Thursday, June 30, 2011

Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer

Claire Dederer has been many interesting things in her life: a book reviewer, a tugboat driver, a twenty-something wandering the world and living hand to mouth, but these things are somehow peripheral to the story she tells of being a wife and mother in Poser. She seems more like the funny and slightly neurotic mom you might meet while waiting to pick up your child from school than someone whose book reviews appear in the New York Times.

In this memoir, Dederer reflects on how her perfectionism and her need to please everyone helped turn her into the exact opposite of her hippie mother: a stressed out organic supermom who feels bad about not following all of the tenets of "attachment parenting" so prevalent in her native Seattle. As a child of divorce, she constantly reevaluates her marriage, wondering if it's going to last. Her parents' 1973 separation was so amicable that everyone, including her, pretended everything was fine, that it was normal for one's mother to have both a husband and a long-term boyfriend.

An analysis of the legacy of divorce, plus yoga, does not sound like a recipe for a funny book, but lines like "The studio was decorated in the style of Don't Be Afraid, We're Not a Cult" constantly made me laugh. Or this one, in which she describes her neighborhood: "In Phinney Ridge, people don't have 'beware of dog' signs. They have 'please be mindful of dog' signs."

Some interest in yoga is a prerequisite to liking the book, but you needn't take it too seriously or actually do yoga yourself. The book's self-deprecating humor and a healthy suspicion of yoga teachers who lecture their classes on Hindu spirituality makes things more accessible to non-yogis. And yet, the spiritual side of yoga will sneak in there anyhow and make a believer out of you, as you watch Claire slowly transform into a more relaxed, accepting version of herself. I'm listening to the audiobook, whose narrator, Christine Williams, does an excellent job.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More Knitting Humor

The library book group has the month off and the only book I could bring myself to read in June, besides Harry Potter, was Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's Free-Range Knitter. This may seem like an odd combination, but did you know that Hagrid the Hogwarts gamekeeper is a knitter? Also, Mrs. Weasley and Hermione. And Dumbledore likes to read knitting patterns.

The essay in Free-Range Knitter about the time the author agreed to teach knitting to a group of children at a toy store had me in stitches. It was also the first time I heard the knitting poem. And don't miss her story about the time an elevator door at the passport office closed on her yarn, separating her ball of yarn from the project on her needles.

I should warn you that it isn't all knitting humor. Like her other books, there are stories about knitters for whom knitting provides a great consolation in difficult times and reflections on motherhood. The latter tend to be funny, though such as "How to Make a Hat if You are Twelve (And Not Very Careful About Stuff)".

Monday, June 27, 2011

Are You a Psychopath? Take this Test

The Psychopath Test, a journey through the madness industry by Jon Ronson starts with the author, a journalist, being asked to find out who anonymously sent a cryptic self-published book to many psychiatrists worldwide, which then leads him somehow, circuitously to a Scientologist who gets him into Broadmoor Prison to interview a criminally insane inmate who claims he's not insane. Scientologists famously do not believe in psychiatry so they advocate for the prisoner. The author then goes on to learn about the Hare Psychopathy Checklist at a workshop lead by the list's creator Bob Hare himself. Armed with his newly acquired psychopath-spotting ability, the author goes all over the world for a year or so interviewing both diagnosed and suspected psychopaths and mental health professionals while dipping into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders and exploring the latest top psychiatric diagnoses like bipolar disorder in children. The irony of his research is that Ronson presents himself as an anxious neurotic; he worries a lot about being tracked down by some of the killers he meets and he worries about whether he might have some psychopathic tendencies, constantly referring back to the checklist to self-diagnose.  The book is about at least two topics: psychopaths, or course, but also how mental illness came to be diagnosed by checklists in the DSM and the subsequent increase in number of diagnoses of mental disorders and the increased development of drugs to treat them. That is an ambitiously broad range of topics to cover in only 275 pages. What is  psychopathy? How do we diagnose it? Why has there been an increase in the number of mental illnesses listed in the DSM which seem increasingly close to a normal state?  Are there more psychopaths in positions of great power, like CEO's of corporations?  Ronson raises a lot of questions, so if you are interested in related titles, you could read the following books: (call #'s follow the title)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (Ref 616.89 Dia)
The books of psychiatrist Oliver Sacks
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which is not about psychiatry or madness, but about medicine's use of checklists.(610.28 Gaw)
Opening Skinner's box: great psychological experiments of the twentieth century by Lauren Slater (150.72 SLA)

Related websites:

Laura Miller's review in Salon
Robert Hare's website

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer Reads

Why get on a wait list for this year's crop of beach reads, when last year's are on the shelves right now? Most of these come from Library Journal's list.

