Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chapter 713, in Which the Librarian Responds to Questions

Some questions that have been asked today at the reference desk:

Q: Is there a number that I can call to reach the 13 or 14 state attorneys general who are suing the U.S. over the health care bill?

A: Googling "attorney generals sue health care" brought up news articles that said the Florida attorney general was the first to sue and that the suit had been joined by other states' attorneys general. I gave the patron the phone number for the Florida attorney general's office.

Q: Do you still have Love Story by Erich Segal?

A: Yes. Who would be heartless enough to get rid of it?

Q: I am writing a paper and need books and articles about school reform and African-Americans in American history.

A: A few books on school reform turned up in the catalog, and I told the student to look in their indices under African-Americans. As far the articles went, I knew we should search the databases at JerseyClicks.org*, and that we needed a more specific topic to search for. To find that, we looked in the Encyclopedia of Education in the reference collection. A brief look at the topics in the index under African Americans gave us magnet schools and other terms the student could look up.

*JerseyClicks.org won't exist anymore if the state budget passes as proposed. If you value JerseyClicks, or other services like the Library for the Blind or interlibrary loan, please let your representatives know that you don't support the 74% funding cut to state library services.

Q: Do you have a paper copy of the instructions for the NJ-1040?

A: Yes, for in-library use only. The only other alternatives are to view it online or print it for ten cents a page (and it's 69 pages long).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Let Vampires Be Evil

Could authors please stop making vampires the good guys in their novels? Yes, vampires are wealthy (because they live forever, presumably), and they're very good looking (see: Edward of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series) or at least physically powerful. They're noble royals (see: Wrath of J.R. Ward's Brotherhood of the Dagger series) or slackers who remind us of ourselves (see: Jody of Christopher Moore's campy Bloodsucking Fiends). But why did vampires have to turn into another run-of-the-mill hero from a romance novel or action flick? What was wrong with the deliciously creepy vampire of Bram Stoker's Dracula, or the evilly seductive Lord Ruthven in The Vampyre by John Polidori*? At least let them sneak up on unsuspecting humans and bite them in the dead of night from time to time.

*Footnote: Dr. Polidori's short story The Vampyre was heavily based on his patient Lord Byron's Fragment of a Novel. Fragment of a Novel was written in 1816, the year of volcanic winter. One cold summer's evening in Italy, Mary Wollstonecraft suggested that she, her future husband Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron each write a supernatural tale; Mary wrote Frankenstein. The Vampyre was later published without Polidori's permission and attributed to Lord Byron (to both of their displeasure).

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Family and Other Animals

In My Family and Other Animals, naturalist Gerald Durrell writes about his family's years between the wars on the island of Corfu. At the impulsive suggestion of her son Lawrence, 23, his mother moved her eccentric family from rainy England to a sunnier climate where Gerry, the youngest at ten, ran wild with his dog Roger, collecting bugs and animals of all sorts and bringing them back to the rented villa to create havoc, upsetting Larry in particular, the future author who comes off as rather priggish and arrogant. Sister Margo concerned only with fashion and boyfriends; brother Leslie who likes to shoot game; Spiro, a helpful Greek-American; assorted tutors for Gerry, and various islanders populate the book, all odd and quirky individuals. The book concludes with a party at their villa which is disrupted when Gerry's collection of curious and destructive magpies, a belligerant Albanian seagull, the mother's female dog in heat pursued by a pack of neighborhood dogs, and assorted other critters escape and scare the guests. Mrs. Durrell does her best to pretend nothing is amiss while the family scurries around trying to round up the animals and finally the guests have another drink or three and the party goes on successfully until late at night. All par for the course in the Durrell family.
My Family and Other Animals is a funny memoir that makes the reader want to escape in time and space to Corfu of the 1930's, live with a family like the Durrells, swim in the phosphorscent sea at night, wander thhrough the olive groves with a dog, like the young Gerry. Tourists trying to recreate that experience will find Corfu still picturesque but much built up since those times, so I plan to watch BHPL's copy of the PBS version of the book and put Gerald Durrell's other Corfu books as well as his brother Lawrence's book Bitter Lemons, which is about his stay on Cyprus, on my list of books to read.

