Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Year in Read-view

Despite my lifetime membership in LibraryThing, I keep official track of what I've read in notebook I bought in Chinatown. Due to my aesthetic tastes at the time of purchase, it has a Hello Kitty-ish rainbow cat in the form of a cloud smiling at me on the front. This year the cat tells me I have read 51 books, unless I can finish up one of the 6 unread ones by tomorrow. That's average for me, but if anyone criticizes it, I can whip out the "but I read Moby Dick this year!" excuse.

My favorite books read for a book group were: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, The Photograph by Penelope Lively, and Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos. Except for The Whistling Season, all of these books were suggested by people in my book groups, who are brilliant except when they make me read books that I hate.

My favorite nonfiction books were: Switch by Chip Heath and Chad Heath, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. All of these were bestsellers when they came out, so I am losing points for originality here.

In the category of "really good if you share my obscure interests" are Mr. Langshaw's Square Piano by Madeline Goold, Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnades, Sweater Quest by Adrienne Martini and The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose.

Rounding up my fiction favorites are Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani (two points off for choosing another bestseller), By the Lake by John McGahern, A Call From Jersey by P.F. Kluge, which everyone in Berkeley Heights & environs should read, and Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Questions Today at the Reference Desk

Do you have any Theodore Dreiser books on tape or CD? No, but we do have Sister Carrie as a downloadable audiobook from Listen NJ. It comes bundled with a self-help tape for depression. No, just kidding.

Can you find information about my doctor? Yes, usually we can. We use AMA's Doctor Finder, The American Board of Medical Specialties website and/or the reference books to find educational information, address and phone number of offices and the NJ Office of the Attorney General to find the doctor's NJ license number and status. No, I can't tell you if I like your doctor or not.

Can you write this address (patron shows piece of paper with address on it) on this envelope for me? Um, yes, but why? Is it a ransom note? No, I just don't want the addressee to recognize my handwriting.

I can't read my handwriting with the information you gave me over the phone yesterday, can you give me the answer again? Yes. What is it with the handwriting problems today?

Can you look up 5 people's phone numbers for me? Yes. We use Reference USA, a database of phone and city directories available online to all NJ library card holders from any internet connected computer.

Patron calls back later to say several phone numbers did not work. Maybe he couldn't read his handwriting?

Why does the copier say it doesn't have any matching paper? I don't know. It often says that, but it's lying.
Does the library only have one copier now? Yes. The old copier location became a teen lounge.
 Alternatively, we could have middle schoolers lounging on the copier.

Can you look up this phone number which I don't recognize that was on my caller ID? Patron hands over scrap of paper with scribbled numbers. Yes. It's usually telemarketers calling from a cell phone or unlisted phone, but I can't find this one. Handwriting, people!

Do you have a fine tip marker I can use? No. How about a stubby, unsharpened golf pencil or some old pens I brought from home that have dog hair mixed in the ink tip? Might not help your handwriting though.

This book is damaged, can I have the copy from storage? Yes. My question is, why did we put the clean copy in storage and the one damaged by something which stained the pages red in the stacks. Yech.

Can I have blah blah tax forms for 2009? I couldn't find them on the IRS website. Yes. We use Google to find forms on the IRS site. It searches better than the IRS search function. Patron is not surprised that Google searches better than the government website. We commiserate about government inefficiency.

How late are you open? My son needs to study, asks mother waving hand at college age son gazing at test review book. 9:00 pm, I smile commiseratingly at the son. Lots of commiserating today.

Two men. Can we use the internet? Yes, you both can have a computer. No, I'm just here for moral support says one.

Can I get back the email I deleted from my spam folder in Yahoo? I don't think so. More commiserating.

Did you survive the storm? Yes. Did you?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top Ten Books of 2010 at BHPL

Fiction published in 2010 with the most checkouts so far at BHPL:

1. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
2. Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich
3. Worst Case by James Patterson
4. 61 Hours by Lee Child
5. Deliver Us From Evil by David Baldacci
6. 9th Judgment by James Patterson
7. Deception by Jonathan Kellerman
7. Private by James Patterson
9. Innocent by Scott Turow
10. Postcard Killers by James Patterson
11. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Yup, the top ten is 40% James Patterson. That's why I threw in Sarah Blake, for some variety.

Nonfiction published in 2010 with the most checkouts at BHPL:

1. The Big Short by Michael Lewis
2. Game Change by John Heilemann
3. Oprah : a biography by Kitty Kelley
4. This Time Together by Carol Burnett
5. Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler
6. Steinbrenner by Bill Madden
7. Making Toast : a Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt
8. Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush
8. War by Sebastian Junger
8. Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth

If The Big Short isn't enough for you, Henry Paulson's On the Brink and Joseph Stiglitz's Freefall were next most popular on the list.

Happy Holidays from the Library

(The library loves you back.)

BHPL is open until 9 p.m. today, closes Friday & Saturday, and reopens on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Dress for Diana by David & Elizabeth Emanuel

I never planned to blog about this book, since we've probably blogged about too many wedding books already, but given all the interest in Kate & William's wedding in April, it seems appropriate. This is a gorgeous, 9" x 11" book, filled mostly with photos and sketches, and written by the married couple who designed Princess Diana's wedding dress. It all began when Elizabeth Emanuel designed a wedding dress for her and David's joint graduation show at the Royal College of Art, which Brides magazine later featured. After they graduated, they leased cheap space in a building owned by the Queen's milliner and started to design dresses for people like Bianca Jagger.

Their shop was conveniently close to Vogue's offices, and Vogue selected one of their blouses to their photo shoot of Diana during the engagement. Then, Diana had them design the infamous black dress she wore with Charles to their first official event. As the Emanuels describe it in the book: "The transformation was incredible. She arrived looking like the nursery school teacher she was, but now she looked like a movie star. . . . We hadn't considered the fact that when Diana bent over - as she would have to do when getting out of the car - she would show quite a lot of cleavage."

The book has lots of interesting anecdotes about how the design was kept a secret from the press camped out outside, about the ladies who embroidered it, the toile versions of the dress made before work on the actual dress began, etc. If you are the kind of person who likes hearing about other people's wedding details, you'll like the parts about Diana's handmade wedding shoes, her veil with 10,000 hand-sewn sequins, and bouquet of English-grown flowers. Her "something old" was the lace used on the bodice, which was once owned by Queen Mary. She borrowed her tiara, a Spencer family heirloom, and a little blue bow was sewn into the back of the dress. The dress also has a tiny 18K gold horseshoe made from Welsh gold sewn into it, for luck.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously by Adrienne Martini

I'm a fan of the nonfiction narrative quest, whether it's to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, retrace the steps of a Viking woman, or eat only food that you or a neighbor grew. Especially if there is a one year time limit. Therefore Sweater Quest was irresistible to me once I read the back of the jacket, even though I am not much of a knitter. Well, I know the knit stitch, but I don't know how to purl. Yet.

