Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cleaning Up Crime: Housekeeper Mysteries

Dorothy Cannell's The Importance of Being Ernestine, an Ellie Haskell Mystery, features English housewife and mother, Ellie, teamed with her eccentric cleaning lady, Mrs. Malloy, in another light (very light in case you couldn't guess from the title) sleuthing adventure. In this outing, Mrs. Malloy is working for Detective Milk Juggs and has to solve a crime in his absence when a distraught Lady Krumley asks them to find a long-lost orphan so she can make amends and also lift the curse she believes has recently struck down one Krumley after another. The characters' names and some of the dialogue veer into the land of the too-cute for me, but the final gathering of suspects in the drawing room where the two amateur detectives explain it all was quite satisfying in tying up all the loose ends and subtle clues in the story.

Earlier this year I read another English cleaning lady mystery, Tragedy at Two by Ann Purser which led me to wonder just how many cleaning lady mysteries there are. Luckily the Cozy Mystery List Blog had already explored that theme in this post Cozy Mystery House Keepers...etc Blog author Danna does a phenomenal job of listing and classifying cozy mysteries by type, so take a look at her websites:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Deadline Poets Society

Calvin Trillin, the humorist and satirist, gave the keynote address at the New Jersey Library Association conference yesterday. I don't want to ruin the hilarity of what he said by reporting on it, so I'll mostly give you links to his own work.

Trillin told the story of how he became a "deadline poet" for the political magazine The Nation. Trillin's first poem was the susurrant If I Knew What Sinunu, and you can read it in Deadline Poet (at 811.54 TRI in the nonfiction stacks at BHPL). The audience was laughing when Trillin talked about the trouble he had finding rhymes for presidents' names; Clinton was "the orange of American presidents" and the lack of dignified rhymes for Bush made Trillin resort to their middle names, such as in this poem bidding George H.W. Bush farewell that he read aloud.

Another thing that Trillin explained to the audience of hooting librarians (yes, there was hooting) was the collapse of Wall Street last fall.

In addition to politics, Trillin is interested in geography and food, so you might try his American Stories (814.54 TRI) or Feeding a Yen (641.5973 TRI). He's also written about his own life experiences in Family Man (814.54 TRI) and About Alice (which BHPL owns on an audiobook narrated by Trillin himself at CD AUDIO 814.54 TRI).

Friday, April 23, 2010

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife

A book group of mine read Zero once, at the suggestion of a member who was into microhistories. Boy, did everyone hate it but me, because it has math in it. However, Zero don't require you to be good at math, just to like it (and history). And you can skip the mathy parts if you want.

After I read the book I liked to buttonhole my friends and family and tell them the things I read about in Zero. For example, our counting system is based on groups of 10s - that's probably because after you count to ten on your fingers, you start over. Somebody who lived in what is now France must have counted in groups of twenty, since quatre-vingts, 80, is literally "four twenties". And our time system is based on units of 60, because the Babylonians did that for astronomical reasons.

Anyway, getting back to the main character of the book, zero didn't exist for a long time because you didn't need it to count. Instead zero developed as a placeholder, because people got tired of making 10 hash marks instead of writing "10".

And that's where things get "dangerous". The ancient Greeks didn't like to use zero, because its existence implies both the infinite and the void, "two ideas that were poisonous to Western doctrine" (page 39) or Greek philosophy at least. (Infinity is what you get when you divide numbers by zero).

