Saturday, December 22, 2007
We are in the process of a complete overhaul of our web site at the library, so for now I will be hosting the lists on my Dominican University server space. However, sometime next year, I will begin linking directly to our web site.
Enough explanation, here is the info on the list. In honor of Thanksgiving, Kathy did a "Family Fiction" display and then annotated this list of 10 books. Turns out, the most popular family stories deal with dysfunction.
Remember, you local library will be open over the holidays while you are off of work. Run on over and grab one of these titles, or ask your librarian for help finding the right book for you.
Friday, December 21, 2007
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (short stories) 12/07
Finn by Jon Clinch (historical fiction) 11/07
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (literary fiction) 9/07
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs (nonfiction) 11/07
The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz (mystery) 10/07
Falling Man by Don DeLillo (literary) 7/07
The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (literary fiction) 5/07
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (gothic novel) 2/07
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (dystopian sf) 2/07
Manhunt: The 12-Day Search for Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson (nonfiction) 3/07
A few of these books came out this year, but not all. I love reading the best of 2007 lists, but those are not necessarily the books everyone was reading in 2007. Most readers, and most of your patrons, will read the titles that most interest them from those "best" lists in 2008. When helping leisure readers it is important to make this distinction. A book does not have to be "new" in order for it to have made an impression recently.
What were the favorite books you read in 2007? Feel free to share.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
In general, these books deal with many coming out issues, which are extremely helpful to young adult readers. We teach the major authors in this special reading interest group on a day with other special reading interests, such as African-American, Latino, Inspirational, and Gen XYZ. These are not genres because in each of these areas, one can find a book in each and any genre.
Two students have shared their Alternative Lifestyles annotations. The first is a seminal book in the topic area and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this special reading area.
Ruby Fruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Finding H.F. by Julia Watts
Monday, December 17, 2007
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Monday, December 10, 2007
Friday, December 7, 2007
The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge
Goudge is available in most public libraries and her stories are perfect for those readers seeking a nostalgic read. This is an important time to mention that Gentle Reads are not unsophisticated reads. These are simply stories without sex and violence but also generally without all of the "noise" of modern life (cell phones, computers, blackberries, etc...). These are for people who want a good story, or for those who complain that, "They just don't write stories like they used to anymore."
Other gentle read authors who are writing right now are Jennifer Chiaverini, Philip Gulley, and the very popular Adriana Trigiani. Don't forget Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series too.
Gentle reads become quite popular during the busy holiday season. So, remember these authors for your harried readers.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Monday, December 3, 2007
This month I listened to Finn by Jon Clinch. This is a first novel, retelling of Huckleberry Finn from his Dad's point of view. Clinch's story draws heavily upon the text of Twain's work and he fills in the gaps between the few scenes where father and son have encounters and then builds around them leading to Finn's death. The story does include the frequent use of flashbacks. The story is told in almost a "back and forth" motion. The narration slips between the story of Finn and his black common-law wife's life and his present situation. This was slightly confusing in audio format, but I did catch on after a bit.
Overall, I loved the idea of Clinch taking a well known classic and giving us his take on a different side of the story. I do need to say though that there area a few shocking scenes of brutality, murder, and violence against children in this novel, which should not be surprising since Finn is not the most upstanding citizen. And although Finn gets his say in this novel, the reader is not expected to sympathize completely with him. Finally, in this novel (and I am not giving much away since this is revealed early on), Clinch imagines Huck as a mulatto. But please make no mistake, this is a dark and violent book that would be shocking to many Twain lovers.
When listening to the audio, there is a fairly long conversation between the narrator and the author at the end. Clinch answers a lot of questions about the research he has done and why he made some of the decisions he did. Even if you read this novel, the last disc of the audio is worth a listen. Finn is also beginning to turn up on many of this year's "Best" lists.
Obviously, after completing Finn, many readers are going to turn to the source material The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. But other "Classics Revisited" novels might appeal to those who enjoyed Finn. A good match would be Geraldine Brooks' March which is a retelling of Little Women from the absent father's point of view.
On a completely different note, I also read AJ Jacobs' new bestseller, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. In his previous memoir, Jacobs, the Editor-at-Large for Esquire spent a year reading the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica. Here Jacobs attempts to do as the title states. He spends 9 of the 12 months on the Old Testament and makes trips to Israel, Amish Country, Evangelical Churches, and Hassidic rituals. Jacobs grows a beard, tries not to covet anything, never lie, and wear biblical clothing. Throughout his experiment, Jacobs is also commenting on modern, secular life, his own feelings about religion, and his family life, including his wife's pregnancy.
I thoroughly enjoyed both Jacobs' experiment and his prose. This book definitely has a leftist lean (which Jacobs owns up to) which I would make sure people knew ahead of time. Also, Jacobs is neurotic with bad OCD (again he owns up to it), but some readers of his books are put off by it. I would suggest this book to anyone interested in the relevance of biblical laws in modern America.
For those who enjoyed Jacobs' experiment, try reading his other memoir, The Know-it-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. However, if you are a reader who enjoyed the biblical aspect specifically, there is Bruce Feiler's Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses.
