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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Lamp- Pandora for Book Lovers

Two years ago I attended a lecture at the ALA National Conference entitled, From the Book and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Readers' Advisory. One of the presenters used the Music Genome Project as an example that RA's could extrapolate to our work.  Here is the link and an excerpt of what I said:
First up was Nathan Altice, a musician , digital artist, and adjunct professor of sound communication at Virginia Commonwealth University. Altice talked about the brain, technology, and musical appeal. He focused his talk on Pandora, the for-profit (but free to end users) Internet radio station where users can create customized play lists based on computer generated recommendations.

Pandora makes it recommendations based on the "Music Genome Project." A group of musicians and music professors got together and analyzed thousands of songs, creating 400 plus appeal terms (click here to see them all). The founders of Pandora then created a proprietary algorithm that matches the appeal terms with certain songs; creating "listen alikes."

I was familiar with with Pandora, having used it and been amazed at how well it does, but I had no idea how it worked until now. Altice's main point was that this works only when people and machine work together. To paraphrase him, humans are best at assigning meaning and the machines can do the computations, "the digital muscle needs human intervention."
In my report,  I continue to wonder if this could be done for books.  Well, it has.  Enter the Book Genome Project being put into play over on Book Lamp.

Q: What is the Book Genome Project, and what does it have to do with BookLamp?

A: Founded in 2003, the Book Genome Project was created to identify, track, measure, and study the multitude of features that make up a book using computational tools. Begun independently by students at the University of Idaho in 2003, by 2008 the team included researchers and programmers from Stanford University, Florida State University, and Boise State University. Over time, partnerships were formed with commercial publishers, and the project became self-sustaining by 2010. It’s included collaborators from locations as diverse as New York, Idaho, California, and the United Kingdom.
Much like Pandora.com was created to provide a practical outlet for the Music Genome Project, we created BookLamp.org to allow readers and writers to use the tools that we’ve developed over the years. BookLamp is the public face and home of the Book Genome Project, so please check it out and let us know what you think.
What Book Lamp does is try to get to the heart of the appeal of a book.  They are a non-profit group trying to map the elements within a story like pacing, style, language, tone, mood, details about characters, point of view, and plot points.  In short, everything we RAs are trying to do on our own.

It would be nice to have some help from people entering this data into a proven algorithm..

Book Lamp has really just begun.  They have some Story DNA you can search through, but are only in a Beta phase right now. The titles are very limited.  In order to see how it works let's compare a book I have reviewed with their info. Here is their entry for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson on Book Lamp.  Here is my review which includes a link to reviews on the first two books in the trilogy.

The information each provides is different, but I think the tandem a Book Lamp with more data paired with a well trained RA librarian could be quite a team.

I will keep you posted as Book Lamp grows.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My New Boyfriend

No not really, but if I was looking for one it would be Gregory Karp. On Sunday he published this essay entitled "You Can Get That at the Library."

This is a great column (from the Business Section!) about why people should care about the library.  Karp goes through things you can get at your library like e-books, museum tickets, live shows, and Kilowatt meters to name a few.  [By the way, every thing he mentions is available at the BPL.]

But the main reason he has me smitten is his final comment:
Librarians. Perhaps the greatest resource of all is free access to an information expert, your local librarian, who, coincidentally, can turn you on to all the new offerings the library has.
Finally, the respect we deserve.  Thank you.

PS: For the record, my husband is the one who gave me the article.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Discussion: The Book You Want Everyone to Love

I start teaching the students this week which got me thinking about the key issues I need to impart to the students from day one.  I realized that the hardest thing to teach new Readers' Advisors is that you need to suggest books to patrons based on their tastes, not yours.  When you start doing RA it is easy to begin by suggesting your personal favorites since these are the titles you are most comfortable discussing.

Instead, RA is all about using the tastes of the reader in front of you as your guide to help match their reading needs to a book on your shelf, whether you have read it yourself already or not.

This by far is the hardest RA skill to obtain, but with time and practice, I promise it comes.

But (and you knew a but was coming) despite the best intentions of even the most seasoned Readers' Advisors out there, we all have books that we personally love and want everyone to read.  It is so against everything I teach, but I do it too.

For me, my favorite horror book is The Ruins by Scott Smith and I hand it out to everyone and anyone who will take it from me. Seriously, it is barely ever on the shelf at the BPL.  For a more general audience, I try to pass on The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti to every person I help.  There are 43 copies in our system and only 2 have it checked out right now, one is our copy and another is one of our patron's reading an ILL copy I put on hold for them.

