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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What I'm Reading: December 2008

This month I read a favorite author, a natural history title, and a holiday offering.

I read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman as soon as I could get my hands on it. He is one of my favorite authors, but if anything, that makes me more critical. Luckily, he did not disappoint since The Graveyard Book made my top ten for the year. This new title aimed at "middle readers," was awesome. Our story begins rather gruesomely for a "children's book." An assassin, Jack, is climbing the stairs of an old home, carrying a knife that has already killed 4 members of the family, leaving only the baby boy in the attic left to be murdered. However, the toddler has escaped out the back door and into a nearby historic graveyard, now turned nature park. The boy's newly dead parents ask for the resident ghosts to protect the boy, and so begins the boy's life as the only living resident in the graveyard. Renamed, Nobody (Bod for short) the boy is raised by Mr and Mrs Owens and cared for by a guardian who can come and go from the graveyard, providing Bod with food, clothes, books, and contact with the outside world.

Although the story first appears to be a simple tale of Bod's interesting life, there is a larger story involving a secret society of assassins and Bod's mythic place in their world. Like all of Gaiman's works, there are richly drawn characters, beautiful descriptions, and a constant comparison between the living world and the fantasy world lurking just beneath the surface, specifically those that can travel between the two. This is a fast read, but it will also leave you thinking about its issues and themes for many days after its completion.

Although the book itself tells one continuous story, in true children's literature fashion, each chapter is almost its own self contained "story." This novel also contains wonderful illustrations by long-time Gaiman collaborator, Dave McKean. I also highly suggest checking out Gaiman's web site.

The most obvious readalike here is The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Bod's story of being raised in a graveyard by ghosts until he must rejoin the world of the living is a clever (and twisted) retelling of Kipling's classic story. Robin McKinley also writes fantasy for young adults which appeals to adults. Her narrative style, although not as blatantly horror laced as Gaiman's, is still clever and twisted enough to appeal to Gaiman fans. Try Beauty, her retelling for Beauty and the Beast.

For readers who want a more adult experience, I would suggest Joe Hill's fabulous ghost story, Heart-Shaped Box or Kat Richardson's Greywalker urban fantasy/mystery series, which follows a PI who moves between the worlds of the living and the dead. The Graveyard Book is about the cemetery as a beautiful place full or art, history, and surprises. Those who enjoyed that aspect of the novel should click here for nonfiction about cemeteries.

A few days after visiting The Field Museum of Natural History with my kids, I began listening to A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. This is a great example of perfect timing; this book quickly discussed many of the things I saw at the museum. Everything is a short overview, as the title implies. Bryson takes the history of earth and picks interesting points to elaborate on. One of my favorite stories was about Yellowstone. Apparently, the geysers there are actually part of a huge inverted volcano that could blow at anytime, wiping out all life on earth. Scary stuff! Actually, this is Bryson's overall theme, the pure luck that we are here on earth at all, and swiftness with which we could all be annihilated.

Bryson mentions many scientists and writers throughout his book, but two would specifically appeal to fans of this book: Stephen Jay Gould and/or John McPhee. Newton plays a small part in Bryson's history, and I kept thinking of Rebecca Sott's Ghostwalk which I read in September. It is fiction, but features Newton and his life story. Really, I think any historical fiction about science and scientists would work as a readalike here too. Pick your interest and look for titles. Here is the link for the 100 books A Short History of Nealry Everything cites to get you started.

Speaking of good timing, my friend Mike was reading The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday by Les Standiford, and after listening to him talk about it, I quickly put my name on hold to get it before my December 20th tickets to see the play, A Christmas Carol, at Drury Lane in Oak Brook, IL. Thankfully, I placed my hold before Standiford went on every known talk show discussing the book, resulting in a ten-fold increase of holds on the slim volume.

The title pretty much tells you what you need to know about the plot. If you like Dickens, A Christmas Carol, or just Christmas in general, this was a great title to read in the days leading up to Christmas. I do not know if it would hold up as well read in June though. Personally, I was so inspired by this book that I went out and bought multiple copies to give out as gifts.

The most obvious readalike here is A Christmas Carol and Dickens' other holiday stories. Standiford's writing style also reminded me of Mark Kurlansky, and his microhistories of how one humble object changed the world forever. You could try The Big Oyster which is a history of oysters and New York City and mentions Dickens' trip to NYC which is also in Standiford's book. There is also Jane Smiley's short but accurate biography on Dickens.

But my favorite suggestion to people who are saying "been there, done that," about A Christmas Carol, is to read Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol by Tom Mula, based on the author's one-man show following Marley as he tries to save Scrooge's soul. Even the most jaded reader will enjoy this holiday offering.

That's a wrap on another year of reading.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wall St. Journal's Best of 2008

More best lists. This time from the Wall St. Journal, who had no financial books on the list. Oh, wait, that is probably a good idea after the year Wall Street has had.

Seriously, here are their 12 Most Memorable Books.

Friday, December 26, 2008

About.Com's Best of the Bestsellers

I follow About.Com's Bestseller forum moderated by Erin Collazo Miller. This week, she posted her list of the ten best books to make the bestseller list this year.

I find this list interesting since it only considers those books which hit "bestseller" status. It offers another spin on the whole best list idea.

Ms. Miller posted a "People's Choice" top ten list as well.

Monday, December 22, 2008

BPL Display: Patrons' Picks

To go with our Holiday themed display here at the Berwyn Public Library, we solicited patrons to fill out forms recommending books to other patrons. We used their picks and comments to create a display and this accompanying list:

Win (Library) Friends and Influence People - Patron Recommendations.

This display has generated interest because patrons are interested in what their fellow library users have read and enjoyed. If you want to try this idea at your library, make sure you actively solicit the filling out of the (short) forms, and begin gathering the information at least 2 months in advance if you want to have enough book suggestions to fill up the shelves and enough usable comments to make an annotated list. I cannot stress active solicitation enough. We sent a form home with literally every single person we helped over those 7 or 8 weeks.

Even if you do not use this idea at your own library, try to make it your work related New Year's Resolution to include your patrons more in 2009. To encourage you further, I will also try to focus on providing more specific customer focused library tips and ideas throughout 2009.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best Books I Read in 2008

In honor of all of the best lists I have been posting, I present my second annual list of the ten best books I read this year, in my opinion of course. I will list the books with genre and month read, but they really are in no particular preference order.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (youth) 12/08
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti (historical fiction) 10/08
Fun Home by Allison Bechdel (graphic novel/memoir) 9/08
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (literary fiction) 5/08
Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser (short stories) 4/08
The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan (nonfiction) 4/08
The Uncommon Reader by Allan Bennett (literary fiction) 1/08
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (literary fiction) 1/08
City of Thieves by David Benioff (historical fiction) 10/08
North River by Pete Hamil (historical fiction) 6/08

To see everything I read and considered for this list, click here. And for those who are interested, here is last year's list.

A few comments on this year's top ten. First, I was surprised that only two nonfiction titles made the cut this year since I read 11 total. Second, only 1/2 of these books came out in 2008, which is a great reminder of the almost infinite back list of titles available at your local public library. Finally, if I had to pick a favorite book I read this year, I think it would be The Good Thief by Tinti because it was fun to read and though provoking (use the link above to read the details of how I felt about it.) I am not alone on liking this novel though, Tinti's work has already been honored on many of the year's best lists, including the NYT's Notable Books List and a Borders Original Voices nomination.

Let me know what you read this past year that really stuck with you. Happy Holidays! Here's to more great reading in 2009.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

BPL Book Discussion: The Sun Also Rises

It's December and that means party time for the Monday afternoon book discussion group at the Berwyn Public Library. Each December, our group meets for 4 hours to enjoy a luncheon (sandwiches provided by the library, side dishes and desserts by the participants). We always read a "classic," watch the movie version, and discuss both.

6 months ago, my group really wanted to read Hemingway, so Kathy and I picked The Sun Also Rises because it was the shortest of his novels and it was also the first. I also had to consider the movie versions of Hemingway works and this film version was the best available in our library system (Thanks Indian Prairie).

Quick plot summary of the novel to begin with because although I thought I knew what it was about ahead of time, I have to say I never knew the entire plot hinged on the narrator's loss of his manhood (physically and literally) during WWI. Basically, this novel is the story of ex-pat Americans and British living in Paris after WWI. Jake Barnes, a journalist, and inured war vet (he is impotent now) is our narrator. The story follows Jake and his "friends," their travels to Spain for the running of the bulls, and Jake and Lady Brett Ashley's unconsumatable (not a word technically, but I am trying to summarize Hemingway in a few sentences, go with me on it) love.

Overall, although no one loved reading this book, we did all agree that it was important book to have read. We spent most of our discussion talking about...all of the drinking. Seriously, there is a lot of it. We did discuss why there was so much drinking though. The people portrayed in this novel became known as the lost generation. They had fought in WWI, the first world war after the longest major peace in the history of mankind. It was also the first war in which men were killed by machines, not other men. The things they had seen led to depression and an overall sense of being lost.

We talked about the final words of the movie, "Where do we go from here?" This summed up the entire generation and the overall theme of the novel. The movie, made in the 1950s, did a nice job of capturing this theme. It reflected well on the 1920s (the setting of the book) and the 1950s when the film was made. Both "settings: were post-World War, and had much in common.

We continued this line of discussion into the present and talked about the new lost generation of veterans coming out of our current wars, with deep physical and emotional injuries like Jake.

It is hard to find readalikes for Hemingway, but one of my participants mentioned the similar themes and setting found in Jacqueline Winspear's Masie Dobbs series, and I agree having read some of these books myself. Also, I would suggest Hemingway's posthumously published essay collection, A Moveable Feast. If you are interested in more information about the lost generation, click here. For more about Hemingway, click here. And for more about bullfighting in Spain, use this link.

Finally, I would caution anyone trying The Sun Also Rises in the 21st Century, to read it along with some critical material, even the Cliff Notes, to help you to appreciate why Hemingway's work is so important.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Student Annotations

Dan, who had shared another one of this semester's assignments here, turned over his five excellent annotations for inclusion here at RA for All. Plus Dan gets props for trying a romance.

Devil in A Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Sin Killer by Larry McMurtry

Blame It On Chocolate by Jennifer Greene

Amazonia by Jame Rollins


Beethoven's Hair by Russell Martin

Friday, December 12, 2008

Compiled Best Lists and New Resources on BPL Web Site

I have been trying to stay on top of the hundreds of best lists that come out this time of year by posting them for you here, but I think I can give up trying to stay on top of it now since Cindy Orr over at RA Online's blog has compiled them all at the end of this post.

