I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Death Brackets in Crime Fiction

I am busy finishing up an article for the Novemeber/December NoveList RA News (it is due today), but I found this yesterday and couldn't let it go by without passing it on.

My favorite crime fiction blog, Criminal Element, is running an interesting contest here. The idea is they are taking the tough guys from the ranks of detective and spy thriller novels, and ask the question, "Who could kick whose ass?"

The exercise itself is fun, but it is the rules that I love:
Instead, let’s play by their rules. Let’s set up a contest pitting some of the best master detectives against some of the finest heroes of thrillers.  They won’t get thrown into a chain link box with the other man. They’ll get dropped somewhere with no money and no sidekick. Someplace that isn’t home turf. Neutral territory. 
It might be the middle of Paris or the wilds of Alaska—the only thing I guarantee is it’ll be random.
Each hero gets dropped at least five miles from the other. They’ll know who their opponent is and have a photo of them. That’s all.  Let’s say there’s an explosive charge strapped to their ankle with a keypad and a timer.  It’ll go off in three days, or if somebody tries to remove it.
There’s a combination stamped on the metal. But that’s the code to disarm the other man’s device.
If we’re going to have quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals, we have to start with 16 competitors: Eight master detectives versus eight of the toughest spies, assassins, and anti-heroes will face each other in 4 rounds.  And by Friday, we’ll have a champion.
Each "face-off" reads like its own novel.  I am actually enjoying each as a standalone thriller story.  What a perfect tribute to the wonderful novelists who created these fascinating heroes.

So click on through and read the series.  The winner will be crowned later today.  I won't ruin it by telling you the finalists here.  Read through the entire series for yourself.  I promise, it is a great read.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

SF and Fantasy Flowchart of Best Reads

This needs very little explanation, just know it is awesome.

After NPR did their list of the 100 best SF and Fantasy reads this summer, SF Signal took the results and made this amazing flowchart of all 100 titles.  Navigate the chart by answering the questions and it will lead you to a reading suggestion.

From the RA standpoint, this is now an excellent resource to use with readers. From the SF and Fantasy newbie to the established fan who wants to try something new, all can benefit from using this chart.

I am going to see if we can hang this at the BPL somewhere.  I think I can print it on multiple sheets of paper and tape it together.  I just need to add some call numbers and properly site the folks at SF Signal, and it will be both eye-catching and extremely useful.

The fact that I am literally giddy over this chart must mean I am in the correct line of work. Right?  That or I am huge dork.  Probably both.

Genres You Need to Work On

By "you" in the title of this post, I mean me.  Even the most on the ball RA librarian has gaps in their knowledge.  No one can know everything about everything.  But acknowledging our personal weaknesses makes us better at our jobs.

Among the many reasons I love teaching RA to budding librarians is the fact that it forces me to stay on top of every genre.  The students expect me to be an expert each and every night.  Of course when the topic is Horror, I am good to go, but when we veer into Romance, I need to really prepare if I am going to be able to answer their questions and look competent.

I have made no effort to hide my personal dislike of romance novels, but my opinion does not really matter.  As a professional Readers' Advisor, I must be able to help each and every reader, no matter their personal reading tastes.  And romance readers come to the library in large numbers.

The Romance Writers of America does a fabulous job educating the public on the popularity of the genre.  From their website:

Popularity of Romance Fiction
(source: Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2010)
  • Romance fiction generated $1.36 billion in sales in 2009.
  • 9,089 new romance titles
  •  were released in 2009.
  • In 2009, romance was the second top-performing category on the New York Times, USA Today, andPublishers Weekly best-seller lists, beat only by the movie tie-in category.
  • Romance fiction sales are estimated at $1.358 billion for 2010.
  • 74.8 million people
  •  read at least one romance novel in 2008. (source: RWA Reader Survey)

Market Share of Romance Fiction
(source: Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2010)

  • Romance fiction was the largest share of the consumer market in 2009 at 13.2 percent.  
Romance Market Share Compared to Other Genres
(source: Simba Information estimates)

  • Romance fiction: $1.36 billion in estimated revenue for 2009
  • Religion/inspirational: $770 million
  • Mystery: $674 million
  • Science fiction/fantasy: $554 million
  • Classic literary fiction: $462 million
What should I learn from these statistics?  Well, I now know that I cannot ignore romance just because I do not like it.  Too many people out there disagree with me. To help combat my personal ignorance, I follow the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, which delivers on its promise to have "all of the romance, none of the bullshit."

I follow their site to understand why romance readers love the books they do.  The blog has many useful on going series discussions, but one of my favorites is its new "Classic Romance: Which One First?" where the bloggers present an author to their readers and ask them to suggest a title and give their reasons why. They then sum up the readers responses and add their won expert opinions.

