adding some color to the blog with some of BHPL's books about the 1960s.

Songs of the 1960s is just one of many, many books of sheet music for piano, guitar and voice that BHPL owns. If you never progressed past the color-coded books that you bought from your piano teacher, maybe you should give it another try with songs you actually like.

I had to add the Portable Sixties Reader to my collage if only for the the button that says "Books Must Go". And the Smokey the Bear Sutra inside.

The paintings in Optic Nerve: Perceptual Art of the 1960s will alternately give you a headache and a deep sense of calm (that's what the Rothko-ish paintings in the book do for me, at least).

A Short Life of Trouble: Forty Years in the New York Art World is by Marcia Tucker, who arrived at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1969 as its curator of painting and sculpture. (I have a special place in my heart for the Whitney, ever since I waited in line for my 20 seconds of solitude in the Fireflies on the Water installation).

Spaced Out is about hippie architecture. Think communes.

In honor of my parents, who always point out that there were plenty of non-hippies in the sixties, I've got Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, inventor of the COBOL programming language and coiner of the phrase "to debug" (when she took a moth out of a computer).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Library Video Nominated for a Dewey Award

If there were an award for library videos, I would call it the Dewey and I would nominate Enchanted Summer for the 398.2 category (folk and fairy tales in Dewey Decimal parlance.) I can say this without being immodest because Ellen, my fellow blogger, made the video. It was a major undertaking to produce two minutes of film. Now I know why it takes hours and hours to produce a couple of minutes in moviemaking. For every minute of video shot, there are 7031 minutes of editing involved, plus incalculable amounts of time spent cursing Microsoft MovieMaker. And, being librarians who are professionally sworn to uphold copyright laws, we had to purchase the music and get permissions for it, rather than just putting any old thing we had lying around as backround music, which I'm pretty sure is what most YouTube posters do. So that took time. We had to work around the Butterfly's nap time and observe Butterfly child labor laws. Ellen filmed the Butterfly and edited all the footage and synchronized the soundtrack and did all sorts of technical stuff, as we movie people call it. Not that I wasn't involved also: I stood around trying to stay out of the way while looking helpful. I also was in charge of keeping the Butterfly's wings straight between takes. However there is no category in the credits for Wing Arranger (maybe that's what a Key Grip does?) That's ok, I'm just honored to be part of the process and it's an honor to be nominated even though I'm the one who made up the award and nominated us for it. Upcoming: nominations for library videos in other Dewey categories.
Possible nominees: click here

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Enchanted Summer: Our YouTube Debut

The Berkeley Heights Public Library made its filmmaking debut last night with Enchanted Summer, a two minute video that highlights the renovations of the children's room with clips of this past summer's children's programs. You will also see what really happens after the library closes and a Certain Butterfly takes charge of the Children's Department. Just as we suspected, enchanted critters come in the off hours and check out books with their wands, move books around and try out all the bean bag chairs. It explains a lot, doesn't it?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Reading Agatha Christie: the Theme Book Group

At September's meeting, the library's Tuesday night book group decided to become a themed book group, which means that instead of choosing one book per month for everyone to read together, the group will decide on a topic or author each month and each reader can choose her own title within those parameters. The idea is to maintain the structure and social aspects of a book group, but to allow more freedom in the selection of materials read. Theme book groups also rely on each member to talk about their reading that month, with a moderator sometimes giving an overview of the topic. In principle, this format enables the group to be more balanced in terms of participation and less reliant on a moderator to lead the discussion. It also addresses the problem of finding a popular title which everyone agrees on, but which no one in the group has read and which is old and currently unpopular enough to be available in multiple copies by interlibrary loan. No mean feat, as any librarian/book groupie can attest.

Tomorrow night at 7:30 pm the book group will be discussing Agatha Christie, the best-selling author of all time. Each book group participant will talk about the book she has read and the librarian will give a brief presentation about Agatha Christie and the development of the mystery novel. We'll let you know how the new format worked for us. Meanwhile, here are some links to past posts on Dame Agatha :

Best Agatha Christie Mysteries to Read

If You Like Agatha Christie, Try These Authors

Best Mysteries

Related websites:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard

"I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so." -Oscar Wilde; from the epigraph of How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read

In the spirit of How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read, I'm going to write about it before I've finished it. Reading a book like this is a bit like reading Lemony Snicket's exhortations to put his books down, except that with Bayard's book you actually will be tempted to "not read" the book. Ways of "not reading" include skimming a book, forgetting a book once you've read it, and hearing about a book, which means you, m'dear, are a fellow non-reader of How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.

