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, March 31, 2011

Hunger Games Read Alikes for Adults

Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset
For her midterm, one of my students, Gennie, prepared a list of readalikes for all the adult fans of The Hunger Games series.  Her idea was that so many adults were reading the series, why not provide them with a list of other YA titles which they might also enjoy.

The cross-over for YA readers into Adult has been popular for years; in fact, YALSA's Alex Award is based off of this idea.  But, in the past few years, adult readers have been clamoring for more YA reading options.  This list is a great place to start.  Also, this Fall ARRT is focusing our annual bibliography on this topic.  Each Steering Committee member is picking one adult title that would work with YAs and one YA title that will work with adults.  All titles have to be no more than 3 years old.  I am annotating The Radleys by Matthew Haig (adult) and Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry (YA).  Both are late 2010 releases.  The full list of titles will be revealed at the May ARRT meeting with the bibliography going out to members at the Fall program.

And now on to Gennie's list.  Please note, Gennie prepared a very slick pamphlet for use at her home library, but for ease of use here on the blog, I just took the text for reproduction.  Feel free to use it, to help patrons but credit this blog and Gennie.  Thanks.

Anderson, M.T. Feed. 
Anything you want to know about, hear or even buy is available to you via the 
computer implant in your head. Titus never questioned the system until he started to care for Violet. Can he help her when her chip starts to malfunction? 
*This title works extremely well as an audiobook, immersing the listener in the non-stop commercial experience the characters deal with.

Cashore, Kristin. Graceling. 
Cashore, Kristin. Fire. 
Graceling: Katsa has the power to kill. She’s not the only one born with a rare skill, called a Grace, but she struggles more with the consequences. Teaming up with another young fighter, Katsa seeks redemption and to save her land from a mysterious adversary. 

Fire: Graceling's companion book takes place in a war-torn land inhabited by beautiful animal-shaped creatures called monsters whose minds have the power to control those of humans. Seventeen-year- old Fire is the last remaining human- shaped monster. She appreciates right and wrong like the people she resembles, leaving her hated and mistrusted 

Clare, Cassandra. City of Bones. 
Clare, Cassandra. City of Ashes. 
Clare, Cassandra. City of Glass. 
Clare, Cassandra. City of Fallen Angels. 
The world is full of demons from another dimension and the Shadow-hunters who search for them, but normal people can not see either group. Fifteen-year-old Clary Fray thought she was normal, too, until she was almost killed by a monster and her mother disappeared. Now she has no choice but to enter the bizarre world she’s only just glimpsed. 

Dashner, James. The Maze Runner. 
Thomas's new home is surrounded by a maze. Find yourself in it when the walls close at night and you won't come back. Planning an escape is on his mind, but so is finding out who stole his memory. 

Knox, Elizabeth. Dreamhunter. 
Knox, Elizabeth. Dreamquake. 
Your dreams are in your hands, for a price. Only Dreamhunters can enter "The Place" to collect them, which is exactly what fifteen-year-old Laura is training to do. Her father was the first to discover that mysterious realm and when he disappears, she may be the only one who can finish his mission. 

Ness, Patrick. Knife of Never Letting Go. 
Ness, Patrick. The Ask and The Answer. 
Ness, Patrick. Monsters of Men. 

In Todd's world, all the women are dead. Now you can hear, constantly and exhaustingly, all the thoughts of the remaining men and animals. It's called the Noise and when Todd and his dog, Manchee, find a silence, he fights to keep this secret while fleeing from the town leaders and possibly everyone else, as well. 

Pearson, Mary. The Adoration of Jenna Fox. 
Jenna Fox spent a year in a coma, only to wake up in a body that is not her own. Her life doesn't seem right either and the large gaps in her memory aren't helping. She's about to discover she's at the center of a terrible secret with no easy way out. 

Ryan, Carrie. The Forest of Hands & Teeth. 
A chain link fence is the only thing separating Mary’s village from the 
forest beyond. She is a teenager seeking knowledge and love while clinging to the belief of a world past those woods, but travel beyond the barrier is impossible. The woods hold the Unconsecrated, aggressive flesh-eating zombies, and now her mother is with them. 

Shusterman, Neal. Unwind. 
In the future, lives can be saved or improved every day with transplanted body parts. However, the rooms of organs and limbs waiting at the ready did not come from willing donors, but teenagers whose guardians have chosen to have them “unwound.” Do three teens marked for this fate have any chance to escape and survive? 

Werlin, Nancy. Impossible. 
Lucy Scarborough comes from a line of cursed women. For generations, evil has pursued them, winning time and again, but if Lucy can perform three impossible tasks, she can save herself… and her unborn daughter. 

Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies. 
Westerfeld, Scott. Pretties. 
Westerfeld, Scott. Specials. 
Westerfeld, Scott. Extras. 
You will be supermodel beautiful and party to your heart’s content as soon as you turn 16. You and your friends will enjoy the perfect life. Tally has no reason to question her place in society. Then she meets Shay, who not only refuses the surgery that will make life better, but tries to convince Tally there are others out there fighting the system. Finding the truth means questioning all Tally’s ever known. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Student Annotations: Nonfiction

Tonight's class is on nonfiction readers' advisory.  That is a big topic I know.  To help, we break it up into narrative nonfiction, biography, and memoir, but that is still just the tip of the iceberg.

In terms of resources, there are 2 specific nonfiction RA books out there:
Speaking of Sarah, she also has a nonfiction blog called Citizen Reader and those of you who live in the Chicagoland area, ARRT is hosting Sarah in April at the Deerfield Public Library.  You can click here to register-- all are welcome.  Here are the details:
Please join us at the Deerfield Public Library, 920 Waukegan Road, on Wednesday, April 27, from 1:30-3:00, for a program titled The Second Stacks: Life Stories, presented by Sarah Statz Cords. The topic of her presentation is Nonfiction Reader’s Advisory, specifically biography, memoirs and travel narratives. For librarians who lead book discussions, this talk should help you to generate ideas for titles to use and should be helpful to anyone working in Reader’s Advisory. The program will be from 1:30 – 3:00 and then there will be refreshments.
Ms. Cords reviews books for Library Journal and Bookslut.com, and has taught a course on adult reading interests at the University of Wisconsin - Madison School of Library and Information Studies.   She is the author of The Real Story:   A Guide to Nonfiction Reading Interests and is an associate editor for Reader’s Advisory Online and the co-author of Now Read This III: A Guide to Mainstream Fiction.
I also highly suggest Rick Roche's long running blog, ricklibrarian.  Rick works in a library in a town neighboring mine, he writes about nonfiction and more.  He also wrote Real Lives Revealed: A Guide to Reading Interests in Biography (Real Stories) which is part of Sarah's series.

Try these resources, but don't forget to also check out what the students read and wrote about this week on the class blog.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Last year's consensus best book of the year was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  Maybe it was all the hype, but I have to disagree.  I was underwhelmed at best.  I think my main problem is that I was NOT shocked by the fact that Johns Hopkins stole a poor black woman's cells and used them for research without informed consent.  In 1951, poor black people were not treated well.  And guess what, they still aren't.

Another huge problem I had with this book is that Skloot put too much of herself into the story.  For example, when describing a barrage of phone calls she had been receiving from Henrietta's daughter Deborah,  she inserts info about herself having the flu.  Rebecca, I don't care about you, I am following the story of Henrietta's family.

This is all not to say that I didn't like the book.  I thought it was good. It had some very memorable scenes and it was extremely entertaining, but it did not scream Best Book of the Year to me.  I felt like people were surprised by the subject matter and were impressed by how readable and fair Skloot's treatment of it was.  Good for her, but should it be the best book for these reasons?

But the point of  my reviews here is to talk about who would like this book and why, not how I feel. So here is the review that you can use to help readers.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an interesting read because it tells 2 distinctly different stories in one well flowing narrative.  Here is part of the official book description from the publisher:
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. 

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave. 
Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.  
Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of. 
Let me start by talking about the science writing.  Skloot does an excellent job of explaining both the medical research, how cells are kept in culture, how HeLa cells were used to solve very real health problems, and how they are transported.  She makes what could be highly technical very readable.  She turns the science into a journey.  She is our tour guide as we are led through a normally closed world.

The science part also includes a discussion on the evolution of medical ethics and the rise of "informed consent" as opposed to just plan consent.  Skloot uses examples other than Henrietta to underscore the scope of the problem.

The other major plot line is that of the life of Henrietta Lacks, probably the most important person in modern medical research, yet also the most unknown.  Skloot presents Henrietta's family history, her terrible battle to fight the cancer eating away at her, and the husband and children she left behind.  Skloot leaves no stone unturned here as she meets and interviews every living member of the Lacks family she can find, while also tracking down the truth behind those that have died.  The story of this one American family is equal in importance to the scientific part here.

Skloot's own journey as a writer, spending ten years of her life on this story is a third plot line here too.  Her life became entangled with the Lacks' in a way that means she will forever be connected to them.  She needed them to write this book, but it also seems that they needed her to move toward forgiveness and personal healing.  Their interaction, especially those between Rebecca and Deborah Lacks, make for some of the most moving scenes in the book.

