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.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What I'm Reading: July 2008

This month I am going to share a nonfiction, graphic novel, fantasy, and a Newbery award winner.

One of the read alike articles I am working on for NoveList is for the very popular graphic memoirist Marjane Satrapi. In preparation, I was looking for possible readalike titles and the late Miriam Engelberg's Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person caught my eye. Here Engelberg uses simple black and white pen drawings to describe her personal experience with breast cancer. Like Satrapi, Engelberg takes an extremely serious subject and injects humor into it. I especially liked her honesty about how she reacted to her diagnosis. She gives a voice to all of the cancer patients who do not handle it in a "made for TV movie" way. The book does end with a recurrence of her cancer at a Stage IV level. After the publication of this graphic novel, Engelberg passed away.

Readers who liked Satrapi's Persepolis; specifically how Satrapi deals with very serious issues, yet interjects humor and self deprecation, would enjoy Engelberg's book. Another graphic novel option would be Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto. This is another non-traditional cancer patient memoir told in graphic novel form, but here, the author survives her ordeal. If you want to read another graphic novel memoir about illness, you could also try Epileptic by David B. where the author recounts his childhood with a sick brother.

Fantasy author, Terry Pratchett has been working on his Discworld series for over 25 years. The world he has created is too complex for me to reiterate, but click here for a great overview and background.

What I love about these books as a librarian is that they do not have to be read in order, and most certainly, there is no need to read every book to enjoy a few in the series. What I love about these books as a reader is the humor and satire. This month I read The Truth. This installment of the series is both a dig at the changing Millennium (it came out in 2000) and a satire on the role of the press. A rag-tag group of humans and dwarfs start printing The Ankh-Morpork Times. Their pursuit of the truth, ends up uncovering a political conspiracy and puts them all in mortal danger. Along the way we meet a zombie lawyer, werewolf police, a vampire photographer, talking dogs, and a fine art loving hitman. just to name a few of the outrageous characters. In true British humor style, the satire is thick and the jokes are dry, but you will be cheering for the newspaper, its publishers, and the truth for all 350+ pages.

There are many authors who have the same sense of humor, use of satire, and other-world settings as Pratchett. The most popular are Jasper Fforde, Douglas Adams, Eric Flint, and Tom Holt. Pratchett has also written a book with Neil Gaiman.

On a completely different note, I also read American Creation: Triumphs, Tragedies, at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph Ellis. Here, Revolutionary Era historian Ellis focuses on six situations during the crucial years of the Revolutionary Era and looks at them in isolation from start to finish. What I most enjoyed here was that each situation got a full treatment. For example, the discussion about how Washington and Company dealt with the Native American question had its own chance to be told without forcing it to fit into the larger narrative of the times. This history book reads more like a book of essays or even short stories. Ellis introduces each piece and lets the reader know who the main players will be. I also enjoyed how Ellis is not afraid to point out where these Revolutionary heroes failed.

Overall I enjoyed the book; it also helped that I read it over the Fourth of July holiday. However, I was getting a bit bored of it by the end. Those who are interested in the Revolutionary Era could try other books by Ellis, but I would also suggest David McCullough's John Adams or 1776 as must reads. There is also Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton or Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts . For a fiction option, Howard Fast's April Morning is worth a look.

Finally, I went to see Wall-E with my family recently and there was a preview for The Tale of Despereaux which is based on the Newbery Award winning novel of the same name by Kate DiCamillo. I decided to read the novel with my daughter this month so that she could go see the movie in the fall and be able to compare and contrast the way the story unfolds on the page vs. the screen. This is a wonderful novel about a mouse, a rat, a young outcast girl, and a Princess named Pea. It is a fairy tale, but be warned it is on the darker side, with child abuse, treachery and murderous rats throughout. We had a great time reading it, especially because the narrator addresses the reader, telling us to ponder certain things, reminding us of key elements from 50 pages back, or telling us to look up words like "perfidy."

This is a children's book with enough depth for an adult to enjoy. Adult novels that capture the themes and mood of The Tale of Despereaux would be The Princess Bride by William Goldman The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

BPL Library News Alerts

Our Readers' Advisory Department just began utilizing its new and improved web site to post a newsletter for our patrons. Kathy has done a great job utilizing the best features of online publishing. Click here to see the very first alert.

What Kathy is offering here is an annotated list of a few new or upcoming titles with links to further information about the book from other web sources.

This is a great way to keep your patrons informed, but more importantly, it reminds them of all what we librarians as a human resource have to offer. We have been trained to sift through the great masses of information available, in print and electronic form, in order to provide our patrons with easy access points to what interests them at that moment. Web publishing is a great way to showcase this.

We are increasing the BPL's Library 2.0 presence every day. And the great thing about web publishing is that everyone, all over the world, can utilize our (or any other library's) lists and information--for FREE. Providing further proof on how great we librarians really are.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Public Libraries and the Economy

Public libraries in American are a wonderful resource for recreation as well as information. When the economy is not doing well, people flock to the library. We are experiencing this now in Berwyn and I know we are not alone.

Check out this list by MG Reader, a public librarian, listing 7 ways the library can help you during tough economic times.

What I like best about this list is that it highlights all of the opportunities at your local library besides checking out books. I am happy to say we offer everything on this list (and more!) here at the Berwyn Public Library.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Discussion: Loving Frank

This month our group read the bestseller, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. This historical novel attempts to recreate the dramatic and tragic relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Told in third person omniscient, this novel is mostly from Mamah's perspective. The story begins when both lovers are married to others and follows their emerging relationship, as well as Mamah's feminist studies and Frank's early career. The chapters are short and the pace of the story is quite brisk for such a rich, detailed historical novel. And, even though I have visited Frank and Mamah's Taliesin retreat in Spring Green, WI and knew of the story's tragic end before reading the book, I was still captivated by Horan's re-imagining of historical events. Horan includes an end note with details of her research process and a documentation of her sources.

Our group began its discussion with the ending of the story. SPOILER ALERT. We discussed the dramatic scenes in which Mamah and her children are axed to death and set afire by a servant. Many participants thought Horan had created this melodramatic ending, but as I told them, sometimes the truth is a whole lot worse than anything that can be imagined. A few participants also pointed out how Horan built tension as we get closer to the murder: the pace of the story quickens, we begin to feel anxious, and the mood darkens.

We then moved on to a discussion of Mamah's motivations and whether or not we felt she was selfish. One person pointed out that Mamah's brand of feminism was more at home in the 1990s than in her era (the 1910s). We were all conflicted on how to feel about Mamah. Many could not get past the fact that she abandoned her children, others felt despite the pain Mamah and Frank caused to their families and friends, the two were meant to be together. Still others felt Ellen Key (the Swedish feminist whom Mamah was translating) got it right by saying that divorce and free love are important for women, but not at the expense of maternal love. This led to a long discussion on the legacy of feminism and the reprecussions for women today.

Although Mamah rightfully took up the bulk of our conversation, we tackled the question of whether or not Frank came off as an admirable figure in this novel. It was fairly unanimous that although he was brilliant, he was kind of an arrogant jerk.

One character did withstand all criticism, Mamah's sister Lizzie. We all found her admirable for raising Mamah's children after Mamah abandoned them to find love with Frank and a meaning to her life. But more importantly, as a literary device, the scene where Lizzie confronts Mamah and calls her on her selfishness comes at a key moment in the novel. We as readers had been following Mamah's personal, inner wranglings for a hundred pages or so, across the ocean in Europe without the physical presence of her family. When Lizzie lets Mamah know of all she has been put through, while Mamah found herself, we readers are also shaken back into the reality of the situation.

There is much more we discussed including the title, Frank's "Life is Truth" motto at his Oak Park Home and Studio, and the Goethe epigraph Horan chose for the novel, "One lives but once in the world.," but there is only so much I can expect people to read about.

Moving onto other books...there are many nonfiction books about Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin, and his relationship with Mamah. To get you started on more information, Brookbrowse has compiled this further reading list at the end of their posted discussion questions for Loving Frank. However, to this list I would also like to add the upcoming (9/08) Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan. Nancy Horan has given a blurb on the book.

In terms of fiction readalike suggestions, I would like to move away from the Frank Lloyd Wright subject and suggest 3 other historical fiction titles about independent women. Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell is a good suggestion because it not only follows the early years of Mozart's career, but it also chronicles his relationship with the four Weber sisters. Booklist notes that it is "as much about the four Weber sisters as it is about Mozart." (1/1/04). Another historic novel about an artist and his interesting wife is Other Sorrows, Other Joys: the Marriage of Catherine Sophia Boucher and William Blake by Janet Warner. Here, like in Loving Frank, a young woman searches for her own identity in the shadow of a genius partner. Finally, there is Away by Amy Bloom. Here the focus is not on an artist, but rather on an independent woman's search for her daughter. However, unlike Loving Frank, despite the hardship, our main character has a happy ending. You can read a longer comment by me on Away right here.

Next month we will be reading Erik Larson's Thunderstruck.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Horror Reading List Fall 2007-Fall 2008

I had a request from a colleague for a list of the better horror authors and books from last fall up to this fall. She was looking for information about some of the lesser known authors. So, I figured, I should share the list with everyone.

First though, I thought I would mention Monster Librarian. This is a wonderful resources for horror readers and the librarians who help them. I especially enjoy the up coming horror fiction releases list, the horror fiction news blog, and Book Ends, a section with special lists and essays. For full disclosure, my book is listed on this site.

Anyway, on to the list of the lesser known (aka not Joe Hill, Stephen King etc..) good horror reads from Fall 2007-2008 [IMO]:

Sarah Langan is the best female horror novelist right now. The Missing is her latest and it won this year's Bram Stoker for best novel.

Jonathan Maberry has just completed his trilogy (which began with Ghost Road Blues) with the May publication of Bad Moon Rising. All three take place at the Pine Deep, PA Halloween festival. I started a few patrons on the trilogy and they were counting down until the publication of the last book. All are only out in paperback.

If you are looking for something meatier, more philosophical, but very, very evil at the same time, Gary Braunbeck is for you. His latest is Coffin County (5/08) and it is scary and violent with an evil, twist ending.

I also really like Tom Piccirilli quite a bit. His most recent publication is The Cold Spot (4/08). You can tell, Piccirilli is well respected because many reviews have begun calling his books thrillers instead of horror, but don't be deceived by the marketing, this is visceral storytelling. It should also be noted that Piccirilli has also provided a story to the Hellboy franchise of graphic novels.

Michael Laimo is a great choice for those like religious horror. His latest is Fires Rising(2/08). And fans of Laimo always point out the gore, violence and action in his novels. Laimo never runs our of adjectives.

Brian Keene broke onto the scene in 2003 with The Rising. This zombie tale was a huge hit with horror fans (who are by the way, extremely discriminating and tough on writers). A sequel, City of the Dead, soon followed, and now Keene has given fans more with The Rising: Selected Scenes from the End of the World (6/08). Here, in 32 short stories, Keene revisits the world he created, gives fans more back story, brings back old characters and introduces new ones. Keene also has a new full length novel coming out on July 29th called Ghost Walk.

If you like your horror with an current events twist, you could try the slightly campy Daemon (4/08) by Harry Shannon. I do want to stress here that "campy" does not mean bad to horror readers. This is a good novel with a knowing nod to the great B-movies of the past.

And for the future:
Bentley Little is one of my favorites. He has a new book due this August called The Academy. While at the end of September, Joe Hill is also back with an illustrated novel called Locke & Key.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Student Annotations: Suspense

More vacation reading; this time it is suspense.

Here are three suspense:
In the Company of Liars by David Ellis
Honeymoon by James Patterson and Howard Roughan
And, Tell No One by Harlan Coben, which is a sure bet for anyone who enjoys a good suspense novel. In fact, Coben's stand-alone suspense novels are all excellent.