Specking of RA Online, Berwyn patrons can now go here and use their library card to log in to this wonderful database. We also have NoveList available for library card holders as well.

Those of you who are not Berwyn patrons can use the growing list of free resources Kathy and I have prepared for you. I have created all of the lists and Kathy editing and posting them as time permits, so keep checking back. We also have read alike lists for some of your favorite authors at this link. You can always just use my permanent link to BPL's RA page in my "Sites to Check Out" side bar.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Twilight Reading Map

Last night was final presentation night in GSLIS 763. One of my students, Colleen, a teen librarian at the Deerfield Public Library, created this reading map for the popular Twilight series.

I have talked about reading maps before here, and Colleen's map is a great example of how you can take a popular book and lead your readers to books, music, and web sites they may also enjoy.

Reading maps embrace the idea of whole collection RA to its fullest and using a site like pbwiki as Colleen did, also allows for patrons to directly interact with the librarian and help to shape the resources we provide for our patrons.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Grammy Nominees for Best Spoken Word Album

The Grammy Award nominees came out last week and they include the nominees for Best Spoken Word Album:

An Inconvenient Truth -(Al Gore)Beau Bridges, Cynthia Nixon & Blair Underwood
Born Standing Up- Steve Martin
I Am America (And So Can You!)- Stephen Colbert (& Various Artists)
Life Beyond Measure - Sidney Poitier
When You Are Engulfed In Flames- David Sedaris

As usual, these are all nonfiction titles. Past winners include, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. For more of a fiction influenced list of best audio books, you should try the Audie Awards.

The point is for you to provide your patrons with audio specific "best lists" alongside your lists of the best printed books of the year. You should be assisting your readers across all formats at all times. I am just providing a quick link to the tools to help you out.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

BPL Display December 2008

We have our annual holiday themed display up at the Berwyn Public Library. Betty created this list of heart-warming holiday tales. She went out of her way to include different titles than those we have annotated in the past. Enjoy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

You Can Judge a Book By Its Cover

Each year, the Book Design Review posts its list of the best book covers of the year. Here is the link to further information on the winners.

How does this help with your RA service though? You'd be surprised how much a cover tells you about the text to be found within its pages. My colleague, Joyce Saricks has argued this point to me many times. The most important thing to keep in mind as you help readers is that the cover tells the reader what the publisher (not necessarily the author) wants us to know about the book. The book cover is a marketing tool, and as Readers' Advisors we should "read" book covers to try to decipher the appeal factors which the cover is trying to convey.

For example, books which feature the author's name more prominently than the title, are being sold on the popularity of said author's name, not necessarily on the content. Also, more complicated and abstract covers, tend to be put on more complicated and abstract books. There are also cover trends. A few years ago, all chick-lit books featured a pastel color theme with some kind of shoes on the cover; so finding readalikes was as easy as looking at the cover.

These are just a few examples, but if you want to test the theory, grab a couple of your favorite books and see how the cover reflects the story held within. What assumptions can be made about the book's context from the cover? I think you will be surprised at how much of the book you CAN judge by its cover.

Also, don't forget to put as many books as you can "face out" on your shelves to have the marketing power of the book cover work for your patrons.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

NYT Best Books Promo Materials

As an addendum to my last post, The New York Times has made a site available where libraries and book stores can download FREE promotional materials (stickers, web banners, etc...) about their top books of the year. Click here all of the info.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New York Times Notable Books for 2008

I was going through my notes and I realized I never posted the link to the NYT's annual list of notable books. Here it is.

This list is great to look at for your own "to read lists" but it is also helpful to identify titles for those on your holiday shopping list since each title comes with a short annotation.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reading Fights Childhood Obesity

Researchers at Duke University conducted a study on obese children and found that reading a specific type of book helped them to lose weight.

From the study which can be found here:

"The Duke researchers asked obese females ages nine to 13 who were already in a comprehensive weight loss program to read an age-appropriate novel called Lake Rescue (Beacon Street Girls). It was carefully crafted with the help of pediatric experts to include specific healthy lifestyle and weight management guidance, as well as positive messages and strong role models.

Six months later, the Duke researchers found the 31 girls who read Lake Rescue experienced a significant decrease in their BMI scores (-.71 percent) when compared to a control group of 14 girls who hadn't (+.05 percent), explained Alexandra C. Russell, a fourth-year medical student at Duke who led the study and presented the findings at the Obesity Society's annual scientific meeting."

This is a very interesting finding, although I am not sure how broadly it can be applied. Anyway, its food for thought and more positive press for reading.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bailout is Word of the Year

Although this is not a strictly RA subject matter, I love when Merriam-Webster announces the most popular words of the year. This year, it is "bailout." Click here to see the entire top ten, which includes "maverick."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What I'm Reading: November 2008

This month I will write about four of the book I read, a dystopian science fiction, historical fiction, women's lives, and another book in one of my favorite cozy mystery series.

I finally read Australian Max Barry's 2003 classic satire on consumerism and the Americanization of the world, Jennifer Government. This is a classic dystopian imagining of the future where the world is split up into the "American" countries and all others. The government is very weak; companies are in charge of everything. The lead character works for the government, hence her name. Her daughter goes to a Mattel run public school. The plot hinges around a marketing plan by John Nike (he works for Nike), which involves killing customers to create more buzz about a popular shoe. Things spiral and John hatches a plan to literally take over the world, and only Jennifer can stop him.

