Our students turned in their finals last night and we got some more reading maps from a couple of them. I have discussed reading maps in the past here and in March, I gave a short lecture/how-to talk to the class about creating one of their own.
So last night while my husband and I were making dinner we were discussing how to classify the new "supernatural thriller," by Jonathan Maberry, Patient Zero. Here is the plot: Joe Ledger, a cop, kills a terrorist in a bust at a warehouse. Ledger is set to join the FBI in a few days, but after the bust, he is brought into a new super-secret government agency, the Department of Military Science (DMS) where he is confronted with the same terrorist he just killed, except now he is a zombie. It turns out, some Arab scientists (with the help of a very rich, and very evil, American) have created a disease that turns people into zombies. Joe and his team must fight to save the world from these zombies.
OK, so first thing I am thinking is horror or biomedical/terrorism thriller? It has the scientific explanation which takes away the supernatural elements necessary to be true horror, but this book is fear inducing. It provokes a sense of terror in the reader which does not go away when you close the book. Let's put it this way, I am also listening to Brad Meltzer's Book of Fate right now, which is a political thriller, and Maberry's story feels more real to me. Melter's thriller is solid, but Maberry's is terrifyingly realistic.
But Patient Zero also has the hallmarks of a traditional thriller or suspense book: the time and date stamping, the details of law enforcement, the terrorism angle, and the extremely fast pacing.
Back to the discussion with my husband. He pointed out that the movie 28 Days Later (and its sequel, 28 Weeks Later, which, by the way, is scarier) has a similar plot--virus which turns people into zombies--and that movie is definitely horror, not thriller. He is right, and the characters in Maberry's book agree. Joe Ledger mentions it is as if someone watched 28 Days Later and then set out to do it. (Did I also mention that our kids were watching an old Muppet Show with Vincent Price while we were having this discussion? We are a bit odd, I know. But at least we are all okay with the horror thing.)
I have not finished the book yet. I will later today. I think I am leaning towards classifying this as horror. Zombie books generally have more of a scientific bent and yet, are mostly considered horror. Also, Maberry has written many award-winning horror books (both fiction and nonfiction). He is very good at the key horror author trait of inducing fear in the reader. On the other side of the argument, it also reads very much like a James Rollins adventure-thriller, and I never think of Rollins' novels as horror.
All of this is making me think about the emergence of many books like Patient Zero which are becoming harder to classify as supernatural elements creep into all genres. In this case I am thinking of calling books like Patient Zero investigative horror in my new book. I don't like using "supernatural thriller," the term used to market this book, because it downplays the horror elements as being noted merely by the presence of the supernatural. This is too simplistic, and it belittles the genre of horror itself. A horror book can be good and appealing to non-horror readers without the word horror being forcibly removed from its description. The key to the appeal of Patient Zero is the emotions the book draws out of the reader, not the pacing (which is pretty fast) or the law enforcement details (which are both key marks of a thriller.)
In a few days when I write about what I read this month, I will make a final determination. In the meantime if you want to read a realistic, terrorism thriller, with zombies, that will keep you looking over your shoulder for the next week, try Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry.
For the record, the novels and stories of Shirley Jackson are still worth reading. Most public libraries at least have copies of The Haunting of Hill Houseand the story "The Lottery" on their shelves, despite their mid-20th century copyright dates. Both are as frightening and unnerving as any of the titles up for her award this year.
This month the BPL Book Discussion group tried something new, we read Studs Terkel's last book, P.S.: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening. Terkel chose these short essays, interviews, and transcripts for inclusion in this slim volume before his death in October of 2008. What made this book "new" for our group is that it was the first time we discussed a work without a single narrative. I told the group that since there wasn't a continuous story, if you didn't enjoy an essay, just skip it and try the next. This worked for some participants, but others felt they had to read every word, even if they weren't into it; these readers got less enjoyment out of the work.
Since we are also a Chicago area group, some of the essays about the "uniqueness" of Chicago politics and the essays detailing the segregation of our city were "old news" to the 55+ aged participants. However, by far the most talked about essays were the interview with James Baldwin, the interview with the "white trash" (her words) woman in Uptown, and the collection of regular people's remembrances of their lives during the depression (recounted to Terkel in 1970-71).
Before I talk about specific discussion points, I should mention that there are no pre-prepared discussion questions for this book. Using this trusty general question list from the Fiction-L Archives and my own brain power I came up with the following questions to use in guiding the discussion (feel free to use them if your group does this book):
Studs Terkel is a listener. He recounts what others say, without much editing. His voice is secondary. So, how did you feel about his writing style and the organization of this book?
Did you find Terkel's subjects and the serious issues they are discussing uplifting or depressing? Why.
Which essays or people ("characters") did you most enjoy? With which did you most identify? Sympathize? Were there any characters which you disliked?
How is Chicago portrayed in P.S.? Was it a fair depiction? Did you learn something new about our city?
Despite that fact that P.S. is a collection of essays, interviews, and radio show transcripts written over many years, this book still presents a unified message. What are the major themes of this work?
How would you characterize the relationship between Studs Terkel and his subjects?
What are the most revealing scenes in P.S.?
One of the longer chapters in P.S. consists of recollection by "survivors" of the Great Depression collected by Terkel in the early 1970s. How do these statements read to you today in these difficult economic times, the worst since the Great Depression? What advice can we learn from these people?
With Studs Terkel's passing who will take up his crusade of collecting the voices of regular people? How will they do it? What technology will they use and how will they spread their message?
From these 9 questions, we had a wide ranging discussion. The very first comment we had about the book is how Terkel makes you think about things differently. Since he really listens to people and gets at their "essence;" you get a different perspective on the issues. Our first example was Terkel's interview with James Baldwin. We were all struck by Baldwin's revelations about being a black man at a very difficult time in history. For example, Baldwin talks about how when he lived in America, he never wanted to eat watermelon or listen to the Blues; he didn't want to be a walking stereotype. But living in France he was able to enjoy both, and in fact, developed an appreciation for Blues as a result. Participants shared their experiences with black friends and working in minority public schools in Chicago during this time (late 60s to early 70s).
We continued our discussion by including the interview with the poor white woman in Uptown. We talked about discrimination by class too. On participant talked about when she lived in a small Iowa town, where everyone had the same income (more or less) and they were all white, they still found ways to separate into groups and look down upon others (in this case by religion). This led us to make an observation about how people always look for someone to look down on.
Now as I mentioned, this book is a bit choppy. In fact, I had a few participants for whom the organization of the work made reading it a bit of a chore. However, we did all agree that the overall theme of the book is the struggle to attain "The American Dream," and the dichotomy of "2 Americas."
We also spent a great deal of time talking about the voices from the Depression. This led to a lengthy discussion on today's economic downturn. One participant said that we do not have the survival skills that the people in the 1930s had. We do not know how to garden, can food, or sew clothes. Some people shared their personal experiences as children during this time. They talked about their kids and grandkids, and how they are coping today. One woman said we cannot stop economic collapses like the one today until we make living beyond your means unfashionable. During the Depression, my ladies remarked, we didn't know we were poor. Everyone was in the same boat. Today with all of the media showing the rich and famous; people know (and feel a stigma) when they have less material objects.
We wrapped up the discussion by talking about Studs Terkel himself. As he has famously said many times, "We need to know ourselves before we know others." One participant talked about Studs the listener, and how he is the perfect example of why God gave us 2 ears and only one mouth. Another once sat next to his table at dinner and watched him in action; talking very little, asking insightful questions, and just listening to his dinner guests. We decided that Terkel showed great respect for all of the people he interviewed and as a result, gained their trust. They would share even the most terrible story with him. Various comments included that people felt uplifted by his work; he brings out the best in people; he listens without trying to on-up them; and he never judges.
We all felt sadness that we had lost such a great Chicago (and American) treasure, but we hope that with advances in technology and the ease of recording these days, that someone will come along to continue to collect the stories of regular Americans. The closest we could come up with today are the films of Ken Burns and the Story Corps initiative.
Terkel's writing reminded me of a few novels in feel if not completely in subject matter. Jim the Boy by Tony Earley, A Painted House by John Grisham, and Peace Like a River by Leif Enger would all make great suggestions to fans of this book.
Also, don't forget BookBrowse's List of Current Books. This list will help you identify the hottest books in hardcover as well as those new in paperback. It is updated frequently too, so you can always bookmark it and check back when you are looking for your next good read.
The excitement this year is in the journalism category, where, for the first times, they are accepting non-print journalism for consideration in every category. I am excited to see if that changes who wins.
Last night our class discussed the most popular special reading interests in the Chicagoland area. So head over to our class Word Press blog for annotations on Inspirational, African American, Latino/a and GLBTQ.
My class is discussing GLBTQ Literature tonight (among other topics), so we will be discussing this issue, but in my opinion, this was no"mistake" as Amazon terms it. I think one employee decided to censor this literature for personal reasons and now Amazon is covering it up. A glitch is a nonjudgmental computer error that randomly attacks things; this was a targeted attack on one sphere of literature. Way too suspicious to me.
Speaking of zombies, I am about to begin Jonathan Maberry's brand new "supernatural thriller" Patient Zero, which takes the current zombie craze one step further, by combining it with a terrorism plot line. I can't wait.
Everyone is twittering about site ISBNdb.com. It is being described as the Internet Movie Database for books.
From their FAQ: ISBNdb.com gets the data in a unique way - it scans libraries all across the world for book information.... Scanned results are then parsed and stored in a searchable and browseable database that you see here on ISBNdb.com. An attempt is made at cross-indexing the database by author, publisher, category and so on. Cross indexing is still a work in progress and is likely to improve as the time goes on.
Personally and professionally, I am not impressed by this database. I do not find it very useful. However, I am well versed in all of the free and subscription databasesavailable to search for books. I think you can get the same information in a more pleasant format from Amazon.
Given out at Comic-Con in San Diego, CA at the end of July, the Eisner Awards celebrate the best in comics and graphic novels. From the writers and illustrators, to the letterers and colorists, and everything in between, the list of nominees is a great place for both the graphic novel fan and newbie to find something interesting to read.
By the way, we now have enough annotations posted that you can start searching for reading suggestions based on appeal. Just click on a term in the "tag cloud" on the right to find a book (or more) which received that tag.
If you are looking for more than one appeal factor, type any of the ones you see in tag cloud into the search box to identify titles that you may enjoy.
What is shocking is not that romance novels are flying off the shelves (they outstrip sales of all other books in most years; click here for proof), rather, I am shocked that the NYT is giving the often unfairly ridiculed genre its due. Well, better late than never.
Thank you romance readers for propping up the book industry in these tough economic times. All book lovers owe you some thanks. But don't forget, we are also buying romance novels in large quantities at your local library.
April marks the observance of National Library Week. This year it is during the week of April 12th, but we at the RA desk of the Berwyn Public Library are celebrating all month long with this display, "World Connect at Your Library," featuring books about far away places.
Although I work with patrons aged 16 and up, I am the mother of small children. Many of my friends ask me about good books to read aloud with their children. I usually tell them to talk to the librarians in the kids department of their public library. I go to Miss Patty all of the time asking for suggestions for my own kids.
Oh, and yes there is logic to this grouping of genres. First and foremost, they all appeal to your emotions as a reader. It just so happens that the specific emotion may be a tiny bit different for each genre.
Becky Spratford is a Readers' Advisor in Illinois specializing in serving patrons ages 13 and up. She trains library staff all over the world on how to match books with readers through the local public library. She runs the critically acclaimed RA training blog RA for All. She is under contract to provide content for EBSCO’s NoveList database and writes reviews for Booklist and content for Library Journal. Becky is also known for her work with horror readers as the author of The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Horror, Second Edition [ALA Editions, 2012] and is currently hard at work on the 3rd Edition. She is a proud member of the Horror Writers Association and currently serves as the Association’s Secretary and organizer of their annual LIbrarians’ Day. You can follow Becky on Twitter @RAforAll.