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, July 30, 2010

Flashback Fridays: Public Libraries and the Economy

I was looking for a possible post for this week's installment and I found this post (from 2008!) about how public libraries can help their patrons during tough economic times. I was upset that the economic downturn is still here 2 full years later, but I was happy to see I did start a label for "economy" to compile all of my posts since that first one, dealing with how your local library can help ease your economic strain.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Readable Nonfiction?

Over at Reader's Advisor Online, nonfiction expert and author of the blog Citizen Reader, Sarah Statz Cords,  had an intersting essay questionsing why we can ask for readable nonfiction, but we never say "readable fiction."

Here is the link, but I thought the essay was worthwhile enough to re-post here. And, no I do not trust all of you to click through, sorry:

Would we ever call it “readable” fiction?

by Sarah Statz Cords
Recently a discussion on Fiction-L centered on a poster’s desire to create a display of “readable nonfiction” titles. It made my heart glad to see that numerous people responded to the question with a number of great nonfiction title suggestions. But I’d be lying if the chosen title of the display didn’t rankle me just a bit.
Now, it is no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a diehard nonfiction reader. I read novels too, but they’re a much tougher sell; if, on the other hand, you start a sentence with something like “Hey, I read a great biography the other day…” or “Have you seen this new science book…” you can be sure I’m listening and will most likely add that book to my TBR pile, regardless of subject.
So every time I see the words “readable” or “narrative” in discussions of nonfiction, I feel a bit sad about all of the nuances of nonfiction types and genres that are being missed. To some extent I understand the use of the terms; when dealing with nonfiction, library staff often feel compelled to make distinctions between NF titles that are used almost exclusively for informational purposes and those that can be read more recreationally or, arguably, more as a “story.” But I would submit that most of the “informational” types of NF have their own names: cookbooks. Baby name books. Car repair manuals. Decorating books. Self-Help.
The problem I have with “readable” and “narrative” is not that they are inaccurate labels. Rather, it is that they are so broad as to be useless, and they obscure the glory and variety of nonfiction titles. The Fiction-L list of readable nonfiction titles will be an interesting one–but it may not be a very unified list (I don’t know, for example, that I would suggest Erik Larson’s true-crime history Devil in the White City to the same reader who might enjoy Elizabeth Gilbert’s self-discovery memoir Eat, Pray, Love–and they were both on the list).
As previously noted: I’m completely biased (as only a person who has written two nonfiction reader’s guides can be). I also take my nonfiction way too seriously. As Albert Brooks once said in the wonderful movie Broadcast News, “I grant you everything.” But these are my questions: How can we become more comfortable thinking about NF in terms of both subject areas AND genres (or interest categories, which is what bookstores use)? How can we learn about and promote more specific types of nonfiction? What tools do you currently use to learn about nonfiction titles and their peculiarities? These are the things I want to know–because I think there’s a world of biographies, memoirs, women’s nonfiction, true crime, adventure, science, “big think” (like Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point), “year in the life,” and foodie titles out there–they’re all readable, and they all deserve displays of their own.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What I'm Reading: The Man From Beijing

The Man from BeijingWhile I waiting for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest to come in on audio for me, I listened to Henning Mankell's non-Wallandar title, The Man From Beijing. I have read the more traditional Nordic Noir Wallander books and watched the PBS series based on these books and enjoyed them. I also have an interest in books with a Chinese frame, so I thought this would be a good choice for me.

However, I am sad to report that I was not fully satisfied by The Man From Beijing.

We begin with a man stumbling upon a remote Swedish village in which it appears everyone was murdered. After a bit more suspense building and being introduced to a few more characters who will think will be our protagonist, Mankell finally settles on a Judge who it seems has a family connection to the murder victims (although it is a stretch). We follow her as she puts the pieces of the murder together.

The book bounces around in time and perspective as the murders are related to a centuries old revenge plot involving a Chinese man who was enslaved to build the railroad in the American West. Confused yet? Well hang on. We still have to hear from his modern day ancestor, that guy's sister, and then back to the judge.

The problem here is that each section is interesting, but put together, the whole thing feels a bit too spread thin. Just as I started to care about one storyline/character, the focus shifted. Also it all felt very forced to me. I could never really care about a character because he or she may disappear for a hunmdred pages, or seem interesting at first but then turn out to mean nothing to the plot.

