Friday, August 31, 2012

The Quest for Anna Klein

The morning book group will discuss Thomas H. Cook's novel The Quest for Anna Klein on Friday, September 7 at 10:30 a.m. Shortly after 9/11, Thomas Danforth requests a young member of a Washington think tank to interview him at his New York club about his involvement in "The Project", a 1939 conspiracy against the Nazis. Assassination attempts on Hitler and the Armenian genocide are both important historical topics in The Quest for Anna Klein.

Kirkus Reviews called The Quest for Anna Klein "a labyrinth of deceit, a sure bestseller." Library Journal's review of the book calls Cook "a master of the box-within-a-box story, revealing more of character than crime" although Publishers Weekly described it as "thoughtful if less than inspired."

There are no official discussion questions, but here are some questions that occurred to me:

Who do you think was running The Project? The American government? Or was it one of the participants’ ideas?

Who is Laroche (the man who trains Anna at Winterset) and what happens to him?

Who is Bannion (the former Spanish loyalist and Communist) and what happens to him?

Did Anna love Danforth or not? What was her relationship to Rache?

Who is Kulli Demir? Does the information about him on pages 166 and 341 seem contradictory to you?

What do we know about Anna’s childhood by the end of the book? Why did Anna and her mother flee (p343)? Was Anna Jewish? What is the meaning of the necklace at the end of the book?

How would you describe the author's writing style? Did you enjoy it? Why or why not?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Twinkies' New Jersey Connection

Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats by Steve Ettlinger sounds like it would be a long rant against processed food. It's actually a cheerful look into where the ingredients in Twinkies come from, which are also in a lot of other, more commonly eaten processed foods.

New Jersey kept cropping up as I made my way through the book, beginning with the Hostess bakery in Wayne.  It uses Wayne Township public water to make Twinkies. The water comes from the Wanaque Reservoir, near Wanaque of course.

Papetti's Hygrade Egg Products in Elizabeth is the world's largest egg-breaking facility, breaking 7 million a day.  Each of the tank trucks leaving the plant hold 6,000 gallons of fresh liquid eggs!  Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Hellmann's mayonnaise and Ronzoni pasta get their yolks from Papetti's.   However, Twinkies contain mostly dried eggs, to increase their shelf life.

In the 1930s, Twinkies' filling was banana flavored, but they have been vanilla-flavored ever since World War II created banana shortages. A study at Rutgers University Center for Advanced Food Technology identified 216 of natural vanilla's flavor components. Of course, Twinkies use artificial vanilla since most of the world's vanilla comes from Madagascar, Indonesia, and Tahiti.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Film Festival Recap

This summer's International Film Festival has wrapped up at the library and the following DVDs are now available to borrow or place on hold. They all have subtitles, except for The First Grader, which is in English, and The Artist, which is silent. 

The First Grader - In a small, remote mountain top primary school in the Kenyan bush, hundreds of children are jostling for a chance for the free education newly promised by the Kenyan government. One new applicant causes astonishment when he knocks on the door of the school. He is Maruge, an old Mau Mau veteran in his eighties, who is desperate to learn to read at this late stage of his life. This doesn't sound like a comedy, but it had the audience laughing out loud.

Laila's Birthday - A taxi-driving judge in Ramallah attempts to keep his promise to return home with a birthday cake for his young daughter while contending with everyday life in Palestine and doing his best to keep unruly passengers in check. This is also a comedy, and at 70 minutes it's the perfect length for a movie when you don't have a lot of time.

Queen to Play - A French cleaning lady comes upon a couple engaged in an intensely sensual chess match and discovers she has a knack for the game. This obsession, much to the chagrin of her husband and daughter, leads her to seek the clandestine tutelage of a reclusive American doctor (Kevin Kline in his first French-speaking role) – a liaison that transforms both of their lackluster lives. This was my favorite movie of the festival - and others' too from the comments I got after the movie ended. After watching it, I had to put "learn chess" on my list of things to do in life.

The Artist - In 1927, George Valentin is a silent movie superstar. However, the advent of the talkies will kill his career and he will sink into oblivion. For young extra Peppy Miller, it seems the sky's the limit as major movie stardom awaits. Though their careers are taking different paths their destinies will become entwined. As Richard Roeper, the film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times said, "Yes, it's virtually silent, it's black-and-white, and you might not know the leads. But if you don't take a chance on this film, we can't be friends any more." The audience burst into applause at the end of this movie.

Nora's Will - When his ex-wife Nora dies right before Passover, Jose is forced to stay with her body until she can be properly put to rest. He soon realizes he is part of Nora's plan to bring her family back together for one last Passover feast. This leads Jose to reexamine their relationship, and rediscover their undying love for each other. I've never laughed so much during a movie about death, but I also saw some audience members tear up; the New York Times called it "a melodrama with comic punctuation."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Joseph Ishill, Berkeley Heights, NJ: Printer & Anarchist

Joseph Ishill (1888 - 1966), printer, anarchist, and Berkeley Heights resident, may be experiencing a renaissance of interest. The Berkeley Heights Public Library has a small Ishill Archive which includes engraved copper printing blocks, a collection of pamphlets, and other related publications and ephemera printed by Joseph Ishill. In the last few months, several people have inquired about the library's collection of Ishill's works and correspondence. Is there a revival of interest in hand printing and/or anarchism? We don't know why Joseph Ishill is now on people's minds, but for anyone interested in the topic, below are pictures of two Ishill publications in the BHPL archive and a link to more images from the archive. BHPL's Ishill Archives can be seen by appointment only. Here is the link to the Ishill publications we have scanned into Google Documents so far.

Below are two original flyers made by Joseph Ishill to advertise a 10th library anniversary program and an exhibit of his wife's poetry at the Berkeley Heights Public Library.
Ishill's flyer for the 10th anniversary of the library
Ishill made the flyer for his wife's poetry exhibit

Related resources:

Area resident Chris R. Morgan's article about Free Acres, the utopian community founded in Berkeley Heights and Ishill's connection to it, can be found here:
Free Acres Is the Place to Be

BHPL's Google Documents folder contains the index to the Ishill Archives and some other scanned contents of the collection. This is a work in progress. More of the contents of the Ishill Archive will be scanned and added over time.

The Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan is one of the foremost collections of Ishill works
Works by and about Joseph Ishill

Joseph Ishill and the Authors and Artists of the Oriole Press

List of other Ishill resources at the University of Michigan

The University of Florida has a collection of Ishill works, see
A Guide to the Joseph Ishill Collection

The Houghton Library at Harvard University has a guide to its collection of works by and about Joseph Ishill

Alan Runfeldt's Excelsior Press, Frenchtown, NJ

Mr. Runfeldt grew up in Berkeley Heights, knew Mr. Ishill and has one of his presses as he shows in this blog post

Update 7/21/2017
From the Passaick to the Wach Unks by The Historical Society of Berkeley Heights, 1977 (call #974.936 FRO) pp 211-212 describes Joseph Ishill's time as a resident of Berkeley Heights from 1919 until his death in 1966.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reference Q & A

Q: Where is the DVD "The Secret"?

A: This turned out to be missing.  I tried using the Secret itself (focusing your thoughts on what you want to attract into your life) to find the DVD, but it didn't work.    

Q: I need information on the companies Menchies Frozen Yogurt and Yogo Factory.

A: We printed a report from ReferenceUSA on both of these companies. Searching for Menchies Frozen Yogurt brings up mostly franchises. To find the headquarters, I changed the "Verified" column to "Corporate Tree" and clicked the up arrow next to one of the franchises.

Q (from a telemarketer!): Are you moving or expanding?

A: I was tempted to say that BHPL is moving to Delaware, but in the end I said that we're not going anywhere.

Q: My Kindle won't download books anymore, even ones that I bought.  It's a first generation Kindle. Is it dead?

A: Reset the Kindle (as we learned from calling Amazon for another patron having this problem). Usually you just hold down the power button for 30 seconds, but for a first generation Kindle, you have to slide off the back panel and insert the sharp end of a paper clip into the "Reset" hole.

