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