If you know any math-and-history lovers out there, please check this book out for them.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

National Poem in Your Pocket Day

Lately much of the Reference Department's incoming email alerts us to the latest news about budget cuts to NJ libraries, so it was so much more fun to see an email pop up from our visiting NJ author, Robert Daniher. Bob's tone always seems to be upbeat and encouraging to aspiring authors and really to all of us, so take a look at his post:

"Thursday, April 29th is National Poem In Your Pocket Day. The concept is to select a poem that you love and carry it around with you in your pocket sharing it with others throughout the day. There are even national events held all around supporting the day where people can read poems out loud in front of others. This might be a little too much for some who are not used to public speaking. And let’s face it…who is?
This brings to mind a fun exercise for aspiring writers, and Poem In Your Pocket day is a perfect time to try it. Instead of carrying a poem you like to read, why not try writing a short one of your own. Just like reading different genres works to help you become a better overall writer, so does writing in different genres. Poetry is perfect for that. There are so many things you can do with it. You can write a colorful scene in a few lines that pinpoints a special moment, you can write a funny limerick or you can just write stream of consciousness and see where it takes you. You might be surprised with the outcome. Poetry is a very versatile form of literature. It lends itself to so many ways of expression and can really get the creative juices flowing.
I will sometimes write a poem if I am experiencing writer’s block. It’s a great way focus on another topic while remaining in the writer’s frame of mind. You might find that you enjoy it. So this April 29th try to write a poem of your own and then carry it around in your pocket. It will be more personal to you. Even if you think your poem stinks, you were courageous enough to try something new and best of all…you wrote!'


From 'To pull poetry from your pocket every day of the year simply go to on any mobile device.'

Don't forget BHPL has Columbia Granger's World of Poetry online linked to "Remote Databases" on our homepage

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Books of the Year?

The book 1920: the Year of the Six Presidents by David Pietrusza has been bothering me ever since I saw its cover, but I finally looked at it today. The crux of the book is that 4 eventual presidents ran in the 1920 election to replace Woodrow Wilson. "Six" is stretching the truth, since Teddy Roosevelt died in 1919, but he had been the Republican frontrunner till then.

Here's a timeline of a few similar books (thankfully I am not going to list all 32). See how much you can learn just from subtitles!

1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies

1603: the Death of Queen Elizabeth I, the Return of the Black Plague, the Rise of Shakespeare, Piracy, Witchcraft and the Birth of the Stuart Era by Christopher Lee (Whew! Did anything else happen that we could stick in there?)

1676: The End of American Independence by Stephen Webb

1759: The Year Britain Became Master of the World by Frank McLynn, at least until. . .

1776 by David McCullough

1941: The Greatest Year in Sports : Two Baseball Legends, Two Boxing Champs, and the Unstoppable Thoroughbred Who Made History in the Shadow of War by Mike Vaccaro. This strikes me as a great conversation starter: what was the greatest year in sports? Now bookworms like me have an answer.

1959: The Year Everything Changed by Fred Kaplan, who must have a dispute with the author of the following book (no typos here):

1969: The Year Everything Changed by Rob Kirkpatrick. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Art Books at the Library

Yesterday, a patron from another town complimented BHPL's collection of art books (or 700's as we in the biz call it.) BHPL's subject specialty is art, as disclosed previously on this blog. Each of the nine libraries in the cooperative entity known as M.U.F. (Morris-Union Federation of Libraries) has a subject specialty, which is not to say that other libraries don't acquire art books at all, it's just that at BHPL we have a separate room for the 700's which is a great resource for the local arts community as well as anyone interested in browsing a beautiful collection of arts, crafts, architecture and other fine arts books.

A random sampling of my favorite 700's now shelved in the New Non-Fiction area:

Book + Art, handcrafting Artists' Books by Dorothy Simson Krause (686.3 KRA)
and the closely related EcoBooks, inventive projects from the recycling bin by Terry Taylor (686.3 TAY); both these books show how to take common household materials to make books and give simple directions for binding. Taylor's book takes the reuse idea to a whimsical extreme with a book covered by an egg carton.

Masterpieces of Islamic Art, the decorated page from the 8th to the 17th century by Oleg Grabar. For sheer gorgeousness (word?) and ooh-aahing potential, this coffee table book inspires awe (709.53 GRA)

For escapism, take a look at Italian Rustic, how to bring Tuscan charm into your home by Elizabeth Helman Minchilli ((728 HEL) Strangely, it looks awfully expensive to rusticate a NJ home in the Tuscan style and I'm not sure chunky beams and terracotta floors go well with the many wood colonial revivals or pattern book houses which you see around town, but readers can dream. Maybe a pergola in the back yard?

