Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Attack of the Giant Primrose or Serendipity in the Garden

Pulling into my driveway after work yesterday evening, I admire the Evening Primrose growing next to my garage. Picture a plant so big it towers over the lanky daylilies, a monster of a weed, over six feet tall, growing in a large clump that sprang to life from the scattered seeds of last year's flowers. The dusty green foliage and bright buttercup yellow flowers glow against the Tar Heel blue wood siding. Last summer, serendipity made me spare an anonymous seedling and later realize that what appeared to be a three foot high weed actually bloomed nicely in August. Identifying it as Evening Primrose, I collected the seeds and scattered them this spring in the same place where it had thrived before. This summer the plant has doubled in height and is blooming earlier in the summer which makes me wonder what will happen if I gather this crop of seeds and sow them next spring? Is this the Jack in the Beanstalk of wildflowers? Will I be able to scale the heights of my garage roof by climbing up the Evening Primrose stalk?  Will I have so many Evening Primrose seeds that I can start my own herbal oil supply business? Or trade a handful of seeds for a cow? Could I be the Gregor Mendel of Evening Primroses? Loud barks interrupt my revery. Addie waits by the driveway side window and demands dinner upon my arrival home and she's pretty sure that my sitting in the car daydreaming is not getting her dinner fixed fast enough.

Further reading:
Rutgers Agricultural Experiment Station NJ Weed Gallery
The monk in the garden : the lost and found genius of Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics  by Robin Marantz Henig.(BIO Mendel)
NCAM Fact Sheet on Evening Primrose oil from National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine,National Institutes of Health
Addie might be a Belgian Malinois, but she definitely did not go with Cairo the Dog and Seal Team Six into Pakistan as she is a diehard suburban doggy who fears fireworks and jumping out of helicopters.
Why is my house Tar Heel Blue? Just to annoy Ellen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


On Friday, July 22 at 7 p.m. the Next Stage Ensemble of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey will perform an hour-long version of Moliere's comedy "Tartuffe." Due to tonight's extreme heat, the play will be held in the Berkeley Heights Community Center at 29 Park Avenue. Please bring your own lawn chair.

"When Orgon, a gullible and wealthy family man, invites the seemingly pious Tartuffe to stay at his home, he is convinced that he has joined a noble cause. Despite the warnings of his family and friends, Orgon holds his friend in the highest regard and showers him with gifts and money and even the offer of his daughter’s hand in marriage. The family soon lays traps to expose the true nature of the mysterious stranger. Will their efforts be too late?" (From the Next Stage Ensemble's press release.)

Here are some fun facts about Tartuffe.

- The first three acts were staged at Versailles in 1664 as part of Pleasures of the Enchanted Garden. Although Louis XIV thought Tartuffe was funny, he immediately prohibited its full production at the urging of the Archbishop of Paris. It was not until 1669 that Louis lifted the interdict. See Wayne Turney's The Tartuffe Controversy.

- The character Tartuffe's name means "truffle" - the black fungus delicacy that grows underground in the wild. The truffle was made popular by Louis XIV's chef Varenne, who cooked for the same kinds of royal parties where Moliere's plays were performed. See the Utah Shakespeare Theatre page on Tartuffe for more.

- The characters in Tartuffe are based on stock characters from Italian comedy, but Moliere also followed the rules for French tragedy (respecting the unities of time, action, and place, and writing in Alexandrine verse). See "Tartuffe," Recommended Reading: 500 Classics Reviewed, June 1995.

- Tartuffe does not appear on stage until the third act.

- Robert Cardullo argues that Orgon is meant to be a comic version of Louis XIV. His chief adviser, Tartuffe, can be compared to Louis' ministers, the Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin. See Explicator, Spring2009, Vol. 67 Issue 3, p173-176.

If you would like to read any of the articles cited in this blog post, they are available online at Literary Reference Center.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Books about Murder Trials

The Casey Anthony murder trial has riveted the public for the past month and the not-guilty verdict was one of the most unexpected results in a famous trial since the acquittal of O.J. Simpson in 1995. If you like to read about true crime and murder trials, browse the shelves classified as 364.15 and 345.7 in the Dewey Decimal system.

If you would like to read about O.J. Simpson's murder trial to compare it to the Casey Anthony case, try these book or search for O.J. Simpson as the subject heading in the library catalog.
Without a Doubt by Marcia Clark 345.73 CLA
Outrage: the five reasons why O.J. Simpson got away with murder by Vincent Bugliosi 345.73 BUG

The library's newest book about famous crimes and trials is Popular Crime: reflections on the celebration of violence by Bill James (364.1 JAM) Best known for his coverage of baseball, Bill James has turned his fascination with reading about crimes into a book covering infamous murder cases.

