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.

Friday, May 29, 2015

NoveList RA News With An Article By Me About Crime Fiction

The June issue of NoveList RA News is hot off the presses, and this month it is all about Mysteries.

I contributed an article on the difference between the appeal of Mystery, Thriller and Suspense. Click here to access the article or see below for the text.

The Curious Case of the Appeal of Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense

...Or how knowing the difference between seemingly similar genres can matter greatly

by Becky Spratford

*This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of RA News.*

Many readers love all types of crime fiction. The genre label doesn't matter to many, as long as there is an interesting crime that needs resolution. For others, however, there are some key, but subtle differences in how genre conventions allow a crime-centered plot to unfold. Some crave the intellectual pursuit of solving the puzzle, which a mystery provides. Others like being caught up in the cat-and-mouse game between the hero and the villains in a thriller.  While still others want a fast-paced crime story where the dread of following the protagonist through dangerous situations is what keeps them glued to the page -- the hallmark of suspense.

These nuances need to be addressed because, for some readers, these differences are the key to the RA interaction. However, we also need to be cognizant of how similar these genres are. As a member of the team who put together The ARRT Popular Fiction List, 4th Edition [available in NoveList], I advocated for a big change in the updated version.  Previously, each genre was tackled alphabetically, but I argued for the creation of "umbrella" categories where similar genres would be grouped. This way, we could be more helpful to librarians as they work to familiarize themselves with the most popular authors by both acknowledging how similar some genres can be, while at the same time noting that there are distinctions to consider.

Different 'Umbrellas'

One of these new umbrellas is the Crime Fiction category under which mystery, thriller, and suspense all now appear. The authors filed here may technically fall in one genre or another, but they all write novels that feature a crime, an investigation of some kind, and a resolution, where the reader (at the very least) knows "whodunnit." However, how the author chooses to tell this crime story can vary greatly, and that variation can be wide enough that some readers may only be comfortable reading one of the crime genres and not the others.

This situation is further complicated by the fact that publishers toss around the words "mystery," "suspense," and "thriller" without a thought to whether the terms accurately describe the story.  At times, it is as if these words have become nothing more than a marketing tool.  We need to balance the terms our patrons are encountering with what we, the trained readers' advisors know are the tropes one can expect within the actual genre.

Two recent interactions with patrons illustrate how difficult the situation is becoming. First, a man asked me for "more mysteries just like Lee Child's Jack Reacher series." Those books are technically suspense, and are not even filed in our mystery section. Second, a woman came a few days later wanting a "thriller" similar to the Michael Connelly Harry Bosch books, which aremysteries, housed in our dedicated mystery section. Even with the stickers and a special location, she still used the word "thriller."

There really are true differences among the mystery, thriller, and suspense genres, and authors not only understand this, but they purposely employ the tropes of a specific genre as they craft their crime-centered stories. Readers may not know the differences among these genres but it is not our job to correct them. It is more important that we understand the small, but critical differences among mystery, thriller, and suspense so that we can help match our readers with the right books.

Finer Distinctions

First, we start by defining the basic differences among the three genres so that we can understand why readers may enjoy one more than the others. This is something we took very seriously when we updated The ARRT Popular Fiction List; therefore, I will use some of the wording from that document to help explain.

A mystery is a story in which a crime is committed and the "whodunnit" and why is unknown until the very end. The story introduces an investigator who investigates, gathers clues, and solves the case. Readers require that a mystery contain all of the clues for solving the puzzle within the pages of the story. Mystery fans expect to solve the puzzle along with the investigator.

A thriller centers on a particular profession such as espionage, law, or medicine. Solving the crime and the puzzle it presents takes a back seat to the jargon of the profession, the potential dangers faced by those involved in it, and the fast-paced, cinematic action of these stories. Thrillers often feature a loner hero who operates under his or her own moral code and the storylines are marked by the cat-and-mouse chase between the hero and villain.

Suspense is differentiated from the other two crime genres because the story is not only about the events that occur, but is also about everything that might happen. It is a story about protagonists who end up in harm's way as they try to stop the evil-doers. This overhanging dread takes the spotlight away from the puzzle (mystery's focus) and the cat-and-mouse chase (the purview of the thriller). Above all else, suspense emphasizes the building of tension as the hero tries to stop the villain and stay alive in the process. Suspense regularly uses compressed time frames, prologues, and especially, the inclusion of the villain's point of view to add to this atmosphere of mounting threat.