Summer Shift by Lynn Kiele Bonasia
While trying to run the Cape Cod clam bar she owns, 44-year-old widow Mary Hopkins must rely on her diverse and dependable staff to weather the sudden death of a young waitress, her beloved great aunt's struggle with Alzheimer's, and Mary's own sense that life is passing her by.

The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek
Forced to set aside their differences when they jointly inherit a rundown cottage in the Hamptons, practical-minded Cassie and her dreamer half-sister Peck struggle to decide what to do with the house, which comes with a resident artist plagued by bad luck.

Thin Rich Pretty by Beth Harbison
Remembering their misfit teen years and the summer they lashed out at rich and spoiled Lexi, Holly and Nicola struggle to overcome insecurities to safeguard their ambitions and are shocked to re-encounter a down-on-her-luck Lexi, who harbors painful memories.

The Island by Elin Hilderbrand
After her daughter, Chess, breaks off an engagement and her fiance subsequently dies in a rock-climbing accident, divorcee Birdie Cousins encourages her younger daughter, Tate, and her sister, India, to join her and Chess on Tuckernack Island for a month, a time when deep secrets are soon revealed.

Summer in the South by Cathy Holton
Visiting old friend Will from college only to find him much more attractive and confident than she remembers, Ava becomes immersed in Will's Southern community and wonders if the local secrets she uncovers will estrange her from Will or strengthen their bond.

Dolci di Love by Sarah-Kate Lynch
After discovering that her husband has a secret second family in Tuscany, Lily Turner leaves New York and looks for a happy ending in a struggling Italian bakery with the help of the Secret League of Widowed Darners.

The Icing on the Cupcake by Jennifer Ross
When Ansley Waller's fiance Parish cancels their upcoming wedding, Ansley decides to leave Dallas and make a fresh start. In a surprise move, she heads to New York City to live with her recently widowed grandmother Vivian, who gives Ansley an ultimatum: get a job or go home. Before long, she's opening up her own cupcake shop and even trying her hand at dating.

Looking for a Love Story by Louise Shaffer
Recently divorced, Francesca agrees to write a memoir on an elderly woman's parents who worked in vaudeville, and while researching the couple, Francesca starts to reexamine her own family and love life.
- Ellen

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cell Phones in the Library

In Case of Emergency
It's hard to tell whether people talking to themselves in the library, or anywhere really, have a blue tooth connection to their cell phone or are just, well, talking to themselves. That's not an original observation, but in the context of keeping the library quiet, it makes it hard to ask a patron to turn off their cell phone if in fact they are just having a spirited debate with their favorite debater: themselves. Another tricky cell phone issue: patrons politely take their phone conversations to the bathroom or stairwell. I'm not a sound engineer, but I'm pretty sure the acoustics of those two places are the best in the library. The conversations are amplified for the world to hear. In fact, maybe we should have music programs  in the stair well. And finally: kids with cell phones. Sigh. They use them, they lose them. The library staff is getting pretty good at figuring out how to use lost cellphones to contact the owner. Be sure you put the ICE on your kid's phone. ICE = In Case of Emergency contacts. Read this USA Today article for more information about ICE

Monday, June 20, 2011


Adults don't get the summer off, but that doesn't mean we can't raid the kids' bookshelves. Now that the last Harry Potter movie is coming on July 15, I'm re-reading the series by listening to the audiobooks. The narrator, Jim Dale, got put in the Guinness World Book of Records for creating 134 voices for the series.

If you never finished the series or are afraid you won't like the series, you may want to start with book 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban, which is more complex and suspenseful than the first two books. Now that I'm reading the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, I think it's even possible to begin there without getting too lost. That will definitely put you in the heart of the series' action.

J.K. Rowling is expected to explain to what her latest project, Pottermore, will be on June 23. Could it be a new series? I'd settle for a single book - but not the encyclopedia Rowling has said she'll write. The Harry Potter Lexicon is good enough for me.