There is much humor, satire and pure entertainment in this novel. It is not a readalike for works like Orwell's 1984 which is much denser and more preachy than Barry's novel. That is not to disparage what Barry does in his novels or on his very popular website. His works are entertaining and thought-provoking with a young sensibility that appeals to generations X, Y, and Z. While overall, I enjoyed this novel and would continue to suggest it to others, I do agree with the customer reviews that felt the ending was a bit lackluster, but the middle makes up for it.

There are many authors who share Barry's humor, eye for satire, and youthful sensibility. Most notably, I would like to point out Max Brooks' political satire/zombie novel World War Z. Also anything by Cory Doctorow would appeal to fans of Jennifer Government; try the YA novel Little Brother or his adult story collection, Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present. Another author whose work would appeal to Barry fans is Chuck Palahniuk. He is most famous for Fight Club, but really any of his novels would work as a readalike here. Finally, Alan Moore's graphic novels V for Vendetta or The Watchmen are also good bets.

In terms of Nonfiction readalikes, there are many books about global capitalism and American corporations. Three of the most popular to get you started are, The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy by Noreena Hertz, Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America by Jack Beatty and the best seller by Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

I also read another historical fiction by Peter Hamil this month, Forever. This is another book which came off of the bottom of my to-read list (2003), and like Jennifer Government above, I am quite happy that I finally got to it. Forever begins in Ireland in 1741 with the story of the Celtic O'Connor family and moves to New York City as Cormac, the now orphaned son of the family, has followed his father's murderer to seek revenge. On the way, Cormac befriends Kongo, an African slave. Once he is established in NYC, Cormac becomes involved in the African and Irish fight for equality over taking the city, culminating in a huge rebellion. It turns out Kongo is a shaman and he grants Cormac immortality in payment for his true friendship. This immortality has caveats (he can never leave the island of Manhattan) and Cormac is told how to complete his journey and pass into the spirit world in the future. The story then follows Cormac through key points in NYC history up until the days immediately after 9/11. This is a sweeping epic history of NYC, a lyrical story with a large magical realism component, and a love story all rolled into one novel. Please note, however, this novel has a completely open ending, which may or may not matter to you as a reader.

Like most Hamill books, Forever is as much about New York City as it is about the characters he creates. In fact, click here to read my post about North River. Besides the readalikes listed there, I would add Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale, another popular Celtic Fantasy novel with a New York setting written by a proven storyteller. Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days would also be a good readalike, both for setting and the fantasy elements. If you want a book about the NYC area in the revolutionary period, you could also try Brookland by Emily Barton.

In terms of Nonfiction, click here to run a search of books about the history of New York City, there are many ranging from coffee table books, to narrative histories. Ditto for Irish history. Click here to run a search for those titles.

The Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch is also a work of magical realism, but without the historical setting of Hamill's work. Scotch's book caught my eye while I reading reviews; I had not read a chick-lit in a while and the plot summary intrigued me. Here are the details: Jillian is a stay-at-home-mom in Westchester, NY and a former advertising executive. She is experiencing dissatisfaction with her life, her marriage, and her "job." Upon hearing that the boyfriend she left to marry her husband was finally getting married himself, Jillian starts to think of what her life would have been if she had taken a different path. And then, while receiving a massage, Jillian is transported back 7 years, to have a second chance at her life. What follows is a heart-warming, bittersweet, and ultimately redemptive story about the choices modern women have, the sacrifices that come with loving someone, and a look at what is truly important in life.

Although, The Time of My Life tackles some serious issues, it is firmly grounded in the chick-lit subgenre of women's lives and relationships stories. For a similar work, but with a bit more sophistication and depth, try The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. If you liked Scotch's mommy issue take on chick-lit, you would probably enjoy the works of Jennifer Weiner (try Goodnight Nobody for similar themes). There is also Ayelet Waldman's Mommy Track Mysteries series.

Nonfiction titles that might be of interest would include Time Travel in Einstein's Universe: The Physical Possibilities of Travel Through Time by J. Richard Gott, This Is How We Do It: The Working Mothers' Manifesto by Carol Evans, and Where Did I Go?: The Personal Chronicle of a Sahm (Stay at Home Mom), as she shares her fulfilling, frustrating and often comical journey from Womanhood to Motherhood by B. Wylde.

Finally, I read the latest installment in Ian Sansom's bookmobile mysteries this month, The Book Stops Here. Click here to read my other postings about this series and to see readalikes. I think I liked this title the best in the series so far because we finally get to see Israel back in London and interacting with his mother, who it appears will be coming back to Ireland with him and joining the series. Anyway, it was a great, light, escapist read, and I will continue to suggest this cozy mystery series to all fans of public libraries everywhere.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Borders Original Voices Nominees

Borders just announced their nominees for their "Original Voices" awards.

"Now in its 13th year, the Original Voices Awards recognize fresh, compelling and ambitious works from the new and emerging talents of 2008 in fiction, non-fiction, young adult/independent reader and children's picture books."

Here are the nominees in all categories.

Hannah Tinti's The Good Thief is on the list. I wrote about how much I enjoyed this novel here. And a few other titles are already on my to-read shelf.

This award has launched the careers of many writers. This is a reliably good measure of up and coming authors.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Best Lists

Here is the link to Amazon.com's Best Books of 2008 both Editors' and Customers' Picks.