As a bonus, here is a sure bet romantic suspense title too:
Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts

Friday, July 11, 2008

Books for the Airplane

Nancy Pearl was on NPR again yesterday to give another interesting booktalk. This time she chose 9 books that make good airplane reads. Her description of why these books fit her self-defined category is interesting. Also, as usual, Pearl has made a point to have a nice mix of genre and topic in this list. There really is just about something for everyone here.

Go to the list yourself and then let me know what you think of her choices. I am going to save this list to look at before I get on my next plane. I can never have too many suggestions.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Suggestions for a Guys Book Group

I had a patron come to the desk at BPL on Monday to tell us about his new book group. It consists of a dozen or so 30-something, fathers, who meet in a local bar to hold their discussions. They had their first meeting last month and they read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. They are reading Confederacy of Dunces next and Motherless Brooklyn in August. All three are excellent choices to get a guys group going.

I told him I would compile I list of suggestions for future months. His requirements were that the books be less than 350, they wanted fictions and nonfiction, a few classics, short stories, a "scary book for Halloween, and anything I just thought might be good.

So here are the suggestions, for both his group, and anyone else out there, to peruse.

Let's start with the "scary" book suggestion. I have three. The first two might have less to discuss in the traditional book discussion sense, but are VERY scary, and the third is not as scary, but a good book discussion title. Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box and Scott Smith's The Ruins, are the two best horror books of the last few years (IMO). The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue is about changelings and has provoked a lot of conversation and accolades. It also deal with fatherhood.

Now onto other suggested titles. I will list fiction and nonfiction separately. Each is linked to Amazon, where interested readers can find not only summaries, but comments from actual readers. When choosing titles for a book discussion, I always look at a few 5 star reviews and a few 1 star reviews to get the full spectrum of opinions on a book. It has served me well for 7 1/2 years of picking book discussion titles.

I have placed a * in front of my top 10 picks for discussion. But this is only my opinion.

*Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
*Blindness by Jose Saramago
*Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (which is technically 18 pages over the limit, but many of the pages are just pictures)
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (Short Stories)
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro (Short Stories)
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Short Stories)
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
*On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Van by Roddy Doyle

(The page limit really held my choices back here, but these are all great options. Many are under the limit in text, but over when you count the notes sections)
by Mark Kurlansky
*Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
*Maus or In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman (both graphic novels)
The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
*Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson
*Longitude by Dava Sobel
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
*1776 by David McCulough
Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Good luck to the Berwyn guys and anyone else who chooses to use this list. Please feel free to use the comments to add to the list. I know there are a lot more books to add because I had to force myself to stop.

Dr. Who in the Library!

So my husband loves Dr. Who and I sometimes watch it with him. I do have to say the new episodes have been quite good. However, recently, they got even better, as a 2-part episode took place in a library. Here is a review about the episode with plot details.

See libraries can be useful and thrilling.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Book Discussion Group Ideas for Summer

The Book Group Buzz Blog (also permanently listed in the right hand column), had this interesting post on "10 Ways to Lighten it up for Summer."

As I mentioned in my May book discussion report, sometimes, book discussion books can be heavy and depressing, this article enumerates many ways to change things up if your group is feeling overwhelmed. Some listed which we have done here at BPL include moving the location or doing a summer theme. We also always read a classic in December when people are also pressed for time and watch the movie version too. I have also always wanted to spread a big book out over 2 months.

This list is full of great ideas to lighten up any group. I am sure you can find something that will work for your group.

Monday, July 7, 2008

BPL Displays for July 2008 and NEW WEBSITE DEBUT

As I mentioned in this post, we have a fun horror related display prepared for our Metamorphosis themed summer reading program. And, more importantly, it is posted on our new website.

The list that goes with the display is based on the following definition of Metamorphosis: n. A Transformation, as by magic, or sorcery. You can give yourself a spook with stories about Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, and other supernatural beings that change form by clicking on this list of 10 books compiled by me.

If you want to peruse our brand new BPL website click here and to see the RA department, click here. We have lots of annotated lists, readalikes, and a fun Meet the Staff section.