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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Student Annotations: Genres of Place

Today my student's made their first attempts at annotations for Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and Westerns.

Head on over to their Word Press Blog to see what they read and what they had to say about each book.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Banned Book Week

Don't worry, I didn't forget to promote Banned Books Week- September 25-October 3, 2009.

Here is the official BBW site.

But you know you really want to see the video.

Stop on by your local library and "Join the Banned." Read something that someone else thinks is bad for you. You know, trash like To Kill and Mockingbird, Beloved (by a Nobel Prize Winner for goodness sake) or Harry Potter.

By the way, I have read all three, and I seem to be a perfectly respectable member of society.

Seriously, there are many people out there who want to tell you what you can and cannot read. Don't let them! Read what you want, this week, and every week.

Best Books About Wine

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Sonoma County, California, I went on Lit Lists to see what books they had compiled about.

Click here to find three different lists. There is fiction and nonfiction here. I knew Lit Lists would come through for me.

If there is a place you are visiting or a topic you enjoy, go on over to Lit Lists. I bet they'll have some suggestions for your reading state of mind too.

Catch a Cab, Get a Book Suggestion?

Periodically, Scott Simon interviews Will Grozier, London's (self proclaimed) most well-read cabbie. Click here for their most recent conversation.

Grozier talks about books the way I try to teach my students to talk about them. He gives some plot, but spends a great deal of time focused on the appeal of the books; it's the adjectives he uses that are important.

People read for the feel of the book, and not just the plot. Grozier demonstrates this. His books are all over the map plot wise, but they are similar in feel. This is how readers read. I tell my students this every semester, but it is nice to see real life evidence to back me up.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Audio Book Resources

Last week I went to the ARRT program on audio books and reported about it here.

Although the presenters talked about some resources, they did not mention a few that I find useful and want to share with you.

First, there is Audiobooker from the Booklist Online family of blogs. Mary Burkey, a teacher, librarian, and audiobook addict, uses this blog to write about listening, learning, and the joy of headsets." This blog covers all things audiobooks from how they are recorded to which narrators are the most beloved, to where to find free audiobooks and everything in between. I get the RSS feed for this and all of the adult service Booklist Online blogs.

I also find the for profit service Audible.com to be very useful when helping patrons, much like Amazon is my go-to resource for all book related questions. Without a subscription, Audible provides similar titles, links to other books by the same narrator, and categories to search. And like Amazon, they have customer reviews, so you can see how an actual "reader" felt about a particular title.

Those who listen to audio books know that the reader can be just as important as the words s/he is reading. With the exploding popularity of audio books, we cannot ignore the narrators. Author blogs have exploded in the last few years and now, audiobook narrators are beginning to join the party. Among the first is Scott Brick. Check out his blog here.

Brick is famous for being the type of narrator people either love or hate. His blog may incite similar feelings. I personally like Brick and enjoy his snarky sense of humor. Case in point, you can click on a link which allows Brick to narrate his blog for you.

Do you have a favorite narrator or audio resource? Let me know.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Too Many Book Awards?

Even I cannot keep up with the seemingly endless announcements of nominations and awards in the literary world. But I am glad someone is. Here is a recent "awards roundup" from Likely Stories.

Despite the fact that it is hard to keep up with all of these awards, I do appreciate each and every one of them. The people who pick the winners these awards (and I am now among those people) take their jobs very seriously (at least the ones I know do). As a librarian and reader, I appreciate their expert opinion on why a book is worth my notice.

Also, awards help to break up the overwhelming mass of fiction books sitting on the shelves. It gives readers and librarians a heads up on certain titles that deserve our attention.

