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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Books for Mom

Each year I buy a book for my mom and my mother-in-law for Mother's Day. I will not disclose what book I chose this year since they sometimes read the blog, but, I will tell you what it is not...a book about being a mother!  In fact, now that I think about it, there is no mother in the book I chose for them.

I am starting to see a few lists out there suggesting books for mom, like this one.  As a mom myself, I am offended by the fact that all of the books on these lists are about being a mother, about children, or are strictly women's lives stories.

Hey, I have a news flash, moms like to read books about more than just being moms. In fact, I generally read books that are not about being a mom, since that is something I do (and love) every day of the year. When I read for fun, I want something dark, with supernatural undertones, and maybe a nice and evil unreliable narrator.

So publishers and list makers out there, remember that moms are people first. We are not defined solely by our place as mothers. We are all individuals with different reading tastes. Maybe we want more than "mom" books for Mother's Day.

PS: I promise to disclose what book I bought for my moms after Mother's Day, but to give a hint, it is a book I read in the last 12 months and really enjoyed. It is also a good, light read for summer.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

BPL Book Discussion: The Good Thief

Last week, my group met to discuss Hannah Tinti's The Good Thief, and to prepare for our upcoming appearance in The Chicago Tribune.

First, to the important stuff. As I mentioned here, we were accepted to be featured as one of the Printers Row Chicagoland Bookclubs. To that end, I was asked to have the group answer some specific questions and take their picture. So thanks to Briana, here we are (minus 2 regulars).

Look for an announcement on this blog in the coming months to see when our feature is run, and, more importantly, to see what we have to say about how awesome the Berwyn Library's Monday Book Club is.

Now on to the discussion, which was a great one incidentally.  I first read The Good Thief  by Hannah Tinti back in October of 2008 and it was my favorite book I read that year also. Here is what I said about it back then:
"The Good Thief is, refreshingly, a traditional adventure story (with a historical background) in a literary landscape where adventure is being consumed by thrillers and terrorism plot lines. It is fast paced, the hero is resourceful and lucky (maybe unbelievable so, but that goes with the genre), and it has a resolved, happy ending. Tinti uses many of Dickens' own tricks and themes to propel her story along., including a wonderful cast of eccentric secondary characters such as a dwarf who lives on the roof, a murdering giant, and a hard of hearing landlady. The novel is appropriately funny, heart-warming, melodramatic, and bittersweet, with each occurring in the right place."
The novel is set in 19th Century, upper New England and follows the story of  an enchanting 12-year-old boy named Ren. Ren was left, missing his left hand, as an infant in an orphanage, he is finally adopted by a man claiming to be his brother, but who is quickly revealed as a con man. This historical adventure leads Ren on a Gothic inspired adventure in which his parentage is finally revealed and his future is secured.

I was concerned about doing one of my favorite books with the book club, but it worked out great.  I began, as usual, by going around the room and asking who liked, disliked, or felt so-so about the book. We had no "dislikes", many "loves," and only a few "so-so's." I have mention using this discussion starting trick before and highly recommend it to all book discussion leaders.  First, you get a sense of what you are up against. I always try to provide a balance of opinions in the discussion because when everyone agrees, the discussion is boring.  In this case, I knew I would need to be more critical of the novel, providing some counterpoints for their "Good Thief Love."

Second, this technique allows the discussion to begin naturally. After people pick a side, I call on someone from the majority opinion (in  this case, loved it) and ask why they felt this way. This gets the discussion going right away. You do have to make sure you get the other people (in this case, the so-so's) into the discussion too. In many cases, the reason one person loved the book is why another did not.