In Sweater Quest, Adrienne Martini decides to make a Fair Isle sweater designed by the famous Scottish designer Alice Starmore, in a year, despite being a working mother. However, this particular Alice Starmore sweater is from one of Starmore's early books, before her split with her publishers and yarn manufacturers. So the book is rare and out-of-print, and the yarn impossible to buy at all. In fact, Martini's brave to refer to Starmore in print, as her book says that Starmore's nicknames in the knitting blogosphere are She Who Must Not Be Named or Litigious Scottish Designer.

Martini uses this incredibly complicated, knitted-in-the-round Fair Isle sweater as a jumping off point for other topics, like color theory, the Shetland Islands, or her conversations with other knitters, like the Mason Dixon Knitters Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner. Where do you draw the line between a traditional knitting pattern handed down the generations, and a designer's pattern? Why do women knit, and why is it considered weird when golfing (practiced by almost half fewer people) is not? Is the sweater Martini knitting really an Alice Starmore if she is using yarn substitutions?

Mostly, I liked this book because it's hilarious. Also, Martini's pointed me to some knitting blogs that are fun to read, like Yarn Harlot, which is the most popular blog (of any type) in Canada, according to Sweater Quest, or Susette Newberry's amazing, interdisciplinary blog about a knitted abecedarium, Knitting Letters: A to Z.

Watch Adrienne Martini talk about her quest here. You get to see the sweater, too.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It Wouldn't Be Christmas Without Books

Not the silly seasonal books that some big name authors churn out. I mean short classics that you can read in one sitting while recovering from decorating/shopping/cooking/parties:

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. Possibly the best beginning of a book ever:
One Christmas was so much like another,
in those years around the sea-town corner
now and out of all sound
except the distant speaking of the voices
I sometimes hear a moment before sleep,
that I can never remember
whether it snowed for six days and six nights
when I was twelve or
whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights
when I was six.

If you have never listened to the recording of Dylan Thomas reading this, you must. BHPL owns this on audiobook. Dylan Thomas' physician when he was in New York, Milton Feltenstein, lived in Free Acres in Berkeley Heights.

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl Buck

The story of a farmer's son who has little but finds a way to give his father the best present of his life. It can be read online but the version illustrated by Mark Buehner has beautiful paintings of dark snowy scenes.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote.

At libraries you generally have to check out Breakfast With Tiffany's to read this story ever since Modern Library published them in one volume. Six year-old Buddy and the elderly Miss Sook make fruitcakes for their friends out of moonshine and some pecans they gathered themselves.

Do you have a favorite holiday book that you read every year?

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Ghosts of Belfast

The Tuesday night book group will discuss Stuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast (published as The Twelve in the U.K.) tomorrow night at 7:30 pm.
The novel begins:

'Maybe if he had one more drink they'd leave him alone. Gerry Fegan told himself that lie before every swallow. He chased the whiskey's burn with a cool black mouthful of Guinness and placed the glass back on the table. Look up and they'll be gone, he thought.
No. They were still there, still staring. Twelve of them if he counted the baby in its mother's arms.'

Gerry Fegan was a hit man for the IRA, served his time in the notorious Maze Prison, and spends his life seeking escape from the ghosts of the twelve people he murdered during the Troubles. To appease his ghosts, Fegan decides to kill the men who ordered the hits. There begins this violent story. Ghosts fits into a growing body of contemporary Irish "noir" thrillers and will appeal to fans of John Connelly  and James Ellroy.

Related websites:
Soho Press
NPR - Chapter One, excerpt from the novel
CAIN - Conflict Archive on the INternet
BBC - The Search for Peace

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Life at the Reference Desk

Based on reader comments, a popular recurring blog feature are the lists of intriguing, quirky, or just plain difficult, questions we are asked at the Reference Desk. We write about these questions  to let people know that you can ask a reference librarian anything and we will try to find you an answer. We also do this to show that not all problems can be solved by Googling for an answer, not that we don't love Google as much as the next person. And we blog these requests because they are fun;  reference librarians are like bloodhounds, we just like to be put on the trail of a tough question and track it down to ground. If we aren't answering reference questions, we feel compelled to read book reviews until we fall face-first into Publishers Weekly babbling incoherently about which books might be requested 3 months from now. Save us from that nasty fate, just ask us a question.


The One When Ellen meets a reptile:

"This is going to seem odd, but could you help me identify this?" the patron said, proffering a plastic bag.

Mindful of another librarian I know of who had been asked to identify a LIVE SNAKE IN A BAG, I asked if it was a bug.

"No, it's a snake!" AAAAH!!!!! SNAKE!!!!

I asked if it was dead.

"Oh no, it's alive."

Well, it turned out to be a tiny snake (tied up in yet another bag inside) with an orange belly and a ring around its neck.

Trying to remain calm and not rip through the pages of our snake books, ever aware of the SNAKE BESIDE ME! (SNAKE!), I gave up and Googled it to save time. It was a ringnecked snake. They're very pretty actually.

Then the snake left.
Patron: "He is going to go live at Free Acres now."

P.S. : Strangely, I got the ringnecked snake question from a local resident too, but my patron just described the snake, luckily for me. Cell phone photos would be good too. Even better, you Ringneck snakes out there, please either stay out of sight or carry I.D. in the future.

The One Where Ellen Meets More Icky Wildlife:

Poor Ellen, here's another shudder-worthy question she got: "What are those weird bugs in my basement?" asked the patron. "You know, they look like pale spiders, but they hop?" That's actually a pretty common question around here because Camel Crickets are pretty common in NJ;  they tend to be fruitful and multiply in basements. They wouldn't be so bad if they just sauntered, but they hop quite high and violate one's personal space, seeming to aim for the innocent laundry basket which is then flung into the air with a cry as the harried householder heads to the washing machine. Can you tell, I speak from bitter experience?

Here is Ellen's icky bug research technique explained: "So how do we go about it? The first step is to narrow it down to which type of insect it is: cricket, beetle, etc. Then we flip through photos in our insect reference books and web sites like What's That Bug until we find a match. For a more scientific opinion, Rutgers will ID it for you for a fee (it also identifies plants and fungi.)"

The One Where Anne Decides She Needs a Hearing Aid.  No, really:

"Four times (one day last spring) and twice (another day) a patron called, spelled a word and asked the reference librarian how to pronounce it.  The problem is that "b" sounds like "v" which sounds like "t" which, well you get the idea. So I replied to the caller by saying things like "v as in vegetable or b as in baby?" but the phonetic alphabet didn't appeal to him. He thought that if he spelled louder I would get it. I didn't. To make matters worse, the words were in German. We went around in circles with these questions, both of us getting frustrated. In between calls, which I may have answered accurately or not, I looked up the NATO alphabet, also known as the Alpha Bravo Charlie alphabet or radio operators' alphabet. Maybe keeping Alpha Bravo Charlie chart near the phone would be a good idea."
P.S.: I did subsequently get hearing aids but strangely they haven't helped me understand German.

The One Where Anne Pulls a Rabbit out of a Hat:

Patron: "What' s the book that I was told every library would have and it's used at the Naval Academy and it's about California and all about ships in the 19th century?"

