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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What I'm Reading: Solar

SolarRecently, I listened to Ian McEwan's latest novel, Solar. McEwan is one of my favorite authors in general and Solar specifically won this year's Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction. If you like your humor, dark, uncomfortable, and sarcastic (like me) you will love this novel.

Solar is classic McEwan. For example, in NoveList (accessible here for BPL patrons), McEwan's writing style is described as follows:
Ian McEwan's books are haunting, eloquent, precise investigations of how discrete events loom large in the human psyche. His novels are suspenseful and feature subjects of contemporary relevance, often with political undertones, that readers reflect on long after finishing. McEwan's topics are varied and creative, but his stories often involve a sudden event that turns the direction of an ordinary life, forcing the intelligent and reflective character to cope. McEwan also uses disturbing violence to expose the moment when a character's nature is stripped to the bone.
Solar is exactly as described above. Here our protagonist is long past his prime, Nobel prize-winning psysicist Michael Beard. His personal life is a huge mess. His 5th marriage is crumbling, his career is at a standstill. He has half-heartedly become a spokesperson for the British fight against global warming.

He manages to reappropriate the work of an underling on Solar energy and turn himself into a scientific superstar once again. The reader watches, cringing and laughing all the way, as Beard makes bad decision after bad decision in his personal and professional life, leading to a conclusion in which every loose end is tied up and Beard must pay the ultimate price for his choices.

Beard is fun to watch, but we do not ever like him. We feel sorry for him, maybe, but this is more a story where the reader is meant to observe the protagonist, not relate to him. I personally loved McEwan's descriptions of the horrific state of Beard's falling apart flat.  It was in an awful state; so bad that it is comic. There are literally mushrooms growing inside.  But does Beard deal with it? Of course not. He is unable to deal with anything. And when he does take action, he makes awful choices.

Also hilarious is Beard's ill fated trip to the Arctic. Just read it and try not to laugh.

I also loved how McEwan was able to bring together every single subplot into a highly comic, tragic, but inevitable conclusion. Every bad decision Beard has made throughout the book, comes back to literally "get him" in the end, all at once, in the middle of the desert in New Mexico.  Like most McEwan books, things do not end well for our protagonist, but we are not surprised (there is no way things could have ended well for Beard). The novel ends with the one bright moment in Beard's life, reminding the reader, that before his downfall began, Beard did do good for the world.

Is this book, or McEwan for that matter, for every reader? No. But you need to decide that for yourself. It is dark, but seriously, there are some scenes which are so perfectly constructed, that I laughed out loud as I listened.  I do suggest listening to this book if you can. The language is so thoughtfully crafted that I appreciated it even more as a listener.  Personally, I loved this short, sarcastic look at the scientific community, green energy, and misanthropy. It was the perfect mix of the thought-provoking, funny, and dark that I love in my novels.

Three Words That Describe This Book: darkly comic, character-centered, misanthropic

Readalikes: McEwan's darkly comic tone is very similar to Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, which I will review soon. Both poke fun at bring "green," both feature highly flawed, self absorbed protagonists, and both have sarcastic, single word titles that sum up the irony of their overarching themes.

In general, McEwan is most similar to Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth, Martin Amis and Kazuo Ishiguro in writing style, theme, and character development.

After reading Solar, readers may be interested in solar energy and how feasible it would be to bring cheap solar power to the masses. Here is a book to get you started. Ironically, it has a blurb from Bill Richardson, New Mexico's Governor; the state in which McEwan sets the third act of his novel. McEwan would love this irony.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

BPL Displays: September 2010

We have 2 new displays up at the BPL. The first,on the small display, is our annual display in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.  This year the annotated list highlights some literary fiction offerings.

The tall display has actually been up for awhile and makes me happy every time I walk past it. It features "patron picks." Why does it make me so happy though? Well, this summer, our fearless leader, Kathy, had the idea that we should ask the adult summer reading participants to not only write down the titles of the books they read, but also, to rank their favorites using a star system.

We then compiled the highest rated books read this past summer and put them out in the display, adding our own annotated list.

But it is the range of books contained in this display that makes me so happy. I am happy because I am proud of our patrons for reading so many different types of books. I am happy because I am proud of our staff for the work we do each and every day, helping our readers, and making suggestions, which led to this amazing breadth of books. I also saw books on this display that I know were put in a patron's hand by one of our staff.

Another side benefit of this display is that it is serving as a perfect browsing collection. Readers and staff know that these shelves hold a cross section of what the patrons at the BPL like to read. When I am stumped and cannot come up with an idea on what to suggest to a patron a few months from now, I will return to the pick list for this display to help.

To see our archived annotated lists go to the Suggested Reading Lists page on the BPL website.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Content on the BPL Site

A few months ago, former RA Department Head (once removed) Briana moved into her new role at the BPL as our IT Librarian. Basically her job is to focus on our patron's virtual experience with the library. In other words, just because you access the library virtually doesn't mean we care about you any less than the people who come in the physical building.

One of the first things Briana did was to streamline our website, remove the librarian mumbo jumbo and simply give you, the patron, much simpler choices:
So now, if you want to access the RA content, you click on Services-Adults  and not only access the RA content, but also the Reference/Nonfiction content and AV. You actual don't have to know what you want now, just if you want adult or youth materials. Thanks to Briana's reorganization, patrons can see their full range of options opening up in front of them.

She has also organized the Meet the Staff Page. Now we are all on one page with links to our Shelfari shelves (if we have one) and our blogs (again, if we have one). It is a great way to see who we all are, what we are reading, and what we are blogging about, all in one place.

