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.

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