PW has their Best of 2008 list also.

But my favorite kind of year end best lists are the ones when people list their best book "I read this year" lists. This is where people list the books they most enjoyed reading over the past 12 months.

Although the newest books are the ones everyone talks about, they are not the only ones worth reading. Last year, I did one of these lists last year, and I plan to do one again this year. Here is one from Paste Magazine (which we subscribe to at my house) listing some author's favorite books they read this year.

I apologize in advance for making your personal to read list too long, but you never know what you'll be in the mood for at any one time, so the longer the list, the better I say.

And Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Best Romances 2008

I am not a huge romance reader myself, but I love to help all my readers the best I can. Genre specific "bests lists" are always helpful in this endeavor. Not only do these lists help you to "take the pulse" of a specific genre and see what is considered the best right now, but also, it makes for a great reading list to hand out to fans of the genre.

Here, RA Online suggests their best romances of 2008.

And to add a touch of humor to the discussion, The Literary Review has posted its annual shortlist of "Bad Sex in Fiction," to be handed out today in London. Thanks to RA Online for this list too.

There will be many bests lists coming out in the next few weeks. I will not post links to all of them (that would be a full time job), but I will pick out a few of my favorites to share.

Monday, November 24, 2008

First Novels

One of my favorite of the numerous "best lists" that come out at this time of year, are the ones that list the "best first novels." I love finding new and interesting authors, even though my to read list is already too long to finish in my lifetime.

Here is Booklist's list of the Top 10 First Novels of 2008, with annotations.

Try something new this Thanksgiving Week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Holiday Book Discussions

Book Group Buzz, a blog by Booklist Online (which is always listed in my list of sites to check out on the right hand side of this page), has this interesting discussion going on about what to do during you group's December meeting.

I posted a comment to the discussion and I thought I would cross post it here:

I wrote:

"My long standing library book group changes things up for our December meeting also. We meet for 4 hours instead of 2 and have a pot luck luncheon in which the library provides the main course and the participants bring side dishes.

We always schedule a “classic” title to read that month. This year it will be The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway. Then, we arrange to watch the movie version on the classic title after lunch. This leaves little time for discussion, so if people did not read the book it is OK.
We also discuss our favorite books from the last year and present the list for the first 6 months of the next.

It makes for a nice break, it is festive, filled with holiday cheer, and there is no pressure to finish the book in order to enjoy the fun."

Go on over to the discussion to read more.

Monday, November 17, 2008

BPL Book Discussion: River of Doubt

This month my book group tackled The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. This New York Times notable book follows Roosevelt after his failed bid for a third term as President. To take his mind off of his political failures, Roosevelt accepted a speaking tour of South America in 1913. Roosevelt's son Kermit was already on the continent, and the chance to see the Amazon River was just what the ex-President and famous outdoors man needed to get over his defeat.

However, the planning for the trip was shoddy and once in Brazil, Roosevelt changed the group's plans. Instead of traveling down a well mapped river, Roosevelt and his team decided to explore "The River of Doubt," a completely uncharted 1,000 mile tributary of the Amazon. As you can imagine from this set-up, things do not go well. The group loses boats in the rapids, 3 men die, food stores all but run out, and Roosevelt himself barely survives the trip. As you can see, The River of Doubt is not your run-of-the-mill Presidential narrative.

On to our discussion: All but 2 people loved the book. The two who felt so-so about it commented on the unrelenting suffering and the descriptions of all of the terrible things the group went though. One commented that she felt their pain too intensely. I did remind her that if it were fiction, we could say the author was laying it on too thick, but she was not because this was real!!

Others loved it because of the suffering. One participants comments that she was in awe of their adventurous spirit and all they went through. She was astounded.

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.

Since Millard used a lot of diaries and first person accounts, this nonfiction book had a lot of well rounded characters. We got insight into Roosevelt and his crew as men, not just as famous people.

We also talked about how much we learned about the ecology, evolution, and topography of Brazil and the rain forest. One participant read a few facts out loud, such as that the mouth of the Amazon is so large, there is an island in it, almost as big as Switzerland!

We also spent some time discussing the indigenous population and what it means to be "civilized." Who is more civilized, the modern explorers or those who had lived in the rain forest for thousands of years?

We ended our discussion by talking about survival. I asked the group what would you do in a situation like Roosevelt's where you literally were fighting to survive in a hostile and unknown environment with not hope of rescue. People talked about how they thought they would react. Each had something slightly different to say, but overall, we decided that your real self comes out in those situations. We also thought that at some point you would have to confront death and come to terms with its inevitability. We also talked about how Rondon's adherence to a schedule and his strict regimentation saved them all. You had no choice but to go forward with Rondon in the lead. You may be upset, uncomfortable, unwell, and dejected, but you just kept moving toward your goal.

As you can see, we enjoyed the discussion and loved that the book allowed for so many different paths of exploration. This also leads to many readalike possibilities. One of the participants mentioned that this book reminded her of when we read The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. Another brought up our discussion of Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende. I would add to this list, 2 other narrative nonfiction titles of people persevering through tough times although not in the Brazilian rain forest, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dustbowl by Timothy Egan and Mayflower: A Story of Courage Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick. Finally, other famous explorers were mentioned in this work, one of which was Ernest Shackleton. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing is one of the best accounts of his Antarctic exploration.