The best thing about this book is that Skloot does not judge anyone.  All sides have their good and bad here, and Skloot treats all equally.  She could have started demonizing the scientists or making too many excuses for the Lacks family, but she did not.  I commend her for that.  Her fairness is indisputable.

This book has a very intimate tone.  It's scope is surprisingly large too.  It spans about 100 years.  It is a social history of one poor, black family.  It is a scientific history of the most important group of cells in the world.  It is a discussion on medical ethics.  And, it is the story of a writer chasing a story, looking for answers and resolution to questions which might not ever be fully answered.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  intimate, medical research, family

Readalikes:  This book is tricky for readalikes because you really have to get at the "WHY" someone enjoyed this book in order to make a good suggestion.  So, I will break my suggestions up in to larger areas of appeal.  But first, here is Skloot's official web page which includes more resources.

If you liked the descriptions of medical research I would suggest Life Itself: Exploring the Realm of the Living Cell by Boyce Rensberger, The Proteus Effect: Stem Cells and Their Promise for Medicine by Ann B. Parsons, and Chasing Medical Miracles: The Promise and Perils of Clinical Trials by Alex O'Meara. (Thanks to NoveList for these suggestions)

If you liked how Skloot made you think about medical ethics I would suggest Brave New Bioethics by Gregory E. Pence.

Atul Gawande is a doctor and journalist who writes quite a bit about the medical world including personal history and ethics.  For those who want a larger view of modern American medicine and medical research, try anything by Gawande.

If you want more information on how African Americans have been treated by the medical world I would suggest Tuskegee's Truths: Rethinking the Tuskegee Syphilis Study edited by Susan Reverby or Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet Washington.

If you liked the social history aspects of the story and the descriptions of Henrietta's family and the injustice they lived through try The Help By Kathryn Stockett for a look a historical fiction look at the life of black women during the years just after Henrietta died.  For a strict social history of African American life try the work of Henry Louis Gates and Cornel West.  Both are scholars who write readable social history about every aspect of African American life.

For readers who want more memoirs of how a family deals with cancer try About Alice by Calvin Trillin, It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong, and Promise Me: How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer by Nancy G. Brinker.

I think that is plenty.  Happy reading.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Discussion: Backlist Gems

The backlist.  It is what makes the library stand apart from bookstores.  We have all the currently hot books, but we also have stacks filled with older titles you may have missed.

Even though I actively advocate for the backlist here on this blog, even I sometimes forget all the stacks have to offer to us.  Back on St. Patrick's day, we had a RA staff meeting and our fearless leader, Kathy, asked us to come prepared to book talk a potential book discussion book.  All were good, but Betty's choice was perfect.  She mentioned A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller which was originally published in 1959.  Here is the Amazon review:
Walter M. Miller's acclaimed SF classic A Canticle for Leibowitz opens with the accidental excavation of a holy artifact: a creased, brittle memo scrawled by the hand of the blessed Saint Leibowitz, that reads: "Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels--bring home for Emma." To the Brothers of Saint Leibowitz, this sacred shopping list penned by an obscure, 20th-century engineer is a symbol of hope from the distant past, from before the Simplification, the fiery atomic holocaust that plunged the earth into darkness and ignorance. As 1984 cautioned against Stalinism, so 1959's A Canticle for Leibowitz warns of the threat and implications of nuclear annihilation. Following a cloister of monks in their Utah abbey over some six or seven hundred years, the funny but bleak Canticle tackles the sociological and religious implications of the cyclical rise and fall of civilization, questioning whether humanity can hope for more than repeating its own history.
I listened to Betty describe the book to us and was shocked that although the title was familiar to me, I had no idea what this book was about.  It sounds like a book I would love.  It sounds like a book at least a dozen patrons of mine would love.  And it has been sitting on our shelf, waiting for me to suggest it to someone.  It makes you think of the hundreds of other great reads that are going unread on our shelves.

My favorite backlist titles to hand out to patrons are The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall,  the Jeeves novels by P. G. Wodehouse, and The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier.

The blog Shelfrenewal centers around the idea of dusting off backlist gems and inspiring librarians to start suggesting them to readers again.

What about you?  What backlist titles are on your radar right now?  And by backlist, I am talking about anything older than 5 years which is readily available in the average public library's open stacks.

