ARRT GENRE STUDY WEBSITE

CLICK HERE for quick access to the materials for the 2016-17 Speculative Fiction Genre Study.
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RA FOR ALL...THE ROAD SHOW!

I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What I'm Reading: March 2009

As I mentioned here, my local library is part of "The Big Read" in the Western suburbs of Chicago. I read the book this month, Animal Vegetable Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a nonfiction/memoir title by the popular novelist. With the help of her husband and 19-year-old daughter, Kingsolver wrote about her family's decision to move from Arizona to her summer home/farm full time and embarked on a 12 month journey to eat only food they grew, animals they raised, or, food that was produced within a 100 mile radius of their home.

Kingsolver is a very engaging writer, and I was intrigued by her descriptions of their experiences, but, there were times when I felt like she was berating me for eating cucumbers out of season. Despite feeling, at times, like she was telling me how much better she was than me, I still found myself passing on many of the tidbits of information I learned from Kingsolver's book. That is the sign of a good book; one that stays with you and compels you to share it with others.

I am not going to spend my time listing readalikes because The Big Read website has plenty of suggestions here. One of the things I teach my students is not to reinvent the wheel. This is a great example. Librarians share information; it is at the heart of what we do. That is why I started this blog. So go see all the great work that my local library colleagues have done.

I also read another bestselling nonfiction title this month, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. Summerscale tires to unravel the true story behind a particularly grizzly murder of a young boy in 1860. In a Victorian family home in Road England, a young boy disappears from his bed in the nursery and is found brutally murdered in the outhouse. This is the story of a strange family, the creation and rise of the police detective, and the dawning of the modern era.

What makes this true crime story different from many others is that the author takes an interesting angle. She uses this true event to show how it also gave rise to the modern mystery novel. She also throws in a quick discussion of the birth of Aquariums at the end too.

Personally, although I was intrigued by her arguments, I got bored in the middle and didn't really ever get back into the book. Once the sister confesses (don't worry, it's pretty clear from start that she did it), there are only minor revelations and wild speculations in the last third of the book. In fact, I felt it ended rather abruptly. Still, I think Summerscale's discussions of the emergence of the detective and the beginnings of mystery fiction at this time were worth reading it, IMO.

After reading Summerscale's book you will want to run out and read Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, all of whom are mentioned and quoted liberally throughout the book. I am all for books that want you to read more books! There is also the brand new title by Dan Simmons, Drood. In Drood, Simmons reimagines the inspiration behind Dickens' last, unfinished work, narrated by Wilkie Collins.

If true crime is more your thing, according an article by Neal Wyatt on EBSCO's NoveList Plus database, the five key titles to read in the genre are Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, Helter Skelter: the True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Blue Blood by Edward Conlon, and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.

Finally, I was less than impressed with the new satirical, superhero fantasy novel Captain Freedom by G. Xaiver Robillard. Basically it is a memoir by a celebrity obsessed and currently disgraced superhero in a near future America (mostly California). This book poked fun at just about everything in politics and pop culture today. When the hero becomes Governor of CA, he even uses a slogan ("Keep Freedom Free") and runs a campaign similar to Obama's. There is also a section devoted to lambasting the Da Vinci Code. In my opinion, this novel has too musch satire and not enough meat.

If you like Superhero stories, Perry Moore's Hero is much better, as long as you are fine with a parallel coming out of the closet plot line; I wrote about reading Hero here. Also Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize winning, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, about the comic book industry is one of my all time favorites. Even the Pixar film, The Incredibles, is better than Captain America.

However, there are many readers who loved this book. It has a 4 star rating on Amazon. Also, here is a link to the Shelfari page for Captain Freedom where you can read the opinions of people who loved the book and why. Although I am allowed to dislike a book, as a RA, I prefer to talk about books in a positive way. Just because I did not like a book, that does not mean there isn't another person for whom it is the perfect choice. As the Shelfari link shows, there are plenty of readers for whom this novel is a great choice; I will let them speak for it. They will do a much better job.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Rap Sheet and Spinetingler Awards

One of my favorite genre blogs is The Rap Sheet, a spin-off of January Magazine.

The Rap Sheet follows everything crime fiction. What I like about this blog is that the author spends equal amounts of time discussing the classics of crime fiction (which still influence the genre today) and the newest releases.

