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, July 31, 2013

Article on Stephen King's Family of Writers

I make no bones about the fact that I love Joe Hill.  Click here or here if this is somehow news to you.

I have also said, in a published book, that Stephen King is one of our greatest living storytellers.

I know I am not alone on either of these 2 opinions as there is a lengthy NY Times magazine article, just posted today, that looks at the King family in depth.  Yes there are childhood reminiscences and great family photos here, but what the feature also ponders is how Stephen and Tabitha King fostered the next generation of novelists.  It is very rare for a great writer to have kids who are also so talented.

If you like reading and storytelling or if you just want to see a normal, happy, non-dysfunctional family profiled for a change [hey, they might write about some messed up folks in their books, but they are pretty normal people], click here.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What I'm Reading: Fade to Black

This is a cross post with RA for All: Horror

[This review is based on an ARC sent to me by the publisher.]

Fade to Black is the new book by supernatural thriller writer Jeffrey Wilson. Here is the publisher's summary:
Jack is a young man caught between two terrifying worlds. In one, he is Marine Sergeant Casey Stillmam, locked in combat in the streets of Fallujah, Iraq. He is lying next to his dead and dying friends, bleeding in the street – until he wakes up at home, in bed with his wife. 
In this other world, Jack is a high school science teacher, husband, and devoted father to his little girl. But the nightmares of war continue to haunt him, and to Jack/Casey they feel in many ways more real than his life at home with his family. 
When news of killed Marines in Fallujah surface, Jack realizes he knows far more about these men then he should. But, when the dead Marines begin visiting him while he is awake—he realizes he is in serious trouble. 
Faced with the possibility of losing his mind, or far worse, the nightmares being real, Jack knows he must somehow find a way to bridge the two realities and fight his way back from the nightmares to save his wife and little girl.
This novel starts with a bang, literally.  Wilson, a vet himself, throws the reader right into a battle.  In fact, there are realistic battle scenes spread throughout the book.

But this is more than just a book about Marine buddies fighting and dying for each other, it is also a thought provoking contemplation of the afterlife. As a result, there is a great psychological aspect to this book. The overall atmosphere Wilson creates is sinister; not outright horror bur definitely scary.

As the point of view switches back and forth between Jack and Casey, the reader is asked to fall into this spiral of untrustworthy perceptions and try to figure out, along with the characters, what is real and what is not.

As the truth rises to the top, the book has a satisfying twist.  I agree with most customer reviews that this twist is not necessarily a huge surprise, but after reading the book, I am not sure it is supposed to be a shock.  I think, the reader, like the dual protagonists, are all coming to terms with the differences between what appears to be and what truly is.  The haze of war is thick and Wilson, a vet himself, appreciates that.  But even though the twist is not a shock, you read on to see how the characters will react to it and how the story will resolve.

As I mentioned up above, this is also a heartfelt book. Not an adjective you normally see on a superntural thriller, but it is apt. Wilson writes about families and their bonds very well.  He also understands how violence and trauma can bring unrelated people to a bond as close as family.  He captured this to a point in The Donors, but it is even more succcessful in Fade to Black.

I enjoyed this one much more than The Donors because it was just as creepy, but more thought provoking, and heartfelt. While The Donors was more dark fantasy, Fade to Black is a terrifying supernatural thriller with a heavy psychological suspense pacing and feel. I am adding it to the BPL's collection because I feel like it is good for a wide audience.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Supernatural Military Thriller , Psychological, Afterlife

Readalikes: Someone on Goodreads mentioned A Brief History of the Dead as a readalike.  I agree it makes a good readalike.  It is one of my all time favorites. Here's an annotation I wrote for it before the blog:

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier-- A deadly virus is quickly killing off everyone on Earth, and Laura Byrd, a researcher in Antarctica is apparently the last person left alive. This apocalyptic story alternates between Laura’s struggle for survival and an alternate universe called “the city,” populated by the dead who still are remembered by those living on Earth. This compelling and original tale is chilling and thought provoking.
Many people read ghost books for the afterlife issues and while this book is not a traditional ghost story, it has many of the same aspects: hazy, sinister line between life and death, haunting tone, unresolved life and death issues. I have listed other ghost stories that have a similar appeal here.

The entire feel of the story reminded me of an old episode of the Twilight Zone but just set in Iraq now.

Fade to Black  also made me think of the supernatural PTSD story "The New Veterans" by Karen Russell  in her story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

Some will like the war scenes, battles, and comradierie among soldiers. For them I would point them to this list of the most popular books tagged "military" on Goodreads. It includes fiction and nonfiction.

The Jonathan Maberry military supernatural thriller Joe Ledger series is another choice for people who want more thriller and less psychological suspense.  I reviewed the first book in the series, Patient Zero, here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday Discussion: Book That Make You Laugh

For today's Monday Discussion I found inspiration in a discussion we had back in July of 2010: Books That Make You Laugh.  In that post I mention the Spellman Files mystery series by Lisa Lutz. Since I am currently reading the newest entry in that series, I thought it was a good time to revisit that discussion.

As I was looking back at the 2010 discussion, I found that while some of the books I listed there still make me laugh, I have encountered more titles that made me giggle in the last three years.

Also, humor is such a personal thing. What makes me laugh, will not necessarily make the patron standing in front of me who is asking for a "funny" book laugh too. But, asking as many people as possible for books that they find funny, will help to ensure a wider sense of humor is considered.

So for today's Monday Discussion, let's work together to make a list of the books that make us laugh.

I will go first.  Along with that I listed here, I would also add:

As you can see, my sense of humor is a bit macabre and quirky.  I know not everyone shares this feeling though and for them it is an entirely different type of book that is funny.

So help me build a more well rounded list of funny books.  Throw out some titles of books that make you laugh and together we can hit everyone's funny bone in the right spot.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Library Reads Reminder

As I mentioned in this post:
"Every day library staff share books they love with their users. Now, you can reach beyond the library walls to tell the rest of the country about the books you can’t wait to share.
LibraryReads – a new program, launching this fall, harnesses the value of “library staff picks” into a single nation-wide discovery tool, a monthly list of ten newly released must-reads. "
Any worker, from any public library, no matter if you are a professional librarian or not can sign up to be a part of the program.  Click here for details.

Seriously people, you should all get on this.  It is our chance to rule the book world.  Early Word posted this reminder today:

The deadline for nominations for the inaugural LibraryReads list is August 2, a week from Friday. If you haven’t already, submit your nominations for forthcoming books (titles published in late August and beyond) that you loved reading and cannot wait to share! 
The ten books that get the most nominations will be featured on the list. Participation is open to everyone who works in a public library, both senior staff and new arrivals, no matter which area of the library you work in. The more the merrier – LibraryReads is designed to be inclusive, and to represent a broad range of reading tastes. 
LibraryReads is using Edelweiss as the platform to gather nominations. If you don’t already have an active account, you can sign up for free on the site. After you’ve registered, enter each title you want to nominate into the search box, click on “Your Review” on the title page. A new window will open, with a place to write your review and to “Submit to LibraryReads.” Much more info on the nomination process is available on theLibraryReads Tumblr site. 
Please also encourage fellow library staff to nominate their favorites.Help LibraryReads prove how effective libraries are in helping readers discover books.
I second that! You still have a full week to be a part of the conversation.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

YA Round-Up: Teen Services Interviews Edition

After over 6 months of BPL RA being official in charge of the library's teen services, we are beginning our interviews for 2 part time positions.  These new paraprofessionals will staff the desk and do teen programming.  Teen collection development will stay with those of us who are already doing it, but freeing the RA staff up from having to staff 2 desks with the same number of people should be a win-win all around.

But it does mean that I will be assisting our fearless leader Kathy with interviews all day today (as well as a few more days next week).  In order to get myself in the right frame of mind, I thought it was time for another Round-Up of YA links.

  • Do you sometimes wish more teens would talk to you at the desk? I like to get a wider sampling of teen opinions by consulting the Teenreads.com rotating Teen Board.  Click here to see the brand new bunch.  They are broken up by grade level from 8th to college. Over the next 6 months they will be contributing to the site in many different ways. In fact one of their first posts caught my eye.  Entitled, Problems of a Teenage Bookworm, the post reminded me of my past AND present. It reminded me that while I often feel so much older than my teen patrons, in reality we are both interested in finding them a good book to read. You can access all the Teen Board Blog posts from this Board and previous Boards here.
  • Kelly on Stacked also found a way to find out what her teens are actually reading this summer.  Click through to see her lengthy, detailed, and useful report on her summer reading program.
  • One of my favorite new (to me) teen blogs is Reading Rants! Out of the Ordinary Teen Booklists! by a NYC middle school librarian.  Click here for her blogging mission statement in detail but I really like how she lays out what teens can get from her blog and what adults can get. She is also clear about what the blog is NOT. Also, she has been doing this since 2002, so there are a lot of reviews, lists, and author info to choose from here.
  • The Green Bean Teen Queen is a Youth Librarian who started her blog for similar reasons as I did.  Although she serves children from birth-18, she focuses her blog on Teens and Tweens.  Not only is this a well done blog, but I like how it includes tweens [a group we are struggling to serve better at the BPL].
  • Epic Reads is holding a multi-generational conversation where people can suggest their favorite teen books for adults and favorite adult books for teens.  Click here to lurk or participate.
  • On The Hub: Why YA Books are Awesome.
  • Finally, all day today SLJ is running a free online event: Summer Teen 2013.
Off to begin the search for the newest members of the BPL RA Dream Team!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Eisner Award Winners Announced

My favorite thing about Comic Con is the announcement of the Eisner Awards for the best work in graphic novels.  Click here for the 2013 winners [or see the end of this post].

This year, the graphic novel community agreed with my 2012 best list.  It was no contest as Chris Ware and his fantastically amazing Building Stories swept ever about every category its was eligible for.

But I also want to note Brian K. Vaughan who has been doing great work in the comic world for years.  Saga is an exciting new series and more than deserving of its awards and his Y: The Last Man is among the best graphic novel series ever.

Below is the full list of winners.  Congrats to all.  And for you librarians out there, consider these winners and the full list of nominees for your collection development of your graphic novel collections. Even if you know nothing about collecting graphic novels, know that these are the best out there and should be considered for your collections.

For more details, see my full post on using award lists as an RA tool from 2011.


Eisner Awards 25th Anniversary
Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Winners 2013
The winners of the 2013 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards were announced at a gala ceremony held during Comic-Con International: San Diego, at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, on Friday, July 19.
Best Short Story: “Moon 1969: The True Story of the 1969 Moon Launch,” by Michael Kupperman, in Tales Designed to Thrizzle #8 (Fantagraphics)
Best Single Issue (or One-Shot): The Mire, by Becky Cloonan (self-published)
Best Continuing Series: Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)
Best New Series: Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)
Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 7): Babymouse for President, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House)
Best Publication for Kids (ages 8–12): Adventure Time, by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb (kaboom!)
Best Publication for Teens (ages 13–17): A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, adapted by Hope Larson (FSG)
Best Humor Publication: Darth Vader and Son, by Jeffrey Brown (Chronicle)
Best Digital Comic: Bandette, by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover (Monkeybrain)
Best Anthology: Dark Horse Presents, edited by Mike Richardson (Dark Horse)
Best Reality-Based Work (tie): Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, by Joseph Lambert (Center for Cartoon Studies/Disney Hyperion); The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, by Frank M. Young and David Lasky (Abrams ComicArts)
Best Graphic Album—New: Building Stories, by Chris Ware (Pantheon)
Best Adaptation from Another Medium: Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score, adapted by Darwyn Cooke (IDW)
Best Graphic Album—Reprint: King City, by Brandon Graham (TokyoPop/Image)
Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips: Pogo, vol. 2: Bona Fide Balderdash, by Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly and Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics)
Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books: David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil Born Again: Artist’s Edition, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW
Best U.S. Edition of International Material: Blacksad: Silent Hell, by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido (Dark Horse)
Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia: Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa (VIZ Media)
Best Writer: Brian K. Vaughan, Saga (Image)
Best Writer/Artist: Chris Ware, Building Stories (Pantheon)
Best Penciler/Inker (tie): David Aja, Hawkeye (Marvel), Chris Samnee, Daredevil (Marvel); Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom (IDW)
Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art): Juanjo Guarnido, Blacksad (Dark Horse)
Best Cover Artist: David Aja, Hawkeye (Marvel)
Best Coloring: Dave Stewart, Batwoman (DC); Fatale (Image); BPRD, Conan the Barbarian, Hellboy in Hell, Lobster Johnson, The Massive (Dark Horse)
Best Lettering: Chris Ware, Building Stories (Pantheon)
Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism: The Comics Reporter, edited by Tom Spurgeon, www.comicsreporter.com
Best Comics-Related Book: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, by Sean Howe (HarperCollins)
Best Educational/Academic Work: Lynda Barry: Girlhood Through the Looking Glass, by Susan E. Kirtley (University Press of Mississippi)
Best Publication Design: Building Stories, designed by Chris Ware (Pantheon)
Hall of Fame: Lee Falk, Al Jaffee, Mort Meskin, Trina Robbins, Spain Rodriguez, Joe Sinnott
Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award: Russel Roehling
Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award: Chris Sparks and Team Cul deSac
Bill Finger Excellence in Comic Book Writing Award: Steve Gerber, Don Rosa
Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award: Challengers Comics + Conversation, Chicago, IL

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday Discussion: Best Book You Ever Read For School

My daughter has her first summer reading assignment ever.  She had to read a memoir and now has a series of essays and poems to write in relation to it.  Now, she loves to read (no shock there), but for the first time ever, she has been forced to finish a book she was not enjoying. [She has no trouble abandoning a book she is not into.] It is not that she hated the book, but it was not a book she would choose to read for fun. [I am purposeful leaving the title out since I do not want to prejudice others to this book, plus the title is not pertinent here.]

We had to have the talk about how soon she will have to read more for assignments and less for fun.  I am privately mourning this transition for her, but I too went through it and came out the other side still an avid reader. I figure being honest with her about the "have to" reads while still encouraging reading for fun as a recreational option will lessen the pain in the years to come.

While trying to put a good face on the entire situation, I shared with her tales the books I would have never read without having them assigned-- books I still count as among the favorites I have ever read.

After talking to her about those books I still remember fondly, I realized it would make a great Monday Discussion.  We did a version of this a few years ago, but I thought it would be worth revisiting it.  So here are the books I mentioned to her:

For the record, I have a much longer list of books I wish I had never even opened, but had to read for school. I'm looking at you Jude the Obscure. Yuck! Still to this day, the worst book I ever read. No contest.

Now it's your turn.  Tell me the books you hold dear in your heart, books you never would have read except for the fact that you were "forced to." And if you need to vent [as I obviously did], throw in a stinker or two.  But more loves than hates here; in the spirit of encouraging my daughter.

For past Monday Discussions click here.

Postscript: In case you were wondering,  she did finish the book in the week she scheduled herself to read it, and has answered the short response question already. School doesn't begin for 4 weeks from tomorrow, so thankfully she will still have time to read a few more books for pure pleasure before sixth grade begins.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Story Coaster Graphic

From the NY Times Book Review back page by

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

BPL Book Discussion: Escape From Camp 14

On Monday the BPL Monday book discussion group met to discuss the emotional nonfiction title, Escape from Camp 14 by journalist Blaine Harden with help from the subject of the book Shin Dong-hyuk.  From the publisher:
"North Korea is isolated and hungry, bankrupt and belligerent. It is also armed with nuclear weapons. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are being held in its political prison camps, which have existed twice as long as Stalin's Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. Very few born and raised in these camps have escaped. But Shin Dong-hyuk did.
In Escape from Camp 14, acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk and through the lens of Shin's life unlocks the secrets of the world's most repressive totalitarian state. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence-he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his own family. Through Harden's harrowing narrative of Shin's life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world's darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival."
So as you can see, this is a pretty shocking and serious book, but it makes for a great discussion.  Surprisingly, I could not find questions from the traditional book club sources, but I did find these from San Jose State University.

Let's move on to the discussion itself.
  • I altered the general opening vote since I knew everyone would feel weird raising their hand to say they "liked" a book about horrific atrocities, so this month we voted on Glad I Read It (11 votes), Wish I Stayed Ignorant (1 vote), and So-so (2 votes). So overall people were very glad they read this troubling book.  The one who voted on wishing she stayed ignorant said it was a frustration issue-- I read it, I felt horrible, but I also knew there was nothing I could do.
  • Instead of letting someone talk about why they "liked" the book to open the discussion (as I normally do), I instead felt it was important to engage in a discussion about the violence and disturbing revelations here right at the start.  I used the first question from the discussion guide to get the ball rolling on this issue. Question: Some say this book is too violent and disturbing and should not be read for that reason. Others say it’s important we learn about these things happening. After reading this book, how do you feel about how it handles violence? Responses :
    • I am a sensitive "viewer." Reading is often an easier way for me to "view" violence but while reading this book, I wasn't sure if I could go on at points.  I was glad I stuck it out because of how much I learned.
    • For me, the violence was buffered by Shin's position.  He was born in the camp, he didn't have anything else to judge his behavior by except for the violent guards and an abusive mother.
    • As I read, my emotions swung between "this book is great" to "no, this book is awful."  That pulling on your emotions while teaching you something is what made me enjoy reading it.
    • The shear number of prisoners is almost more staggering to me than the violence inflicted upon them...200,000 people!
    • Also, the size of this one camp...35 miles long and 25 miles wide.
    • And that is just one of many camps, chimed in another.
    • This book was hard to read, but I needed it to educate myself.
  • Related Questions: [These questions and comments came up throughout the discussion; we kept coming back to them; I have tried to compile them all here in one place. But note, if you are leading a discussion of this book, these are central questions and issues that dominated people's responses in our group.] What can we do to stop this? How much did you know about N. Korea before this? And follow up, since we know very little, do you trust Shin and Harden's portrayal of the situation? Responses:
    • For the most part, the group believed Harden's book. He goes through great lengths to explain how he corroborated Shin's story and adds other geo-political information.
    • I knew nothing before hand.
    • This book made me want to read more and get a better handle on the entire situation before I even think about how we are going to stop these camps.
    • When world leaders meet with North Korea, NK won't even let the camps enter the discussion.  They are off the table.  If they come up, NK stops negotiations on anything else.
    • We can see them camps from satellites but no one is doing anything.
    • I have been to South Korea twice, I have been to the DMZ between South and North.  There are people there trying to do something, but it is just a spit in the bucket.
    • I've been raving about this book to everyone I know telling them they should read it.  If enough people know, there will be momentum for change.
    • NK Camps don't have a celebrity spokesperson, but after reading this book, it is clear Shin understands his burden as an escapee is that he must spread the story.
    • One thing this book taught me is that simply storming in and freeing everyone would not help them.  They don't know or understand life without living in prison.  Look at all the help Shin got and it was still hard for him.
    • This book made me aware of one person's story, but it also made me think that the Korean War is a part of our world history that I do not know enough about.
    • Politics in the region are changing. Maybe China will begin to help stop NK.
    • Look at how long it took South Africa to change even after the world new about apartheid.
    • There is nothing of value for the world within the NK borders, so it is not a priority for the world to stop the atrocities there. Sad but true.
  • We talked at length about the way Harden chose to write the book and his "author intentions." I feel it is very important to discuss author intentions when you read an emotional and politically charged book in general.
    • We had trouble figuring out how we could help make this situation better because of how Harden told Shin's story. He gave us no answers. He is simply presenting the information to us.
    • It is sensational!-- said one member. No--chimed in another right away-- this all happened to Shin, we need to know it all, bloody and awful details, all of it.
    • I liked how at the beginning and end of the book Harden summarizes and repeats all the key points.
    • Yes, I also liked the repetition. Since everything in here was new to me, that helped.
    • I liked that Harden ended the story with Shin's first successful talk to a group (after a few lackluster attempts). It is uplifting and made me think there is hope to free others.
    • This was a challenging read, but not impossible.  Harden began each chapter with Shin's personal story and then went into the geo-political situation. It could be hard to follow since it was all new to me, but it was necessary.
    • I appreciated all of the history here because I was learning it for the first time.
    • I liked that he wrote it in his journalistic style. There were short chapters. He didn't over-write. It moved at a good pace but taught me things.
    • He described the quandary of the food donation program and its complexity to us very well.
    • The partnership between Shin the refugee and Harden the journalist may offer a solution to this genocide and others. We need more of these pairings to effectively get the stories of atrocities out there.
  • Question: The Introduction is titled “Never Heard the Word Love.” Assess the camp culture Shin was raised in. Is love something we learn culturally or is it an innate thing people must do? Do different people have different capacities to love? Responses:
    • Before I read this book, I thought everyone was born with the capacity to love.  I now question this.
    • This book shows that love has to be taught, modelled, and expressed.
    • Shin never saw love. He had no family in our sense of it.  His mother was competition for food and beat him.
    • When you are hungry, nothing else matters.  You cannot have emotions or understand them if you are literally starving. 
    • He only understands love after he escapes.  And then only has guilt for turning his mother and brother in to be killed after he escapes. Can't have guilt without understanding love.
    • Speaking of how awful his mother was, someone said that they wanted to know more about her, not to defend her but to understand her better.  We will never know her story though.
  • I asked the group to just throw out their thoughts and feelings about Shin himself:
    • Brave
    • Naive
    • Self-Absorbed and selfish-- even after he escapes and lives in SK and US.
    • Love starved
    • Lucky--the circumstances for his escape her just perfect
    • Resilient
    • Conflicted
    • I didn't like him for much of the book mostly because I could no identify with the horrors he witnessed and lived through.  I was tempted many times to say, just get the hell out of there. But when I thought about it, I knew he could not.  I thought he should no better, but then I remembered, he did not know better.  He was not taught another way.
    • I admired how he dealt with moving through China.
    • When he got to the SK Embassy in China, I began to see him as someone who could tell this story to the world.
    • He was street smart for having no education.  His survival skills were honed in the camp, so when he was out and on the run, he had that expertise to rely on.
    • I was shocked by his sense of justice that he carried inside himself even having grown up without justice modeled.
    • His father showed him love, but Shin could not recognize it until much later.
    • He was very insightful. He admitted that he had trouble sharing his story with the world because he knew it was only his story, he did not want to speak for others.
  • We talked about the problems we Americans have understanding what goes on in North Korea because their society is so different from the rest of the world:
    • Snitching is a key component to North Korean society. Everyone snitches and is expected to turn on their family.
    • I have been confused by all of the new, young NK leader's bluster in the news, trying to provoke the rest of the world, even though the country is poor and the people are starving.  Reading this book and learning about how North Koreans are raised and brainwashed, it makes more sense. I have a better understanding of the current situation there.
    • We can't understand how to deal with the NK problems because we can't understand how they think. Our ways of combating tyranny would fail because the people of NK are so locked down that they don't even really know what freedom is.
    • Look at NK refugees in SK or US.  Many of them have trouble holding on to a job.  But think about what we learned from Shin.  If you quit work in NK you are killed. Think about how liberating it would be for a North Korean to leave a job and live to tell it.  No wonder they quit so often; to them the ability to walk away from a job is the ultimate freedom.  But we see it as "lazy" or "irresponsible." This illustrates how differently their brains work from ours.
    • Books like this let us see the issue from another point of view.
  • Question: Do you think Shin will ever be "well" emotionally? Responses:
    • He has PTSD, that lasts for life.
    • He will always have problems.
    • He tells Harden that while he might seem better at reacting with the correct emotions are the right times, it is not natural.  Every interaction with people requires his complete concentration. He has to think about how he is supposed to respond.
    • He is trying to heal through his work telling his story to audiences so that he can help free everyone he left behind.  But he lives with survivor guilt too.
  • We ended the discussion talking about the 10 Camp Rules Shin had to memorize in the camp school.  Harden checked these with a former guard in Camp 14 who also escaped.  We talked about their placement at the end of the book more than the rules themselves:
    • I was glad to see the actual rules since we had read mentions of them throughout the book.
    • Even after finishing the book, they were even worse than I thought.
    • If these were at the beginning of the book, I wouldn't have believed the rules. Actually, I wouldn't have believed the entire book.  Having them at the end was a good choice.
    • They underline how sadistic brutal, and scary the situation was. And, it made Shin's courage even more apparent.
Readalikes: I read and loved this year's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson which is fiction set in North Korea during a similar time period as this nonfiction title.  All I can say is, Escape from Camp 14 makes me admire The Orphan Master's Son even more.  I thought some of the novel might have been exaggerated.  I know see that the opposite is true.  It is actually even worse. Another member of the book club has read both books and added that she wished she had read Harden's nonfiction before Johnson's novel because then she would have been less skeptical of Johnson's accounts.  Either way, they make an amazing pairing.

Harden begins the book by acknowledging that most "camp" memoirs American have read deal with concentration camps, but that Shin's story is very different because he never knew of life on the outside and had no family. But, he does mention the classic books of the Holocaust Night by Elie Wiesel and The Diary of Anne Frank.  Both are readalike options.

During our discussion another participant said that the situation in North Korea is a form of modern genocide.  When people started asking what we can do to help stop these camps, we were all at a loss for action.  She suggested a book her husband read, the award winning A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power, as a way to educate ourselves on how people can and do act on stopping genocide.

Kathy, our fearless RA Dream Team Leader, has not read this book with her group yet, but when I mentioned how as a group we loved the book but felt bad saying that since what is described in it is so awful, reminded me that this is how both groups felt when reading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.  While the horrors Walls and her siblings went through were by no means as bad as what Shin endured, the emotional response of the reader is similar.  You feel bad for loving the book and finding it compelling and engrossing when such terrible things are happening.

This made me think about the fact that there are dozens of memoir options out there about people who have lived through horrors and survived.  That could be the appeal for some people. Click here for a long list of memoirs, most of which fit this appeal.

Finally, if you just want to read more on North Korea (which is my personal top appeal here), check out this list from Goodreads.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What I'm Reading: The Golem and the Jinni

Wow, I finished this book 2 months ago and have been hand selling it to patrons every chance I get. I have even talked about it at Book Lover's Club, but I have completely forgotten that I have not written about it on the blog yet.  Yikes!

I am talking about the fabulous and enchanting The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. As way of an intro, here is what I wrote for the May Book Lover's Club meeting:
In this lyrical debut novel Wecker combines fantasy and historical fiction in a cleverly told immigrant tale set in 1899 NYC.  The catch is our protagonists are no ordinary immigrants.  We have the Golem, a sentient creature made out of clay from Jewish folklore and a Jinni, a genie from Syrian folklore.  Wecker lays out their coming to America tales in alternating chapters. Eventually they meet, and together they try to solve the mysteries of their origins and their lives as they must be in America.  This is a captivating and original story that reminded me of a combination of Forever by Pete Hamill (immigrant to NYC plus magic storyline), The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (dark fantasy with amazing world building, fluid storytelling, darkness but with hope)  and People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (Jews and Arabs working together to save something precious).
This is an amazing original, fun, and compelling story.  The pov bounces back and forth which quickens the pace, a pace that steadily builds in intensity. Wecker is able to tell the Golem's story and the Jinni's history independently from their interactions with each other, but she is also able to combine the 2 folklore's from what are normally seen as violently opposed cultures into a cohesive story. [It is important to note we are dealing with Jewish culture and Christian Arabs].

Yes, I said she separates and blends their stories.  I know that sounds confusing, but she is very skilled (remarkably so for a debut author) and it works. I was completely wrapped up in each creature's personal story but equally as interested in their friendship and what would come of it.

The reasons someone would enjoy reading this novel stems from the unique type of magical realism that is the overall frame here.  It is magical realism in a specific way. This is important to note since magical realism is so prevalent these days, I feel this subgenre needs further clarification (if not another subgenre) so readers have a better idea of what they should expect.  In this case the magical realism comes from the way Wecker combines historical fiction with well known folklore in a seamless manner.  This is an immigrant story where the facts of their lives in NYC are detailed and historically accurate, but the main characters themselves are products of folklore.

Wecker has amazing descriptions of the landscape of ancient Syria, 1899 New York and life in these places.  It gives the book a cinematic feel.  I was there with these characters in the shops, walking the streets, and in the middle of the desert.  The sense of place is fabulous.

Finally, this fantasy, historical, literary fiction blend has a hopeful, dare I say happy, and resolved ending. It is a serious look at folklore and immigrant life at the turn of the century, but it is all packaged as a compelling and heartfelt story of two creatures looking for their place in a nonmagical world.  In the end, these folklore creatures have a lot to teach us human readers about ourselves.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  captivating, historical, folklore

Readalikes: To repeat what I said above, as I read The Golem and the Jinni, three specific books popped into my head. Pete Hamil's Forever, The Night Circus (dark fantasy with amazing world building, fluid storytelling, darkness but with hope) People of the Book (Jews and Arabs working together to save something precious).  I really feel as if Wecker's novel is what you would get if you smushed all three of these novels into one lump and run it through a strainer.

The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights with an introduction by A.S. Byatt (a great historical/folklore fiction author option too) is a good choice for more Arab folklore.

On the Jewish folklore side, I would suggest, a classic, Nathan Ausubel's A Treasury of Jewish Folklore.  It is an oldie but a goodie, but hey, these are old stories.  But seriously, this collection has stood the text of time and is still read (and given as a Bar Mitzvah gift) up to today.

While this is a text novel, it contains a lot of visual, lush descriptions which made me think that a graphic novel might be a good readalike here. If you are interested in a graphic novel, I would suggest the excellent Habibi by Craig Thompson.

I like this list of historical fiction with a dash of magic from Goodreads users.  These are all possible readalikes, but preview them in more detail because depending on what you like most about Wecker's novel, so may not work for you.

One from this list that I have read and feel is a nice pairing here is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Click through to see my review and discover more possible readalikes.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday Discussion: Pseudonyms

So you have probably heard but the biggest news in publishing this weekend was the revelation that J.K. Rowling wrote a well reviewed PI novel under a pseudonym. Click here for the full story, but here is a short excerpt:
The author of The Cuckoo's Calling, published by Mulholland Books on April 30, turns out to be J.K. Rowling, who used the pseudonym Robert Galbraith for the book, revealed yesterday by the Sunday Times in London.
Little, Brown confirmed that Rowling is Galbraith--which was supposedly a pseudonym for a retired British military investigator. A reprint of the book that is underway will add this phrase in the author biography: "Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling."
I am also happy to report that here at the BPL we had ordered the book back in late April when it came out based on its positive reviews.  It has already circulated 4 times before this news too!

So since this is all anyone can talk about, it got me thinking how I could turn this discussion into a Monday Discussion, and it hit me right away. Let's talk about other famous pseudonyms.

Rowling is not the only famous author who wanted to try something new without people judging it by what he or she wrote previously.  Another famous example is Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.

But from recent times I have two favorites, not because I loved the books (I did like them though as you will see when I link the titles to my reviews), but because they did it for just Rowling's reasons. They were well known in one genre and wanted to write in another. I applaud them for wanting to do something different.
Now it is your turn.  Let me know one of your favorite pseudonym situations for today's Mondy Discussion.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why People Abandon A Book

One of the hardest challenges we readers' advisors face is convincing a patron to take a book we are suggesting only going off of our word.  Too many patrons have had a bad experience with a book that they thought they would like.  Often, though these books are not suggested by us, the professionals, rather, they get the suggestion from a friend or everyone else is reading it so they figure they will like it.

This later issue is also known as "the curse of the bestseller list." I talked about this at more length in regards to the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon last year. Click through if you want more explanation on that issue.

Now there are 2 kinds of readers in these instances: those who abandon books they don't like and those who read the entire thing no matter how much they hate it.  I used to be a read no matter what kind of girl, but have learned that there is no shame in abandoning.  Life is short and there are too many GREAT books to waste my time on ones I do not like (that is unless I have to read it for work, but in that case, I am being paid to read it, so I can't complain there).

As I have made the transition to a reader who is able to abandon a book, I have also been more vocal with patrons about this option.  As I book talk a perspective title to a patron, I often say-- give it a try; start it and if it is not working for you close it up and return it.  To make it seem even less of a problem, I also remind patrons that we don't check to see if you've actually read the books we give you. We have no way to know, so don't worry about it.  Close it up and come back to get a new one.  Then I wave my arms across the stacks and remind them of how many other books we have. It has proved very effective.

Of course, when they really think about it,  people know we do not check to see if they've read the books they check out, but a small part of them are worried about returning unread books. Openly admitting that you don't finish books all the time and/or reminding them that we don't know, or for that matter, care if they finish the books we give them, takes a lot of pressure off the RA transaction.

I do make sure, however, to let my patrons know that my ultimate goal is to find them the right read for them. This is why I try to make them take at least 2 books (ideally 3) so there is room for one to be abandoned without a return trip to the library immediately.

This has worked well for me over the years, but one question has often plagues me-- Why do people abandoned a book?  I know why I do, I know why a few other specific patrons have, but getting some more general data about the different reasons why people give up on a book will help me to anticipate a possible abandonment in my patrons.  It will also help me to better place the right book in a patron's hand as this information will give me more questions to help weed out a "bad" suggestion.

Thankfully Goodreads was also concerned with this question and they surveyed their users on just this issue.  The result is an infographic explaining which books are most abandoned and why people give up on certain books.  Click here for the original (that is easier to zoom in on) or see the embedded infographic below.

This is fun, yes, but think about what I have said about using this information to better serve your patrons too.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

ALA 2013: Take-Aways

I have been gathering my notes from the conference and really thinking about them in the context of how they will help me at my job as a readers' advisor for adults and teens.

One thing I learned is that we do a pretty good job providing services to readers at the BPL.  For our size and budget, our patrons get excellent RA service. But everyone has room for improvement. And while many of you look to me for advice and ideas, I look to you, my colleagues, for the same.  In fact, I went out of my way NOT to present at ALA this year so that I could spend my time learning from others.  And I am happy to say, I got a lot out of my time.

I thought it would be best for me, and hopefully others, if I compiled my top takeaways. To that end, the following is a list of things I am confident our BPL RA Dream Team can tackle in the near future:

  • We can try at least 2 (if not more) ideas from the 20 programs for $20 list with our teens. Not only are the ideas great, but the handouts have videos and step by step instructions.  There is very little planning to do here. I am particularly interested in having a gross out program in October and making marshmallow shooters. The later I think we can somehow incorporate into our Ready Player One Community Reads programming. And I am totally asking if we can have a casino candy program.  If the library administration won't let me do it, I am going to try to get the Friends to run it. 
  • I am going to use volunteer match to try to find specific volunteers for the library as suggested by the Sacramento Public Library.
  • And from the same program, we are having a fundraising spelling bee.  I have already talked to our fearless leader, Kathy, about it and she is excited too. This will probably best be done as part of our regular Trivia Night on the first Tuesday of the month, but we need to wait until 2014 to do it right.
  • From the Leading Readers to Water Program:
    • Treat book news like current events and make a Book News Board
    • Put stickers at the end of books that say, "If you just enjoyed this book and are looking for your next read, may we suggest..." and include our logo.  Each of us already have many lists we have created with readalikes that are posted on the Browsers Corner, but putting them directly in the book for readers to see as they turn the final page saves them a step. This is my favorite takeaway from the conference.  As soon as we can set up a template, I am using my reviews from this blog to make these stickers.
    • Clearly mark books in a series with their number order! Why should they have to come over and ask for a list?
    • Use a prize wheel at the RA desk! We are so buying one.  
  • I will use everything James Klise taught me about what boys likes to read every time I work with a male reader.  I am also going to try to see if he can repeat his talk, especially the survey he did with his boy patrons, for ARRT in 2014.
  • After the RUSA genre program, I am more committed than ever to remove the shelving by genre of books at the BPL.  I was happy to walk into this program and see our head of Collection Management there. We are beginning the back-end cataloging work that will make this transition easier, and she is spear heading that.  It will happen, so I am willing to be more patient about it now.  I was happy to hear from the authors during this program about how they use (or wish they did not use) genre as writers and readers.
  • Finally, this is not a takeaway that I can use at work, but I have to comment on it.  Thanks to Ann Patchett's admission that reading was her only hobby, I will never again feel badly that it is also mine.
I should end by saying these are not the only things I will takeaway from ALA 2013, but they are the things that I am confident we can handle.  One of the biggest mistakes you can make after attending an energizing class or conference is to run back to your library and then bite off more than you can chew.  You will end up converting all of that happy energy into angry frustration.

So whether you went to the conference yourself, or you followed it virtually through me and other sites, please sit back and take some time to synthesize what you learned and think about how and if you can apply it to your work.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What Does Your Summer Reading Say About You?

I found this article on the NPR books site on a page called 13.7: Cosmos and Culturea blog of commentary set at the intersection of science and culture. 

In the article, author Tania Lombrozo searched out academic research on summer reading.  While what she found might not be surprising [reading choices are personal and based on your presonality], I enjoyed reading the original articles and studies she found. I was also excited to find this blog and poked around quite a bit.

The research Lombrozo identified reminded of the work of Catherine Sheldrick Ross, specifically her book Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals About Reading, Libraries, and Community. Last week, Ross was awarded the prestigious Margaret E. Monroe Library Adult Services Award from RUSA at the ALA Conference.  From the citation:

Sheldrick pioneered a way to transform the reference interview into a successful transaction for both reader and the librarian, thus enforcing the critical role libraries have in promoting literacy. This citation is presented to a librarian who has made significant contributions to library adult services.
Check out the NPR post or better yet, grab a copy of Reading Matters. You will learn a lot about yourself as a reader, and about how to better assess your patron's needs. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Monday Discussion: Summer Vacation Inside Fiction

With summer vacation talk heating up around here the Book Riot's post entitled, "Summer Travel: The Top 5 Places I’d Go If Fiction Were Open to Tourists" really caught my attention, enough that I thought I would ask you all the same question.

If you could take your summer vacation in a fictional world, where would you go? In the post, Jeanette lists some good ones like Harry Potter's world or George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire setting.

But what about you?

I'll go first, I have to say that I would love to visit the George Lucas created universe of Star Wars for a time. Just to get to travel through space and meet many different aliens. I wouldn't want to be a part of the intergalactic struggle of good vs. evil though. I just want to experience it

As I have mentioned on the blog many times before, I am also a fan of the mid-Nineteenth Century as a setting for my fiction and nonfiction. Any novel set during this era would be a way for me to time travel to this exciting time. So maybe a Dickens novel, or better yet, 2 books I read with a Dickens theme and setting which I loved were The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl and Drood by Dan Simmons. But really anything set in the mid to late 19th Century in America or England would be a good fictional vacation destination for me.

Now it is your turn.

For today's return of the Monday Discussion, just as Jeannette asks here, where would you go if fiction were open to tourists.

For past Monday Discussions click here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

RA Round-Up: Post ALA Edition

While I was busy attending classes and catching up with old library friends all weekend, the world of leisure reading was still marching on.  Since Monday night, I have spent time trying to catch up on everything I had missed.

Here is what I found to be the most interesting and useful from around the web:

RA for All will now take a much needed break for the holiday.

ALA 2013: Program Report-- All About ARCs

I was not the only one posting from ALA.  Here is Kelly's report on her own program from ALA entitled All About ARCs: The Ins and Outs of Requesting, Using, and Abusing Advanced Reading Copies.

I had to miss this program to attend this one, but Kelly's post on her blog Stacked, is very interesting.  Take a look here.

For the record, the BPL never adds ARCs to our collection; it is against our policy. We use them for staff to read so that they can suggest them to readers and then after that we give them out as prizes, but they are often quite bent up by then. A recent success of where our receipt of an ARC has helped us to spread the word about the book to patrons is The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne.

I frequently received horror ARCs to review for RA for All: Horror.

Thanks for the post Kelly.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

ALA 2013: Missing Post Found

Big shout out to RA for All reader and now helper, Laura Baas, a librarian in Colorado.  Not only did she send me an email telling me that I was not loosing my mind-- yes, the post on the program entitled "We Are the Champions: 20s-30s Library Advocacy" did go up (but is now missing from the blog for reasons still unknown), but she managed to capture the lost post.

Many thanks to Laura, who sent me the rescued original post.  It follows below:

We Are the Champions: 20s-30s Library Advocacy

Speaker: Jessica Zaker, Branch Supervisor, Sacramento Public Library
Speaker: Lori Easterwood, Programming Supervisor, Sacramento Public Library
Speaker: Meg Dana, alt+library Friends

I felt like this was a program where my RA work and Friends Liaison work overlapped, so I am going to blog about it here.

  • Alt Library at Sacramento Public Library.  Click here for details. It started as a programming arm for 20s and 30s, but now is morphing more into advocacy.
  • They started it because they wanted programs at their library for people like themselves.
  • They thought these people weren't using the library, but they found that 37% of their card holder were 20-40. Maybe just not at programs.
  • Wanted to do it on the cheap.
  • One lady has a passion for fitness so they have had zombie aerobics, heavy metal yoga. They try to find local experts and work from there.
  • They are also working off of the DIY movement and living more simply.
  • Herb Garden Mixology: so using what people are already into [gardening] and adding in drinking.  No liquor at the program though. Library also already had a seed library at the library.
  • Raw food got 30 young adults. It was the first program funded by their Alt Friends group. No cooking since Raw.  Supported the program with books from the collection.
  • After Hours programs work well. They did a Bollywood program.  Showed a movie and got a henna artist. 60 people showed up. Again, here they went with something one of the women already loved and said, hey let's see who shows up.
  • Did a Karaoke night too.
  • How to get them there.  Mix of good posters and social media.  Meetup.com/altlibrary. They pay a nominal annual fee to have their group on the site.  It has been a great tool for finding new people.
  • A lot of people who come to the alt library events are new to town and want to meet people.
  • They did speed dating for book lovers. Both same sex and hetero.
  • Volunteermatch.org to look for graphic design help. This is how they also found their current Alt Friends President.

  • A group of 20-30 somethings to advocate and fundraise for the library. Now have grown to 5 Board Members.  Meet at a coffee shop. 
  • We are the Friends for a virtual space. The Friends of Alt+ Library operate at a virtual branch. They had to work through making their own model to make this work. Don't have a place to hang flyers.
    • Go out into community and sell books at craft fairs
    • Fundraise at programs
    • Use Facebook to "hang flyers."
  • One of our board members is a social media consultant as her day job. Leveraged Facebook ads. Cheap and good.
  • Go out in the community and do outreach that way. Sacgeekscards.com was a deck of cards and the alt friends was the 7 of clubs.  People had to collect them all over town to get a full deck. We gave out our cards, but the 50 other groups were aware of us too.
  • Fundraising: Getting a space at the big craft fair was a big deal. It gave us a place to sell books and do paper crafting.
  • They now have the alt library craft committee. They come into the library once a month. The group pays for the supplies and the group make crafts we can sell.  It is fundraising and a social event all rolled into one.
  • Social Aspect is key
  • Interactive too.  The Spelling Bee was a great example.  Yes it was a spelling bee but it was also a fundraiser. You could buy an extra chance for $1, you could pay more for a dictionary, you could pay to ask a friend.  They got a nice pile of cash at the end of it and it was fun.
  • Perks they offer: When they join the Alt Friends, group tries to give them something, like a donated book.
  • They did have to bring the idea of the Alt Friends to the regular friends group for permission.  The alt group also got $500 from the traditional friends as seed money to get started.
  • Partnerships: Got a gym to help with the punk rock aerobics and now they send a trainer to run the alt friends fitness. They advertise their fitness services at the library and the library advertises at the gym.  Library took World Book Night books to the gym.  Useful to have these connections. Also, she said I have never been so sweaty at the library, which challenges perceptions of what the library is about too.
  • One presenter is on a roller derby team. Their fundraiser will be for alt friends this year.  The takeaway here is to use your personal connections to find new outlets.
  • Be inclusive, gay friendly for example.
  • They also decided to be age friendly. Won't throw you out if you are older than 39. If you want to do this stuff, come.
  • Ask people for stuff, tell them it is for the library.  People often say yes.
  • One example is they worked with these downtown business map people to get blank maps with the alt library logo and have people make their personal map of their favorite places.
  • Alt libraries is about increasing positive awareness of the library
  • Get provocative titles: Broke Ass Holidays-- a holiday craft program where you could make gifts for people.  Also Teas-Me where they talked about tea and got donated bulk tea leaves where people could make their own tea blends.
  • Trying to meet groups that are already in area where they are to garner new advocates for the library.
  • alt friends went to city council when the library budget was up to show that young people love the library.
  • Blend the fun with the advocacy.
  • Get noticed however you can.
  • Did a walk where people submitted their "happy place" within the downtown grid. All read a travel writing book--Geography of Bliss. Talked about the book while they walked and then when they got to a new place on the list, the person who submitted it talked about why they loved that place.  They had 20 people walking around town in conversation; it got noticed.
  • Questions about not putting flyers in libraries.  She said each branch has a friends group and don't want to step on their toes.  Also, they want to get new people who don't necessarily go to the library.
  • Question about how to market to 20s and 30s. It's not just where you put the flyers.  It is the look of the flyers and the edginess that draws a younger crowd. Also, force people you know to come and then the word of mouth gets new people.
  • Coasters as an advertising tool.
  • Alternative Presses.
  • An audience member did a Hippie to Hipster program that crosses the generations.