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, February 29, 2012

What I'm Reading: Foundation

It's Leap Day, so I am going to give you an extra post.  First, as I mentioned here, I read Foundation by Isaac Asimov for a staff meeting assignment.  We were asked to read the first book in a science fiction series and then talk about who would read the book.

I picked Foundation for a few reasons:
  1. I don't usually read "hard" space set science fiction.  I much prefer dystopian or apocalyptic sf, sf set on earth, or slightly lighter and more character centered sf like Orson Scott Card or Connie Willis.  Reading Foundation offered me an opportunity to explore an unfamiliar subgenre.
  2. If I was going to read an unfamiliar subgenre of sf, at least I could try to read one I knew was universally considered a classic.  In fact, I asked my favorite sf reading patron, Mr. Smith (his real name, not a pseudonym) for a recommendation of a "hard science fiction novel set in space that is also the start of a series." He first suggested Dune, which I had read many years ago, but then the Foundation series was his next suggestion.
  3. The Foundation series is also a great example of a general problem with series in sf-- it is sometimes very difficult to identify "The First" book in a series.  Especially with older, classic series, the order in which the author first wrote and published them is not the current official order.  For example, Foundation was written as a trilogy with it being the first one.  However, there is also a companion trilogy, prequels and post scripts to the series now. So there is always a question as to which is the first book.  In this case, since Foundation started it all, I chose to read that novel and then made sure to mention this issue in my book talk to the staff.
So that is why I read it.  But what did I think? Therein lies yet another problem.  There are so many reviews and opinions about this classic novel that I am a bit gun shy about adding  my novice opinion to the pile; but I think if I set up the context of how this review can be used to help a patron today, my words can be of use to another reader.

I am offering this review not as a statement on the quality of this novel, but rather as a comment upon what type of reader, walking into the library in 2012 would be most interested in this book.

The plot here is fairly simple, but it becomes complex in its execution.  From the book's flap:
For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Sheldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future—to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire—both scientists and scholars—and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a fututre generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.
But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind's last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and be overrun—or fight them and be destroyed.
 Now on to how the story is told and its overall appeal.  This story is told in 5 parts, but since this book is the first in a trilogy, these 5 parts are only the beginning of the story and this particular volume is very open ended.  Also, to complicate matters, the characters are told often that they are only half of "The Foundation." Seldon has set up another society at the exact opposite of the universe too.  So there is another trilogy telling their story too.  A reader needs to be okay with this going in.  It is easy to trust Asimov and just go along for the ride since the book is widely considered "great."

Although this novel is set in space way in the future in a completely foreign (to the reader) setting, there is still a lot which is familiar to a reader on earth in 2012.  The main story line revolves around the idea of religion.  In this case, the religion which Seldon has passed down is one based in science, but its followers are committed to it (and him) for 1,000 years.  We only see the first 100 or so in this book.  Characters within the story spend time talking about the religion and contemplating how much of it they believe.  Some are hard core, others less so. Some true believers, others skeptics.

Another key topic here is politics.  This novel may take place in space on planets which do not exist, but the politics at play and the politicians involved are shockingly similar to the here and now.

So already this book tackles religion and politics.  This is dangerous territory, but also very thought provoking.  Whether you enjoy the story itself or not, you cannot deny that this novel forces you to think long and hard about your own beliefs and politics.

Let's move on to more of the pacing and style though.  Since each section picks up years after the one before it, the main characters change and the point of view shifts.  This complex style allows the reader to see the changes to the Foundation over a time greater than the span of any one man's life. We are also able to see what has been left behind of the people we followed in previous sections.

This is part of why the story is fairly brisk for being so thought-provoking.  With the switching points of view and the skips forward in time, the story moves.  Also, the chapters are short and the sections are not very long, which also keeps it moving briskly.

But, a side effect of this compelling pace is that the story was definitely plot centered as opposed to character centered.  There were interesting characters, but I did not feel like they were fleshed out enough to my liking.  I would have liked a few chapters just for building the characters.  But with the plot front and center what you do gets is action, adventure, interesting philosophical discussions about philosophy, politics, religion, civilizations, and  the behavior of man, and suspense at the Seldon predicted "crisis points."  There is plenty of interplanetary travel too.

Foundation is an excellent choice for any reader who enjoys hard science fiction which follows the adventures of humans in outer space.  But it is also a good introduction to this type of book for a new reader who also enjoys some of the other appeal factors I mentioned in the paragraphs above.

One final limiter I should mention, there are not really any women in this story.  I am not a reader who normally cares about this but even I noticed the lack of female characters.  If you want to see men and women, this is not the book for you.

Personally, I am very glad I read Foundation.  I am okay with NOT finishing the trilogy though.  I am still not  a fan of hard science fiction, but there is plenty of sf that I do love.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  shifting points of view, great world-building, compelling action

Readalikes:  Since Asimov is classic author, I wanted to begin with similar authors first.  I would suggest Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick.

For readers who want the space setting and adventure but with a more character centered touch, you cannot go wrong with Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series.  And like the Foundation series, there is also a companion series here too-- Ender's Shadow.

For those who want more sf which also couples religion with the end of civilization setting, Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower series is a great choice.  This one begins with an Earth setting and has less of an emphasis on the "hard" science and more of a focus on the ideas.

For those who want a series which focuses on the politics try the Honor Harrington series by David Weber.

Other series I think are similar to the Foundation series are Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, or Larry Niven's Ringworld series.

Blogs You Might Have Missed

The newest issues of NoveList RA News is out today with my article,"Readers' Advisory Blogs You May Have Missed."

Click here to read it.

Also, don't forget the great archive of NoveList RA News back issues.  Whether or not you have a subscription to the database, you can always access them here for FREE!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Literary Tumblrs

I have been contemplating new formats of web based RA information.  Earlier this month I posted about vlogs.  Today, I want to talk about Tumblr for a few moments.

Tumblr is a free service where people can create "micro-blogs."  These have more information than a Twitter post, but less than a full blog.  Often, Tumblr accounts use a picture and caption format to pass on information.  Others use Tumblr as social networking platform.

Click here for more info.

With the increase in popularity of Tumblr, there has been a subset of its users who have chosen to use it for literary and bookish pursuits.  Some have used it to create long lists of favorite last lines of books, publishers are on there trying to sell books, and there are even some libraries giving Tumblr a try to some moderate success.

The best primer on literary Tumblrs is this article from early February in The Millions.  I waited to post it so that the comments could grow.  With the extra links listed in the comments, this is a great way to introduce yourself to all Tumblr can do. Conversely, it is also an excellent way to see the platform's limitations.  Some of these sights are awesome, while others are just plain bad.

In terms of using it as a resource for leisure readers, it may be limited.  But as a way for your library to connect with users, and as a way for you to stay informed quickly and easily it might work.  Like the vlogs discussion, I suggest you at least look into Tumblr and think about how you may use it.  Whether or not you do dive into Tumblr is less important.

I do have a colleague, Leah who has been on Tumblr for awhile and is a big proponent of it.  If you want more information, I would suggest you check her out on Tumblr here.

If there are other new formats or resources you would like me to blog about, please contact me.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Discussion: Dream Author Interview

As I have mentioned previously, I will be posting my interview with best selling author Jonathan Maberry on March 4th, so in anticipation I am gearing up here on RA for All all week.

This got me thinking about other authors I wish I could interview.  I do personally love Maberry; in fact, in the new book, I proudly proclaim Maberry and Joe Hill the "New Kings of Horror."  So, I think after interviewing Maberry, Hill would be the next on the top of my interview list. 

I would also love to interview Jasper Fforde since his books are so clever.  It is clear he is a book lover and a reader.

In terms of dead authors, I wish I could have the chance to pick the brains of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allan Poe.  They were such geniuses and way ahead of their time. I would have loved the chance to talk to them and see how they saw themselves and their work.

These are just the ones off the top of my head.  I am sure all of you have many authors you would love the chance to ask a few questions to, so why not share them here?

For today's Monday Discussion, let me know which authors, living or dead, you would love to interview.  What would you ask them? To see what I did ask when I had the chance to interview Maberry, check back on March 4th.

Click here for the Monday Discussion archive.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

RA for All Horror: Weekly Round Up

This week on RA for All Horror:

Next week on RA for All Horror, I will begin my countdown to my interview on 3/4 with New York Times Best Selling Author Jonathan Maberry with some posts on him, his works, and a review of his newest book Dead of Night.

The interview will run on both blogs.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Berwyn Public Library: No Longer a "Shhh!" Place

This week, the library was the COVER STORY in our local newspaper.  Click here for the article.

After years of Tammy and I and now Kathy fighting to reshape the library's image as a fun and vibrant place, people are finally getting it.  Props to Kathy for getting her catch phrase as the title.  In the RA Department we don't Shhh! anyone; in fact we encourage conversation.

The article begins with a nod to our fabulous Book Lover's Club (which meets again on March 30th, by the way) and also mentions Trivia Night (which meets again March 6th), both of which are run by the BPL RA Dream Team.

So today, I just wanted to toot our horn! And remind you that the Library is a vibrant place.  Come join us for some fun.  Yes we have books and some designated quiet areas off in the corners of the basement, but for the most part you will find us smiling and chatting about what we are reading, watching, and listening to.

Please feel free to share with me some of  the ways your library is trying to shake the "Shhh!" label.

On a related note, we conceived our Book Lover's Club to be a social club for people who like books.  We hoped that by simply coming together to informally share books, people would not only find their next good read, but also meet some new friends.  After 4 meetings this is starting to happen.  Kathy and I couldn't be happier; we are bringing people together through books.  It is a dream come true.

Here's an event for book lover's in NYC which takes our social club to the next logical step...Literary Speed Dating.  If I weren't already happily married, this would be my kind of dating scene.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Books: Paper vs Electronic

I have always been open to the discussion about the pros and cons of eBooks.  Click here for some examples.

However, I have also made it clear that I personally prefer the printed book for my own reading.

Further proof in my corner, you can't do this with eBooks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Student Annotations: Adrenaline

Tonight the students read in the genres of Adventure, Suspense, Romantic Suspense, and Thriller.  Click on over to see what they thought about the books they chose.

Science Fiction is the Literature of Change

In preparation for an RA staff meeting tomorrow during which each member of our staff will be book talking a SF title, I came across this post about the current state of the genre.

Click through, but then go and listen to the longer and more detailed Guardian Books podcast, Science Fiction Now and Tomorrow to which the post refers.

For our meeting, the staff was specifically asked to choose a first book in an established SF series that we had never read before.  I am embarrassed to admit it but I had never read my choice, Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

Now, there is a whole different discussion to be had about whether Foundation is actually still considered the first one in this series or not, and I will get into that later  when I post my review/notes for our meeting, but reading Foundation and listening to the above podcast in tandem has been quite enlightening.

One of the arguments the podcast makes is that the pace of technological change has been so fast for the last 60 years or so, that SF is one of the best ways for the average person to cope with this real life blur of change. Reading Foundation with a 21st century lens, this point was very clear to me.

I am also currently listening a wonderful new voice in Science Fiction, Ernest Cline, and his critically acclaimed debut novel, Ready Player One which is set in a science fiction future, but also looks back fondly on the technology, science fiction, and fantasy of the 1980s, the years of my youth.  I cannot stress how wonderful listening to this book has been, and I am only about halfway through.

You would think the two novels would be very distinct being written decades apart.  In fact, while their tone and subjects are very different, it is surprising how much the two books share.  I have enjoyed the paring and it has really made me think about SF past, present and future.  In fact, it made me think that another good RA training exercise would be to read a 20th century SF classic alongside a 21st century offering to compare and contrast.

I have SF on the brain these days.  Look for more detail on all of this in the coming weeks.  I will have reviews of both Foundation and Ready Player One, as well as some notes from what my co-workers share in our staff meeting tomorrow.  And count on the fact that I will be throwing in some general observations about the past, present, and future of SF.

But whether or not you have SF on the brain, at the very least go check out the podcast and get a sense of the current state of the genre. Also, take a look at this post from last week when I talked about the Locus Magazine Recommended Reading List for 2011 (Ready Player One is listed there).

One final note: the department meeting tomorrow is also a part of our larger attempt to explore some of the genres with which we as a staff are less confident.  I will let you know how it goes and what area we decided to take on next.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Magazine RA

In the past I have posted about providing readers' advisory service to people who enjoy long-format magazine articles.  Click here for access to those posts.

Helping these readers is difficult because of the dearth of resources, but we have to keep trying because as I saw last week in this post on Book Riot, with the popularity of tablets, the magazine format is thriving.

I can see this in my own reading.  I am a big fan of The New Yorker and have been a regular reader and subscriber for over 15 years.  Before 2011, I would only be able to read them before bed or on vacation, but now with my iPad, I get access to the tablet edition. I am able to find a lot more time to catch up on older issues.  I generally carry 1 paper issue with me in case I have some time to read, but when I have my iPad, I have access to every issue.

The study linked to in Book Riot talks about the increase in readership for all magazines with tablet editions.  More readers means more questions at the RA desk.  This is something we need to think about.

Right now, my only resource to help find readalikes for magazine essay readers is here.  Thankfully, many of these longer essays are turned into books, so we can use traditional RA tools to find readalikes.  Another place I like to point readers is to The Best American Writing series which has many nonfiction essay options, most of which were originally published in magazines in the first place.

What do you do to help these patrons?  Are you seeing more of an interest in the magazine essay at your library? I would say ours has always been a small percentage of our nonfiction RA questions, but I have yet to notice an upswing.  However, in the RA world it is all about anticipating our patrons' needs before they even know to ask.  So let's get ready!

Monday, February 20, 2012

RA Programs at PLA

I have been so busy getting ready for my own talk at PLA that I kept forgetting to plan the rest of my time at the conference.

No problem though, over on RA Online, they got it all ready.  Here is a link to the full offering of anything RA related in Philly.  Thanks to them for compiling it and including "Trends in Genre Series."  Speaking of my talk, I am working on my handouts still, but I have my 3 "trends" up here.

Personally, I will not only be at the RA programs.  Since I am the sole person from my library attending the conference, I also have a list from others at work with programs that seemed interesting to them.  Besides, it will do me good to look "outside of the box" for a few hours.

Take a look through the RA schedule. Whether you are going or not, let me know which programs look the most interesting to you and I can post more information about them after the conference here on RA for All.

This is my sole post for today.  No Monday Discussion.  The Library is closed for President's Day and this is one of the few Mondays that my kids and I are all off.  Time to go have some fun. The Monday Discussion will return next week.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

RA For All: Horror Weekly Round-Up

Now that I am posting more regularly over on RA for All: Horror, I am going to start running a weekly round-up of what is happening over there over here on RA for All.

My plan is to post a horror blog round-up each weekend.

This past week on RA for All Horror I had posts about:

Friday, February 17, 2012

What I'm Reading: The Art of Fielding

Well, while I am making good progress on my New Year's resolution to read 2 new romance authors this year, I am quite far behind on my resolution to keep up on my reviews.  Of the 6 books I have finished reading in 2012 (with 2 more that I have to finish in the next week for work), I have only written 2 reviews so far.  So I am 4 (about to be 6) behind already!!

I will only be getting further behind, so today I am going to buck up and get going.  Also, I have a bunch of boring paperwork to complete today, so writing a review will be a nice procrastination option.

As I mentioned at the end of this post, I saved the consensus best book of 2011 to read to start 2012.  I really did enjoy The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, but I feel like it is cheating for me to read and review.  Why?  It had so many elements that I like if only one of them appears in a book, but this one literally had everything but a circus (one of my other favorite frames; click here to see more on that) and if it had been set in NJ instead of WI, I might have exploded with happiness.

Seriously, here is a cross-referenced list of the things I love to see in any book which are all in play in The Art of Fielding:
  • Baseball
  • Liberal Arts College Setting
  • Moby Dick references
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson references (this one is even key to the final dramatic moments)
  • My actual alma matter shows up and is made fun of, but in a fair way.  It made me laugh.
  • Book within a book frame. (The Art of Fielding is a book that the characters in the book refer to often.)
The Art of Fielding also features some of my favorite story telling techniques:
  • Told as a "slice of life"-- The novel is one year in the life of 5 characters. You learn a bit about their life before this pivotal year and nothing about what happens after, but you are wrapped up in every detail of the year in which the book takes place.
  • Told from multiple charcaters points of view.  The story bounces back and forth between 5 protagonists.
  • Interesting but extremely flawed characters.  Each of the 5 protagonists is a good person deep down, but they all have a serious flaw that propels the story along.  In the end they mostly redeem themselves and come to terms with their flaws, but as a reader you are not sure that these flaws are completely overcome.
So all of this being said, I am a bit freaked out by Harbach.  Does he know me? Are we similar people? I don't know the answers here, but I am not going to complain.  That being said, I will again say I might not be the best person to take advice from on this book.  I was predisposed to love it.


Now more general appeal comments.  This is subtle storytelling.  You are meant to dive in and experience this novel.  You live with the characters, get wrapped up in their problems, and come to feel like they are your friends.  They all hit some pretty low points during the course of the book, but manage to pull themselves out (for the most part).

As a result of these low points, there are some darker moments in this novel.  There is one particualrly darkly humorous scene towards the end, but overall, the novel was realistic, thought provoking, bittersweet, and hopeful.

This is not the best book I ever read, but it was extremely well executed (it is hard to believe this is a first novel) and compelling. I was happy to spend a few days immersed in the world of Westish College.  I was sad to finish the book because I so enjoyed my time reading it, but I felt like the ending while open, was satisfying.  All things do not turn out well, nor do all turn out badly.  I will definitely read Harbach's next book.

Notice I  haven't said much about the plot here.  This is on purpose.  The plot itself is not the issue.  How the story is told will determine whether you like it or not.  Plus, this book has been reviewed to death in the last few months, so if you just want a basic plot, go here.

Three Words That Describe This Book: slice of life, multiple points of view, character driven

Readalikes:  The first book I thought of was another one of 2011's best, Swamplandia! because it shares all three of the story telling techniques I mentioned above. Click here for my full review of Swamplandia!.

Many reviewers have called The Art of Fielding Franzen-lite.  I agree completely.  In Harbach's novel the characters are more likable, less annoying, and the story more nuanced. Click here for my review of Freedom by Franzen for more.

The backlist title I most thought of while reading The Art of Fielding was Richard Russo's Straight Man.  The protagonist here is the Chairperson of the English Department at a liberal arts college.  He reminded me so much of the Westish College President who is one of the 5 narrators of The Art of Fielding.  Another good campus life/politics novel is Moo by Jane Smiley.  I have read both the Russo and Smiley, but years before I started this blog. Both are worth a trip to your local library to check out.  Interestingly, both authors are masters at writing quintessentially "American" novels that are critically acclaimed yet accessible. I think Harbach can be placed in their cannon for now.  I hope he stays there and becomes as reliable as these 2 have been over their long careers.

Underworld by Don DeLillo is another suggestion.  It too uses baseball as a frame without being a "baseball novel."  There is a fluctuating point of view in Underworld, but the story is much broader in scope.  In Underwold, the story is that of the last 50 years of the 20th century, while in The Art of Fielding, we are following one academic year.

Monsters of Templeton by Laura Groff could be another suggestion.  From my original review:
Willie Upton returns to her home town of Templeton to recover from a disastrous relationship with her graduate professor. Willie, is a direct descendant (on both sides!?!) of the town's founder. Here Templeton is a stand-in for Cooperstown, NY complete with a James Fenimore Cooper stand-in and a "baseball history museum." But Templeton has something the real Cooperstown does not, a sea-monster, long a part of town folklore, rising to the surface of the lake, dead, in the opening pages of the novel. What follows is a complex novel in which Willie searches through the town's historical documents for the identity of her father. Goff has the dead speak, giving them entire chapters of monologue, and she incorporates some of Cooper's more famous characters into the story.
I think if you are okay with the speculative elements here, the tone, characterizations, and style are very similar.

I mentioned Moby Dick above.  If you feel you did not get the Moby Dick references, a quick look at Nathaniel Phlibrick's compelling and fun Why Read Moby Dick? will clear it all up for you.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Locus' Annual SF and FSY Reading List

Each February, Locus Magazine has a "Year in Review" issue.  One of the best parts of this issue is their annual "Recommend Reading List" which you can access online for free here.  As they say about the list:

"This recommended reading list, published in Locus Magazine’s February 2012 issue, is a consensus by Locus editors and reviewers — Liza Groen Trombi, Gary K. Wolfe, Jonathan Strahan, Faren C. Miller, Russell Letson, Paul Witcover, Graham Sleight, Carolyn Cushman, Adrienne Martini, Tim Pratt, and Karen Haber, and, for short fiction, Jonathan Strahan, Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois, David G. Hartwell, Rich Horton, Lois Tilton, and others."
As the premier periodical in the world of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature, Locus knows what they are talking about.  The list is broken up into the following categories:  Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, First Novels, Collections, Anthologies (Original), Anthologies (Reprint), Nonfiction, Art Books, Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories.

They look at these categories with a very wide lens, considering any book with a large speculative element even if most people consider it, for example, literary fiction (The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht).

I consult this list every February from a collection development standpoint.  At least in the general SF and FSY novel categories, these are books I should consider having in my general interest SF and FSY collection.

The list is also good as a training tool.  Do you or your staff need a refresher course in today's speculative fiction? Well, here is a list of the best books from 2011, all laid out for you by the experts .  Since you know the list is solid, you can pick at random and know you are in for a representative read.

So click on over and take a look for yourself at the Locus Magazine 2011 Recommended Reading List.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Student Annotations: Sense of Place

For those of you who follow the class blog, student annotations are back.

This semester's students have begun exploring the popular genres of adult leisure reading.

The first of many weeks of posts are up on the class blog right now.

This week we are talking about the genres in which the setting is the most important appeal factor.  So click through to see what books they have read in the Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and Western Genres.

Remember, every book read comes with a minimum of 6 readalikes too.  This blog is truly a treasure trove of information.  I can't believe I let a few years pass without archiving their work so that others could use it to help their readers (or themselves).

To see a compilation of everything read by all of the students who have ever contributed to the blog, you can use the genre links provided in the right gutter of the site, or you can click here for Fantasy, here for Historical Fiction, and here for Westerns.

You can choose any genre you want, at any time, I just like to alert RA for All readers when their is new content on the class blog.

Also, don't forget that you can also search for books based on their appeal factors by using our tag cloud.

So, let my student's help you to find you your next good read.

Reader Profile and Response With Examples

The first assignment I have the students do each semester is for them to create their own Reader Profile.  They have to think about what they like to read and why.

They start by identifying 3 books they like and why, and then, equally as important, they need to think about 3 books they did not enjoy and why.  Then they have to use the language of appeal (which I already spent the first few weeks teaching them) to describe all 6 books.

From these lists, they are asked to write their profile.  They consider what the books have in common, grouping these by appeal, such as a preferred pacing or character centered books vs plot driven ones.  They use titles and/or authors to support their opinions.

The focus is on the whys.

The idea behind this assignment is that it helps to build their foundation as a readers advisor.  I honestly believe that you cannot help another person to find a book they will enjoy reading unless you understand why you like to read what you like to read.  I know that is wordy, but think about it.  If you cannot articulate why you like certain books and dislike others, how can you expect your patrons to be able to do it.

I know this by experience.  I resisted physically writing down my reader profile for many years, but then about 6 years ago, I finally did it.  Here is mine.  It is old by this point, and could use some tweaking, but you get the point.

I hope that by writing their profile, the students can see how unique their habits, quirks, and tastes are.  This will allow them to be more respectful of the preferences of others later.  It will also help them to coax this information out of their patrons when they are working together.

Since this is for a class, I extend the learning opportunity further.  After each student writes a profile, they blindly exchange them with each other.  Thus giving each of them the opportunity to start helping another "patron" immediately.

This multi-week assignment finished up last week which each student presenting their patron and the titles they would suggest to him or her.  After grading all of the assignments, I like to share the best pair with you to see how it all works.

So from this semester, here is Laura's profile and Katie's response to her.

If you ever wondered how we readers' advisors turn your reading preferences into a list of suggested titles, read Laura's likes and then Katie's explanation as to how you use the resources to get results.

I feel like I am lifting the curtain to reveal the secrets behind our work.  But if it helps you to help a few more readers, it is all worth it.

If you decide to write your own reader profile, let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Yes, I have been leading up to today since last week with a few posts about Romance here on RA for All.  Today, I am going to give you some links to a few of my go-to resources for helping romance readers, and at the end I will reveal my final choice of a contemporary romance to be read in March.

So if you want to feel the love today, here are some sources I suggest you check out:

Of course, this list is just a small sampling of the information you can find to help romance readers.  These are just some of my favorites.  Feel free to share some of your own.

But wait, before I go, as promised, I did go through everyone's Romance suggestions to me.  For the records, I have read books by many of the authors listed.  Also, I had to tear myself away from the historical suggestions because I have read many historical romances in the past and the point of this exercise is to educate myself.  Although, I did place Lizzy's steampunk romance suggestion on hold (I couldn't resist).

But in the end, it came down to BeretBrenckman who gave me a solid list of the best contemporary romance writers.  From that list, I realized I have always meant to read Lisa Kleypas, but never have gotten around it to.  So today, I checked out Smooth Talking Stranger

Stay tuned to see what I think.  And Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Discussion: The Agony of Defeat

I promised John that if I asked about great victories in books, then I would give the flip side a chance the next week.  So as promised, today's Monday Discussion is all about the agony of defeat.

Personally, I generally prefer tragedy in my stories.  I especially love going to the opera and seeing a long drawn out death scene with the heroine singing a beautiful aria as she dies, like in my favorite opera of all time La Traviata.  But one of the reasons I enjoy this at the opera is that after the scene, the actress gets to "come back to life" and take a bow.

But do I prefer tragedy or victory?  I think for me, it depends on the book.  If a happy ending comes out of a sad book, or conversely, if a sad ending concludes a happy book, I am displeased.  I like a consistent tone.

Being that I like odd, darker stories, filled with macabre elements, I guess tragedy is probably a more common outcome in the stories I read, however.

In my opinion, if we are talking pure and utter defeat, nothing beats The Ruins by Scott Smith.  I dare you to find a more bleak and hopeless ending.  But I love this book because the ending (of the book, not the terrible movie) makes perfect sense given the overall tone of the entire novel.

Of course, I also love the classic tragedies like Hamlet and Macbeth, but I am betting John will have more to say on that, so I will leave it for him.

And then there are more nuanced endings which are tragic in some ways, but also slightly hopeful in others like in Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply.  I really liked the way that novel tied up.

Now it is your turn.  For today's Monday Discussion, what is your favorite defeat in literature?

To follow past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

2012 Nonfiction Trends

Although I read both fiction and nonfiction, this blog has a definite fiction slant.  But hey it's my blog.

Seriously though, my goal is to showcase how the readers' advisors at your library can help you to find your next good read, no matter what that book is.

Also, like a good librarian, I know that it is not my job to know everything.  I just need to know where to find the answers to everything.  You might think that is just semantics, but let me tell you there is a huge difference there.  And that difference keeps me sane on the craziest of days.

So to help me find the answers and suggestions for my nonfiction leisure readers, I go to Citizen Reader, the nonfiction blog by author and freelance librarian, Sarah Statz Cords.

This month, Sarah has been focusing on the trends in nonfiction as she sees them in 2012.  She began by compiling and posting a spreadsheet of all of the major nonfiction titles that will be coming out in 2012.  And now she is examining the list, synthesizing what is there, and posting what she sees as the largest trends.  You can go to Citizen Reader for the spreadsheet and her commentary.  Especially in this election year, you owe it to your readers to have a handle on what is happening in the world of nonfiction leisure reading.

For more "trendy" thoughts from me, scoot on over to my horror blog to see today's post on Trends in Horror Series.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Romantic Suspense

Yesterday, I asked you to help me pick a romance to read.  Thanks to those of you who have already left comments or emailed me your suggestions. There were some authors whom I had never read before.  Also, I tended to only read historical romance when I read straight romance, since I enjoy the historical aspect.  Ditto with paranormal romance.  I have read very little contemporary romance beyond Nora Roberts, so I might be going that route.  I will get back to everyone soon with my choice.

Another area of romance with which I am more familiar is Romantic Suspense.  Technically, Romantic Suspense has much more in common with traditional Suspense, Thrillers, and Adventure stories.  Here it is all about the action, pacing, and heroes saving the day.

In Romantic Suspense, the protagonist is always a strong female who is fighting a villain, finding love, getting in peril, extricating herself, and then reuniting with her love interest.

This is the basic plot of most Romantic Suspense novels; however as a recent essay I read in my favorite crime fiction resource, Criminal Element, notes in "You Can't Do That Here: Awkward Moments in Romantic Suspense:"

Ever notice how you can be reading a really good romantic suspense and then something just plain screwy happens?
Like…say, there’s one of those life or death moments. I’m not talking after the life or death moment has passed and the adrenaline rush is still going and people just have to have the glorious life reaffirming moment… (you know where I’m going with this, right?)
But right in the middle. Guns blazing, or people chasing them, or the bad guy is so very, very close…
And what do the hero and the heroine do? 
Nookie.
This is just the beginning of the essay, click here for the full text.  Also, scroll down to read the interesting discussion that has continued in the comments.

On a final note, I would be remiss if I did not mention that despite the random sex, Romantic Suspense also happens to have much more violence than regular suspense.  It is a great option for your readers who like harder edged suspense and some lovin'; which is quite a high number of people by the way (at least that is what 11 years behind the RA desk has shown me).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Request for Suggestions

Okay, normally I am the one giving out the reading suggestions, but today, I need your help.  Last month I made the following reading resolution:
I did not actually read a romance from cover to cover last year.  I speed read a few, but actually read...no, that didn't happen.  Even worse, the romances I speed read were by authors I already knew about.  Shame on me.  But in my defense, I was finishing a book for the first half of the year and then catching up on everything in my life for the second half.  So in 2012, I resolve to read the works of at least 2 new (to me) romance authors AND review them here on RA for All. That should be interesting and entertaining.
I was planning on using the RUSA Genre Fiction for Adult Reading List to help me pick out some Romance titles, but I also have a great resource right here...all of you.

So now is your chance to tell me what to do.  I am going to read one of my 2 resolved books in March.  I will be traveling to PLA and California that month, so I am figuring a romance will make a good plane read.  I am fine with ebook, audio, or print formats.  My only restriction is the author has to be new to me.

So bring on your favorite recent romance reads by leaving a comment.  And thanks.

Trending: Literary Mixtapes

Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of "whole collection" readers' advisory.  First defined by Neal Wyatt here in 2006, "It makes connections that extend beyond appeal-only considerations and includes the entire collection, not just fiction or books, when working with readers."


This means that when we are helping leisure, we need to do more than just give them readalike reading options.  We need to also consider "watchalikes" or "listenalikes" too.

Readers have no problem making the connections to books they like with movies or TV shows.  In fact, they have been doing this longer than we professionals have.  But with music, things are slightly trickier.  Both the patrons and librarians are not already making these bridges intuitively, but that does not mean there aren't people out there trying.

Of course if you take a book like Bel Canto by Ann Patchett which has an overt musical frame, it is easy to make these connections.  But in most cases, making the connection from a song to a book is not that easy.


However, over the course 2011 and now into 2012, there is a trend involving authors and book lovers alike; a trend I will generally refer to as "Literary Mixtapes." (name taken from Flavorwire, see below)


Last year, Jodi Picoult inserted herself into this discussion in her classically non-subtle style by writing the novel, Sing You Home, which features a music therapist.  Picoult wrote songs for you, the reader, to listen to during certain parts of the book.  Yes, the book comes with a CD.


However, a larger trend than individual songs meant to be listened to while reading certain chapters is the book soundtrack.  This would be most likened to a movie soundtrack.  I first encountered a discussion of this phenomenon in January Magazine, which links to this essay in The Atlantic:
There is a long-held belief about cinema: "There never was a silent film." From the early days, when moving images fascinated viewers in their mute spectacle, musical accompaniment drowned out the incessant whirring of the projector machine. Sound brought cinema's haunting figures into being, amplifying their moods and heightening the intensity of the action.
Reading, however, is silent by design. Unless readers add their own accompaniment. On any given public transit commute, one might find an audience of readers trying to do just that, headphones in, books open, providing soundtracks to literature. Mark Cameron noticed this on his daily ferry rides, and as he selected his own music-reading pairings, found himself choosing songs that emotionally corresponded to the words on the page. When he told his brother, the two started cooking up an idea for "a more cinematic-type experience" for reading, says Paul Cameron, who is now the CEO of the company they co-founded, Booktrack.
Over the course of about three years, the Cameron brothers set up a service to provide movie-like soundtracks for digital books, five of which are available now for download onto an iPhone or iPad. More titles will appear on Booktrack's virtual shelves in the coming weeks and months, and will eventually be accessible for Android, computers, and other e-reading devices. They'll be offering selected titles for free, but most will cost between $1 and $4.
Click here for the full essay.


One of the books that is discussed in The Atlantic essay is The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan.  You can go to the webpage which has a link to the soundtrack here.  When I read this novel, I noticed the blurb on the cover which told me about the soundtrack and where to go to listen to it.  This one one of the first book's I have seen that had a soundtrack created before the book came out and the publisher used it in promotional materials for the novel.


But it is not just author produced or sanctioned music that is being paired with a book.  Many book lovers are out there making lists or even "mixtapes" to be paired with their reading materials.


Back in September, Lit Lists ran this list of the Ten Best Songs Based on Books.  But my favorite is Flavorwire's running series of Literary Mixtapes which take a literary character and make them a mix tape of music, like you would for a new girlfriend or boyfriend.  Their newest one is a mix tape for Jo March.  Click here to see them all.

This pairing of books and music is really gathering steam.  Keep an eye out for more, and start thinking about how you can incorporate music into your patrons', or your own, reading.

You can also click here for the "Trending" archive.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday Charles Dickens

I am working on another longer post and have some work deadlines, but I didn't want the day to pass without acknowledging that today is the 200th Anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth.  Here are a few links to celebrate:

It is so nice to see a writer who can still capture the attention of readers 200 years after his birth.  It makes everything I do to help readers find the perfect book for their current mood seem worth it.

Remember, all of Dickens' works are available for free electronically from Amazon, the iBooks store, or Project Gutenberg.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday Discussion: Books for Feeling Victorious

Remember Friday's post?  Well I am back today feeling great and wanting to keep the victorious feelings rolling on.  And then I realized, I can keep it going with the Monday Discussion.

Whether or not you like football, it is hard to deny that most genre fiction ends happily.  In fact, in the most popular genres of Mystery, Romance, Fantasy, and Science Fiction, while it is possible that an individual book does not turn out happily, the series better end with victory for the protagonist or that author will loose readers.  Readers expect victory in those genres.  If they do not get it, the book will disappoint.

For example, I never doubted for  moment that Harry Potter was going to defeat Voldemort and save the day.  Anyone who knew anything about Fantasy knew that the good guy may struggle over the course of many books, but in the end, he will defeat the bad guy.

Other victories in series that really get me cheering are Frodo destroying the Ring at the end of The Lord of the Rings and the Force triumphing over the Dark Side at the end of the Star Wars movies.

There are also great nonfiction examples of triumph.  Take Lance Armstrong's extremely inspirational memoir It's Not About the Bike which has helped to inspire many people as they or a loved one fight any serious illness.  This is but one small example.

These are all fist pumping victories to be savored.

So for today's Monday Discussion, what are your favorite literary victories?  Take a cue from me and feel free to include all media and fiction or nonfiction.

Click here to follow past Monday Discussions.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Football Reads

You all have no choice but to indulge me today since I am a bit preoccupied.  You see, I am a NY Giants fan and the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions.

Knowing it would be tough to concentrate on much else, I have rearranged my work schedule so that I am off work from now until Monday morning.

I have to say, living in Chicago, it is fun to be the only Giants fan that my friends know.  (Although I have made a few calls back to NJ this week.)  Everyone is so excited for me.  I appreciate the support.  But right now, I need to distract myself to get through the next couple of days.  I have a feeling I will have the cleanest house on the block come kick-off time Sunday night.

Today I have a few football related reads to help you to enjoy the big game.  Now, I know that the list of football reads is nowhere near as long as that for baseball books.  In fact, although I enjoy football slightly more than baseball, overall, I much prefer baseball framed fiction and nonfiction.  That is not to say that there aren't great football books though.

I should begin with my fantasy football team, which is named, The Paper Lions after the book by the same name by the late, great George Plimpton.  From the Amazon review:
Through the course of a long and distinguished career in letters, George Plimpton has crafted an art form from participatory journalism, and Paper Lion is his big touchdown. In the mid-'60s, Plimpton joined the Detroit Lions at their preseason camp as a 36-year-old rookie quarterback wannabe, and stuck with the club through an intra-squad game before the paying public a month later. What resulted is one of the funniest and most insightful books ever written on the game; 30 years later it remains a major model of what was then blossoming into New Journalism. Plimpton's breezy style wonderfully captures the pressures and tensions rookies confront in trying to make it, the hijinks that pervade the atmosphere when 60 high-strung guys are forced to live together in close quarters, and the host of rites and rituals with which football loves to coat itself. Of course, Plimpton didn't make it as a football hero; he barely accounts himself with dignity on the field, which is just as well. You don't have to be a lion when you've got a typewriter that can roar.
This really is a classic piece of sports writing, period.  If it is just great sportswriting you are looking for, I would also suggest The Best American Sport Writing of the Century edited by another late, great, David Halberstam.

In the spirit of Plimpton, journalist Stefan Fatsis tried out to be a kicker for the Denver Broncos a handful of years ago.  The resulting book, A Few Seconds of Panic was quite enjoyable.  Click here and scroll down to read my review from August, 2008.

A few other football themed reads I would recommend are:

I'll be back on Monday, win lose or draw. Go Big Blue!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Romance Spotlight

It's February, so publishers have turned their thoughts to love.  With Valentine's Day creeping up on us, they rightfully use the holiday as a reminder of all the romance stories they have to offer.

Book Page's blog has this great post with links to their articles about what's new in the genre and a few interviews with romance publishers about what trends they are seeing in the genre.

I have not hidden the fact that when it comes to my own personal reading, I am not a huge romance fan.  In fact, click here to see my reading resolutions for 2012 where I vow to read some new romances this year.

But despite my personal feelings, I help many romance readers each and every day.  So, it is imperative that I stay up to date on Romance, its trends, and the fans' opinions.

So thanks for helping me out Book Page.

I also wanted to remind people of my favorite romance resource, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Specifically, I love their discussions.  Readers write in asking for reading suggestions and book titles come flying in.

In fact, this is something else I should point out.  As a general rule, romance readers LOVE to share what they are reading and give you book suggestions without prompting.  They just love talking  about books. And I love to sit back and listen to them.  I use their enthusiasm for the genre to help me to get excited about helping more romance readers find their next good read.

So embrace the glut of romance information that will be coming out in the next two weeks and use it as an excuse to get yourself up to date on all the genre has to offer its fans in 2012.  And if you haven't picked up a romance in awhile, try a newer one for yourself.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Vlog of Author John Green

Have I mentioned how much I love working at the BPL, specifically in RA?  I may have dozens of times, but here is a concrete example of why.

Our fearless leader, Kathy, came in on Monday and could not wait to share with us her new favorite obsession, The Vlog Brothers.  Use the link to see what they are doing.  I have also embedded their most recent vlog entry at the bottom of this post.

The Vlog Brothers are Hank and John Green and they run the social networking site Nerdfighters where they fight for the causes nerds care about.  But even more important for library workers to know, this is the same John Green whose new YA novel, The Fault In Our Stars is getting rave reviews from teens and adults alike.

On their vlog, the brothers talk about a lot of different subjects, but currently there is quite a bit about John and his national book tour.  Oh, and they totally love libraries and librarians.

Following them is a great way to stay on top of the larger issues that bookish people are interested in.  They are proud nerds, and if you read this blog, you must be aware that you are a proud nerd too.  (Sorry if I am just breaking it to you.)  As my husband told me back when we were in college, "We are all nerds here, some of us are just cooler nerds than others."  The Vlog Brothers prove this maxim which makes me glad since I have been trying to embody it for the last 15 years myself.

They also cater to a slightly younger demographic than some of the more established resources I use to help readers.  This is an easy way to see a wider picture of the entire community of readers.

In fact, listening to Kathy talk about the Vlog Brothers made me think about vlogs in general as an RA resource.  Plus, it is just fun to say "vlog."

I use blogs and podcasts all of the time.  I will have an article in the March NoveList RA News (sign-up is free and you do not have to be a database subscriber; click here) about using blogs and podcasts as an RA tool.  Too bad I turned the article in at the beginning of January though because I would love to go back and add a small section on vlogs now.

I have added "vlogs" as a tag here on RA for All, so I will be keeping my eyes out for more and will pass them on to you.  I have never used vlogs in my work helping leisure readers, but I am definitely going to explore this resource further.

Enjoy!