Apparently, I am not the only one who enjoys this blog since it was nominated for a Spinetingler Award for service to the genre.

Spinetingler Magazine is an online quarterly literary magazine showcasing the short stories of thriller writers, both established and, especially, emerging authors. They also have reviews and interviews.

But for today's purposes, I want to keep the focus on their awards. Why? Because you can vote right here. Please note, you must hit submit for each category and then go back to vote for the next one.

For once, a literary award that us regular readers can vote for.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Looking for something to read...?

I realize it's been awhile since I posted about the Berwyn Public Library's Shelfari Group.

Go here to see what we are reading.

We all read (and write about) so many different types of books, you are bound to find something to fit your reading tastes. Or may be, one of our annotations will entice you to try a new author or genre.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Student Annotations: Best Sellers, Graphic Novels, Audio Books

Another week, another round of student annotations.

Head on over to their blog to see what they wrote about the Graphic Novels, Best Sellers, and Audio Books they read this week.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Take Ten: Tear Jerkers

One of my student's Tori, made a list of "tear jerkers" for her midterm. These are not traditional tear jerkers. Yes, they will make you cry a bit, but all are ultimately uplifting. Here is the list:

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. (1996). In this sentimental love story, Noah reads the story of the love of his life from his notebook. In it, Noah and Allie spend one memorable summer together, after which they are separated for fourteen years. They are finally reunited just prior to Allie’s marriage to another man, but will she return to Noah? And to whom is Noah telling this story? 214p


Mercy by Jodi Picoult. (1996). At the beginning of the book Jamie MacDonald turns himself in for murdering his wife. All is not as it seems however, as Jamie confesses that he smothered her only after she begged him to put an end to her long-suffering from terminal cancer. Picoult deftly balances the courtroom drama with romance in multiple plotlines while dealing gracefully with the issue of euthanasia. 353p


The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. (2002). It begins with a death. A parent’s worst nightmare, 14-year-old Susie is raped and murdered. Sebold, in a bold and masterful style, writes the story from Susie’s point of view from heaven. Susie observes how her family copes in the aftermath of her death. 328p


Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. (1966). Keyes also chooses a unique perspective for his story about a mentally disabled man. Charlie undergoes an operation to increase his intelligence. His progress is revealed in the form of diary entries. However, Charlie doesn’t fully understand what he is in for when he volunteers for the surgery. He has little protection from those who want to use him to further science and their careers. 274p


The Pearl by John Steinbeck. (1947). A poor diver, Kino finds the “perfect” pearl the size of a gull’s egg that will lift his little family out of poverty in Mexico. In true to form fashion, Steinbeck illuminates the obsession and greed of men that threatens to destroy a family. 90p


Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. (1997). On May 11, 1996 Jon Krakauer began his descent from Mount Everest on what would become the deadliest day in the history of the mountain. Krakauer tries to piece together what events lead to so many deaths on Everest on this catastrophic day. 291p


Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. (1961). This bittersweet adventure tale about a boy and his dogs will move anyone. Billy’s passion and love for his dogs is contagious. Readers will find themselves reading quickly through the book to follow Billy on his next adventure. However, all adventures must end and part of growing up is learning how to say goodbye. 212p


I Am Third by Gale Sayers. (1971). Gale Sayers uplifting memoir tells two stories. The first is Sayers’ journey to leave the ghetto, and his career playing for the Chicago Bears. The second is his heartwarming friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer at age 27, which will move even the most stoic reader. 238p


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. (2005). Lily and Snow Flower are bound together as laotong or “old sames,” a relationship closer than that between a husband and wife. They send messages to each other using a secret and subtle women’s language called nu shu. A misunderstanding in nu shu threatens to destroy their friendship forever. The book is rich in cultural information and the reader will move quickly through it to watch Lily’s and Snow Flower’s relationship develop. 258p


The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. (2008). This book was developed from Randy Pausch’s final lecture that he gave at Carnegie Mellon, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” The lecture was part of a series in which professors were asked what advice they would impart if they had one last opportunity. In Pausch’s case, speculation became a reality when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This inspirational and moving account will stick with you long after you put the book down. 206p

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Man Booker International Prize

To keep the major award long list announcement theme going for another day, the Man Booker International Prize finalists were announced.