Friday, June 17, 2011

When in Rome, Do As You Done in Milledgeville

"When in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville" - Flannery O'Connor, from The Habit of Being

Last week I was turning around on Highway 441 in Milledgeville, Georgia when I realized that I was in Flannery O'Connor's driveway. Talk about serendipity! O'Connor grew up in Georgia, but left to get her MFA in Iowa and to write at the Yaddo artist colony. When she was 26, she came down with lupus, the same disease that killed her father a decade earlier, and moved to her family's farm in Milledgeville. The Andalusia farm is where her famous short story collections Everything That Rises Must Converge and A Good Man Is Hard to Find were written.

The bottom window was Flannery's. Can't you just imagine her peeking through the curtains? Flannery was her middle name and in Milledgeville she known as Mary O'Connor. Her bedroom was just off the foyer where the parlor would usually be, and her mother lived here also, until Flannery's death in 1964. Everything in the house (including the braces that she wore) is original, except for a few things that she gave to Georgia College, like her books and her typewriter.

I learned a new word while I was at Andalusia : peafowl. There are still peacocks and peahens running around the farm today, although I only heard them. You can get this photo on a postcard at the gift shop (as well as pithy bumper stickers that quote O'Connor).

Lawrence Downes wrote about visiting Andalusia and the Milledgeville area in his New York Times travel article "In Search of Flannery O'Connor". This is my favorite part:

I found a road that led down to the edge of a kaolin mine. Standing beside huge mounds of white chalky dirt, surrounded by deep treads left in the red clay by earth-moving machinery, I watched as a sentence from one of my favorite stories, “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” slowly unfolded, as if for me alone:

“The sun was a huge red ball like an elevated Host drenched in blood and when it sank out of sight, it left a line in the sky like a red clay road hanging over the trees.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Postmistress: Reviewing the Reviews

The library's Second Tuesday of the Month book group discussed Sarah Blake's The Postmistress this week. Everyone liked the book, but... .  It's that "I liked it, but..." that makes this book interesting to review and to discuss. Briefly, The Postmistress tells the tale of three American women in the period before the United States joined WWII. Against that isolationist backdrop,  radio reporter Frankie Bard broadcasts from the London studios of Edward R. Murrow during the Blitz. In a small town on Cape Cod, USA, doctor's wife Emma Fitch and village postmaster Iris James are the other two points of this literary triangle. Their lives become entwined through the plot device of letters not delivered.
Janet Maslin's review in the New York Times starts off snarkily but ends up praising the book while delivering some body blows to the author's style: a mixed review for a book that seems to elicit that response.
Maslin writes, "Is there any hope for a novel that begins as “The Postmistress” does?” In the fall of 1940 a 40-year-old spinster named Iris James goes to visit a Boston doctor. She wants a written document attesting that she is, as the book says, “intact.”"
USA Today's reviewer Carol Memmott loves the book pretty much unreservedly calling it "splendid" and comparing it, as many reviewers do, to The Guernesy Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, another book club favorite set during WWII and purely epistolary in nature. Both Maslin and Memmott and many reviewers also make the comparison to Kathryn Stockett's The Help.
Many non-professional blog reviewers (like moi) admit to mixed feelings about the book. The Literate Housewife writes,
"The Postmistress and I got off to a bumpy start," but then goes on to say that she liked the part of the novel about the war reporter best.
The library book group members also found the beginning of the book off-putting, and found Frankie Bard to be the most interesting character and her storyline to be the best.  
The Postmistress is a good choice for a book group because it has lots of discussable themes: the role of fate in life and death and war being the main one. Does life "all add up" as the doctor who goes to help out in the Blitz believe? Or is death merely a result of random chance as Frankie Bard says? Or, as we pondered and debated on Tuesday night, is it more the confluence of conscious choices with random fate?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

L'Oreal Volunteers Paint the Children's Room Today

Many thanks to the L'Oreal Volunteers who painted the library Children's Room this morning. They came last year dressed in yellow t-shirts to paint the Library Meeting Room. This year, wearing t-shirts in primary colors, Sara Epstein (in red), Lauren Methven, Patti Baeder, Linda Helm (in blue) and Liz Palmatier (in yellow) came early, painted like champs and charged off to their next community volunteer project. We think it's really terrific of L'Oreal to sponsor this program annually.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Inspiration Board: Mysteries

Another day, another re-post, my little blogovians: if you like this Inspiration Board, search for more in the search box at the top of the blog or click on the label of the same name in the tag cloud to your right, scroll down, down, yes, there, the tag cloud. Enjoy.