So I say, keep the awards coming, and someone out there, keep posting the results so I can link to them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

BPL Book Discussion: Excellent Women

Excellent Women (Penguin Classics)
Yesterday, our group met to discuss, Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. I will begin here the same way I began the discussion, with Pym's interesting story. Pym was born in 1913 in England. She enjoyed a fairly successful writing career with her first 5 books in the 1950s and early 60s, but then her 6th book was curiously refused by the publisher. Many critics today think that her more subtle style and quietly observant stories about the lives of British genteel class were not appreciated amidst the chaos of the 1960s.

And then, by pure chance, Pym was back in the spotlight again when in 1977 Philip Larkin called Pym the most underrated writer of the century. Interest in Pym was renewed. Her work was in high demand and she published a few more novels and was nominated for the Booker prize before her death from cancer in 1980.

Although one of her earliest works, Excellent Women is still considered among Pym's best. In fact, many feminist scholars look back on this novel as depicting the beginning stirrings of modern feminism. Here is the basic plot (edited) from the publisher (Penguin):
"Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women is a novel about a woman named Mildred Lathbury who is living in London in the 1950s. A self-proclaimed spinster, virtuous almost to a fault, intelligent, and entirely without family, Mildred is alone and content to be so. As the story begins, she is leading a quiet life of churchgoing and part-time charity work, with the Malorys—Julian, a pastor and single man, and his frazzled, sweet sister, Winifred—as her dearest friends.

However, as Mildred herself notes, “An unmarried woman, just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people’s business” (p. 5). And so upon her too-comfortable existence enter a host of unsettling and decidedly unvirtuous characters: the Napiers—Helena and Rockingham—a glamorous and unconventional couple who become Mildred’s housemates; Allegra Gray, the calculating widow who destabilizes Mildred’s relationship with the Malorys; and Everard Bone, the aloof anthropologist who befriends Mildred against all of her expectations.

The Napiers’ marriage is on the rocks, due to Helena’s fierce dedication to her anthropological fieldwork and to dashing Rockingham’s effortless romancing of every woman he encounters. As their go-between and confidant, Mildred suddenly finds herself swept into their milieu of romantic drama and self-important science. Two love triangles develop: between the Napiers and Everard Bone, and between Allegra Gray, Julian Malory, and, to her surprise, Mildred herself. Even as she expresses her intent to preserve her independence, a number of potential suitors present themselves. The more Mildred tries to extricate herself, the more involved she becomes, as each of her friends depends on her to sort out the unflattering messes they make for themselves.

Yet behind her plain and patient facade, capable Mildred turns out to be a more ruthless social observer than even the anthropologists whose job it is to “study man.” Excellent Women is a romantic comedy that makes the decidedly unromantic suggestion that its narrator might be happiest alone. Mildred’s wit and independence subvert the stereotype that “excellent women” are dull. Set against the backdrop of postwar London, a city sorting through the disruptions of wartime bombing, the beginnings of feminism, and the end of colonialism, the novel offers effortless social critique that is as entertaining as it is enlightening."

The first point, after background info, I made to the group that Excellent Women (EW from now on) is not historical fiction. It is more like Jane Austen. It is novel of social commentary about its own time that happens to be in our past, but it was written in its own time. It is a story of women's lives in the past, written by one who lived through it. This is key to understanding the novel.

We had such an easy, conversational discussion about EW that I barely used the prepared questions. I began by asking about people's impressions of the novel. What was repeated over and over again was how gentle, wonderful, and soft the book was, yet it delved into serious issues; issues about marriage, the place of the single woman in society, the way people chose to live their lives, and how people interact with each other.

One participant pointed out an example of how this novel was both gentle and sophisticated by reading a section in which Mildred brings a hot water bottle to be and thinks she should read Dostoevsky. This is also an example of Pym's subtle but spot on wit and humor.

A few people were upset that Mildred was always helping others. They were upset that she was being used and disliked her for not showing more "gumption." But then we talked about specific time and place which Pym recreates for us, and we realized that Mildred could not have been any other way while staying authentic. And we loved her authenticity.