The first two authors tackled in the series were Johanna Lindsey and Jude Deveraux.

Going directly to the experts and fans of a genre with which you are less familiar and/or personally dislike is the perfect way to educate yourself on why others love this genre.  Classics in any given genre are also an excellent way to get to the heart of a genres lasting appeal.  So this particular series is a doubly helpful.

So, I have owned up to the genre I need to work on the most.  I hope this inspires you to identify your genre weaknesses and get to work filling in those gaps.  It will help you to be a better librarian and your patrons will reap the benefits immediately.

I will not leaving you hanging though.  After you pick a genre to work on, use the "labels" in the right gutter of RA for All to help.  Click on the genre you want to focus on and it will bring up every post I have written about that genre.  I know I have resources for every genre somewhere on the blog, some are more updated that others, but all are enough to get you started.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Student Annotations: Sense of Place

Tonight is the first night of student annotations of the semester.  You can expect new content on their blog every Wednesday by 6pm.

I cannot stress enough what a great resource the student blog is for finding your patrons (or yourself) their next good read.  There are over 550 annotations now! You can search by genre, format (graphic novel, audio), appeal (such as dark, character-centered, fast paced), author, or title.  There are also at least 6 readalike options with the reasons why they are readalikes for each title.  We have full-text searching too.  So, if you search for a specific title, your results could include both a full annotations for said title or a place where this title is mentioned as a readalike option.

Anyway, enough with the promotion, click here to see this week's brand new entries for book in the genres in which the setting is THE most important appeal factor: fantasy, historical fiction, and westerns. Also the links enabled in the last sentence for each genre will pull up everything ever posted under that genre

Banned Books Week Map

I know I mentioned Banned Books Week yesterday, but I wanted to spend a moment highlighting the importance of this annual commemroation of challenged materials.

Many people do not realized that there are still people, right here in America (land of the First Amendment), in the 21st Century who are still trying to stop you from choosing what book you should read.  Yes, it is true, hundreds of times a year all over this country people are asking libraries to remove a book from their shelves for the sole reason that they personally found it objectionable.

Thankfully, most libraries simply hear out these censoring fools and then decide to keep the book on the shelf. But the American Library Association keeps track of every challenge that a library receives so that the public can fully understand the continuing scope of this problem. Click here to access their lists and promotional materials.

Still don't believe the problem is that bad.  Thanks to Book Browse, I found this map of recently challenged books. Click on it and see for yourself.  Why not read a book that was challenged in your area?

You can also show your Banned Books Week style by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

RA Links Roundup

Getting ready for Book Lovers Club later tonight, but I wanted first to pass on some interesting links I have been collecting over the last week.

Yes, it is time once again for the RA for All Links Roundup:

Book Lover's Club Tonight

Back by popular demand, it is The Berwyn Library's Book Lover's Club, featuring me, Kathy, and you, the book lover, at  Olive or Twist!

Click here for the full info.

Come join us as we moderate a discussion by you, about the books which are captivating you at the moment.  Share your favorite titles, listen to what others have to say about their reads, and go home with a list compiled by us of everything that was discussed.

The idea is that this is a no pressure place way to share books with like minded people. It is part book discussion, part social club...all fun.  The discussion goes from 7-8:15 and then we move to the bar to encourage people to mingle, meet, and continue sharing.

So come and join us.  But please, give us a call first. We are trying to be better prepared for the crowds this time. 708.795.8000 ex 3005.

If you can't make it tonight but want to join us at a future Book Lover's Club, we will always meet on the final Tuesday of odd numbered months.  Huh? Yeah blame me on this one that was my cute idea.  What it means for you normal calendar carrying citizens is that we will gather again on November 29th (same place and time).

Still on the fence, click here to see a sampling of what was discussed back in June at our first meeting.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Discussion: Reading Tatses Evolution From Kid to Adult

Shel Silverstein had a "new" book come out last week, Every Thing On It. Although he died in 1999, this is a collection of never released poems and drawings.

Without a doubt,  Shel Silverstein was my favorite writer when I was a kid.  I would read his poems over and over again, as do my kids now.  Looking back, my love of Silverstein as a kid may have something to do with my interest in more macabre literature as an adult.

This got me thinking about our taste as children and how it evolves over time into our adult reading preferences.  My 9 year old loves fantasy.  She will read anything with a strong sense of place and a touch of magic.  While she does read some more realistic fiction, I have found that it needs to be faster paced for her to enjoy it.  She also prefers contemporary realistic fiction to historic.  And, like her mom, scary reads are also high on her favorites list/ Some of her favorite writers are Shel Silverstein, Rick Riordan, and J.K. Rowling.

My 6 year old is an advanced readers and loves nonfiction.  He prefers encyclopedic tomes on topics he is interested in: Star Wars, Legos, Dinosaurs, Birds, Dolphins and Whales.  Any of the DK Eyewitness books are a favorite.  He is all about memorizing information.  When he reads fiction (with prodding) he likes a bit of mystery or adventure in his stories.  An old favorite are the Nate the Great stories and a new favorite is the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series.  He also likes Shel Silverstein quite a bit.

I wonder if their likes now will continue through to adulthood, or if they will take a different track.

Again, for me, looking back, I can see my reading tastes on a single evolutionary track beginning in childhood.  My love of Shel Silverstein's macabre and odd sense of humor led to me reading darker books as I grew.  I still love odd, macabre stories with protagonists who are interesting but not always likable.  If you think about it, this also describes Silverstein.

So, now it is your turn.  For today's Monday Discussion, tell me about your reading tastes as a kid and think about how they have evolved or changed as you grew.

For past Monday Discussions click here.

On a side note, if you are interested in the legacy of Silverstein and his other subversive children's book writers Seuss and Sendak, click here for this great essay from the NY Times Book Review.

Friday, September 23, 2011

BPL Book Discussion: Sarah's Key

On Monday the BPL Book Discussion group met both to have our discussion and say goodbye to long time member Helen as she embarks on a new journey, moving to Tennessee.  So after a fun party with a book shaped cake, we settled in with a VERY large turnout (Helen is much loved) of 18 people to discuss Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay.
Before I begin with the discussion particulars, I do want to make a comment about the optimal size for a book discussion group.  I always say if you can have 12 people, that is perfect.  18 eager participants was a bit difficult for me to handle.  Thankfully, we all know each other and generally do not have such a large group, but I did spend more time trying to make sure everyone who wanted to talk got their chance and less time trying to help us delve deeper into the book.  Overall, I left dissatisfied with the quality of our discussion.  Others noted this too.  It was not the book though, it was the size of the group. But if it meant Helen got a bigger send-off after 50 years of living in Berwyn, it was worth it.

