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, July 31, 2014

Fantasy Football With Authors

So I am a HUGE fantasy football nerd.  I have been playing for a bunch of years in a league with my husband and our college friends. Last year, after toiling at the bottom of the playoff teams (so worst of the best basically) for years, I won.  Even better, I beat my 3 times champion husband in a 2 week playoff. [Thank you Peyton Manning and Jamaal Charles].

But it’s not just the playing. I listen to fantasy football podcasts, watch fantasy football tv shows, read  books and magazines about it, and even follow fantasy football people on Twitter.

So next to books and reading, come fall, fantasy football is the second most important, non-family thing in my life. Well, fantasy football and real football are tied. [Go Big Blue]

I am betting I am not the only librarian out there who loves fantasy football. In fact, no bets.  I know I am not because yesterday Book Riot ran this awesome article about how to play fantasy football with authors. 

Even if you HATE fantasy sports, look at this because right now is crunch time for all of your patrons who play fantasy football.  My league is back up in planning mode already.  We have a keeper deadline of 8/17 and our live draft is on 8/30.  I am already hard at work on preparations for this season. And as the reigning champ, people are gunning for me, so I need to pay attention.

I am sharing my personal experience to show you that there are patrons out there thinking about fantasy football right now.  So why not offer them a display of books about football with a print out of the Book Riot rules on how to play fantasy football with authors.  They can take a copy and play along at home.

This is a great example of passive RA.  You are anticipating your patrons’ interests.  Football pre-season is about to start, so you have a display of football books up. Perfect.  Now you got them to stop and look.  But the addition of the author fantasy football sheet will help to reel them in.

It’s a win-win situation. It’s an easy display to build for you, and it will make a lot of patrons happy with your responsive service.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My New Favorite Resource: The Genrify Blender!

So if you are not already reading The Reader's Advisor Online's weekly RA Run Down every Monday morning, you need to start now. Sarah and Cindy do a fantastic job providing, in one post, everything you need to know about what is going on in our very specific world of Adult RA in American Public Libraries. Seriously, everything in the column is useful to us and our work.

Case in point, this week I found my new favorite resource in the RA Run Down...The Genrify Blender!

What is the Genrify Blender?  Well, we all know that one of the biggest trends in all fiction right now is that authors are blending genres in their novels.  [Click here for my post on a longer discussion of this trend  from ALA Annual 2013.] Now that this trend has been popular for a while, patrons are used to it, liking it, and asking for reading suggestions of more genre blended novels. [This is a big step forward from 2012 when they were complaining about authors not knowing what genre they were writing in]. However, while the patrons have caught on to the trend, the professional resources are not as up to date.

Enter the blog, Genrify: Where Genres Mix and Mingle a blog and resource to help identify genre blended books.  It is simple, fun, and, most importantly, useful.

Click here and pick 2 or 3 genres, hit "Blend" and see what suggestions you get.

I have already used it for 6 or 7 patrons since finding out about it Monday [again, yay RA Run Down].  They all loved using the blender, and the results seemed promising. I do think the fun of using the resource itself predisposes people to liking the book, but I will have to wait for the patrons to return to see about that.

Try the genre blender yourself.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

August 2014 Issue of NoveList News Featuring Me

Click here to access the entire August 2014 issue of NoveList’s RA news.  Along with a very useful article on how to bed use Tumblr at your library, there is this article by me on Book Discussion First Aid: Reassessing Your Group Dynamics.

I have reposted the article below, but the entire issue is worth a look.  Also, you do not need to be a NoveList subscriber to get this monthly newsletter.  I think it is worth it even when I don’t have an article.  [heehee]

For the lazy bunch, I have reposted my article below.  But first, I have an interesting anecdote to share from book club yesterday.

We met a week late due to my vacation [report on the actual discussion will be up later this week], and a new member joined us.  After we were done she said, “I go to another book club at a different library and this book club was NOTHING like that one.” [her emphasis]

I was nervous because I had no idea if that was a positive or negative statement.  So I said, “Well, I am a unique leader, so....”

She interrupted, “Oh, don’t worry. Yours was much better.”


I guess I have our group dynamic figured out.  Read my article here or posted below to help assess your group dynamic and see if you can improve it.


Book Discussion First Aid: Reassessing Your Group Dynamics

by Becky Spratford

*This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of RA News.*

Every book discussion group has its ups and downs, and I have found that the longer a group has been together, the longer the down swings seem to last.  As readers become more comfortable with each other it is easy to fall into bad habits that can drag group discussions down. It is the group's dynamic -- how the group works together [or not] as they discuss the books -- that is frequently to blame So, before you worry that your book choices are making meetings dull, figure out whether or not the group's dynamic is the real issue.  

Several years ago, I noticed that our discussions were becoming...difficult. There was no easy flow of conversation and ideas. One or two people dominated the conversation and participants were not open-minded to the opinions of others. We were having trouble getting deeper than comments such as, "I liked the book!" The lack of give and take in our discussions was upsetting to everyone.  We wanted to get together to have fun and vibrant discussions, but somewhere between our desires and our reality we were missing a critical step.

I found inspiration from my children's elementary school. At the start of each school year, each homeroom teacher and their students work together to develop behavioral norms for the coming year.  Because everyone contributes to the rules, everyone knows up front what is expected of them, of their peers, and of their teacher.  When there are issues, they have a group-created plan for dealing with it. The children were more responsive to correction since their misbehavior was in direct violation of a rule they played a hand in creating.

With that in mind, I initiated a discussion about our group norms. I acknowledged that as the leader I was ultimately responsible for the success and failure of the group, but I wanted to initiate a discussion on our group dynamic, where we could talk openly and freely about how we wanted our discussions to proceed.

Using the school model as a guide, we created two sets of norms: their expectations for me, as the leader; and their expectations for one another, as discussion participants. Having this open discussion about the group also got us out of our book discussion rut.  Everyone had something to add, ideas were flowing freely, and when we finally discussed the book itself, we all felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders and had the best book discussion of the year.
This is what my group drafted:

Leader Norms:

  • Read the entire books
  • Gather information to help enhance the discussion
  • Be prepared to offer counter opinions -- even if they differ from your own
  • Be prepared to begin new lines of discussion when necessary
  • Do not let one person monopolize the discussion
  • Be willing and prepared to take control of the group, firmly but respectfully

Group Norms:

  • Make your best effort to complete the book
  • Come ready to both share AND listen
  • Be ready to back up your opinions with the "Why"
  • Self-censor
  • Have a great time -- if you stop enjoying it, let the leader know

You'll notice that these norms are easy to follow: they emphasize common sense and basic courtesy, and require minimal effort. The tools the group needed to keep the discussions flowing smoothly are also embedded in them; we have a clear set of shared rules to refer to as we handle any difficult situations.
For example, if someone dominates the discussion, I can gently remind them that we have agreed to "share AND listen."  And if things devolve further, I can always invoke the norm they have empowered me with: "Be willing and prepared to take control of the group, firmly but respectfully." I once actually dealt with a difficult participant in the heat of a discussion by standing up and literally saying, "It is now time for me to be firm, but respectful." Not only did it defuse the uncomfortable situation, but it made us all giggle, check ourselves, and regain composure.