We were also very lucky that one of our participants lived as a single woman in England during the years in which this novel is set. We talked about how life in post-WWII England was so different from here in America. They still had rations in 1952. Mildred goes to a bomb out church where the congregants use the one preserved aisle for Ash Wednesday services. Destruction and upheaval from the war is an everyday occurrence in their lives. That and they sure do drink a lot of tea.

EW is a comedy of manners that both tells us how people lived and poked fun at the absurdity of it all. The humor is subtle; in fact, the entire book is quite subtle. We used the example of Mildred worrying about whether or not she wanted to cook the meat of one of her suitors. He fluctuations between wanting to and not wanting to "cook his meat," are hilarious on so many levels.

We also talked about the excellent women of the title. Mildred is a selfless "excellent woman" who is single and devoted to helping others and helping to keep her local parish running. One participant mourned the passing of the excellent women. There is not enough civility left in the world, she lamented. She felt that 10 years after EW there are no more excellent women, They had disappeared. Feminism moved to a new stage and what was good about excellent women was lost to an entire generation.

We talked about Midlred's strength, but not in a traditional post-feminist sense. Mildred saw the best in everyone. Her role was to be relied upon and she accepted it. She did question her choices though and was always concerned about living a full life. Although some participants felt Mildred was used by other too often, overall we felt that those she helped all appreciate what she did for them at the end of the novel.

The ending of this novel is open. It is a true slice of life novel in that sense. Mildred hints that she feels change coming to her world. She could see the positives about marrying Julian or Everard, who have both awkwardly made it clear that they would like to marry her by the novel's end. She also loves and values her independence. Her life is full of friends, work, and church without having to be a wife.

What Mildred's ultimate choice is was discussed by our group at the session's end. Most felt she would continue the way she was with a few changes, like becoming Everard's indexer for his Antropoligcal writings. A few thought she got married to one of the men. The book purposely leaves the answer open because what she does is not the point; it is Mildred's observations about the people around her, their pettiness, their obsession with the details of daily life, and the comical nature of it all is Pym's purpose. However, for those in the group who were dying to know, Pym does mention Mildred in a later novel. I shared the information with the group, and if you want to know click here (1st paragraph gives the answer).

Overall, we loved immersing ourselves in Mildred's world. Personally, I am glad I spent time with Mildred.

Readalikes: After reading Excellent Women, I realized it had so many connections to books both from its time and after, books in England and America. Many critics have compared Pym to Jane Austen. Both women wrote about the manners and constraints of their times with a sharp eye and wit. Specifically, I would suggest Mansfield Park for fans of Excellent Women. Henry James' Portrait of a Lady also hits many of the same themes and issues in Excellent Women.

I would also suggest Willa Cather, Sandra Dallas's Persian Pickle Club (which our group already discussed here) and Elizabeth Berg's WWII drama about the choices women make Dream When You Are Feeling Blue (which my group discussed here).

In my research I also found that Eudora Welty, Anne Tyler, and Mary Gordon are among the writers who name Pym as one of their favorite writers.

In terms of nonfiction, there are a few books that mention Excellent Women that look interesting. Smile of Discontent: Humor, Gender, and Nineteenth-Century Fiction by Eileen Gillooly and From the Hearth to the Open Road: A Feminist Study of Aging in Contemporary Literature by Barbara Frey Waxman. Many critics argue that the world of 1950s England and the lives of its women which Pym reconstructed in her novels planted the seeds of modern feminism. Those who are interested in the past and future of feminism may want to look at this book, No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women by Estelle Freedman.

Excellent Women is also mentioned in a book I love and use to help readers at the RA desk all of the time, 100 One-Night Reads. This is a great resource for those readers who just want something "good" to read and cannot elaborate. Handing this book over to these patrons to let them read the 2-3 page commentaries gives them a pre-approved list of some great, short books.

Finally, the Barbara Pym Society has a great website with many links to further reading.

That should keep your reading for awhile.

Next month we will move into fantasy to discuss The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Winners!