Finally, this month I also read Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn which is the suspense sequel to Case Histories. In One Good Turn we again follow former police inspector and PI Jackson Brodie, but this time he is a bit more of a supporting player. Jackson is in Scotland for a theater festival with his girlfriend and gets himself tangled into a nasty conspiracy involving a corrupt builder, foreign maids, road rage, and murder. Like Case Histories the story is told from multiple points of view: Jackson's, the wife of a home builder, a female police inspector, and a mystery writer. It was a very satisfying suspense story with a tidy resolution.
Readers who like Atkinson's character heavy/literary suspense novels may also enjoy the Russian suspense writer Boris Akunin and his novel The Winter Queen. Here a seemingly routine suicide investigation leads to deeper secrets. Peter Hoeg also writes literary suspense. Try Smilla's Sense of Snow. My co-worked Kathy helped with these readalikes. Thanks Kathy.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
Monday, November 26, 2007
Yesterday, The New York Times weighed in on this issue in the "Week in Review." Motoko Rich's article, "A Good Mystery: Why We Read," begins the discussion by bringing up one of the sleeper hit books of the year, The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. Here Bennett creates a fictional world in which the Queen of England gets obsessed with reading after finding the "right" book. The article then goes on to recount other author's recollections of the book(s) that turned them into voracious readers themselves.
I think this adds another twist to the RA interview. As I have said before, we usually begin by asking a patron about a book s/he has recently read and then follow up with , "Are you in the mood for that or something different?" Sometimes patrons cannot articulate exactly what they want to read at that precise moment, so maybe now, we could take the pressure off their present needs by delving into their pasts. Something like, "What are the first books you can remember which really captured your imagination?" might be a good place to start this new line of questioning.
The idea is to get people talking about story, character, pacing, tone, style, etc... in order for us to get a sense of where to take that reader next. What a great idea for getting a patron to open up and begin talking about why they read. I think it will work too since there are already 97 reader comments posted about this article.
By the way, this now validates my reading of the "Week in Review" a few minutes past my lunch break. And for the record, the first books I can remember falling in love with were Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Compare that to my current profile. Not too far off. Interesting.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Today my book group discussed Kazou Ishiguro's dystopian novel Never Let Me Go. The story takes place in the 1990s in an alternative reality England. Sometime in the not so distant past there was a war and afterward science evolved to the point where human clones were created and successfully used to cure cancer and other non-specified diseases.
Although this is the set-up, in true Ishiguro form these "facts" are slowly revealed and not fully realised until the novel's closing chapters. The reader is along for the ride as our narrator Kathy takes us through her life at Hailsham, a British boarding school. Kathy, her best frenemy Ruth, and Ruth boyfriend/confidant to Kathy, Tommy are being raised and trained to be carers and then to give donations. Kathy narrates the story as an adult, but makes it clear that as children, the kids at Hailsham knew they were different, but had no idea how different.
Basically, the story unfolds as both a coming-of-age tale and a dystopian novel. These children are clones, raised to voluntarily become carers, caring for those giving their donations, and then becoming donors themselves until they "complete," or in our terms, die. Scary stuff, but great for a book discussion.
Obviously this is an excellent book discussion choice because of its provocative subject matter. Our group loved Kathy as a narrator since she was the most even keeled of the group. Also, we enjoyed how she relates the story in a very conversational tone, mentioning something new and promising to go back to it after she has finished her current line of thought.
The group also appreciated Ishiguro's slow unveiling of the story's details. He gave everyone just enough to catch onto the "big secret," (they are going to be donating body parts until it literally kills them), but not so much as we could figure everything out before the end where Kathy and Tommy's confront their old Headmistress.
Because so much of the book took place during Kathy, Ruth and Tommy's school years, we had a good discussion about childhood, growing up, and how the experiences of these clones was the same and/or different from "regular" kids. We also discussed how Hailsham could be a play on "hell sham."
One participant brought up the recurrence of the theme of "garbage" throughout the novel, including the last scene where Kathy looks at a fence which has "rubbish" caught up in it. We then went back and found other places where "garbage" was used to symbolize these kids' place in the larger world.
Of course we ended by attacking the issue of human cloning head on. It was an interesting discussion. We not only talked about the what ifs and the we better nots, but we also discussed how the clones in the novel's world could be best handled/raised/treated. As Miss Emily discusses late in the novel, once there was a way to cure cancer, no one wanted to give that up as long as they can just keep the clones providing that cure in the background where the larger world does not have to see them.
Readers who enjoyed Never Let Me Go should try Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood in which a scientist annihilates the entire human race and replaces it with a genetically engineered one. Or the classic cautionary tale of what comes from man artificially creating life, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
Along another line of appeal, those who enjoyed the menacing atmosphere of Hailsham, might also enjoy The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman. In this psychological suspense novel a teacher looks into the dark past of a secluded private school.
One final fiction note, My Sister's Keeper is also a good choice as a readalike. Check out the link to see my student's discussion of it from this month.
In terms of nonfiction, obviously books about cloning would be a good choice. Books that are widely available through my library system and well reviewed include Understanding Cloning from the "Science Made Accessible" series and After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning by Ian Wilmut and Roger Highfield.
I also tried to locate some boarding school expose books that were not fiction, but aside from reference books rating boarding schools, there were none in my library system's holdings. However, this looks promising and is available on Amazon.
