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.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday Discussion: Mystery vs Thriller Suspense

The Monday Discussion is late today because I have been preparing for this week's big ARRT Crime Fiction Genre study meeting during which we will take the HUGE leap from Mystery to the other crime genres.

As you can see from the assignment, we are beginning with a few different Thriller subgenres.  But during the beginning of the meeting, I am charged with the task of making this group of seasoned librarians care about the small [but as I will argue key] differences in how mystery and thriller/suspense appeal to readers.

Now being a part of what promises to be a lively discussion is a membership benefit of joining ARRT, but I would like to include as many opinions as possible in our conversation.

So for today's Monday Discussion, I want to ask all of you, what do you see as the key appeal differences when it comes to readers between books we call "mystery" and those that we call "thriller" or "suspense?"

I usually go first on these discussions, but I have said much on this topic over the years on this blog; in fact, here is one short post on that topic from 2 years ago.  But I already know what I think.  As the facilitator of this discussion, I want to know what others think-- even if your answer is you don't think the distinction is worth making.

I want to make sure our discussion on Thursday includes as wide a range of thoughts and opinions as possible. The more points of view the better; especially if they are diametrically opposed points of view.

Now, to be fair, I will add one new thing before I open the floor.  Last week, on Fiction-L [the RA listerv] there was this post by Stacy Alesi on the 16 differences between mystery and thrillers/suspense. I don't think I agree with every single point she makes, but the essence of what she is getting at is good.  And, it is a great way for me to solicit feedback from all of you.

So, for today's Monday Discussion, tell me what you see as the differences between mystery and thrillers/suspense.

For past Monday Discussions, click here

Friday, September 26, 2014

BPL Book Discussion: A Land More Kind Than Home

Way back on 9/15, our group met to discuss A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash.

I read, loved, and wrote about this novel back in 2012, so you can click through for a preview.

