Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Reading Journal is Full

Twenty years ago, when I moved to New Jersey, my book group in Washington, D.C. gave me a reading journal to keep track of the books I read. I just finished my last book of 2011 and have come to the last page of my journal. There were years when I didn't keep track very well of what I read, or added titles in misremembered batches later, but for the last five or so years, I've been pretty good at keeping up to date. The trick, I think, is to just put the author, title and date read. Don't expect to review the book or you will just avoid writing in the journal at all. You can also save your receipts from the library to refresh your memory if you return a book before entering it in the journal. I have also kept track of my reading on You can see my list on the rights side of this blog. Sometimes I write a brief review or description of the book for this blog or or GoodReads. A friend recently noted that I don't give many stars to my GoodReads reviews. I'm a hard grader, I guess. So if you look at that list, just consider three stars to be four and four to be five and that will probably be more in line with other raters on the website. I try not to give negative reviews on this blog, because the idea, in my mind at least, is to find good things for our library patrons to read. I do try to tell who I think the book will appeal to, ie: "if you like this, then try that" - linking what are sometimes called "read-a-likes."
In the next few posts, I will write about my favorite books of 2011 and some of the memorable books I've read in the last twenty years.
Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

The Leftovers: Left Behind, only funny

The last book I read in 2011 is a weird one and memorable. With The Leftovers, New Jersey author Tom Perrotta imagines how the world would react if suddenly millions of people just disappeared. Poof, like the Rapture, only maybe it isn't really the Rapture. Exactly what happened and why is never clear to the reader or to the millions of people left behind on earth: the 'Leftovers.' The author is funny and sad, nostalgic and hopeful, all in the same sentence. I think this may be Perrotta's trademark emotional style. The premise is depressing, but with humorous observations about suburban New Jersey life to balance out the overall tone of the book. Who was taken out (up?): the Pope, TV chefs and various pop stars. Who was left behind?: the good and the bad and most of all the ordinary, common man and woman. Cults arise to deal with the worldwide tragedy and the authors satire of cults is also funny but sad. The 'Guilty Remnant' cult followers wear white, take a vow of silence, smoke cigarettes and follow and watch people, all the while staring and blowing smoke at them. The Holy Waynes follow a charismatic leader who starts out with good intentions to heal the bereft,  but then becomes an amoral egomaniac. The Barefoot People are like hippies with an eye painted on their foreheads who go the opposite way from the Guilty Remnants, they are the hedonists to their stoics.
Definitely a book to think about long after turning the last page.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Jesuits in Outer Space

Mary Doria Russell now mostly writes historical fiction, but her first and wonderful novel, The Sparrow, is science fiction. The Sparrow is about a Jesuit mission (more scientific than religious) to a planet inhabited by alien species. However, most of the novel takes place on Earth, alternating between 2019 when the music radio broadcasts from the planet Rakhat are intercepted, and 2060, when the sole survivor, Father Emilio Sandoz, returns and is unwilling to talk about what happened. This may sound depressing, but the prospect of finding out what happened, and the wonderfully developed characters - a doctor, an artificial intelligence analyst, an engineer, and an astronomer, among others - kept me reading. The author is a Catholic who converted to Judaism, and the main characters are Jesuit priests and a Sephardic Jew, so The Sparrow will be more interesting to readers who are interested in Judaism and Christianity. The Sparrow won the 1998 Arthur Clarke Award (the best science fiction novel published in the UK that year).

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some Staff Favorites This Year

I asked my coworkers which book, out of all the ones they read this year, was their favorite. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth since librarians don't like to choose just one book, but after some prodding I got these titles:

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. "Put that it scared me simple."

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

I'll Walk Alone by Mary Higgins Clark

Lady Susan by Jane Austen. Finding a Jane Austen novel you haven't read before is great, isn't it?

Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin. Yours truly's choice. The movie is good too.

Monday, December 19, 2011

ListenNJ is now eLibraryNJ

Once upon a time (OK - in 2006), a group of libraries joined together to lend free downloadable audiobooks to their patrons via has been renamed to reflect the fact that it has been lending eBooks as well as audiobooks since 2010. As a bonus, the web site has been newly redesigned too.

Although most of the titles available at eLibraryNJ are shared with all libraries, some titles are reserved for Berkeley Heights library cardholders. Log in with your library card before you search in order to find these books.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Did You Know You Can Listen to Audiobooks on Your Kindle?

I'm not talking about the uninflected robotic voice that can read your Kindle eBooks out loud. I mean the real deal, the kind narrated by an actor or actors in a studio. Here's how it works:

Get an audiobook in MP3 format, either one of the MP3 CD audiobooks that BHPL lends, or one from (free if you have a BH library card). You will need to download the Overdrive Media Console. Select an audiobook that has an "MP3" icon and download the title. Plug your Kindle into your PC. In Overdrive Media Console, click the title you downloaded and then click Transfer.

Go to My Computer and browse to the Kindle drive. Drag the MP3 files from the Kindle folder to the "audible" folder of your Kindle. The audiobook's tracks will show up on the Home page beside your eBooks with a little label that says "Music" to the left. If you have a Kindle Fire, the audiobook tracks show up on your Music tab.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How to Listen and Understand Great Music

Yes, I'm going to explain how to do that in one blog post. Just kidding.

New Jersey's own Robert Greenberg is the entertaining lecturer of the music appreciation course with that name. That is, How to Listen and Understand Great Music, which BHPL has in its nonfiction audiobook collection. New Jersey comes up during a discussion of Lorenzo Da Ponte, the Venetian who wrote the libretti (a.k.a. the lyrics) for Mozart's operas. In 1805 Da Ponte ran a grocery store in Elizabeth of all places, before becoming Columbia University's first professor of Italian literature.