Next month it is our end of the year party and the reading and viewing of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Guilty Pleasures by Laurel K. Hamilton
This is a good annotation for a book in the very popular Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
One of the most striking things about My Sister's Keeper is the way in which Picoult tells the story. She jumps around and relates the tale through many points of view. Anna, Kate, their brother Jesse, both parents, Anna's court appointed guardian, and her attorney (Campbell), all have their say. Our class discussed how this enhanced the story. Many students mentioned that they found some of the voices less sympathetic, and that at times the shifts in narrator was abrupt. But they all appreciated how each character had their own font; in fact, one student mentioned how the fonts were good visual representations of the characters. For example, the Mom spoke in bold and many found the Dad's font weak. And even those who were bothered by the constant shifting of pov, agreed that it helped to enhance the story, both because we saw many sides of the story, but also in that there was no one path that was absolutely correct here. The abrupt shifts, underlined the difficult nature of the issues.
The bulk of our discussion centered around the Mom, Sarah. She is the most complicated character. One student even called her a villain to unite all readers against someone. Sarah is the single-minded mother who, in her efforts to save Kate, has ignored her older son (he becomes an arsonist), shut out her husband, and created Anna just to be "spare parts" for Kate. She can never be happy because Kate is sick and she never takes anyone else's "trivial" pain seriously because, well her daughter has cancer. These are representations of the type of comments that were made. We developed a pro-Sarah contingent and a anti-Sarah one.
I tried to bring out some lively conversation about some of the other characters, but none caught on like the Sarah discussion. We did bring up Campbell, Anna's attorney, and one male student had been waiting the entire time to talk about how much he liked Campbell. Another student mentioned how Campbell and his back story were a welcome respite to the intense family drama between Anna and her parents. His self-deprecating humor and satiric comments are what kept her going.
One of the biggest issues surrounding this novel is the idea of genetic engineering and even stem cell research (using parts of discarded embryos to save living people). My students we less comfortable discussing this issue. One did mention that she was against stem cell research in general but did not go into detail. This can be an uncomfortable and personal topic, but it is always worth pursuing in an discussion of the book.
My Sister's Keeper is a great choice for any book group. I have used it many times, and since their are so many characters and issues, there is usually plenty to talk about.
Those who enjoyed this book may also want to check out another book club fav, The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. During a snow storm twins are born. One has Down Syndrome. The father gives this child to the nurse and asks her to send the baby to an institution. The healthy son, a boy, is raised without knowledge of his sister. This novel spans 25 years and follows both families affected by this secret.
Those who were intrigued by the genetic engineering issues should try Double Helix by Nancy Werlin. Here an 18 year-old boy, working for a Nobel Prize winning geneticist, learns a shocking truth about himself and his family.
In terms of nonfiction. I would suggest a popular science treatment on stem cell research such as The Stem Cell Divide: The Facts, the Fiction, And the Fear Driving the Greatest Scientific, Political And Religious Debate of Our Time by Michael Bellomo. Many others are available and listed on the Amazon page.
Every Parent's Guide to the Law by Deborah Forman is also a good choice for those interested in Anna's legal battles. This book got very good reviews from professional sources and covers a wide range of topics, including emancipation of a minor.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
All participants need to have read Atonement by Ian McEwan. The first half of the class is a lecture on how to plan and run a library book discussion group. The second half is the discussion itself.
I will be giving the same lecture to my students the night before; however, they are reading My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult.
Hopefully, I will have time to post Book Discussion notes on each discussion. Plus I still have the regularly scheduled BPL discussion on November 19th. So look for lots of book discussion posts in November.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Here are two annotations for nonfiction books:
Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe
Edward Luce's In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India
Monday, October 29, 2007
When The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time came out, one of the reasons it was so popular had to do with the fact that its autistic narrator talked honestly and directly to the reader, relating his fears, confusions, and feelings. Although many readalike lists were made to help readers find something similar, none captured the voice of this young man as well. Until now, that is. This month I read, The Dead Father's Club by Matt Haig, and I instantly thought of Haddon's book. I am not alone, many customers on Amazon reported the same thing. Haig's novel is a retelling of Hamlet, in which a socially awkward preteen named Philip Nobel is visited by the ghost of his father. The father claims his brother (Philip's uncle) killed him in order to take over the family business and marry Philip's mom. The story unfolds much like Hamlet, and the ending is completely open (a cliff hanger really). However, the appeal of this story is Philip. He speaks directly to the reader in his true voice. I don't want to give much more away, but if you enjoyed the narrative voice in Curious Incident try Haig's novel.
Fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum mysteries should try The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. This is Lutz's first novel and it is promised to be part of a series about the eccentric Spellman family and their San Fran, PI business. This first installment introduces the family, Mom and Dad (PIs and owners of the agency), older brother (big shot lawyer), Uncle Ray (alcoholic employee and house guest), Rae (little sister, school age but wants to be a PI right now), and our narrator, 27 year-old Izzy. The main plot centers around Izzy, her parade of boyfriends, and her wish to leave the family business. However, she gets caught up in an unsolved missing persons case for which the solution is highly refreshing. This book has no violence and lots of laughs, but don't take that to mean it is unsophisticated. If you like eccentric characters, investigative detail, and familial dysfunction, you will enjoy The Spellman Files.
