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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Discussion: Books into Movies

In honor of last night's Oscars I wanted to focus today's Monday Discussion on the best and worst of movies made from books.

Generally, I avoid movie versions of books I have loved.  Specifically, I would not see the movie versions of The Road, The Lovely Bones, and The Time Traveler's Wife because I loved the books and did not want the movie to ruin it.  In fact, for this reason I am considering avoiding the movie version of Water for Elephants and The Help, both due to theaters in 2011.

There have been surprises, like Cold Mountain, The Perfect Storm, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy for which I loved the movie and the book.

And then there are books which I did not love, but I really enjoyed the movie versions of like No Country for Old Men.

But unfortunately, from time to time, I have seen a bad movie version of what was a good book.  In my opinion recent examples of these include The Blindside (movie was sappy, book was very interesting and thought provoking and not just about Michael Oher) and The Ruins.

Specifically The Ruins movie version still makes me mad.   For the record, The Ruins is my favorite horror book of all time.  The movie not only changed the ending (which in this case changes the entire tone of the book), but they changed the order in which the monster killed off the characters.  Also, in this novel, the characters are stranded on a hill top and being stalked by a plant-monster.  The waiting is unbearable in the book.  In the movie, there is no tension in the waiting.  The characters are built up during these uneasy moments of doomed waiting in the book, waiting for help that they know will not and cannot come.  In the movie, the characters did not have the chance to be developed because there was not emphasis on the tortured waiting.

I could go on for awhile about how much this movie ruined the book (pun intended).

To add to the discussion, The Chicago Tribune ran this article on Saturday suggesting books to compliment some of the Oscar nominees.

Now it's your turn.  For today's Monday Discussion, share your opinions good or bad about books being turned into movies.

And remember, I now have the Monday Discussion Archive accessible here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Readers' Advisory: How To Balance Your Library's Reading Budget

Joyce Saricks and Neal Wyatt (the editors of my book) finished up a the first of their online workshops on the topic in the title of this post yesterday.

Over on the ALA Editions Blog, they have posted the resources and some of the slides from their presentation here.

Head on over and see what Joyce and Neal had to say and add your questions to the comments field.

Good RA service need not break the bank.  You can be creative in your purchases as well in how you market your collections in order to stretch your reading budget.  It is imperative in this weakened economy that the library be a place for leisure readers.  Patrons are on a tight budget and they are cutting their spending on books while increasing their use of the local library.

Of course, our budgets are tight at the library too.  We need experts like Joyce and Neal to help remind us of all we can do with our limited funds.

Check it out for yourself.

Over at the BPL we are taking this advice to heart.  We have increased our services to leisure readers both in the library and online in the last year without spending any extra money.  In fact, we spent less on books but increased our circulation by concentrating on staff training, starting a permanent staff recommendation display and blog, The Browsers' Corner, and by focusing our time and energy on displays.

What are you doing in these lean budget times?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Student Annotations: More Landscape and Adrenaline

Last night in class we discussed the Adrenaline genres: adventure, suspense, romantic suspense, and thriller.  These are all defined mostly by their fast paced stories of heroes on a mission.  Of course that is the 5 second version and we had 3 hours of class.

The students read some great examples of these fast and fun books and posted their annotations about them on the class WordPress blog.  Click on through to see.

Due the the big blizzard last month, we were still playing catch up in class, so we gave them an extra week to post their Landscape annotations (fantasy, historical fiction, and western).  They are mixed in with the Adrenaline annotations.  Again, click here to access them.

I hope their work inspires some of you out there to try a new book.

Next week is midterms which means I will have at least a few new Reading Maps to add to the archive.  Click here to access the Reading Map archive.  There are some fabulous tools available there for you and your readers.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Midweek List of Genre Related Links

I am constantly bookmarking specific links I find interesting and then saving them to blog about.  However, my list of "interesting" stuff is getting too long and I don't know if I have enough to say about each for an entire blog post.  So, here they are with a comment or two from me:

