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.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Listen to Horror Greats Nancy Holder and F. Paul Wilson Interviewed...Oh and Me Too!

I plan to do a lot of house work, both inside and out this holiday weekend which means I will be listening to a lot of podcasts as I garden and clean. I am guessing I am not alone and you may need things to listen to also.

There are a ton of book review podcasts, but few reach out to work with libraries.  Book Riot’s podcasts, which I have discussed on the blog many times before, and Book Riot in general, are an exception to the rule.

However, I have a new podcast to point you to, one that I personally converted to caring about libraries! It’s called Booked and it has been around for 351 episodes, so this is not a new thing.  Basically, the podcast is two guys from the Chicago suburbs, Robb and Livius. They love speculative fiction, especially horror, and have a podcast where they talk about what they are reading, give honest reviews, and interview authors. It’s is well produced, thoughtful, and well organized, but until recently was 100% library free.

This year, they were invited to StokerCon to be on a panel about podcasting. While they were there, they invited people from the Con to be interviewed for their podcast-- myself included.

They are posting their StokerCon content in 3 parts:

  1. Episode 349: Interviews with Ellen Datlow and John Skipp
  2. Episode 351: Interviews with Nancy Holder, F. Paul Wilson, and Becky Spratford-- that’s me!
  3. and to come.. Episode 352 will be the full recording of their panel mentioned above.

You should listen to all of them, but I want to point you to my episode-- I am the middle interview. In that interview I explain to them what RA is and why writers and patrons should care. I talk straight about libraries to people who love books and reading but did not appreciate the work library workers do to help readers.

I am happy to report that Livius and Robb were impressed, or as they said about our work, "This is where the magic happens! “ They were embarrassed not to know how awesome librarians are at suggesting books.

They were very kind, yes, but more importantly, they are also truly interested in working with library people more on their podcast, so much so that I have put them in contact with a few key people to make that happen.  At the very least, I am working with Livius to have him come to ALA Annual this summer. Hopefully, I can introduce him to some of you.

So go listen to Booked this weekend. Support them because they are our new biggest fans.

Now I am off to start converting the approximately 6,000 other book review podcasts that do not take library workers into consideration. If I take them on one at a time, I should be done, um, let’s see....never. Oh well, job security.

Have a great holiday weekend. I will be finishing Ararat by Christopher Golden and starting Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders on Audio. Back on Tuesday.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

ARRT Speculative Fiction Genre Study Update With Notes

Look at that snazzy new ARRT Genre Study logo. Click here to learn more about why we are working to brand the ARRT signature programs.

That’s not the point of today’s post, obviously, but it is a great logo.

Okay, back to the business at hand.... The next meeting of the Speculative Fiction Genre Study is happening soon. Here are the details and the assignment:
Doorway: ToneJune 1, 2017, 2-4 PMLisle District Library 
Featured resource: Peruse the  The Book Smugglers blog 
Assignment:1) Read a book from two different authors from the list below (two books total). Preferably, both authors will be new to you:
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Douglas Adams
  • Gail Carriger
  • Mercedes Lackey
  • Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Christopher Moore
  • Jeff Vandermeer
2) As you read, think about the genre/subgenre of the book and additional appeal factors for the books
As you can see, we have a range of tones represented here. These are also all authors for whom their tone is one of the reasons people either enjoy or dislike their stories. Why? Ahh, but that is for the discussion on June 1st.

That is what is up next, but we also have posted the notes from April’s meeting about the doorway of language here.

Finally, please note that while you must be a member of ARRT to attend the meetings, anyone and everyone is welcome to use our assignments and notes as a guide to run their own genre studies. All we ask is that you cite ARRT as a resource.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Considering “Bestseller” as a Genre

There has been a lot of talk this week about the brand new Amazon.com bestseller lists simply called Charts.

You can click here to see it for yourself, but I also really liked this article from The Guardian about Charts and what Amazon is trying to do with it that is different than what the New York Times does. I will wait if you go away for a moment and read that first.

No matter how you feel about Amazon and their impact on the book world, I do want to use the introduction of  Charts as a chance to have a broader conversation about serving readers at the public library.

I love bestseller lists. Every single one, no matter how small or obscure. Why? Because patrons love bestseller lists. As I detailed in this Call to Action post back in February
Patrons know what best sellers lists are; they already use them to help identify potential books to read. Best sellers are implicitly deemed as “good” by patrons because why else would they be best sellers? I know this logic is not always true, but it is how people think and we need to use that to our advantage.
That post is about creating a hyper-local bestseller list for your library. But today I want to remind you that for many patrons, a book being a Bestseller is a genre. Yes I know that genre as we see it had absolutely nothing to do with genre conventions, but....

That really doesnt matter in reality.

For many readers, “bestseller” means the book is good and worth their time. It is a way for them to shift through the thousands of reading options and create a smaller universe of books to choose from. They want to know if the book is popular because that will let them know it is okay to dive in and try it out.

I know this could be a disaster, and that with a few moments and some conversation we can find those patrons the perfect read regardless of whether it was a bestseller or not, but again, if the patron wants a “bestseller,” your best option is to have as many types of bestseller lists to cull from as possible.

I seek out many bestseller lists on a regular basis both to use as I help readers, but also to give me a sense of the niche areas. What books are popular in certain genres? What authors are getting a lot of buzz? What is popular in self publishing?

So please, embrace Amazon Charts as just another tool we have to help readers who see “bestsellers” as their favorite genre. And don’t forget, patrons are seeing the promotion about these lists. They will be asking for the books whether or not we are aware of the list. Like it or not, Charts will drive readers to us and we need to be aware and ready with he book in question, or a readalike.