Personally, I am very happy with the changes. I think they all help the patrons to have a better virtual experience with the library. I also think these changes encourage the staff to work together more, which is good for us and the patrons.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Discussion: Banned Books Week Edition

As I mentioned here, it is Banned Books Week. This ALA sponsored event is sometimes confusing to patrons. Let me explain. Each year, the ALA releases a list of the books challenged, restricted, removed, or banned over the last year. Here is this year's list.

So, not all of the books have been banned per se, but all of them have been challenged by someone who felt he or she could tell the rest of the world what we can read. I cannot even begin to understand the hubris of someone who thinks their opinion should be the final word on any issue. And protecting children is a bad excuse, since I have small children myself.

What surprises me every year is the books that are being challenged. Take this script from an ALA produced public service announcement:
Catcher in the Rye . . . Of Mice and Men . . . Harry Potter . . .
What's your favorite book? Chances are good that someone has tried to ban it. Celebrate YOUR freedom to read during Banned Books Week, September  25 to October 2.
This list of three must have books for any public or school library in America makes the whole idea of challenging books indefensible in my opinion.Oh, and these books are regularly challenged here in America. We cannot ignore these warnings by thinking it is happening "somewhere else."

Aren't convinced yet? Also from the ALA's promotional materials: "Ten most farfetched (silliest, irrational, illogical) reasons to ban a book."
  1. “Encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” ( A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstien)
  2. “It caused a wave of rapes.” ( Arabian Nights, or Thousand and One Nights, anonymous)
  3. “If there is a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?” ( Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown)
  4. “Tarzan was ‘living in sin’ with Jane.” ( Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs)
  5. “It is a real ‘downer.’” ( Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank)
  6. “The basket carried by Little Red Riding Hood contained a bottle of wine, which condones the use of alcohol.” ( Little Red Riding Hood, by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm K. Grimm)
  7. “One bunny is white and the other is black and this ‘brainwashes’ readers into accepting miscegenation.” ( The Rabbit’s Wedding, by Garth Williams)
  8. “It is a religious book and public funds should not be used to purchase religious books.” ( Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, by Walter A. Elwell, ed.)
  9. “A female dog is called a bitch.” ( My Friend Flicka, by Mary O’Hara)
  10. “An unofficial version of the story of Noah’s Ark will confuse children.” ( Many Waters, by Madeleine C. L’Engle) 
These are actual reasons why people wanted books removed from a library.

The biggest concern I have these days though is the challenges from the left.  For example, in this year's list, there is a description of the refusal of the German government to allow a republication of Hitler's Mein Kampf because it would "fuel support of far-right groups." Banning this book is dangerous. Germans (actually everyone) need to understand their history, the good and the bad, so that they are not destined to repeat it. And this is coming from a person (me) whose family had to flee Hitler. This is the same argument that comes up just about every year when people want to ban The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it using disparaging words to describe African Americans. This argument is just as disturbing to me.

Personally, I am glad that librarians take the lead in exposing the scary truth about censorship in our modern age, but I am also saddened by the fact that we need to have this celebration of the freedom to read.

So today, in honor of Banned Books week, for the Monday Discussion, please share your thoughts and feelings about Banned Books Week, your opinions about censorship, and, if you have one, a story about someone trying to ban a book.

You can also follow and comment on past Monday Discussions here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Horror Site Getting Press

In case you missed it, RA for All: Horror is gaining attention as we move toward the Halloween season. Over on the Library Journal blog Shelfrenewal, Rebecca Vnuk named the site this week's Web Crush of the Week. Thanks Rebecca.

Subscriptions are rising, the new horror 2010 list is posted, and some of my newest material is now available here in the power point from last week's ARRT presentation.

So what's your excuse for not checking out RA for All: Horror. Are you too scared? As I always say, you shouldn't be afraid our your horror patrons,. They are not monsters, they just like to read about them. Let me help you to help them better. Halloween is just around the corner.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Banned Books Week 2010

Banned Books Week begins tomorrow. Click here for the official press kit.

I happen to be one of those librarians who wears her "I read banned books" pin all year round, but I am always looking for new ways to celebrate Banned Books Week.

Thanks to the folks who put out the weekly American Libraries Direct, a newsletter that goes out to ALA members, I found this article entitled, "The Dirty Dozen: Twelve Books Guaranteed To Turn (Almost) Anyone Into a Censor."

The ALA Direct newsletter also suggested this traveling expedition of 50 books that are "Mad, bad, and dangerous to read," produced by the city of London's public libraries.

Check them out!  And keep reading whatever you want, whenever you want.

Readers on the Go

One of RA for All's faithful readers, wrote this article highlighting 10 Apps for Readers on the Go. 

I am not the biggest fan of reading books electronically, but this article makes the point that enough people have and use their mobile devices to read books that we need to pay attention. This I agree with.

However, the list is missing one major app that any reader on the go needs, the mobile site from their local library. Here's the one from mine.

Public libraries want their patrons to have full access to their web sites from anywhere, and this could include downloadable audio or books (if the library offers these services). Library mobile sites try to make the entire scope of library web services available with a smart phone or Blackberry. So, for many readers on the go, their library's url may be the only app they need. And, it is free!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

BPL Book Discussion: Await Your Reply

Await Your Reply: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)On Monday, our book group met to discuss Dan Chaon's literary, psychological suspense novel, Await Your Reply.  On Monday, I had posted these questions which I wrote in order to lead the discussion. Chaon himself commented on the questions too.

Also, many of you may recall that I read this novel back in January and loved it! Here is the link to my full review.