Related websites:

Bellapais Journal

The Corfu Trilogy

Corfu Travel

Vintage Travel Posters Greece (image right)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Our Book Blog to Attend NJ Librarian Convention - sort of

The BHPL Book Blog will celebrate its 5th anniversary this May and to celebrate that momentous occasion, the Reference Department bloggers wanted to share their collective wisdom and experience about library blogging with our colleagues at the annual NJ librarian convention 2010. First we had to submit a proposal to the Poster Board Session Committee. For all you laymen (non-librarians) out there, librarians are known to be amongst the most technologically connected professional groups and we like to attend professional meetings dressed in sensible shoes and dirt-resistant outfits whilst texting, blogging, podcasting and sending singing Gorilla telegrams.

Blogging as a Team Presents Unique Challenges
Working as a team on a blog and poster board session requires compromise. Let us share our decision-making process about the title for the poster board session application, keeping in mind that once submitted to the committee, the title is carved in stone- ie: printed on the NJLA program if they choose to accept our proposal. This process almost derailed the project from the git-go. Herewith, Ellen and Anne batting around ideas about the application title.

Proposed Titles
Possible Title #1:Anne- ‘Librarians from around the country call and say, ‘My director wants me to start a library blog, but what can I possibly write about day after day?’ Ellen –‘Too long.’(Eye roll)

Possible Title #2: Anne –‘Seriously Practical Ideas for Library Bloggers.’ Ellen- ‘meh! Too short.’

Possible Title #3: Anne,(exasperated) ‘21st Century Modes of Communicating Effectively to Targeted Library Demographics using Web 2.0 Mash-ups, Social Media Applications and other Solutions too Technical to mention in a Short Title.’ Ellen (also exasperated)-‘Anne, be serious.’

Brainstorming: What do we think we know about blogging which might be helpful for other librarians to know? 1. We know there are blogs which are way more sophisticated technologically, but we stand by the pretty good quality of our original content over time; our pretty consistent methods of producing content on a pretty regular basis; and the fairly readable and often, we hope, pretty funny style of our content. So that’s what we are going to present on our poster board: how to be pretty good, pretty painlessly?
Possible Title #4: Anne- ‘Content, it’s all about the Content. Except for a few bits about the Geeky stuff like our Side Bar RSS feeds.’
Possible Title #5: Ellen- ‘Will Blog for Readers: Tips & Tales from a Library Blog.’
Anne- ‘bingo!We've got our title!’
And so you see, single author blogs can devolve into the I & Me Show, but our blog involves brainstorming, compromise and, yes, Anne admitting that Ellen’s ideas are almost always better than hers.
Having decided on a title, finished the application, amazingly, the unsuspecting NJLA PBS Committee (librarians love acronyms) accepted our application and we are now beginning to think about the actual content of what I have come to think of as, our 21st Century Blogging Triptych. Ellen has made me promise not to put too much gilding on the frame or Carolina Blue as the background and will have to generally keep me in line. Just because Duke is doing better than UNC this year, I have to defer more than usual. Meh!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

By the Lake by John McGahern

In honor of St. Patrick's Day today's blog post is about Irish author John McGahern's By the Lake. This book is the perfect antidote to those formulaic books you pick up in bookstores whose blurbs read: Meet A, a publicist; B, her boyfriend, a restauranteur; C, their neighbor and a pediatrician and mother of four. . . .

By the Lake is a character study of a married couple, the Ruttledges, and their neighbors who live around the same lake in Ireland. The reader is dropped straight into the middle of things without any introductions. "The middle of things" is an overstatement, because nothing in the present happens much, beyond calvings and the occasional visitor. Mostly the characters tell stories about each other and gradually you get to know everyone in the village, and hear about all their tragedies and small victories, which sounds like a recipe for sentimentality. But this book isn't saccharine.

I loved the dialogue, for example in this passage in which Ruttledge has counted the money his rich uncle ("The Shah") is keeping with him for a few days:

"You could buy a house and land with this. You could get married. You could start a life. You could go to Africa or America," Ruttledge said as he prepared to put the box away. "It's there like strength."

"It's better than the other fella having it, anyhow," the Shah agreed uncertainly; and Ruttledge decided not to protest or joke any further.