But to keep this post standard with the other book discussion reports, here is the publisher's summary:
For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when you get caught spying on grown-ups.  
Adventurous and precocious, Jess is protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can't help sneaking a look at something he's not supposed to—an act that will have repercussions. It's a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he's not prepared. He now knows that a new understanding can bring not only danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance.  
Told by resonant and evocative characters, A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all.
Since I'm already late here, let's get right into the discussion:
  • You know how it all begins…we had liked 10, disliked 0, so-so 1
  • Comments for the so-so person:
    • I didn’t like the essence of the story. I was waiting for justice to be served, but that was not the point. I had to get over that.
  • The liked that people couldn’t stop with the comments, which was great for me because these initial comments helped me to guide the rest of the discussion. Here are some of those first thoughts:
    • The first page got me and I couldn’t stop reading.
    • That pastor was evil personified; it was great!
    • I loved the 3 points of view to tell the story.
    • I loved the writing and language specifically
    • I loved the characters
    • Stump and Jess’ relationship was so real.
  • Question— Why did the author choose to tell the story with 3 points of view and why those 3 povs?
    • We needed Jess.  This is a very adult story; the adults drive the action; the history between Clem and Jimmy is complicated; the true story here goes back a long time; a kid pov is needed.  Like us, Jess is looking in on the story with a pov that is innocent and naive.  We need Jess to be us, the reader.
    • We needed Clem because he is “The Law” and Addie is the common sense and historical perspective.  She is also the only one who is not intimately involved in the deaths here.
    • I usually hate when the pov switches a lot, but Cash made it clear.  He marks when a new speaker takes over and gives them a few chapters so we get in their groove.
    • I saw it like a triangle with Jess as the point at the top. He is the most precarious.  Clem and Addie’s points make the base. [ed note: nicely done]
    • I also saw the 3 narrators as representing the 3 different generations present in the story: Addie is the long view, Clem is 25 years in town, and Jess is 9.
  • Question— Although we were happy with who got to tell this novel, whose point of view did you not get, but desperately wanted?
    • Julie! What motivated her? Someone else yelled, “Explain yourself mom!”  Many people expressed that although their first instinct is to want Julie to have a chance to tell us why she made the choices she did, the story is better because we don’t know.
    • Jimmy. He seems like a better man than the abusive, drunk father he was to Ben. We only heard from Clem about how Jimmy was in the past, but never saw it. It would have been nice to hear from him about his transformation; or did he not have a transformation.
    • When we were petering out I mentioned to the group that I was surprised that no one said they wanted to hear from Pastor Chambliss.  Someone put it nicely by saying that he was another example of how charlatans can pull people in, but I did not want to know more about him than that.  Ick.
  • Question: Why did Cash choose to tell this story in such an out of order fashion with 3 narrators?
    • I love that the way he tells the story underlies the fact that no one can ever understand the “true story” of anything.
    • No one person can tell a complicated story
    • Interestingly, the action in this story’s present only takes place over the space of a week, but the novel and the way it is told brings us back decades and let’s us get to the root of the problems fueling the action.
    • I usually hate back and forth stories, yet here I didn’t notice, or I noticed but didn’t mind.  It was all so fluid and necessary for the way he wrote the novel.
    • It is obvious he comes from a family of storytellers (said by someone who had the paperback with an interview with Cash). His easy way with crafting a story comes through here.
  • Question: The title comes from an epigraph at the start of the novel. So let’s talk title and epigraph.
    • I got chills when I went back and re-read the epigraph after finishing the novel.  Many times the epigraphs never make sense to me, either before or after I read the book.  Not this one. It was perfect.
    • The epigram is about a person not wanting to come back home. Coming home is fraught with problems for all of the characters here.
    • The title- A Land More Kind Than Home— the place they are, Marshall, NC is not a kind place. It is, and seems to always have been, a tough place. They will go somewhere better when they die. Talk of heaven being better comes up a few times.
    • On a literal level, their lives were hard.  Addie’s personal biography broke our hearts. The environment is hard too.
    • There were many descriptions of the land and the topography that together paint a picture of a rough place to live.
    • The title spoke to me of hope. Even though life is tough, if you believe there is hope. If you have faith, there is hope.
    • Even the ending is like this.  It is a tough ending, people die, but their is a sense of hope that the remaining characters will move forward.  Even the church is going back to being a positive place, no longer a secretive church.
  • Question: What is Jess had told the truth about it being him— not Stump— who they heard speak at the church meeting earlier? What if he shared the information about his mother and the pastor too?
    • We cannot underestimate the lure of Chambliss. It was not the entire town who he held under his spell, and behind the newspaper covered windows of the church, but there were many who needed to fill an emptiness inside of them.
    • Telling the truth would not have changed Julie. She was too far under the spell.
    • Besides, who would he tell? He had no one who would have listened to him.
  • We talked about the ending at length and although I am trying hard not to give too many spoilers, there were some excellent points brought up by the group, points that are worth sharing.
    • We talked about specific lines and situations throughout the novel that foreshadowed the final showdown between Chambliss, Julie, Ben and Clem.
    • When Clem stopped “knowing Ben” that’s when everything changed. When he turned the gun on Jess, all bets were off.
    • So much foreshadowing, like Clem talking about the previous Sheriff retiring after 25 years and Clem being at year 25 himself.
    • The foreshadowing built to the climactic scene well when you analyze it— it was all building for decades, but as I was reading it, the ending felt rushed.
    • I agree, but then I thought about how it was 20 years of issues that came to a head quickly, so really not as fast as you think at first.  I liked that Cash allowed me to see the slow build over the years without sacrificing the story. It still moved quickly even though it was complicated.
  • Question: Why did Addie Shelter Julie?
    • That wasn’t a good choice.  Julie was the bad one here.
    • Clem pointed out that he knew what it was like to watch a mother grieve, but Addie did not.  
    • I think it was important that Addie was not a mother herself. A mother might not have been as understanding to Julie, who allowed Chambliss to kill her child.
  • Question: How does A Land More Kind Than Home compare to a Shakespearean tragedy?
    • This book had a story and ending much like Romeo and Juliet, although instead of 2 families star crossed lovers, they each lost a son.
    • What I love about this novel is that we think Stump’s death is the tragedy but it is not. It is only the incident that brings 20 years of issues to a head.
    • The entire novel had a biblical feel. All of it was a cautionary tale.
    • It also ends with healing and salvation— of the people, of their church. They literally let the light in.
  • Question: How will Jess and Jimmy get on after the novel ends?
    • Addie seems to think that they will be fine.
      • But, someone said, she also watched someone die at the hands of Chambliss and said nothing for 20 years, so does Cash want us to think they will really be fine? Hmm. That is an interesting question.
    • Most of us thought Jimmy changed, but we were not sure.
    • One of the themes of the book is redemption, so...
    • I think it will be a hard road for Jimmy and Jess, but with the help of the community, Addie and Clem, they will thrive.
    • I don’t know. I am worried that Jess will always resent Clem. Also, is Cash saying Jess will repeat the sins of his father and grandfather.
  • Final words or phrases to describe this book?
    • revenge
    • faith
    • hope
    • betrayal
    • good vs evil
    • light vs dark
    • forgiveness
    • understanding
    • healing
    • charlatan/charisma
    • blind faith
    • poignant
    • beautifully written
    • atmospheric
    • lyrical
    • multiple point of views
    • nonlinear story telling
Readalikes:  First, here are excerpts from my original suggestions from 2012:
Wiley Cash's novel is everything people always claim  John Hart is.  Hart doesn't do it for me as you can see here, but many people do enjoy Hart's North Carolina set suspense novels, so I think he is a good suggestions option for some readers. 
But the author Cash most reminds me of is the great Joyce Carol Oates.  Of course, Cash has 1 novel and Oates is one of our greatest living American writers, but I see a lot of Oates in Cash.  A good similar read here would be The Falls. 
The Cove by Ron Rash which also came out this spring, is a suspense story which hinges on its North Carolina setting and is probably as close to perfect a match as you could get here.  At the same May 29, 2012 Book Lover's Club, Marilyn had this to say about The Cove:
"I was immediately caught by the cover - a stream with wooded hills on both sides and the back of a woman with long hair wading in the water.  There is a brief introduction by the author which says that during WWI Germans in America were taken to internment camps. It is set in the backwoods of North Carolina.  It starts in the 1930s with a man who is doing a land survey.  He is from out of town and not feeling very welcome.  He finds an abandoned well and pulls out a skull.  Flash back to 1918 where a young sister and brother are trying to run their farm after their parents die.  The sister helps a man who has been stung by wasps and she finds a note in his pocket that says I am a mute and trying to get to New York and that is all I will say…" 
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier shares the southern setting, lyrical language, and vivid characterizations with A Land More Kind Than Home. They also share a shifting point of view and a storyline in which characters must come terms with the difficulty of their life situation. 

