ARRT GENRE STUDY WEBSITE

CLICK HERE for quick access to the materials for the 2016-17 Speculative Fiction Genre Study.
The website now features UNRESTRICTED access, including notes from our meetings; however, in order to attend the meetings in person, you must be a member of ARRT. Click here for information about how you can join.

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.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP: J. D. Salinger

As you probably already know, J.D. Salinger passed away today at the age of 91.

I am not a re-reader, but The Catcher in the Rye is one of a few books which I have read multiple times. Yes, I read it as a teenager, but I have also revisited it in college, and as an adult.  I have not yet read it as a parent, but maybe now I will.

I will not tell you (as some will) that it was the greatest book ever written.  It was not. And, it did not change my life forever.  But it did change Young Adult literature forever.  The Catcher in the Rye opened the door to the more serious, issue oriented teen literature available to our kids today.  Not surprisingly, it is also one of the most challenged books ever.

Salinger was just as famous for his reclusive lifestyle as he was for his classic novel. He always said that he just wanted to be left alone, both him and Holden.

I hope he is finally at peace.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Big Read Begins!

Logo for This Year's Big Read
Ten Libraries in my area plan a community "big read" every year.  Here is the collective web site for The Big Read, including a list of the participating libraries.

This year's title is The Help by Katheryn Stockett, which has been mentioned more than a few times on this blog.

If you are a card holder at one of the 10 member libraries you can start signing up on February 1 for all of the events, including multiple book discussions. Check the website for added content and program descriptions soon.

Not only do I love the book choice this year, I think it is great that these events begin in late winter and go into the spring.  Let's face it, Northern Illinois is cold for many months in a row.  We need exciting indoor activities, and the Big Read and its subsequent programming get people out of the house and interacting with each other, even in below zero weather.

As a patron, I love how this event also gets everyone talking about the same book.  Since it is promoted and spread out over a few months, many people have a chance to read the book.  For example, last year I actually enjoyed the conversations I had about the book more than I liked the book itself.

Thanks to all of the Big Read committee members who work so hard on The Big Read, especially this year's coordinator, Bridget Bittman.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What I'm Reading: Await Your Reply


Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon was on may best lists for 2009 and I now know why.  I loved this book! I loved the story, the style, and the tone.  But what I loved most is that Await Your Reply is a great example of a book that cannot be described by its plot.  This book is all about its appeal.

The plot is pretty simple.  There are three stories of three different people who are searching for someone or something.  The novel is also comprised of 3 sections.  In Part 1, each of the three "stories" is quite separate.  Each chapter follows one of the stories, alternating for the entire section.

In Part 2, little parts of each story start to blend together.  Terms, places, names, etc... repeat in what were once separate narratives.  This makes you uncomfortable as a reader, leading to a chaotic and violent ending to Part 2.

Are you with me? I still have Part 3 to describe, but I do need to mention that this layered story telling style means Await Your Reply needs to be read in just a few sittings in order for you to best enjoy the unsettling tone Choan is consciously constructing.

Okay, back tot he novel. Part 3 rounds out the novel and by its conclusion everything is explained. For the surviving characters things are happy, but open ended. There is a big twist in Part 3 which explains why everything is so unsettling and confusing, but I will not ruin it here. Let's just say you should think outside the box if you want to figure it out.

Await Your Reply is an unsettling reading experience. The plot twists and turns on itself. There is a nightmarish tone throughout.  For example, the book opens with a boy whose hand has just been cut off and we don't return to that scene until the very end of Part 2. A sense of dread permeates this novel from the first sentence and grabs hold of you for the entire book.  But, you also cannot stop, compulsively turning the pages to see what is going to happen.

I realize that I have not given many plot details.  This is because I don't want to give anything away, but if you like the style and tone I am describing, you will like this book.

Identity is also huge theme here.  Who are we? Are we really more than just our name? Is identity fluid or is it static? I know, deep stuff, right? But if this theme is of interest to you, again, read this book.

I don't usually gush about a book this much, so I will finish by saying if you want an original story that combines literary fiction and psychological suspense, read Await Your Reply.

3 Words That Describe This Book: compelling, layered, unsettling

Readalikes: In the acknowledgments, Chaon mentions many of his favorite authors who inspired him throughout his life and to whom he paid homage to in this book.  A few of these really work as readalikes for this specific book and I would like to point them out here. Ray Bradbury, Patricia Highsmith, and Peter Straub would all be good choices if you liked Await Your Reply.

Also, Chaon's style of telling his story in interconnected pieces with a focus on family (and just general) dysfunction is very similar to The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

The novels of Chang-Rae Lee, a renowned Korean American writer, are also very similar in tone, style, and theme to the work of Dan Chaon.

Books about mental illness, identity theft, and computer fraud could also be of interest to readers of Chaon's book.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Best Book Club Books: A Preview

I am in the process of preparing a display of book discussion favorites and I came across this list from Reading Group Guides entitled, "Enduring Favorites."

They also have lists entitled, "Ongoing Favorites,"and "New Favorites."

These lists go back at least 3 years, sometimes more, and are compiled by book discussion participants.

I will be using other resources for this display, but I wanted to know what your favorite book discussion books are. So let me know and I will include them in my display.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Big List of Graphic Novels Due In 2010

I am doing a lot of planning for the coming year's book purchases at the BPL and I came across this great list of hotly anticipated Graphic Novels coming out in 2010.

I am excited for the new Daniel Clowes and Charles Burn.  I am also interested in seeing the graphic novel version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

There is a lot here to be excited about if you are a graphic novel fan.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New P.D. James Nonfiction

To go with the Edgar awards post yesterday, NPR had this review of award-winning mystery writer P.D. James' new nonfiction book entitled, Talking About Detective Fiction.

In this slim work, James shares her opinions of mystery fiction.  It is not an academic study; it is more a meditation on the genre. If you like mysteries at all, I would suggest getting your name on the hold list for this book.

I was also interested in this work because my book group is reading James' An Unsuitable Job For a Woman for our next discussion. Hopefully, I will have time to read both books before our February meeting.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Edgar Awards Announced

Looking for something to read? The Edgar Award nominees were just announced. The good people at the Rap Sheet have this comprehensive list of all the nominees in every category.

This is a great list of mystery books for every age group.  Find something for yourself, your kid, or your friend.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

BPL Book Discussion: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

To start off the new year, our group finally read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (herein GL3PS) by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

First, let me set the stage for our unusal set up for this discussion. The table in our library's "Board Room" was being refinished and due to be returned in the morning on the day of the discussion (1/18).  Of course it was late and came just as I was reading the group some background information on Guernsey. So, picture 15 women with an average age of about 70 trying to move themselves, their books, and their chairs into a staff area near the periodicals storage to have a discussion.  To their credit, no one complained and we spent the first 30 minutes a bit put out, but otherwise fine.  I lightened the moon by saying what a perfect book this was for our situation.  The members of the GL3PS had to meet while being occupied by the Nazi's, so our temporary relocation was nothing compared to that.

Now on to the book.  Here is the official plot from the publisher:
“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends --- and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society --- born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island --- boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.
The first issue to tackle with this book is its style.  GL3PS is a novel in letters, otherwise known as an epistolary novel. Some pepople couldn't get past their dislike for this style.  But overall, the response to the use of letters to tell what one person called, "a group story," was positive.  We liked to see how each person was changed by those around them, and letters were an effective way to communicate this. People also enjoyed how although the letter writer was constantly changing, the plot didn't jump around. The letters went in order and we saw Juliet and the members of the literary society move on from the tragedies of war.

Also, we liked how the style reflected the time period.  This was a time when people wrote letters. A few participants talked about how not only is letter writing a lost art, but also we are losing a lot of our personal history as people and as families without old letters to go through.

Finally we loved the letters as they were used to develop the characters. Each letter writer had their own voice (in the audio they literally have a different voice); each character got a chance to present his or her personality to the reader.  For me personally, I fell in love with Isola through her letters toward the end of the novel.  She was adorable.

Many in the group were happy to finally read "that book with the crazy title." Once done they found it to be about many things.  Here is a list of some of the themes and issues we discussed:
  • We loved how Juliet served to show the power of "the listening writer."
  • We talked about books and their power.  How the right book in the right reader's hand can transform your life.
  • We spent time talking about how this novel reinforces the power of true friendship.
  • An interesting side conversation began about how terrible stress brings out the true personality of people.
  • We loved how this novel presented an "even picture of humanity." There are characters from the too good to be true to the very petty and nasty and all  in between.
  • This led to a spirited conversation about some specific characters.  We loved Juliet. Words used to describe her included, "spunky, empathetic, open, good sense, independent, plucky." Remy, the concentration camp survivor evoked the torture of the war for us.  As a literary device she also allowed Elizabeth's story to be completed; she gave closure to the group because they heard the story of Elizabeth's death from someone who was there. And on a lighter note, she makes Juliet realize that she really is in love with Dawsey.
  • Overall, we liked the hopefulness of this novel.  In the face of Nazi occupation, death of loved one, and the bleak post-war landscape, here is a story of good, decent people moving forward with a positive outlook.  We all agreed it was great advice for tough times.
By the way, we all want to read a book by Charles Lamb now.

At the end of the discuss I closed by asking each person to tell me what was most appealing about this novel to them personally.  Their choices with votes in after were: that is was about the power of books (4), the setting (1), or the characters  (8). So we loved the characters the most as a group.  All agreed they would suggest this book to friends and family, no matter their age.

Readalikes:  Two books that we have read in this book club are also excellent readalikes for GL3PS, Excellent Women by Barbara Pym and Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (click through to read about our discussions).

Another epistolary novel with a similar reading theme is Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn.

Books about book clubs that may appeal to readers of GL3PS are Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik and The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. Both have humor with serious undertones, and are good for book discussion groups.

This novel also reminds me of the Elm Creek Quilters books by Jennifer Chiaverini. Here the group quilts instead of reads, but these are also multi-generational and hopeful stories.

For many more readalikes including nonfiction, check out this reading map my student Elizabeth did last semester.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Best Sellers Column


I have mixed feelings about The Daily Beast's new irregular column by William Boot in which he "reviews bestseller novels to see which, if any, are readable."  He titles each, "Do I Have to Read..."  I have waited to see at least 3 columns before commenting.  Here is the link to see for yourself.

Let me fill you in on what Boot does in each review and then I will get to my mixed feelings.  So far he has reviewed a James Patterson, a Sue Grafton, and The Help by Stockett (which I read here). In each review Boot begins with the title, author, the number of pages, his opinion of the number of "readable" pages, and a sample quote. He then reviews the book and ends with a list of "readable pages;" and look at the Patterson review if you want to see how seriously he takes this list.  He ends with a final question, "Read This?" and a simple yes or no answer.

Okay, now for the mixed feelings.  The reader in me finds this column fun. I also like how seriously Boot and the Daily Beast are taking popular fiction; his reviews are thorough. 

However, my mixed feelings come from the fact that I could not show this resource to a patron.  As I have mentioned many times here before, true RA service is a nonjudgmental public library service which helps leisure readers to identify the best book for them, at that moment.

This leads to my ambivalence. Boot is very judgmental.  Take the statement I already included above, "The Daily Beast's William Boot reviews bestselling novels to see which, if any, are readable."  IF ANY? He assumes he will not like each book from the start, and although so far he has been pleasantly surprised more than he has been proven right, the RA in me does not like that he starts off assuming the worst. I have a lot of patrons who love the most popular authors.  There is nothing wrong with this, and assuming the book will be crap just because it is on the bestseller list is a problem from the RA standpoint.

