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, September 30, 2015

Final Crime Fiction Genre Study Assignment Now Available and It's Going to be GREAT for All of My Readers-- Near and Far!

Tomorrow is the penultimate meeting of the 2 year ARRT Crime Fiction Genre Study.  Normally, I post the next assignment on the day of the meeting; however, since tomorrow is also October 1 and the first day of my horror blog-a-thon, I am moving this post up 1 day early.

I am so excited about the final assignment because our only rule in creating it was that it serve as a kind of "wrap-up" to the work we had done over the previous 11 meetings.  I was able to take the comments we received from the genre study survey and incorporate some of them into this assignment.

Also, one of my new self-assigned goals is to promote the power of booktalking.  I have an entire presentation on this topic, but each and every time I can manage it, I work in an opportunity for library workers to practice booktalking books. The more practice people get, the better they get at it, the more they do it, and the happier our patrons are.

In this case, I was able to "kill two birds with one stone" because some of the survey comments mentioned wishing we could have fit more authors in. So as you will see below, I am asking people to booktalk ANY crime book by an author we had not read and discussed already.

But here is where the assignment goes from good to GREAT.  We are asking people to bring their booktalking scripts written out so that we can compile all of them into the meeting notes. I will then post all of the scripts here on RA for All for general use by all comers, not just ARRT members.

Now you can see why I think it is a GREAT assignment. Whether or not I see you there tomorrow, please look for the HUGE list of booktalking scripts to be available on RA for All real soon. This will be a wonderful resources for all libraries everywhere and I am so happy to have the chance to facilitate its creation.

A few other things we will be doing in December:
  • We are going to be discussing the best crime fiction resources, and in fact, we are considering working resources in throughout the process next time and not just saving them for the end.
  • Speaking of next time, we will be announcing the genres for the next go round of the genre study tomorrow.  And yes, I said genres. You will have to be there or wait for the official word, but I will tell you that although I will not be the overall leader this time, I am involved in at least 1 of the genres because there is no one else more qualified to do it...
Full assignment details are below.
______________________________________________


Part 1: Booktalk

Come prepared to provide the group with a 90 second (timer will be used and enforced!) of booktalking on an author or book(s) we have not covered over the course of our 2 years together.

This is your chance to talk up authors/titles we didn't have the time to get to, as well as an opportunity to practice your booktalking skills.

Books can be new, old, forthcoming-- whatever you want. Authors can be living or dead. The only rule is the 90 second limit.

Come with your script (typed) so that we can include it in the notes. This way, you can all get a copy of every book and it's description. [Also this means you had to prepare at least a little bit.]

Booktalks should focus on the following questions:
  1. What makes this author/title so amazing?
  2. Where does this author/title fit within Crime Fiction?
  3. What are some readalikes?
Becky prepared 3 examples for you to consult [with how long they are when delivered as a booktalk] here.

Part 2: Resources

We will go over some of the best resources for crime. Click here for a list of suggested resources, but also be ready to bring your personal favorites to discuss.

Part 3: Final Thoughts and Announcement of 2016-17 Genre Study

Now is your chance to bring up any other issues or concerns about either the genres we covered or how the genre study itself was run. In order to make sure we have enough time, if you shared your thoughts in the survey, please do not repeat yourself here. All comments were read and discussed by the Steering Committee last month.

Becky will also provide concluding comments about Crime Fiction.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Next Librarian of Congress and Why We All Need to Care

As many of you know, a few months ago, the Librarian of Congress, James Billington announced his retirement as of Jan 1, 2016. But some of you may not know that last Friday, he announced that he now is retiring as of TOMORROW!

I was going to wait to post about the search for the next Librarian of Congress and how important it is to all American library workers in November, after my Halloween rush and after some more news had come out about possible replacements; however, since the timeline just got seriously hijjacked, I have pushed this post up in the schedule* to let you know how you can educate yourself on the #nextLOC right now.

First, I need to address the biggest issue here and that has to do with you, my readers.  Many of you are probably wondering why this blog devoted to "training library workers to help leisure readers" needs to bother with a post about the Librarian of Congress.  Well, the short answer I have for you is that whether or not you think the LOC has anything to do with your life in a local library is not the issue here.  The issue is that the job of the symbolic head of all of America's libraries-- a job appointed by the President of the United States-- is open. You are a library worker. You owe it to yourself and your community to understand what the job actually is and to have a KNOWLEDGEABLE opinion about how that job should be done. You will be asked by someone about your opinion and you owe it to yourself [and the integrity of our profession] to have a response that is based on the facts.

If we--America's library workers-- cannot articulate who should have that job and what the job should actually entail, how can we expect anyone else to understand, let alone expect these outsiders to choose the correct type of person for the job.

Now, I am not that person to help you understand the issue.  But like a good librarian, I have worked to find the resources you need to become knowledgeable on this issue. And now I am directing all of you, my loyal readers, to do two things in the next few days.

  • Take 1 hour out of your life [you can do it on work time] to listen to Jessamyn West on Circulating Ideas articulate the basic issues involved here. I can honestly say that after listening myself a few weeks ago I  was completely misguided on the issue both of what skills and experience the best Librarian of Congress candidates should have. I had no idea about the necessary changes that new person needs to make to the institution itself. Jessamyn also had some insight to share into the process of choosing the #nextLOC. Every minute of that interview is worthwhile to anyone who works in the library world.
  • Jessamyn has created this fantastic website devoted solely to compiling all of the information about the issue. After listening, go here and dig deeper about the things you want to know more about.The website even gives you ways to get involved in the conversation.

I am serious about spending just a little bit of time listening to that podcast and looking over the website. This is going to become the single biggest library issue over the next few months. This is going to be a library issue that is discussed in all media.  We need to be on the front lines articulating an educated opinion about not only who the job will go to, but also what the LOC should be as an institution.

Please, if you are someone who heads my advice on helping leisure readers, trust me and take this advice too.

I promise I will return tomorrow with regularly scheduled RA specific programming.

*Unfortunately due to the already double booked Monday I had planned for yesterday, this had to wait until today.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Recharge Your Book Club: The Deja Vu Addition

This afternoon I will be presenting a LIVE webinar for Reaching Across Illinois Library System [RAILS]-- Recharge Your Book Club.

Yes this is the same as the one I did on September 14th, but they asked me to do another live one at a different date and time to accommodate more people, so here are the slides again for today's audience.


And soon, there will be a video recording available for everyone to view here.

Click here to start the slide show

Banned Books Week 2015


I hate that we have a need for Banned Books Week. The idea that anyone thinks they have a right to tell others what they should read is horrific.

Now, I know that at my house we are the family that is a bit on the fringe when it comes to free speech.  For example, we have ALWAYS let our kids (now 10 and 13), listen to the uncensored versions of songs, while explaining to them that those artists are expressing themselves through their art and you (meaning the kids) do not get to repeat those words just for fun.  This led to this summer’s fun of coming up with creative ways to still sing along to Maroon 5’s This Summer’s Gonna Hurt.... among opening up many larger conversations about the importance of free speech over the years.

However, I would never play these unedited songs for other people’s children. These are choices we have made for our family.  We have chosen to be extremely pro-free speech. I make sure that my children understand that we are not only for free speech when the person speaking agrees with us, but also (and probably more importantly) when the person speaking is in opposition to our beliefs.

Free speech works best when you get personally affronted by something someone else says or writes and you do nothing but use your free speech to express an alternate opinion back.

Free speech FAILS when you are offended by something and then seek to ban it from everyone else.

This is why I get so angry about Banned Books Week.  Most of the attempts to ban books in America come from parents to school districts.  I have no problem with a parent making a choice for their child not read something. I don’t agree with doing this, but I respect their right to decide what is best for their child.  What I do disagree with is this parent then telling an entire school district what every kid can and cannot read.

What is most troubling here is that by executing their rights to decide what their child can read, these parents decide that their free speech trumps everyone else. ARRRGGGHHH!

This is the main reason I am get angry that we need to celebrate this week. But that anger will not stop me from participating.

I have read and reviewed many banned books in my time, but two recent attempts to ban books have made me very upset. Today I will be providing links to the circumstances surrounding those challenges, my opinion about why these situations are particularly troubling, and finally linking to my reviews of those books.

First up, from my own back yard-- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Click here for the case study on this title’s removal from classrooms.

This one is just crazy.  Persepolis is one of the best graphic novels ever written.  It has won numerous awards, so I am not alone in this opinion.  I have written about this book at length here on the blog and on NoveList having written the Author Read-Alike article on Satrapi.

Next up is a book I actually didn’t even enjoy myself-- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. [Click the title above for the details in my review.]

If you looked at my review, you know that this books is about how the cancerous cervical cells collected from a poor black woman, without her consent, have been used by doctors for decades to, among other things, create lucrative cancer drugs which have helped millions of people, but never Lacks’ descendants.  They have received no monetary compensation for their contribution to a multi-million dollar industry. And, their family's DNA has been floating all around the world without their knowledge. Talk about identity theft.


As Rebecca Skloot succinctly summed it up herself on Facebook in a much longer post: 
Just in time for ‪#‎BannedBooksWeek, a parent in Tennessee has confused gynecology with pornography and is trying to get my book banned from the Knoxville high school system
 This one really gets me even more upset for two reasons:

  • This book is a great supplement to the entire “Black Lives Matter” campaigns that have focused on violence by police against black people. While this book does not feature run-ins between black people and the police, it serves as a testament to the history of this struggle. This book should be taught in American high schools to support current events with a historical perspective. Black lives have been seen as less important throughout our society in many situations.
  • Discussions of cervical cancer is not pornographic. If anything this book will teach young women the importance of getting regular pap smears and gynecological check ups. Something that many women don’t do regularly, even though it is a simple, cheap, and quick test that could save their life. And with the challenges to Planned Parenthood [who provide no cost pap smears to any and all women who walk through their doors] going on right now, this message is more important than ever. 
Okay, that will be my only rant... I mean post... on Banned Books Week. But please, find a way to speak up about the issue yourself this week-- and every week.  Read a banned book, suggest one to a patron. You can access the official resources for librarians here.

You can access past RA for All posts about Banned Book Week here

Friday, September 25, 2015

Don't Forget to Check Non-Book Specific Local Media As You Help Leisure Readers

We all know to check the major newspaper book sections and listen to the local NPR affiliates for book news and coverage, but it is easy to forget other resources that our patrons are coming into contact with, resources that may be responsible for making a title or author super popular in your area.

For example, in this month's Chicago Magazine, they have this list of the Fall's "10 Most Anticipated Readings and Talks." Besides letting me know WHO is coming to town [Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxanne Gay, Salman Rushdie, and more...], this list also lets me know when.

Let's put this information into action.  #8 is John Irving on 11/11. Now I may not need this article to alert me to the fact that he has a new book coming out, but it does remind me of the date and prepares me for the extra coverage he will be receiving in the Tribune around that time due to his appearance.  Extra coverage means people will be thinking about Irving and may want to read one of his novels.  About a week before the event, someone on my [hypothetical] staff should prepare a small display of Irving's books and readalike authors so that we can promote both his new novel and the appearance.

See how that works. We are ready for the incerased interest in Irving.

Chicago Magazine is filled with lots of book information that I could use.  Take this article "5 Best New Books By Local Writers." These are less well known books that will be of particular local interest. All of five of these books should be added by most Chicago area libraries because people are going to ask for them now that they have seen them in Chicago Magazine.  If I hadn't looked at the current issue, I would not have heard of many of these titles and definitely would not have ordered them for our collection before the first request came in. But now I know and can plan ahead. I look like a super-librarian who anticipated my patron's leisure reading needs.

Every community has a local magazine or newspaper like Chicago Magazine. Maybe it is your community's free weekly or it's an online journal.  The point I am trying to make here is that you may not be thinking of this resources as a place for information about books, but often these resources have information that will help you serve your leisure readers better.

So please, try looking for local book information somewhere different and see what you can find. I bet you will be surprised. I was.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Great Resource for Book Discussion Leaders: The Art of The Final Sentence (via The Millions)

I am always on the look out for new, exciting, and different resources to help you (and me) make our book discussions more interesting. Sometimes, I find inspiration for new types of questions in unlikely places.

For example, I regularly read (and post links from) The Millions, an online magazine that focuses on books (among other things), but I have never used it as a resource for conducting book discussions.

Well, today that changed as I was perusing the archives and found an essay entitled, "The Art of the Final Sentence" by Jonathan Russell Clark. In this essay Clark discusses some famous last lines and their purpose in the story.

When I lead a book discussion, I leave time for my group to have a fairly open ended discussion about the "ending." I don't necessarily ask a specific question, rather I simply offer a chance for the ending to be discussed.  I purposely keep it vague for a couple of reasons:

  1. I don't want to bias the group with my opinion unknowingly. I really want to hear what they think about the way the author wrapped it all up.
  2. The more open ended the question, the more chance, I have found, that those who haven't volunteered to speak up as of yet often will. When you ask a question about the ending, those that have been quiet know their chances are running out, and if the  question is open ended enough, they can say just about anything.

Now sometimes this strategy works brilliantly. Sometimes there is a lot to say, especially if the author left the ending open or unclear. Other times, there isn't any interest in the topic of the conclusion and I am grasping to find a way to talk about how the author closed his or her novel.

However, I never thought of taking the final sentences, reading them out loud, and then asking, "How do these words represent the story you read for the previous 300ish pages?"

This question still fosters an open discussion of the ending but with a bit more structure than simply saying, "Okay guys...ending...what did you think?"

As I saw in Clark's essay, ending sentences are the author's only chance to "get real." Clark uses examples to illustrate many different things ending lines can do like emphasizing overall themes or making statements about life in general, among others

But most interestingly, Clark talks about how closing lines, unlike opening lines, need the context of the entire book that came before in order to be understood.  This got me thinking about how wonderful it would be to OPEN a discussion with closing lines.

Read the essay for yourself, but the inspiration I am taking from it is this-- in my next discussion, I am going to use the closing lines of the book early in the meeting in order to facilitate a broader discussion about the book as a whole.

One final note from the author before you click though. He has more articles in this series that you can also use to help shape your book discussions; essays that get to the heart of why and how authors write, issues that are perfect for rich discussions:
This completes a series of essays on craft that I privately refer to as “The Art of…: The Series.” (You can see why the name has remained private.) Previous entries include Epigraphs, the Opening SentenceClose Writing, and Chapters.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Come Participate in a FREE Book Discussion for Book Discussion Leaders With Me!

Are you a book discussion leader who never gets to be a participant? Do you want the chance to talk about some issues with your group with other book discussion leaders? Do you work at an IL library?

If you answered yes, you are in luck! See the details below for a FREE training I am running in a few weeks.  You can even attend from one of the RAILS video conference locations. So you don't have to come all the way to Burr Ridge to still participate.

The book is a quick read too, so there is plenty of time to read it still.

The details from RAILS are below.
Becky Spratford of RA For All will be offering a program called “Book Discussion for Book Discussion Leaders” on Tuesday, October 6, 2015, 2:00 to 4:00 PM.  Becky will be at the RAILS Burr Ridge service center, and we will video conference to three other locations: RAILS Coal Valley, RAILS East Peoria and Vernon Area Public Library District – Annex.   
Program description: Leading a book discussion group is one of the most personally and professionally rewarding things we do at work; however, it is an extremely challenging job too. No one understands this better than Becky Spratford who has been leading book discussions groups for over 14 years. Join her, and a room full of your book discussion colleagues, as we discuss the creepy, historical novel, THE WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon. This program will give you the chance to sit back and enjoy being a discussion participant while also offering a forum for sharing questions and practical solutions to the problems and concerns of book group leaders.
Participants are encouraged to read THE WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon before this session in order to fully participate in the discussion.
Click this link to log in to L2 and register for the program: http://www.librarylearning.info/events/?eventID=20693.
Please contact me or Louise Svehla louise[dot]svehla[at]railslibraries[dot]info with questions?

RA for All Roadshow: Bridging the Physical Virtual Divide

This morning I will be appearing [via Skype] as part of the Fall meeting of The Adult Services Committee of The Library Network, a library networking group comprised of public library workers in Southeastern Michigan.

As a member of the Steering Committee for a networking group myself, I am so happy to be able to work with them. I truly understand both how hard they work and how helpful the services and program they provide are.

They have a really nice program scheduled for their cooperative today, using their limited time together to present programs in multiple areas of Adult Services.  I am proud to be a part of it all, but a little sad that I am not there in person to get the training from the other presenters.

But kudos to them for working together to improve library service for their patrons by taking the time to train staff.

They have asked me to present my popular Bridging the Physical Virtual Divide talk [now with updates].

As a reminder to those who are not attending but  still clicking through to the slides [and you should because this presentation is VERY link heavy], the point of this talk is to show library workers how they can take their in-library RA skills and translate them to an online product.  However, I do not give a tutorial on how to use each service.  This presentation is more of a pep talk-- a "You Can Do It" nudge-- to kick start your service.  It is also a great way for managers to identify staff who may be able to contribute in a new, more energetic way, to services for leisure readers.

I think The Library Network is the perfect audience for this kind of training.  I can't wait to see you all in a bit and get started.

Here are the slides for everyone.  And if you want me to give a pep talk or training to your staff, let me know.  Fall is just about closed [only local and virtual appearances available right now] but 2016 is only just starting to be booked.  Click here to get in touch with me.

Click here for slides

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How I Remember So Many Books

People are always asking me how I remember so much about so many books.  The secret is not a steel trap memory or even hours locked in a room, alone, reading.  In fact, it isn't even a secret at all; the answer is clearly stated in my VERY public 10 Rules of Basic RA Service in rules 4, 5 and 6:
4.   Write down adjectives about what you read; plot you can find. 
5.   Read widely (at least speed read widely).
6.   Read about books. 
One of the reasons people find my trainings so useful is that I actually practice what I preach.  Over the years, my "10 Basic Rules" have changed because I use them every day myself and when they are not longer accurate or useful, I go back and revise.

But steps 4 thru 6...those could quite possibly be the key to my overall success. They lay the foundation that makes it possible for me to do what I do. So let me help spell it out for you and make them yours too.

First things first, with Rule 4, ADJECTIVES, that is the key.  If you notice in my reviews I always list the top 3 key words or phrases that described the book. These words are NEVER the genre of the book either. The genre is always in the post’s tag. The genre and the plot are easy to find on Goodreads, Amazon, or even in the OPAC, but the feel of the book is not as easy to find in another resource.

By forcing myself to think about the essence of the story, the main reasons why someone would love or hate it, I am also forcing myself to think about the book I just read in relation to its very best reader. The person for whom this book would be their next great read. This alone, puts me in a better state of mind to suggest the book to readers than if I am simply rehashing what happened. Putting the reader first is always going to lead to success and focusing on the adjectives that best describe the book are the best way to put that reader first each and every time.

By getting at those adjectives, I am already thinking about how I will book talk the book. I am coming up with my flashy hook to grab a potential reader's attention.  Compare this plot heavy opening of Swamplandia! from NoveList's description:

"The Bigtree children struggle to protect their Florida Everglades alligator-wrestling theme park from a sophisticated competitor after losing their parents."
to my adjective focused opening:

Swamplandia! is exactly the type of book I adore:  dark, odd, completely character driven (almost without a plot really), quirky, and just plain fascinating.
Which one better tells you, the potential reader of this award-winning novel, if this book is right for you or not?

Those adjectives are why the readers in front of you will love or hate the book. It’s not the plot. I should note that I did pick Swamplandia! as my example on purpose because it does show that sometimes a simple plot statement, like the first example above, is enough to tell a reader that they are not interested. Everglades and alligator-wrestling will turn some readers off from the start.  But even a quirky plot like this one does not provide enough of the WHY.

Thinking about the book I just read from this adjective perspective also opens me up to thinking about possible readalike suggestions from a wider angle. I am matching similar books based on the essence of the novel at hand, not on its plot. Why? Because I am not wasting my time thinking about the plot, so it does not cloud my judgement or limit my readalike suggestions.

As you can see, I spend a lot of my time thinking about the books I have read from the perspective of the adjectives that best describe their appeal. The second part of Rule 4 is to write them down. Why? See the above few paragraphs. You put in all that work, you want to remember it, right?

Seriously though, get them down somewhere, preferably in the cloud where you can retrieve them anywhere at anytime.  I have a blog, but you can easily do this on Goodreads.

EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU FINISH A BOOK YOU NEED TO WRITE SOMETHING DOWN ABOUT IT SOMEWHERE THAT YOU CAN RETRIEVE THIS INFO,

As I have said [quieter] above, that something should be at least 3 adjectives that best describe the book. Once you have spent the time thinking about it and then write it down, you have already given yourself a better chance at remembering it.

The retrievable part is the final point here on Rule 4.  I have a better time remembering 3 adjectives about a book than the characters' names or the setting, but I definitely cannot remember every adjective for every book I have ever read.  But, I can pull up this blog, search for the book, quickly glance at the bolded section "Three Words That Describe This Book" [you thought the bolding was for your benefit...ha, nope..it's for me] and my memory is jogged in an instant. Those words trigger a meaningful opening for me to talk about the book. I can scan my review for more, but honestly, those words open up my memory.

But the secret to my super success and why people are constantly impressed with my "book knowledge" is that I use all of what I have said here about Rule 4, for the books I read cover to cover, and apply it to rules 5 and 6 also.

What I mean here is that I have practiced honing in on the essence of the appeal of the books I read so much that I can now do it for books I have not read.  I make sure I am at least skimming books from every genre all the time [see my famous genre-a-day post for more on that] and I am constantly reading about books-- backlist books, new books, hot books....everything that is written about books and authors. I analyze what I am speed reading and what I am reading about for the appeal. I filter out plot and look for the essence of why someone would enjoy the book at hand.

I know this may sound hard right now, me having sprung this on you.  But, I can tell you from experience, both from my own experience and from the experience of those I have trained, it is merely a matter of practice-- years and years of practice-- but it works. And when you combine your work on the books you encounter with your colleagues--oh my goodness that is some serious compound interest of knowledge [but that is another talk].

So there is my not so secret, secret on how I remember so many books. Contact me if you want to know how I can work with you and your staff to start showing off your own book expertise to your patrons.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Webinar Recording Available: Romance

The new for 2015 Romance webinar from Booklist is now available for viewing-  Isn’t It Romantic? New Romance Titles for Your Library.

I rely on this webinar each year to make sure I know the biggest trends and hottest titles in this extremely popular genre.

Friday, September 18, 2015

What I’m Reading: Dead Wake


Back in May, I listened to Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. I know this may sound a bit macabre to some, but I purposely timed my listening of this book to the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the ship, even holding off on getting to the day the ship sank in the story until I was on that day in real life.

I was not alone in this by the way. During the 100th Anniversary this past April and May [2015] from the day the Lusitania left harbor until it sunk, Erik Larson himself live tweeted the crossing here [well "live" 100 years in the future].

For me as a reader, I read this book at the perfect time. My experience was more visceral and intense than if I had read it now or sometime in the future. It was extremely eerie, but at the same time it also felt like a fitting tribute to those who died.

However, I understand that for many, reading the book back in May would have been too intense. In fact, I know this to be true as I brought up my experience with both patrons and librarians and more than a few cringed when I described what I found to be an awesome reading experience.  To them, it sounded like the worst, most heartbreaking experience they could imagine. Many planned to read it still, but later.  I mention this because this example is a testament to the fact that when you encounter a book can seriously effect your enjoyment of it.

Back in 2010 I wrote a much longer post about the issue of Right Book, Wrong Time? I wanted to take this time before my discussion about the appeal of this book to remind all of us of this important point though. Don't forget when we suggest leisure books for patrons that when a reader encounters a book is sometimes more important than what is written in the book itself.

Booktalking Soundbite: Here on the blog, I advocate each and every month for using the Library Reads lists [especially the older lists] to help you to suggest books to readers.  It is a great way for booktalking novices to get started because the list always includes a soundbite from a fellow library worker.  So I am going to practice what I preach here and share the March 2015 Library Reads soundbite for Dead Wake:
In cinematic terms, this dramatic page-turner is Das Boot meets Titanic. Larson has a wonderful way of creating a very readable, accessible story of a time, place, and event. We get three sides of the global story--the U-boat commander, British Admiralty and President Wilson--but what really elevates this book are the affecting stories of individual crew and passengers. -- Robert Schnell for LibraryReads.
With Dead Wake you get the standard Erik Larson style of multiple story lines converging, but in this case they literally converge as the ship collides with the U-boat which brings Wilson around to the US entering the Great War.  This storytelling style allows history to come alive by giving the reader a 360 degree view of large historical events. He connects the dots for us in a way we have not considered before.

As mentioned above, it is the small side stories of the passenger,s both famous and not, scattered throughout the book which allow readers to connect with this story.  For example, for book lovers, there is a reoccurring passenger who is a rare book dealer, taking a priceless volume across the ocean. There are a lot of these people popping in and out of the story. I liked the large cast of characters and enjoyed how I didn't always remember exactly who each of them were when they reappeared because to me it was more realistic. If I were on the ship, they would pop in and out of my life and I might forget who they were one time and then the next time we met, I might spend time having a long conversation with them. But I understand that for some readers this is frustrating.  Again, as the RA librarian, you just need to be aware of these appeals/limiters to point them out and let the reader decide if this book is right for him or her.

The in depth look into daily life on a German U-boat was also extremely fascinating here. As too was the information about Wilson's personal life.