  • Normally I am not a big romance reader, but this list of the Top 10 Love Stories of the 21st Century (so far) which I came across via my RSS feed to the blog The Book Case piqued my interest.  More than half of the titles here (The History of Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Bel Canto, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Brief Wondrous Like of Oscar Wao, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society--links to my personal reviews) are books I have read and enjoyed.  Who knew?  None of them are romance novels, but they all do have a love relationship at their center.
  • I have posted many times about the copious amounts of dark fiction that has been coming out of Scandinavia over the last few years, but on NPR yesterday, author Heidi Durrow had this interesting list, "Three Books to Rescue Nordic Lit From the Dark Side."  Yes, Nordic Noir is quite popular right now, but their are good authors from the region writing completely different novels.  The list serves as a great reminder that trends are not absolutes.
  • From my RSS feed to Grasping For the Wind, I found this link on SF Signal, "10 Literary Novels for Genre Readers."  This list is interesting because as the post explains: "There are plenty of guides to gateway books for literary readers to discover SF/F, but very few to introduce primarily genre readers to literary works they would find enjoyable. And so, in the spirit of reconciliation, I've compiled this short list of books that fill the gap between speculative and so called realistic fiction. It is by no means comprehensive but should serve as a decent introduction for genre readers to see how the other half lives."  This is a list I will use with readers immediately.  The annotations are well written.  They are focused on why a genre reader would enjoy the suggested title.
  • Two big genre awards announced their finalists recently.  The Agatha Awards for the best traditional mysteries and the Nebula Award given out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tournaments of Books

As I mentioned here, The Morning News is gearing up to run their annual Tournament of Books.  The finalists have been picked and the bracket can be viewed here.

The Tourney is in its 7th year, running parallel to the NCAA BB Tourney.  The initial rounds have authors picking the winners, but as the tourney goes on, everyone else can have their say.  I do love this annual rite of passage for books, but it is very literary fiction biased.

Well, romance readers have their chance now too, in the DA BWAHA Tourney.  As explained on the website, there are 64 books broken up into 8 groups of 8.  They hit just about every subgenre of romance, so there is something here for every romance fan.  Here are the categories and finalists:

Hopefully, other genre lovers/bloggers will start running tourney of their own.  It is a great idea, to use the excitement around "March Madness" to draw attention to books.  The more the merrier I say.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Updates to Blogs

With the BPL closed and my kids enjoying some holiday time with their grandparents, I spent the day adding updates and improvements to both RA for All sites. 

First, here on RA for All, I have added this page archiving the Monday Discussion links.  The page will always be available in the right gutter near the top of every page.  I will update it every week.  Please feel free to use it to comment on past discussions, or to use our discussions to better assist your patrons in their hunt for their next good read.

Since I am deeply entrenched in the revisions of the new book, I have been busy updating RA for All: Horror.  Here is a list of some of the biggest updates and changes:
  • I have written reviews on Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King and The Caretaker of Lorne Field by Dave Zeltserman. Both were fabulously dark and chilling. Use the links to read them.
  • I have added a new page to the site entitled, Features Archive.  Here you can find links to my 2 RA for All: Horror features, "Backlist Not to Miss" and "Not Quite Horror."  These are both new features, but they will grow quickly.  Each feature provides reading suggestions for the horror fan that are slightly "outside of the box."
  • I bet you didn't know that February is Female Horror Writer's Month?  Click here to learn more.
  • The Black Quill awards were passed out for Dark Fiction by Dark Scribe Magazine.  Click here for the full story.
  • I found a great essay on the history of Zombie Lit.  Worth a read by clicking here.
And all of this was only in February.  Head on over to RA for All: Horror, the evil twin of RA for All, to keep reading more.

No Monday Discussion

Due to the President's Day holiday and a closed BPL, there will be no Monday Discussion today.  However, I will have a regular post later today.

Those of you off today, enjoy the break.  Those of you working, I am sure you will be very busy especially around here where the weather is awful and people with the day off will need somewhere to go.

If you are busy, take advantage and try to win over some new patrons with great RA service today.  For inspiration, I remind you to check out Becky's 10 Rules of Basic RA Service.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Most Borrowed Library Books in UK

Today, The Guardian (UK) published this article breaking down the most borrowed books in UK libraries throughout 2010.  For just the data and no analysis, click here.

Thought I'd pass it along.

What I'm Reading: Brookland

Thank goodness for Shelfari and its "planning to read shelf."  This feature, and really any place you can keep your to-read list in "the cloud," is a reader's best friend.  Any place where I have Internet access, I can add a book to my to-read list.  I can also then access that list from anywhere with an Internet connection.  Without this ease of storing my to-read list, I never would have gotten around to reading Brookland by Emily Barton.