In 2009 I read 5 mysteries which were the first in a possible series. If the authors of the books pictured below do decide to write sequels, I will be looking forward to reading about: the narcoleptic detective from the Little Sleep, the precocious teenage sleuth from the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Delhi's finest detective from the Case of the Missing Servant, Chet the Dog and his human partner from Spencer Quinn's Dog On It and the lawyers whose offices are at 221 B Baker Street where letters to Mr. Holmes are still received, and answered, in the Baker Street Letters.

PS: if this blog had an editor, he/she would have helped me with that first sentence. Rewrites welcomed.

PPS: this is me 2 years later: there have been terrific sequels to some of these book.s Alan Bradley has written two more titles in the Flavia de Luce series; the library owns two more Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn; there is one more Vish Puri mystery by Tarquin Hall; and one more Baker Street mystery by Michael Robertson. Now I have to track down the ones I've missed!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Typical Reference Questions in a Public Library

Lion at the Reference Desk because Real Librarians Don't Like to Have their Pictures Posted on the Blog
This is a reposting from Jan 21, 2010. Our posts about what we do at the reference desk are tagged "reference questions" so if you want to find similar posts, type that in the search box at the top of this blog or click on that phrase in the tag cloud in the right hand column of this blog.

'This morning has been what I still think of as a "typical" shift on the Reference Desk, *When I started out in a big-city library, the Reference Desk had 3 incoming phone lines, lines of people around the desk waiting for help, and librarians took one hour shifts on the desk, one hour off to recharge. It was like working at a fast-food joint, but handing out answers instead of burgers. Now, libraries are busy, but in a different way, with questions coming in by email, blog comments, faxes and sometimes Twitter. We don't take text messages yet, but it could happen.
This morning's questions:
A late-breaking (8:55 pm Tuesday says the call slip) research question about commodity prices.
A Girl Scout leader asking about the best way to publicize G.S. programs and distribute flyers.
A colleague at another library asking about what databases we have and which might be discontinued due to lack of state funding.
Emails with incoming blog comments in Chinese to approve or reject. We don't accept comments that are selling things.
A public internet computer froze twice on the same patron and needed to be fixed.
I started to try out a new database using a trial subscription, but immediately ran into technical problems with it.
Questions about our downloadable audiobooks and how to renew them.
A man wanted recommendations of mysteries for his wife, but not "spy stuff."
A caller wanted the music and lyrics to a song by Irving Berlin.
Many interlibrary loan requests piled up on my CPU.
Request for the phone number of the Better Business Bureau.
Caller asked for book with funny title, something about "Guernsey potatoes."
Request for a book that went out yesterday for a local book club.
Do we have a copy of the 9/11 Report? (yes)
That's it so far at noon, 9 hours to go.'

PS: *I started out in a public library reference department  over 30 years ago and despite the advent of the internet and Google, people still turn to the library to find answers to their questions.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sarah Palin, Paul Revere and the Teachable Moment about Wikipedia

 Recently Sarah Palin, ex-governor of Alaska and possible 2012 U.S. presidential candidate, answered a reporter's question about the story of Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere. The reaction to her answer fell along partisan lines and ranged from accusations of inaccuracy to defense of her statement about the reasons for Paul Revere's famous ride. Soon after this news story appeared, the online free general encyclopedia website called Wikipedia found that its article on Paul Revere was being revised repeatedly to either support or negate Palin's version of history. Wikipedia allows anyone to edit its articles online so apparently Palin's defenders and detractors took the fight onto the most commonly used online encyclopedia. After a few days of repeatedly cleaning up its Revere article, Wikipedia put a virtual lock on it, effectively making it un-editable. In fact, Wikipedia did what the Encyclopedia Britannica and Grolier's Encyclopedia have always done: put out an edition of an article and then lock onto that version until the official editors feel it needs updating based on the facts of the case. Groliers and EB articles are written by experts in their field and the articles are often signed giving the author's credentials.
Without taking any side whatsoever, I think I have found one useful, library-related lesson in this latest Palin vs the news media kerfluffle. The Teachable Moment is this: you can't always believe what you read on Wikipedia or many, many other internet websites. You can rely on the facts in published reference works, both the old fashioned kind that sit on library shelves and the online versions that librarians purchase and link to their library websites. Berkeley Heights Public Library purchases reference books and encyclopedias in hard copy and in digital editions for our patrons to use. These reference works have been carefully researched, written, documented, edited, reviewed and have stood the test of time so librarians feel confident that the research resources we select for the library are "authoritative" - a nice library school word meaning the information is the real McCoy.
So if your children come home from school with an assignment which says they should not use Wikipedia or other unreliable websites, that's a good thing. If your children had checked online for the story of Paul Revere by Googling it in the last few days, you would have had very confused children. Ask your local reference librarian to point you towards the Real McCoy when it comes to research.

As to whether Ms. Palin was right or wrong or somewhere in between, I cannot say. But I can give you a really nifty assignment:  pick a topic and then compare and contrast the content and accuracy of real signed encyclopedia articles with some anonymous website articles. If that doesn't sound like fun, trust us on this one: just because something appears in Wikipedia or on the internet doesn't make it true.

Related articles:
Paul Revere's Wiki Page Altered, The Daily Beast
After Palin's Paul Revere Comments, Wikipedia Page on Revere Becomes Political Football, Associated Press
Paul Revere, Wikipedia
Revision history of the Wikipedia Paul Revere article with screen names of contributers.
List of Databases subscribed to by the Berkeley Heights Public Library. Patrons with a Berkeley Heights Public Library card can use these resources from any internet-connected computer.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mermaid Fiction

I was thinking of re-posting old reviews again today and thought it would be neat to see what I was reading a year ago. As it happens, I was reading The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman for the library book group discussion. I reviewed it in a very snarky, sarcastic review which I kind of regret posting. What is odd is that I just finished False Mermaid by Erin Hart which, like Goodman's book, features the Celtic legend of the Selkie wife. You may remember the folktale goes something like this: a poor, but honest, farmer spots a beautiful woman basking on a rock but she is really a seal who has shed her skin for the day. The farmer can control this creature as long as he can hide her seal skin from her. OK, maybe he's not so nice. Anyway, this legend has proved fertile ground for novelists and storytellers over the years.And it has also proved to be a veritable petri dish of overblown metaphors and feminist themes. For some reason when I picked up False Mermaid and realized I was back in the dread Celtic selkie territory, I shuddered but persevered because I really wanted to know "who done it." The book has a very complicated plot and is very suspenseful, so even if you have the same selkie aversion that I have (is that very likely?) you might still enjoy this murder mystery for its complexity, and for the Irish and Minnesota settings. The blurb from our catalog follows:
"After her Irish sojourn in Haunted Ground and Lake of Sorrows, Nora Gavin returns home to Minnesota, ready to pin the murder of sister Triona on Triona's husband and to protect their child, Elizabeth. Then Cormac, Nora's archaeologist buddy back in Ireland, digs up a story about a woman missing for a century-a story only Elizabeth understands is connected to her mother."
So possibly fate demands that I revisit the world of the selkie every June.If that's the case, the BHPL catalog lists 5 titles when searched for 'Selkies-Fiction' and a whopping 39 when searched for 'Mermaids - Fiction'.
If you would like to read more mysteries about forensic archaeologists, try Elly Griffiths' The Crossing Places, a Ruth Galloway mystery which is also full of Celtic lore. And if you like bodies preserved in peat bogs, both False Mermaid, the Ruth Galloway mysteries and Raven Black, #1 in the Shetland mysteries by Ann Cleeves use the fact that the tannin in peat bogs perfectly preserves bodies. File these mysteries under the mystery sub-genre: Forensic archaeologists, Celtic legends, bog people.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ten Quirky Books

Today's blog post combines two previously posted book lists for lovers of off-beat fiction.

Forever Odd by Dean Koontz, from the bestselling series about Odd Thomas who communicates with dead people. Dean Koontz is a mega-bestselling author whose style is easy to read and entertaining.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, the first in the bestselling Thursday Next series about a literary detective in a kind of futuristic/alternative U.K. where fictional characters run loose, puns are rampant and the author's imagination is really, really wild.This is sci-fi/fantasy/alternative history.

The Spare Room by Helen Garner, a friend with end stage cancer moves in and becomes the most annoying house guest imaginable. She won't leave, but what can you say in that situation? This must be the worst house guest situation ever.

Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton, middle-aged mid-Western housewife encourages an affair between her husband and local celebrity so she will have material for the book she plans to write. They do say "write what you know".

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. A professor of linguistics tries to teach his dog, the only witness to his wife's death, to talk so he can understand whether his wife committed suicide or died accidentally.. The professor starts by taking  the dog’s water bowl away while trying to teach him to say  “water.” When he hears the dog lapping from the toilet bowl it is not exactly the Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan moment he was going for. A sad premise, but told with humor.

