Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Libraries 'Popular,' but Suffering from Economy

A brouhaha is brewing in Philadelphia: the mayor is closing 11 library branches, and there is great opposition to such action.

These tough economic times, as we have been saying, have forced a lot of people to find new ways of doing things to save money,” “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams said. “And listen to this next one – with money so tight, the costs of books has people turning to a place where you can actually get books free, then return them for the next user. The library business, it seems, is booming. But now they could use some help in this economy.”

We have been very busy this last week, much more so than usual, and unexpectedly so, surprising many of us.

NBC correspondent Chris Jansing interviewed a librarian that detected an uptick in “wild” behavior at one library – which Jansing deemed a result of the economic downturn. Wild is not a word you usually associate with libraries, but the economic downturn has made them wildly popular,” Jansing said.

According to Jansing, in Philadelphia, there are plans to shut 11 of 54 branches of their library – which was met with an emotional outburst by one resident. I can’t believe anybody is going to close this damn thing down,” said one grown man in tears over a library closing Philadelphia.

There are many stories about the library closings in Philly; a sampling:

Preliminary injunction granted to stop library closings!

Judge halts closure of 11 Philadelphia libraries

Judge to Nutter: Keep those libraries open

Russian Concubine

A patron called asking for this book; put it on reserve for her.


Obama's Down Payment

In an interesting essay on the economic stimulus package that the incoming Obama administration is devising, Lawrence Summers makes this encouraging remark:

The Obama plan represents not new public works but, rather, investments that will work for the American public. Investments to build the classrooms, laboratories and libraries our children need to meet 21st-century educational challenges. Investments to help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by spurring renewable energy initiatives (many of which are on hold because of the credit crunch). Investments to put millions of Americans back to work rebuilding our roads, bridges and public transit systems. Investments to modernize our health-care system, which is necessary to improve care in the short term and key to driving down costs across the board.

Those are classrooms, laboratories and libraries. For a librarian, that's good news.

In fact, on Sunday, on Meet the Press, David Gregory of NBC interviewed David Axelrod, who helped run the Obama campaign and has been appointed an adviser, also spoke of investing in libraries.

It is good to know that the incoming administration intends to do more than just build roads and bridges.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Making of a Mogul

William Randolph Hearst is a mythical giant in American life. A newspaper mogul, a powerful man who was listened to, and whose newspapers were read, he was also the object of Citizen Kane, called by many the best American film of all time.

He was a newspaper owner and publisher. As with every form of the written word, editing is crucially important. In this review, in the first sentence of the second paragraph, this glaring gaffe jumps out: Ah, but there was a time – not so long ago in the grand scheme of things – when people not only read newspapers but waited with baited breath for the latest edition to hit the street.
Baited? To catch fish? Or bated, as in reduced, lowered, restrained? Indeed bated.

The Uncrowned King
By Kenneth Whyte Counterpoint, 546 pages, $30

In 1895, William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) arrived in New York City from his family home in San Francisco to assume the position of owner and publisher of the New York Morning Journal, a name he immediately shortened to the New York Journal. Once Hearst was installed in his Park Row office, he soon leapt into national prominence; how he managed this breakthrough is the subject of Kenneth Whyte's "The Uncrowned King," an engaging chronicle of Hearst's first three years in New York.

In 1883, freshly expelled from Harvard, he convinced his father, Senator George Hearst (who filled a seat vacated by death for a few months in 1886, then won and served from 1887 until his death in 1890), to let him run the San Francisco Examiner. He ran that newspaper with hucksterism, and moved onto New York in 1895 to run one of 17 dailies then published.

Mr. Whyte offers a sympathetic account of Hearst, presenting him as someone far different from the megalomaniacal Citizen Kane-esque brute of legend. Mr. Whyte's Hearst is eccentric, to be sure, but he is also an earnest general in the vanguard of the paper wars and a virtuoso of the front-page salvo.