Talking with Readers

Now that we've laid out some basic distinctions, it is time for the second step: having the RA conversation with readers. Patrons will probably not come into the library saying, "I like a crime story that is focused on what might happen." Or, "I want a loner lawyer who uses all the legal jargon as he fights the villains." But, if we listen to what they are saying and don't get caught up on their word choices, we can ask the Jack Reacher fan who wants more "mysteries" if he enjoys that Child includes the villain's point of view in his novels. If the answer is yes, we realize that he likes suspense (even though he said mystery), and can now start looking for suggestions in the correct genre.  Similarly, the Harry Bosch fan looking for more thrillers might actually be looking for a loner who sometimes works outside of the law, but in the end investigates and solves the puzzle.  In my example, the patron did confirm this, so I looked for more mysteries, keeping an eye out for those with a loner hero.

Keep Some Flexibility

Now for the third and final step.  Forget everything I said above and be willing to move people between the genres, even if they have a stated preference. Just as I do, you probably have patrons who read mostly mysteries but love Child, while we have plenty of thriller fans who can't get enough Bosch. That is because these authors, like many others, are regularly pushing the genre boundaries in their works. Publishers are also taking advantage of this blending by using the terms mystery, thriller, and suspense interchangeably to draw in a wider range of readers. This leaves us a big open area within which we can guide readers to the perfect books. We too should not be bound by genre confines.  Yes, we need to understand the subtle differences so that we can help individual readers as they come to the desk, but we also need to be able to direct them to the right book, no matter its genre.

This truly is a curious case, but one that gives us, with just a little bit of awareness, an opportunity to really help our leisure readers and guide them through the morass that crime fiction is becoming and to get the best books into their hands. And that will be success for everyone involved, author, publisher, reader, and librarian alike. Funny how a crime can bring us all together.
You can access The ARRT Popular Fiction List in NoveList.
Just click on "Readers' Advisory" in the Professional Toolbox drop-down located in the orange bar at the top of the home page. The ARRT Popular Fiction List is the first item in the "Becoming a Better Readers' Advisor" section.
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Becky Spratford is a Readers' Advisor in Illinois specializing in serving patrons ages 13 and up.  She trains library staff all over the world on how to match books with readers through the local public library.  She runs the critically acclaimed RA training blog RA for All, and is on the Steering Committee of the Adult Reading Round Table.  Becky is also known for her work with horror readers and is a proud member of the Horror Writers Association. Tell Becky about your favorite crime genre on Twitter @RAforAll

Thursday, May 28, 2015

ARRT is Bringing the BEA and ALA Book Buzz to You!

Not at #BEA15 right now? Not going to ALA Annual in June? Over at ARRT we totally understand; in fact, many of us cannot make it this year either. So here are 2 things that can help you get over your jealousy and still be a part of the Book Buzz.

The first one is of right now. You can click here to access Barbara Hoffert’s BEA Galley guide.  Learn about the hottest titles for adult readers coming soon. She has also included an icon to let you know if you can get the book with an eARC.

The second, is on July 9th at RAILS HQ in Burr Ridge, IL.  ARRT is offering a smaller scale version of the conferences. We are bringing the Book Buzz [with free ARCs] to you...to all of you...to any of you, member or not, who works in a library and can make it, and it is FREE!


See the flyer below and our Eventbrite listing for details and to hold your spot.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

BPL Book Discussion Schedule: July- December

I may not be at the Berwyn Library to lead the book group after June, but one of the final tasks I promised to complete before leaving was to orchestrate the voting and set the schedule for the July-December books.  Below is the lovely flyer I made with all of the titles, dates and times.

On a side note, I do plan to attend some of the Monday Afternoon group's discussions, just probably not any this summer. If I do attend, I will continue to compile and post notes of our discussions. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Library Pep Talk Time

Okay, it's go time for most of us.  We are only days away from launching our Summer Reading Programs. While most industries take it down a notch during the summer, the public library, and especially those of us who work with leisure readers, are turning it all up about 10 notches.

Yes, summer is both a blessing and a curse for the public library worker.  We are all so excited to take the influx of patrons, to promote the fun side of reading for all ages, to run exciting programs, and hand out prizes just for reading a book! We are excited to see them all come through our doors eager to read and happy to have the time to do it.

But, as someone who has done this 15x before, I also know that it is tiring. We are running a summer long marathon at a sprinters pace.  We feel the pressure of trying to win over patrons, especially those of use who work with voting age patrons. Summer is often the only time we have to show these users how great we are and remind them how much they need us. Without their support, we cannot exist.

So today, I'd like to take a moment and pass on a pep talk in the form of an article that one of my good friends (and huge library supporter) sent me.  Entitled, "Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google."  It is both a review of Palfrey's new book BiblioTech and an essay on the culturally critical role libraries play in our society.

The article begins with this opening paragraph:
"If you were airdropped, blindfolded, into a strange town and given nothing but a bus ticket, to where would you ride that bus? You might be surprised to learn that there’s only one good answer, and that’s the public library. The library is the public living room, and if ever you are stripped of everything private—money, friends and orientation—you can go there and become a human again."
The article's author, Amien Essif, really looks into more than what Palfrey says in his book about libraries.  This is an article by someone who understands what we do.  In regards to RA work specifically later in the article, he writes:
"No, the dilemma of disappearing libraries is not just about efficiency, it’s also about values. Librarians recommend books because they are part of a community and want to start a discussion among the people they see around them—to solve the world’s problems, but also just to have a conversation, because people want to be near each other. The faster technology improves and surpasses human capability, the more obvious it becomes that being human is not merely about being capable, it’s about relating to other humans."
Please remember these words as you get busy this summer.  As you struggle to keep up the high level of service and programming that your summer reading program requires, as you watch your friends and family spend less time hustling and more time relaxing this summer, remember, what we do is important-- now more than ever.

Now let's get out there and be our community's book expert. Let's start conversations about books. Let's remind people why they both love reading and need us!

Go team public library. SRP here we come!

Click here to read the full article.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Summary of CODES Conversation: Tweeting, Tumbling, & Pinning: Using Social Media for RA

Back in April I announced that the newest RUSA CODES Conversation would be happening May 12-13.

These are free conversations open to anyone, member or not, who is interested in participating in an email conversation about "the rapidly changing landscape of collection development, readers' advisory, and publishing." I will be frank, this two day blitz produces a lot of email in your inbox. But if you use a filter to send them all to one folder and catch up and/or participate when you have time, it is totally worth it to sign up.  You can put yourself on the list to always be included whenever a new conversation begins by clicking here.

This time, the discussion centered around using social media for RA. It was very informative and people shared quite a bit.  Thankfully for all of you out there, since I was signed up, I received the excellent 33 page summary from my friend, CODES conversation organizer, and just overall librarian extraordinaire, Neal Wyatt.

I have uploaded it to a shared document that you can access here.

What this document does is gather the many threads and simultaneous conversations that were going on and puts them into one, organized document broken down by category with all of the links and resources that were mentioned grouped into a cohesive order.

It's awesome.

In my opinion, this was one of the most useful conversations we have had, and this summary will help a lot of people [myself included]. Please take some time to look it over and consider signing up for future conversations.  It's free.

Have a great holiday weekend.  RA for All is back on Tuesday.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Re-Charge Your Book Club for MLS

Good morning Massachusetts Library System [and everyone else]. Later this morning I will be presenting my third and final webinar with you, and it’s one of my most popular-- Re-Charge Your Book Club.

[Click here to see the slides for the entire series of webinar with MLS.]

This presentation has a lot of links, mostly to my book discussion reports, so for everyone out there whether you attended the webinar or not, click on all the book covers you see as well as all of the obvious links.

You can also always access everything I have ever [and will ever] blog about on the topic of book discussions groups using this link [174 posts and counting on this topic].

But for now, let’s focus on today’s presentation.  Click here or on the slide below to follow along at home.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

BPL Book Club: Saving CeeCee Honeycut

On Monday, we met to discuss Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman.  Here is the publisher's description via LitLovers:
Steel Magnolias meets The Help in this Southern debut novel sparkling with humor, heart, and feminine wisdom.
Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. 
But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell. In her vintage Packard convertible, Tootie whisks CeeCee away to Savannah's perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. 
From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie's all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.
Laugh-out-loud funny and deeply touching, Beth Hoffman's sparkling debut is, as Kristin Hannah says, "packed full of Southern charm, strong women, wacky humor, and good old-fashioned heart." It is a novel that explores the indomitable strengths of female friendship and gives us the story of a young girl who loses one mother and finds many others.
Here's our discussion notes:

