Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The library book group is meeting tomorrow, July 2 at 10:30 a.m. to discuss Daphne du Maurier's classic novel, Rebecca. I think I speak for all libraries when I beg publishers to please reprint this in hardcover (last done in 1938 and even the last paperback edition is entering its teenaged years).

Maybe I just read too much Rosamunde Pilcher in my youth, but I love any book whose characters have tea outdoors and mansions overlooking the sea. It's one of those classics which is actually fun to read and I would recommend it to anyone who liked Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre, although it's set in the 20th century. (But really, an era in which lady's companions can have a whirlwind courtship and marriage during a holiday in Monte Carlo seems equally remote in time.)

Marilyn of book group fame has run circles around me in her Rebecca research, for which I am very grateful, and she found discussion questions at, LitLovers, and 1001 Books for Every Mood. And here's one of my own: What would have happened if Rebecca's cousin Favell hadn't been out drinking that fateful night?

Daphne du Maurier based Manderley on Menabilly, a dilapidated estate in Cornwall which she leased and restored in the 40s. You can see another photo here. Du Maurier wrote about how she discovered Menabilly, and her fascination for it, in "The House of Secrets" in The Rebecca Notebook.

She was accused of plagiarizing Caroline Nabuco's La Succesora, which was published in Brazil in 1934. La Succesora was never printed in English and even the French translation of La Succesora is impossible to get your hands on, so I can't speculate. But what the New York Times reported on it is interesting.

Alfred Hitchcock made the film version of Rebecca, and it won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1940. There's an interesting explanation of why the Motion Picture Production Code made Hitchcock change important parts of the plot (but don't read it if you don't want the ending of the book spoiled) here.

Daphne du Maurier was the granddaughter of George du Maurier, the author of Trilby, an 1894 novel about a hypnotist named Svengali who turns a laundress/ artist's model into a famous singer. It was as well known as Dracula by Bram Stoker and the Sherlock Holmes novels by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel 2010

It's the time of year when people start trying to find information about the Festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a week-long fair with carnival rides, games and food: starting with a parade and ending the week with a late-night fireworks display. For information call (908) 464-6964 to hear a recording which gives this year's dates as July 11 - 16. You can also leave a message.
Descriptions of the festival can be found in our blog posts from previous years which have links to articles and videos of the fireworks:
Festival of Mount Carmel, Berkelely Heights, NJ 07922

Photo: Procession arriving at the Church of the Little Flower, July 2009

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, Alexander McCall Smith's fifth book in his 44 Scotland Street series, once again allows readers to visit his beloved Edinburgh filled with the fictional denizons of an apartment building and their neighbors and friends. Bertie, the six year old boy whose pushy, politically-correct mother fills his days with yoga, Italian and saxophone lessons and appointments with a child psychiatrist continues to make Bertie's life miserable, but there are signs that Bertie's father has begun to take a stand on his son's behalf. Angus the portrait painter and his gold-toothed dog Cyril discover a long-missing Raeburn portrait of Bobbie Burns when Lard O'Connor, the Glasgow gangster visits Edinburgh. Gentle digs about the rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow are funny, but not mean. Lard's accent is almost impenetrable as written and recalls Bertie's remark in another book upon hearing a Glasgow cab driver speak that he thought he could master the Glaswegian language because it seemed almost as easy as Italian. Big Lou and her Jacobite boyfriend return with news of the Pretender to the Throne who briefly moves in with them before going on the lam, last seen heading for remote Scottish islands a la Bonnie Prince Charlie. And so it goes, all the colorful characters, with one exception, return which will delight fans of the series. McCall Smith's tongue-in-cheek style, eye for people's common quirks and love for his city and country shine through.
Related links:
Amazon U.K. reviews
Alexander McCall Smith's GoodReads page with interview links
List of the author's books in order, by series on Fantastic Fiction

Friday, June 25, 2010

L'Oreal's Day of Volunteering

Berkeley Heights was covered with yellow t-shirted volunteers from L'Oreal USA on Wednesday for their volunteer day. The library was very happy to welcome Courtney Ciccone, Cathy Basile, Cheryl Cozzi, Christine Driscoll,Susanne MacGibbon, Anna Cuccato, Evelyn Dechert, Vianel Santos and Daisy Gonzalez who painted the meeting room and helped with the opening day activities for the children's summer reading program. Picture: L'Oreal's intrepid library painters at work.
Many thanks to the L'Oreal employees who helped us at the library!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Toaster Broke, So We're Getting Married by Pamela Holm

This light read is that most elusives of memoirs, the funny kind. The title refers to the way Pamela Holm's boyfriend broke the ice about talking about marriage: "Sometimes people get toasters as wedding gifts."

The Toaster Broke is a chronicle of the year the author spent alternately planning her second wedding, and being horrified at how she was suddenly interested in weddings (as a writer & former single mother in San Francisco, it does seem unlikely). Holm and her husband recently finished spending a year in India & blogging about it here.

It's been a while since I read it (I discovered it in the wedding planning books & it was a welcome respite from filling out forms that asked, "Please diagram where the wedding party will stand and the family members will sit" blah blah blah) but I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Good Enough to Eat

Books like these fly off the shelves (a trick book designers probably learned from women's magazines, which seem to always have food on the cover). I'm not sure they live up to the experience of eating a cupcake, but perhaps we'd be better off if we reached for one of these novels instead of the real thing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Madeleines & Books

At the beginning of The Remembrance of Things Past, a madeleine cake dipped in tea floods Marcel Proust with memories. For some reason it's books, not cakes, that trigger in me what Proust called involuntary memory.

I read The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger on my lunch break my first week at work at BHPL, and the one will forever remind me of the other. (Note to all BHPL staff: I was very excited to be here and did *not* at any point feel like I was on a fishing boat that was about to capsize.) I also have this lovely memory of listening to a Sue Grafton audiobook with my car windows down on a beautiful summer day, and whenever I listen to another one I get to remember that.

As if there weren't enough sadness in A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, I read it with coverage of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack playing all day on TV in the background.

A library science professor of mine used to say that Pat the Bunny was an awful book, but most people love it because we remember reading it on our mothers' laps.

What memories do certain books trigger in you? Does it make you like or dislike that book more?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents, One Unconventional Detour Around the World

This is the root of my love-hate relationship with travel books: reading them is like going on a vacation minus the jet lag, but then once they're finished I can't remember a thing about them. Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, with its 109 parts strung like the 109 prayer beads on a Hindu japa mala, was an exception to this rule. Like Eat, Pray, Love, The Lost Girls also left me with the sense that a year spent in the world can be more transformative than, say, acquiring a second home in Europe and making friends with the neighbors, can be. (Not sure if that's an official travel genre but I've read a lot of them.)

Three twenty-something New Yorkers, Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett, and Amanda Pressner, wrote The Lost Girls after a year spent traveling around the world together and blogging about it at They hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, volunteered at a girl's school in Kenya, stayed at an ashram in India, and went to surf camp in Australia. But mostly you'll want to keep reading just to root them on, for having courage to give up their jobs, boyfriends and apartments and take a leap into the unknown.

I read this for a book group & I'm bringing ANZAC biscuits (an Australian cookie named after the World War I-era Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) to the meeting, in honor of the ANZAC Day the Lost Girls spent playing two-up with locals in a bar in Sydney. Recipe found here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reference Question Roundup

Reader comments would indicate that the posts listing quirky reference questions  is a popular feature on this blog. But many reference questions are pretty routine and old-fashioned: does the library have a certain book and/or where is it? If it's checked out, can I put a hold on it? If it's not owned by BHPL, how can I get it? The answers are rarely routine or old-fashioned though because computers are involved at every turn. For example, recently, there has been increasing interest in the free downloadable e-books available from ListenNJ, because more and more people are getting e-book readers.  Downloading e- and audiobooks inevitably leads to lots of technical difficulties.

So for every advance in library computer technology like online catalogs, online books, research databases, online patron accounts, online holds and email overdue notices etc;  the convenience is always balanced out by the confusion of the new technology. As most of us have realized, the computer revolution, like the washing machine and other modern conveniences, really hasn't saved us any time or made things more efficient. There is probably lots of "scholarly" blathering on this topic, but what I picture as an illustration to this conundrum is a hamster on an exercise wheel. The more he runs, the faster he goes and, well, that's about it really. So when people ask if the internet and computers have replaced librarians, I'd have to say, no, we just can help you get off that hamster wheel or troubleshoot it for you. Maybe that does not clarify the situation. Let me put it this way, if you need help finding material, or doing research in the World Wide Waste, just ask a librarian. That's what we do. We'll separate the wheat from the chaff and, mixing metaphors madly here, get you off that wheel of doom.
Image from

Related posts:

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Sharing Blog Feature

The blog now has a "share" button at the bottom of each post. Blog readers can use this button to share any blog post on Facebook, MySpace Twitter, or many other RSS feeds or social websites. So if you like a post, you can easily share it with your friends. The share button also provides a printer-friendly option.

"There is no delight in anything unshared."
                - Seneca

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Brief History of the Library

A timeline of the creation of the Berkeley Heights Public Library has been posted on a special blog page, click here. The blog has several special pages which can be viewed by clicking on the links just below the title banner. We hope you enjoy the story of your library so far.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Seduction of Water: metaphor alert!

The library book group will discuss Carol Goodman's The Seduction of Water (2003) tonight, June 8 at 7:30 pm.

PLOT/STYLE/GENRE: Narrated in the first-person, present-tense in an unemotional, declarative style, the book is a romance/mystery/family saga with threads of Celtic myths and imagery throughout. The story begins when the narrator, Iris, a struggling author, rewrites the Selkie myth as her mother used to tell it to her. Iris' piece is accepted in a literary journal and this success leads to her decision to explore the decades old mystery of her mother's disappearance and death. Iris returns for the summer to the Catskill Mountain hotel of her upbringing to work as hotel manager, as her father had, and to research her mother's life.
The Seduction of Water has enough plots, coincidences, meaningful imagery, foreshadowing, Gothic atmosphere and tortured characters to fit several books and all these pieces are tidied up in a lengthy denouement back at the big old spooky hotel in the tinder-dry woods.
FIRE METAPHOR decoded: (plot spoiler alert) Because the summer drought and water shortage are mentioned with great regularity, as well as the horror of hotel fires in general and the one that killed her mother in particular, it is no surprise to most readers that the hotel burns down in the end. Just as the seals/selkies are transformed by water leaving their seal skins behind to wander as homesick leggy mortals on land, Iris and her lover, horribly burned in the fire, presumably survive - transformed by their fiery love, but we don't actually get to see how that plays out. It's a dangling metaphor. The metaphor of fire as transformative (as in the legend of the Phoenix) seemed like a poor fit to the story because while fire destroyed buildings and people, there was no evidence of resurrection.
WATER METAPHOR explained: As for the metaphor of water, specifically the Hudson River, water figured in the following plot points. The Hudson changes (transforms!) from salt to fresh water at Ossining, NY., the site of Sing Sing Prison (true). In the book, the train stop and prison are called Rip Van Winkle, a nod to local author Washington Irving's tales. Iris teaches at the prison overlooking the river. Some prisoners are transformed by her class. One prisoner falls in love with her. He is transformed by her love. Iris mother changed trains there on her way to a transformed life in the Catskills and as we learn, changed identities at that pivotal point in the river - JUST LIKE A SELKIE, the creatures she writes about in her unfinished fantasy trilogy. Iris' mother, like the Selkies, can never go back home, but when she does, she burns up in a hotel fire during a dry summer. Metaphor collision alert! see also the Onion article: Author to Use Water as Metaphor for further clarification.

MOTHER/DAUGHTER THEME:No wait, that's what happens to her daughter too. Iris is gravely burned in a metaphor collision. Did I mention that the book is about mothers and daughters and that there is another mother/daughter mystery that parallels Iris' search for her past? And that character's name sounds like Phoenix. nudge, nudge, wink, wink. I refer to the character Phoebe Nix.