When Brooklyn first came out (Feb. 2006), I was drawn to it immediately.  The book had glowing, starred reviews in just about every journal.  It was historic fiction set in the years immediately after the American Revolution (love the time period), and it had something to do with building a bridge between Brooklyn and NYC (I'm oddly and inexplicably obsessed with the Brooklyn Bridge, specifically its creation).  Sounds like the perfect book for me, but for some reason, when it first came out, I couldn't get into it.  So, thank you Shelfari.  I put the title on the "Planning to Read" shelf, returned the physical book, and exactly 5 years later, got to read it. 

The plot follows Prudence Winship, who owns and runs a popular gin distillery in Brooklyn during the 18th century.  But while the book contains great details about distilling gin, this is really a novel about Prudence, her family, her obsession with building a bridge connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, and her family's secrets.

This is a long, measured historical fiction novel.  You cannot zip through it, but if you want a story which recreates a time and place in cinematic detail, this is the book for you.  We begin with Prudence writing a letter to her daughter recounting her life history.  Although this is not an epistolary novel their communication back and forth does frame the book; it is the reason Prudence final reveals all of her secrets.

The story begins during the waning years of the Revolutionary War, when Brooklyn (known as Brookland then) is filled with British soldiers. Prudence tells about her father's gin distillery, the birth of her sisters, and the curse she thinks she placed on her sister, Pearl.  Pearl almost died after birth and was never able to speak.  It is the relationship between these two sisters which causes much of the tension in the novel.  It is psychological tension for 90% of the book however.  The conflict does finally rise to the surface in a highly dramatic scene.

Prudence is taught her father's trade and runs the distillery, which means the novel contains a lot of information about how a woman in the 18th Century would run a major business.  But it is her obsession with building the bridge which consumes her and takes up the last half of the novel.  It almost ruins her and her husband.

Brookland is a somber book, where the sense of place (Brooklyn in the 18th Century) is the largest appeal factor.  We get the domestic and business details of how life actually was for people in that place and time.  While this again slows the pace down, it is also fascinating.  The plot may be stagnant for 20 pages, but unique and interesting details keep you going.

Imagine a time when Brooklyn, New York was consider a rural outpost.  Also the details about business and politics in a brand new country were great.

This is also a book for people interested in the making of gin.  The process is described in great detail by Prudence as she goes through her year long training.  Women's issues (specifically their place and options in 18th Century America), family secrets, and bridge building are also discussed at length.

Brookland is an intimate portrayal of a successful but troubled family during an intriguing time period.

Three Words That Describe This Book: intimate, historical fiction, strong women

Readalikes: I kept thinking of Pete Hamill's historical fiction/magical realism tale of the history of NYC, Forever as I read this novel.  Both books recreate their similar place well.  For more details see this report on when I read Forever.   Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney is also a well reviewed, historical fiction about old New York.  This time we are in the post-Civil War years.  Like Brookland, Metropolis is a sprawling epic.  The final epic, historical fiction about New York which I would highly suggest is Edward Rutherfurd's New York.

Readers who enjoyed the combination of historical fiction with the strong women who are sisters should also try Shanghai Girls by Lisa See and The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory.

People who want more on the history of Brooklyn, try: The Battle of Brooklyn, 1776 by John Gallagher and Song of Brooklyn: An Oral History of America's Favorite Borough by Marc Eliot.

Finally, people who want the real story of the bridge that finally made it across the East River need to read David McCullough's The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge and watch the Ken Burns' documentary based on McCullough's book, Brooklyn Bridge.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Student Annotations: Landscape Genres

Student annotations are back.  Over on the class WordPress blog you can now see the reports on what historical fiction, western, and fantasy titles our students read for this week.

I will remind you that I have set up this blog so that you can search by genre or appeal terms for titles.  Now that we are closing in on 400 posts, there are plenty of annotations there which you can use to help your patrons to find their next good read.  Clicking on "character-centered" for example, brings up dozens of varied options.  You can even do a keyword search.

Also, each annotation contains 6 readalike options (3 fiction and 3 nonfiction) meaning we have thousands of suggestions lurking on this one blog.  Remember, these annotations are written for a grade, so in theory, the students take their annotations seriously.  While they are not perfect, the information contained in their annotations is a great RA tool.

Their blog will be updated every Wednesday for the next few months.  I will note what you can expect each Wednesday evening here, but consider adding their url: http://ra763.wordpress.com/ to your feed reader.

Defining Genres

Tonight in the RA class we are going to begin defining the genres for the students.  We take them on at a rate of about 4 per week.  Last week I was also honing my definition of "Horror" for the new book.

While I have been focusing on updating my genre definitions, it seems I am not alone.  Readers and librarians are clamoring for the experts to provide clear, delineated definitions for genres in order to help them find their next good read.  In just the last few days alone, I have come across many articles trying to define genres:
I do not disagree with this desire to define the genres; I make my living off of defining genres. However, I feel this rush to assign exact definitions to genres needs to be tempered with a couple words of warning.

Definitions of genres are a product of the point at which they were defined.  Case in point, horror. When I wrote the first edition of the horror book, horror was dependent upon a paranormal element, but in the intervening years, a new genre, paranormal fiction, has evolved and horror needs to be redefined in more detail to separate it from paranormal.  So the lesson here, it is fine to define genres, but let's re-evaluate those definitions regularly.  Teaching helps me here because I am forced to re-evaluate every definition, each semester.

Some of the best and most popular fiction today is written "between" the genres.  For more on this argument, I suggest you read the chapter entitled, "Trickster in a Suit of Lights" from Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands.  Think about the "hot" books right now.  I cannot go anywhere without hearing about A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier.  Using the links to read about these books, you will see that they cannot easily fit into a single genre.

This genres blending issue is huge as we help patrons.  At the BPL we pull out science fiction, fantasy and mystery to shelve separately, but elements of these genres are popping up in other genres.  Our patrons are confused as to where to look for the books and authors they enjoy.  Adding to the confusion is that authors do not all write in one genre anymore, and we are forced to decide between keeping books shelved in their genre, or keeping authors together.

Case in point: Harlen Coben.  Coben began as a mystery series writer but has since changed to writing very popular, stand alone suspense novels.  This change did not happen overnight, however, we first shelved Coben in mystery and continue to keep all of his books there, so as not to separate the author's works.  Arrghhh! Very frustrating for me and patrons.  We train them to look for suspense in the general fiction, but then in the next breath we tell them that Coben's suspense is in mystery.

The solution: interfiling all fiction titles together by author only and using genre stickers to call attention to those which are clearly in a specific genre.

This is an issue I have been wrestling with seriously since 2009. You can use this link to see what I had to say then, with a link to an article where some best selling authors discuss this same point at length.  It also has a link to a Fiction-L discussion where libraries shared their thoughts on this topic too.  Please note, this is still a very controversial issue in library circles.  There are many passionate views on both sides of this issue.

My tune has not changed much from that older post, although my incessant nagging to change how we shelve fiction at the BPL has gotten somewhere.  We hope to begin undertaking a major renovation of the BPL toward the end of 2011.  It will greatly improve the patron experience, especially for adult leisure readers.  And as part of that renovation, our fearless leader, Kathy, is seriously considering  that we will banish separate genre shelves and move toward an interfiled but still genre stickers adult fiction collection.  We are in the fact gathering process of how to best interfile the books and train patrons embrace the change.

So see, while it is valuable to define genres to help us to serve our patrons better, it is important to consider what assigning these strict definitions means for your services to leisure readers.  Be specific in your definitions, but also be willing to revisit them.  Be willing to help genre specific readers, but consider Chabon's "Borderlands" too.

Now to practice what I preach and get ready for class tonight.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

ARRT Historical Fiction Genre Study

For the next 2 years, I am taking part in the ARRT Historical Fiction Genre Study.  Beginning this month, we will be meeting every other month, on the first Thursday of that month to discuss specific subgenres of historical fiction.  Around each meeting I will share my feelings about what I read.  As a group, ARRT always posts the genre study reading lists, and when the genre study is completed, a full report comes out.

Due to the blizzard, the first meeting was rescheduled to yesterday which conflicted with my BPL RA staff meeting.  But I still wanted to participate in the discussion, so I will report on what I read.  These thoughts were also shared with the group yesterday afternoon.