Whatever the case, in New York Hearst learned from Joseph Pulitzer (New York World) and Charles Dana (New York Sun): banner headlines, heart-tugging human-interest stories, tendentious crusading, scoops (facts be damned). Hearst gleaned everything he could from Pulitzer and Dana before he surpassed them.

"The Uncrowned King" centers on the two major news stories gripping the U.S. during Hearst's early years at the Journal: the 1896 presidential election, pitting the upstart Democrat William Jennings Bryan against William McKinley; and the Cuban theater of the Spanish-American War.

Ah, yes, yellow journalism. Election in 1896: Jennings Bryan versus McKinley; Spanish-American War.

Bryan lost the election, but Hearst gained tremendous credibility with the Journal's election reporting, Mr. Whyte says. He reports that The Fourth Estate ("A Newspaper for the Makers of Newspapers") praised the Journal for covering the race "in splendid style" and cited the 1.5 millions copies sold of the paper's election edition as evidence that readers trusted the Journal even though its candidate had lost.

Bryan railed about a "Cross of Gold" and gained much support from farmers and other borrowers, and was opposed by East Coast lenders (no one in the West loaned money?), and yet Hearst supported him (curiously to this observer).

Mr. Whyte devotes nearly half of "The Uncrowned King" to the Spanish-American War, specifically the dueling among the major dailies to secure news from Cuba. This was America's first post-Civil War fight as a united nation – or at least it was united behind the cause of Cuban independence after Hearst's relentless campaign to shame a reluctant President McKinley into war. Amid rising tensions between the two countries in 1898, an explosion sank the battleship Maine in the Havana harbor. The cause of the blast was murky, but Hearst seized on it as the ultimate war-worthy outrage. Mr. Whyte acknowledges that the paper practiced some "atrocious journalism" during this period, but he also brings to bear a refreshing sense of context.

Whyte exonerates Hearst: the paper's reporting suggesting that the ship had been sabotaged was based on credible sources, he says. The coverage was "nowhere near the acme of ruthless, truthless journalism."

Hearst wound up on the ground in Cuba as a correspondent. On his return he found himself at the pinnacle of the newspaper world – a successful publisher, acclaimed editor, even a writer of some repute. But he was also reviled in many quarters, particularly by other publishers. A scathing Lincoln Steffens article "became a foundation stone of a Hearst legend that would continue to grow in scale and perversity and culminate in the fine but scurrilous motion picture, Citizen Kane."

The myth exploded:

But then, typically and to his credit, Mr. Whyte tests the conventional wisdom by consulting the autobiography that Steffens wrote many years later. It turns out that Steffens regretted writing the piece because he had been pressured by his editors to take a hatchet to Hearst. Steffens confessed that he had "compromised" with his colleagues "to keep my job." Hearst was "a great man, able, self-dependent," the old reporter wrote. "He had no moral illusions; he saw straight as far as he saw, and he saw pretty far."

One of many New York Journal front pages devoted to news about the destruction of the battleship Maine in 1898. Top: William Randolph Hearst in the early 1900s.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Mesmerizing art

A story in today's Wall Street Journal on "The Best of 2008" - "This Year's Art" features these paintings:

Titian's Danae (1550-3)

Giorgio Morandi's Natura Morta (1961)

Juan Sánchez Cotán's Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber

Gustave Courbet's The Desperate Man

Nicolas Poussin Landscape with a River God

Tiziano Vecellio, Titian was born in the commune Pieve di Cadore, Belluno province, in the Veneto some time between 1485 and 1490, and died in venice on 27 August 1576. The Oxford Online Encyclopedia describes him: The most important artist of the Vecellio family, he was immensely successful in his lifetime and since his death has always been considered the greatest painter of the Venetian school. He was equally pre-eminent in all the branches of painting practised in the 16th century: religious subjects, portraits, allegories and scenes from Classical mythology and history.

The realism in his painting is breath-taking. Titian's late works are described as paintings so bold that Titian's contemporaries described them as painted with brushes "as big as brooms." "Late Titian" reminded us why he was revered by the giants of Western painting -- Rubens, Rembrandt, Poussin, Delacroix, Courbet, Cézanne, and more

Poussin's painting has much mor a mythological feel, and, while great work, simply is not as startling as Titian's Danae. Not to denigrate it, at all; the painting has great features, including the interplay of light and shadows, the mountains dividing it in two, the impressive trees reaching for the heavens.

it was plain that even Poussin's most apparently straightforward investigations of the visual effects of weather were not solely about nature. Instead, they were meditations on larger ideas about the passage of time, morality, mortality, emotion, and more. Transfixed by these complex, compelling landscapes we understood why Poussin was called the "philosopher painter."

Morandi's still life is baffling; I just don't get why it's great art. Ditto Cotan's study. I suppose there are technical accomplishments; I simply do not understand art on that level. To me, art is best on the impression it makes when it is seen.

Coubert's Desperate Man, now here is a startlingly beautiful work of art. The expressiveness of the man's eyes simply astonishes this observer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Insights Both Fresh and Tested

The typical books-of-the-year list is confined, with good reason, to books that were published during that year. But the crush of recent economic news means that several older books suddenly have a new relevance. So while 2008 books still dominate my choices, you will also find a prophetic book from 2003 and a classic from the late 1950s. The idea is to create a reading list for anyone trying to make sense of the world right now.

The obvious place to start is the financial crisis, and the clearest guide to it that I’ve read is “Financial Shock” by Mark Zandi, a founder of the research firm Moody’s Economy.com.

I recently read the early parts of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s trilogy, “The Age of Roosevelt,” written more than a half-century ago. It is a bit triumphalist, but its age offers an advantage I hadn’t anticipated: you can draw the historical analogies for yourself. The debt-fueled business excesses of the 1920s sound especially, and chillingly, familiar.

I also asked Barry Gewen, an editor at The New York Times Book Review, if he would put together a canon of Depression books, and we have posted the list on our economics blog, nytimes.com/economix. At the top is “Freedom From Fear,” David Kennedy’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner (which, at almost 1,000 pages, is still 1,000 pages shorter than the Schlesinger trilogy).

To try to keep the current crisis from turning into a depression, the Obama administration is going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars next year, much of it on a vast infrastructure program. And it so happens that one of the better-reviewed nonfiction books of 2008 was, in large part, about infrastructure. The book is “
Traffic” by Tom Vanderbilt. The reviews focused on Mr. Vanderbilt’s entertaining tour through the anthropology of driving. But “Traffic” also has a larger message.

The next book was written more than five years ago, but it’s still the closest thing to an obituary for the Big Three car companies, as they once were. It was written by Micheline Maynard, a longtime automobile journalist who now works for The Times, and it’s called “The End of Detroit.”

“Detroit’s long reign as the dominant force in the American car industry is over,” she wrote, in the first sentence of the first chapter. She predicted that one of the Big Three could collapse within a decade. “The ultimate irony,” Ms. Maynard continues, is that Detroit “has been defeated by companies that did the job Detroit once did with unquestioned expertise: turn out vehicles that consumers wanted to buy and vehicles that captured their imaginations.” The Big Three’s ability to solve this problem, quickly, will largely determine their postbailout fate.

That's in a book published in 2003. It is, obviously, prophetic. I think that within two years there will be only 2 Detroit companies, and neither will be that strong. Chrysler and GM might well merge, but the sum of two sick companies will be one bigger sick company.

And, then, politics.

From the left, Larry M. Bartels, a Princeton political economist, explained in “Unequal Democracy” that the economy has consistently performed better under Democratic presidents than Republican ones over the last 60 years. For middle-class families, incomes have risen more than twice as fast under Democrats as under Republicans. Mr. Bartels makes a strong case that the pattern is more than coincidence. I’m not sure that cause and effect are as tightly linked as he suggests. But his critics have yet to come up with an argument as strong as his.

From the right, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam pleaded with their fellow Republicans to come up with an economic strategy beyond tax cuts. In “Grand New Party,” Mr. Douthat and Mr. Salam lay out an alternate agenda, for overhauling taxes, lowering health care costs, improving schools and reducing the number of single-parent families.

Lower health costs, better schools, social engineering; they're rightists?

Finally, I will mention a book that I already recommended once this year — “The Race Between Education and Technology,” a history of American education by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In Chicago, a Sarajevo Exile Finds a New Home and Voice

Last year, a teenager in a trench coat shot to death five people in a crowded Salt Lake City shopping mall, before being gunned down himself by police. The story caught the writer Aleksandar Hemon's eye not for its horrible post-Columbine banality, but because of a detail about the shooter -- he was a Bosnian Muslim refugee from Srebrenica, Europe's bloodiest killing field since World War II. Without presuming to know the boy's demons, Mr. Hemon, who fled Bosnia himself, notes that traumas of war and exile lurk deep inside.

Nelson Algren said loving Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose, and loving Sarajevo is like loving a woman with a broken spine."

Mr. Hemon is often put in good company with W.G. Sebald, Joseph Roth and Bruno Schultz as well as his generational "immigrant-lit" cohorts -- Gary Shteyngart and this year's Pulitzer winner, Junot Diaz.

He acknowledges literary debts to the late Montenegrin-Jewish writer Danilo Kis and his favorite of favorites, Anton Chekhov.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Julius Fast writer of both Fact and Fiction

Prolific is defined as fecund: intellectually productive; "a prolific writer"; "a fecund imagination". This man can easily be called a prolific writer.

Julius Fast, who won the first Edgar Award given by the Mystery Writers of America and went on to publish popular books on body language, the Beatles and human relationships, died on Tuesday in Kingston, N.Y. He was 89.

Mr. Fast, the younger brother of the novelist Howard Fast, won instant acclaim as a mystery writer. “Watchful at Night,” his first novel, was written while he was still in the Army Medical Corps during World War II. Its cover identified him as Sgt. Julius Fast. The book won the inaugural Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1946 for the best first novel published in 1945.

The Nassau County OPAC lists 21 items under his name (and it lists 119 items for Howard).

In 1946 he married Barbara Sher, also a writer, who survives him, and with whom he wrote “Talking Between the Lines: How We Mean More Than We Say” (1979). Besides his daughter Jennifer, of Shady, N.Y., other survivors are a son, Timothy, of Des Moines; another daughter, Melissa Morgan of Casselberry, Fla.; and five grandchildren. Howard Fast died in 2003.

To support his growing family, Mr. Fast worked as a writer and editor at several medical magazines. A stint at a podiatric publication provided the raw material for “You and Your Feet” (1970), but his wide-ranging interests account for the variety in titles like “The Beatles: The Real Story” (1968), “The New Sexual Fulfillment” (1972) and “Weather Language” (1979).

In 1988 he published “What Should We Do About Davey?,” a semiautobiographical novel about an awkward adolescent employed at a boys’ camp in the Catskills that was very much like the one owned by Mr. Fast’s uncle.

Often he wrote to order for publishers rushing a book into print on a timely subject, like the findings of the sex researchers William Masters and Virginia E. Johnson. Within months of the publication of “Human Sexual Response” in 1966, Mr. Fast produced “What You Should Know About Human Sexual Response.” He also wrote books on how to quit smoking, how men and women can overcome their incompatibilities and the meaning of new research on Omega-3 fatty acids.

“Julius is a fast writer,” said Tom Dardis, the editor who commissioned his Beatles book. “That’s no pun on his name.”

A reference question

ODLIS— Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Long Road to Infinity

Giordano Bruno
By Ingrid D. Rowland
(Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 335 pages, $27)

Was he a megalomanic, a crackpot, a genius or a martyr to science? Over the years, Giordano Bruno has been characterized in all sorts of ways. The short, scrappy Neopolitan was certainly a maverick thinker who challenged the pieties of his day. For his pains, he was incinerated at the stake in Rome, naked and gagged, a kind of a sacrifice to the papal jubilee of 1600.

In "Giordano Bruno," the classicist Ingrid Rowland offers a series of brilliant vignettes tracing this peripatetic figure from his birthplace outside Naples, to the Dominican convent in Naples itself where he studied for the priesthood (he was ordained in his mid-20s), to Geneva, Toulouse, Paris, Oxford, London, Wittenberg, Prague, Frankfurt, Zurich and – finally and dangerously – Venice and Rome.

Early in his studies, Bruno was arraigned before the Inquisition for, among other things, reading forbidden books. Over time, he flirted with Calvinism and later with Lutheranism when he was residing among German scholars. He was excommunicated from both churches. (It is important to note that Bruno was born in 1548, only three decades after Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Wittenberg church door.) He gave lectures on logic and metaphysics and taught at various universities. He wrote many small books on a variety of subjects, often in a poetical style. Eventually, Bruno sought reconciliation within the Catholic fold, only to end his life with eight years of imprisonment and execution for heresy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pigeon Trainer in World War II, Dies at 84

Obituaries can be great research tools. I learn a great deal from reading them. This is a particularly interesting one.

In January 1942, barely a month after Pearl Harbor, the United States War Department sounded a call to enlist. It wasn’t men they wanted — not this time. The Army was looking for pigeons.

To the thousands of American men and boys who raced homing pigeons, a popular sport in the early 20th century and afterward, the government’s message was clear: Uncle Sam Wants Your Birds.

Richard Topus was one of those boys.

Now, I might have known about Army pigeons (should they have been Air Force pigeons? I wonder), but I do not remember so.

World War II saw the last wide-scale use of pigeons as agents of combat intelligence. Mr. Topus, just 18 when he enlisted in the Army, was among the last of the several thousand pigeoneers, as military handlers of the birds were known, who served the United States in the war. A lifelong pigeon enthusiast who became a successful executive in the food industry, Mr. Topus died on Dec. 5 in Scottsdale, Ariz., at the age of 84. The cause was kidney failure, his son Andrew said.

Richard Topus was born in Brooklyn on March 15, 1924, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. Growing up in Flatbush, he fell in love with the pigeons his neighbors kept on their rooftops in spacious coops known as lofts. His parents would not let him have a loft of his own — they feared it would interfere with schoolwork, Andrew Topus said — but he befriended several local men who taught him to handle their birds. Two of them had been pigeoneers in World War I, when the United States Army Pigeon Service was formally established.

Of course his parents wouldn't let him have pigeons; they were Jewish.

Pigeoneers. What an interesting word - and concept.

Pigeons have been used as wartime messengers at least since antiquity. Before the advent of radio communications, the birds were routinely used as airborne couriers, carrying messages in tiny capsules strapped to their legs. A homing pigeon can find its way back to its loft from nearly a thousand miles away. Over short distances, it can fly a mile a minute. It can go where human couriers often cannot, flying over rough terrain and behind enemy lines.

By the early 20th century, advances in communications technology seemed to herald the end of combat pigeoneering. In 1903, a headline in The New York Times confidently declared, “No Further Need of Army Pigeons: They Have Been Superseded by the Adoption of Wireless Telegraph Systems.”

Never say never, no?

In all, more than 50,000 pigeons served the United States in the war. Many were shot down. Others were set upon by falcons released by the Nazis to intercept them. (The British countered by releasing their own falcons to pursue German messenger pigeons. But since falcons found Allied and Axis birds equally delicious, their deployment as defensive weapons was soon abandoned by both sides.)

Now, who figured that British falcons would only eat German pigeons?

But many American pigeons did reach their destinations safely, relaying vital messages from soldiers in the field to Allied commanders. The information they carried — including reports on troop movements and tiny hand-sketched maps — has been widely credited with saving thousands of lives during the war.

Incoming pigeon, colonel. No, seriously, sir. Orders from HQ. No, I am not being sarcastic, sir.

Mr. Topus enlisted in early 1942 and was assigned to the Army Signal Corps, which included the Pigeon Service. He was eventually stationed at Camp Ritchie in Maryland, one of several installations around the country at which Army pigeons were raised and trained. There, he joined a small group of pigeoneers, not much bigger than a dozen men.

Camp Ritchie specialized in intelligence training, and Mr. Topus and his colleagues schooled men and birds in the art of war. They taught the men to feed and care for the birds; to fasten on the tiny capsules containing messages written on lightweight paper; to drop pigeons from airplanes; and to jump out of airplanes themselves, with pigeons tucked against their chests. The Army had the Maidenform Brassiere Company make paratroopers’ vests with special pigeon pockets.

American industry contributed to the Allied effort in many ways. Maidenform did more than make bras for Betty Grable. Patriotism takes all forms, and shapes.

After the war, Mr. Topus earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from Hofstra University. While he was a student, he earned money selling eggs — chicken eggs — door to door and afterward started a wholesale egg business. In the late 1950s, Mr. Topus became the first salesman at Friendship Food Products, a dairy company then based in Maspeth, Queens; he retired as executive vice president for sales and marketing. (The company, today based in Jericho, N.Y. and a subsidiary of Dean Foods, is now known as Friendship Dairies.)

I know Friendship cottage cheese.

Though the Army phased out pigeons in the late 1950s, Mr. Topus raced them avidly till nearly the end of his life. He left a covert, enduring legacy of his hobby at Friendship, for which he oversaw the design of the highly recognizable company logo, a graceful bird in flight, in the early 1960s.

From that day to this, the bird has adorned cartons of the company’s cottage cheese, sour cream, buttermilk and other products. To legions of unsuspecting consumers, Andrew Topus said last week, the bird looks like a dove. But to anyone who really knew his father, it is a pigeon, plain as day.

Nice touch.

A reference question

Received a call from a Newsday reporter, Carol Polsky, doing research on Harvey Milk. There's a new movie out about him, aptly named Milk. He went to school in Woodmere, or perhaps was from Woodmere (yes, he was; Google searches, including looking in Randy Shilts's book, The Mayor of Castro Street, confirms that), though he graduated from high school in Bay Shore.

I looked at the Hewlett High School yearbooks from 1946, 1947 and 1948, at the reporter's request, to see if I could find any mention of Milk. I did not. All I did find was the name of Mrs. William Milk in 1947's book.

Interesting request. I told her she should get a look at some of the faces in the yearbooks, but she said she was under deadline.

Finding a gem weeding

Continuing to weed biographies as an ongoing project. Up to the Rs: Richelieu, Robeson, Rockefeller. One of the Rockefeller books I evaluated was entitled David, the grandson of the old man. On the back of the book (New York, L. Stuart; 1971) I found a blurb on a book written by Ferdinand Lundberg, America's 60 Families (New York : Vanguard Press, c1937).

Lundberg's book is about the American plutocracy. Thirty years later he would write The rich and the super-rich; a study in the power of money today. (New York, L. Stuart; 1968).

Of some interest

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two questions, a visit

In the afternoon I was asked two reference questions, and Dr. Eisenberg visited.

First, a graduate student who said she had four kids at home came to do work on her PhD dissertation, and wanted books on differentiated instruction. That proved to be, as I anticipated, far too specialized an academic subject for a public library. Hewlett-Woodmere has quite limited book resources on educations (Dewey 371 and 378), but database resources are plentiful. I got her on Galenet and ERIC. That pleased her.

A website (of the Macomb, Michigan School District) defines Differentiated Instruction as a flexible approach to teaching in which the teacher plans and carries out varied approaches to content, process, and product in anticipation of and in response to student differences in readiness, interests, and learning needs (Tomlinson, 1995, p. 10).

A college website has an entire web page on differentiated instruction.

Second, a young woman who turned out to be a teacher (high school, perhaps) was looking for a book containing scripts on Twilight Zone episodes. HWPL does own such a book: As timeless as infinity: the complete Twilight Zone scripts of Rod Serling. Well, it's not complete.

Hardly complete; there were 5 seasons (36, 29, 37, 18, and 36 episodes). At any rate, the script the teacher wanted wasn't in the book. It was The Shelter (episode 3, Season 3). She planned to use it by juxtaposing it to some other element. Sounded interesting. She had a printout with other titles from other libraries, and was planning to do some more searching.

I told her about LILRC (the Long Island Libraries Resources Council), a consortium of Long Island libraries. Her home library, I told her, would be able to giver her a pass to, say, Hofstra University, if she found that Hofstra had something useful. "I didn't know about that," she said, adding "and I thought I knew libraries pretty well."

Dr. Eisenberg, a retired MD who visits the Library every once in a while (to get books for his wife), stops and schmoozes with as many people as possible when he does so. He can stay for a solid fifteen minutes with one person. Yesterday I told him about the new book I'm reading, Lessons in disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the path to war in Vietnam. We had a short discussion about Bundy, the Viet Nam War, and presidents. Always pleasant to speak with him.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A good book?

I am simply amazed by this fact: there are 1,185 holds on 517 copies of Nelson DeMille's new book, The Gate House. And 617 holds on first copy returned of 376 copies of James Patterson's new book, Cross Country. So many people read the same thing. 106 holds on first copy returned of 254 copies on Danielle Steel's book. No holds on Scott Turow's book, Limitations. The fluff is popular, the better stuff collects dust.

Oy vay.


Just as I ended my harangue about the Dewey System, the phone rang: what is the December birthstone? Googled it: blue Topaz.

As cool and inviting as a blue lake on a blistering summer day,December's birthstone is derived from the Sanskrit word "tapas," meaning fire. This is because Blue Topaz was considered by ancient civilizations to have cooling properties. Not only was it believed to cool boiling water when thrown into the pot, but to calm hot tempers as well! This gemstone was credited with many other healing powers, among them the ability to cure insanity, asthma, weak vision and insomnia. The Blue Topaz was even thought to have magical properties in its ability to make its wearer invisible in a threatening situation.

Jewish sport?

A patron came in (3.15pm) and asked for this book:

Dewey call number: 796.83 B

Author: Allen Bodner.

I just don't get why sports are in the 700s. Yes, the 700s are arts and recreation. Yes, the 790s are recreational and performing arts -- but why? Boxing and puppet theater in the same slot? This Dewey Decimal System is a conundrum wrapped in enigma.

791.572 M is a book by Jay Mohr about his stint in SNL, and right after it, 791.602 G is a book by William Goldman, novelist (Marathon Man ) and screenwriter (The Princess Bride ) was invited to be a judge at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1989, followed by The nature of the beast, by Hans Brick (791.8 B), an animal trainer.


New books

4 new books found on the new books cart at the Information Desk this morning:

Friday, December 12, 2008


What a great book! I was talking with a colleague about the weather (yesterday's rains and high tide created flooding), and told her of the detritus I saw in the Woodmere pier, where'd I'd gone during lunchtime.

We wondered whether that detritus was jetsam or flotsam. One of the definitions of flotsam is Flotsam is a children's book written and illustrated by David Wiesner. Published by Clarion/Houghton Mifflin in 2006, it was the 2007 winner of the Caldecott Medal.American Library Association: URL accessed 27 January 2007, Flotsam is David Wiesner's 3rd Caldecott Medal. ...

Such Good Friends

The Eagle and the Crown
By Frank Prochaska
(Yale, 239 pages, $40)

The King and the Cowboy
By David Fromkin
(The Penguin Press, 256 pages, $25.95)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Film Career Pulled Into Focus

Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master
By Michael Sragow - Pantheon, 645 pages, $40)

I am fortunate to have known a few people who were significant in Fleming's life, including pioneer picturemaker Allan Dwan, who essentially discovered Fleming and brought him into the movie business around 1915. A perfect example of the devil-may-care, anything-goes, haphazard quality of the early movie business is Dwan's description of meeting Fleming, quoted in the book from my 1960s interviews with Dwan.

Dwan explained that one day, while he was shooting in Santa Barbara, his car developed engine trouble. No one on the crew could fix it, but one of the actors told him that he had met a chauffeur in Montecito who knew more about cars than anyone. "So we drove around looking for this fellow," Dwan said, "and at one of these estates there was a tall young boy shooting a .22 -- with a Maxim silencer -- at a target in the garage." That was the guy, the actor said. They pulled the ailing car up behind the man with the rifle. It was Victor Fleming. Without even looking at them, he said: "One of your tappet valves is stuck."

In 1941, Fleming directed his version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," one of five movies he made with Spencer Tracy, who delivered a tour-de-force performance, but it was a fateful project because Fleming worked for the first time with Ingrid Bergman and fell hopelessly in love with her. Both were married when they became lovers, a romantic saga that is especially affecting and beautifully rendered in Mr. Sragow's account, aided by quotations from Fleming's heartbreaking letters. In one note to Bergman, Fleming said he wanted "to tell you boldly like a lover that I love you -- cry across the miles and hours of darkness that I love you -- that you flood across my mind like waves across the sand."


The portrait of Fleming in Mr. Sragow's telling is that of an engaging, complex and endearing person. Whatever one may think of his uneven record as a director, the human being behind the films emerges as someone you would like to have known and clearly would have liked a lot, as Mr. Sragow obviously does. What more could you want from a biography than for it to make the dead come alive again?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Calling All Cars

In Brookfield, Wis., no restaurant has triggered more calls to the police department since last year than Chuck E. Cheese's.

[Chuck E Cheese] Getty Images

Chuck E. Cheese's

[Food Fights]

Documents and Disorder


Stalin's Servant -- and Victim


Linking subjects

A colleague talked of research she did for the musical term falling fifths. She showed me three examples of composition that have falling fifths: Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Schumann's string quartet No. 3. Opus 41, and Ned Rorem's War Scenes (Dewey call number Q 784.3061 R).

Having never heard of Rorem, I looked at War Scenes: Rorem set music to Walt Whitman's US Civil War diary, Specimen Days (Q 811 W). Rorem wrote it in protest against the Viet Nam War. A habitual and long-time diarist himself, Rorem has published much. One of those books is A Ned Rorem Reader ([Music] 780.92 Rorem); in it I read part of an essay he wrote on The Beatles. In that essay he made reference to two movies: Express Bongo (Port Washington Library owns the 1959 film on VHS), and Privilege (Hewlett Woodmere owns a new DVD release of the 1967 film).

Thus are subjects hyperlinked in the library. What a way to learn.

Falling fifths are discussed in various articles in IIMP, the International Index of Music Periodicals. But, what are they? A website defines: "in musical terms, a Falling Fifth is a chord progression that goes down “a fifth,” like from a G chord to a C chord (count G, F, E, D, C = 5). When writing music, a falling fifth progression is always acceptable (along with a falling second and a rising third), and if you continue progressing in falling fifths, you’re following the Circle of Fifths."

The website happens to be written by a librarian. Awright!

A reference question

A college-age young man (in my college days he would have been called a hippie) asked for material on the effects of the industrial revolution on workers. A fascinating angle on a familiar topic.

I found this book: The Factory girls: a collection of writings on life and struggles in the New England factories of the 1840's / by the factory girls themselves, and the story, in their own words, of the first trade unions of women workers in the United States ; edited by Philip S. Foner.