The second point I want to stress about these norms is that you cannot expect them to work in a vacuum. My group revisits our norms at our December holiday party each year, to talk about what works and what we'd like to change. (in fact, the norms you see above are the product of 5 years of fine tuning!)  I print out copies for everyone and we have an open discussion about our norms while we are enjoying a yummy pot luck lunch. We talk about how we did following them as a group and as individuals over the previous twelve months.  We suggest modifications and vote on our norms for the next calendar year. It's a chance for the whole group to think about how we interact, both the good and the bad. Keeping the process responsive is part of what keeps the group invested in following the norms they set.

Responsive norms will produce results. Norms that you create and never revisit won't.  You need to be engaged in a discussion about the group, its dynamics, what is both working AND failing if you want to keep your discussions viable and fun.

Taking a hard look at your group's dynamic and seriously questioning how you are functioning will go a long way toward improving all of your discussions. It may seem daunting at the outset, but feel free to use this article as an icebreaker to get the conversation going. As I have seen from experience, once you begin discussing the group dynamic, it may be hard to get everyone to stop participating.  But isn't that why you are engaging in this conversation -- to recharge the energy and the give and take of a good discussion? Try it out with your group, and let us know how it went.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Crime Fiction Genre Study Updates

We are quickly approaching the next meeting of the ARRT Crime Fiction Genre Study. We will be at Glenview Public Library on 8/7/14 discussing Historical Crime. Click here for all of the details on our Crime Fiction Genre Study website, including the assignment.

I also just posted the assignment for the October 2, 2014 meeting on Legal, Political/Financial, and Techno Thrillers.

Remember, while you need to be a member of ARRT to join us for the discussions and/or to review the password protected notes from our meetings, anyone can access the website.  Please feel free to use our assignments, resources, links, etc... to lead your own genre study.  All we ask is that you credit ARRT.

It helps all librarians and library patrons everywhere when we work together to help readers. Even if you are not planning to do an entire Crime Fiction Genre Study yourself, taking a look at each of our assignments will give you a snapshot of these genres and subgenres as they stand for a popular reading audience right now.

If you have any questions, all the contact info is on the site.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

More Audiobook Resources

Back in May, I posted about NoveLists’s brand new Audiobook resources.  In that post, I talked about a few other resources I use to help audiobook patrons, but I completely forgot one of my favorite audiobook discovery tools, Audiobook-Heaven.

Not only does Audiobook-Heaven have useful reviews, with a clear searching interface, and a wide variety of genres to choose from, but the story behind the site is almost as interesting as the reviews themselves. And the focus of these reviews is on how the books work in audio form.  It is the best site out there with reviews by someone who is a fan of the format.

Click here for details and to start using it yourself.

I think if you combine Audiobook-Heaven, NoveList, Audiofile, and Audible you can really train yourself to help audiobook patrons.  For further reading, I also highly suggest Joyce Sarick’s Read On... Audiobooks.

After I felt compelled to write this post, I got to thinking about why I have been so infatuated with posting about audiobooks recently, and then I realized, I have had an amazing streak of good audiobooks going for a while now.  Currently I am listening to Cuckoo’s Calling and LOVING IT and I am super stoked to get the new Deborah Harkness on audio really soon. [I listened to the first 2 in the trilogy already; reviews here and here]

If you know of another audiobook resource that I am not considering or you want more advice on RA for listeners, leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Are You Ready For RA Summer Camp!

That's right, I said summer camp, and it is being presented by Neal Wyatt, readers' advisory expert and all around great person.  Here is the link to the official flyer from the ARRT webpage.

But here are the details:

RA Summer Camp: Developing Skills Through Play
Tuesday, August 12th @ 2 PM
Naperville Public Library, 95th Street Branch

MadLibs! Myers-Briggs! Jeopardy! Find come fun relief from the dog days of summer in this interactive and practical RA program.  Neal Wyatt, co-chair of ALA's RA Committee and Library Journal's RA contributing editor, will host a program focused on two key RA skills-- writing about books [everything from annotations to blog posts to published columns] and understanding appeal [Nancy Pearl's Doorways, Joyce Saricks's big six, and more].  Some participants will leave with prizes bur all will gain a deeper understanding of what they enjoy in the works they read, how other readers connect to titles, and how to write about the reading experience in ways that grab and audience.

And all of this is only $15 to attend.  Our library is sending as many people as we can spare to be away and who can fit in my van. You do not need to be an ARRT member to come.

I can't wait.  This is a RA program that will benefit anyone who works with readers, from the newbie to experts like me.

If you cannot make it, but are intrigued, let me know.  I can tell you how it went after and put you in touch with Neal to see if she can do this program in your location.

Finally, here is the flyer so you can see how snazzy it is whether or not you click here. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Attention Chicago Area Librarians-- Event 7/24

Click here for details about an event I will be attending at Bucket O Blood, a fantastic independent book and record shop in Chicago this Thursday.

Library Reads: August 2014

I have been on vacation, which would also explain why my past week or so posts have all gone up in a timely fashion [yay, pre-programmed posting], so I missed being able to post the August list right when it came out.

Here it is today. Also, your friendly monthly reminder to use past lists to help a patron who can't tell you more than they just want a good read.  These are just that, good reads that are librarian approved.

Click here for my archive. There is now one full year of lists!! And I have already used these lists more than I ever used the NYT bestseller list to help a patron. I am serious, I have used the Library Reads List more times in 1 year to help  patron than I have used any best seller list to help a patron in 14 years!

August 2014 LibraryReads List


One Kick: A Novel

by Chelsea Cain

Published: 8/19/2014
by Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781476749785
“Kick Lannigan survived being kidnapped as a child. Now, at twenty-one, determined never to be a victim again, she has reinvented herself. Martial arts and weapons handling are just a few of the skills she has learned over the years. Kick catches the attention of John Bishop, a mystery man with access to unlimited funds, and together they go after a cabal of child pornographers. A read-in-one-sitting, edge-of-your-seat thriller.”
Elizabeth Kanouse, Denville Public Library, Denville, NJ

Lucky Us: A Novel

by Amy Bloom

Published: 7/29/2014 by Random House
ISBN: 9781400067244
“Is a family the people you are born to, or the people who you find along the way? That’s what Bloom explores in this novel set in pre- and post-WWII Ohio, Los Angeles, New York and Germany. The story follows resourceful Eva, who was abandoned by her mother at an early age, and her sister Iris, an aspiring actress who tries to find love at a time when her kind of love must be secretive. Every character is beautifully drawn, warm, and believable.”
Kathryn Hassert, Henrietta Hankin Branch Library, Chester Springs, PA


Heroes Are My Weakness: A Novel

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Published: 8/26/2014 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062106070
“Any Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel is going to make it onto my must-read list, but this one is particularly wonderful, and here’s why: she creates, then cheerfully destroys, the romance cliche of the brooding hero with a dark secret who lives in a crumbling mansion and captivates a plucky heroine. The hero is a horror novelist, and the heroine a failed actress-turned-puppeteer. This warm, witty, comedy-drama is a perfect summer read.”
Donna Matturri, Pickerington Public Library, Pickerington, OH