Per these instructions for our introductory meeting,  We were all asked to read, Gone with the Wind, and another author from this list:
I chose Michener for 2 reasons.  First, I have great memories of my father reading Michener's giant 800+ novels on the beach in the summertime. Second, as an ARRT Steering Committee member I felt it was my responsibility to read and report on the longest books in the group, just in case no one else read them.

Gone With the WindLet's start with my thoughts on Gone With the Wind.  This novel was a great choice for so many reasons.  It is an American classic; a novel with love and trauma, set during our American Civil War.  As historical fiction it has much to offer.  The Civil War is a popular historical fiction setting.  It is a surprisingly fast read, despite it's page length.  There is quite a bit of dialog and the suspense of what will happen to the main characters keeps the story moving.

However, I think the best thing about this epic story is its characters.  This is not a traditional story of love and loss as the movie leads you to believe.  Mitchell has written a complex tale about realistically flawed people.  I love how Scarlett and Rhett particularly have things that I love about them, and things that I loathe.  They feel real.

I also thinks Mitchell captures the southern point of view perfectly.  She recreates the feeling that their entire world is ending.  We Northerners, especially, forget how the Civil War brought what must have felt like an apacolypse to those living through it.  We may not agree with what they were fighting for, but this was the only life they knew and it was violently ripped away from them.  Right or wrong, that is traumatic.  Their extreme loss of everything they relied upon is well captured in the novel.

Great historical fiction captures its time and place well.  You really have to feel like you experiences the time portrayed in the novel for the book to work as historical fiction.  Gone with the Wind did just this.  I felt like I was living through the Civil War on the wrong side of the lines, with the real people, from the actual time it was happening.  Great historical fiction teaches the reader something about history while providing a compelling and engaging story.  Gone with the Wind successfully does just that.

Alaska. Michener, James A.Now Michener.  He is famous for his 800+ pages stories about a place.  In this case, I read Alaska.  Here is why people love Michener.  He takes a place and tells its story from the moment it was created.  In Alaska, this moment is 1 billion years ago.  He begins with how the terrain came to be how it is and then starts to tell the story of the people who inhabited that land from the first to those living in the book's present.

Michener takes real people from history and creates the others based on what the people would have been like.  This is his focus, the people real and imagined.  This is why readers have enjoyed his books for years.  He creates drama that is explicitly tied to the place he is focusing on.  It is in the characters and their stories of triumph and tragedy that move the story.

I like to say that a Michener historical fiction novel is really like 10 historical fiction novels rolled into one.  The reader gets a variety of times over which to see a single place.  In the book I read we see how Alaska is first settled, how it changed hands over time politically, how that effects the natives, and how it eventually becomes a part of the United States.  The length is less daunting because of the action, the characters, and the fact that when you are beginning to get bored with one time period, Michener moves into another, and new drama begins, with new characters.  However, while the characters are new the issues are continued.  It really is the best of both worlds.

Also, I cannot stress that despite the small print and the hefty page number, these are well paced books.  They read much faster than you would think.

One final RA note about Michener.  His books are great to give to someone going a vacation to the place her has written about, Alaska, Hawaii, The Caribbean, The South Pacific.  You get a good sense of  the place and the people who made it.  They make for a great vacation read as you travel to these locations, as long as you don't mind the book's size.  For the non-American Michener-esque experience, read Edward Rutherford.

That's my take on what I experienced for our first genre study meeting.  I am upset that I will miss the discussion.  I will continue to report on my experiences with the readings for this genre study every other month.  I will also give a brief summary of what the group discusses when I am able to attend the meetings.  Full notes are only available to members of ARRT, however.  Next up, in April, we will be doing Part1 of Traditional Historical Fiction, by time period, from Prehistoric to Victorian Times.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Discussion: Valentine's Day

Well, it's Valentine's Day so you know what is coming from the Monday Discussion today...we are talking about romance!

I am fairly neutral on the whole Valentine's Day thing.  I go out with my husband on dates regularly, so I am not driven to overpay for a date on February 14th every year, but I do get my kids a small gift and we all exchange cards. I did cut their cucumber slices into heart shapes today too.

But no matter how you personally feel about Valentine's Day, your patrons will be coming in looking for books about love.  Are you ready?  We have this display up with both contemporary and historical romance options.  (Keep scrolling and you will see our Black History Month display list too).