Dr. Greenberg tells funny and illuminating stories about composers, but what I liked best was learning about A) opera - which I thought I would have to suffer through - and B) the various forms of pieces (for example, concertos, oratorios, fugues), and how they came about. You get to hear a little of each selection, which is a good way to figure out what you'd enjoy listening to on your own in full later.

This audiobook course is located at BHPL at CD AUDIO 780.9 GRE - scan the walls for a pink flamingo to find the nonfiction audiobooks. Robert Greenberg has also put a version of the course in printed form with the book "How to Listen to Great Music: a Guide to Its History, Culture and Heart". For more reviews of Teaching Company courses that you can borrow from the library: Museum Masterpieces: the Met; The Story of Human Language; and a list of courses that BHPL owns.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Once Upon a Time . . .

The artist Bea Tobolewski is putting the finishing touches on the children's room.

The official reopening was on November 19. This dog from the Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter was one of the guests present.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

If you like hard-boiled mysteries...

I took a sharp detour from reading my usual cozy mystery genre to venture into the dark underbelly of crime, violent characters, urban decay and deceitful treachery of the noir genre. The 39th installment in the Spenser series by the late Robert B. Parker,  Sixkill introduces Zebulon Sixkill, an American Indian whom Spenser takes on as an apprentice. Parker's Spenser series is always dependably engrossing and well-written and Sixkill will not disappoint fans.
Next, I read George Pelecanos' The Cut, the first in a new series featuring investigator Spero Lucas. Spero is an Iraq vet and D.C. native who works for a local lawyer and takes his own cases recovering lost property. Fans of TV's the Wire and Treme, written by Pelecanos, will know to expect a very dark view of humanity and lots of heart-wrenching violence.  Despite the fact that I don't generally read or particularly like violent novels, The Cut held my attention and I finished it despite an incredibly graphic and disturbing murder scene which made me want to quit reading altogether. Fans of Michael Connelly will like Pelecanos' books. Washington, DC natives will recognize the local landmarks, schools, restaurants and haunts that only natives are familiar with. This is not the DC of people who live in Georgetown and the northwest section of Northwest and who come and go with political jobs. It's the DC of rabid Redskins fans and people who know how to get around without ever using the Beltway.
Related websites:
George Pelecanos
Robert B. Parker

Friday, December 2, 2011

Born on a Blue Day

The Friday Morning Book Group just discussed Daniel Tammet's Born on a Blue Day, inside the extraordinary mind of an autistic savant, a memoir which I reviewed on this blog when I first read it in 2007.
Mr. Tammet begins his memoir,
"I was born on January 31, 1979 -- a Wednesday. I know it was a Wednesday, because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue, like the number 9 or the sound of loud voices arguing."..." I have a rare condition known as savant syndrome, little known before its portrayal by actor Dustin Hoffman in the Oscar-winning 1988 film Rain Man. Like Hoffman's character, Raymond Babbitt, I have an almost obsessive need for order and routine which affects virtually every aspect of my life."
The author's condition has been studied by autism experts world wide and because he is able to fully express what it feels like to be him, his participation in research studies is especially valuable and likewise, his memoir gives a rare glimpse into the mind of a person with synesthesia, Aspergers and savant syndrome.
The book led to a very lively discussion about normal brain function,  and cases like Daniel's which resulted in the ability to learn a new language in a week, recite Pi for hours on end to the umpty-umpth (22,514) digit, and do complex mathematical calculations quickly in his head. We discussed whether he might be a fraud, or just memorizing things by using mnemonic tricks as described in Moonwalking with Einstein, the art and science of remembering everything by Joshua Foer. Having seen Tammet on video clips of his TV appearances, most agreed that he did not appear autistic at all, but felt that his condition is genuine.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Museum Masterpieces: the Met

The library has a wonderful Teaching Company course on DVD that you can borrow called Museum Masterpieces: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are 24 half hour lectures, but you can skip around if you like.

My favorite part was learning about the historical connections between works of art in the Museum. An amazing engraved helmet, the "burgonet with falling buffe" (above) is on display in the Department of Arms and Armor. The helmet was given to the Medici court in Florence sometime in the 16th century. The helmet appears in a portrait of Cosimo II de Medici, which the Met web site says is not on display - another reason to check out the DVDs. The lectures will also give you a peek at famous prints, photographs and costumes usually not on display.

The period rooms you can wander around in (like the bedroom from the Sagredo Palace in Venice, above) have always been my favorite part of the Met. The DVDs showed me several rooms I had never come across before, including the Verplanck Room in the American Wing. The Verplanck Room's furniture is from the home Daniel Verplanck grew up in. Daniel's childhood portrait by John Singleton Copley is also at the Met, and the view in the background is that of his family's home in Fishkill-on-Hudson. The walls and cornice of the room were taken from another house in the Hudson River Valley, so the portrait's background gives you an idea of what the view through the room's windows may have been like.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Manu, Yemo and Trito: the 5,000 Plus Year-Old Creation Myth

This past month I've been fascinated by The Horse, the Wheel and Language by David Anthony. Anthony takes linguists' work on Proto-Indo-European (the mother of modern languages as varied as Sanskrit, Latin, Greek and English) and links it to archaeological studies, including his own, to theorize where Proto-Indo-European was spoken and how it spread. Although I tend to skim the many chapters of archaeological evidence, there is some really interesting stuff in here, like the Proto-Indo-European creation myth.

Anthony offers compelling evidence for the theory that horse-riding herders from the steppes around the Black Sea, wanting more pasture land in order to maximize their wealth, spread westward towards modern-day Hungary and beyond (and finally eastward toward India). He argues that the language spread not due to strictly military invasions, but due to a system resembling modern day franchises, where chiefs offered protection to native farmers in return for the best land for their herds. Natives began to speak the more prestigious Indo-European dialect. If you lived within this system, you followed a strict code of hospitality. The English words "guest" and "host" both come from the same Proto-Indo-European root, which has been reconstructed as *ghost-ti.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Belated Thanksgiving Story

This time last year, I posted this shaggy dog story before Thanksgiving. I thought it was funny enough to repost. Enjoy.