Librarian: "You don't mean Two Years Before the Mast, do you? "
Patron: "Yes, that's it!"

That's the rabbit out of the hat effect in reference. Sometimes, the right answer bubbles up from the subconscious. In this case, I remember my brothers reading the book, although I never did. We sometimes use the Novelist database to find books by subject, but there's no database that can replace the speed of human memory. Hitting the jackpot like that makes up for all the times working at the Reference Desk can make you feel really stupid.
We'll save Questions That Made Us Feel Stupid for another post.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Doctor Bloggers vs Librarian Bloggers

I probably should be hanging on every word of my fellow librarian bloggers, especially the ones who seem to be really cutting-edge & early adopters of new and annoying technologies, but what I turn to first on my Google Reader are two doctor blogs: The Cartoon Guide to Becoming a Doctor and Doctor Grumpy in the House. For one thing, and I mean this in the best possible way, Doctor Grumpy's patients are way more eccentric than library patrons. Having said that, I have permission from one of our regular patrons, who just stopped by the desk, to recount our conversation. I've been sitting at the Reference Desk with my winter coat on most days lately and have gotten lots of comments on that. I hoped our local taxpayers would think we are just trying to save their money by not heating the library much, but still the comments come about my garb of choice. I explained to this patron that the Ref Desk is in a Cold Zone and he suggested I get one of those all-in-one zip-up blankets-with-arms which are advertised on late night TV. Not sure that's the proper "professional" librarian look we're aiming for here and I'm really sure that when I have to accompany a patron to the stacks to find a book that my hopping in the blanket sack would be ... well what would it be? Remarkably odd, but at least the aerobic activity would warm me up and amuse the patron, and isn't that what we really mean by "good customer service"?
Note: I don't know why I've been so cold lately, but I'm sure not going to Dr. Grumpy to find out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hanukkah Lights

Hanukkah Lights is a collection of stories taken from Hanukkah Lights, a holiday program on National Public Radio every year (and it comes with a CD so you can listen to 4 extra stories). Mark Helprin's story, "Hanukkah in the Age of Guys and Dolls" was my favorite. It begins with funny anecdotes from his childhood, when he disliked the one-upmanship of holidays in general, and ends with his reconciliation with and understanding of Hanukkah, in 1972 or 73 when Helprin was in the Israeli army and spent a night watching bonfires go up across the Beit Shan Valley and in the mountains above.

There are also stories by Elie Wiesel, Myra Goldberg, and Daniel Pinkwater (author of one of my childhood favorites, The Hoboken Chicken Emergency) to mention only a few. The back of the book calls it "perfect for family reading" and they are quite short, so you won't tire your voice out.

Friday, December 3, 2010

By Snowshoe or Canoe

The editor of The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, 1887-1890, Ted Behne, will speak at BHPL and present the photographs and illustrations from Adney's journals on Wednesday, December 8 at 7 p.m. Adney was a contributor to Harper's Weekly and his models of aboriginal canoes helped save the birchbark canoe from oblivion. Here is a taste of one of his adventures:
One day Hum and I were studying over a large map of the Province of New Brunswick that we had pasted up on the rough wall of a room in the garret that we fixed up, and where we molded our bullets and tanned our muskrat hides, a den exclusively our own where we could take refuge at all times and discuss our trips, and plan for others.

"There's a chain of lakes," said Humbolt, pointing to a spot just north of the line [the United States/Canada border], "and in the Province of Quebec it's called the Squatic [sic] [l]akes and I'd like to go up there.

"We could take a canoe up on the train as far as Little Falls, and it must [be] a hundred miles around the chain of lakes. I don't see why we couldn't go up there this fall. Nobody but a few Frenchmen ever goes up there. What do you say we go?"

It was never my policy to differ with Humbolt about matters like this.

-Page 105, from the chapter "A Trip in a Birch Canoe Through the Squatook Lakes Sept. 24, 1888 in The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, 1887-1890

Copies of the book will be available for signing afterward. You can read an interview with Behne on the front page of the Independent Press here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

The morning book group chose to discuss Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell at the next meeting (Friday, December 3 at 10:30 a.m.) because most of us really enjoyed her previous novel, A Thread of Grace. Agnes, a middle-aged schoolteacher, recounts the story of her life from beyond the grave. After inheriting a few estates when her family members die in the flu epidemic of 1918-1919, she is inspired to visit Egypt by a Palmolive commercial. Coincidentally, the Cairo Conference is in town at the same time, meeting to decide the fate of Britain's provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Al-Basrah (long story short: Iraq). She meets Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine, Lawrence of Arabia, Gertrude Bell, and a German man who admits to being a spy during the (first) World War, and is interested in the gossip she brings back to him from the outings and parties she attends.

According to the book the fictional Agnes is standing on the left side of this famous photo:

The title comes from something T.E. Lawrence wrote in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which is quoted in Dreamers of the Day:

Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible.

You can find discussion questions about the book on the Random House web site, which also has an interview with Mary Doria Russell. And below is a KPFA radio interview with the author about Dreamers of the Day:

Cover to Cover with Richard Wolinsky - April 10, 2008 at 3:00pm

Click to listen (or download)

How did you like the book? If you've also read A Thread of Grace by the same author, how does it compare?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Songs of the Season

Robin Greenstein will perform her show "Songs of the Season" at BHPL at 7 p.m. tonight (Tuesday, November 30). She'll play Chanukah, Christmas (including Gospel Christmas), Kwanzaa and Yuletide songs. All ages are welcome to come learn more about these holidays and enjoy the music.
Fun facts about Robin: she has 6 CDs of original, folk and children's music, including one of Songs of the Season, and has performed the national anthem for the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. She majored in in Music at SUNY-Stony Brook with a concentration in Classical Guitar, and also plays the banjo. She has also won or showcased several folk festivals.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

If You Like Agatha Christie Mysteries: more authors to try

One of this blog's most popular posts is "If You Like Agatha Christie mysteries, try these authors", so for you Christie and cozy mystery fans, here are more authors  to try:

Martha Grimes - English pub name series featuring Scotland Yard's Inspector Jury. Read the early ones in the series.
Simon Brett - the Fethering series, set in a village in England, is very light, but the plots are convincingly complicated and well-paced.
Carola Dunn - Daisy Dalrymple series, Daisy is a liberated woman jounalist and sleuth in 1920's England.
Nancy Atherton -  the premise of the Aunt Dimity series, that Lori Shepherd's dead aunt communicates through her journal to help Lori solve crimes, is silly, but the mysteries are good anyway if you can get past the ghost-written journal.
Rhys Bowen - the Evan Evans series set in Wales is mostly enjoyable because of the beautiful setting, although the writing and mysteries are satisfying also.
Hazel Holt - Mrs. Mallory series, English village sleuth in classic cozy format.
My favorite: M.C. Beaton - the Hamish MacBeth series and the Agatha Raisin series. The earlier titles tend to be better in my opinion;  the later ones are a fix for devoted fans only. Hamish is the clever, but lazy, Highland village constable;  Agatha is the cranky middle-aged Cotswold's detective.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving Eve

Marian the Librarian plans to be so busy roasting a turkey tomorrow that she suggested we re-post  our old Thanksgiving blog bits this year. The library staff would like to thank all our faithful library patrons and wish you a happy Thanksgiving and Happy Reading.
Previous posts about Thanksgiving:

Interesting turkey fact: The NTF (National Turkey Federation) reports that in 2009 Americans ate 16.9 pounds of turkey on average per capita.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Library Parrot at Thanksgiving

Some libraries have library cats as recounted in Dewey, the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, or aquariums in the children's room like the one at the New Providence Library down the road; one library where I worked had a Guinea Pig in a cage on the big oak library table in the reading room. The G.P was low on entertainment value as he hid in his cardboard tube most of the time during daylight hours. By far, the most remarkable library pet I've ever heard of was a parrot: Decimal.