Now, not everyone likes every genre.  In fact, truth be told, I am not a big romance fan myself.  However, if I had to pick some authors I would say that I do enjoy Julia Quinn's historical romances and Susan Elizabeth Phillips' contemporary ones.  What I like about the work of both authors is the humor they add to their stories.

Just because I don't like romance though doesn't mean I don't like a little bit of love in my stories, I just tend to like getting it more from women's lives and relationship books or literary fiction.  Some books which contained a love story which I found touching were, Water for Elephants, North River, Dream When You're Feeling Blue, and The Red Tent.

So today, even of you do not like the specific genre of romance, what do you like to read when you are in the mood for love?

Also, over on RA for All: Horror, I posted a touching zombie love song.

If you want to follow past Monday Discussions, use this link.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Blogging For Libraries

Effective Blogging for Libraries (The Tech Set)Not surprisingly, I am often asked for advice on how to start and maintain a library blog.  One of the biggest things I tell people before they start a blog, is to make sure you have clearly defined your mission for yourself.

Here on RA for All, that mission, "Looking for your next good read? RA for All is a blog to showcase how the Readers' Advisors at your local public library can help," is on the banner at the top of the blog.  Whenever I am questioning whether or not I should write about a topic, I always look at that banner to ground myself in this blog's mission.

When I started RA for All Horror, I was older and wiser and actually wrote a mission statement, which can be accessed here.  That mission is also accessible from the front page of the blog in a link called, "About This Blog."

I cannot stress this enough.  Spending the time to think about why you want to start your blog, what you hope to accomplish with it, putting that down in writing, and sticking to it is the most important part of blogging.  You need to remember that creating, writing content for, and maintaining a blog takes time and effort.  You need to believe in what you are doing or else you will get burnt out and ultimately fail.

When you blog you have no editor.  As a freelance writer, I love my editors.  I rely on them, but on the other hand, blogging has also made me a better writer.  I now write every day (very important to anyone who writes professionally), and I have to edit myself.  People are reading this blog and I don't want to embarrass myself.  Having a mission and sticking to it, is a great editing tool.

In other practical advice, when you start blogging, assume you are your only audience.  Make sure you are writing something you would want to read.  I always say I first started this blog because my students and staff were doing some great work that I felt was getting lost.  Once it was presented in class or used at the library, it was gone.  I wanted to share it with the larger RA community.  Blogging was an easy way to both pass on the best stuff out there AND, more importantly, it was a way for me to keep a record of that information myself.  Quite often I blog about something I found just so I won't lose the link later.  Once I have hit the "publish post" button, I can always retrieve it, and trust me, I do this frequently.  Yes, this blog is read by many people for many different reasons, but to me, it is a giant filing system of my thoughts, feelings, and favorite links.

These are just a few things I have learned in the 3.5 years I have been blogging.  There really is so much more to consider.  Thankfully, there is a book to help, Effective Blogging for Libraries (The Tech Set) by Connie Crosby.  Over on RA Online, Sarah Statz Cords has this helpful review of the book.  I have not read it yet myself, but will be ordering it from ILL this week to have a look at it myself.

I would suggest that anyone thinking about starting a library blog should at the very least give this book a glance.  I wish it was around when I started.  Also, remember, you can always contact me with any specific questions on the topic of library blogs.  I can even come to your library to work with your staff to get you started.

Starting a library blog is a great way to serve readers, but don't jump into a new blog without doing your research first.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reading the Dictionary For Fun?

Confession time.  I love dictionaries.  Not just the idea of them, but reading them too.  I would bet I am not alone.  I mean, I am writing this blog for librarians and readers.  It is actually quite common for people who love reading to love books about reading and words.  I was recently reminded of this when I took my 3rd grader to buy her own dictionary at the used book store.  Once we got home, she spent a few hours looking up words.  Yes, she too was reading the dictionary for fun.

The king of all dictionaries is the Oxford English Dictionary.  Many odes have been written to its greatness, the best of which is Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.  There is a brand new online version of the OED out, and in the New Yorker's Book Blog, The Book Bench, Ian Crouch has this review of it, which also includes his personal confession of dictionary love.

