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.