Q: I need specs on the 1998 Ford Mustang, specifically horsepower and the compression ratio.

A: Google led us to and another site that answered this question.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mystery Recommendations for TV Show Fans

Here are some suggestions for people who like mysteries on TV:

American mysteries:

If you liked HBO's The Wire, read George Pelecanos' gritty mysteries set in Washington, D.C. Pelecanos was a writer and producer for the show. This kind of mystery is sometimes called "noir" like the movies of the 1930 - 1950's or "police procedurals."

Robert B. Parker's detective Spenser had a TV series years ago which is available online. I'm still sad about Parker's death in 2010, but the series has been continued by author Ace Atkins. Atkin's wrote the Spenser mystery Lullaby which I liked very much and I plan to keep reading his Spenser mysteries to see what happens to the characters.

British mysteries:

If you like ITV's Midsomer Murders which are very popular DVD's here at BHPL, read Caroline Graham's mysteries which are the basis for the Masterpiece Mystery series.

If you like the BBC's Inspector Lynley series, read the series by Elizabeth George. Her latest in the series, Believing the Lie was a huge hit, the first of her books I read and the first book I read on an e-reader: an excellent book for readers who prefer novels to mysteries. It's un-put-downable in any format.

Kate Atkinson's detective Jackson Brodie got his own series in 2012 starring Jason Isaacs. Of course the actor cast for a book character is never what readers picture, but Isaacs did a great job. For fans of darkly humorous, intricately plotted mysteries, read everything by this author. At least half the library staff are addicted to Atkinson's work.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

In The Janus Stone, the forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is called in to study a human skeleton found by some developers tearing down an old Victorian children's home in Norfolk, on the east coast of England. Like its prequel, The Crossing Places, there is an archaeological investigation into the past - this time, a Roman ruin instead of a Neolithic henge - as well as a Norfolk police investigation into a murder, led by Detective Inspector Nelson. Ruth and the gruff, happily married Nelson have a complicated relationship that is yet another subplot going on in the book. The British coastal setting is incredibly atmospheric, but it doesn't get in the way of the well plotted murder mystery.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and other Memoirs of Africa

Author Alexandra Fuller was born in England, but her parents returned in 1972 to their rugged farming life in Africa when she was three. The family lived a peripatetic life which took them from Rhodesia to Malawi to Zambia as farm managers. Her earliest memories are of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) under the minority white rule of Prime Minister Ian Smith. Fuller's memoir, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, an African Childhood (2001), covers her childhood until about 1979 when Alexandra left home. She left an Africa changed by years of violent civil war. The turbulent political background figures into this memoir mostly in the form of the ever-present possibility of terrorism against white settlers to the general acceptance of the racist attitudes of her parents and other ex-patriots they knew. Fuller doesn't judge or explain away the racism or the terrorism as she recounts the story from her point of view as a child.

Alexandra's first time invited into the home of a black African does not happen until she is 14 (p 235), but at the beginning of the Chapter 'Losing Robandi' Fuller explains what black and white Africans have in common. '... all of us (black, white, coloured, Indian, old-timers, newcomers) are fighting for the same thing: tillable, rain-turned-over-fresh, fertile, worm-smelling, soil...  in Rhodesia, we are born and then the umbilical cord of each child is sewn straight from the mother onto the ground, where it takes root and grows. Pulling away from the ground causes death by suffocation, starvation." (p 148)

Ms. Fuller's passion, attachment, memories of Africa are very strong. Despite the harsh climate, the droughts, heat, bugs, diseases and danger, her family loves living in Africa and that passion comes through in this memoir.

More memoirs of Africa:

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (1937)
When the Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin (2006)
Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose by Sandy Balfour (2003)
The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow (2012)
The Flame Trees of Thika, memories of an African childhood (2000)

Alexandra Fuller's website

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Summer Reading Defined

My definition of summer reading has evolved, or eroded, over the years.  In the beginning, I reserved the summer for catching up on books I didn’t have time to read during the winter.  More accurately, I spent the summer reading the important books I should have read and managed to avoid.

In an act of librarian rebellion, I switched to beach reading in the purist form.  If the book did not involve a beach, I didn’t read it.  Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary Kay Andrews, Phillip Craig, and Chris Grabenstein (Ceepak rules!) were among my favorites.  As you can tell, I did not discriminate between hot and cold ocean temperatures.  The only exceptions were books by Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum) and Nancy Martin (Blackbird Sisters).  The exceptions were justified because the characters live in or drive through New Jersey which borders the Atlantic Ocean. 

This year, after starting the season with an unfortunate ocean experience, I have forsaken any books involving bodies of water larger than a rain puddle.  My 2012 summer reading choices are rewritten, revised, reconfigured fairy tales.  I have always enjoyed Eloisa James, so her Happily Ever Afters Series has made me very happy by fitting into the 2012 criteria.  The Duke is Mine (The Princess and the Pea), A Kiss at Midnight (Cinderella), and When Beauty Tamed the Beast (too obvious to mention) are most enjoyable.  I am already on the reserve list for The Ugly Duchess, scheduled for release in late August.  Kristine Grayson has created the wonderful Fates Series featuring characters such as Snow White, her Wicked Stepmother, and Prince Charming.  Although the first few titles are no longer available for purchase, BHPL owns Utterly Charming, Wickedly Charming, Thoroughly Kissed, etc.  Where else would PETA be People for the Ethical Treatment of Archetypes?  The newest title, Charming Blue, is due in September.

Enjoy the rest of the summer.  Please, do not drop library books into the sand.

posted by Stephanie Bakos

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Conspiracy of Friends

I just read and loved the third installment in Alexander McCall Smith's Corduroy Mansions series, A Conspiracy of Friends.

Ellen reviewed the first novel in the series when it appeared in 2008 as an online serial in the Telegraph , in audiobook and  text form. The title was later published as a paperback.
Our blogger Ellen wrote:

 'If you're a fan of Alexander McCall Smith's series 44 Scotland Street, take a look at his newest serially published novel, Corduroy Mansions, which is about a group of neighbors in the Pimlico section of London. Unlike 44 Scotland Street, which is first published in the newspaper The Scotsman, Corduroy Mansions is being published a chapter a week on The Telegraph's web site. Not only can you read it online, but you can listen to it on the site as well.'

Getting back to A Conspiracy of Friends, you can read or listen to it on the Telegraph website or you can check it out of the Berkeley Heights Public Library. Whichever way you choose to read it, I hope you find it as rewarding as I did. Here is my review from Goodreads:

'Storyteller Alexander McCall Smith takes readers back for a third visit with the denizens of Corduroy Mansions, a slightly shabby, but cozy, apartment building in London. If you like the author's 'No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' series, you will enjoy the gentle humor and ruminative narrative style of this series also. The friends and apartment mates in these tales find and lose love, advise and ignore adult children, lose and take in stray dogs, all the while thinking about these everyday occurrences in the meandering manner that fans of the author will enjoy.

When William ponders a personal problem, he thinks:

"So what he should do, he decided, was to take a deep breath and do what the British always do in the face of crisis: put the kettle on for tea. That was what they did when they heard the Spanish Armada was heading their way: they had tea. That was what they did when they realized the Luftwaffe was droning towards them; those pictures of the pilots sitting on the grass in front of their Spitfires - what were they doing? They were drinking tea." (201)

This is how the slightly addlepated characters think; they are loveable, but a bit impractical or indecisive. If decisive, they make wrong decisions. If practical, their family members are not. If clear-eyed, they are waylaid by the wanderings of friends and associates. Best of all, if the characters are mean and unethical, it will turn out all right. The episode of the nasty politician who is zapped by the large hadron collider is one of the funniest examples of a happy accident in this book or any book, really.'

 FYI: The second in the series was The Dog Who Came in from the Cold starring Freddie de la Hay who has further amazing adventures in the third book.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dan Broche's Watercolor Exhibit

This month the library is enjoying local artist Dan Broche's watercolors, on display in the lobby.

Dan has chosen to display paintings of frogs, birds and fish in this exhibit.

You may remember his October 2010 exhibit of holiday greeting cards that he painted himself.