And finally, two new how-to books, Painting for the Absolute and Utter Beginner by Claire Watson Garcia (751.426 GAR) and the Artist's Guide to Perspective by Janet Shearer (742 SHE) which is sitting on my coffee table at home where I hope it's mere presence will improve my grasp of 3 point perspective.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Last Night at the Lobster

The evening book group is meeting on Tuesday, April 13 at 7:30 p.m. to discuss Stewart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster, a very short novel in present tense that describes the last, snowy day that a Red Lobster is open for business. Its manager, Manny, is a sympathetic hero, but it's evident from the start that his compulsion to do everything by the book (even signalling his turns in the deserted mall parking lot in the first pages of the book) isn't going to save him. As Stewart O'Nan explains,
Darden doesn’t sell franchises, so a manager of a Red Lobster or Olive Garden has all the daily responsibilities of an owner but none of the privileges. He or she can put all of his or her hard work and pride into the place and have it snatched away at the whim of the home office.

(from the Penguin interview with Stewart O'Nan. Another interesting part of this interview was whether O'Nan references The Old Man and the Sea when he describes the stuffed marlin Manny thought about taking at the end of the night).

Last Night at the Lobster is so exacting in every detail, it's like an anthropological study of Red Lobster, both the employees and the customers. I swear that Manny's old wrestling coach, a lunch regular, comes by BHPL afterwards to check his email.

You can find the discussion questions for the book here. Barnes and Noble interviewed O'Nan a few years ago here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Keeping Reading Lists Online

For 20 years I've kept a handwritten journal of books I read and now I also keep the list online at Goodreads. You can see a screen shot of the titles I've recently read to the right.

Goodreads is a social media site where booklovers can become online friends, share book reviews and recommendations, join genre groups, take literary trivia quizzes and generally spend time online goofing off but feeling slightly superior because it's all about books, isn't it? Goodreads is free to anyone to use. My children joined it and invited me to join and "friend" them so we can see each other's reading lists and share our thoughts on what we've read. I know, it's all rather futuristic, like something the Jetsons might have done, but it works for us.
BHPL subscribes to a similar service called The Next Good Book which is linked to the library home page. Ellen discussed it on the blog here.
For a really low-technology way of keeping track of books you read, save your library checkout receipts and throw them in a shoebox.


I had to put Moby Dick aside for a while after I started to feel like Shel Silverstein's Melinda Mae ("She took little bites and she chewed very slow,/
Just like a little girl should.../ ...and eighty-nine years later she ate that whale/ Because she said she would!!!"). But Queequeg, Ishmael's friend who speaks pidgin and is from some faraway pagan island, has breathed some life into the sails.

According to, Queequeg was based on a Maori chief named Tupai Cupa, whom Melville read about in a book called The New Zealanders by George Lillie Craik.

Here is a picture of Tupai Cupa (the site I took the image from has an interesting explanation of how his facial tattoo was also the basis of his signature):

I love Melville's descriptions of Nantucket:
Look at it- a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background. There is more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper. Some gamesome wights will tell you .........that they are so shut up, belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded, and made an utter island of by the ocean, that to the very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering as to the backs of sea turtles.

or New Bedford, Connecticut:

On one side, New Bedford rose in terraces of streets, their ice- covered trees all glittering in the clear, cold air. Huge hills and mountains of casks on casks were piled upon her wharves, and side by side the world-wandering whale ships lay silent and safely moored at last; while from others came a sound of carpenters and coopers, with blended noises of fires and forges to melt the pitch, all betokening that new cruises were on the start; that one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for ever and for aye. Such is the endlessness, yea, the intolerableness of all earthly effort.