From that post, I will share some plot info before I being with the notes from our discussion:
The plot is pretty simple.  There are three stories of three different people who are searching for someone or something.  The novel is also comprised of 3 sections.  In Part 1, each of the three "stories" is quite separate.  Each chapter follows one of the stories, alternating for the entire section.

In Part 2, little parts of each story start to blend together.  Terms, places, names, etc... repeat in what were once separate narratives.  This makes you uncomfortable as a reader, leading to a chaotic and violent ending to Part 2.

Are you with me? I still have Part 3 to describe, but I do need to mention that this layered story telling style means Await Your Reply needs to be read in just a few sittings in order for you to best enjoy the unsettling tone Chaon is consciously constructing.

Okay, back tot he novel. Part 3 rounds out the novel and by its conclusion everything is explained. For the surviving characters things are happy, but open ended. There is a big twist in Part 3 which explains why everything is so unsettling and confusing, but I will not ruin it here. Let's just say you should think outside the box if you want to figure it out.
Again, for the full review click here.

Now on to our discussion.
  • Of our 12 participants 6 liked the book, 1 did not, and 5 gave it the so-so rating. 8 also admitted to feeling confused. However, we unanimously agreed that this was an extremely well written, clever, and interestingly constructed book. Later in the discussion I brought up the fact that in the almost 10 years we have been meeting, we spent the most time ever discussing the literary aspects of the novel, delving deeply into the themes, and talking about the way it was written.  We all found this highly satisfying.
  • Many who voted for not liking the book said that this feeling was mostly driven by the fact that they did not like any of the characters enough to be invested in their stories. But, another participant countered by saying this book was theme driven, not plot or character driven so she did not mind that they characters were all severely flawed. She was propelled by the issues of identity, who was who, and how they would all be worked out. Our group consensus on this point was stated by yet another participant when she said it was fun to read intellectually, but it was unsatisfying emotionally.
  • Obviously, we needed to talk about the construction of the novel which is mentioned in my plot summary above. Overall we agreed that this fractured storytelling enhanced our reading of the novel. For example, one member said you could not help but think about the main issue of identity since you were always questioning "who is who." One person however, did say she did not enjoy the book's construction because she felt "manipulated" by Chaon. I countered by saying that she is right, she was manipulated by Chaon, but that was the point.
  • We loved Chaon's use of small details to enhance the unsettling tone of the story. Singled out by the group were making Hayden and Miles' dad a magician, the recurring use of the "lighthouse," and the isolated, unique, and quirky settings. Specifically, we loved the settings and thought they enhanced the story greatly. Since many participants were not emotionally invested in any of the characters, they loved that the settings "added flavor" since they were "extreme" and "dreamlike."
  • Next we tackled the main character, who we are going to call Hayden because we think that is his birth name. although if this book taught us one thing, what his name is, what our name is, might not matter. But Hayden did show us that no matter the identity you take on, you are still the same person. In Hayden's case no matter how hard he tries to become someone else, things will never work out the way he wants them to.
  • We then talked about our own identities a bit. Does it matter what we call ourselves? We decided that no, your name is just what people call you. You are who you are no matter what name you go by. 
  • I liked this comment: Hayden has a hole to fill in himself, and he seeks out others with holes in their lives; holes he hopes to fill.
  •  We spent a good deal of time talking about the book's strengths. We agreed that Chaon's creation of an unsettling feeling is a big plus to this novel. You really have no idea what is coming next. We also thought it was "brilliant" to start with the most violent scene. We were primed and waiting for more violence, but it never came; only the retelling of this scene. The fact that he created all of this unease and dread without resorting to graphic language or violence was remarkable to us.
  • In terms of weaknesses, although the group enjoyed reading this book for a discussion group, a few wished that there were more "likable" characters. I asked what they thought happened to Lucy, Ryan, and Miles as a result of their run-ins with Hayden? But most people said, they really didn't care. They were happy that they made it through their ordeals, but did not want to know more.
  • When we did our usual activity of trying to describe the book in a few words, Some words that came up: depressing, nihilistic, hopeless, upsetting, confusing, and enjoyable. One participant was unsettled by the fact that she felt Chaon was saying to her that she was either the victim or the con.
  • The last point I want to bring up includes HUGE SPOILERS!!! So skip to the readalikes sections if you don't want to know the book's big twist. Okay, those of you still with me, here it is. I asked the group when they figured out that all three story lines were one story of Hayden and his different aliases and that the time line was purposely "messed up" to confuse the reader and enhance the themes. Some said it took until the last chapter. Others said they thought early on that Miles and Hayden were actually one person but that he had a split personality. I figured it out when the real Jay meets up with Hayden at the Denver airport. Still another participant said she was forced to take a break in the middle of the book due to hosting house guests. When she came back to it, she was making herself a chart of characters in order to get back into it and realized that Hayden, George, and Jay had to be the same person.
Readalikes: Our group talked about the similarities we found to Alfred Hitchcock stories and movies, specifically Vertigo with its focus on identity. Another member saw some connections to the Stieg Larsson books especially with all of the computer hacking. I had not thought of this, but I think she has a great point. They also both share a gritty, unsettling tone. We also talked about how similar in theme Await Your Reply is to Catch Me If You Can, a nonfiction book about a real person who in the mid-20th Century stole people's identities, only instead of computers, he did it through check fraud.  This led to a side discussion about what a great Hayden Leonardo DiCaprio would make (he played the lead in the movie version of Catch Me If You Can).

I must be getting through to the group, because all of these readalike (and watch alike) suggestions came throughout the course of the discussion, without any prodding from me.