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.
Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.
Now on to our discussion:
  • As usual we began with liked, disliked, and so-so.  With 18 people we had almost a 50-50 split between liked and so-so. The "why" people moved from liked to so-so came up throughout.
  • Before I get into the specifics of the book, I do want to mention that a few times we did talk about the parallels between the French forgetting the events surrounding the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup and the 9/11 10th anniversary coverage.  We talked about how no one thought people would ever forget Pearl Harbor, but they have.  The idea of making sure that horrible atrocities in history are not forgotten is the crux of this novel.  Whether or not you liked the story or how de Rosnay chose to tell it, this central theme is an honorable one.
  • We started with talking about Julia.  Julia dominates the book.  Yes, the story alternates for the first half between her story in 2002 and Sarah's in 1942, but it is Julia who we are with for the long haul. Many were annoyed by Julia.  Her obsession was maddening and we found her a bit selfish, but we all agreed that she grew over time.  Her immaturity was manageable because as she got pregnant, decided to leave her husband, and helped 2 families confront their deep secrets and begin to heal, we saw her growth. 
  • On the other hand, Sarah's story in Sarah's voice was loved by all.  One person said it felt like Anne Frank's Diary. We were riveted by her dilemma and her anguish.  We were also split as to being surprised to find out that Sarah kept her family secret for her entire life, taking it to her grave without passing the truth on to her son.
  • We talked about the style..  We all agreed that the short alternating chapters at the beginning of the book helped to alleviate the difficult story of the roundup of the Jews and the terrible conditions they were put through.  There are some truly terrible descriptions in this novel of what these people were put through; particularly upsetting is the scene of the children being separated from their parents in the French internment camp.  However, de Rosnay's decision to interrupt Sarah's story with Julia's modern day quest to find herself and the truth about that terrible time 60 years before, made it slightly more manageable. It also gave the reader a second to catch her breath and get some perspective on the entire situation.  This is a lot of tragedy to take in all at once here.
  • Some people though felt cheated by the style.  One participant elaborated by saying it felt like a simplistic trick of sensationalism to alternate the stories and stop each with a cliff hanger before going back to the other.
  • The discussion of style led to one about the writing.  People were disappointed with the writing.  One called it "mediocre" while another said "uneven." I reminded the group that the novel was originally written in French, so it could be a translation issue.  But I also suggested that de Rosnay (who is a very successful French novelist) chose to use a more plain style of writing to reflect and enhance Julia's position as a journalist.  They conceded this, but others also noted that they felt too many of the secondary characters were stereotypical.  With this point, I agreed and could not offer a counter opinion.
  • The theme of the destructive power of secrets was discussed at length.  Sarah knows this all too well, as she locks her brother in the cabinet thinking he was safe when the French police came to get them because her parents kept the secret of how bad things truly were for the Jews in Paris.  If she had only knew what was going on, she never would have locked him in what became his death chamber.  She would also have tried harder to escape sooner.  Julia is a journalist whose job it is to uncover secrets.  She uncovers her in-laws secret of their connection to Sarah, a secret which has put a physical distance between the members of their family ever since 1942.  So many secrets, and they all are so destructive.
  • These secrets violate the mantra of all Holocaust memorials which tell us all "To Never Forget."  Unfortunately the French people had forgotten what terrible things they did to their own citizens.  While it may seem too atrocious to discuss, de Rosnay, as a Frenchwoman, took a huge stand by writing this book.  She is vowing "To Never Forget." We admired this.
  • We talked about the importance getting and saving the stories from our veterans of WWII.  But we also understand from reading books like Sarah's Key, that we only get the stories on their terms.  Some things may still be too terrible for them to share with anyone.  It made us wonder about the secrets that are still being held tight, all of these years later.
  • The title was not really discussed since it is fairly obvious.  Sarah carries the key to the cupboard with her for her entire life.  By the end, her son has reclaimed the key along with the family history he never knew about. Also Julia has found the key to living her life by researching Sarah's story.  I think we should assume that it is her key to happiness.  The participants were sad that the title could not be mined for a longer discussion.
  • We talked about Julia's future and specifically if she and Sarah's son William have a romantic future together.  We felt that if nothing else they will be dear friends due to their love of Sarah and her agonizing story.
  • As usual we ended with words or phrases to describe the book:
    • guilt
    • secrets
    • forgiveness
    • never forget
    • shame
    • family
    • illuminating
    • uncomfortable
    • atrocities
    • the camp
    • the key
    • death
    • tragic
    • the truth
Readalikes:  We made a lot of connections to Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise in our discussion.  We read and discussed this novel back in May of 2009.  You can click here for the full report, but both are set in occupied France during the early years of WWII.  The big difference here is that in Suite Francaise was written as the war was happening, while Sarah's Key looks back at the atrocities.  Nemirovsky's prose is also much more lyrical.  That is not a slight on Sarah's Key.  Julia, our narrator, is a journalist and her chapters, which hold the majority to Sarah's are in a more journalistic, "just the facts," style.  Sarah's chapters reflect her child's eye view.

Other WWII books we have discussed here at the BPL that would also work as readlaikes are The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (multiple story lines, exposing hidden atrocities) and The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman (exposing a hidden story of WWII).  The links for each title go back to the post on our discussion.

Obviously, the Holocaust angle works well here as a readalike, but it is not the only direction you could go with this book.  Books with alternating view point, following suffering women in an unfamiliar setting are some of the big appeals here.  For readers who want more of this, I would also suggest Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is a layered story about war, family secrets, and the search for the truth at all costs.  It is a much longer novel, more complex, and lyrical than Sarah's Key, but it is also a popular book discussion title.

Some readers will also want to be directed to nonfiction titles about life in occupied France.  NoveList suggests The Journal of Helene Barr; Barr was a young Jewish girl who lived this story.  I also suggest using this link to learn more about what actually happened during the Velodrome d'Hiver Roundup.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Graphic Novel Virgin?

Books on the Nightstand passed on a question from readers looking for suggestions on what their first stab at a graphic novel should be.  Here is the post with the list that they ended up with.

Make sure you also check out the internal link to Bookrageous' discussion on the same topic.

There is also my Graphic Novels for Grownups list (which probably needs an update at this point).

Finally, here is the link to all things tagged "Graphic Novels" here on RA for All.  It includes reviews of graphic novels I have read as well as resources, student annotations, and information on the format.

If you have never tried a graphic novel, jump right in.  This is a wonderful time to see what the fuss is about.  Personally, I am a HUGE graphic novel fan, so if you have specific questions about where you should begin you can always ask.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Forthcoming Series Fiction List and General Comments on Series in Libraries

In what will now become a relentless plugging of my appearance at PLA in MArch of 2012 (yes, I will be mentioning this for 6 more months!), I wanted to pass on a list by Janet Husband of eSquels who is the program's organizer and moderator.

Forthcoming Series Fiction appears on the fabulous eSquels blog.  It is too long to reproduce here, so click on over if you are interested.

From an RA standpoint, this list is helpful for collection development.  I will take it and make sure that I have the books we need at the BPL on order.  It is also useful to hand over to patrons who love series.

Finally, the sheer length of the list speaks volumes about the popularity of series titles in book publishing today.  It doesn't just feel like every book is part of a series, they almost all actually are.

Series are a safe bet for readers and publishers. Readers like knowing in advance what to expect.  If they like a series already, or really like certain characters, they like knowing that they can revisit them in a new book.  Publishers know readers feel this way and can feel more confident making a profit with a new series installment than with taking a chance on a new author.

Unfortunately, series are becoming a real problem for libraries.  They are hard to shelve in order.  Unless you are Sue Grafton, an author's series order does not match the libraries alphabetical order to shelve the books.  As a result, we librarians spend a lot of time printing off series order sheets for readers.  I don't mind, but I wish there were an easy way for patrons to help themselves.

But also, in sections like Mystery, Science Fiction, and Fantasy, the series overwhelm the great stand alone options which are like small cabooses cowering next to the freight trains of series bearing down on them.

I don't know how to fix this problem, but I do know that being aware of it is the first step.  Make sure your patrons are aware too.  How? Suggest non-series options to readers looking for something new.  Make lists of great non-series options in Mystery, Science Fiction, and Fantasy.  Or, do a display to highlight it further.  How about all three?

Just be aware that there is a fine balancing act going on between series and non series reading options and be prepared to promote and purchase for both.

Kindle is Ready To Start Sharing

First saw the news here at 9 am, but was too busy scoring pre-sale tickets to WILCO in Chicago  to post this.  Priorities.

Now I am watching the sky for flying pigs.  The BPL RA Fearless Leader is already on the case gathering details...

Click here for the official press release.

Teen Crossover Program--ONLY $15!

I am working on my book discussion report post for later today, but I didn't want to forget to remind you all of what a great deal ARRT has on October 11th:

Please join us for the "Crossover Connection: Linking Your Adult and Teen Collections,” presented by Amy Alessio, Teen Librarian at Schaumburg Township District Library and co-author of A Year of Programs for Teens, and Dan Schnepf, Teen Librarian at Schaumburg Township District Library. 

The program takes place on Tuesday, October 11, from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m., at the Schaumburg Township District Library, 130 South Roselle Road, Schaumburg. The cost of the program is $15.00.  

Please send your completed form and check made out to "Adult Reading Round Table" to Debbie Walsh, Head of Adult Services, Geneva Public Library, 127 James  St., Geneva, IL 60134, by October 4.

You can click here for the PDF with signup form.  BPL Display Guru John and I will both be there.  Those of us on the ARRT Steering Committee have also prepared a great YA Crossover bibliography to go with the program.  Thanks to Monica Harris for editing it.

The YA to Adult crossover read is a VERY hot trend right now.  Even publishers are getting in on the trend.  Random House has set up this page highlighting their best 2011 teen crossover reads.  There is also a great blog on the topic as well as many people making their own lists out there.

Seriously, why haven't you signed up yet?  I hope to see you there. Bring your YA staff with you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Call for Papers/Presentations: The Readers’ Advisory Research and Trends Forum

Here is a great opportunity for any librarians out there who wants a chance to present at the 2012 ALA conference.  Please see contact information below or send me any questions.

Deadline for submissions: January 15, 2012.
The RUSA/CODES Readers’ Advisory Research and Trends Committee invites submissions of presentations and/or papers for the 5th Readers’ Advisory Research and Trends Forum to be held in Anaheim, CA during ALA’s Annual Conference. The Forum will take place on Saturday, June 23rd from 10:30-12:00.
We invite papers or presentations on various responses to:
Browsing for Pleasure Reading in the Digital Age
All aspects of the topic, including information encountering, 2.0 applications, the intersection of human/computer guidance, ILS integration, the impact of ebook sites, and the implications for cataloging, reviewing, organizing, and searching data are welcome. As are other interpretations and approaches to the topic.
The committee employs a blind review process and will select three projects for 20-minute presentations.
To submit: Send an abstract of your paper or description of your presentation (up to 350 words) to: rusa.raforum@gmail.com by January 15, 2012. Please include on a separate cover sheet your name, title of presentation/paper, institutional affiliation, full contact information, and any technological needs. Include on your abstract ONLY the title of your presentation/paper.
Notification of acceptance will be made by February 27, 2012.

RA for All Roadshow: Crime Fiction

Today from 1-4, I will be presenting a training session on Crime Fiction. As part of my commitment to being "green," I do not provide paper handouts.  Therefore, this post will serve as the "handout" for today's presentation.  That means everyone gets full access to my resource list.  Please note: this is now the most up to date of my crime fiction lists.

Murder and Mayhem @ Your Library
Crime Fiction  Reader' Advisory

Becky's Favorite Crime Fiction Resources:


Becky's Favorite Mystery Resources:

Suspense, Romantic Suspense, Thriller, Adventure, and Psychological Suspense Resources:

True Crime Resources:

Awards for Crime Fiction Books in All Genres Mentioned Above:
Award lists, both the winners and nominees, are a great way to identify popular and critically acclaimed novels and authors for your crime fiction fans. Many of these awards include a category for best debut.  This is an excellent resource for your readers who claim they have already read "everything."
Becky's 5 RA Resources You Cannot Live Without:

  • Amazon: Plot summaries, possible read alikes, but most importantly, customer comments! 5 star and 1 star reviews are the most helpful.
  • NoveList: EBSCO Database: subscription required, check your local library.
  • Kent District Public Library’s What’s Next: Easy to retrieve and print lists of books in series order. Makes patrons happy. Brings them back!
  • Gnooks: When you are desperate…distract them.
  • RA for ALL: where you are right now

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Discussion: Books You Love to Hate

On of the most important things I try to teach my students is that while this job is great-- you get to talk about books all day-- you also have to remember that when you are doing so, you are always on stage.

Everything you say about any book while working in the library is deemed as an expert opinion, even if it is just your own personal opinion.  We have to be very careful not to trash any book, no matter how much we or even the patron in front of us hated it.

While you may be talking to a patron or a fellow staff member, remember other people in the building are listening in too.  What if they hear you trashing their favorite author? I know what will happen.  That patron will never ask you (or possibly anyone at your desk) for help in finding a book to read.  You have just alienated a patron who may then go tell everyone in town how rude you are, and you have no idea what happened.

The only way for us to match every patron with the book that is right for them is to not be negative about any book...EVER.  You should shift the focus away from why you personally did not like a book and move toward who would like it and why.  For more on this please see my review of Fay by clicking here.

However, this does not mean that we RAs do not have books we despise.  We do.  So today, I ask for you to get it all out.  Unload all the negativity here, so that you don't unload it on a patron.  We all need time to vent.  But I ask for one small favor in advance; please tell me why you hate these books so much.

I will begin.  For me the books I am most upset with have very little to do with the text, but rather they are books and authors who cause problems with me for my patrons or in how I work with patrons.

Let me explain.  First on my "hate" list is James Patterson.  This one is easy.  He annoys me because:
  1. He publishes too many books each year and they are not cheap. Since he is so popular we need multiple copies of each title. Soon Patterson will get his own budget line. I am not joking.
  2. He writes with different authors and patrons get crabby about how his style is so different depending on who he co-wrote the book with. Of course it is, these books are written by different people.  Mr. Patterson, just stop the charade and give them their names back to become authors in their own right.
  3. His picture is way too big on the back of his books, and he looks too smug. Okay, that reason is petty, but it still irks me.
Second on my "hate" list is any book that is bigger than itself.  What do I mean by this? Let's take The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown as an example.  This book kept me busy for three full years: placing holds, adding copies, finding readalikes, buying readalikes, making lists, etc...  All of this work, and now, years later, no one cares anymore.  Please note, this happens once every few years with a book, this title is just one of many examples.  The point is, I "hate" these books because they hijack the department.  Everything we do revolves around this one title and takes a huge portion of our time.  And that is time that is being taken away from other great books.

Third and last on my list are authors who use pseudonyms and then publish a single series under 3 different pseudonyms.  I am looking at you Jayne Ann Krentz! She has series where book one is written by Krentz, book two by Quick, and book three by Jayne Castle, but they are all her!  This would be fine except we file books here at the library by author's last name and not everyone knows these three names all equal one person.  So the series is filed in KRE, QUI, and CAS.  Thanks Ms. Krentz. For more on this click here for a past Monday Discussion on Pet Peeves.

Okay, so there is my venting.  For today's Monday Discussion, share yours.  And no holing back people.  This is your chance!

Click here for the Monday Discussion archive.

Friday, September 16, 2011

New Genre: Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction is a term that has been bouncing around the literary world since the Internet really took hold.  If you aren't aware of this emerging genre, I suggest you read this article about writing flash fiction that begins:
With the advent of the Internet, editors are looking for shorter works, more easily read on a computer screen. The current term is "flash fiction", a tale between 300-1000 words long. Longer than micro-fiction (10-300 words) but shorter than traditional short stories (3000-5000 words preferred by most magazines), flash fiction is usually a story of a single act, sometimes the culmination of several unwritten events.
Flash fiction is really becoming a legitimate force in the short fiction world.  It got mainstream attention with the 6 word memoirs phenomenon which has resulted in multiple books and the NPR 3 minute fiction contest (now on its 7th round) which is always judged by an acclaimed author.

It has even spawned a few side genres such as the cell phone novel and the Twitter novel.

There are multiple web based literary journals that support professional flash fiction writers.  One I would like to highlight today is Leodegraunce:
Jolie du Pre is so in love with flash fiction that she founded Leodegraunce, a site that showcases quality flash fiction of up to 200 words. A good story packed into 200 words or less gets right to the heart of the matter and is an exercise in writing tight. We hope to attract excellent authors of flash fiction to Leodegraunce as well as a long list of devoted readers.
They post flash fiction, a story at a time, for 1 week each. Jolie also interviews each author.  How do I know this?  Well, the BPL's very own Shaynie Klein's flash fiction story was just purchased and published by Leodegraunce.  Click here for the story and here for Shaynie's interview.  But hurry, it is only up for a few more days.  And congrats Shaynie!

Leodegraunce is also planning a book for 2012.  I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, here is a list of links from Shaynie about Flash Fiction.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Berwyn Reads: Parrot in the Oven

Click here for the resource guide
Last Saturday I spent a beautiful afternoon manning a table for the kickoff of the second annual Berwyn Reads!  This year's selection is Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida, the 1996 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature.

Here is the Booklist review from when it first came out:

Books for Youth, Older Readers: Gr. 7-10. For Mexican American teen Manuel, the main challenge in life, whether he always realizes it or not, is to find a reason to survive amid the negativity and emptiness that pervade his growing up in a city project. His father, unemployed and often drunk, is a source of tension for the whole family, especially Manuel's mother, whose determination to keep them all together is at times superhuman. The novel, written in a fluid, poetic language, resembles a series of vignettes more than one connected story; and this structure not only leaves the character development of Manuel and his family uneven but also generates a disjointedness that is occasionally confusing. There is also a general lack of basic information, such as the exact setting of the story and the ages of Manuel and his siblings, that may make the characters and their environment difficult for readers to visualize. However, the stories themselves, from Manuel's sister's miscarriage to his initiation into a gang to his grandmother's death, are not easily forgotten, and the book is worth purchasing for its authentic portrayal of a Hispanic teen's experiences. ((Reviewed October 15, 1996)) -- Laura Tillotson

The Berwyn Reads committee picked this books for many reasons.  First, it is a YA book with appeal to adults which means we can get more of the community to read and discuss the book since it is at the reading level of a higher percentage of people.  Second, we have a high spanish speaking population with many people enrolled in our ESL classes, and this book was available in english, spanish and literacy versions.  Third, with our high Mexican immigrant population, this is a high interest title.  And finally, our community partners felt they could work with the novel to create programming.

If you click here you can access the excellent resource guide (thanks to our fearless leader Kathy for the strong RA work here).  Inside you will find information about the author, the book, readalikes, and lists of programming.  We are even hosting what will be a provocative immigration debate.

Many towns do "one city, one book" programs, but what I really like about Berwyn's program is how well we get the entire community involved.  Every single freshman at Morton West High School will be reading this novel, and the 16th Street Theater is doing this:
We want you!
In Fall 2011 16th Street Theater joins the Berwyn Library in leading a community wide artistic exploration of the Berwyn Reads book of the year, Parrot In The Oven by Victor Martinez.Additional community partners include Morton High School, Gallery 16, and the North Berwyn Park District. 
During the fall, community groups from across Berwyn will read and discuss Parrot in the Oven and, with the aid of a professional teaching artist, create a performance piece that brings each chapter of the book to life.
The project will culminate in a community performance at FitzGerald’s on Sat, Nov 5th at 12:00 pm
This is just a sampling of what we have planned. It will truly become a community experience.  We have purchased hundreds of copies of the novel and welcome anyone, from anywhere to stop by and check out a copy.  Read it and consider joining us.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Trending: Literary Writers Exploring Genre Fiction

I am beginning a new semi-regular series on RA for All today that I am calling "Trending."  If it takes off like the Monday Discussion has, I will give it its own page, but for now I am just going to post "trends" as I see them. [I also have a few semi-regular features on the horror blog which  you can follow here.] If you have suggestions for future topics in any of these features, let me know.  I love reader suggestions.  They help to keep things fresh.

Now on to the trend as promised...

Recently, I cam across this interesting essay by author Kim Wright in The Millions which asks, "Why Are So Many Literary Writers Shifting into Genre?" The set up goes something like this: 

The good ship Literary Fiction has run aground and the survivors are frantically paddling toward the islands of genre. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but there does seem to be a definite trend of literary/mainstream writers turning to romance, thrillers, fantasy, mystery, and YA. Justin Cronin has produced the vampire epic The PassageTom Perrotta is offering The Leftovers, a tale of a futuristic Rapturesque apocalypse. And MacArthur-certified genius Colson Whitehead is writing about zombies. It’s enough to make my historical mystery about Jack the Ripper look downright pedestrian.
What’s going on? Is it a mass sellout, a belated and half-hearted attempt by writers to chase the market? Are they being pushed into genre by their agents and publishers? Are the literary novelists simply ready for a change, perhaps because even the most exalted among them have a minuscule readership compared to genre superstars? Or are two disparate worlds finally merging?
This genre blending problem is an issue I tackle frequently.  In fact, tonight it will be a major topic of discussion in the RA class. Seven months ago, I posted here about the genre blending problem, but here is the most pertinent excerpt:
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.
Tonight we will be talking about that Chabon article with the RA class again.  In it, he argues that the "best" literature out there is often that which is written between the genres.  The interesting thing is that the book in which this essay appeared came out back in 2008, and now, it is snowballing into a discussion in the mainstream media.

Most public libraries own Maps and Legends and I suggest reading at least this one chapter to better understand the BIGGEST trend in literary fiction--actually all fiction-- right now.

This trend and the reading I have suggested segues perfectly into a larger discussion of genre.  What are genre distinctions good for if the lines are blurring between genres?

This is what Joyce and I will spend most of the semester working out with the students.  But for now the short answer is that genre distinctions are not meant to ghettoize books to certain shelves in the library or bookstore, rather they are simply a cheat sheet to guide you and your readers to their next good read. Now on top of understanding the subtle differences between each of the genres and how they apply to different readers, we also have to be aware of Chabon's "Borderlands," those books and authors who write between the genres.

As I always say, being an RA librarian can be overwhelming, but it is never boring.

I talk about genre as a concept on this blog frequently, and of course in detail as it pertains to horror here.  For those of you who want to see older posts on the topic, use the "genres" tag.  Also, look for more "trending" topics to come.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

To Kill a Mockingbird is the UKs Favorite Book?

I just came across this article in The Guardian which begins:
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has replaced previous favourites The Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice as the nation's most-loved read.
Does anyone else find it odd that UK readers have replaced two VERY British favorites with a decidedly American story?

To Kill a Mockingbird is a great book (I have read it at least 3 times), but it always struck me as quintessentially American. I guess I need to rethink that opinion now.

RA Links

Haven't had a roundup of interesting links in awhile. Thought I'd pass a few on:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Discussion: September 11th Reading

I thought I would spend today asking you all to share your suggestions for 9-11 reading.

Last week, as we approached the10th Anniversary of this terrible day, people were wary to request a book; however, I am beginning to see people who were moved by the commemoration seeking out books with a 9/11 theme.

In order to help patrons to identify fiction with a 9/11 theme, I thought I would provide a few links and ask for your help.

The most buzzed about book right now is The Submission: A Novel by Amy Waldman.  This novel tells a story about creating a 9/11 memorial.  Click here for a review from NPR. This book just came out and is a shoe-in for a nomination for all of the major fiction awards for 2011 (IMO).  But this also means there is probably a wait for this book at your library right now.

Over on the fiction list-serve, Fiction-L, librarians all over the country are putting together a list of 9/11 reading.  Anyone can click here to access the ongoing discussion with a great list of book suggestions.

I want to begin the discussion by reposting my 9/11 reading list from 2009.  Click here for the full post. And after reading my list, please contribute to today's Monday Discussion and leave me your 9/11 book in the comments.

Terrible events often trigger great art as artists contemplate their life in its aftermath. 9/11 is no different.
  1. In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman: Spiegelman watched the towers fall from the roof of his Brooklyn home and has been quoting as saying he went to his work table for the next few weeks, drawing and writing, while he waited for the world to end. Thankfully, the world kept going and Spiegelman shared his work with us.
  2. Falling Man by Don DeLillo: In this novel, DeLillo follows one man who worked in the towers and escaped as he tries to heal from the experience. The novel's disjointed construction adds to the feeling of unease which permeates the characters as they struggle to continue to live "normally" in the first few months after 9/11.
  3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. A young boy whose father dies in the towers on 9/11 finds a key and a cryptic note in his father's closet. The journey he takes is as much about finding the key's owner as it is about finding his place in a post 9/11 world without his father. And don't miss the last few pages, which are a flip book of a man falling from the towers. It goes backwards; he is falling up to safety. It is very powerful.
For the Monday Discussion archive, click here.