The Library Parrot at Thanksgiving

Some libraries have library cats as recounted in Dewey, the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, or aquariums in the children's room like the one at the New Providence Library down the road; one library where I worked had a Guinea Pig in a cage on the big oak library table in the reading room. The G.P was low on entertainment value as he hid in his cardboard tube most of the time during daylight hours. By far, the most remarkable library pet I've ever heard of was a parrot: Decimal.

Decimal, the parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. Decimal swore like a sailor and could peel the wallpaper off the wall at thirty paces with his salty vocabulary. The library staff tried and tried to change Decimal's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and modeling proper library behavior in an attempt to "clean up" the bird's vocabulary, but to no avail. Decimal continued to offend everyone, including the library's patrons. The library Board of Trustees had received many complaints about the parrot's behavior and the Director felt pressured to rehabilitate Decimal or give him away.

One day, the Library Director was fed up and yelled at the parrot. "If you don't clean up your act, you're gone, I mean it, gone to that perch in the sky!" The parrot yelled back. The Director shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. "@!!??""**!!!"
In desperation, the Director grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer in the staff kitchen. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed.
Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, the Director quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out and said,
"I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions.
I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully
intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable
The library staff was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude and wondered what had made such a dramatic change in Decimal's behavior, but before anyone could ask the reason, the bird continued, "May I ask what the turkey did?"

Thanks to my college roomate for sending me the email that is the basis for this story.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Holiday Food Drive at the Library

'Check Out Hunger in New Jersey' by donating non-perishable food at the library drop-off basket. From today through December 16, the Berkeley Heights Public Library will be collecting food for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and other local food pantries. Bring canned meat or fish, powdered milk, infant formula, canned soups and stews, canned vegetables and fruits, peanut butter and boxed pasta and rice to the upper level of the library. We will deliver the donations to food banks. Other Union County libraries are collecting food donations also.
Bring your food bank donations to the library.

Bags of groceries will be delivered to local food banks.
Thanks for your generosity!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I am Half-sick of Shadows

Alan Bradley's fourth Flavia De Luce novel finds our precocious eleven year old sleuth still solving mysteries, poking her nose in where no one wants her, feuding with her dreadful sisters and cooking up surprises in her chemistry lab. In this installment, a film crew arrives at her family's crumbling manor home at Christmastime and murder ensues, of course.  I am Half-Sick of Shadows is recommended for Flavia fans. Others, start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Related website: Flavia de Luce has a passion for poisons
Video book trailer for I am Half-sick of Shadows
Free excerpts from the book

The Lost City of Z: a tale of deadly obsession in the Amazon

I loved reading The Lost City of Z as much as I know I would hate exploring the Amazon jungle in person. Bugs, snakes, mud, disease, searing heat and humidity: who needs it? Luckily New Yorker writer David Grann did the legwork that allows readers to be armchair adventurers.  Author Grann follows in the footsteps of English explorer Percy Fawcett who disappeared in 1925 while searching the Amazon jungle for the lost city of Z. Was there ever such a city? What happened to Fawcett and his team? Can Grann solve the mystery? This non-fiction account is a fascinating adventure tale in the tradition of H. Rider Haggard or the Indiana Jones movies, and it's all true. Recommended for fans of Sebastian Junger and Jon Krakauer.

An Unquiet Mind: a memoir of moods and madness

The author, Kay Redfield Jamison, is a psychologist, a renowned expert on mood disorders and a member of the Johns Hopkins Medical School faculty. In her memoir, An Unquiet Mind, Dr. Jamison reveals her own lifelong struggle with manic-depressive illness.  The author admits her inability to recognize her own illness despite treating many bipolar patients. She recalls her resistance to taking lithium as well as her suicide attempt. A groundbreaking memoir for its honesty and for the risk the author took in divulging her illness publicly.

Related websites: Reading Group Guides review and questions
Personal Reflections on Manic-Depressive Illness, a video of the author
Mood Disorders Center, Johns Hopkins
Creativity and manic depression link

Laughter on the Stairs

English author, gardener and raconteur Beverley Nichols' second volume in his Merry Hall trilogy continues the story of the renovation of his country house and garden. Laughter on the Stairs concentrates on the house rather than the garden. Eccentric neighbors and friends and loyal but quirky household staff return. In one chapter, the author and his friends fill a dry well by hand by lugging water from a nearby stream all night in order to ensure the sale of a cottage for their shy neighbor Miss Mint of Bide-a-Wee Cottage. They fill the well to fool the buyer, an obnoxious author who pretends to be a gypsy and writes terrible, but bestselling, drivel about her adventures in a caravan. These are all true stories and I wonder how Mr. Nichols had any friends left after he wrote these memoirs in the early 1950's. The book is illustrated with lovely black and white drawings throughout. For fans of English cozies/memoirs/humor and above all - for gardeners.
The library owns the Merry Hall Trilogy which is shelved in non-fiction 635 NIC.  For my review of the first book in the trilogy, Merry Hall, click here.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lower Level Is Open

After flooding caused by tropical storm Irene in late August, and lengthy repairs and renovations to the children's room, the children's room is now open!

Movie night will be November 17 since the meeting room is also open now. To celebrate the children's room reopening, there will be two family-friendly events on Saturday, November 19: a dog adoption talk at 11 a.m. and a magic show at 3:30 p.m.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cleaning Up after Irene: Part 6

The painting finished up last week, the carpeting has been completed and the bookshelves have been moved back into place. The shelves along the periphery have been bolted to the walls. Library staff and volunteers are working to move all the books from the meeting room and reshelve them in their correct order. The furniture and computers will be moved back into the children's room today.