Now for something completely different. I finally finished listening to the literary fiction darling from late 2006 Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. This was Pessl's debut and it is long (over 500 pages). Six months ago, I tried to read it but found it slow going and returned it to the library. I then reserved the audio and loaded it on my computer until I could get to it. I am glad I gave it another try; although I do have to say I am also glad I had seen the book and knew there were footnotes and some "visual aids." Our protagonist is Blue van Meer, a Freshman at Yale, who has decided to tell her life story as if she were teaching a course in Western Literature. Thus, the chapters are each named after great novels. We also know from the start that her story involves the death of a woman named Hannah. Blue's story mostly takes place over her senior year at a prestigious NC boarding school. Blue and her father have spent her entire life traveling from town to town, as her father teaches Political Science at small universities. Now, he has promised they will stay in one place until she goes to college. Blue's story is part coming of age and part murder mystery. I agree with many of the reviewers on Amazon who say that the first 300 pages move slowly, but they are worth it for the last 200, which you'll want to take in at one time. Word of warning though: this book has no concrete ending. Instead of a final chapter, Blue leaves us with a "Final Exam" that allows the reader to fill in the final blanks. Try Pessl's debut novel if you are a fan of Donna Tart's The Secret History.
On next month's "to read" shelf I have a western and some short stories (still have to hit those quotas before 2008 begins), but who knows what else I may pick up between now and then.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Hopefully, in the weeks to come, I will convince more student's to share their work. Also, I would love to be able to put multiple annotations for one genre on each post. But, baby steps...
Monday, October 22, 2007
First, 2 of my favorite authors, Tom Perrotta and Richard Russo have new books. Next, my name came up for Thousand Splendid Suns. And the biggest culprit, my local library's move into its brand new building. When the temporary library closed down for the move into the new $10 million facility, they were encouraging patrons to take out as many books as they wanted with 8 week loan periods. I took advantage and grabbed a ton of books, mostly from the new book shelf. Some will make it in my end of the month reading post. Others that I may or may not get to include William's Gibson's Spook Country and and Angelica by Arthur Phillips.
At first I was happy to have access to these newer titles for so long; however, now that I have finished a few, I am struggling with what to do with them. The library is still not open and they would prefer we wait to return them until the end of this month. And being a good Library Trustee, I am trying to follow their wishes. I feel like a kid on Halloween after pigging out on to much candy. You can have too much of a good thing.
The good news for you. In a few days I will have some interesting books to recount; books I would not have read this month if not for these unique circumstances.
But now to dive into the thickest Richard Russo book I have ever seen.
Monday, October 15, 2007
There are many layers to Water for Elephants and my group had no problem filling the 90 minutes discussing the different issues. As the group is made up of mainly senior women, the issues of aging, the state of nursing homes, and the importance of passing on your family's stories was discussed at length. The Great Depression as a time period and subject is something that also caught the attention of my group.
But obviously we spent most of our time discussing Rosie the elephant, Marlena, August, and Jacob. I do not want to give the plot away to those of you who have not read this book, but I can safely say that in the book's prologue you know that the climax of the book will be August's murder. However who August is, who kills him, and why is what the entire book details, and is what continues to haunt the 90 year old Jacob-- our narrator.
Originally, I was nervous that this book would not have enough for us to discuss, but soon after beginning to compile discussion questions and research in preparation for today, I found I was quite mistaken. This seemingly simple historical novel about depression era circus held many complex messages about life, relationships, and loyalty-- both then and now.
There are many appeal factors to work from when locating readalikes for Water for Elephants. As I told my group, there is a reason this book is a runaway best seller. With its depression era setting, male narrator, compelling female characters, young and old protagonist, and wish fulfillment yet open to the imagination ending, there is something for just about everyone. For those readers who are drawn to the circus setting and details there are many choices. The Blue Moon Circus by Michael Raleigh takes place a few years prior to the action in Gruen's novel and follows the owner of a circus as he travels the Western US. In The Aerialist by Richard Schmitt Gary goes off the get help after a car accident, but instead joins the circus where he eventually works his way up to a wire walker. This novel includes the perspectives of various members of the circus. Don't forget the numerous nonfiction titles about circuses and circus life including (but not limited to) The Circus Age: Culture and Society Under the American Big Top by Janet M. Davis and Stewart O'Nan's The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy.
For those who enjoyed the way Gruen tells her story as the reminiscence of a an elderly man looking back on his life in show business, a great choice would be Niagara Falls All Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken. Here, the novel is told by a Vaudevillian actor in his old age. He looks back on his life and on the entertainment industry over much of the 20th century.
Finally, one of my patrons mentioned during the course of our discussion that Water for Elephants reminded her of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. She said the similarities went beyond the interaction between the younger woman and the nursing home patient telling her life story. She brought up the similar use of dark humor, intense personal relationships, and the ultimate triumphs of the main characters. I must say, she has a great point.
My group also requested that I compile a list of the books we have discussed over the now almost 7 years during which we have been meeting. I will attempt to do this and can post a link to the word document for those of you who are interested in what we have been discussing. In the meantime, next month is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
The exercise itself is quite simple, think about the books you enjoy based on the major appeal factors and try to link them. The goals is to come up with a document that makes general statements about your general reading tastes. What it does best is force you to make the subconscious, conscious.
We also require that the students list 3 books they like and 3 books they did not enjoy. We then mix up the profiles and have them take another student's (without the name attached) and suggest books for him or her.
Here is the link to my profile. I wrote this about a year ago, although I did update my dislikes recently. Now you know what I like. Have any suggestions for me?
