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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hanukkah in America

Today, as we have been preparing our dishes to bring to the Thanksgiving table tomorrow, my family and I took a few minutes out of our busy evening to light our menorah and celebrate the first night of Hanukkah.

In fact, the kids have been alternating between their penny stakes dreidel game and the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving DVD all evening.

In our mixed religion family, we celebrate Hanukkah without gifts, but for many of my friends and family, Hanukkah has become very important as it has been paired more with Christmas.  So I wanted to make sure to take a moment out of all the turkey and stuffing to give Hanukkah its moment.  [Although I have to say, this year’s pairing for Hanukkah and Thanksgiving makes much more sense to me since Hanukkah is all about thanking God for a miracle.]

While my eight years of Hebrew School do not come close to making me an expert on the subject, I am a good librarian, so I know a good book to point you to.  Today, on NPR, Dianne Ashton was a guest on Tell Me More, talking about her book Hanukkah in America.

Click here to either listen to the story or read a transcript.

It is an interesting read to see the evolution of what is really a minor Jewish holiday into a multi-million dollar American industry.

Happy Hanukkah and Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

BPL Book Discussion Groups 2014 Titles

The votes have been counted and the results are now certified.

In a yet to be determined order from January through June 2014 the BPL Book Discussion Groups will be discussing:

Orange is the NewBlack by Piper Kerman
Red House by Mark Haddon
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
The Round House by Louise Erdrich

You can look for reports on our discussions coming soon.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Discussion: Thankful Edition

 It's that time of year again.  With Thanksgiving only a few days away, today's Monday Discussion is an annual tradition.

What are you thankful for?  Let's keep it book and library related though.

I'll go first.

I know I say it every year, but it bears repeating. I am thankful for the patrons of the Berwyn Public Library.  Their love of us and all we do for them is the reason I come to work every day.  I am thankful that I help them to discover great books and that they want to talk to me about them. I am thankful that they appreciate us and all that we do.

I am also thankful for my wonderful colleagues, both here in the Chicago area and all over the country.  I love sharing ideas with all of you and collaborating on projects and programs.  I am thankful many of you want me to train you, but I as thankful as I am to share my knowledge and opinions with you, I am equally as thankfully for the things you share and teach me.

In terms of specific books, I am thankful for Kate Atkinson.  Every book she writes is fabulous.  I will have my review of Life After Life up later this week, but I can tell you now that I thought it was pretty much a perfect book.

Finally, I am thankful for simply being able to sit here, at the desk, right now, staring out at a sea of books.  I am surrounded by them.  The possibilities for what to read and where these books can take me are endless.  I will never run out, and rather than be upset that I will never get to read them all, I am thankful that they will always be there for me no matter what.  And all of those books also give me thousands of opportunities to help a patron find their next good read.

Now it's your turn. For the Monday Discussion, share what you are thankful for in the RA world.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

BPL Book Discussion: A Reliable Wife

Last Monday we met to discuss A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, a very popular book club choice.  Here is the publisher's summary:

Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for "a reliable wife." But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she's not the "simple, honest woman" that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed.
Her plan is simple: she will win this man's devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt — a passionate man with his own dark secrets —has plans of his own for his new wife. Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways.
With echoes of Wuthering Heights and Rebecca, Robert Goolrick's intoxicating debut novel delivers a classic tale of suspenseful seduction, set in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.
 Now before I begin our discussion report, I do want to say a few things about the book.  It is a historical, psychological thriller with lots of sex and violence.  Actually, it has lots of lust paired with actual sex. My ladies were fine with it, as you will see, but I would say this is not a great choice for more sensitive groups. I think this book is best described as a train wreck.  We actually said this in the discussion.  You know you should stop being involved, but you literally cannot look away. It was my kind of book for sure and we had a great discussion, but The Art of Racing in the Rain this is not.

On to the discussion:

  • 8 liked the book, 5 disliked, and 2 were so-so
  • Those who liked the book:
    • I was hooked by page 15
    • I enjoyed the overall themes of love and whether or not we can rewrite the past.
    • I was prepared to dislike this book, but I got hooked early and found the moral ambiguity of the story utterly fascinating.
    • It felt real.
    • The settings, both the dead of winter in upper Wisconsin and the glitz of St. Louis, were engulfing.
    • I loved the way he brought in the plot twists into the storyline--brilliant!
    • I liked that the public library was Catherine’s refuge from her tough life.
  • Those who disliked the book:
    • I don’t know why I disliked it, I just did.
    • The characters were nasty, devious, and disgusting. I couldn’t relate to them, but even worse, I did not like them.
    • It was too sad
    • There was no morality
    • I don’t like when men write about women
    • I couldn’t sympathize
  • [I broke in with that last comment because you are not supposed to sympathize with these characters; you are simply meant to observe them; therefore if you disliked the book for this reason, that just means it is not the book for you. I tried to use this as a chance to have the participants think about their own reading preferences.]
  • Those who were so-so:
    • I liked the book, especially the first scene on the train platform. But I got tired of his descriptions at times, and felt they often went on a page too long.
    • I couldn’t empathize, which I usually need to like a book, but I had to keep reading to see what happened.
  • Question: Who is the real Catherine Land and do we ever see her?
    • There were so many lies pled on top of each other here, it was hard to keep them straight.  I had no idea what to believe.
    • I think at the book’s end she became her true self.
    • After she decided to stop poisoning Ralph she revealed her true self.
    • Seeing her with her sister; that was the real Catherine to me.
    • It was interesting to see how different Catherine was with Antonio vs when she was with Ralph.  We become the people we are based on who are are with at the time.  I see it with myself; I act differently with different people.
    • Ralph brings something good out of Catherine even though he is not all good himself.
    • I am not sure about Catherine.  Her main motivation was to find love and money. She found it, but is that the “real” Catherine now, or just the satisfied Catherine.
    • I am concerned more about what kind of mother she will be.
  • Question: Is there hope at the end of the book?
    • The ending was well written.  All three of the main characters are extremely flawed, all three are responsible for the death of Antonio, even Antonio himself.  Interestingly, he is the only one who refused to change, so he died and Catherine and Ralph lived.  I think that says there is hope for those who are willing to change.
    • I agree.  Catherine and Ralph are willing to solider on and find a way despite the horrors and difficulties of their lives.
    • Ralph accepts her even though he knew all about Catherine and Antonio.  It reminded me of Pretty Woman and that is a hopeful story.
  • Some general comments that came as this line of questioning petered out that I wanted to share:
    • All three characters wanted their cake and to eat it too.
    • Catherine saved Ralph (even though she was also the one killing him with poison) but she could not save Antonio.
    • Ralph and Catherine both appreciate true beauty, Antonio appreciates the facade.
  • Question: Why does Ralph allow himself to be poisoned?
    • He cannot punish himself enough for what happened to his first wife. He felt he deserved what was coming to him.
    • He punished himself with forced celibacy and by isolating himself.  It wasn’t enough to bring him absolution.
    • His mother wrecked him from the start. He was doomed.
    • Catherine is the one who realizes that he deserves a second chance.
    • Catherine was not a good person but she was also not a murderer.
  • Catherine and Alice
    • This was a foreshadowing of Antonio’s demise.  Catherine couldn’t save her sister, so why would Antonio be different?
    • There are many parallels between Alice and Antonio and they go deeper than the first letter of their names.
    • Catherine tried to give Alice a good life, but it wasn’t enough.
    • Catherine’s experience with Alice’s death was very similar to Ralph’s experience with Emilia’s death.
  • Catherine’s Secret Garden
    • This a a raw book, it is down and dirty, but a garden has beauty and needs nurturing. The garden was a sign that spring was coming, both the season, and the spring of Catherine’s life.
    • The book ends with spring and with Catherine pregnant with Ralph’s baby.
    • Her dreams of the secret garden gives her purpose.
    • The garden is a sign of hope in the story.  Catherine is pregnant, the house is filling up with more servants.
    • The end is cold but now without threat because spring is just around the corner.  Catherine and Ralph had threatened each other but now they come together.
    • I liked the line, “Living takes time.”
  • People still wanted to talk about the ending more
    • I thought the ending seemed too happy for the book.
    • I disagree. I felt troubled and uneasy about the fact that it seemed so happy.  After everything they have been through it can’t be that easy.
    • I liked the ending because I liked Catherine and Ralph together.  They were not bad people deep down, they just had bad things happen to them.  All of their secrets and lies came out in the end and they still accepted each other.
    • The crazy and bad lies were all in their way, now they are gone.
    • But, this also seems like Ralph’s story with his first wife starting all over again...maybe?
    • Well, unlike Ralph and Emilia, Catherine is willing to work for the garden and life.  Emilia was not, so maybe this time the story will have a happy ending.
  • Does Catherine live up to Ralph’s definition of a “reliable wife?”
    • Yes: 8 people, the rest abstained because were not sure.  We had one definitive no, “not according to my definition.”
    • I think she is reliable because she saves Ralph’s life: literally and figuratively.  
    • Catherine is probably the most honest person in the book.
    • Someone read her letter to Ralph from page 12 where she is lying about her life as a missionary’s daughter, but if you go back to the same letter we think is a lie after you finish the entire book, she is actually revealing her true self.
    • He wanted someone just to be there but he got so much more.
    • They were each other’s problems but also ended up solving each other’s problems.
  • What’s with Catherine and Antonio as a couple?
    • It was very shocking to find out that they knew each other.
    • Did they love each other? Yes Catherine loved him, and Antonio did love her in his own way.
    • I don’t think they loved each other but they were useful to each other.  Catherine taught Antonio how to be a proper gentleman and he made Catherine feel younger.
  • Exaggerations in the book
    • Everything in this book was exaggerated.  The wealth of Ralph, the setting, the sex.  But it helped to remind us that we were not supposed to relate to the characters.
    • There were many.  We listed some:
      • Mrs Larsen’s cooking
      • the weather
      • accident at the beginning of the book.
      • also the ending accident that caused Antonio’s death
      • life in St. Louis
      • sex
      • madness
      • wealth
  • There are many side stories about madness and violence throughout the book.  Why?
    • It highlighted the cruelty and madness in all of their lives
    • Catherine and Ralph are the “last men standing.”
    • These vignettes grounded the story and made it more believable.  
    • These side stories also mirror the troubles in Catherine and Ralph’s life.  In both cases these problems are no one’s fault but everyone is responsible.
    • Isolation is a huge theme here and the vignettes emphasize that.
  • Final Comments
    • Forgive each other and you can move forward.  You forgive yourself and accept who you are and you can live.
    • Ralph’s last words echo this, “such things happen.” He is accepting and moving on.
    • So much lust in this book.  Lust for people, things, and power.
    • Nothing is clear cut here at all.
    • Interesting because Catherine hates “middles.”  She loves beginnings and endings but can’t stand the middle.  This entire book is forcing Catherine and us to deal with the ambiguity of the middle.
    • I enjoyed the contrast between city and rural life at that time.  Life was hard for everyone then.
  • We always end with words or phrases to describe the book:
    • hopeful
    • erotic
    • historical suspense
    • throughout provoking
    • ambiguous
    • cold
    • selfish
    • exaggeration
    • compelling
    • unsympathetic characters
    • dysfunctional family
    • sad
    • self revealing: as I was reading about these people I thought about myself and my own past mistakes.

Readalikes: As we mentioned above, the key to whether or not you would enjoy this book lies in this basic fact-- you are meant to observe the characters more than relate to them.  No one comes out of this story "the good guy." These are deeply flawed and scarred people who are willing to stay married despite it all, but as many of us said, so, what we couldn't stop reading to find out what happened.

Talking about the book this way, I would make a perfect readalike suggestion this way: A Reliable Wife is a historical version of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Seriously.  If you liked Gone Girl, this book will appeal to you. You can also click here for my review of Gone Girl where you will find other readalike suggestions.  In fact, I went back to my Gone Girl review and found that I used these 3 words to describe the book: "twisted, shifting points of view, uneasy atmosphere," and these also perfectly apply to A Reliable Wife.

Roz Reisner on NoveList offers two really great suggestions:
  • A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan: "Readers who enjoyed the shivery psychological suspense of A Reliable Wife may also like this novel, set in a small town during a diphtheria epidemic. Both novels are set in late 19th century Wisconsin and focus on characters with dark secrets."
  • Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian: "Secrets of Eden also explores the dark side of a marriage in a small town and the third party whose presence is a catalyst for trouble. Bohjalian's characters are also not what they seem and will keep the reader guessing their motivations."
These are great suggestions of popular titles also worthy of being read for a discussion group.

Another title I would add to Roz's suggestions which is also a psychological thriller that is compelling and revolved around familial deception is The Expats by Chris Pavone [which has been on my to-read list for awhile now].

If you want to know more about the place and time, Goolrick suggests reading Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy, which has become quite a cult classic.

Finally, this novel plays homage to many classic Gothic stories.  The similarities to Rebecca are too numerous to ignore.  Wuthering Heights and The Secret Garden are also echoed in the story.  And a newer Gothic tale which revolves around family dysfunction and a plot twist filled story with unreliable narrators and deeply flawed protagonists is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  Any of these titles is a good choice.

Friday, November 22, 2013

11/22/13: 50 Years Later

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of JFK’s Assassination, today I am reposting my review of one of the best books I have ever read, 11/22/63 by Stephen King.

I would also like add as a readalike suggestion the excellent new book by James Swanson, End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy and the YA version, The President Has Been Shot! 

Swanson’s Manhunt: The Search of Lincoln’s Killer is in my book group’s Top 5 of books we have read in the last 13 years.


What I'm Reading: 11.22.63

Since I mentioned 11.22.63 yesterday in my review of Shadow of Night, I figured this would be a great place to continue my mad dash to catch up (I still have 11 books to review and am about to finish reading 2 more).

Here is the quick plot. Jake Epping is a divorced English teacher in Maine in the present.  He is a good guy, good teacher, and is happy with his life.  One day when he goes to visit his friend Al at Al's diner, Jake is concerned.  The diner says it is now closed forever. He saw Al just yesterday and Al said nothing about this.  Jake find Al inside the diner, but the man looks as though he has aged years and is very ill.  Al explains that in the diner's store room there is actually a portal to 1958.  When you enter the portal and return, you have only been gone for 2 minutes in the real world, no matter how long you were gone in the past.

Al had just returned from being in the past for years, trying to stay long enough to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK, but he got cancer and would never make it to 11/22/63.  He knew his only hope was to come back, pass on everything he knew to Jake and convince Jake to take up the cause.

What follows is the story of Jake's trip, as George Amberson, into the world of 1958 and beyond.  There are a few test trips, but most of the book follows the details of the the one that leads him to Dallas on the morning of 11/22/63.

If I had to say only one sentence about this book here is what it would be-- It doesn't matter if you are someone who doesn't usually like Stephen King or if you are someone who does not care about the Kennedy assassination, but if you are simply someone who enjoys a well told, compelling story full of action, great characters, and a realistic historical frame, read this book right now.

Look, I like King and I was still shocked at how much I loved this book.  I was hooked by Jake as a character from page 1. The time travel angle was also handled in a very realistic way.

The story is methodically paced because after a fast start, we are mostly waiting, with Jake, for the years to go by.  As a result, the majority of the book is a historical piece of Jake's life during that time but with the suspense and drama of Oswald and his impending date with history.  Even though it moves slower than your average thriller, you keep turning the pages because you know, like Jake, what is coming on 11/22/63. While in this middle part, I for one, was happy to become lost in King's recreation of the time and place, but other readers might be expecting more action.

I do not want to give away much of the plot. I am glad I heard nothing more than "you need to read this book as long as you like good stories," before I read it.

"The Past", in capital letters, is a character here.  It is the main villain actually, more than Oswald, and it is not until after the assassination is stopped that we see the full fury and evil "The Past" can throw at us. "The Past" is constantly after Jake and this adds a chilling and menacing aspect to the novel.

Here are a couple of other appeal terms that perfectly describe why you would want to read this book: character driven, intricately plotted, atmospheric, dark, psychological, scary without traditional horror elements, fascinating, beautiful, heart-breaking, bittersweet.

For fans of King I should also note that Derry, Maine, the nefarious town featured in many of his other novels (most notably IT), has a supporting role here. As other reviewers have mentioned, you do not need to have read anything else by Stephen King to understand that something is very wrong in the fabric of this small town, but if you do have the King back list knowledge, it enhances the story.

I am also happy to report that 11/22/63 is not only a great read, but it has one of THE BEST endings for a book that I have ever read.  I listened to this novel (more on that below) and as I was reaching the last tracks, the clock was nearing midnight.  I could not stop though.  Instead,  I sat alone in my dark kitchen by the light of the iPod, staring at my reflect in the window, simply riveted.  With so many great books that have left me disappointed with mediocre endings, I was elated to find the complete package here.  It was a perfectly written, captivating, bittersweet ending that summed up the entire tome in a small intimate scene.

Many people have asked me if 11.22.63 should now become a first stop for people new to King.  I think I still lean toward "no."  The Shining is still the best introduction to the bulk of his work and The Stand is still his masterpiece (but at over 1,500 pages, it is too long for a newcomer).  However, if you don't like horror and want to try King, this is a great book to "start" with.

Returning to the audio experience, 11.22.63 is narrated by Craig Wasson who I had also heard reading the 2 male narrated novella's in King's Full Dark, No Stars.  Wasson is steady, and since the entire book is written as if it is Jake's confessional/memoir, Wasson became Jake for me.  When I would return to the audio, it was like I was catching up with an old friend.  Wasson confidently inhabited Jake and gave convincing voices for the other characters. Wasson also portrayed the ranges of Jake's emotions well, and he goes through a full spectrum of them from elation to despair to anger and everything in between.  Wasson also has a good sense of the cadence of King's prose, which is probably why he has done a few King books.  Click here to hear an excerpt. The book is a long one, as is the audio: 30 hours and 44 minutes.  But honestly, I did not want it to ever end.

Three Words That Describe This Book: time-travel, nostalgic, chilling

Readalikes: For readers who want to be immersed further into the 1950s, I would suggest The Fifties by David Halberstam. I read this book years ago and I still remember it.

In terms of the time travel aspects, NoveList suggests This Shared Dream by Kathleen Ann Goonan:
"Although This Shared Dream has a more relaxed pace than 11/22/63, both alternate histories evoke the sights and sounds of mid-20th-century America as they explore the consequences of using time travel to influence events -- particularly the assassination of JFK."
I would also suggest the novels of Connie Willis.  In her books, the time travel sets up a book with some suspense and a healthy dose of historical frame.

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen Carter is an interesting readalike option here.  Click here to see why in my reading map for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I also feel like American Gods by Neil Gaiman has the same epic feel and features a regular, flawed guy who stumbles upon the power to change the future of the world.

I listened to 11.22.63 back-to-back with 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.  I am not yet sure if they have a similar feel independently from each other, or I just think that because of how I encountered them.  I will explore that in more detail when I complete my review of 1Q84 in the coming days.  But both are methodically paced epic works by trusted storytellers that feature parallel realities.

Finally, from my new update of the Stephen King Readalike article on Novelist:
Another genre blending author is Dan Simmons, but with Simmons you can get any combination of horror, science fiction, suspense, thriller and historical fiction. Atmosphere drives his novels, with a deliberate pacing that allows the tension to build so intensely that it makes readers squirm. Like King, Simmons’ focus is on his characters. He includes interesting and thought-provoking details about real science and/or history in his books, and then adds a twist of dark, otherworldly elements. Try Flashback, a combination science fiction, near future dystopia, and psychological suspense story of a flawed man who is trying both to right his life and save America from nefarious forces.
Click here for my detailed review of Flashback.  It is a great readalike option here.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

50 Books That Define the Past Five Years in Literature and Why You the RA Librarian Should Care

Flavorwire ran this interesting list yesterday.

I am reposting it here for 3 reasons:

  1. I like the idea of putting recent good books in their contextual place.  Many on this list have become lost in the shuffle over the last five years, but most were critically acclaimed when they came out, thus purchased by most libraries.  Many are probably “lost" in the stacks waiting for someone to discover them again. This annotated list, will jog your memory so you can book talk one of these titles to a patron who may love it.
  2. Again, you probably own most of these in your collections, and the five year mark is when we start thinking about weeding unread books.  Now might be the time to take a look at these 50 titles in particular, pull up your circ stats for each, and see if they are the right fit for your patron base.
  3. Finally, and most importantly, in this, the season of “BEST” books lists, I can promise that you will have a growing holds list for those titles appearing on the various lists of 2013’s best, but I would be willing to bet that you have a least of few of these “important” and “defining” titles from the Flavorwire list on your shelves at any given time throughout this year end “best” bonanza.  So, when a patron comes in asking for books on the year end “best” lists, after you offer to add them to the holds list, offer this alternative “best” list of books that at least one critic thinks can define a half-decade period.  Half a decade trumps best of the year any day.
Seriously though, most people are only looking for the books from the year end “best” lists because they don’t want to waste their time with a “bad” book.  If they can only read a few books a year, they want some kind of “seal of approval” from someone before they are willing to take the plunge [yes, even when the book is free from the library with no obligation to return it read]. So when they can’t find a book on the 2013 best list, try books from 2012’s or 2011’s lists.  Or even better, this Flavorwire list.

If your goal is to have your patrons leave satisfied [as it should be], offering one of these 50 titles will allow you to hit that goal.  Now, whether or not your patrons will like any book from any best list is another story, and probably best saved for another post because just because a book makes a best of the year list that does not mean that it is right for every reader.

I will have more on that next week.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

National Book Awards Winners and Ceremony Video

Just a little while ago, the National Book Award Winners were announced. I love how they always try to include everyone in the celebration of America’s books and authors by making the webcast of the entire evening available immediately.  See below for links or click here for everything.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NaNoWriMo and the Public Library: A Guest Post by Joy from Downers Grove Public Library

November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo.  Basically, NaNoWriMo is:
"a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel. Here’s a little more about how it all works."
The NaNoWriMo organizers also have pep talks prepared by big name authors including James Paterson and Rainbow Rowell (whose novel Fangirl was a NaNoWriMo project) to help inspire the participants.

I have always thought that NaNoWriMo and public libraries seem like a nice pair [aspiring authors, and the librarians who could find them readers], but I have never really had time to organize something at the BPL. 

While at the ARRT Unconference last month, I met Joy.  Here is her bio in her own words:
Joy Matteson is an Adult and Teen Services Librarian at the Downers Grove [IL] Public Library. I'm obsessed with all things baking, stitching, and book related. I'm also a wedding violinist on the weekends with my identical twin sister who plays the cello, and I love meeting writers! Follow me @jmattes22 on Twitter.
Joy mentioned that Downers Grove was participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time this year.  I asked her to write me a guest post later in the month to let all of us know how tit all went.  I was particularly interested in how she planned and scheduled these events.

Well, its now later in November and here is Joy with her guest post. If you have ever thought of hosting NaNoWriMo at your library, I think Joys post will inspire you to try it next year.  I am definitely considering it now.
When I was approached by my supervisor at the library about looking into the Downers Grove Library hosting some NaNoWriMo events, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. Aren’t those some super ambitious writers who hole up and write novels together? And why would they want to talk with librarians? We don’t write or publish books! Then I remembered that writers and libraries have a long history together, especially in the Chicagoland area. So as a good little librarian, I decided to start with research.

As I was researching online, I was blown away by how many writers were listed in the NaNoWriMo Naperville chapter. Who knew how many dedicated writers are sitting all around us in the Chicagoland area in coffee shops and our libraries? I contacted Tim Yao at NaNoWriMo Naperville, and he immediately got back to me about Downers Grove Library partnering with NaNoWriMo writers. I was pleased to find that they even had a library kit they sent to me specifically for those who host NaNoWriMo write-ins. He recommended me to one of their Municipal Liaisons, Cassidy Turpin, who happily agreed to co-host the write-ins with me. I was amazed at how efficient everyone at the NaNoWriMo Naperville chapter were. Everyone seemed really excited to add the Downers Grove Library to their burgeoning library partnerships, it was almost too easy to set up all the programs!

Our PR coordinator at the library, Melissa Doornbos and I came up with a plan: why not look to see if we can do big library programs as well as write-ins for all the writers in the Downers Grove area? Many other libraries host write-ins, but why not add a few events for helping those same writers break down their writing barriers and explore their self-publishing options? We found a local writer, Kelly James Engers, who agreed to host our program entitled: How to Break Down Your Writing Barriers, which was very well received earlier in November. Our next program will be December 3rd, for all those who would like more information on Your Self-Publishing Options, the next step for those who completed NaNoWriMo.

All in all, I've been so impressed by everyone who volunteers and devotes time to NaNoWriMo. You writers all deserve medals just for how many word counts you all have finished this month! I can't wait to have you all back next year.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year

I had to post this more as a reference for myself because I had no idea this award existed.

The 2013 finalists for the Best Baseball Book of the Year were just announced.  Click here for the list.

I am posting this mostly to help me to help an extremely particular patron who will only read "baseball" books.  Now I have not only this resource to identify winners of this award, but also, the longer nominee lists from this year and year's past. Now I have a whole new collection of possible reading suggestions for him.

[Click here to read my more in depth post from 2011 about how to use award lists as an RA tool.]

But, I am also posting it because if I have a patron [and staff] who will benefit from this list, someone else out there must have a use for it too.

I hope it helps you to help a reader find their next good read.

Monday Discussion: Winter is Coming...

Yes, we are now more than halfway through November and there is beginning to be a distinct chill in the air.  After yesterday's big storms here in Illinois, there are also very few leaves left on the branches.  I have even heard the all Christmas music station has started up again [although, I will not begin celebrating that holiday until after Thanksgiving].

Add to this the fact that later today my book group will be discussing A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick, a book with such an amazingly described winter setting that I can not stop thinking about the coming change of season.

So then I thought, well if I have winter on the brain, I might as well make the rest of you think about it too.

I personally enjoy embracing winter for all of its glory...well, at least in the beginning.  Come, March 15 I might be anxious for spring.  But as a result, I love to read books with realistic and well drawn winter settings while I am living through that season.  A Reliable Wife, is one example.  Last year I read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey which is also one of the best winter settings I have ever experienced.

In both of these books, the cold and the snow and the isolation caused by the frozen setting added to my enjoyment of the book.  This setting enhanced the plot, deepened my understanding of the characters, and was just so realistic that I felt the chill in my bones. I loved and appreciated every minute of it.

But I also realize that there are many people out there who read the opposite of the season.  Patrons come in looking for warmly set books to help get through our long winters, and books with a cold setting during the heat of summer.

So, for today's Monday Discussion, let me know where you stand on this issue. Share a good hot weather book to read if you want to think warm thoughts when its cold outside, or your favorite snowy/freeze book to help embrace the season [at least at its start].

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Flashback Friday: Top Ten Customer Service List

Today's Flashback Friday came to me as a result of the interesting week I had.  Let me explain.

As I mentioned on Monday and Tuesday, I spent the beginning of the week in King of Prussia, PA giving 2 talks.  The second talk was my breakout session featuring my 10 Rules of Basic RA Service

The last 3 rules are really all about patron service.  I love talking about customer service.

Then, I spent most of Thursday in a very productive meeting for the Illinois Library Association  2014 Conference Planning Committee which made me think of my favorite list of customer service tips which appeared in the ILA Reporter back in 2008. I still have the hard copy version cut out and posted where I can always see it.

I did a bit of combing through the blog archives and found this post from 2010 when I reproduced the 10 tips and blogged about it a bit.  I really feel like is just as pertinent today as it was 3.5 years ago.  




RA and Customer Service

Readers' Advisory is dependent upon building good relationships with your patrons; therefore, you cannot succeed without GREAT customer service.

Good RA librarians go out of their way to be helpful, and respectful.  The biggest hurdle is that librarians are not known for their customer service. 10 years in, I still have patrons walking up to our desk and telling us how surprised they are that we can talk at the desk and are even encouraging conversation rather than shushing them.

So point number one: its 2010, don't shush people in the library. Send the people who want quiet to a quiet area; everywhere else is public space.

My goal in spreading the RA gospel to my co-workers, students, and other library professionals who I travel around to train, is to create an army of little Beckys...librarians who are friendly, go out of their way to help each and every patron, and never shush people who want to talk to us.

Think it can't happen at your library? Wrong. Anyone can influence an entire library. Take the BPL for example.  When Tammy Clausen and I came in to start RA in 2000, customer service was not the library's strongest point. Tammy and I set out to lead by example. We went above and beyond for each and every patron. Yes, we stepped on a few toes of our co-workers, but in the end, we were able to change the entire customer service culture at the BPL. Customer service is now a top priority; new hires have helped to influence this, and the biggest triumph of all, Tammy is now our Director!

"How do I begin at my library?" you may ask. Tonight I will begin answering this question with my class of library students, and although I cannot recreate the 1 hour lecture they will get here, I can leave you at our starting point.  On page 7 of the February 2008 Illinois Library Association Reporter, they had the following Top Ten List to get any library started on improving their customer service:

10. Believe wholeheartedly that each customer service encounter makes or breaks that
person’s perception of the library (this applies to customers and staff) 
9.  Pay attention to your own customer service
experiences outside and inside the library — consciously observe these interactions
8. Learn from the worst of those experiences — adjust accordingly
7. Emulate the best of those experiences
6. Keep your mind open
5. Keep your heart open
4. Smile warmly
3. Expect the best of each person
2. Expect and commit to your personal best
1. Start fresh each day, knowing that the daily work that you do has the power to make a positive difference in the life of anotherperson — and isn’t that why you enjoy working in a library?
The only library mantra this list is missing is one I have made up. Remember, the books  on your shelves are not "yours," they are the patrons' books.  Too many librarians get proprietary about loaning rules. Guess what? Not our books. The patrons are paying for the books with their taxes. If they have a card, give them the book. Even if they don't have their card on them, but have one on file and can prove who they are, good enough for me. Even if they do this all of the time, again, fine with me. Get over it. We librarians are shepards not gatekeepers. Put the books in the people's hands. End of story.

Post this list at your desk. We had it there for about a year. Make these your top customer service goals. Set a standard that your department will provide the best customer service in the library (that's what we did). Then, as your library as a whole improves, set the goal that you will provide the best customer service of any library in your area.

Good customer service makes for happier patrons and as a result, happier employees. Besides, how hard is it to treat everyone the way we would most want to be treated.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Library Reads: December 2013

The December list is now out.  Click here for past lists.


No Good Duke Goes
Unpunished: The Third
Rule of Scoundrels

by Sarah MacLean

Published: 11/26/2013 by Avon
ISBN: 9780062068545
“In the third book of MacLean’s Rule of Scoundrels series, Mara Lowe mysteriously disappears on the eve of her wedding day. Widely believed to be responsible for her murder, Temple leaves society in disgrace and becomes a partner in the Fallen Angel club. He doesn’t remember what happened that night 12 years ago, until Mara returns asking for his help. Seeking his vengeance and eager to return to his Dukedom, will Temple sacrifice Mara to make it happen?”
Kim Storbeck, Timberland Regional Library, Tumwater, WA

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles: A Novel

by Katherine Pancol

Published: 12/31/2013 by Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143121558
“When Joséphine Cortès finally kicks her do-nothing, two-timing husband out of the house, she struggles to make a living for herself and her two daughters. Despite the criticism and contempt of her own family members, the mousy and insecure Joséphine gradually emerges as an entirely new creature. The secondary characters add lots of personality and drama to the tale, and the overall effect is entertaining and light–with some touching moments and bright flashes of insight as well.”
Nancy Russell, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus, OH


Vatican Waltz: A Novel

by Roland Merullo

Published: 12/3/2013 by Crown
ISBN: 9780307452955
“Cynthia Piantedosi has always lived an interior life filled with a devotion to prayer. As she becomes older and her world changes, the spiritual messages that she receives become more and more urgent with a message that appears to be counter to the Church’s doctrine. Should she trust her faith, or should she meekly follow the teachings of the Church? Merullo’s writing gives depth and breadth to this winning heroine and her spiritual quest. You can’t help but love her and cheer her on her way.”
Jennifer Dayton, Darien Library, Darien, CT


How to Run with a Naked Werewolf: A Novel

by Molly Harper

Published: 12/31/2013 by Pocket Books
ISBN: 9781476705996
“Molly Harper’s third book in the Naked Werewolf series is a relatable romance with a supernatural twist. Doctor Anna Moder spent several years hiding among werewolves in Alaska, but in order to protect herself and those she cares about from an ex, she runs away, and right into the arms of Caleb, who happens to be a werewolf. This supernatural romance is not only light-hearted and fun, but also has characters who face real-life problems.”
Emily Savageau, Thief River Falls Public Library, Thief River Falls, MN


The Supreme Macaroni Company: A Novel

by Adriana Trigiani

Published: 11/26/2013 by HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780062136589
“Adriana Trigiani’s new novel covers all the major milestones in life from birth to death, with a wedding and much Italian family drama in the middle. As Valentine struggles to figure out how to grow her successful shoemaking business while adjusting to life as Gianluca’s wife and partner, she learns to rely on her extended family for support. This is a beautifully written novel that will make you laugh and cry.”
Jean Anderson, South Central Library System, Madison, WI


The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret

by Catherine Bailey

Published: 12/31/2013 by Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143124733
“Catherine Bailey’s The Secret Rooms is a very interesting and intriguing read. The author attempted to write a book about World War I, but ended up researching a historical mystery and presenting great historical facts about the war. This is an easy book to suggest to readers who like historical fiction and nonfiction alike.”
Joni Walter, Nappanee Public Library, Nappanee, IN


Dangerous Women

edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Published: 12/3/2013 by Tor Books
ISBN: 9780765332066
“With a range of amazing voices — from Martin to Butcher, Abercrombie to Gabaldon — comes a range of amazing, dangerous women. Queens and bounty hunters, magicians and bandits, these 21 stories will take you all over the world, and other worlds, and proves the adage wrong: women are definitely not the weaker sex!”
Kristi Chadwick, Emily Williston Memorial Library, Easthampton, MA


My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind

by Scott Stossel

Published: 12/31/2013 by Knopf
ISBN: 9780307269874
“Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic, has written an all-encompassing treatise on the condition of anxiety, one of the most pervasive yet most misunderstood human conditions. Stossel not only recounts the history of the condition itself, its causes, and its treatment, but bravely relates his own lifelong battle with anxiety. Sits well alongside other works on mental health like Daniel B. Smith’s Monkey Mind and Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon, and highly recommended for anyone who struggles with anxiety or who has loved ones who suffer.”
Cristella Bond, Anderson Public Library, Anderson, IN


The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking

by Olivia Laing

Published: 12/31/2013 by Picador
ISBN: 9781250039569
“What a unique way of looking at some of the most written-about 20th century authors. Olivia Laing, with prose that draws the reader in, traces the connections between alcohol and the relationships of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver. As she travels the United States following their trails, she beautifully weaves together their stories, hopes, dreams, fears and failures, while at the same time exploring the history of alcohol and alcoholism in our society. An engrossing book.”
Jennifer Winberry, Hunterdon County Library, Flemington, NJ


Innocence: A Novel

by Dean Koontz

Published: 12/10/2013 by Bantam
ISBN: 9780553808032
“Dean Koontz’s new novel Innocence goes beyond anything he has written before. He brings us two unique and complex characters who are against all humanity in a battle against all battles. What seems to be more sci-fi than horror ends with a beautiful spiritual ending that puts Koontz in a whole new light!”
Michele Coleman, Iredell County Public Library, Statesville, NC

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Third Annual Contemporary YA Week

My favorite YA blog, Stacked, is running their 3rd Annual Contemporary YA week.  Here are the details from Kelly:
Welcome to the third annual contemporary YA fiction week here at STACKED. I am so, so excited to get this week kicked off because there is so much great stuff to share. 
Like in years past, I have a nice array of guest posts from contemporary YA authors. We're going to travel across the globe to talk about Australian contemporary YA, we'll talk about mental illness and contemporary YA, humor in contemporary YA, and much, much more. In fact, I have 7 guest posts lined up, along with a host of book lists. 
After seeing what people were interested in reading about earlier this year, I noticed some of the topics that were mentioned were topics that have been covered here before -- either during a prior contemporary week or elsewhere. I thought that in addition to new posts, I'd rerun some older content, as well, in order to give a huge range of voices and insights into contemporary YA. 
So in short, contemporary YA week will be a little longer than one week this year. It'll be closer to a week and a half long, with two posts a day. I promise a lot of worthwhile reading, thought-provoking guest posts, and, I hope, useful book lists of titles within a given topic and titles to get on your radar for the coming year. 
And perhaps -- just perhaps -- I'll tell you a little bit more about my book about contemporary YA sometime at the end of this series. 
Contemporary YA fiction week will start tomorrow with a guest post about mental illness as it's depicted in YA, with a sharp take on the idea of "the problem novel."
You can pull up all of the posts from the "week" using this link.

I for one am going to spend some time going through all of the information, checking my collection, and passing on lists to the staff so we can serve our teens better.

Thanks to Stacked for doing the leg work so we can educate ourselves on the newest information, and ultimately, suggest the best books to our teens based on their reading needs.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Me Live at SEPLA

Today I will be presenting the Keynote address for the Southeast PA Library Association Conference and Annual Meeting.

You can click here to access my slides for the Keynote: Bridging the Physical-Virtual Divide

And, you can click here for my updated 10 Rules of RA Service which I will be using on my RA for All breakout session.

Then back to Chicago tonight.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday Discussion: Traveling Edition

Since I am spending the day making my way to the Philadelphia Metro Area in preparation for my Keynote Address to the Southeast Pennsylvania Library Association I thought I could put a traveling spin on the Monday Discussion.

So today, I will ask you where and when are your favorite places to arm chair travel through a book?

I’ll go first.

I have mentioned this many times before, but it really is my favorite time to read about: 1850-1899.  Anything. Fiction, nonfiction, historical fantasy, horror, mysteries.  I am not picky when it is set in this time period.  I don’t even care where it is set if it is during this time. I love how this is the time when modernity was in its infancy. When scientific discoveries came fast and furious, and man was beginning to finally understand the natural world.

I like armchair travel to this time, more than to a specific place, but if I had to also pick a place, I would say I enjoy reading about the far east, in any time period.  Again, I will read fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, etc... all comers.

Okay, now it is your turn.

Tell me about your favorite armchair travel reads.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, November 8, 2013

10 Best Mysteries Ever Written...

According to bestselling author Thomas H. Cook via PW [list also attached below].

As I am beginning to prepare to run the ARRT 2014-15 Genre Study on Crime Fiction, this list caught my eye.  Have a nice weekend.

Original is here

Thomas H. Cook, one of the best at what he does, has done it again with 2013's Sandrine's Case, which is just as intricate and surprising as you'd expect from the Edgar winner. A veteran thriller and mystery writer of over 20 books, Cook shared his favorite mystery novels.
I went to the Alabama public schools at a time when my English teachers, all but one of whom was a woman, taught nothing but the classics. They revered the great British and American writers. As a high school student, I read Shakespeare and Dickens, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. As a result, my reading taste has always been guided by the sense that a novel should be a complete work of art, that action, alone, is not enough, and that it is moral dilemma that ups the ante in crime fiction just as it does in all other literary forms. For these reasons, the 10 books listed below are all novels that skew toward the literary. Their plots are character-driven and their action is organic. They have distinct narrative voices and the sense of place is, as they say, palpable. That said, they are extraordinarily different in time, place, style, voice and probably in every other way one novel can be technically different from another. In the end, of course, the relationship between a novel and a reader is one in which one subjectivity confronts another. My choices are admittedly subjective, with plenty of room for disagreement, but in my view they remain if not the 10 best mysteries every written, certainly my favorites.

1. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins - This is still a wonderfully mysterious novel. It is large and sweeping, with skillfully drawn characters, lovely passages and absolutely haunting scenes, a fully formed 19th century novel with all the trimmings. The story is complicated, but it was originally written in serial form, so the story moves forward in carefully measured steps. Much of what became standard in crime fiction was first done here, so it is not only an engaging read, but a fundamentally instructive one.
2. A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne - I have recommended this book many times to all kinds of readers. For me, it is a novel that uses suspense in the best possible way, not by having a character confront one contrived obstacle after another in a mindless stream of action, but by creating an atmosphere of deep moral peril in which the culminating tragedy seems as inevitable as it is, well…tragic. It is also one of those books in which the title become completely apt, and very moving, after one has completed the book. In this case, the “crime in the neighborhood” turns out to be far more profound and long lasting than any single act of violence could be.
3. A Dark-Adapted Eye by Ruth Rendell - I confess that this is one of the most beautiful titles in mystery fiction. The good news is that the book lives up to the title. It is intricate, with genuinely surprising revelations, and the depth of the characterizations makes a major contribution to the novel’s suspense. This is psychological suspense for adults, with real people confronting real, and very dark problems.
4. A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler - “It is not who fired the shot but who paid for the bullet.” It is a line that has since become famous, but it is only one of the many literary beauties of the book. Dimitrios, in life and death, is a figure of surpassing fascination, his life a tale of struggle and fierce intrigue that I have never forgotten. The secondary characters are wonderfully drawn. From the moment Charles Latimer meets Colonel Haki and hears of the mysterious Dimitrios, the reader is returned to the lost Balkan world that flourished between the two world wars, a boiling cauldron of expediency and deceit that Ambler renders in exquisite detail.
5. True Confessions by John Gregory Dunne - The novel begins with a crime based on the Black Dahlia murder, and from there steadily deepens into a work of great emotional power, complete with an unforgettable portrait of Los Angeles in the '40s. It is a story of two brothers, one a cop, the other a priest, and by following their relationship along the trail of a gruesome crime, it ultimately becomes one of the most movingly redemptive novels I have ever read. 
6The Eye of the Beholder by Marc Behm - I read this novel years and years ago, and have never been able to get it out of my mind. It is a story of obsession, with a private detective called only The Eye who follows a nameless female serial killer for more than a decade. The Eye is the classically damaged PI, not just solitary, but deeply lonely, and the woman he pursues is a heartless--yet in some sense comprehensible--hater of men. The macabre dance of death that becomes their lives is one of the strangest and most intriguing relationships in mystery fiction.
7. A Simple Plan by Scott Smith - In this wholly realistic novel, two brothers and a friend come upon a crashed plane in whose shattered ruins they find an enormous sum of money. Before that moment, none of these men has ever needed to concoct a simple plan to keep and conceal a fortune that quite obviously does not belong them. In the midst of doing just that, they become criminals, as well as victims of crime. The story builds steadily as the wages of sin become more and more costly. Here is a classic cautionary tale about the penalty dishonesty may exact upon ordinary, and largely innocent, human beings.
8. Sneaky People by Thomas Berger - This is arguably one of the funniest crime novels ever written. It is set in the 1930s, and its main character is Buddy Sandifer, a used car dealer who wants one very simple thing: his wife dead. The reason is no less simple. He yearns to live the rest of his days with Laverne, a woman who on occasion dimly realizes that sleeping with men for money adds up to prostitution. Buddy’s efforts to plot his wife’s murder creates one of the most hilarious tales of misadventure you will ever read.
9. The Quiet American by Graham Greene - Published in 1955,The Quiet American provides an intensely observed portrait of Vietnam on the eve of French defeat. Fowler, the world-weary British journalist whose observations enrich this fiercely observed novel, provides just the right counterpoint to Alden Pyle, the idealist “quiet American” whose mysterious death provides the narrative heart of the story. Part novel of intrigue, part mystery, part love story, The Quiet American remains as powerful today as when it was first written.
10. Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg - Hailed by the New York Times as the best novel of its kind in 10 years, Cutter and Bone is the story story of one man’s obsession with another man’s crime, in this case, a murder. What makes Thornburg’s story unique is that the “murderer,” a big money man by the name of J.J. Wolfe, may not have committed the crime at all. For that reason, it is Cutter’s mad pursuit of Wolfe, rather that the justice of that pursuit, that gives the book its passionate momentum.