McGahern died in 2006 and the New York Times obituary described his work this way:

Because he was an Irish writer, Mr. McGahern was inevitably compared to James Joyce. Because his stories were set in the country, he was compared to Chekhov and Hardy. His style was terse. His novels moved deliberately through their agonies of love and misgiving, always with reference to the dominating Catholic culture and the rigors of wresting existence from the fields and the peat bogs.

Robert Daniher's Writing Tips for Novelists

Many new authors ask, “What's the first thing I can do to become a better writer?” Maybe they expect the answer to be a closely guarded secret, magical advice that will create an instant best seller, advice that, when heard, is an illumination. The real answer to that question is not nearly so exciting. Many famous authors suggest that the one thing every writer needs to do first is…wait for it…READ! Stephen King gives this advice often. You need to read! Make that your mantra. It's also a good idea to focus your reading on the genre you want to write. If you want to write mysteries, then read mysteries. If you want to write romances, then read romances. Read a lot of them and then read some more. The more you read, the more you learn what works and what doesn't. Reading subconsciously trains your mind to learn the format of a novel.

I once heard author Barry Zeman, co-author of Writing Mysteries: a handbook by the Mystery Writers of America, speaking in New York at an MWA meeting and he made a very good point on this. He said that to really understand how an author gets a novel to work on all levels you need to read the book straight through from beginning to end four times in a row. That's right, four times. Sounds tedious but, believe me, by the fourth time you've read it you'll understand how the author accomplishes his/her formula and how he/she put the book together. Zeman was quoting the late Lee Wright, influential mystery editor for Simon & Schuster and Random House, who published Ira Levin’s best-selling novel Rosemary’s Baby among other greats. Make sure you know your genre and the rest will follow suit.

Writing is a never ending learning process and you gotta’ start somewhere. So think of the one book you've read and loved that you wish you had written. Now go read it three more times.

Related websites
-Lee Wright obit w/bio

-Stephen King advice

-Mystery Writers of America

posted by Robert Daniher, NJ author

-interviews with Robert Daniher on this blog

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnades

"Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness" - Dostoevsky

Anyone who runs all night in California is going to have some good stories to tell, and I finished this entertaining read in 2 days. But read Ultramarathon Man for more than the funny anecdotes about pizza delivery in the middle of the night on a lonely highway. You'll want to find out what drives Dean Karnazes to run so far (up to 200 miles) and in such heinous conditions (at the South Pole, Death Valley, and so on). He can't exactly put his finger on why, or explain it to you if you ask him on the street, but anyone who reads his book will finish it with at least a sense of why he does it.

Chapter one, in which Karnazes tells you his insanely low body fat percentage, while eating a large pizza and cheesecake, while running all night before going to work the next morning, can be irritating. But hang on, because it's the ordinary, pre-endurance running years of the author's life that makes his story inspiring. He wasn't born superhuman, and he isn't even a pro athlete now. After a certain number of miles, he tells us, it isn't your body that makes a difference, but your mind.

If you end up liking Ultramarathon Man and want to read more, try Lynne Cox's Swimming to Antarctica. Cox is an endurance swimmer and her book is longer and more literary if I remember it correctly, but her life story is eerily similar (California kid grows up to tackle Antarctica/ungodly distances).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lost Books on Display

The beginning of the month rolled around and BHPL's book display was due for a change. One of my colleagues said to me, "Why don't you do a display of all the lost books?" The book display shelves were sitting empty, so I thought that she meant all of the library books patrons end up paying for because they can't find them at home. Ha ha.

Then it turned out that she meant Lost as in the TV show about the survivors of a plane crash who live on a mysterious tropical island. Oops. If you watch Lost, you can quit reading here because you already obviously know that the episodes' titles refer to books, that their plots reference books (Lord of the Flies or Watership Down, anyone?). Or that there's a book club and a lot of reading done on the beach.

You can see a list of the books and their connections to the show here. It's a pretty decent list of books, with a lot of classics that you probably read in school, with a dash of bestsellers like Stephen King, Michael Crichton and Tim LaHaye. The L.A. Times talked with the show's writers about the books that have influenced them the most.

Next month's display: books seen on Mad Men. Just kidding. (Unless someone I work with is a fan, in which case it's a distinct possibility).

