Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Year in Read-view

Despite my lifetime membership in LibraryThing, I keep official track of what I've read in notebook I bought in Chinatown. Due to my aesthetic tastes at the time of purchase, it has a Hello Kitty-ish rainbow cat in the form of a cloud smiling at me on the front. This year the cat tells me I have read 51 books, unless I can finish up one of the 6 unread ones by tomorrow. That's average for me, but if anyone criticizes it, I can whip out the "but I read Moby Dick this year!" excuse.

My favorite books read for a book group were: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, The Photograph by Penelope Lively, and Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos. Except for The Whistling Season, all of these books were suggested by people in my book groups, who are brilliant except when they make me read books that I hate.

My favorite nonfiction books were: Switch by Chip Heath and Chad Heath, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. All of these were bestsellers when they came out, so I am losing points for originality here.

In the category of "really good if you share my obscure interests" are Mr. Langshaw's Square Piano by Madeline Goold, Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnades, Sweater Quest by Adrienne Martini and The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose.

Rounding up my fiction favorites are Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani (two points off for choosing another bestseller), By the Lake by John McGahern, A Call From Jersey by P.F. Kluge, which everyone in Berkeley Heights & environs should read, and Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Questions Today at the Reference Desk

Do you have any Theodore Dreiser books on tape or CD? No, but we do have Sister Carrie as a downloadable audiobook from Listen NJ. It comes bundled with a self-help tape for depression. No, just kidding.

Can you find information about my doctor? Yes, usually we can. We use AMA's Doctor Finder, The American Board of Medical Specialties website and/or the reference books to find educational information, address and phone number of offices and the NJ Office of the Attorney General to find the doctor's NJ license number and status. No, I can't tell you if I like your doctor or not.

Can you write this address (patron shows piece of paper with address on it) on this envelope for me? Um, yes, but why? Is it a ransom note? No, I just don't want the addressee to recognize my handwriting.

I can't read my handwriting with the information you gave me over the phone yesterday, can you give me the answer again? Yes. What is it with the handwriting problems today?

Can you look up 5 people's phone numbers for me? Yes. We use Reference USA, a database of phone and city directories available online to all NJ library card holders from any internet connected computer.

Patron calls back later to say several phone numbers did not work. Maybe he couldn't read his handwriting?

Why does the copier say it doesn't have any matching paper? I don't know. It often says that, but it's lying.
Does the library only have one copier now? Yes. The old copier location became a teen lounge.
 Alternatively, we could have middle schoolers lounging on the copier.

Can you look up this phone number which I don't recognize that was on my caller ID? Patron hands over scrap of paper with scribbled numbers. Yes. It's usually telemarketers calling from a cell phone or unlisted phone, but I can't find this one. Handwriting, people!

Do you have a fine tip marker I can use? No. How about a stubby, unsharpened golf pencil or some old pens I brought from home that have dog hair mixed in the ink tip? Might not help your handwriting though.

This book is damaged, can I have the copy from storage? Yes. My question is, why did we put the clean copy in storage and the one damaged by something which stained the pages red in the stacks. Yech.

Can I have blah blah tax forms for 2009? I couldn't find them on the IRS website. Yes. We use Google to find forms on the IRS site. It searches better than the IRS search function. Patron is not surprised that Google searches better than the government website. We commiserate about government inefficiency.

How late are you open? My son needs to study, asks mother waving hand at college age son gazing at test review book. 9:00 pm, I smile commiseratingly at the son. Lots of commiserating today.

Two men. Can we use the internet? Yes, you both can have a computer. No, I'm just here for moral support says one.

Can I get back the email I deleted from my spam folder in Yahoo? I don't think so. More commiserating.