As you can probably tell from what I have said so far, this is a methodical read, something I have heard a few patrons complain about.  But honestly, the only action is the ship sinking, a fact that every reader knows is coming before they even open the book. Everything else is either frame, detail, or context. As a result, the "story" moves slowly toward the moment of impact. So mention this to patrons. If they are reading for the "action" of the ship sinking and the rescue, they should skip to that part (toward the end) or read one of the "adventure" readalikes I have listed below instead. But, if they are reading for the context, frame, and historical detail, they will be very happy with the pacing.

One final point I want to make here was how interesting I found the post-disaster portions of the story as a post-9/11 reader. Larson talks a lot about people said to be saved who were actually dead and vice versa. He describes what it was like for the families whose loved ones' bodies were never found. That entire section felt like it could only have been written in a post 9/11 world. It gave me a whole new level of connection with the past on a personal level.

Narration: This book was narrated by the polarizing but talented Scott Brick.  Look, people either love or hate this guy. The complaint some have is that he narrates every book the same way. While I don't disagree with that statement, I find his consistency a positive. When I see that Brick is narrating a book, I know right away what I am going to get, even before I listen. Then I can decide, for myself, if I think his style will match the story I am about to read. In fact, on audible, there are many comments of this ilk.  Some saying "Brick was as annoying as ever" or "Brick's talents seem suited to this." I fall into the Brick is perfect for this book camp.  He adds enough suspense to the story, even during the less suspenseful, more expository moments. Click here to read and hear more about and from Scott Brick to decide for yourself.

Three Words That Describe This Book: history brought alive, richly detailed, many charcaters

Readalikes: Look, obviously people may want to read more on the Lusitania after reading Dead Wake, but I am not here to help you with the obvious readalikes. [Okay, maybe I am a little since that link on the word Lusitania will pull up some good choice.]

As Larson explains it, the Lusitania and its passengers were the victims of an escalating war-- WWI, the Great War.  Much of the book is about the War itself. Click here to see my review of The Great War by Joe Sacco [scroll down]. I have links to many WWI readalikes in both fiction and nonfiction at the end of that review.

I have heard some readers say there was too much detail here and they would have rather had more of an adventure writing reading experience. To these readers I say try these instead:
However, the main appeal here is in how Larson tells a story of a huge disaster with a 360 degree view allowing us, 100 years later, to connect with the past.  Here are some other books that also do this very well.
And 2 excellent books that recount more recent disasters are Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink and the devastating but beautiful memoir Wave about the 2004 Tsunami by Sonali Deraniyagala.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

ARRT Genre Study News: True Crime Notes and a 2016 Teaser

I just posted the notes from August’s meeting on True Crime.  As always, the notes are password protected for members [as of right now, but see below for news on that maybe changing], but anyone can use our assignments to run their own genre study. Just go to the Crime Fiction Genre Study website for details; all we ask is that you credit ARRT.

Our next meeting is October 1st at the Berwyn Public Library and the topic is Crime Special Interests and Formats: Audio, Graphic Novels, Multicultural and YA. Details and assignments here.

However, please stay tuned no matter where you live because there are big changes coming to the ARRT Genre Study. Not only will we be starting on a new set of genres in 2016, but we are also planning to change the way we structure the meetings as a result of your feedback.

We are also actively considering providing the notes password free to everyone through our new website beginning in 2016. In other words, you may not need to be a member to get access to the notes. You would still need to be a member to attend the genre studies in person though-- but membership is only $10 people.

So if you are someone out there who has been following along with us, facilitating your own genre studies based on our model but are not members, get in touch with me or leave a comment here to let me know if this would be of interest to you.

Overall we are hopeful that beginning with the 2016 Genre Study, much more information will be available online. Our hope is that we can help more libraries as they try to assist their leisure readers. We want to provide our members with a great in person experience but also are committed to leveraging our position as leaders in RA training to reach as many of you as possible.

And finally, although I cannot yet announce which genres we will be covering in 2016-17, I will provide a huge hint-- I will not be leading it this time, but I will be a major contributor at times.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

National Reading Group Month Is Coming...

Each October, the Women’s National Book Association sponsors a wonderful month long event-- National Reading Group Month.

Below is a post from Booklist Reader (Booklist is one of the major sponsors each year) explaining it all, but first a few comments by me.

I am smack dab in the middle of a flurry of book discussion training planning and trainings; in fact, I have just committed myself to leading the charge in 2016 on revamping the ARRT Book Discussion and Leadership Training program. We are still in the early stages and there are multiple planning meetings still to go, but you can start to see some of our rebranding and progress here.

In the past, I have only been able to half pay attention to the wonderful resources, ideas, and discussions that happen because of National Reading Group Month. Part of this is because it falls in October (my busiest month of the year #horrormavenproblems), but in the past, I also had to juggle my library job with my Halloween related duties.

Not this year though. My October 2015 will be all about Halloween AND Book Discussion Leadership Training. I am excited. And when I am excited about something, that means lots of resources, ideas, and training for you!

Since I did one webinar on Monday and will be doing another on the 28th, this is the perfect time to start getting ready for an all out book group assault here on the blog.

[Now I am giggling imagining a whole bunch of the “mature ladies” from my old book group jumping out of airplanes with parachutes to attack less studios book groups.]

*clears throat*

Get in on the action for yourself and your book clubs with this post from Booklist Reader:

Booklist again selected by National Reading Group Month, Great Group Reads  
Booklist, the American Library Association’s premier review source for public libraries and schools, has been selected once again to collaborate with the Women’s National Book Association’s October National Reading Group Month (NRGM), including the special Great Group Reads initiative that highlights selected titles.
National Reading Group Month celebrates shared reading by promoting reading groups. “Month in and month out, thousands of groups nationwide gather to discuss the latest and to revisit older titles,” observed NRGM Chair, Jill Tardiff.  “Great Group Reads” are a key element of National Reading Group Month, with 20 titles selected this year for their appeal to reading groups by a panel of writers, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, publicists, and committed readers. The chosen titles cover timely and provocative topics and include under-represented gems from independent presses and lesser-known mid-list releases from larger houses.
“Great Group Reads is a natural partnership for us, since its goals reflect so clearly what Booklist does for librarians and readers all year long—recommend books and offer resources that help librarians and readers select the titles most likely to lead to thought-provoking and entertaining discussions,” said Bill Ott, Editor and Publisher. “Like Booklist, it helps libraries by focusing attention on titles sure to engage readers, without expecting library staff to read every title themselves.”
Content in the Book Groups section of The Booklist Reader offers a one-stop resource with original content by expert contributors as well as links to a wide range of free book group-related guides and tips. It includes informative, wise, witty, and salutary posts by expert contributors from around the country, plus links to a wide range of free book group-related guides, tips and other resources. “This online destination for reading groups is ideal for National Reading Group Month,” said Tardiff. “We are delighted to partner with ALA’s Booklist and to make the blog a visible part of the program.”
Booklist is again making its reviews of Great Group Reads titles available free to non-subscribers at Booklist Online, and in October, its Great Reads page will be devoted to these titles. Booklist Online and the Booklist Reader are vibrant resources for book groups throughout the year, with wide-ranging free content including blogs, e-newsletters, and featured reviews of the day.
Visit National Reading Group Month to learn more about the program. Special events featuring reading-group favorite authors are planned nationwide in the Association’s 12 chapter cities, with partners from libraries and all areas of the book industry supporting the initiative.
Booklist is the book review magazine of the American Library Association, considered an essential collection development and readers’ advisory tool by thousands of librarians for more than 100 years. Booklist Online includes a growing archive of 170,000+ reviews available to subscribers and with The Booklist Readeroffers a wealth of free content offering the latest news and views on books and media.  Booklist subscriptions offer essential integrated print and online access for the most efficient and effective workflow, including four issues of Book Links.
The Women’s National Book Association, founded in 1917, is thought to be the oldest continuously running women’s literary organization in the USA. For the past 98 years, it has united women and men from every corner of the book world: writers, editors, librarians, bookstore owners, and more. It provides a vehicle through which members can act on their professional and personal commitment to champion the book and to stimulate the increased tolerance, social awareness, and civic involvement associated with reading.
Related interest:
The Booklist ReaderBooklist’s blogs, including a Book Groups section.
Great Group Reads 2015 Selections
Booklist Online includes a growing archive of 170,000+ reviews available to subscribers as well as a wealth of free content offering the latest news and views on books and media.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

RA Service Assessment: Step 2-- Assess Your Staff and Patrons

A few weeks back I wrote the first in what is a planned series of posts on assessing your RA services to leisure readers.

In that first post, I wrote abut assessing your own reader profile.

Today, I want to talk to you about step two of the assessment process, a step I have worked with NoveList to start implementing.

In Step 2 we are asking you to assess your patrons and their needs and weigh that against your staff and their strengths and weaknesses.

You can use this link to access NoveList's survey which leads you through this 5 minute assessment process. And I am serious about the 5 minutes.  You do not need to over think it. Just go with your gut. The survey has been through a few drafts and has been test driven by librarians all over the country.

The great news about this step of the assessment plan is that I have a video where I am part of a team who walks you through interrupting the information you receive from the survey and putting it into action steps.

As it was posted today in Booklist Online' Corner Shelf Newsletter:






Whether you have a dedicated readers'-advisory staff or not, you may find that your library experiences some of the same woes common to many libraries. How do you best capture the attention of your patrons? Is your staff up to speed on books and authors? We've got the cure for your RA blues. The August 2015 session of "RA Conversations," "Readers' Advisory Prescription," featured Rebecca Vnuk, NoveList's Duncan Smith, and librarian blogger Becky Spratford discussing recent research regarding public library patrons and their reading habits. The trio then talks about applying what libraries can learn from the "NoveList RA Diagnosis," and, using a real-life library patient, dispenses practical advice and solutions to common readers'-advisory ailments. You can view the session right here
Watch the video [also embedded below] where Duncan explains the process and research behind the creation of this assessment, followed by me breaking down a specific library's results, showing you how to quickly improve your RA Service by simply merging what you know about your patrons with what you know about the staff that will be helping them.

Now, truth be told, if you take the survey, you will realize that there are still more steps to come.  Ah, do not fear, I have you covered. I have 2 more steps in the works and more to come after that. In fact, I have created a new easy access archive of all of the RA Service Assessment posts here.

If you have questions after completing the survey and watching me explain how to use your results in the video, feel free to contact me. But until then, give it a try.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Recharge Your Book Club

This morning I will be presenting a LIVE webinar for Reaching Across Illinois Library System [RAILS].

Today it is a newly refurbished version of Recharge Your Book Club.


And soon, there will be a video recording available for everyone to view here.

Click here to start the slide show

Friday, September 11, 2015

What I’m Reading: The Booklist Reviews Edition

I am now doing reviews for Booklist. As they go up on the site and are published in the magazine, I will link to them here. But for the blog purposes I will repost the unedited versions with a little bit extra, including my 3 words and possibly a few more readalikes than the ones I managed to work into the review itself.

In terms of my new “soundbite” feature I have been adding into my posts on the books I have read, think of the official review [which you can access with the link at first for free and then with your library’s subscription login as they get older] as that soundbite.

Okay, now that the housekeeping portion of the post is out of the way, time to move into the reviews of three HUGE books which will have a very wide readership.

Here we go:


Slade House by David Mitchell [not out until October]. The review was first published in the 9/15/15 issue of Booklist.



In this slim and compelling novel, literary fiction stalwart Mitchell offers his most accessible book yet- a haunted house story in the vein of classics like The Turn of the Screw and The Haunting of Hill House. Written as five distinct chapters, each set on the last Saturday in October, spaced nine years apart, the novel follows the nefarious exploits of the Grayer Twins who inhabit the eponymous home, hidden in a narrow alley, behind a pub. Each chapter is told through the point of view of the poor soul who has been unknowingly summoned to the home as a sacrifice to the twins. Readers will appreciate how over the thirty-six year span, characters and story threads overlap to craft a unified, psychological tale. As in his more ambitious works,Mitchell gives reads the same genre blending, intricate plotting, and thought-provoking storylines, but here his scope is smaller, as he narrows his focus onto the intensely unsettling tone. Suggest to fans of Audrey Niffenegger, Karen Russell, and Steven Millhauser, and expect it to be read as a Halloween staple for years to come.

This book was awesome and can be given to many more readers than you normally would for a Mitchell novel. It has everything that is great about Mitchell in one short, fast paced book.

Three Words That Describe This Book: genre-blending, unsettling, episodic

Readalikes: There are plenty packed into my review.


Following up on the huge success of The Sisters Brothers, deWitt has another askew masterpiece on his hands, this time turning his unique narrative voice onto the familiar tropes of the fairy tale. Lucien (Lucy) Minor leaves his home, by train, to accept the position of the assistant to the majordomo of Castle Von Aux— aka “undermajordomo.” A darkly humorous adventure ensues, as Lucy leave home as a boy and becomes a man. Throughout this journey, Lucy encounters many memorable characters, including, two thieves who become his best friends and surprising moral conscious, a tall, dark, and handsome solider, fighting an unseen war against an unnamed enemy, and the beautiful Klara who captures his heart but not without competition. The highly nuanced characters are king in this tale. More than a compilation of quirks, each new character adds depth to the story, opportunity for growth in Lucy, and just plain fun for readers. To keep the pace moving swiftly, deWitt breaks up the novel into several sections with tongue-in-cheek titles of their own such as, “The Location, Apprehension, and Restoration to Normality of the Baron.” Readers who love The Princess Bride or the movies of the Cohen Brothers will be thrilled with this novel. deWitt has delivered another intriguing, compelling, and thought provoking winner that will appeal to anyone who wants to be captivated by a smart, entertaining read.

Three Words That Describe This Book: askew, captivating, adventure

Readalikes: Like the Mitchell above, Karen Russell is a great readalike, but more her stories. Also, Elizabeth McCracken, Kevin Brockmeir and Keith Donohue. Click on their names to get more info from me on each of them.


Butcher, the best-selling author of The Dresden Files, introduces a new epic fantasy, steampunk hybrid series that has shades of both Naomi Novik and Cherie Priest, set in a world where people live in highly developed societies housed in spires that protrude into the sky. Each spire has its own guard and fleets of airships to use for trade and defense; fleets made up of Master and Commander style ships that float through the mist shrouded skies, powered by magical crystals. A disgraced fleet captain and a group of young guardsmen and women loyal to Spire Albion are forced together after a surprise attack by Spire Aurora, but as they soon learn, this attack is much more than a simple war between Spires. With shifting points of view, short chapters, fast-paced action, and awesome battle scenes, the large cast of characters, world building, and intricate plot are revealed quickly and realized fully. It all reminds readers of when they first fell for Harry Dresden. The Cinder Files will be sure to attract fans new, old, and even lapsed to Butcher, increasing interest in all of his novels.

This is an exciting and fun read. I haven’t read a Dresden Files novel in years and was not expecting much, but this was great. I think the new setting and characters really energized him. This was an excellent book and will make a fascinating new series.

Three Words That Describe This Book: steampunk, fast-paced, large cast of characters

Readalikes: I listed 3 up there in the review. They all work for different reasons. For me, the Novik is the closest, but the Priest ticks all of the same steampunk and coming of age boxes. The links go to my reviews of their books previously posted her on the blog.

I think that Jack Campbell’s science fiction Lost Fleet Series is also a great readalike option here.

And although this novel is firmly in the “steampunk” subgenre, it also has space opera tendencies. So the Star Wars novels by Timothy Zahn will work too.