Besides Charts, you can click here for a good list of bestseller lists from general to genre. Also, don’t forget Library Reads which can be seen as the library worker version of a bestseller list. Finally, check out that post from above where I wrote about how to create your own hyper-local best seller lists.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book Expo 2017: Adult Editor’s Buzz Panel- Or the Post Where Becky Shows You How to Make Publishing Previews Work for You RIGHT NOW!

BookExpo is coming next week. I will not be there [I will be training library staff in the Tampa area instead]. There will be a lot of content coming out of the conference that is EXTREMELY relevant to RA Service.

Today, I wanted to share ShelfAwareness’ preview of one of the best panels-- Adult Editor’s Book Buzz. I love this panel because unlike much of the conference content, it is not driven by the publishers alone. These titles are picked through a consensus by 3 committees and librarians are included. 

Now, one of the frustrating things about these “Buzz” panels is that the books don’t come out for a while, so while these are very helpful in terms of getting orders in early, they are not as useful in our work with patrons right now.

Or are they? With just a little rethinking of how you use these lists, you can easily turn this frustration into an opportunity-- one that will help you to help more reader now and in the future.

Here’s how:
  1. Get excited about the upcoming books lists: Between Book Expo and ALA you will be inundated with titles that aren’t available yet. Find a way to organize the lists and hold them in one place to use now and refer to later. Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed. You will feel overwhelmed, but find an organizational method that helps you control the chaos.
  2. Look at the lists when you first encounter them and think about readalike authors. As you can see below, often, the blurbs on these buzz include readalikes. But, don’t just rely on those. Use the blurbs to brainstorm [yourself or as a staff] titles that the blurb reminds you of.  Think of patrons who may like the books being previewed. What else does that patron like to read? Could those titles also be readalikes? This can be an exercise to help you do step 3, but it is also a great training tool. You are practicing your RA skills, and if you get the entire staff to work together, you are creating a library-wide conversation about books and readers- which benefits all staff and all patrons.
  3. Build displays or lists to promote these upcoming titles with readalike lists of the backlist titles you already have on your self.  “Coming Soon” displays at the library with reading options while you wait not only allows your patrons to share in the buzz excitement, but also showcases the great titles you already do have. You are building buzz for backlist books by association.
  4. These displays will generate holds on the “coming soon” titles too. Looking at the data of which titles are getting the most holds also helps you see what you patrons are most interested in. This information will help you to make other purchasing decisions going forward.
  5. Finally, in a few weeks, after you have gathered all of these lists of the big books of Fall and Winter, take a step back and survey the larger picture. What trends do you see? Are there similarities? Are there glaring holes between what you patrons want to read and what the publishers are pushing? Often this step is forgotten. We gather the lists, we order the books, we make the “while you wait” readalike lists, but we don’t look back on the whole picture. There is a lot to learn from comparing the buzziest books as a group. Please remember to do this. I will revisit the issue in a few months to remind you and we can do it together.
See, there are plenty of reasons how lists of books that haven’t come out yet can help you right now! Let’s get started...

Click here or see below for the titles and comments 

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BookExpo 2017: Adult Editors' Buzz Panel