Catch previous posts about the clean-up efforts here:
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 1
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 2
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 3
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 4
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 5

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Live: or, a Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell

Although BHPL owns this year's National Book Critics Circle winner for biography, How to Live, I ended up buying it at Green Apple Books in San Francisco because I was running out of books to read on my trip.*

Montaigne was the mayor of Bordeaux, but he is famous for his Essays, which he began writing in 1572. Montaigne spoke only Latin as a child; he survived the plague and the religious civil wars of France; and he traveled in an age when most people didn't. Sarah Bakewell tells these and other stories from Montaigne's life, with each chapter of How to Live answering that question with examples from Montaigne's life and writing. How to Live is also a history of the Essays: the author describes them as
“a centuries-long conversation between Montaigne and all those who have got to know him: a conversation which changes through history, while starting out afresh almost every time with that cry of 'How did he know all that about me?'”
If you read How to Live, you'll want to read or re-read Montaigne's Essays next. BHPL owns a book of selections (made by Salvador Dali, no less) from Charles Cotton's 17th century translation of the Essays. Cotton has old-fashioned language compared to Donald Frame's 1958 translation. However, Cotton translated the essays as they were published during Montaigne's lifetime, and his translation is free online. Frame's translation - 908 pages in paperback- is based on Marie de Gournay's posthumous edition of the Essays.

*Unrelated but cool (like one of Montaigne's tangents!): check out Green Apple's photos from their recent midnight launch party for Haruki Murakami's 1Q84.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Teaching the Low-tech Way

I sometimes wonder if the greatest invention of the late 20th century was the PC or the Post-it note. Some days I would definitely go for that little sticky piece of paper. In fact, when a patron comes up to the desk and hands the reference librarian a small crumpled-up piece of paper with an almost illegible scribble on it, that is usually the beginning of a very interesting interaction. Do you have this book? Can you figure out who called me from this number? Can you find me information on this disease/drug/procedure? Can you find the actual law from this citation?A recent article in the New York Times describes a Waldorf School in California where many Silicon Valley employees enroll their children. The irony is that Waldorf Schools do not use computers in the classroom until middle school and then in a very limited way. The Waldorf philosophy is very low-tech and old fashioned. Read about it here:
This article in the New York Times 
What do you think the best way to teach young children is? Are computers helpful or harmful at that age?
Despite all the advances and changes in public library services, most people still think of the old-fashioned book as the centerpiece of the library mission. Quick: I say "library", you think insert word here_________!

The Carpet Squares Have Landed! Flood Damage Update

Today the carpet squares for the lower level were delivered.
The pattern with the circles which covered the Children's Room before the Wrath of Irene took out our Lower Level is now out-of-print or whatever it's called in the world of floor coverings.

Catch previous posts about the clean-up efforts here:
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 1
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 2
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 3
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 4
We hope our young patrons will enjoy the new pattern of blue squares.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day After Night by Anita Diamant

The library's morning book group will discuss Day After Night, Anita Diamant's latest novel, on Friday, November 4 at 10:30 a.m. on the upper level of the library. Readers may know Diamant best for The Red Tent, in which Dinah from the Book of Genesis narrates the story of her life.

Based on true historical events, Day After Night tells the story of four young women thrown together in a British internment camp for Jews fleeing to Israel in 1945. Tedi, Leonie, Shayndel, and Zorah are from the Netherlands, France and Poland and are learning Hebrew at Atlit, the camp. I read it quickly, wanting to find out how each of them survived the Holocaust and how their new lives in Israel would begin.

Anita Diamant's web site has a great interview with her here. She grew up in Newark and her Amazon biography tells about her experiences with her childhood library.

Simon and Schuster has published the discussion questions for Day After Night.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Local Librarian Insists Book is Not Dead

While wandering the halls between sessions at a conference of New Jersey reference librarians, who should I bump into but our occasional blog contributor, Marian the Librarian. Just the person to give me the unvarnished truth about the future of books in a digital world. Marian is an avid attendee of continuing education classes as you can read about in her previous posts on this blog and she is not afraid to tell it like it is.

Is there a librarian in the house?
Time Management in Libraries

Me: Marian, did you go to the session about the book being dead? What do you think?
Marian: Anne, don't you think we need to define book and dead before we have that conversation? By book, do we mean the bound book, formerly known as a codex, which replaced the scroll, or do we mean the contents of the book in whatever delivery format it exists? Is a book on CD still a book or has it become something else? A weasel perhaps? No, absolute rubbish! It's still a book. If a book thrums electronically over the wireless cloud of the internet to land on your ereader, is it the same book that sits on the shelf in the library or is it fundamentally different?
Me: Yes, of course, I see where you are going with this...
Marian: (fixing me with a gimlet eye to stop my interruption) And dead? DEAD! How can the book be dead when they are still everywhere? Did I miss something? Have all the book collections on every shelf just vaporized overnight?
Me: No. Erm. That was a rhetorical question, right?
Marian: Let's hear no more about this dead book talk. Excuse me. I want to eat my box lunch and read the book I just downloaded from ListenNJ. It's due in five days.

Libraries: Between a Codex and a Hard Place

Recently I attended a conference for New Jersey reference librarians entitled: "No Turning Back: Moving Forward in the Digital Age." In the face of the increasing digitizing of the information world, with e-books, e-readers, downloadable books, reference book databases online, library catalogs and websites available on smartphones and so on, librarians today are confronted with a rapidly changing world. In the face of this challenge, librarians did what we do second best: we had a meeting. This is the situation as it is now.  Public libraries serve the younger generation, the so-called digital natives who have grown up with cell phones and computers. Libraries also serve a large population of patrons who are not computer literate or who lack access to computers. Libraries should offer access to books and information in two formats: digital and pre-digital. Straddling these two worlds can get costly. For example, the Berkeley Heights Public Library has the revered Encyclopedia Britannica sitting on the shelves in the Reference Department and the online version is available from the library website's Databases and Articles page. The same arrangement, having online and on-the-shelf versions of books and reference books, is common but not universal throughout the collection. To take another example: the library owns two hardcover copies of John Grisham's latest bestseller Litigation, one copy in large print, and one audiobook version on CD. Plus five copies of the book are available as a downloadable audiobook from ListenNJ which Berkeley Heights Library patrons can use. Depending on budgets and availability and demand, ListenNJ may also add an ebook version of Litigation. The principle idea of public libraries: to acquire and make available books and other educational and recreational materials to a wide audience for free, is the same as it has always been historically. It's just that the choice of format has changed and grown. And of course the technological and monetary aspects of electronic formats create a challenge for librarians and patrons. More simply put, what should we spend library money on if a book comes in several formats? This is not a new question: trying to achieve a balance in maintaining and building a library collection has always required consideration of the budget, the population served, the content of the work (reviews, how it fits in the collection) and the format (book, music, magazine and now digital versions.)
Back to the conference: librarians, like booksellers and publishers, would like to have a crystal ball to tell us what the future holds not only for books, but also for the future of libraries and related institutions. The conference did not provide answers, probably because there are no answers. When did buggy whip manufacturers realize they were on the way out, the Dodo of 19th century technology? Did the buggy whip makers start to diversify early enough to save their livelihoods? Maybe some started making automobile parts if they were really flexible and prescient in their outlook. That's what anyone in the book business or in a wider sense, the information business, has to do: be flexible, stay informed and stay-tuned.
If having a meeting is what librarians do second best, what is it we do best? For reference librarians, we hope we help our patrons find the information they need when they need it and in the format which they prefer. Just ask, we're here to help and all of us are between a codex and a hard place.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tell Me of Lincoln

In the 1920s, a sculptor planning a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln interviewed over sixty people who had met Lincoln, including some eyewitnesses to his assassination. Although the sculpture was never completed, James Kelly's notes and papers were preserved by the New York Historical Society. In 2003, Civil War expert William Styple encountered the Kelly Papers while doing research for his book Generals in Bronze. Styple was inspired to edit and publish Kelly's interviews in Tell Me of Lincoln: Memories of Abraham Lincoln, The Civil War & Life in Old New York, which was released in 2009.

William Styple will be at the Berkeley Heights library (on the upper level due to the renovations going on downstairs) on Saturday, November 5 at 2 p.m. He will talk about Tell Me of Lincoln and sign copies afterwards. William Styple has written, co-written, and edited over 20 books on the American Civil War. His 1998 book The Little Bugler won the Young Readers’ Award from the Civil War Round Table of New York City. He has appeared on Book TV/C-Span several times over the past ten years, and most recently last April on FOX News commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Firing on Fort Sumter. William Styple also worked on the production of several Civil War films such as Glory and Gettysburg. He is currently active in battlefield preservation and is writing the biography of New Jersey General Philip Kearny.

Friday, October 21, 2011

HeritageQuest is Back

HeritageQuest, the genealogy database that lets you search US Census records, is available to BHPL card holders again. Berkeley Heights residents can access HeritageQuest via the Internet even on their home computers, for free. Just go to and click on Databases/Articles, or go straight to After you click on HeritageQuest, you'll be prompted for your BHPL library barcode number.

In HeritageQuest, you’ll find U.S. federal census records, family histories, published genealogies, historical books, Revolutionary War records, Freedman’s Bank records, and more to help you trace your American ancestors’ paths across history.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 4

After the new drywall was installed, the children's room needed to be painted. Painting began late last week.

The stairs between the upper and lower level were repainted. No more beige walls!

Catch previous posts about the clean-up efforts here:

Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 1
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 2
Cleaning Up After Irene, Part 3

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Noir is not my usual choice of fiction, but I was going to San Francisco and wanted to get a feel for the city. Somehow The Maltese Falcon got read; China Boy by Gus Lee didn't - maybe because of Anne's blog post on hard-boiled detective fiction:
Hammett’s Sam Spade and Chandler’s Philip Marlowe . . . blunder through their books being bopped, “packing heat”, meeting shady dames, drinking too much hootch, with or without a Mickey Finn, and all that hooey.

In The Maltese Falcon, private eye Sam Spade and femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy look for a jeweled statue of a falcon that the Knights Templar of Malta sent to Charles of Spain in the 16th century. Not only is it valuable but it's somehow tied to the death of Spade's business partner. It's a fast-paced read, with lots of twists and wild goose chases, but ultimately it's the dialogue that makes it worth reading.

A few years ago my sister in San Francisco took Don Herron's Dashiell Hammett tour. Apparently Hammett used The Maltese Falcon to rewrite some Continental Op stories that he didn't like. Don Herron has also written a guidebook.

