Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The eBooks Have Landed

Nook and Sony Reader owners (with a Berkeley Heights Public Library card) can get eBooks for free from the library now! If you prefer, you can also just read the eBooks on a regular computer screen. Go to ListenNJ.com to choose from hundreds of eBook titles, both fiction and nonfiction. After you check out an eBook (you might have to join the waiting list if the eBook is currently checked out), follow ListenNJ's directions for downloading Adobe Digital Editions onto your computer.

If you'd like to transfer the eBook to your Nook or Sony Reader, you'll also need to follow the directions for activating Adobe Digital Editions and your eReader with an Adobe ID, and transferring the eBook to your device. The eBooks check out for 7 or 10 days (your choice), and unfortunately don't work on Kindles.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Funny in Farsi

Funny in Farsi, a memoir of growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas (2004) is a small book at only 198 pages, which is on the Governor Livingston High School summer reading list. I have recommended it many times to desperate students in late August and finally decided to read it myself. I'm glad I did. I can now recommend this warm-hearted account of the author's family and their experience as immigrants in 1970's U.S. where most Americans could not even find Iran on a map. Ms. Dumas comes across as a delightful person with a natural wit. The book is now being made into an ABC television series, so you should read it now before the show airs and either ruins the book or creates great demand for it.

Recommended highly for middle school age through adult.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Author Visit: Robert Daniher, part 3

We continue our conversation with N.J. author Robert Daniher.
BHPL: the question that I see in most author interviews is: when do you write, what routines do you find helpful?

Bob: This is a very good question because I find that every writer I’ve met has a slightly different answer for this. Many writers say that the morning is the best time to write, but I find that I do most of my writing at night. It’s quiet and dark and it usually feels like the prime time to concoct murder and mayhem. Sometimes writing until 2 or 3am. But lately I’ve been writing throughout the day as the muse strikes. That’s very important, go with the flow. This is very difficult for people due to our typically busy lives. But writing is also a discipline. Self-discipline is a very important trait in a writer. You must find the time of day which works best for you, if that’s in the morning before work or a night before bed. Or maybe even during a lunch break. As much time as you can dedicate to it is worth it, but try and get up to an hour if you can. Then try and stick to that time every day. Don’t take off Saturdays or Sundays. Some days you will find yourself struggling while other days you will feel words flow out of you like a waterfall. Those are the moments you are writing for. And once you get one of those days you have to stay with it and don’t stop until you are tapped out for the day. Fit writing into your day at some point every day and eventually it will become like an illicit love affair you just can’t say no to.

BHPL: That sounds like good advice. The other most frequently asked question: where do you get your ideas? And in a related question: do you keep a journal to jot down ideas?

Bob: Many writers I meet hate this question. But I think it’s a legitimate one. Like I said in our last post, ideas come from everywhere. Everyday experiences can bring about great inspiration for a story. You can be sitting in a cafĂ© and overhear someone else’s conversation and that could spark a ‘what if’ scenario in your mind. Or maybe you saw something suspicious across the street while walking your dog. Jot it down and maybe you can get a murder out of it. My story ‘BallPoint’ was a detective story based in 1940’s Newark, NJ. I got the idea from conversations I had with my Grandfather about growing up in Newark. He wasn’t a detective, but you only need a spark and then you make the rest up.
I’m glad you asked about the journal too because this is a big one with me. I began carrying a small pocket notebook a few years ago and it has become my closest friend. I can share my deepest secrets with it and never worry about it telling anyone. You can’t say that for many real friends, I’ll tell you that. The reason it’s a good idea to carry one is because you never know when inspiration may strike. You may not have the time to sit down for a full writing session at that time so you can jot your idea, sentence, title, whatever in your notebook and go back to it later. I’m very particular about my notebook too. It has to be small. Women are lucky. They can carry a purse around to put a notebook in. Men only have pockets, so the smaller the better. It also has to be sturdy with tight binding. You don’t want the pages to fall out. Spiral rings are no good. Really good quality pocket notebooks run anywhere from 5 to 10 dollars or more. But believe me, they are worth it.
BHPL: Bob, thanks again for visiting the BHPL blog.To our readers: Bob will be back in the coming weeks with some more observations about the writing life.

Related Weblink:
Link to the Mr. Daniher's visits on this blog: Robert Daniher

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Belated Valentine

It's a little late to be reviewing Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani, but this book goes well with any leftover chocolate you may have. Valentine Roncalli is 33 and lives and works with her grandmother in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, where the family business of handmaking wedding shoes has continued since 1903. She's dating a chef who owns a restaurant in Little Italy, and all would be well except that the mortgage on their building is coming due, and they have no way to pay it off. If she doesn't come up with a way to buy the building and the business from her grandmother, the building will be sold by Valentine's brother and she'll have to go back to teaching English to high school students in Queens.