You can access the Monday Discussion Archive here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

More Links and Resources Piling Up

I am at a crossroads again. The links I have been saving to use for a single post has gotten too long and I need to just suck it up and have a post of links. So here are some things that I feel are worth your time:
  • Even though I read Blogging for a Good Book every day, I keep forgetting how great it is as a resource.  All they do on this blog from the Williamsburg Regional Library is write about one book each weekday, but the do it very well.  BFGB is a great example of a blog sticking to its mission.  You can expect a solidly written, appeal based review of one book or DVD by a different member of the library staff every day.  It is fun to read, but it is also invaluable as a resource.  At this point, they have an archive of so many reviews that you can use the tags to search for just about any kind of book for any reader.  Try it.
  • Books on the Nighstand interviewed one of my favorite authors, Ian McEwan.  Use this link to head on over to their site to listen.
  • The Guardian ran this great interview with Henning Mankell talking about the publication of his last Wallander novel.
  • Looking for a good crime story, check out this post by J. Kingston Pierce in Kirkus Reviews listing his personal list of the top 5 most dependable crime writers. Also checkout the discussion that is going on in the comments; there are a ton of great crime fiction suggestions here.
  • Rose Fox, an editor at PW, shares her personal story of developing a love for ebooks.  Here is Part 1 and Part 2
  • Charles Frazier is going to have a new book this fall.  First one in 5 years and only the second novel since the wonderful Cold Mountain (still one of my all-time favs).  For more buzz on books that are still to come in 2011, use this link from Early Word.
  • Publishers Weekly has released their 2010 year-end analysis of bestsellers.  Click here to get started in exploring their numerous reports.  These reports are always very interesting and useful.  I make the students read and discuss them.  We will be doing this at the end of April.  I will post my opinions about it in more detail then.
That's enough for today.  My pile of links will start growing again tomorrow.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

BPL Book Discussion: The Other Wes Moore

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates
On Monday despite many people being on vacation, we still had 12 people at the BPL to discuss The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore.

Wes Moore has turned this book into a movement.  Before reading this book, I would suggest going to his website.  In fact, here is the official summary from that site:

Two kids with the same name, liv­ing in the same city. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, dec­o­rated com­bat vet­eran, White House Fel­low, and busi­ness leader. The other is serv­ing a life sen­tence in prison for felony mur­der. Here is the story of two boys and the jour­ney of a generation. 
In Decem­ber 2000, the Bal­ti­more Sun ran a small piece about Wes Moore, a local stu­dent who had just received a Rhodes Schol­ar­ship. The same paper also ran a series of arti­cles about four young men who had allegedly killed a police offi­cer in a spec­tac­u­larly botched armed rob­bery. The police were still hunt­ing for two of the sus­pects who had gone on the lam, a pair of broth­ers. One was named Wes Moore. 
Wes just couldn’t shake off the unset­tling coin­ci­dence, or the inkling that the two shared much more than space in the same news­pa­per. After fol­low­ing the story of the rob­bery, the man­hunt, and the trial to its con­clu­sion, he wrote a let­ter to the other Wes, now a con­victed mur­derer serv­ing a life sen­tence with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of parole. His let­ter ten­ta­tively asked the ques­tions that had been haunt­ing him: Who are you? How did this happen? 
That let­ter led to a cor­re­spon­dence and rela­tion­ship that has lasted for sev­eral years. Over dozens of let­ters and prison vis­its, Wes dis­cov­ered that the other Wes had a life not unlike his own: Both had grown up in sim­i­lar neigh­bor­hoods and had dif­fi­cult child­hoods, both were father­less; they’d hung out on sim­i­lar cor­ners with sim­i­lar crews, and both had run into trou­ble with the police. At each stage of their young lives they had come across sim­i­lar moments of deci­sion, yet their choices and the peo­ple in their lives would lead them to aston­ish­ingly dif­fer­ent destinies. 
Told in alter­nat­ing dra­matic nar­ra­tives that take read­ers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of sur­pris­ing redemp­tion,The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a gen­er­a­tion of boys try­ing to find their way in a chal­leng­ing and at times, hos­tile world.
Our discussion was long and animated.  Every single person had something to say about this alternatively inspiring and heart-breaking story.  I want to start with where we ended to set the tone for the discussion notes to follow.  After our 90 minute discussion, I asked the group to give me a word or phrase which they would use to describe this book.  Here is what I got:
  • Nature vs Nurture
  • Hope
  • Don't give up on people
  • Inspirational
Also, before the discussion began, I set some ground rules to help the discussion of a book about 2 people with the same name go more smoothly.  We referred to the author Wes Moore as Wes 1 and the incarcerated Wes Moore as Wes 2.  I will use this designation in the notes that follow.

