Monday, October 31, 2011

My Dewey Month

When I sat behind the reference desk at the public library, I would have to keep statistics for the library: how many ready reference questions (What is the capital of Alabama?); how many locational questions (Where is they copy machine?); how many in-depth reference questions (What is the Gross National Product of Zimbabwe?); and how many telephone calls I received during my shift.

At the same time, I kept my own log, which I called “My Dewey Day.” Whenever I was asked a question or someone was researching a topic, I would write down the Dewey Decimal numbers. When high school students were assigned a history report, I spent a lot of time in the 900’s. When they were assigned a literature paper, it was into the 800’s. Medical questions meant the 600’s, etc. The more numbers I logged, I realized the more exciting my day was, and the more I learned.

Lately I’ve been reading and reviewing a variety of books, so I thought it would be interesting to recap this month’s selections:

Sometimes I pick up books with interesting titles. Once I start reading, I realize the title was meant to draw the reader into a not-so-thrilling book. Or I wonder why I took it out in the first place. This month’s winner is Instinctive Parenting: Trusting Ourselves to Raise Good Kids by Ada Calhoun (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Ada is the editor-in-chief of, a site that touts itself “for a new generation of parents.” This book falls under “Parenting,” which my library classified as 649.1. So if I trusted my instincts, I probably would not be buying a book about parenting. In fact, I think I am from one of the last generations that were not “parented.” The only book available, which has been debunked, was Dr. Spock. It is no wonder that many people confuse Mr. Spock (of Star Trek fame) with Dr. Spock, because today his ideas seem like they are from another planet. But Calhoun’s book proves that not everyone should trust their instincts. She discusses the use of booze and drugs (for the parent, not the kid) and admits a beer can make bath time a more pleasant time for both parent and child. But smoking pot to get through a challenging day with a toddler definitely crosses the boundary. So, as a librarian, and a fan of Ranganathan’s Five Laws, this book must be for somebody out there.

A topic I love, books and reading, falls under 028.9. While I didn’t read it this month, The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma (Grand Central Publishing, 2011) has had an impact. Alice’s father, a school librarian, read to her every night until she went away to college. I got a little too much information in the book about the family’s personal life, but I liked the idea, so I started reading the Oz series to my daughter. We were amazed at how different the first book was from the movie, and they just keep getting weirder. L. Frank Baum starts every book with a short note, and it seems that the youngsters of the 1900’s were bombarding him with requests to write more books. There are talking chickens, armies of little girls, a glass cat with pink brains (you can see them work!), and a Nome king who changes people into bric-a-brac (my daughter had no idea what bric-a-brac was). These books have turned out to be charming, although dated, but I see the benefits of reading aloud in terms of vocabulary, plot development, and bonding with my daughter.

I happened upon the library on a good day, so I was able to read Jane Lynch’s memoir, Happy Accidents (Hyperion, 2011). My library put this in biography, 092 LYN, but the library in the next town classified it as 792.028 – biography of an entertainer. Either way, it was a quick read with no Jewish content.

For Jewish content, I read Senator Joe Lieberman’s The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath (Howard Books, 2011), which is shelved at 296.41 – the Jewish Sabbath. I’m not quite sure of the target audience for this book. The Senator describes the observances and prayers in detail, relates some of his experiences observing the Sabbath in Washington, DC, including at then Vice President Gore’s residence, and reminisces about his grandmother. He also encourages non-Jews to observe their Sabbath by turning off the electronic devices, spending time with family, or saying a heartfelt prayer. While there’s nothing particularly offensive or controversial in this book, unless you consider him coaching Sarah Palin with the story of Queen Esther to be so, there is also not much new or exciting, either.

In the 641 category (cooking): you will see my review of The Kosher Carnivore by June Hersh (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) in the AJL Newsletter. I’m looking at a lot of Jewish cookbooks, and the recipes are not for your bubbe’s chicken soup. Kosher Carnivore had some very involved recipes with a variety of spices, herbs, and wines to bring out the flavor of beef and poultry. My species of carnivore enjoy a slab of meat fresh off the barbecue, some form of potato and a plain salad, but adventurous gourmets will “devour” this one. I will also be reviewing Kosher Revolution by Geila Hocherman & Arthur Boehm (Kyle Books, 2011), which includes recipes for Coconut-Ginger Squash Soup with Peshwari Challah and Matzo Brei with Caramleized Apples.

There was lots of discussion on the Child Lit List Serv about Bumble-Ardy by Maurice Sendak (Michael Di Capua Books, 2011). The posts about this E FIC SEN book ranged from criticism of a pig dressed an Indian to a detailed deconstruction of the pictures with references to the symbolism of their positioning and the role of such characters as a “big baby” in children’s literature. They say that as we age, our personality quirks, both good and bad, intensify. So as Mr. Sendak’s work has been funny, a little strange, sometimes subversive, always thought provoking, as he enjoys his 83rd year on the planet (he should live until 120!), it is even more so. Look for the banner that has the Hebrew letters after Bumble-Ardy. Usually it is just a nun and a yud, the acronym for “Nero Yoir,” may his light shine, often seen on bar mitzvah invitations after the boy’s name.

I also pre-screened some juvenile and YA fiction for the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. I’m fascinated by what can be considered a Jewish book. On the one hand, I have the same argument as those from the African American community: Jews have been fully integrated into American society, so their stories are really not that different than what is considered mainstream fiction. On the other hand, I love Hereville so much because Mirka’s Judaism informs her whole attitude toward life. I can hardly wait for the big announcement in January. What books will win the Sydney Taylor Book Award?

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