I do have a few more suggestions from the first time I read Await Your Reply to share. You can click through for more, but here is a sampling to leave you with for this month:
In the acknowledgments, Chaon mentions many of his favorite authors who inspired him throughout his life and to whom he paid homage to in this book.  A few of these really work as readalikes for this specific book and I would like to point them out here. Ray Bradbury, Patricia Highsmith, and Peter Straub would all be good choices if you liked Await Your Reply.
Next month we are reading and discussion The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fall 2010 Nonfiction Preview

I inspired myself yesterday, so here is a link to a full list, with calendar, of the big, not to be missed, nonfiction coming out this Fall. Thanks to the folks at Books on the Nightstand for compiling this.

Also, don't forget to check out my post from earlier this month in which I provided a more fiction focused Fall 2010 preview.

Please feel free to pass on any other titles you or your patrons are looking forward to, especially if you do not see them on any of the lists I have posted.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nonfiction RA: Books About Our Favorite Authors

Yesterday as I was driving to work, I heard an interview on Morning Edition with the official biographer of Roald Dahl, Donald Sturrock.  His new biography of the great writer entitled, Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl, came out last week.

Here is the direct link to the interview.

If you read my post yesterday, where I described how I like my books to make me feel unsettled, than you can understand that I am a huge fan of Dahl's work. I really enjoyed listening to Sturrock talk about Dahl's life and will probably check the book out soon.

However, my enjoyment of this interview got me thinking about how I often forget to suggest books about the life of a favorite author to my patrons. Many of my patrons would love to read a well done, engaging biography about a beloved author, yet, I rarely, if ever suggest one.

No more, this interview has reminded me to think of the writer biography more. I pledge to try to remember to ask readers who really enjoy one specific author if they are interested in not only books by that author, but also books about said author.

Another nonfiction path to take with fans of a specific author or genre is to suggest books in which authors talk about their personal favorites. Again, another newer title reminded me of this.  Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads was just published by the Thriller Writers Inc this summer. From their website:
The most riveting reads in history meet today's biggest thriller writers in Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads.
Edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner, Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads examines 100 seminal works of suspense through essays contributed by such esteemed modern thriller writers as: David Baldacci, Steve Berry, Sandra Brown, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, Heather Graham, John Lescroart, Gayle Lynds, Katherine Neville, Michael Palmer, James Rollins, R. L. Stine, and many more.
Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads features 100 works - from Beowulf to The Bourne Identity, Dracula to Deliverance, Heart of Darkness to The Hunt for Red October - deemed must-reads by the International Thriller Writers organization.
Much more than an anthology, Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads goes deep inside the most notable thrillers published over the centuries. Through lively, spirited, and thoughtful essays that examine each work's significance, impact, and influence, Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads provides both historical and personal perspective on those spellbinding works that have kept readers on the edge of their seats for centuries.
I have many thriller and suspense readers who would love to try something new and a title suggested by one of their favorite authors might just do the trick.

Basically, with this post I am reminding myself and all of you out there, be you a librarian or reader (or both), to remember that nonfiction books about authors and books is an often overlooked readalike option for a wide range of readers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Await Your Reply Discussion Questions

This afternoon my group discussed Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. I will post the notes of our discussion in the next few days, but in the meantime, I thought I would post the discussion questions I created for this title.

I have to say, I was quite surprised that there were not ones available from the publisher. That being said, I really enjoyed creating these questions. Feel free to use them for your group. If you want to know more about Await Your Reply, click here and see what I had to say about it when I read it for the first time back in January.

Here are my questions:

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
Discussion Questions

  1. Await Your Reply is written in a very deliberate style with 3 separate storylines, told in 3 separate sections. Did this style enhance the story for you? Did it take anything away?
  1. Await Your Reply is an example of psychological suspense. The story tries to unsettle you, the reader. How does Chaon achieve this atmosphere of uneasiness? As a reading experience, did you enjoy it? What other books or films does this novel remind you of.
  1. One of the main themes of this novel is the question of identity. What makes up a person’s identity? Is identity as fluid as Hayden believes? After reading the book and seeing how Hayden’s story ends, what do you think Chaon’s opinion on identity is?
  1. Miles is extremely loyal to Hayden, Lucy is loyal to “George,” and Ryan is loyal to Jay despite warning signs that they should be more wary. How do issues of loyalty and betrayal play out in this book? What is Chaon saying about loyalty? Do you agree?
  1. Await Your Reply is disturbing and unsettling, yet, the sympathetic characters do not meet a bad end themselves and the main antagonist does “get what he deserves.” That being said, overall did you find this book uplifting, depressing, or neither?
  1. “Hayden used to be obsessed with orphans,” Miles remembers in Cahpter 16. This novel is filled with characters who have lost parents. Why is the loss of a parent, being an orphan, of such interest to Hayden? How does it fit with the overall themes of the book?
  1. What were the strengths and weaknesses of Await Your Reply as you see them?
  1. Did you feel the characters were well-developed? What about Hayden? Since he constantly changes his identity and uses parts of the identity of others, did you feel like you knew and understood him by the book’s conclusion or are you still guessing? Who were your favorite characters?
  1. Did you enjoy the “ride” Chaon takes you in this psychological thriller? Were you happy with the conclusion? What was your favorite part?
  1. This book takes place in a lot of exotic and just plain odd locations. What did you make of the various settings? Did you feel they were central to the plot? Did they help enhance the story and its main themes for you, or were they a distraction?
  1. What do you think of the time line of this novel? Have you worked out which story happened when? Does it matter if it is all set straight in your mind at the end or is it okay to still be a bit uncertain? What are the author’s intentions at the end?
  1. When did you “get it?” what was the most revealing scene for you in terms of figuring out Chaon’s big twist in his storytelling?
  1. Was this story believable? Chaon goes out of his way to put enough detail in the story to explain how Hayden steals people’s identity to make it believable, yet while in Canada, Miles questions how Hayden could do all of bad things people think he has done? The brother he knows is no criminal mastermind.
  2. What do you think will happen to Lucy? Miles? Ryan? 

