Thursday, June 28, 2012

Whiter than Snow

Solid story teller Sandra Dallas returns to Colorado during the early 20th century in her latest historical novel Whiter than Snow. Through the story of a winter avalanche in a dirt-poor gold-mining town in Colorado that kills or injures nine schoolchildren, the author traces the life of each parent leading up to the moment when the snow rumbles down the mountain into the path of their child walking home from school. Like Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, fate brings together formerly unconnected people when disaster strikes. As in that book, the lives of the people are traced backward from the tragic event. Unlike The Bridge of San Luis Ray where a priest witnesses a bridge falling and tries to figure out God's intent, Dallas' book does not consider the meaning of fate or God's intent. Most of the residents of the bleak town of Swandyke, Colorado have long since lost faith in God or at least stopped trying to find the meaning in the mining accidents, weather disasters, illness, poverty and wars they have experienced. They just soldier on and find comfort in their small community of the mutually bereaved and afflicted.

Sounds like a grim story, but the book is suspenseful, well-plotted and ultimately hopeful.

Recommended for fans of historical fiction, Louise Erdrich novels of the upper midwest, Robert B. Parker's westerns.

Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons by Lorna Landvik

I don't have too much to say about Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons. It went down easily, like a Sprite, but who writes about the experience of drinking a Sprite?  The real problem was that as I drank this Sprite I was reading about a book club that was reading real meals like Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen (and yet, saying little or nothing about them).  I'm assuming Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons would be more interesting if you raised children in a close-knit neighborhood between 1960 and 1990.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Today at the Reference Desk: Fowl Play

Those of you who are regular readers of our library blog know that we post occasionally about what librarians really do all day long aside from shushing our noisier patrons. Things have really changed in libraries since I first began work in these halls of learning, but one thing remains the same. You just never know what the next person who comes up to the Reference Desk will ask.

It must have been in a nearby town in New Jersey that allows chickens to be raised in the suburbs. Not Berkeley Heights, I think, but not too far from here either. I heard that the librarian on duty, let's call her Marian, had her nose in a Nook when she felt, with that librarian sixth sense that detects patrons in need, that someone had approached the Reference Desk, but she couldn't see anyone.

All she could hear was someone demanding a "book, book." 

"What kind of books do you like to read," she asked trying to put a 'smile' in her question, but still not sure who she was talking to. 

"Book, book, book!" demanded the insistent voice coming from the floor in front of the Reference Desk.

Marian leaned over her computer monitor and looked down at the slightly worn carpet where patrons usually stand to ask for help. There stood a chicken, patiently waiting in front of the desk. When the chicken saw that it had the librarian's attention, it squawked again,

"Book, book, book, BOOK!" 

Feeling that she shouldn't ask what genre the chicken preferred or what his/her? (Marian is a city girl and cannot tell the gender of this fowl patron) favorite book is, as the chicken seemed to be in a hurry, Marian indicated that the chicken should wait while she ran off to the area of romance fiction to pull a few titles. Marian grabbed a plastic grocery bag from the staff room supply and offered the 'bodice rippers' (aka: romances) to the chicken. The chicken quickly grabbed them and strutted out the library door. 
The next day, the librarian was again approached by the same chicken, who put the previous day's pile of books down on the desk and again squawked,

 "Book, book, book, BOOK!" 
The librarian realized that the chicken must not have liked romances, maybe it's a rooster? Marian gathered some westerns  for the chicken this time. The chicken grabbed the bag of books and stalked out.
The next day, Marian was alerted to the presence of her new poultry patron, by squawks, which seem rather more irritable than before. 

"Book, book, book, BOOK!" 

Now you should know that librarians are obligated by law to find the perfect book for each patron, specifically by Ranganathan's Law:  

'Every book, its reader, Every reader, his book,'  

This idea is drilled into librarians in library school at which time the librarian-in-training probably has no idea how hard that simple instruction can be.

 Marian realized that she had to find out more about her chicken patron in order to find a book it would like. Marian got a new selection of books for the chicken, and followed the bird when it left the library.  Through the parking lot, down the street for several blocks, and finally into a large park, the chicken quickly ran with the bag of books in his/her beak. The chicken disappeared into a small grove of trees, and Miriam followed. On the other side of the trees was a small marsh, very similar to the boggy area behind the Berkeley Heights Public Library. The chicken stopped on the path of the marsh where the weeds parted to reveal a gnarled tree root sticking out of the still water. Miriam got close enough to see, but not close enough to be seen, and spotted  a small frog on the log. A frog of the species Rana Clamitans that live in the area. The frog was examining each book, one at a time. Marian got within earshot just in time to hear the frog saying, 

"Read it, read it, read it..." 

