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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Becky's WAY BACK MACHINE Suggestions

I am not a re-reader, but recently, I was looking for a quick, fun audio book and I decided to re-read Redshirts by John Scalzi; yes the Wil Wheaton one. I had meant to do that for a previous meeting of the genre study, but time was tight and I had read it before so I read something I never had before instead.

I was compelled to re-read it recently because two newer books-- Dark Matter and All Our Wrong Todays reminded me so much of Redshirts that I wanted to revisit it. I will write more about that re-read in my review for All Our Wrong Todays soon.

But what this re-read also made me realize is that I have a lot of these WAY BACK MACHINE suggestions that work really well right now, ones I am finding myself suggesting to people again after a many years drought.

Since these titles keep coming up in conversation with library workers and readers, I thought I would compile them here as WAY BACK MACHINE suggestions. It's a cute moniker [and can you tell, I like writing it in all CAPS?], but it is also another reminder of the treasure trove that is the backlist-- all of those titles, sitting on your shelves, not being read by anyone at the moment, yet would make for a great read for the right person, right now.

Here are some books from at least 5 years ago (or more) that I think work as great suggestions for today's reader. Where applicable, I have linked to my review:

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier: I read this book pre-blog but it has never left me; I still think about it, all the time. It is beautiful and haunting. I have suggested it hundreds of times. over the years. It is not uplifting, yet it is elegiac. It takes the idea of the destruction of society to a whole new level, making you understand why people and their relationships to each other, no matter how tenuous, matter. I think this is a message all of us, on every side of every divide, can learn from these days. Here is an annotation for the novel that I wrote on the blog back in 2008:
A deadly virus is quickly killing off everyone on Earth, and Laura Byrd, a researcher in Antarctica is apparently the last person left alive. This apocalyptic story alternates between Laura’s struggle for survival and an alternate universe called “the city,” populated by the dead who still are remembered by those living on Earth. This compelling and original tale is chilling and thought provoking.
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti: her new book is out this month, but while people wait, this is a great suggestion. It was also my favorite book I read in 2008. For today's reader, beyond the fact that her new book is out, this novel is a smart, fun, fast paced and historical escape. Click here to see the report from a 2010 book discussion I led on this novel. From my initial review:
We begin the story in 19th Century, New England, in a Catholic orphanage. 12-year-old Ren has lived here for as long as he can remember. He also has no recollection of how he came to lose his hand either. Ren is worried about his future because he is nearing the age when, if not adopted, he will be sold into the army and never know what it is like to have a home and a family. One day, Benjamin arrives,claiming to be Ren's brother, and adopts Ren. As you can imagine, Benjamin is not who he claims to be and the two begin an exciting adventure together.

The Good Thief is, refreshingly, a traditional adventure story (with a historical background) in a literary landscape where adventure is being consumed by thrillers and terrorism plot lines. It is fast paced, the hero is resourceful and lucky (maybe unbelievable so, but that goes with the genre), and it has a resolved, happy ending. Tinti uses many of Dicken's own tricks and themes to propel her story along., including a wonderful cast of eccentric secondary characters such as a dwarf who lives on the roof, a murdering giant, and a hard of hearing landlady. The novel is appropriately funny, heart-warming, melodramatic, and bittersweet, with each occurring in the right places.

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow: Novels in verse are coming back into popularity thanks to Kwame Alexander and Jacqueline Woodson. Their books for younger readers are not only priming kids and teens to read novels in verse, but these authors are drawing in adult readers too. Sharp Teeth is a great option for Adults and Teens as I explain in this excerpt from my review from 2009:
...it is a novel-in-verse. Barlow's novel is an inventive mix of horror, traditional noir, and epic poetry, all rolled into one entertaining, but bloody novel. Make no mistake, this is first and foremost a werewolf story, so there is plenty of sex and gore, but it is still fine for Young Adults as none of it is too graphic. In fact, Sharp Teeth won a 2008 Alex Award for best adult fiction to suggest for teens. 

The story goes that in the seedy underbelly of LA there are three competing packs of werewolves fighting for supremacy and seeking revenge for past injustices. Connecting the packs and their separate, yet converging story lines, is Detective Peabody, who is investigating some suspicious murders which are somehow connected to dogs. The free verse is unsettling at first, but ultimately it enhances the chaos of the plot. As someone who reads and writes about a lot of horror, I appreciated this novel's originality.
The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan: I led a book discussion on this title back in 2008 [click here to read out notes] and I have not stopped telling book groups to read this book since. Seriously, it is still in all of my book discussion training materials. Below I have attached some of the thoughts from the beginning of our discussion. Click through for more, but understand that all of the issues brought up in this book apply even more so to today, and are not limited to the specific Israel situation. These are discussions worth having everywhere about how all different groups of people relate to each other.
This Nonfiction title begins in 1967 as three young Arab men sneak back into Jewish Israel in order to see the homes they were forced to abandon in 1948. The men had no luck at the first two homes, but at Bashir's former home, the one with the lemon tree planted by his father, a young Israeli college student, Dalia, opens the door and lets the young men in. So begins a dialog between the two which continues despite bombings, exiles, and imprisonments. Tolan tells Dahlia and Bashir's stories, recounts their histories, and explains the minutia of the conflict from the 1930s to the present day.

The main theme of Tolan's book is an encouragement of mutual witness and empathy for the story of the "other." Our group was most impressed by this point. We were all awed by Tolan's ability to be fair and tell both sides of the conflict. Many people in the group expressed how difficult it was, until recently, to hear the Arab side of the story. This also led to an interesting discussion about how much easier it is for Americans of European descent (like our group participants) to identify with the Jewish perspective because of our shared cultural backgrounds. A book like this was appreciated for its ability to let the reader into the Palestinian history and perspective in a way that they had never experienced before.
And last, my favorite current WAY BACK MACHINE suggestion-- Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. From my original review:
...Fforde began a new series with Shades of Grey set in a dystopian, post apocalyptic world (after "the thing that happened") where people can only see a limited color range and the world is run by a series of odd rules set by a long dead leader. No one is allowed to think for themselves and what colors you can see (and how much) dictates your place in society, with the color-blind relegated to near slavery. Unlike his highly literary previous series, in the Shades of Grey world, librarians are left to roam bookless stacks. The horror!
That's the set up but what is important to tell readers is that they have to be okay with the fact that Fforde has yet to publish book two in this series. It's a dystopia that ends on a cliff hanger, but if that isn't a perfect metaphor for life in American right now, I am not sure what is. You need to let people know this before you give it to them, however. Let the readers decide if they can handle it. Seriously, I have friends and family who will not read this book precisely because they know there is no book two yet. But, I have suggested this book to a lot of people recently as the perfect dystopian novel for our dystopian times. The lack of any resolution or further explanation in subsequent books is eerily reminiscent of living life right now in 2017.

Now what about you? Why don't you take the time to make a list, or even better, a display, for your library of your WAY BACK MACHINE Suggestions. Steal the name from me, I don't care.

It was really fun and easy to travel back in time to my old reviews and find the best titles. But more importantly, it also shows how much you can help your patrons. These are titles that will go unread without you pointing patrons to them.

Flex your muscles and dig into the backlist. Way back. You may be surprised by how timely your finds are.

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