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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What I'm Reading Graphic Novel Edition: Mr. Wonderful and Chew

Tonight's class includes a discussion on Graphic Novels so I thought I would catch up on my reviews of the two graphic novels I finished recently: Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes and Chew: The Omnivore Edition by John Layman and Rob Guillory.

Daniel Clowes was the first alternative comic writer to really break out into the mainstream.  His characters are generally misanthropes and/or people on the edges of "normal."  However, his focus on the people on the periphery of polite society is a commentary how we are all outsiders in one way or another.

In order to underscore the universality of how we all feel like a weirdo at times, he uses exaggeration and the grotesque in his stories and art.  This makes for a slightly surreal quality to his stories, but they are firmly grounded in reality.

Clowes is most popular with 25-45 year olds who are regular graphic novel readers; however, with his growing popularity, numerous awards, and even an appearance alongside Alan Moore on the Simpsons, Clowes is being read more by the casual graphic novel reader too.

I personally love Clowes, but it is important to note that I fit into the above category of traditional Clowes fans.  To the right here you can see a page from Mr. Wonderful.

Mr. Wonderful takes only an hour or two to read and savor. For those who vaguely remember seeing it somewhere else before, it was originally serialized in The New York Times Magazine.

Mr Wonderful hits at all of the Clowes appeals I mentioned above, plus a few more I will mention now.

The pages are busy and require your attention, but they are not hard to follow.  He uses every inch of the page to tell you a story.

Clowes employs a clear style which he introduces from page one and sticks to throughout.  Once you get in the groove of his storytelling methodology, you are good to go.

The story itself is merely a slice of life peek into our eccentric main character, a divorced man looking for love.  He is set up on a blind date by friends and this graphic novel is the story of that date.  We get glances into both parties' backstories and specifically into the mind of Mr Wonderful himself.

This is a quirky, fun ride through a blind date from hell that might just lead to an ulikely relationship.

Three Words That Describe This Book: quirky, slice of life, outsiders

Readalikes:  Mr. Wonderful reminded me of HBO's Bored to Death.  Mr. Wonderful and his misadventure could easily be used as a plot line for the Jonathan Ames character on the show.  Interestingly, Ray, another character on the show, is a comics writer himself.  Click here to see artist Dean Haspiel's drawings used on the show.  It all overlaps perfectly.

Clowes' storytelling  has always reminded me of the novels of Jonathan Lethem.  As a readliake here I would specifically suggest Chronic City or You Don't Love Me Yet.

In graphic novels, I also find Chris Ware a good readalike option.  Both men write alternative comics with outsider main characters and a literary fiction-esque story line. You can't go wrong by giving Jimmy Corrgian: The Smartest Kid on Earth a try if you like Clowes.

The work of graphic novelist Adrian Tomine and David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp (link to my review) are also good options.

Now on to the next review.  Here is how I learned about Chew: Jose at work read it and said to me, "You have to try this graphic novel. The main character is a guy who gets a psychic impression from every bite of food he eats." That was enough for me.  I put it on hold and am now totally addicted to this smart, scary, and thought provoking graphic novel series.  I am holding my breath for Volume 2 to be released on December 20th.

Here is the link to the official website for the series, which includes examples of the art.  In particular, I think the picture on the right really captures the series' tone and style.

From that same site, here is the creator's description of the series:
Tony Chu is a cop with a secret. A weird secret. Tony Chu is Cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. It also means he's a hell of a detective, as long as he doesn't mind nibbling on the corpse of a murder victim to figure out whodunit, and why. It`s a dirty job, and Tony has to eat terrible things in the name of justice. And if that wasn`t bad enough, the government has figured out Tony Chu`s secret. They have plans for him… whether he likes it or not.
The world in which Tony is a detective is also a near future dystopia where some type of horrible bird flu has killed millions of people, and now, chicken as a food source has been completely outlawed for our own safety.  Or, as we come to question, is that just what the government is telling us? Why? What is the big secret?

Tony's powers move him to the biggest, baddest government agency in this new world...the FDA!  His job is to stop illegal chicken consumption; however, his powers have created many enemies who are out to get him.  We meet Tony's celebrity chef brother, his partners, and an intriguing restaurant reviewer with powers of her own. There are many more interesting characters, but you will need to discover them on your own.

As this first compendium ends, Tony is just on the edge of discovering what is really going on in regards to the outlawing of chicken.  Many factions are closing in on him, from different sides, and I want to know what is going to happen! (see my above comment about holding my breath for Vol 2)

The drawings are dark, edgy, and colorful.  There are a lot of sharp jagged lines to keep you uneasy.  The page is used in many different ways to tell the story, from full page illustrations, to extreme close ups, traditional panels, and oversized ones.  Again, the presentation fluctuates to add that unease to the story which is truly gratifying.

I would best describe the series as gruesome and funny, in equal measure.  It has all the trappings of both a great dystopian novel, with the thought provoking story lines and chilling social warnings as well as the comforts of a solid detective story.

This is a dark (bordering on horror), character driven story with cliff hangers, shocking plot twists, and an extremely interesting frame.  But it really is also funny. Tony is a great protagonist.  If you like him, you will love the series.

Chew is not for the weak stomached, but it is also one of the most original stories I have read in a long time.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  original, dystopic, uneasy mood

Readalikes:  Chew is clearly heavily influenced by the drawing style, themes, and storytelling method of Robert Kirkman and his enormously successful Walking Dead series.  Both series use a similar drawing style, but more importantly, they use a near future, dystopian setting to provide social commentary on the world today.  Chew also uses the classic Kirkman storytelling techniques of a large cast of characters, many subplots, and shocking, cliff hanger endings.  Without Kirkman, there would be no Chew, but that is a good thing.  It is nice to see someone begin influenced by Kirkman while still telling a engaging and original story.

Joe Hill's Locke and Key series is also a great readalike.  I have read and reviewed all 4 compendiums here, here, here, and here.

The novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender also features a protagonist who can taste the emotions of the person who made her food, but I would only suggest this novel to Chew fans if the cibopath part of the story is their favorite part. The tone and mood of the two stories are very different.  In Bender's book, no one is eating murder victims.

Chew is much more in line with near future dystopian stories, especially those which are character driven such as Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, and of course, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Don't forget to check out what my students also read for class tonight.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

BPL Book Discussion: Kabul Beauty School

Last week I led our last regular book discussion meeting of the year.  [In December we will read Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, but have a party, watch the movie, and not discuss too much.]

We met to talk about the nonfiction title The Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez with help from Kristin Ohlson.

From the publisher:
Soon after the fall of the Taliban, in 2001, Deborah Rodriguez went to Afghanistan as part of a group offering humanitarian aid to this war-torn nation. Surrounded by men and women whose skills --- as doctors, nurses, and therapists --- seemed eminently more practical than her own, Rodriguez, a hairdresser and mother of two from Michigan, despaired of being of any real use. Yet she soon found she had a gift for befriending Afghans, and once her profession became known she was eagerly sought out by Westerners desperate for a good haircut and by Afghan women, who have a long and proud tradition of running their own beauty salons. Thus an idea was born.
With the help of corporate and international sponsors, the Kabul Beauty School welcomed its first class in 2003. Well meaning but sometimes brazen, Rodriguez stumbled through language barriers, overstepped cultural customs, and constantly juggled the challenges of a postwar nation even as she learned how to empower her students to become their families' breadwinners by learning the fundamentals of coloring techniques, haircutting, and makeup.
Yet within the small haven of the beauty school, the line between teacher and student quickly blurred as these vibrant women shared with Rodriguez their stories and their hearts: the newlywed who faked her virginity on her wedding night, the twelve-year-old bride sold into marriage to pay her family's debts, the Taliban member's wife who pursued her training despite her husband's constant beatings. Through these and other stories, Rodriguez found the strength to leave her own unhealthy marriage and allow herself to love again, Afghan style.
With warmth and humor, Rodriguez details the lushness of a seemingly desolate region and reveals the magnificence behind the burqa. Kabul Beauty School is a remarkable tale of an extraordinary community of women who come together and learn the arts of perms, friendship, and freedom.
We had an extremely vibrant and frank discussion.  I have been trying to group our thoughts into larger discussion points, but we really bounced all over the place.  I want to capture how fluid it was so this report will be more of a blow by blow of comments as they happened.  I cannot stress enough how surprised I was by how little moderating this discussion needed.  This is a book that begs to be discussed.

Enough me, here is what we talked about:
  • We started by taking a poll on liked, disliked and so-so on the book.  We were evenly split 8 and 8 between liked as so-so.  
  • I loved how much description there was about everyday life in Afghanistan, a country I know so little about besides the war aspects.
  • Even though I knew women were treated badly by the Taliban, I was stunned over and over again by how ingrained sexism is in their society.
  • [a so-so comments, which I personally agree with] I liked when she talked about the culture, but the entire time I couldn't stop thinking about how all of this good she was doing in Afghanistan meant she abandoned her kids back in America; kids who had witnessed her being abused and needed their mom.
  • Here in the US she is seen as "just a hairdresser," but over there she is a lifeline of hope to hundreds of women.
  • We did spend some time talking about the genre of memoir and how it inherently biased.  No one in the group took everything Rodriguez said as 100% true.  We all realized that she probably inflated her own importance, and did not give us an even picture of what was happening.
  • "This gal is a loose cannon."
  • Deborah's marriages: We hear about 2 of them here.  Her second husband, a preacher in Michigan was so abusive that she volunteered to go to Afghanistan to get away from him.  She thought she was safe marrying a preacher, but it was awful.  On the other hand, her arranged marriage to Sam in Afghanistan was a true partnership.  Yes, they had many cultural differences and a language barrier, but they respected one and other. 
  • This led to some participants arguing that nothing about the way Afghan men run their country is right.  I stopped the conversation there and cautioned that we cannot put our cultural difference on others and use them to judge others.  This is a dangerous idea.  We can disagree, but we CANNOT say we are right and they are wrong.  That is how dictatorships and holocausts begin.  Throughout the discussion we had to step back and remember this.  We can disagree but we cannot judge. Debbie walked this line well.  She was reporting on how things were; she was forced to live with the rules herself; but she never judged.
  • As people continued to grumble about how "wrong" the society is, we talked about the positive strides that Debbie was taking.  It takes generations to change a society.  I reminded the group how long it took every vestige of slavery to leave our laws, and we discussed if the legacy of racism is even gone now.
  • We should never forget that we--American Women-- are the most fortunate women who every lived on this planet.  We have the most freedom, power, wealth, and safety of women ever.  Reading this book hammered that point home.
  • We made some parallels to the years of us trying to demonstrate the values of equality and democracy in the Middle East and
  • Can you believe that the Afghan language does not even have a female pronoun? How can we even begin to understand what it is like to live in a society like that?
  • It is as if everyone in Afghanistan is living with PTSD after so many years of war in a row.
  • We talked about how much we admired the work Debbie was doing in Afghanistan but at the same time many of us could not get past the fact that she abandoned her family to do it.  Also with so much need here in the US, could she have stayed with her boys and found people who needed help in Michigan.  She was the right person at the right time in Afghanistan though.  Her skills as a hairdresser is a skill that is respected by Afghan women and deemed as an acceptable profession to the men.  She is healing herself by helping them.  At its heart, this is a book about empowering women in a situation that seems impossible.
  • Some of our participants had lively discussions with their own hairdressers about this book, which I think is the highest praise.
  • Finally, at the end I always ask everyone to share words or phrases that sum the book up to them:
    • women helping women
    • inspiring
    • candid
    • courage
    • admirable
    • enlightening
    • grateful to be an American
    • chatty tone
    • culture shock
    • feminine gift
    • what did she really accomplish?
    • "Manistan"
Readalikes: There are many ways to go here.  First, I should point out the documentary made about the founding of the first Kabul Beauty School of which Debbie was only a small player in a big project. The DVD Beauty Academy of Kabul is the first place many readers will want to go.  A participant also mentioned the reality TV show All-American Muslim on TLC as an excellent watch alike too.