Thanks to

The process of finding the right book for each patron is called 'Readers Advisory.' Finding the next good read for a well-read person, or chicken, can be a challenge, but stop by the Reference Desk and we'll try to make a list of books we think you might like.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

eBooks on the BH Schools' Summer Reading Lists

School is out and that means students descending on the library to check out their assigned summer reading.  But that isn't always necessary as some of the books on the assigned lists are available for Nooks, Kindles, iPads and other ereaders. 

*Directions for downloading ebooks to your particular ereader are available here.
*The titles below are available in both Kindle & EPUB format unless otherwise noted. (EPUB format is for Nooks, iPads, iPhones, Androids and Sony Readers.)
*These titles may have waiting lists unless noted as “always available”
*Look at the assigned reading list for your particular class; this list combines honors and regular English and leaves out those books that the library only owns in print form.
*The number of people that the screen shows to be on hold for a particular book is often overstated since Berkeley Heights owns its own copy of many of these ebooks.

Grade 6
The Door in the Wall – Marguerite De Angeli
Gathering Blue - Lois Lowry

Grade 7
The A.B.C. Murders – Agatha Christie

Grade 8
Life as We Knew It – Susan Pfeffer
Life of Pi copy 1 copy 2 – Yann Martel
Messenger - Lois Lowry
Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
No Excuses – Kyle Maynard

Grade 9
Funny in Farsi – Firoozeh Dumas
Orchards – Holly Thompson
When I Was Puerto Rican – Esmeralda Santiago

Grade 10
Are We There Yet? – David Levithan
Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan copy 1 copy 2 – Lisa See

Grade 11
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton (always available)
Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain (always available)
Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne – Kindle copy; EPUB copy is always available
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer  

Grade 12
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley (always available)
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte -  Kindle copy; EPUB copy is always available
Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini  
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - Kindle copy; EPUB copy is always available
Robinson Crusoe copy 1 copy 2 – Daniel deFoe
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte - Kindle copy; EPUB copy is always available

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Plague of Doves Recap

The book group discussed The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich on Tuesday night. Here are some interesting things that came up during the discussion.

-My favorite quote from The Plague of Doves:
But every so often something shatters like ice and we are in the river of our existence. We are aware.

- Erdrich has been compared to William Faulkner "for her tangled family trees, her ventriloquist skill, and her expansive use of a fictional province no less fully imagined than Yoknapatawpha County" (Paris Review)

-Mooshum is a trickster character according to one reviewer.  He does not behave according to convention, is often funny, and his storytelling cannot be relied upon as wholly truthful.

- Some reviewers wished The Plague of Doves came with a genealogy chart. In her interview with the Paris Review the author admits that she can't keep all of her characters straight; her copy editor does. There must be at least twenty characters in The Plague of Doves, and four narrators; the Boston Globe called the effect "centrifugal".

- A book group member who has read a lot of Erdrich recommends The Master Butchers Singing Club, her favorite. She also liked Love Medicine and The Beet Queen.

-If you are ever in Minneapolis, stop by the author's bookstore, Birchbark Books. They have a canoe hanging from the ceiling and an old confessional renamed "the forgiveness booth."  Some of their books are written in Ojibwe.

- According to this web page English words derived from the Ojibwe language include: Mississippi "Miziziibi"(large water), moccasin "makizin," moose "mooz," pecan "bagaan" (nut), toboggan "zhooshkodaabaan," Milwaukee "mino-aki".

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

More Books for Summer Reading

We recently posted about 'Summer Reading and Beach Reads', but patrons wandering around clutching rumpled articles from newspapers and magazines or handwritten lists frequently can be spotted in the library stacks in search of something good to read on their vacation. More recommendations for your summer vacation reading follow.

Travel without leaving home:
If you are on a staycation, you can travel to North Africa with Tahir Shah, an English travel writer who recounts the trials and tribulations of buying and renovating a home in The Caliph's House, a year in Casablanca (2006)
If you missed Peter Mayle's charming and funny A Year in Provence (1991) and the sequels,  try them now. You can experience the south of France without getting out of your hammock.
Under the Tuscan Sun, at home in Italy (1997) by Frances Hayes enables a vicarious adventure in Italian living.

Solve a crime with detectives from the Golden Age of Mystery writing, from before WWI to WWII:
Agatha Christie of course, but don't forget Dorothy L. Sayers and her detective Lord Peter Wimsey; Australian Arthur Upfield; and New Zealand author Ngaio Marsh.

Read some popular book group titles you may have missed:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Speaking of book groups, the website has yearly lists of top reading group titles.

Reading Group Guides has lists of popular books with discussion questions included.

Let the reference librarians know what kinds of books you like to read and we'll make you a list of titles tailored to your reading tastes.

Is the Dewey Decimal System Still Used?

Librarians often overhear our patrons bemoaning the demise of the card catalog, but the good news is the card catalog is alive and well and living inside computers! Like a lot of other things from times gone by, the card catalog was digitized and used to create its own doppelganger, the OPAC* or PAC*.  Decoded into laymen's terms that means: all those little cards were magically sucked into the online catalog which you can  use on the library computers, or, and here's the nifty part, you can search almost any library's catalog from any internet-connected computer in the world. How convenient is that? Patrons also claim to miss the Dewey Decimal System (really?) and to that we can reassure all you Melville Dewey fans, Dewey is still here too! Melville D. never went away in most libraries. Non-fiction books are filed by Dewey Decimal number just the way they always were. Absolutely nothing changed about how books are shelved at most public libraries. There have been faint rumblings in recent years that a few libraries have decided to shelve their books in a Dewey-less manner so that the library seems more like a book store. BHPL is not one of those libraries. If you need help decoding the card catalog or finding books or other materials, just ask a librarian at the Reference Desk. We speak Dewey here.

*OPAC, PAC = online public access catalog

Related websites:
Love the DDS? Take a look at this chart from the University of Illinois, Urbana that explains it all.

YouTube has tutorials for everything! Take a look at this video about using a TLC catalog which is similar to BHPL's catalog.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

The evening book group will discuss the Pulitzer Prize-nominated The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich on June 12.  The Plague of Doves tells the stories of dozens of interconnected residents and their ancestors in a small North Dakota town and the reservation that surrounds it.   "The Plague of Doves" was inspired by the real-life lynching of 3 Indians, including a 13 year-old boy, after a white family was found murdered in North Dakota in 1897.  The tree where the hanging took place is an important placein the book and reminds me of the book itself: the repercussions of the mass murder and lynching leaf out in profusion. Keeping track of the relationships between characters is difficult, as there are four narrators and events are not recounted chronologically, but it's definitely worth a second reading.

The Paris Review has an extensive interview with Louise Erdrich, and she also appeared on Bill Moyers Journal.

Discussion questions are available at LitLovers and on page 8 of the Event Kit for the American Experience series "We Shall Remain".

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Google Didn't Find it!

When Google can't find it, ask the human search engine
Search engine behemoth Google cannot find everything that is on the internet. Using Berkeley Heights Public Library databases can enable researchers to find magazine and newspaper articles going back to the 19th century and full-text of popular magazines, all free with your BHPL card.

From the library home page, click on the 'Articles and Databases' link to find a list of resources available to library card holders that provide thousands of journal articles, hundreds of newspapers including the Star Ledger and the Independent Press,  online computer courses, literary criticism for your book group or research, world language software and much more.

Don't give up that search and don't haul out your credit card to get an article. Stop by the Reference Desk to find out how you can find answers on the internet that do not turn up when using a search engine and which will not put a dent in your budget.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Summer Reading & Beach Books: lists for readers

Summer brings at least two kinds of book lists: the dreaded summer reading assignment for students and the more happily anticipated 'beach books'  for leisure reading. Summer also brings many articles which list books readers might like to read on their summer vacation.

NPR recommends '5 New Mysteries Return to the Scene of the Crime'. The Confession, an Ian Rutledge mystery by Charles Todd sounds like a series for Agatha Christie fans. Rutledge is an Inspector at Scotland Yard and a WWI veteran. The back story reminds me of Jacqueline Winspear's popular Maisie Dobbs mystery series.

NPR has other books suggestions on their Critics' Lists: Summer 2012. One title that keeps popping up on these lists is Mark Haddon's (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime) new book The Red House. Haddon's book is included in NPR's list 'Literary Look Ahead: 13 Great Books on the Horizon.'

The online news site Daily Beast offers a slide show of 22 enticing titles in 'Best Summer Reads 2012.' Gold, a novel by Chris Cleave (Little Bee) takes place during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and will appeal to the author's fans and track bicycling enthusiasts.

The L.A. Times has a nice article on summer reading divided by age group and genre or subject.

What are you looking forward to reading this summer? Let us know and we will put your suggestion on our Pinterest board for summer reading.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Discussable Book Group Book: Trespass

Trespass, a novel by Rose Tremain was the subject of this morning's book discussion at the library. How many kinds of trespassing exist? There is the legal concept of trespassing onto posted land; or in pop psychology the idea of violating personal boundaries; culturally, certain rules exist which enforce the separateness of one tribe from another, one set of local customs from another. In Ms. Tremain's novel, boundaries of all kinds are violently crossed and these trespasses against the characters are never forgiven or forgotten. Two sets of gravely damaged brother/sister siblings meet in southern France with disastrous consequences.

Book reviews of Trespass
Mann Booker Prize
New York Times Book Review
The Guardian
The Washington Post

The Geography:
The Cevennes

Tourism article in the Guardian:
 "For Parisians, the Cévennes is still the place described by the great 19th-century French historian Jules Michelet: "The Cévennes offer rock, nothing but rock, razor-sharp shale. You feel the struggle of man, his stubborn and prodigious labour in the face of nature."

No wonder the young Melodie missed her home in Paris!

Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson, full-text on

This book is recommended for book groups; it ranks high on the "discussible" scale. Also recommended read-alikes: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith