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, September 26, 2007

Horror Lists and Me, LIVE in Wheeling, IL

Each year, I make a list for the Berwyn Library of "Recent Horror Reads;" basically, books from the previous 18 months or so that are noteworthy which we also own in our collection. Here is this year's list. I also updated our yearly list of "Horror Books for the Squeamish," which you can find here. If you have a favorite recent horror book, please share it in the comments section.

Enjoy these lists and share them with your library patrons or friends, just cite this blog as your source.

Also, if you live in the Chicago area, come see me talk about helping horror readers at the North Suburban Library System in Wheeling on October 2 from 1-4. Here is the link to sign-up. I will be talking about horror, dark fantasy, and psychological suspense, giving lists of authors and titles, and many more tips and tricks to help "your scariest patrons."

In the coming weeks, I will be posting more of my topic lists. Also coming soon will be some of my student's annotations. I hope the readers of this blog can use it as a resource to find their next good read.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

RA Party Game?

Whenever I go out to give a RA lecture/training I always end with the following fun web site, called Gnooks. As decribed on the site, "Gnooks is a self-adapting community system based on the gnod engine. Discover new writers you will like, travel the map of literature and discuss your favorite books and authors."

Basically, it is a computer generated list of readalikes. Although I would not trust this site to provide the perfect suggestion for your next good read, the aqua browser display employed by their "map of literature," is attention grabbing.

When you type in "Nora Roberts," you get this. Each of the authors you see floating near Ms. Roberts' name can also be clicked on. That author is then made the center of his or her own map. The visual representation of how authors works may be near another's is very useful to patrons; however, since these maps are completely computer generated, I do not like to trust them as my only resource when assisting a reader.

There are librarians trying to do these reading maps in a slightly different format and with their expertise behind the readalike suggestions. Take a look at these two samples by Neal Wyatt. This is professional RA on the web in a truly interactive format. It is dynamic and exciting for the patrons and well as being fun for the librarian to create.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Book Disucssion: Icebergs by Rebecca Johns

In anticipation of Rebbecca Johns' visit to the Berwyn Public Library, my book group discussed her debut novel Icebergs today. Icebergs begins in the Winter 1944 with a spectacular plane crash of a Canadian, WWII bomber into the wilderness of Newfoundland. Only two members of the crew survive the crash, and only one of them lives to be rescued days later. What follows is the story of the 2 families of these survivors over three generations, an emigration to Chicago, and a life time of tragedies and triumphs.

Icebergs is told from multiple points of view and interweaves multiple storylines. At first glance, what appears to be a standard literary fiction with a domestic and/or family saga angle, Icebergs becomes much more. The characters are complex and fully realised, the story moves much faster than you expect, without sacrificing the story. Also, because you are following a few main characters over a long time span, the different sections have a short story feel.

Our discussion covered many topics. First, the choppy style was noted. The book takes place just before three major historical "shifts:" 1944 (just before the end of WWII), 1967 (just before the upheavals of the late 60s/early 70s), and just before the turn of the millennium. Each section feels like its own story, and each is told through different characters eyes. Even when one character is driving the story, s/he is constantly moving from present day to recollections of the past. Although this choppy style was hard for most of the group to get used to, we all agreed that it helped make the story seem more realistic. In real life, things do not always happen in a linear fashion.

Which leads to the next major discussion point, one of the best things Johns did with this novel is to capture families as they truly are. The struggles of overcoming the past, the conflict between siblings, the tortured relationship of Caroline and her mother, and the intertwining of life and history are all accurately and realistically portrayed.

We then moved onto a discussion of the title. Although actual icebergs are alluded to in the opening section of the novel, this idea of the majority of something being hidden under the surface, of only seeing 10% of something too massive to comprehend, speaks loudly to many of the characters and relationships within this well constructed novel.

Well constructed is an important term here. As we discussed, we were all happy to keep finding the repetition of so many themes and events. For example, there is the repetition of 2 wars for which there are 2 men where only 1 survives. There is also the story of 2 women, in 2 different generations who have cheating fathers. This list could go on and on, and in our discussion, it did. Johns creates another major theme of the novel with this repetition: the inevitability of generations repeating the mistakes of their forefathers.