ART HISTORY MYSTERY: But wait, that's not all, there's a mysterious hidden necklace, looted during World War II, which Iris' mother writes into her book as a Selkie necklace* (Ringed Seals have necklace-like markings) and by remarkable coincidence a necklace art historian comes to the hotel to lecture about lost necklaces. Or was it a coincidence? (Cue spooky music) And guess what Iris finds in her childhood bed headboard at the end just before she almost burns to death? A Selkie! No, seriously, a necklace and the third book in her mother's fantasy trilogy which actually is not part three, but her mother's memoir. But don't get your hopes up, the third book is transformed in the fire into a pile of ashes, so Iris will never, ever read her mother's memoir, but that's ok because she figured out most of her mother's story by her dogged research, aided by remarkable serendipity.

Cranky Review Disclaimer: The Seduction of Water is a popular well-reviewed book. Whereas I'm just a cranky literalist who fights fantasy tooth and claw and likes books to decide on one or two themes/genres and stick with it, so consider the source when reading my take on this work. Reviewers should review the book as it is, not as they wish it was, I was told at a book review workshop. If you like chick-lit, gothic tales and fantasy all rolled into one book, you will probably enjoy The Seduction of Water. If you don't require metaphors to fit the plot as tight as a Rubik's Cube, you are safe from metaphor exhaustion. If coincidence broad enough to span the Hudson doesn't bother you and you don't mind being hit over the head with forshadowing, you are good to go with this book.

The author's website has plot descriptions, author biographical information and interviews which can be viewed at

For reviews, take a look at the Book Reporter website.

The reviews of this book are almost uniformly favorable, although most note that Goodman's earlier book, the Lake of Dead Languages was similar, but better.

*The necklace theme in the book is a conflation of Iris' mother's string of pearls, the Selkies crown and a Renaissance ferroniere, which is a jeweled headband.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

On Friday, June 4, the library book group will discuss A Thread of Grace, a sprawling novel which takes place in northern Italy during its occupation by Nazi Germany. It has a huge cast of characters (Italian Jews, Jewish refugees from other parts of Europe, Italian resistance fighters and spies, and Nazis), and since it's wartime you never know who will die next (sadly, even the characters to whom you've grown attached - the author's son flipped a coin to see which characters would live or die, and Mary Doria Russell wrote accordingly.)

Whether murder is unforgivable, or if restitution can ever be made, is one of the main questions of the book. Schramm is a Nazi doctor who is AWOL in Italy dying of tuberculosis. His confession is heard by Don Osvaldo, an Italian priest who refuses to absolve him of his sins even though he knows that he must believe that only God can judge Schramm. Renzo, an Italian Jew and Resistance fighter who struggles with his responsibility for the death of civilians in a previous war, hides Schramm in the mountains. The women characters play no less a role, whether it's Claudia, a charming refugee from Belgium who quickly loses her naivete after crossing the Alps on foot, or Renzo's feisty mother Lidia, the first woman in their town to ride a bicycle, becomes a bomb-wielding partisan in her old age.

Mary Doria Russell gave an interview to BookBrowse, and I love this line so much I have to quote it: "Italian Jews? I thought I was the only one! What do they eat? Lox parmesan?" There is also the previously mentioned coin-flipping interview with Book Page and the Random House interview, which you can read here, along with the discussion questions. The Manitowoc Public Library's site has another set of questions for A Thread of Grace.

Any remaining questions you have (such as, what's up with page 407?) can probably be answered on the FAQ on Mary Doria Russell's site.

If you're interested in reading more about Italy during the occupation, BHPL owns Benevolence and Betrayal by Alexander Stille (945 STI). Chapter 4, "The Rabbi, The Priest and the Aviator" is the inspiration for the Soncinis, Don Osvaldo and Renzo.

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain may not be the first great American frog story, but it sure is a good one. It's the story of Smiley, a gambler who will bet on anything and his amazing frog Dan'l Webster and so...

"He ketched a frog one day, and took him home, and said he cal'klated to edercate him; and so he never done nothing for three months but set in his back yard and learn that frog to jump. And you bet you he did learn him, too. He'd give him a little punch behind, and the next minute you'd see that frog whirling in the air like a doughnut see him turn one summerset, or may be a couple, if he got a good start, and come down flat-footed and all right, like a cat. He got him up so in the matter of catching flies, and kept him in practice so constant, that he'd nail a fly every time as far as he could see him. Smiley said all a frog wanted was education, and he could do most any thing and I believe him. Why, I've seen him set Dan'l Webster down here on this floor Dan'l Webster was the name of the frog and sing out, "Flies, Dan'l, flies!" and quicker'n you could wink, he'd spring straight up, and snake a fly off'n the counter there, and flop down on the floor again as solid as a gob of mud, and fall to scratching the side of his head with his hind foot as indifferent as if he hadn't no idea he'd been doin' any more'n any frog might do. You never see a frog so modest and straightforward as he was, for all he was so gifted. And when it come to fair and square jumping on a dead level, he could get over more ground at one straddle than any animal of his breed you ever see. Jumping on a dead level was his strong suit, you understand; and when it come to that, Smiley would ante up money on him as long as he had a red. Smiley was monstrous proud of his frog, and well he might be, for fellers that had traveled and been everywheres, all said he laid over any frog that ever they see."

I recommend it to all Mark Twain fans, all frog fans, all American humor fans, all short story fans. Read the whole story online with thanks to the University of Virginia online archives.

Library Blog Welcomes New Correspondent

The Berkeley Heights Public Library Blog is pleased to welcome Fleur, our new blogging correspondent who will report on New Jersey environmental news straight from the heart of the Berkeley Heights wetlands. We first encountered Fleur two years ago while walking along the path through the swamp behind the library and posted about that fortuitous encounter in this blog post in 2008. Since that time, Fleur has been a regular presence in the swamp. Anyone venturing down the woodland path might also spot Fleur's relatives Federico, who lives in the tree roots overhanging the creek under the bridge, and a whole gang of other frogs who sometimes shade bathe on the mud beach below the bridge. Today, I spotted Fleur's grandfrog, Flavia, perched in the pipe - peering out with glinting copper eyes.

Please welcome Fleur the Frog, our Environmental Affairs contributor. We look forward to his/her (?) posts about living 'green' in NJ.
Dewey Decimal # for Frog books: 597.89

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How to Hard Boil an Egg

Dateline: Memorial Day

While making potato salad for our Memorial Day picnic yesterday, a mystery of the universe was revealed to me in the kitchen: if you put eggs on the stove to make hard-boiled eggs, the eggs will always be soft-boiled when you crack them open - no matter how long you leave them to boil! Furthermore, the inverse and equally true prinicple is: if you try to soft-boil an egg, it will hard-boil instantaneously. I'm sure many of you have experienced this conundrum of egg cookery and can back me up on this observation.
Knowing this basic boiled egg principle, I wondered if it's possible to fake out the egg by saying very loudly to it, or the kitchen gods, or whoever is messing with my head, "NOW I'M PUTTING THESE EGGS IN THE PAN TO HARD-BOIL!" if I want soft-boiled and visa-versa. But no, that doesn't work either. The eggs know. I don't know how they know, but they do.
Here are some books and websites that teach how to boil an egg:

Better Homes and Gardens Anyone Can Cook
(p.436 for the hard-boiled egg lesson) 641.5 ANY

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
(soft-boiled and hard-boiled instructions on p. 733) 641.5 BIT

'How to boil an egg' from the eHow website, includes video and written instructions.

By the way, the phrase 'how to boil an egg,' when Googled, results in over 3 millions hits, so I'm guessing many, many people have experienced the egg boiling principle and many, many chefs are trying to help us outsmart eggs. As for me, I will concede defeat in the face of the egg elves and only have eggs at that most wonderful of New Jersey institutions: the diner. Over-easy, thanks.
Illustration from BBC news