With BookExpo 2017 beginning next week at the Javits Center in New York City, Shelf Awareness is taking a look at one of the show's signature events. Chosen by three committees of booksellers, librarians and publishing professionals, the annual Editors' Buzz panels provide a glimpse of eagerly anticipated books coming out in the second half of 2017 and early 2018. Today's list features the six titles selected for the Adult Editors' Buzz Panel, along with comments from editors and booksellers.
On August 22, Irish author Liz Nugent will make her American debut with the publication of Unraveling Oliver, originally released abroad in 2014. It is the story of Oliver Ryan, who writes and illustrates children's books with his wife, Alice. By all appearances, Oliver is a successful, charming man, and his and Alice's marriage is a happy, fulfilling and often enviable one. One night that facade abruptly shatters when Oliver hits Alice and beats her so savagely she falls into a coma. Those who thought they knew the couple are forced to try to make sense of how something so shocking and horrible could have happened, and the ensuing examination of Oliver's life, told from a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, exposes a truth darker and more sinister than they could have imagined.
Gallery Books senior editor Jackie Cantor said she was hooked on Unraveling Oliver the minute she read the first line, as Oliver dispassionately reflects that he "expected more of a reaction" the first time he hit his wife. Cantor likened the novel to Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, for its "dark look at how a sociopath makes his way in the world," and Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin, about a mother's relationship with her "irredeemable" son, adding that her favorite thing about Unraveling Oliver was the way Nugent creates such a compassionate, human portrait of a truly terrible character. Said Cantor: "As soon as I finished it, I knew it was something I wanted to publish." The book appears August 22.
In Stay with Me, the debut novel from Nigerian writer Ayobami Adebayo, Yejide and Akin are a young married couple living in Nigeria in the 1980s. They met and fell in love at university, and though they both agreed that polygamy wasn't right for them, it's been four years since they got married and Yejide still hasn't been able to get pregnant. Facing mounting pressure from Akin's family, Yejide has gone to increasingly elaborate lengths to get pregnant, including visits to fertility doctors and the use of folk remedies. One day she is introduced to a woman whom she is told is her husband's new second wife. Consumed by anger and jealousy, desperate to save her marriage, Yejide resolves to get pregnant, whatever the cost.
Abby Fennewald, director of marketing and publicity at BookPeople in Austin, Tex., said that Yejide and Akin's struggles with love and identity make for a "beautiful and compelling story" that fully explores the many, complicated layers of family life and what happens when a person's wants collide with society's demands. "My heart was breaking over and over for Yejide, and the ending truly caught me by surprise," said Fennewald. "I can't wait to keep reading books by Ayobami Adebayo." Stay with Me will be published by Knopf on August 22.
Arriving from Riverhead on August 29, My Absolute Darlingmarks the debut of writer Gabriel Tallent and tells the story of 14-year-old Turtle Alveston, who finds refuge from her isolated home life and dangerous father by wandering the rugged landscape of the northern California coast. At school, she refuses to make a connection with anyone, until she meets a high school boy named Jacob. Through her friendship with Jacob, Turtle is exposed to a different way of life, one that is happy, safe and not shut away from the world at large. Gradually she realizes that in order to protect herself, she must escape from her father and create a new life.
"This is the most difficult and best book I've read in a very long time," said Anne Holman, co-owner of the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah. "Everything about this story is lodged in my heart forever: the people, the action, the Mendocino countryside, and especially Turtle [and] her ability to survive the worst that life has to offer and still get up every morning and hope that something will be different."
Brendan Mathews's debut, The World of Tomorrow, opens in June of 1939, just months before World War II breaks out in Europe, as two brothers flee from Ireland to New York City after stealing a huge amount of money from the Irish Republican Army. Their names are Francis and Michael Dempsey, and they hope to hide out at the home of their brother Martin and his wife, Rosemary. Over the coming days, the Dempsey brothers explore prewar New York from Hell's Kitchen to Harlem, encountering mob bosses, artists, jazz musicians and more, all while an assassin hired by the IRA attempts to track them down. Though they hope for a better future, another war is imminent and there is danger at every turn.
Sarah Bagby, co-owner of Watermark Books & Cafe in Wichita, Kan., called The World of Tomorrow a "different kind of big, rich 'New York City' novel." She praised Mathews's playful language, the novel's multi-faceted and unpredictable story, and its flawed, compelling and "all-too-human" characters. The World of Tomorrow will be out September 5 from Little, Brown.
Coming January 9, 2018, from Putnam is Chloe Benjamin's second novel, The Immortalists. In 1969, an itinerant psychic arrives in Manhattan's Lower East Side claiming to be able to tell people the exact day they'll die. Four siblings, Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya, sneak out together to see the psychic, and what they learn that night will influence them for the rest of their lives. The novel follows the four Gold children over the next 50 years as they branch out in adulthood and contend with the notions of free will and fate: one heads to San Francisco in the 1980s, another becomes a magician in Las Vegas, a third joins the army after 9/11, and the last pursues the dream of immortality through medical research.
According to Daniel Goldin, owner of Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, Wis., readers will "likely fall in love with the Gold family and Chloe Benjamin's novel," and though each of the book's four sections has its own feel, they all come together into a seamless whole. He called The Immortalists a "whip-smart and unexpectedly philosophical story of fate, faith and family."
Rounding out today's list is A.J. Finn's debut thriller, The Woman in the Window, out January 23, 2018, from Morrow. Anna Fox is a recluse. She lives by herself in New York City, and though she hardly ever goes outside, she keeps a keen eye on the goings-on around her. After a married couple with a teenage son moves in across the street, Anna begins observing them too. One night while looking across the street, she sees something so shocking she can't believe it's real, and as she continues to spy on her neighbors, a Hitchcockian descent into paranoia and madness ensues.
"I have never had so much fun being submerged in a world of fear and suspense," said Luisa Smith, director of buying for Book Passage in Corte Madera, San Francisco and Sausalito, Calif. The book will appeal to "fans of both classic noirs and contemporary thrillers," and more than just a thrilling read, The Woman in the Window features writing that is "perfectly paced throughout, allowing the host of unforgettable characters space to draw us even deeper into this unrelenting mystery." --Alex Mutter

Monday, May 22, 2017

What I’m Reading: Hero of the Empire

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill
It’s Monday, but until I catch up on my personal reading reviews, there is no Call to Action for anyone! You can read past ones here though.

I know I also promised to pair all of my upcoming reviews and this is a review of only 1 book, but that is because I want to pair this review of Candice Millard's Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill with her other 2 books. Why? Because her body of work, taken together illustrates on of the principles of RA service that I am constantly hitting home-- people are looking to match books based on their particular feel, not based on the plot, or to but it another way, we need to make our matches based on appeal NOT subject heading. With Nonfiction this becomes more tricky so I am using this review to hammer that point home. I will explain more below, but first here is the summary:
At age twenty-four, Winston Churchill was utterly convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England one day, despite the fact he had just lost his first election campaign for Parliament. He believed that to achieve his goal he must do something spectacular on the battlefield. Despite deliberately putting himself in extreme danger as a British Army officer in colonial wars in India and Sudan, and as a journalist covering a Cuban uprising against the Spanish, glory and fame had eluded him.  
Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899, valet and crates of vintage wine in tow, there to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. But just two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner. Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape--but then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with nothing but a crumpled wad of cash, four slabs of chocolate, and his wits to guide him.  
The story of his escape is incredible enough, but then Churchill enlisted, returned to South Africa, fought in several battles, and ultimately liberated the men with whom he had been imprisoned.  
Churchill would later remark that this period, -could I have seen my future, was to lay the foundations of my later life.- Millard spins an epic story of bravery, savagery, and chance encounters with a cast of historical characters--including Rudyard Kipling, Lord Kitchener, and Mohandas Gandhi--with whom he would later share the world stage. But Hero of the Empire is more than an adventure story, for the lessons Churchill took from the Boer War would profoundly affect 20th century history.
Appeal: Let’s start with the appeal of Winston Churchill before we move into Millard’s own appeal as a writer. I will admit to being both a Millard fan, and after my New Year's trip to London and visiting the Churchill War Rooms [by the way one of the best museums I have ever been to, and I have been to hundreds at this point], a Churchill fan. [In my 14 year old daughter's word, "He was a savage."] However even if you were not a fan of either before reading this book, you will be after.

Churchill was a dynamic man from the start of his life. Yes we know of his bravery and leadership during WWII, but the picture of this man who was arrogant and egotistical but also kind; who was brilliant, rich and privileged, but also brave; a man who always put service to his country first. To see all of these complications in one short volume was not only informative, but it was fun to read. 

We saw the man who became the legend here. That was fun in and of itself.

But as you cab see I am already moving beyond the subject of the story and am hinting at the biggest appeal, how Millard writes her books. 

Here is a comment about Millard's writing style from notes on my book group's discussion of River of Doubt in 2008.
Everyone agreed that Millard's writing style was excellent. One member mentioned how much she liked the "slice of life" narrative device. Too many times, she explained, great people's lives are "shoe-horned" into a book; here, she enjoyed how much we learned about Roosevelt through this one event in his life. The shorter time frame allowed for more depth into the character of the man himself.
This is why I enjoy all of her books but this is also why she it takes her so long to write each one. She takes a moment in time surrounding a seminal event in a “great man’s” life and tells the complete story around that moment. She gives you the context from every possible angle, pulling in side stories that you think might not mean anything, but with her 360 degree approach to historical research-- they most certainly do matter. But through all of this detail, Millard still manages to create a book that moves briskly. The story and it’s “characters” take over. Her hand in the story disappears. Of course I know she is writing it, but she does so in a way where the action and the actors take control and lead us, the reader through the book. We have fun and learn quite a bit but without any artifice of the author putting herself in the way. She stops back and lets history both teach and entertain on its own.

In this specific case, pairing this great man with a writing style that looked at just a moment in his life AND add to it all of the other things I learned about while being treated to an exciting adventure story, was highly satisfying. You cannot deny the adventure here. Look we know Churchill will not die. We know he makes it, but it is still an exciting tale of war, daring escape, and dangerous travels to freedom. You are on the edge of your seat waiting to see him get to safety.

Millard also taught me about the Boer War, the diamond industry, British colonial politics at the turn of the 20th Century, and the roots of modern South African. In the process, I now see some of the major world events of the 20th Century in a more nuanced and informed light. Yes I had fun reading this book and I learned quite a bit about a lot of things, things that actually have relevance to my life. Millard did that with the way she writes. That bolded line, that’s how you hand sell any Millard book. It is the soundbite review you say to a potential reader before going further. For many patrons, that one sentence might be all it takes.

For more about Millard's other books, click here for more by me on The River of Doubt and here for my review of Destiny of the Republic and here for the book discussion report on that title too

The overall point I want to make here is that while Churchill will be a draw for some readers, many who didn’t know much about him, will still love this book for the way it makes history come alive, the way it connects things you didn’t think mattered to your own life, and the way Millard captures you and happily takes you on a historical journal with her. 

Note on the Audio Narration: Hero of the Empire was narrated by the incomparable Simon Vance. For many that will be enough for them to listen; however, here is the AudioFile review [via NoveList] with a bit more appeal detail: 
Simon Vance's full-throttle narration is one of the many delights in this rousing biography of Winston Churchill's youthful escapades in the Boer War. Yes, the future statesman WAS a colossal egoist blessed with complete self-confidence, but, trust me, he was also funny, smart, talented, brave, good-hearted, and an all-together boon companion. He's also lucky in Vance, who reads the future statesman's boastful letters home with a straight face, which allows the audience to laugh, and with just the right hint of the Churchillian timbre. His interpretations of others, including Boer soldiers, Brits of all classes, and the odd American are equally well shaded. And when the adventure breaks out, as it often does, he breathlessly dodges bullets with the best of them. A.C.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award  AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine

Three Words That Describe This Book: Slice of Life biography, Compelling, Richly Detailed

Readalikes: In my previous mentions of Millard, I made these suggestions of other writers who take a similar approach to history as she does:


But with this title in particular, I couldnt stop thinking about Susan Orlean. Any of her books really, but in particular The Orchid Thief. The way both women capture something I didnt think I cared about and write what is a compelling adventure story filled with danger, drama, and lots of history and facts, its all just fascinating and fun. I feel like a more informed human citizen after reading these authors, but I also feel little guilty that I had so much fun while I learned.

Of course some may want to also read more about the Boer War or Churchill and for those I have left a link to a book on Goodreads to get your started. But I would venture that most who read and enjoy Millard, will want to read all of her books and others who write like her, regardless of the subject matter.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Part Two of Secrets of Readers’ Advisory with Me!

Last month I wrote about the interview I did with Faith Brautigam in Public Libraries Online. Her questions were so good that they decided to keep them all in and run the article in two parts.

So Part 1 with a bit of background as to how Faith and I first met is here. And you can now read Part 2, here. In Part 2, Faith set me up with a Western question and asked me how I would help that reader. We also talked about trends, self training, and more.

You can also access Part 1 at the start of Part 2 . Thanks again to Faith for asking great questions and to Public Libraries Online for getting the word out about the importance of RA service in our public libraries today.

Click here for the full article

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Book Buzz Chicago 2017: Free Tickets Now Available

Real quick post today to let you know about this FREE pre-ALA event at the Chicago Public Library- Book Buzz Chicago 2017:
Click here for all the details

Use this link for all of the details and to register. It is free but space is limited.

This is a great option for local library workers who aren’t going to get to go to ALA Annual and out of town people who get in early and want to get a preview of what they will see at the conference. Also, it’s just a great networking opportunity.

Personally, I like going to Book Buzz events like this because you get to stay in one place and all of the publishers come to you. They are going to talk to us about the books for which they are most excited.

This one is also unique because it is for all age levels.  I signed up for lunch and Adult only, but there is nothing stopping anyone from going to both.

However, before you sign up, let me remind you all that you are not there to grab as many ARCs as you can. That is not why I love these “buzz” events. Why they are most useful is that we can get a quick snapshot of what the publishers think are the biggest trends and the best titles coming out. Yes we will get the names of promising debuts, big name titles coming soon, and some midlist authors with a new title that will knock your patrons’ socks off.

But, listen harder to the publisher reps as they book talk each title and then compare across publishers and you get a very good sense of what trends will continue and which ones are emerging. In past events like this, I have seen how the addition of subtle horror elements was creeping into mainstream fiction. At another one a few years ago, I saw every publisher include a book with a suburban, unreliable female protagonist. Hmmmmm......

The point is, this event, and others like it, give us a chance to learn about books that we should order for our libraries and why they fit our patrons’ needs, but also, if you allow yourself to take a step back and assess the bigger picture, you will learn much about the entire leisure reading industry and where to expect things to go next because you have a group of the major publishers all in one place, together.

I am already registered and will be live Tweeting the adult portion that day [#bookbuzzcpl] for you all to follow. I will then post a follow up assessing the larger picture trends and issues I saw emerge.

See you there?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What I’m Reading: Underground Railroad and News of the world.

I haven’t reviewed a single book I have read for my own enjoyment yet this year. Yikes. I have been busy writing lots of reviews for Booklist though.

Call it spring cleaning but I am going to try to focus on reviews in the coming days, and I will be pairing them. Some of the pairs will be obvious readalikes but others will not.  All will be linked for a reason which I will explain though. Reviews won’t be every day, but they will be frequent in the next week to ten days.

Today I am getting started with two books I read at the start of the year, Every year I begin the year with the “best” books from the previous year which I didn’t get to. In this case there were two. I am pairing them today because of that reason which for some readers, myself included, makes them readalikes, but based on a more traditional appeal based readalike algorithm they would not be.

I make this point to remind you that people have a variety of reasons as to why they like the books they like. Yes, often we are looking for books with a similar feel, but also it is important to remember that some more arbitrary reasons make books readalikes for each other.

Treat each reader and their needs as unique and make sure to find out exactly what they are looking for as they finish one book and begin another.

Here we go...

First up, the most decorated book of the year, Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Summary from Goodreads:
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood - where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. 
In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor - engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven - but the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. 
As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
Appeal: The first thing I want to point out is the least obvious from the summary-- Cora. Cora is an amazing protagonist. Whitehead writes her in a way that allows us to dissolve into her-- or maybe saying she dissolves into us is more accurate. She is a very specific woman with a very detailed history whose head we get deep inside of, but she is also an enigma. Whitehead does this deliberately so that the story can be both specific and universal at the same time. For me this was the biggest appeal of the story, Cora. I fell into her and didn’t want to leave, even when she made me take a long and hard look at myself and my country.

Cora’s story is one of America. She is not perfect, she makes mistakes [big and small], she has character flaws, but she wants to be free and wants to do the right thing. Like America itself, as the story ends, we are not sure what will happen to Cora in the future. She moves on. The first part of her journey-- to freedom-- is now over, but what she does with that, we won’t know.

Interestingly, however, we do learn the exact and specific fate of every other character. I loved this storytelling technique because it gave what is actually a fairly open story, a feeling of closure.

All of the characters are rich and interesting-- from the good ones to the bad guys and those in between [of which there are many], but it is not only character which drives this story. It is also fairly plot driven. Yes, the storyline is thought provoking with all of the frame of a good historical, but it is also full of suspense that keeps the narrative moving at a surprisingly quick pace. You want to know what is going to happen next. The action and anxiety of Cora and her comapnions' desperate attempts to stay free and alive keeps you turning the pages.

There is real danger and drama here, but there are also quiet moments that will stay with you long after you finish. For me, two examples are the descriptions of Cora’s work in a live diorama in a SC museum and her time hidden in a NC attic. Those scenes are descriptive and they say so much about the reality of our country and its history even though they could have never been.

Which reminds me, I need to address the alternative history aspects of this novel. Yes, Whitehead makes the Underground Railroad a real railroad, and imagines a south that did not exist; however, I would describe this alternative history aspect as more similar to magical realism. I know you can’t call it that because the alternative part is not magic at all, but in terms of how it reads, it had the lighter touch of magical realism as opposed to the heavier hand of alternative history.

The language here is also a huge appeal. It is lyrical, extremely descriptive, and captivating but not hard to read. The story flows even though the writing is lush. It is conversational and complex at the same time. It allows you to “live in the moment” of the story and/or contemplate the larger picture; it’s your choice.

This is the rare title that works for character driven, storyline driven, frame driven, and/or language driven readers. All can find and then focus on what they most enjoy here. I think this is also why it has been the most consensus best book of a year that we have had in a long time.

Three Words That Describe This Book: magical feel, thought-provoking, strong protagonist

Readalikes: There are many ways to go here. I am going to start with the setting-- the African American experience. For this I suggest Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The way Whitehead and Gyasi are able to connect the stories of specific African American characters to tell an “everyman” story is remarkable. In both of these books get a portrait of a shared American history. It’s a specific perspective but it reflects upon our shared experience. You can click here to see more detail and to get some more readalikes [especially The Known World by Edward P. Jones]

Although it is set in the 1980s, I couldn’t stop thinking about Delicious Foods by James Hannaham while I was reading Underground Railroad. The unique storytelling choices, lyrical writing about difficult things and the strong protagonist from Delicious Foods reverberated in my head as I was reading Underground Railroad. Click through for my full review of the Hannaham novel which also has more readalikes.

Some people will really hone on on the alternative history aspects here. For me personally, they were more magical realism [as I already noted], but for those readers, there are plenty of options. The most obvious readalike is Ben H. Winters’ Underground Airlines. Reading these two novels in tandem would be a great reading experience. I would love to see a more adventurous book group give it a try.

For readers who are really into Alternative History, click here for an excellent resource.

Finally, for those who want more magical realism than alternative history set in a similar time period while still having compelling characters and lyrical prose should also try Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. I am about to start this one on audio myself.

As I mentioned above my second review is extremely different from the first.  While Underground Railroad is lushly lyrical and magical, News of the World by Paulette Jiles is sparely lyrical and extremely realistic. I will explain more below but first, the summary from Goodreads:
In the aftermath of the American Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this morally complex, multi-layered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust. 
Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence. 
In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows. 
Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land. 
Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.
Appeal: The above plot summary is the perfect example of a long plot summary that tells you everything that happens yet doesn’t give away why someone would would read this book.

This is the perfect example a character centered novel. The point of the story isn’t the journey or even the awesome setting. Those are reasons you keep reading and they are entertaining, but it is the Captain who is the pulse of the story. The Captain’s thoughts, his life story, his personal journey are the reason you would read and enjoy this story.

One of my favorite things about this novel is that it is a contradiction of itself. This is a slim, quick read but it is very thoughtful and nuanced. Also, the protagonist, the Captain, and the landscape are both spare, with a hard exterior, but if you peel away the gritty top layer, both reveal a beautiful interior.

Here’s another one-- The captain doesn’t say much, but he is a master of language. He speaks to make money. By the way, of course people would pay for someone to read them the news. News was both hard to come by AND most were illiterate.  Reading about it was very interesting and I could totally picture scenes like the Captain’s reading happening.

More contradictions: The Captain is deeply flawed but a 100% admirable man. Johanna and the Captain are so completely different, yet he is the perfect guardian for her.

Finally, News of the World is unapologetically a Western in every sense of the genre. I have been saying for a little bit now that the Western is having a revival and with wonderful novels like this coming out, I think I may be correct.

Three Words That Describe This Book: character centered, strong sense of place, beautiful

Readalikes: Many readers may want to give more Westerns a try after enjoying News of the World. Here are a few options:
For people who want the same overall feel and a similar storyline but told on a longer, more saga length scale, try The Son by Philipp Meyer.

Other authors who use a strong Western setting to tell a character driven, compellingly paced story are Ivan Doig and Sandra Dallas.  

Finally, News of the World was the top Library Reads pick in October 2016. I post the library reads every month here on the blog. I also use these lists to help find sure bet reads for a wide range of readers. I am not kidding. I often just go to the site and pick a random month and year, start reading the annotations, and then suggest one of the titles to someone. It works really well. So, that means the entire database of Library Reads could be a potential readalike here too.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

It’s Mystery Month in Booklist

Mystery Month at Booklist occurs every May and they go all out with their original lists, articles, and content. And, even though it is called “Mystery” month, they understand that our patrons think of all crime fiction as “mystery.”

Everything is available on the website without signing in, but here are some of the highlights that I think you can use right this minute to help readers:
Readers love crime fiction. This issue is a resource now and in the future.  You can access past year’s Mystery Month coverage here. No matter the year, Booklist’s May issue is a great resource to help readers.

Finally I wanted to remind everyone who gets a print subscription to Booklist- which is almost every library- that you have free access to Booklist Online. Someone may need to activate the online access for your library, but it is not hard. It is worth investigating for easier access to the rich content that you are already paying for. It will definitely make the library’s subscription dollars go further toward helping you build a better, more responsive collection and match more readers with the right book for them.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Call to Action: Allow People To Dislike The Books You Suggest

For today’s Call to Action, I want to remind you of something very important, something that can derail library workers as they begin to help more readers...

If patrons don't like every book you suggested to them, that’s not only okay, it is actually a good thing!

Failure in general teaches you way more than success.  But in particular, why is getting a book suggestion wrong a good thing in our work with leisure readers? Well, honestly, we learn so much more from patrons when they don’t like something. They share much more detail about what they want to read and why when they are talking about what they did not enjoy. Think about yourself. It is much easier to articulate why you disliked a book than why you liked it. And, this information helps us to fine tune future book suggestions.

Take the example from my own reading that I include on my staff reader profile exercise:

Just about every single RA resource [from computers to people] has told me over the years that I should like Outlander, but I don’t. Understanding this nuance as to why I did not like it, has helped me to not only understand how to find better books for myself, but it has also made me more aware of the intricacies in helping readers. It has also allowed me to understand that everyone makes a bad suggestion now and again and no amount of research can stop that from happening because working with people is never predictable.

Now, while failure is both inevitable and leads to more information we can use to help our patrons better, there is actually a larger, more overarching reason why getting a suggestion wrong is helpful. In general, the biggest missing piece in established RA Service in America today is feedback. I know this from my personal experience and from the hundreds of library workers I encounter in my work.

More often that not, we suggest a book or two or three to a patron and we never hear back about how we did. Many times patrons come to us over and over for suggestions without ever letting us know what they have liked or disliked about our suggestions. We can’t even get them to tell us which methods of book discovery we are providing they like the most. Now, over the years, I have worked intensely with a few patrons [I still continue to work with one from my former library, weekly] to get very specific and detailed responses to every book I suggest. This non-scientific research has been time consuming, but I have learned a few things I want to share with you.

The best way we can encourage feedback is to make time and space for conversation at the library.

People are afraid to tell us that they didn’t like the book not because they think we will get it wrong again; no, that is not what is going on at all. I have found that more often than not, they are afraid to tell us we got it wrong because they are worried that we will have hurt feelings and won’t help them anymore.

