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 including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What I'm Reading August 2007

During the last week of each month I will give a run down of some of the books I read that month. I will try to include at least 3 titles, a brief annotation, and one readalike. So here's the first month's run down.

Kristin Gore, daughter of former Vice-President Al Gore, published her second novel in July, Sammy's House. In this sequel to Sammy's Hill, Samantha James is now the health care policy adviser to the Vice President of the United States. She is also involved in her first serious relationship and trying to navigate her career and a long distance boyfriend. The insider information that only those who have worked in the White House could provide adds a unique angle to the story. While Sammy's Hill was pure Chick Lit, Sammy' House is moving into Women's Lives and Relationships territory. Anyone who enjoys Marian Keyes' novels of women dealing with life, love, and career will enjoy this book. Also any fans of politics and how the American government works (who also don't mind the relationship issues) should give this one a try.

I also finished listening to Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land this month. At 20+ discs, it took awhile. This is the third in Ford's Frank Bascombe trilogy, the second of which won the Pulitzer Prize. This was a satisfying read and as usual, Ford captured the NJ setting perfectly. As a "Jersey Girl" I appreciate this very much. Each of the three books revolves around a holiday, and they always involve some kind of catastrophe, that gets satisfactorily resolved. Here it is Thanksgiving, 2000 and the election is still up in the air, although Frank has conceded that his guy (Gore) is done. Frank himself is undergoing treatment for Prostate Cancer, having problems with his second wife, and as usual, is perplexed by his son. This is a long book, and Ford takes his time with the story. His writing is exquisite and I loved every detail. Bascombe is an everyman and the reader roots for him, even as we cringe watching him make poor decisions. Bascombe is very similar to the middle aged men in Richard Russo's books. If you liked Empire Falls or Straight Man, the Bascombe Trilogy is for you.

Another book I listened to this month is Ian McEwan's new novella On Chesil Beach. Check the Amazon link for a basic summary. I do not want to give too much away about the plot since it is so short, but this is classic McEwan. Here we have the familial dysfunction, claustrophobic setting, and sexual problems found in most McEwan books. I might even start suggesting this book to those who have never read McEwan as the new first place to start since this novella provides everything a McEwan novel is, only in a smaller package. Note to new readers of McEwan, his endings in general are resolved but not necessarily happy. His works also require work from the reader to look between the printed lines. Here I also highly recommend getting your hands on the audio. Included at the end is one of the best author interviews I have ever heard. If you like Paul Auster, Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, or Philip Roth, try McEwan.

This is a good first month's report. It should help get you started on some reading ideas for yourself. Each title has a link to the Amazon record where you can read other actual readers' thoughts on these titles. I encourage you to browse them. You may find more titles to add to your to read list.

Finally, don't forget to check the posts tagged "book discussion books." These are also books I read in any given month. The reports posted there go over the main topics of discussion and contain readalikes. Eventually, the other librarian who runs the book groups at our library will also post comments once her group has discussed the title.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

AP poll of American Reading Habits

According to an AP-Ipsos poll released on 8/22/07, one in four Americans have read no books in the past year. No books, as in ZERO! The biggest arguments as to why people aren't reading deals with the general complaint that these people have no free time, and what free time they do have they fill with other things. Here is the link to the CNN.com article about the poll. Read and judge for yourself.

I do not dispute the numbers this poll came up with. In fact, many of their conclusions I see corroborated each time I sit at the RA desk in my library: Midwesterns read more (check), Democrats and Liberals read more than Conservatives (check), Women and seniors read the most (check), popular fiction, histories, biogrpahies and mysteries take up about 50% of leisure reading (check) and 21% of leisure reading is done with romance novels (check, although I suspect that number is even higher).

What I do dispute however, is the "oh well" attitude that accompanies polls like this. There is a book for just about everyone out there. If a "too busy to read" adult got the right book in his or her hands, s/he would be hooked. Libraries need to work hard to encourage leisure reading among adults. Get them when they are bringing their children in, go to their Rotary Club or PTA meetings. Sitting by and complaining that no one is reading anymore does no good.

Those of us in positions to influence people and push them toward reading need to do something. For example, many people come to my library just to access the Internet. After engaging these patrons in casual conversation over time, there are now a handful who stop and my desk on their way upstairs to use the Internet. I pull them each 3-5 books which they can pick up and check out on their way out of the library. Hopefully, that number will continue to grow with effort on my part. This is one small way to raise the number of non-readers.

Most American Adults are not aware of books beyond the best seller list or the classics they read in school. Although best sellers are a great place to start, there is so much more out there. Just like Harry Potter captured so many children's attention and led them to other authors and books, so too could the right Harlen Coben thriller or even a Frank Miller graphic novel get a busy working adult to reconnect with the world of books.