In even more dictionary leisure reading news, one of my favorite YA authors, David Levithan, just released his first adult novel, The Lover's Dictionary.  It is a love story written in dictionary entries.  Click here for more on the book from GalleyCat.  I am going to assume Levithan also shares my dictionary love.

See, we are not alone.  Stand-up for your dictionary love, and know you are not alone.  Take Crouch's advice and head to your public libraries database page and read the OED for yourself.  Or better yet, visit the library in person and get your hands on the print version.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Wave

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the OceanRecently, I finished listening to The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey.  This is a general interest nonfiction book which looks at the history, science, and sport of the largest waves.

Appeal:  I want to talk about this book only in terms of its appeal because really, the plot (summarized above in one sentence) is not why you would or would not read The Wave.

First, the book begins, ends, and spends much time in the middle, recounting the big name, big wave spots around the world for tow surfing and the reigning king of the sport Laird Hamilton.  Surfing is the book's frame.  Casey spends a lot of time outlining the details of the sport, introduces the reader to its most interesting characters, and describes the vistas, fury, and chaos at the big surfing spots.  If you are not interested in surfing, you may still enjoy this book, but the surfing detail could overwhelm you.

The rest of the book revolves around rogue waves and the havoc they unleash on the shipping and oil drilling industries.  Casey goes to conferences where scientists share the newest data and research in waves.  Her non-scientific background (she is a journalist and magazine editor) means that the reader can understand what is going on.  She also puts a spotlight on wave forecasting, which is woefully inadequate.

But where Casey shines is in her telling of instances where rogue waves probably caused ship wrecks and near wrecks. Casey refuses to believe the prevailing notions that 100 foot waves can never happen.  She uses her research to prove she is right.  This has huge implications on the entire world, as boats and oil drilling platforms are not made to sustain 100 foot waves, yet, as Casey saw, they happen more often than we thought.  Her recreations of these events were stunning.

Which leads me to another appeal of The Wave, Casey herself.  Her writing is very engaging.  This is nonfiction with a focus on the storytelling.  But it goes beyond this.  Casey inserts herself into the story where possible.  We experience a rogue wave with her; she shares her personal feelings, the awe, the fear, the rush.  She is in danger, she is on the ocean, she is on a ship in the middle of an angry ocean, and she brings the reader with her.  She is able to seamlessly move between these intimate moments and her scientific and historical narrative with ease.

Above all else, though, The Wave is a book about nature's overwhelming power.  This is a story of how humans cannot control nature, no matter how much science we learn.  It is a book both about the people who respect that notion and those who do not.  It is a story of huge victories and great defeats.  No matter onto which side you fall, the reader cannot escape the power of the ocean when reading this book.

Finally, a note about the narrator.  She is excellent; both serious and personal when it is called for.  However, since I was listening, I could not "skim" the parts that were less interesting to me (in my case the information and details about surfing) and I felt that the book dragged in spots.  I do not think I would have felt this way at all if I was reading the book in print, as I could have easily moved past the parts I did not find compelling and then pick back up when my interest piqued.  So, my advice is that unless you think you will be drawn to the history, science, AND surfing, read this book, do not listen.

Overall, I am very glad I read this book.  I learned quite a bit about the ocean. I have always been drawn to the ocean, am intrigued by it, and generally visit 2 different oceans a year. Also, my thrid grader is currently obsessed with tsunamis, so I was already primed for a book about giant waves.  Ironically, the book is less about events like tsunamis and more about the occurrence of the surprise giant wave.  If you have any interest in the ocean, waves, or ship wrecks, you will find something to enjoy in Casey's book.

Three Words That Describe This Book: power of nature, history, surfing

Readalikes: The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger is referred to in The Wave.  It is a great choice.  Clive Cussler is also mentioned here and any of his Dirk Pitt adventure novels which almost always revolve around a ship wreck are a great choice for fans of the ocean appeal of this book.

Further books which are good for those who like the ocean/sea vessel appeal of this story are Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander Series, Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz, and In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick.  It is important to note that these three suggestions also share a strong storytelling aspect with The Wave.

I also think you cannot underestimate how many people will enjoy this book's underlying theme of the overwhelming power of nature.  Other books that share this appeal but do not necessarily feature the ocean are The Big Burn by Timothy Egan, Into Thin Air by John Krakauer, and Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing.