Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Library Closed Until Further Notice

Due to storm damage from Irene, the library is closed until further notice. Remember, you can use your Berkeley Heights library card to check out items at nearby libraries including New Providence, Long Hill, Summit and Chatham.

Now on to our regularly scheduled blog post:

Last week summer's film festival just wrapped up at BHPL. Before the movie plays, a powerpoint of reviews for that night's movie runs on a loop. We had some really great films, and they mostly got great reviews. But it's the occasional negative review that adds some spice:

The Concert was so unfunny, I had to consult to make sure that it was indeed listed as a comedy.” – Rachel Saslow, Washington Post

“Hollywood has a long history of turning highbrow art into middlebrow mush, and Mao's Last Dancer is just one more kick dancer in that long line.”– Richard Nilsen, Arizona Republic

“Punitively affirmational parable.” – Jessica Winter, Village Voice on The Way Home

“This is a movie so excited to exist that it overwhelms you with plot. Sitting through it is like opening the door to an overloaded closet. Stuff just tumbles out.” – Wesley Morris, Boston Globe, writing about White Wedding

"Complacent middlebrow tosh" - Ty Burr, Boston Globe, on The King's Speech

The audience at the library liked these movies - there was a lot of laughter, and teary eyes when the lights came up. If you'd like to form your own opinion, these movies are available for check out on DVD as soon as the library reopens.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wating for Irene: Hurricane Tips

NJ librarians stay in constant contact about all things librarianish by means of a list-serv, which is a closed email network. Each morning NJ librarians can expect an inbox full of library lore, tips, disasters, continuing education opportunities, technology updates and so on. This morning, we received this email about the impending Hurricane Irene which even as I type and you read is barreling relentlessly toward the hapless Garden State. I share it here so I don't have to reinvent the wheel of hurricane preparedness. However, I have highlighted in yellow the stuff you really need to know so you can skim it quickly before running around bringing in lawn furniture, hanging plants and other potential projectiles. This is no laughing matter, being hit by a flying pot of petunias is the leading cause of hurricane related visits to the E.R. involving flowers.  Blogger's notes are in italics and I have reduced the size of redundant or ridiculous text.
"Hurricane Irene Forecast Impact on New Jersey Could be Severe"

It appears the greatest impact from Irene will be felt overnight Saturday through about midday Sunday. Here are some disaster planning, response and recovery resources for your library, for your personal safety, and even for your pets:

STORM TRACKER (nb: this is a link that doesn't work, to a map so you can see exactly where Irene is at all times.)

FOR YOUR LIBRARY (NB: non-librarians can safely skip this part) Emergency Responders:
General Disaster & Preservation Information:
Disaster Preparedness & Recovery Tools & Salvage Charts:
24/7 Disaster Assistance Hotline, Northeast Document Conservation Center: 978-470-1010
ALA Disaster Response Resources

August 24, 2011
No.: HQ-11-134
FEMA News Desk: 202-646-3272

As Hurricane Irene Approaches, FEMA Urges East Coast Resident to Be Prepared
Residents Should Follow the Instructions of Local Officials and Visit or to Prepare for Hurricanes and Severe Weather

WASHINGTON - As Hurricane Irene moves toward the East Coast of the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is urging all residents in East Coast states to take steps now to prepare their families and businesses for hurricanes and severe weather. Visit or for helpful tips on preparing for hurricanes, flash flooding and other disasters.

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Irene is now a category three hurricane and will move across the southeastern and central Bahamas today and over the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday. For more forecast information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Hurricane Center, click here.

"FEMA, along with the entire federal family, continues to closely monitor Hurricane Irene," said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. "We remain in close contact and coordination with all of our state and territorial partners in the Caribbean and along the East Coast that have already or could possibly experience impacts from this storm. Hurricane Irene's future path is still uncertain, and I encourage everyone to visit and take steps now to keep their family safe and secure. The most important thing for people to do right now is to listen to and follow the instructions of their local officials. If you are told to evacuate, evacuate."

As Hurricane Irene approaches the East Coast, FEMA, through its regional offices in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Atlanta, continues to monitor the storm closely and is in close contact with their respective state emergency management agencies.

In advance preparation for the storm, FEMA has deployed National Incident Management Assistance Teams to staging areas in Georgia and Virginia, in anticipation of further deployment to potential impact areas along the east coast of the U.S. Additionally, at all times, FEMA maintains commodities, including millions of liters of water, millions of meals and hundreds of thousands of blankets, strategically located at distribution centers throughout the United States and its territories. In Atlanta, for instance, FEMA has more than two million liters of water, more than 1.3 million meals, and more than 16,000 cots and 56,000 blankets. These resources may be moved to Incident Support Bases, which are distribution centers located closer to the impacted areas, as needed and requested by state partners.

