Friday, October 29, 2010

NaNoWriMo: an excuse to write

Many thanks to New Jersey author and BHPL blog contributor Robert J. Daniher for this post about National Novel Writing Month.

Attention wannabe novelists! November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month; a push encouraging people to write a 50,000 word rough draft throughout the month. The idea is to write around 1,600 words a day. It can be a difficult undertaking but, also a tremendously exciting one. Imagine the sense of pride in completing a novel in 30 days.

Now, I know what you’re all thinking: “I’ve got a house to clean, a job to go to. There’s no time to write.” But, even the most accomplished novelists had a day job with responsibilities when they first put pen to paper. And if they could make the time, so can you. The best part of NaNoWriMo is that it’s strictly up to you how you proceed with the challenge. There’s no prize for winning and no punishment for losing. It simply encourages you to write every day. Trying to write 1,600 words a day will certainly park your rear in a chair for at least 30 minutes. If you’re only able to put down 200 words in one sitting, it’s 200 more than you did the day before. And that’s an accomplishment. If you carve out 30 minutes a day; as soon as you wake up in the morning or just before you go to bed, by the end of the month writing will become a habit in your life. And after a few weeks, your 200 words a day might become 2,000 words day.

So what if you only write a few thousand words by the end of the month instead of 50,000. That’s still more than you would have written had you not challenged yourself. Just taking that first step is a chance to embark on a journey you always wanted to, and it might be a defining moment in your writing career.

Robert J. Daniher


Related websites: National Novel Writing Month

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

College on a CD

Rainy fall days like this remind me of the beginning of the semester in college, when you poured over the course catalog (do they even still print those anymore?) dreaming of what classes you'd take. In that spirit I offer you BHPL's "course catalog" of Teaching Company courses that the library owns on CD. It's like college, but without the tests and papers. Each lecture is only half an hour and is taught by professors selected by the Teaching Company for their "award-winning teaching abilities, their profound insights into their respective fields and their ability to instill in students the sheer joy of learning." Hmm, what to pick first? Broadway musicals, or the joy of science? Shakespeare, or Books that made history?

Argumentation: the study of effective reasoning
The great ideas of philosophy
Great minds of the Western intellectual tradition
No excuses : existentialism & the meaning of life
Philosophy as a guide to living

American ideals : founding a "Republic of Virtue"
The Age of Henry VIII
Between the rivers.: the history of ancient Mesopotamia
Books that have made history : books that can change your life
The Era of the Crusades
European thought and culture in the 19th century
Famous Greeks.
Famous Romans.
From Yao to Mao : 5000 years of Chinese history
Great battles of the ancient world
Great pharaohs of ancient Egypt
The history of ancient Rome
A history of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts
A history of freedom
The history of the United States
The Italians before Italy : conflict and competition in the Mediterranean
King Arthur and chivalry
Medieval heroines in history and legend
Mr. Lincoln: the life of Abraham Lincoln
The Peloponnesian War
Rome and the barbarians
The United States and the Middle East, 1914 to 9/11
The Vikings
The wisdom of history
The world of Byzantium
World War I, the "Great War"

St. Augustine's confessions
The book of Genesis
Great figures of the New Testament
Great figures of the Old Testament
Great World Religions. Buddhism
Great world religions. Christianity
Great world religions. Hinduism
Great world religions. Islam
Great world religions. Judaism
Introduction to Judaism
Jewish intellectual history: 16th to 20th century
The story of the Bible.

Beethoven's piano sonatas
Concert masterworks
The concerto
Great American music : Broadway musicals
Great masters. Brahms, his life & music
Great masters. Haydn, his life & music
Great masters. Liszt, his life & music
Great masters. Mahler, his life & music
Great masters. Mozart, his life & music
Great masters. Robert & Clara Schumann, their lives and music
Great masters. Shostakovich, his life & music
Great masters. Stravinsky, his life & music
Great masters. Tchaikovsky, his life & music
How to listen to & understand great music
How to listen to and understand opera
The operas of Mozart
The symphonies of Beethoven
The symphony
Understanding the fundamentals of music

Biological anthropology : an evolutionary perspective
Biology : the science of life
Earth's changing climate
Einstein's relativity and the quantum revolution : modern physics for non-scientists
The history of science: 1700-1900
History of science : antiquity to 1700
The joy of science
Science in the twentieth century: a social-intellectual survey
The theory of evolution : a history of controversy

Classics of American literature
Classics of Russian literature
The English novel
How to read and understand poetry
The life and writings of C. S. Lewis
The lives and works of the English Romantic poets
Machiavelli in context
Masterpieces of short fiction
Shakespeare: the word and the action
William Shakespeare : comedies, histories, and tragedies

A history of the English language
The story of human language

If you'd like to take a course with assignments and interaction with your professor and classmates, try Universal Class, which offers continuing ed classes in over 500 topics. Go to and click Remote Databases to get to Universal Class.

Friday, October 22, 2010

D.I.Y. Friday

Browsing the non-fiction shelves turned up these three do it yourself (D.I.Y.) crafts books.
Sue Havens' Make Your Own Toys, sew soft bears, bunnies, monkey, puppies and more! makes me remember the sock monkeys of my childhood. You could make one of the Simple Gifts, 50 Little Luxuries to craft, sew, cook & knit by Jennifer Worick in time for the holidays. Make it Wild! 101 things to make and do outdoors by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield includes projects for ice lanterns, tie dying, go cars, natural paints and more.
Related websites:

A personal favorite of mine: The Crappy Crafters Be sure to leave comments about your own 'interesting' crafting attempts.
Or if you try to make some crappy crafts and make an awful mess instead, just post it on or read about others at CraftFail the brainchild, or maybe evil stepcraftingchild, of Heather Mann, creator of Dollar Store Crafts.

OK, blogophiles, you've got the whole weekend, get crafting or just lie on the sofa and peruse these and other arts and crafts books from BHPL. I know what my plan is.

PS: if you really have time to kill, Google 'sock monkey' and you will be amazed at the cult of sock monkeys that exists on the internet.

OK, that's all, folks. Happy Crafting!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Little Bee, published as The Other Hand in the U.K., tells the story of Sarah, an English fashion magazine editor, and Little Bee, a refugee from Nigeria, whose lives collide on a beach in Africa. Sarah, married to Andrew, a foreign affairs journalist, is bored with her upper middle class life, bored with her husband,  and feels guilty about the affair she has been having with Lawrence, a civil servant hack from the Home Office. So Sarah proposes an exotic vacation to Nigeria, a completely arbitrary choice made mostly because she received free tickets to go there and because she fancies herself as someone who does daring and different things while on vacation.
A quick Google search finds the October 19, 2010 U.S. State Department travel alert advising that non-essential travel to Nigeria is not recommended:  "Violent crime committed by individuals and gangs, as well as by persons wearing police and military uniforms, remains a problem throughout the country." However, Sarah did not "Google" Nigeria and seems unaware of the dangers; she thinks a trip will heal her marriage. The pivotal event of the book occurs when Sarah and her husband have ventured out of the safe hotel compound to the beach where they encounter soldiers searching for two girls who have witnessed atrocities related to the destruction of their family and home because there is oil beneath the ground of their village. The reader learns that violence and corruption arising from the oil-based economy have plagued the country , even though officially Nigeria is regarded as a relatively democratic and thriving African nation.
The soldiers on the beach demand that Andrew cut off a finger with their machete in order to save the girls. What would you do? Andrew declines the bargain, Sarah chops off her own finger and the soldiers march  off with the girls anyway. Two years later, the younger sister, Little Bee, shows up at Andrew and Sarah's home outside London.
The story is told in the alternating voice of Little Bee and Sarah and the truth, or details, of that day on the beach is gradually revealed, as is the story of the two horrifying years Little Bee spent in a British detention center for refugees. The reader learns about the awful conditions in these centers filled with desperate people suffering from post-traumatic shock.
The story of Little Bee sets up so many moral dilemmas that exist in the relationship between wealthy countries and the developing world and how those moral choices can play out between individuals that this book is a very good choice for a reading group to discuss.
To learn more about the problems caused by oil drilling in Nigeria, author Chris Cleave's website  links to sites that show the human and ecological cost of oil exploration. Cleave recommends the website, The Global Detention Project for further study of the plight of international refugees.
Despite its serious subject matter, the book Little Bee does not take a scolding, moralistic tone and there is humor in the irony of the situations the characters find themselves in.