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Comedians by Graham Greene

The library's Tuesday night book group will discuss Graham Greene's The Comedians, tomorrow night from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm.

Mr. Brown, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones meet on a ship to Haiti in the 1960's during the brutal regime of Papa Doc Duvalier, each an actor ("comedian") destined to play a small part in the politics of the island. Mr. Brown, the detached observer, an Englishman who owns a hotel on the island narrates. Mr. Smith and his wife have come to start a vegetarian center on the impoverished island, a plan whose irony escapes the idealistic Americans. Mr. Jones, another Englishman, is a con artist, but we're not sure what his con is until the end.

The writing is elegant; the tone is ironic, arch, darkly amusing in a standoffish, regrettful way; the themes are apparently the usual ones from 'Greeneland' - dealing with virtue and committment to a cause and how to lead a life with meaning. Read the reviews linked below for more details about the plot, themes and characters.

I was initially intimidated by the dense style of the book, because it was hard to adjust to reading a "classic" after indulging in page-turner best sellers and light mysteries. But the book picks up speed, drew me in and had me avidly turning pages by the second half.

Recommended for readers interested in trying a Greene novel without pain, interested in the historical background of Haiti, or trying to balance their light reading with a classic.

Related links:

NYT review

Amazon reviews

The Guardian

BBC Haiti history timeline

Graham Greene bibliography on Fantastic Fiction

JerseyClicks databases include Literary Reference Center

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Does Oscar Have a Library Card?

A lot has been written about the Academy Awards, including at least two unofficial histories (one of which bills itself as the "complete" unofficial history . . at least, it was the year it was published). Even Joan Rivers is represented in the Oscar literary canon (with Murder at the Academy Awards). While the books may be so-so, the films are a delight. There were too many films to include in this picture, so only some of the foreign film nominees/winners that are available at BHPL are shown.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

This Friday the morning book group will discuss David Ebershoff's novel, The 19th Wife, which alternates between two narrators. Ann Eliza Young was one of the fifty-something wives of the Mormon leader Brigham Young, and after her divorce in 1875, she went on a national lecture tour to denounce polygamy. Ebershoff based his fictional memoir partly on Ann Eliza's own memoir, Wife No. 19, which you can read here.

The other narrator of The 19th Wife is Jordan Scott, who grew up in the present day in a polygamist cult which closely resembles the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints*. When Jordan was a teenager, he was excommunicated from his church and left alongside a highway to fend for himself. When Jordan's mother is wrongly jailed for shooting her husband to death, Jordan decides to return to Mesadale to investigate.

*If you are interested in the true stories of women who escaped from FLDS, try Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall or Escape by Carolyn Jessop, both available at BHPL. (Anne reminded me that I've overlooked Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, which is about Mormon fundamentalism.)

This is the third historical novel the book group has read with a 19th century feminist protagonist (purely by chance, I think). I wish we could invite Mamah Borthwick (from Loving Frank), Isabella Beecher Hooker and Victoria Woodhull (from Harriet and Isabella) as well as Ann Eliza Young to our meeting. Maybe when Google gets that time travel thing worked out?

Discussion questions for The 19th Wife are available here. The author also has a several of his interviews posted on the book's website, but the best one's on the Random House site.

Become a NJ Library Champion

The New Jersey State Library has a new initiative to encourage people to support libraries in these tough economic times. It won't cost you a dime to join the ranks of hockey star, Zach Parise and author Janet Evanovich, well-know NJ Library Champions. Click here to sign up for email alerts and news about the state of libraries in our state. Here is the explanation from the NJ State Library website:

'Library Champions are people who love their libraries and want to be in the know about issues that may affect them. Library Champions' email addresses will be entered into a distribution list. When important library issues arise, we will email Library Champions. The Champions can then take appropriate action such as phone calls, emails to legislators or simply talking up the library to their neighbors. Any information you provide on this form will only be used to send you occasional emails about library issues. We will not sell your personal information or use it for any other purposes.'

Read the Sports Illustrated article about NJ Devil #9 Parise and how he ended up shilling for libraries instead of more profitable sportswear makers. Librarians think it's cool Zach's on our side. Thanks and happy reading!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/njlibraryevents/ / CC BY-NC 2.0