Monday Discussion: What's Your Favorite Feeling?

In past Monday Discussions I have asked about people's favorite frames in their reading. Today I have a similar question. What mood, tone, or feeling do you most look for in your leisure reading choices? In other words, how do you want the book you are reading to make you feel?

I realize this question has different answers based on what is going in your life at the moment. For example, I have a patron who normally loves literary fiction and mysteries, but now, she is going through a rough time as her husband was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Both she and those of us at the RA desk who have been helping her to find her next good read for the last 10 years all need to switch gears. Now we are trying to find her "nice," "happy," "easy on the mind and spirit" reads. For the next year or so, this will be her main appeal determination.

But all things being equal, what is your "go to" feeling? Right now? In general? How has it changed over the years?

For me, this is easy. I most enjoy books that make me feel unsettled.When I look back at my favorite books, no matter the genre, when the overall mood and tone of the book is a bit off, I enjoy it more.  For example, three of my favorite classics are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Twice-Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. The only feature these books share is the unsettling feeling they elicit from the reader.

This mood is not limited to a genre; however, the most common genres it appears in are literary fiction, psychological suspense, and literary fiction. So, it should come as no surprise that these are my favorite genres. I like this mood all of the time, but even more so when I am stressed because the dark and unsettling things in the book are way worse than what is going on in my life. It gives me perspective.

Suspense and mystery have a such a range of moods and tones that it is really imperative that I have a way to assess the book's mood before diving into it.  This is why I spend so much time training librarians and library students to be able to both determine and articulate a book's tone and mood to potential readers. After pacing, I think it is the biggest issue that readers do not articulate a preference for in the casual RA interaction. The librarian must come out and ask the patron what kind of mood they are looking for at that moment. Their answer makes a huge difference in terms of what I would suggest.

So again, I ask you, what is your go-to mood? Right now? In general? How has it changed over the years?

You can also follow past Monday Discussions here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Becky’s 10 Rules of Basic RA Service:

This morning I am at the Fond du Lac Public Library's in-service day presenting my program RA for All: Basic Readers' Advisory for All Library Staff.

We will be doing a lot of exercises and discussing how to best help all of the leisure readers who walk into the library.  It is a fun 80 or so minutes all about how to talk about books and reading, and really, if you work in a library, how can you not love that.

I base the entire presentation on "Becky's 10 Rules of Basic RA service."  Over the years I have found that if you stick to these 10 rules, you can provide good, basic readers' advisory service to just about any patron. Obviously, there is a point at which a more fully trained staff member may need to step in. But, since most patrons think everyone who works in a library (from the high school pages to the Department Heads) is a librarian and is qualified to talk about "good books," every staff member needs training in the basics of how to help patrons find their next good read. A nice outcome of this presentation, is that it also encourages staff to begin sharing what they are reading with each other, which goes a long way toward providing their patrons with better service.

You can access the full handout with resources here, but I here are the 10 Rules:

1.) Betty Rosenberg: “Never apologize for your reading tastes.”
2.) Suggest don’t Recommend.
3.) Everyone reads a different version of the same book.
4.) Write down adjectives about what you read; plot you can find.
5.) Read widely (at least speed read widely).
6.) Read about books (RSS feeds).
7.) Share what you read- with staff and patrons.
8.) Never let a patron leave unsatisfied.
9.) Get out from behind the desk.
10.)Get involved in creating displays.

If you are interested in having me come to your library to present this or any other program program, click here. Please note, however, I have a limited appearance schedule this Fall, but am wide open in 2011.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

October is National Book Club Month

I know it is only the middle of September, but with my book club scheduled to meet on Monday, this post on Book Group Buzz reminded me that back in 2007, the Women's National Book Association designated October National Book Club Month to promote reading groups and to just encourage reading in general.

One of the best things they produce for this celebration is a list of "Great Group Reads."

Although my group picks our titles in 6 month blocks and we are not due to pick again until November, I always refer to this list when providing my group with a list of possible choices to vote on. I also like to peruse past year's lists to get more ideas.  Here is the link to 2009's list.

The point I am making here is that when you are choosing books for your group, you do not need to have the newest titles in order to have a successful group. Take a look at our current schedule at the BPL and you will see we are reading and discussing books both new and old.

This year's Great Group Reads list (appended below) includes one title our group is scheduled to discuss in November, Little Bee by Chris Cleave; otherwise the list contains 12 other titles we didn't even consider back in May when we voted on our July-December titles. I can guarantee you a few of these titles will be on our ballot for January-June 2011.

Besides this year's list, if you go to the site, you can read the committees annotations on the titles and/or use this link to access their National Book Club Month toolkit to promote National Book Club Month at your library. Now for the list (click through on each title for more details)t:

2010 Selections
Blame by Michelle Huneven
The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle
Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship by Cathie Beck
Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The Lotus Eatersby Tatjana Soli
Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin
Room by Emma Donoghue
Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye
Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Weeding is always a tough process for librarians and patrons and over the weekend The Library Chick had this post talking about some of her problems with their current wedding project. Click through to see her full post.

I posted this comment to her:
Weeding is always hard. What I tell new staff and patrons who are concerned about us getting rid of books is that we are a local public library, not a repository of every book ever written. We would love to keep every book, but we have limited shelf space. Our goal is to have the best general interest collection we can. We need to be efficient and effective with the space we have.

Of course, some local libraries do have special areas of interest. For example, my library's town (Berwyn, IL) is famous for its bungalow style homes, so we have a large collection on information about these homes. We keep pretty much everything on the topic.

I think focusing on the efficient and effective collection issue is key. You need a Hoover biography, but just one and hopefully there is consensus on the best one. Also, remind people that ILL is a fabulous thing and they can have that musty old Hoover bio when or if they want it through World Cat; or, they are welcome to take the discarded copy right now.

Good Luck with the weeding project. And, thanks for bringing up the topic. Weeding is a huge part of collection development; it is just not as fun as buying new books.

Without a solid commitment to weeding, all of our collection development work is for naught. It is hard for patrons and librarians to watch books being "thrown away," but we cannot keep everything; we have neither the space nor the money. That is the mission of The Library of Congress and they can barely keep up.

In order to make our collections useful to  public library patrons, the professional librarians need to continually take the pulse of their collections, asses its strengths and weaknesses, make decisions about replacing worn materials, add where there are holes, and delete where necessary.

There is not enough about weeding in library school collection development classes. In fact, I go out of my way to add it to my customer service class in the RA course I teach. The students are always appreciative of my frank comments about the necessity of weeing, and continuously tell me that the 10 minutes I spend talking about it to them, is the most they hear about weeding in library school.

Weeding is a customer service. Having your shelves neat, in order, and as efficient and effective as possible, helps users. They should not have to, for example, wade through 10 out of date biographies to find the 2 that are the best and most respected. They should be able to come into the library knowing that the collection in front of them (or at least the catalog is the book is checked out) represents the most current and best received materials of general interest. That is, considering population size, budget and spacing. But this is why libraries hire professionally trained librarians instead of just general book lovers.

Each time I go out and do a RA training at other libraries, I also mention weeding. No matter the topic I am talking on, weeding has a place in the discussion.

Thanks to The Library Chick for venting her frustrations and bringing up this touchy topic.  And, to end on a fun note, you can always turn all of your withdrawn books into a new RA desk.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Introducing My New Blog-- RA for All: Horror

As I have hinted here before, I have begun a new venture. Introducing RA for All: Horror! Below you can see the text of the first post, which explains it all. I have already transferred most of the horror content from RA for All on to the new horror site.

I will be going over the site in detail for those of you who are attending my presentation in Downers Grove on 9/21 (room still available; click here to register; you can register up to the day of)

From the "About this Blog" page:
After 3 years of writing RA for All I have learned many things. The first is that a successful blog takes time and effort to run.

Which leads me to the second thing I have learned; that if you put in the time and effort and you have something coherent and educational to say, people will read your blog and, more importantly, appreciate it.

Finally, I have learned that what I do to showcase the work we Readers' Advisors do in the trenches on RA for All needs to stay separate from my other big professional goal, which is to help librarians match horror readers with their next good read.

So, to that end, and in conjunction with the impending publication (2011) of a completely revised Horror Readers' Advisory, second edition, I am going to be posting all horror related posts on this blog. I will update RA for All readers when new content will be available here on RA for All: Horror, but I would suggest subscribing to the RSS feed for this blog also.

Unlike RA for All (the original), RA for All: Horror, will not be updated every day. There will be spurts of activity and then silence. But it will be only horror and horror related topics.

Then once the new edition of the book is out, this blog will take on the role of being the official update to that text. Making your purchase of the book a great deal, since this edition will come with free updates here on RA for All: Horror. I will not duplicate the book here, but rather, I will be supplementing it.

I will also set up separate pages to serve as an index to horror book reviews/annotations and any author information. So you can have easy access to my original material.

So here's to beginning another new journey with all of you. Happy Haunting!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday Discussion: Gulp or Sip?

Last week, on the science fiction and fantasy publisher Tor's blog, Jo Walton posted this essay talking about being a gulp or sip reader. An excerpt:
I have nothing against reading in great gulps—it’s just that I don’t find it necessary for enjoyment. Reading in little sips works too.
So I was wondering—how odd am I? How many people are like me, reading as they go about their day, and how many like my friend, needing clear chunks of free time to get into a book? Does it matter if it’s a new book or a re-read? Do some books require more sustained attention than others? Are you a sipper or a gulper?
You can use this link to read the entire post. As for me, I think I am more or a sipper. I do like reading in gulps but with 3-4 jobs, and 2 small children, I always carry a book with me. I will read for 1 minute, 5 minutes, whatever time I have while waiting somewhere for something or someone. Also, I have found that it does not matter what book, fiction, nonfiction, re-read; no matter the book, I can sip at it.

I take this sipping even further as I always have an audiobook loaded on my ipod. I listen to books while doing the dishes, while folding laundry, while grocery shopping, and while waiting for school to let out. I carry the ipod everywhere, so I am never without a book. Sometimes I listen for as much as an hour, but more often than not, it is 15 minutes at a time.

Like Walton though, when I get the chance to sit an read for a while, I run with it. On Labor Day I took just that chance. While at the Indiana Dunes State Park beach, with the kids happily playing in the shallow water and digging in the sand, I spent the entire afternoon reading Freedom while next to me my husband was immersed in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Both of us enjoyed that chance for gulping.

However, if pressed to say which I enjoy more, I'd have to say the sipping.  When I sip, I have an easier time reading multiple books at once (I am always listening to one and reading at least one at the same time). Also, I have the comfort of always having a book to get lost in, even if just for a a few minutes. Sipping provides a mini-escape. If I would have to wait until I could gulp, I would forget the people and places I am reading about in between gulps. Also, I am afraid I would tire of reading so much if I only did it for hours at a time.

But hey, that's just me. What about you? For Today's Monday discussion, let me know what kinda of reader you are. As Walton asked, "Are you a sipper or a gulper?"

Remember, you can follow past Monday Discussions here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

China Mieville, Michael Chabon, and Genre Blending**

In The Millions today, Bill Morris has this great essay on China Mieville entitled, "How China Mieville Got Me To Stop Worrying and Love Monsters."

This is a both a love note to Mieville and a discussion on the mixing of genres.  This is an issue that I also feel strongly about. Great reads do not need to be all literary or all genre based. Just because a book has monsters does not make it "lower" than another book.

Morris' essay on Mieville is a great starting point in this discussion. And, if you haven't read Mieville, you should. But if you want to read more, run out to the library and borrow Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends:Reading and Writing on the Borderlands. Specifically, read the first chapter, "Trickster in a Suit of Lights," which contemplates this issue at length. In this chapter, Chabon posits that the best literature is that which is written in between the genres. Works that take a bit from other genres, in his opinion, tend to be the best.

Chabon should know.  He is a master who mixes genres in all of his works and has racked up the awards to prove his worth.

**This is a cross post with RA for All Horror.

Totally Hip Video Book Reviews By a Professional Reviewer

Book trailers have become quite popular recently. However, I have never been totally satisfied with them as a resource for helping readers. Yes, I like how they use a video format to sell a book, but it is still the author or publisher's version of their book.

What we really need are video book reviews by trained reviewers. The format would engage new potential readers who are more apt to respond to the video format and the content would also be critical and professional. As a RA librarian I need third party reviews in order to help patrons, especially with the newest titles that I have yet to read myself. However, most of these video review options are not done by professional reviewers.

Thankfully, Ron Charles, the book critic for The Washington Post also noticed this void and has filled it brilliantly.  His first two Totally Hip Book Reviews were done on his own, but The Washing Post has now signed on to sponsor him. 

In the example I have embedded below, Charles reviews Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Here's what I love about what you will see. Chalres takes full advantage of his expertise as a reviewer and the video medium.  He uses visual gags, an informal and humorous tone, yet still manages to have an insightful and extremely useful review. I cannot wait for the next one; I heard it was going to be Sarah Gruen's Ape House.

Thanks to Early Word for leading me to Ron Chalres and his Totally Hip Book Reviews. Click here to access all of the reviews.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Best Crime Novels of the 2000's

Thanks to Lit Lists, I found this list of The Best Crime Novels of the last decade originally published in The Times of London back in February.

The list, interestingly, takes 1 book for each year of the decade and then writes a paragraph on why it was the best book for that year. Each pick is also accompanied by an honorable mention list of three more titles.  What you get by perusing this list, is a snapshot of the current state of crime literature. You also get a nice reading list for those cold winter nights that are not too far off in the future.

If that isn't enough to get you to click on over and see the list for yourself, I will leave you with this teaser: 2009's choice is a Nodic Noir, but not the one you think...

Hugo Award Winners Announced And a Preview Of What May Be Winning Next Year

The Hugo Awards for Science Fiction were handed out in Australia and the two best reviewed and most talked about science fiction titles of the past year duked it out...to a tie!

Here is the link to all the winners with the list appended below for those of you who cannot bear to click away.

Also, to build off of the interest in this year's winners, Jeff VanderMeer put out this list of the best SF and FSY of the year (so far). Also, look for VanderMeer's new SF column in The New York Times.
  • Best Novel: TIE: The City & The City, China MiĆ©ville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK); The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)
  • Best Novella: “Palimpsest”, Charles Stross (Wireless; Ace, Orbit)
  • Best Novelette: “The Island”, Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2; Eos)
  • Best Short Story: “Bridesicle”, Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)
  • Best Related Book: This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is “I”), Jack Vance (Subterranean)
  • Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm Written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; Art by Phil Foglio; Colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Moon Screenplay by Nathan Parker; Story by Duncan Jones; Directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Who: “The Waters of Mars” Written by Russell T Davies & Phil Ford; Directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales)
  • Best Editor Long Form: Patrick Nielsen Hayden
  • Best Editor Short Form: Ellen Datlow
  • Best Professional Artist: Shaun Tan
  • Best Semiprozine: Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, & Cheryl Morgan
  • Best Fan Writer: Frederik Pohl
  • Best Fanzine: StarShipSofa edited by Tony C. Smith
  • Best Fan Artist: Brad W. Foster
And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (presented by Dell Magazines): Seanan McGuire

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What I'm Reading: Feed and The Reapers Are the Angels

As I posted here, many people are proclaiming 2010 the Year of the Zombie, but like the vampire craze that has preceded it, this zombie craze has also taken the supernatural creature out of its traditional spot in the pages of the horror novel and placed it among new genre friends.

Let me explain. Although vampires abound in both the Twilight and Sookie Stackhouse series these vampires are not scary, they are the love interests. In the simplest of explanations, these books are paranormal romances not horror novels.

Again, let's get basic here. A horror novel's main goal is to induce fear in its readers. Vampires have been leaving the horror novel in droves since the publication of Anne Rice's Interview the Vampire, but until recently zombies have been firmly entrenched in horror literature. Don't worry, zombies have not become dashing and lovable, but their presence does not automatically mean the book is horror anymore.

Both Feed and The Reapers are the Angels are great examples of different genres which have borrowed the zombie, both to enhance the chills factor in their books, and to jump on the bandwagon. However, thankfully, these were both great reads; the zombies were just an added bonus.

Feed by Mira Grant is getting rave reviews everywhere. I agree it was a great, edge of your seat, political thriller, but horror novel it was not.