Did you survive the storm? Yes. Did you?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top Ten Books of 2010 at BHPL

Fiction published in 2010 with the most checkouts so far at BHPL:

1. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
2. Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich
3. Worst Case by James Patterson
4. 61 Hours by Lee Child
5. Deliver Us From Evil by David Baldacci
6. 9th Judgment by James Patterson
7. Deception by Jonathan Kellerman
7. Private by James Patterson
9. Innocent by Scott Turow
10. Postcard Killers by James Patterson
11. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Yup, the top ten is 40% James Patterson. That's why I threw in Sarah Blake, for some variety.

Nonfiction published in 2010 with the most checkouts at BHPL:

1. The Big Short by Michael Lewis
2. Game Change by John Heilemann
3. Oprah : a biography by Kitty Kelley
4. This Time Together by Carol Burnett
5. Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler
6. Steinbrenner by Bill Madden
7. Making Toast : a Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt
8. Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush
8. War by Sebastian Junger
8. Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth

If The Big Short isn't enough for you, Henry Paulson's On the Brink and Joseph Stiglitz's Freefall were next most popular on the list.

Happy Holidays from the Library

(The library loves you back.)

BHPL is open until 9 p.m. today, closes Friday & Saturday, and reopens on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Dress for Diana by David & Elizabeth Emanuel

I never planned to blog about this book, since we've probably blogged about too many wedding books already, but given all the interest in Kate & William's wedding in April, it seems appropriate. This is a gorgeous, 9" x 11" book, filled mostly with photos and sketches, and written by the married couple who designed Princess Diana's wedding dress. It all began when Elizabeth Emanuel designed a wedding dress for her and David's joint graduation show at the Royal College of Art, which Brides magazine later featured. After they graduated, they leased cheap space in a building owned by the Queen's milliner and started to design dresses for people like Bianca Jagger.

Their shop was conveniently close to Vogue's offices, and Vogue selected one of their blouses to their photo shoot of Diana during the engagement. Then, Diana had them design the infamous black dress she wore with Charles to their first official event. As the Emanuels describe it in the book: "The transformation was incredible. She arrived looking like the nursery school teacher she was, but now she looked like a movie star. . . . We hadn't considered the fact that when Diana bent over - as she would have to do when getting out of the car - she would show quite a lot of cleavage."

The book has lots of interesting anecdotes about how the design was kept a secret from the press camped out outside, about the ladies who embroidered it, the toile versions of the dress made before work on the actual dress began, etc. If you are the kind of person who likes hearing about other people's wedding details, you'll like the parts about Diana's handmade wedding shoes, her veil with 10,000 hand-sewn sequins, and bouquet of English-grown flowers. Her "something old" was the lace used on the bodice, which was once owned by Queen Mary. She borrowed her tiara, a Spencer family heirloom, and a little blue bow was sewn into the back of the dress. The dress also has a tiny 18K gold horseshoe made from Welsh gold sewn into it, for luck.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously by Adrienne Martini

I'm a fan of the nonfiction narrative quest, whether it's to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, retrace the steps of a Viking woman, or eat only food that you or a neighbor grew. Especially if there is a one year time limit. Therefore Sweater Quest was irresistible to me once I read the back of the jacket, even though I am not much of a knitter. Well, I know the knit stitch, but I don't know how to purl. Yet.

In Sweater Quest, Adrienne Martini decides to make a Fair Isle sweater designed by the famous Scottish designer Alice Starmore, in a year, despite being a working mother. However, this particular Alice Starmore sweater is from one of Starmore's early books, before her split with her publishers and yarn manufacturers. So the book is rare and out-of-print, and the yarn impossible to buy at all. In fact, Martini's brave to refer to Starmore in print, as her book says that Starmore's nicknames in the knitting blogosphere are She Who Must Not Be Named or Litigious Scottish Designer.

Martini uses this incredibly complicated, knitted-in-the-round Fair Isle sweater as a jumping off point for other topics, like color theory, the Shetland Islands, or her conversations with other knitters, like the Mason Dixon Knitters Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner. Where do you draw the line between a traditional knitting pattern handed down the generations, and a designer's pattern? Why do women knit, and why is it considered weird when golfing (practiced by almost half fewer people) is not? Is the sweater Martini knitting really an Alice Starmore if she is using yarn substitutions?

Mostly, I liked this book because it's hilarious. Also, Martini's pointed me to some knitting blogs that are fun to read, like Yarn Harlot, which is the most popular blog (of any type) in Canada, according to Sweater Quest, or Susette Newberry's amazing, interdisciplinary blog about a knitted abecedarium, Knitting Letters: A to Z.

Watch Adrienne Martini talk about her quest here. You get to see the sweater, too.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It Wouldn't Be Christmas Without Books

Not the silly seasonal books that some big name authors churn out. I mean short classics that you can read in one sitting while recovering from decorating/shopping/cooking/parties:

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. Possibly the best beginning of a book ever:
One Christmas was so much like another,
in those years around the sea-town corner
now and out of all sound
except the distant speaking of the voices
I sometimes hear a moment before sleep,
that I can never remember
whether it snowed for six days and six nights
when I was twelve or
whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights
when I was six.

If you have never listened to the recording of Dylan Thomas reading this, you must. BHPL owns this on audiobook. Dylan Thomas' physician when he was in New York, Milton Feltenstein, lived in Free Acres in Berkeley Heights.

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl Buck

The story of a farmer's son who has little but finds a way to give his father the best present of his life. It can be read online but the version illustrated by Mark Buehner has beautiful paintings of dark snowy scenes.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote.

At libraries you generally have to check out Breakfast With Tiffany's to read this story ever since Modern Library published them in one volume. Six year-old Buddy and the elderly Miss Sook make fruitcakes for their friends out of moonshine and some pecans they gathered themselves.

Do you have a favorite holiday book that you read every year?

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Ghosts of Belfast

The Tuesday night book group will discuss Stuart Neville's The Ghosts of Belfast (published as The Twelve in the U.K.) tomorrow night at 7:30 pm.
The novel begins:

'Maybe if he had one more drink they'd leave him alone. Gerry Fegan told himself that lie before every swallow. He chased the whiskey's burn with a cool black mouthful of Guinness and placed the glass back on the table. Look up and they'll be gone, he thought.
No. They were still there, still staring. Twelve of them if he counted the baby in its mother's arms.'

Gerry Fegan was a hit man for the IRA, served his time in the notorious Maze Prison, and spends his life seeking escape from the ghosts of the twelve people he murdered during the Troubles. To appease his ghosts, Fegan decides to kill the men who ordered the hits. There begins this violent story. Ghosts fits into a growing body of contemporary Irish "noir" thrillers and will appeal to fans of John Connelly  and James Ellroy.

Related websites:
Soho Press
NPR - Chapter One, excerpt from the novel
CAIN - Conflict Archive on the INternet
BBC - The Search for Peace

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Life at the Reference Desk

Based on reader comments, a popular recurring blog feature are the lists of intriguing, quirky, or just plain difficult, questions we are asked at the Reference Desk. We write about these questions  to let people know that you can ask a reference librarian anything and we will try to find you an answer. We also do this to show that not all problems can be solved by Googling for an answer, not that we don't love Google as much as the next person. And we blog these requests because they are fun;  reference librarians are like bloodhounds, we just like to be put on the trail of a tough question and track it down to ground. If we aren't answering reference questions, we feel compelled to read book reviews until we fall face-first into Publishers Weekly babbling incoherently about which books might be requested 3 months from now. Save us from that nasty fate, just ask us a question.


The One When Ellen meets a reptile:

"This is going to seem odd, but could you help me identify this?" the patron said, proffering a plastic bag.

Mindful of another librarian I know of who had been asked to identify a LIVE SNAKE IN A BAG, I asked if it was a bug.

"No, it's a snake!" AAAAH!!!!! SNAKE!!!!

I asked if it was dead.

"Oh no, it's alive."