Revolution '67

In July of 1967, 26 citizens of Newark died after the police beating of John Smith, a black cab driver, ignited 6 days of rioting. It was one of the most deadly racial disturbances on a per capita basis in U.S. history. On Tuesday, October 26 at 6:30 p.m., BHPL will screen an award-winning documentary, Revolution '67, which not only reconstructs the riots but goes back into Newark's history to discover its roots. Revolution '67 was selected for the PBS documentary series P.O.V. and attracted more than a million TV viewers when it aired earlier this year.
From the POV site:
Revolution ‘67 reveals how the disturbances began as spontaneous revolts against poverty and police brutality and ended as fateful milestones in America's struggles over race and economic justice. Voices from across the spectrum — activists Tom Hayden and Amiri Baraka, journalist Bob Herbert, Mayor Sharpe James, and other officials, National Guardsmen and Newark citizens — recall lessons as hard-earned then as they have been easy to neglect since.
Revolution '67's filmmakers, Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno and Jerome Bongiorno, will attend the screening at BHPL. Dr. Mark Krasovic, the Geraldine R. Dodge Postdoctoral Fellow at Rutgers-Newark's Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience, will lead a public discussion afterward. This program is funded by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, through its series "Justice: a Dialogue Through Film."

This program is free and open to all. Registration is recommended. Light refreshments will be served.

UPDATE: The discussion of Revolution '67 at BHPL was filmed by HomeTowne TV (channel 36). We're at minute 22.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cleaving: a Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession by Julie Powell

Perhaps you've seen Julie and Julia, the movie Nora Ephron made out of Julie Powell's book about making all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. If so, you probably think of Julie as sweet and happily married, like so:

Um, you might want to toss that picture out the window. In fact, I suspect Cleaving was Julie's horrified reaction at being typecast as a romantic comedy heroine by most of America when she is actually one of those blogger-foodie New York hipsters.

Cleaving is about the Julie's months of apprenticeship as a butcher in upstate New York, followed by an around-the-world trip to Argentina, Ukraine and Tanzania to study their local meat and butchering customs.

While she's cutting up animals and getting covered in "schmutz" and blood, she reflects on her two year affair & obsession with a man who isn't her husband. Her marriage to her high school sweetheart stifles her, but is such an essential part of her that she can't leave it. Hence the title of the book, Cleaving, which means two contradictory things at once: "to separate" and "to hold together and resist separation." (Thanks, Visual Thesaurus.) Plus, it's what butchers do. It's the most perfectly titled book ever.

I enjoyed rooting for Powell to find an apprenticeship, the banter between her and her fellow butchers at the butcher shop, the details of the butchering process (the parts that didn't gross me out, at least) and the round-the-world trip to find herself in the second half. However, some of the book is tough to read - her obsession with her former lover and what sounds like masochism. Take that, Nora Ephron.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

I've wanted to read Chris Bohjalian ever since I heard him speak at a library conference in 2008. He admitted to folding laundry while talking on the phone to book groups, which won a place in my heart (the fact that he's so accessible to book groups, of course. Don't all men fold laundry?)

The other reason I wanted to read The Double Bind is because it's shot through with F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. I still get shivery when I read the end of The Great Gatsby:
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning----

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The heroine of The Double Bind is a young social worker who used to swim at a Long Island country club that was formerly Jay Gatsby's estate. Then one of her homeless shelter's clients dies and leaves behind old photos, including some of Daisy's house.

The Double Bind is like a box that you can't neatly shut when you've finished reading it. You'll find yourself flipping through it again, realizing there's more layers to the story to discover.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Traveler by Ron McLarty

The library evening book group will discuss Ron McLarty's Traveler on Tuesday night at 7:30 pm. Traveler, actor and author McLarty's second novel, has lived up to expectations of readers and critics after his critically acclaimed The Memory of Running.

The plot: middle-aged and middling part-time actor and bartender, Jono Riley returns to his working-class hometown of East Providence, Rhode Island, when he hears of the death of Marie, a childhood friend. A bullet left in Marie's body after a random and unsolved shooting in her childhood traveled to an artery and killed her in her sleep. Jono travels home to find that his gang of friends, now dispersed or dead, have changed. Narrated in the first person, Jono's memories of growing up are interwoven with the present day trip. During his visit, Jono and retired policeman Kenny Snowden solve the cases of the unsolved shooting of Marie and several other local unsolved shootings.  

The beauty of this book, as with Art in America, the only other McLarty novel I've read, is in the voice of the narrator. Jono Riley's story is told in a conversational style that just flows like someone who can hold a group of friends spellbound with his storytelling ability. The mystery in the plot certainly holds the readers interest, but I felt that the trip down memory lane, revisiting old haunts, remembering old friends from highschool, re-experiencing the old neighborhood and the remaining parents of old friends, all of these things most people will relate to. So many people leave home after highschool graduation and really never live at home again, that the experience of trying to recapture the old days is almost universal. I don't know how it feels to be one of the people who stay in the hometown, but for everyone else, the nostalgia that comes with leaving home will resonate.
Jono Riley after helping Officer Snowden uncover a cache of guns in the old priest's trunk wonders:
"Standing alone, some wind whipping around and gray clouds rolling in, I felt it seemed to be the perfect time to ask myself what the hell I was doing here. Rhode Island. East Providence. The bartender/actor sinking in memories and mysteries...I remain essentially a child of the working class, seeking at the very least a modicum of order." (158) Jono Riley decides he needs to go back to New York City, his girlfriend, his present-day life to get his life in order.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

Change is usually thrown around with two of my least favorite words - "empower" and "embrace". But Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard was a refreshing change from the blathering that I feared. The basic premise is that you can harness the strengths of your rational side, your emotional side, and your environment, depending on which is most useful in achieving your goal. The authors call this "directing the rider," "harnessing the elephant" and "shaping the path." The tone is light and the authors tell the stories of both individuals and corporations who have made major changes that stuck, thrown in with lots of interesting psychological studies. You can read excerpts here.

One of the most inspiring stories was the case of Save the Children, which illustrates the authors' strategy of "identifying the bright spots" - one of the ways you can "direct the rider". The charity had opened a one-person office in Vietnam in 1990 to fight malnutrition, but was only given 6 months by the government to prove itself. Jerry Sternin of Save the Children asked women in certain villages to collect information on the children in their villages. They found that some children thrived despite growing up in the same economic circumstances as everyone else. Their mothers were feeding them - hand-feeding them - smaller meals more often, and supplementing their diets with wild shrimp, crabs and sweet potato greens that they collected themselves. Save the Children could then create mothers' groups in lots of villages to spread the information. Six months later, 65% of the children in the original village were better nourished.

Switch is available in nonfiction at 303.4 HEA.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The War of the Worlds

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles narrated and broadcast the radio version of H.G. Wells' novel of Martian invasion, The War of the Worlds. Terror ensued when people mistook the broadcast for news and thought aliens were landing in Grover's Mill, New Jersey.

Henry Morse, the Old-Time Radio Man, will replay the original radio drama here at BHPL on Tuesday, October 5 at 7 p.m. and recount the dramatic events that followed. (You may remember him from last year when he played an episode of The Shadow.) This program is free and open to the public. You can register here.

If you can't make it to the program, you can also read about The War of the Worlds phenomenon in a couple of children's books: Aliens are Coming! (J 791.44 McC) and The Night the Martians Landed (J 791.44 KRU). And there's a DVD called The War of the Worlds: an Historical Perspective of the H.G. Wells Classic Book (located at DVD WAR).

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rainy Day Reading

Rainy days conjure up a picture of a cozy armchair with a good reading light, a dog at your feet and a book in hand. Here's a list of books to escape into on this very wet day in New Jersey:
I Captured the Castle by Dodie Smith. I just read this 1949 coming of age memoir which is written in the form of a journal by 17 year old Cassandra who lives in a decaying castle with her eccentric family. It's beautifully written, witty, nostalgic. I spent the first weeks of September starting, and then giving up on, several new books and finally pulled this old paperback off my pile of books-I-intend-to-read-someday. This was an antidote to the bad writing that is so pervasive in books these days. I recommend it for readers who like stories of between-the-wars England.

Jeeves in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse. Having enjoyed one book from my pile of "to reads", I turned to my pile of "re-readables", and selected my all-time favorite author, P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse's iconic gentleman's gentleman, Jeeves, and his bumbling employer, Bertie Wooster, head out to the country town of Steeple Bumpleigh, lair of his dreaded Aunt Agatha, for misadventures and misunderstandings that only Jeeves can fix. Also published as Joy in the Morning, this is one of the Master's funniest books with hilarious wordplay on every page.

For "mini-reviews" of the Jeeves books, take a look at Lenny Ng's page.

Other rainy day titles:
At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie - solve a crime with Miss Marple as she visits London.
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot - enjoy life on the Yorkshire Dales with this country vet's memoirs.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson - the author recalls growing up in the Midwest in the 1950's.