Finally, this too busy argument leads us back to the case for audio books. I-pods and car CD players can be used on long commutes or while doing household chores allowing adults to "read" a book for fun.

Studies show that people who read as they age help to keep their mind in shape and running well. Also, the best way to get children interested in reading is for them to see their own care givers doing it.

So go visit your library and talk to the people there about what you like in a good book. And, if you work in a library, approach that busy mom with the two kids tugging at her pants leg and remind her of all the books we have for her at the library too.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Book Discussion: Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman

Today my book group at the Berwyn Public Library discussed Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish by Tom Shachtman. Rumspringa is about the years from age 16 on when the adolescent Amish have finished their schooling and are allowed to explore the outside world with no restraint (and I mean NO restraint). A basic tenet of the Amish is that they are not baptized into the church until they are adult and can freely choose to join. After experiencing rumspringa, 80% of these adolescence return to the Amish way of life.

The book was not a traditional narrative nonfiction, but it was also not a dry treatise. Although the reader is introduced to many young people throughout the course of the pages, it was slightly frustrating that each of their stories was not told in chronological order. Rather, Shachtman chose to have each chapter focus on a topic and then fit the stories into the subject matter. For example, there were chapters on education, women's lives, and shunning. On the positive side, our group did discuss how this method of organization did teach us more about the Amish way of life and the reasoning behind their decisions, which, we also discussed, is probably more important that being able to follow one kid's story from beginning to end.

While we discussed the rumspringa process and how useful (or not) it was for these kids to go crazy and get drunk and high before ultimately deciding to go back to the Amish way of life; we also had a fascinating conversation about what the rest of American society can learn from the Amish. A lot of my members discussed how their lives lack the sense of purpose and sense of community that the Amish have in abundance. Just a little of that would go a long way to curing many of our societal ills-- at least this was the majority opinion.

I would suggest this book to any faith based discussion group. Any general discussion group that is willing to read nonfiction and does not mind the religious content will be intrigued by the contrast and increasing intersection of two very different ways of life. Any general reader who likes to learn about different ways of life and does not mind the non-narrative style should try this one. If you know nothing about the Amish this is a good primer, but the focus really is on this adolescent decision to join the church. There are many other books that are about the adult lives of the Amish. Your local library should have a few.

In terms of readalikes for Rumspringa, in fiction I would suggest the Harmony Series by Philip Gulley or Beverly Lewis' Amish series. For nonfiction readers there are many choices, but John Hostetler's Amish Society is a good place to start. Hostetler was born to an old order Amish family and is now a professor. The link to the book on Amazon also gives many other suggestions. Remember, many of these books will be available through your local public library.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Readalikes for Jennifer Weiner

So I keep mentioning something called "readalikes." This term has a few meanings. Readalike is the term used by RAs to denote a book with a similar feel to another. For example, if you like the hard-edged suspense of James Patterson's Cross books, you may also enjoy John Sandford's Prey books. These two series share many features and readers of one usually enjoy the other.

In this blog I have also mentioned that I write readalikes for NoveList, a database available at most public libraries (and even through many of their websites using your library card at 2 in the morning). These are about a specific author written by librarians. If you can access NoveList you can read my entire article on the works of Jennifer Weiner. I discuss why people enjoy her books and then give 5 other authors to suggest for "readalikes." Those authors are Marian Keyes, Sarah Bird, Anna Maxted, Ayelet Waldman, and Susan Isaacs.

In the future I will be writing readalike articles for Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Lethem, Mark Kurlansky, and Simon Winchester. You can look for information here in the future; however, if this "readalike" idea intrigues you now, go to your pubic libraries website or ask at the service desk about how you can access NoveList yourself.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Books Under the Radar

On Morning Edition today, Nancy Pearl presented another one of her book talks. This list of "Books Under the Radar" and the links to her other book talks with Steve Inskeep are a great resource for readers looking for something to read beyond the best seller list or what the publishers are currently promoting.

I also frequently direct students to the archives of her on-line annotated lists as an example of capturing the essence of a book, not just its plot. Pearl discusses the appeal and feel of each book while also giving her personal experience with it as a reader.

As well as sharing her gift of book talking, Pearl has started a wiki for people who love books. Pearl moderates this site which is a place where anyone who loves reading and books can share or acquire information. Check it out and add to the discussion.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Virtual Public Library

I was at the Goombay Bash last night, an annual cancer benefit for the H Foundation, and was chatting with one of the foundation's board members, who also happens to be an elected official from a neighboring municipality. This town does not have a public library. The residents of this community must go to other municipalities and purchase a library card. The prices of these cards are usually based on the average amount in tax dollars that the members of the town with a library pay each year. For example, my town charges around $300 for nonresident cards. This one card serves an entire household, no matter the size This non-library-having community does reimburse its citizens 50% of their out-of-pocket costs.

