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, June 29, 2015

RA for All Holiday Break

RA for All is taking a break this holiday week.  Between everyone slowly returning from ALA Annual, out of town visitors, milestone birthdays for me AND my daughter (2 days apart- my poor husband), and general Independence Day activities, I am going to not blog this week.

I will be back on the 6th with LOTS of new content.  Reviews, 2 ARRT programs (click here for details..one is free to whoever can make it AND you get an ARC of a hot fall book just for showing up).

For those who want a few ideas to read over the holiday, I suggest you look at the 2 Andrew Carnegie winners from over the weekend or check out this crowd sourced list of the best American history books from Goodreads.

Of course you can always read what I am reading...

Have a nice holiday.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Flashback Friday: Gay Marriage Edition

In honor of today’s Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage a right, I am reposting my list of GLBTQ resources and authors with wide appeal.



Reading for the First Day of Civil Unions

Today, Illinois finally begins offering Civil Unions to gay couples.  Personally, this is an issue I feel very strongly about.  Both as a happily married person and as someone who believes everyone deserves equal treatment under the law, I am ecstatic that homosexual couples can now be joined legally by a judge in my adopted home state.

To celebrate this day and the start of Gay Pride Month all over the country, I want to offer you some reading options.  Before I start however, I want to remind everyone out there that you don't have to be gay to read books by or about gay issues.  It is no different than me reading a book by a male author, or a non-Jew reading Philip Roth.  In fact, many of the authors I will list below are bestsellers in their own right and one particularly (David Leavitt) is one of my personal favorite authors.

So try one of the books I mention below or explore one of the resources I suggest, and help to celebrate the proliferation of equal rights.  Better late than never.

GLBTQ Authors Who Will Appeal to a Wide Audience:
One of my favorite gay themed novels ever is the YA title, Hero by the recently deceased Perry Moore.  It is a superhero and gay coming out novel.  He saves the world AND gets the boy.

GLBTQ Reading Resources Worth Anyone's Time:
Finally, I want to highlight Berwyn's local gay rights organization, BUNGALO. Its members are HUGE BPL suporters both with their time and their money, and they have been supporting us for many, many years.  Thank you.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Robots are Taking Over-- An Annotated Reading List from Booklist

Today, Booklist Reader had a great annotated reading list playing off of a recent flurry of media attention on ROBOTS.

From the intro:
Welcome, Robot Overlords! 12 Books to Help You Prepare for the Coming Singularity
Robots have been trending in literature and film for a long time. But constant advances in technology give us more and more to think—and worry—about. The New York Timesvideo series, Robotica, and the Atlantic article, “A World Without Work,” got me thinking: how is artificial intelligence affecting our lives? Robots already contribute to our labor force, but what happens when they become efficient enough to replace human labor on a larger scale? This recent batch of books address this question and more. Whether readers are eager to welcome our robot overlords or they live in terror of the coming singularity, they’ll find some intriguing data here. 
This is a great list with books for a wide range of readers.  And the best thing about it, BookList wants you to use it (with credit to them) at your library to help patrons.
So, click here for the full list of fiction and nonfiction all about robots, print it out, and make a display.  
Your patrons will love it. You will look like you are anticipating their reading needs. And, the best part, it will take you mere minutes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

TED Hearts Books

One of my new favorite RA training tools is TED Talks.  Anyone who has seen one of my presentations recently knows that I thrown in a mention of TED Talks no matter the topic.  Why?  Well, a few reasons.

  1. I turn to TED Talks for myself in my work as a consultant. I have learned about being a better, more concise speaker by watching experts convey a complex message in less than 20 minutes.  We can all learn from that, no matter our industry.
  2. I also use the search box on the TED Talks main page to browse topics of specific interest to me. I have searched things like books, reading, romance, thriller, science fiction, fantasy fiction, and horror. Yes, I realize these are very broad search terms which leads me to...
  3. By doing a broad search, I find a lot of talks that directly apply to my work with leisure readers, but I have also been able to take an “outside the box” look at these topics.  So when I search romance, I get talks about love. From these talks I am able to see a wider picture of stories of love than just romance novels. These talks get to the heart of the appeal of a love story in a way that traditional book resources cannot.  You try, it works for any topic.
  4. I have also used the site to watch talks that, on the surface, appear to have NOTHING to do with RA. For example, one of my favorites is this talk about city flag design by Roman Mars. It is all about basic design principles that we can all learn from. Fascinating, useful, and I never would have watched it without following TED Talks.
So you can see that I like using TED Talks for a variety of reasons, all of which can also help you to be better at your job.  But here is another reason to love TED Talks, they love books!  In fact, here is their list of 70+ book picks from speakers and attendees arranged into broad categories.  I can tell you there is literally something here for everyone. From those who want “mind being fiction” to “books on historical moments.” From “haunting fiction” to “books on privacy.”

Many of the talks mention books. Books or authors are often the inspiration behind the entire talk. I love seeing books inspire others.  You will too.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

NPR Summer of Love: Romance Training and RA Opportunities

Many of you probably already know that NPR Books is dedicating their summer reading coverage to romance.  They are currently tabulating a reader poll on favorite romances. They have also done a great job of explaining the appeal of romance AND are taking the genre seriously, compiling experts to discuss this popular genre’s importance.

Click here for all of the NPR Summer of Love coverage, articles, and essays.

With the new E.L. James selling over a million copies last week, there is no better time to start celebrating “The Summer of Love."

But let’s take the information NPR is preparing for us and use it to our advantage as good about our job of helping to match readers with the right book for them.

Many of you also know that I have a love-hate relationship with romance.  I do not enjoy reading romances, but I am committed to making sure that I am qualified to provide exemplary service to romance readers. [You can follow my struggles, trials, errors, and successes on the romance front with this link.]

Series like the NPR Summer of Love are a bonus for all of us.  Romance is super popular. There is a huge “While You Wait” demand for people waiting for the new E.L. James.  We are fully entrenched in Summer Reading. We have an influx of patrons coming in for leisure reading. We weren’t even thinking about romance because it didn’t fit with the SRP theme.

Pause for a breath here.... Okay, panic attack averted... Back to the post...

I am not underestimating or belittling our dilemma. This is the busiest few weeks for us at the library, but we need to help all of our patrons. You can use articles from this series, like this one about historical romances, paired with resources like NoveList to give you quick lists and/or display ideas.

You can also wait a few more days for the reader poll to come out and then turn that into its own display.

You need to be ready with ideas for the readers coming in looking for E L James, or for the patrons who heard one of the Summer of Love pieces on NPR and want to try a romance on for size.  Start thinking about it now.

Here is an article I wrote for NoveList about romance resources back in March of 2014. That should help get you started.

But just following the Summer of Love coverage is a great idea for your own benefit.  Even if you are a romance fan, romance is such a broad category.  No one reads every type of romance.  You are bound to learn about a popular subgenre you knew nothing about. The expert panel is going to be a great learning tool also.

The overall point I am trying to make here today is that while it great to simply be aware when a major media outlet is running a long series on a specific type of book, it is even more important that you use this opportunity both to educate yourself and promote books to your patrons-- books they might never have thought of reading without your help.

You can do this with any list or media campaign, not just the summer of love.

Oh, and why not read a romance yourself while you are at it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Discussion: Favorite Things About Conferences

Although I am not going to ALA Annual this year [long story involving a huge party being thrown in the honor to celebrate 4 decades since my birth], I will be following it online.

But ALA is not the only conference in town.  And you do not only need to go to conferences that involve getting on an airplane, finding childcare, or being away from home for a week. In fact, there are many conferences and full day meetings that happen in our field all of the time, all over the place.

Conferences are a great time for librarians to get together and collaborate, network, and learn from one and other. Even something like the programs we have for ARRT [like this free one coming up soon] can have more benefit for you to develop your skills and re-charge your batteries than you might realize.

For me, I love meeting people from different libraries. I like going to programs that discuss topics both those that are new to me AND those I feel like I have a good handle on.  In fact, programs on the topics I feel like I “know” are my favorite thing about conferences.  I like to see my areas of expertise through the eyes of others.  Often, this show me something I have never thought of before. Sometimes we get so caught up in how we do things [especially if they are working out well] that we forget to consider new ideas. I am always looking for new ideas and approaches to RA service.  And if I am, you should be too!

I feel like there is an energy when librarians get together in person. As a profession we may be introverts-- although I certainly am not-- but when we are all in the room together, and start talking about our work with leisure readers, a low murmur becomes a loud hum, turns into animated conversations, evolves into boisterous exchanges. I have seen it happen. That energy itself, along with the ideas, experiences and thoughts we share combine into a powerful force. It is an energy we carry back to our libraries and share with staff and patrons. And when that happens, everybody is a winner!

I am hoping all of you who read this will pledge to attend at least 1 meeting or conference in the coming months.  You need to feel this power, collect it for yourself, and then bring it back to your library. If you don’t think your supervisor will allow it, contact me and I can help you craft your argument.  Or feel free to simply pass this post on.

Here are some of my suggestions in my area.

If you live in Illinois, why not consider a trip to Peoria for the first event joint Illinois Library Association conference. Online registration opens on July 10th.  RA for All is a conference sponsor and I will be presenting for ARRT. [Details soon]

Or, save the date for December 9th when ARRT will have an all-day mini-library conference at the Naperville Public Library 95th Street Branch. [Details this Fall]

But I know not everyone who reads this blog lives in Illinois. So for today’s Monday Discussion, share some conferences or meetings, both big and small, that you plan on attending. But also tell me your favorite things about attending any meeting.  Basically, why do you make the effort to be there in person? What do you get out of it besides a day or more out of the office.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Great Adult Reads Featuring Animals: A List and a RA Training Exercise

Later this morning my son will complete his 2 week theater camp with a performance of Doctor Doolittle Jr.  Over the last 2 weeks, we have talked a lot about the books upon which the production is based. It sadden and shamed me that my voracious reader son was not even aware of this series [so 100% my fault]. But besides talking about this series, for the last 2 weeks we have had numerous discussions about other books featuring animals which he has enjoyed.

Then at yesterday’s ARRT Steering committee two comments came up about books featuring animals.  One, had to do with whether or not a book featured violence towards animals. [On a side note, this is one of the most common limiters for adults and their leisure reading. In my experience, violence to animals trumps any violence (even to children) or sex restrictions]. The other was someone recommending H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, as she prefaced her recommendation with he words, “And I don’t even necessarily like Hawks, but I loved this book.”

And then again, this week marks the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.  On my dresser is the ARC of a debut novel, The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe that tells the story of this epic battle through the eyes of the rabbits that live on the farm where the battle took place. I will be reading it soon.

This is all a roundabout way to say, although I thought I was the only one with animal books on the brain due to living and breathing Dr. Doolittle all week, I am not alone.  Adults love reading about animals as much as kids do.

Animals are a great example of a specific frame that many readers enjoy but do not always articulate.  As I wrote in a recent article for NoveList on this topic:
"I have found that there are some specific frames that I enjoy in my leisure reading. For example, as a transplanted but proud Jersey girl, I will read just about any book if it is set in New Jersey. I also love books with circuses, ones set on college campuses, titles with a Civil War background but which do not focus on the battles, and books with baseball in them. I will read any type of book in which these subjects appear -- fiction or nonfiction. Nine times out of ten, I will end up loving the book, even if it is not a genre or writing style I would normally enjoy. I can go against my appeal preferences if these frames are present because their presence in the story in and of themselves gives me great enjoyment."
In my experience, I have found this last statement to be very true of a large number of patrons when it comes to animals.

So, here are some of the books I had read and reviewed on this blog which feature animals prominently. Click on the link to read about the specific appeal of each book because they are from a very wide range of genre, tone, and style. However, don’t forget that for some people, just the fact that animals are at the center of these books may be all a reader needs to enjoy all of these books.

The act of just gathering a list of these widely differing titles united only by their shared frame has been a great exercise for me.  You should try it too.  Just think about books you know about or have read that fit this category too. Or, do it for any category by frame, not just animals.  It really helps to get the RA recommendation juices going.  Trying to to only match for example, The Sage of Waterloo and Watership Down because they both have rabbit narrators is okay RA service for your patron.  But considering The Art of Racing in the Rain or Dog On It, which feature dog narrators is great RA service. Different animal, but very similar storytelling techniques.

If nothing else, just reading this list will encourage you to think outside the box as you suggest books to patrons, books they may never have found on their own, books they may love.  That is the power you hold; the power to enrich someone’s life with a great read. What a great job we all have.

Books where animals are narrators:
Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
The Bees by Laline Paull
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (first in a series of mysteries)

Books which feature animals prominently
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand [nf]
The Big Year by Mark Obmascik [nf]
American Buffalo by Steven Rinella [nf]
Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd (YA novel based on the Isle of Dr. Moreau)
His Majesty’s Dragons by Naomi Novik

Thursday, June 18, 2015

BPL Book Discussion: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

This is not your normal installment of my BPL Book Discussion reports because Monday was no normal discussion day.  Monday marked the last time I led the BPL group after 14.5 years. I hope to occasionally return to be a participant in the group, but not for a bit. Also, I will be entering into a new book discussion venture that will be keeping me plenty busy [But that is for another time].

But back to my fabulous ladies [pictured left].  They really outdid themselves to say goodbye.  Not only did they come with snacks, balloons, cards and gifts of beautiful perennials for my garden, but they arranged one of the nicest tributes ever.

Regular readers of the book discussion reports know that I end every discussion with this: "Give me a single word of phrase to define the book." Obviously, the ladies are used to the question. Well, what they did was so perfect.  After our May meeting, one of the participants asked to take my picture.  Sneaky one she is because then she showed up at this discussion with the picture of me blown up in the center of the poster [pictured left].  She gave each participant a pice of paper and asked them to write down a word or phrase to describe me.  She then spent the discussion time writing the words around me in a circle on the poster.  You can see a closeup of what they create for me to the right.

As I had anticipated, it has been much harder to leave my book discussion ladies than the library itself. They are the reason I stayed as long as I did, so this should not have come as a surprise. In fact, they have only reinforced how much I love being a Reader's Advisor and ironically they have also made me realize that I have made the right choice by leaving the BPL to go out to help more libraries and more patrons.

I am so happy to have spent many years exploring hundreds of books with these amazing women.  And although the chapter in my life of leading discussions for them has come to an end, my participation in book clubs will continue. I will still be posting about book discussions here on the blog, including notes of specific discussions I will be leading.

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled book discussion report.

This month we met to discuss the National Book Award winner, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.

Here is the publisher’s description:
In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.
Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”  
But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.  
With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget. 
Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”  
But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi. 
With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget.
For purposes of this write up, the title of the book will be transcribed as BtBFs.

Here are the notes on our discussion:
  • We had exactly the split reaction I was expecting here-- 6 liked, 2 disliked, and 4 so-so.  
  • Liked comments:
    • I had a personal connection to this story because I was in India, in that slum, working with one of the characters, Sister Paulette, in 2008.  Boo’s work was entirely fair and honest from my personal experience.
    • Another participant shared that as a recent college graduate in 1968, she too took a trip to India.  She could clearly remember coming out of the airport down a dirt road filled with beggars. This book brought me right back.
    • I immediately saw everything in my life differently after reading this book. For example, getting water from a sink.  I also looked at the recycling scavengers in my own alley much differently.
    • I enjoyed the style of writing.  I felt like she really knew the people and could relate their story. It was so realistic, almost poetic.  
    • It was written like fiction with characters I could get to know. I enjoyed that.
  • Didn’t like:
    • It was “too much horrible.” And even worse, I can’t do anything about it.  I hate being helpless and not in control. I would rather not know.
    • I found the corruption overwhelming.
    • I couldn’t handle all the children suffering.
  • So-so: 
    • I can’t fault the author for choosing the topic, but there was no relief here. However, I appreciated the very many interesting insights and philosophical comments by the characters.  The people were compelling.
    • I kept waiting for some uplift.
    • That led to a discussion of the fact that it was a true account so she could not manufacture a happy, closed ending.
  • Question: The author claims there is hope in this book. Do you agree?
    • I think there is hope in that she wrote this book.  Doing her piece to help make people aware. That is a hopeful first step.
    • This book gives hope because some who read it will be able to do something and effect change because of it.
    • I am hopeful that education reform will come. The sham that is “education” in India is now exposed.
    • I saw hope in the children. They all played together and helped each other. They are the next generation. They can lead the change.
  • Questions: Are women more free in the slums than in rural India?
    • Asha and Manju have much better, more free lives living in the slum.
    • Although Asha plays the system very deliberately, I found I liked her resilience and resourcefulness.
    • Yes, her simple Indian truth that to pay people off in the beginning is always better than having to wait until you are out of options.
    • She built her own empire using the corrupt system in a smart way.  She was simply working within the rules of her society.
    • She was “street smart.”
    • She reminded me of my Chicago precinct captain. Not very different we all agreed.
  • Question: I stopped the talk of the women for a moment because people were dying to address the blurred sense of right and wrong in this world.
    • Asha is moral because she is doing what she needs to survive and take care of her family.
    • What is right and what is wrong when society is turned upside down? When the government and police are corrupt, what do you do?
    • I wished that Asha would be proud of Manju for wanting to be “better,” but instead Asha celebrated when her daughter started to follow in her own footsteps.
    • One participant shared a story when she made a “wrong” choice when faced with stupid government rules.  She was caring for her dying mother and needed a copy of her mother’s birth certificate.  She had power of attorney but her mother was mentally incapacitated.  The government would not issue the daughter her mother’s birth certificate.  Each time they asked this woman if she was the person in question, she told the truth and said no, I am her daughter. Her request was denied.  After weeks of making calls and playing by the rules, one day she answered YES when they asked if she was the person whose birth certificate was being requested.  She had it in days.  She totally understands how the people in this book make the choice to get results over being in the right and hers was such a small example.  Imagine the life and death situations in this book.
    • This story was a fantastic addition to our discussion and really helped those who were completely disgusted by the corruption and “amoral” behavior to see the story with more compassion.
  • Question: Why did Boo choose to frame her 4 years of research around an event in the middle-- Fatima’s burning.  Boo starts the book at this midpoint and then circles back? Let’s talk about why she made this storytelling choice.
    • The overall theme of the book is that they are surrounded by lies, corruption and poverty with no way out.  Fatima’s burning is a “flashy” way to put a major theme right at the start.
    • As a storytelling technic, she could have chosen any of the people because their lives are so intertwined and also so demonstrative of all of the problems, but Fatima’s burning is attention grabbing. A good center spoke from which the story can branch out.
  • Question: We had a general discussion of the inequality in all societies using this one in particular as a jumping off point.  Here are some of the most interesting comments:
    • The society is so corrupt that the people with the most power are the most corrupt. It keeps feeding itself.
    • One of my favorite insights was when Abdul overheard a police officer talking about not being able to afford the bare necessities for his family. Abdul was shocked.  This opened his eyes to the wider world.
    • Manju had 3 ways she could get out-- find an entrepreneurial niche like Abdul, go with politics and corruption like her mom, or get an education. She chose education, but had no model of someone it worked for.
    • How different is it really than in some of our poorest places in America. These are common issues al over the world; this book just shows an extreme.
    • It is a destitute slum next to a fancy airport. An airport with people from all over the world going in and out each day.  It was a brilliant narrative choice. It is too striking a contrast not to notice.
    • A lot of these issues are because of population.  Overall the world has too many people, but there are cities in India with populations larger than the entire country of Canada.  That is crazy.
    • Back to places where it is bad in America.  Someone shared the work she has done with some of the poorest reservations in South Dakota.  It is not much better there.  They too lack running water for example. Would millions of people read a book about the reservation? It is much harder to face the skeletons in your own closet. Maybe this book will allow others to look at the inequalities closer to home though-- like we are.
  • Question: Let’s talk title
    • The title is literally from the advertisements for tiles on the wall separating the airport from the slum which say “Behind the Beautiful Forever.” So since there are multiple ads in a row, you get the plural.  
    • I liked how the title connects with Fatima’s burning which is central to the story.  A remodel and going out to buy tiles figures prominently in that scene.
    • We also talked about how the title is not capitalized on the cover and what that could mean. One person said she thought it was because we are looking behind the wall at lesser people.  Not capitalizing reinforces that.
  • We had a general conversation on the ending. It was frustrating to many how open it was. We read the last paragraph out loud. We talked about how it closes up the stories of the people in the book and opens up the story as it will continue.
  • Someone else said she didn’t realize this was nonfiction until she got to the end and read the author’s note. “If I knew it was real, I would have read it differently.” She probably would have liked it more.
  • Question: Who had the best life in the book and why?
    • No one wanted to answer this question because all of their lives were so bad, but I made people offer things up.
    • Zehurisia- 2 votes
    • Manju- 2 votes
    • Abdul- 4 vote
    • Asha- 2 votes
    • Sunil- 1 vote
    • Meena- 1 vote, but she clarified because Meena does kill herself.  But this participant felt that she was inspirational in her ability to be philosophical in the face of her terrible life. She had the right idea but couldn’t survive with that idea in her world.
  • Words or phrases to describe this book:
    • ugly
    • makes you see/ opens your eyes
    • corruption
    • frustrating
    • poetic
    • memorable
    • new look at India
    • overwhelming
    • real people
Readalikes: During the discussion someone mentioned that this book is eye opening much like the 1962 publication of The Other America by Michael Harrington.

In that similar vein, the style of writing [compelling yet still journalistic] and the brutal honest truth about the way people on the margins live was reminiscent of Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. We read that book in book club many moons ago.

Now these are both American parallels.  Many will want to read more about India. For them I have a plethora of fiction and nonfiction suggestions.

The novel The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga is a compelling story which gives a realistic peek into life as a poor Indian.  It also plays brilliantly with the idea of a twisted sense of morality when living in such a corrupt society, just like BtBFs. With this link you can also see a few more readalikes that I included in my review of The White Tiger, including The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri.

For a little lighter, but still honest, look into modern India in novel form, I highly suggest the Vish Puri mysteries by Tarquin Hall

In terms of nonfiction about slums, NoveList suggests Favela by Janice Perlman about the Rio de Janeiro slums or Shadow Cities by Robert Neuwirth which includes India.

Finally, one person compared BtBFs to when we read Escape from Camp 14 because in both cases she learned something horrible that is going on in her world right now and she is completely powerless to help.  That was very frustrating to her, but she did make an interesting comparison in terms of appeal.  Yes, she did not like the book for that reason, but others may want to read more books that let them know about world problems that are not on their radar as of yet.  This is a great example of one of my favorite training tips-- you can learn just as much about who to suggest a book to from the people who hated it as you can from someone who loves it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Game of Thrones as the Best Kind of Storytelling-- Spoilers Ahead

Okay, so there was A LOT of reaction to the Game of Thrones finale on Sunday, heck to the entire season, but I have something to say about the reaction more than what happened in the plot. I waited a few days to give people time to watch.

First, let me be clear that there was a lot of issues with violence against women this season. I will not deny that, nor be an apologist for it. On the other hand, this series (both in print and on TV) is one of the only places today where you can find women in such strong, interesting, and nuanced roles. There is also the point that the historical context of this fantasy series is set during an era that Martin has likened to Europe in the mid 1400s when violence against women was par for the course. If anything, this is less awful than the real time it is based on.

But the point of this post is not to talk about that.  I want to talk about how upset people got when Jon Snow was murdered at the end of the episode/season.  Let’s not quibble about whether or not he is dead.  I want to talk about how physically and actually upset people got because a fictional character died.

I love it!

That is some amazing storytelling if Martin and the show writers can get millions of people to be upset in real life over fiction.  The power of producing real emotions from a made up situation is awesome to behold.

I have seen this happen in book club a few times. Like the time someone got so mad at Briony from Atonement that she stood up, started pointing in the air at the cover with the picture of Briony, and proceeded to scream at Briony (a fictional character).

I have had smaller versions of this happen when someone is very angry at the choices a character makes too.

In all of these circumstances, Jon Snow included, I calm the reader in question down by reminding them that they are this upset about something that is made up. I remind them of this not to make them look stupid, rather I follow up this statement by telling them what a testament to the author’s skills it is that they could elicit this physical response from us.

The very best fiction can feel real. This is a truth that sadly, many people poo-poo.  I still encounter people who do not think fiction is worth their time because it is “fake.” Or, it is okay for children but not grownups.

Well, to these people I say you are stupid and wrong.  I witnessed thousands of people having a very real experience on Sunday night. I saw true anger and sadness. I saw pure and unfiltered emotion. And I was so proud of the example it set of the power of a great story.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Future of the Book

So it’s almost dinner time and I haven’t posted yet today.  Then I realized, I had been working all day on future projects.  Some are next month, some a few months from now, and even one a year away.

I was so focused on the future that I lost track of the present...today’s post.  Thankfully though, all this future thinking reminded me of one of my favorite resources.

The Millions, hands down my favorite online literary site, is filled with interesting, outside the box writing about books and culture.  One example is the occasional feature, The Future of the Book. In this feature, authors and contributors take the title of said feature and craft an essay on that topic.

The results not only produce a nice range of essays on an interesting topic, but just looking through the archive of all of the essays in one place makes you realize what an open topic “The Future of the Book” is.  Just seeing the vastly different places each author takes this topic makes you think about what books mean to people-- right now. Because whenever we talk about “The Future,” we are actually analyzing the present [the definition of what SF does].

As a RA librarian, I think it is important to step back from time to time to look at books and reading from an “outside the library” perspective. This is a great example.

Click on over to the feature and see what you can learn about yourself, your patrons, and where reading and books are right now to get a sense of where you think it all going.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Monday Discussion: What Data Do You Want About Your Service to Readers?

In keeping with last week’s Monday Discussion when I asked what you wanted to know about your staff, today I want to know what you want to know about your service to your readers--from their perspective.

I don’t mean the obvious, as in you make a list of all the things you do for leisure readers at your library.  Rather what do you want to know about what your patrons, the readers you are serving, think about the services you provide to them?

As I prepare my new service of auditing libraries’ services to leisure readers, I am toying with the idea of capturing data about how patrons use these services, which they are aware of, and what they do NOT know you are trying to do for them.

For example, at my former employer I was very proud of the fact that we left out the return carts to encourage patrons to browse them.  Some did, but how many people didn’t know they were allowed to root through this treasure trove of reading suggestions.  Also, did people enjoy and use the annotated lists we prepared with our displays? Because if they did not either know about them or use them, that would be a problem. A lot of effort went into creating them. Could that time be better spent on a different service? One they actually would use?

If we want to improve our service to leisure readers, we have to understand what they want and need. We need to assess what we are doing that is working and what we are spending time on that is not succeeding.  RA service is VERY important as part of our libraries’ customer service and PR plan (more on this in future weeks), but it is also the easiest thing for library administrators to cut.

These are just a few examples.  Now it is your turn.

For today’s Monday Discussion let me know what data or information you want to know from your readers. If you could ask them what services they most want and/or already use, what would those questions look like.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Audiobook Appeal and More for Audiobook Month

So it is no secret here that I am a huge consumer of audiobooks.  I have not always been, however.  In fact, I can trace my conversion from audiobook illiterate to fiend to one person...Joyce Saricks.

Currently, Joyce is the Audio Editor over at Booklist. But before that, we co-taught a RA class for over 7 years together. Since we had a day when we discussed audiobooks included in the syllabus, I was forced to start listening to audiobooks on a more regular basis [so I could know what I was talking about]. I had Joyce help me pick out those first few titles, and now, I have become quite adept at helping myself and others with this format.

You can click here to see my many posts on helping readers to find the right audio book for them.

And now it is June, which in case you didn’t know is audiobook month. As I am sure you can guess, Joyce and her employer have a lot of great information to share with all of us.  I cannot think of a better person to explain the joy of audiobooks to you, so I have compiled a few links for you today:

For all things audiobooks on RA for All, click here including my list of my favorite audiobook resources.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Library Reads: July 2015

Here’s the newest list. Click here for past lists. Reminder, they make awesome backlist options.

July 2015 LibraryReads List


Kitchens of the Great
Midwest: A Novel

by J. Ryan Stradal

by Pamela Dorman Books
ISBN: 9780525429142
“This novel is quirky and colorful. The story revolves around chef Eva Thorvald and the people who influence her life and her cooking. With well-drawn characters and mouthwatering descriptions of meals, Kitchens of the Great Midwest will appeal to readers who like vivid storytelling. Foodies will also enjoy this delicious tale.”
                                                                    Anbolyn Potter, Chandler Public Library, Chandler, AZ 

Circling the Sun: A Novel

by Paula McLain

Published: 7/28/2015 by Ballantine Books
ISBN: 9780345534187
“I couldn’t stop reading this fascinating portrayal of Beryl Markham, a complex and strong-willed woman who fought to make her way in the world on her terms. McLain paints a captivating portrait of Africa in the 1920s and the life of expats making their home there. Highly, highly recommended.”
Halle Eisenman, Beaufort County Library, Hilton Head, SC 

Kiss Me: A Novel

by Susan Mallery

Published: 6/30/2015/2015 by HQN Books
ISBN: 9780373780129
“As always, Ms. Mallery has given us a fantastic read. As soon as I pick up her titles, I can’t put them down until I have finished them. They are feel-good, heartwarming —
I need more synonyms. I love seeing all the previous characters, the friendships and families that have formed since Chasing Perfect came out five years ago. Thanks, Ms. Mallery, for another amazing read.”
Jenelle Klavenga, Marshalltown Public Library, Marshalltown, IA 

Second Chance Summer: A Novel

by Jill Shalvis

Published: 6/30/2015 by Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 9781455586738
“I loved this book, a perfect start to the newest series by Jill Shalvis. It contains the same humor, heart and heat that we’ve come to expect from this author. It should be on every romance reader’s summer reading list.”
Carole Tossman, Howard County Library System, Columbia, MD 

Speaking in Bones: A Novel

by Kathy Reichs

Published: 7/21/2015 by Bantam
ISBN: 9780345544049
“This book lives up to the expectations we have for Kathy Reichs. A compelling and dangerous mystery, lots of medical details, and good characterization make this a title that will be easy to recommend!”
Leslie Johnson, Jefferson County Public Library, Lakewood, CO 

Those Girls: A Novel

by Chevy Stevens

Published: 7/7/2015 by St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250034588
Those Girls follows the lives of the Campbell sisters. After running away from their alcoholic father, they find themselves caught in a worse situation when they are kidnapped. As events spiral out of control, they manage to escape and create new lives. This is a tale that will captivate readers and show just how strong the bond between family members can be.”
Annice Sevett, Willmar Public Library, Willmar, Minnesota 

Maybe in Another Life: A Novel

by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Published: 7/7/2015 by Washington Square Press
ISBN: 9781476776880
“Hannah Martin has just moved back to LA after ending a relationship. Her best friend, Gabby, takes her out to a bar on her first night home. Enter Ethan, the One Who Got Away, and suddenly, Hannah has to decide if she’ll leave with Ethan or Gabby. We follow Hannah after choosing both options, alternating chapters to explore the consequences of each. A must for anyone who loves a hankie with their books!”
                                                                  Tracy Babiasz, Chapel Hill Public Library, Chapel Hill, NC

Crooked Heart: A Novel

by Lissa Evans

Published: 7/28/2015 by Harper
ISBN: 9780062364838
Crooked Heart is a rewarding, addictive read. Orphaned ten-year-old bookworm Noel, sent away to rural St. Albans, finds himself under the reluctant guardianship of Vee, aka Mrs. Vera Sledge. Amidst a chaotic background of bombings and uncertain futures, Vee and Noel gradually form a powerful bond. I recommend this darkly humorous, honest, and complex story. It is book club heaven.”
Janet Schneider, Oceanside Library, Oceanside, NY 

Love Lies Beneath: A Novel

by Ellen Hopkins

Published: 7/21/2015 by Atria Books
ISBN: 9781476743653
“An intriguing tale of sex, romance and deception. Tara is a brilliant, sexy forty-something. She’s enjoying being single until Cavin, a handsome doctor, enters her exam room. They have a hot and steamy romance but there is much, much more to this story. Ellen Hopkins commands each word on the page from her prose to verse.”
Laura Hartwig, Meriden Public Library, Meriden, CT 

Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day

by Leanne Brown

Published: 7/14/2015 by Workman Publishing Company
ISBN: 9780761184997
“Wow! This is a great looking book. Great for beginners with its details about ingredients and kitchen tools. Best of all, each recipe is made from ingredients that most everyone has; there were only two ingredients in the whole book that I don’t own. This book is just what my doctor ordered, literally. I am a basic cook and like simple and tasty. This book is OUTSTANDING!
Nancy Chalk, Charlton Public Library, Charlton, MA

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Join ARRT and Cristina Henriquez To Discuss The Book of Unknown Americans

One of the benefits to being a member of ARRT is our Literary Book Discussions and Leadership Training.

Our next one is going to be pretty great. From the ARRT website:
The next ARRT Quarterly Book Discussion and Leadership Training has an added bonus.  The author of the book will be available to participate in the discussion! 
Please join us to discuss The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.  Interwoven with stories of other men and women coming to America, The Book of Unknown Americans tells the hardships, joys, loves, and sorrows of the Rivera and Toro families as they struggle to make their life and home in America. 
The group will be meeting: 
Date:  Wednesday, July 8th 
Time 2:00 to 4:30p (extra time for discussion with the author)
       20 East Maple Street
       Hinsdale, IL 60521
As always, discussion of the book include a nuts-and-bolts session devoted to sharing practical solutions to the problems and concerns of book discussion leaders.  Part of this discussion will focus on involving authors in book club events.  Additionally, participants can discuss what has worked with their group, what hasn't worked, and pose any questions they may want to discuss with the group.
Please click here for details on how to RSVP.  Unlike our programs, which are open to anyone, the book discussions are for members only.  However, membership is only $10 and you can join at the meeting.  Click here for information on how to become a member.

This meeting with Henriquez is part of our active rebranding of the Literary Book Discussions and Leadership training that began in January with our discussion of Life After Life. The rotating leaders are making an effort to provide useful information at the discussion and to compile take away documents including a summary of both the discussion of the book and the nuts and bolts portion of the discussion.

I am especially excited for this July meeting, as we get to ask an author about what they want to get out of attending a book discussion. What makes it a better experience for her and for the group?

I am also working on creating a simple website where ARRT will gather, share, and actively disseminate this valuable information sure to help book group leaders everywhere, members or not.

Look for more information on this front. I hope to eventually make it one of the most valuable resources for library led book discussions.  [I know, reaching high, but life’s too short to aim low.]

In the meantime, here is a tease of what you will find at the July 8th discussion besides the obvious discussion stuff-- a musical playlist created by Henriquez to be paired with The Book of Unknown Americans [via Largehearted Boy].

I hope to see you there.  Seriously, if you can make it and are not a member, contact me and I can make it happen.  We already have 23 signed up. It will be a great chance for area book discussion leaders to not only meet a great author, but to also meet each other.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Let’s Talk About Genre-- The Good and the Bad

There is no question that the #1 trend in all adult fiction is that genres are blending. This is not a new trend; in fact, I have been teaching it for years, but it is reaching the tipping point.

But what does that mean for us as we work with readers? Do we need to abandon “genre as we work with readers? No, we just have to understand that genre is a tool. Tools help us but they need us to use them in order to “fix” things. Tools do not do the work themselves, they need a knowledgable user. Learn the tool and you can use it to it’s full potential.

Earlier this year I did a talk entitled “Working With Genre Fiction Readers,” in which I addressed this genre blending predicament head on. In that presentation I talk about my favorite essay on this topic, Michael Chabon’s “Trickster in a Suit of Lights,” from the first chapter in his book Maps and Legends. The quick summary of this essay is that the very best literature happens on the “borderlands” where genres blend and merge.

I was remembering back to this talk when, through my daily email from LitHub, I was notified of this FANTASTIC conversation between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro in which they talk frankly about genre, both the perks of using it and the hinderances of being bound by it.

I spend a lot of of my time trying to help library staff understand what makes a genre, a genre because in learning this you will be able to better navigate this spaces between them. This rich space is where more and more of the books we are matching up to our patrons tastes are operating within.

The first thing to remember..and think of yourself here... is that readers do not only read genre fiction. Even the biggest mystery fan in the world reads authors in suspense once in a while. While many horror readers love psychological suspense and dark fantasy.

Readers may not even classify themselves as a reader of a genre. As you work with them, you might realize they have genre preferences, but if they are not offering to label the books they like on their own, don’t do it for them. Keep the information and your suspicions to yourself and use them to help you tackle the problem at hand...finding this reader a book.

It is equally as important to remember while authors are definitely much more cognizant of genre, they are also not constrained by it. In fact, the conversation between Gaiman and Ishiguro, linked above, hits this point exactly.  These two writers use genre liberally, but also nontraditionally, to craft universally accepted, award winning works of Literary Fiction. We can learn a lot from them, both about how to be a reader of todays fiction and how to better help our patrons find their next good read.

Look, it is not as if genres are surrounded by electric fences and the writers and readers have to get zapped in order to cross genres. Neither is there a war zone between genres. You laugh, but I always worry when I teach genre specifics on the blog on in a webinar that you will all lose sight of this important fact. It is important to understand the specifics of genres, but only if you use this information as your guidebook to help you navigate through the RA transaction NOT as a law which if broken will put you in jail.

So let’s take our example from Chabon, Gaiman, and Ishiguro.  Genre is helpful to start our conversations with readers. It gives us a jumping off point, but due to the nature of fiction today, we cannot allow ourselves to be constrained by it.

This is a topic I will be addressing here in more depth in the coming weeks, but for now, check out my presentation on the topic and the Gaiman-Ishiguro conversation.

Also, the expert in this area of genre blending in our public library worldview of the issue is Megan McArdle, who literally wrote the book on the topic. You should also go to her blog, Genrify, and check out her book for a more detailed discussion on this topic.