The group also talked about our discussion of The Lemon Tree back in 2008.  Click through to see more.

I would also suggest 2 other memoirs in which a female author recounts how she overcame adversity.  The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman.

Rodriguez has also written a  novel which got good reviews, A Cup of Friendship.

And of course there is an entire library of 21st Century books (both fiction and nonfiction) about Afghanistan.  A few I would suggest are The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad and A Thousand Splendid Suns by  Khaled Hosseini.

Monday, November 28, 2011

RA for All is Back

As you could see with the Monday Discussion, after a week of rest, I am back.  By the way, the Dr Seuss exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry is a must see for anyone who likes books and reading enough to follow this blog.

This week I will have a report on my book discussion (from 11/21) and lots of reviews of the books I have read over the last few months but am behind on writing about.

Please start to think about your favorite books you have read this year because beginning next week, I will be running an ongoing "Best Books" discussion each Monday.  To help get your brains warmed up, here is the link to RA Online's Best of the Year list of lists.

Monday Discussion: eBooks

We haven't talked about eBooks here on the Monday Discussion for quite a while.  But, this week, I have eBooks on the mind for a couple of reasons.  First, we are obviously getting many questions about eBook readers and how patrons can access eBooks if they were to get a reader for Chirstmas.

Our fearless BPL RA leader Kathy has done quite a bit to both prepare our staff to handle these questions and to help the patrons make educated consumer choices.  She is leading multiple eBook trainings for the staff the entire month of December.  Then, in 2012, she will also begin to offer the same classes to patrons.

Right now, we also offer a permanent "Technology Petting Zoo," for all patrons who walk into our doors.  The picture here on the left shows you what we have, but I will explain.  Right next to the RA desk we have the computer you see here.  In front of it we have (attached with pull out security cords) a Sony eReader, a Nook, an iPad, and a Kindle.  These have some books downloaded on them.

Patrons are encouraged to pull them, handle them, push their buttons, and just experience each.  This has been a very useful display for patrons who are looking to buy an eReader since this is really the only place where you can see all 4 different readers in one place, at one time.

At this station we can walk you through the downloading process using our department library card.  We are also trained to help you download a book to your personal reader using the Library's free wireless.

As you can imagine, we are swamped with requests from now through January helping people to choose an eReader and then to set up the one they get as a holiday present.

The second reason I have eBooks on the mind is that, for the first time, I have officially added eBooks to the RA class in which we discuss formats.  Along with Graphic Novels and Audiobooks, this week, we will also discuss eBooks.

So for today's Monday Discussion I want you to share your personal experience with eBooks so far.

I will start.  Currently, I still view eBooks as a novelty.  I have an iPad so that is my chosen vehicle for reading them.  I have used Overdrive from the BPL website to check out a book, but the wait list for the hotter titles is very long.  I just checked out whatever was available to read it.

Personally, I prefer a regular book or audio book to an eBook.  I always have my iPod in my purse, and it is loaded with at least one audiobook. I also carry a phyiscal book with me everywhere I go.  Maybe if I had a dedicated eReader (and not the family iPad that we all share) I would commit to eBooks more.  But since I work in the library, I have constant access to just about any book I could every want to read on a shelf right in front of me.  It is less effort to grab the physical book.

I am enjoying eBooks though for my work reviewing horror novels.  Previously, publishers had to send hard copies for review, but now, I have them email me the links to download to my iPad.  It streamlines the process for me and the publishers.

My kids are enjoying eBooks too.  My daughter was assigned The Secret Garden for class and was able to read it on the iPad since it is available for free.  My son also read The Velveteen Rabbit on the iPad (also free).  They both enjoyed the process, but have not begged me for more eBooks.  They each read a lot too, but again, between the public library and the school library, they have plenty of books.

So what about you? Share your personal eBook experiences with me for today's Monday Discussion.

Click here for the Monday Discussion archive.

Monday, November 21, 2011

RA for All Holiday Scheduling

Just a programming note.

I am off the rest of the week to spend time with the kids during their long Thanksgiving Break.  One of our planned events is visiting the Dr. Seuss exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.

I will pop on sometime this week with my report on this afternoon's BPL Book Discussion, but otherwise, all will be quiet here on RA for All.

Be back on Monday 11/28 for sure.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday Discussion: What Are You Thankful For? (2011 edition)

It is that time of year again, when we count our blessings.  Last year I ran this Monday Discussion where I listed what I was thankful for. I checked; it all still applies.

This year I want to spend a few moments thinking about it again, but with a different twist-- share with me the specific books or authors or formats or genres (you get the idea) for which you are thankful.

I will start.  I am thankful for much hyped books which turned out to be as good as advertised. For me this year that would include The Discovery of Witches, Swamplandia, The Night Circus (review forthcoming), and Before I Go To Sleep (review forthcoming).

I am also thankful for my old standby authors whose backlist titles I can fall back on when I need something good to read.  This year that included Tana French and Louise Penny.  And, my old standby favorites who continue to impress me with their newest books like Kate Atkinson, Stephen King, and Keith Donohue.

I am thankful for authors who are new to me and who will now become old favorites like Dave Zeltersman and Gillian Flynn.

I am thankful for awesome graphic novels without superheroes and of course horror (especially since unlike this time last year, I am not frantically finishing the book).

Finally, I am thankful that Amazon is allowing my library patrons to borrow ebooks on their Kindles because I was getting sick of telling them "No."

All links above lead you to my reviews where available.  This is also a small peek into some of my year end favorites to come next month.

Now it is your turn.  What books, authors, types of books, etc... are you thankful for this year?

You can follow past Monday Discussions here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Too Much YA Lit?

The first thing I heard about when I turned on the morning news AND when I walked into work was the one-two combo of people who were out late to see the midnight showings of Breaking Dawn and the official debut of the Hunger Games trailer (embedded at the end of this post for the 5 people who haven't seen it yet).

I have mentioned here on RA for All many times how important the YA crossover phenomenon is.  Even though I work at what is technically the adult fiction desk, I spend at least a little but of my time every day helping patrons (of all ages) find YA titles.  And I am not the only one experiencing an increase in YA related questions.  As a result, we are in the planning stages of completely revamping how we provide YA service here at the BPL.  As YA and Adult titles begin to cross over more and more, YA and high-middle Youth titles are also beginning to intersect less.  New strategies need to be considered.

As I said, this is only in the planning stages, but hopefully early in 2012 I will have more to say on this topic.

This leads me to another YA/Adult crossover topic though.  Yesterday, I was at the Circulation Desk talking to Jose who loves reading YA titles and we overheard 2 Youth Services employees discussing books that could be summarized as "steampunk with zombies."  Jose and I stopped our conversation about another book and quickly jumped in excitedly into theirs, offering, "the only thing better than steampunk is steampunk with zombies!"

We talked about the appeal of these books and why we and our patrons love them.  It was a very engaging and useful professional discussion; oh and it was fun too.  I went on with the rest of my day, happy that staff in 3 different departments were sharing books and their appeal.

And then today, I saw this post on Book Riot of the "Top Five Signs You're Reading too Much Young Adult Literature," and now I am worried we all fit the bill.  Don't get me wrong, I am worried in a good way.  But if you have found yourself spending more and more time talking about YA lit these days, it is time to check the signs that you are addicted.  The first step is admitting you have a problem. But with all the great YA literature out there these days, it is a very good problem to have.

Have a nice weekend whether your plans include YA lit or not.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

RA Links Round Up

The post is late today because I have been working on an exciting project here at the BPL.  I will unveil that in a few weeks when it is all complete, but in the meantime, here are a bunch of things I wanted to make sure to pass on:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Snowman

I finished listening to The Snowman (back in September), Jo Nesbo's breakout hit in America, back in September and now that same audio is showing up on many a year end best list.

Jo Nesbo is a huge best-selling author in Europe.  His Harry Hole series (of which this is number 5), is set in Norway and has been feverishly promoted here in America as a Steig Larsson, Nordic Noir readalike. America has fallen in love with Hole and embraced Nesbo.  Even though The Snowman is the 5th Hole novel, it is a fine entry point into the series.

The plot is fairly easy to explain, but the appeal of this book lies in how the investigation is laid out and in Harry himself.

The plot revolves around a new serial killer who is stalking married women with children who happen to also be cheating on their spouses.  He strikes only after a fresh snowfall.  To say anymore would give away the fun of reading this compelling story.

The plot is not why you read Nesbo.  This is why.  First, his idea of taking the innocence of a fresh snowfall and the fun of building a snowman and then making it scary and suspenseful is awesome.  I read this book back in September and got chills from the coldness of the snow here.  There is a scene where Harry is so freaked out by the serial killer and his co-opting of snowmen for nefarious purposes that he attacks some neighbor kids who are just building a snowman.  That was extremely unsettling and was a great was to build the tension here.

Second, Harry is the classic troubled investigator.  He had previously become a star for catching Norway's first serial killer, but his problems with alcohol had led to problems at work and with his girlfriend.  As The Snowman opens, a chastened Harry is looking for redemption. The problem is everyone else knows this and they don't initially believe him when he claims there is another serial killer.  This also adds extra tension and suspense.  [By the way, remember I entered this series here at #5 and I was able to figure out all of these past issues with Harry by reading just this book.]

Other appeal factors to keep in mind.  This novel has graphic violence; it is bloody, but it is also intricately plotted and very compelling.  You do get peeks into the killers mind also, but they are limited; the story is mostly  from Harry's point of view.  There are a lot of twists, but all are foreshadowed appropriately or explained realistically.  This is the story of a sick and evil serial killer, but a realistically possible one.  In fact, I was not surprised by who the Snowman was, but I was surprised by the "why he did it" and how it was all figured out.

Finally, My only complaint about this novel is that the ending was a bit too Hollywood for me. But most hard-core mystery readers will love it.
Readalikes:  I went on the Nordic Book Blog, which is my go-to resource for Scandinavian fiction.  I used their search feature to find reviews which made comparisons  to Nesbo.  Use this link to run the search for yourself, but here is one I found that I want to share immediately.  The words in quotes are from the linked entry; they are not mine: 
  • Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft-- "Malin Fors is an intriguing and complex heroine – she is tough, has had serious problems in her marriage and is now divorced. She also has a problematic relationship with her daughter, and tends to drink too much. She is mostly unbalanced and on the edge. I tend to think of her as a blend: one part Irene Huss, one part Inspector Winter and one part Harry Hole. She is talented, ambitious, tough, smart and unpredictable."

Another big appeal here is Harry himself.  He is from a long tradition of brilliant detectives who are troubled but have a good heart and the best intentions.  For people who are looking for more detectives like Harry Hole, I would highly suggest Kurt Wallandar (by Henning Mankell), Harry Bosch (by Michael Connelly), John Rebus (by Ian Rankin), the hard-boiled crime fiction of George Pelecanos or go old-school with Raymond Chandler.

Finally, I would NOT suggest fans of Nesbo run out and read Steig Larsson automatically, despite the marketing which claims otherwise.  Yes both are dark and violent, but the Nesbo is much more in line with a classic detective novel, while Larsson's books are more thrillers.  Nesbo spends a lot of time describing the investigation, while Larsson's amateur detectives are not as linear in their investigations.  Also, Larsson includes a lot of extra side-stories and diversions from the investigation, while Nesbo's Hole novels are much more focused.  You could enjoy both (I did) but it is not an automatic match.

I will continue to slowly clear the back log of my reviews in the coming days.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Readers, Writers, Books, and Blogs Resources

Over on Shelfrenewal, Rebecca and Karen have compiled a great list of blogs.  It really is the best overall list I have seen (and not just because both RA for All blogs are listed there).

Please click through to see it.

I would suggest any librarian who is working with leisure readers go to this list and start following the conversations and information coming out of them.  They have categories for general RA, genre specific, and, my favorite category, "chatty," to chose from.

There is no one out there reading this who could not learn something from this list.  Believe me, I am on the list and I found a few new sites to check out.

Why are you still here?  Go, go....

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Discussion: What Books Are You Giving Out This Holiday Season

I know it is early, but with the entire month of December's discussions scheduled for year in review, I wanted to ask now:  What books are you buying for people this holiday season?

If you read this blog AND participate in the Monday Discussion, I know you are a book lover.  And, us book lovers love to give books to people.

So, share your ideas here, or use the discussion to get new ideas.  I will start.  For all of the adult readers on my list I am giving Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson.  This is a great, thrilling, and suspenseful story with little sex and violence.  I will have a full review soon, but it is my go-to holiday book gift. I have already told my Dad to buy it for my Mom.  It is also on many year-end best lists and is a Berwyn Staff favorite.

I will also be gifting the new Shel Silverstein poetry collection Every Thing On It and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick to families on my list, including  my own.

Finally, I would like to remind people to support their local book store when making their book purchases.  I am splitting my purchases between my children's school book sale and The Book Table in Oak Park.

So what books are you planning to gift this season?

Past Monday Discussions can be followed here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Serving 20 and 30s Somethings At The Library

Here is the article I wrote on the topic for the latest issue of NoveList RA News Newsletter.

This issue also has an article on serving seniors.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Flashback Friday: You Can Judge a Book By Its Cover

This past week, I spent a few shifts at the elementary school book sale.  During some down time, I heard one parent say to another, "This cover looks good, I should read this."  Then the other said, "But you can't judge a book by its cover."

I jumped into the conversation to say, "Oh, but you can."  I began to to explain why. So for today, here is a Flashback Friday post from 2008 where I explain why you can AND should judge a book by its cover.

Have a nice weekend.


You Can Judge a Book By Its Cover

Each year, the Book Design Review posts its list of the best book covers of the year. Here is the link to further information on the winners.

How does this help with your RA service though? You'd be surprised how much a cover tells you about the text to be found within its pages. My colleagueJoyce Saricks has argued this point to me many times. The most important thing to keep in mind as you help readers is that the cover tells the reader what the publisher (not necessarily the author) wants us to know about the book. The book cover is a marketing tool, and as Readers' Advisors we should "read" book covers to try to decipher the appeal factors which the cover is trying to convey.

For example, books which feature the author's name more prominently than the title, are being sold on the popularity of said author's name, not necessarily on the content. Also, more complicated and abstract covers, tend to be put on more complicated and abstract books. There are also cover trends. A few years ago, all chick-lit books featured a pastel color theme with some kind of shoes on the cover; so finding readalikes was as easy as looking at the cover.

These are just a few examples, but if you want to test the theory, grab a couple of your favorite books and see how the cover reflects the story held within. What assumptions can be made about the book's context from the cover? I think you will be surprised at how much of the book you CAN judge by its cover.

Also, don't forget to put as many books as you can "face out" on your shelves to have the marketing power of the book cover work for your patrons.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Amazon's Best of the 2011 List

Yesterday, Amazon released their Top 100 Books of the yearThe Art of Fielding, a debut novel, by Chad Harbach got the top honor.

Interestingly, this past weekend when I saw my father we exchanged books and he gave me his copy of The Art of Fielding (I gave him my copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).

Click through to see the entire list. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Student Annotations: Nonfiction

I am may be taking a night off from teaching,  but Joyce and the class are talking about Nonfiction.  Click on over to the class blog to see what the students had to say about their reading for the week.

Also, as a bonus, here is my new favorite nonfiction leisure reading resource, Sophisticated Dorkiness.

10 SF and Fantasy Debuts of Note and a Comment About Best Lists

I found this list of 10 debut science fiction and fantasy novels that took the world by storm from io9 very interesting.

It serves as a reminder that the debuts of today could very well be the classics of tomorrow.  On the other hand, they could also be the remainders of tomorrow, lost to history forever.

The point is, we need perspective.  This list is interesting in its own right as it is hard to believe that the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a first novel.  But also, titles like Neuromancer took years for their importance to be fully understood.

Please don't forget in this season of "Best Lists" to remember that many of the books which appear on all of the "best" lists today may well be forgotten in 5 or ten years, while still others which came out this year (some even first novels) will go unheralded for now, but looking back will be considered classics in the future.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Amazon Kindle Lending Library

At the RA desk yesterday I handled more questions about Amazon's just launched Kindle Lending Library than I did about the lending library I was physically sitting in.

The gist of the questions:

  • What is it? 
  • How is it different from me borrowing Kindle books through your library?
  • Can I do it right now?
Like a good librarian, I do not know all of the answers, but I know how to seek them out.  So for those of you who want the nitty gritty I suggest:

For those of you who want the basics, I will summarize.  The Amazon Kindle Lending Library is a collection of mostly backlist bestsellers, available for "check out" for not extra charge to Amazon Prime Members.  When you "check out" a title, it is uploaded to your Kindle\and it is yours for as long as you want it. It does not need to be returned.

It is different than accessing Kindle ebooks from the library's Media on Demand console because to do this, you do not need to pay the fee to join Amazon Prime, you just need a library card and a way to read Kindle books.  These books are available based on your library or consortia's purchasing and availability.  They check out to you at the BPL for 14 days with 1 renewal, if there is no one else waiting.

That's the basics.  If you want more detail and commentary, I highly suggest the articles above, written by experts in the field.

Of course, I will answer any further questions at the BPL desk or here at RA for All.

In terms of impact on those of us in the public library, I think it is minimal, but time will tell.

Monday, November 7, 2011

And So It Begins....PW's Best Books of 2011

Here it is.  Just released. Click here to see PW's Best Books of 2011.

That link is for the top 10, but use this link to see the long list too.

And so, the "Best" lists begin with a trickle but will soon turn into a deluge.  For newer readers of this blog, please note,  I will not even try to keep up with all of the lists, but I will periodically point you to websites which do archive each and every list.  For example, Cindy Orr already has this extensive list going over on the RA Online Blog.

In December, here on RA for All, you can join the conversation about your favorite books.  In the meantime, here is a link to last year's conversation here and here.

Monday Discussion: Which Fictional Character Do You Have the Hots For?

This is slightly more risque than the average Monday Discussion post, but I saved this link from back in May and I thought with the impending release of the next Twilight movie this was a great question.

The article from January Magazine, Inappropriate Thoughts About Fictional Characters, is hilarious, but also thought provoking.  Think about all the women out there in love with Edward from Twilight, or those a bit older in love with Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.

So today, since I have mixed company of regular Monday Discussion contributors, I thought it would be fun for us all to share the fictional characters we have had a crush on.  I would like to keep it to books, but feel free to move into other media if you feel strongly (see below)

I will go first to break the ice.  As a kid, I loved Nancy Drew mysteries and definitely had a crush on Ned Nickerson, her boyfriend.

These days, I get crushes on the hapless male characters who just need a good woman to help them set themselves right.  It must be the mother in me.  A great example of this is Israel Armstrong in the Bookmobile Mysteries, click here to read about himJackson Brodie from Kate Atkinson's suspense novels also fits this bill for me.  Use this link to read more.

Moving off of the crush category and more into the "hots for," it is hard to deny that Vampire Eric in the Sookie Stackhouse books is pretty sexy. Add in Alexander Skarsgard's portrayal of him on True Blood, and it is hard to deny his appeal.

So, now it is your turn.  Share you fictional crushes.

Remember you can follow past Monday Discussions here.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Indulge me for today.  Tomorrow I will be attending my cousin's Bat Mitzvah.  I was trying to pick a book to take with me, and considered finding a fiction title which featured a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

A few years ago I read Jennifer Weiner's Certain Girls, which revolves around a Bat Mitzvah.  So like the good librarian that I am, I used that title as my starting point to find more Bar or Bat Mitzvah books.  I used NoveList because it allows me to search by subject; however, I was disappointed to find that Bat Mitzvah was not a subject term.  I could search by "Jewish Women," but not "Bat Mitzvah."

So, I read the reviews for Certain Girls and saw that every one mentioned the Bat Mitzvah part. Thankfully, NoveList allows for keyword searching that will pick up words in the review fields.  I chose to just search "Mitzvah" to get all Bar and Bat Mitzvah titles.  After setting the sort function to "Adult" and "Fiction" I got a very manageable list of 66 titles, including:

Why I am going into such detail here?  Because, this is a great example of some of the very specific types of questions we get at the RA desk.  You need to be able to make the resources fit your readers' questions.  In this case, I wanted to match my reading to my activity over the weekend.  This is a common request.  It was a Bat Mitzvah in this example, but it could have easily of been a sailing trip, camp out, or family reunion.  You will get these types of questions often, so it helps to be prepared.

So, what did I choose to take on the trip after making myself this list?  Like a true patron, I appreciated the work the librarian did, but in the end I went with a thriller that has no Bat Mitzvah's.

Mazel Tov!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Last Werewolf

Still on the catch up trail of book reviews.  I read The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan back in September (thank you Shelfari for remembering that).  This book had a lot of hype when it came out.  Click here and here for examples.

I read this book very soon after it came out.  I sought it out because it was being billed as a literary-paranormal hybrid with werewolves. What I got was more of a highly sexualized paranormal romance-mystery hybrid which I thought fell short as a romance, a mystery, and as literary fiction.  And it wasn't scary at all.

I will get the plot and my opinion out of the way first, but then I will move to who this book is for.  Remember, my reviews are from the RA standpoint.  I will let you know my opinion about a book, but that is not the point.  I read every book from 2 perspectives.  1, how I felt about it personally.  2, what type of reader would most enjoy this book.

When you are working with leisure readers, it is important to remember that while you may dislike a book, there is a reader out there who will enjoy it.  Yes, I have the right not to enjoy a title, but my professional goal is to figure out who will like it.  I cannot only read books I like.  That does not help me to help my patrons.

As a rule, most of your readers will want books that differ from the ones you would chose for your own leisure reading anyway. Okay, enough lecturing.  On to the book.

Here is the  plot.  Jake is a 200 year old werewolf.  For some reason (possibly a virus) werewolves have not been able to create new ones for years.  Taking advantage of their zero population growth, a super secret agency is trying to kill all werewolves, and it appears Jake is now the last.  Jake is writing his memoirs and preparing for the next full moon when he will sacrifice himself to end it all.

But wait....a group of vampires is trying to keep Jake alive because he may hold the key to their ability to return to the light, a female werewolf appears, and lots of sex and violence ensue.

In my opinion, this book failed on a few fronts.  First, the werewolf world Duncan builds is based on sex only.  Duncan also tries to make the book scary, but it was too predictable to be frightening.  Back to the the sex; it was over the top and graphic.  Look , I am no prude, but Jake spends most of the book having sex or looking for sex and we get every detail.  I get it; Duncan's werewolves are highly sexual.

This leads to a major problem I have with this book.  I feel like this is a Sherrilynn Kenyon novel written by a man.  Kenyon is decidedly considered genre fiction (paranormal romance) and would never be called literary in the press, not would she get the lead review in EW.  It is frustrating that because this book was written by a man, it is called literary.  Kenyon has been writing more compelling and interesting novels of just this type for much longer, yet Duncan gets all of the mainstream press. Just bothers me.

I would have preferred it if more time was spent on building up the mystery surrounding the virus and the different paranormal factions.  In a paranormal book, the world the author creates needs to be well developed and almost become a character itself.  This did not happen.  Lots of surface was scratched here, but no depth.

Enough of my opinion.  Now on to a more neutral discussion of the appeal here.

Jake is a great example of the anti-hero.  He is brave and sexy, but bad.  When you become a werewolf in this story, you are destined to kill those you most love while you are in your wolf form.  As a result he killed his wife and unborn child 200 years ago and only has sex with prostitutes he hates.  The reader knows Jake can be bad, but also knows he is good at heart.  This is a huge appeal for some readers.

Paranormal romance is HUGE.  The Last Werewolf is a great paranormal romance.  If I read it in that frame of mind, I would have liked it.

Many readers will seek out any novel with a werewolf in it.  Of course, give them this book.

A big issue in this book is that about 2/3 of the way in, the female werewolf becomes the co-star.  So readers who are concerned that the book is told from a male POV should be assured that the female POV takes over by novel's end.

Three Words That Describe This Book: werewolves, paranormal romance, sexually explicit

Readalikes:  If you like Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books, you will enjoy The Last Werewolf.  Here is a link to my popular Sookie readalikes post for more options.

Ditto, if you like Sherrilynn Kenyon's Dark Hunter books.

Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt paranormal thrillers or Jim Butcher's paranormal Dresden Files are a good example of solid paranormal series written from a male perspective.

If you liked The Discovery of Witches (which I read here), you may not like The Last Werewolf.  TDoW is truly a literary paranormal mystery/romance.  I was pleasantly surprised by TDoW and think it did everything The Last Werewolf's reviews claim it did only much better.  Read my review to see more details.

Finally, in my opinion, Sharp Teeth provides a much better depiction of the modern werewolf.

The slog through the backlog will continue next week, from a more positive pov.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Weird Fiction Review!

Just launched, what may become my favorite stop on the web...The Weird Fiction Review.  From their about page:

This web­blog is the brain­child of Ann Van­der­Meer and Jeff Van­der­Meer. Ann has served as edi­tor of Weird Tales and with Jeff co-edited such antholo­gies as The New Weird, the ebook antho series ODD?, and the just-released The Weird: A Com­pendium of Strange & Dark Sto­ries (Atlantic/Corvus). Jeff is an award-winning writer of weird fic­tion whose last novel, Finch, was a final­ist for the World Fan­tasy Award and the Neb­ula Award. 
This site is meant to be an ongo­ing explo­ration into all facets of the weird, in all of its many forms — a kind of non-denominational approach that appre­ci­ates Love­craft but also Kafka, Angela Carter and Clark Ash­ton Smith, Shirley Jack­son and Fritz Leiber — along with the next gen­er­a­tion of weird writ­ers and inter­na­tional weird. The empha­sis will be on non­fic­tion on writ­ers and par­tic­u­lar books, but we will also run fea­tures on weird art, music, and film, as well as occa­sional fiction.

I feel like they read my mind.  "Weird" really gets at the heart of why I liked the books that I do.  To help get things kicked off, The Weird Fiction Review interviewed the king of "weird," Neil Gaiman.  Here is a direct link to the interview and below is an excerpt from the interview where Gaiman talks about why people are drawn to weird stories:

WFR: What do you think is the appeal of weird fic­tion generally?
Gaiman: For me it’s like a visit to a strange place — a hol­i­day in unearthly beauty and odd­ness, from which you may not always safely return.
WFR: Do you see a dif­fer­ence between “hor­ror” and “the weird” and “the gothic”, and does it mat­ter to you as either a writer or reader?
Gaiman: I think of Hor­ror as a sec­tion of a book­shop, gothic as a type of book that ended, truly, with North­hanger Abbey, and The Weird as an attempt to unify what­ever it was that Robert Aick­man did, that Edward Gorey did — using the tools of hor­ror to delight and trans­form. But I could be full of it. And no, it doesn’t matter.
Other authors who I think really go a great job of writing weird, but accessible stories are Steven Millhauser, Kevin Brockmeier, and Keith Donohue.  In fact, here is a link to a post where I talked about all three in more detail.  Also here is a link to my review of Donohue's newest novel, Centuries of June, in which I provide more "weird" fiction links.

Feel free to add your favorite "weird" authors or stories in the comments.  Also, check out the books I have marked "not quite horror" over at RA for All: Horror.  These are also good "weird" reading suggestions.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What I'm Reading: Ahab's Wife

Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-gazer: A Novel (P.S.)It is embarrassing how far behind I have gotten on my reviews.  So no excuses, just putting my nose to the grindstone and going back to tackle a book I read in early August,  Ahab's Wife or, the Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund. Ahab's Wife was a book I actually owned in paperback and kept meaning to read, I just never got around to it.  After attending one of our Book Lover's Club meetings and hearing someone talk about how much they loved this book, I moved it from the bottom of the to-read pile right to the top.

I have to say I was also influenced by that fact that the book dovetailed nicely with my planned vacation.  Remember back here when I read the Lonely Planet travel guide on my trip to Nova Scotia?  And, with the whaling, light house and sea faring details in Ahab's Wife (all which were a part of that vacation) and the novel's setting during the 1800s in New England (which is a favorite of mine) and my personal obsession with Moby Dick, really what was I waiting for.  I threw this 600+ paged paperback into my suitcase and started reading it as my plane made its way toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Here is the setup.  The book is narrated by Una and it is her life story.  We know from the start that Ahab was not her first husband nor her last.  So what we have is the fictional memoir of the wife of a famous fictional character.  This is a huge part of the appeal of this novel.  In fact, many readers (myself included) love this type of "classics revisited" story which gives a new perspective on a popular fictional character or story.  Think about the cottage industry of Jane Austen inspired fiction alone.

Although at least a surface understanding of the plot of Moby Dick is helpful here, this really is a great example of historical fiction about a woman's life.  Una moves in the educated circles of 19th Century New England. Talk of the transcendentalists (Like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller), life on whaling ships, the abolitionist movement, and industrialization fill this novel.  For me, this happens to be my favorite time period to read about, so I loved it.  But any reader who likes an authentic historical setting and an interesting protagonist will enjoy this book.

Una's childhood living with her uncle, a lighthouse keeper, and his family, her adventures (dressed in drag) on a whaling ship, her romances, her friendships, and her intellectual pursuits, fill this novel.  It is written in first person, with Una talking to us, the readers.  These are her confessional memoirs.  Her life is not scandalous, but it is eventful and she crosses paths with many famous people, both real and fictional. Una is a full and vibrant narrator with a historically accurate personality. Each person she encounters, is well fleshed out also.  Naslund puts character first here.

Due to the level of detail, the high page count, and the fact that it is the complete story of most of Una's life, this is a leisurely paced book.  This is not a novel to race through.  You are experiencing Una's life as she chooses to unfold it for the reader.  The leisurely pace is also underscored by the language.  There are beautiful descriptions and passages here.  There are whole sections you will want to re-read for their sheer beauty.

Overall, the tone of this novel is nostalgic, bittersweet, slightly darker, but realistic.  I say slightly darker because while Una is mostly happy, there is quite a bit of sadness in her life.  While she feels a true love connection with Ahab, we all know before beginning of the book, that his obsession with the white whale will also be his mortal downfall.  That knowledge and sadness does color the entire book. 

I am glad I waited until I had time to immerse myself in Una's world.  I was able to enjoy all this book had to offer while physically seeing whales from the deck of a ship and visiting light houses.  But even if you are sitting at home, landlocked in your comfy chair, Naslund's lyrical writing and compelling protagonist will take you on a memorable journey, as long as you are willing to sit back and let her take you on a ride at her own pace.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  classics revisited, historical woman's life, lyrical

Readalikes:  There are so many directions you could take readers after they finished this book.  First, obviously, many will be interested in the source material, Moby Dick.  But also, Nathaniel Philbrick has spent much of his popular, nonfiction writing career researching Moby Dick.  Readers might want to try In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex or the new title, Why Read Moby Dick?

Other "classics revisited" which would appeal to fans of Ahab's Wife include Finn by Jon Clinch (my review is here) which looks at The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from Huck's father's perspective, Geraldine Brooks' March which is a retelling of Little Women from the absent father's point of view, and The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall which looks at Gone With the Wind from the slaves' perspective. All are set around a similar time period, bring up similar issues, and use a beloved piece of literature as their frame.

In a similar vein, I would also suggest the novel Sally Hemings by Barbara Chase-Riboud which is a fictionalized account of the slave who fathered many of Thomas Jefferson's children.  The nonfiction counterpoint here would be the award winning nonfiction title, The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed.

As I was reading Ahab's Wife I could not stop thinking about how similar it is to Isabel Allende's Ines of My Soul which is about one of the female founders of Chile in the 1500s.  We read it for book club here.  As a rule, both Naslund and Allende write lyrical, authentic stories of brave and bold women.

Although it takes place a century before the action in Ahab's Wife, Brookland by Emily Barton, which I reviewed here, follows a young, strong woman's life and her place in history.  Interestingly, I also finally got to Brookland this year after a few years of it languishing on my "to-read" list.

Finally for another leisurely placed saga story, featuring strong characters, and a love story at its heart, try Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

Now on to the rest of the long back log of books read and not yet reviewed...