  • 7 people liked this book, 5 were so-so and no one disliked it
  • The liked voters jumped right into the discussion and wanted to share not why they liked it but why they LOVED it.
    • It was funny heartwarming, sad (appropriately); just a good read all around
    • It is easy to read without being fluff.
    • The characters were delightful. It was more about the characters than anything else.
    • Yes, and they weren't just stereotypes. They were believable people.
    • I loved how the author contrasted life up north with CeeCee taking care of her mother with the full life down south.
    • I liked how psychologically realistic the novel was.  She did not get magically better by moving into a big house in GA. She stillhad to work through some serious issues.
  • The so-so people:
    • I was waiting for the other shoe to drop the entire time. It never did. Everything worked itself out perfectly.
    • Aunt Tootie was a bit unbelievably good.
    • It was a nice little story, but it was too predictable.  I always knew what was coming next.
    • I liked the writing, especially the descriptions of nature, but overall it was too much of a Pollyanna story.
    • One participant said she was so-so because she herself lost her mother at 13 and she did not "fall into a bed of roses" like CeeCee.  For her, this book brought back too many bad memories.
    • It was a little too pink and sweet.
    • This was the summer of 1967 in the south yet there is very little about Civil Rights. That bothered me. Why set it in such a pivotal summer then.  Make it a few years earlier and the glaring omission of the huge events happening that same summer would not be an issue to me.
  • Question: How did the author's choice of having CeeCee narrate the story as a 12 yr old in the present tense effect how the novel unfolded?
    • I liked how it was through her eyes as all of this was happening to her. If she were looking back on this life changing summer (like when we read The Round House), it would be a different book.
    • It was a unique point of view.
    • She was very smart for her age, but since she had been caring for her mother and raising herself since she was very young, this was not very surprising.
    • This narrative choice allows us the watch CeeCee change and grieve in real time.
    • I think the narration-- from the eyes of a 12 year old-- is responsible for some of the "fluffiness" of the story. Her life was all about survival before moving the GA. Once there, she can let go of all of her worries. She has never had to only enjoy herself.
    • I liked that we see her inner feelings. We can understand why she is reacting oddly to seemingly normal things.
  • Question: Did you like the ending?  (People started talking about the ending just before this, so I went with the flow and let them run with it.)
    • I loved the ending because it was a beginning.  The first day of the rest of her real life.
    • I wouldn't want to see her in school. We saw her through the hard transition. She will be fine.
    • The book was really set during the summer. The story felt like stringed together vignettes, but summer is like a vignette. The vignettes are ending and life is beginning now. We step away.
    • The book is about her moving forward. As she walks to school, she is leaving us behind.
    • I asked if they would want to catch up with CeeCee's story later in her life? One said no. But a few said yes, after she has grown up a bit more.
  • Question: How did this novel deal with mental illness in the 1960s?
    • The way CeeCee's mom's illness and how it was dealt with was historically accurate. Pills were prescribed, but no one forced her to take them. The Dad got mad that she wouldn't and there was no counseling for the family.
    • They were shunned and made fun of because of the mental illness. No one stepped in to help.
    • Even Aunt Tootie feels badly about not helping earlier, but no one discussed mental illness openly then.
    • Some of us tried to give the Dad a break. He tried the best he could , but that was because of the narrative choice the author made.  CeeCee cannot understand what her Dad is going through. She doesn't know or understand what he is felling and what he did to help.
    • Poor CeeCee only learns about mental illness from the dictionary. Then she worries most of the novel that she will inherit it.
    • The not knowing if her mom killed herself or died by accident is also a tough.
    • The scene at the peach farm, when all of CeeCee's emotions about her mother come to a head was very memorable and believable.
  • Question: What were some of your other favorite characters or scenes that you want to share?
    • Oletta! She was nice, a listener, had great words of wisdom. She and CeeCee helped each other heal-- they were the mother and daughter each had loved and lost.
    • The lunch in the parking space outside the jewelry store was the best.
    • I loved Oletta's friends
    • The nursing home scene!
    • Neighbors- Goodpepper and Hobbs. Just everything about them separate and together.  Hobbs was a woman you loved to hate, but Goodpepper was not all perfect.
    • Overall, I just loved how the southern hospitality was well depicted.
    • As I read this book, I chuckled and laughed despite some of the serious issues here. This is why I liked it so much.
  • Question: What did you think of CeeCee's camera as a literary device?
    • I loved that she is drawn to taking photos.  They are stills in time of her new life. So much has changed for her and she is still processing it all. The photos slow it all down a bit.
    • The bra pictures were great! It shows she isn't perfect. It illustrates some of the anger she had inside her. She took it out on Ms. Hobbs, but she is a villain here anyway. It gave CeeCee some depth and showed some spunk.
    • It was not nice of her but it sure was funny. Very clever.
  • Question: What did you think of the garden party scene?
    • I loved the fight. There were all these women who feel so strongly about everything, it was bound to happen.
    • I like how this beautiful party ended with a brawl and everyone moved on. It was a nice metaphor for where CeeCee came from and where she was now going. Life would not be perfect ever, but even the little battles will be easy to handle now that she is in a safe place.
    • Also, I felt like Ms. Goodpepper and Ms. Hobbs needed this blow up. Their conflict was festering. Now they can move on and have a better relationship.
  • Question: Let's talk title-- Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
    • Saving her for now.
    • Saving her for her future
    • Teaching her to save herself
    • "Saving" is the present participle-- it notes that the saving itself is ongoing and is always happening and will continue to happen. It does not end when the book ends.
    • If it was called "How CeeCee Was Saved" that would be a different book.
    • She is also saving memories for herself at the end of the book, literally in pictures and figuratively in her "life book."
    • I like how who is "saving" her is not identified.  They all are, We all are.
  • Words or phrases to describe this book:
    • "peach of a novel" (from back of paperback)
    • endearing
    • warm and fuzzy
    • rose colored glasses
    • hopeful
    • comfortable
    • great characters
    • southern hospitality
    • memorable scenes
    • vignettes
    • female centered
    • lovely descriptions and metaphors
    • cinematic
    • fresh writing, original phrasing

Readalikes: This novel is the Secret Life of Bees meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil with a heaping tablespoon of Fannie Flagg.

I also agreed with what it said up top in the publisher's description-- the movie Steel Magnolias and the novel, The Help would also be good choices.

This novel also reminded me of Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens (one of my under the radar book club favs) and the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Montcalm County Staff In-Service

I am very excited to be spending today in Greenville, Michigan presenting a brand new in-service day program for the staff of 7 area libraries.

I have taken 3 of my most popular programs and reworked them into an exciting day to both teach and inspire all library staff.  I will be combining exercises and participation in a revival style program.

Yes, I said revival, and no this is not a religious program, but I am looking at this as a chance to spread the RA gospel to all library workers.

Revival is a term that is all about restoration; returning vigor; a renewing of beliefs.

That is what I will be doing, restoring the staff's faith in why they started working at the public library in the first place.  I am coming to rekindle the flame and remind them of their passion for reading.

This is going to be a wonderful day of energy, encouragement, and training.

Below is the schedule of events with links to the presentations both for the participants and those of you following along at home.

With my recent decision to leave my job at a public service desk, I am going to have a lot more time to take this RA for All show on the road. So contact me if you are interested in having me come spend the day at your library.

Now let's get started.

8 am to 10:30 am: RA for All: From Pages to Directors, this program is aimed at any staff member in the library who interacts with patrons. Being able to provide good RA service from any desk in the library will help staff communicate effectively and ensure satisfied patrons. Using her “Ten Rules of Basic RA Service" as a guide," Becky Spratford will show you how to help any patron find their next great read. It's not as hard as you think.  
10:30 am -10:45 am: BREAK 
10:45 am -12 pm: Booktalking: Harnessing the Power of Sharing Books with Patrons: Booktalking is at the heart of what we do with patrons each and every day at the public library. Whether we are sharing books informally at the services desk, presenting a prepared list of books, or posting information online, talking about books is something we do each and every day. It is a core service, but it is also hard to teach. Booktalking is more of an art than a skill, but with the right guidance and some practice, it can go a long way toward engaging your patrons and re-energizing your staff. Join experienced Readers’ Advisory Becky Spratford as she demystifies the secrets behind delivering great book talks, giving you tips and tricks you can begin using right away to hone your own skills. Rediscover the power and joy that comes from sharing books with patrons.
12-1: Lunch
1-2:30: Bridging the Physical Virtual Divide: Promoting books in the virtual world is a tricky proposition. On the one hand, you want to exploit tools like blogs, Twitter, and the ever expanding collection of social media options to reach more readers, but on the other hand, you do not want to forget about your core brick and mortar customers. Readers' Advisory expert, Becky Spratford is here to help. Using examples from her library and others, Becky will share her tricks and tips for navigating this key service issue without sacrificing your core services. Although she will not recommend or evaluate specific social media platforms, Becky will leave you with an overall philosophy and key strategies that can be easily implemented at your library across a variety of platforms.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday Discussion: What Are Your Summer Reading Plans?

Reminder: The Monday Discussion runs for the entire week. Comments are accepted until the next discussion begins.

Since this is the last Monday Discussion before Memorial Day, and the unofficial start of summer, I thought there was no better time than today to start talking about  summer reading plans.

Now I don't mean your Library's Summer Reading Program. No, we are all up to our eyeballs in getting that all rolled out.  I am thinking more calming thoughts.  What are your personal plans for reading this summer? After the blitz of SRP signups dies down in a few weeks.

Is there a particular book's release you are anticipating? Are you planning a vacation or some serious beach time and already thinking about what you will be reading then? Or, do you have a stressful summer coming up and need to find some calming books?

You know you are making reading plans. We cannot help but do it because we love reading and the first days of summer always elicit images of sitting outside with a tall drink reading.

I'll go first.  I always like to have a nice long, engrossing audiobook to listen to in the summer. It is great company as I am doing yardwork. Nothing makes weeding more pleasurable than listening to someone tell me a good story while I work. I have been saving Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage to listen to over the summer. I love Murakami, but in particular I love his work on audio (click here for proof), and have simply been waiting for yard work season so I can devour this one in fewer sittings. Interestingly, in yesterday's New York Times Book Review, Daniel Handler had this essay/review on appreciating Murakami in audio.  It was as if he was reading my mind. Now I am even more excited.