Feed is set in a near future in which the cure for the common cold, mixed with the cure for cancer has caused a zombie problem. The world is full of zombies and they are not nice. Another speculative feature of this world is that when the dead started rising, the traditional news outlets ignored the story, but not bloggers.  Bloggers saved the day by working together to figure out what was going on and pass on information on how to properly kill a zombie and protect yourself. Hence the play on words of the title and cover: you subscribe to their RSS "feed," but also, it is a world where zombies want to "feed" on you. Wink, wink.

The resulting world is made up of heavily fortified communities where people are testing for virus levels everywhere they go (to make sure they aren't about to become a zombie). The details into how the world now appears and functions are wonderful; as good as any of the best dark fantasy settings out there. I was enthralled for the first 100 pages just becoming a part of this world.

Now the plot. Our story follows Georgia and Sean, siblings and co- bloggers who along with their partner Buffy, are picked as the first bloggers to follow a Presidential candidate. But do our heroes know what they are getting into? Narrated by Georgia (who is great), we see the two young, up and coming journalists unravel a huge plot to spread the zombie virus in order to put a different person in the Presidency. It goes up to the highest levels of government and many lives are lost, but our team using good journalism skills save the day. Yes there are zombies attacking, but the plot is about how Georgia and Sean unravel the plot and take down the bad guys.

Along with the setting and the detailed zombie attacks, I loved Georgia's narration, and the details on how their blogger syndicate worked. Overall I liked this book, but I have to warn you, the ending is dark. There will be a sequel, but I am wary of it much due to a huge plot twist at the end of the book, which will change the tone of the next book completely. Also, despite the dark twist at the end, the resolution is a bit hokey (but that is keeping with the whole political thriller genre, which is why I tend to stay away from it personally).

By the way, Feed has a great companion site.

Three Word to Describe Feed: dark, political thriller, zombies

Readalikes for Feed: I have given Feed to readers who enjoy Brad Meltzer and David Baldacci. This novel shares so many similarities to their darker and twisted political thrillers.  Especially, I would suggest The Book of Fate (which I read here) and The Camel Club. Although, a word of warning, Feed is much darker than the darkest of Meltzer and Baldacci. I also think James Rollins, who mixes political thrillers with supernatural events is also a good choice here.

But if you are looking for the perfect paring, turn to Jonathan Maberry's techno-thriller series starring Joe Ledger and beginning with Patient Zero, which also features zombies without being a horror novel. (I have read and talked about Patient Zero here.)

So Feed has zombies but is really a political thriller at its core, and my other example, The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell has a lot of zombies also, but it is really a textbook example of a creepy psychological suspense novel merged with and old fashioned Southern Gothic story.

Here, we have another zombie apocalypse, but this time, we get no explanation as to how and why it happens, but since our narrator is a 15-year-old, illiterate girl named Temple, who has never know a world without zombies and has been on her own for most of her life, this makes sense. Temple would not know how the zombies came to be part of her reality, she just knows that they are there and need to be dealt with.

The world is not as organized in Temple's world as it was in the speculative America of Feed. People have not learned how to live with the zombies; these citizens are still in a daily struggle to survive. As a result, the descriptions of the landscape, the people, the small settlements, the deserted towns, are infinitely more haunting.

I don't want to talk too much about the plot here because there isn't much. Just know that Temple is one tough young woman who kills a man who tries to rape her and then is stalked by said man's brother who wants to now kill her. They engage in a strange, frightening, and at times oddly heart warming game of at and mouse. Along the way, Temple also acquires a mute, giant, Maury as a traveling companion. As Temple tries to return Maury to his home in Texas, Moses pursues her. The three meet an odd assortment of people along the way. It is the accumulation of these encounters which makes up the story. When they all get to Texas the story is done. I will you let you see for yourself how it all ends.

I also want to stress the psychological suspense angle of this novel. Temple is being stalked by Moses as she travels through an inhospitable landscape. Things are not going well for Temple and there is no hope they will get better. She is also conflicted about the "sins" she has committed; the people and zombies she has killed, the "family" she has let down.

I loved how much this book creeped me out. The zombies were pushed off to the periphery, not in your face like in Feed. But more than that, the bleak landscape, the tough child on her own, and the evil Moses trailing her were so satisfyingly creepy. I was nervous, unsettled, and uncomfortable throughout the entire book, and I love every minute of it.

This is traditional Southern Gothic style meets psychological suspense with a dash of zombies. Hey, I like that short description so I am going to go with it... Three Words that Describe The Reapers Are the Angels: Southern Gothic, psychological suspense, zombies

Readalikes: This book is a must read for fans of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, a book whose praises I have sung before. This is also a good option for the people who liked the atmosphere of The Passage and don't mind that there isn't much action in Bell's quieter novel.

Temple's journey and the odd people she meets along the way also reminded me of one of my back list favorites, Cold Mountain. There is a lot of Faulkner in The Reapers Are the Angels too. And Maury is just too much like Lennie to ignore.

And then there is the psychological suspense angle to consider. Similarly creepy books in his genre that might appeal to fans of Bell's novel would be The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, anything by Peter Abrahams, and/or Patricia Highsmith.

I liked both books for what they were. I probably would have not liked Feed as much without the zombies and Georgia's narration. The Reapers are the Angels, I think I would have enjoyed with or without the zombies. And, one final comment, both of these books share a HUGE plot development which I will not mention, as it would spoil everything. But, I will say, it may be a bit shocking for some readers.

So while 2010 may actually be the year of the Zombie, they are not all living on the pages of horror novels. But that may not be a bad thing either.