Monday, October 13, 2014

Browsing the New Non-Fiction Shelf

Working in a library presents constant temptation when new books come in or when browsing through the stacks and happening upon books that look too good to pass up. Like everyone else though, librarians and library staff can't read everything even though we work surrounded by thousands of books. Here are some interesting finds from the new non-fiction shelf today. Check them out and let me know how you like them. Be sure to come in and browse the new books sections for more tempting titles.
'The Hungry Family Slow Cooker Cookbook' by Christina Dymock. Fall seems like a good time of year to dust of the old crock pot (now called a slow cooker) and create some yummy stews, soups and even desserts. 641.5884 DYM 

'The Mom Inventors Handbook, how to turn your great idea into the next big thing' by Tamara Monosoff. Do you wake up at night with nifty ideas that you just know would sell if you just knew how to market it, get the copyright and so on? This is the book for  you. 658.1 MON

'Treat Petites, tiny sweets and savory pleasures' by Fiona Pearce. Teeny, tiny desserts, so small they barely count calorie-wise, right? The pictures in this little cookbook will make you hungry enough to either run to a bakery or whip up a batch of cute little cupcakes or meringues. 641.86 PEA

'I Just Graduated... Now What? Honest answers from those who have been there' by Kathrerine Schwarzenegger. 646.7 SCH For the perennial problem of what to do with a liberal arts degree as well as for any college graduate, celebrities offer stories from their own career experiences. I think parents should hand this kind of book to kids before they pick their major, but this advice may be better late than never.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

'Gone Girl' is back in demand at the library

In 2012 the library acquired many copies of Gillian Flynn's 2012 mega-bestseller 'Gone Girl' to keep up with demand. Topping the 'New York Times' bestseller list for months, in demand by bookgroups and readers of mysteries, we could barely keep up with the lengthy reserve lists for the book. Then demand quieted down for a year or so - until this week. The movie starring Ben Affleck will open tomorrow, the reviews are pretty good and the advertising and p.r. for the film are ubiquitous, so we brought the books up out of storage and put them on display. (Thanks to library staffer A-M S. for that idea:-) Library  patrons instantly checked out every single copy we own and the book is probably checked out at most public libraries and trending on book sales this week.
Our library book group read and discussed 'Gone Girl' a year ago in September and our imaginary blog correspondents, Marian the Librarian and Fleur the Frog wrote 'Gone Girl, the definitive review' in alternating parts to mimic the conflicting points of view of married couple Amy and Nick Dunne that Ms. Flynn uses in her book. In the review, Marian the Librarian presents a dark, obsessive point of view teetering into madness. Fleur the Frog presents a cheerful facade masking a dark side. Both Fleur and Marian frankly seem a bit unhinged, possibly from reading this book and possibly from identifying with the characters in the book a bit too much. To say that this book takes the idea of the unreliable narrator to extremes is an understatement. The twist at the end is worthy of Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith. The creepiness of the characters turns off a lot of readers, but the page-turning suspense will probably make you want to finish the book anyway.
Did the book group like 'Gone Girl?' Well, yes and no. The verdict: it is readable, entertaining, clever, and original, but the main characters are so loathsome that most book group readers found it all a bit unsettling. Still, I would recommend this book to most readers of fiction and mysteries. Just wait a few weeks until the movie is gone, and then the copies will all be back on the library shelves.
The 'Gone Girl' review from last year follows: thanks again to 'special' correspondents Marian and Fleur. We hope they are reading happier books and are recovering from their 'Gone Girl' experience.

Gone Girl: the definitive review


When I think of my book group, I always think about how many people will come to the meeting, how many will have read the book, did they like the book, should I have questions ready to ask about the book? The book group starts in 45 minutes. Where to start? I finally read the mega-bestselling thriller/mystery Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012) and I did not go into the reading with an open mind. People either love this book or hate it. The opinions I heard from patrons at the library and from friends and family and the reviews I read had already made me dread reading it. I don't like to read bestsellers; they sell themselves; I like to read literary orphans. I don't like dark books with twisted characters; I like sunny distractions, the book equivalent of a situation comedy on television.