This last theme is important to note, in terms of our discussion. Although we all noticed bits and pieces as we read, it was the act of coming together to discuss this book that enhanced our enjoyment of this important aspect. As we all rattled off these repetitions, I was thinking, "this is why we discuss books." Without the group discussion, we all would have lost out on the larger picture which Johns so consciously constructed. We all helped each other enjoy this book that much more.

In terms of readalikes, readers who enjoy the short stories of Canadian, Alice Munro (especially this one) and her skill at delving into the stories found within the complicated relationships among people, would find the detailed relationships among the two families of Icebergs compelling. The works of perennial, best-selling, literary fiction author, Anne Tyler have a similar feel to Icebergs. Try Digging to America in which two families, both adopting infant girls from Korea, become intertwined by fate. For a male author, fans of John Irving could try Icebergs. He is also well known for his fully realized characters and engaging storylines usually involving families and difficult decisions, all factors which come into play in Icebergs.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


In class tonight, we are going to be talking to the students about the most important aspect of RA: understanding appeal. Appeal can be quickly defined as the words used to describe why people enjoy a specific book. Subject headings are not very helpful for leisure readers. A reader who likes historical British romances will probably not enjoy historical British mysteries. What is appealing about a book, specifically its pace, characterization, storyline and frame/setting, tone/mood, style/language is at the heart of why someone would or would not want to read it.

Since every reader reads a different version of the same book, reading for the appeal keeps you open to all possibilities. When it comes to helping readers, the Readers' Advisor should listen to what patrons tell us about the books they read. I like to use the bestseller, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold as an example. For some this novel is about the rape and murder of a young girl, even though that part of the book is over after 20 pages. For others it is about a family dealing with a crisis. For still other patrons, it has been described to me as a book about the mourning process.

Each of these patrons enjoyed the book for vastly different reasons and would use widely varied terms to describe it. However, in my class, I strive to teach the future librarians of Northern Illinois to learn the controlled vocabulary of appeal and describe books more empirically. Thus The Lovely Bones can be described as deliberate, measured, heart-breaking, yet ultimately redeeming, dramatic, introspective, intriguing and well developed secondary character, first person narration from heaven, vivid, character-centered, complex, family centered, inspirational, though provoking, tragic, some explicit, but not gratuitous, violence against children, bittersweet, darker, philosophical.

Of course readers do not come into the library or bookstore speaking like this, but the essence of appeal, these adjectives, is how we naturally describe books. This language of appeal is an attempt to create a thesaurus of standardized terms that recreate how people describe what they have read. A full description of appeal and the standardized terms are available in chapter three of Joyce Saricks' Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library.

Once you have mastered appeal, when readers say I just finished The Lovely Bones and really enjoyed the story of how her family all dealt with their grief differently, you can begin to focus your line of questioning on what she liked about this specific aspect of the book. This would now lead you away from books with other investigations of child murders and toward more books about family’s dealing with crises, like a Jodi Picoult book or even Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan SafranFoer. To contrast, “Rape” is a subject heading for this novel and Sebold’s memoir Lucky is about dealing with her own rape, but a reader who liked The Lovely Bones for the reason I described above, would probably not enjoy Lucky.

What you need to understand is that all readers are looking for a book with a particular feel. Pacing, characterization, storyline and frame etc… speak to this. One final word on the subject, all appeal terms must be positive. RA is a non-judgmental service; so it is measured paced, not slow paced and it is unembellished not simplistic.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Meet Author Rebecca Johns

On Saturday, September 22, at 2pm at the Berwyn Public Library (2701 S. Harlem Ave; Berwyn, IL), Rebecca Johns will come to discuss her debut novel Icebergs. Ms. Johns is an Illinois native and graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Icebergs is a finalist for the 2007 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for a distinguished book of fiction. Icebergs is a story about the effects of a narrowly missed tragedy on several generations of two families.

This author visit is free but pre-registration is required in person at the Library or by phone at 708.795.8000 ex. 3005

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

RA Class Begins Tonight

My class (teaching with Joyce Saricks) at Dominican University's Graduate School of Library and Information Science begins its Fall Semester this evening. You can view a syllabus of GSLIS 763 here.

One of the main reasons I began this blog was to give my student's a chance to publish some of their work from the course. It was aways so upsetting to me that at the end of each semester all of their work product was simply lost to the larger library community.

So in the coming weeks, look here for reader profiles, annotations, and lots of lists. Please feel free to use these at your own library as long as you reference this blog.