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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween from RA for All

It is RA for All's favorite holiday today, not only because I am a horror expert, but also because today marks the end of my 31 Days of  Horror Blog-a-Thon over on the horror blog.  Phew!

Seriously though, the third time really was a charm. This was my least stressful 31 Days of Horror.

Today, I am directing you to RA for All: Horror to see what has been going on there.

Specifically, today's final post of the 2013 edition is an original spooky story written by my 11 year old daughter.

But I also have each year's blog-a-thon indexed in my Features Archive:

If you missed following the fun this month or during October's past, you can check it anytime throughout the year. There is a LOT of horror in libraries information at RA for All: Horror available and clearly indexed all the year through!

Remember, you can suggest scary books to patrons any time of the year and RA for All: Horror is standing by -- always-- to help you.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Interview with Ernest Cline for Berwyn Reads!

EDITORS NOTE: At Ernest Cline’s Request, the video has been removed (12/2014)

Hot off the presses, it’s my 56 minute interview with Ernie Cline.  Click here or watch the embedded version below.

Published on Oct 30, 2013
Ernest Cline, author of the novel "Ready Player One," is interviewed by Becky Spratford of the Berwyn Public Library. The City of Berwyn read Ready Player One as their "2013 Berwyn Reads!," a One Book, One Community initiative. Questions were provided by students from J. Sterling Morton West High School.

November/December Issue of NoveList RA News

Tis the season for family feasts, so NoveList has focused their newest RA News issue on food related reading.

There are articles on food focused historical fiction, food mysteries, a roundup of all the food writing awards, and food microhistories.

This is an issue that will help a wide range of patrons.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BPL Book Discussion: Quiet

Well better late then never.  Two Mondays ago, the group met and had a very boisterous discussion of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

I am not exaggerating about being boisterous.  I mean, we always are a bit loud, but it was quite amusing considering the title of the book.  Also, for a book about NOT talking, we talked so much, I had to stop the discussion when we ran out of time.

But before we get to the details, here is the publisher’s plot summary courtesy of LitLovers:
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who invent and create but prefer not to pitch their own ideas; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts we owe many of the great contributions to society—from Van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.  
Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with the indelible stories of real people, Quietshows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Susan Cain charts the rise of “the extrovert ideal” over the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects—how it helps to determine everything from how parishioners worship to who excels at Harvard Business School.  
And she draws on cutting-edge research on the biology and psychology of temperament to reveal how introverts can modulate their personalities according to circumstance, how to empower an introverted child, and how companies can harness the natural talents of introverts. This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves. 
This book won many year end awards last year including:
  • ALA Notable Books - Nonfiction
  • Goodreads Choice Awards
  • Library Journal Best Books
Now on to our discussion:
  • I did start with our normal poll: 9 liked, 2 disliked, and 6 so-so; but then I asked based on the quiz in the introduction of the book are you an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert and got 9 introverts, 1 extrovert, and 7 ambiverts.  My hypothesis was that the votes would line up and they did almost exactly.
  • The opening comments were all about how thought provoking the book was:
    • In our world of choice, it is interesting to think about the fact that sometimes you cannot choose how you will react.  Some of it is hard wired.
    • My sister is an introvert, I learned a lot more about her from this book.
    • It made me think about all of my relationships with friends, family, husband, etc...
  • The so-sos were all because of the way the book is written. These participants agreed that the “learning was great” but the writing was dry and didn’t always flow. Reading it all at once (as I did) is not the best idea.  We talked about how each chapter is almost like it’s own long form journalism piece.  So it is as if you have 11 New Yorker articles in a row.  Each is accessible, interesting, thought provoking, and well researched, but the so-sos in the group (myself included) thought it lacked narrative flow. I should point out that most of the nonfiction book discussion titles we do are usually high on narrative flow.
  • There are many retired teachers in my group.  As a result we spent a lot of time talking about how much this book would have helped them to be better teachers.  One person said she knows a few education schools where Quiet is now required. We tried to talk about ways introverts can be appreciated more in the classroom.  We knew there was no easy answer, but that teachers need to try to find a way for them to participate more.  A few participants shared strategies they used when they were teaching.  And a few more shared stories about former introverted students who went on to be successful.
  • Question: What role does culture play in whether you are an introvert or an extrovert?
    • Cain has a chapter on the Eastern introvert ideal vs the Western extrovert one.
    • Someone commented on how well she incorporated the big ideas throughout the book, like here were she built the case for ours being a nation where extroversion is the preferred way to be.
    • The culture of character in the East vs the culture of personality in the West was discussed at length. One person bemoaned that this book proved to her that the culture of character is dead in America.  Another commented on how character is seen as moral and personality is how society wants you to behave.
    • We talked about how this early chapter influenced the entire book.  She sets up the dichotomy and then refers to it throughout the book.  So we get examples of Wozniak and Jobs to see how one is introvert, one is extrovert, and together they built Apple.
  • This East vs. West discussion quickly moved into talking about the dichotomies of the extrovert vs introvert.
    • Who are the leaders we elect? Takes 99% personality to get elected.  We talked about her Al Gore example.  Americans choose flash over substance most often.
    • People are immediately drawn to extroverts, so this gives extroverts a permanent head start in everything.
    • One participant (an introvert) talked about how even Jane Austen noticed this dichotomy and how people are perceived because of their personality in her books.  She always made the person with the charming personality, the one you are first drawn to but who turns out to be the "bad guy" and the introvert, who is stand offish at first becomes the hero.
  • Question: For the introverts-- what is the most challenging about living in a world of extroverts. Excitingly, this question really got the introverts chatting away. I could barely contain them. See for yourself what they said.
    • I wait to take my turn and sometimes it never comes.
    • I am not loud enough; even if I try, I cannot do it.
    • I was a teacher, so I am not shy, but I am a true introvert because I sit back and observe for a long time before I participate.
    • All of the introverts talked about how they are not shy at all, but are introverts.  Introvert does not always equal shy.
    • I enjoy listening more than talking.  I can actually be quite a Peeping Tom.  But I choose to be on the sidelines deliberately.
    • You need to learn who you are.
    • All middle managers should read this book to better understand the 33% of people who are introverts.  "That would have helped me,” shared another introvert. My boss never understood me; it caused problems even though I was a good worker.
    • I like how Cain suggests you understand where you are on the introvert-extrovert scale and pick a job based on that.
      • BUT DO NOT LISTEN TO HER WHEN SHE SAYS IF YOU ARE AN INTROVERT BE A LIBRARIAN.  We were all upset by this stereotype, not just me.  Yes, you have to love to sit and read alone for hours if you are a librarian, but you also need to be outgoing and engage people in conversation all of the time. For someone trying to break stereotypes, we were upset she perpetuated this one.
    • People liked Cain’s idea of “free trait theory;” which says you can easily work out of character if it is something you love.  Many introverts agreed with this.
    • One introvert in the group wished that she had had access to this book during her working years. She would have understood much better how to work with her boss and co-workers.  She worked in an open office situation where they were encouraged to brainstorm a lot.  Cain helped her to understand why it had bothered her so much.
    • Another person: I had a job where I was always on but I am an introvert, so by the time I got home, all I wanted was peace and quiet.  I had loved this job but it took a toll on me mentally.
    • Said another: as an introvert, I hate icebreakers. They waste my time in meetings.  I do not want to force interactions and friendship with my co-workers; I want to get stuff done.  I like the meetings themselves, I listen and participate, but I don’t like the games at the start.
  • Now for the extroverts.  Question: What is the hardest thing for you working with introverts? As I suspected, they had less to say (ironically?) since they are the majority, many admitted that they didn’t spend too much time waiting around for introverts.  Here are the extrovert and ambivert comments:
    • We want to know what you are thinking, but you don’t talk! 
    • I’m feel like I am trying to pull things out of them. It is painful for me, but is it for them too? Do they want me to keep trying? They seem so uncomfortable, but maybe they like it? Help.
    • I ask introverted friends to tell me what they are thinking.  But they don’t.  So then I feel like I am walking on eggshells around them all of the time. I feel like I never know what they are truly thinking.  This is hard for me.
    • I want introverts to know that I am not trying to hog the conversation.  When a question is asked, I quickly have a fully formed opinion in my head and I can’t listen to anyone else until I get my thought out.  Once I get it out, it takes me a few moments to then transition to listening.  I want to listen more but it takes effort for me.
  • Question: Who are our introverted role models?
    • Rosa Parks
    • Eleanor Roosevelt
    • Ghandi
    • Mother Teresa
    • "My mother"-- said 2 people
    • Cain, our author.  We also appreciated the story about the power of her introverted Grandfather at the end of the book.
  • Question: What did we learn about the introvert-extrovert dichotomy as it applies to out relationships with loved ones: partners, siblings, children? Here’s what people shared:
    • My sister and I were introverts.  We could sit and read for hours alone.  Our brother was an extrovert.  He liked to read too, but could’t focus on doing it unless he was in a room with other people.  He could never be comfortable alone.
    • I love to go to a restaurant alone and eat by myself, my husband thinks I am crazy.  He can’t do it.
    • Introverted kids like to stay alone or inside, but parents often think they should push their kids to be social and be around people no matter what.
    • I think that with personal relationships extroverts look for introverts to ground them, at least that’s what I do.
    • You can choose your partner, but you do not choose you kid.  You child may be very different from you personality wise but you have to love and accept them.  You have an obligation to help them to improve themselves, but you can never force them to be someone they are not.  The anecdote in the book about the parents who were trying to force their introvert kid to change was heart breaking to all of us.
    • An extrovert participant said she was married to an introvert.  Her kids call their father when they need to talk about something serious because he is such a good listener.  All of their friends call when they have problems because they know he will listen.  He is an introvert but gets the most phone calls at the house by far.
  • I asked how people feel about Cain’s “Call for a Quiet Revolution?”
    • I think allowing for more quiet time in everyone’s life is a good idea.
    • I especially think that their should be more quiet time in schools
    • I don’t like the term “revolution;” I would prefer “integration.” Revolution goes too far in the opposite direction from where we are now.  Also, I think a middle point is best for everyone.
    • We can’t do any of this without a larger cultural shift.
    • I wish there could be real quiet in some public spaces like waiting rooms.
  • And now for the end, where I ask the participants to sum up the book in a word or phrase:
    • transformative [Please note: we all had a laugh because one of our biggest introverts blurted this out first]
    • provocative
    • illuminating
    • quieting
    • knowledgeable
    • accessible
    • interesting
    • dry
    • challenging
    • best read in sections with breaks in between
    • dense but worth it
    • repetitive
    • lots of examples
Readalikes: Let me start right away with other books about introverts, assessing character, popular psychology, how to help kids to succeed, etc... You can find more books like that here.

Now let me get to the less obvious choices.

Although I enjoyed the discussion, I did not find reading Quiet from cover to cover that satisfying as an entire book.  It felt more like a series of New Yorker articles put together to make a book.  That is not a bad thing.  Each chapter was interesting and though provoking, but together they were not as smoothly connected as I would have liked.

For this reason, I would suggest other books that are actually meant to be a collection of long form journalism all put together in one book that deal with interesting people and their personalities like The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup by Susan Orlean or Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

When I searched NoveList for other books that were about Family Relationships, with a reflective and thoughtful tone, that were also accessible and engaging, I got one hit: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz.

Multiplicity: The New Sceince of Personality, Identity, and the Self by Rita Carter also turned up in my NoveList searching.  Both books are about personality and how it influences behavior and are thorough and accessible.

Another promising suggestion I found by poking around on NoveList was Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford To Live Without by Tom Rath.  This is also by a NY Times Bestselling author and is also very accessible.  Here is the NoveList description:
Challenging long-held assumptions about relationships, a multidisciplinary study reveals the essential elements of different types of friendships, shedding new light on one's personal relationships with co-workers, colleagues, family, and friends.
Next week, I am leading the third and final discussion of Ready Player One for Berwyn Reads, so look for a quick, bonus book discussion report next week.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Discussion: What One Question Do You Want To Ask an Author?

Well today is the day, I am interviewing Ernest Cline via Skype at 10:30am Chicago time for Berwyn Reads!  We are recording the interview and will have it up on our You Tube Channel for everyone to see by the end of this week.

But the real audience for this interview is the students at Morton West High School who read the book and submitted questions as part of their English classes.  The kids were asked to submit questions for the interviews.  I spent last Wednesday going through the dozens of questions I received (yay kids, great job), rearranging them, and putting them into a general interview order.

I will only ask their questions. The students will then view the interview in their classrooms.  I am excited for them to see their questions answered by Cline.

But first, I also want to take a moment to talk about the questions themselves.  I was very impressed with the questions I received.  Yes I got a few stinkers, but very few.  Most of the questions were about the setting, the characters, and author purpose.  When you see the interview you will get a sense of those. They were all well done.

However, there were other questions that were among my favorites.  These were a little less obvious. Things like:

  • Where do you like to write?
  • What was the hardest thing about writing this book? What was the easiest?
  • Do you really think the world will become as bad as you write it?
These questions made me think.  These kids had one shot to ask Cline something, and a few of them really went outside the box.

I was inspired by them to ask myself-- what would I ask if I could only ask an author of a book I just read and enjoyed only one question? 

That’s a lot of pressure and a great question for us today.  So for today’s Monday Discussion I thought we’d all have a try at this one?  If you had one chance to ask any current living author one question, and one question only, what would it be?

I’ll go first.  I have thought about this for awhile and I think I would go with: 
What would you write if you had no deadlines, not contracts to fulfill, no worries about how it would sell?
I would love to know for many bestselling authors what they secretly want to write-- a different genre, poetry, stories, etc.... I hope to find out what inspiration lies at the heart of their life as a writer with this question.

What about you? Let me know, and look for my interview with Cline later this week.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Luis Alberto Urrea and Me: A Recap with Pictures!

Well last night went great.  We had a nice crowd and I think people enjoyed it. As you can see I have a few pictures spread throughout this post, but for more pictures go to the Fox Valley Reads Facebook page.

As a reminder, here are the questions I was planning to ask Luis. I got to most of them.

Now here are some thoughts from me on what he said:

  • Luis loves libraries and he loves visiting book groups.  He encouraged everyone to contact him about either visiting your book group in person or over Skype.  He estimates he has participated in at least 70 book clubs already and a man invited him to their Books and Guns book club in November.  He had his wife [who was in the audience] checking his schedule to see if he was available.  
  • We began with Luis describing his early life as a poor kid living in Tijuana with an East Coast mother and a Mexican father.  Besides his funny and poignant impersonations of his parents, he talked about his first stabs at writing, his mother "publishing" his first book [he was the best selling author of his kitchen], and how he never thought a kid from his world could be a published author.
  • His mom reading him Mark Twain is what really opened his eyes to literature and made him want to be a writer.
  • Ursula Le Guin was his first big supporter and she was one of the first people to buy one of his pieces.
  • We talked at length about the real people he based most of the characters off of.
    • Aunt Irma is a real person.  It was his aunt.  She was the Mexican bowling champ.  And if you have read the book, the fight about Yul Brenner really happened.
    • The Mexican Biker who falls for Vampy...he's a real guy from Aurora!
    • Atomico is based on his cousin.
    • Nayeli is a real girl.  In fact, you can listen to more from Luis and Nayeli on this episode of This American Life from 2003.  Luis is in the process of entertaining offers to turn Into the Beautiful North into a movie. He has always promised Nayeli a cut of the money he would get from a movie version.  He really hopes that happens.
    • Mary Jo the librarian, who tragically passed while working at the library before the book was written, was a real librarian in Kankakee.  Her family is grateful that she now will spend eternity on library shelves.  Luis talked about a beautiful memorial to her that he participated in.
  • That reminds me.  I did ask the question, "Why Kankakaee?" Luis shared his experiences in that city.  Most of what he said was also recounted in the New York Times by him here.  Luis has kept up his affiliation with the community and really feels it is a model city for working with the immigrant community.
  • Much as I said in my review of Into the Beautiful North, Luis talked a lot about how he wanted to take a break from the heavy tomes he had been writing, and instead write a book that "made him laugh everyday as he was working on it," but still bore witness [his biggest drive as a writer] and was thought provoking.  He is honored that the book has had such "legs."  As he said most books are lucky to last 6 weeks.  The Devil's Highway is going on its 10th Anniversary and will have a new edition to honor that out next year, with new text. He said that every time something tragic or newsworthy happens on the border, the book's sales increase.  And now with Into the Beautiful North being an official NEA Big Read approved book, it's is selling well now, a few years after its publication.
  • We talked about the ending and how the entire story is really about Nayeli's hero's quest to become a samurai warrior in her own right.  Luis said that he saw the book's ending not as abrupt, but as the end of Nayeli's journey to become the hero.  The audience [and I] agreed with him.  It is a powerful, epic hero's quest story even without knowing if she was successful in beating out the banditos. In fact, it is more about the quest because of the ending.   
  • We did end the discussion of the book with my question about the unique set up of the book and it's subversive way of tackling the immigration issue.  I commented on how I thought the book would make anyone, from the right or the left, question how they feel about this complex issue.  He shared stories of visiting the border and the "wall," which by the way, is only 600 miles on an over 2,000 mile border, and you can simply walk around it at its end. He talked about the border jumpers and board patrol agents who both love his books.  He also expressed hope that there can be a resolution to this problem.  He thought we were moving in the right direction but then 9/11 put us in reverse.  He also mentioned that we have to solve the drug problems first.  Arms are going into Mexico and drugs are coming out all illegally and it is making everything worse. There is no easy answer, but he is confident there is an answer. He hopes to help to be part of the solution.
  • He ended the night by talking about much of what he is currently working on.  He also told a poignant story about researching his mother's past as a Red Cross Doughnut Dolly on the front lines of WWII and finding pictures of her in a book.  He is working on a historical fiction novel to honor these brave but forgotten women.  He said it will freak out reviewers and fans because there will not be "a single Mexican in the book," but rather he is bearing witness to his American roots.
Overall, he was just a wonderful storyteller who cares passionately about using his work to speak for those who have been forgotten or do not have a platform to speak for themselves.  He is a honorable, good man, but he is also charming and funny.  A rare breed.  If you ever get a chance to see Luis in person, go.

Thank you to Fox Valley Reads for putting on a great program and for allowing me to be a part of it.
Some of the wonderful staff who made the
event possible [with Luis].

Readers, Writers, Books and Blog Updated Handout

Rebecca and Karen who run the Booklist blog Shelf Renewal just updated their list of the best places to visit on the web for all things books, reading, and libraries.  And I am grateful to see RA for All and RA for All: Horror still made the cut.

Click here for access to the updated handout.  There are general book blogs, RA specific blogs, and then a break down of the best genre blogs. As well as a final list of the sites that aren't blogs blogs but you best be aware of.

I highly suggest you look at the entire handout because we all know time is SHORT and the Internet is HUGE.  There is so much that is not worth your time, so lists like this are invaluable.

Their suggestions should be on your first stop list of resources.

Thanks for the extremely useful list Rebecca and Karen.

Speaking of time being short, I am trying to get up my recap on the live interview I conducted with Louis Urrea last night.  Look for it later today or over the weekend.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

World Book Night 2014 Titles Announced

Click here to see the books.

I already signed up to participate again.

What are you waiting for?

Click here for my reports, including pictures, of past year's events.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What I'm Reading: Into the Beautiful North

As I mentioned yesterday, tomorrow, I will be interviewing Luis Alberto Urrea for the Fox Valley Reads.  The book we all read is Into the Beautiful North.

I am going to break the mold on my review here in the interest of time.  First here is the publisher's statement on the book:
Nineteen-year-old Nayeli works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to the US to find work. Recently, it has dawned on her that he isn't the only man who has left town. In fact, there are almost no men in the village--they've all gone north. While watching The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli decides to go north herself and recruit seven men--her own "Siete Magnificos"--to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over. Filled with unforgettable characters and prose as radiant as the Sinaloan sun, INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH is the story of an irresistible young woman's quest to find herself on both sides of the fence.
And here is what Urrea has to say about it:
After the torture of writing The Devil’s Highway and the turmoil of completing The Hummingbird’s DaughterI needed a break.  I might have stopped writing at all except for haiku and road journals if I didn’t owe the good folks at Hachette another book… or ten.  So I set out to make myself happy.  I confess:  this book was utterly selfish.  But I also thought that if I made myself laugh out loud every day, perhaps you would laugh too.  And we all needed a laugh. 
Still, I had made a vow to God a long time ago that I would keep elements of witness and service in everything I write.  This being, for me, a spiritual journey rather than (sigh) a commercial one.  So I worked very consciously to embed elements of social commentary, subversion, surprise and humanity in every part of the book.  Some critics were harsh at first.  Yes, I knew it was “no Hummingbird’s Daughter.”  But I also thought it had some of the most humanitarian and provocative stuff in anything I’d ever written.  The initial chuckles may have disguised that.  
I was thrilled beyond belief that Latina magazine picked it as one of its best beach-reads.  Frankly, I was enjoying a bit of pop-writing.  I wanted a sunny book that went to the beach in a mesh bag and occasionally made the reader say, Hmmmm.It felt subversive to make undocumented people the heroes of an American book.  To make the three male heroes a gay man, a Mexican bowling alley janitor, and a scary cholo from the Tijuana municipal garbage dump.  It also felt subversive to make the action-hero a 19 year old young woman undertaking a heroine’s journey—Mad Max and Beowulf have nothing on Nayeli! 
Lately, people have been clamoring for sequels.  It’s funny—time changes all careers.  Now I’m not immediately known as “the author of Hummingbird,” but as the author of Beautiful North.  Here’s what readers and a couple of critics (hello, Alan Cheuse)  want to see:  1) the battle of Tres Camarones; 2) Tacho’s big gay wedding.  YES! 
I was pretty sure I had done something right when I was mocked for an hour by an atheist friend for putting so many ridiculous religious images in the book.  Then, when I got home, I had a letter from a nice Illinois church lady chiding me for the anti-Christian bias in the book.  For the record:  this time I have to side with the atheist.
So between these 2 statements you get a very good idea of what Into the Beautiful North is about.

So let me talk about some of the appeal. What is most striking about this book is the unique premise Urrea has concocted and the amazing characters.

Let's start with the premise.  As I noted here yesterday,
...the most striking thing about the story-- it’s set up.  I love that they are sneaking into the US to bring the undocumented workers back home.  It is a funny, touching, bittersweet, and quite honestly a subversive premise.  And it is so very original since most of the crossing the border literature and news today is so polarizing and political.  Instead you turn the entire issue on its side, forcing readers to rethink their own beliefs and opinions about illegal immigration.

This is an extremely thought provoking idea.  Characters along the way comment on how interesting Nayeli and her crew's task is, how noble, how counter intuitive.  This original set up makes for a story that is able to walk the tightrope between serious, heartfelt, and humorous without missing a step.

And then there are the characters.  Urrea alludes to how unorthodox his heroes are above.  You fall in love with this rag tag bunch as you read along and follow then on their quest.  If you are a reader who enjoys fully rounded, rich characters, this is a book you should not miss.  Each one is unique and what is unique about each character is helpful to the group on their road trip.

I could write a post each on various characters, that is how great they are.

It's funny, I know people who read for character and others who read for plot.  Into the Beautiful North is that rare book that could appeal to both.

Reading Into the Beautiful North was by far the best reading surprise I had this year, maybe in many years, especially considering I HAD to read it for work.  I didn't even need to like it to be able to interview him well.  I loved this book and will be telling many people about it.

Finally, I want to note there is an underlying spirituality to this, and all of Urrea's work.  There is no overt religion, just an overarching belief and faith driving the characters (some more than others). But as he said above, both religious people and anarchists have found reasons to dislike this book.

Three Words That Describe This Book: original, character centered, thought provoking quest

Readalikes:  First, visit the official Fox Valley Reads list of readalikes.  It is extensive and hits on the obvious read alike areas.

That list almost makes my job harder.  I have to think outside the box.  But hey, it is what I do.  So I am going with matching Into the Beautiful North with other original, thought provoking books, with quests of some type that still have a happy and bright tone.  It is not easy to find those, I know, but that is why I loved this book.  It gave me something unexpected that made me think AND smile.

Here are some books I have read that fit that mold. These titles share very little beyond what is in bold above, but that combo is so rare I think it is worth mentioning it.  You will not find these books showing up as readalikes in traditional sources. The titles link to my reviews with more detail and even more readalikes.

See some of you tomorrow night.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Luis Alberto Urrea and Me Live in Aurora: Info and Questions Below

Okay, we are moving into full on promotion mode here on RA for All leading up to my conversation with Luis Alberto Urrea live on stage this Thursday night. Have I mentioned it is absolutely free!  All you need to do is click here and register at some point before you show up.

Today's post is all about the details of the event, including a sneak peek at the questions I plan to ask him, while tomorrow, will be all about the book and include my review of Into the Beautiful North, the novel which is the impetus behind the event.

[For the record, I thought I would like the book, but I was surprised to find how much I loved it.]

First, here is the article that appeared in The Daily Herald about the event.  They did include quotes from me about the book and what to expect on Thursday.

But, what I really wanted to share with you here today are the questions I am planning to ask Urrea.  I wrote these questions in advance because they will also be used for the Spanish language interview which is taking place on Wednesday [you can register for that here].

Why am I sharing these questions with everyone who reads the blog, even those who are not going to come? I have 2 very good reasons that keep with the blog's overall mission and are not simply about me promoting me.

1.  I want to use these questions as a learning opportunity for all of you out there.  More and more librarians are getting the chance to interview authors, especially via Skype.  Authors have found that talking with readers, especially those who are attending library events (Big Read, book clubs, etc...) is a great way to promote themselves and their work to people who will not only buy and read their books, but who will also spread the word about how nice it was to communicate with the author.

However, while librarians are getting more opportunities to interview authors, there is very little training out there to teach them how best to do it.  I hope my questions will help in that regard a bit.  As you will see below, I am trying to ask questions that begin a conversation between Urrea and myself.  These are not book discussion questions.  I don't need to ask him how something in the book made him feel, like you would in a discussion group.  Rather, I am asking about inspiration, process, and author intent more. I hope these questions either help you if you are interviewing an author or inspire you to try to contact an author who is interested in being interviewed.

2.  Fox Valley Reads is not video taping the event, so I cannot share the interview with you.  I hope that a combination of seeing the questions here and me reporting on what happened will give you the best second hand experience I can provide.  Last year I felt like my report of the interview with Erin Morgenstern was not as useful as it could have been.  When I was on stage with Morgenstern in a conversational setting, I could not take notes on her answers.  And, when I went back to report on our conversation for all of you from memory, it was harder to recreate what happened since I did not post my planned questions ahead of time.

I did not want to rehash the entire thing in a question and answer format, and I still do not plan to do that this year, but I think my report will be better framed for those of you who only experience it here on the blog if you see the questions I am asking ahead of time. At least, that is the plan.  I just want to make my post about the conversation more useful to you.

Anyway, here are the questions.  Please note, some of these questions will not make sense if you haven't read the book. Also, I will probably not get to ask all of these questions, but it is much better to have more than you need going in.

Look for my review of Into the Beautiful North sometime tomorrow and look for a report on how the interview went on Friday. [In between on Thursday, I plan to run my book discussion group report]

Finally, much of what I am asking, I already know the answers to because of things I saw Urrea say in this interview.


General Questions:
1.  You grew up in a unique multi-ethnic household in a border community. How did your early years shape the writer you are today?

2. Your years as a missionary in Tijuana have had an obvious influence in your work, beginning with The Devil’s Highway. While that book is literally based on your work as a missionary, there is an overwhelming spirituality to everything you have written. Can you elaborate on the role this spirituality plays itself out in your writing process?

3. You came to writing through an amusingly circuitous path.  Can you share your unique story with us beginning with your family’s tradition of telling stories?

4. If he doesn’t mention it in 3 above, ask who his writer influences are. Which writers have influenced you.

5. Not only was your route to becoming a writer nontraditional, but you are also “un-nichable” as a writer-- which must drive your publisher crazy-- haven written critically acclaimed nonfiction, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, poetry, and now even graphic novels. I think this is testament to your talent, but really, can you tell us how you are able to master all of these formats? Does a story or idea present itself to you in a genre, or do you let the story take you where it wants to and figure out the style or genre along the way?

Into the Beautiful North Specifically

6.  Let’s move to Into the Beautiful North now.  I have to begin with the most striking thing about the story-- it’s set up.  I love that they are sneaking into the US to bring the undocumented workers back home.  It is a funny, touching, bittersweet, and quite honestly a subversive premise.  And it is so very original since most of the crossing the border literature and news today is so polarizing and political.  Instead you turn the entire issue on its side, forcing readers to rethink their own beliefs and opinions about illegal immigration. Where did you come up with this unique idea and were you consciously trying to enter the immigration debate from a new angle?

7. I don’t want the seriousness of the previous question to lose sight of the fact that this book is quite funny. You were able to pair serious moments with laugh out loud ones. Like life at the dump in Tijuana with the entrance of Atomico! Can you talk about your use of humor here.  And, please can we talk about Atomico a bit too. He is obviously there for something more than comic relief.

8.  While we are talking about specific characters, I want to move into a few others.  As you said on your blog:

“...To make the three male heroes a gay man, a Mexican bowling alley janitor, and a scary cholo from the Tijuana municipal garbage dump.  It also felt subversive to make the action-hero a 19 year old young woman undertaking a heroine’s journey—Mad Max and Beowulf have nothing on Nayeli!”

Let’s talk in a bit more details about the three heroes here we haven’t mentioned yet.

9. The gang all get their inspiration to save their town from the movie The Magnificent Seven (and its inspiration, the Japanese film, The Seventh Samurai). How did those movies influence you before you wrote Into the Beautiful North?

10. And yet, the story veers from the inspiration works and turns into more of a spiritual journey/ road trip tale. Why the switch?

11. Okay, I have to ask.  Seriously, why Kankakee?

12. Nayeli is the moral center of the group and the novel as a whole, so it is very fitting to have her sum up the entire book with “We are all in God’s Hands.” What are you saying about Nayeli’s quest and about all of our journeys as people through this world here?

13. Interestingly this novel has received criticism from the Right and Left, from believers and atheists in equal measure.  First to that I say, well done.  You have offended everyone.  That is impressive.  But second, I want to ask: did you anticipate these responses?

14. Why end the novel just as the fight for the soul Tres Camarones is about to begin? It was an interesting choice since the two movies your work is modelled after end with the battle between the good guys and the bad guys. You obviously made a conscious choice to end the novel differently than its inspiration pieces.  Why?

At the end I plan to ask...
--What authors are exciting you these days? Who do you love to read?
--What are you working on now?  [I always like to end with this question.  FYI, he is working on a horror novel; click here for more on that.]

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Discussion: Evil Abounds

We are creeping ever closer to Halloween, and although I have daily horror related posts on RA for All: Horror each day this month, I thought I would extend the conversation over here for today.

Last month, Publisher's Weekly had this great article by Koren Zailckas the debut author of Mother, Mother, in which she picked 11 of the greatest villains in literature.  Click here for her list.

First, we have Mother, Mother on order and it looks promisingly evil [I am on hold].  Click here for the full PW review.

Second, Zailckas' list is great, but please read her few intro paragraphs as well as her annotations for each book. I really liked what she had to say about villains in literature.  Even if you do not really like evil characters, her analysis will help you to help your patrons who do crave these awful villains

Third, Zailckas brings up a great discussion topic.  I know I have asked it before, but it's been a while.  So, who are your favorite villains in literature?

I read so much horror that my list would be a mile long, so I am going to start with a new villain.  Charlie Manx from Joe Hill's amazing NOS4A2 (which just came out in paperback).  Manx is so evil that Hill's father, Stephen King even included a mention of him in Doctor Sleep.

What about you?  For today's Monday Discussion, share the most evil character from books, movies, or TV with us here.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Future of Epic Fantasy Explained by PW

One of my 2013 Reading Resolutions was to concentrate on Epic Fantasy.  I pick a genre or subgenre each year to focus on.  To that end, this year I have already read Naomi Novik and have been researching George RR Martin readalike options.

But, I had not really done a serious analysis of Epic Fantasy as it has evolved since its inception 60 years ago with The Lord of the Rings.  That changed yesterday when I watched the archive of PW's Weekly Webcast for this week-- The Future of Epic Fantasy, hosted by Rose Fox.  It is free to view by clicking here.

First a comment on this webcast specifically.  There were 2 panelists, 1 an author and editor, the other an editor.  They were engaging and knowledgeable.  I cannot stress enough how useful this webcast was.  I will not rehash what was said because it is free and worth your time to listen for yourself. But I particularly liked when the panelists named the big authors you need to know about right now and discussed diversity in fantasy. I added a few books to my to-order cart for the library as a result of this webcast.

Also, if you hold out until the end when they took questions, they addressed the problem with there being too many long series.  They both felt you can write a self contained book in Epic Fantasy still.  In fact, I really liked when they talked about the idea of encouraging more series where each book is standalone but together they create a cumulative experience. This would be similar to how Romance series are.  Each book in a romance series is set in the same world but each book focuses on different characters.  Each book can be your first book.  I hope editors acquire more books like this in Fantasy.  I think it would make the genre more popular with general readers.

One of the reasons I have been focusing on Epic Fantasy this year is that we have a TON of Epic Fantasy readers at the BPL, but they rarely ask for help.  Seriously, they only come to the desk when they notice we are missing something.  On Wednesday I was helping one of those readers. He just needed help figuring out the order for an Ed Greenwood series and needed to put book 1 on hold. Ours was checked out.

But while I had him at the desk, I started asking him some questions about his reading habits. Yes, when they do stop to talk to me, I pounce on them. Sometimes, it has to be done people.

Throwing myself at Epic Fantasy fans serves 2 purposes.  1, I get useful information about areas where my knowledge is weak.  2, I let these fairly self sufficient Epic Fantasy readers know that we care about their reading needs and are there for them if they ever need us.

From this reader specifically, I found out that he is happy to just browse the shelves looking for authors he has heard of and trying their series.  He has no problem abandoning a series after book 1 if he didn't love it.  He personally prefers trilogies, but is okay with longer series. He also admitted to sometimes just pulling a book off the shelf because the cover was interesting.  He reads the blurbs and publisher provided summaries/info to decide if he will read it.  He does not want our help choosing his books, but is more than happy to talk about the authors and series he loves with us.

Now a comment on the PW weekly webcasts in general.  I do not listen to these enough.  They are excellent, and WEEKLY.  Click here for a full list of webcasts.  You can view them at anytime.  I am going to make an effort to participate in these more often.

I will be viewing these more regularly.  I suggest you at least take a look at what is offered also.  For what it's worth, the Epic Fantasy webcast ran without glitches in the background on my Mac Book Air while I got other work done.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What I'm Reading: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Again, a review from a book I read in July.  But hey, I am gathering all the spooky [but not all out horror] book reviews together this month.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman was his first adult tale in a while.  It is more like novella length, but has everything you would expect from Gaiman.

The work is framed as a remembrance.  A middle aged man has come home to bury his last living parent, and while visiting the neighborhood where he grew up, the man remembers the odd family of women at the end of the lane, the Hempstock's.  Specifically, he remembers one specific summer when the discovery of a dead man in his car, down at the end of the lane, leads him to meeting Lettie Hempstock, the youngest member of the family.

The 3 Hempstock women, who appear to be grandmother, mother, and daughter tell our narrator tales of the pond on their property, which Lettie claims is really a never ending ocean. This begins his entry into their world which operates on a different plane than the one he knew before.

I don't want to give away what happens because this is a short, yet extremely well plotted and rich novella. Gaiman has created a tale that you need to experience. It is a book that envelopes you (in a good way). So below, I will talk about the appeal.

Overall, this work is dark fantasy, not horror, despite one terrific scene at the climax of the book that is very close to horror.  It is mythical and mystical, atmospheric and dreamlike, menacing and dark, but ultimately redeeming. Think a Hans Christen Anderson or Grimm's fairy tales, but aimed at an Adult audience.

This leads me to a disagreement I have with most reviews of this book.  Many people have said that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is really more a YA book because it recounts a year when the protagonist was a kid himself.  I COMPLETELY DISAGREE. I will explain in a slight rant now...

Begin rant:
The entire book is framed as being told from adulthood as a reminiscence on the day of his parent's funeral. The reason he is thinking back on the Hempstock women is because he is longing for those magical days of childhood.  This is not a book for someone who is still a child.  It is for adults to make them remember what was good about childhood and its imagination.  We often need to recapture that as we grow up.  That loss of a belief in something magical is a tragedy in adult life...all adult life.  Books like these are a reminder. But that overall point is lost on a child or teen reading the book.  Only an adult can appreciate the loss at the heart of this novella.  Only someone who has begun their own family and started their adult life will understand the bittersweet tone.  Only an adult will appreciate the revelation at the end of this book; the twist that explains it all.

A perfect example to drive my opinion home is the classic Shel Silverstein book, The Giving Tree.  Think about how a child reads this book and how an adult reads it.  That explains the point I am trying to make here.  It is a completely different story to an adult than it is to a child.

Okay, rant over. Thank you for indulging me.

Three Words That Describe This Book: mystical, bittersweet, atmospheric

Readalikes:  As I already said, think The Giving Tree here; the two stories are perfect readalikes. But a few more adult fiction options are:

  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Why? Click here for the full review of the book with readalikes, but for the lazy ones out there my "Three Words" from that review are :  retold fairy tales, strong sense of place, dreamlike
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.  Same deal as above; click here; "Three Words" are:  slice-of-life, sense of place, quirky
  • Joyland by Stephen King which I just reviewed here.  It has a similar ton,e but the Gaiman is much more magical and mystical.  "Three Words" on Joyland are: nostalgic, fast paced, creepy crime fiction
  • Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, although the Bradbury work  has a more sinister tone.
  • The award winning Among Others by Jo Walton would make a nice suggestion.  It revolves around childhood, magic, and family secrets.
  • This tale reminded me of the very best by my trio of "slightly askew" authors: Millhauser, Donohue, and Brockmeier. Click on their names for more from me on each of them.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Giveaway on RA for All: Horror

Don't forget, there is still time for you to enter the giveaway, sponsored by JournalStone, going on this week on RA for All: Horror. Click here for details.

The Most Famous Book in Every State: Guest Post by Kim Stack

Today's post is courtesy of Kimberly Stack a former member of the BPL RA Dream Team who now works as a Collection Development Librarian with Baker and Taylor.

Thanks to Kim for passing this along. It is fun and thought provoking. It is also a good resource for my picky patrons who say they have already read everything we have.  Now I can print the map for them and say, "Why don't you read through all 50 States."  That will keep them busy for awhile. 

Here's Kim...

The last time I saw Becky (at the ARRT Genre Study meeting) I mentioned that I was so very happy to have her blog about the list of reading for men that was posted in Esquire, a magazine that I have not seen for a very long time - nor would have thought to consult for Readers’ Advisory purposes. (And I knew immediately with whom I needed to share the list.) From time to time, others share items that book lovers enjoy with me. They know that I am not only a librarian, but an avid bibliophile whose day is not complete unless I have not only spent time reading, but spent time talking about books. Plus, I love to share some of these off-the-beaten-path lists.

I have a daughter who is a member of the U.S. Navy and is currently stationed in Japan. Over the years, I have met other shipmates and friends who are now scattered in other parts of the world. Many days I have been sent snippets of commentary about their reading and about finding books among other cultures in other places. Today’s fun find has been this list of the most famous books set in every state, sent to me by a former service member who is now a university student in Hawaii.  Please remember that these choices were based on fame - not on the “best” books set in every state.

This type of description is always fun because setting can be one of the appeal factors we talk to patrons about. What do you think? The comments I’ve seen based on this complained mightily that poor WA was saddled with Twilight. Do you think Pat Conroy should have elbowed out Sue Monk Kidd in SC? Or Eudora Welty instead of Faulkner in MS? Should Steinbeck be remembered for Cannery Row instead of East of Eden?

Most Famous Books Set In Every State_Larger
Click here to see a larger map

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

ILA Begins Today

The Illinois Library Association Annual Conference kicks off today.

I am not going so as to give those who could not go to ALA Annual a chance to go to a conference, but that means today and tomorrow, we have a skeleton crew at the Library.  I think when the doors open, I might be supervising the entire first floor (possibly more)...yikes!

So this means while I am planning to get a review up today, it might not happen. There is a great review on RA for All Horror up today however.

Instead, take a look at the list of events and exhibits for the conference. Some of the handouts are even up already.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Happy Columbus Day

RA for All took a vacation day since the BPL and the kids' school were both closed.  31 Days of Horror still had a post though.

Back tomorrow.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Library Reads: November 2013

The November Library Reads list came out today.  I am particularly excited to see Mira Grant's newest horror novel on the list! [It's the last one.]

The top pick was....

BellmanandBlackBellman & Black

by Diane Setterfield

Published: 11/5/2013
by Atria/Emily Bestler Books,
an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
ISBN: 9781476711959
“William Bellman is a happily married father with a promising future, until an event from his childhood comes to haunt him and everyone he loves. Beautifully written with a vividly enticing setting, Bellman & Black is a truly gothic tale that will you have entwined in its arms until the very end.”
Scott Lenski, Whitefish Bay Public Library, Whitefish Bay, WI

I too am excited for Setterfield's follow up to The Thirteenth Tale [a personal favorite].
The rest of the list includes...

ThroughtheEvilDays-197x300Through the Evil Days: A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery

by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Published: 11/5/2013 by Minotaur Books
ISBN: 9780312606848
“Reverend Clare Fergusson and Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne’s honeymoon retreat to the Adirondacks is interrupted by a brutal winter storm and a complicated police investigation involving a kidnapping, a drug ring and the murder of federal agents. Spencer-Fleming’s suspenseful and engrossing procedural introduces a fun, new character (Oscar the German Shepherd) and ends with a signature cliffhanger.”
Leslie DeLooze, Richmond Memorial Library, Batavia, NY

The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

by Pat Conroy

Published: 10/29/2013 by Nan A. Talese
ISBN: 9780385530903
“Pat Conroy’s amazing voice is back and makes me realize how much I have missed hearing it. The Death of Santini takes a hard look at what has been the most obvious influence on Conroy’s work–his family. Happily, this is not anything close to a pity party, but rather a lesson about how redemptive the powers of love and humor can be.”
Jennifer Dayton, Darien Library, Darien, CT 

Someone Else’s Love Story: A Novel

by Joshilyn Jackson

Published: 11/19/2013 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062105653
“Being held at gunpoint during a convenience store robbery jolts Shandi, a young single mom, out of her denial about her 3-year-old miracle son’s origins. When her rescuer, William, a geneticist with Asperger’s, offers a way to find out what really happened the night her son was conceived, Shandi has to face the past to find her own love story. I loved every page of this funny and endearing Southern novel.”
Melissa DeWild, Kent District Library, Comstock Park, MI

The Valley of Amazement: A Novel

by Amy Tan

Published: 11/5/2013 by Ecco
ISBN: 9780062107312
“A new Amy Tan novel is an event. Under her sharp-eyed observations of mothers and daughters and their inexplicable bonds, is a powerful story of love, family, courage, and history.”
Kaite Stover, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, MO


Lies You Wanted to Hear: A Novel

by James Whitfield Thomson

Published: 11/5/2013 by Sourcebooks Landmark
ISBN: 9781402284281
“What causes a person to make bad choices, and to remain on a path so disastrous it could destroy a family? Thomson’s first novel raises these questions and explores the course of a failed marriage. The story is bitter and painful, but you’ll want to stick with it for the surprising turn that makes you wonder who is most to blame.”
Nancy Russell, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus, OH

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: A Novel

by P. S. Duffy

Published: 10/28/2013 by Liveright
ISBN: 9780871403766
“Angus MacGrath is caught between the artist he longs to be and the naval career his father believes is more fitting for a man supporting a family on the coast of Nova Scotia. Angus enlists in World War I with the promise of a safe cartographer’s job, but finds himself thrust on the front lines of battle in France. The emotional havoc is palpable. Life changes in the blink of an eye and Duffy does a masterful job of letting the reader watch everyone desperately trying to catch up.”
Jennifer Hendzlik, Anythink Libraries, Thornton, CO

The Raven’s Eye: A Brock and Kolla Mystery

by Barry Maitland

Published: 11/12/2013 by Minotaur Books
ISBN: 9781250028969
“The latest Brock/Kolla mystery begins with a sudden death on a London houseboat. Unusual setting, great plot, wonderful writing. This fabulous series is yet to be discovered by many American lovers of British police procedurals. Great recommendation for fans of Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George, early Martha Grimes and Deborah Crombie.”
Janet Lockhart, Wake County Public Libraries, Cary, NC

Death of a Nightingale: A Novel

by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

Published: 11/5/2013 by Soho Crime
ISBN: 9781616953041
“Compulsive do-gooder Nina Borg is now involved with Ukrainian detainees seeking asylum in Denmark. Among them are Natasha, an abused refugee and widow of a slain journalist, and her anxious 8-year-old daughter, Katerina. The two are pursued by a mysterious, powerful Ukrainian woman and Danish security forces, who consider Natasha a suspect in her fiance’s murder. Two plots gradually merge in a dramatic climax. Recommended for fans of Karin Fossum, Arnaldur Indridison, Colin Cotterill and mystery lovers who prefer plots that explore social justice and morality.”
Margaret Donovan, Cary Memorial Library, Lexington, MA 


by Mira Grant

Published: 10/29/2013 by Orbit
ISBN: 9780316218955
“Mira Grant’s first outing after the completion of the Newsflesh Trilogy lives up to the standard entirely. What a creepily plausible look at the medical industry and scientific experimentation. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the sequel to this one.”
Emily Hartman, Spring Lake District Library, Spring Lake, MI

Click here for access to past Library Reads lists [in verse chronilogical order].  Remember, the old lists make for great "sure bet" suggestions.