An example are the Swedish missionaries who befriend the Chinese freed slaves as they make their way back to America. Once their part is over, they are gone, yet Mankell seemed to build them up so that we should really care about them; that they will be important. Yeah, not so much.

Also annoying, he includes a final chapter in which we see the murders from the perspective of the killer but it is wholly unsatisfying  because we are already certain of who did it and why. This chapter adds nothing.

Overall, I was underwhelmed. Or can you not tell?

Three Words That Describe This Book: mutliple-points of view, china, historical detail

NOTE: my three words have no hint of how I felt about the book. These are there to help you (and me) suggest this book to possible readers who may enjoy it. My work does not concern itself with who would NOT enjoy it. These three words are objective about why would it be appealing.

Readalikes: If you want to read other Scandinavian Mysteries, use this link where I have talked about the multitude of reading options.

However, I suspect that many people may be more interested in novels and nonfiction about China after reading The Man From Bejing.  This I can also help you with. Try:
And if that is not enough for you, Lit Lists offers the following links:
5 Good Short Books on China
Top 10 Unputdownable Chinese Books
Lisa See's Suggestions: Notable Books About China
Best China Books of 2008
Best Books About Chinese Women in 2008
Top 10 Books on Beijing
Top Books on Modern China
Five Best: Guides to China and Its History

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Offbeat Summer Reading Ideas

Here is a collection of lists for more summer reading ideas that are off the beaten path.  Remember, I have all of my summer reading posts collected here. You can even access suggestions from summer's past with the link.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday Discussion: Guilty Pleasures

People are always asking me what my "guilty pleasure" reads are. I dislike the term "guilty pleasure," because it implies that some books are more worthy than others. See for yourself:
A guilty pleasure is something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it. Often, the "guilt" involved is simply fear of others discovering one's lowbrow or otherwise embarrassing tastes, rather than actual moral guilt. Fashion, music, and food (especially unhealthier foods high in sugar and/or fat) can be examples of guilty pleasures
A true Readers' Advisor must resist this notion of some books being "better" than others because our entire profession revolves around the fact that reading anything has intrinsic value. RAs are non-judgmental. We need to treat the reader who only wants James Patterson titles the same as the one who only reads Tolstoy. They are equal patrons simply because they want to read something that they will enjoy. Our goal is to match readers with THEIR next good read, not OUR next good read. I have an entire lecture prepared on just this topic, but I will stop here for now.

However, all this being said, even the most serious reader needs an escape. So how do WE define "guilty pleasure." They key here is that it is a completely subjective definition. What I find a guilty pleasure may be a regular read, or even work, for someone else. We need to understand this distinction before even beginning the "guilty pleasure" discussion.

For example, I read a lot of horror books, but I would not call them "guilty pleasures" because this is part of my work. I am paid to read and write about horror books. Although I enjoy them immensely, there is nothing "guilty" about my reading them-- it is my job. On the other hand, I watch True Blood, each and every week on HBO for the pure guilty pleasure of it. For me, the show is pure fun, no brain cells needed, and that has a lot to do with why I like it so much.

For books, I will read a funny, cozy mystery or a best-selling suspense title as my guilty pleasure. But sometimes, you get a surprise with these books. Last year I read the first two Stieg Larsson titles in his Millennium trilogy. I thought they would be a guilty pleasure, and they were, but they were also two of my favorite books I read last year.

In music, I just love Justin Timberlake as my guilty pleasure. Yes, my favorite bands are more complex (Wilco and Richard Thompson) but I will stop and listen to anything by Justin Timberlake and I am not ashamed to admit it.

NPR has authors own up to what they read as a guilty pleasure and why in this regular series.

Everyone, no matter how high brow they think they are, needs a guilty pleasure. We all need to escape the seriousness of real life once in awhile and let go. So, today's Monday Discussion question is: What are your guilty pleasures? You can give me books, movies, music, tv...anything.

Remember, you can follow past Monday Discussions with comments, here.

Eisner Awards

Comic-Con 2010 - What's NewComic Con finished up over the weekend. Click here to see the full list of Eisner Awards for the best in Graphic Novels and Comics over the past year.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why Steig Larsson Is So Popular

  • The USA Today has run this article talking about why Stieg Larsson's books are so popular. Click through to see the article. However, I realized one of the main reasons, I had never thought about before: it is a beach read that both men and women can enjoy.

This is a great article for RAs to think about appeal and why people like what they like. For anyone who likes these books, it is a chance to be part of the larger conversation about these books.

Remember, I have numerous posts about Larsson's works with a quick click here. I am also full entrenched in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest on audio right now, so look for a report on that soon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

BPL Book Discussion: Brooklyn

Brooklyn: A NovelOn Monday my group at the BPL met to discuss Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin. Here is how Amazon summed up the novel when it was included in the May 2009 Best of the Month:
Committed to a quiet life in little Enniscorthy, Ireland, the industrious young Eilis Lacey reluctantly finds herself swept up in an unplanned adventure to America, engineered by the family priest and her glamorous, "ready for life" sister, Rose. Eilis's determination to embrace the spirit of the journey despite her trepidation--especially on behalf of Rose, who has sacrificed her own chance of leaving--makes a bittersweet center for Brooklyn. Colm Tóibín's spare portrayal of this contemplative girl is achingly lovely, and every sentence rings with truth. Readers will find themselves swept across the Atlantic with Eilis to a boarding house in Brooklyn where she painstakingly adapts to a new life, reinventing herself and her surroundings in the letters she writes home. Just as she begins to settle in with the help of a new love, tragedy calls her home to Enniscorthy, and her separate lives suddenly and painfully merge into one. Tóibín's haunted heroine glows on the page, unforgettably and lovingly rendered, and her story reflects the lives of so many others exiled from home.
Overall, I was disappointed in this book. I felt like it was all surface. Everything was laid out for you; there was no ambiguity. Quite honestly, I was shocked by how well it has been reviewed. I was also quite worried that we would have nothing to discuss. Thankfully I wrong on that front.

Here is the rundown of our discussion:
  • We had 16 people this month and the breakdown was 11 who liked the book and 5 who were so-so. Those who liked the book focused their reasoning on their attachment to Eilis. Those who were so-so, like myself, were less enamored by her. I actually wanted to scream at her to make a decision already, while another participant loved her for her major flaw, "that not to decide, is to decide."
  • The time period was something we all liked. We got to see Ireland and Brooklyn in the years immediately after WWII. These places were on the cusp of change, with one going down (rural Ireland) and one moving up (Brooklyn). We talked about this, and participants who have been to Ireland shared some stories of their travels.
  • Although we all agreed that Brooklyn can be classified as a "literary fiction beach read" or "literary fiction lite," we did like how it was not a typical "coming to America" story. This book is about the choice Eilis has to make between her old life and the new one in Brooklyn. It is the choice which is at the center of this novel.  However, there is no suspense here since the title is "Brooklyn," you really know what choice she will make from the start.
  • We spent time talking about Tony, Eilis' Italian-American boyfriend. Tony is perfect. He is a happy, caring man, with a great family. His flaws are that he is not educated, but he does have a trade (plumber) and a plan that the reader is lead to believe will pan out for a bright future. Personally, I thought he was too-good-to-be true, but that is not what the author wants you to think. We felt you were supposed to take Tony at face value. This bothered me personally, but my group said that was just how people really were "back then."
  • We moved from Tony the man, to Tony the literary device. I reminded the group that Toibin included Tony for a reason. So, I asked them, what is that reason?  Our answer: Tony serves as Eilis' opposite.  Tony is American while Eilis is still an immigrant. Tony has a happy, loving, close, and communicative family, while Eilis' is cold, distant, and unhappy. Tony wears his emotions on his sleeve while Eilis bottles everything up. Tony is there for Eilis to see another way to live, and he is there for us to see Eilis and her faults more clearly.
  • SPOILER ALTER: This then led to a discussion of Tony's insistence that they secretly marry before she returns to Ireland for her sister's funeral. We agreed he was smart to insist on this because as soon as she gets back, Eilis gets caught up with a local boy. She reverts back to the old Eilis. Which leads her to finally confront her mother and (sort of) stand up to her.
  • The mom! No one liked her. We thought she was controlling and manipulative. When she had Rose to take care of her everything was fine, but once Eilis returns for Rose's funeral it is as if she expects Eilis to give up her new life in America to stay in Ireland. The mom even hooked Eilis up with Rose's old job, lined up a possible husband, and filled Eilis closet with Rose's clothes. Eilis, who is not able to make decisions at all, easily falls back into the mode of being controlled. It is only when a local woman calls Eilis out and threatens to tell everyone that she is really married to an American man that Eilis comes clean. Her mom understands the wifely obligation, but does not see Eilis off. And in true Eilis form, she slinks off into the night to go back to America.
  • I did pose the question that if she hadn't married Tony before she left, what would have Eilis done? Would she have stayed and married Jim, or would she have returned to Brooklyn? 10 people said she would have stayed in Ireland and only 6 said she would have gone back to Tony. We then re-read a few lines toward the end of the book to get a better sense of Eilis' state of mind. She claims not to love Tony, but we questioned if she really understood love. It seems that when she is with Tony, she truly cares for him, but he is so different from everything she has ever known and this scares her a bit.
  • We spent a good deal of time ending Eilis' story. Since the book ends with her getting on the ship, we have no idea what her life with Tony will be like. We don't even know what is in the letters Tony wrote her while she was back in Ireland because Eilis never opens them. So, I asked, what happens? We all agreed that Tony's plan will work out and he and his brothers will become successful builders on Long Island. They will all live there near each other and Eilis will be their accountant. Eventually we felt Eilis' mom would come to America and live with them; not because Eilis wants her to, but because family is so important to Tony and he would insist they care for her.  Everyone felt Eilis would have a happy life, and as long as she could have children, things would work out.  But I was concerned that being forced to be a stay-at-home mom would stifle the ambitious Eilis and that she may end up unhappy in about 20 years. No one else agreed with me however.
Readalikes: NoveList has a few suggestions for readalikes including A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry, Ireland by Frank Delaney, The Gathering by Anne Enright, Love and Summer by William Trevor.

However, these are all only about Ireland or Irish immigrants to America.  I would also suggest reading Pete Hamill whose novels contemplate the broader immigrant experience in America with a  focus on the Irish. If you want a specific suggestion, our group discussed North River here and I read Forever here (scroll to the bottom of the post).

If you do want more Irish suggestions, click here.

I also think one of the major appeals of this novel is the story of a young girl facing hard choices about her life as she emerges into adulthood.  Other coming-of-age stories about imperfect, young women facing their first big adult choices that I would suggest are: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson or The Last Girls by Lee Smith.

Finally, I joked during the discussion that I would like to see part 2 of this story: Eilis in the suburbs of Long Island in the 1960s, but that would be a more dystopian novel in the vein of Revolutionary Road, The Ice Storm, or Little Children, Aloft which I read here.

Flashback Fridays: Loving Frank

Loving Frank: A NovelTwo year ago this week, my book discussion group tackled Loving Frank: A Novel by Nancy Horan.  I had forgotten just how great that discussion was.

Click here to see what we talk about.

Re-reading the post reminds me of what a great choice this title is for any book group, or as a summer reading option for a historical fiction fan.  Interestingly, although the protagonist here is a woman, I know many men who have greatly enjoyed this novel.

Again, click through to the post if you want to know more about it. Also, look later today for my report on what we discussed this past Monday in the July 2010 discussion of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.

You can follow previous installments of Flashback Fridays with a quick click here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shirley Jackson: Great American Novelist

See, I am not the only one spreading the Shirley Jackson love around.  Click here to access Salon.com senior writerLaura Miller's essay as to why Shirley Jackson should be getting more respect outside of genre circles.

Eight Books That Deserve a Graphic Novel Treatment

Recently I have been noticing that many of the new graphic novel releases are simply re-tellings of more traditional print titles. I am apparently not the only one as Paste Magazine recently noted:
Earlier this month, we found out two iconic (in very different ways) literary works were being given the graphic-novel treatment. Sea Lion Books announced their interpretation of Paulo Coelho’s spiritual journey The Alchemist, featuring art by Daniel Sampere. Then, last week, the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam announced they will be creating an illustrated version Frank’s famous diary, with Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon (the duo behind the graphic novel of the 9/11 commission report) at the helm. And prior to his death this week, one of the great Harvey Pekar’s last projects was a graphic-novel adaptation of Studs Terkel’s working-class gem Working
So in the spirit of "if you can't beat them, join them.," Paste Magazine continued this article by noting "Eight Literary Works That Deserve a Graphic Novel Treatment."

I will repost the list, but you will have to click through for their reasonings. I hope somebody's agent is reading this. Could you imagine Steig Larsson's Millenium Trilogy as a graphic novel? Awesome!

8. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Marquez
7. Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
6. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
5. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
4. Hell’s Angels: A Strange And Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson
3. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and the rest of the Millennium trilogy) by Stieg Larsson
1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon       

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Browser's Corner Update

Our fearless RA leader at BPL, Kathy, has been busy adding annotations and lists to The Browser's Corner. A whole new batch is there if you want to take a look. Click here for the blog and here for the suggested reading lists including my Sookie Stackhouse Readalikes which I posted about here.

The physicial shelf that houses the books has been a big success. I love how well the combination of an online and in-library presecence is working out. We have some patrons who only consider what is on the shelf at the moment, but we also have those who have learned to use the blog as a resource of recommended reads.

No matter where you live, check out our staff suggestions anywhere, anytime. Now I am off to finish up a fresh batch of suggestions for Kathy to use to keep the Browser's Corner going strong.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer Reading With You Kids

As an adult librarian, I do not regularly help children find books to read, mostly because I am not qualified enough to help them properly. However, as a parent myself, and as I help adult patrons, I am often asked about books families can read together.

I have a mental list of suggestion, many of which are fantasy selections or Newbery winners, but thanks to my husband, I found a better list.

Time Out Chicago published this list of book pairing matching the book you are reading with a suggestion for you kids. I love how this list does not force an adult to read a kids book.  Rather it has some very grown up suggestions (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) paired with a more kid friendly book (Pippi Longstocking) so that you can share the similarities together but each enjoy a book that is appropriate to you.

I have re-posted the list below for those too lazy to click through. Even if you do not have kids, this is a quality list of "good reads."

YOU’RE READING Let the Great World Spin (Random House), Colum McCann’s collection of interwoven short stories that take place in New York City around the time high-wire artist Philippe Petit walked on a cable between the two towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.
YOUR KIDS CAN READ The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook Press), a Caldecott Medal–winning picture book that chronicles Petit’s daredevil feat with lyric prose and whimsical illustrations.

YOU’RE READING The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Vintage), the final installment of Stieg Larsson’s Swedish thriller trilogy and probably the hottest book anywhere right now.
YOUR KIDS CAN READ Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren’s stories about young adventurers Pippi Longstocking and Kalle Blomkvist (Bill Bergson in the English translation), which take place in the same locale. The deceased Larsson was reportedly a big fan of Lindgren and gave his character Blomkvist the mocking nickname Kalle to pay homage to her.

YOU’RE READING The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (Penguin), the stomach-turning look up and down the American food chain.
YOUR KIDS CAN READ The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What You Eat (Dial), a shortened and simplified young-adult version of the grown-up one that’ll make Junior think twice about that Big Mac.

YOU’RE READING Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave (Simon & Schuster), about a horrific event that intertwines the fates of a teenage Nigerian orphan and a well-to-do British couple.
YOUR KIDS CAN READ The BFG by Roald Dahl (Puffin), a literary classic that Cleave chronicled reading to his own kids in his popular Guardian newspaper column, “Down with the Kids.”

YOU’RE READING The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage Books), Mark Haddon’s strange and sweet mystery written from the point of view of an autistic British boy trying to crack the case of a murdered neighborhood poodle.
YOUR KIDS CAN READ The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (Yearling), a popular young-adult book about a boy with Asperger’s syndrome who solves the mystery of how his cousin disappeared while riding the London Eye.

YOU’RE READING Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Society’s Most Pressing Needs by Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus (PublicAffairs), an outline of Yunus’s no-dividend business model that’s being hailed as the solution to today’s financial, food and energy crises.
YOUR KIDS CAN READ Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins (Charlesbridge Publishing), an upper-elementary read about a young Bangladeshi kid struggling with her family’s financial problems and her place in the family as a girl, who traditionally cannot work or earn money.

YOUR KID IS READING The Lion and the Mouse (Little, Brown), Aesop’s classic fable illustrated with magnificent, bold drawings by artist Jerry Pinkney.
YOU CAN READ Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and illustrated by Pickney (University of Illinois) with intricate interpretive drawings by the artist, who turned to the medium because of severe dyslexia.

YOUR KID IS READING The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown), a wildly popular young-adult read about a Native-American teen who leaves his reservation to attend an all-white high school.
YOU CAN READ The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (Grove Press), a collection of short stories for adults about life on a Spokane Indian reservation that’s also by Alexie, who wrote the screenplay for the film Smoke Signals. Then borrow the Absolutely True Diary from your kids. It’s that good.