Last week was Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and although I followed the discussion myself, I realized that I did not comment on it here.

Blogs about books and the publishing industry are a great tool for Readers' Advisors and their patrons. As I mentioned in this post, I follow many different blogs at any time, but there are many more great choices out there.

The advent of Book Blogger Appreciation Week last year not only raised awareness of the wonderful world of blogging about books, but they also give out awards in many different categories from best suthor blog, to best blog post, to most altruistic blog. There are so many more, just go see for yourself.

I was also impressed to see the bloggers ban together to pick their favorite book of 2009. This year it was The Help which I just finished listening to this weekend and also loved. Here is the link to all of the award winners this year and last year.

As book blogging grows in popularity and book blogger appreciation week gets more years under its belt, readers and librarians will have access to hundreds of well received blogs by using this portal.

Congrats to the winners and thanks to all of the participants.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

ARRT Program: All About Audiobooks

Today I attended an ARRT program entitled, "All About Audiobooks: Readers' Advisory Principles with Audiobook Collections," presented by Amy Peterson, a Popular Services Librarian and Susan Gibberman, the Head of Reader Services, both at the Shaumburg Township District Library.

I want to share some of the highlights of their presentation here.

Peterson is a member of Audio Publishers Association and she shared some of the results of their 2008 Audiobook Market study with us. They were quite enlightening; however, it was her analysis that I most appreciated. For example, when we looked at the slide listing the results for "Who are our audiobook listeners (by age)? We saw, as most librarians would expect that the largest group of audiobook users are between 25 and 54, prime commuter age. However, Peterson pointed us to look at the 65-74 age range and talked about how this age group's less frequent usage presents a big opportunity for growth.

Another slide commented on the most popular audiobook formats, comparing 2007 to 2008. Again, the experienced librarians in the audience were not surprised to see that CDs were the most popular format, but Peterson pointed out that digital downloads, although small now, actually have the largest percentage growth.

We were also all happy to see that when people were asked where they turn to first to borrow or purchase an audiobook the library was 20 percentage points above the next most popular answer, retail bookstores. People come to the library for their audiobooks.

Peterson and Gibberman also talked about doing outreach and counteracting patron misconceptions about audiobooks. Peterson has gone to the train station, the senior center, and has even sat at the Farmer's Market once a month, all to demonstrate how to download audiobooks or just to talk them up.

In terms of outreach, getting the word out about your audiobook offerings, Gibberman gave what I thought was the best advice of the program: "Simply listing a downloadable training program in your program guide lets people known have you have the service." Whether they come or not, you have told them you have audio books and that they can download them from from home.

The second half of the program focused on audio RA. I was familiar with quite a bit of the basics, but their audiobook expertise gave me a few new ideas and tips.

Audio book listeners (myself included) have favorite narrators. In fact, Gibberman and Peterson asked each of us to fill out a form in which we listed the our 3 favorite narrators. I listed John Lee, Simon Vance, and David Sedaris. I also listed Sedaris as the one narrator I would even listen to reading the phonebook. Seriously though, here's a Sedaris excerpt.

Back to the narrators, Peterson and Gibberman suggested making bookmarks or lists of all the books you have with certain popular narrators. Also, they suggested that you play patrons a snippet of a narrator's work before they commit to an entire audiobook. The patron's feeling about a narrator can make a good book great, but also, if the narrator is irritating to that patron, make a great book terrible. Using the Golden Voices section of Audiofile Magazine Online, you can find audio files. I have used these for myself, but I honestly never thought of playing these for the patron. What great and helpful advice!

Gibberman and Peterson also reminded us to make sure our patrons can use the catalog to search for audiobooks by their preferences. For example, can you search by narrator, by type (audio), format (CD, MP3, download, etc..) and genre? Can you combine these searches? Are they standardized across the entire holdings? For example, do all of your records for compacct discs say CD, or do some say C.D.? It could make a huge difference when searching.

Finally, programming was touched on. The Schaumburg Township Distrcit Library has been successful hosting audiobook narrators at their library. The audio publishers will send them out to build their customer base. But its not just having audio specific programming that they wanted to stress. We should be including audio options and components as part of all of our reading programs and displays.

ARRT plans to post the results of Gibberman and Peterson's informal poll of the 50 or so participants' favorite narrators, so look for that shortly. Also, click here for my other posts on audiobooks. Thanks again to Peterson and Gibberman for an informative program.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How I Became a Famous Novelist

How I Became a Famous Novelist
This morning as I was preparing for tonight's class which introduces the idea, concept, and appeal of genres, I heard a great interview on Fresh Air with Steve Hely the author of the new satiric novel, How I Became a Famous Novelist.

The book pretends to be a memoir of the life of a loser turned best-selling novelist. The interview was interesting because it was obvious that seasoned comedy writer, Hely, really thought about why books become bestsellers before he set out to make fun of the entire thing. Click here to listen to the 23 minute interview and read an excerpt from the book.

Hely was talking about much of what I had just looked over in my lecture notes. He talked about genres and why people like certain books. He talked about the bestseller list, and even read an excerpt from the fake one he included in his book. Terry Gross joked that she thought she may have read some of those books; and even though they were made up, she kinda had a point.

I also loved his comments on author interviews. His theory is that the best authors turn themselves into a character and that is the persona they present in interviews. He gives some interesting and funny examples from real author interviews to back up his claims.

Anyway, listen to the interview. I don't know if the book is any good, but I would venture to guess that most readers would at least appreciate what Hely is trying to do in this novel.

I also think this interview will be very useful to my library students and am going to add it to their required reading for our class on best sellers.

Monday, September 14, 2009

More Big Books of Fall Links and Dan Brown Readalikes

With Dan Brown, the Ted Kennedy memoir, a new book by best seller Jon Krakauer, and a new Oprah pick (Friday) all due this week, it is a great week to be working the RA desk. Those books all have a long waiting list (over 700 holds on 120 copies for Dan Brown in my system), but we are ready to help our patrons find something else to read while they wait.

As I have mentioned here and here, Fall is a huge time for new releases. Here are a few more links to even more big fall releases:
Please remember, the hottest books will have a wait, but we have thousands of other books, some of which you may like just as much, if not more, than the big fall release you are waiting for. I have a dozen Dan Brown readalikes on display right now at the BPL, with a few dozen more on standby. They are all just waiting for eager Brown fans to take them home.

If you cannot get in to the library, click here to see our suggested list of Dan Brown readalike authors compiled by our staff.

And from the people over at RA Online, here is their "While You Wait" list of fiction and nonfiction readalikes for Dan Brown.

NYT Review of The Lost Symbol

Somehow, The New York Times, broke through all the security and got their hands on the new Dan Brown.

Click here for the first review ever
! And, they liked it too.

Book comes out at 12:01 am tonight (as if you didn't know already).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

9/11 Novels

Terrible events often trigger great art as artists contemplate their life in its aftermath. 9/11 is no different. Yesterday, The Daily Beast gave us their opinion on the 3 9/11 novels which they feel will stand the test of time. One is Netherland, which I did not enjoy and wrote about here.

I agree with their other 2 choices, but if I had made the list it would be:
  1. In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman: Spiegelman watched the towers fall from the roof of his Brooklyn home and has been quoting as saying he went to his work table for the next few weeks, drawing and writing, while he waited for the world to end. Thankfully, the world kept going and Spiegelman shared his work with us.
  2. Falling Man by Don DeLillo: In this novel, DeLillo follows one man who worked in the towers and escaped as he tries to heal from the experience. The novel's disjointed construction adds to the feeling of unease which permeates the characters as they struggle to continue to live "normally" in the first few months after 9/11.
  3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. A young boy whose father dies in the towers on 9/11 finds a key and a cryptic note in his father's closet. The journey he takes is as much about finding the key's owner as it is about finding his place in a post 9/11 world without his father. And don't miss the last few pages, which are a flip book of a man falling from the towers. It goes backwards; he is falling up to safety. It is very powerful.
So those are The Daily Beast's 3 and my 3. What are we leaving out? Let me know.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Annotated Bibliography Gets a New Look

