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, September 30, 2008

What I'm Reading: September 2008

This month I want to begin with one of the best books I have read in a long time Alison Bechdel's graphic novel Funhome. In this memoir that made many “best” lists in 2006, well known, cult comic artist, Bechdel, recounts her childhood in rural Pennsylvania, her struggle to come out as a lesbian, and her father’s refusal to acknowledge his own homosexuality. This is a moving portrait of a family in turmoil, yet Bechdel also conveys the complexities of her extremely close relationship with her father.

I don't want to give away too much of the "plot," but I was touched by Bechdel's honesty. She was able to look back critically at herself and her family, while also drawing parallels to larger historical events, such as Nixon's resignation. I only want to add that the last panel was so beautiful and moving that I actually teared up.

Other acclaimed graphic novel memoirs with a coming-of-age theme are Blankets by Craig Thompson, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Epileptic by David B. There are also many other coming out stories, both fiction and nonfiction. The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Roundtable of the American Library Association has lists posted here for teens and here for adults (Stonewall Awards). Also I read Hero by Perry Moore this year and wrote about it at the end of this post; I think it would be a good suggestion since it combines superheroes and gay themes.

I also listened to Rebecca Stott's Ghostwalk this month. I have to admit that I had originally tried to read this book when it first came out, but I could not get into it. When I saw it was coming out in paperback, I gave it another try, in audio this time. The plot is very complicated. Ghostwalk is part literary fiction, part historical fiction, and part psychological suspense with a supernatural element. The story is told by Lydia Brooke, a writer who is hired by her former lover to finish his murdered mother's manuscript on Isaac Newton. Stott is a historian and it shows. The books takes much of its plot from the life and times of Isaac Newton and 17th Century Cambridge life. The pacing of this work, like most psychological suspense, is mixed; it has a slow build up, but unravels quickly at the end. The ending, although a twist, was not shocking.

I initially wanted to read this book now because I thought it would go well alongside my book discussion title for this month, The Thirteenth Tale. After finishing Ghostwalk, I think those who like the Gothic feel of Stott's work, but were not huge fans of the Newton and Alchemy stuff should try Setterfield's novel. Both novels also employ the book within a book within a book style which many readers enjoy. Those who enjoy literary psychological suspense in general, would also enjoy the work of Carol Goodman and Patricia Highsmith's older, but still a great read, Ripley series. Parts of this book felt like a Twilight Zone episode, especially as Lydia is being stalked by a ghost from the 17th Century, so maybe that's a place to send fans too. Edgar Allen Poe's stories also have a similar feel to Ghostwalk. Finally, many will want to read a biography of Newton after reading this novel and at this link you can see a range of books, by Newton and about Newton, fiction and nonfiction.

Finally, in preparation for October, I finally read Jonathan Maberry's award winning Ghost Road Blues. I had read parts of it, but never got to it cover to cover. The worst thing I can say about this awesome horror novel is that now I HAVE to read the next two in the series because it is really one story in three books. I am hooked as many of my patrons have been. Here is an annotation I wrote about the novel when it first won the Bram Stoker:

Thirty years ago, the citizens of Pine Deep, PA killed a serial killer known as the Reaper. Since then, the town has seen peace and fame as the most haunted town in America. While getting ready for their annual Halloween festival, a new supernatural evil lurks on the outskirts of town, waiting to finish what the Reaper began.

What makes Ghost Road Blues so interesting is its mix of a serial killer story with a supernatural, supremely evil monster. Add to the mix, some scary followers of this monster, and a motley crew of heroes (including another ghost) out to save themselves and their town. The characters are very well fleshed out in the 400 pages of this book, so I can only imagine the character development gets even deeper in the next two books of the trilogy. This first part ends with a calm in the storm of havoc that is about to descend upon Pine Deep. How can you not go out and read Dead Man's Song immediately?

This is horror, so there is violence, blood, gore, and a general uncomfortable feeling penetrating the entire book. Ghost Road Blues reminded me of Bentley Little in that it was mid-range blood and guts horror, where everyday people are forced to battle a terrible evil in the suburbs. The revenge seeking ghost aspect is reminiscent of Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box. I have other horror suggestions through this link. Jonathan Maberry also has many nonfiction books about the world of the macabre.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Banned Books Week 2008: Part 2

Here is a video from the ALA in honor of Banned Books Week. It is well done and speaks volumes to the cause.

Banned Books Week 2008

Every year the American Library Association Celebrates Banned Books Week. This year it is from September 26-October 4, 2008. Click here to see everything the ALA has prepared for their celebration of the freedom to read.

Americans often take their First Amendment rights for granted. It is that freedom of speech that allows us to read whatever we want AND allows people to challenge books. Banned Books Week is a collaboration between a few organizations. Since this is America, very few if any of these books are actually banned; rather, this celebration draws attention to all of the books that are challenged for being on library shelves.

Here is the ALA's statement from their website:

"Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read is observed during the last week of September each year. Observed since 1982, the annual event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted.

"Banned Books Week (BBW) celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met. As the Intellectual Freedom Manual (ALA, 7th edition) states:

'Intellectual freedom can exist only where two essential conditions are met: first, that all individuals have the right to hold any belief on any subject and to convey their ideas in any form they deem appropriate; and second, that society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of the work, and the viewpoints of both the author and receiver of information. Freedom to express oneself through a chosen mode of communication, including the Internet, becomes virtually meaningless if access to that information is not protected. Intellectual freedom implies a circle, and that circle is broken if either freedom of expression or access to ideas is stifled.'”

Each year the BPL does a display for Banned Books Week, and we provide lists of books that have been challenged in the calendar year. Here is a sampling of some of the titles that have been challenged this past year.

Finally, on September 23rd, The Chicago Tribune ran this op-ed by Leonard Pitts on the importance of Intellectual Freedom in America.

Visit your library this week, check out a banned book, and show your pride in our country's guaranteed freedom of speech.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reader Profile and Response example

Each semester I have my students write their own personal reader profile. As I blogged about here, it is hard to help others find books that they would enjoy, if you cannot articulate why you read what you like to read.

After writing their own profiles, I have the students blindly exchange their profiles, and then send them home to suggest titles for their classmate. I hope to have some more profiles to post next week, but here is an example of this exchange.

First is Jennilyn's profile.

And here is Dan's response. You can see how he took her likes and dislikes and used the RA tools to find her suggestions for further reading.

This assignment gets to the heart of what Readers' Advisors try to do for each an every reader who enters the library.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Adreneline Genres

Tonight I will begin teaching my students about all of the different genres of fiction. We will be talking about adventure, suspense, romantic suspense, and thrillers. These genres are grouped together because they are all extremely fast paced and action oriented. Also important, despite all of the action, drama, and sinister activities in these works, the protagonist of these novels is always safe and the conflict is resolved happily.

Obviously, there is more to it than a few sentences. I have three hours of lecture prepared. Key authors in these groups would be Clive Cussler, Harlen Coben, Mary Higgins Clark, James Patterson, J.D. Robb, Sandra Brown, Dan Brown, David Baldacci, and Daniel Silva.

For more information, turn to the International Thriller Writers, Inc. This group includes authors who write adventure, suspense, thrillers, horror, and mystery. They publish anthologies, promote novels which have that adrenaline kick to them, give out awards to the best of their group, and have lots of links available. The International Thriller Writers is a fairly new group, but it has already made great strides toward helping readers of these genres to find good reads.

And for those of you who like you adventure to be true, try this list of the 100 Greatest Adventure Stories of All Time from National Geographic. I have read and suggested to patrons many of these titles with much success.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Meet the Staff at the BPL

I am always blogging about BPL staff members, but most readers have never met us. So, in honor of our BPL staff in-service day tomorrow, I invite you to meet the staff of the RA department here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Customer Service and RA

Each semester I have my students read a section from Paco Underhill's best selling book Why We Buy. Libraries and librarians are not known for putting customer service first. I spend time with my librarians in training making sure they understand that we are there to help and serve our patrons. I do many exercises and stress this point throughout the semester. Surprisingly, my RA class seems to be the only place in the curriculum where customer service is addressed.

My two main customer service mantras for librarians are 1, to go the extra mile and 2, do behind the scenes work to make each patron's experience more enjoyable. I have many suggestions on how to do this. But most importantly, librarians need to remember that the books do not belong to them, we are simply the caretakers. The books in the library belong to the patrons, and should go out. We should not limit access. Who does that serve?

Also, libraries (in general) have too many rules that also limit access. Librarians (in general) do not trust the public and make rules to "protect" our collections. I say, let people have access and trust them until they prove themselves unworthy of this trust.

All of this is my opinion and it is fairly controversial in the library field. But I am not alone. In order to help my personal cause of turning out librarians who are eager and willing to help patrons, limit the overwhelming history of too many library rules, and simply make each patron's experience more pleasant, I have received a great deal of help from Paco Underhill's company Enviornsell.

