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, September 29, 2017

What I'm Reading: Booklist Reviews Edition

I have three reviews in the current issue of Booklist, including one of the long list titles for this year's National Book Award which I reviewed before it got that designation, and [spoiler alert], I loved it! Let's do that one first.....

But first, disclaimer: As always, these reviews are my draft reviews and any other notes on appeal which I want to elaborate on. As a result, there is more information here on the blog than in Booklist , but the full citation to the published review is included.

Her Body and Other Parties.
Machado, Carmen Maria (author).
Oct. 2017. 264p. Graywolf, paperback, $16 (9781555977887)
First published October 1, 2017 (Booklist).

Women, and more specifically their bodies, and the violence done to them, both by themselves and others, is at the center of Machado’s inventive, sensual, and eerie debut horror collection. These are stories that use situations in equal turns familiar and yet completely strange to provide a narrative about what it is like to inhabit the female body. We see, for example, a woman listing an inventory of her sexual encounters as humanity is being destroyed by a plague, a shop clerk who realizes that the dresses she is selling absorb the women who wear them, and a woman dealing with a surprise side effect after her gastric bypass surgery. In the most ambitious of the lot, “Especially Heinous,” all 12 seasons of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit are reimaged as a single, coherent tale, told with a paragraph to match each episode title. The result is a compelling story that shines a light on the horror of the television series while also creating its own unique standalone plot that is satisfyingly creepy and surreal. But no matter the specifics, the writing is always lyrical, the narration refreshingly direct, and the sex, abundant, and while the supernatural elements are not overt- there are no evil demons, vampires, or ghosts hiding in the corners waiting to jump out and scare you here-- every single one of these stories is terrifying. These are weird tales that present a slightly askew version of the world as we know it, and which after reading force us all, no matter our gender, to reconsider our current life choices and relationships. Readers who like the works of authors as varied as Roxanne Gay, Jeff Vandermeer and Karen Russell will find much to enjoy here.

Further Appeal: I didn’t really know how to mention this without making it seemed forced in the review, but there is a strong LGBTQ frame here, but like me not wanting to force it into the review, what I love about the gay issues here is that they are brought up naturally. The characters' sexual preferences are not classifiable or even static-- they just are what they are because that’s how the character feels. I really liked that part of the book.

I have to laugh, because this collection was categorized as horror when it was given to me for review in August-- and it is, or at least very dark fantasy-- but now that it is long listed for a major award, it has magically transformed into “Literary.” *sigh* Not Machado’s fault.

These stories are raw, frank, violent, and “weird,” but they are also beautiful and thought provoking. Despite the dark and serious subject matter, these are stories you want to read, and reread.

And seriously, even if you have never watched L&O: SVU, that novella is awesome! The story within the actual storylines of the show is one of the best things I have read in a while.

Three Words That Describe This Book: inventive, frank, thought-provoking

Readalikes: I think the three authors listed at the end of the review present a range of what you can expect from this collection. But please don’t forget the great work Jeff Vandermeer and his wife Ann have done promoting and publishing “Weird Fiction” throughout their careers.

Mary Rose.
Girard, Geoffrey (author).
Oct. 2017. 272p. Adaptive, paperback, $12.99 (9781945293368); e-book (9781945293450)
First published October 1, 2017 (Booklist).

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s biggest regrets is that he never had the chance to adapt J.M. Barrie’s ghost story, “Mary Rose,” into a dark thriller. But thankfully, Girard took up the cause bringing this forgotten story to the attention of a 21st Century audience. Simon, a Philadelphia lawyer and Mary Rose, a talented graphic designer are in love; however, a trip back to Mary Rose’s parent’s home in England, so Simon can ask for her hand in marriage, leads to a startling revelation. 20 years previously, while on holiday on a remote island in Scotland, Mary Rose disappeared into thin air...for 33 days! She reappeared unharmed with no memory of the event, but the experience has haunted her since. Simon, determined to figure out what really happened, returns with Mary Rose to the island, only to find it has a dark, magical hold on his fiance. In chapters that urgently alternate between Simon and Mary Rose’s points of view, this is a claustrophobic and terrifying tale, populated with horrors both real and imaginary, that starts with intense dread and continuously ratchets up from there, building to an intense climax with multiple, satisfying twists, and a chilling but beautiful ending. With its perfect blend of  the currently popular, domestic psychological suspense frame with a compelling, supernatural horror plot, Mary Rose is a ghost story for the ages and should be suggested to a wide range of readers, starting with those who love Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes, David Mitchell’s Slade House or even classic Straub.