Now on to the discussion itself.
  • I began asking who liked, didn't like and was so-so on the book.  For the first time in awhile, we had 0 dislikes!  8 liked the book, and 4 were so-so.  The so-so votes were mostly because although they were engaged by the story, the writing was plain.  This is true.  Wes 1 is a bright, well educated young man, but he has no training as a writer or even a journalist.  This is a solidly written book, but compared to our last discussion title, Rush Home Road, which was simply put, beautifully written, with lyrical and magical language, The Other Wes Moore was comprised of powerful, but declarative sentences.  Once we agreed that it was the content, not the language used that we would discuss, everyone dove right in.
  • Many participants mentioned how they always enjoy books about social history, but it was the personal nature of this story that really drew the participants in.  One participant said she was so engrossed in the story that when Wes 2 turned his back on the job training and went back to selling drugs, she had to set the book aside.  She was just so sad for him.  Another participant talked about how we always hear how much tougher it is for young, black men, but this really made her understand WHY.  Another shared how this opened her eyes to specific situations with real live people.  Finally on this topic, someone shared how the personal story and the social dynamics that led each Wes to a different fate were interesting.
  • People appreciated the details Wes included about the prison waiting room, the corners where drugs were sold, the living conditions, and the Bronx during the 1980s.  Everyone agreed these places came alive for us.  And that says a lot since we are a long way from 1980s inner city Baltimore or the Bronx.
  • We discussed at length how both Weses were very bright but Wes 2 fell through the cracks.  We talked about the failures of the education system for certain students.  Even Wes 1 almost fell through the cracks and he was at a private school and eventually military school.
  • This led to a discussion of bad teachers vs bad parents. The group shared personal experiences and opinions on this topic.  We came down agreeing that teachers cannot do everything, but that  parents also need to take more responsibility.  One participant said this book should be required 8th grade reading.  I added that Wes Moore agrees, and he travels all over the country talking to at risk young people and their parents and teachers.  Click here to see more on that topic.
  • I asked the group to consider why Wes 1 was so haunted by Wes 2, so haunted that years after the fact, Wes 1 tracked Wes 2 down and began the dialog that led to this book.  Someone offered that she felt Wes 1 genuinely wanted to figure out why it wasn't him.  It all goes back to the quote that defines this book: "The chilling truth is that his life could have been mine.  The tragedy is that my story could have been his."  We also felt that Wes wrote the book to help others.  That is evident when you get to the end and he has a "call to action" with long lists of groups and resources to try to stop young people from turning to a life of crime.
  • Then, a participant chimed in that she felt he wrote the book to explore the age old dilemma of nature versus nurture.  We discussed this at length, and decided that the book as a whole falls in the middle here, with a lean toward nurture.  Both boys had serious intervention.  For Wes it was his mom.  She stayed on him even when he was ditching school and failing.  She didn't take defeat and sent him to military school.  However, once there, Wes tried to run away 5 times.  It took him to decide that he was going to not try to run away a sixth time for him to succeed.  Wes 2 had one last chance when he entered Job Corps.  He got serious, government funded job training.  He was a star of the program.  He was a leader to others, but when he went back home and worked for awhile, he couldn't take the pressure of supporting his family and went back to the drug trade.  We felt Wes 2 needed a network after Job Corps to step in and support him when times got tough, but he still needed to decide for himself to stay on the right path.
  • These 2 moments described above were talked about at length.  To us, they represented the "life changing moments" for the 2 Weses.  Wes 1 decided to stay at military school and was very successful.  His life has only gone up from that one moment, the moment he stopped resisting.  For Wes 2, he had a series of ups and downs, but after he gave up on his Job Corps training, it was all downhill.  The group then shared life changing moments in their own lives, or the lives of their children.  We all appreciated everyone's honesty and willingness to share.  This is a great discussion point to get your group to look at the larger issues of the book.  It is easy to get caught up in the 2 Weses personal stories, but we should not lose sight of the universal message of this book.
  • The Weses talk about expectations, saying if your network of family and friends expects you to succeed you will and if they expect you to fail you will.  We talked about this.  Is it that simple?  We decided no.  This means that when you fail, you can blame others, but ultimately we agreed that in this book, and in life, when you fail as badly as Wes 2 has, you have no one to blame but yourself.  Even Wes 1, who had a supportive family had to make the decision for himself to stay in school.  However, if we are saying Wes 1 succeeded due to more nurturing, there is a problem with this argument.  How can I be the only one to blame for my failures if I get less nurturing? If I need intervention from good people to succeed and I don't get that intervention, when I fail is it my fault?  We decided this is a problem too big to discuss in book group, but maybe solving this huge dichotomy holds the key to solving the problems described in this book.
  • We ended by talking about what ideas the book gave us for ameliorating the conditions that led to the imprisonment of Wes 2.  The question, which I found here, asks, "What can be done to ensure a more productive life for the many young men who grow up on the streets."  We had some great ideas from the group:
    • Get this book in the hands of young people
    • Get involved by mentoring.  If you can turn around 1 kid that is more important than helping no one.
    • Teach parenting skills.  We could see how Wes 2 was completely unprepared to be a father, by no fault of his own.  Specifically, we thought more parents needed to be taught how to teach their kids right from worng.  The group felt that is a problem all over the country, rich and poor, urban, suburban, and rural.  Someone else suggested more birth control education in middle school would have also helped Wes 2.
    • Others mentioned having more inter-generational time for kids.  Not just having this contact with families though.  We talked about allowing youth to go to nursing homes and allowing seniors who are unrelated to the children, going into the schools to share their life experiences.
    • Make life on the street less appealing by giving these kids the chance to experience something else.  For example, go to the corner, throw the kids in a bus and take them to a museum.  They have no idea what else is out there.  Maybe if they had more experiences they would chose a different path.
    • Keep them busy.  More after school programs no matter who is running them.  This allows the kids to both stay busy and try new things.
Readalikes:  The best readalike for this book is David Simon's The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood for which a HBO mini series was made.  It also became the basis for the critically acclaimed HBO series, The Wire.  Each of these read and watch alikes are deeply rooted in serious journalism and follow the real people of Baltimore, from the dug dealers, to the kids working the corners and from  the mayor to the kids who make it out and go to college.  Everything Wes Moore relates from his and the incarcerated Moore's life is corroborated here.  Simon was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun for many years, while Wes Moore, although he did an admirable job, is not a professional writer.  So if you want more detail, on Baltimore, Simons is the author for you.

For those who want a deeper look into inner-city poverty during the era when the Moore boys grew up, the best book out there is still There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in The Other America by Alex Kotlowitz.

For readers who were interested in the inspirational story of the writer Wes Moore, I would suggest the novels of Paulo Coelho, specifically The Alchemist.  Also, Best Inspiration is a great website of all things inspirational (not just religious).  On the main page, in the left gutter, they have a list of inspirational authors.  Try one.  Or read the book that inspired Wes to make changes in his life, My American Journey: An Autobiography by Colin Powell.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Discussion Class Tonight

Tonight is the class where I teach the students how to plan and implement a book discussion group at their library.  We are discussing The History of Love by Nicole Krauss.  I have talked about this book before here.

I have two versions of my book discussion training.  This one is the 3 hour version where I give a detailed lecture about the entire process of running a book club, beginning with the intention to do it through to actually leading a discussion.  The second half is a discussion itself.

What I like about this method for the students is that we can take time to discussion the theory but then we get to see it in action.  I also remind the students that attending this class means that you can say on your resume that you have been trained in running book discussions.  And, they can also say that they have participated in a professionally led discussion.  Also, I highly suggest that when students go out into the real world and lead a discussion with patrons that they use the book we did in class because then they have an idea of how it will go.  I did this back in January of 2001, leading 3 people in a discussion of A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines, which was the book I did with Ted Balcom when I was a student in GSLIS 763 back in the last century.

I also do training for book club participants, whether they meet in the library or not.  This is aimed toward book groups who have lost their mojo.  Called, Recharge Your Book Club, you can access the handouts and resource sheets here.  This presentation focuses more on how to re-establish ground rules to make the actual discussion more fun.  It also includes tips on picking better books.  Tip #1, do not let the randomly assigned leader choose their favorite book.  Click here for more.

One of my favorite book discussion resources is Lit Lovers.  Recently, I found 2, new to me, pages on their very useful site:

Lit Lovers encourages you to share their resources as long as you tell people where you got them, which I have done.

Check out my handouts too and let me know if you have book club tips and tricks to share.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Libraries and Comic Books

Toby Greenwalt of the Skokie Public Library, who presented this program on Virtual RA last year for ARRT, spoke at last weekend's Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2).  His program entitled, Heralds of Change: Comic Books, Libraries and Innovation is now available for viewing on his blog, theanalogdivide.

Click here to view the program.  Anyone who works with graphic novel readers or collections should watch this.  Thanks for sharing Toby.

Women's History Month: Displays and Resources

Women's History Month 2011

I thought I would do a round-up of lists and resources for Women's History month before March slips away from me.

First, at the BPL, our fearless leader Kathy did an amazing job with the annotations to go with our Women's History Month display.  This year we focused on "Fictional Stories About Real-Life Historical Women."  She described each woman and then suggested a book.  Click here for the full list.  And that cool picture is from the artwork John, our display guru, created for the display.

What is great about these books is that they appeal to male and female readers.  Women's History month is great, but we don't want to alienate half of our patrons with a major display.

Women's History month is also the time of year when the entire literary community discusses what exactly makes something Women's Fiction.  I will not take up the topic with our class until the first week in April, but recently, I came across this article about the current state of chick lit and a re-definition of women's lit.  The links here are updated, thought provoking, and educational.  Even if you are a big Women's Fiction fan yourself, I suggest taking a look here.

The reigning expert on Women's Fiction in the library world is Illinois librarian (and my friend) Rebecca Vnuk.  She has two books that are worth looking at as you help your Women's Fiction Readers: Women's Fiction Authors: A Research Guide (Author Research Series) and Read On...Women's Fiction: Reading Lists for Every Taste (Read On Series) and she is currently working on another Women's FIction book for the Genreflecting series.  You can read her women's fiction blog here.

Finally, a few words about romance, since it is very popular with female readers.  I have said it before, and I will say it again, my favorite romance resource is Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  Along with their irreverent but extremely helpful book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels, Sarah Wendell and Cany Tan have helped me to help many romance readers.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Discussion: Keeing Track of Your Reading

One of my 10 Rules of Basic RA Service is "write down adjectives about what you read; plot you can find."

I follow my own rule by writing about what I read here on this blog using the What I'm Reading tag.

There are many reasons to write down what you read.  The first is quite simply so you can remember something about the book later.  I say write down adjectives because you really can find the plot easily these days.  However, the details about the pacing, storyline, characters, tone, mood, style and language are very difficult to recall unless you write them down somewhere.

Who should do this?  I think anyone who is an avid reader should be recording their thoughts about what they read.  Otherwise, you will never remember why you liked or disliked a book.  It will help you to also remember an author you may want to go back to some day.

For librarians, I have to say bluntly, why read anything at all of you are not going to record the appeal of the book?  How can you use your reading to help patrons if you have nothing to refer back to.  The best way I can explain this is through an actual patron transaction I had at the desk last week

A patron came by to show me the audio book she had just checked out.  It was American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic by Joseph Ellis.  She asked me if I'd read it.  I knew I had read it; actually, I remembered listening to it, but besides knowing a bit about Ellis as a writer, I could not remember any details about the book.  But no fear, I searched this blog for "American Creation Ellis" and here is what I found:
 On a completely different note, I also read American Creation: Triumphs, Tragedies, at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph Ellis. Here, Revolutionary Era historian Ellis focuses on six situations during the crucial years of the Revolutionary Era and looks at them in isolation from start to finish. What I most enjoyed here was that each situation got a full treatment. For example, the discussion about how Washington and Company dealt with the Native American question had its own chance to be told without forcing it to fit into the larger narrative of the times. This history book reads more like a book of essays or even short stories. Ellis introduces each piece and lets the reader know who the main players will be. I also enjoyed how Ellis is not afraid to point out where these Revolutionary heroes failed.

Overall I enjoyed the book; it also helped that I read it over the Fourth of July holiday. However, I was getting a bit bored of it by the end. Those who are interested in the Revolutionary Era could try other books by Ellis, but I would also suggest David McCullough's John Adams or 1776 as must reads. There is also Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton or Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts . For a fiction option, Howard Fast's April Morning is worth a look.
You can see that there is very little plot in this review.  I wrote down what I needed to most remember about the book.  In this case, how it reads more like separate essays or even short stories.  I also noted how Ellis points out the failures in our national heroes.  These are key issues which may steer a potential reader toward or away from this book.  I would not have remembered this level of details without writing down the adjectives about what I am reading.  In other words, I would have been no help to this particular patron if I hadn't written something down, somewhere.

Obviously, if I had not read the book, I would have had to use other resources to find her some information, but in this case I had read it.  What's the use of reading it, if I can't recall anything about the book when someone asks about it 2.5 years later.

But not everyone out there is going to have a blog to record their reading.  A simple notebook with the title, author and a few phrases would work, but that is not search-able.  I highly recommend using a free online service like Shelfari (here is a link to my shelf),  LibraryThing, or  goodreads.  You can keep track of what you ARE reading, what you HAVE read and what you WANT to read all in one place.  And the best part is that you can access it anywhere you have Internet access.  My lists and thoughts about these books literally follows me wherever I go.

So for today's Monday discussion, I want to know if you keep track of your reading, and if so, what do you write down?   Where do you keep the information and how do you recall it?

For the full Monday Discussion Archive click here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What I'm Reading: Fay

Fay: A NovelBack in February I read Fay by Larry Brown.  Brown is a mid-list Southern author who's novel Joe, for which Fay is the next installment, was extremely well received by critics.

While Joe follows an abusive father, Fay is the story of his 17 year old daughter as she runs away.  You need not read Joe to understand what is happening in Fay, however, for the record, most reviewers (professional and amateur) think Joe is a better book, even those who loved Fay.

Fay runs away from her terrible family situation.  She is uneducated, naive, and beautiful. The books follows her as she makes her way down I-55 from Northern Mississippi to the Gulf.  Along the way she meets good people and bad people.  There is a little suspense, lots of drinking and smoking, some murder and plenty of sexual situations.  Fay does not make the best choices, but she makes some true connections with a few people, especially a middle aged policeman named Sam.  They are separated by some slightly unbelievable circumstances and the second half of the book follows each of their paths to try to reconnect; well Fay just keeps going while Sam is actively looking for her.

For the record, I personally did not enjoy this book, but that is not the reason I write these reviews or even read some books.  When you are a librarian who works with readers, you need to look at each book you finish and think about the reader who would enjoy it.  So the following paragraphs will not focus on my opinion, but rather, it is an assessment of who WOULD enjoy this book.

Appeal: Fay is a novel about white trash.  This is not meant to be taken disparagingly.  Fay knows she is white trash.  What makes this interesting however, is that Brown writes about these people without resorting to stereotypes.  This is refreshing.  It is an honest look at the way people live right now in rural, and economically depressed, Mississippi.  Brown lays out some terrible home situations for the characters, a bleak and hopeless future laid out in front of them, but also manages to show the goodness in many of these people, despite their lives.  Fay moves through multiple towns and living situations, meeting well drawn, realistic characters.  It may be shocking to some readers, but it all rings true.

More on the characters: this novel is not too heavy on plot.  Things happen, there is a bit of suspense to pull the reader along, but the real point of the novel is to observe the characters.  It is really more of a 500 page character sketch than a novel.  Of course Fay and Sam are the best drawn characters here, but multiple secondary characters get the full treatment by Brown here.  They are well rounded and time is spent on their thoughts, pasts, and current actions.  If you like character sketches and don't mind if the plot isn't the author's priority, this is the book for you.

The style also reflects the character sketch nature of the novel.  While most of the book is from Fay's point of view and another larger chunk is from Sam's, there are times when the reader is put in other characters' heads.  One of the best was when we are in Sam's wife, Amy's, car with her.

As a result, the pacing is measured.  The reader may spend 100 pages not really going anywhere, but rather, exploring characters, their motivations and their interactions.  You have to slow down at times to figure out who's head you are in too.  For the record, these were my favorite parts of the novel.  It was when Brown tried to take the story somewhere that he began to lose me.

The tone and language work as a team here.  This is a haunting, moving, moody, and heart-wrenching novel.  The language is stark and gritty.  They support each other to create a relentlessly hopeless feeling.  Even when things are going well for Fay, we know this is not an ideal life.  She may be better off than she was before the novel began, but this is not a life the reader aspires to.  I know many readers who enjoy this type of book

Three Words That Describe This Book: southern, character sketches, heart-wrenching

Readalikes:  For the record, many sources say Fay is an adult book for young adults.  I respectfully disagree.  While Fay has a young female protagonist, it is a very adult novel.  I am not just referring to the drinking, smoking, and sex here either, although there is quite a bit of that.  But rather, I think the focus on characters and lack of satisfying plot will not appeal to many young adults.

Although it does not have a southern setting, Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens feels very similar to Fay.  Both are about the journeys of a young woman as she makes her way alone in the world, relying on the kindness of strangers and trying to make something of herself.  Lansens' prose is more lyrical to underscore the historical and mystical tone of the novel, with Brown's language is gritty, rough, and stark to underlie his darker, more haunting tone.  Both take a head-on look at the harshness of life, however.

For those who liked the gritty, southern setting, with family dysfunction, and a young female protagonist, I would also suggest, Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison and Walking Through Shadows by Bev Marshall.

Joshilyn Jackson is a contemporary southern writer with a slightly lighter tone.  Also her female protagonists are more educated and a bit older than Fay.

Brown is often compared to William Faulkner.  Both are distinctly southern writers with a complex style and an haunting tone in their works.

Finally, something a bit different.  Fay is the story of a young girl, discarded by her family, and forced to make her way the best she can, including entering the sex industry.  It is also narrated in the female voice by a male writer.  If this interested you try Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.  It is set in Japan with a historical frame, but shares much with Fay in terms of appeal.