Well, it turned out to be a tiny snake (tied up in yet another bag inside) with an orange belly and a ring around its neck.

Trying to remain calm and not rip through the pages of our snake books, ever aware of the SNAKE BESIDE ME! (SNAKE!), I gave up and Googled it to save time. It was a ringnecked snake. They're very pretty actually.

Then the snake left.
Patron: "He is going to go live at Free Acres now."

P.S. : Strangely, I got the ringnecked snake question from a local resident too, but my patron just described the snake, luckily for me. Cell phone photos would be good too. Even better, you Ringneck snakes out there, please either stay out of sight or carry I.D. in the future.

The One Where Ellen Meets More Icky Wildlife:

Poor Ellen, here's another shudder-worthy question she got: "What are those weird bugs in my basement?" asked the patron. "You know, they look like pale spiders, but they hop?" That's actually a pretty common question around here because Camel Crickets are pretty common in NJ;  they tend to be fruitful and multiply in basements. They wouldn't be so bad if they just sauntered, but they hop quite high and violate one's personal space, seeming to aim for the innocent laundry basket which is then flung into the air with a cry as the harried householder heads to the washing machine. Can you tell, I speak from bitter experience?

Here is Ellen's icky bug research technique explained: "So how do we go about it? The first step is to narrow it down to which type of insect it is: cricket, beetle, etc. Then we flip through photos in our insect reference books and web sites like What's That Bug until we find a match. For a more scientific opinion, Rutgers will ID it for you for a fee (it also identifies plants and fungi.)"

The One Where Anne Decides She Needs a Hearing Aid.  No, really:

"Four times (one day last spring) and twice (another day) a patron called, spelled a word and asked the reference librarian how to pronounce it.  The problem is that "b" sounds like "v" which sounds like "t" which, well you get the idea. So I replied to the caller by saying things like "v as in vegetable or b as in baby?" but the phonetic alphabet didn't appeal to him. He thought that if he spelled louder I would get it. I didn't. To make matters worse, the words were in German. We went around in circles with these questions, both of us getting frustrated. In between calls, which I may have answered accurately or not, I looked up the NATO alphabet, also known as the Alpha Bravo Charlie alphabet or radio operators' alphabet. Maybe keeping Alpha Bravo Charlie chart near the phone would be a good idea."
P.S.: I did subsequently get hearing aids but strangely they haven't helped me understand German.

The One Where Anne Pulls a Rabbit out of a Hat:

Patron: "What' s the book that I was told every library would have and it's used at the Naval Academy and it's about California and all about ships in the 19th century?"

Librarian: "You don't mean Two Years Before the Mast, do you? "
Patron: "Yes, that's it!"

That's the rabbit out of the hat effect in reference. Sometimes, the right answer bubbles up from the subconscious. In this case, I remember my brothers reading the book, although I never did. We sometimes use the Novelist database to find books by subject, but there's no database that can replace the speed of human memory. Hitting the jackpot like that makes up for all the times working at the Reference Desk can make you feel really stupid.
We'll save Questions That Made Us Feel Stupid for another post.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Doctor Bloggers vs Librarian Bloggers

I probably should be hanging on every word of my fellow librarian bloggers, especially the ones who seem to be really cutting-edge & early adopters of new and annoying technologies, but what I turn to first on my Google Reader are two doctor blogs: The Cartoon Guide to Becoming a Doctor and Doctor Grumpy in the House. For one thing, and I mean this in the best possible way, Doctor Grumpy's patients are way more eccentric than library patrons. Having said that, I have permission from one of our regular patrons, who just stopped by the desk, to recount our conversation. I've been sitting at the Reference Desk with my winter coat on most days lately and have gotten lots of comments on that. I hoped our local taxpayers would think we are just trying to save their money by not heating the library much, but still the comments come about my garb of choice. I explained to this patron that the Ref Desk is in a Cold Zone and he suggested I get one of those all-in-one zip-up blankets-with-arms which are advertised on late night TV. Not sure that's the proper "professional" librarian look we're aiming for here and I'm really sure that when I have to accompany a patron to the stacks to find a book that my hopping in the blanket sack would be ... well what would it be? Remarkably odd, but at least the aerobic activity would warm me up and amuse the patron, and isn't that what we really mean by "good customer service"?
Note: I don't know why I've been so cold lately, but I'm sure not going to Dr. Grumpy to find out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hanukkah Lights

Hanukkah Lights is a collection of stories taken from Hanukkah Lights, a holiday program on National Public Radio every year (and it comes with a CD so you can listen to 4 extra stories). Mark Helprin's story, "Hanukkah in the Age of Guys and Dolls" was my favorite. It begins with funny anecdotes from his childhood, when he disliked the one-upmanship of holidays in general, and ends with his reconciliation with and understanding of Hanukkah, in 1972 or 73 when Helprin was in the Israeli army and spent a night watching bonfires go up across the Beit Shan Valley and in the mountains above.

There are also stories by Elie Wiesel, Myra Goldberg, and Daniel Pinkwater (author of one of my childhood favorites, The Hoboken Chicken Emergency) to mention only a few. The back of the book calls it "perfect for family reading" and they are quite short, so you won't tire your voice out.

Friday, December 3, 2010

By Snowshoe or Canoe

The editor of The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, 1887-1890, Ted Behne, will speak at BHPL and present the photographs and illustrations from Adney's journals on Wednesday, December 8 at 7 p.m. Adney was a contributor to Harper's Weekly and his models of aboriginal canoes helped save the birchbark canoe from oblivion. Here is a taste of one of his adventures:
One day Hum and I were studying over a large map of the Province of New Brunswick that we had pasted up on the rough wall of a room in the garret that we fixed up, and where we molded our bullets and tanned our muskrat hides, a den exclusively our own where we could take refuge at all times and discuss our trips, and plan for others.

"There's a chain of lakes," said Humbolt, pointing to a spot just north of the line [the United States/Canada border], "and in the Province of Quebec it's called the Squatic [sic] [l]akes and I'd like to go up there.

"We could take a canoe up on the train as far as Little Falls, and it must [be] a hundred miles around the chain of lakes. I don't see why we couldn't go up there this fall. Nobody but a few Frenchmen ever goes up there. What do you say we go?"

It was never my policy to differ with Humbolt about matters like this.

-Page 105, from the chapter "A Trip in a Birch Canoe Through the Squatook Lakes Sept. 24, 1888 in The Travel Journals of Tappan Adney, 1887-1890

Copies of the book will be available for signing afterward. You can read an interview with Behne on the front page of the Independent Press here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

The morning book group chose to discuss Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell at the next meeting (Friday, December 3 at 10:30 a.m.) because most of us really enjoyed her previous novel, A Thread of Grace. Agnes, a middle-aged schoolteacher, recounts the story of her life from beyond the grave. After inheriting a few estates when her family members die in the flu epidemic of 1918-1919, she is inspired to visit Egypt by a Palmolive commercial. Coincidentally, the Cairo Conference is in town at the same time, meeting to decide the fate of Britain's provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Al-Basrah (long story short: Iraq). She meets Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine, Lawrence of Arabia, Gertrude Bell, and a German man who admits to being a spy during the (first) World War, and is interested in the gossip she brings back to him from the outings and parties she attends.

According to the book the fictional Agnes is standing on the left side of this famous photo:

The title comes from something T.E. Lawrence wrote in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which is quoted in Dreamers of the Day:

Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible.

You can find discussion questions about the book on the Random House web site, which also has an interview with Mary Doria Russell. And below is a KPFA radio interview with the author about Dreamers of the Day:

Cover to Cover with Richard Wolinsky - April 10, 2008 at 3:00pm

Click to listen (or download)

How did you like the book? If you've also read A Thread of Grace by the same author, how does it compare?