If you've read The Maltese Falcon already, check out Marissabidilla's theory that Rhea (the fat man's daughter) and Wilmer (the gunman) are the same person.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Library Book Group Dukes it Out Over Charming British Novel

Last night, the library's Tuesday night book group discussed Julia Stuart's 2010 novel, The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise in a surprisingly spirited exchange of opinions. Ms. Stuart's novel, a charming love story about a Beefeater and his wife who live in the Tower of London, was well-received by the critics when it was published. This blog's favorable review of it can be found here. However there were several readers in the group who did not like this book at all and who did not find its humor humorous and who could not finish the book. Their reaction seemed surprisingly strong considering the fairly innocuous nature of the book. Ms. Stuart's style is low-key, the characters are quirky; the overall tone is one of a gently humorous and sympathetic look at people's lives. Librarians believe "every book its reader." Maybe Dr. Ranganathan's Third Law of Library Science needs a corollary: "every book its non-reader." But that's o.k., book groups are a good way to try books outside your usual reading zone and you will never know which book is yours until you try it. I liked The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise very much, but if you have an aversion to whimsy or quirky, best stay away from it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Where Mark Twain Met Tom Sawyer

San Francisco: A Cultural and Literary History by Mick Sinclair was the only book small enough to fit into my carry-on when I visited my sister there last week. Despite its slimness, it had a million interesting facts (or at least my sister pretended they were):

During the 19th century gold rush, sailors abandoned their ships and passengers as soon as they reached the Bay. The abandoned ships were used as landfill to create what is now the Financial District, or in the case of two of the ships, a prison and a hotel (page 13).

You'll never see the Transamerica Pyramid the same way, knowing that "Mark Twain shared the basement steam baths with one Tom Sawyer" in the Montgomery Block, the first building built on the site. See page 138.

Flying books near City Lights, the bookstore of Lawrence Ferlinghetti who published Allen Ginsberg and other Beat poets

San Francisco had an outbreak of the bubonic plague one year after the 1906 earthquake (page 41).

I didn't make it to the Cow Palace, but when I saw the sign for it on US-101 I thought of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. They went to a Beatles concert at the Cow Palace in 1965 not realizing the crowd would be mostly screaming young girls (page 200).

Mick Sinclair also introduces his readers to the wit of deceased San Francisco journalist Herb Caen, who coined the word "beatnik" and described Haight-Ashbury as "Hashbury" (page 102).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mimes Make Perfect Library Cops

Ain't the internet great? I just saw an article about mimes being used as traffic cops in Caracas, Venezuela which you can read here. The idea is that mimes dressed in bright clown costumes will silently persuade dangerous drivers to slow down by gesturing like, well, like mimes. The Associated Press article tells us:
"About 120 mimes dressed in clown-like outfits and white gloves took to the streets of the Sucre district this past week, wagging their fingers at traffic violators and at pedestrians who streaked across busy avenues rather than waiting at crosswalks."

Now, this strikes me as a truly bizarre approach to law enforcement, but the article goes on to say,

"Mayor Carlos Ocariz of Sucre, in the eastern part of Caracas, turned to the mimes to encourage civility among reckless drivers and careless pedestrians. He is following the example of Antanas Mockus, a former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who combined mimes and stricter police enforcement in a program that was widely seen as a success."

AP photo of mimes directing traffic
So, who knows, maybe in other cultures, mimes are held in high regard or even feared? I think in New Jersey drivers would be sorely tempted to run over mimes. But this whole mime-as-enforcer made me realize that mimes and libraries are perfect together. People are constantly noting that libraries are not as quiet as they used to be. Those same people usually go on to note that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket and who am I to disagree? Since the lower level of the library, the Children's Room, has been closed for a while due to hurricane damage, the library is filled with middle school students from 3 - 5 pm every day and this is where the mimes come in. We of the librarian persuasion have been unable to persuade the kids that they should be quiet in the library. Do you think a few wandering mimes holding up their hands in the universal gesture for "stop" or covering their ears and cringing as though in pain from the noise, or pretending to climb in an imaginary glass box out of which they cannot get or into which they put a middle schooler, would that work? How about pretending to blow away the kids in a pretend wind storm?
Related books: the library has a couple of books about mimes, but they are packed away until the Children's Room is reopened. If you are desparate to learn how to mime pulling on an imaginary rope or pretending to walk down non-existent stairs, just search YouTube for mime videos and you will be able to amaze and astound your friends and maybe apply for a job in Caracas!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cleaning Up After Irene: Part 3

The Duct Dudes ("Your Air Pollution Solution") are cleaning the air ducts of the library - the next step towards getting the children's department back to normal after tropical storm Irene hit.

You can see the boxes that hold the children's book collection in this photo.

Until the restoration is complete, a small collection of books from the lower level are available on the upper level. Clifford the Red Dog is sitting on top of the children's book shelves (formerly foreign fiction). YA fiction is located on the book case at the top of the stairs where the monthly book display used to be.

Cleaning Up After Irene - Part 2
Cleaning Up After Irene - Part 1

Japanese Ceramics Exhibit

Ceramic art by Ritsuko Moore of Rokkaku Ceramic Studio is on exhibit in the lobby of the library through the end of October. Some of Moore's work on display includes examples of raku firing, tableware, tea pots and other pots, serving sets, and vases. Selected works by students of the Rokkaku Ceramic Studio are also on display in the wall cabinet.

The following is from Ritsuko Moore's website:

Ritsuko was born and raised in Japan. She started studying ceramics seriously in 1985 in Tokyo. Since then she has taken ceramic courses and kept learning her skills in London, Chicago, New Jersey, and San Francisco. In 2002, she set up her own studio in San Francisco and started to share her ceramic skills in her community. At the same time, she participated in local pottery sales. In 2006, Ritsuko moved back to NJ and built a new studio. Currently she has been creating pottery for sales and art competitions. Ritsuko also teaches small classes in her studio and in local schools.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Last year, the book group said they wanted to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It was a bestseller at the time, so we waited until it had been out for over a year and a half. What we didn't know was that it was an eternal bestseller. The book group had to share copies and read it in half the usual time. But I think the trouble was worth it.

The author's extensive web site describes the premise of this odd hybrid of biography, investigative journalism, medical ethics and science this way: "Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multimillion-dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same."

Dwight Garner of the New York Times describes it: "A thorny and provocative book about cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks also floods over you like a narrative dam break, as if someone had managed to distill and purify the more addictive qualities of Erin Brockovich, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The Andromeda Strain." You can read the Sunday NY Times book review here.

Check out the author's page for reading groups for the discussion questions and more. Book group member Marilyn recommends Real Simple's online book club blog posts about the book (parts 1: Life, 2: Death, and 3:Immortality).

Friday, September 30, 2011

Studies I Wish I'd Thought Of: Tweets Reveal Mood of Nation

This morning's award for best headline summary of the scientific news release of the day goes to Britain's the Telegraph: "Twitter shows we get up happy but get grumpier as day wears on" .
The Telegraph gets bonus points for including a photo of a nubile young lady in bed waking up very happy. My morning paper, USA Today, brought this Cornell University study to my attention while I drank my coffee. USA Today presented the news with this headline: Twitter used to study happiness patterns - factual, succinct, but not riveting.

My own mini-scientific survey was to "Google" the phrase "Cornell Twitter study" to see who covered this news release and how did they headline it? The Cornell study was widely reported this morning. The abstract of the Twitter study can be found in the journal Science, released today.

Abstract: "We identified individual-level diurnal and seasonal mood rhythms in cultures across the globe, using data from millions of public Twitter messages. We found that individuals awaken in a good mood that deteriorates as the day progresses—which is consistent with the effects of sleep and circadian rhythm—and that seasonal change in baseline positive affect varies with change in day length. People are happier on weekends, but the morning peak in positive affect is delayed by 2 hours, which suggests that people awaken later on weekends."

The abstract sounds much more scientifically legitimate than the news coverage which dumbs down the topic considerably. My initial reaction was that this study was one of those dumb, "wow, ya think?" academic exercises, but because we can't read the whole article, it's hard to say. The library does get Science online through EBSCO, but not full text or in hard copy. In any case, the reports of this study got my attention, even though the study results seem obvious and here I am joining all the newspapers, tweeters, bloggers, emailers, Facebookers and so on passing this news on to you, but few of us will really read the whole report or understand its significance. I find that makes me feel that my head is full of tons of useless tidbits of information and that surely leads to a grumpy start to the day.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

The publicity around Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother focused on author Amy Chua's parenting style, probably for the shock value (see Anne's blog post: "It's Ten PM. Are Your Children Practising Violin 'Til Their Fingers Bleed?"). Given that most readers wouldn't pick up a book about the world of classical music, it's a stroke of marketing genius. And yes, a book about a household where the piano has teeth marks is going to be interesting.

But so are the parts about why the violin is much harder than the piano, and the inside view of music lessons with famous teachers. T
he author's enthusiasm for classical music must be contagious - I've checked out one of the library's Teaching Company music courses (BHPL has several different ones, all on CD).

The end of Battle Hymn has - for lack of a better word - plot twists that humanize the author and make the book take on a carpe diem philosophy. As the author says on page 63, "... the best way to protect ... children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Scrapbooking: the Old and the New

Making scrapbooks has become popular again, but today's scrapbooks aren't the simple black-paged albums of yesteryear in which granny glued in newspaper clippings and mementos. Today, 'scrapbooking' is a gazillion dollar industry with magazines, blogs, websites and stores devoted to selling supplies to crafters. With a trip to the craft store, a swipe of the credit card and directions from a magazine or book, anyone can turn out a very professional looking scrapbook. The Berkeley Heights Public Library shelves books about making scrapbooks and journals in 745.593. Patrons will find two magazines of interest to crafters in the library Crafts 'n' Things and PaperCrafts. Past issues of magazines may be checked out for one week.

For a history of scrapbooks the way they used to look, read: Scrapbooks, an American History by Jessica Helfand (2008) (745.593 HEL)
From the cataloging note:
"This lavishly illustrated book focuses its attention on the history of American scrapbooks--their origins, makers, diverse forms, the reasons for their popularity, and their place in American culture."

Read this Salon interview with Ms. Helfand to understand why she thinks modern scapbooks aren't messy enough and lack originality. Beyond the Valley of the Doilies.

If you want to make an original-looking scrapbook or journal without spending tons of money on supplies, turn to books like Mixed Media Journals by Katherine Duncan Aimone; Artful Journals by Janet Takahashi and Artist Journals & Sketchbooks by Lynne Perrella.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Work Progressing on Children's Room

First Disaster Restoration Specialists has packed up its dehumidifiers.

Now we're starting to rebuild. In the photos above, the green is new drywall going in. Next up: air duct cleaning on October 5 and 6 - which may be noisy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BHPL is Now Lending to Kindles!

The long wait is over! You can now download library eBooks onto your Kindle device or Kindle app, for free. It's easy to get a library eBook onto a Kindle. Just check out an eBook at that indicates it is compatible with the Kindle, log into your Amazon account when prompted, and send the book to your Kindle.

If your Kindle doesn't use wi-fi, you will need to connect your Kindle to your computer with its USB cable in order to download the book.

In the bottom right corner of the screenshot above, you can see Amazon's instructions for downloading a book to your Kindle without wi-fi. Even with the USB cable, this is much easier than the process for downloading library eBooks onto other types of e-readers.

I've written more detailed instructions here. There is a help sheet for Kindle owners who would like to download library eBooks here.

To find a Kindle-compatible book, go to and click on the "Now Available Library eBooks for Kindle" logo in the top right corner. If you'd like to download one immediately instead of getting on a wait list, check the box "Only show titles with copies available" and click Submit.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Hunger Games

In this scifi novel by Suzanne Collins, Katniss, Peeta and 22 other teenagers are sent as tributes to the Hunger Games, which only the lone victor will survive. The yearly televised Hunger Games are meant to punish the regions of North America which rebelled against The Capitol generations before. The premise sounded too violent and Survivor-esque for me, but when my book club picked it, I found myself glued to the pages. The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy, and is being also made into a movie, coming out in March. This is probably the first YA series I've read since Harry Potter that has been as good (but different), and like HP, it has a big following in fandom.

Suzanne Collins talks about the influences that the Greek myth of the Minotaur, the gladiators of ancient Rome, and even the Great Depression have had on The Hunger Games trilogy in this interview.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Last night the library book group discussed Shirley Jackson's psychological thriller We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Almost everyone liked the book and a lively discussion ensued. You can click on the link to the New York Review of Books review above (the highlighted book title)  for a synopsis of the plot, characters and themes. Briefly, six years before the opening of the book, the entire Blackwood family save three, was murdered by arsenic at dinner. The surviving family members, Constance, the older sister who stood trial for the murder and was acquitted; Merricat, the younger sister who narrates the book; and Uncle Julian, who was poisoned but survives as an invalid, live in isolation in their big house on the edge of a village. The villagers shun and taunt the Blackwood family.
Most of the book group participants had read Jackson's short story, 'the Lottery', in which a village annually chooses a victim to be ritually stoned to death, a story which has disturbed generations of high school students and caused widespread outrage when it first appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1948. From this common American reading experience, we all knew that Jackson's writing has a dark tone and that she writes about the potential for evil in people. We Have Always Lived in the Castle explores that idea also. The Blackwood household and the villagers mutually despise each other and are both capable of violence and cruelty towards each other in thought and actions.
The book falls into the horror genre, with the elements of the outsider personality which becomes violent and while there is the spooky mansion looming over a poor village, this is not a haunted house mystery. There are also elements of witchcraft in Merricat's strange rituals and burying of talismans to ward of intruders and protect her house.
We wondered exactly what was the motive for the arsenic poisonings and although the book eventually reveals the poisoner, the author never explains why. We also wondered exactly what was the nature of the psychopathy of the narrator and hauled out the DSM but then decided a diagnosis didn't really matter to the overall understanding of the book.
I would recommend this book to reading groups looking for something other than recent bestsellers and "psychological fiction" that is so popular with today's reading groups. It is easy to borrow from other libraries on interlibrary loan, it is available in paperback and there is a considerable body of literary criticism about the works of Shirley Jackson. Jackson inspired Stephen King and many other horror authors, so I would recommend it to King fans and fans of the horror genre.
Related websites: The Works of Shirley Jackson , a website of Kristen Hubard, a graduate student at VCU with links for more websites for horror fans.
NYT obituary of Shirley Jackson
Monstrous Acts and Little Murders, an article by Jonathan Lethem for Salon about Shirley Jackson

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

One Hundred Years of Popular Cameras: An Exhibit by the Fleetwood Museum

The Fleetwood Museum of Art and Photographica is exhibiting vintage cameras in the library display cases through the end of September.

Above: the Pocket Kodak Jr., in front of a photo of the Vermeule Mansion. The mansion houses the Fleetwood Museum, which calls itself North Plainfield's Camera Museum.

A few photography books from the library collection are in the third display case. You can find the other photography books in the 770s in the room behind the circulation desk.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Can you taste what the chef meant?

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender falls into the category of books which, in my system of classification, should be called "books with really weird premises." Nine year old Rose realizes on her birthday that she can detect the emotions of the person who prepared the food she eats. She tastes her mother's unhappiness in her lemon birthday cake. Maybe nine years old is when children begin to realize that their parents are not perfect and have feelings beyond the ones they project in an attempt to be good parents and shield their children from life's sorrows. In Rose's case though, everyone's feelings come crashing in on her every time she takes a bite of food.
In Rose's family, her brother and her mother both have secret lives and the father chooses to be oblivious to everyone. The story follows Rose from her ninth birthday into young adulthood. By that time, the family secrets are laid bare and Rose has learned to accomodate her special skill. The challenge for the author of a book with a really weird premise, is how to live up to that premise and carry it through in a logical manner integrated into the story. Aimee Bender's book lives up to the premise well, I thought.

Similar books: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquival;  Chocolat by Joanne Harris; The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

More Books with Weird Premises

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

The Crossing Places is the first in a new British mystery series that Booklist gave a starred review (and Publisher's Weekly called "serviceable"). Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist at the University of North Norfolk, living in a remote cottage by the marshes of the North Sea. She has lived there for a decade, ever since she helped dig up an Iron Age timber circle out of the marsh. The author was inspired by "Seahenge," pictured below.


Ruth meets DCI Harry Nelson, who is searching for two missing children, when he finds Bronze Age bones in the marsh. Nelson has also received letters about the missing girls that have references to Norse mythology and archaeology.

I love the ocean, mythology, and anything ancient, so the setting attracted me immediately. As Elly Griffiths explained in an interview:

We were walking over Titchwell Marsh on the North Norfolk coast and [her husband, an archaeologist] happened to mention that prehistoric man saw marshland as sacred – because it’s neither land nor sea but something in-between, they saw it as a kind of bridge to the afterlife. Neither land nor sea, neither life nor death. The entire plot of The Crossing Places came to me in that instant.
The next mystery in the series, Janus Stone, has references to Roman mythology, and Library Journal promises it has more "wonderful British seaside scenery". It will be interesting to see how Ruth and Harry get on in the next novel, given their odd relationship in The Crossing Places.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Clean Up from Irene

The upper level of the library has reopened. The children's room and meeting room are still closed until further notice due to storm damage from Irene. BHPL will not charge overdue fines for items that were due between August 27 and September 6, when the library was closed.

First Response Disaster Restoration Specialists were at work last week restoring the flood damage. Shown above are ozone generators. Dehumidifiers were also used.

First the carpet was removed:

Then the floor was sanitized.

Children's books were boxed up and put in the meeting room.

Chairs and tables were also been moved to the meeting room.

The library's online resources, such as downloadable audiobooks and ebooks, newspaper databases, and children's resources, are always available through your home computer.