The semester begins tomorrow night, and I do teach a part of a day on bestsellers in which we discuss this issue at length. I will include this blog post in our discussion that day. 

The verdict: I subscribed to Boot's feed, and I read every review for my information and entertainment, but I remain on guard, protecting the right of my patrons to read whatever they want, whether Boot and The Daily Beast deemed it readable or not.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Books on Haiti

With the current spotlight on the tragedy in Haiti, a lot of people are asking for book suggestions to help them to better understand the history of Haiti.  The bloggers over at The Book Beast have a great list up here. It also includes music and a documentary.

To this list, I would offer a word of warning. While Madison Smartt Bell has a great, award-winning trilogy about Haiti, his books, like the country's history, are violent, and may be a bit too graphic for some readers.

The 2010 RUSA Reading List Winners Announced

As I  mentioned last year here, I love that The Reference and User Services Association, a division of the ALA, has begun to release an adult reading lists each year at the Midwinter meeting (this year in Boston).

This meeting is already a well known awards event, as it is the place where all of the major children's awards are announced, (Newbery Medal, Caldecott, etc...) each year.

My friend and colleague, Joyce Saricks, was the chair of the Readling List committee this year and she sent me the press relase last night after the awards were announced.  It is now up on the RUSA Blog and ready to be shared with the world.

Below you can find the official press release.  But first, I want to comment on the way these awards are presented.  The committee not only selects winners and four "honor" books for each of the eight genres, but they also work very hard to write useful, appeal based annotations for each winner. They also provide a list of read-alikes for the winners.  The result is a list of great genre books for adult readers and a useful RA tool to use this year, and many years into the future.  In fact, here is the link to the past lists which I refer to often when helping patrons.

Enough from me, here is the press release...

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Winners of 2010 RUSA Award Announced

BOSTON—The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) has announced its selection for the 2010 Reading List.

The Reading List annually recognizes the best books in eight genres: adrenaline (which includes suspense, thriller, and adventure), fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction, and women’s fiction. This year’s list includes novels that will please die-hard fans as well as introduce new readers to the pleasures of genre fiction.

The winning titles were selected by the Reading List Council, whose members include:
Joyce Saricks, Chair, Downers Grove, IL
Jennifer Baker, Seattle Public Library
Kathleen Collins, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle
Mari Miller-Lamb, Long Island University, Brooklyn
Jacqueline Sasaki, Vice-Chair, Ann Arbor District Library
Sharron Smith, Kitchener Public Library
Tapley Trudell, San Antonio Public Library
Kimberly Wells, Denton Public Library
Neal Wyatt, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Alan Ziebarth, Chicago Public Library



The 2010 winners are:

Adrenaline
Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child, Delacorte Press, 9780385340571
Lone wolf Jack Reacher takes on terrorism and Homeland Security as he stumbles onto the tail end of an Al Qaeda sting. Crossing politics, police departments, and an alphabet soup of federal agencies, Reacher cleans house. The non-stop tension, atmosphere of menace, and Reacher’s matter-of-fact narration create an immediate and believable thriller.
           
Read-Alikes: 
The John Rain series by Barry Eisler
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
Below Zero by C. J. Box

Short List:
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, Little, Brown, 9780316032223
The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner, Bantam, 9780553807233
Shatter by Michael Robotham, Doubleday, 9780385517911
The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer, Minotaur, 9780312369729

Fantasy
Lamentation by Ken Scholes, Tor, 9780765321275
When the city of Windwir is destroyed by an ancient weapon, tribes of the Named Lands flock to the desolation to battle an unknown foe. Elegiac in tone this compelling High Fantasy introduces readers to a complex new world.

Read-Alikes:
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Wizards First Rule by Terry Goodkind
Acacia. Book One, The War With the Mein by David Anthony Durham

Short List:
The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick, Del Rey, 9780345508836
Turn Coat by Jim Butcher, Roc, 9780451462565
Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Tom Doherty, 9780765320308
The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, Del Rey, 9780345503800

Historical Fiction
Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell, Harper, 9780061578915
Vividly recreating the pageantry and violence of the 1400s, Cornwell takes readers into the heart of the soldiering class in this intimate retelling of the Battle of Agincourt. With a brisk pace and brilliant evocation of everyday life, he details the brutality of war and the lives of the men who fought.

Read-Alikes:
The Templar Trilogy by Jack Whyte
The Religion by Tim Willocks
Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield

Short List:
Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran, Crown, 9780307409126
Etta by Gerald Kolpan, Ballantine, 9780345503688
Grace Hammer by Sara Stockbridge, W. W. Norton, 9780393067187
The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland, Delacorte Press, 9780385341707

Horror
Last Days by Brian Evenson, Underland Press, 9780980226003
In this deeply disturbing novel, the Brotherhood of Mutilation, a cult which gains wisdom through amputation, kidnaps a maimed detective and forces him to investigate the murder of a cult leader. Through spare language, a noir sensibility, and macabre humor, Evenson crafts a compulsively readable nightmare which asks, “How do you know the moment when you cease to be human?”
           
Read-Alikes:
Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliott
Misery by Stephen King
Crash by J. G. Ballard

Short List:
The House of Lost Souls by F. G. Cottam, St. Martin’s Press, 9780312544324
The Little Stranger by Sara Waters,  Riverhead Press, 9781594488801
The Séance by John Harwood, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780151012039
The Unseen by Alexandra Sokoloff, St. Martin’s Press, 9780312384708

Mystery
A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn, Atria, 9781416586203
During the early years of Apartheid Detective Emmanuel Cooper straddles the racial divide while investigating the murder a small town police captain. Set against the cinematic backdrop of the harsh South African landscape, Cooper’s inquiries uncover a web of secrets and lies. The spare prose and the intricate plot belie the novel’s emotional impact.

Read-Alikes:
A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley
Salamander Cotton by James McClure
Heat of the Sun, Distributed by PBS

Short List:
The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny, St. Martin’s Press, 9780312377038
The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson, Viking, 9780670020874
Dog On it by Spencer Quinn, Atria, 9781416585831
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley, Delacorte Press, 9780385342308

Romance
What Happens in London by Julia Quinn, Avon, 9780061491887
Lady Olivia Bevelstoke and Sir Harry Valentine’s unconventional courtship begins when she is caught spying on him. Endearingly quirky characters, a windowsill romance, and laugh-out-loud scenes make this witty and charming story the perfect Regency romp.

Read-Alikes:
Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare
The Winning Hand by Nora Roberts
Love Letters from a Duke by Elizabeth Boyle


Short List:
Chemistry for Beginners by Anthony Strong, Simon & Schuster, 9781439108475
Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare, Ballantine, 9780345506863
The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig, Dutton, 9780525950967
Vision in White by Nora Roberts, Berkley, 9780425227510

Science Fiction
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, Night Shade Books, 9781597801577
Bacigalupi constructs a sobering and nuanced of future Bangkok teetering on the edge of disaster. In this inhospitable environment, a disparate group of characters calculates how to survive. The novel’s gritty tone, provocative story line, and sympathetic characters evoke a world that is frightening real.

Read-Alikes: 
Distraction  by Bruce Sterling             
Brasyl  by Ian McDonald        
Accelerando by Charles Stross

Short List:
The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker, Tor, 9780765318909
Flood by Stephen Baxter, Penguin, 9780451462718
The Quiet War by Paul J. McAuley, Pyr, 9781591017810
Steal across the Skies by Nancy Kress, Tor, 9780765319869

Women’s Fiction
Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani, Harper, 9780061257056
Thirty-something Valentine Roncalli seeks her future in the family=s exclusive hand-crafted wedding shoe company while juggling work and romance. Trigiani vividly captures both New York and Italy and infuses this novel with humor, warmth, and hope.
           
Read-Alikes:
Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner
Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Greetings from Somewhere Else by Monica McInerney

Short List:
After You by Julie Buxbaum, Dial Press, 9780385341240
The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil, Hyperion, 9781401340803
Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas, St. Martin’s Press, 9780312385187
Shelter Me by Juliet Fay, Avon, 9780061673399

The Reference and User Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, represents librarians and library staff in the fields of reference, specialized reference, collection development, readers advisory and resource sharing. RUSA is the foremost organization of reference and information professionals who make the connections between people and the information sources, services, and collection materials they need.  Not a member, but  interested in discounted registration rates on conference, preconferences and other events? Join, renew or add RUSA to your ALA membership at www.ala.org/membership. Learn more about the association at www.ala.org/rusa.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Introducing...The Browser's Corner


Welcome to a whole new way to provide RA service to patrons in person and on the web at the BPL.  Our "Interim" RA Department Head Kathy has been the brains and the muscle behind our new and already extremely popular Browser's Corner.

The Browser's Corner focuses on "Books People Like at the Berwyn Public Library." It is both a physical corner display of books and pamphlets with reading lists in the library building AND a blog you can access from anywhere.  Here is the official word from our website:
What’s a Browser’s Corner you ask?  It’s where you can find fiction titles recommended by librarians.  You can also find book lists for specific genres like Cozy Mysteries, Suspense Fiction and Historical Romance.   When you are trying to find your next read, visit the Browser’s Corner in the library and discover the “Books People Like at the Berwyn Public Library.”  Or find us online at www.browserscorner.wordpress.com.
Our entire staff has been working very hard to provide "shelf-talkers" on books we have read and really enjoyed.  These "shelf-talkers," are 1 paragraph descriptions articulating the appeal of these books.  All books are face out on the shelves and all descriptions have a "recommended by" tag.  We have also made an effort to hit many different genres and formats.

On the blog, these descriptions also appear and can be searched by genre, appeal, or recommending staff member.  New descriptions are added all of the time.  Kathy is also working on getting our lists up on the blog too.  For now, they are only available in person or by request via email.

We are very excited about this opportunity to combine more traditional building based RA with virtual RA service.  It is the best of both worlds for any and all patrons, be they near or far!

For now, the RA department and one other staff member are working on the content for the Browser's Corner, however, in the future we hope to open it up not only to the entire staff, but also patrons.  But until then, anyone can join the discussion by leaving a comment on any post.

Let us know what you think.  We hope the Browser's Corner can help you find your next good read.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What I'm Reading: Little Giant of Aberdeen County


Multiple people suggested that I read The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, a debut novel by Tiffany Baker.  I finished back in early December but have been waiting to write about it because, although I liked it while I was reading it, I was not completely satisfied when I finished it.

More on that later though. Here is the basic plot.  Truly, our narrator, is huge.  She has been that way since she was born.  Although we never learn how big she is, she is basically a giant.  The book is really in two parts.  The first deals with Truly's tough childhood and her relationship with (and contradiction to) her adorable and perfect sister, Serena Jane.

The second part takes place after Serena Jane leaves her husband and son behind, and Truly steps in to run their family. Serena Jane's husband, Bob Morgan, is the town doctor; in fact a male in his family has been the town doctor for generations.  But he is also a world class jerk. The Morgan family is also descended from the town's famous witch, Tabitha.  Rumor has it that Tabitha has left behind a secret book for her herbal cures.  Truly finds the "book" hidden in the embroidery of a family quilt, deciphers it, and begins healing people.  She specializes in euthanasia.

The story follows Truly as she cares for the dying Bob Morgan and attempts to right the numerous wrongs in her life and family.

I like how Bookmarks Magazine summed up the critical reviews of the novel:
A gothic, macabre tale involving revenge, redemption, folk medicine, and magic, The Little Giantgarnered ample praise from critics, who were perhaps surprised that the story of a gargantuan woman captivated them so thoroughly. Although the first part, which focuses on the relationship between Truly and Serena Jane, contains elements of melodrama, it allows Baker to explore the contrast between all kinds of beauty and ugliness. Baker moves on to explore issues such as family, betrayal, love, and friendship (her attempts to tackle topics such as euthanasia, rape, and sexual orientation fall a little flat). A few critics also faulted Trudy's unrealistic first-person but omniscient narration, but this was a minor complaint in a compelling, emotional, and intelligent novel from an author to watch.
Appeal: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is a good example of literature of the grotesque.  This does not mean it is scary in any way, rather it follows a character that produces both empathy and disgust in the reader.  Simple disgust would make that person a monster or villain. This is a big appeal of the story. As a fan of this type of novel, I stayed engrossed in the story for this reason. However, conversely, this could be a limiter for many readers.

The only problem with this novel for me had to do with the fact that it was a first book.  The Bookmarks comments above hit on some of it. I got caught up in the story while I was reading it, but the ending left me dissatisfied.  Kathy at BPL read it too and we had a short discussion comparing our opinions. She got upset at the end because she felt that the characters acted out of character in order to tie everything up. We both thought it needed a more unresolved ending.  Also, a book discussion leaders, we felt there were not enough unresolved issues to include The Little Giant in our list of possible discussion books.

However, overall this was a fun and absorbing read, while I was reading it. I will try Baker's next novel because I think she will get better. There is a lot of promise here. This is a good book to give to a reader who wants an interesting and fresh character centered story, and doesn't mind the macabre aspects. Just let them know it is a first novel.

3 Words That Describe This Book: character-centered, domestic issues, grotesque

Readalikes: I think Elizabeth McCracken's The Giant's House is a better example of a grotesque novel with a giant. Plus the main characater is a librarian, so how can you really go wrong here? But in general, McCracken writes about eccentric, grotesque characters and situations.  You could also try her short story collection, Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry?

People who, like me, enjoyed the idea of this novel but didn't feel it panned out, should see literature of the grotesque in the hands of its master, Stephen MillhauserMartin Dressler or Edwin Mullhouse are good choices to start. Other recent examples by newer authors are The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Goff (which I read here) and Darling Jim by Christian Moerk.

For an example of a novel that is similar and an author's debut try Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek.

This novel has also been compared to The World According to Garp by John Irving. I agree and think Irving in general would be a good option too.

People who liked the women's lives angle of this story but could do without the grotesque and macabre angles should try Sandra Dallas.  Our discussion group read The Persian Pickle Club in 2008.

In terms of nonfiction, books about the Vietnam War, folk medicine, thymus conditions, coming-out issues, and herbal gardening may appeal to readers of this novel.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why We Love Scandinavian Crime Novels: Part 2

In July, I posted here about the possible reasons why the American public has fallen in love with the brutal Scandinavian crime novel.

This past weekend, in her Lit Life column in The Chicago Tribune, Julia Keller has this essay about these novels, which she is calling, "Nordic Noir."

I love that new heading, and will use it often.  The essay also includes a list of some Scandinavian novels of note. You can also use this link to my posts about Scandinavian crime books with lots of links to even more titles.

BPL Displays: January 2010

So now that everyone has put out their end of the year lists, we at BPL have compiled them all and have this display, "Best Books of 2009!"

In keeping with the popularity of the list last year, we not only have the "literary" bests on the display, but also Kathy has included books from all the genre lists too.  Now that the holidays are over and you actually have time to read, try one of last year's best.

We also have a new display entitled, "First Novel Facts."  Try a well known author's debut after a visit to this display.

And don't forget, we archive all of our past lists here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Making Reading Suggestions Across the Popular Culture Landscape

I am always getting asked to recommend books for someone who likes a specific movie or TV show. I also train my students to find out what kinds of stories readers are looking for by asking about all of their popular culture tastes. This gives the RA a better picture of exactly what the patron is looking for in general, and, in the end, helps you to help them better.

To this end, the folks at the book section of Time Out Chicago not only published their 2009 best list, they also published this list matching books to their pop culture counterparts.  My favorite category: "Best Book for  Someone Who Likes the Idea of the Oprah Book Club, But Thinks They're Too Cool." I will use this one often.

Check it out for yourself.  Also, in general, Time Out's book coverage is worth floowing.  They have a book blog with an RSS feed which you can access here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Take Me Away With a Book

So my vacation was extended an extra 36 hours in Burlington, VT last weekend due to a record snowfall there, and now that I am home in Illinois, we are having a winter storm today.  I do love winter, this is a bit much.

My husband is reading the perfect book right now though, Snow by Orhan Pamuk.

I realize that the weather is bad in much of the country right now, so this is a good time to highlight a great resource for books that "take you away."  It is called BiblioTravel and it is run by 2 librarians.  Here is info and a link from their about page:
BiblioTravel was created by Fiona Scannell and James Schellenberg (contact: Fiona Scannell and James Schellenberg). Both are librarians with an interest in making information as easy to find on the Internet as possible. BiblioTravel is designed to convey their own enthusiasm about books to others, as well as let others give their thoughts about books they have enjoyed.
Mission Statement:
To provide a free online resource for identifying stories that are set in distinct locales.
  • Books categorized by setting
  • Accurate, up-to-date, easy-to-search
  • Comment area for each entry
Put in a place and they have a book to take you there.  Some readers may want to find a book set somewhere warm, but others may want to read about somewhere even colder than where they are right now.  No matter your preference of place, BiblioTravel has a book for you.

This post is also in honor of my mother-in-law who is leaving in a few days to be an official election observer for the Presidential election in UkraineClick here for BiblioTravel's Ukraine page.

Stay safe and warm.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Authors Who Died in 2009

On a more somber note, RA Online posted this list of the authors who died in 2009. There are quite a few. Each link leads to an obituary.

This is a nice tribute to these authors, whose works are the reason we RA librarians love what we do.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Most Popular Downloaded Audiobooks

Back in September I attended and then reported on this program on audiobooks.  One of the messages of the program was the great opportunities offered to our patrons with the growth and technological refinement of the downloadable audiobook as acquired through your public library.

Here in northern Illinois, OverDrive has the biggest share of the market. As reported on the Audiobooker blog, Overdrive has a monthly list of their most popular audio downloads. Here is the most recent list.

The list is mostly bestsellers, which makes sense since access to the titles is much faster through downloadable audio than through a tradtional reserve on a hard copy. If people want to read The Lost Symbol today, they can with OverDrive.  The wait for the book is still a few weeks long.

So where are the backlist titles? One would think from looking at these lists that people only want the newest, most popular books on audio.  Hold on before making that assessment though.

What the list does not tell you is that libraries pay for a certain number of titles to offer to their patrons through OverDrive. When you have only a limited number of titles you can choose, good collection development policy would say you should buy only the most high demand titles; therefore, getting the most bang for your taxpayers buck. Click here to see what it looks like.

I would love to see OverDrive offer a few backlist titles for free to libraries so we could see how they would do when offered side-by-side with Dan Brown on our websites. This strategy is having great sucess for small publishers getting their works noticed by offering titles for free on the Kindle.

If you know anyone at OverDrive, pass my comments on.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Looking Ahead

Enough looking back at the best of 2009...at least for a few days until we put up our best of 2009 display at the BPL.

Here are a few links for some books to look forward to this first month of 2010.
  • The Book Beast has this post on the 10 best books coming out this month
  • The International Thriller Writers have posted their monthly Big Thrill.
  • Amazon has their best of the month up for January 2010
So don't get bogged down by all the "best" books you missed in 2009, just get a jump on the contenders for 2010's best.