Thursday, May 28, 2009

Religion Lite

photo source: Bernardsville Public Library

Join the many fans of British television series Ballykissangel, Father Ted, and The Vicar of Dibley who have "seen the light" and who thank heaven for a good laugh. Ecclesiastical humor, inspired characters, and heavenly scenery combine in these shows to provide a divine experience for faithful viewers. To have your own moment of conversion, check out a season or two of epidsodes, now on dvd at Bernardsville Public Library. You are sure to chortle, guffaw, and titter over these situational comedies which, more often than not, bring the headlining priests down from their pulpits and into the spiritual morass of village life. Father Ted and Ballykissangel take place in Ireland, and The Vicar of Dibley, featuring a female Anglican priest, is set in rural England.

photo source: Bernardsville Public Library

Look for these dvd sets in The British Collection, a specially designed area of Bernardsville Public Library's video section where BBC and other British film and television productions can be found. There are many temptations awaiting you there.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Parenting Corner To The Rescue

photo source: Bernardsville Public Library
Do childrearing issues ever make you think you'll go off your rocker? Then seek sanity at Bernardsville Public Library's Parenting Corner. Find the answers to all your parenting questions within this wonderful assortment of books and videos clustered into a special collection just for parents, grandparents and childcare attendants. The Parenting Corner provides expectant and new parents with all the reassuring guidance they need to rear children with confidence and compassion. If you've survived your child's early years, but are now befuddled by adolescence or agitated by the teen years, then pull up that rocker in the Parenting Corner and get informed.

photo source: Bernardsville Public Library

Do you have questions about childhood discipline or behavior issues? Are you looking for reliable information about childhood diagnoses such as Asperger's Syndrome or ADHD? There are many resources and guidebooks for these concerns here. You'll find cookbooks for making your own babyfood, ideas for family activities, and loads of dvds and videos to entertain and educate. Where is this fountain of youth, you ask? The Parenting Corner is located within the children's department at the very entrance to the fiction wing. Your rocker is waiting there for you.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Secret Scripture

Today’s New York Times contains an interesting opinion piece written by Irish author John Banville regarding Ireland’s collective horror over the recent findings of its Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse. Banville makes the point that, in fact, most everyone in Ireland knew this was happening over the last century, hence he poses the question, what does it mean to know something?

Banville states that the powerful collusion between the Catholic Church and government figures made it possible for such corruption and abuse to persist so systemically because these figureheads “ruled” absolutely. He suggests that the general populous believed that “If children were sent to orphanages, industrial schools and reformatories, it must be because they were destined for it, and must belong there. What happened to them within those unscalable walls was not a concern of ours.” People averted their eyes, too cowed to question authority figures.

This leads me to consider the ability of writers to grapple with Banville’s question of what it means to know something. One particularly good book that I recently read pertains here because it addresses the reluctance of good people to fully know what is right before their eyes. Written by noted Irish author Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture beautifully combines the story of an aged patient in a regional mental hospital with that of her psychiatrist who has barely made the effort to know her.

Roseanne McNulty is approaching her 100th year and has decided to record her own history in which she writes, “The terror and hurt in my story happened because when I was young, I thought others were the authors of my fortune or misfortune: I did not know that a person could hold up a wall made of imaginary bricks and mortar against the horrors and cruel, dark tricks of time that assail us, and be the author therefore of themselves.”

What she records about her long and troubled life differs drastically from the official record, and Dr. Grene, her psychiatrist, is too apt to believe the official version. Still, there is something about Roseanne that intrigues him even though he is prone to take as truth the possible falsehoods and slanders about her, some of which were perpetrated by a parish priest.

It is startling to consider what Dr. Grene almost loses because of what he thinks he knows about Roseanne’s history. Roseanne's history is Ireland's history, and perhaps the author is also suggesting how regrettable it is that his fellow countrymen do not really know their own past. Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture was on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize of 2008 and is the winner of the 2009 Costa Book Award for novels. It is literature exquisitely written. ~ Evelyn Fischel

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bernardsville Tweets...

You can now follow up-to-the-last-second news from Bernardsville Public Library by looking for the lovely blue Twitter box prominently situated on the library's blog Book News and More and on the library's MySpace page. Our Twitter box is entitled "Bernardsville Tweets." Use the up and down arrow on the Twitter box to navigate through older "tweets" dating back to March as well. We promise not to bore you with jazz about what we had for lunch, but we will keep you informed of things happening currently or in the near future at the library. This way you can take advantage of all that Bernardsville Public Library has to offer.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Staff Recommendations

Bernardsville Public Library staff member, Gerry Van Tassel, has written the following two reviews of books she recently read, one of which had personal resonance for her:

I just finished City of Refuge by Tom Piazza. It is a novel set in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed. It tells the stories of two families, one black, one white, and how they face the storms and struggle to rebuild lives so dramatically changed. I highly recommend this book. Told in novel format, it is easy to relate to the families while the book follows the "facts" of the disaster closely. I found it a fascinating read and very helpful, too, giving me background on the human side of the New Orleans tragedy before I volunteered there to help rebuild this past April.

A very British colonial view of the world is the backdrop for the story of Kitty Fane in W. Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil. Kitty is shallow, lovely, vain and scornful of lesser folk as she marries - desperate for a husband at age 25 - Walter Fane, a man she considers boring and beneath her. She accompanies him to live in Hong Kong, where totally lacking a moral compass, she has an affair and as a result is compelled to accompany her husband to a remote, cholera-infested part of China with little hope of survival. This sets the stage for Kitty's opportunity to rise above her sorry state. I found Maugham's dispassionate telling of her struggle with herself fascinating. In some ways we have come far as women, but our inner struggles and society's view of what we should be continue. I found this classic a good read! ~ Gerry Van Tassel

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Memoirs and Coffee Group Has Animal, Vegetable, Miracle On Its Plate For Next Book Meeting

Bernardsville Public Library's book group Memoirs and Coffee will hold its next meeting on Tuesday, May 26th, at 10:30 in the Community Room. Led by Pat Kennedy-Grant, the group will discuss Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Two contributors to the book are Steven L. Hopp, who tackled the food science and environmental issues, and Camille Kingsolver, Barbara's daughter.

The book is based on the decision of the author and her family to eat only locally grown food for a year. Catching a ride on the popular back-to-homemade/homegrown wave, Kingsolver peppers her book with historical and horticultural information about food production while chronicling her own garden's growth over a year's time. She includes musings on the food industry and sprinkles recipes here and there for good measure. Copies of the book are now available at the circulation desk.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Of Two Minds

I recently read two very interesting books, one fiction and the other nonfiction, dealing with the calamity of brain disease. Both books were very engaging, and neither one took an overly depressing tone, although in each case the subject matter was certainly frightening.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova is a fictional tale of a Harvard neuroscientist's descent into early-onset Alzheimer's disease. The main character, Alice, is at the top of her field in psycholinguistics and is in demand to speak at university colloquia around the country. Her husband pursues an equally demanding career as a research scientist. Their three children are mostly grown, so this should be the best time of Alice's life. But worrisome symptoms are creeping into her awareness, and we are along for the diagnosis. Because Alice is only 50 years old, Alzheimer's disease is the farthest possibility from her family's mind, and it is quite revealing to see how various family members and professional colleagues deal with this development.

The author, who works for the National Alzheimer's Association and has a background in neuroscience, moves the progression of Alice's disease along with a knowledgeable yet empathetic hand. We follow Alice through the little telling missteps that crop up early in her disease and on to the obvious signs of her dementia. Things like not finding her way home from a customary route and misunderstanding what a doormat is are just some of the signs along the way, and the author ties them together into an engrossing story which involves not just Alice, but the people who love and respect her.

In My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor has written an electrifying account of the stroke she had at the age of 37, and of the many years required for her recovery. The author also discusses how this experience changed her life for the better. Like the previous author, Taylor has a background in brain science, being a neuroanatomist who worked for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center. It was her good fortune that she was able to telephone a fellow scientist for help during her brain hemorrhage. The morning of her stroke is recounted dramatically when she experienced crippling symptoms which she didn't immediately recognize as signs of a stroke. If a Ph.D. in neuroanatomy is unable to put the symptoms together right away, I can understand why other people delay getting help, too. As her speech, vision, motor skills, and ability to process numbers slipped drastically away from her, she was just minutes from being totally incapable of calling for any help. This accounting is a real page-turner.

The author was also fortunate to have a terrific recovery coach in her mother, who crossed the country to stay with her when she faced surgery and a very lengthy period of rehabilitation. It was this devoted attention which the author credits for her remarkable comeback. Taylor makes a number of helpful, important points for hospital attendants, physicians and therapists who do not know firsthand what it is like to be a stroke patient. For instance, the author suffered greatly from the bright hospital lights and loud noises, but was unable to communicate this. She also needed instructions to be repeated slowly and patiently, over and over. Some medical staff might have given up on her too quickly because she didn't fit into their paradigm for stroke recovery progress. The medical profession could learn a lot from My Stroke of Insight as could the families of stroke victims.
-Evelyn Fischel

Monday, May 4, 2009

Birthday Books On Display

photo source: Bernardsville Public Library
Why not celebrate the birthday of a friend or family member by funding the cost of a new library book honoring that person? All you need to do is browse Bernardsville Public Library's current display for that perfect book!

photo source: Bernardsville Public Library

During the first week of each month you will find a lovely assortment of new "birthday" books for adults and children on display in the lobby. Choose from any of the displayed items to make a gift that gives twice: the library receives your monetary donation and the birthday recipient is honored with a special bookplate which will be placed in the book.

photo source: Bernardsville Public Library

This month's birthday books include brand new titles in knitting and cooking, children's storybooks, the latest fiction by Dale Brown, Tamora Pierce, and Carl Hiaasen, intriguing nonfiction selections, and biographies about Eleanor Roosevelt or Abigail and John Adams. These items will be available as birthday books to be purchased from May 1st through May 10th. Look for a new selection of books next month!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Worried About Swine Flu? At Least It's Not the Plague...

Get the latest information on the H1N1 flu virus (governmentese for swine flu) by going to . Once you have calmed your nerves, experience real tears and feverish chills as you read about life during years of the plague in the following two books recommended by Evelyn Fischel of Bernardsville Public Library.

Dava Sobel's excellent biography of Galileo Galilei focuses on his relationship with his devoted, but cloistered daughter, Suor Maria Celeste - hence the title, Galileo's Daughter. It was a most remarkable and touching relationship brought to life via the daughter's preserved letters to her father which are integrated into the story. The author competently establishes the nature of 17th century science, catholicism, and Italian politics and clearly demonstrates what a challenging force Galileo was to all three. Scorned and put under house arrest for his theories, Galileo's only true source of comfort and support came from his exceptional daughter's selfless devotion to him. Where does the plague fit in here? It appeared throughout the book as a scourge which wiped out nuns in their convents and merchants in their city apartments, restricting travel for Galileo, and causing the Pope and Medici rulers to enact harsh public health edicts. The different ways religion, politics and science responded to the plague also mirrored the different ways Galileo's ideas were received at that time.
The plague also plays a symbolic role in Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks' fictional account of a plague-stricken English village in the 17th century. Based on a true story of the village of Eyam in Derbyshire, Year of Wonders recounts how the villagers chose to face the greatest threat to their survival when the plague was brought into their community on an infected bolt of fabric. What they chose to do and how they faced the consequences of that decision make Year of Wonders a dramatic, sorrowful and inspiring story. The plague here could easily be exchanged for any other destructive phenomenon which creates societal tension and moral dilemmas, forcing characters to make choices no one would want to face.

~ Evelyn Fischel