Beyond all the satire, Bayard points out that "not reading" books frees up time to learn about a little about all the important books out there that you don't have time to read. Having some idea of how works of literature relate to each other could be more valuable than having read some works of literature completely. (Now I understand how grad students get through those massive reading lists.) Personally, I think this means librarians can stop feeling guilty recommending books they haven't read to readers who like books about women who drive space barges.

I enjoyed looking for Bayard's citations of books that he talks about or quotes. He tells you whether he's read the book; skimmed the book; or heard of the book, and gives you a few plus or minus signs to indicate his impression of the book. Thom Geier of Entertainment Weekly recommended that you "skim his wittily annotated table of contents instead"; and this is good advice, too. In fact, I might finish this book because I want to read that story about Graham Greene in chapter 5.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Shadow Knows

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows. . . ."

Old radio shows like The Shadow are one of those things that makes me wish I had lived through more of the 20th century (right up there with the Apollo 11 moon landing, phone numbers that began with words, and cars from the 50s).

Tonight (Oct. 6) at 7 PM at the library, Old-Time Radio Man Henry Morse is going to speak about The Shadow and play a complete episode of The Shadow.

If you're interested in looking at the radio shows of yesteryear, check out this site. (I wish I could have listened to Mayor Laguardia reading "the funnies" in 1945!)

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Bit of Peace and Quiet

The Internet went down this afternoon at the library due to a regional outage, and after the initial frenzy of seeing what the problem was and putting up signs, there was more peace and silence than usual for a Friday afternoon. It made me think of
1. working with my hands (instead of on a computer)
2. listening to the cavernous silence of an empty church (preferably in Italy)
3. going to another country to learn a language
4. stretching out all the muscles that get crunched up when I'm stressed (like when 6 middleschoolers, 3 adults and all of your colleagues want to know why the Internet isn't working.)
5. poetry

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

On Friday the library's morning book group will meet to talk about Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. This Norwegian author was not well known in the U.S. until the New York Times named Out Stealing Horses one of the 10 best books of 2007.

In Out Stealing Horses, Trond Sander leaves Oslo, where he grew up during the Nazi occupation, to retire to a remote part of Norway. He lives in a place like the one he spent the summer when he was 15, and he remembers the events of this summer as he makes preparations for the harsh winter to come. This is only one of the ways in which Trond's past and present seem to mirror each other. It's a very powerful, tightly wound book; the New York Times reviewer marvelled,
"A fairly short novel with a timescape of half a century that seems to have left out nothing important is a bit of a miracle."

Discussion questions for Out Stealing Horses can be found at

The Washington Post has an interesting interview with Per Petterson about his life, his books and the books he reads.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Friday Fantasy

This collage is sort of my version of fantasy football, except there are no winners or losers. Obviously if I could do anything I wanted today, I would
1. be a princess (or lavender queen)
2. eat lots of cake
3. live in a cottage with dream windows

Whatever your dream is, there's a library book to match.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mindset by Carol Zweck

One of the premises of Mindset, which is a book by psychology professor Carol Zweck (now at Stanford, but at Columbia when she wrote the book), is that *talent has little to do with success.* And hard work has everything to do with it.

If you believe your success is due to some innate quality, you're not going to take criticism very well, even if it's constructive. You'll feel like you are being attacked personally. And you might even stop doing whatever it is that you're good at, because any failure will prove that you are ordinary. Or, you might decide that you don't need to work as hard as other people in this area that you're great at, and then you're destroyed when you are eventually surpassed by "lesser" opponents.

