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.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

What I'm Reading: January 2009

This month I read a horror graphic novel, a title by a favorite literary fiction author, and a novel that disappointed me a bit.

I will begin with Joe Hill's newest work, Locke & Key: Welcome to Love Craft a horror graphic novel, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. This is the first of a planned series following the Locke family's return to their ancestral home in New England after the murder of their father. This is no ordinary home, however. There are doors that when opened have you drop dead and turn into a ghost (you don't stay dead) and a demon itching to be set free in an abandoned well. The illustrations are beautiful, but graphic. Hill's story mostly follows the 3 Locke children (a grade school boy and teen aged boy and girl). Thus, the story is both about the children's grief, coming-of-age issues and the evil force stalking the entire family. In true horror fashion, the conflict is resolved, but the evil lives on, in this case taking the form of a teenage boy who has befriended the Locke kids. This is a satisfyingly creepy read.

For readalikes, you could try the graphic novel versions of Hill's Dad's (Stephen King) Dark Tower series. Neil Gaiman's Sandman series of graphic novels would also be a good choice here. In terms of novels, Gaiman's The Graveyard Book or Neverwhere, both combine the supernatural evil element with a coming-of-age story much like Locke & Key. The works of Bentley Little are also a good bet for those who enjoy the popular "small town horror" subgenre. For those interested in horror in general, here is a link to my previous posts on what is new in the world of horror.

I have had Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs loaded on my computer awaiting listening for about a year now, but I was daunted by its length. However, once I started listening, I was hooked. I should warn you that Russo is one of my favorite authors to begin with though. Bridge of Sighs recounts the life of Lou C. Lynch (known as "Lucy") in Thomaston, NY. Thomaston, like many Russo settings, is a former manufacturing town, looking at hard times, in upstate NY. The novel follows the stories of Lucy, his wife Sarah, and his best friend Bobby beginning in the present and weaving in and out of the past, recounting their stories from childhood to middle age. It is the story of a town, of family, of friendship, of art (Sarah and Bobby both become artists, although with completely different trajectories) and the meaning of each of these things. Like all Russo novels, Bridge of Sighs seems like a simple novel recounting the life of a few characters, but when it is all said and done, you have learned a lot about all people and yourself throughout the course of the novel.

Authors who are similar to the award winning Russo are Richard Ford, especially his Frank Bascombe trilogy, Anne Tyler, and Michael Chabon (try Wonder Boys). Each of these authors uses their novels to examine the human condition and a specific town much like Russo. Those also interested in Venice (where Bobby lives as an adult and where the Bridge of Sighs is) can click on the link for reading suggestions.

Finally, I want to share a more disappointing reading experience. For a few months I have had Beginners Greek by James Collins on my to-read list based on its glowing reviews. It was touted as using all of the chick-lit conventions only in a "unique" way. Well, I finally read it, and I disagree. I think this book was seen as "unique" only because a man wrote what is normally seen as a women's book. The whole story revolves around a couple that keeps missing each other; every time they should get together, something else stands in their way. There are many side plots about the other characters and their love lives. Everything ties up way too neatly and the foreshadowing is too blatant.

If you want to read some good chick-lit, try The Time of My Life (scroll down the post to read about what I thought about it) by Allison Winn Scotch, the novels of Jennifer Weiner or Sarah Bird. Also, Kristin Gore's political, chick-lit is unique and well written. I wish some of these good female writers of stories of women's lives and relationships would get as good reviews as this weak offering by a man.

Enough ranting, that's the month that was.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Alex Awards

Lots of posts today because of the ALA Midwinter meeting. Another award that I keep my eyes on is the Alex Award, given by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the ALA. The Alex Awards were created to recognize that many teens enjoy and often prefer books written for adults, and to assist librarians in recommending adult books that appeal to teens.

The ten winners are listed here.

This list also includes a few of the books which I listed as my favorites of 2008.

Newbery Award

I know I deal with Adult Readers but I am so excited that Neil Gaiman has won the Newbery Award for The Graveyard Book, which I wrote about here and listed as one of my favorite books I read in 2008 here.

Here is Gaiman's own public statement from his website

Kudos to one of the best authors out there. He deserves it. I am also glad to see the ALA recommending more challenging and cutting edge material to children.

National Book Critics Cirlce Award

Over the weekend, the National Book Critics Circle, a "nonprofit organization consisting of more than 900 active book reviewers who are interested in honoring quality writing and communicating with one another about common concerns," announced their annual award finalists in 6 categories.

Go check out the list to find fiction, nonfiction, and poetry suggestions.

Personally, this is one of my favorite awards because it is given out by the critics, who actually read everything.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Discussion: Behind the Scenes At the Museum

It is the third week of the month again, and that means it is time for another Berwyn Library Book Discussion report.

This month our group discussed Kate Atkinson's first and award winning novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum (herein referred to as BTSATM). We had read Case Histories previously, but BTSATM does not share the crime fiction aspects of that novel. BTSATM is a unique family history novel. Our narrator is Ruby Lennox, who begins her story by describing her conception in 1951 and ends her tale with her mother's death in 1992. Ruby is the youngest of George and Bunty's daughters, living above their family Pet Shop in York, England. This is the story of the Lennox family, covering four generations of mothers, their trials and tribulations, their successes and failures. It is a novel full or tragedy and humor; in other words, it reads like real life.

What makes this novel unique and a great choice for book discussion groups is how Atkison relates the Lennox family history. She utilizes "footnotes." Let me explain. The novel is really written in pairs of chapters (and I should warn you, it is best enjoyed by reading the chapter pairs together). First, there is is chapter narrated by Ruby in which she refers to a physical object in the present of the story, which has survived from the family's past. She footnotes this object (such as a rabbit's foot, a button, a family photo). At the conclusion of Ruby's chapter, the reader gets a footnote chapter recounting a time the the family's past which features the footnoted object. These footnotes do not follow in chronological order, as Ruby's chapters do. Instead they move around in time, revealing the stories of Ruby's great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother.

Are you confused yet? The group was a bit confused as they were reading. A few people felt the footnotes were "a little too cute" at first, but once people got used to them, we all agreed they enhanced the plot, giving us a richer story than Ruby could provide alone.

There were literally dozens of characters to keep track of here, and some participants made family trees while they read. This lead to a discussion of why there wasn't a family tree in the book. I offered that maybe Atkinson chose NOT to include one on purpose. Another member agreed saying that a family tree at the beginning of the book would have given the novel "a finishedness" that the journey of reading the book requires to fully appreciate.

I brought up that this novel was accused by the British press of being "anti-family." Our group disagreed. Some families are like this one. Also, the generations of unhappy mothers and wives were more a victim of their times and the choices available to them. We felt this needed to be taken into consideration. In then end though, there is no escaping the fact that Bunty (Ruby's mom) is seriously anti-family; but that does not necessarily make the entire novel so.

I then brought up how BTSATM has been on bestseller lists in 12 countries and almost as many languages, so there must be some universality to it. We talked about how we all know people or families like many found here.

We also noted that large family gatherings were key here. Something extreme happened at all of them, climaxing (pun intended) in George (Ruby's Dad) dying at a family wedding in a compromising position.

The largest portion of our discussion revolved around whether this book was tragic or comic. Without giving too much away, the story of the Lennox family is filled with hardship, but Atkison levels out the tragedy with dark, British humor. For example, Ruby tells us early in the story that the people in her family are "genetically predispositioned towards having accidents," with being run over or blown up among the most common. Some participants thought the humor overpowered the tragedy, while others could not get past the sadness.

We decided that the answer to this question lies in the novel's ending. The book ends with Ruby and her surviving sister living nontraditional lives, but fulfilling and happy ones. In fact, we went back a looked at the nontraditional characters in this novel, and they all appear to be the happiest. It is that hopeful tone at the novel's conclusion, with Ruby carving out a life for herself and her 2 daughters that left us unwilling to classify this book as an all out tragedy.

During this discussion, participants were mentioning readalikes themselves. I was so proud. :)

One member mentioned that Atkinson's humor reminded her of Mark Twain, which was very insightful, since my research showed that one of Atkinson's favorite authors is Twain. Another participant said the story of a family told in the "present" with flashbacks to the past, reminded her of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, which we read many, many years ago.

In terms of my opinion, I found BTSATM's use of footnotes to trace the history of an object in the story's present very similar to the more recent, and also bestselling, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. In 2003, NoveList's book discussion guide for BTSATM also suggests, The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Loverboy by Victoria Redel, The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald and The Orchard on Fire by Shena Mackay.

In terms of nonfiction options. Obviously books about Scotland, York, tracing your family history, dealing with the death of a sibling, and England during WWI and WWII could all be of interest to readers of this novel. Each subject is linked to a list of books for you to peruse if you are interested.

As you can see, BTSATM has a lot to offer anyone who reads it, but overall our group felt that this detail made the book even better to be read AND discussed.

Reader Resolutions for 2009

I love what David Wright of the Seattle Public Library has done here with his Reader Resolutions for 2009. His last one: I will ask a librarian to show me some print and online resources for readers, is my favorite of course.

In terms of the list itself, I love the idea of each reader thinking about where they want their reading to take them in the upcoming year. It doesn't matter if your reading leads you into exploring new places or helps you to revisit old favorites; but the idea of thinking about specific ideas, themes, or genres that you would like to explore in the coming year is a great idea.

Also, from the librarian point of view, I love that Wright linked each resolution to a search in their catalog. For example, in number 12 he states he will read a book about a place he's never been. The hyperlink leads to a catalog entry for Kim Stanley Robinson's seminal SF title, Blue Mars. Pretty safe bet that no one reading his post has ever been there, and yet, the choice also allows you to think "out side the box" in terms of finding a title that fits with the resolution.

The point is, his resolutions are interesting for patrons to read while also being useful and instructive.

What are your reading resolutions?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

1000 Books You Must Read

I get a daily e-mail from January Magazine, an online magazine about reading and writing, which pointed out this crazy article in The Guardian listing, literally, 1,000 books you must read.

Read January Magazine's synopsis of the article first because it prepares you for the classifications and subcategories that await you here.

If you are feeling stuck in a reading rut, I highly suggest looking at this list. There is something here for everyone. Also, The Guardian's website does a nice job of linking you to many other articles about authors and "best books" which you may find interesting.

On a side note, I do really wish that an American newspaper had breadth and variety of book coverage that The Guardian provides. But thank goodness for the Internet.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Author Share Their Joy in Reading and Help You to Find New Books

Late last week, Ann Patchett, an author of literary fiction, wrote an essay for The Wall Street Journal about the joys of reading fiction.

This reminded me of the series on NPR where authors talk about books that have moved them. You can also click here for my previous post on the series.

As a reader, I always enjoy hearing why authors like reading themselves. As a fan of a specific author, I view his or her suggestions as possible readalike options. As a Readers' Advisor, I also search out this information for my patrons, and quite frequently, together we are able to identify a new crop of authors with which the patron was previously unfamiliar. And, more often than not, the patron enjoys the new titles.

But how to locate your favorite author's favorite authors? (That's a mouthful) One of my favorite ways to find authors that your favorite author recommends is to search the "blurbs" an author provides to another's new book. You can see these on the back cover of a book, on Amazon, or at Fantastic Fiction. On Fantastic Fiction, type in your favorite author and scroll to the very bottom of the record (it could be long, so keep going) and look for the "Recommendation" section. Here is an example for Stephen King to get you started.

If you are looking for more ways to find out your favorite author's favorite books, you can also try to find his or her official website. Just "Google" the author's name and start clicking around. Many have a section where they list their favorite authors; often it is in the "Frequently Asked Questions" Section (FAQ). Here is an example from Jennifer Weiner's website (scroll halfway down for a list of her favorite authors).

There are many ways to discover "new to you" authors. These are just a few tips, but don't forget, your local librarian is there to help too.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Online Resources at BPL Web Site

In conjunction with the Readers' Advisory class I teach at Dominican Unversity's Graduate School of Library and Information Science, I am constantly on the prowl for great genre based Internet resources. I passed these on to Kathy at BPL and she has started uploading many of them.

Click here for a full list.

These resources are free and available to anyone out there who wants to find a good book. If you have other resources to suggest to me, please leave a comment and I will check them out.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fiction Reading Rates Increase!!

As reported by many news agencies and posted here by Early Word, the National Endowment for the Arts has found that the 25-year decline in fiction reading had finally reversed.

The percentage of Americans who read at least one piece of fiction in 2008 is now 50.2%.

Tribune Advocates for the Backlist

Last week in The Chicago Tribune's Lit Life column by Julia Keller, entitled "Ringing in New Year With Old Books," Keller took on one of my favorite topics, the lure of the backlist.

As readers of RA for All know, I advocate for the backlist frequently. Keller makes some great points about how the newest books may be the most tempting, but there are many treasures available among the millions of older books available at your local library.

Well, I guess she doesn't go that far; in fact, there is no mention of the library as a place to go for backlist titles. I wish she would mention that older titles are just as readily available at your local library as they are at a used book store. But it is hard to be too mad at her since she mentions my favorite used book store in Chicago in this article, Myopic Books.

Remember, in-print or out-of-print, your local library has (or can get in a few days) just about any book your heart desires, and we don't ask you to pay at the check-out counter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chickens in Children's Books

My work focuses on books for adults, but as the mother of two young children I read quite a few pictures books. One thing my kids and I have noticed is that if a picture book has a chicken, it is probably going to be hilarious.

We have shared this opinion with our local children's librarians, and they have agreed. In particular, my pre-school aged son has taken this family reading maxim to heart and asked Santa for a chicken Webkin this year. (For the record, santa came through; he must have seen a draft of the article.)

So given this short back story you could see how much this article from the Los Angeles Times about the chicken in kids' books struck me.

This made me think about my own reading and how I am drawn to books with circuses or academic settings. I also enjoy non-battle focused Civil War books and novels with baseball.

It just goes to show you that no matter the age of the reader, we all have certain "go-t0" characters, settings, or objects that we love to see in the stories we read.

Do you have a story to share about your own reading quirks?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Best Science Fiction of 2008

While many of the year's best lists seem to focus on literary fiction, there is a lot of great genre fiction out there. Here is an example from the science fiction website io9 and their list of the 11 best SF books of 2008.

If you enjoy Science Fiction you should also check out Locus Magazine. Their extensive and authoritative best list does not come out until February.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Adult Reading Round Table

Today I will be joining the Adult Reading Round Table (ARRT) Steering Committee

The Adult Reading Round Table is made up of librarians and library staff who are interested in developing their Readers' Advisory skills and promoting literature and reading for pleasure.

Now that I will be a more active member of this group, you should look for posts about ARRT and its activities, programs, and upcoming Romance genre study throughout the year. Just click on the label "ARRT" to catch everything.

To get your appetite whetted, here are a few examples of the information and training currently available from ARRT:

The ARRT Wiki
The Nonfiction Genre Study
Genre Boot Camp
Topic Annotated Booklists

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Middle East Readings

Current events often drive our reading interests, so I wanted to remind everyone of my posting on The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East and the discussion my group had after reading this book.

This post also has further reading options at the end.

I hope this helps you and your patrons.

Monday, January 5, 2009

BPL Display: Hot Reads for Cold Times

It is cold here in Berwyn, IL and it has been for an obscenely long time now...and it's only January!

To help combat the cold, Betty compiled this list of "Hot Reads for Cold Times" to help you escape the cold, without leaving your house.

Just looking at the display is keeping me warm, or so I am telling myself.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

More Nancy Pearl Reading Suggestions

Nancy Pearl was back on NPR this week, suggesting books that "dip below the radar." This list is eclectic, with something for just about every reader. I have already added one to my Shelfari "to read" shelf, and I know of a few patrons who will enjoy other titles on this list.

This list serves as a reminder that when you get in a reading rut, there are always interesting books out there that you have never heard of. And, your local librarian is always there to help point you in the right direction to find them.

Friday, January 2, 2009

BPL Display: January 2009

First new display of the year at the Berwyn Public Library looks back at the best of 2008.

Remember, this list is but a small sampling of the dozens of books filling this display, just waiting for you to check them out.

As a reminder, you can always access past annotated lists here.