Lock In

by John Scalzi

Published: 8/26/2014 by Tor
ISBN: 9780765375865
“There’s been a good run of fantasy and science fiction books this year. Joining the list of great fantastical reads is John Scalzi’s Lock In. Scalzi is best known for his military SF (especially the Old Man’s War series), so his latest is a change of pace. A blending of SF and police procedural that hits every note just right.”
Jane Jorgenson, Madison Public Library, Madison, WI


The Miniaturist: A Novel

by Jessie Burton

Published: 8/26/2014 by Ecco
ISBN: 9780062306814
“A dollhouse whose figures and furnishings foretell life events, mysterious notes, family secrets and the powerful guild and church of 1686 Amsterdam. All these elements combine for an engaging story of a young bride’s struggle to be the ‘architect of her own fortune.’”
Elizabeth Angelastro, Manlius Library, Manlius, NY


Big Little Lies

by Liane Moriarty

Published: 7/29/2014 by Amy Einhorn/Putnam
ISBN: 9780399167065
“A horrible act of violence occurs at the Pirriwee Public School’s trivia night fundraiser for parents, but what happened and who was involved? The novel begins six months before that fateful evening and lets us in on the lives of single mother Jane, divorcee Madeline, and Celeste, who secretly suffers from domestic abuse. Big Little Lies is another page-turning read from Moriarty that had me gasping with surprise at the end.”
Lora Bruggeman, Indian Prairie Public Library, Darien, IL


The Truth about Leo

by Katie MacAlister

Published: 8/5/2014 by Sourcebooks Casablanca
ISBN: 9781402294457
“I always adore Katie MacAlister! Her sense of humor is outstanding, and her heroines have real bodies. This is another installment in the delightful historical Noble series, and it doesn’t disappoint. Fans of humor with their romance are sure to enjoy this regency romp.”
Jessica C. Williams, Westlake Porter Public Library, Westlake, OH


An Unwilling Accomplice

by Charles Todd

Published: 8/12/2014 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062237194
“Bess Crawford, a courageous World War I battlefield nurse, is faced with another complex mystery. A patient about to receive a high honor from the King manages to disappear on Bess’s watch, sending her life into a tailspin. In order to clear her name, she must find the missing patient and find out why he is now accused of murder. Intelligent and fantastic, just like the others in this series!”
Monicah Fratena, La Porte County Public Library, La Porte, IN


The Magician’s Land: A Novel

by Lev Grossman

Published: 8/5/2014 by Viking Adult
ISBN: 9780670015672
“Even if you haven’t read the first two books in the wonderful Magicians Trilogy, you will enjoy the escapades of Quentin Coldwater. Now 30 years old, Quentin finds himself back at Brakebills, experiencing school from the teacher’s side of the desk. But his adventures are far from over! Although I’m not generally a fantasy reader, I’ve been rooting for Quentin ever since I first picked up this series and am sad to see it end.”
Kelly Currie, Delphi Public Library, Delphi, IN


The Story Hour: A Novel

by Thrity Umrigar

Published: 8/19/2014 by Harper
ISBN: 9780062259301
“Another beautifully written novel by Thrity Umrigar. A relationship develops between Maggie, a psychologist, and Lakshmi, a troubled Indian woman. As their stories develop, it is hard to figure out which woman does more to impact the other’s life. Highly recommended.”
Ellen Firer, Merrick Library, Merrick, NY

Monday, July 21, 2014

Staff Recommendations 24 Hours a Day on The Browsers Corner

I haven’t written about our fantastically amazing permanent staff recommendations blog The Browser’s Corner in a while, so that’s what I’m going to do today.

What I love about this blog is that we have staff from all over the library [not just the RA Dream Team] suggesting books.  It is regularly updated with new recommendations, but now that we have been at it for awhile, there are hundreds of staff approved books ready for any reader with an Internet connection to peruse.

We try very hard to focus on the appeal of each title, not the plot.  As a result, the blog also serves as a great RA tool because you can search by appeal factors as well as authors and titles. Either use the tags to search or use the search box and type in an adjective to see what you get.

If you visit the physical building of the BPL, you can also see our Browser’s Corner shelf [which is in an actual corner] with some of the suggested titles and the recommendation shelf talkers in person.

So no matter where you are, feel free to use the BPL’s staff recommendations to help your patrons find their next good read.

I know I use it all of the time, and it makes me look so smart.  So thanks to my fellow staff for all of their work.  The Browser’s Corner is the perfect example of a team effort.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Backlist Not to Miss: The Housekeeper and the Professor

Today I am taking a break from new reviews and posting the links to the 2x I read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.

I have been giving this book out to many people this summer.  Why?  Well, one, it is part of our popular book discussion collection so I have multiple, paperback copies.  Two, it is a quick, compelling read suitable to a wide audience.  And, three, it has this killer soundbite I use to book talk it:
A housekeeper is assigned by the agency she works for to take care of the a former mathematics professor's home and make his meals. She is the 9th housekeeper assigned to the professor. This is because the professor has a brain injury. He can remember everything that happened before his accident (1970s), but since, his memory is on a 80 minute loop. That's right, his memory only lasts 80 minutes. Intriguing, huh?
The ensuing story is about her time working for the Professor and the bond they form. It is about her son's relationship with her and the Professor. It is about the loss of a genius; we still see sparks of the old Professor as he works on complicated math problems. And finally, it is a story about living, no matter the obstacles; about living a life with meaning even if you cannot remember what happened 81 minutes ago.
So click here to see my initial review and here to see the book discussion report. And please don’t forget to push older titles.  There are more good books in your stacks than there are on your new shelf.  And that’s not a dig at the new books, it’s simple mathematical truth!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What I’m Reading: Wolf Hall

Today I have my review of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. But first an editor’s note.  I am not sure why it took me this long to think of posting the audiobook cover and linking to the audible.com record of the book when I have listened to it.  Oh well, better late than never.

Now here’s why you need to read my review, even though I am probably the millionth person to read this popular and critically acclaimed book.  I am not a Tudors lover. I am not a Tudor hater either; I am indifferent.  However, I do love  well researched and compelling historical fiction novels.  But it is important to note here that we all encounter many readers that love everything and anything if it features a Tudor.  Fiction-Nonficion-Magazine articles- TV shows.  Those people will find this book on their own.  This review will be helpful for you to identify other readers who may also enjoy this novel.

[By the way, reading this book made me think of pitting all my Tudor Lovers vs the legions of Jane Austen fans.  What a great display idea.  Literary Smack-Down: Tudors vs Austen!  But I digress.]

In case you don’t know, the plot of this 650 page, first of a trilogy, is easy to explain.  The entire series follows the life of Thomas Cromwell, through his eyes (but in an omniscient third person) beginning, in Wolf Hall, with his service to the Cardinal, leading up to Henry VIII divorce of Catherine, marriage to Anne Boleyn, and ending with the execution of Thomas Moore. So the 1520s and 30s.

Because I do not know all of the intricate details and timelines for the drama that was Henry VIII, I did go to some resources to get a sketch of Cromwell’s life before reading this novel.  I don’t normally do that, but since this was such a leisurely paced journey through the era and names were thrown around willy nilly, I wanted to have a way to listen up for the key moments.  Huge fans of the era would notice more foreshadowing on their own.

So if not the Tudors, what did I enjoy.  I read  for the politics, the sweeping picture of life in the 1520s, the characters from all walks of life, the rich details, the intricate plot, and the wonderfully rounded out historical characters.

Specifically I was intrigued by the research Mantel did to uncover how much of a bigger role Cromwell actually played in the events that led up to the marriage of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII.  This novel also made me appreciate how this was a turning point for English history.  Without the intervention of Cromwell, I don’t think Henry would have broken away from Rome and married Anne.  Without that marriage there is no Queen Elizabeth.  And, without Elizabeth maybe no Shakespeare.  Ahh, the horror. It is interesting to see how different things could be without Cromwell.

Also because of Cromwell’s position as a business person who started in the gutter and rose to be the right hand man of a King, we see all walks of life in this novel.  You get a wonderful panoramic view of what life was like in the 1520s. I loved hearing details about his household.  The side jaunts where Mantel goes away from the characters in the Court and looks at the lives of the regular people were among my favorite scenes. Wolf Hall placed me firmly in the time and place while I was reading the novel.  This is a huge accomplishment by Mantel, and one of the main reasons she won the Booker Prize for this work.

So that’s how a non-Tudor fan could enjoy this novel.  I am glad I read it; however, I know what is going to happen.  We all do.  Lots of heads will be lost, Cromwell’s included, and eventually, Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne and Henry will rise to be Queen, the first female to inherit the crown.  So that’s all for me in the trilogy.  I liked it plenty, but want to find another sweeping historical novel about a new place a time.  One where I can be similarly caught up in the people, places, and events, but in a new frame. I’m good on the Tudors for a while.

Notes on the audio: The narrator Simon Slater did a good job, but I don’t think he improved upon the book at all. But, I do know that I never would have made it through reading this book.  I definitely would have given up, but the audio kept me going.  I prefer a straight up first person narration for my audiobooks, so the third person omniscient with the focus on Cromwell took a little getting used to.  There were a lot of characters and Slater could have differentiated his voice a bit more for some of them, but the big characters had distinct voices. He did not do female voices particularly well and being that there were a few key female players, this did get a little confusing at times.  Though part of that is on me as I did not know the history as well going in.

Three Words That Describe This Book: sweeping, extremely detailed, historically accurate

Readalikes: As I mentioned, anything Tudors works here.  There is so so so so much.  Click here to begin your journey through the literary world of Tudor England.

Recently, my book group read The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, and Wolf Hall came up during out discussion. Click here for details.

In NoveList, Katherine Johnson suggests Mistress in the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin:
"Like Wolf Hall, Mistress of the Art of Death has a strong, accurate historical sense of place and time, and portrays a maligned figure, Henry II, sympathetically. Unlike Wolf Hall, it's a mystery with less focus on historical characters, but will still enthrall discerning readers."
But in my opinion, for people who like the details of life in England’s  pre-indutrial age, readers who don’t need the Tudors to be part of the story but love the epic sweeping details, the back stabbing, and the drama of life in that era, I highly suggest Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  Click here for my full review including more readalike options.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What I’m Reading: Thunderstruck and Other Stories

I recently devoured Elizabeth McCracken’s new short story collection, Thunderstruck.  Looking back on what I have read this year, it is definitely in the top 2.  Now, this needs some clarification.  First, I love Elizabeth McCracken. As I mentioned recently in this post, The Giant’s House is one of my all-time favorite books.  Also, over on the Browser’s Corner, I have praised the excellence of her backlist gem of a novel, Niagara Falls All Over Again.

Second, McCracken is up there in my personal list of all time favorite, slightly askew authors [you can go to the readalikes section for a list of the others]. This designation [which I made up] is my favorite type of book.  I can’t get enough of it.  I have created my own personal genre of these type of books.

Third, McCracken, has not has a work of fiction in many years. When McCracken was at the top of her success, she had a terrible miscarriage [in her 9th month of pregnancy].  From that experience she wrote a harrowing but amazing memoir of how she dealt with it all.  Now, McCracken is a mother, wife, and a college professor, oh and she is forever a librarian.

But through it all, she has never lost her touch.  Everything I love about McCracken, can be seen in her logo on her website, here on the right.  Its funny, macabre, and beautiful all rolled into one.

So with all of this love, you can imagine I did not need to know what the stories were about in order to dive into this collection head first, but for those of you who arent McCracken groupies like myself, here is an excellent, succinct run down by Lori L in her Goodreads review:

  • Something Amazing - one mother grieves the loss of her daughter years before while another has two delinquent sons
  • Property - a man moves into a rented house thinking it was furnished with the owner's discarded possessions.
  • Some Terpsichore - an abusive former lover is recalled with nostalgia and pain.
  • Juliet - librarians react to the murder of one of their patrons
  • The House of Two Three-Legged Dogs - a man learns his son has broken his trust
  • Hungry - a woman cares for her granddaughter while her son lies in the hospital
  • The Lost & Found Department of Greater Boston - deals with how a memory can be viewed differently by different people
  • Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey - a dying man visits a former friend
  • Thunderstruck - a father and mother struggle to be good parents for their daughter only to then have to deal with the brain injury resulting from her actions

“Thunderstruck" is the show piece story here.  After reading the entire collection, and enjoying each and every story, encountering the best story at the end was fantastic.  But it was also a bit sad because I still wanted more.  However, this was very fitting as the entire mood of this collection could be described as bittersweet, so putting the best story last, helped to sum up the entire collection.

This is the type of book I regularly describe on my blog as “slightly askew.”  Below, in the readalike section you can see all of the books I have described this way, but it happens to be my favorite type of book.  Interestingly, after I read the book, I looked at some professional reviews, and a few used “askew” to also describe these stories. This means her view of the world is a bit macabre, but still realistic.  There is no magical realism here, but it is by no means a straight realistic look at the world you are getting here either.

Like most short stories, these are character centered.  Each story is a small snippet into the lives of her characters.  But what is so amazing about how McCracken writes characters is that even in the shorter format, she is able to create complex characters into whose lives you are completely immersed.   As a result, you are moved by the people and their plights, even when the characters are diametrically opposed to one and other (like the parents in “Thunderstruck”), you are moved by both of them.

These are also briskly paced stories.  Yes, the focus is on character, but the plots and situations are compelling.  No matter their page length, all are quick reads.  The entire collection only took me 3 sittings to read.

Finally, I think that the publisher’s marketing of these stories as all “navigating the space between love and loneliness” is well put.  It captures the bittersweet mood, the odd, in-between space her character are in, and the moving nature of these thought provoking stories which probe the most intimate spaces within our psyches.

Three Words That Describe This Book: slightly askew, character-centered, bittersweet

Readalikes:  The closest collection to this one is Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove which I reviewed here. Although a generation apart, these two women write very similarly.  The only difference is that Russell relies on magical realism to create her slightly askew mood.

Every author or book I have ever described as "slightly askew" fits as a readalike here too. Click here for every instance where I have described a book this way [warning: there are a lot!].  The grandfather of this group [and a mentor of McCracken’s] is Steven Millhauser.  My other top favorites are Kevin Brockmeier and Keith Donohue.

Finally, the fiction of Dan Chaon is also a good readalike. In particular try his short stories collection Stay Awake as a readalike, but anything by him is a good choice.  Here is my review of Await Your Reply [also a Becky all-time favorite].

Monday, July 14, 2014

What I'm Reading: The Goldfinch

On June 29th at ALA Annual, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt won the 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction this is in addition to the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction it had already won.

I listened to this novel way back in the early days of 2014, and have been putting off a review since so many others have written so much about it. Also, I am still figuring out who to suggest this book to and in which format-- beyond the obvious patrons who love to read the best reviewed books of the year and/or major award winners. But those readers are easy to appease with lists of nominees and winners. So, in this review I am going to work through how you suggest this book and to whom.

The first thing I have to say about this book is that you should NOT read it for the plot.  Here is that official plot summary:
It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher's calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.
First off, this summary does not tell you one of the most important aspects of this novel-- how the story is told.  Theo is telling this story as an adult who has made it through a very difficult childhood.  The entire novel is Theo talking directly to you, the reader, and recounting it all with the benefit of hindsight.  This means that there are MANY moments [some of them lightening fast] of foreshadowing. If you pay close attention, Tartt’s pay off is worth it.  You remember a small aside and then 200 pages later, you get your “ah-ha” moment. The novel opens with Theo in a hotel room in Amsterdam, obviously hiding from law enforcement and in some kind of distress, but it takes 600+ pages for the reader to get to Theo’s present and know why he is there and what is happening.

Which brings me to my second point.  This is a 771 page book.  Although parts of it move at the “stay-up-all-night” pace that is referred to by the publisher above, other long sections are deliberately slowed down.  For example, the summary does not mention Theo’s high school years in Las Vegas living with his father and where he meets a key friend who proves vital to the novel’s crazy, thriller-esque conclusion. This vast middle of the novel is frustratingly slow, even monotonous at times. You want Theo to get out of this bad situation and figure out what matters.  But, brilliantly, that is Tartt’s point here.  This is a bad time for Theo too. His life is monotonous and going down a terrible path, but it is all necessary to get Theo to where Tartt is moving him.  The development of foreclosed upon homes in the middle of the desert, the absent, to the point of criminal neglect, parents, the loss of moral center, and the overall melancholy of Theo’s life needs to creep by at an unbearably slow pace for the reader to even experience a portion of Theo’s internal pain and struggles.  Because if we can't grasp the depth of his sorrow and turmoil, the rest of the book doesn’t make any sense.

Now, having explained that, you can better understand why this novel may not be for every reader. However, I do think that the audio greatly improves enjoyment here. loved listening to this book.  I would have HATED reading it though; in fact, I am pretty sure I would have given up.  This dichotomy needs to be explored.

The Goldfinch fits neatly into the category of the type of audiobook I most enjoy [click here for that info], but it is not just me who enjoyed the narration.  David Pittunarration won two Audies.  One for Best Solo Narration-Male and one for Best Literary Fiction. Pittu made this slower, intricately plotted novel compelling and engaging.  Pittu became Theo.  I was always longing to return to Theo and hear his story because of Pittu’s brilliance in bringing Theo to life.

Other appeal factors to note: this is a true character driven novel and Theo is not always a likable character.  He is sympathetic, but makes bad choices all of the time.  In the end, he has learned his lesson and is taking responsibility for some of his actions. But if you do note care for Theo’s plight you will not like this book.

The tone was a favorite of mine-- haunting and melancholy with an oppressive atmosphere that never lets up.  But again, we are talking 800 pages of this.  Some readers will be overwhelmed by the oppressiveness for that long.  While the ending is positive, it is not joyous or celebratory.  So you get this heavy atmosphere, for a marathon amount of time, and in the end all you really feel is a sigh of relief. Now me, I loved it, but I know I am not the norm here.

As you can also tell from the plot summary and my additions, this is a richly detailed and intricately plotted novel.  It has a detailed frame set around art, art crimes, and the antiques world.  Many people who enjoy these frames will be drawn to The Goldfinch. In fact, I found this frame fascinating. The picture itself, the one titled The Goldfinch, is the link that connects everything that happens in the novel.  If you are not interested in the painting, its meaning to the characters, and its fate, you will not like this book.

Overall The Goldfinch is impressive.  It is intricately plotted, lyrical at times, extremely thought provoking, and technically masterful.  It probably deserves all of its awards; however, and despite the fact that I enjoyed reading it personally, I do not think it will stand up over time as a classic work of American literature.

My advice is to suggest it to audiobook fans who want a literary fiction story that they can spend time with.  If someone is looking to read the book, warn them that it will be heavy and take time.  Maybe show them this review so they can decide for themselves.

Three Words That Describe This Book: atmospheric, coming of age, psychological

Readalikes: Click here for the readalikes that RUSA provided for all of the Carnegie Medal finalists.
Of these I have read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and I completely agree. The two novels share quite a bit.  Click here for mentions of ELaIC on this blog including many readalikes.

NoveList also had a great suggestion of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka which I read and reviewed here.  Said Kim Burton, "Although The Goldfinch is more leisurely and literary than Tell the Wolves, both are atmospheric, lyrical coming-of-age novels that follow the experiences of a grieving teen who receives an unexpected gift from among their lost loved one's belongings.” I especially second this suggestion if you liked the idea of The Goldfinch but felt it needed some editing for a swifter pace.

For people who like novels about missing works of art, crime, and the art world would also enjoy The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte.

Authors who are very similar to Tartt (and ironically also take forever to write books, but when they finish them, they are always worth your time, if not the best book you read that year) are Marisha Pessl and Nicole Krauss.  Links go to the times I have written reviews or mentioned these authors. But for specific matches to The Goldfinch, I would suggest Special Topics in Calamity Physics and The History of Love.  Both are literary coming-of-age stories with misfit main characters who have to find their way through loss without traditional adult assistance.

Finally, for a totally outside of the box recommendation, if you enjoyed The Goldfinch for its atmospheric, haunting and melancholy tone, but wanted this experience in a more condensed and lyrical package, I highly suggest The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell.  Click through and read my review for details.  There are zombies in this suggestion, but it is NOT a horror book.  Trust me. It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful coming-of-age stories I have ever read.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

All the ALA Annual 2014 RA Programs in One Place

I know I already posted today, but I have been waiting for the ALA people to get back and update all of the handouts that were added by presenters after they returned home.

So if you missed ALA and want a quick guide to all of the RA programs [with handouts where available], use this link.

Also, here is the direct link for the ALA CogNotes with the highlights of the conference.

Five Laws of Library Science Infographic

Time to geek out librarians.  We all remember learning the Five Laws of Librarianship by Dr. S.R. Ranganathan in our very first Masters in Library Science Course.  Yes all of you non librarians reading this, we did learn more than how to alphabetize.

Well, as Galley Cat pointed out earlier this week in this post, these laws are not only still being taught, but they are also still relevant and can even be a great marketing tool to entice new librarians to our exciting field.  From their article:
USC Online has created an infographic called, “The Five Laws of Library Science,” which explores five principles which can help guide the practices of librarians.
According to the graphic, almost 2.5 million public library books were circulated between more than 1.5 million people in 2011. The graphic also points out that there is more than 120,000 libraries in the U.S.

Click here to see a larger, full page view of the infographic.  Me, I am going to be printing this out and hanging it in our staff room to remind everyone of what we do and why it’s important.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

RA Conversation Starter: Easy, Visual Displays

I feel like I have inadvertently started an entire new feature on my blog.  Maybe, maybe not.  I started a new tag "conversation starter" just in case.

What do I mean by "conversation starter?"  I use it to refer to a passive RA techniques that can jump-start more RA interactions-- so passive techniques that lead into active interactions!  This is RA work functioning at its most efficient and effective level. You create an atmosphere that gets you and your patrons talking together about books and reading.

One of most popular conversation starters is the display that you see on the left.  It is right next to the RA desk. It is also placed in a way that every single person who goes to the circulation desk sees either coming or going.

But, all it is comprised of is a picture and some books, so why is it so effective? Three reasons.

  1. It is in a high traffic area so it gets a lot of eyes on it
  2. It is always very simple.  A beautiful picture with no more than 2-3 words and a few books next to it. [by the way, this display had 10 books on it 2 days before I took the picture.]
  3. The main reason this display is so effective as a conversation starter can be seen in the second picture.  We change it every 5-10 days.  
The "Summer" display picture was taken on Monday, while the "Bird Fiction" picture below was taken this morning. Notice that we flip-flopped the books and the visual.  Also sometimes we use an object to inspire the display.  In the past we used a snake statue, and for this bird display, the feathers are attracting attention.  The 3D element adds interest.  We also allow people to touch the objects which we have found leads toward them touching the books.

 Let's explore why this works so well. While it is a combination of 1-3 that make it all happen, what gets people talking to us about the displays is the fact that we focus on being eye catching and changing it frequently.  That is what starts the conversations.

When signage is static people don't notice it.  It becomes part of the background.  But when something changes, your brain tells you to look at it again.  Over time what we have seen happening is that people stop to talk to us about the previous display.  They ask where it went? They ask how we decide what to do? They ask what is coming next?

The key is they are talking to us.  They are approaching the display, which is NEXT TO OUR DESK and engaging the person who happens to be in front of them in conversation.  We have staged this display so that person is a RA staff member. Once the conversation is started, we can ask about what they are reading, if they need a suggestions, etc....

Now this takes time.  It wasn't until we changed the small display regulrly that we started getting questions about it.  And I have to say, having the objects that people can touch has been a draw. [While I was typing this I had an entire family stop to feel the feathers.]

Also, we have one person, John, who is mostly in charge of this display.  You can see him here on the left in the picture of a similar display we have started at the Teen desk to similar success.  John comes up with the ideas for the adult display and is in charge of changing them; however, he is open to ideas from everyone.  Unlike our larger display cases, for which John has a schedule out months in advance and people assigned to each, this smaller conversation starting display is more spontaneous.  If one of us has an idea, he will move back his next planned set up and put ours in.

Try creating a conversation starter of your own near your desk, give it time, and see if your passive RA can lead to some active RA conversations.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

RA Conversation Starter: How Relevant Is the Author's Bio?

The question above is one that comes up for all readers at some point in their lives.  Some readers always want to know how a work of fiction relates to the author's life while others do not care as long as the story they are reading rings true.

For me this question came up twice in the past week as I am working on fishing up a Read Alike article for Novelist on Dan Simmons [and considering his biography as I summarize his work and why people love him in a mere 1300 words] and as I read A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon for a book discussion, an amazing book all about Chechnya, but written by an American.

So it was fitting as I was catching up on old NYT Book Reviews to see this point counter point in the Bookends column, "When We Read Fiction, How Relevant is the Author's Biography?"

From the text:
"Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. This week, Thomas Mallon and Adam Kirsch discuss whether knowing about an author’s life deepens or detracts from the pleasures of reading fiction."
Author Thomas Mallon wrote about how much less the bio matters now, while writer and editor Adam Kirsch talks about how history has shown that there are times when understanding the biography of the writer makes 

What I like about the essays is that they are both right. Anyone who works with readers or is a reader his or herself would enjoy taking a look at what each has to say.

Me, I am still completely up in the air as to whether the author's background is important to me or not.  I guess it all depends on the book and my mood.  But I was happy to read 2 eloquent writers debate the merits on both sides of the issue.  It made me feel okay to stay ambivalent.

But the real reason I posted this installment of Bookends is to give you a new passive RA idea.  Why not post the weekly column of Bookends at your library near where leisure readers browse or near your desk each and every week.  Who knows what kind of conversations it will start between staff and patrons?

Sometimes, our patrons want to ask us for help picking out their next great read, but they think they need to have a specific title in mind in order to approach us. Let's anticipate that and instead give them as many reasons as possible to talk to us.  Once we provide the conversation starter, the RA transactions will flow. And if the conversation starter changes every week, they have a reason to come back.  Even better, if we use resources like the NYT Book Review (for which we are paying for a subscription already), we are making less work for ourselves and being more efficient with the patron's tax dollars.  Everybody wins!

Tomorrow, I will share with you one of the easiest and most effective conversation starter tricks that we employ to great success at the BPL RA desk.

Monday, July 7, 2014

50 Books for 50 States: A List, a Staff Training Exercise, A Patron Tool, and Some Fun All Rolled Into One Post

I know just yesterday I said that I would not have a Monday Discussion today.  And I still will not, but I can’t help myself from posting this list, "Celebrating Read, White and Blue: 50 Favorite Books for 50 States” from the Barnes and Noble blog originally posted on the 4th, a list which is sure to cause discussion.

The list has the blogger’s choice of a book for each state.  What I love about the list is that it combines classics, old and new.  The books listed for my two favorite states NJ and IL perfectly illustrate that.  IL Has Native Son listed, while NJ has The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  An old established classic juxtaposed with a modern one. Nicely done.

Of course, I quibble with a few of the choices.  For example, while When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka was a fantastic book [I read it before the blog began], I don’t really associate it with Utah.  Yes it is technically set there, but it is much more about the no man’s land that is the Japanese internment camp.  For me, the first book that comes to mind if someone says Utah is The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall; one of my all time favorites.

See I am starting a discussion on Monday even after I said I wouldn’t.  I just can’t help myself.

So check out the list for yourself.  Then just for fun, change it up.  Make your list of 50 books for 50 states.  Maybe some would stay the same, but I know for at least a few everyone will have something different.  Circulate it among your staff.  Ask them to fill in their favorites where they differ. It will be a great training exercise.  Don’t use reference tools though.  Simply ask people to contribute to the list with books that they think of immediately when the state is mentioned.  Mix it up with fiction and nonfiction if you want. Together you can create a huge library-wide list of multiple options for each state.

Then make it all available to patrons, in print or online.  Why?  Well, first it makes a great book related conversation starter, both between you and a patron to break the ice, but also, for a patron to take home and use at a summer bbq with friends and family.

Second, this mega-list is a great RA tool to use for a patron looking for an interesting summer reading project or for suggesting a book to go with their vacation destination. For example, The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, as suggested in the original list, would be an amazing read for anyone going to Colorado this summer, but so would Plainsong by Kent Huruf or The Shining by Stephen King (depending on the reader). If you created the mega-list I suggest above, you end up with 3 awesome choices for a patron looking for a CO set book.

And third, this is all a fun exercise to shake you out of the summer blahs.  I don’t know about your library, but we are VERY busy in the summer.  Many patrons are trying to squeeze a year of reading into the summer. Our door counts are up.  The Summer Reading Program is entering its busiest time. And, staff are out on staggered vacations so we are all doing our jobs plus the work of someone who is enjoying a well earned vacation. Busy is an understatement.

When you are feeling too busy, it is often easy to lose sight of how great we have it-- working in a library, helping people find their next great read, and making people happy. A quick, easy exercise like this can reinvigorate you, remind you why you do it all in the first place, and sharpen your skills. What a treat!

Following my suggestions in this post, will make for a fun (yet still skill building) diversion. And after a nice relaxing long weekend followed by what will probably be a super crazy Monday (which is why I wrote this post on Sunday and set it to post automatically on Monday), we are all going to need a break.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Scheduling Note: No Monday Discussions in July

The Monday Discussion will be on hiatus for July.  There will still be posts on Mondays but due to a variety of factors, I will not have the time to moderate these weekly discussions this month. Plus, this gives me a small break.

Look for many reviews coming this month also.  I will have posts besides reviews, but plan to spend a lot of time writing and pre-loading reviews to run throughout the month in order to give me a mini blogging vacation.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Readers Advisory, Leadership, and My Place In It All

Right after ALA Annual every year there is always a big buzz in the library community.  Yes, a huge number of librarians return to their work energized, sharing ideas, and making plans for future programs and services.  But, there is also the business side to the annual meeting and that too can make some waves that ripple out to all librarians whether they went to the conference or not.

ALA is a huge organization that is supposed to represent every single librarian.  Because it cannot possibly do that as one entity, there are also many smaller associations, roundtables and committees to handle specific service populations and library types.  This makes sense.  Yes it is more bureaucracy, but it is needed to get meaningful work done.

Well, I was not at ALA Annual, but something happened in some of the business meetings which I have strong feelings about.  In fact, it has further solidified the strict rules I have placed upon myself as a RA expert to whom many people look to for advice, guidance and training; rules I have slowly been bending in the last two year, but I now know will not budge again for a long time. Rules that mean I will remain only minimally involved with these groups for the near future.

For today’s post I am going to talk about this issue, the strict standards I hold for myself [which can sometimes be to the detriment of my “career advancement,” but are vital to my sanity], and hopefully, start a larger conversation here and in other social media outlets about what is most important about providing RA service.

Let’s begin with Kelly Jensen, a YA librarian who has just recently left a public library job to concentrate on her virtual RA work and free lance writing at her blog Stacked, for Book Riot, and with her new book It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader. Today on her blog Kelly had a post entitled, “Reader Advocacy, Speaking Up, and Ducking Out: On Quitting The Printz,where she talks about the new rule YALSA voted on which essentially is a gag order to anyone on any of their awards committees.  From her post:

The new policy is indeed a gag order. There's to be no electronic communication about eligible titles -- any YA titles published in 2015 -- at all outside of communication within the committee's work process.
No booklists. No reader's advisory. No talk of book covers.
For some YA librarians, that would mean they cannot do the job they are paid to do, where their job may involve updating social media or other electronic resources that have their name attached -- and this happens regularly as part of many library's desire to be seen as more personable -- with information about books for the sake of their teens. They'd have to go to their boss and say they can't do the job they were hired for for the sake of the award and the secrecy surrounding it.
In my case, that would mean not talking about any 2015 titles at all here on STACKED, no talking about 2015 titles at Book Riot, and no talking about any 2015 titles on Twitter or Tumblr or any other social network. The only time it would be okay to talk about any 2015 YA titles would be in person.
As Roger noted in the comments section of his post linked above, if someone on the committee were approached about writing an article about YA books, they wouldn't be allowed to. If a person on the committee were approached about offering some recent reads that would appeal to a type of reader via their blog or Twitter, they couldn't answer unless it was in person.
"Have someone else do it" sounds great in theory, but it's not always a possibility for many, for any number of reasons. Some librarians have gained their experience through electronic means and many work in rural or small libraries where they are the sole person doing the work of reader's advisory. Where they ARE the expert and expected as part of their job to talk and write about books. Or, they're in places like I am where my professional experience and knowledge has put me in the great position of being able to talk about books and reading online as a job.
When I was elected onto Printz, I spent a long time wondering whether I'd still be able to do my job at Book Riot and not have a massive conflict of interest. If I wasn't reviewing and I weren't promoting my work in conjunction with my position on Printz, it didn't seem like a problem.
But this new policy is an overstep that asks committee members to put their jobs involving talking and/or writing about books and their knowledge about books on hold for a year in exchange for choosing a handful of books to be regarded as "the best." Of course being on Printz or on another award committee is not a right anyone is entitled to; it's a privilege. But it's a privilege that privileges those with the ability to put aside their passion, their enthusiasm, their opportunities, and in some cases, their jobs in order to maintain a shroud of secrecy.
Because of this, I made the decision to quit the Printz committee to which I was elected for next year.
It's more important to me to advocate for readers and the books out there for them than it is for me to spend a year not talking. To spend a year in silence because I don't have an in-person community with which I can talk about books or reading. That, as long-time readers may recall, is why STACKED began in the first place and why it continues to be the blog that it is. It's why I took the job at Book Riot, too: more opportunity to talk about and be passionate for readers and books.
Please read her entire post because it goes into much more detail.  But, I do want to applaud Kelly for standing by her convictions and realizing that being an advocate for books (in her case specifically YA books) is WAY MORE IMPORTANT than being picked to be on a prestigious committee. As much as it feels good to be honored by your peers and to be chosen and/or elected to any of these committees, it is not worth the perceived career advancement to be forced to give up doing the best job you can for it.

What is equally as frustrating about this situation is that Kelly is probably one of the best people to be involved with picking the Printz winner.  She is knowledgeable so would pick a deserving book, but more importantly, she has enthusiasm for spreading a love of YA books and a platform on which to spread the word.  This is a very short sighted decision by YALSA.  It hurts their award and their mission to spread a love of reading.

Now on to why this struck such a cord with me personally.  Yes, it is time for a Becky rant...

 I have talked before about why I blog, but the short version is I blog to help any RA librarian who will ever help a reader find anything to read.  I love being a match maker between people and books they will love so much that I literally can’t stop myself from doing it ALL OF THE TIME.  The blog began as a way for me to keep track of everything I was doing as an RA librarian but it quickly caught on and became useful to others.

Along the way I have been approached MANY times to be on committees or officially write for other resources.  Unlike Kelly, who has made the decision to stop working in a library and focus on being a virtual readers’ advisory, I have made the opposite decision.  I have committed (for 14 years this month) to helping the adult readers of Berwyn.  They are my first concern, especially the older men and women for whom I have become a fixture in their lives.

Every day at the desk I encounter people who I have helped for years as well as some I have never met  Each interaction is an example of why I love my job.  I seek patrons out and offer help before they ask. I want to send everyone home with something they will find wonderful.  And my book club, well, I truly love my book club ladies.  I am so proud of how much they have grown as readers.  I too learn from them every time we meet.  These are things I will not and cannot give up no matter how hectic my life gets.

My second concern is turning out more librarians like myself. I spend a lot of time working with library workers, building their skills, encouraging them to strive for better service.  I want to inspire others to fell the immense joy I get from putting the perfect book in someone’s hands.  I know I am good at my job, but instead of finding satisfaction in that alone, I instead have dedicated myself to making others better at theirs.  I work 1-on-1 with librarians who need some mentoring, I run genre studies, I provide workshops, etc... I do whatever I can to make us all better at RA, including posting daily on this blog.

I write the blog first and foremost for these two reasons: the patrons and other RA library workers.  Since I have made this the mission of my blog, it has meant I have also had to make hard choices about who I will align myself with.  I have many affiliations, but each new agreement I enter into involves me taking a long hard look at my mission and principles before I say yes. I will not do anything that compromises these two main goals.

For example, here are some of the things I AM involved with and why:

  • I have written 2 books for ALA Editions’s RA series. Why? I do it to promote horror.  Librarians as a group aren’t big fans, but readers are.  Someone needs to train the professionals to help the readers.  It is a niche I love to fill. ALA Editions also requires very little of me in terms of restrictions, in fact, quite the opposite, they love that I promote the book and do the horror blog.  They are noting but supportive, offering me help and coupons whenever I have asked.
  • I write for Neal Wyatt’s Reader’s Shelf column in Library Journal, but ONLY 2x a year and ONLY on horror.  Again, like the first bullet point, I do this because horror needs an advocate in the library community, and I have embraced the job.  However, I will not write on any other topic for LJ other than horror. And, I will not write for anyone other than Neal who is a colleague and my book’s editor.
  • I am a member of the ARRT Steering Committee because their mission, “Developing reader advisory skills and promoting reading for pleasure in the Chicago metropolitan area,” is perfectly aligned with my mission. ARRT is also not-for-profit.  I have been paid a few times to present for ARRT, but at a reduced rate and only because I believe so strongly in what we are trying to do.
  • With reservations about conflicts, I did agree to serve on my state library association’s conference committee this year. But I only did this because I was asked by someone I deeply respect and I could serve double duty as an RA expert AND a trustee.  Although I am enjoying this committee, I do not think I will get more involved with the state association due to my conflict issues.
  • I write for NoveList. This one seems like it could cause the biggest conflicts, but it never has.  My library subscribes to NoveList.  I write for them because I know I can help my patrons and librarians all over the country with my articles and readalike information.  Yes, they pay me, but I have complete control over what I write.  I choose the topics, I pick from their lists of what information they need and only write the things that I feel I can do well based on my experience and preferences.  For example, if I don’t write the author description for Joe Hill, who will?  I am the most qualified librarian to do this.  I sometimes feel like it my duty to write for NoveList to make sure the correct information is out there to help match readers wight he best book for them.  
  • Finally, I did agree to be a judge for the Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Award this year.  As you can see from the many posts I have written about the award, this was a unique circumstance.  We were judging unpublished books and doing it to promote the power of librarians, so I was okay with it.  But even in this lower profile award, conflicts came up that made me uncomfortable.  I am still in the process of helping a book that did not make the finals, but is head and shoulders above all 3 finalists [in my opinion] get published. Maybe someday, I will be able to blog about it all. But this experience did show me that I should not say yes to any other awards committee in the future. So lesson learned: judging unpublished books is fine, published ones, probably not a right fit for me.

Conversely, here are things I do not do, and in many cases, have turned down actual offers:

  • I do not accept non-horror ARCs for review by publishers.  I read what I want, when I want, and almost always check them out from the library with my library card.
  • I do not participate in Library Reads for similar reasons; however, I actively applaud the work of the librarians who do, actively promote their monthly lists, and totally use the lists to help patrons.
  • I have a GoodReads login, but do not keep my reading there.  I use Shelfari instead.  While both are owned by Amazon, Shelfari is less popular so people ignore it.  This serves my purposes well.  On GoodReads I am often hounded to review for people.  On Shelfari, I am left alone to use it as a way to keep track of my reading.  That’s all I want it for.
  • I have not gotten involved with RUSA CODES and all the great work they do for the field of RA.  I am a paying member of RUSA, but you will not ever see me seeking a place on the CODES committee for many of the reasons described in this post.
  • I have turned down multiple requests to write for other library publications. I am flattered by the offers but not only do I not have time to write for more, I am already a little uncomfortable the number of the affiliations I have already.
  • I do not sell advertising on this blog. I do run for free, and as a service to my readers, the Shelf Awareness monthly giveaway, but I have never accepted any of the free books they have offered to me. You can be sure that if I am promoting a site, or a book, or a resource on this blog it is because I thought it was worth your time. No one ever paid me with goods, dollars or services for anything here, EVER.
I have gone out of my way to stay as independent as possible.  It can be a lonely road at times, and I won’t kid you, it can be hard work, and I have almost given it all up a few times over the last 2 years,  but I believe in the patrons and the training of my fellow librarians more than anything else, and these strict, self imposed rules ensure that my convictions are not compromised.

At times, I think others get the impression that I go it alone because I perceive myself as better than everyone else, but this could not be further from the truth.  I love being part of a larger community of RA librarians and I work hard to stay abreast of everything that is going on. I love learning new ideas from others.  I have no hard feelings for those who make different choices than me.  For many it is simply more lucrative to have these partnerships. I am lucky that money does not have to guide my choices.

Along the way this has probably hurt my career, as I have not been as high profile as people like Kelly or even my good friends Joyce Saricks and Rebecca Vnuk, but it has also made me some great friends and allies.  It has made me a better RA librarian. And most importantly, it has made me a happier person.  I don’t want to be Nancy Pearl, I want to be me, Becky who loves matching books and readers and will not rest until every library worker out there can help readers with as much skill and enthusiasm as I can.

And those of you who know me or have met me know that this is a tall order, so I will be at it for quite awhile longer.

Thanks for reading my rant and have a great holiday weekend!