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."