Swim to Me by Betsy Carter: 17 year old becomes a mermaid performer at the swimming show at Weeki Wachee Springs, FL. A coming-of-age story in a unique setting. This little book is a staff favorite.

Paper Wings by Marly Swick: growing up in the early 1960's in Madison, Wisconsin. Another coming-of-age tale.

Local Girls by Alice Hoffman: connected short stories. You can safely say that all of Alice Hoffman’s books tend to have a quirky feel which comes partially from her close observation of nature which she portrays as having a kind of creepy, predatory lushness. When humans interact with wild animals and wild vegetation in her books, strange things occur. 

The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms by J.P. Donleavy: embroiders the urban legend about the stranger who signs a funeral guest book only to find out she inherits the deceased's estate. A very dark, weird book.

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead: in this satire of marketing excesses, a small town hires a name consultant to reshape its image. This consultant is having an identity crisis as bad, if not worse, than the town’s.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

This Friday, June 3, at 10:30 a.m. the morning book group will discuss Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger, which won the Booker Prize in 1987. The novel's heroine is a former war correspondent and popular historian lying on her deathbed and recollecting scenes from her unconventional life, thinking of how her "history of the world" would have been written. We slowly learn more about Claudia's true love, a tank commander in Cairo during World War II, over the course of Moon Tiger.

The Guardian has as four-part series on Moon Tiger here, including an interview with the author.

Discussion Questions:

1. Just as there was a photograph in Lively's 1993 novel, The Photograph there is one in Moon Tiger, a 19th century photograph that Claudia owns. Anne Tyler quotes the passage in her review for the New York Times:
There is a grocer's shop and a blacksmith's and a stationary cart and a great spreading tree, but not a single human figure. In fact William Smith - or someone, or several people, dogs too, geese, a man on a horse - passed beneath the tree, went into the grocer's shop, loitered for a moment talking to a friend while the photograph was taken but he is invisible, all of them are invisible. The exposure of the photograph - sixty minutes - was so long that William Smith and everyone else passed through it and away leaving no trace.

What other passages talk about time and our concept of it in Moon Tiger? How is Cairo in 1942 a good setting for a story with a lack of chronology, like Moon Tiger?

2. What did you make of the relationship between Claudia and her brother Gordon? Between her and her daughter Lisa?

3. Do you think Claudia's life would have been different if Tom had lived? How?

4. The history of the world that Claudia is "writing" focuses on details and the experiences of individuals. Would you prefer a more objective overview of events? Why or why not?

5. Out of the 3 novels we've read that were set in Egypt, which is your favorite: Dreamers of the Day, The English Patient, or Moon Tiger?

6. What is unconventional about the way Moon Tiger is written?

7. In your mind, when a part of the narrative is being retold, who is telling it? Is Claudia imagining it?

8. Are there any links between your personal history and the greater history of the world? For example, Claudia says "I have Tito to thank for Jasper . . "

9. Claudia says "Fiction can seem more enduring than reality" (page 6 of the paperback edition). What does she mean? Do you agree?

10. What does the title of the book refer to? Why might Penelope Lively have chosen it for the title?

5 Brit Mysteries to Recommend

I've been on a mystery-reading marathon in the last couple of months. What follows is a list of five mysteries by contemporary British authors writing in the "cozy", or classic, style of mysteries perfected by Agatha Christie and other authors of the mystery Golden Age.

Goodbye, Ms. Chips, an Ellie Haskell mystery #13 by Dorothy Cannell. Ellie returns to her prep school to investigate disappearance of a sports trophy. Amateur sleuth and her flamboyantly dressed housekeeper solve crimes.The tone is light and tongue-in-cheek.

The Janus Stone, a Ruth Galloway Mystery by Elly Griffiths (2010) 2nd in series, forensic archaelogist called in to investigate bones of buried child at building site. The tone is dark and contemplative.

Peril at Sumner House, a Daphne DuMaurier mystery by Joanna Challis (2010). The author of Rebecca as amateur sleuth. The tone is semi-serious.

Sherlock Holmes and the Shakespeare Letter by Barry Grant (2011) Sherlock is defrosted in the 21st century to solve more crimes. The mood is very similar to the original Holmes stories by Conan Doyle.

Death of a Chimney Sweep, a Hamish MacBeth mystery by M.C. Beaton. (2011)  Small town in the Highlands of Scotland. Very light in tone with emphasis on the village eccentrics and the main character, Hamish MacBeth, the canny and adorable village constable.