But if you develop what Zweck calls a "growth mindset," (as opposed to a fixed mindset), you are free of all these worries and fears. You are limited only by the amount of work you want to put in. You'll have the strength to call up the employer who interviewed you and then didn't hire you, and ask why. Previously underachieving kids who are taught to look at intelligence as something that is learned, not inherited, begin to excel. Zweck draws her examples from sports, business and relationships; I love it when she points out that the high school basketball coach who didn't pick Michael Jordan for the team was not, in fact, an idiot. Michael Jordan just wasn't that great at basketball back then.

I highly recommend the book, but if you can't read it, check out the Mindset web site. It has a lot of articles and excerpts from interviews that Carol Dweck gave to the media, especially on how parents can help their children develop a growth mindset.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Our Most Searched For Blog Posts

Recently a new hit counter was added to the BHPL Book Blog (at the bottom of the page.) The new one, not content to merely click ever upward hit by hit, also leads to a website that shows how web searchers arrived at the blog and from what country, what time of day, which day of the week, which search engine and browser used and whether they like their martinis dry, shaken or stirred.

The source of this remarkably omniscient and slightly scary information is

If you don't already realize how someone out there knows what you are up to, what marketing demographic you are part of, this should convince you. Not that the website tells who our readers are specifically, name or ISP, or anything like that, but it gets close. For free. I'm wondering if we paid money for the enhanced service if Bravenet would actually serve up those martinis nicely chilled.

After following the Bravenet statistics charts for the last few weeks , we now know what some of our more popular posts are:

Book reviews for various titles

and the recent post about reference questions librarians hate really struck a chord in the librarian community. Not only did the hit count go up, but comments from librarians turned up with links to librarian blogs.

Also someone way way north in Scotland reads the blog. Hello out there! We love Scotland. If you are a librarian maybe we can arrange a job swap, wouldn't that be fun? Not in the winter though, thanks.

So now we know a bit more about who reads this blog and we hope that it convinces people that libraries are a force for truth, goodness and free stuff all over the world and thanks to all you web crawling people who mostly reside in North America, Western Europe and the U.K.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reference Question of the Day: Google versus Reference Books

Patron: do you have a book on superstitions?

Ref Lib: do you have a specific kind of superstition in mind? (We professionals are carefully trained not to say, "yuh, who wants ta know?")

Patron: yes, I want to know what this silver charm on my watch means; a friend gave it to me.

Patron: shows silver Italian horn charm.

Ref Lib: recognizes the charm as commonly made in coral and thinks it has something to do with guarding against the malocchio, which affliction she recalls hearing about as a child, not that anyone in her family has it.

Answer: after Googling "Italian horn," - it wards off bad luck/the evil eye

Old way of answering question: wade through superstition and foklore books (we tried this after Googling just to compare results) which took a few more minutes than Googling and required moving away from the Reference Desk computer. (Aack!) (Note: Studies now show that Ref librarians losing muscle mass, in all but keyboarding fingers, at alarming rate.*)

So if you are thinking of becoming a reference librarian, you should realize that every bit of seemingly useless trivia and every one of life's little moments will eventually turn out to be useful in your job. Realize also, you aspiring librarians, that there will never be a cool TV show about librarians: we don't deal in life and death, we don't wear cool scrubs and stethoscopes, we don't stride up and down in front of a riveted jury, we don't deal with funny high school students (well, we do, but not in a classroom setting) we just answer questions. And sometime participate in book cart drill teams for fun.

*made-up information just to illustrate notion that blogs may contain ridiculous blather.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Castaways by Elin Hildenbrand

Reading The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand was kind of like seeing a car-B-Q on the highway. I inched along bored by a novel about the friendship of 4 married couples (having 8 main characters means some of them are going to be shallow, IMHO), but it was fascinating to watch them fall apart after the disaster.

The friends - a wealthy couple in real estate, a farmer and a cocktail waitress, two teachers, and the police chief and his wife - live year-round in Nantucket. The book begins with the drowning of Greg and Tess when they sail to Martha's Vineyard for their anniversary, their marriage having survived a scandal involving one of the members of Greg's female a capella group at school. What's more, the toxicology report shows that Tess, a kindergarten teacher who was a devoted mother of two, had opiates in her blood.

I probably screwed up this beach read by listening to it on audio. I could have read it a lot faster on my own and it wouldn't have felt as slow in the beginning.