Appeal: I have to say, I had no idea what to expect here and this book surprised me with how good it was. It is going to be enjoyed by a wide audience because of it’s similarity to the popular domestic suspense craze, but with the clearly supernatural frame, it is easy to book talk and make it stand out.

Also, the tie in to literary history is cool. That will hook other readers. Fans of J.M. Barrie or Hitchcock will want to read this. 

It was a good old fashioned, suspenseful ghost story. It was eerie and creepy with great characters and a compelling pace. Seriously, hand this out freely to lots of readers. 

Three Words That Describe This Book: shifting point of view, creepy, satisfying plot twists

Readalikes: Besides what is suggested above I would also suggest backlist Hall of Famers- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and the cult favorite House of Leaves by Daniel  

More recently, this book reminded me of The Darkling by R.B. Chesterton, another domestic psychological suspense with supernatural elements- although that one came out before we had this domestic suspense inundation.

Haunted Nights.

Datlow, Ellen (editor) and Lisa Morton (editor).
Oct. 2017. 368p. Anchor, paperback, $16.95 (9781101973837); e-book (9781101973844)First published October 1, 2017 (Booklist).

Internationally renowned Halloween expert, Lisa Morton has teamed up with award-winning editor, Ellen Datlow to solicit 16 brand new stories from members of the Horror Writers Association including New York Times best selling authors like Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, and Kelley Armstrong and critically acclaimed speculative fiction all-stars like John Langan, Stephen Graham Jones, and Jeffrey Ford. Their assignment, to honor the traditions of Halloween and celebrate the renaissance in the popularity of its literature by crafting a story to showcase why the holiday is the perfect fodder for a terrifying tale. And they have definitely succeeded as the entire collection from start to finish is solid and refreshing, featuring great stories that don’t resort to overused tropes, but more importantly, it is an example of the full breadth of what readers can expect from horror today-- from surreal to creepy to full blown, visceral terror. Of particular note is the not to miss story about a Halloween party gone terribly wrong by up-and-comer S.P. Miskowski, “We’re Never Inviting Amber Again.” Whether you use this book to assist you in your collection development or to suggest to patrons as the perfect holiday companion, Haunted Nights is a sure bet way to celebrate Halloween and its millenia-old history this year and for many more to come.

Appeal: I didn't give this one a star because honestly, it doesn't need it. You will and should buy this collection because it will be checked out often. Big name authors, acclaimed editors, and Halloween-- that’s all you need to know.

Put this on displays every October, yes, but also hand it out other times of year when you want a book to give people who want to give horror a try. This will showcase the range of the genre today and readers can pick and choose what they want.

This is a no-brainer add to every public library. It will be read and enjoyed by many.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Halloween, best-selling authors, genre overview

Readalikes: Besides other books by the authors included in the volume and books edited by Morton or Datlow, readers might want other Halloween themed reads. A few of my favorites in that category are:

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Suggested Recent Romance Reads

Thanks to everyone for the positive feedback on yesterday’s post shaming the NYT about their horrible and judgmental romance column.

Many of you are also admitting, like me, that you love to work with romance readers but don’t read a lot of romance yourself, yet my post inspired you to try something new. This has led many of you to ask me what you should read. As I was prepping a different post for today, and answering your questions via email and Twitter in between editing, I realized I should probably post a few lists and suggestions here.

First, some of you don’t want lists or websites to find your own, you just want me to give you a title or two. Ok, so here are two I would highly suggest for any reader to try with a link to the Goodreads record: An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole or A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev.  Both have enough frame that is not romance specific to draw in non-romance readers. But that being said, all romance novels are frame heavy, so if you have a frame or setting you really enjoy, you can probably find a romance set within it.

One of the biggest growth areas in romance is Male-Male Romance, and they're being enjoyed by all kinds of readers- men and women, gay and straight. Try Hot Head by Damon Suede [a favorite of my friend and romance expert Robin Bradford] or this crowd sourced list from fans on Goodreads.

Now for those of you who want longer lists and resources try:

I am so glad my post got all of us in libraryland talking about Romance and how to serve our readers better. Now let's get the rest of the book world to do better too.

Tomorrow I will have that other post I was working on-- three of my reviews from the most recent issue of Booklist- oh and I have Jury Duty all day. That is bound to create some original blog material-- well, at least for the horror blog.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Don’t Be Judgmental About What People Like to Read-- The NYT Book Review Fails Again

I would like to start this post by saying I hate the fact that I have been calling the NYT Book Review out for their failures recently. Specifically, I was [and still am] very angry about the Book Match column [it’s still the pinned tweet at the top of my Twitter timeline], but there is a much more detailed discussion of the larger problems here.

I am a life long home delivery subscriber of the paper. I walked a mile, literally [round trip], every day in college to get my reserved copy at A.J Hastings. I would seriously think twice before moving somewhere that home delivery of this paper was not an option.

But despite this, and despite some positive changes the NYT Book coverage has made over the last few years, all I want to do after this weekend’s debacle with this Romance columnA Roundup of the Seasonal Romance Novels” by Robert Gottlieb is shake my fists in anger. 

Why are people still making fun of Romance books? Who cares if you like them or not? Who care if you think they are “good Literature” or not? If you don’t like them, don’t read them and most certainly, do not write a column highlighting the genre for the biggest book coverage media outlet in the land and inject it with your judgey-mcjudgers attitude. This does not make you seem smart. This does not make your seem Literary. This makes you look stupid, petty, and mean.

There are so many things wrong with this column. The first of which is that it is supposed to highlight the best of the genre right now and all it does is disparage the genre. I am not going to go through and point every problem out because Ron Hogan already did an excellent job at that in his piece, “All the Dumb Things You Can Say About Romance Novels, In One Convenient Place.” I especially like this statement which condemns the author [a respected editor of the likes of Toni Morrison and Doris Lessing]:
Now, the New York Times may not be the only place an 86-year-old white man get away with saying a black woman’s characters don’t seem very black to him without anybody in the editorial chain chiming in about whether this literally gratuitous swipe is really necessary to the overarching theme of the essay. But it’s a place where this sort of thing is not uncommon. 
couple things I noticed on  my first reading of this column [yes, I have read it more than once] were:

  1. Gottlieb says there are only two categories of romance right now-- Regency or Contemporary. WHAT?!?! Okay, thats just straight out wrong and any decent editor would have questioned this. Heck, any librarian would have immediately called foul by pulling out all of the paranormal and Amish romances waiting to be shelved at this very second. Here is the Romance Writers of Americas most recent list of all of the subgenres, and please note, Historical is a subgenre under which Regency falls, but Regency is by no means the only historical period covered in Romance novels.
  2. His anger about Romances always and forever ending with the HEA and marriage is actually even more troubling. THAT IS THE RULE OF THE GENRE. If it doesnt end that way, it isnt a romance.  Again, defer to the experts at RWA with their definition of the Romance Genre which states that a Romance must have, "An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love." What is wrong with you Gottlieb? Next you are going to tell us how annoying it that Fantasy relies on the crutch of magic to tell a story. Oh, Im sorry, the editors wouldnt let that in because men write Fantasy so it is a higher genre. Women writers and women readers arent worth as much, so we can make fun of the fact that their genre has rules and tropes. 
Again, there is much, much more here, but Hogan does an excellent job of breaking it down, so read him too. And, since he is a man standing up for the genre and its readers, people might actually listen.

Look, I am not surprised that a Literary Fiction editor wrote condescendingly about Romance. I am not naive. But I am angry that the editors at the NYT Book Review let this drivel be published the way it was written.

Finally please know that I am not a Romance expert, or even a fan, but I have been on the record as saying that Romance readers are among my favorite to help. They love their books and they can tell you why. They know what they are looking for and can discuss their personal appeal preferences. Most importantly, romance readers have taught me how to be a better RA librarian. I have learned how to listen to what readers are asking for and then apply that to the resources to identify titles for them even when I am not a reader of that type of book myself. Romance readers give us feedback. They cheer when we get a suggestion right and lay into us when we are wrong [nicely]. Also, they are the best book talkers around. You want to learn to book talk better, ask a romance reader to tell you about their recent favorite. I promise you will learn something.

I love Romance because the fans love it. They energize me to find them another wonderful read.

Our first rule of RA Service, the fact that we are all guided by as we start each day helping readers, is Betty Rosenberg's, “Never apologize for your reading tastes.” Now I get that book reviews are supposed to judge a book’s merit. Again, I am not naive, I am paid reviewer of genre titles. I understand my charge. I currently love Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewksi. It is an awesome horror novel. But is it the best book I have ever read? Of course not. But that wasn’t my charge to compare it to ALL books. I was reviewing it’s merits as a horror novel, and as such, it is wonderful!

When others in the book world decide to be judgmental about an entire genre of books in principle, rather than judging each book on its merit based on the genre’s rules and tropes-- that is wrong. It is mean. It is detrimental to all genre reviews and reviewers because it is unprofessional.

And, most importantly,  it doesn’t help any readers find their next good read. And NYT Book Review, I ask you, why else would you have a Romance column unless you wanted to help Romance readers? Seriously, why did you print this because I cannot figure out why except that you are unprofessional and mean-- both things I don’t think you are or are trying to be.

There are many people waiting for an explanation and an apology.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

One Book One Garden-- The Sequel

Back in March, I led the first ever One Book One Garden book discussion at the Chicago Botanic Garden. We read The Invention of Nature by Andrea WulfClick here for all of the details on that book and our discussion.
Well, I will be back to reprise my role as the moderator of this awesome series with a discussion of Lab Girl by Hope Jahren in November.
While you have to be able to physically get to the Chicago Botanic Garden in order to participate, this  event is open to anyone and it is free.  
If you are not a regular visitor to the garden but you love discussing books, now is your chance to visit for free.
For those of you who live far away, dont worry, I will post my handouts and the discussion report soon after the event. 
But also, for every reader of my blog, no matter where you may reside, I hope you look at this series as an inspiration to help you to rethink your own book discussions. I was  energized by leading a discussion of people who don’t normally participate in book discussions. They brought a different energy and focus that made me rethink the purpose of book discussions-- in a good way.
Working with the dedicated and enthusiastic staff for the Lenhardt Library also has made me more aware of the wide range of partnership opportunities that are out there which we do not take proper advantage of. For example, does your town have a small, niche museum or even a historical society? What about a senior center? Most have at least one of these things. But are you partnering with them to have book discussions? Have you reached out to work with them on programming? Why not? You have two unique groups of users who may not use the other's services, but both of you can benefit from bringing these groups together for a shared event. A book discussion is an easy bridge. It’s something everyone can relate to. 
So join us if you can, but if not, use this post to rethink how and where you offer book discussions. Reach out to other groups who might love to have this opportunity to have a book discussion with their patrons but don’t even know where to begin to make it happen. Be that bridge and they will remember you helped them get started. No one says you have to lead them forever, just let them know you are there to help and see what happens.
Join us for a discussion of Fulbright Award-winning geobiologist Hope Jahren's book, Lab Girl.
Hope Jahren

One Book One Garden

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Lenhardt Library
Free; preregistration required
Join us for the second installment of our new program, One Book One Garden—a book discussion at the Lenhardt Library.
Our featured book is Fulbright Award-winning geobiologist Hope Jahren's Lab Girl.
In her widely-acclaimed debut memoir, published in 2016, Jahren traces her life through stories from her childhood days growing up in rural Minnesota to her years of college, graduate school, and building three laboratories for studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Growing up, Jahren found a sense of sanctuary and purpose in her father’s lab at the local community college where he taught physics and earth science. Her passion is plants and she intersperses her own stories with a fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world.
Author Cheryl Strayed notes, “Lab Girl made me look at trees differently. It compelled me to ponder the astonishing grace and gumption of a seed. Perhaps most important, it introduced me to an inspiring woman—a scientist so passionate about her work I felt myself vividly with her on every page. This is a smart, enthralling, and winning debut.”
Selections from the Lenhardt Library’s Rare Book Collection will be available for viewing during the program.
Our discussion will be led by reader’s advisor, Becky Spratford, who trains library staff all over the world to match books with readers and lead book discussions. Please register early as space is limited.
Copies of Lab Girl are available for purchase in the Garden Shop. Members may also check out a copy of Lab Girl from Lenhardt Library.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Call to Action: Don’t Get Complacent About Banned Books Week

My audience for this blog is library workers and I know you know it is Banned Books Week. I also know you are all doing something to promote the week and celebrate the freedom of all to read what they want. But, I also know that because this week comes every year and also because we always do something for it, it is easy to get stuck in a rut with how we promote and celebrate.

Now more than ever we need to remind people that Banned Books Week is NOT about removal of books from our libraries. And, it is not only about kids’ books, although those are the most challenged titles. Rather it is about the rights of every American to have access to every book. That does not mean every book is right for every reader. Yes, many books may offend you. So what? Don’t read those. No one is forcing you, and besides you’ll never be able to read them all anyway. The point is that they need to be on the shelf for anyone who may want to read that title to have access to it.

No single American has the right to demand that a book be removed from a library because they don’t like it personally. They have a right to express that they found it offensive, but they cannot demand everyone else in that community not be able to read it either. Each person can make their own choice. The library puts the books on the shelf and the patrons make their own choices from there. I bought many books for my library which I would not personally read for a variety of reasons, but I still made sure they were there for my patrons because they were titles that made our collection, the choices of titles available, better and stronger.

We are losing the ability to have civil discussions about differing opinions in this country. This inability of the vast majority of our citizens to have intelligent discourse has created a chasm, a chasm which those with extremist views have exploited and have begun to fill with hateful rhetoric. The middle, we are all too scared to jump into the fray because those extremists have become the loudest voice in the room. But this is just making everything worse.

Banned Books Week is the perfect opportunity for those not on the fringes, those who may still be very far apart in their personal views but can be united by the freedom to read what you want to come together. And since in the public library, we have always celebrated Banned Books Week, we are in the power position. We need to lead the way.

"But how?" you ask me, “I put up a display. Isn’t that enough?” No it is not.

For today’s call to action, I am asking you to go over to the official Banned Books Week website and read the press release, click on the links, and watch the video. They did a great job this year. The site will fire you up. You have your display, but you don’t have the fire in your belly yet.

Then get out there and not only promote your Banned Books Week displays, but engage your patrons in conversation about the week.  Ask at every service desk if your patrons know what Banned Books Week is about. Especially talk to those who WOULD NEVER THINK TO BAN A BOOK. Those are the people we need to talk to. Those are the people who need to get fired up. Those are the people whose voices are being drowned out in America right now.

This is about them. It is about all of us. Please engage your staff and patrons and don’t be complacent. Don’t just think because your library has no challenges that you don’t have to worry. We all are part of the problem and all need to be part of the solution.

Let’s stop being complacent and become the change makers we can be in our communities. Let’s engage our patrons in the conversation so that they go out and engage others. Let’s get the message of tolerance and respect for differences out there so we can drown out the messages of hate.

Now get out there and help us save America, one Banned Books Week conversation at a time.

For past Call to Action Posts, click here.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Happy Fall

Today is Fall. Ahh, cool breezes, falling leaves, and here in Chicago today it is...95 and humid!!!  Seriously, we are in the middle of the longest heat wave of the year. *Sigh*

But today is technically the first day of Fall and I refuse to not acknowledge my favorite season.  

Fall also marks the beginning of the huge influx of titles, especially big, popular books, that will start coming at us fast and furious.

You can find the lists everywhere but here are three that I really like to get you started:
Take these lists and start getting ready for the patrons who will be coming in to ask for these titles. Get your readalikes ready now.

You can also make displays of 2016, 2015, and 2014 "Big Fall Books” for people to read while they wait for this year’s. There is no way they have read them all already and you know they are good. Plus, they are still “Big Fall Releases” just not this year’s. You’d be surprised how little patrons mind. They just want to be assured that someone thinks the book is worth reading before they commit to reading it themselves.

Get ready now because it only gets more busy, with more titles being released every week, awards being given out, and Best Lists starting as early as October.

But don’t worry, you are getting ready now, on the first day of Fall. You have it under control. You have plenty of time.

Happy Fall and have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

An Archive of My Past Podcast Appearances

So today I am visiting my friend and colleague, Becca Boland, the Assistant Head of Popular Materials/Teen Librarian at the Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich, IL. They are starting a library podcast and I am going to be one of their early guests. 

Many of you dont know this about me, but I worked in radio in a previous life. I began working at a college station as a high school senior and went on to work my way up through my college radio station, all the way to Program Director. I even spent the Summer of 1995 as an Intern at what was, at the time, one the most popular radio station in Chicago. I really considered going into radio as a career, but ultimately it was not to be [my choice].

However, one good side effect of that radio experience, is that I know what I am doing when people ask me to record podcasts with them. In fact, every time I have done a podcast, the host has said they were surprised I was so good.  Ha. Its my secret super power.

This got me thinking about the podcasts [and radio shows] I have been on. I have said a lot of good things that can help many of you, but they are scattered all over the place. So today, I present to you 1 list of all of my audio appearances. In the future I will add more to this archive as they come up, and I will also put this link at the top of my Recent and Upcoming Presentations page for easy retrieval.

Here we go....

Becky’s Podcast [and Radio] Appearance Archive:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Video Access Now Live for "How to Stay in Top Genre Shape"

Click here for the video

Remember that day, almost a month ago when Karen Toonen, Marlise Schiltz and I presented a program about genre studies for Booklist, sponsored by NoveList and at Chicago Public Library? I am hoping the answer is yes, but just in case here is the link back to that day [with access to our slides]. 

Well, now you can view the entire program for free! Click here to access the video on the Booklist YouTube page.

I am very proud of this program both for what I shared and for inviting Karen and Marlise to share  their experience, from the trenches, running genre studies-- large and small. Plus, I talk about hippos. Yup, yes I do. That was not a typo. Click here for more on that.

I am also happy to announce that this presentation has sparked me to update and revamp my popular "Demystifying Genre" series of programs. I already have some takers on the yet to be completed programs for 2017-18. It seems that staying in genre shape is emerging as a new RA training trend. I am happy to see that because I have spent a lot of time traveling the country reinforcing basic RA skills with many of you in person and through my blog posts, and now, it appears everyone is starting to feel comfortable enough to take the next step.

I can’t wait to see where this all goes. But for now, watch us making staying in genre shape manageable and fun. You can get a head start on this RA training trend-- for free!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

RA for All Roadshow Makes a Virtual Stop at Harrison [NY] Public Library

Today I am participating in the Harrison [NY] Public Library’s in service day by presenting my popular Booktalking Program for the entire staff-- virtually.

Before I get into the details and the slides here in today’s post, I wanted to use this chance to remind all of you that many of my program can be rework for a virtual appearance. In this case, I will be presenting live via Skype and can not only do the full presentation, but also answer any questions from the group.

This type of appearance allows me to visit more libraries both because it costs less and it is more easily fit into my schedule since I only need about 3 hours of actual life time to present a 60-90 minute program-- not 1-2 days for when I provide in person training.

So, if you have an inservice day coming up and want me to provide some training, but didn’t think you could get me, consider virtual and contact me.

Now back to today’s scheduled event:

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 from 2:45-3:45pm Eastern Time.

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 shares the secret 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.
Click here for slide access

Monday, September 18, 2017

Understanding the Complex Appeal of "Girl” Thrillers

Look, I know you are all sick of books being called the next Gone Girl or the next Girl on the Train, and we could all use a break from the word “girl" in the title, but I also want to caution you all to not get so caught up in being sick of this trend that you lose sight of the fact that it is still a trend and patrons still absolutely love these books.

Seriously, it is still a huge trend, but often we are too busy poo-pooing the trend still being here that we forget to keep the patron’s experience in mind. There are reasons beyond the word “girl” appearing in the title that keep bringing people back to these titles again and again. We have to keep asking ourselves that question-- Why do readers continue to love these stories?

The reasons of course, differ for each reader, but when a trend stays around this long [it’s been 5 years and 3 months since Gone Girl first came out], there are still people coming to it with fresh eyes all of the time.  We need to stop being “too cool for school” for a few moments and remember that if this is what readers want, we need to help them find more they will enjoy, and we need to do it without rolling our eyes.

Thanks to my friend and colleague, Stephen Sposato, I read this article last week in Bustle entitled, “Why Do We Love To Read “Girl” Thrillers So Much? Experts Day It’s About More Than Suspense.”

The article is excellent and well researched. Many librarians were consulted to try to figure out why these books have such staying power. Conclusions such as the way the story is told and how these books serve as a bell ringer of the scary times we live in, were only a couple among many insightful appeal assessments. The article also talks at length about how not new this trend is.

Read it now. I promise it is worth the 10 minutes it will take you. Not only will it allow you to look at a trend you are sick of with fresh eyes so that you regain that enthusiasm to help a reader looking for more of these books, but also I bet many of you will be inspired to run out and create fresh readalike lists and displays featuring the “Girl” books that just last week you thought, “If I never see one of these books again it will be too soon.”

I hope you also take this one trend example of how important it is for us to hold back our judgement when it comes to our patrons. We may be sick of a trend because we see it from start to finish, but patrons come to us with a completely different background and context. They are only looking for a good book, a good story, one featuring the things they like. They don’t need our judgment and baggage.

The entire “Girl” trend, its staying power, and our attitude about it should be a warning. Trends like this keep us in business people. No one can afford to buy all of these books, but yet, everyone can’t stop reading them. Seems like a sweet spot which we fit into perfectly. Let’s embrace our place in the giant “Girl” machine.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Library Reads: October 2017

This is your monthly Library Reads announcement.

I usually just cut and paste the same intro each month, but for the next few months I am amending it with this long introduction. I want to address the fact that Library Reads has been called out for their lists being too "white." While this is a fair criticism, blaming Library Reads is not fair because Library Reads and their Steering Committee are only the ones running the website, coordinating the eArc process, and counting the votes, the voters who pick the books are ALL OF YOU!!!! [Seriously, Steering Committee members votes do not come into play. I looked into it.]

So that means all of you-- all of us-- are falling down on the job of nominating more diverse titles-- both in terms of the ethnicity and race of the author and the genres represented. So I think the problem requires action in a two pronged strategy.

First, we need more of you to participate, especially those of you who read more diversely and widely. Basically Library Reads needs new blood. Library reads is SUPER EASY to participate in, yet despite that, as I travel the country meeting all of you, many of you do not participate and surprisingly, a lot of you don't even now how to begin. So, we are going to fix that. Here's the recording of a LibraryReads webinar on how to participate.

But one fallacy about Library Reads is that you have to write a full annotation in order for your vote to be counted. That is not true. You just need to read [or honestly skim] the eARC and then rate the book and submit your vote to Library Reads. But the webinar will explain it all.

I know many of you have not gotten involved because you thought that it was too difficult. I am here to tell you it is not. So let's get some new people submitting votes. It only takes a few new people to make a big difference. I am calling on you, my readers [and there are close to a thousand of you a day] to step up and make your voices heard.

[On a side note, while Library Reads will not release how many votes it takes for a book to make the list, a publishing rep [not a big 5] told me confidentially that she has gone back and crunched the numbers that she has seen for her titles and she estimates that about 40-45 votes gets you on the list. But to be number one, she has no idea because one of her books hasn't ever been number one.]

Second, stop voting for the obvious books. I know you like the big name authors. We all do, but seriously people, voting for big name, huge bestselling authors over and over again is helping no one. Looking at the list below for August 2017, WHY is Louise Penny taking a spot from a less well known author. Look don't get me wrong. I LOVE Louise Penny [proof here]. For goodness sake, if you go on NoveList and see the author appeal statement for her-- I WROTE THAT. So I am not dissing her. I adore her novels. But seriously is there a library worker in America who hasn't hear of Louise Penny AND who doesn't have this author on automatic hold already? NO!

We are Library Reads. We need to do better. Library Reads needs to be more proactive in helping library workers identify the great books we wouldn't know about without this resource. Don't squander the opportunity to read a great under the radar title- early and for free- and to then pass it on to others. Read Louise Penny early for yourself, but spend your time voting for the titles that will not find an audience without your expert help.

If we keep voting for the mainstream titles, the publishers will keep spending money signing similar authors, but if we use our power to vote for more diverse and less mainstream works that we know our patrons would love, titles that no one would know about without us raising our voice to be heard, we can make great change. We can force the publishers to sign more diverse authors and we can get some great reads into more library collections, and we can have a backlist archive of great titles for all readers.

I am not going to tell you what to vote for though. I want you-- all of you-- to decide for yourselves. Me telling you would be as bad as the publishers forcing titles on us [which they already do]. The more voices we can gather who each independently choose the books that they are passionate about, the better the list will be. It will be more diverse by default when more of us use this two pronged approach that I have outlined today.

Remember, Library Reads is not a nebulous group of librarians lording over us-- it is you, me, your co-workers. It is up to us to do the right thing here because goodness knows, the publishers aren't going to do it unless we force them to.

Let's work together to make Library Reads more diverse and reflective of the full range of great books that are coming down the pike, then when we go to use these lists as a backlist tool we have an ever better resource at our fingertips.

[Now back to your regular Library Reads message.]

Library Reads day means 3 things here on RA for All.
  1. I post the list and tag it “Library Reads” so that you can easily pull up every single list with one click.
  2. I can remind you that even though the newest list is always fun to see, it is the older lists where you can find AWESOME, sure bet suggestions for patrons that will be on your shelf to actually hand to them right now. The best thing about Library Reads is the compound interest it is earning. We now have hundreds and hundreds of titles worth suggesting right at our fingertips.
  3. You have no excuse not to hand sell any Library Reads titles because there is a book talk right there in the list in the form of the annotation one of your colleagues wrote for you. All you have to say to your patron is, “such and such library worker in blank state thought this was a great read,” and then you read what he or she said.
So get out there and suggest a good read to someone today. I don’t care what list or resource you use to find the suggestion, just start suggesting books. 

October 2017 LibraryReads

Seven Days of Us: A Novel

by Francesca Hornak

Published:10/17/2017 by Berkley
ISBN: 9780451488756
“The Birch family will be spending the Christmas holiday in quarantine, thanks to eldest daughter Olivia’s recent relief work in a disease-infested Liberia. She has returned to England but must be in quarantine for seven days. This family has not ever spent that much time in each other’s company. Each person has secrets that are slowly revealed over the course of the seven days. It is particularly interesting to watch them become the family that they should have been all along: supportive and loving. An enjoyable read.”
Cheryl Braud, Iberia Public Library, New Iberia, LA

The Last Mrs. Parrish: A Novel

by Liv Constantine

Published: 10/17/2017 by Harper
ISBN: 9780062667571
“Daphne seems to have hit the jackpot by marrying Jackson Parrish. They live in a lovely Connecticut mansion and travel around the world, all the while raising two beautiful daughters. When Mrs. Parrish meets Amber, a kindred spirit, Daphne instantly feels a connection, perhaps someone to fill the endless void of sorrow that has plagued her since her sister’s death. We learn that nothing is what it appears to be. The author sets an atmospheric pace for this story, leading up to its dramatic conclusion.”
KC Davis, Fairfield Woods Branch Library, Fairfield, CT 

The Last Ballad: A Novel

by Wiley Cash

Published: 10/3/2017 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062313119
“The story of little-known union hero Ella May Wiggins is central to this look at unionization during the late 1920s. Once she sings her first song at a union rally, she becomes a beacon for others. As her story becomes intertwined with the violence and fear of the clash between owners and workers, we are swept up in a powerful novel that exposes the prejudice and hatred among races, genders, and economic classes. The stories of Ella, her children, and friends woven throughout cement Cash’s place among our great living writers. This one will be a huge book discussion hit!”
Ron Block Cuyahoga County Public Library, Brooklyn, Ohio 

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

by Caitlin Doughty

Published: 10/3/2017 by W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 9780393249897
“America’s favorite mortician takes you on a tour of death cultures around the world in her latest book. Sharing what she’s learned, Doughty presents everything from composting bodies to ma’nene’, a ritual of periodically exhuming corpses to clean and redress them as a sign of respect. She encourages us to consider our options and become less distant from physically caring for the deceased and ultimately our own mortality. We’ve all got it coming. Honest, yet gentle and with the appropriate amount of humor, Doughty makes the morbid very readable.”
PJ Gardiner, Wake County Public Libraries, Raleigh, NC

The Rules of Magic: A Novel

by Alice Hoffman

Published: 10/10/2017 by Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 9781501137471
The Rules of Magic is the prequel to Hoffman’s Practical Magic. Here we learn the background of sisters Franny, Jet, and their brother Vincent. The story begins with all three as teens, ostracized for being witches. Their mother sets up rules designed to suppress their natural ability. When the siblings are sent to visit their aunt they learn family secrets and find out who they truly are. I was enraptured by this fabulous book, which is filled with magic and charm.”
Terri Smith, Cornelia Habersham County Library, Cornelia, GA

The Stolen Marriage: A Novel

by Diane Chamberlain

Published: 10/3/2017 by St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 9781250087270
“Interracial marriage, money fraud, and adultery are just a few elements of this historical fiction. Set during WWII, sweet Tess has dreamed of marrying Vincent Russo since she was a teenager. Plans have been made and a date has been set, but several decisions made in the course of the engagement will cause a detour in both Vincent’s and Tess’s lives. Will they be able to find their way back to one another?”
Debbie Frizzell, Johnson County Library, Overland Park, KS

Uncommon Type: Some Stories

by Tom Hanks

Published: 10/17/2017 by Knopf
ISBN: 9781101946152
“Hanks writes about characters that he would love to play in the movies, had they been written. This collection of stories holds a myriad of emotions, settings, and time periods with two common threads: the typewriter and uncommonly normal men and women. You love the characters because you have something in common with all of them – some win, some lose, some are heroic and some timid, but they are all borne of the human existence and go largely unnoticed. Hank’s charm and wit come through.”
Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX 

We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True

by Gabrielle Union
Published: 10/17/2017 by Dey Street Books
ISBN: 9780062693983

“Union writes with such heart and energy that it really does feel like she’s talking to you while you share one (or several) bottles of wine. She touches on so many topics, including infidelity, women’s sexual health, and teaching young black men to protect themselves in a world that fears them. She also manages to talk about multiple famous people without sounding fawning, with the exception of Prince, which makes sense because…it’s Prince. I thoroughly enjoyed this title and can’t wait to put it in the hands of others.” 
Lisa Hoffman, Bloomfield Public Library, Bloomfield, NJ 

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels

by Joe Hill

Published: 10/24/2017 by William Morrow
ISBN: 9780062663115
“Hill’s four short novels expose the individual and societal pressures that motivate our sometimes fateful decisions. The first story is a coming-of-age tale with an added bit of horror. The second story is an unflinching look at what has become a common tragedy: mass shooting. The third story is an unrequited-love-meets-the-Twilight-Zone story that touches on loneliness. The final story is poignant and introspective. All four tales often gave me pause and made me think. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of character-driven works of horror and/or drama.”
Jennifer Wilson, Delphi Public Library, Delphi, IN 

Manhattan Beach: A Novel

by Jennifer Egan

Published: 10/3/2017 by Scribner
ISBN: 9781476716732
“Anna and her father Eddie arrive at the home of Dexter Styles on Manhattan Beach searching for a job during the Depression. After Eddie goes missing five years later, Anna supports her mother and sister by working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. One night, Anna approaches Styles for information about her father. They become involved, but he is still marked by his past relationship with Eddie. Egan’s description of New York in the 30s and 40s is so immersive that you feel like you’re waking up when you have to put the book down.”
Barbara Birenbaum, Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles, CA