So, what did we discuss. The biggest thing I want to share about our discussion is how excited everyone was that we read a fun, fast-paced story. One participant said reading this novel reminded her of reading as a child: a book you couldn't put down, with characters you loved, great details of time and place, and a fun, adventurous story with a happy ending. This is important for long standing book clubs. We can get bogged down in serious books, so it is nice to have a chance to read a fun book with enough issues to discuss

Here is a list of some of the issues we discussed:
  • Ren was a wonderful protagonist. We loved his perspective, imagination, and his good heart
  • Tinti's beautiful language, engrossing descriptions, and eccentric characters were commented upon
  • One participant had us look at the intro pages for each of the novel's 3 parts.  Part One has a picture of a hand (in this part Ren is used for his lack of hand). Part Two has a picture of a skull (here Ren meets the Doctor and learns about anatomy). Part Three has a picture of a heart (here Ren finds a family)
  • We spent a lot of time talking about how similar to a Dickens novel this truly was. This otherness of time and place with a nod to great works of the past, allowed Tinti the leeway to create a story in which anything could (and does) happen.
  • The theme of redemption is big in this novel.
  • We spent time talking about all of the secondary characters. We evaluated their actions and motives. Although they are all different, all of the characters in the book are outcasts and most evolve, grow and change. This is a bunch of extreme characters too. They keep you on your toes.
  • My favorite question of the day, "Can you be a good thief?" This was a fun side discussion
  • The book was dark, but Ren was light.
  • Nature vs. Nurture
  • Ren and his religious upbringing.
  • In a book with a bunch of positive female characters, not one is a wife or mother. Hmmmmm.
Readalikes: Specific readalike titles would of course include anything by Dickens. But for more modern authors and titles, those interested could try The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski which also has a disabled but plucky, young male protagonist (here he is mute), and a coming-of-age theme; it also loosely follows the plot of Hamlet. A less mainstream suggestion would be another well received first novel, When the Finch Rises by Jack Riggs. Here the reader follows two young boys in the 1960s South, their tough lives, their coming-of-age, and the strength of their friendship that pulls them through. It is important to note that this novel does have touches of magical realism. Finally one of my back list favorites that I would be a perfect match for readers who liked Ren is The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall. I would also suggest The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and City of Thieves by David Bennioff.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

RA for Shorter Works

Every week the ALA sends out a very useful newsletter to its membership. Called ALA Direct, it is a compilation of library news, ALA news, and links that may be of interest to librarians.

This week, there was a link to this column by Jeffrey Beall suggesting that RA expand into journal articles and shorter works. His argument is that the review journals need to review shorter works so that RAs can use the reviews to help steer potential readers to works that may interest them. \

Interestingly, earlier today I posted about an article in The New Yorker that would be of interest to readers of this blog. In fact, quite often publications like The New Yorker, Esquire, and The Atlantic have articles that I would enjoy, but unless I subscribe to them, or read them regularly, I miss these treasures.

I do subscribe to The New Yorker because there is just too much good stuff to miss. Between the short stories (sometimes just new novel excerpts) by the biggest names in literary fiction and the articles about authors and/or book related issues, not to mention the nonfiction writers whose best sellers start as New Yorker articles (see David Grann, Malcolm Gladwell, and Susan Orlean), I cannot miss an issue.

However, Beall's article makes me question what else I am missing. I haven't decided if what Beall is suggesting is feasible yet, but it is an interesting question/challenge.  Read his article and tell me what you think.

Can The iPad Or The Kindle Save Book Publishers?

Yesterday on Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed Ken Auletta who has an article in the April 26th issue of The New Yorker which asks just that question.

Click here to listen to the interview and/or read the transcript of the highlights.

What I liked about the interview, and loved about the actual article, is how Auletta explains all of the issues involved with ebook publishing and ebook readers.

I still don't know how (if at all) we could incorporate ebook readers into our library collection at BPL, but Auletta's interview and the article are a great place to begin the discussion.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

ARRT Book Discussion: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoAs I mentioned in this post, I hosted the ARRT quarterly book discussion earlier this month.  We read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

Ted Balcom reported on our discussion over at Book Group Buzz. He did a great job capturing the essence of our discussion.

I also wanted to remind you that in preparation for that discussion, I prepared this post with a plethora of readalikes for Diaz's book.  Also, in his report, Ted mentions the group of guys who discussed this novel in a bar. To see what else I suggested for them, click here.

Finally, this semester, Zach read this novel. Click here to see his report.

Books for a Catholic Book Group

One of the regulars in my book club was asked by her Catholic History group at church to help them start a Catholic Book Group. She turned to me, her fearless book club leader, for suggestions of books which would work for a faith based discussion.