Decimal, the parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. Decimal swore like a sailor and could peel the wallpaper off the wall at thirty paces with his salty vocabulary. The library staff tried and tried to change Decimal's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and modeling proper library behavior in an attempt to "clean up" the bird's vocabulary, but to no avail. Decimal continued to offend everyone, including the library's patrons. The library Board of Trustees had received many complaints about the parrot's behavior and the Director felt pressured to rehabilitate Decimal or give him away.

One day, the Library Director was fed up and yelled at the parrot. "If you don't clean up your act, you're gone, I mean it, gone to that perch in the sky!" The parrot yelled back. The Director shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. "@!!??""**!!!"
In desperation, the Director grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer in the staff kitchen. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed.
Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, the Director quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out and said,
"I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions.
I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully
intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable
The library staff was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude and wondered what had made such a dramatic change in Decimal's behavior, but before anyone could ask the reason, the bird continued, "May I ask what the turkey did?"

Thanks to my college roomate for sending me the email that is the basis for this story.

Three Britains

The recent news about the "new austerity" in the UK reminded me I've been meaning to read David Kynaston's book, Austerity Britain, 1945-51. Sadly I didn't even realize what life after the war was like there until I read the letters written to Helene Hanff in 84, Charing Cross Road ("Everyone was so grateful for the parcel. My little ones (girl 5, boy 4) were in Heaven - with the raisins and egg I was actually able to make them a cake!") Kynaston takes ordinary people's stories and ties them in to the major events of the day, albeit in 692 pages.
Then, Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester caught my eye from its perch on the shelf for new books at BHPL. It's an illustrated guide to upper-class life during the early 19th century. Publishers Weekly says it addresses everything "from the inside-out details of period costume to the different methods of harnessing horses to carriages and the proper method of table service".

But the book that I actually checked out is the historical novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the 2009 Booker prize winner. In case you've been living under a rock, this is the gist of the book:
In 1520s England, the Tudor Dynasty is threatening to unravel. King Henry VIII has yet to produce a male heir in twenty-year-marriage to his first wife. However, his pursuit to annul his marriage and court his wife's lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, threatens the stability of all of England and sets forth a chain of events that alters the course of history.
Oooh, thrilling. There are other copies available right now, including an audiobook, so I'm not hogging.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Case of the Sibling Sleuth

Enola ("alone spelled backwards," the lonely protagonist informs us) Holmes is the 14-year-old sister of Sherlock Holmes in this mystery series by Nancy Springer. After her mother abandons her to go roaming with gypsies (but not without leaving her serious amounts of cash & a flower-based code to communicate with her via the classifieds of the Pall Mall Gazette) Enola must flee the clutches of her clever older brothers, especially Mycroft, who does not approve of her unwomanly activities, such as bicycle riding. Under a false name she establishes herself as "the world's first scientific perditorian," or finder of lost things and people, in London.

This is a young adult mystery series, but if you like codes, all things Victorian, and spirited, independent female protagonists, give it a try. At only 200 pages or so they go quickly. The cases are solved with the help of coincidence here and there, but the dialogue and characters more than make up for that. I'm up to the fourth book (out of six), The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan, and the series hasn't flagged yet. Begin with The Case of the Missing Marquess.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why People Use Twitter

The Taxonomy of Tweeters: the 4 most commonly observed Subspecies of Tweeters as observed on

Homo Sapiens Twitteratus Narcissisti will tweet every little non-event in his day. eg: 'got up, drank coffee.' This Sub-species gave Twitter a bad name and led to much questioning of the worth of Twitter and often to questioning the worth of the entire species Homo Sapiens.

Although entertaining, Homo Sapiens Twitteratus Humoristi can be viewed as a non-essential, if persistant, variation in the evolution of the human species. Because dying is easy but humor is hard, we expect this subspecies to be on the threatened list for extinction, but those who do survive are quite hardy as they develop a thick skin and are not easily discouraged from tweeting.

Skipping to HST Lurker, these non-participants are followers, but not followed. Sadly, this gentle, quiet subspecies will not be as successful a genetic variation as Narcissisti despite the fact that many Homo Sapiens need to improve their listening skills.
HST Informationisti includes the variation Bibliotecaria which are regarded as the most valuable of all tweeters. If you look to your right on this blog, you will see a fine specimen of HSTI Bibliotecaria tweeting.
There you have it. 'Til next time I, Rana Clamitans Bloggerati, venture out of the mud to explain it all to you.
- Fleur T. Frog
Hic vivit Ranas Fleur

Monday, November 15, 2010

Two Books, One Bird

I picked up A Version of the Truth by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack for some light reading, and now I'm interested in birds, of all things. (My new motto is "birds: not just carriers of avian flu anymore.") A Version of the Truth is about the transformation of a 30-year-old California woman from a dyslexic high school drop out and wildlife refuge volunteer (with a penchant for wearing beige and terrible taste in men) to a creative, put-together college grad and mother. What sparked the change was her new job as a secretary in the psychology department of a research university, but she lied about having a college degree in order to get it.

A Version of the Truth is chick lit, but it also examines the nature of truth and has great literary references. Cassandra's hippie mother named her after a Greek goddess who had the power to predict the future, but was cursed in that no one would believe her. Similarly, Cassie likes to visit the practically extinct ivory-billed woodpecker deep in a state park in the Santa Monica mountains, but no one at the university believes her. (Discussion questions are available on the book's website.)

Kaufman and Mack cited The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose as one of their sources for information about the ivory billed woodpeckers. I love nonfiction that was written for children (grades 5 - 8 in this case, although at BHPL the book is upstairs in adult nonfiction) so I checked it out. The Race to Save the Lord God Bird is full of photos, drawings and really interesting sidebars (such as, James Audubon thought the Bald Eagle tasted like veal.) It's a wide-ranging 160 pages or so, and an interesting look at American History as it affected birds (such as the Plume War of the early 1900s and the Southern logging boom during Reconstruction).