This summer I will also be participating in an ARRT Literary Book Discussion on The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez featuring a visit from Ms. Henriquez. [I will have another post on this with details on how you can join us soon.] This is a book that has been on my to-read list for a long while, so I am excited to have such a great reason to read it.

Otherwise, I hope to read a lot of books. With the staff shortages here at the BPL since November and a busy 6 weeks wrapping everything up as I transition from working at the Library to full time training and consulting, I have had very little free time to read just for me. I am missing it greatly. So, this summer, since I am going to only be working 1-2 days a week, my hope is simply to read, read, and read.

Now it is your turn. For today's Monday Discussion, share your summer reading plans.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Flashback Friday: Under the Radar Book Discussion Suggestion

I am getting reading for next week’s Re-Charge Your Book Club presentation with the Massachusetts Library System, which means you are getting a post about book clubs today.

One of the easiest ways to jolt a book group back to the vibrancy it once had is to find that one great title, a book that will relight the flame and keep the group burning for months to come. [It’s not enough of a jolt to save the group entirely, by the way, but it is enough to get the rehabilitation process started].

However, how do you find this magical title?  Ahh, that is the tricky part. You need a book that is not well known, but will still make for a great discussion.

In my presentation, I give a few tips and tricks on how to identify these titles; where to find these diamonds in the rough. I will share one of those tips here today [but for more, watch one of my webinars, or better yet, hire me to do it for your group].  Pick a well known author, one everybody knows, but then read one of his or her more obscure titles.

My example [which I also share in the presentation] is Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell. Yes, that Mankell of Kurt Wallander, Nordic Noir fame.  But this is not a Wallander story.

See for yourself as I am reposting the discussion we had 4 years ago this month on Italian Shoes. It still ranks as one of our best, and I still suggest this book to other book clubs all of the time. The author has just enough name recognition to keep people reading long enough to discover the heartbreaking and thought provoking beauty inside this slim but powerful novel.


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 painter CaravaggioFredrik'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, May 14, 2015

Unconventional Lists of Books for Graduates

I am often surprised by how many requests I get at the service desk for recommendations on books people need to buy as a gift. [I do push the idea that the library is where you will find your community’s book experts in many of my trainings, so I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised.]

Graduation is one of those most popular times, second only to Christmas, where I am asked to help people find a unique book option for purchase.  Often, these patrons are bored by the obvious Oh the Places You’ll Go type graduate books.  What they want is the recommendation of a “good read” for the graduate in their life.  A book to reintroduce them to the joys of leisure reading, now that school is over.

So here are a few lists and ideas I have been passing on to these patrons.  Feel free to add more lists or any of your own suggestions in the comments.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Librarian-- Personal Reading Suggestions From Multnomah County Public Library

Yesterday, I attended Duncan Smith's presentation on "Whole Person" RA. I tweeted out some of what he said here, and in the coming days, I will be sharing the handouts and the link to the recording of the presentation itself.

But in the meantime, I wanted to explore a specific library example he gave that is a great way to offer personalized RA services that will work for a range of patrons. It is called My Librarian and it is a service offered by The Multnomah County Public Library in Oregon.

Here a screen shot of one of the librarians listed on the page. [Yes I picked the one who likes horror.]

The entire My Librarian page is made up of these entries with a picture, the librarian’s name, his or her “likes” and a link to his or her recommendations.

There is also that great “Ask Alicia T what to read" button, which brings you to a screen where you can contact the librarian in your communication preference of choice. As you can see from the next screen shot.

There are a few things I love about this service that I want to point out.

Let’s start with the obvious first.  This is a wonderful, personalized service. They are sharing staff favorites in a fun way that encourages interaction between the library and its patrons.

Second, it’s the interaction part that they really nail. When Duncan talked about serving patrons based on how they want to be helped he identified 4 main patron interaction types:

  1. "high touch" and have lots of time
  2. "high touch" and have no time
  3. “low touch” and have lots of time
  4. “low touch” and have no time
The My Librarians web page allows for all 4 types to be served.  Think about the high touch/lot of time patrons who would love a video chat with the librarian, or can use the webpage to identify the librarian they want to talk to who they can then seek out in person. Or the low touch/no time patrons who want a reading suggestion and can use email to get one.

Third, and this is just awesome, I visited the site at work and then later from home, and the librarians themselves were in a different order each time.  I love that the site shuffles the order. Some people never scroll down on a page. This allows people to encounter a “new” librarian at the top of the page each time they click through.

Finally, it's all easy to find right from the main page of the website. It is highlighted front and center. As Duncan also mentioned in his presentation, their user studies showed that for many patrons, their first interaction with the library is through its website. And since READING is our business, putting reading suggestions front and center, in this interactive way is brilliant.

You need to click through and see how great My Librarian is. It’s all about serving leisure readers and it is driven by the librarians themselves, their interests, and their sense of humor.  Any library could do a version of this. Your staff is an asset.  Use them to help your patrons better.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

RA at the Elementary School Level

Today is a very busy day in the world of RA.  Not only is today is the beginning of the newest RUSA CODES two day email conversation, but I am also about to head out the door to attend Duncan Smith's RA lecture at RAILS. [Links lead to details for each event].

Because one can never pack too much RA into one day, I also spent 3 hours this morning volunteering at my son's elementary school library.  I volunteer there twice a month. The LRC Director, Kelly Davis, mostly uses me to help catalog the books as they come in, but, because of my RA experience and her recent course work as she acquired her MLS, we have had many conversations about breaking up the library's collection to make it easier for the kids to browse and find the books they want to read for fun.

While I was there today, I took a few pictures of some of the newer displays she instituted this past year.  Below you will find 2 nooks that had gone unused in the past. She created a new book area with one and a special section for the Rebecca Caudill titles in the other.  Both have prime real estate in the library as they flank the main door.  A parent took the old books and cut them into those eye catching letters.

The next two photos show how she took highlighting the Caudill titles a step further. The first photo shows how she took pictures of the covers and laminated them next to reviews-- reviews that were written by last year's graduating 6th graders to be displayed for this year's students.  The second picture is a closeup of 2 of them. As you can see, some of the titles do not have these reviews as this was a trial last year.  She is already hard at work getting all the books reviewed for next year though.

All of these displays Kelly created had a huge impact on the circulation of leisure reading materials in the school library.  She also worked to create a smaller browsing collection for Nonfiction that is targeted to the K-2 audience (It's a K-6 school).  This works like a display for younger kids who are more intimidated by the larger nonfiction stacks, stacks which contain many more titles that are above their level than at their level. This has increased the circulation of nonfiction for leisure reading for the younger kids, which we hope will lead to them continuing to seek it out in the larger stacks as they get older.

As both a parent and a RA librarian, I am very proud of how Kelly has taken some of the more traditional public library display concepts to promote leisure reading for the kids. She already did a great job supporting the curriculum, but she also feels strongly about instilling a love of reading in the kids. She's got them for a nice long stretch of time. They come once a week to check out 2 "fun" books each, so why not make the space where they can discover titles in a more fun, eye catching, easier to browse way and broken up into categories that they most want to see.

I know I don't traditionally talk about school libraries on the blog, but it is an area I will be exploring more once I leave the BPL next month, so I figured I would start with one I have a connection with first.

If you want to share your great school library RA work, leave a link in the comments.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Monday Discussion: Books You’ve Faked Reading

Okay, time to get honest. In our line of work there are plenty of times when a book becomes HUGE and we are helping patrons to find readalikes while they wait in the holds queue, but we have not had a chance to read them ourselves. Titles that come to mind which serve as an example here are:

Now, many times these books are too popular for us to get our hands on.  Other times we have no desire to read them despite their popularity.  But the good news on both these fronts is that these huge event books are written about and talked about so much that we can normally help patrons without ever reading the book.

Let me be clear however, I am not outright advocating for you to lie to a patron if he or she asks you if you have read the book in question.  Instead you can say, "The holds list is very long and I want patrons to read it first; besides, I have read a lot about it and have helped many happy patrons using what I know about the book and its appeal."  But, if they don't ask you, you can easily pretend that you have read the book.

So maybe the title of this post is misleading. I am not talking about "faking" that I have read a book, just not admitting that I have not read it and not correcting the perception that I have. Rather, I tend to encourage that perception because it makes the patron more comfortable.

My book is The Hunger Games. Back in 2012 I wrote a longer post about having never read it, but how I still helped many patrons who wanted readalikes. I even had a few people email me to express surprise.  I have written so much about the book, they had assumed that I had read it. But, as they noted, I never said anywhere that I had read it.  Click through to read that full  post.

Now it's your turn.  For today's Monday Discussion, what book(s) have you helped a lot of patrons with that you have never read for yourself.  We all have them.  Time to come clean.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Library Reads: June 2015

 Here is the June list.  Past lists are here.  

June 2015 Library Reads List

Eight Hundred Grapes:
A Novel

by Laura Dave

Published: 6/2/2015 by Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781476789255
“Take your time and savor the family dynamics. Enjoy the romantic twists in this tale of a career-minded young woman circling back to her roots at a California winery. The appeal is broader than that of a romance since it delves into the complexities of various relationships– parent to parent, parents and children, even winery and owner.This is an excellent summer read!”
Joan Hipp, Florham Park Public Library, Florham Park, NJ
Truth According blog

The Truth According to Us: A Novel

by Annie Barrows

Published: 6/9/2015 by The Dial Press
ISBN: 9780385342940
“It is 1938 in a rural West Virginia town and a young woman arrives to write the town’s history. Layla doesn’t really know what to expect from the town, and the town doesn’t know what to make of her. This is the heart of the South, the soul of small towns, where everyone looks out for you and knows your history. Sweet story tailor-made for fans of Billie Letts, Fannie Flagg, Pat Conroy and Harper Lee.”
Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

Book Speculation blog

The Book of Speculation: A Novel

by Erica Swyler

Published: 6/23/2015/2015 by St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250054807
“A roller coaster of a read! This is the story of a librarian from a splintered family with a tragic past who is gifted a mysterious book that leads him to dive deep into his family’s history, all while his present life seems to be falling to pieces around him. If you loved Morgenstern’s The Night Circus or Kostova’s The Historian, this is a book for you.”
Amanda Monson, Bartow County Library System, Cartersville, GA

Little Paris blog

The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel

by Nina George

Published: 6/23/2015 by Crown
ISBN: 9780553418774
“Quirky and delightful, Nina George’s book focuses on Jean Perdu, owner of the Literary Apothecary, a floating bookshop. When a new tenant in his apartment building sets in motion events that force Jean to re-evaluate his past, he finds himself floating off down the rivers of France in search of lost love, new love, and friends he didn’t know he needed.”
Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

Tearling blog

The Invasion of the Tearling: A Novel

by Erika Johansen

Published: 6/9/2015 by Harper
ISBN: 9780062290397
“The Mort are coming! Johansen introduces new characters and enticing bits of history, with the second volume of her intriguing tale of fantasy, mystery and royal politics. Kelsea, the new Tearling Queen, has broken the Red Queen’s treaty and prepares to suffer the consequences as her nation is about to be invaded. Readers will be eager for the final volume in the Tearling saga.”
Lucy Lockley, St. Charles City-County Library, St. Peters, MO

Unlikely Event blog

In the Unlikely Event: A Novel

by Judy Blume

Published: 6/2/2015 by Knopf
ISBN: 9781101875049
“The obvious ‘unlikely events’ of Judy Blume’s latest–the three plane crashes afflicting Elizabeth, NJ in one horrifying winter–set the framework for everyday unlikely events around love, family, friendship, relating all that can go so wrong, and so right, with all three. Readers will enjoy the period detail and relatable characters that feature in this hybrid domestic/disaster tale.”
Becky Bowen, Kenton County Public Library, Independence, KY

Rumor blog

The Rumor: A Novel

by Elin Hilderbrand

Published: 6/16/2015 by Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 9780316334525
“Elin Hilderbrand has done it again! Grace is married to Fast Eddie, a successful real estate broker on the island. They live with their twin teenage daughters in a beautiful house with three manicured acres overlooking the harbor. Financial troubles, affairs or supposed affairs, teenage angst and shady deals kick the rumor mill on the island in high gear. The Rumor is the ideal beach book for this summer!”
Claudia Silk, Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield, CT


The Precipice: A Novel

by Paul Doiron

Published: 6/16/2015 by Minotaur Books
ISBN: 9781250063694
“When two women go missing while hiking a difficult part of the Appalachian Trail, Maine game warden Mike Bowditch helps in trying to determine where the women were last seen. Mike then discovers there is no shortage of people whose behaviors make them suspicious. With a puzzle that keeps the reader guessing, and a main character that you can’t help but empathize with, The Precipice is another home run for Doiron.”
Lora Bruggeman, Indian Prairie Public Library, Darien, IL

grandmother blog

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry: A Novel

by Fredrik Backman

Published: 6/16/2015 by Atria Books
ISBN: 9781501115066
“From the author of one my favorite books of last year, A Man Called Ove, this book packs a similar emotional punch at the end, but has some significant differences. It is told from the point of view of Elsa, a seven-year-old child who loves Harry Potter, fairy tales, and her grandmother. Once I stopped trying to make the story fit my adult view of the world and entered into Elsa’s world, I had a whale of a time.”
Janet Lockhart, Wake County Public Libraries, Cary, NC

pirate blog

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship

by Robert Kurson

Published: 6/16/2015 by Random House
ISBN: 9781400063369
“This is the journey of Tracy Bowden, John Chatterton, and John Mattera as they follow a quest to find the sunken pirate ship named the Golden Fleece. I think anyone would be interested in the treasure of a famous buccaneer, Joseph Bannister. Many people, including me, have dreamed of digging up a treasure chest of gold. What could be more fun than traveling along with treasure hunters to find a lost pirate ship?”
Linda Payne, Lake Placid Memorial Library, Lake Placid, FL