Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Buchanan

The library book group will meet this Friday, September 3 at 10:30 a.m. to discuss The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan. The heroine of the book is Bess Heath, whose schooling at the Loretto Academy boarding school abruptly ends after her junior year when her father loses his job as director of the power company on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Bess becomes a dressmaker, but it is a life that she chooses so that she can be with Tom Cole, the grandson of the legendary man who could predict disasters on the falls and saved dozens of people who ignored his predictions (based on real-life riverman William Hill).

An interview with Buchanan and discussion questions can be found on the publisher HarperCollins' web site. Be sure to check out the author's post, 10 Things You Never Knew About Niagara Falls, from her blog tour last year. Another guest post from the tour, Peeking Between the Pages, will give you a look at the stunning historical photos that are reprinted in the book - click on them to see them in much greater detail. Cathy Marie Buchanan's web site has an interactive map of the landmarks of Niagara Falls which is also interesting.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

Do not dismiss Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos just because it
a) was a New York Times bestseller
b) has a cute photograph on its cover (see?)

It is really good. Occasionally I'd have to stop reading just because I felt overloaded by ideas, as if I were having a in-depth conversation with a large group of friends. Bookreporter explains the premise of Belong To Me than I can:
Cornelia and her husband Teo have just moved from New York to a sleepy, upper-class Philadelphia suburb, and she’s having a bit of trouble fitting in. She misses the pace, creativity and intellectual stimulation of the city and finds little in common with the other women, wives of professional men, she comes into contact with. She’s particularly put off by her snotty neighbor, Piper Truitt. But when she meets the eccentric Lake, a single mom also new to town, she has hope that a solid friendship is developing.
But the reasons why the characters are thrown together were secondary to my enjoyment; I just liked to hear them talk.

This is an excerpt of one of my favorite parts, a conversation between teen genius Dev, and Cornelia, who occasionally narrates Belong To Me:
Dev: "So, I guess that the word 'sonnet' comes from sonnetto, which means 'little song' in Italian? But I don't think a sonnet's that much like a song. It's so short, and it just doesn't feel like a song . . ."
Cornelia: "So what do you think a better name would be?" ...
Dev: "I've been thinking 'little box,' . . . Like with 'Design,' Frost is worried that there is no design, no shape to what happens, so he does what he knows how to do: he puts the worry into a poem that has a small, really definite shape. Fourteen lines. . . "
Cornelia: "... So you're thinking that a sonnet is a way of distilling a big idea or emotion until it fits in a tiny box."

Cornelia made her debut in Love Walks In, but I didn't think reading that first was at all necessary (and haven't read it yet, actually). But strictly chronological readers can consider themselves warned.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Resources for Job Seekers

The unemployment rate in New Jersey was 9.7% at last count, and BHPL is seeing its share of job seekers using our computers and career resources (whether it's people exploring new careers, people with interviews looking for company information, or someone looking for web sites with job listings). Here's some of the resources we've found or that the library offers:

The Alternative Press, which covers 10 local towns around Berkeley Heights, has some job postings in its classifieds. (Don't forget to check out the jobs in the Independent Press classifieds in print also.)

NJ.com Jobs - Advanced Search allows you to type in a zip code and choose a radius, in miles, to search around that zip code.

NJ Department of Labor - Search the One-Stop Job Posting Database. This also has an option to limit your search to a certain radius around a zip code. Plus, this site links to other job search sites you may be interested in, and information about job fairs.

ReferenceUSA is an online business directory called Reference USA, which any NJ resident with a library card can access at JerseyClicks. It doesn't have job postings, but once you've found the employers that interest you, you can either go to those companies' web sites to look for openings, or mail the company your resume to keep on file (a directory of management is often listed, so you'll have the name of someone to whom you can address your cover letter). This is also a helpful site for people with interviews coming up, since it covers every U.S. business that is in the phone book. (I usually choose U.S. Businesses, then click on the Custom Search tab. Then under Industry, select keyword and type in the kind of company you're looking for, and under Geography, select zipcode and radius and type in the zip and how far you're willing to travel from there. Then click View Results.)

If you are looking for a new profession, BHPL offers Ferguson's Career Center, which has profiles of various careers, and advice on resumes and cover letters. Go to the BHPL web site and click on Remote Databases to get to Ferguson's. (BHPL also has legions of books on resumes and cover letters in the nonfiction section at the number 650.14.) Also available through Remote Databases is Universal Class, which offers online continuing ed classes including ones on resumes, etc.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics's Occupational Outlook Handbook is free online as well. You can browse by job type, or search for a particular kind of job.

Or try NJcan.org, the New Jersey Career Assistance Navigator is New Jersey's official online career guidance website.

