Cold comfort is what half the township experienced last week, with an extended power outage after more than a foot of snow fell. So it's fitting that the library's evening book group will be discussing Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Dunkin' Donuts on Springfield Avenue. (We hope to be able to return to the library for next month's meeting.)
The novel is 57th on The Guardian's list of 100 best novels in English. Cold Comfort Farm's heroine is Flora Poste, a sensible young woman who moves from London to a farm owned by her uncivilized and passionate rural relations, attempting to reform their lives.
It's also funny (for a classic). For me, the humor came not from the way Cold Comfort Farm parodies other novels, but from its characters and language. For example, Mrs. Beetle intends her four grandchildren to form a jazz band one day, so they are referred to as "the jazz-band," as in, "Agony Beetle and the jazz-band arrived with their arms full of nasturtiums. . . " Flora's cousin preaches fire and brimstone at "the Church of the Quivering Brethren" and his cows are named Graceless, Aimless, Feckless, and Pointless. Gibbons also skewers the theory that Branwell Bronte wrote his sisters' novels in a humorous fashion.
There are discussion questions available here. I have added some of my own below:
1. Did you like the book or not? Did you think it was funny or not?
2. How did you feel about the dialect in the book? Did it make it harder to read? Or did you enjoy Gibbons' creativity?
3. Could you recognize which books or kind of books that Cold Comfort Farm parodies?
4. Did you pick up on a couple of instances of mild anti-Semitism in the book? (This depends on the edition you read, as the one I read had changed "Jew shop" to just "shop".) Did you think Mr. Mybug/Meyerburg was intended to be Jewish?
5. Although Cold Comfort Farm was published in 1932, Gibbons set the novel in the near future, 1947 or later. What are some of the clues to the time of the setting in Cold Comfort Farm?
Remember the turkey made out of a book that the library had on display around Thanksgiving? Or the recycled-book hedgehog at the circulation desk? If you'd like to see book art while the library is closed, the Morris Museum has an exhibition, Book Art: A Novel Idea. If you can't make it in person, News 12 New Jersey covered the exhibit, which is in its last week, ending March 4.
Detail from The Interchangeable Dictionary by Doug Beube, 2014.
James Allen's book excavations are on display. He wrote that "Carving into a book takes away the original linear format so that instead of looking at one page at a time we can contemplate many of the images and words within a book in a single relief sculpture."
Church of Our Fathers by James Allen
The exhibit features Julie Dodd's Fungal Spores. Check out her website for better photographs than I could take.
Works by Julie Dodd, including Fungal Spores
Brian Dettmer, the Book Surgeon, has carved book sculptures on display, including a huge artwork made from a recycled encyclopedia. You may have seen his TED Talk, Old Books Reborn as Art.
The very best thing about reading book reviews is the reviewers. I read one weekly source and constantly wonder at the titles chosen. I’m not sure if the titles are eclectic or if the reviewer is eccentric. My favorite is conflicting reviews. Today I read in one source that a particular book has exquisitely rendered characters. A different reviewer, reviewing the same book, stated the characters just aren’t that interesting. I can’t decide if I should order the book or, if ordered, if I should read the book. My choice may be influenced by how popular the author is.
Reading reviews to select titles for the library has become more complicated and time consuming over the years. The number of reviews is only a percentage of the number of books published and both numbers just keep growing. To read reviews of upcoming titles, I start with Library Journal, PW, and Booklist. Then, on weekends, I check reviews in the New York Times and Star Ledger. Since BHPL has both People magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine as downloads, I try to glance at them. Another source, popular with those who drink their coffee with the morning news shows, is the morning news shows.
Ordering is the next step. The library uses Ingram for most of our book and audiobook orders, the exception being audiobook titles available only from the publisher. As I am reading reviews, I am checking the Ingram site which frequently contains abbreviated reviews from several sources for the more popular mainstream titles. Sometimes the quantity of copies stocked by Ingram, or lack thereof, is a good indication of anticipated demand, or lack thereof.
If a title is selected for purchase, the next decision is the variety of formats needed. Will the title attract the audiobook audience, or is the author popular in large print? If we order the title as a download, do we need both the e-book and e-audio? With downloads from OverDrive, the vendor behind eLibraryNJ, we expect the purchasing consortium (a group of public libraries in central NJ) to order multiple copies of the most popular titles. Some publishers do not allow the consortium to order their titles, but individual libraries may order the title for their patrons' use only.
Many e-book titles disappear after a certain amount of time or a certain number of checkouts. At the same time, e-book and e-audio titles from the large publishing companies continue to increase in price. In the not too distant past, popular e-books were in the $40 range. Then the price jumped to $60 and now a few titles are $81. They skipped right past the $50 and $70 ranges.
I won’t even address the rapid growth of self-publishing. Not many of these titles are reviewed so they can be difficult to purchase. Oh well, back to reading reviews. -Stephanie Bakos
Construction is expected to begin the week of February 19 and is estimated to take 30 days. Planned renovations include improved lighting in public areas, widening interior windows, and opening the circulation room to the hallway. ADA required renovations include a new bathroom, wider door openings and making the entrance at 110 Roosevelt Ave. accessible to wheelchairs.
Returning library items
On Saturday, Feb. 24th, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., BHPL staff will be at Town Hall in the Court Room/Council Chambers to collect returns. Please enter through the glass doors leading to the Police Department at 29 Park Ave.
New Providence Library is also accepting BHPL items that you wish to return. BHPL staff stops in twice each week at NPL to pick up any returns. Of course, no fines are being charged. Saturday hold pickups on Feb. 24 at Town Hall
You may pick up items reserved through the online catalog on Saturday, Feb. 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Town Hall in the court room/ council chambers. Enter through the glass doors leading to the police department at 29 Park Ave. This is in addition to being able to pick up your holds at the library on weekdays (except Feb. 19) from 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Interlibrary Loans
If you can't find the item you need in the online catalog, you may contact the library to submit an interlibrary loan request. Please keep in mind the pickup hours (above) before placing a request. Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot
The tradition of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot will continue this summer. This year will not be a typical play, but an hour-long selection "Something Shakespeare This Way Comes" on Friday, July 27th at 7:00 p.m. Please bring your lawn chairs.
Although the library is still closed, holds may once again be placed on books in the online catalog.
Once you have received an email that your book is available, you may pick up your hold on Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (except Feb. 19, which is President's Day.) The library is operating with a skeleton staff while closed, hence the reduced hours.
BHPL is the second building in the large parking lot at 110 Roosevelt Ave., the smaller building with the blue door. Since the library does not have a certificate of occupancy yet, you will need to ring the doorbell and a staff member will bring your library books.
No Holds on DVDs and Audiobooks
Unfortunately, Holds on DVDs and audiobooks are not allowed at this time. The hallway where DVDs and CDs will be shelved will be covered in dust once construction begins, so they've been kept boxed. Late Fines Late fines were suspended beginning Dec. 5 and will not begin to accumulate again until March 1. Overdue notices are still being emailed, which you may ignore. Consumer Reports
The library web site now has a direct link to Consumer Reports on its Databases page. You have to click "Search within this publication" to get to a search box, but that is really minor given the labyrinth that everyone used to click and type their way through.
The evening book group is meeting on Tuesday, February 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Dunkin' Donuts on Springfield Ave. to discuss Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.
Before I start this post let me state that no, I do not know when we will be reopening.
As many of you know, BHPL is in the process of relocating to a temporary location for approximately two years while the new municipal complex is being built. Our current home, a former convent/rectory, is proving as challenging as we expected. We are dividing the collection (books, AV materials, internet computers) throughout the rooms and scattering tables and chairs wherever something will fit. It will be a cozy two years.
110 Roosevelt Ave, where the library will temporarily be located.
This entire adventure has made me realize that I have spent the majority of my professional career in buildings that were never intended to be libraries. East Windsor Library in Mercer County was my first job. The library was originally the sales office for a housing development. We joked about having 1.5 bathrooms. The library was two rooms divided by a utility closet in the center. The space for children’s materials was a tiny area separated from the main room by a counter holding a fish tank and hamster cage. At some point the Mercer County Library system upgraded – East Windsor moved down the street from the sales office and West Windsor moved out of an old church.
Stained glass inside the temporary library
My next job was in an old barracks on Kilmer Campus (aka Camp Kilmer) in Piscataway. The Center for Urban Policy Research had no insulation and limited heating. The Center taught me the importance of rehabbing and reusing existing buildings. However, I am pleased to report that the Center is now located near the State Theater in the middle of New Brunswick.
Finally, I arrived at Plainfield Public – designed and built to be a library. I felt lucky to work in such a lovely, but totally impractical building. The pool and fountain court on the lower level absorbed noise and provided a soothing background, but added way too many steps to retrieve anything on the opposite side. One time I had actually had a live otter program in the pool. It also served as the perfect receptacle for the water leaking through the large skylight. Also, think twice about designing a predominately glass building on a main street with truck traffic.
BHPL came next. The front half of the building dated to 1928 as Mt. Carmel Hall. A large addition was added to both levels in 1965 and numerous small additions were added over the years. My office had an interior cinder block wall and closed over window left from moving the entrance. A stairway to nowhere is hidden behind a door in the Meeting room. Building codes changed over the years as more attention was given to barrier free access and ADA regulations.
What will be the children's room (photo taken right after the move)
Once again, at some point in the foreseeable future, I will be moving again. This time it will be to a beautiful, bright, compliant, inviting, user-friendly, and functional new space. I could use more adjectives, but you get the idea. It will be an adventure.
"As a society loses its moral bearings, a childhood friendship deepends into a love affair with extraordinarily high stakes." This is fair summary of the evening book group's selection this month: Carry Me by Peter Behrens, an epic set mostly between World War I and II in Germany. Since the library is still closed, we met at Dunkin Donuts.
Carry Me follows the lives of Karin, a screenwriter for UFA, the German film company, and Billy, a salesman for IG Farben, a German chemical conglomerate. However, the book begins earlier, with their childhood connection: Karin's father, a wealthy (and, fatefully, Jewish) baron, employs Billy's father to race his sailboats in regattas off the Isle of Wight. The outbreak of World War I displaces the two families, but what keeps you turning the pages is the dreadful knowledge of what's waiting for them in the World War II years. As Behrens sprinkles many chapters set in 1938 throughout the book, it's a suspenseful read.
In 2016, Carry Me was one of NPR's Best Books of the Year and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. The book group agreed that the story was especially resonant given how often we hear about refugees around the world fleeing to safety. One member also noted that Billy, the narrator, was a very well developed character; and this may be because his story is based on Peter Behrens' father. You can read the true story of Bill Behrens catching the last train out of Germany, and having to leave his parents behind, in the Peter Behrens' essay "Refugee Dreams" that was published in Granta, and also in another essay "The Last Train Before the War", published in the New York Times.
I found myself wanting to underline passages, as the writing can be beautiful and vivid, for example this diary entry Karin wrote remembering when her family home was a hospital during World War I:
"Our food is gray in war. Turnips, potatoes, porridge. All birds are killed for eating: sparrows, finches larks black crows with black feet. The officers with muddy yellow faces - have been gassed. Some wounds are purple. The nursing sister Zukermann wears pink says it is the most sensible shade, hides bloodstain scarlet would be better but - nursing sisters cannot wear scarlet! "
Stay tuned to the blog to find out what titles the book group will be reading in 2018. We hope our next meeting will be at the 110 Roosevelt location.
Before the library closed (to prepare for its move to 110 Roosevelt Avenue), we managed to interview New Providence author Linda Raedisch, whose books are published by Llewellyn Worldwide. Her 2013 book The Old Magic of Christmas is about European folklore, superstitions, and pagan traditions that are as much a part of our Christmas celebration as nativity scenes and Midnight Mass. (Actually, Midnight Mass does get mentioned in some of Old Magic's spooky stories.)
BHPL: How did The Old Magic of Christmas get its start?
LR:I started making my own Christmas cards when I was 13, so I'm always on the lookout for interesting Christmas subjects that I can draw in pen and ink and photocopy. I had already heard of the Buttnmandl, the Belsnickle and the Italian witch Befana who delivers gifts on Epiphany, so I just went from there. You find one source, read the bibliography, and that leads you to more sources. Many of the books I used were old and out of print.
When I was researching my first book, Night of the Witches, I discovered that Bohemia, which is now part of the Czech Republic, has held onto a lot of old and unusual traditions. At Christmastime, Bohemia is a real treasure trove of spooky characters that go from door to door on different days. I included all of them in Old Magic, and now it's been translated into Czech!
BHPL: Christmas proper is only part of your book. I enjoyed learning about other, little-known "feasts" which fall between from November to February in our modern calendar. Is there one that you celebrate or is of particular interest to you?
LR: Our family has always celebrated Advent Sundays at home. We don't do the wreath of greens; we do the four-armed wooden candelabra, usually with white candles, but I went with beeswax this year. We now have five of these candelabra circulating among the three households of my immediate family. You light one candle on the first of the four Sundays before Christmas. On fourth Advent, which falls on Christmas Eve this year, you have all four candles burning.
I actually enjoy these quiet little feasts of cookies and candlelight more than the big event of Christmas Day. In the Middle Ages, Advent was a season of penitence, like Lent. I don't want to go back to that, but it's nice to have that pause late on Sunday afternoons to stop whatever you're doing and light the candles just as it gets dark. It's also a good time to read ghost stories!
BHPL: The chapters called A Christmas Bestiary and A Christmas Herbal are among my favorite chapters. Are you partial to any one of the animals and plants you write about?
LR: I think I like the Spectral Dogs best: Black Dogs, Caplethwaites, Barguests, Yeth Hounds, all of those. I like how they pop up out of thin air, travel alongside you as you're walking or biking home at night, then disappear again with a flash once you've reached your destination. They're not just for Christmas, but they're especially active this time of year. The Capelthwaite was probably the inspiration for The Hound of the Baskervilles, and there was a huge Black Dog in Staffordshire that went by the name of "Padfoot," which I'm sure will ring a bell with Harry Potter fans. Here in New Jersey, the Ramapo Mountain People have stories about ghost dogs similar to the ones in England. I didn't know that when I was writing the book, or I would've included it.
My favorite Christmas green is the Black Hellebore, or the Christmas Rose. I'd seen plenty of them on German Christmas napkins and wrapping paper, and in illustrations of The Legend of the Christmas Rose, but I'd never seen one in person until several years ago. For something that blooms in the winter in the Alps, it's very delicate looking. The petals are iridescent.
Juniper is nice for burning during the Twelve Days of Christmas, December 25-January 6. It makes a nice, fragrant white smoke that is supposed to keep witches and werewolves away. In Austria, they smudge the cow stalls with buckets of smoking Juniperuscommunis during the Twelve Nights, but here you can use Juniperus virginiana.
BHPL: The Old Magic of Christmas has several recipes and crafts. Is there one in particular that you make every year?
LR: I fold the White Witch Window Stars every year. Between Christmasses, I keep the old stars pressed inside Makoto Suzuki's Wooden Houses because it's the biggest book I own, but when I take them out at the beginning of December, some of them will have turned yellow, so I have to make new ones. During the day, the sun shines through them from the outside, then at night they're lit up from the inside. They're very pretty, and very simple to make. And you don't have to stick to the White Witch pattern; you can experiment. The possibilities are endless.
BHPL: Can you tell us about your latest book, The Princess in the Mound: A Visitor's Guide to Alvenholm Castle?
LR: Llewellyn, who publishes my nonfiction books and articles, does publish a little bit of fiction, but it's not really the kind I write, so I decided to have a little fun and strike out on my own with this one. It's a fantasy novella written in the form of a slim little museum guidebook, the kind they might sell you at the ticket counter of an old European manor house so you can guide yourself through the rooms. Most of those guidebooks don't tell you about the ghosts living in the house, but when I created Alvenholm Castle, I put lots of ghosts in it.
In some ways, Princess grew out of Old Magic. The central plot, if there is one, evolved from the dissection I did of the old Scandinavian tale, "The Finn King's Daughter" in chapter two of The Old Magic of Christmas: "At Home with the Elves."
And the character of William Peter Baldwin Jones/Witchety Willi in Princess is my response to the Black Peter controversy. Black Peter, or Zwarte Piet, is the Moorish page who goes up and down the chimneys for St. Nicholas on December 6 in the Netherlands. I thought, wouldn't it be interesting if there was a little village in northern Europe where most of the population were proud to trace their lineage back to a black university-educated chimneysweep? Of course, Willi is also a time traveler, but they don't make a big deal about that at Alvenholm: time travel, haunted cupboards, whispering walls - - it's all just business as usual.
BHPL: Thank you, Linda. Readers, if you wake up in the middle of the night this holiday season, you’re going to want to stay in bed (and read this!) instead of venturing into the living room alone with its poisonous Christmas greenery and household sprites lurking near the fireplace. The ghost stories Raedisch recounts - with their creepy historical details - makes Christmas a deliciously spooky holiday.
BHPL Book Blog interview with Linda about her first book, Night of the Witches, about a holiday called Walpurgis Night.
Linda Raedisch was interviewed on the Leonard Lopate Show last year about the solstice and Yuletide traditions.
Examples of art by Ursula Raedisch, who illustrated The Princess in the Mound.
This week someone called the library and asked if we had a book on our shelf. Well, no. We don't have any books on the shelves anymore. Everything was boxed up and items not going with us to 110 Roosevelt Ave. were moved into storage.
While packing up the library, we ran across the photographs below, taken of the library when it was still new. I retook the same photos today for comparison.
Do you remember the old date due cards and the sound of the Gaylord machine stamping the dates?
Circulation desk: late 1950s
Circulation desk today
The children's department used to be located in what is now the basement meeting room:
Children's department in the late 1950s
What is now the meeting room (as it looks today)
And here is a side-by-side look at the staff room.