AUGUST 26, 2013

Tra and la! I am a happy frog blogger reading the nifty bestseller for the library book group. I am so happy I finally got my book from the holds list so I can see what all the excitement is about this huge bestseller. I put the book in my perfect little froggy book bag and went home to make a cup of green tea and sat down with great anticipation to read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Even though she's not a frog, I hear she's a really good writer. My parents are the famous authors of the 'Fantastic Fleur the Frog' series about the perfect little frog who always does the right thing. They based the books on me because I'm perfect and always cheerful and also I like to make up puzzles just like Fantastic Fleur does.
1. Do I pretend to like this book even if I don't?
2. Do I just read reviews and get back to my fun books that I want to read.
3. Do I read the book, take notes, write a review and ask questions from a list at the book group meeting?
Answer: I think you know that Fantastic Fleur will do #3, don't you? Don't you? You don't? Oh, I might have to punish you, dear reader.


The clock on my computer says 6:56 PM so I have to finish my review before the group meets. I have read the book. I'm not sure I liked the book. The book was compulsively readable, but nasty. Oh, I feel so dirty. It drew me in, and I ate it up, but I hated the characters and the plot was so contrived and unbelievable at the end, but I kept reading anyway. I felt like putting it down and reading something fun like Alexander McCall Smith, something light and sunny and uncomplicated, not dark and twisted like Amy and Nick Dunne's story. But that would be cheating. On the book, turning my back on the book group. So I read it. I couldn't help myself. I loved this book, but I hate it too, I just don't know how to tell the truth about this book.

AUGUST 29, 2013

I'm so fantastic. I finished the book in less than three days! Here's a quiz I made up about the book:
1. Do you hate Amy or Nick more?
2. Did you guess what the plot twist was?
3. Did you want to kill Amy more than Nick does?
4. Did you want to make as much money as that lawyer of Nicks?
Answer: all of the above!!! Duh.


You can "Google" the title and find reviews and, as the vernacular saying goes, unless you've been living under a rock,  you know that this book is the story of a marriage, a failed marriage, between two really twisted people. On their fifth wedding anniversary Amy, the wife, disappears and soon after, Nick the husband is suspected of her murder. The book is told from the point of view of Nick alternating with Amy's journal entries chronicling the story of their marriage up until the day of her disappearance. The second part of the book, and here's the spoiler, is told from Amy in the present tense and continues with Nick's narration too.
1.Did you see the spoiler there?
2. Did you see it coming? I did.
3.Do you feel cheated, manipulated as a reader or
4. Do you just not care anymore.
Oh, wait, I'm Marian, not Fleur. Fleur's the character who makes up quizzes.  I think our characters are merging. Help I hate that frog, I love that frog, I am a frog.

Posted by Fleur: Fleur's other contributions to the blog
Posted by Marian the Librarian: Ms. Librarian's previous posts

Monday, September 15, 2014

Quality of Books Declining: not a new complaint

Whenever I hear that the quality of books is declining, I think of the essay by Washington Irving written over 200 years ago that posits that very complaint. It is not a new complaint at all. Is it even true?
Read excerpts of Irving's thoughts in this blog post 'The Mutability of Literature' from a year ago.

Take a look at the New York Times bestseller lists back to the 1950's on the Hawes Publications site, 

then take a look at this list of the Harvard Classics (which can all be downloaded free from this OpenCulture website.) The list of Harvard Classics volume by volume follows. (Courtesy of Wikipedia states the Open Culture website.) What do you think? Do the New York Times bestseller lists have anything to compare to the Harvard Classics?

His Autobiography, by Benjamin Franklin
The Journal of John Woolman, by John Woolman (1774 and subsequent editions)
Fruits of Solitude, by William Penn
VoTexts in the Harvard Classics collection (courtesy of Wikipedia):
The Apology, Phaedo, and Crito, by Plato
The Golden Sayings, by Epictetus
The Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
Essays, Civil and Moral, and New Atlantis, by Francis Bacon
Areopagitica and Tractate of Education, by John Milton
Religio Medici, by Sir Thomas Browne
Complete poems written in English, by John Milton
Essays and English Traits, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Poems and songs, by Robert Burns
The Confessions, by Saint Augustine
The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas á Kempis
Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Furies, and Prometheus Bound, by Aeschylus
Oedipus the King and Antigone, by Sophocles
Hippolytus and The Bacchae, by Euripides
The Frogs, by Aristophanes
On Friendship, On Old Age, and letters, by Cicero
Letters, by Pliny the Younger
The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith
The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
Lives, by Plutarch
Aeneid, by Virgil
Don Quixote, part 1, by Cervantes
The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
The Lives of Donne and Herbert, by Izaak Walton
Stories from the Thousand and One Nights
Fables, by Aesop
Children’s and Household Tales, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Tales, by Hans Christian Andersen
All for Love, by John Dryden
The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith
The Cenci, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon, by Robert Browning
Manfred, by Lord Byron
Faust, part 1, Egmont, and Hermann and Dorothea, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Dr. Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe
The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
I Promessi Sposi, by Alessandro Manzoni
The Odyssey, by Homer
Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
On Taste, On the Sublime and Beautiful, Reflections on the French Revolution, and A Letter to a Noble Lord, by Edmund Burke
Autobiography and On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill
Characteristics, Inaugural Address at Edinburgh, and Sir Walter Scott, by Thomas Carlyle
Life is a Dream, by Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Polyeucte, by Pierre Corneille
Phèdre, by Jean Racine
Tartuffe, by Molière
Minna von Barnhelm, by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
William Tell, by Friedrich von Schiller
The Voyage of the Beagle, by Charles Darwin
The Forces of Matter and The Chemical History of a Candle, by Michael Faraday
On the Conservation of Force and Ice and Glaciers, by Hermann von Helmholtz
The Wave Theory of Light and The Tides, by Lord Kelvin
The Extent of the Universe, by Simon Newcomb
Geographical Evolution, by Sir Archibald Geikie
The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini
Essays, by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
Montaigne and What is a Classic?, by Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
The Poetry of the Celtic Races, by Ernest Renan
The Education of the Human Race, by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, by Friedrich von Schiller
Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, by Immanuel Kant
Byron and Goethe, by Giuseppe Mazzini
An account of Egypt from The Histories, by Herodotus
Germany, by Tacitus
Sir Francis Drake Revived, by Philip Nichols
Sir Francis Drake’s Famous Voyage Round the World, by Francis Pretty
Drake’s Great Armada, by Captain Walter Bigges
Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s Voyage to Newfoundland, by Edward Haies
The Discovery of Guiana, by Sir Walter Raleigh
Discourse on Method, by René Descartes
Letters on the English, by Voltaire
On the Inequality among Mankind and Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar, by Jean Jacques Rousseau
Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes
Chronicles, by Jean Froissart
The Holy Grail, by Sir Thomas Malory
A Description of Elizabethan England, by William Harrison
The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli
The Life of Sir Thomas More, by William Roper
Utopia, by Sir Thomas More
The Ninety-Five Theses, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, and On the Freedom of a Christian, by Martin Luther
Some Thoughts Concerning Education, by John Locke
Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists, by George Berkeley
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, by David Hume
The Oath of Hippocrates
Journeys in Diverse Places, by Ambroise Paré
On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, by William Harvey
The Three Original Publications on Vaccination Against Smallpox, by Edward Jenner
The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever, by Oliver Wendell Holmes
On the Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery, by Joseph Lister
Scientific papers, by Louis Pasteur
Scientific papers, by Charles Lyell
Confucian: The sayings of Confucius
Hebrew: Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes
Christian I: Luke and Acts
Christian II: Corinthians I and II and hymns
Buddhist: Writings
Hindu: The Bhagavad-Gita
Mohammedan: Chapters from the Koran
Edward the Second, by Christopher Marlowe
Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, and The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
The Shoemaker’s Holiday, by Thomas Dekker
The Alchemist, by Ben Jonson
Philaster, by Beaumont and Fletcher
The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster
A New Way to Pay Old Debts, by Philip Massinger
Thoughts, letters, and minor works, by Blaise Pascal
The Song of Roland
The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel
The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs
The last volume contains sixty lectures introducing and summarizing the covered fields: history, poetry, natural science, philosophy, biography, prose fiction, criticism and the essay, education, political science, drama, travelogues, and religion.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Group Recommendations

Recommended Titles for Book Groups
with links to our reviews
Young Girl Reading by Fragonard (NGA)

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin - historical fiction about Ann Morrow Lindbergh's life with Charles Lindbergh
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie - life during the Cultural Revolution in China for two wealthy boys being 're-educated' in the country.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak (fiction)
Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet  - memoir of a savant with synesthesia and Aspergers syndrome (non-fiction/memoir)
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - man accused of missing wife's murder, a psychological thriller (fiction)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (fiction/epistolary novel)
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (fiction)
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (non-fiction)
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (fiction)
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (fiction)

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (fiction)
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (fiction)
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes (fiction)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (fiction/fantasy)
Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo (fiction)
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (non-fiction)
Someone by Alice McDermott (fiction)

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (fiction)
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (fiction)

The painting of a 'Young Girl Reading' by Jean-Honore Fragonard can be found at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC or on their website

Friday, August 29, 2014

Nike Missile Site in Berkeley Heights

One of our most popular blog posts and a recurring local history reference question concerns the Nike missile site in nearby Watchung Reservation. Ellen wrote about it here:

'Nike Missile Site

One of the library's perennial reference requests is information on the former Nike missile test site and air base in Watchung Reservation. "With its radar and command on the Berkeley Heights-Summit border and its launching pad in Mountainside, the station was one of 19 Nike AJAX missile bases that ringed New York City, standing ready to blast invading planes out of the sky", according to a Star-Ledger article from 5-28-2000. The Nike air base was in operation from 1958 to 1963 (according to this website).'

For the rest of the post, click here
or copy and paste this URL into your browser

Friday, August 22, 2014

Revisiting the 'Merry Hall' trilogy by Beverley Nichols

This review of the first book in the Merry Hall Trilogy was first posted on this blog over four years ago on July 30, 2010.  Since then I have enjoyed the entire trilogy which the library now owns. The second title is 'Laughter on the Stairs' followed by 'Sunlight on the Lawn.'

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols

A few weeks ago, Nancy Pearl, a librarian famous for her ability to recommend the right book for the right person and also for being the model for the librarian action figure with real shushing action, tweeted that gardening/readers who like P.G. Wodehouse's books and E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia series might enjoy Beverley Nichols gardening trilogy starting with Merry Hall. In any case, I retweeted her tweet admitting that I fit that trifecta of reader interests. What this all leads to is that BHPL staff member, Mme. P.,  who follows our Twittering, offered to loan me Merry Hall, because the library does not own this 1951 memoir of British journalist Beverley Nichols.
Mr. Nichols' book tells the story of restoring the gardens of an old country house outside London just after World War II. His passion for gardens, bordering on obsession, crossing the border actually, is told with dry wit and some withering accounts of local ladies with whom he has gardening disputes. The book combines British wit with the memoir genre, gardening trivia, eccentric characters and rambling country house dreams.
A sample: "I wanted a house. And I wanted a Georgian house. And I wanted a garden of at least five acres. A garden which, for preference, should be wrecked and lost and despairing...I was in a rescuing mood..." (p. 20)
The author finds a house and it's the spectacular lilies that seal the deal. He must have those lilies. His friend tells him it's "lunacy" to buy the house, but his manservant Gaskin rises to the challenge of taking care of the mansion single-handedly. The gardener Oldfield conveys with the house along with his stubborn methods and gardening opinions and oddly inpenetrable accent, as is the stereotype for gardeners in English books. The neighbors are nosy and opinionated, especially Miss Emily and "Our Miss Rose" whose rivalry regarding decorating the church results in a comical confrontation during the Harvest Festival about whose flowers should adorn the altar.
These scenes of English village life recall Bertie Wooster's visits to his aunts' houses in the country, or Lord Blandings dithering about the pigsty whilst admiring the porcine Empress of Blandings.  I'm pretty sure the church decorating rivalry popped up in the Mapp and Lucia books, or if not, it's a familiar theme. So, Nancy Pearl was right: this is a good book for fans of those authors or for gardeners. Although nothing touches the Master, P.G. Wodehouse, in my pantheon of authors, for he truly loves his characters and never condescends. Nichols' humor is arch and a bit mean at times, so be forwarned. Since "snarky" is in style now, perhaps he is due for a revival.

Related links:
Read Mapp and Lucia online here
The Wodehouse Society website for fellow Plum fans
A list of gardening memoirs from GoodReads

8/22/14 In memory of Mme. P.; many thanks for the book recommendations.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Very Unusual Visitor: Mother Mary Comes for One Week

This review was first posted on this blog on Friday, May 16, 2008

Our Lady of the Lost and Found

Last night my local book group discussed Our Lady of the Lost and Found: a novel of Mary, Faith and Friendship by Diane Schoemperlen. This was a book that I never would have read, maybe never even have heard of on my own. This shows that bookgroups can push you beyond your literary comfort zone, which, aside from the social aspects, is probably why they are so popular. Our Lady... took me into unfamiliar territory and really made me think, but it is a book that probably has narrow appeal.
The narrator is an author who wakes up one day to find a woman in a blue trenchcoat, sneakers, and a veil, carrying a large brown purse and pulling a small wheelie suitcase who introduces herself as Mary, you know, Mother of God, the BVM, Blessed of All Women etc etc, she explains rather slyly. She asks to stay for a week to rest up for the coming month of May. May is Mary's month and she is usually really busy then. The narrator of course says 'OK;' what else could she do? So this is the humorous premise. The book goes on to alternate the story of the developing friendship between the host and her very unusual 2000 year old house guest with chapters that Mary tells about some of the thousands of her miracles and apparitions over the centuries. Schoemperlen also weaves in rather difficult to understand musings about quantum physics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, theories of History and ideas about Faith versus Reason, the "thin places" between our real world and the spiritual world.
Anyway, the book was weird and thought provoking, sometimes frustratingly abstruse and I really would like to ask the author a few questions about how does quantum physics relate to Mary and religion etc? Some readers just don't like flashbacks, long digressions and historical narrations in books, so this would not be a good choice for them. But if you like a big dose of philosophy and rambling digressions, try this book, but don't expect it to be just a funny story of what if the Virgin Mary came to visit.
This is what Ms. Schoemperlen says about her book,
"The structure of Our Lady of the Lost and Found was determined by the material I wanted to include. At first I intended to write a simple novel about a woman who is visited by the Virgin Mary. But then I began to do the research and the more I learned about the historical apparitions of Mary, the more I realized that I had to find a way to include some of this material in the book. After many unsuccessful attempts, I settled on alternating chapters as it now stands: one chapter telling the story of this woman and Mary, the next giving some history of Mary and also delving into the other topics that arose, such as the Uncertainty Principle, the nature of recorded history, the thin places between fact and fiction, and so on. " from the author interview on the publishers website -
Publisher's website
Interview with the author
The Mary Page at the University of Dayton

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Display: dystopia

Check out a book with dystopian themes this month. Popular with teens these days, stories of scary, dysfunctional worlds is not a new literary theme. We have selected new books like the 'Hunger Games' series and classics like 'Animal Farm.'

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Day at the Reference Desk

Q: Does the library own a well-known university's alumni directory.
A: We do not own any alumni directories, but we can search the 'Reference USA' database for people in the U.S. and Canada and we can teach patrons how to access that database from their home computer or by using library computers. Go to our 'Databases and Articles' page, find 'Reference USA', type in your library barcode number when directed.

Q: Can we find an obituary in a local newspaper?
A:We will be glad to look through online databases of 'The Star Ledger' and 'The Independent Press' and other resources that we have at the library, or we can teach patrons how to access these databases so they can search them. See above for how to get to our 'Databases and Articles' webpage.

Q: Can you help me download an ebook to my device?
A:Yes, we can help you do that. The best way is to stop by with your tablet or smartphone, and be sure to have all your usernames and passwords handy. We will help you download ebooks or e-audiobooks to your iPad, Kindle, Nook or other portable electronic device. Go our our 'All Things E' webpage for a list of library ebook providers.

Q: Can you tell me the resale value of a certain car?
A:Yes, we have the so-called 'blue books' which are really orange and called the 'NADA Official Used Car Guide.'  Ask at the Reference Desk where we keep them or we can look up a car for you if you know the model and make and year.

Q:Where do wildfires occur the most, what is the cost of wildfires and who has lost the most from wildfires.
A:The National Interagency Fire Center has a page of statistics that we found helpful to answer these and other wildfire-related questions.

Q: How can I find which cookbook has the recipe I want?
A: We recommend the app 'Eat Your Books' which has indexed millions of recipes. You can even enter the ingredients you have and it will find recipes to match. You can enter the cookbooks you own and it will find the recipes in those cookbooks.

Q: If BHPL does not own the book I want, can you find it for me?
A: Yes, we can tell you which local library owns it by looking in their online catalog and/or we can request it on interlibrary loan.

Q: Do we have downloadable travel books?
A: Yes, we have some travel books available from and we also have a database called 'A- Z the USA' and 'A - Z World Travel' which has information for travelers.

Q: What are the latest audiobooks you have gotten at the library?
A: If you look on our Wowbrary list, you can find what audiobooks were acquired by the library in the last week and then click back week by week to see what was acquired in past weeks. You can also subscribe to to get a weekly email of new library materials.
Dave Coverly cartoon          

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

The library book group read Kristopher Jansma's The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards this month. The storyline simplified might be described as poor boy meets rich boy and his best rich gal pal and they all become best friends in their college years in a not-quite love triangle, but the friendship eventually breaks up and they all go their separate ways in soul-searching global journeys, only to meet again later, older and wiser. Or are they? Can leopards change their spots?
But this book does not have a simple plot, in fact, this book is a book within a book within a novella as told by the unreliable - (and unnamed) narrator-to-beat-all-unreliable narrators. The book is filled with literary allusions and coincidences and rewrites of the basic story. The whole effect is very entertaining, but a bit hard to keep track of for those readers who prefer a linear narrative with no flashbacks or changes of perspective. If you like to play 'what's that literary allusion,' whether the author meant it or not, you will have a field day. I almost think some kind of parlor or drinking game could be made out of literary allusions in The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. I'll get to that later.
The cast of characters: Julian/Jeffrey, the hard-drinking, neurotic, wealthy best friend of the narrator becomes a best-selling author despite his dissolute habits. Evelyn, the beautiful actress, best prep-school friend of Julian, becomes the narrator's love interest and obsession; she marries, but is not faithful. The unnamed narrator, of the changeable identities and dubious veracity, tries to be a serious and successful author, but keeps losing his manuscripts and struggling to turn out anything as good as Julian does.
Here are some links to reviewers who do a good job summarizing a complicated book:
Heller McAlpin of NPR writes, Can This Hypercomplex 'Leopard' Change its Spots?
which explains the plot and style succinctly (thank you, Heller), but I disagree that the 'meta' novel will mostly appeal to writers. I think it will have broader appeal than that.
Corinna Lothar writes a nicely detailed review in the Washington Times. which notes that while the plot is confusing, there is much to enjoy in this novel. Ms. Lothar seems to have taken good notes while reading or to have a great memory or to not be as distractible as this reader. I felt that I should turn right around and reread the novel upon completion. Our book group readers also found that flipping back and forth and rereading the 'Author's Note' (introduction) was helpful.
Each and every review unearths more literary allusions in the novel. I tweeted to the author one of my favorite Holden Caulfield quotes and he answered:
It's fun to be able to talk to an author and ask him questions by Twitter, or by any other means, and even better when they offer to answer questions, as Mr. Jansma did. So I  twitter-questioned him and he answered each tweet. One of the first literary allusions that came to my mind is that the start of the novel takes the form of a coming of age novel and the narrator seems to be a lot like Holden Caulfield in that he doesn't tell the truth and freely admits it. I had a lot of fun seeing bits of Nick Carraway from the Great Gatsby and also the Talented Mr. Ripley in the narrator.  I pictured bits of Sebastian from Brideshead Revisited in Julian. Evelyn had the careless morals of Daisy in the Great Gatsby. I got so involved in enjoying the literary guessing game, that I did get a bit lost in the plot, but the various reviewers assure me that's ok and more importantly, the author answered my befuddlement this way:

Recommended for book groups that enjoy quirky books that provoke discussions.
Read-alikes: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Parnassus on Wheels

"Oh, you're a librarian..," they say.
Followed inevitably by,
"You must read a lot."
"I'd like to read all day at my job..." wistfully.
"Ha ha, yes, so would I," is my not so clever rejoinder that is always ignored.
How did I get to this librarian place? It might have been in seventh grade when Mrs. Quinn, my English teacher, assigned a 1917 book by Christopher Morley, Parnassus on Wheels, which begins: 


I wonder if there isn't a lot of bunkum in higher education? I never
found that people who were learned in logarithms and other kinds of
poetry were any quicker in washing dishes or darning socks. I've
done a good deal of reading when I could, and I don't want to "admit
impediments" to the love of books, but I've also seen lots of good,
practical folk spoiled by too much fine print. Reading sonnets
always gives me hiccups, too.

I never expected to be an author! But I do think there are some
amusing things about the story of Andrew and myself and how books
broke up our placid life. When John Gutenberg, whose real name (so
the Professor says) was John Gooseflesh, borrowed that money to set
up his printing press he launched a lot of troubles on the world.
You can read the entire book on the Internet Archives  or The Gutenberg Project. You can even download it to a Kindle or other portable electronic device from there. The Project Gutenberg Project reviews it nicely here. So I'll just say it's the story of a woman who takes off in a mobile bookshop, an old-fashioned bookmobile/caravan to get a taste of freedom from the drudgery and responsibility of working on her farm with her rather pretentious brother, a budding author. It is written with tongue firmly in cheek in a rather old-fashioned style. I don't think I liked reading it at the age of twelve or so, but maybe it planted the seed of an idea in my mind. I still think it would be fun to drive a bookmobile around neighborhoods and a horse-driven one would be even better. If you like that idea, take a look at some of the modern incarnations of that dream.
My copy of the book looks like this
Biblioburro which you can follow on Facebook
FabLab in the Netherlands
Mobile libraries on Pinterest


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Three Good Books: Happy, Romantic, and Quirky

During May and June at the library our patrons begin to ask about this year’s popular beach and vacation books, so we try to keep ahead of that demand. The local schools send us their summer reading assignments in early June so those titles need to be ordered and organized for the library before school lets out. Sometimes it is difficult to find something good to read in this transitional reading season when we are preoccupied with preparing for summer reading. This year, however, I have hit the reading Triple Crown of three good books in a row. In no particular order, they are:

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-help That Actually Works by Dan Harris.  While reading this book I could imagine Dan Harris sitting over a cup of coffee and talking to me about his journey to manageable enlightenment.  He starts with the same doubts as many of us and a certain wariness of the spiritual overtones frequently associated with meditation.  Conversations with Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra are just stops along his road.  After finishing this book I started recommending it to various family members – so much more polite than suggesting psychological counseling.  I recommend this book to everyone who thinks being 10% calmer would be a good, attainable goal.  Plus, I like this book so much that I bought it – something I rarely do.

The second book on my list is, strictly speaking, a trilogy by Jill Shalvis.  Shalvis is well known for contemporary romance and the Animal Magnetism series is wonderful fun. Each book features a really attractive (sensitive, but troubled) man, a really lovely (strong with baggage from her past) woman, a collection of rescue kittens and puppies, and mountains found far, far away from New Jersey.  In addition to the rescue animals, a duck, lamb and parrot frequently appear.

My third title, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, is about a bookstore owner on Alice Island.  The main character, A.J. Fikry, is just eccentric and quirky enough that he reminded me of the Richard Brautigan book about the librarian who only accepted books into his library but never allowed anything to leave.  The two books have nothing in common except a certain degree of likeable quirkiness.  Back to Alice Island, however, each chapter starts with Fikry’s take on a classic short story.  I am not a fan of short stories, but I am tempted to try again with his suggestions.  The book is short and sweet, the characters are likeable, and the ending is equal parts sad and hopeful.
Springtime by Claude Monet

Related links:
Amazon's 2014 Best Summer Reads Lists - Use the library's Amazon Smile account when ordering through Amazon.

- S.Bakos

Monday, June 9, 2014

What if Book Reviews Were Written Like Wine Reviews?

Have you ever wondered why wines are described with terms that are more puzzling than helpful, more poetic than realistic? A flyer for a local wine store sat on the table in the library staff room the other day, so of course, because librarians have to have something to read at all times and it was there, we read it. Aloud. The descriptions of wines are inventive, colorful, creative, even whacky. For example:

"Brooding layers of black cherry, pulverized rock, spiced cedar and hints of anise roar with authority, while massive tannins and roaring acidity deliver a crushing blow of flavor that'll have you quivering with delight."
"Deep intense aromatics of blueberries, black fruits, saddle leather and oak spice carry into a long, chewy finish with plump fruit tannins."
"Rich, plush and juicy on the attack, filled with almost chewy, crushed red fruit bramble, the finish remains fresh and vibrant."
Other descriptive phrases included: "a glycerol, creamy mouthfeel," "aromas of ...buttered citrus," "crushed rocks," "smoked earth aromas," "tobacco, underbrush and worn-in leather," "with notes of brioche," and the adjective "purpley."

If we reviewed books using a similar style, it might look something like this:
"This mystery starts with a flinty introduction to the reader's palate, bursts with fruity exuberance in the middle chapters, bringing a worn-leather tone and and rocky robustness, ending with a long finish to a satisfying conclusion."
"The characters in this thriller have a saddle-leather resilience in their blend of cocoa and berry attitudes that take the theme and plot to a roaring finale."
"Hints of live oaks and the smell of the bayou take the reader on a quivering trip through tannin-filled swamps and a lingering aftertaste of southern nostalgia."
"This fresh-faced first novel attacks the reader with purpley prose and continues on the nose with a soupcon of chewing the scenery while quivering with a roaring, fruity first-person narrative with a finish that surprises with its acidity and buttered rocky denouement."
Bacchus by Caravaggio (1595)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Something Funny for Summer Reading

This is a reposting from last May. David Sedaris is funny enough to be recommended over and over :-)

In 'Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, Essays, Etc.' humorist and author David Sedaris offers his wry observations on the topics of living as an American ex-patriot in France and England, traveling the world on book tours and remembering his childhood in Raleigh, North Carolina. His fans will enjoy his quirky obsessions which teeter on the edge of creepy and gross, but then pull back into touching and humane at the last sentence or two.
Standouts from this collection are: 'Dentists Without Borders' in which the author describes his own experiences with the health care system in France. He describes the care he received as inexpensive, accessible and not at all like what the opponents of "Obama care' describe as a health care plan 'where patients languished on filthy cots, waiting for aspirin to be invented." (3)
In 'Rubbish' (211) Mr. Sedaris takes it upon himself to pick up all the litter along the roads in his village in England by riding his bike around every day to pick up other people's trash. He becomes obsessed, "At nights I lie in bed and map out the territory I'll cover the following day... What did my life consist of before this? I wonder." (220)

Recommended for fans of the author. Read-a-likes - other humorous essay writers:
Quinn Cummings, Bill Bryson, Ian Frazier, Dave Barry, Sloane Crosby, Tracy Beckerman. (Click on the 'humor' label on the right side of this blog to find more posts about funny books and authors.)

There really is an app for everything: try the David Sedaris app to watch short videos of his diary entries.

David Carr's review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review (audiobook version)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

More Apps for That - a blog update

About a year ago I posted about the apps I have on my smart phone in There's an App for That! 
Over a year ago, my children had encouraged me to update from an embarrassingly uncool and pre-Diluvian flip phone to a really cool smart phone from a well-known and very cool company that is known for cool computers, cool phones, cool portable electronic devices and advertisements that are so cool I don't really know what they are trying to get me to buy. (But has a very catchy tune from the 'Pixies', watch the Gigantic ad here.)
Before I go any further in my update, let me just say that this is relevant to a library blog, because libraries are now really cool too. The Berkeley Heights Public Library has a phone app, downloadable e-books, a website of course, this really cool blog (ahem) and a very strong presence on social media (ie: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc)
So anyway, in the last year I have added a mini-tablet to my arsenal of techie stuff. The mini-tablet is from the same cool company referred to above. The idea is that my phone and my tablet will 'sync up' with each other, sharing content and reporting it all to the same 'cloud' where my stuff (photos etc) is stored. And my devices and my kids' devices are made by the same company so we can video talk with each other easily without having the battle of rival hardware/software occur. At least that's the idea and that is generally the case except when it's not working, but of course, one always assumes that if one was just 'cool' enough it would all work seamlessly and I would be singing 'Gigantic' and not cursing when both my personal and work to do lists appears on my phone, but not on my tablet.
Here are some of the apps I have added in the last year to my phone and tablet. I'm not saying I couldn't live without them, but they are really cool.
Merlin Bird ID - (free) a bird identifying app that allows you to look up a bird by characteristics and then gives you a best guess list and the calls of the bird plus maps of where it can be found and other information about the bird. That bird with the little beret look? It's a Black Capped Chickadee. Who knew?
BuzzFeed - (free) which is basically the biggest time-waster ever and really fun. If you have ever seen those fun quizzes being passed around on Facebook about which Jane Austen character would you be, or what country fits you best, BuzzFeed is probably the source of those little quizzes.
GasBuddy - (free) for finding the cheapest gas nearby.
United Airlines - (free) for keeping track of my flights and getting a mobile boarding pass.
For real estate searching, I have Trulia and Zillow  (free) which are useful for house-hunting or just for snooping about house values in your neighborhood.
Animoto - (free + fee version) which allows you to make free 30 second slide shows set to music. You can use photos from your phone or device, upload them to your account and make a really nice little slide show very quickly. For a fee, you will be able to make longer videos.
Overdrive Media Console - (free) allows me to borrow ebooks from eLibraryNJ through the library website. The reference librarians help patrons set this up on their devices all the time and it is hugely popular when people find out they don't have to purchase ebooks and e-audiobooks.
Zinio -(free) also available from the library website allows patrons to download magazines to their devices. I love this, the magazines look great on a tablet and they do not ever expire or come due.
I also have the apps for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and GoodReads so I can post to my personal accounts or follow what other people are posting.

What apps do you like? Click on 'comment' below to let us know.
Here is the link to one of the library's Animoto slide shows
and below is another library Animoto video. You can embed the HTML into a blog or website. How cool is that?

Going to the Library