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Each week I will break down the student's annotations by genre in separate posts and tag each post accordingly so as to make retrieval of the relevant annotations easier for those of you using this blog to help your readers. See, I did retain something from my cataloging class.
Before we begin the genre procession over the next 10 weeks or so, I want to start with this humorous look at genre distinctions which had been previously posted on Fiction-L.
Monday, October 1, 2007
Seriously, as I am nearing the end of the calendar year I am faced with some holes in my assigned reading list. Most RAs are expected to read at least 1 book from their libraries most popular genres each year. In our case, at the Berwyn Public Library, we have an agreed upon list which includes more than 1 book in some genres. This month I tackled my Young Adult requirement and, the one I dread the most, my Romance requirement. So here are three of the books I read this past month and at least one option for a readalike.
After much hemming and hawing, I chose to read the regency romance Fool For Love by Eloisa James. One of the reasons I chose a James' novel is the fact that her books are known for eschewing many of the traditions of the regency romance; that and the fact that she is also a Shakespearean scholar. She did not disappoint in this regard. In fact, when looking at the customer comments of Amazon, you can clearly see a divide between those who like the straying and those who are unsettled by it. To each their own; however, if you are looking for a sexy, historical romance, with sharp wit and well drawn characters, and do not mind that the situations and characters are a bit outside the normal boundaries of the genre, anything by Eloisa James is a good choice.
Specifically, Fool For Love is about Henrietta and Simon. Simon, a London dandy, and the new guardian of his two young sisters, heads off to the country to check on the rumor of his Aunt's pregnancy, which if true, and produces a male child, could spell the end to his fortune. Henrietta, is a young girl from the country with a bad hip who believes she can never marry and bear children. Simon is struck by Henrietta's sharp tongue and wit; while Henrietta is intrigued by Simon's worldliness and self confidence. Together, the two find a love and happiness neither thought would ever be theirs. True to the genre, this romance ends resolved and happy. There are also a few recurring characters from James' other Duchess Series titles. If you like the regency setting and the wit of James' books, and you do not mind the sensuality, you can also try Amanda Quick's Seduction or Julia London's Highlander Unbound.
After speaking to one of the Young Adult librarians here at Berwyn, I selected Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli as one of my two YA titles for 2007. It is extremely popular at our library, and after reading it, I see why. Stargirl is new to Mica High school (AZ); in fact, after years of homeschooling, she is new to school in general. She plays her ukulele in the lunchroom, carries around a pet rat, and cheers for the wrong team. Narrated by wallflower, Leo Borlock, Stargirl is a compelling entry into the subgenre of the nonconformist teen tale. A few other notable novels in this vein are Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen, Razzle by Ellen Wittlinger, and the classic The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.
I also read Jasper Fforde's latest entry in the Thursday Next Series, Thursday Next: The First Among Sequels. The books in this bestselling series take place in an alternate reality Reading, England where literary crimes must be patrolled, Thursday can travel inside literature, and the Goliath Corporation rules all. This novel takes place 14 years after Something Rotten. Thursday is married to Landon, they have three children, and she is no longer working for the literary division of Special Ops, well at least not officially. Much of this novel revolves around the falling read rates in all of England. Thursday spends a great deal of time in the book world battling herself, or at least the book version of herself, and trying to stop "the end of time." Confused yet? This is a series for book lovers. If you want to give it a try I would suggest starting with The Eyre Affair to see if you like Fforde's humor and the onslaught of literary references.
Readers who love Thursday Next and are looking for something similar to tide them over until the next installment should check out Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. In this epistolary novel, a young girl named Ella, lives on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of North Carolina. The island is named for Nevin Nollop, the author of the famous sentence “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” When the local government begins banning letters of the alphabet as they fall off of Nollop’s memorial statue, Ella begins to fight for her community’s freedom of expression. Ella does what she can, but with each falling letter it becomes more difficult for her to communicate.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Enjoy these lists and share them with your library patrons or friends, just cite this blog as your source.
Also, if you live in the Chicago area, come see me talk about helping horror readers at the North Suburban Library System in Wheeling on October 2 from 1-4. Here is the link to sign-up. I will be talking about horror, dark fantasy, and psychological suspense, giving lists of authors and titles, and many more tips and tricks to help "your scariest patrons."
In the coming weeks, I will be posting more of my topic lists. Also coming soon will be some of my student's annotations. I hope the readers of this blog can use it as a resource to find their next good read.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Basically, it is a computer generated list of readalikes. Although I would not trust this site to provide the perfect suggestion for your next good read, the aqua browser display employed by their "map of literature," is attention grabbing.
When you type in "Nora Roberts," you get this. Each of the authors you see floating near Ms. Roberts' name can also be clicked on. That author is then made the center of his or her own map. The visual representation of how authors works may be near another's is very useful to patrons; however, since these maps are completely computer generated, I do not like to trust them as my only resource when assisting a reader.
There are librarians trying to do these reading maps in a slightly different format and with their expertise behind the readalike suggestions. Take a look at these two samples by Neal Wyatt. This is professional RA on the web in a truly interactive format. It is dynamic and exciting for the patrons and well as being fun for the librarian to create.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Icebergs is told from multiple points of view and interweaves multiple storylines. At first glance, what appears to be a standard literary fiction with a domestic and/or family saga angle, Icebergs becomes much more. The characters are complex and fully realised, the story moves much faster than you expect, without sacrificing the story. Also, because you are following a few main characters over a long time span, the different sections have a short story feel.
Our discussion covered many topics. First, the choppy style was noted. The book takes place just before three major historical "shifts:" 1944 (just before the end of WWII), 1967 (just before the upheavals of the late 60s/early 70s), and just before the turn of the millennium. Each section feels like its own story, and each is told through different characters eyes. Even when one character is driving the story, s/he is constantly moving from present day to recollections of the past. Although this choppy style was hard for most of the group to get used to, we all agreed that it helped make the story seem more realistic. In real life, things do not always happen in a linear fashion.
Which leads to the next major discussion point, one of the best things Johns did with this novel is to capture families as they truly are. The struggles of overcoming the past, the conflict between siblings, the tortured relationship of Caroline and her mother, and the intertwining of life and history are all accurately and realistically portrayed.
We then moved onto a discussion of the title. Although actual icebergs are alluded to in the opening section of the novel, this idea of the majority of something being hidden under the surface, of only seeing 10% of something too massive to comprehend, speaks loudly to many of the characters and relationships within this well constructed novel.
Well constructed is an important term here. As we discussed, we were all happy to keep finding the repetition of so many themes and events. For example, there is the repetition of 2 wars for which there are 2 men where only 1 survives. There is also the story of 2 women, in 2 different generations who have cheating fathers. This list could go on and on, and in our discussion, it did. Johns creates another major theme of the novel with this repetition: the inevitability of generations repeating the mistakes of their forefathers.
This last theme is important to note, in terms of our discussion. Although we all noticed bits and pieces as we read, it was the act of coming together to discuss this book that enhanced our enjoyment of this important aspect. As we all rattled off these repetitions, I was thinking, "this is why we discuss books." Without the group discussion, we all would have lost out on the larger picture which Johns so consciously constructed. We all helped each other enjoy this book that much more.
In terms of readalikes, readers who enjoy the short stories of Canadian, Alice Munro (especially this one) and her skill at delving into the stories found within the complicated relationships among people, would find the detailed relationships among the two families of Icebergs compelling. The works of perennial, best-selling, literary fiction author, Anne Tyler have a similar feel to Icebergs. Try Digging to America in which two families, both adopting infant girls from Korea, become intertwined by fate. For a male author, fans of John Irving could try Icebergs. He is also well known for his fully realized characters and engaging storylines usually involving families and difficult decisions, all factors which come into play in Icebergs.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Since every reader reads a different version of the same book, reading for the appeal keeps you open to all possibilities. When it comes to helping readers, the Readers' Advisor should listen to what patrons tell us about the books they read. I like to use the bestseller, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold as an example. For some this novel is about the rape and murder of a young girl, even though that part of the book is over after 20 pages. For others it is about a family dealing with a crisis. For still other patrons, it has been described to me as a book about the mourning process.
Each of these patrons enjoyed the book for vastly different reasons and would use widely varied terms to describe it. However, in my class, I strive to teach the future librarians of Northern Illinois to learn the controlled vocabulary of appeal and describe books more empirically. Thus The Lovely Bones can be described as deliberate, measured, heart-breaking, yet ultimately redeeming, dramatic, introspective, intriguing and well developed secondary character, first person narration from heaven, vivid, character-centered, complex, family centered, inspirational, though provoking, tragic, some explicit, but not gratuitous, violence against children, bittersweet, darker, philosophical.
Of course readers do not come into the library or bookstore speaking like this, but the essence of appeal, these adjectives, is how we naturally describe books. This language of appeal is an attempt to create a thesaurus of standardized terms that recreate how people describe what they have read. A full description of appeal and the standardized terms are available in chapter three of Joyce Saricks' Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library.
Once you have mastered appeal, when readers say I just finished The Lovely Bones and really enjoyed the story of how her family all dealt with their grief differently, you can begin to focus your line of questioning on what she liked about this specific aspect of the book. This would now lead you away from books with other investigations of child murders and toward more books about family’s dealing with crises, like a Jodi Picoult book or even Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan SafranFoer. To contrast, “Rape” is a subject heading for this novel and Sebold’s memoir Lucky is about dealing with her own rape, but a reader who liked The Lovely Bones for the reason I described above, would probably not enjoy Lucky.
What you need to understand is that all readers are looking for a book with a particular feel. Pacing, characterization, storyline and frame etc… speak to this. One final word on the subject, all appeal terms must be positive. RA is a non-judgmental service; so it is measured paced, not slow paced and it is unembellished not simplistic.
Friday, September 7, 2007
This author visit is free but pre-registration is required in person at the Library or by phone at 708.795.8000 ex. 3005
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
One of the main reasons I began this blog was to give my student's a chance to publish some of their work from the course. It was aways so upsetting to me that at the end of each semester all of their work product was simply lost to the larger library community.
So in the coming weeks, look here for reader profiles, annotations, and lots of lists. Please feel free to use these at your own library as long as you reference this blog.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Kristin Gore, daughter of former Vice-President Al Gore, published her second novel in July, Sammy's House. In this sequel to Sammy's Hill, Samantha James is now the health care policy adviser to the Vice President of the United States. She is also involved in her first serious relationship and trying to navigate her career and a long distance boyfriend. The insider information that only those who have worked in the White House could provide adds a unique angle to the story. While Sammy's Hill was pure Chick Lit, Sammy' House is moving into Women's Lives and Relationships territory. Anyone who enjoys Marian Keyes' novels of women dealing with life, love, and career will enjoy this book. Also any fans of politics and how the American government works (who also don't mind the relationship issues) should give this one a try.
I also finished listening to Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land this month. At 20+ discs, it took awhile. This is the third in Ford's Frank Bascombe trilogy, the second of which won the Pulitzer Prize. This was a satisfying read and as usual, Ford captured the NJ setting perfectly. As a "Jersey Girl" I appreciate this very much. Each of the three books revolves around a holiday, and they always involve some kind of catastrophe, that gets satisfactorily resolved. Here it is Thanksgiving, 2000 and the election is still up in the air, although Frank has conceded that his guy (Gore) is done. Frank himself is undergoing treatment for Prostate Cancer, having problems with his second wife, and as usual, is perplexed by his son. This is a long book, and Ford takes his time with the story. His writing is exquisite and I loved every detail. Bascombe is an everyman and the reader roots for him, even as we cringe watching him make poor decisions. Bascombe is very similar to the middle aged men in Richard Russo's books. If you liked Empire Falls or Straight Man, the Bascombe Trilogy is for you.
Another book I listened to this month is Ian McEwan's new novella On Chesil Beach. Check the Amazon link for a basic summary. I do not want to give too much away about the plot since it is so short, but this is classic McEwan. Here we have the familial dysfunction, claustrophobic setting, and sexual problems found in most McEwan books. I might even start suggesting this book to those who have never read McEwan as the new first place to start since this novella provides everything a McEwan novel is, only in a smaller package. Note to new readers of McEwan, his endings in general are resolved but not necessarily happy. His works also require work from the reader to look between the printed lines. Here I also highly recommend getting your hands on the audio. Included at the end is one of the best author interviews I have ever heard. If you like Paul Auster, Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, or Philip Roth, try McEwan.
This is a good first month's report. It should help get you started on some reading ideas for yourself. Each title has a link to the Amazon record where you can read other actual readers' thoughts on these titles. I encourage you to browse them. You may find more titles to add to your to read list.
Finally, don't forget to check the posts tagged "book discussion books." These are also books I read in any given month. The reports posted there go over the main topics of discussion and contain readalikes. Eventually, the other librarian who runs the book groups at our library will also post comments once her group has discussed the title.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I do not dispute the numbers this poll came up with. In fact, many of their conclusions I see corroborated each time I sit at the RA desk in my library: Midwesterns read more (check), Democrats and Liberals read more than Conservatives (check), Women and seniors read the most (check), popular fiction, histories, biogrpahies and mysteries take up about 50% of leisure reading (check) and 21% of leisure reading is done with romance novels (check, although I suspect that number is even higher).
What I do dispute however, is the "oh well" attitude that accompanies polls like this. There is a book for just about everyone out there. If a "too busy to read" adult got the right book in his or her hands, s/he would be hooked. Libraries need to work hard to encourage leisure reading among adults. Get them when they are bringing their children in, go to their Rotary Club or PTA meetings. Sitting by and complaining that no one is reading anymore does no good.
Those of us in positions to influence people and push them toward reading need to do something. For example, many people come to my library just to access the Internet. After engaging these patrons in casual conversation over time, there are now a handful who stop and my desk on their way upstairs to use the Internet. I pull them each 3-5 books which they can pick up and check out on their way out of the library. Hopefully, that number will continue to grow with effort on my part. This is one small way to raise the number of non-readers.
Most American Adults are not aware of books beyond the best seller list or the classics they read in school. Although best sellers are a great place to start, there is so much more out there. Just like Harry Potter captured so many children's attention and led them to other authors and books, so too could the right Harlen Coben thriller or even a Frank Miller graphic novel get a busy working adult to reconnect with the world of books.
Finally, this too busy argument leads us back to the case for audio books. I-pods and car CD players can be used on long commutes or while doing household chores allowing adults to "read" a book for fun.
Studies show that people who read as they age help to keep their mind in shape and running well. Also, the best way to get children interested in reading is for them to see their own care givers doing it.
So go visit your library and talk to the people there about what you like in a good book. And, if you work in a library, approach that busy mom with the two kids tugging at her pants leg and remind her of all the books we have for her at the library too.
Monday, August 20, 2007
The book was not a traditional narrative nonfiction, but it was also not a dry treatise. Although the reader is introduced to many young people throughout the course of the pages, it was slightly frustrating that each of their stories was not told in chronological order. Rather, Shachtman chose to have each chapter focus on a topic and then fit the stories into the subject matter. For example, there were chapters on education, women's lives, and shunning. On the positive side, our group did discuss how this method of organization did teach us more about the Amish way of life and the reasoning behind their decisions, which, we also discussed, is probably more important that being able to follow one kid's story from beginning to end.
While we discussed the rumspringa process and how useful (or not) it was for these kids to go crazy and get drunk and high before ultimately deciding to go back to the Amish way of life; we also had a fascinating conversation about what the rest of American society can learn from the Amish. A lot of my members discussed how their lives lack the sense of purpose and sense of community that the Amish have in abundance. Just a little of that would go a long way to curing many of our societal ills-- at least this was the majority opinion.