That’s right, they still want our help when we get it wrong. This fact alone should free you up to accept more failure. They don’t want to lose you, their book discovery tool. They care much less about how much they liked your suggestion than we think they do. Add to this that we, as a group of library workers serving leisure readers, are starved for more feedback and you can begin to see one of our biggest hurdles we have to taking the next step toward more robust RA Service.

So how to stop this vicious cycle and create the space to fail on a suggestion but win at RA Service overall? One of my favorite tools is to make sure every time I suggest a book to a patron that I tell him or her something like, “Based on what you have told me about the books you have enjoyed in the past, this seems like a good option. But, if you aren’t enjoying it, bring it back and let me know. I have thousands of more options. We will find the right book for you. Besides, it’s no skin off my back, I didn’t write it.”

This mix of humor with a gentle reminder that not only do I not mind criticism, but that I have so many more books that I can substitute this one “dud” with, goes a long way toward enraging feedback and creating a space where the RA Conversation can not only live but flourish.

Of course, you don’t have a physical interaction with every patron; therefore, why don’t you start including statements like this on your digital and paper lists and bibliographies, or even stick a note at the end of some of the books. Have a statement like the one above. Something like, “Let us know if you loved this book, hated it, or fell somewhere in between. We want to know so we can help you better!” Have an email address, your phone number, your Facebook page-- multiple places where feedback can be given, but you have to make sure you are letting them know that negative feedback is okay.

When we make the RA conversation-- a truly honest back and forth sharing of ideas and preferences-- our priority and stop making the book we suggest our ultimate goal, then we are encouraging the RA journey. When you encourage the journey it doesn’t matter if your patrons love every book you give them. What begins to matter is HOW they felt about the book-- positively or negatively. Then we learn what our patrons want to read and why-- each one individually and overall as a population we are serving as a whole.

When you encourage the journey and do not put the focus on yourselves [or your employees] to get every suggestion right, you encourage the feedback we all desperately crave.

Now don’t worry about having to force a failure in order to practice this Call to Action; they will come.  The more RA work you do, the more you will get wrong. And, the more you help a specific patron the more he or she will feel comfortable telling you the honest truth about how much they liked or disliked a suggestion.

Get out there and make suggestions. Don’t be afraid of failure; in fact, let the patrons know you might get it wrong and encourage them to come back and work with you more. Let them know how helpful it is for them AND you to have the most feedback-- positive and negative-- possible. It will  help them get access to the perfect book for them and it will help you to help even more readers.

For past Call to Action posts, click here.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Reading Group Choices for Sure Bet Suggestions

One of my all time favorite resources for finding sure bet reading suggestions- either for gifts or to suggest to the patron who won’t give me more than, “I just want a good book”- is Reading Group Choices. Why? Well they have the most extensive database of proven winner, book discussion books available with one click.

First, why do I use a book discussion books resource to find sure bets for the average library patron? That one is easy to answer. It is because if a book has been a proven discussion winner that means it both has enough depth and interest to discuss something AND it has been shown to work with a large number of different readers.

Yes, as a demographic group, book discussion members are probably majority white, middle aged ladies, but also as a whole, book discussion members tend to read more broadly than the average reader. And, anyone who has been in or led a book group also knows that there is a HUGE range of opinions and reading tastes represented in every book club. Now extrapolate that out to all book clubs and....wow...we have a lot of different readers, reading a wide range of books.

You put the data together and find the books that were best for all book groups and you can be fairly confident that these titles work for a lot of readers-- or as we would call that in the RA world, they are a “sure bet.”

And, when I hand sell titles I identify through this method, I tell the patron where I found the suggestion. I add a comment about how this book was a favorite for discussion. Something like “While you may not love it yourself, there is a lot to chew on here. It has engendered a lot of conversation, enough that people loved discussing it whether or not they liked reading it.” Adding this little extra “behind the curtain,” info seems to make the patron more willing to give the book a chance. Almost always they end up reporting back that they liked reading it, even if they didn’t “love it.”

Now back to Reading Group Choices specifically. Not only do they have a list of favorites going back to 2003 that you can access here, but they also have started keeping track of the top books read each year. by sheer number. [The lists are different; a fact I find very interesting.]

Reading Group Choices and their large backlist is a wonderful place to look for suggestions, suggestions that will not only produce an excellent read for the patrons but also reinforce how important the work you do is. These are titles they could never find without you. We know how to do this people. We can give them great reads that are not brand new but still awesome. We can knock their socks off with only a few clicks.

Get to it, and have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Library Reads: June 2017

This is your monthly Library Reads announcement.

Library Reads day means 3 things here on RA for All.
  1. I post the list and tag it “Library Reads” so that you can easily pull up every single list with one click.
  2. I can remind you that even though the newest list is always fun to see, it is the older lists where you can find AWESOME, sure bet suggestions for patrons that will be on your shelf to actually hand to them right now. The best thing about Library Reads is the compound interest it is earning. We now have hundreds and hundreds of titles worth suggesting right at our fingertips.
  3. You have no excuse not to hand sell any Library Reads titles because there is a book talk right there in the list in the form of the annotation one of your colleagues wrote for you. All you have to say to your patron is, “such and such library worker in blank state thought this was a great read,” and then you read what he or she said.
So get out there and suggest a good read to someone today. I don’t care what list or resource you use to find the suggestion, just start suggesting books. 


