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Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Discussion: Backlist Gems

The backlist.  It is what makes the library stand apart from bookstores.  We have all the currently hot books, but we also have stacks filled with older titles you may have missed.

Even though I actively advocate for the backlist here on this blog, even I sometimes forget all the stacks have to offer to us.  Back on St. Patrick's day, we had a RA staff meeting and our fearless leader, Kathy, asked us to come prepared to book talk a potential book discussion book.  All were good, but Betty's choice was perfect.  She mentioned A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller which was originally published in 1959.  Here is the Amazon review:
Walter M. Miller's acclaimed SF classic A Canticle for Leibowitz opens with the accidental excavation of a holy artifact: a creased, brittle memo scrawled by the hand of the blessed Saint Leibowitz, that reads: "Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels--bring home for Emma." To the Brothers of Saint Leibowitz, this sacred shopping list penned by an obscure, 20th-century engineer is a symbol of hope from the distant past, from before the Simplification, the fiery atomic holocaust that plunged the earth into darkness and ignorance. As 1984 cautioned against Stalinism, so 1959's A Canticle for Leibowitz warns of the threat and implications of nuclear annihilation. Following a cloister of monks in their Utah abbey over some six or seven hundred years, the funny but bleak Canticle tackles the sociological and religious implications of the cyclical rise and fall of civilization, questioning whether humanity can hope for more than repeating its own history.
I listened to Betty describe the book to us and was shocked that although the title was familiar to me, I had no idea what this book was about.  It sounds like a book I would love.  It sounds like a book at least a dozen patrons of mine would love.  And it has been sitting on our shelf, waiting for me to suggest it to someone.  It makes you think of the hundreds of other great reads that are going unread on our shelves.

My favorite backlist titles to hand out to patrons are The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall,  the Jeeves novels by P. G. Wodehouse, and The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier.

The blog Shelfrenewal centers around the idea of dusting off backlist gems and inspiring librarians to start suggesting them to readers again.

What about you?  What backlist titles are on your radar right now?  And by backlist, I am talking about anything older than 5 years which is readily available in the average public library's open stacks.

You can access the Monday Discussion Archive here.

2 comments:

Kimberly said...

Many of us who work with book groups absolutely delight in the idea of the “backlist” title – there are a host of great selections and usually enough copies available for group members to easily obtain through the public library. Some of my favorites to work with that fit Becky’s 5+ years criteria have been Pearl Abraham’s The Romance Reader , Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake in the Woods , The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, and The Preservationist by David Maine. I find that I am more successful handing a patron a backlist title if they have read a more recent one by the author, if the title is one that starts a series and the patron doesn’t want to miss anything, or if the book was mentioned recently in print or broadcast. Individually, some people seem to be more reluctant to select a title that looks as if it might be a “classic” whether a traditional one or even a more contemporary one. They seem to project a feeling that the work may be more like a school assignment or that it may intimidate them as being too “intellectual” for them. These feelings are even more extreme when dealing with a group, as the individual members are usually very sensitive about the way they appear to other members. The book groups I work with “vote” which titles they want to discuss (which, truly, is not the same thing as which titles they wish to read), but truly established works of literature are selected only when tied to other programming. Karen and Rebecca do terrific work with their Shelfrenewal picks, and, personally, I’d love to see more ways that the backlist is promoted.

John BPL RA said...

I love the backlist a lot more than the frontline but I really must challenge your definition of it. Five years just isn't long enough. I can't speak for others, but I go to the backlist in order to escape from the formulaic, marketable dregs of the newer releases. Back it up past the recession when decent unknown authors could still get published. My backlist doesn't include a dozen James Patterson novels and cover art made with CGI.