The Man Booker International Prize, sponsored by Man Group plc, recognizes one writer for their achievement in fiction. It is awarded every 2 years. It is meant to reinforce the annual Man Booker Fiction Prize given to an individual work each year. Here is more information.

Here are this year's nominees.

Friday, March 20, 2009

BPL Book Discussion: Peony in Love

This week we had our discussion group at the Berwyn Public Library. We discussed Lisa See's Peony in Love. I first read this book in December of 2007 and wrote about it here, including some suggested read alikes.

Peony in Love, recounts the story of a young, Chinese girl in the 1500s, named Peony, who starves herself to death, rather than be forced to "marry out." Except, here it turns out she knew and loved the man she was betrothed to. What follows is a story of how ghosts live in the Chinese after world, how Peony is able to find peace for herself and her love, and how she manges to become a famous female poet whose voice is finally heard.

Most of our group enjoyed the book. The two who did not were turned off by the ghost story and/or how terrible women were treated (even though it was based in fact, it was to much for one participant to take). A few participants mentioned how they would have never read this book on their own, but they were glad the did for the discussion.

Overall, everyone did agree that See's writing is beautiful. The language was as lyrical as the opera which is constantly referred to. In fact, a few wished they got more info about the opera in the novel. For those people I have this link.

One woman in the group is the godmother of a girl adopted from China, and she had some experience with the Chinese customers involving ancestors, but she loved how this novel made the Chinese beliefs and customers about the after world very concrete. The group agreed that See took what are complex, and unfamiliar (to us) customs and made them clear. In general, the group has a fascination with Chinese culture and history, and we were happy with this novel's depictions of it.

We did spend a great deal of time talking about the role of women in society, both then and now. How different was Peony's love sickness from girls with anorexia today? We decided they are one and the same. Both are about young girls longing to have control of something in their lives. See also illustrates the domestic world of the women as one filled with jealousy and back biting. Again, we thought that was similar to women's experiences today. One participant argued that all the back biting is a way for women to have power in a world where they are powerless. If you are not heard, you pick on small things.

We continued talking about how much and, surprisingly, how little the role of women in society has changed.

We also talked about See's characterizations. First, Peony is not a completely sympathetic character. By the end we are rooting for her, but she has a lot of maturing to do before we were all behind her. One participant pointed out how See took her time with each character. She would present each as almost perfect, then knock them down, showing major faults, but then allow each to rebuild themselves in our eyes, ending up somewhere in the middle at the end. We all felt this added reality to her characters, which we enjoyed.

If you want to read more by Lisa See, click here.

Also, if you want to see my read alike suggestions for Peony in Love, click here.

Next month we are reading Studs Terkel's last book, P.S.

Orange Prize for Fiction

On March 18th, the long list was announced for the Orange Prize for Fiction. The Orange Prize, started in 1992, awards a novel written by a woman.

Here is the 20 novel list.

Here is the FAQ about the award.

I have a general statement about these award "long lists." From the librarian perspective, the lists of nominating books are infinitely more helpful than the ultimate winner. Why? Because the long list lets me know about 20 books (in this situation) instead of only 1. I love finding out who wins the awards, but I can help more patrons find their next good read with a list of 20 than I can with a single title.

As I am always saying in class or training sessions, the more books you have contact with, whether it is by reading them, skimming them, reading about them, or simply having heard of them, the better you are at helping your readers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stephen King: American Icon

Horror maven that I am marketed to be, I could not resist sharing this information with you. According to the Sunday newspaper insert magazine, USA Weekend, Stephen King is an American Icon.

I am not going to argue with that. The man knows how to write a great story, and scare the heck out of us in the process. More than 350 million paying customers cannot be wrong.

Thank you to USA Weekend for acknowledging a popular fiction author as important enough to be given "icon" status. And a second thank you for not picking James Patterson.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Good Thief Reading Map

I have talked about reading maps before here. They are all based on an article written by Neal Wyatt in Library Journal published in November, 2006.

In this article, Wyatt was expanding upon her previously published arguments about the evolution of RA service. From the mid-1980s to 2006, the primary tool of the Readers' Advisor was the read alike. I talk about read alikes almost daily on this blog and in my work, and they still are an excellent tool for finding new reading suggestions for yourself or your patrons. However, as Wyatt rightfully points out, "Read-alikes do not lend themselves well to experiencing the world of a book or exploring its references."

Her solution, reading maps:

"Reading maps are web-based visual journeys through books that chart the myriad associations and themes of a title via other books, pictures, music, links to web sites, and additional material. Reading maps open up the world of the book for the reader by diagramming the internal life of the book, allowing readers to inhabit the text and its outward connections, and enabling readers to follow threads of interest that stem from any particular part of the work."

Neal has traveled all over the country teaching librarians how to create reading maps. We have even had her come to our class to show our students how reading maps work.

Tomorrow night, I will be showing the class why and how reading maps work for RA service. Here is my first (still incomplete) attempt at a reading map for The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti.

There are 2 main keys to creating a reading map. First, chose the right book or subject. It needs to be something you can really get into since it is a fun, but time consuming, process to create a reading map. The subject also needs to lend itself to being explored in many directions. Second, you need to chose a platform to create your interactive reading map. I have used pbwiki. Whatever you chose, you need to embrace the Library 2.0 model of giving your patrons the ability to dictate their library experience by utilizing the technology of Web 2.0 design.

For example, a wiki, like I have set up, can not only be created to contain many links which can take the patron in many different directions, but also, it has features which would allow patrons to comment, modify, and even add to the reading map. Thus, it is never a static document, as the old fashioned pathfinder was. It is a continuously evolving tool to aid the library user in pursuing their next good read.

For more examples of reading maps, I have included this page in my reading map of The Good Thief which has links to some great examples from other libraries. Hopefully, after class tomorrow, some of my students will be inspired to create reading maps of their own for their final projects.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Student Annotations: Place

It may be Spring Break at Dominican University, but our conscientious students are still working. Head on over to their Word Press Blog to see annotations for Westerns, Fantasy, and Historical Fiction.

Disclaimer: These annotations are posted by the students before being edited by the instructors. We are about to begin edits on the first 2 weeks; so please bear with us as we work out the kinks. The upside, that we can share our RA student's work product with a larger audience immediately, out weighs the downside, of a few errors here and there. At least IMO.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Graphic Novels Best Seller List

Finally, The New York Times has gotten with the actual times by announcing their new Graphic Novel Best Seller lists today.

Maybe more people will fell like it is okay to read them now.

There is some great literature out there published in a graphic novel format, and those who categorically dismiss the entire format, have not idea what they are missing.

I am by no means a graphic novel expert, but I do enjoy the format. Here is a link to everything about graphic novels which has appeared on this blog.

BPL Displays: March 2009

This month we are featuring these two displays in the RA department at the BPL:

In honor of Women's History Month, we have this list books about "Working Women."

And, in order to highlight our Western collection, I made up these two lists of Westerns, both new and classic.

Saddle, Up!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Left Coast Crime Awards

The Left Coast Crime Festival is going on in Hawaii right now. You have got to love the slogan this year too, "Say Aloha to Murder." Today, the awards were given out.

Sarah Weinman gives the full run down on her blog.

Also, The Rap Sheet, a crime blog I follow, also has many postings about the full conference.

For those who love crime fiction, click on through.

Romance Reseources

I gave my talk at NSLS yesterday on "Finding Romance @ Your Library." It went over well. The best part about preparing and giving the presentation was that I was forced to really spend time with the Romance genre, research its current trends, and examine a couple dozen authors in detail.

I thought I would share with you my most reliable free, Internet resources for Romance. I do have to plug using NoveList at your library also though. The database has great articles about romance as a genre and its authors as well as lists of recommended romance books.

Here is an edited version of the resource sheet I gave to the class yesterday:

To Check “Sexy” Level: All Readers. Go to the bottom of an entry for a specific book and look under "style" for a description of what you can expect from the sex scenes


All about romance

The Literary Times

Overbooked Romance reviews, links, and booklists

Romance Novelists Association (British)

The Romance Reader

Romance Reviews Today

Romance Writers of America

Romantic Times

Romance Readers Community

Paranormal Romance


Neal Wyatt’s “Alert Collector” column In RUSQ (47, no.2). Core Collections in Genre Studies: Romance Fiction 101.” Excellent Intro to the genre