The New Providence Memorial Library has a 3-part lecture series on job seeking skills coming up in late August and in September. The New Providence United Methodist Church has 8 re-employment seminars presented by career coach Lloyd Feinstein coming up in September.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Konnichiwa, Mango

Have you been meaning to learn a language, or just learn some key phrases before a trip abroad? BHPL offers residents at-home, online access to Mango Languages. You've probably seen the TV commercials or kiosks at the airport for Rosetta Stone, which is similar to Mango - you can read a comparison by a librarian at King County (Washington) Library here.

Mango has courses for over 20 languages, plus ESL courses for native speakers of 15 languages. "Little Pim" video courses for kids up to age 6 are available for 10 languages.
above: Little Pim videos

Mango's "basic" courses (as opposed to "complete," which there are fewer of) are suitable for travelers who want to study up before their trip, and have a gorgeous visual interface.
above: basic Spanish course

Mango color-codes the words on its flash cards, so even as you listen to the foreign words being spoken, you can match them up with the English translation. (Especially handy if the language isn't a subject-verb-object one like English).
above: flash card from basic Japanese course

If you want to get started, go to the BHPL web site and click on Remote Databases. Login with your library card number and click on the Mango Languages icon. From there, you can either jump right in, or create an account to track your progress.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Giant Zucchini Visits the Library

This little zucchini went to the library,
This little zucchini stayed home,
This little zucchini ate shredded paper,
This little zucchini had none,
And this little zucchini hid in the garden until he wasn't a little zucchini anymore...

It's easy to overlook a squash that lurks way back in the tangled mass of vines and leaves in the vegetable patch. One day, there's a beautiful orange squash blossom, a few days pass without checking the harvest, and voila: The Zucchini That Ate Berkeley Heights is revealed.
 Earlier this summer, I had the bright idea of using shredded library paper as mulch, so into the vegetable patch went old publisher catalogs, book promotions, maybe a book review or two. I imagined that my vegetables would soak up all that knowledge through some kind of mulch-osmosis. Think what this zucchini knows; it could take a shift on the Reference Desk, lead a book group, explain the Dewey Decimal System clearly... the possibilities are as endless as a warped imagination can ponder. Oh, about that Masters of Library Science, would it be a para-professional zucchibrarian, or a pro? Hard to say what goes on in the zucchini patch.
Related books: Backyard Giants, the passionate, heartbreaking, and glorious quest to grow the biggest pumpkin ever by Susan Warren.

Watch the video of the Giant Zucchini's visit to the library

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sister Pelagia

Boris Akunin's Sister Pelagia mystery series is set in a remote province of Russia, sometime before the Revolution topples the Czar in 1917. The Russian Orthodox Bishop Mitrofanii often sends his spiritual daughter, the capable (yet tellingly redheaded) convent schoolteacher Sister Pelagia, to look into suspicious goings-on (which usually have a creepy murderer somewhere behind them).

Here's a description of Pelagia from the second novel in the series, Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk:

When the traveler grew weary of knitting, she took up her reading, and she somehow managed to to pursue this activity not only in the peaceful railway carriage, but also in a jolting omnibus. She was reading two books alternately, one of which was perfectly suited to a pilgrimage - An Outline of Christian Morality by Theophanes the Anchorite. The other was a very strange choice - A Textbook of Firearm Ballistics: Part 2 - but she read it with no less care and attention.

I'm not exactly sure why I like this series, except that it has all the benefits of old-fashioned, 19th century narration (lots of exposition and told in decorous third person) but the benefits of a modern novel's plot (lots of red herrings, twists and turns). The first book in the series is Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog and I would start there.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Five years after I finished the first Thursday Next novel, The Eyre Affair, I was finally craving the next (a little Thursday goes a long way, the plots being incredibly fast paced, witty and full of literary references). I had to laugh when I opened the next book in the series, Lost in a Good Book, and found a Goliath rating of "Suitable For All" on its frontispiece (along with other tidbits such as "Violence: only on those who deserve it" and "Reading of banned books is against the law."). Goliath is the corporation that runs everything in the futuristic book-obsessed 1980s England of Thursday Next, who is a LiteraTec, or literary fraud investigator.

In Lost in a Good Book, Thursday's husband is eradicated (through the changing of past events) by a member of the time-travelling ChronoGuard who is in Goliath's pocket. In order to save her husband, Thursday must free the Goliath thug she trapped in The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe in the last book, as a sort of exchange. The problem is that her uncle's Prose Portal has disappeared right along with her uncle. Oh, and her father, a renegade member of the ChronoGuard, keeps popping up in his quest to find out why the world ends later that month. Plus, Goliath wants to know how Thursday manages to get into books.

I don't want to ruin the book by overdescribing it, but all serious book lovers who don't take their reading too seriously must read it, if only for a wonderful new perspective on Miss Havisham, and the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat (formerly known as the Cheshire Cat, before certain "boundary changes" required the changing of his name).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Would You Do What a Fortune Cookie Tells You?