After decades of being presumed extinct (and after The Race to Save the Lord God Bird was published), the ivory-billed woodpecker was spotted in Arkansas in 2004, although ornithologists debate whether it was the ivory-billed woodpecker, or the similar looking pileated woodpecker. You can watch videos (including the first one ever of the bird, taken in 1934) of the gigantic (3 feet wing span) and gorgeous ivory-billed woodpecker at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Autumn Reading

We've all heard the expression "beach reads", but is there an equivalent for the fall? If there were such a category, it might include books that counteract the busy-ness of the back-to-school/holidays-are-looming-season and the gloominess of shortened days with the desire to curl up inside with something not too serious. Here's my list for the new category - Fall Reads: funny, warm, fuzzy, inspiring, or short, from the New Fiction shelf:
David Sedaris, the very quirky humorist's latest book is squirrel seeks chipmunk, a modest bestiary, animal tales for the modern age - these stories fall into the short and funny category.

Lynne Hinton (Friendship Cake) is back with Wedding Cake and Christmas Cake which reunities readers and Hinton fans with the ladies of Hope Springs, North Carolina. If you like Jan Karon's Mitford series or Phillip Gulley's Harmony series about village life centered around church activities, you might want to add Hinton to your must read list.

Anne Lamott's latest, Imperfect Birds, a coming of age/family story is described as in the jacket blurbs as "A heartbreaker and a heart-mender." (Martin Cruz Smith) Lamott falls into the inspirational category.

Susan Wittig Albert, author of the China Bayles (herb farm)  and the Beatrix Potter mysteries, has a new series about the Darling Dahlias, a garden club in Alabama whose members solve mysteries. The first title is The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber
Tree. Albert's books are in the "cozy" mystery genre.

And finally, what could be shorter and more seasonally appropriate than a collection of holiday short stories? Editor Otto Penzler brings us Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, a compilation of the seasonal stories commissioned by Mr. Penzler to hand out to his bookshop customers.
Related links: The Mysterious Bookshop, The Darling Dahlias, Lynne Hinton, David Sedaris on the Daily Show, Anne Lamott's website.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Unveiling BHPL's New Web Site

BHPL's new web site went live late last night! The web site address is still (If you use bookmarks or favorites, you will need to bookmark or favorite the new site.)

The "Books, CDs & DVDs" column on the right side links to anything you can take home from the library or view online using the library's subscription. Whether you want to browse BHPL's newly arrived books, request an interlibrary loan, read an article from the Star-Ledger archives from home, or download an eBook or audiobook, Books, CDs & DVDs is where you would look.

Under the "Events" column, also on the right side of the page, the new calendar lists all of the library's events in one spot. BHPL's newsletter, The Buzz, is in the same column. If you prefer a list of events, check out the programs for adults or the children's page.

And that's about it. We tried to make it simple. If that didn't cover what you're looking for, look under About, or use the search box in the bottom right corner.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On Agate Hill by Lee Smith

Dear Diary, This book belongs to me Molly Petree age thirteen today May 20 in the year of our Lord 1872, Agate Hill, North Carolina. I am an orphan girl. This is my own book of my own self given to me by the preachers wife Nora Gwyn who said, This little diary is for you my dear unfortunate child, to be your friend and confi dent, to share all your thoughts and deepest secrets for I know how much you need a friend and also how much you love to read and write. I do believe you have a natural gift for it. Now it is my special hope that you will set down upon these pages your own memories of your lovely mother and your brave father, and of your three brothers as well, and of all that has befallen you. For I believe this endeavor might help you, Molly Petree. So I urge you to take pen in hand commencing your diary with these words, Thy will be done O Lord on Earth as it is in Heaven, Amen. Well, I have not done this! And I will not do it either no matter how much I love pretty Nora Gwyn who looks like a lady on a fancy plate and has taught me such few lessons as I have had since Aunt Fannie died. NO for I mean to write in secrecy and stelth the truth as I see it. I know I am a spitfire and a burden. I do not care. My family is a dead family, and this is not my home, for I am a refugee girl.

So begins On Agate Hill by Lee Smith, a collection of fictional diaries, letters and court documents that take the reader from a plantation and a girl's boarding school during Reconstruction, to an Appalachian one-room schoolhouse, to finally the Confederados of Brazil who fled the South after the Civil War. These documents are all discovered at Agate Hill, now a B & B run by the transgendered father of Tuscany Miller, former beauty pageant contestant and would-be graduate student of documentary studies. To fully enjoy the book, don't let its piecemeal (others would say "patchwork quilt") quality bother you - give yourself over to the distinctive voices of the writers of the letters and diaries.

The evening book group is reading On Agate Hill for its discussion on November 9. has published the book's discussion questions. You can listen to an interview Smith had with North Carolina Public Radio WUNC here. Lee Smith writes on her web site about how she was inspired to write On Agate Hill. There are links to reviews on her On Agate Hill page too. Blackbird, an online literary journal out of Virginia Commonwealth University, has a good article about the multiplicity of speakers in Lee Smith's novels.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney

Berkeley Heights resident Ted Behne is the editor of The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, 1887-1890, recently published by the Canadian publisher Goose Lane. Tappan Adney was an American whose summer vacation in 1887 turned into a lifelong love affair with Canada. His writings, illustrations, and photographs were published in Harper's Weekly magazine over his lifetime. Adney's book, The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, helped save the birchbark canoe from oblivion. Adney was also the first person to attempt to defend a native person in a Canadian court based on the treaties the British made with the natives in colonial times. At age 13 and 14, he carried a full course load at the University of North Carolina, and later on he could charm birds and squirrels to eat out of his hand by imitating their sounds.

In 1887, at the age of 18, Tappan Adney embarked on his first trip to New Brunswick, Canada and fell under the spell of its wilderness and the Maliseet people. Adney recorded his wilderness adventures in his journals through evocative sketches and memorable prose, including a caribou hunt decades before their extinction in that area.

Ted Behne's interest in Adney began when he attended a birchbark canoe-building class. Behne's articles on the birchbark canoe and Tappan Adney have appeared in Native Peoples, Prairies North, Wooden Canoe and Wooden Boat magazines. You may have seen the birchbark canoe models that Ted Behne made on display at BHPL in February 2009.

Ted Behne will speak about the book and the colorful life of its author, Tappan Adney at BHPL on Wednesday, December 8 at 7 p.m. Signed copies of The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, 1887-1890 will be available after the talk. You can register here or at the library.

Friday, October 29, 2010

NaNoWriMo: an excuse to write

Many thanks to New Jersey author and BHPL blog contributor Robert J. Daniher for this post about National Novel Writing Month.

Attention wannabe novelists! November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month; a push encouraging people to write a 50,000 word rough draft throughout the month. The idea is to write around 1,600 words a day. It can be a difficult undertaking but, also a tremendously exciting one. Imagine the sense of pride in completing a novel in 30 days.

Now, I know what you’re all thinking: “I’ve got a house to clean, a job to go to. There’s no time to write.” But, even the most accomplished novelists had a day job with responsibilities when they first put pen to paper. And if they could make the time, so can you. The best part of NaNoWriMo is that it’s strictly up to you how you proceed with the challenge. There’s no prize for winning and no punishment for losing. It simply encourages you to write every day. Trying to write 1,600 words a day will certainly park your rear in a chair for at least 30 minutes. If you’re only able to put down 200 words in one sitting, it’s 200 more than you did the day before. And that’s an accomplishment. If you carve out 30 minutes a day; as soon as you wake up in the morning or just before you go to bed, by the end of the month writing will become a habit in your life. And after a few weeks, your 200 words a day might become 2,000 words day.

So what if you only write a few thousand words by the end of the month instead of 50,000. That’s still more than you would have written had you not challenged yourself. Just taking that first step is a chance to embark on a journey you always wanted to, and it might be a defining moment in your writing career.

Robert J. Daniher


Related websites: National Novel Writing Month

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

College on a CD

Rainy fall days like this remind me of the beginning of the semester in college, when you poured over the course catalog (do they even still print those anymore?) dreaming of what classes you'd take. In that spirit I offer you BHPL's "course catalog" of Teaching Company courses that the library owns on CD. It's like college, but without the tests and papers. Each lecture is only half an hour and is taught by professors selected by the Teaching Company for their "award-winning teaching abilities, their profound insights into their respective fields and their ability to instill in students the sheer joy of learning." Hmm, what to pick first? Broadway musicals, or the joy of science? Shakespeare, or Books that made history?

Argumentation: the study of effective reasoning
The great ideas of philosophy
Great minds of the Western intellectual tradition
No excuses : existentialism & the meaning of life
Philosophy as a guide to living

American ideals : founding a "Republic of Virtue"
The Age of Henry VIII
Between the rivers.: the history of ancient Mesopotamia
Books that have made history : books that can change your life
The Era of the Crusades
European thought and culture in the 19th century
Famous Greeks.
Famous Romans.
From Yao to Mao : 5000 years of Chinese history
Great battles of the ancient world
Great pharaohs of ancient Egypt
The history of ancient Rome
A history of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts
A history of freedom
The history of the United States
The Italians before Italy : conflict and competition in the Mediterranean
King Arthur and chivalry
Medieval heroines in history and legend
Mr. Lincoln: the life of Abraham Lincoln
The Peloponnesian War
Rome and the barbarians
The United States and the Middle East, 1914 to 9/11
The Vikings
The wisdom of history
The world of Byzantium
World War I, the "Great War"

St. Augustine's confessions
The book of Genesis
Great figures of the New Testament
Great figures of the Old Testament
Great World Religions. Buddhism
Great world religions. Christianity
Great world religions. Hinduism
Great world religions. Islam
Great world religions. Judaism
Introduction to Judaism
Jewish intellectual history: 16th to 20th century
The story of the Bible.

Beethoven's piano sonatas
Concert masterworks
The concerto
Great American music : Broadway musicals
Great masters. Brahms, his life & music
Great masters. Haydn, his life & music
Great masters. Liszt, his life & music
Great masters. Mahler, his life & music
Great masters. Mozart, his life & music
Great masters. Robert & Clara Schumann, their lives and music
Great masters. Shostakovich, his life & music
Great masters. Stravinsky, his life & music
Great masters. Tchaikovsky, his life & music
How to listen to & understand great music
How to listen to and understand opera
The operas of Mozart
The symphonies of Beethoven
The symphony
Understanding the fundamentals of music

Biological anthropology : an evolutionary perspective
Biology : the science of life
Earth's changing climate
Einstein's relativity and the quantum revolution : modern physics for non-scientists
The history of science: 1700-1900
History of science : antiquity to 1700
The joy of science
Science in the twentieth century: a social-intellectual survey
The theory of evolution : a history of controversy

Classics of American literature
Classics of Russian literature
The English novel
How to read and understand poetry
The life and writings of C. S. Lewis
The lives and works of the English Romantic poets
Machiavelli in context
Masterpieces of short fiction
Shakespeare: the word and the action
William Shakespeare : comedies, histories, and tragedies

A history of the English language
The story of human language

If you'd like to take a course with assignments and interaction with your professor and classmates, try Universal Class, which offers continuing ed classes in over 500 topics. Go to and click Remote Databases to get to Universal Class.

Friday, October 22, 2010

D.I.Y. Friday

Browsing the non-fiction shelves turned up these three do it yourself (D.I.Y.) crafts books.
Sue Havens' Make Your Own Toys, sew soft bears, bunnies, monkey, puppies and more! makes me remember the sock monkeys of my childhood. You could make one of the Simple Gifts, 50 Little Luxuries to craft, sew, cook & knit by Jennifer Worick in time for the holidays. Make it Wild! 101 things to make and do outdoors by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield includes projects for ice lanterns, tie dying, go cars, natural paints and more.
Related websites:

A personal favorite of mine: The Crappy Crafters Be sure to leave comments about your own 'interesting' crafting attempts.
Or if you try to make some crappy crafts and make an awful mess instead, just post it on or read about others at CraftFail the brainchild, or maybe evil stepcraftingchild, of Heather Mann, creator of Dollar Store Crafts.

OK, blogophiles, you've got the whole weekend, get crafting or just lie on the sofa and peruse these and other arts and crafts books from BHPL. I know what my plan is.

PS: if you really have time to kill, Google 'sock monkey' and you will be amazed at the cult of sock monkeys that exists on the internet.

OK, that's all, folks. Happy Crafting!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Little Bee, published as The Other Hand in the U.K., tells the story of Sarah, an English fashion magazine editor, and Little Bee, a refugee from Nigeria, whose lives collide on a beach in Africa. Sarah, married to Andrew, a foreign affairs journalist, is bored with her upper middle class life, bored with her husband,  and feels guilty about the affair she has been having with Lawrence, a civil servant hack from the Home Office. So Sarah proposes an exotic vacation to Nigeria, a completely arbitrary choice made mostly because she received free tickets to go there and because she fancies herself as someone who does daring and different things while on vacation.
A quick Google search finds the October 19, 2010 U.S. State Department travel alert advising that non-essential travel to Nigeria is not recommended:  "Violent crime committed by individuals and gangs, as well as by persons wearing police and military uniforms, remains a problem throughout the country." However, Sarah did not "Google" Nigeria and seems unaware of the dangers; she thinks a trip will heal her marriage. The pivotal event of the book occurs when Sarah and her husband have ventured out of the safe hotel compound to the beach where they encounter soldiers searching for two girls who have witnessed atrocities related to the destruction of their family and home because there is oil beneath the ground of their village. The reader learns that violence and corruption arising from the oil-based economy have plagued the country , even though officially Nigeria is regarded as a relatively democratic and thriving African nation.
The soldiers on the beach demand that Andrew cut off a finger with their machete in order to save the girls. What would you do? Andrew declines the bargain, Sarah chops off her own finger and the soldiers march  off with the girls anyway. Two years later, the younger sister, Little Bee, shows up at Andrew and Sarah's home outside London.
The story is told in the alternating voice of Little Bee and Sarah and the truth, or details, of that day on the beach is gradually revealed, as is the story of the two horrifying years Little Bee spent in a British detention center for refugees. The reader learns about the awful conditions in these centers filled with desperate people suffering from post-traumatic shock.
The story of Little Bee sets up so many moral dilemmas that exist in the relationship between wealthy countries and the developing world and how those moral choices can play out between individuals that this book is a very good choice for a reading group to discuss.
To learn more about the problems caused by oil drilling in Nigeria, author Chris Cleave's website  links to sites that show the human and ecological cost of oil exploration. Cleave recommends the website, The Global Detention Project for further study of the plight of international refugees.
Despite its serious subject matter, the book Little Bee does not take a scolding, moralistic tone and there is humor in the irony of the situations the characters find themselves in.

Revolution '67

In July of 1967, 26 citizens of Newark died after the police beating of John Smith, a black cab driver, ignited 6 days of rioting. It was one of the most deadly racial disturbances on a per capita basis in U.S. history. On Tuesday, October 26 at 6:30 p.m., BHPL will screen an award-winning documentary, Revolution '67, which not only reconstructs the riots but goes back into Newark's history to discover its roots. Revolution '67 was selected for the PBS documentary series P.O.V. and attracted more than a million TV viewers when it aired earlier this year.
From the POV site:
Revolution ‘67 reveals how the disturbances began as spontaneous revolts against poverty and police brutality and ended as fateful milestones in America's struggles over race and economic justice. Voices from across the spectrum — activists Tom Hayden and Amiri Baraka, journalist Bob Herbert, Mayor Sharpe James, and other officials, National Guardsmen and Newark citizens — recall lessons as hard-earned then as they have been easy to neglect since.
Revolution '67's filmmakers, Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno and Jerome Bongiorno, will attend the screening at BHPL. Dr. Mark Krasovic, the Geraldine R. Dodge Postdoctoral Fellow at Rutgers-Newark's Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience, will lead a public discussion afterward. This program is funded by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, through its series "Justice: a Dialogue Through Film."

This program is free and open to all. Registration is recommended. Light refreshments will be served.

UPDATE: The discussion of Revolution '67 at BHPL was filmed by HomeTowne TV (channel 36). We're at minute 22.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cleaving: a Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession by Julie Powell

Perhaps you've seen Julie and Julia, the movie Nora Ephron made out of Julie Powell's book about making all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. If so, you probably think of Julie as sweet and happily married, like so:

Um, you might want to toss that picture out the window. In fact, I suspect Cleaving was Julie's horrified reaction at being typecast as a romantic comedy heroine by most of America when she is actually one of those blogger-foodie New York hipsters.

Cleaving is about the Julie's months of apprenticeship as a butcher in upstate New York, followed by an around-the-world trip to Argentina, Ukraine and Tanzania to study their local meat and butchering customs.

While she's cutting up animals and getting covered in "schmutz" and blood, she reflects on her two year affair & obsession with a man who isn't her husband. Her marriage to her high school sweetheart stifles her, but is such an essential part of her that she can't leave it. Hence the title of the book, Cleaving, which means two contradictory things at once: "to separate" and "to hold together and resist separation." (Thanks, Visual Thesaurus.) Plus, it's what butchers do. It's the most perfectly titled book ever.

I enjoyed rooting for Powell to find an apprenticeship, the banter between her and her fellow butchers at the butcher shop, the details of the butchering process (the parts that didn't gross me out, at least) and the round-the-world trip to find herself in the second half. However, some of the book is tough to read - her obsession with her former lover and what sounds like masochism. Take that, Nora Ephron.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

I've wanted to read Chris Bohjalian ever since I heard him speak at a library conference in 2008. He admitted to folding laundry while talking on the phone to book groups, which won a place in my heart (the fact that he's so accessible to book groups, of course. Don't all men fold laundry?)

The other reason I wanted to read The Double Bind is because it's shot through with F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. I still get shivery when I read the end of The Great Gatsby:
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning----

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The heroine of The Double Bind is a young social worker who used to swim at a Long Island country club that was formerly Jay Gatsby's estate. Then one of her homeless shelter's clients dies and leaves behind old photos, including some of Daisy's house.

The Double Bind is like a box that you can't neatly shut when you've finished reading it. You'll find yourself flipping through it again, realizing there's more layers to the story to discover.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Traveler by Ron McLarty

The library evening book group will discuss Ron McLarty's Traveler on Tuesday night at 7:30 pm. Traveler, actor and author McLarty's second novel, has lived up to expectations of readers and critics after his critically acclaimed The Memory of Running.

The plot: middle-aged and middling part-time actor and bartender, Jono Riley returns to his working-class hometown of East Providence, Rhode Island, when he hears of the death of Marie, a childhood friend. A bullet left in Marie's body after a random and unsolved shooting in her childhood traveled to an artery and killed her in her sleep. Jono travels home to find that his gang of friends, now dispersed or dead, have changed. Narrated in the first person, Jono's memories of growing up are interwoven with the present day trip. During his visit, Jono and retired policeman Kenny Snowden solve the cases of the unsolved shooting of Marie and several other local unsolved shootings.  

The beauty of this book, as with Art in America, the only other McLarty novel I've read, is in the voice of the narrator. Jono Riley's story is told in a conversational style that just flows like someone who can hold a group of friends spellbound with his storytelling ability. The mystery in the plot certainly holds the readers interest, but I felt that the trip down memory lane, revisiting old haunts, remembering old friends from highschool, re-experiencing the old neighborhood and the remaining parents of old friends, all of these things most people will relate to. So many people leave home after highschool graduation and really never live at home again, that the experience of trying to recapture the old days is almost universal. I don't know how it feels to be one of the people who stay in the hometown, but for everyone else, the nostalgia that comes with leaving home will resonate.
Jono Riley after helping Officer Snowden uncover a cache of guns in the old priest's trunk wonders:
"Standing alone, some wind whipping around and gray clouds rolling in, I felt it seemed to be the perfect time to ask myself what the hell I was doing here. Rhode Island. East Providence. The bartender/actor sinking in memories and mysteries...I remain essentially a child of the working class, seeking at the very least a modicum of order." (158) Jono Riley decides he needs to go back to New York City, his girlfriend, his present-day life to get his life in order.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

Change is usually thrown around with two of my least favorite words - "empower" and "embrace". But Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard was a refreshing change from the blathering that I feared. The basic premise is that you can harness the strengths of your rational side, your emotional side, and your environment, depending on which is most useful in achieving your goal. The authors call this "directing the rider," "harnessing the elephant" and "shaping the path." The tone is light and the authors tell the stories of both individuals and corporations who have made major changes that stuck, thrown in with lots of interesting psychological studies. You can read excerpts here.

One of the most inspiring stories was the case of Save the Children, which illustrates the authors' strategy of "identifying the bright spots" - one of the ways you can "direct the rider". The charity had opened a one-person office in Vietnam in 1990 to fight malnutrition, but was only given 6 months by the government to prove itself. Jerry Sternin of Save the Children asked women in certain villages to collect information on the children in their villages. They found that some children thrived despite growing up in the same economic circumstances as everyone else. Their mothers were feeding them - hand-feeding them - smaller meals more often, and supplementing their diets with wild shrimp, crabs and sweet potato greens that they collected themselves. Save the Children could then create mothers' groups in lots of villages to spread the information. Six months later, 65% of the children in the original village were better nourished.

Switch is available in nonfiction at 303.4 HEA.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The War of the Worlds

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles narrated and broadcast the radio version of H.G. Wells' novel of Martian invasion, The War of the Worlds. Terror ensued when people mistook the broadcast for news and thought aliens were landing in Grover's Mill, New Jersey.

Henry Morse, the Old-Time Radio Man, will replay the original radio drama here at BHPL on Tuesday, October 5 at 7 p.m. and recount the dramatic events that followed. (You may remember him from last year when he played an episode of The Shadow.) This program is free and open to the public. You can register here.

If you can't make it to the program, you can also read about The War of the Worlds phenomenon in a couple of children's books: Aliens are Coming! (J 791.44 McC) and The Night the Martians Landed (J 791.44 KRU). And there's a DVD called The War of the Worlds: an Historical Perspective of the H.G. Wells Classic Book (located at DVD WAR).

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rainy Day Reading

Rainy days conjure up a picture of a cozy armchair with a good reading light, a dog at your feet and a book in hand. Here's a list of books to escape into on this very wet day in New Jersey:
I Captured the Castle by Dodie Smith. I just read this 1949 coming of age memoir which is written in the form of a journal by 17 year old Cassandra who lives in a decaying castle with her eccentric family. It's beautifully written, witty, nostalgic. I spent the first weeks of September starting, and then giving up on, several new books and finally pulled this old paperback off my pile of books-I-intend-to-read-someday. This was an antidote to the bad writing that is so pervasive in books these days. I recommend it for readers who like stories of between-the-wars England.

Jeeves in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse. Having enjoyed one book from my pile of "to reads", I turned to my pile of "re-readables", and selected my all-time favorite author, P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse's iconic gentleman's gentleman, Jeeves, and his bumbling employer, Bertie Wooster, head out to the country town of Steeple Bumpleigh, lair of his dreaded Aunt Agatha, for misadventures and misunderstandings that only Jeeves can fix. Also published as Joy in the Morning, this is one of the Master's funniest books with hilarious wordplay on every page.

For "mini-reviews" of the Jeeves books, take a look at Lenny Ng's page.

Other rainy day titles:
At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie - solve a crime with Miss Marple as she visits London.
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot - enjoy life on the Yorkshire Dales with this country vet's memoirs.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson - the author recalls growing up in the Midwest in the 1950's.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

This Friday morning at 10:30 a.m. the library's morning book group will discuss The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I had always assumed the snatches I caught on TV of the movie would be sufficient until I got around to reading it - which was complete idiocy. Readers who have been lollygagging around since 1992 must go and read this Booker prize winner now. The New York Times review of The English Patient, "Glorious But Impossible Loves" by Judith Grossman, describes the situation that brings the four main characters together best:
One of the uncalculated effects of World War II was the way it turned a generation of young people, conscripts and volunteers, into global explorers without a guidebook. Military orders might with equal unconcern drop a London clerk into the presence of Mount Everest . . Or, as vividly described in Michael Ondaatje's novel of the war in Europe, "The English Patient," a young Sikh from the Punjab into Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, on a bomb-disposal mission at night.

In addition to Kip, the Sikh combat engineer, the other "explorers without guidebooks" who are brought together after the war in a bombed-out Italian villa, are:

Hana, a shellshocked Canadian nurse; her burn patient, Almasy, an explorer of the Sahara; and Caravaggio, the Canadian thief-turned-spy who knew Hana as a child. Hana and Caravaggio are also in Ondaatje's previous novel In the Skin of a Lion, whose main character is Patrick, Hana's father. has an excellent article that compares the book with the Oscar-winning movie. Kip, who was my favorite character for his absolute refusal to get ruffled about anything, even a bomb that might be about to go off, isn't an important part of the movie. The historically accurate details in the novel about how continually changing bombs were defused were fascinating.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the idea of the English patient papering over the parts of Herodotus that he didn't want to reread and wrote notes on those pages - Juliette referred to it as his "commonplace book". If you were to carry one book around with you for the rest of your life, and used some of its pages as your own journal/notebook, which book would you choose?

Discussion questions for the book are available here and here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Eddie and the Cruisers by P.F. Kluge

If you were born before 1970 and you're from Jersey, you've probably heard of the 1983 cult classic Eddie and the Cruisers. In it, Ellen Barkin plays a TV reporter investigating the mysterious death of musician Eddie Wilson and the search for his band's second album, which disappeared from the vaults of Satin Records the day after Eddie's alleged death. (Thank you, Wikipedia, for that summary.) Michael Pare plays the Springsteen-esque Eddie and Tom Berenger played the band's song writer and keyboard player. BHPL will be screening Eddie and the Cruisers tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2 p.m. in anticipation of the P.F. Kluge reading of the book it was based on, which is the next night at 7 p.m.
P.F. Kluge and Tom Berenger

"Yes, this is a novel about sex, drugs, rock and roll and the caesura. How could one not love it?" is what Sherman Alexie says about Eddie and the Cruisers in his introduction. On his website, P.F. Kluge calls Eddie and the Cruisers
a fictional examination of my weakness — lifelong weakness — for the songs of my youth. Hits come and go, the products of a season; but they return — sometimes, they seduce and reproach. The novel is set in New Jersey, much of it in Vineland where I had a summer job on the town newspaper in 1962. The novel and the film have been described as a rock and roll Citizen Kane. To this, I do not object.

So come watch the movie on Wednesday at 2 p.m. or come to the reading on Thursday at 7 p.m.!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Career and College Guidance Online at the Library

The Berkeley Heights Public Library subscribes to Facts on File databases which include history, science and literature materials for students as well as a newly upgraded career and college guidance section.
The latest update to Ferguson's Career Guidance Center includes a database of more than 4,000 undergraduate institutions and a wealth of valuable new career information.
BHPL patrons may search the database for schools based on a number of factors--such as admissions difficulty, curriculum offerings, housing options, location and setting, student body, and tuition--to identify ones that best match their career aspirations, educational needs, and personal preferences. All schools included have full accreditation or are pre-accredited and grant degrees at the associate's and/or bachelor's level. College data is provided by Peterson's, a leading producer of educational databases and planning information.
The newly updated career section of Ferguson's brings a wealth of essential new job information. Users will find concise, helpful tips and practical, real-world ideas from career and image expert Sue Morem on everything from how to maintain a professional image to how to balance life and work priorities and keep a positive attitude when times get rough. Those who aspire to a career in the food and beverage industry, the sports industry, or travel and hospitality will find many new job profiles added on these popular fields. New career profiles include: caterer, health club manager, sommelier.

All databases should be accessed through the library's homepage "Remote Databases" link where you will be prompted to enter your library barcode number and pin. Call the Reference Desk if you have questions. (908) 464-9333

For more career help, try Universal Class, also available from our Remote Databases link. Universal Class offers dozens of online classes for free which can earn students Continuing Education Credits.