My local library system, MLS, received a grant to have Environsell come in to 4 libraries and apply their expertise in the retail world to 3 public and 1 academic library. The results are here. The 4 libraries will be presenting their experiences at the ILA conference next week in Chicago and probably again here in Chicago at the annual ALA conference in June 2009.

Anyone who works in or uses their public library should take a look at this page and especially the pdf for the final report.

Libraries who are interested in my complete customer service program should contact me at the Berwyn Public Library so I can talk to you about coming to your library.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Discussion: The Thirteenth Tale

This month my group read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I read this book last year when it first came out and wrote this annotation for one of my displays:

"Vida Winter is England’s most popular and most mysterious author. As she faces her own mortality, Winter is finally willing to divulge her biggest secrets and chooses Margaret Lea, a rare bookseller, to be her biographer. As Winter’s life story is slowly unraveled, Lea gets caught up in the tale of ghosts, lies, and half-truths and is forced to come to terms with some of her own family secrets. The Thirteenth Tale is a modern take on the Gothic ghost stories of yore."

This novel is in the tradition of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Rebecca. It has all of the elements of a Gothic tale, including some incredible coincidences, outrageous family situations, and lots and lots of secrets.

Our discussion was lively. In fact, when we finished one of the participants mentioned how we should have taped the conversation as an example of what a great book discussion is.

Despite the shift in genre for us as a group, all but three people really liked the book, and the three hold outs, were mixed. Comments made at the start included a few people noting how "clever" the book was, how much thought went into it, and how "different" it was. One person talked about how she felt that it had the feel of an updated version of an older book. Still another said it almost felt like it was spoofing the Gothic genre. And finally, another person said that it had so many twists and turns, secrets and lies, details and over the top characters, that if it had not been so well done, it could have just as easily been a disaster.

The beautiful writing, especially those passages which talk about reading and storytelling were commented upon. In fact, I think we read from this novel, sharing our favorite lines, more than usual. We talked about the role of books and stories in this novel, the "dangers" of reading, and how all of the houses in this novel reflect their inhabitants.

Everyone loved the book within a book, within a book, storyline. We talked a lot about that category of books and compared this novel to Atonement by Ian McEwan, which this group had read previously. We spent a good deal of time playing around with the idea that there was Vida's story and Margaret's story, and then the overall biography that Margaret ended up producing, but not publishing, which also happened to be the book in our hands now (published), and finally, how all of it is simply a single book written by Setterfield. You can see how this led to much discussion. It was fun though. So fun in fact, that one participant noted how this illustrated how Setterfield told this entire tale in such a playful way. This woman felt that Setterfield was writing more for herself than for her audience and this woman appreciated this as a reader.

The novel also lends itself to a discussion of biography versus storytelling. Margaret insists they are different, Vida claims they are one and the same. We discussed how different and surprisingly similar the two pursuits are, especially as illustrated in this novel. Margaret wants Vida to tell her life story with the beginning at the beginning, the middle in the middle, and the end at the end. However, it cannot be told that way. Our life stories do not begin with our births. Setterfield does a nice job setting up this discussion by having the most important piece of Vida's life story, the fire at Angelfield, which happened when she was a young girl, finally revealed near the end of the book. To further underscore this point, one of my participants pointed out that Margaret then titles one of the last chapters of her biography of Ms. Winter, "Beginnings." This revealed much about Margaret's own transformation throughout the book too.

Another discussion thread I want to point out here has a SPOILER ALERT attached to it so I left it for last. Please skip to the readalikes if you do not want to know about a major plot twist. The fire at Angelfield reveals the truth, that there were three girls, not two, and only two survive the fire. Although Vida tried to save Emmeline and leave Adeline to perish, it is not ever clear which of the two girls actually survived. We had a spirited conversation debating this point and people were able to use the text to back their claims. In the end we were satisfied that Setterfield left enough clues for either answer to be correct and we can think what we want.

Readalikes: There are many suggestions one could make for readers who enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale. People who like the book, within a book, within a book frame can try Atonement (as mentioned above), Snow by Orhan Pamuk and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.

Besides the Gothic tales listed at the start of this post, Henry James' The Turn of the Screw is also referred to in the text, and The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue is a newer book with a Gothic feel involving changelings and children. I have found success passing the latter book on to patrons who enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale

There is also an entire other category of novels that deal with bookstore owners and real life dramas. Two popular and well received works are The Club Dumas, a thriller by Arturo Perez-Reverte, and another popular book discussion title, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

For those readers interested in learning more about the Gothic literary tradition try this link to the book The History of Gothic Fiction. This book and the other titles found on this page will get you started.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Booker Short List Announced

Each year, the Booker Prize short list is hotly anticipated by literary fiction fans. The list was published yesterday. Here are the books and some commentary about it from Amazon's blog.

In my 8 years at the public service desk, I have found that the books on the Booker List are some of the most sought after novels by our literary fiction readers and book club participants. Honestly, the short list as a whole attracts more interest in our patrons than the eventual winner alone. (By the way, the winner will be announced on Oct 14).

I have found that for readers who enjoy one Booker short listed author, pulling up a list of the other Booker winners and short-listed titles makes them very happy. I do want to caution librarians here though. In my experience, this does not work as well with other major awards such as the Pulitzer or National Book Award.

Reading Maps Examples

As I have posted about before here, whole collection RA is the new trend in helping patrons. If you like a certain book or topic, the library should be able to provide you with suggestions of similar materials from each and every department and in every media option.

Reading maps are not new, libraries have been doing a version for years, called pathfinders. Some reading maps have embraced the new whole collection RA mantra, but kept the old format. Reading maps like these from Oak Park (IL) Public Library are well done, but do not take advantage of the Internet for linking to book summaries, websites, and even pictures and video.

These two examples by Neal Wyatt are a better example of how web based reading maps can serve patrons better. Beginning last semester, I have been encouraging my students to give reading maps a try. Last semester I had 2 takers. Hopefully, this semester, a few more will try and I will be able to share them with you.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Horror Reading List 2008 Part 2

It is time to update the horror lists at the Berwyn Public Library in preparation for Halloween. I already did a quick list more off the top of my head here. This is part 2, but please do refer to the other list linked above which includes more novels.

Some big name horror authors with recent releases in preparation for Halloween are F. Paul Wilson's By the Sword: A Repairman Jack Novel (10/08), John Saul's Faces of Fear (8/08) and Dean Koontz's Odd Hours, part of his very popular Odd Thomas series. Stephen King also had Duma Key this year and his new collection of stories Just After Sunset is due in November.

A few less than household name authors also had some scary offerings to note. They may not be bestsellers, but they are worth your time:

Bram Stoker Award winner, Alexandra Sokoloff (The Harrowing), published another satisfyingly eerie novel this year, The Price (2/08). With the popularity of vampire romances these days, it is always nice to see female horror writers earning respect for good old fashioned scary books. In The Price this is just what readers get. The plot revolves around a politician running for governor of MA, his sick daughter, and a strange hospital where the sick get better and the healthy get sicker.

I love Ramsey Campbell. He is a bit violent but his novels never fail to scare the heck out of you. His newest, Grin of the Dark (7/08), involves a clown. Enough said.

Nate Kenyon first entered the horror scene with Bloodstone and this November he will be back with The Reach. I honestly have not read enough about this title to provide plot information, but it is a Leisure Fiction horror paperback, which is generally recommendation enough.

Finally, Bryan Smith has come out with a new Leisure title too. This one, Queen of Blood (4/08)is a sequel to House of Blood. Basically, the new book follows the survivors of the first, and a few ghosts too. This a wild and bloody story revolving around other worldly beings who need innocent human blood.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Thursday, September 4, 2008

BPL Update and Fun RA Transaction

The BPL is open. There is no noticeable smell of smoke on the first floor, and just a bit up and down. But I will not be able to test my cross training theory.

However, I did have a great first patron this morning. He came in looking for Little Women and then wanted some info about it. After chatting for a few minutes, I found out he and his girlfriend were suggesting books to each other. He had me pull Steven Pressfield's The Virtues of War for her to read.

This "he said...she said" type of readers advisory has been explored before, but I was impressed by this couple's initiative. Now I am constantly suggesting books to my husband, but many of you probably do not try to get your significant other to read your favorite books.

I think this is a wonderful idea to improve communication in any relationship, not just spouses, but parents and children, co-workers, etc... But choose wisely and read them at the same time. I can pretty much guarantee an interesting discussion will follow.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

BPL Fire

There was a fire at the Berwyn Public Library, but thankfully, it was confined to the boiler/ac. However, there is smoke damage throughout the building and we are open limited hours on 1 out of three floors. I was not scheduled to work today, but will be there all day tomorrow and hope to have more of a report.

Knowing that the materials are fine allows me the time to look at this situation from a customer service standpoint. I will report on how well we can still help patrons in this situation. My initial response is, as long as the staff's health is not in jeopardy, this could be a great staff development opportunity. Cross training and sharing between departments can happen more easily with all of us on 1 floor. I am actually looking forward to the opportunity to think outside of the box tomorrow. I hope we can use this situation to our advantage and become more helpful to our patrons as a result.