I just finished Adam Langer's The Thieves of Manhattan, in which an editor advises a young author to always imagine "what if...?" when he writes. That advice seemed to apply to the next book I read, Geoffrey Wood's novel, The God Cookie. What if God gave you instructions in a fortune cookie? In the opening scene, coffee shop owner John Parrish opens his cookie;
"In simple black type, his fortune reads: TAKE THE CORNER." (p.31) Not a conventional fortune, he thinks, especially considering that he has just been thinking about whether God speaks to people, but they just don't listen, and he has promised, in the Chinese restaurant washroom, "Okay, God...I'm all in." (p.23) Parrish takes the matter to his best friends, slacker employees Duncan and Mason, and there follows a typical dialogue among the three twenty-something friends.
"All I'm saying is, as sentences from God go," Mason clarified, "it's a very short, not very informative sentence."
"He didn't have scads of room," said Duncan.
"God couldn't write on the back? Use a smaller font?" (p.35)
Several pages later, the men discover the cookie was made in New Jersey.
"Isn't that the Godforsaken State?"
"Garden State."
"Oh, right." (p.37)
I could have just said that the author has a way with snappy dialogue and an ear for the way hip twenty-somethings might interact, but I thought it would be better just to give a sample from the book. I also felt as though I wanted to interrupt their meandering musings about, for example, why golf balls have dents and join right in, without actually verifying the facts of course. It's bar talk, only in a coffee bar, and no one Googles for the answer on their Iphone because that would ruin the fun of arguing.
New Jersey Fortune Cookie by ASdeF
Parrish decides to "take the corner" and see where it leads him. It takes him to the corner bus stop, to several people who are waiting there, into their lives and ultimately on a journey of discovery about himself and his faith in God.

Related links: video of Geoffrey Wood
Interview with Geoffrey Wood
If you like this book, you might like
The Shack by William P. Young; The Alchemist by Paul Coelho; Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig

The library's morning book group will discuss The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig this Friday, August 6 at 10:30 a.m. Set in Montana in 1910, The Whistling Season is the story of the Millirons, 3 motherless boys and their father, a homesteader who replies to a classified ad (the family reads voraciously and gets several papers by mail) for a housekeeper who "can't cook but doesn't bite." Paul, the oldest of the three and a quick learner, narrates the story of the year that Halley's Comet, a new housekeeper and schoolteacher come into their life on the prairie during the, as the author's synopsis puts it: "unforgettable season that deposits the noncooking, nonbiting, ever-whistling Rose Llewellyn and her font-of-knowledge brother, Morris Morgan, in Marias Coulee along with a stampede of homesteaders drawn by the promise of the Big Ditch -- a gargantuan irrigation project intended to make the Montana prairie bloom."

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel by the author the San Francisco Chronicle calls "the reigning master of new Western literature." Doig's prose is often poetic, but he doesn't let that get in the way of his skilled storytelling.

You can find discussion questions on Ivan Doig's website. On the same site, Doig's background notes on The Whistling Season explains the autobiographical parts of this novel, as does his interview with Harcourt Books.

Update: the book group was pretty unanimous in their enthusiasm for this book. One member is giving a copy of it to her grandson to read. One of the questions that stirred up the most controversy, although not on the official list of discussion questions, was: what did Rose eat?! (In the book she barely eats anything, except rusk.)

Monday, August 2, 2010

More Shakespeare in the Parking Lot

The Next Stage Ensemble of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey presents an hour-long version of The Rover by Aphra Behn this Friday, August 6 at 7 p.m. in the parking lot behind the library. This often-overlooked classic of the 17th century theatre is directed by longtime Shakespeare Theatre company member Doug West. The Rover is recommended for ages 12 and up. Free, please bring your own chair. If it is pouring rain, the performance will take place at the Community Center at 29 Park Avenue, but if the weather is just iffy, stop by the library first.

A 2009 performance by the Next Stage Ensemble

The Rover is full of action, swashbuckling adventure and true (and false) love. Through a series of intrigues and mistaken identities, the play’s young heroine uses her wit and imagination to prevail in a man’s world. According to Wikipedia,
The "rover" of the play's title is Willmore, a rake and naval captain, who falls in love with a young woman named Hellena, who has set out to experience love before her brother sends her to a convent. Complications arise when Angellica Bianca, a famous courtesan who falls in love with Willmore, swears revenge on him for his betrayal.

The playwright, Aphra Behn, was a spy for Charles II in Antwerp, beginning in 1666 - the Second Anglo-Dutch War had broken out the year previous. Codenamed Astrea, she extracted valuable political secrets from her lover there. However, the English king did not pay her promptly, and she ended up in a debtor's prison in London. Later, Behn wrote for her living, the first woman in the English-speaking world to do so. (See the Wikipedia article for more information.)