I would suggest this book to any faith based discussion group. Any general discussion group that is willing to read nonfiction and does not mind the religious content will be intrigued by the contrast and increasing intersection of two very different ways of life. Any general reader who likes to learn about different ways of life and does not mind the non-narrative style should try this one. If you know nothing about the Amish this is a good primer, but the focus really is on this adolescent decision to join the church. There are many other books that are about the adult lives of the Amish. Your local library should have a few.
In terms of readalikes for Rumspringa, in fiction I would suggest the Harmony Series by Philip Gulley or Beverly Lewis' Amish series. For nonfiction readers there are many choices, but John Hostetler's Amish Society is a good place to start. Hostetler was born to an old order Amish family and is now a professor. The link to the book on Amazon also gives many other suggestions. Remember, many of these books will be available through your local public library.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
In this blog I have also mentioned that I write readalikes for NoveList, a database available at most public libraries (and even through many of their websites using your library card at 2 in the morning). These are about a specific author written by librarians. If you can access NoveList you can read my entire article on the works of Jennifer Weiner. I discuss why people enjoy her books and then give 5 other authors to suggest for "readalikes." Those authors are Marian Keyes, Sarah Bird, Anna Maxted, Ayelet Waldman, and Susan Isaacs.
In the future I will be writing readalike articles for Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Lethem, Mark Kurlansky, and Simon Winchester. You can look for information here in the future; however, if this "readalike" idea intrigues you now, go to your pubic libraries website or ask at the service desk about how you can access NoveList yourself.
Monday, August 13, 2007
I also frequently direct students to the archives of her on-line annotated lists as an example of capturing the essence of a book, not just its plot. Pearl discusses the appeal and feel of each book while also giving her personal experience with it as a reader.
As well as sharing her gift of book talking, Pearl has started a wiki for people who love books. Pearl moderates this site which is a place where anyone who loves reading and books can share or acquire information. Check it out and add to the discussion.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
However, the community make-up is changing rapidly. What was once a business first city with very little residential citizens, is quickly becoming a city of young families who want library service.
At this event, I asked the official (a friend of mine) when this city would get a library. He said that it was not in any long term plans. Instead he offered up the idea of a virtual library service. He suggested hiring a few librarians to set up a
website where resources could be accessed and questions could be posed. These libraries would work from an office out of the City Hall, for example, and answer questions. They would be accessible in person to answer questions for those who did not have a computer.
I reminded him that a library is more than just a place where you get information. What about the parents who want to go to story times and the children who want to come look at books to check out? What about the adult leisure or those who want a place to congregate? I went on politely for a few more minutes about everything the library is and can be as a physical site that a computer alone cannot provide. I will not recount all of my arguments here, but check out this site for first hand accounts of why people love their library.
By the end his wife was agreeing with me. Hopefully she will put a bug in his ear too. I will be in contact with him a few more times in the next few months and will try to continue this conversation. But the important point here is that although you may be able to answer your current query with Google or Wikipedia, the library as a building and as a municipal institution is integral to American life.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
One of the things I was happy to see is that library administrators took my marketing seriously and sent some Circulation Staff. I was able to teach those library staff members on the front lines, who interact with the public more than anyone in the building, how to share books with patrons in a non-judgmental way. I encouraged them to engage library users in conversations about their leisure reading. I hope you try to talk to the check-out people at your library next time you visit. Tell them about the last good book you read and ask if there is anything they could suggest.
One of the groups' favorite exercises was "How to Read a Book in 10-minutes." This program was originally presented by Georgine Olson for the Public Library Association on March 27, 2004.
This is not plan to speed read for plot, but rather, it is a fun and useful way to get a feel for a book. Take a look at the document and try it out. Grab some books from the library that you always meant to read but never got around to. This works best with genre books, such as romance, mysteries, suspense novels, etc...
Let me know how it works for you.
Monday, August 6, 2007
In my opinion, listening to an unabridged version of any book, while not exactly the same as reading it, does put the same story into your brain (and the article does have an expert attest to this, albeit buried on page 2). Leisure reading (and if you are choosing to be in a book club, you are still doing leisure reading since you are not forced to be a part of the group) should not have rules. If a person wants to experience a story for fun, why does society feel the need to make some methods of the delivery of that story appear to be of a higher standard than others? It is for that person's enjoyment alone. If it isn't hurting someone, I don't know why others care.
Personally, I am always reading one book and listening to another at the same time. This allows me to "read" more of the time. I can read my physical book on the couch or in the back yard, but I can listen to the other book while doing dishes, folding laundry, driving, etc... Audio books, and especially my i-pod, let me experience more stories and more authors than simply reading a physical book would allow.
Oh, and going back to the article, I do lead a monthly book discussion and there are many months I have listened to the selection. For the record, I have never felt the need to "fess up" about it. I think I do a good job running book discussions since I have been at it for 7 years and other libraries hire me to come and teach others how to lead a book discussion group.
If you want an audio book, for any reason, your local library will be more than happy to help you.
Feel free to add your opinion of audio books to the discussion.
So you like to read...there are many ways the local public library can help you find your next good read. This blog will highlight how the library can best help its patrons. I will post interesting links, lists, and news in the RA world. I will also highlight some of my student's work from the RA class at Dominican University's Graduate School of Library and Information Science (IL)...Yes, there is an entire class on this stuff.
There are many great book review blogs, and while I will post quick reviews of my recent reads, this blog will try to provide a wider commentary on the world of leisure reading and public libraries.