My point is, no matter how professional and removed from the RA process we try to stay, it is hard not to foist your favorite books on your patrons.  We love books and reading or else we wouldn't be doing thsi job.  Giving out our favorite books may be taboo, but it is also one of the biggest perks of the job.

To help alleviate this problem, we have The Browsers' Corner here at the BPL where the staff can push our favorite books on people in a more traditional staff pick's format.  But still, you get that patron in front of you who sounds like they may like one of your favorite books, and it is very hard to resist the urge to put the book in his or her hand.

So for today's Monday Discussion, share with me the book(s) you personally love, and hope to make everyone else love too.  Come on, you know there are one or two.

For the Monday Discussion archive, click here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Last Chance Summer Reading

Still looking for that perfect summer reading title to lead you into Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer?  Here are a few last gasp lists of books you should be able to find on the shelf at your local library and can finish by the holiday weekend.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What I'm Reading: Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects: A NovelWhen Karen Slaughter came to the BPL earlier this summer, she sang the praises of Gillian Flynn, who was in attendance.  Flynn  was one of those authors I was a fan of without ever having read her.  Let me explain.

In my line of work, I am expected to suggest books and authors which I have never read myself.  Oh, now you know the RAs dark, dirty secret.  We cannot possibly read every book, but we can know a lot about a wide range of books.  Flynn fits into that second category.  She is an author who style and tone I knew, thus leading me to steer certain readers to her novels, but I had never actually read more than an excerpt. Often that is enough though for us to do our job-- matching readers with the perfect book.

Flynn has been such a solid standby for the "not quite horror" fan: those who want the tension, macabre happenings, and creepy atmosphere, but do not want supernatural monsters.  In fact, Flynn will be featured in my new book as a sure bet psychological suspense author for horror fans.

I have handed out the two books (soon to be three) of this Chicago author to patrons many times, and each time I have gotten positive feedback about her stories and style.  After exchanging emails with her before the Slaughter event and then meeting her (she is super nice and down to earth by the way), I figured I no longer had an excuse not to read her for myself.  So I got both Sharp Objects and Dark Places on audio.  I began with her debut novel, Sharp Objects and I am happy to report it was as good as I had advertised.

Sharp Objects is narrated by a very troubled young woman in her early thirties, Camille.  She is still recovering from a very serious self mutilation mental illness.  She is currently a reporter for a 3rd tier newspaper in Chicago.  She also happens to be from a small, rural Missouri town (Wind Gap) where a serial killer is targeting adolescent girls.  Camille's father-figure editor sends her home to cover the story.  However, Camille is completely out of touch with her family, especially her mother, and her homecoming is not positive for her recovery.

Appeal: What follows is a haunting story.  The reader is privy both to Camille's mental unravelling and the slow discovery of who is responsible for the murders.  Readers who want a fast paced suspense tale will be disappointed.  But readers (like myself) who want a complicated, psychological, tense story with an extremely flawed narrator and one messed up family will love this novel.  The book is intense from page one.  The sense of unease literally permeates and fills every crack in the book.

While there are a few graphic descriptions of the murderer's MO (he/she removes all of the victim's teeth), the real troubling issues in this book come from Camille's own illness and what she finds out about her family.  The long drawn out investigation also adds to the dark, tense atmosphere of the story.  This is as close as you can get to a horror novel without the monsters.

Although I suspected the killer from about the halfway point, Flynn expertly folded the plot over on itself so many times that I was beginning to spiral with Camille and starting thinking like her. So, when the end came, I was almost as devastated as Camille.  I need to emphasize this point more.  Camille is a great character.  We know she is flawed from the start.  We know we shouldn't trust her.  We see her make terrible decisions.  But Flynn slowly builds our sympathy for her, so that by the novel's end, I was in her head, agreeing with her reasoning.  Not a good move because Flynn knew she does this to the reader and then, she drops the ending on us and we are reminded just how flawed Camille and her reasoning really are.  The end was shocking, but not out of left field. Very satisfying.

I should say again, this is a twisted book.  Even though there are bloodier books, the psychological aspects play with the reader and many may find it too disturbing.

Three Words That Describe This Book: unease, psychological, family dysfunction

Readalikes: As I have said already, this is a great example of psychological suspense for anyone whose tastes lead toward horror.  The emotional pull of the story is its key.  Readers need to be okay with suspense stories that have a flawed narrator, and situations in which bad things will and do happen.

Authors I would suggest who fit this bill are:  Tana French, Jennifer Egan, Chelsea Cain, Sarah Waters, Benjamin Black, Peter Abrahams.  For the authors I have written about on my blogs, the link will lead to a longer discussion.

NoveList had a bunch of Mary Higgins Clark books as readalike suggestions, but I would NOT suggest those.  This is a much darker book than Higgins Clark writes.

Some readers may also want to know more about self mutilation or Muchausen Syndrome by Proxy after reading Sharp Objects.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Seattle Public Library's Patron Reviews

Every summer at the BPL we not only ask our patrons to write down what they have read but we also ask them to leave us a comment on at least one out of every three titles they read.  We use these comments to build a Fall display of patron's picks.  Scroll down here to see last year's example.

Betty is compiling this year's list right now, and I will post it when it is ready.  But we are just one small library serving about 54,000 people.  We do what we can to serve our community.

Now imagine you provide Readers' Services for the library of a major US city.  How would you share the wealth of information you gathered all summer?  Well, I have been following the answer over on the Seattle Public Library's RA blog Shelf Talk.

For the past few weeks, they have been releasing "Patron Reviews," branch by branch.  They have collected the same local summer reading information we do, but on a larger scale.  By releasing it branch by branch, they have kept the local flavor of the patron suggestions while still presenting an overall picture of what everyone is reading.

Use this link to access all of the lists and see what I mean.

This is a great use of a blog by a library to bridge the physical-virtual divide. They are using the blog to disseminate what people came into the building to check out and read.  The blog lets everyone share in the community's reading while still supporting the physical building and its shelves of books just waiting to be read.

With the large number of useless blogs out there, it is nice to see someone (or in this case and entire city library department) working to use their blog for one perfect reason...to enhance their patrons' library experience.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Are Books Dead?

You know it is not good when your boss' husband calls into work to tell us that a major media outlet is running headlines like Are Books Dead, and Can Authors Survive?

The good news here is that the major media outlet in question is The Guardian which has the best book coverage on the web.  This essay by Ewan Morrison is part of the conversation from this past weekend's Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Now those of is who have been in libraries for awhile now have heard it all before.  I remember back in 1998 in my fist library school class reading an article about how libraries will no longer exist in ten years.  And here we are 13 years later standing tall and seeing record high circulation numbers.

However much I have dismissed other death of books essays in the past, Morrison's essays makes some great points.

First, we have a generation coming up right now who use very little paper.  Not just to read on.  The more you think about it you see how right he is.  They don't jot notes on  paper, the don't collect or save paper.  They are the first paperless generation, and they certainly do not read on paper.

Second, he talks about the death of the advance.  Kathy and I were discussing this a bit in the RA office today.  At first, you think, no big deal, but what it means is that the midlist authors get left behind because they can no longer make a career of writing.  Without the chance to be professional writers, they cannot hone their craft, get better, and become the prize winners of tomorrow.  He convincingly uses Don DeLillo as a great example.  But also, what about all of those great authors who never get the chance to finish their first book without an advance.

Third, there is the current generation's expectation of free original content on the web (not that I am helping matters here by writing a blog with original content and not making a cent for doing it).  This is a huge issue.  People expect everything to be available for free online.  This may be the biggest obstacle to the life of the printed book.

There is much more to see in Morrison's argument.  I would highly suggest you take a look for yourself.

Ironically, I am off this morning to take the kiddos to the first day of 1st and 4th grades where they will use books and computers in almost equal amounts of time in the classroom.  I am already noticing how much more they read printed books than their peers though.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Discussion: Fall 2011 Preview

The kids in Berwyn went back to school today, so I guess "Fall" is upon us. At the BPL RA desk, we have been busy preparing for the Fall rush of new titles.  As a result, I am already impatiently anticipating a few titles.

Here are some of the Fall 2011 releases that  I am most looking forward to:
  • I LOVE Haruki Murakami and his new book 1Q84 is coming out in October. Already a smash hit in Japan, this is the book I am most excited about.
  • Tom Perrotta is also a favortie author of mine and his new book (out 8/30) The Leftovers looks good.  It has a post-apocalyptic angle, and is already being made into an HBO series.
  • Readers of this blog (and my other horror one) know that I enjoy books with zombies, so I am cautiously optimistic about Zone One by Colson Whitehead.  I am not a huge Whitehead fan, but there is a lot of buzz on this title, and let's face it, if it has zombies and gets good reviews, I will read it.
  • As I have mentioned before, I am also a sucker for any book that has a circus in it, especially a particularly macabre one.  The Night Circus (9/13) by Erin Morgenstern fits the bill here, and it is getting great reviews
There are other Fall 2011 titles that look good, but the point of this post is to get a discussion going.  So, now it is your turn.  For today's Monday Discussion, let me know which upcoming books you are most excited about.

As always, you can enjoy (or join) past Monday Discussions here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Re-Charge Your Book Club

I am always looking for new resources to help people to keep their book clubs fresh.  I have a presentation I give at libraries to patrons whose book clubs are stuck in a rut and I also spend 1 class each semester teaching my students how to run a successful book club.  I also run my own book club, a group that is in its 10th year.

As a result, I am always on the lookout for tips on how to keep your book club fresh.  Over on Book Group Buzz, Neil Hollands has been running an irregular series entitled Bringing Back the Buzz.  Use the link to access all of the posts, but as of today he is up to Part 4 and has shared 13 excellent tips.

I hope he keeps them coming. Personally, I am going to look at the tips in more depth come November as I am making my 2012 plans.


What I'm Reading: Lonley Planet Nova Scotia, New Brunswick & Prince Edward Island

Lonely Planet Nova Scotia, New Brunswick & Prince Edward Island (Regional Travel Guide)
Last month as part of my summer vacation, the family and I travelled to Nova Scotia.  Family events put us in New England already, and we had always wanted to see the Atlantic Provinces of Canada.  As we were planning the trip, we also saw that one of our favorite travel book companies, Lonely Planet, had a brand new edition of their guide to Nova Scotia coming out in April of 2011.  So we ordered, Lonely Planet Nova Scotia, New Brunswick & Prince Edward Island and got planning.

While the book was well thumbed through during the planning process and extremely helpful at allowing us to fit as much as we could on our 5 short days in Canada, what surprised me was how much I loved reading this book in a more traditional cover to cover fashion while on the trip.

Now I have worked with many patrons who enjoy reading cookbooks this way, cover to cover, for leisure reading without ever cooking a recipe, but when dealing with my personal leisure reading, I tend to use titles like travel books and cookbooks on a more as need basis for reference purposes.

But on this trip, I surprised myself by reading this book in its entirety (but not necessarily in a linear fashion) and loving the experience.  So the first point I want to make in this review is that no matter how self aware you are about your personal reading tastes, there are always new areas into which you can grow.  I am totally using this experience as the antidote to my patrons who say that they have read everything we have that they will enjoy and don't like anything else we have to offer.

Back to me personally though...

There were days when we were driving for hours and while I was using the book to plan where we should take lunch breaks or what we would be doing the next day, that took only a few minutes.  As I was paging through for specific information, I found myself lingering on other pages.  I specifically loved the last third of the book which was general information about all of the Atlantic Provinces.  There were statistical items, customs, history, and anecdotes.

Surprisingly, I found the sections on the provinces I was not visiting, Newfoundland and Labrador the most interesting.

The point here is I have created a new leisure reading interest for myself, travel guidebooks.  But I need to be specific here.  It is not every guidebook I would enjoy.  I like the companies who focus more on the narrative in their books.  So the appeal here for me is the story about the place as much as what you can do there.  Lonely Planet is known for this.

Lonely Planet is also known for their off the beaten path information and irreverent attitude.  So you need to not mind these in order to enjoy their books.  So readers may be turned off by the style and narrative voice.

In general, I will now seek out more guides for places I would like to visit, not just the places I know I am going to visit.

Readalikes: We also spent some time in Maine on this trip and used the Maine Moon Handbook.  I also enjoyed their narrative structure.  I learned quite a bit about the regional slang and history of Maine, especially the less populace parts.  In general, readers who like Lonely Planet Guides as a leisure reading option will also enjoy Moon Handbooks.

There are some great travel writers who I would also suggest to fans of the Lonely Planet travel guides both in content and style:

Finally, if you want to do some hard core armchair travel, check out Nancy Pearl's Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers (we have a copy you could borrow at the BPL RA desk) or this post I did recently on Great Travel Books.

Safe travels.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

BPL Book Discussion: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

In April I read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (herein MPLS) and was just captivated by the story.  I suggested it to the Book Club for the second half of 2011, and we read it this week for the August book discussion meeting.

For details about the book, its plot, and appeal, click through to my original post.  Since that groundwork was already laid, I will move right on to the discussion highlights:
  • Followers of this blog know the drill by now.  I began by asking who liked, disliked, and was so-so on the book.  We had 11 likes, 1 so-so, and zero disliked.  The liked were eager to talk.  Sometimes when everyone likes a book, it is hard to keep the discussion going, but in this case, we had people who liked the book for different reasons which added depth to the discussion.
  • Overall, participants cited the humor and the pacing as their two favorite things.  A few people remarked how nice it was that the book unfolded slowly but never felt "slow."  They all loved the time the Major had to ponder things, and the appreciated being a part of his thought processes.  The humor we all agreed was not laugh out loud, but it was pervasive.  Simonson found humor everywhere, much of it by simply holding a glass up to society.
  • We also appreciated how all of the characters (especially the Major) grew over the course of the book. Someone remarked how the second half of the book was so different from the first half that she felt like it was a different book.  We clarified this comment though, by discussing how it was the growth of the characters which made it feel different.
  • I pressed the group to discuss the two "halves" of the book in more detail.  I helped by suggesting we start with the middle point.  While it is not the middle in exact page numbers, the disaster of a dance party at the golf club is the middle of the plot.  As a literary device, the dance party brings together all of the conflicts in the story as they led up to that point, it all explodes, and then the rest of the book is the resolution.  Those who had not "liked" the dance party before this point in the discussion, appreciated it more as a literary device after.
  • The guns were discussed.  The book begins and ends with the pair of Churchill guns.  It begins with the Major trying to reunite the pair after his brother's death and ends as one of the guns tumbles into the ocean.  You cannot ignore a symbol as large as these guns.  Something that bookends the entire novel is worth discussing.  We began by just brainstorming what they symbolize to the Major.  Some answers: family, tradition, inheritance, sign of honor, biggest asset, worth bragging about.  Then we talked about how the Major's feelings move from obsession with reuniting the guns at the novel's opening to his indifference to their irreparable separation at the novel's close as a signifier of his feelings about family, tradition, etc...  He was so obsessed with order and tradition at risk of all else (including love and family) but by the end, all tradition is thrown to the wind (literally and figuratively) in order to live life to its fullest.
  • Classism and racism were discussed at length.  In this story the color of your skin as well as your profession say where you are in society and their is no wiggle room.  The Major is looked at askance just as much for falling in love with a Pakistani woman as the fact that she is from the shopkeeper class.  Simonson lifts the veil on modern English racism.  The people in this book are viciously racist against the Pakistani and Indian community members, yet they feel they are being inclusive. One participant felt like this book was a comment on the post-imperialism era of Britain.  This was a great point.  The Major was part of the official imperialism when he was in the army, but imperialism is aging, much like the Major himself.  It is a new world now in England with native born peoples whose ancestors came from the diaspora and are now just as British as the white people.  We wondered if Simonson could have written such a scathing attack on modern racism in England if she still lived there (she has lived in America for many years now); we were unsure of the answer to this one.
  • The Major is only 68, but he acts older and is treated as older by society.  Since my group participants range in age from mid 50s to well into their 80s, we had a great general discussion about aging and what it means to get older.  The group was generous in their sharing of their personal opinions and experiences on this issue.
  • We talked at length about the growth of some secondary characters such as Abdul, Amina, Roger and Sandy.
  • We also had a discussion about the demise of small town life, which comes up in the novel.
  • The title- Major Pettigrew's Last Stand- was brought up.  We discussed how the Major literally makes his last stand over his love of Mrs. Ali.  It is his last stand to rescue his life from inaction.  It is his last chance to live.  In case you didn't get it by the end, Simonson has the Major literally hanging on for dear life from a cliff while he makes this realization. While this "hitting the reader over the head" normally bothers me, it was in line with the satirical humor throughout the novel.
  • We ended by me asking the group to throw out words or phrases that epitomize this book to them:
    • humor
    • pathos
    • power of love
    • unpredictable
    • nuanced
    • character growth
    • change
    • tradition
    • great descriptions
Readalikes:  Here is what I suggested back in April:
MPLS reminded me of another book I recently read, The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart.  Both books are character centered, gentle but serious, and all about the characters.  Click here to read my review of Stuart's book.  If you liked one, there is a good chance you will enjoy the other.

If you are interested in the racial issues between the British and the Pakistanis in England, I would suggest White Teeth by Zadie Smith.  This is a more complex and more disturbing read, but it is also one of my all time favs.

If you like the story of finding love at any age, I would suggest The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery on the literary side, or Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray on the lighter and more humorous side.

Readers may also be interested in the British TV series which also pokes fun at the English class structure, Upstairs, Downstairs.

Although they are very different books, I have not been this captivated by a protagonist since I read Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.
To these suggestions I would also add Paradise Postponed by John Mortimer to the list for readers who want another book that explores small town issues.  For those who want more stories of unusual, cross-racial friendships, I would also suggest The Last Noel by Michael Malone.  And finally, for more late in life love in a character centered story, try Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Intro to Nickel and Dimed

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in AmericaLater this week I will have my report on my book club's discussion of  Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, but in the meantime I saw this article in The Millions talking about one of my book group's all time favorite titles, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.

With the recession in mind, Ehrenreich has written a new introduction to this powerful investigative journalism book. She went undercover and got minimum wage jobs, tried to live off her wages alone., and wrote about the experience.  The book elicited one of the most memorable comments from my group in its 10.5 year history, "Every 8th grader in America should be required to read this book."

Have you read it?  If not, head on over The Millions which has the link to text of the new introduction, read that and then head to your local library and check out the book.  If you have any interest in implications and consequences of the modern American service driven economy, you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bookworms Unite!

Thanks to RA Online, I was directed to this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education which looked at studies and found that people like us, those of us who love to read and have dedicated our lives to it, are born this way.  You cannot teach it.

So I say we embrace our nature, and no longer hide behind our books...even though we may want to. So join me and click through to this suggested links for bookworms from Flavorwire.

Monday, August 15, 2011

NPR Top 100 SF and Fantasy Results

I realized I knew the results of the NPR annual summer survey (which I originally mentioned here) but I had no posted them for anyone who missed it.

Here are the official NPR results.

But here is the wonderful SF and Fanatsy guru Neil Hollands' discussion of the list as it would pertain to book discussion groups.  And since my book group meets in 2 hours, what better time than now to post it?

Monday Discussion: Assigned Reading

I have back to school on the brain.  My kids start back a week from tomorrow, and yesterday I attended a back to school event for my alma matter.  Also I know that for much of the day at the desk today I will be frantically trying to find an available copy of the assigned summer reading books for local high school kids. (At the time of posting the number is already up to 10) And it doesn't help that all of the incoming Freshman at Morton West are being told to read The Hunger Games, which isn't on the shelf anywhere without having it be assigned (and we added 20 local use copies).

Each time I help a kid locate a copy of The Hunger Games (yes, I know I work at the adult desk, but YA is next door and often unmanned), I think, what a great read they are getting for their assigned summer reading. This got me thinking even further, asking myself: Did I ever get assigned something that great to read in school?

Usually if something is assigned in school, as readers we automatically dislike it before we begin, or we read it differently than if we chose to read it on our own.  But once in a while, we get a gem that stays with us forever; a book that if it had not been assigned, we might never have gotten around to reading it.  Below I have listed some of those gems that came to me during my education and the year I was initially assigned the book.

8th grade: Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  I have read this book 2 more times since and still love it.

High School: Reading Beowulf was an awesome experience, one I still remember.  I was introduced to the book in 9th grade and the teacher began by having us listen to a record of it being read in Old English.  She then told us a summary of what happens in the book before we ever read it.  I was enthralled by the plot of the story and entranced by its antiquity and the foreignness of the "English."  Looking back now, it may be the beginning of my interest in doing RA work.  The idea that such an old story could still hold a modern reader's interest was an eye opening experience to me.  As an adult, I purchased the great Seamus Heaney translation, and have reread it.  I cannot wait to share it with my children when they are older.

Interestingly in 11th grade I may have also taken another step toward my future career without knowing it.  For my English term paper, I was supposed to chose a book and write a 8 pages paper on it.  I chose The Turn of the Screw by Henry James because I was intrigued by the creepy story and the multiple interpretations the book has had overtime.  This novella is considered a precursor to modern horror and psychological suspense.  So this one was not assigned specifically, yet without reading it for a school paper, I may not have read it.  And who knows, maybe I never go down the horror maven route.

College: In college courses I was introduced to 2 of my all time favorite pieces of literature.  The first is the Russian novel The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, which is a must read for any fan of unreliable narrators, book within a book structures, or magical realism.  The second is the story Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville. (link is to the free full text)  If you want to know why this is one of greatest short stories ever written, I tell you to click through and read it.  I could tell you why, but "I would prefer not to." (read the story and you'll get the joke).

So for today's Monday Discussion, let's all go back to school.  Share your favorite assigned readings from your school days. Why are they so memorable?