However, the community make-up is changing rapidly. What was once a business first city with very little residential citizens, is quickly becoming a city of young families who want library service.

At this event, I asked the official (a friend of mine) when this city would get a library. He said that it was not in any long term plans. Instead he offered up the idea of a virtual library service. He suggested hiring a few librarians to set up a
website where resources could be accessed and questions could be posed. These libraries would work from an office out of the City Hall, for example, and answer questions. They would be accessible in person to answer questions for those who did not have a computer.

I reminded him that a library is more than just a place where you get information. What about the parents who want to go to story times and the children who want to come look at books to check out? What about the adult leisure or those who want a place to congregate? I went on politely for a few more minutes about everything the library is and can be as a physical site that a computer alone cannot provide. I will not recount all of my arguments here, but check out this site for first hand accounts of why people love their library.

By the end his wife was agreeing with me. Hopefully she will put a bug in his ear too. I will be in contact with him a few more times in the next few months and will try to continue this conversation. But the important point here is that although you may be able to answer your current query with Google or Wikipedia, the library as a building and as a municipal institution is integral to American life.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

RA Training

Yesterday, I spent 6 hours teaching librarians from the Metropolitan Library System (near west and southwest Chicago Suburbs) how to provide basic RA service in their public libraries.

One of the things I was happy to see is that library administrators took my marketing seriously and sent some Circulation Staff. I was able to teach those library staff members on the front lines, who interact with the public more than anyone in the building, how to share books with patrons in a non-judgmental way. I encouraged them to engage library users in conversations about their leisure reading. I hope you try to talk to the check-out people at your library next time you visit. Tell them about the last good book you read and ask if there is anything they could suggest.

One of the groups' favorite exercises was "How to Read a Book in 10-minutes." This program was originally presented by Georgine Olson for the Public Library Association on March 27, 2004.

This is not plan to speed read for plot, but rather, it is a fun and useful way to get a feel for a book. Take a look at the document and try it out. Grab some books from the library that you always meant to read but never got around to. This works best with genre books, such as romance, mysteries, suspense novels, etc...

Let me know how it works for you.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Podcast Interview with Me

If you want to hear more of my general philosophy about RA service in public libraries, you can hear me being interviewed by Sarah Long, Director of the North Suburban (IL) Library System. I am number 44 of her "Longshots."

Audio Books are Cheating?

There has long been a stigma against listening to books, even unabridged books. Now The New York Times has weighed in on the subject too. In his article, "Your Cheatin' Listening Ways," Andrew Adam Newman has only added to this negativity. Although Newman tries to give some argument for audio books being listened to for book clubs, the negative side gets much more play here.

In my opinion, listening to an unabridged version of any book, while not exactly the same as reading it, does put the same story into your brain (and the article does have an expert attest to this, albeit buried on page 2). Leisure reading (and if you are choosing to be in a book club, you are still doing leisure reading since you are not forced to be a part of the group) should not have rules. If a person wants to experience a story for fun, why does society feel the need to make some methods of the delivery of that story appear to be of a higher standard than others? It is for that person's enjoyment alone. If it isn't hurting someone, I don't know why others care.

Personally, I am always reading one book and listening to another at the same time. This allows me to "read" more of the time. I can read my physical book on the couch or in the back yard, but I can listen to the other book while doing dishes, folding laundry, driving, etc... Audio books, and especially my i-pod, let me experience more stories and more authors than simply reading a physical book would allow.

Oh, and going back to the article, I do lead a monthly book discussion and there are many months I have listened to the selection. For the record, I have never felt the need to "fess up" about it. I think I do a good job running book discussions since I have been at it for 7 years and other libraries hire me to come and teach others how to lead a book discussion group.

If you want an audio book, for any reason, your local library will be more than happy to help you.

Feel free to add your opinion of audio books to the discussion.

Welcome to RA for All

RA for All is a showcase of the wonderful world of Readers' Advisory (RA). But what is RA? Readers' Advisory is a patron oriented, nonjudgmental public library service that strives to help fiction and nonfiction readers find books to read for enjoyment. Anyone interested in a more detailed description of RA Service should head to their local public library and look up Joyce Saricks' Readers' Advisory in the Public Library, 3rd edition (ALA, 2005).

So you like to read...there are many ways the local public library can help you find your next good read. This blog will highlight how the library can best help its patrons. I will post interesting links, lists, and news in the RA world. I will also highlight some of my student's work from the RA class at Dominican University's Graduate School of Library and Information Science (IL)...Yes, there is an entire class on this stuff.

There are many great book review blogs, and while I will post quick reviews of my recent reads, this blog will try to provide a wider commentary on the world of leisure reading and public libraries.