I was expecting standard chick lit, especially since the first chapter is a wedding reception featuring relentless banter between the members of the Roncalli family. But Adriana Trigiani went to Italy to research how shoes are crafted, and it shows in the details. She was also inspired by the story of her grandfather, Carlo Bonicelli, who was a shoemaker who dreamed of designing his own shoes. Valentine's stories of growing up Italian in Queens in the 80s make it a bit weightier than most books that have lipstick on the cover.

This is the first of a trilogy; the second one, Brava Valentine, just came out.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Olympic Dreams

In real life I prefer drinking hot chocolate to being outdoors in freezing temperatures, but if reality were not an issue, today I would:

1. Turn into a figure skating princess . . .
2. Snowboard fearlessly . . .
3. Explore Vancouver's Chinatown in the 1930s and 40s . . .
4. Go to that 1980 hockey game between the US and USSR . . .

Friday, February 12, 2010

Burning Questions

Some of the real, burning questions we've been asked this week.

Q) What time is it in Fiji right now? I need to call a friend who is on vacation there.

A) TimeandDate.com has world clocks. To figure out a time that won't involve either party waking up in the middle of the night, use their World Clock Meeting Planner.

Q) How do I find information on a private company in New Jersey? I've already looked at ReferenceUSA.

A) ReferenceUSA was a good place to start (get to it via the library's Remote Databases). While you're on BHPL's database page, look the company up in the Star-Ledger and Custom Newspapers to see if the company has been mentioned in any news articles.

Corfacts is a directory for New Jersey businesses in the BHPL reference collection. Each state also has an online corporations database, which will at least tell you when the business was incorporated and by whom (some states, including NJ, charge a fee). You can also check the Better Business Bureau to see if the business has any complaints.

Q) I'm the executor of a will. What do I need to do next?

A) BHPL has a book called The Executor's Handbook by Theodore Hughes. Guiding Those Left Behind in New Jersey by Amelia Pohl is also another book to look at. Some helpful websites: this page from the Social Security Administration and this page from Union County.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Author Visit: Robert Daniher, part 2: the writing life

On January 25, author, Robert Daniher stopped by the blog to discuss the writing life. Today we continue that conversation.

BHPL: When asked for help by aspiring authors, reference librarians almost always recommend the Writers' Market, a reference book that has lists of publishers and agents and information about how to submit a manuscript. How did you learn how to format your manuscript and other technicalities of the profession?

Bob: A former screenwriting professor referred me to The Writers’ Market when I was in college. It was the first place I started looking for those answers myself and I still use it today. It's probably the most comprehensive publication out there for writers. It also comes in various separate editions for specific genres. They publish yearly volumes specifically for Poetry, Short Fiction as well as Novels. But when you are preparing a submission to a magazine or publishing house it's always advisable to double check with their website for the latest submission guidelines. Publishers can change them in between new editions of Writer's Market. I also advise people to look for any classes or seminars in their local areas where they might meet authors or editors who can offer tips for cover letters and manuscript formats. Libraries have author visits all the time. So look around and you might find something in your area. Another great thing to do is attend writing conferences. They usually have an attendance fee, but they are also worth it if you can afford them. You can learn a lot of tips and tricks from published authors as well as network with them. They hold them annually all over the state and country. NJ has a few. An organization called "Sisters In Crime" has a NJ chapter that has yearly writing weekends in NJ. Their website has information. I frequently attend the "Deadly Ink" conference each summer in Parsippany. They have a terrific mystery conference full of well-know authors. But they also cater to aspiring writers and offer many great panel discussions directed to them.

BHPL: I also point patrons who ask for help with writing in the direction of a magazine we get called the Writer and to various websites. Have you found any particular websites or publications useful?

Bob: Over the last 10 years or so there have been many sites on the Internet that also have up to date information on what format editors prefer. There is a great one at: http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html There are also a host of magazines in addition to The Writer that offer a wealth of information to writers to help with composing a solid cover letter, and what exactly editors are looking for with a submission. Writer’s Digest is another great magazine that covers all kinds of how-to information. I read both Writer’s Digest and The Writer regularly. Don’t be discouraged if most of the articles you read are targeted toward more advanced writers, however. They do feature plenty of material for beginners. You can check most of them out at your local library. Most libraries carry one or the other. It’s a great way to decide if you want to subscribe.

BHPL: Our conversation with Bob will continue next week. BHPL carries the Writer Magazine and the reference book, The Writer's Market (REF 070.5025 WRI). The latest copy is in the Reference Collection and last year's circulates. Back issues of The Writer circulate.

Mr. Langshaw's Square Piano

Some readers love huge, open-ended novels whose meaning can be debated with their book group, historical fiction in which history and invention are entangled together. I'm not that adventurous. What I'm really loving now is Mr. Langshaw's Square Piano by Madeline Goold. This is a short nonfiction book that tells the story of a Broadwood "square piano" (one of the early piano fortes) which Goold discovered in a severely neglected state at an auction.

While her piano is being restored, Goold traces its history in the Broadwood family archives back to Mr. Langshaw, a music teacher in the north of England. Pianos were becoming accessible to all social classes in the early 1800s; Broadwood ledgers show pianos being sent to marchionesses, military men and women with suspiciously fake names like Mrs. Go to bed (brothel owners, perhaps? Goold doesn't say.) I haven't quite gotten to the story of Mr. Langshaw yet. He studied in London with Charles Wesley, the younger brother of the founder of the Methodist religious movement. There is also a good bit on the history of the Broadwood family.

The book's website has sound clips of music of the time being played on Mr. Langshaw's newly restored piano. You can also look at photographs, portraits and primary documents like one of Mrs. Langshaw's grocery lists.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Questions of the Day

Q: My friend and I have a bet about who ran the fastest mile in 1948 or 1949. My friend says it's Roger Bannister and I can't remember the name of the guy who I think it was. His nickname was the Flying Preacher and he was from Kansas.

A: The name this person was looking for was Glenn Cunningham, a.k.a. the Kansas Flyer (although we still have no idea if he ran the fastest mile in 1948). Cunningham's legs were burned in a fire at age 8. His parents refused amputation and it took Glenn two years to even try to walk again.

How I found this:
I had no luck with almanacs or googling "Flying Preacher", so I looked at the Wikipedia page Mile Run World Record Progression and scanned for Americans in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Glenn Cunningham was the 1934 record holder. I clicked on his name and his nickname, the Kansas Flyer, jumped out at me. (Roger Bannister is the first person to run a mile in less than 4 minutes, if you're wondering).

Q: I have friend requests on Facebook from high school classmates who definitely weren't my friends back then. Did they really friend me or is this computer-generated based on mutual friends?

A: They really do want to be your friend now. Or your Facebook friend, at least.

Q: When did it snow here in January?

A: Last Thursday, January 28. You can go to weather.com and type in your zip code, then click on Month. Then click on previous month to get weather reports for January. If you need to go back further in time, check the site of the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist. Click on Snow Event Totals. And be careful driving during the next Snow Event.

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

On Friday the library's morning book group is discussing The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue. The book follows the lives of Aniday (a boy who was stolen by a band of hobgoblins and then lives in the woods as one of them) and Henry Day (the changeling who takes his name and place in the world). Henry Day is on a search for his real self, trying to remember a century earlier before he was kidnapped by the hobgoblins from his German-speaking parents. Donohue, whose Ph.D. is in modern Irish literature, was inspired by William Yeats' poem The Stolen Child,
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

This sounds all very Harry Potterish, but it's only fantasy in its premise. It's more literary fiction, as we watch Henry grow up in America during the 50s, 60s and 70s.

In Donohue's interesting interview with Bookbrowse, he noted that the changeling myth probably originated with parents of children with birth defects who were in denial that the child could really be their own.

Discussion questions for The Stolen Child can be found on the Random House website.

Keith Donohue's website has a synopsis and reviews of The Stolen Child.

Anne wrote a blog post recommending The Stolen Child a while back.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Diagnosis of the Acute Abdomen in Rhyme

Using mnemonics as an aid for learning vast quantities of information is often employed in medical education. Taking it a step further, the author of the textbook Cope's Early Diagnosis of the Acute Abdomen, later turned his book into 88 pages of doggerel which explains how to diagnose and treat patients with belly pain: The Diagnosis of the Acute Abdomen in Rhyme by 'Zeta,' (aka: Sir Zachary Cope.) This small volume has been sitting on my bookshelves at home for many years and what made me think about it is it turns up in Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone which I am currently reading. Zeta's little book is quoted by the fictional Dr. Ghosh and listed in Verghese's bibliography. Is it hard to imagine gut pain being funny? Consider this advice to the physician:
'The abdomen is like a stage
Enclosed within a fleshy cage,
The symptoms are the actors who
Act often with consumate art
The major or the minor part;
Nor do they usually say
Who is the author of the play.
That is for you to try and guess,
A problem which, I must confess
Is made less easy from the fact
You seldom see the opening act,
And by the time that you arrive
The victim my be just alive.'
'The leading or principal symptoms are four,...
Distension, rigidity, vomiting, pain.'
(as seen in the illustration by Peter Collingwood)
OK, not ROTFL, but maybe easier to remember than a regular textbook.