These commodities are meant to supplement state resources if needed, but it is critical that individuals and families that are able build their own emergency supply kits, so that in the event of a disaster, state and local resources can be focused on our most vulnerable citizens.

FEMA is coordinating across the federal government to ensure territorial and state officials have the support they need as they respond to or prepare for Irene. New actions as of today include, but are not limited to:

• The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has started deploying members of the 249th Engineering Battalion (Prime Power) to Puerto Rico to assist with restoring power to the island.
• The Federal Communications Center (FCC) has deployed two Roll Call Spectrum Scanning teams to the FEMA regional offices in Atlanta and Boston. These teams conduct post scans after landfall to determine which critical communications systems might have been impacted.
• Health and Human Services (HHS) is prepared to provide public health and medical support to states along the east coast in response to Hurricane Irene. The HHS is also coordinating with public health and emergency management agencies in U.S. territories and states along the projected hurricane path to make information available on how people can protect their health as they prepare for and respond to hurricanes and other natural disasters.
• The U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) has activated a Defense Coordinating Officer to the FEMA Regional Response Coordination Center in Atlanta in preparation for support to civil authorities as Hurricane Irene approaches the East Coast of the United States.
• The Department of Defense has designated Fort Bragg, North C Incident Support Base to support FEMA operations to respond to Hurricane Irene.

Click here for the previous update on these activities.

FEMA encourages everyone, regardless of whether they live in a hurricane-prone area, to take steps to ensure their families, homes and businesses are prepared for a possible emergency. As a reminder, the month of September is designated as National Preparedness Month (NPM), an opportunity to encourage Americans to be prepared for disasters or emergencies in their homes, businesses, and communities. Individuals and families can learn about events and activities, and groups can register to become a NPM Coalition Member by visiting NPM is sponsored by the Ready Campaign in partnership with Citizen Corps and The Ad Council.

FEMA's support of disaster response activities in Puerto Rico, and its proactive support for East Coast storm preparations, does not diminish its focus from critical federal disaster response and recovery operations that continue, across the nation, including flooding in the Midwest and the ongoing recovery from the southeastern tornadoes. Every disaster is a reminder that they can happen anytime, anywhere. Now is the time to prepare--visit or for tips on creating your family emergency plan and putting together an emergency supplly kit.

Follow FEMA online at,,, and Also, follow FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate's activities at

The social media links provided are for reference only. FEMA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies or applications.

FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

Here is New Jersey’s state plan for dealing with pets in a disaster. It was formulated after Katrina, when so many pets were lost or their owner had to leave them behind.

Stay safe!"

Blogger's endnote:    So there your have it in a nutshell. A very big nutshell. Luckily for you, Dear Reader, I have predigested not only FEMA's, but our entire "Federal Family's" press releases for you and so it bears repeating, watch out for flying petunia pots. I recently learned from my Facebook Friends that the reason people buy bread and milk and toilet paper before storms is that these people plan to make milk sandwiches and wrap them in toilet paper to protect them.

Good luck everyone and stay dry!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

I laughed, I cried, it's better than Cats. Well, I've never seen Cats, but I loved Mao's Last Dancer - the morning book group's pick for our meeting on September 2. This memoir written by the ballet dancer Li Cunxin was on the bestseller list for over a year in Australia, where he lives, and was also a New York Times bestseller.

Li grew up in Communist China, the sixth of seven boys. His close-knit family subsisted mostly on dried yams grown on their patch of the commune farm on his father's day off from work. In 1972, at age eleven, Li withstood several painful auditions that tested his flexibility and was selected to attend Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy. Although he was homesick and near the bottom of his class his first few years, one of his teachers inspired him and he began his ascent to stardom in the ballet world.

This is an inspirational story about the pursuit of excellence and the pain of being separated from family. Li Cunxin tells it straightforwardly (somewhat disappointing for readers hoping for literature with a capital L) and seasons it with humor. Puzzled by the tights that dancers wear, after one ballet Li's father asks, "Why didn't you wear any pants?"

Mao's Last Dancer was made into a movie that will be shown at the library tonight (August 25) at 7 p.m. as part of the Summer International Film Festival.

Discussion questions for the book are available here. The study guide for the movie asks some helpful questions too. The New York Times ran an interview with Li Cunxin in 2004 called "The Dancer Who Defected Twice". You can watch clips of Li's motivational speaking on his web site.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

L.A. Theatre Works

Last week a patron asked us for audiobook recommendations, her only requirement being "good narration" and "no mysteries". The Agatha Raisin radio dramas came to mind, but they were mysteries and something you download from instead of checking out of the library. Then I remembered The History Boys, a play on CD that BHPL owns that I enjoyed listening to years ago. It turned out the patron grew up reading plays and was enthusiastic about listening to them.

Most of BHPL's plays on CD are by L.A. Theatre Works. These include:

Bunbury by Tom Jacobson
Bus Stop by William Inge
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial by Herman Wouk
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Eleanor, Her Secret Journey by Rhoda Lerman
I Sent a Letter to My Love: a Musical
Incident at Vichy by Arthur Miller
Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde
A Lesson Before Dying by Romulus Linney based on the novel by Ernest Gaines
Mary Stuart by Friedrich von Schiller
The Norman Conquests: a Trilogy by Alan Ayckbourn
The Odd Couple by Neil Simon
The Real Doctor Strangelove: based on the book by Peter Goodchild
The Ruby Sunrise by Rinne Groff
Shakespeare's Greatest Hits: adapted by Barbara Gaines
Speed the Plow by David Mamet
The Tale of the Allergist's Wife by Charles Busch
Tea at Five by Matthew Lombardo
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose
Work Song by Jeffrey Hatcher and Eric Simonson

They are shelved by the author's last name in the fiction audiobooks.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Book of Animal Ignorance

Working in a library means that you daily run across interesting books, but there isn't enough time in the world to read them all. That's how that obnoxious bumper sticker/t-shirt slogan "so many books, so little time" was derived I suppose. Anyway, I often bring books back to the Reference Desk and keep them around to dip into at random, especially non-fiction books like
The Book of Animal Ignorance: everything you think you know is wrong by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, 2007. (call #590 LLO)

The Book of Animal Ignorance is perfect for browsing. Here are some tidbits from it. "Cheerful dogs wag their tails more to the right side of their rumps. Morose dogs wag to the left." (59) I'll have to check my dog to see if she's depressed or not. I think she kind of wags bilaterally which must mean she is even-tempered and not neurotic?  Hedgehogs win polls as the most popular garden animal in the U.K. (100) Now that implies a lot of strange things, about polling, and about the Brits. My dog's run-in with a hedgehog a few weeks ago was really disturbing. The varmint had fangs you would not believe and did not look the least bit like Beatrix Potter's Mrs. Tiggywinkle. Aside from not wearing a pinafore, it was just plain aggressive. "Pigs can learn to dance, race, pull carts, and sniff out land mines." (161) But would you want your pig to dance? I think not."Sheep, even more than their close relatives the goats, were responsible for the greatest lifestyle shift in human history: the transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer." (192) So next time you impatiently wait for a flock of sheep to leave the road so you can keep driving, just stop cursing them and offer them thanks for our modern way of life.
If you want to know more interesting facts about animals, check this book out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Scandals, Vandals and da Vincis by Harvey Rachlin

I enjoyed The Art Detective so much that I kept reading in the same vein, this time Harvey Rachlin's Scandals, Vandals and da Vincis. This "gallery of remarkable art tales" tells the story behind 26 famous paintings.

The first chapter is about the Mona Lisa, its horrifying theft from The Louvre on August 21, 1911 (nearly 100 years ago exactly!) and why Leonardo would never part with it, even though it was a commission.

The Honourable Mrs. Graham (seen above) by Thomas Gainsborough also has a fascinating story behind it. Mary Cathcart was the daughter of an earl who was the English ambassador to Catherine the Great's court in Russia. She and her husband Thomas Graham led a happy life, until the tragedy that befell the Grahams caused Thomas to never want to see the portrait again. Then, at the age of 42, he began a brilliant military career that eventually led him to be named to the peerage as Baron Lynedoch.

The Tribunal of the Uffizi, which depicts the gallery of the Uffizi palace in Florence, is an amazing painting by Johann Zoffany. Scandals, Vandals and da Vincis describes the intense personal losses Zoffany suffered as a result of accepting the commission.

It's OK to skip around in this book - you can focus only on the paintings you will see in your travels or trips to New York.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"I would prefer not to."

Bartleby, the Scrivener, a story of Wall-street by Herman Melville
In Herman Melville's story, the narrator, a Wall Street lawyer, tells of the first time his copyist refused to do his job.
'In this very attitude did I sit when I called to him, rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do—namely, to examine a small paper with me. Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.” '

This is the start of Bartleby refusing to work and the beginning of the phrase which lives on, "I prefer not to." Many of us prefer not to, but we do, because we have to. What if we all just stopped being dutiful, reliable, dependable and compliant? Neither readers nor the narrator ever know why Bartleby stops working, but guessing has become a literary game that has lasted for over a century. After starting out as an avid worker, Bartleby becomes a completely passive presence in his job and life. The lawyer thinks of him as the subject for a great anecdote, the quirkiest of all the quirky scriveners on Wall Street. What made me think of Bartleby today was that the American public is widely polled these days as being frustrated by politicians and financiers and other people in power who seem to prefer not to really work hard enough together to solve the problems the U.S. now faces. They prefer to play games and assign blame. Bartleby dies in the end in the new York city prison still known as the Tombs. Is that the price of apathy?
Related websites:
Gallup polls
Bartleby the Scrivener downloadable e-book from Project Gutenberg (thousand of free books online)
The Tombs

Friday, August 12, 2011

Give your kid a library card, not a credit card

I just stumbled across this nifty little article from Real Simple magazine in which various professionals give advice to parents, like "slather 'em in sunscreen" say doctors, and, eat a low-carb breakfast says a school nurse, and so on.

"What I Wish Parents Knew": Doctors, teachers, therapists and more weigh in

The "and more" tips at the end of the article is advice from random other professions, but nary a tip from librarians. That's o.k.; librarians are asked about what children should read and when and how much and other reading-related child-development questions.And of course, librarians are hauled out for the occasional article about the alleged imminent demise of the book or libraries as we know them. But if the article writer had asked librarians for advice for parents, this is what I think we might say:
Commuter Parking for Big Wheels
  •  Bring your child to the public library to get a library card as soon as he can sign his name.
  • Teach your child to ask for help from the librarian if she needs it. Many teenagers just give up trying to find things and go home bookless. If your child says the librarian is grouchy and scary, tell your child to stop mumbling and the librarian will then become helpful and friendly. (Just kidding there, parents! We are never grouchy and scary.)
  • Which leads to tip 3: make your kids enunciate. Just kidding on that one too. As a parent of two former teens, I know that is impossible, however studies have shown that many former teens learn to speak clearly by their mid-twenties.
  • Leisure reading should be fun, not a punishment. Once your child has completed school assignments, let them read what they enjoy at whatever level they like. I can't tell you how many times parents come in and try to foist some dreadfully boring, classic tome on their poor kid for "fun" reading. That will drive them right to the arms of computer games, trust me on this.
  • And finally, turn off the television and computer games during the school week. Really, that means you parents too.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Topper: Far from a Flop

Topper got added to my "to read" pile last July, when Free Acres in Berkeley Heights had its 100th anniversary. BHPL had an exhibit on Free Acres resident and illustrator Will Crawford that included this sign, The Flop:

Crawford carved it for his neighbor, Thorne Smith, who in 1926 was sure that his comic novel Topper would be a flop. But it actually became his most famous book. In 1937 Topper was made into a movie starring Cary Grant, and then it became a TV show from 1953 to 1955 starring Leo Carroll, Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys.

Topper lives on Glendale Road (there's one in Summit, although it's impossible to say for sure which New Jersey town Topper is from) and leads a boring, upright life, commuting to New York by train every day. A midlife crisis spurs him to buy the restored automobile formerly owned by George and Marion Kerby, a fun-loving couple who died when the car hit a tree. Topper's wife finds the car flashy and wants nothing to do with it, which is probably for the best since Topper is a terrible driver and the car is haunted by the ghosts of George and Marion.

George and Marion can physically materialize and dematerialize at will, which leads to many comedic scenes, notably when Topper, George and Marion get into a fight with the locals at a pharmacy and the following courtroom scene. I downloaded it onto an iPod from ListenNJ and found it amusing, but you'll need to make some allowances for the fact that it was published 85 years ago.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Art Detective by Philip Mould

"Two months earlier I had told an old lady that her early-twentieth-century portrait of a young girl would be worth more if the child were better looking. She then revealed it was a portrait of herself as a child. From that moment I swore always to ask clients what they knew before wading in."

With lines like these, reading The Art Detective feels like you're seated next to the author Philip Mould at a dinner party, listening to him talk about his adventures in art. The Art Detective tells the story of six paintings the London art dealer and BBC Antiques Roadshow host has encountered over his career, or as the subtitle of the book says, "fakes, frauds and finds". The finds were the most interesting to read about, especially the ones that were transformed by the daring removal of paint added in later years.

These news stories should give you a taste for the subject of the book, although they're no substitute.

Rare Gainsborough Uncovered by Antiques Roadshow Presenter

No Flattery Is Found in an Imitation of a Rockwell

The One That Got Away: Fisherman's Legal Battle Over £150,000 Artwork

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Reading Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace for the library book group meeting this Friday morning, I couldn't help but think of the similarities to the Amanda Knox murder trial: a beautiful young woman on trial for a scandalous murder, with plenty of room for conjecture as to her innocence or guilt.

Alias Grace is based on the 1843 double murder of a land owner in Ontario and his housekeeper/lover. The hired man, who was hanged for the murder, said that the 16 year-old servant girl Grace made him - and helped him - kill the housekeeper. Whether Grace and the hired man were lovers who ran away together, or whether he forced her to go with him at gunpoint, is something that will keep readers turning the pages.

Being the work of Margaret Atwood, the book is of course much more than an account of a murder. Alias Grace was her first work of historical fiction, and it put her on the Booker Prize short list for the third time (she eventually won for The Blind Assassin). This is one of my favorite passages - Grace is speaking:

I never do such things, however. I only consider them. If I did them, they would be sure I had gone mad again. Gone mad is what they say, and sometimes Run mad, as if mad is a direction, like west; as if mad is a different house you could step into, or a separate country entirely. But when you go mad you don't go any other place, you stay where you are. And somebody else comes in.

Useful links

Margaret Atwood's Letter to the Reader

Random House interview with Margaret Atwood

Salon interview with Margaret Atwood: "Blood and Laundry"

Discussion questions

More discussion questions

Monday, August 1, 2011

Self-evident Consumer Warnings

As I removed the reflective sun shade from my car windshield this morning, I noticed the warning: 'Remove this sun shade before operating automobile'. Really? Now, I'm not the first person to notice that some consumer warnings are just stupid,  but, how, I ask myself, can this be related to library usage? How, in other words, can I use this observation to write a blog post that will sneak up on blog readers and make them Love Libraries and Love Reading and make them immediately drop everything and come to the library to check out dozens of books AND OTHER MATERIALS, as we like to say these days? In other words, how to use this as a hook to MARKET THE LIBRARY? What if we put warning labels on books: Caution, reading this book might make you smarter. How about a warning label on the front door of the library: Caution, enter at your own risk, library contains thousands of entertaining books, DVD's and audiobooks. A warning at the top of the sign-up sheets for computer classes: Be advised that taking computer classes may result in addiction to your computer. The sign over the Reference Desk currently says: "Questions? Ask Us" we could add, and Librarian May be Unable to Stop Recommending Books, Websites and other resources.
Related blog:
The "M" Word-Marketing Libraries

Personal Growth through Isolation

Joan Anderson's memoir A Year by the Sea, thoughts of an unfinished woman (1999) chronicles the year she took off from her marriage to "find herself". The author  starts each chapter with inspirational quotes from the similar A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh and other sources. Many reviews on GoodReads compare it to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love (2006). This genre of memoir can perhaps be traced back to Viginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929) What all three books share is the idea that women should have a space all to themselves, or take time and space, in order to maintain their individuality.  When writing about this idea, a modern author has to be careful not to tip to the side of selfishness, self-involvement, whining and entitlement. Reviewers differ on whether Anderson tips more to the selfish than the self-reflective. For me, classics, but not memoirs, like A Room of One's Own and Henrik Ibsen's The Doll's House, Hedda Gabler and The Master Builder treat women's dilemma of individuality so beautifully that it's difficult to tolerate the clunky prose styles of contemporary memoirists who attempt to shed light on the issue.
"A Year by the Sea' is not a classic piece of literature though, it's a quick, painless read. Anderson does what so many women, and men for that matter, would like to do: chuck it all and escape to a cozy cottage on Cape Cod (or wherever - fill in place here) and then write a bestseller about it that sells to the Oprah crowd. But wait, that's not all! Anderson follows this memoir with several others and she has a business that provides expensive "workshops" for women seeking to find themselves. I'm just picturing what a workshop by Virginia Woolf would have been like... 
Read-a-likes: popular memoirs by women authors
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: musings on illness and death in the family.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls - puts the "dys" in dysfunctional family.
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott, or any of her books; Lamott is funny and flawed.
The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway, if you like to read about Australia.
My review of Take Big Bites by Linda Ellerbee which I loved because she is funny and self-deprecating.
My review of Mutant Message Down Under, a memoir which may be a hoax and which I found even more annoyingly narrow-minded than Eat, Pray, Love and A Year by the Sea.