A suggestion that is a little more off the beaten path would be Alden Bell's The Reapers Are the Angels. Like Cash's novel, Bell's is also a psychological suspense story merged with a Southern Gothic feel, only in Bell's novel, the characters inhabit a world where they has been a zombie apocalypse.  Take out the zombies though, and they are remarkably similar stories.

And for a cross format watch alike, the entire time I was reading A Land More Kind Than Home, it kept reminding me of the HBO series Carnivale from the early 2000s.  Both have weird preachers and an atmospheric, odd, bleak, yet beautiful story driven by psychological suspense, setting, and characters.  Go seek out the DVDs for the series if you liked this novel. 
Other suggestions from this discussion and second reading:
  • Someone in the group mention that the novel was Faulkner-esque.  This is a very good comparison.
  • Someone else mention it reminded her of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. In this case it was the child narration about a crime, a small town, and the issues than run deeper than the specific crime at hand that seemed similar to her.
  • Shakespearean tragedy was discussed above and specifically Romeo and Juliet with the 2 families and their dead children.
  • I love that the ladies are getting so good at these RA suggestions.  Another person mentioned that this book reminded her of her favorite author, who also happens to set his novels in North Carolina, Pat Conroy and specifically Beach Music.  Also a great suggestion.
  • Finally, NoveList had this outside of the box suggestion-- Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer, "In this novel, we meet Sunny (congenitally bald), her mother (terminally ill), her husband Maxon (a socially inept genius engineer), and their son (diagnosed with autism). The story moves back and forth between Sunny and Maxon’s childhood in rural western Pennsylvania and their present in an affluent suburb of eastern Virginia. Like Cash’s novel, Shine Shine Shine shows us the costs of forcing people to fit into conventional notions of normality."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Getting Ready For 31 Days of Horror: Nonfiction for Horror Readers

I have been spending the entire day prepping the horror blog for the 31 Days of Horror onslaught that will begin on October 1. 

And then, into my email box came a very timely surprise-- the October issue of NoveList's RA News with this article by Audrey Barbakoff entitled "Nonfiction for Horror Readers." And, she quotes me, so I think it is worth your time.

Click through or see below for a teaser.

And make sure to check out RA for All: Horror daily starting 10/1. [And yes that means I have to run 2 blogs a day. Sorry in advance if I get crabby on this blog around October 15]


Nonfiction for Horror Readers
by Audrey Barbakoff
*This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of RA News.*
The room is dark. Something creaks behind you. Was it just the house settling, or were those footsteps? And what just moved in the corner of your eye?

Readers who delight in a racing heart and a chill up their spine do not have to be limited to haunting the horror section. Give them a Halloween treat by bringing them to the nonfiction shelves, where truth can be more frightening than fiction.

Terrifying true tales have much to offer the fear aficionado. First and foremost, horror readers are seeking an emotional experience. "The central appeal of horror is the feeling it generates," writes Becky Siegel Spratford in The Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror, Second Edition. "There is no question that the tone and mood of a horror book are the most important appeal factors for horror readers." Real-world stories set against a similarly dark and sinister atmosphere have the power to engage these readers as strongly as fiction.

Horror is also unique from other highly atmospheric fiction in the way it goes about generating that emotion. Readers' Advisory expert Joyce Saricks agrees that horror "demand[s] an emotional reaction from readers: true fear," but then specifies that such fear must be "generated by the unknown." In horror novels, evil is terrifying because it is fundamentally irrational. It cannot be explained away, and it just might be sneaking up behind you as you so innocently turn the page.

Many works of nonfiction also confront the terrifying unknown. Some books delve into the ultimately unfathomable minds of killers, sociopaths, and criminals. (Many books of this type are also true crime. For an introduction to that topic, read Lock Your Doors, Don't Talk to Strangers, and Other True Crime Advice by Mike Nilsson.) Others put their readers face-to-face with an amoral universe which inflicts disaster on the innocent. Often they tackle historical events both eerie and unexplained.

These darkly atmospheric true-life tales of the unknown will keep a horror reader company upon a midnight dreary. 

You will have to click here for the full suggested list.  If you dare....

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New RUSA CODES RA Conversation

From my email box to your computer screen....
A new CODES Conversation begins October 14th  and will run through the 15th. If you wish to take part in the discussion you do not need to take any further action as you are already subscribed. 

RA as a Technical Service
RA does not just happen in the stacks and at the public service desk. It happens in the catalog, in collection development, and in materials processing. Join a community of over 500 librarians interested in all things RA as we discuss how to make sure that the RA service that happens behind the scenes of public service gets the attention and focus necessary to make all of RA as robust and useful as possible.
Some of the topics we will address include:

How best to calculate, and what factors to consider in setting, holds ratios?

Genre Headings: How (if at all) do catalogers/patrons/advisors agree to what constitutes a genre? How many headings do we want/need in an age of genre blends?

What features of the catalog support and enrich RA?

How can the collection development staff help the public services staff keep up with new titles and genres?

What use are stickers on books? How do they work with genre blends?

Should we interfile or have divided collections?

How do we ensure the best access to paperbacks? And speaking of paperbacks has the format flipped to some degree to ebooks?

CODES Conversations are focused electronic conversations on current issues facing collection development and readers’ advisory librarians—or anyone interested in those areas. The free, moderated discussions are open to all – just subscribe to the discussion at http://lists.ala.org/sympa/subscribe/codes-convos, then follow and contribute (or lurk!) as you wish.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Art of Booktalking-- Presentation Documents

Later this morning, I will be presenting The Art of Booktalking at RAILS in Burr Ridge, IL.  All of the details are here.  I believe they are not only live streaming it, but also recording it, so you could still see it after today.

We have three speakers and  an informal, “salon” atmosphere, so there is not a formal presentation.  I did however, prepared a short list of resources I will be referring to.  I also have a slide show of the book covers of the 6 books in my short example book talk.  So whether you were there today or watched a recording, please consider the part of the post under the divide, your official handout.


The Art of Booktalking
September 23, 2014

Becky Spratford-- Contact Info
RA for All:  raforall.blogspot.com
Twitter: @RAforAll

Staff short book talking examples on The Browsers Corner

List of books in my example booktalk:
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
The Troop by Nick Cutter
Amity by Micol Ostow
The Quick by Lauren Owen
The New Black by Richard Thomas
The Rats by James Herbert

Works Cited:

Cyr, Ann-Marie and Kellie M. Gillespie.  Something to Talk About: Creative Booktalking for Adults.  (Scarecrow Press, 2006)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday Discussion: Which Banned Book Are You?

This is the annual Banned Books Week installment of the Monday Discussion.  In past years, I have asked people to share their favorite banned books.  But this year, it’s time to do something different. 

But before we get to the discussion, I wanted to publicly praise the BPL’s Banned Books Week Committee,  This year, they organized a “Get Caught Reading” interactive and multi-media experience to go along with our traditional displays of banned and challenged items.

Scroll down to see some of the BPL staffers’ mug shots as they are caught reading banned books!  Over the course of the week, more staff and patrons will be encouraged to pose with a book.  We will be uploading them to our Flickr for all to see us proudly Celebrating Our Freedom to Read! 

After the photos, it will be your turn to get involved...
Me-- RA and Teen
Diane-- Periodicals 
Bobbie-- Processing
Angelica-- Youth Services

Mary-- Reference
Marissa-- Youth Services
Kristen-- Reference
Kathy-- RA and Teen 
Kathi-- Youth Services
John--RA and Teen
We are quite the subversive bunch.

But what about the discussion? As promised I have something different in store for you this year.  In a nod to the popularity of online quizzes, the Columbus State Library created a quiz which asks, Which Banned Book are You?

So, for today’s Monday Discussion, take the quiz and leave your answer in the comments.

I got Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Flashback Friday: BPL Book Discussion: Italian Shoes

We did have our book discussion this week, but the report on that books is delayed due to me having too many other irons in the fire.

However, I do have a book discussion related treat for this beautiful [at least here in Chicago] Friday-- a flashback to one of the best under the radar books we ever discussed in my group-- Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell.

Here it is.  Have a great weekend.



BPL Book Discussion: Italian Shoes

Italian Shoes (Vintage)This week, our regular group met to discuss Henning Mankell's  contemplative and brooding novel, Italian Shoes.  This is not a Kurt Wallander mystery, rather, it is a character study of a man who has removed himself from the world, but during one year, he is jolted into confronting his mistakes and begins to live again.

In order to start us all out on the same foot, here is the publisher's description of the plot:
From the bestselling author of the Kurt Wallander series comes a touching and intimate story about an embattled man’s unexpected chance at redemption. Many years ago a devastating mistake drove Fredrik Welkin into a life as far as possible from his former position as a surgeon, where he mistakenly amputated the wrong arm of one of his patients. Now he lives in a frozen landscape. Each morning he dips his body into the freezing lake surrounding his home to remind himself he’s alive. However, Welkins’s icy existence begins to thaw when he receives a visit from a guest who helps him embark on a journey to acceptance and understanding. Full of the graceful prose and deft characterization that have been the hallmarks of Mankell’s prose, Italian Shoes shows a modern master at the height of his powers, effortlessly delivering a remarkable novel about the most rewarding theme of all: hope.
Before I talk about the details of our discussion, I want to say that this one of the deepest and most comprehensive discussion we ever had.  This is a difficult book.  It is dark and Fredrik is infuriating, but he grows and changes in a satisfying way, albeit very slowly.  As a group, we decided this would be a difficult book to suggest to a wide audience as a simple leisure read; however, we did agree that any serious book discussion group would benefit greatly by reading and discussing this surprisingly intricate novel.

Now the discussion:
  • We began the usual way, with our vote on who liked, disliked, and was so-so on the book: liked (5), disliked (2), and so-so (6).  Normally so many so-sos would be bad for discussion, but in this case it was perfect.  Why?  These so-so people felt VERY strongly about the book.  These were readers who were frustrated with the darkness and Fredrik's inaction, by the end, they were happy enough in his evolution, that they could not honestly say they disliked the book.  They were in a love-hate relationship with this book and with Fredrik.  Many of these so-so participants also said that they would not have finished the book if it were not for the discussion.  Ultimately, they were happy they finished it.
  • "Liked" initial comments:  One participant liked how it was written; it's technique; the language; the division into 4 "movements;" the frame of happening within the span of 1 full year.  Another person shared that she felt it was a beautiful interpretation of Swedish culture and the Swedish man.  Yet another shared how while the plot was thin and bumpy at times, she loved the lovely sentences that were slipped in throughout.  She also liked the setting the characters and their interactions, and the use of the seasons.  Many liked how Sweden itself was a character, and how much they learned about the country and its different areas.
  • "Disliked" initial comments:  It was about as un-American and un-Female as you could get, so this participant could not relate.  Some cited the intense deprivation and despair as a bit much.  The tone was oppressive.  These people agreed that Fredrik became more humane by the end, but these readers thought it was too little, too  late.
  • This led us to start discussing Fredrik in earnest.  One lady began by saying, "Fredrik amputated himself from the world when he amputated the wrong arm."  This sums up his life at the novel's beginning.  The book is the story of how this man who always dealt with the problems in his life by running away, was forced to confront his own mistakes and begin living again.  We liked how the women in his life are the catalyst to this change.  When Harriet shows up on the ice, after almost 40 years, Fredrick can no longer ignore the world.
  • On a side note, the group was so wrapped up in Fredrik and his choices that I had to remind them more than once that he was a fictional creation.  That is the sign of a great fictional character, by the way.  If the reader loses track of the fact that he or she is not real, the author has done a very good job.
  • The title, Italian Shoes, was discussed.  The title is an odd choice, but we came up with two related but different reasons as to what it "means." First, there is the literal presence of Italian shoes in the book.  Harriet worked for an Italian shoe maker and Louise (Fredrik's daughter) takes Fredrik to the famous Italian shoe maker who lives in the Swedish woods upon their first meeting.  When Fredrik receives the handmade shoes close to a year later, putting them on is the signal that his evolution has come full circle.  He has begun to completely change his life, and by wearing the shoes, he confirms that it will stick.  The shoes are the complete opposite of his former stark and emotionless life.  They are sensual, extravagant, warm, and from the grown daughter he never knew existed.  We also felt that the title is setting up the Italian and Swedish people as polar opposites.  Fredrik talks about his visit to Rome as a young man when he was brutally mugged.  Louise is obsessed with the Italian painterCaravaggioFredrik's experiences in Italy himself, are the exact opposite of Fredrik and his life.
  • And then, we moved on to the best part of the discussion: the anthill!  Fredrik has an anthill growing in his living room.  Every single person had something to say about this literary device.  Here are the comments:
    • The anthill was the physical manifestation of Fredrik's emotional baggage. 
    • Ants are very busy and productive, while Fredrik was not. 
    • Fredrik could not bear to remove the anthill since it was the only living and vibrant thing in his life.  He had pets, but both were old and actively dying.
    • Watching the anthill grow is a symbol of Fredrik's inertia.
    • The anthill shows that life goes on.  Even if you try to ignore the world, you cannot stop it from continuing.
    • When Fredrik picks up the anthill and removes it at the end, it is a very power symbol of the fact that he had changed his life.
    • Harriet put a bottle with a note in the anthill because she knew that when he was ready to remove the anthill, he would also be ready to read the note.  She also knew this moment would be after she succumbed to the cancer that was killing her.
    • The anthill was an extremely effective metaphor.  No one likes having ants in their home.  It is a visceral image.  It got us talking.  We all thought it was a very clever inclusion.
  • We moved on to other characters.  People found Agnes, the woman who Frederik had amputated incorrectly, one of the most intriguing characters.  We only get the beginning of her story; in fact, one participant wished we got more of her point of view.  We liked how the book is about Fredrik, but it is the women who force him to confront himself.  We were also intrigued by how the women were all suffering on the inside, yet they could still function within the world.  They needed to teach him how to move on.
  • We talked about the 4 movements which make up this book and how they were loosely tied to the seasons.  Each was also a setting itself.  Here is some of what we said.  First was "Ice.  Here Harriet shows up on the ice to start the story, but also, ice signifies no feeling, no emotion.  Second was "Forest." This is when Fredrik meets Louise (in the Forest), but also the forest is life, it is green, full of life, and spring is coming so it is awakening (like Fredrik).  Third is "Sea." The sea is a symbol of journeys.  This is when the story has the most movement; both physical, literal, and emotional movement. And the fourth is called "Winter Solstice." This is the longest night of the year, but it is also the symbol of a new beginning because the next day the nights begin to shorten again.
  • Some final comments:
    • The book ends hopefully.  We are glad Fredrik did not die just as he was turning his life around.  It was uplifting to see a man who had created his own prison begin to break free.
    • All of the women in the book functioned with severe limitations: Harriet is dying and needs a walker, Agnes is without an arm, Louise has spent her entire life looking for her father.
    • For such a bleak book, we spent a lot of time during the discussion laughing.  I cannot figure out why; maybe it was to counteract the dark tone, but we were lively (as one library staff member put it).
    • Mankell is so talented, shared one participant.  His technique alone drew this reader in.
    • While the story was depressing at times, the words, the style, and the story were so consciously constructed some of us were wrapped up in how it was written and how Mankell was manipulating our emotions.
    • We agreed that this short book must have taken a long time for him to write.
Readalikes:  When Kathy's Night Owl's group discussed Italian Shoes, she suggested these readalikes.  Fiction:  The Sea by John Banville, Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson, and Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (a book I have always meant to read).  Nonfiction:  Rogue River Journal by John Daniel, On My Swedish Island by Jule Catterson Lindhal, and Lonely: A Memoir by Emily White.

Our group also felt that those who enjoyed the story line of Agnes, Sima, and the refugee girls, would also enjoy Little Bee, which we discussed here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

BPL RA Staff Training Today

Later this afternoon, the BPL RA Dream Team is having a staff meeting.  At last month’s meeting we mostly tackled Summer Reading Wrap Up and One Book, One City pre-planning, but this month our fearless leader Kathy and I have some training exercises and instruction planned.  Both of us are quite excited.

Kathy is going to begin with a refresher on writing annotations using what the 2 of us learned by attending ARRT’s RA Summer Camp with Neal Wyatt.  You can click here for my recap.  Our staff is very active in writing annotations for our popular Browsers’ Corner, but Kathy and I felt like we got new energy from Neal’s talk and we want to pass that energy on.

After Kathy’s annotation pep talk, I will be introducing a “new" passive RA service at the BPL.  What is passive RA?  It is a way to provide RA service without direct interaction between a staff member and a patron. [If you are confused, it will become very clear in a moment].

I also need to qualify what I meant by “new.”  Two years ago, Kathy and I attended a program at ALA entitled Leading Readers to Water...Guerrilla Marketing for RA. Click on the title for my recap report.  But for today’s purposes, Kathy and I saw something specific that we loved in this program. From my report:
  • Put customized RA stickers with contact info in the books!  I LOVE THIS You suggest a readalike in the book and when they finish they know where to go next.  Have contact info so they know you did it.
For two years now we have wanted to start a service like this, but we needed to figure out HOW we would have everyone work on it together and TRAIN the staff to go from providing readalikes verbally to a person standing in front of them to crafting ones in writing that our patrons could discover at the end of a book.

Step one was achieved this past summer as we got the staff used to using our shared Google Drive account to manage the summer reading program.  This was a Google Form and Reports simple system that they were required to log into in order to check on a reader’s progress in the program or to note the awarding of prizes. The result-- everyone can now login, choose the right documents, and collaborate within the department Drive.

I know we are not alone at BPL RA in that the tech skills of our staff are all across the spectrum. By creating a fairly low stakes, but mandatory, application of this new tool, we had a fairly easy training experience.

Step two is my job. I set up 2 completed and formatted “stickers” in our Google Drive.  I also created a document which explains the required elements such as the bold opening with author and title and our contact info [samples at the bottom of this post]. In the meeting today, I will talk to them about writing readalikes in this shortened format.  They will be using their shelf talker annotation skills that they have been building for a few years now as a stepping stone.

Step three is coming next.  We are going to ask staff to pick a book they have enjoyed that is not brand new and put it into the proper folder on the Google Drive with at least 1 readalike and WHY you think it is a good readalike option in the style and fashion which I demonstrate today.

We want to encourage conversation and collaboration, so we are not expecting any one person to HAVE to do an entire readalike sticker themselves.  Although, I have done 2 [posted below] as examples, and we will not discourage anyone who wants to do an entire sticker, we do want to see collaboration on these individual docs because we hope to move onto Step 4....

Step four may take awhile, but our ultimate goal is once fluency in collaborating on Google Drive is achieved, we want to introduce a Form Based RA service.  Many libraries provide these services and most are modeled off of Williamsburg Regional Library’s version, but basically what it involves is creating a form that patrons can fill out listing their personal reading preferences, and then we, as a staff, work together to suggest 5 books they may enjoy. After a week to 10 days of collaboration, we hope to provide a list of five books they should try next.

It is important to note here that while our staff is very good at talking with patrons and using resources and experience to suggest excellent readalike options at the desk, as a group, we need to work on collaborating to provide RA for people who are not physically in front of us.  Some of the obstacles are because of technology training [which I think Kathy and I are addressing above] and the other is that we are not used to suggesting books together as a group.  All of us still function 1-on-1 with patrons, unless someone else is at the desk and gets involved.  We not only want to be having a larger staff conversation about providing RA to patrons, but also we want our patrons to get suggestions from the BPL RA staff as a unit, not just 1 staff member.

I realize this is a lot, but since Kathy and I have put a great deal of time and effort into this process, I thought it was worth sharing. Feel free to borrow away or contact me with questions.  Heck we borrowed the stickers and form based RA ideas from others already.  Why not keep the sharing train running down the tracks?

Finally, I have attached the first 2 stickers I have created for our new service.  It should be noted that they are not formatted here for our stickers.  Also, once we have a dozen books with stickers in the back, we plan to put out a small display with the books and a flyer explaining the service to promote it.  But what we really can’t wait for is for people to simply start encountering our staff suggestions as they turn the last page of a random book.

To start, I chose two books that I have hand sold to many patrons with great success.

Did you enjoy reading Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement? You may also enjoy these other titles from our collection. 
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea has a similar setting and features a strong female character in a gritty and haunting story with uplifting ending. 
Canada by Richard Ford is also a moving story with a coming of age theme, a border setting, and a storyline that is haunting, character driven and heartbreakingly beautiful. 
The young narrator of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka, June, is similar to Ladydi. Both are curious, strong young women forced into very adult situations, but they are able to learn and blossom as a result. 
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini is another gritty, haunting, and lyrical story with female characters facing impossible choices at its center. Although here, instead of Mexico, the setting is Afghanistan.
Want more reading suggestions? Stop by the RA desk or contact us @ 708.795.8000 x3005 or ra@berwylibrary.org. 
Did you enjoy reading The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker? You may also enjoy these other titles from our collection. Forever by Pete Hamill also uses a mixture of fiction and fantasy to tell a moving immigrant story set in New York City. Forever spans centuries with an immortal protagonist and The Golem and the Jinni is set in 1899, but both stories invoke the mythology of "the old country." For those who want another tale of magical realism with awe inspiring world building, fluid storytelling, and a tone which, while darker is infused with an overwhelming sense of hope, try Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is a good choice for readers who want another novel featuring Jews and Arabs working together to save something precious. Brooks’ tale alternates between the past and the present, but features a similar magical tone and a look into the customs, traditions, and ways of those who came before us.
Want more reading suggestions? Stop by the RA desk or contact us @ 708.795.8000 x3005 or ra@berwylibrary.org.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Genius Alison Bechdel-- Expect Increased Demand

Today the MacArthur Foundation released their class of 2014 Fellows who are colloquially referred to as the "Genius Grant" winners. 

Among this year's class is Graphic Memoirist Alison BechdelClick here for the full statement on her, her work, and why she is a "genius."  There is also a wonderful video where she talks about her work and her craft.  I have embedded it at the end of the post because Bechdel does a wonderful job articulating the appeal of the graphic novel as a storytelling format.

Click here for posts on the blog about Alison Bechdel and her books [there are many], including the one from when my book club of "mature" ladies discussed Fun Home.

You can also click here for all of my posts about graphic novels.  In the past I have talked at length not only about specific graphic novels, but also on the joys and challenges of working with graphic novel readers.

Expect an uptick in requests for Bechdel's work at your library, especially by people who have never read her, or may even be new to the graphic format in general.  And don't forget those new to LGBTQ too. Here are some lists from me to help you with your "while you wait" suggestions:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Resources to Help You to Keep Up: Booklist

The big fall season of major book releases is upon us.  I have learned by past mistakes not to try to keep up with reading all of the new books this time of year. Instead, I spend my time figuring out the best resources for me to efficiently and effectively handle this overwhelming time.

I hope to share some of these here on the blog in the coming weeks.

Today, I will start with Booklist.

As I mentioned here, the people over at Booklist online just released a brand new way for you to navigate their wealth of RA relevant content.  Click here for The Booklist Reader which provides (in their words) "OPINION, NEWS, AND LISTS FROM THE BOOK PEOPLE AT BOOKLIST, BOOK LINKS, AND BOOKLIST ONLINE.”

I don’t think this tag line does enough just justice to how great this new resource is.  Before, you had to bounce around to a lot of different places to discover articles and lists both interesting and useful.  Now, if I want to see, for example, all of the lists people over at Booklist Online have compiles, I click here and it doesn’t matter if they are audiobooks, YA books, fiction, of book club lists.  Now they are all at this link.  Before you would have to peruse four different blogs, and then compile it yourself if you wanted to use all of the information at one time.

It is quite remarkable and useful, but the key here is it will save you time while making you look smarter!

Besides consolidating the various Booklist blogs, lists, and info in one place, in this new portal you also have 1 click access to the Booklist Webinars.  Today I watched one of my favorites-- the annual Spotlight on Romance webinar.

Okay, quick pause. Many of you are confused.  Regular readers know I am not a Romance fan, but this is EXACTLY why I love this annual webinar.  I know that I will get a sense of the biggest trends, hottest titles, and need to know authors in a RA friendly program.  This is for librarians who work with romance readers.  It is all about Romance but geared toward you. And, this year, like previous years, I came away with a new list of books to buy and pass on to my romance fans [who, by the way are some of my favorite patrons to help even though we do not share a love of the same type of stories].

Click here to see the full slate of past webinars and here for the list of upcoming ones.

A quick perusal of The Booklist Reader a few times a week, will give you a big boost in knowledge and confidence.  I even added a direct link to it i the right gutter of the blog under my “Sites Worth Checking Out.”  This way you don’t have to remember.