There is an extensive bibliography in the back of The River of Doubt to turn to for reading about this adventure specifically, but I would like to point out Roosevelt's own account of his trip, Through the Brazilian Wilderness which is still available at many public libraries. If you want to learn more about Roosevelt, I would also suggest trying Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris or Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough.

In terms of fiction, there are many ways to go. I mentioned Ines of My Soul above, but there is also Kathy's suggestion of Fordlandia by Edwardo Sguiglia which is a fictionalization of Henry Ford's attempt to have his own rubber plantation in the Amazon. Another patron also mentioned thinking of the Jean Auel Clan of the Cave Bear books when reading this.

Obviously there is lots to draw on here. Enjoy.

World Fantasy Awards Announced

The World Fantasy Convention was held over the weekend and they announced their award winners. Use this link to see a list of the current nominees and winners, and scroll down to find the links to past winners.

Friday, November 14, 2008

BPL Display: National Book Award Winners

The National Book Award winners will be announced on November 17. In honor of the event, we have filled our "large display" with past winners and a list of the current nominees.

Kathy also made this annotated list of past winners. In the process of making the list, she found that our library still has every award winner from the early 90s forward on the shelves.

This leads me to one of my favorite new RA rants. What does the library have the bookstores do not? The back list. Your public library has all the oldies, but goodies, that your local Barnes and Nobel does not. We have the out of print books you want to read right now, just waiting on the shelves.

This list is just one example of the variety of leisure reading materials you can find when you visit your local library.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Public Libraies and the Economy: Part 3

I have had a few posts about how much money using your public library can save you, but now I have proof.

The North Suburban Library System (who do frequently employ me as a consultant) have posted a "Return on Investment Calculator For Library Users."

Fill in the blanks after your next library visit with the number of titles and/or DVDs you checked out and also include you Internet hours used, and this calculator will show you how much money you saved.

Also, here is a post from The Simple Dollar, a blog which has "financial talk for the rest of us." In this post, readers commented on their 25 Best Actions for Saving Money, and guess what came in first....that's right, your local library! (Thanks to my husband, an avid reader of this blog for the link)

What better reasons to use your local public library can I give you? Now come by and see us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Science Fiction That Caused Political Change

Every semester my students are asked to write 2, 10 page papers; one as a midterm and one as a final. Right now we are in the throes of discussing their final projects (due 12/10). One assignment asks them to look at a book that has had "impact," and analyze the social history of that title: how it was received when first written, what is its appeal, what legacy has it left over time, is it still in print, etc...?

In a nod to this assignment, the ALA posted this list of "Science Fiction That Caused Political Change" in their weekly electronic newsletter to members.

Current students, take a look for ideas here. And everyone else, this list is interesting and thought provoking. I would suggest these titles even for those of you who do not think you like Science Fiction.

Monday, November 10, 2008

BPL Display: Native American Fiction

November is Native American Heritage Month and at BPL we have a great display and this annotated list compiled by Betty highlighting some of the titles.

Due to the recent death of Tony Hillerman, who was the first popular author to consistently write about the Navajo as fully rounded characters, we have also incorporated into our display a tribute to him.

I will have another display to post for this month in a few days.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Esquire Magazine Endorses the Public Library

For their November issue, Esquire Magazine did endorsements. On page 32, in the bottom left-hand corner there was a small box by Meryl Rothstein stating that "Esquire Endorses The Public Library." Here is the 1 paragraph they wrote:

"Every book. Every movie. Every album. It's like Borders, Netflix, and iTunes combined-- for free. And it's so easy: You can go online and have the newest stuff sent to your local branch. Why you would leave this complimentary emporium to students and grandmothers is beyond me. Plus, a librarian is like Google that actually find what you're looking for and never clutters your screen with porn."

Couple this with the Boston Public Library Campaign I wrote about here, and it has been a great few weeks for public library PR.

Thank you Esquire and thanks to my husband/Esquire subscriber for showing me this endorsement.

New Genre Study Article

Library Journal has a great article by Neal Wyatt on genre studies. Click here for the full text.

Neal outlines the different approaches one could take with a genre study. I think this article will become new required reading for my Dominican class.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Nothing today but a reminder to vote.

If you are registered but don't know where to go, call your local public library. They will tell you. Now you have no excuse.

Here is the link for polling places in Suburban Cook County, IL.

Oh, and after you vote, stop by the nearest Starbucks, tell them you voted, and get your free cup of brewed coffee.

Seriously, stop reading this and go vote!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Article about new Updike, Roth, and Morrison

In the current issue of Time Magazine (November 3, 2008) there is an interesting article about the new titles by Toni Morrison, John Updike, and Philip Roth. Click here for the full text of the article.

The author, Lev Grossman, analyzes each of their new novels arguing that these great American authors of the second half of the 20th century, have revisited their older works and rewritten them in their newest offerings.

I found it a compelling argument. Grossman writes that these novelists, now well entrenched in their 70s, have the perspective to look back at Beloved, The Witches of Eastwick, and Portnoy's Complaint, all classic novels, and reassess their conclusions.

I just put Morrison's A Mercy (11/11/08) on hold, and now I am even more interested in reading it as it fits into Morrison's larger body of work. Also, you can go here, to hear Morrison reading from her new novel on NPR in 4 installments.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Student Annotations: Science Fiction, Thriller, Adventure, Romance, and Women's Lives

I used to post student annotations by genre, one post for each genre, but now that I have a larger collection, I find it is cumbersome. Instead, I will post groups of these annotations as I get them. They will still be tagged with the genres, annotations, and GSLIS, so pulling them up will just as easy.

So here is the work of the semester's first brave souls.

Science Fiction:
The Host by Stephanie Meyer
Virtual Light by William Gibson
Forty Thousand in Gehenna by CJ Cherryh

God's Spy by Juan Gomez-Juardo

Temple by Matthew Reilly

My Lady's Choice by Lyn Stone

Women's Lives:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

In the spirit of all things creepy, here is a link to a list of haunted libraries. (Scroll to the bottom to get a list for each region of the country)

Remember, I also have many horror related postings on this blog. Click here for everything I have tagged horror.

Happy Haunting!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What I'm Reading: October 2008

This month I read two completely different historical fiction titles and a popular nonfiction one.

I first encountered The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti when reading reviews and, as I often do when a review strikes me, put the title on hold. Many times I end up returning the book before reading it, but this title seemed too good to pass up, and thankfully I was correct. The Good Thief has been described as being reminiscent of Dickens, and I think that is very much true. The time period, class issues, and the plucky orphan main character all lead one to that comparison.

Here are the details. The Good Thief is Tinti's first novel. We begin the story in 19th Century, New England, in a Catholic orphanage. 12-year-old Ren has lived here for as long as he can remember. He also has no recollection of how he came to lose his hand either. Ren is worried about his future because he is nearing the age when, if not adopted, he will be sold into the army and never know what it is like to have a home and a family. One day, Benjamin arrives,claiming to be Ren's brother, and adopts Ren. As you can imagine, Benjamin is not who he claims to be and the two begin an exciting adventure together.

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

I would suggest this novel to anyone looking for a fast paced, old fashioned story. Although it is not a gentle read (there are murders and the exhumation of bodies), it is good for a wide range of readers. I would especially suggest this in audio form to a family with middle school and older children to listen to on a driving vacation.

Specific readalike titles would of course include anything by Dickens. But for more modern authors and titles, those interested could try the hugely popular The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski which also has a disabled but plucky, young male protagonist (here he is mute), and a coming-of-age theme; it also loosely follows the plot of Hamlet. A less mainstream suggestion would be another well received first novel, When the Finch Rises by Jack Riggs. Here the reader follows two young boys in the 1960s South, their tough lives, their coming-of-age, and the strength of their friendship that pulls them through. It is important to note that this novel does have touches of magical realism. Finally one of my back list favorites that I would be a perfect match for readers who liked Ren is The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall.

For those who really enjoyed the 19th century, New England setting, you could always try works by or about Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau or Ralph Waldo Emerson. All three writers captured this time, as it happened, and are still read today.

I also read another historical fiction with some adventure elements and a similar title, but with a completely different setting and tone. City of Thieves by David Benioff is a WWII drama. St. Petersberg (or Pitter as its residents refer to it) is under siege by the Nazis and Lev, the son of a poet (and victim of Stalin) is literally starving while protecting his beloved Pitter. One evening he is caught out after curfew, thrown in jail, and awaiting his punishment...death. In his cell, Lev meets an army deserter and university student named Kolya. The two are offered a reprieve by the Colonel if they can locate a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake in less than a week's time. The boys set out into the wild streets of Pitter, and eventually slip behind German lines. Along the way, as Lev narrates, the two form a true friendship, meet many interesting people, and come to understand the beauty and horrors of war.

City of Thieves has both a war and coming-of-age theme, much like How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. Also, the popular and well reviewed thriller, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smtih, has a similar setting, but a faster pace and a bit less historical detail. Both would make good readalikes, but possibly not for the same reader.

For nonfiction suggestions, there are literally millions of books on WWII, but this link will lead you to a list of books about the Russian Front, giving any interested readers more information about the setting of Benioff's novel.

Finally, this month I also listened to Simon Winchester reading his latest books, The Man Who Loved China. First comment, Winchester is a wonderful writer, but probably not the most exciting reader. That being said, if you are interested in the West's first true and fair encounter with China and the creation of what is still considered to be the best reference guide of the history of china, read this book. Joseph Needham, the man referred to in the book's title, was not only brilliant, but also interestingly eccentric. In true Winchester style, Needham and his work are raised in importance and links are drawn between Needham and larger world issues, such as the Unibomber.

As I have written on NoveList Plus in my readalike for Winchester, similar authors would include Mark Kurlansky, Jared Diamond, John McPhee, Dava Sobel and Susan Orlean. I would highly suggest checking out these authors if you like Winchester's work.

But specifically, as I read this book, a few novels about Cambridge and China that I had read recently kept popping into my head. I really don't have a subjective reason why, but Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stout and the novels of Lisa See came into my mind often as I read The Man Who Loved China. For what it's worth, I have linked to blog entries where I discussed these novels.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Boston Public Library TV ads

The Boston Public Library has recently posted their wonderful new ad campaign. They worked with an ad agency (who donated their services) to create print, radio and television ads with the tag line of "What Do You Want to Know?". Click here to access examples.

This is a highly innovative campaign, and I think much of what this campaign says about the Boston Public Library specifically, can be applied to just about every public library in the country. Although, I do wish they'd talk about finding you a good book to read.

Thanks to my student Joe, who passed these links on.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Crime Fiction Resources

In preparation for my talk tomorrow on Crime Fiction at the North Suburban Library System, I compiled a list of my favorite Crime Resources. Click here to access the Word document.

My personal favorite is the last one on the list: Murder by Toaster: Mysteries With Surprisingly Lethal Weapons

Seriously though, my presentation is focused on how to help your patrons who enjoy all kinds of crime fiction. Those who join me tomorrow, will get the full scoop, but if you can't make it, try some of the resources above to help your patrons or to help yourself.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

BPL Book Discussion: Dream When You're Feeling Blue

This week my book discussion group met to talk about Elizabeth Berg's story of the Heaney Family on the home front during WWII entitled, Dream When You're Feeling Blue. I wrote about this title last Spring when my local library used this title as part of a cooperative effort to present The Big Read with other area libraries.

Click here for my original posting about this title, including plot and readalikes.

Click here for the information compiled by those presenting the Big Read, including readalikes, historical background information, and information about the author.

Besides the readalikes listed in the two above sources, I want to remind you to check out Ken Burns' WWII documentary, the companion book, and the CD box set. His multi-part film captures the tone of this work and also gives attention to the home front. Since this novel is also named after a song of the era, and popular culture of the time, dancing, and music all play a large part in the story, the CD box set also goes nicely with the novel.

Another book our group read about a group of women (not sisters though) who work together through hardship and protect each other is Sandra Dallas' The Persian Pickle Club. You can click here to read about our discussion.

But enough about all the background info and readalikes. On to what we discussed...

A big discussion point about this novel has to do with the ending, in fact, that is where our discussion began. Although everyone in the group loved reading the book, some were "crushed" by the ending, another thought it was too abrupt, and still others loved it. Without giving the twist away, I will say that although the ending is a twist, it is not outrageous, and, as far as our group was concerned, whether or not they liked the ending did not interfere with their overall enjoyment of the novel.

Kitty, the middle sister who is in her late teens, is the character through which we view the Heaney family. Many of my group participants were young children during the days of WWII and commented on remembering some of the things that Kitty discusses such as Roosevelt coffee, going to Marshal Field's as a special outing, and the USO dances. One participant loved watching Kitty grow and blossom. As a young girl, she never thought she had a choice of what she could do with her life once she grew up, but seeing Kitty get a factory job and begin to assert her independence made this woman happy. Others remarked that despite her selfishness, Kitty always showed empathy for those around her.

Of course, the group loved the Chicago setting and many people shared their own stories about their victory gardens, rations, and especially of going downtown and seeing sailors and soldiers everywhere you looked.

Toward the end we moved to a discussion of drawing parallels between the WWII era and today. We talked about life on the home front during war time. My group talked about how proud they were to endure the hardships on the home front because it made you feel proud to be part of the war effort. The participants felt it was easier to band together then because our enemy was so clear and defined. Today our enemies are unknown. They could be anyone, and the psychological burden of this hidden enemy makes us live under, what one participant called, "a cloud of concern." The group agreed that without a transparent enemy, it is hard to unite those at home.

I am so glad my group discussed this book. My participants are of an age where they can remember a bit from the era and were excited to relive those memories. I would suggest this book to any Chicagoland book clubs or to groups anywhere with participants who lived through the WWII era.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Crime Fiction Presentation By Me

October 28th, I will be at the North Suburban Library System presenting a three hour class on Crime Fiction. Click here for the class description and sign-up.

I am preparing many new resources and reading lists in preparation, but I did want to share one web site now. Crime Culture is a resource that explores different critical approaches to crime literature and film. Click here to learn more about their aims. It is a fun and thought provoking site.

Monday, October 20, 2008

BPL Displays: October 2008 and POEfest!!

Kathy and I worked on the lists for the October displays at the BPL this month.

The first is called "Graphic Novels for Grownups." About 6 months ago, one of my book club participants asked for a list of Graphic Novels that she might enjoy. I made her an unannotated reading list right away. However, I realized she might not be the only one out there looking for grown up graphic novels, so the display idea was born. It has been up for a few days now, and as I sit here on Monday morning, not only is the display looking empty, but the return cart is full of graphic novels to be reshelved.

The second display is of course for Halloween. But this year, the BPL, along with the Berwyn Arts Council, North Berwyn Park District, 16th Street Theater, Horrorbles, and Cigars & Stripes, is a sponsor of a community wide POEfest. All month long there will be movies, student art and writing exhibitions, reading, and a gala to celebrate this wonderful author and his legacy. Our 2 lists celebrating the newest releases in horror fiction (compiled by me) and some of the best of Poe's stories (compiled by Kathy) are under the heading, "Celebrate Halloween...Poe Style."

If you live in the Chicago area, please click here and come attend one of the events. It should be a great time and all events are free.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


It's high awards season. Here are just a few award winning titles and authors announced in the last week:

My personal favorite, the Booker Prize went to White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Click here to read an interview with the author from the Book Group Buzz Blog by Booklist Online.

The Anthony Award winners (mystery), presented last weekend at Buchercon 2008 can be found here. This list has the nominees and the winners. I would especially like to highlight the winner for best website, my favorite mystery resource Stop You're Killing Me.

The 2008 Nobel Prize in literature went to
Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. He was cited as being an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."

Finally, Larry Doyle won the 2008 Thurber Prize for American Humor.

Now to get you ready for the next round of awards, here is an article about the short-list for the Giller Prize for Canadian Fiction.