Annotated bibliographies are a RAs bread and butter. I make many lists of books on a certain topic or with a shared theme, giving each book a pity 2-4 sentence description. Click here to see examples of our annotated lists at the BPL or click here to see things I have tagged annotated lists for examples.

As useful as these lists are to patrons, they are not very sexy. Well, I think, that may be about to change. A few days ago I saw this feature in The Daily Beast in which Nicholas Kristof writes about his favorite books.

I love this presentation for an annotated bibliography. You click on the cover and enter a gallery in which with each click of a cover, another cover is revealed, all with Kristof's comments on the right. In reality it is a simple annotated list of books, but in practice it is so much more engaging to the reader.

Obviously this presentation only works on the web; it does not translate on paper. Needless to say, I am intrigued by this new presentation of an old standby. You still need to have solid and well written annotations, but the gallery begs the reader to stand-up and pay attention to your list.

Time Travel Romances

Over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, my romance go-to resource, there is a great discussion going on about the best time travel romances. Read all of the comments to see what people are suggesting.

I am not a huge romance reader, although I try to stay up-to-date on the genre's most popular authors and subgenres. It has been many years since I have read a time travel romance, so I may grab a few of these myself.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fall Sleepers- Part 2

In part 1, I mentioned Early Word's list of fall sleepers.

Here, I want to draw your attention to this interview on NPR a few days ago in which Cathy Langer, from The Tattered Cover, in Denver talks about the books she is looking forward to this fall.

I will post any other interesting fall lists as I come across them.

What I'm Reading: That Old Cape Magic

That Old Cape Magic

I read the newest Richard Russo, That Old Cape Magic, on the beach; it wasn't the Cape Cod or Maine beaches mentioned in the novel, but rather, my homeland, the Jersey Shore, specifically Wildwood Crest.

Here's the basics on plot. Griffin is a college professor of screen-writing at a MA college where his wife works in admissions. Griffin is on his way to his daughter's, best friend's wedding on Cape Cod. He has been driving with the ashes of his dead father in his trunk for about 9 months. He tells himself he was waiting to deposit the ashes in the waters off of Cape Cod, where his parents took him every summer for vacation.

Griffin cannot get himself to dispose of the ashes. He is also haunted by the memories of his childhood. To put it mildly, his parents were very messed up, and he has spent his entire adult life trying to not be like them. However, his marriage is currently suffering due to his inability to see he has actually become them.

After the first wedding, the story fast-forwards a year to another wedding. This time it is Griffin's own daughter and it is in Maine. Over that year, Griffin and his wife have lived on opposite coasts and are considering divorce. Also, Griffin's mother has now passed on, so he is riding around with both of his parents' ashes in his trunk.

In true Russo protagonist style, Griffin is extremely ineffectual, to the point of self destructive; however, despite the chaos, after this second wedding, Griffin is able to see his life clearly, possibly for the first time, and he manages to make steps toward fixing his life.

That Old Cape Magic is a story like most Russo tales in that it involves a middle aged man going through some kind of mid-life crisis. I don't mean to belittle Russo's work; in fact, I am a huge fan of his. Russo is able to capture the relationships between people in such a realistic way that I feel it is, at times, clearer than reality. What I mean by this is that Russo is able to inhabit his narrators and tell us what they are thinking; explaining their inner thoughts so well that the reader can understand why they act so stupidly. We root for them to figure it out, even as we cringe at their choices along the way.