If you like the CSI t.v. show and are interested in forensic science, try  The Real World of a Forensic Scientist: renowned experts reveal what it takes to solve crimes by Henry C. Lee et al (363.25 LEE)  Henry C. Lee testified for the defense at the O.J. Simpson trial. Read some of his testimony here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Power of Half by Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen

A few years ago, the Salwen family of Atlanta put their $1.6 million dollar house on the market, moved into a house that cost half as much, and donated the other half to The Hunger Project. The Power of Half is the book about the family's project, which began when 14-year-old Hannah got upset by the sight of a Mercedes driving past a homeless man asking for money.

The Power of Half is a very quick read (only 242 small pages), but if you don't have time to read it, try watching Hannah's Lunchbox, a video by her brother Joseph about the project, or the video of Hannah and Joseph speaking at TEDx Atlanta.

There are a couple of brilliant ideas (or as Kevin Salwen puts it, "Cool Things") at work in The Power of Half. Cool Thing #1 is "the more you give, the more you get". The Salwens now have a larger purpose in life, what they call their "family legend". Oddly enough, they have attracted criticism online for enjoying the benefits of their donation, and for their choice of charity.

Cool Thing #2 is that no one is asking you to sell your house: just make a measurable commitment instead of vowing to do "more". As the book says, "Your 'half' can be whatever you choose, at whatever budget you set," suggesting as an example that you take half the time you spend watching TV and use that time to volunteer. Choose a cause that you feel strongly - even angry - about. If you need ideas, Charity Navigator lets you browse by 9 types of nonprofits.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Refreshing Reference Questions

Water + disaster = the perfect summer movie, no? Here are some similarly thrilling reference questions we've had this July.

A patron explained to me that he watched a NOVA episode a few years ago about how the last ice age formed the Hudson River and the New York harbor when an ancient lake in upstate New York broke through a dam. He had forgotten the name of the lake and when it happened.

Woods Hole published a press release on their web site about this event (which it dates to 13,350 years ago) and names the lake: Glacial Lake Iroquois. The press release begins, "Imagine a lake three times the size of the present-day Lake Ontario breaking through a dam and flooding down the Hudson River Valley past New York City and into the North Atlantic."

Ian and Jenny Giddy have a summary of the geology of the Hudson River at watertrail.org with wonderful phrases like "bulldozing mile-thick glaciers" and "huge tongues of ice".

Information was also requested about the collision between a ship and a bridge over the Raritan River decades ago. The patron could not find anything on it using Google. We found an article about the crash in the Historical New York Times, an online database that goes all the way back to 1857. On March 4, 1966, train service between Perth Amboy and South Amboy was disrupted for weeks when a cargo ship hit the Raritan River Drawbridge.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma

Nothing momentous really happens in this coming-of-age memoir, unless you count The Streak, in which Alice's single father, an elementary school librarian in south Jersey, reads out loud to her every night from the time she was 9 until the day he drops her off at college. It's a quick read, sometimes funny (like the time James suggests a trip for ice cream to take Alice's mind off a C on her report card . . at the Custard Corral), and sometimes sad (when Alice's mother moves out on Thanksgiving Day).

The closest book I can think of that felt similar to me was Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron. Other reading-related memoirs at BHPL include Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch and So Many Books, So Little Time: a Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Which Doorway Would You Pick?

In Nancy Pearl's reference series Now Read This, the fiction within is categorized by four main appeal factors: story, setting, character and language. As Library Journal describes it,
The story doorway beckons those who enjoy reading to find out what happens next.

The setting doorway opens widest for readers who enjoy being immersed in an evocation of place or time.

The doorway of character is for readers who enjoy looking at the world through others' eyes.

Readers who most appreciate skillful writing enter through the doorway of language.

Now Read This groups mainstream fiction titles by their primary appeal factor (although the authors invite you to disagree). Here are a few examples.

Gentleman and Players by Joanne Harris
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Atonement by Ian McEwan

If I had to pick one of these "doorways", it would be setting, with story coming in second. This probably explains my fascination with Harry Potter, quirky nonfiction, and mysteries set in places where I'd like to travel or live. While I appreciate characterization and language, it's almost always something one of my book groups has chosen to read, instead of something I've picked. What about you?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli

Harry, a History is a history of the Harry Potter phenomenon written by Melissa Anelli, the editor of the HP news site The Leaky Cauldron. It's also an account of her activities at the Leaky Cauldron, from the early days when she was just out of college and entering what she calls the "fandom" to the later, frenzied days surrounding the release of the last couple of books, when she was podcasting live in front of hundreds of people at bookstores across the country and going to Edinburgh to interview J.K. Rowling. She even got to tour the movie set during filming (going into raptures at the sight of the Great Hall and, of course, noticing the little things the film set got wrong).

One part of the "fandom" that I found interesting were the "shipping wars": online debates between fans over whether Hermione should/would end up in a relationship with Harry, or with Ron. I had forgotten how crazy things got towards the end of the series' publication: the undercover sting operation that led to gun shots, the New York Times book review that came out before the book's release (anathema to any fan trying to avoid spoilers!) and the thousands of people at J.K. Rowling's publicity events. If you find the beginning of the book slow, with its chapters on wizard rock, fan fiction, and the books' fundamentalist challengers, you will not miss too much if you skip those.