June 2017 LibraryReads


Magpie Murders

by Anthony Horowitz

Published:6/6/2017 by Harper
ISBN: 9780062645227 
“Susan Ryeland is a London book editor who has just received the latest manuscript from one of her most irascible authors, Alan Conway. But the manuscript’s ending appears to be missing and she learns that Conway has committed suicide. As Ryeland learns more about his death, she starts to question whether a murder has occurred and begins to investigate. Magpie Murders is a delightful, clever mystery-within-a-mystery. Horowitz shows real mastery of his craft. This is a terrific, modern take on the traditional mystery with ingenious puzzles to solve.”
Andrea Larson, Cook Memorial Library, Libertyville, IL

Silver Silence

by Nalini Singh

Published: 6/13/2017 by Berkley
ISBN: 9781101987797
Silver Silence is a new chapter in the Psy/Changeling series. As the world tries to adjust after a peace accord, Silver Mercant takes center stage. As head of an aid organization reacting to rampant terrorism, she’s an obvious target. But Alpha Valentin Nikolaev has already decided she’s his to protect. Valentin and Silver start tracking down deadly shadow factions that want to undermine the Trinity Accords. Diverse and fascinating world-building are on full display along with a bumped up level of humor in the face of adversity.”
Jessica Trotter, Capital District Area Libraries, Lansing, MI 

The Waking Lands

by Callie Bates

Published: 6/27/2017 by Del Rey
ISBN: 9780425284025
“Lady Elanna Voltai flees her adopted homeland when the king, who raised her like a daughter, dies under mysterious circumstances and Elanna is accused of murder. Forced to return to the magical homeland of her birth and her estranged father who was branded a traitor for inciting rebellion, Elanna must come to terms with the life she left behind and her destiny. I loved watching Elanna find her voice and her strength, and the rich world of magic around her makes this story even more fantastic!”
Jessica Perham, Schaumburg Township Library, Schaumburg, IL 

Down Among The Sticks And Bones

by Seanan McGuire

Published: 6/13/2017 by Tor.com
ISBN: 9780765392039
“In Every Heart a Doorway we met Jack and Jill, two sisters bound together yet alienated. In this installment, we learn how these two girls escape their parents when they exit the world we know for a realm of fairy-tale horror via a magic stairway, appearing in a trunk in a locked room. This is a story about two young women and the trauma that shapes them; a story about love, hate, and the thin line between. A captivating and emotional novella that irresistibly sweeps the reader along.”
Tegan Mannino, Monson Free Library, Monson, MA

Do Not Become Alarmed: A Novel

by Maile Meloy

Published: 6/6/2017 by Riverhead Books
ISBN: 9780735216525
“Liv and Nora, who are cousins, decide to take their families on a cruise. Both have an eleven-year-old and a younger child as well.  At one of the ports, the moms take the children out with another family they met on the ship.  All goes well until the children, in a brief moment, aren’t observed and disappear. From here the nightmare begins, and the story alternates between what is happening to the children and the adults. The story is gripping and the characters are well-developed. The book explores family and marital dynamics, race, privilege, guilt, and responsibility.”
Mary Bennett, Carmel Clay Public Library, Carmel, IN

The Alice Network: A Novel

by Kate Quinn

Published: 6/6/2017 by William Morrow Paperbacks
ISBN: 9780062654199
“Outstanding fictional account of the Alice network, women spies in World War I, tough and determined to defeat the Germans. The story centers on Eve Gardiner, aka Marguerite, a young woman trained to spy on the Germans, and Charlie St. Clair, a young woman post WWII, pregnant, lost and finding her direction. The two meet and the story alternates chapters as Charlie is determined to find her cousin, Rose presumed dead after the war, while Eve’s story of the Alice network unfolds. A fantastic book with strong female characters.”
Ellen Firer, Merrick Library, Merrick, NY 

The Child

by Fiona Barton

Published: 6/27/2017 by Berkley
ISBN: 9781101990483
“When a baby skeleton is unearthed at a construction site, reporter Kate Waters thinks it is a story worth investigating. As she digs into the mystery of the child, she uncovers more than she bargained for. Told from the viewpoints of various characters, Barton tells an intriguing tale about the newborn baby and all the characters involved, leaving it up to the readers to put together the connections until the very end.”
Annice Sevett, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, NC 

The Little French Bistro: A Novel

by Nina George
Published: 6/13/2017 by Crown
ISBN: 9780451495587

“Terribly depressed by the emptiness of her long marriage, Marianne decides to end it all by jumping off a Paris bridge. Her unwanted rescue and ensuing marital abandonment jolt Marianne into ditching her tour group and setting out for Finistere, the westernmost coast of Brittany. Keeping body and soul together by working at a seaside bistro, Marianne finds herself healing through the company of a diverse group of quirky locals. The Little French Bistro is merveilleux. It refreshes like the sea breeze sweeping the Breton coast.”
Sarah Nagle, Carver County Library, Chaska, MN 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: A Novel

by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Published: 6/13/2017 by Atria Books
ISBN: 9781501139239
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a delightful tale of old Hollywood, so full of detail, that you’ll swear Evelyn was a real actor. Monique Grant is tasked with writing an article about the famous woman, so she interviews Evelyn who tells us all about her career, starting in the 1950s — and her many marriages. This novel will enchant you, and Evelyn will stay with you long after you finish reading.”
Lauren McLaughlin, Wilton Library Association, Wilton, CT 

Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Novel

by Matthew Sullivan

Published: 6/13/2017 by Scribner
ISBN: 9781501116841
“Lydia Smith is enjoying her comfortable life. She has a job she loves at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. Then one of her favorite “bookfrogs” (code word for eccentric bookstore regulars) commits suicide and leaves her his small horde of books. She discovers a strangely methodical defacement which is a kind of code. A delicate spiderweb of connections leading back to a murderous incident in Lydia’s childhood is revealed. This pushed me into reading ‘just one more chapter’ until late into the night.”
Joan Hipp, Florham Park Public Library, Florham Park, NJ