The other thing this talented Pulitzer Prize winning author is so well known for is his descriptions of the demise of working class towns in the upper North East. He describes what happens to once prosperous middle class communities and their citizen once the mill or factory in said community is shut down. Click here to see an example when I read Bridge of Sighs.

That Old Cape Magic has been getting mixed reviews though, and I think I understand why. It is missing that working class motif. In fact, it is only about privileged and well connected people which made for a different, yet still entertaining novel.

Readalikes: I enjoy Russo quite a bit, as a result, I have considered his readalike options frequently. I would suggest Richard Ford (specifically the Bascombe Triliogy), Tom Perrotta, Pete Hamill, Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Chabon.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen and Olive Kittridge by Elizabeth Strout are also readalikes for That Old Cape Magic specifically.

Readers may also be interested in books about Cape Cod after reading this novel.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fall Sleepers

Fall is always a big time for new book releases. Of course, unless you are living under a rock, you know that on September 15 Dan Brown's new book, The Lost Symbol is coming out. Apparently, Amazon has their stock under literal lock and key (2 separate locks, with two separate key holders to be exact).

But what about all of the other great books coming out this fall? Early Word has been profiling some of the books they think will come out from under the radar and surprise this fall.

Click here, and here to see Nora and her crew's suggestions. If any look interesting, get your names on the hold list at your library now, before some of them even come out. You know you'll need something to read while you are waiting for your name to come up on The Lost Symbol reserve list.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What I'm Reading: Best Friends Forever

Recently, I finished Jennifer Weiner's latest, Best Friends Forever. I have read all of Weiner's books and always enjoy them, but I have to agree with this review that BFF is probably one of her best books.

I wrote the Weiner readalike for NoveList and here is a summary of what I think about her works. She writes what seems like Chick-Lit on the surface, but once you read her books, you see there is so much more there. These are stories of women in their 30s, living, loving, and learning. She uses humor and is great at creating memorable and lovable characters.

Best Friends Forever is the perfect example of the smart, funny, and nuanced stories Weiner tells about young women. The story begins as Val, knocks on her former best friend Addie's house, 10 years after high school graduation, with blood on her jacket, asking for help.

Addie and Val, it turns out, were best friends since middle school. Addie was, the chubby shy girl, and Val was the gangly more outgoing one. One summer, Val comes home from vacation and has turned into a beautiful woman. She is now a cheerleader, friends with all of the popular girls, and is garnering lots of interests from boys.

Although Val stays friends with Addie, it is forced and then something happens senior year that severs the girls' bond. In the 10 intervening years, Val has become a TV weather personality and Addie, has moved into her parents old home, lost 200 or so pounds, and has had a successful career as a greeting card artist.

Now the two are thrown together again as they try to find a former classmate who Val may have injured, take a road trip to the Florida Keys, and finally talk through their issues from a decade ago.

Weiner describes this book as, "What if Thelma and Louise didn't have to die?" But it is more than that. Best Friends Forever works because the 2 main characters are more than the stereotypes they could have become in the hands of a lesser writer, especially Addie. The picture Weiner has painted is that of a life, Addie's life. We don't agree with all of her choices, and we definitely think Val needs some help, but we root for them, for their friendship, and for their future. Each woman grows through the events they share in the book, but they also stay true to who they are.

This is a book for women in their 30s without the glitz and glam of designer labels. There is no sleeping around, in fact, romantic relationships figure very peripherally in this novel. And there is absolutely no celebrities. This is what readers who have tired of "chick-lit" have been waiting for.

Readalikes: Readers who like Weiner should check out this post where I outline a 6 authors who are great readalike options. To add to that list, I really think Jonathan Tropper, who writes the male equivalent of Weiner's books is a great choice here. Try How to Talk to a Widower (which I read here). Another writer who tackles the issues of women's lives only from a historical and foreign experience is Lisa See. Peony in Love (which I read here) and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan both focus on the complicated friendships between women.