The first place I directed her to go was The Faithful Reader which is part of the Book Reporter network and is a well regarded resource for faith based books.  They have this extensive list of study guides, which are basically book discussion guides for faith centered books. They are not all from a Catholic perspective, but they are proven titles to be discussed from a faith based perspective.

There are also a few books I thought of that may work with the group, but not being Catholic myself, I told her to look them over for herself before suggesting them to the group.
On a side note, I regularly get requests from local book clubs to prepare lists of books for their groups. For those of you out there at RA desks, this is a great service to offer your patrons. Who better to compile the lists than you! Also, it is a great PR move. People love and appreciate the help so much, they will brag to their friends about how awesome you are.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Horror: The First Quarter

As the end of April is upon us and it is time for my update on the horror books worth your attention from the first 4 months of 2010.

Before I list the ones I am eagerly devouring, I also want to draw your attention to the Spring into Terror collaborative effort of the following websites, Monster Librarian, Dark Scribe Magazine, Horror World, and The Horror Fiction Review.

Use the links to go directly to their special Spring into Terror sections and see what they think is worth your attention. In general, these are also your best resources for all things horror.

I have a few of my own to mention here. Some I will report on in the coming months, but for others, you will have to check them out for yourself (all are or will soon be available through the BPL) or wait until my new book is released for more details (early 2011). For now, you can click through to read more about them on Amazon.

The Castle of Los Angeles DwellerDarkness on the Edge of Town
  • Castle of Los Angeles by Lisa Morton (a full length novel from the award-winning story writer)
  • Dweller by Jeff Strand (a bit more serious horror from the comic horror master; still funny though)
  • The Bridge by John Skipp and Craig Spector (apocalyptic story with an intelligent virus = scary)
  • Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene ( I really like everything he does)

Creatures of the Pool SnowSparrow Rock

  • Creatures of the Pool by Ramsey Campbell (British horror master; Jack the Ripper tie in, great reviews)
    Snow by Ronald Malfi (snowstorm, ghosts inhabiting people, murder)
  • Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon (end of the world, teenagers running from monsters; what's not to like)
Let me know what you are reading. Also, look for information in the coming weeks about my new Horror only blog which I am working on in conjunction with the new book. I will have it up and running early this summer.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

BPLs Virtual Presence

When I was working on my presentation for the WAPL Conference on April 29th, I was surprised by how the BPL's virtual presence has been actively growing as of late. Check out what we have to offer our patrons online:
This doesn't even include all of the services card holders can access from the catalog or the offerings from all of the other BPL departments.

I think this list is a nice sampling of how you can serve your patrons from locations other than the physical library building. While it is important to give your virtual patrons as much attention as those who walk through your doors, it is also easy to get in over your head.

However, before you go crazy creating new web sites, signing up for more social media, or setting up Twitter accounts for the library, make sure you can staff and support these pages. An active and frequently updated virtual presence is helpful to you and your patrons, but an unsupported, empty shell of a presence, only makes you look bad.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Suggested Reading Lists on the Browser's Corner

While I was getting ready for this past week's class on Special Reading Interests, I remembered that Kathy had been working hard to get our annotated Suggested Reading Lists up on the Browser's Corner.

Two of our most popular lists at the physical corner in the library are this one I did on Graphic Novels for Grownups and this one Kathy did for Urban Fiction.

We also have annotated lists up on the blog for Historical Romance, If You Like Dan Brown, If You Like James Patterson..., and Suspense Fiction.

We have a few more that have yet to be converted from Publisher onto the blog. Also, I am working on one for fans of the TV show True Blood and/or the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. It will be up in time for the new season of the show in June. Each staff member is also working on a few lists of their own.

These lists serve 3 distinct purposes
  1. They let patrons know what we have for a certain subgenre that is not pulled out or stickered within the larger mass of the collection. The lists serve as a guide to finding the books they want.
  2. They show the patrons that we know what they like and have anticipated their queries. It basically shows we are paying attention to them. Case in point, readalikes for Patterson and Urban Fiction suggestions are among our most popular questions at the service desk.
  3. And this may be the most important, creating these lists lets the staff take a long hard look at our offerings on a topic, in a subgenre, or in an interest area. We are evaluating our holdings as we are making the list. Not only does the staff member making the list learn more about said topic, but he or she is able to identify our collection's strengths and weaknesses. This is a huge help in collection development.
So we help the patrons and train ourselves. Check out our lists when you have a chance and use the comments field there or here to suggest new lists.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Me Live in Sheboygan!

A week from today I will be presenting at The Wisconsin Association of Public Libraries Annual Conference at Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan.

Here is the link for the full conference schedule.

My program is on Thursday, Arpil 29th at 10:30:
Starting a Reader’s Advisory Department @ Your Library
Salon C
How well do you serve your leisure readers at your library? Experienced Readers' Advisor and author, Becky Spratford is here to help. Learn how to start Readers' Advisory service at your library, get your patrons to take notice and train your entire library staff how to support you. Becky will share her favorite resources, teach you her "Top Ten Rules of Basic RA Service" and show you how to serve readers in the library and on the web. After attending this program you will be able to go back to your library and immediately start to provide better service to all of your leisure readers without spending a cent!
Speaker: Becky Spratford, Readers’ Advisor at Berwyn Public Library and Adjunct Faculty at Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science
Sponsored by READ
If you are planning to go to the conference, pop in to my program. Please introduce yourself to me if you are a reader of RA for All.

Now, I just have to finish the presentation.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Student Annotations: Last of the Semester

Tonight's class is entitled, "Special Reading Interests." In this class we talk about areas of fiction where your community might have an interest. Since we have only 3 hours and we are training the librarians of Northern IL, we focus on the following four categories: Inspirational, African American (including Urban Lit), Latino/a, and GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Questioning).

For these interest areas, we discuss fiction and nonfiction.  We also require the students to each try a book in one of these areas during the course of the semester.

I realize this is only a small sampling of the special reading interests out there, but for a vast majority of the librarians we are training, these will be the most common. The idea is for them to read a book and think about its appeal for more than just what genre it is. Many times, just being a book by a, for example, African American author, is an appeal factor in and of itself. This class and the required reading forces the students to think about this. So, even if you want to argue about the areas we have chosen, the exercise is useful as training for dealing with any patron's special reading interest.

Click on over to the Class Blog to see what they read this week.

Also to see what has been read in these areas in the past click on the interest area to see all posts: Inspirational, African American, Latino/a, and GLBTQ. These links are helpful if you have a patron (or yourself) who wants to read one of these books.

That's it for annotations this semester. Joyce will teach the class this summer, so I will post their work.  The students still have finals, so, at the least, I will have a few more reading maps to add to the class archive in a few weeks.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Brand New Look for NoveList

As I make clear in my profile, I am under contract with EBSCO to write readalike materials for their popular and extremely useful database, NoveList.

Not willing to stand still, NoveList will be rolling out a new look this summer. I have been busy working with the other readalike contributors to provide new, more precisely targeted, and ultimately, more useful information for patrons and librarians.

Click here to view the screen shots of how things are going to look and change. The BPL provides full access to NoveList to all of its library card holders in the library and from home.

Since I have access to much of the material which will be in the new interface, I can say it will be more responsive and dynamic. For example, now authors descriptions will be only 100 words each (instead of an entire essay), with an intense focus on what the author does best and why readers like him or her, but instead of only 5 suggested readalike authors as before, they can now be an unlimited number similar authors, title matches, and even series matches, suggested by any and all of NoveList's talented contributors. Also, in the old system, an author had to be alive and have at least 5 published books before a contributor would be assigned to write a  readalike article. Now, as long as the author is popular, even if they only have one book, an entry will be created.

On the horror front, my editor agrees with me that the database is lacking in its offering for this genre, and she is letting me dictate which horror authors I can create entries for. I am also happy to report that I will be working with the article editors to create specific essays and articles on working with horror readers in the near future.

So all in all, it will be an exciting summer for NoveList users. I will have more information and links to demos in the coming weeks. But for now, this link has the most up to date information.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

David Sedaris Recommends...

Last night my husband and I went to see David Sedaris at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago.  He is in the midst of a 36 city tour in 36 days reading stories from his brand new book which will come out this Fall.

The evening promised all new material, and although I was skeptical at first, he did deliver. Along with reading 2 of the stories from the upcoming book, he also read an essay he is working on about people in airports. He also read from his recent "diary" entries and answered questions.

It was 2 hours of Sedaris on stage speaking to 3,000 of his fans, and judging by the laughs, we all had a great time.

And now I get to the reason (besides talking about the great night we had) for this post. He ended the night by giving a lesser known author the Sedaris stamp of approval.  He could not stop gushing about how much he loved, Irish Girl a collection of stories by Tim Johnston which just won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction.

What I liked about Sedaris' recommendation was how he talked about the book.  He used appeal to describe it.  He said that these are dark stories, but written with beautiful language.  He explained how in one story, a deaf girl is raped and in anther an art teacher, who sleeps with a student, has every bone in his fingers broken by the student's family. He also read us the first paragraph of the first story in which a construction crew digs up a human arm.

He goes on to stress, yes these are dark stories, but the way in which Johnston writes puts Sedaris in awe of Johnston's talents. His words may be saying truly awful things, but the words themselves are lyrical. Sedaris actually met the author the night before last in North Carolina. Sedaris mentioned that he was scared to meet Johnston, since his stories were so twisted. But after meeting him, and seeing how nice he was, Sedaris reminded himself that the man writes fiction.

My favorite line of his recommendation was, I would not want to meet one of Johnston's characters, but I am sure glad he thought them up. (paraphrasing)

It is nice to see established authors helping others that they truly like. We forget sometimes that writers themselves are voracious readers.  The most popular ones truly understand what people like to read (that's why they are so popular) and can articulate the appeal of a book very clearly. In other words, they speak our RA librarian language, and, since they have many more people's ear than do we, I am thankful for our shared goal.

Another best-selling author who works to promote new authors she honestly likes is Jennifer Weiner, who posted about Sarah Pekkanen's The Opposite of Me. Her post was then picked up by Reading Group Guides which wrote about the aftermath of Weiner's public recommendation. Pekkanen cracked the top 100 for all book sales!

One final note: if you have never seen David Sedaris read his work, the next best thing is to use this link to watch him on You Tube.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Graphic Novelist Open His Home and The C2E2 Convention

I love Chris Ware. Everything he does is wonderful. He really is brilliant. He also lives just up the street from the BPL in Oak Park, IL.

Yesterday, WBEZ posted this video of reporter Allison Cuddy's tour of Ware's home on their blog.  He has an amazing collection of Gasoline Alley memorabilia, and is just an all around good guy.

Ware invited WBEZ into his home to help promote this weekend's Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo at McCormick Place. The Expo is open to the Public today, April 17  from 10-7 and tomorrow, April 18 from 10-5.

Here is the list of who will be appearing. We are talking big names in graphic novels including Ware, pure text authors, and even Carrie Fisher and the guy who play Chewbacca!

Finally, tonight, Neil Gaiman is making a benefit appearance:
Neil Gaiman, the award-winning author of novels, films, and comics including the epoch-changing graphic novel series The Sandman, will take the stage for a benefit appearance on behalf of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2). An "Evening with Neil Gaiman", a paid, ticketed event, will take place on Saturday night, April 17 at 7 PM in the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place in Chicago, IL. 100% of the proceeds will go to benefit the First Amendment legal work of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
Tickets are still available.

I hate that it is 2010 and the comics industry is still fighting for their right to publish what they want. But they are...constantly! If you cannot make the dinner, please consider giving to The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Summer Reads Preview

After a few days of sunny weather with temperatures in the 80s, it is back to reality here in Illinois, with a typical drizzly April day with a high in the low 60s.

But no mater the actual weather in your neck of the woods, believe it or not, summer is creeping up on us. Entertainment Weekly's Summer Entertainment issue came in my mail box yesterday and with it, their list of "18 Books We Can't Wait to Read This Summer."

This list is a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction by big name and lesser known authors. Personally, I am already on hold for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest on audio.

One other book I am eagerly anticipating that is coming out in July, but did not make the list, is Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner.