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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

StokerCon Bound

Today I am on my way to StokerCon in Providence, RI. I will be running the Librarians’ Day tomorrow [details here] tomorrow.  I will post a wrap up of the panels from that day on Friday. I will also have posts on the horror blog after the Con about what I learned Friday and Saturday.

I also hope to have the publishers’ book buzz presentations up here on Thursday, but I cannot promise that it will be up before they present. That’s the plan, but I am co-organizing an entire day of programming, so who knows.

But while, I cannot promise RA for All the blog will run as smoothly as usual, I can give you a post today to get you excited for horror whether you are joining us or not and whether you like it yourself or not.

First, Lit Reactor posted this article/info graphic, “Horror:Definng the Genre, Sub-genres, Styles, and More.” This is a wonderful resource for everyone who helps any horror readers, from  an expert like me to a scaredy cat-- and all levels in between.

Second, here is my primer on helping horror readers from the May 2017 issue of Library Journal.

Third, I will continue my #HorrorForLibraries selfies from last year with pics of me and the authors you should carry in your libraries. You can always use this link [it can also be found in my Horror Review Index] to pull up those pictures or you can watch the Twitter widget on the blog in the right gutter. I anticipate those beginning as early as later today.

And finally, you need to care about horror this week because on Saturday night- March 3, 2018, the Bram Stoker Award winners will be announced.  You can watch the live stream at 8pm eastern-- bookmark this page for details. And you should watch right at the beginning because I will be up there co-presenting the award for Best Nonfiction. I will also be live Tweeting all of the awards again, as I did last year.

Genre awards time is the best time to check your collections and consider adding some new authors and titles for your readers. Here is my periodic reminder on how to use awards lists as a RA tool. That post also includes the 2018 Stoker Awards final ballot.

Now I am off to catch my plane to Providence.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What I’m Reading Flashback Edition: Annihilation

At first, I had just planned to rerun this review because the movie is out, but then I realized how many times I have suggested VanderMeer as a readalike recently [click here to see for yourself]. That got me thinking that I need to say a bit more before reposting this review.

I have been a huge supporter of Jeff Vandermeer and his work as both an author and editor [and even champion] of Weird Fiction. You can click here or read below for details, but the rest of America is catching up with me in my Weird Fiction love as this subbgenre which confidently straddles the line between horror and fantasy is having its moment in the sun.

Here are just a few of my favorite authors who you should have in your library collections who write Weird Fiction [with links to the times I have mentioned them on the blog]: Karen Russell, Carmen Maria Machado, Damien Angelica Walters, and Jeremy R. Johnson. Each link willed you to more authors too.

I mention Bird Box below by Malerman, but in the three yearsisince I read Annihilation I have to say his newer Black Mad Wheel is THE PERFECT readalike here [just with men, not women, on a doomed excursion to a strange place].

Back to this book-- Annihilation. I read this book in one sitting, on a plane to Hawaii. I talk about it below, but what I want to add [almost exactly 3 years after I read it in March 2015] is that not only do I still remember this book, but I still viscerally remember how it felt to read this book on that plane. To remember how a book made you feel, like actual feel the feelings still when you think about it three years later....that is pretty cool.

Below is my review with plenty of links. Consider seeing the movie, but also read more VanderMeer or at least, read more Weird Fiction [link to Goodreads books tagged Weird Fiction], if only to see what all the fuss is about.


MONDAY, JULY 13, 2015

What I'm Reading: Annihilation

This weekend, Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer won my favorite book award, The Shirley Jackson Award. It has also won the prestigious Nebula and was a huge hit on this year’s Tournament of Books [among many other deserved accolades].

Here is the Becky soundbite review for this genre defying book: “Four female scientists set out on the 12th expedition to explore the undefined and possibly expanding Area X, in the swampy southern reaches of the US. The previous 11 expeditions have failed, leaving no survivors. Our unreliable narrator, the biologist, leads us through this compellingmenacing and unsettling story that ranges in tone from adventurous, to weird, finally moving into the grotesque. But, I dare you to stop thinking about this book after you close its final page.”

Again, I write these 30 seconds or less soundbites to hit at enough of the major appeal for you to use at work. You can use this as you are hand-selling books to patrons. It gives the patron a feel of the story with carefully selected strong words that will let the patron [and therefore you the librarian helping them to find their next good read] know right away if this is a book they want to look at more closely. If you use them in print, please cite this post.

Here those strong words- the key appeal terms-- have been bolded for you above.

I am really trying to make my reviews more useful as you help readers in the library.  I have included the link to the Goodreads entry- complete with summary info- in the first line. You don’t need me to recap. You need me to help you to market the book to its best reader. And traditional reviews talk more about the quality of the book. I am trying to help you understand the type of reader it is best for.

Now let me talk about this novel as a reading experience. Why? Because reading Annihilation was unlike any reading experience I have has in a long while-- in a good way.  This book consumed me much like the expeditions consumed their participants. I inhaled this book in one sitting on an airplane ride from Chicago to Honolulu back in March.  It was the perfect length, it’s only in paperback, and the writing style and pacing lends itself to being read in 1 big chunk (or at the very least 2 slightly smaller) ones.

The set up is intriguing and compelling. You want to read to see what happens to this specific expedition.  Will they make it? What will they find? What has heaped to the others? You are holding your breath from the start.  But then there is a surprise beyond the plot, and it is the writing itself. The language gets more beautiful and intricate the weirder and more grotesque the story gets. That was also a very cool experience. It adds to the squirm factor here. [Although to be fair, I did give this book to a patron who I thought would love it, but not being a reader for language, she felt it had “too many words.”]

In the process this novel that started as an adventure, morphed into something more [italics intentional, but you have to read the novel to see why]. It becomes a story about the biologist and her inner psyche. It also becomes a story about the power of nature and what it means to be a scientist.  And it becomes a cautionary tale about life itself.

This novel is the perfect example of how great storytelling trumps “genre” labels.  Is this science fiction? Horror? Dystopian? Psychological Suspense? Scientific Thriller? Literary Fiction?

Who cares? It’s a great, unclassifiable story.  It has a bit of all of those in it. It is also the epitome of what the very best fiction is today. I wrote about that in more detail last moth here.

One final point about Annihilation is that it is Book 1 in The Southern Reach trilogy. These books were all released last year, in a row,  all in paperback, but it is a series that does not require you to read all 3.  The other 2 books are based in the world of Area X but from different angles.  Many will be happy with just this first one. Others will want all three. The choice is nice to have. If you do read more than 1, please read them in Vandermeer’s preferred order, however.

Three Words That Describe This Book: unreliable narrator, menacing, thought provoking

Readalikes: Interestingly, I thought of 2 authors as readalikes immediately and was only slightly surprised to see that they were both also finalists with Annihilation for this year’s Shirley Jackson Award.:
  • Bird Box by Josh Malerman which I love, love, love. The two novels are strikingly similar in their feel and overall appeal. Click on the title for details.
  • Lauren Beukes who was nominated for Broken Monsters and for whose The Shining Girls I still have to write a review. [Preview of my thoughts: it was the best, most original serial killer book I have ever read.]
Which leads me to an excellent point, one of my favorite RA suggestion tools is to find an award list that works for a specific reader.  Here is my popular post on how to use awards list as a RA tool.

I am currently doing this with a former patron (still working for her via text even though I left the library) using the Mary Higgins Clark award list.  And here is a post about my general love for The Shirley Jackson Award.

If you like how this is an unclassifiable novel with many genre fiction tendencies, a thought provoking plot, but no specific genre to call home you should definitely read Zone One by Colson Whitehead.

The Caretaker of Lorne Field by Dave Zeltserman is a backlist “weird” title that can also be inhaled in 1 sitting.  Here is my review of that title with more readalikes. Thinking back on it, the Zelserman novel shares a lot of similarities with Annihilation in storytelling style, and tone, but mostly in how such an odd story completely traps you into its world.

Finally, in their Weird Fiction Review, the Vandermeers are constantly suggesting “weird” authors.  I would suggest going there to get some more ideas of unique, dark storytellers. Here is a post from back in 2011 when I talked about this site; it includes an interview about what “Weird Fiction” is with Neil Gaiman.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Guest Post by Karen Toonen on Dyslexia and Accessibility

I feel like I am pretty good at checking my privilege as I provide service both to patrons and the library workers I train. I am not perfect, none of us are, but I try.  I think about representation in the books I suggest, and when I supervised a department, I worried about physical accessibility to our collections and building. 

However, a handful of years ago my friend and colleague, Karen Toonen [Naperville [IL] Public Library] spoke up at an ARRT meeting and asked a simple question of the Steering Committee, “Can we switch this document to Arial, a sans serif font?”

Why that question? Because Karen, like many people out there, was mildly dyslexic and this one simple change could make our work more accessible without much effort.

That one question, changed the way I thought about everything I did. Karen knows this. I thanked her that day and have reminded her how she opened my eyes many time since. I never thought that changing a font could make such a big difference.

I asked Karen to share her insight and the research she has compiled by others on serving dyslexics and below is her guest post on the topic. 

You can reach out to Karen for more information by clicking here or by leaving a comment on this post. 

And once again, thank you Karen. Your honesty and willingness to speak up has helped so many.


Dyslexia, Fonts, and Formats

In the early 1980s, the common wisdom was “If the child can read, they aren’t dyslexic.”  I could read.  I had good reading comprehension.  So, I wasn’t dyslexic.  But no medical condition is that simple.  When Overcoming Dyslexia, by Sally Shaywitz, M.D. was published in 2003, I realized I was (mildly) dyslexic.  (I could read because I made everything a “sight-word”.  I have almost no phoneme understanding.)  Learning that dyslexia was not one thing was a revelation to me.

Now, as I age and after a head injury, I can tell my dyslexia related problems are getting worse.  Because I am an adult witnessing my problem getting worse, I hope I can explain better to some of you little things you can do to help people with dyslexia.

Many examples attempt to show what dyslexics see when they look at a page:
However, different dyslexics have different issues.  No one can capture all the problems categorized as dyslexia.

And for some of us, if we concentrate hard enough, we can read.  Given time and energy, we can keep the letters from moving, shifting, or flipping.  We can use a bookmark to keep our eyes from jumping across multiple lines as we read.  But that doesn’t mean we aren’t dyslexic.  Instead, it means we get mentally exhausted and emotionally frustrated when reading long passages of text.

But as scientists learn more about dyslexia, they are also discovering there are some easy things anyone can do to make it easier for us to read. 

No font is going to “cure” dyslexia, because dyslexia isn’t a visual problem.  However, research has shown that sans serif fonts make eye-tracking easier and reading speed faster.  For example, switch to Arial – not New Time Roman – for your email, articles, and papers. Other standard san serif fonts would be Calibri, Verdana, Helvetica, and Gill Sans.  

It would be glorious if book publishers took note and changed to using sans serif fonts. Unfortunately, Times New Roman has such a strangle hold on publishing, even the article above is in Times New Roman!  The readability of serif versus san serif fonts for the general public open to debate – largely because serif fonts dominate the print world.  

But as librarians, what do you publish your booklists and handouts in?  What font do you use for call numbers, library signage, program guide, or website?  Every small change can have greater impacts than you realize.

As librarians, we also need to educate people about fonts that may be easier for them. For example, a font that is designed to be easy for dyslexics to read and is freely available is Alberado Gonzalez’s OpenDyslexic.

(Christian Boer does an excellent job of explain the science behind the graphic design of a similar licensed font, Dyslexie.)  

OpenDyslexic is now standard on most e-book readers.  But not everyone who can benefit from it knows the font even exists!  As reading advocates, we can help spread the word!  If someone mentioned eye strain, show them the font face as well as font size options available in e-books.  

I also discovered a Chrome extension that turns website text into OpenDyslexic.  Does your website work if someone overrides the font your library picked?  (RA for All is a great example of accessibility!)

Anecdotally, I can read a (Times New Roman) print book for about an hour before getting a migraine.  I can read an e-book in OpenDyslexic (and sepia background) for at least 4 hours before getting a mild headache.  

Of course, since dyslexia is not a visual problem, font changes may not help everyone!  But if we can make it easier for anyone to read, we should.  With 5% to 10% of Americans having some dyslexic symptoms, and some sufferers never knowing the cause problem, it doesn’t hurt to share options.

Also, if you use Dewey, how many numbers do you allow after the decimal?  The longer that string is, the harder it is for dyslexics to make the numbers not transpose.  Please, dump Dewey for music collections!  Your dyslexic staff and users will praise you.  


I strongly believe it’s hypocritical to tell people to not apologize for their reading tastes, but then start judging them for their reading format.  If you want to be an accessibility champion, realize your way of reading isn’t the only way!

Don’t be an e-book snob!  The best enhancement any e-book can give is the ability to read.  Many readers can benefit from customizing font face, font size, background color, and spacing between lines.  Just because you prefer print, doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t benefit from digital.  Don’t talk down e-books in public spaces of your library.  Imagine it’s a reader’s only option to be able to read.  I guarantee after hearing you say e-books are inferior, they will never ask you for help – on any topic. 

Don’t jump on the “listening isn’t reading” bandwagon.  Think about walking up a blind person or to a veteran whose traumatic brain injury suddenly prevents them from reading.  Imagine explaining that since they can’t read print books, they will no longer be able to read for pleasure or information.  Go back and look at the simulations of what reading print is like for some dyslexics.  Would you enjoy engaging in that battle for hours?  Audiobooks are not cheating!  In fact, audio is some people’s only option.   

In FY17, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped helped 419,000 readers with different accessibility issues.  Their users vary from 83% with visual impairment, 6% with physical impairment, 5% with organic reading disability, to people like me who get headaches from reading.  We shouldn’t have to live without story!  We have a right to information sources just like everyone else!  Audiobooks are not cheating, but some people’s only option.  NLS also recommend audiobook users check out Bookshare.org and LearningAlly.org.  

Even librarians who accept audiobooks often express a dislike for Audible. Instead, why not lobby them to release their Audible-only audiobooks as MP3 CD which we can add them to our collections?  As Jez Layman pointed out “Audiobooks are Having a Moment”, the demand is growing across all readership.  If Amazon became an audiobook publisher of those “Audible only” titles, how many people would have access to more wonderful books?  

A few years ago, I realized I loved Mary Robinette Kowal as a narrator, but had never read her as an author.  I couldn’t find her books in audio to buy for my library, and thought that was very weird – for an author who was also a narrator.  They are Audible only!  (Please, don’t tell me I’ve betrayed my profession because I became an Audible subscriber.  If you can buy books, why can’t I?)  For many library users, including me as a child, paying for an Audible subscription isn’t an option.  Being poor shouldn’t limit access to materials.  Please Amazon/Audible, let me libraries give you money in exchange for materials!

Being an accessibility advocate largely means not judging.  It also means a little extra thought at times.  It means being aware that our font selections on promotional materials and signage are more than design choices.  It means helping that e-book user, who loves that he can read books again – but can’t check out his own books because the font of the controls and interface are too small for him to read.  It means stopping the debate about what formats are “really reading” as well as what genres are “worth reading”.  Help people access story and information in whatever format they want!  Then you are being an accessibility champion.

Friday, February 23, 2018

RA for All Roadshow Visits Omaha Public Library

Today I am in Omaha, NE. I have been very excited about this program for a while. First because I have never been to Nebraska, but second, because Erin and Amy, with whom I designed this training, have worked very hard to get their staff primed, ready, and eager to change the way they serve their leisure readers. They have also invited area library workers, so we will have a few others joining us at  the University of Nebraska Omaha Community Engagement Center.

Today I am presenting the following schedule:

  • RA for All Signature Training. This is where I take the participants’ love of reading and use that as the springboard to get them excited about serving all leisure readers. It follows my 10 Rules of Basic RA Service.
  • Booktalking: Harnessing the Power of Sharing Books with Readers featuring a BRAND NEW book talk. The slides can be accessed here.
  • We are then going to do a working lunch, one of my new favorite added learning opportunities. When I offer this option I schedule 90 minutes for lunch with a 15 minute break after lunch. This gives me the chance to provide another book talk AND get the participants to book talk to each other a few more times. I cannot express how wonderful this small addition has been to the participants’ learning experience; they leave with more confidence in the skills we have started building together. This makes me so happy. I have had great feedback too.
  • We will end the day with my 2 genre programs, both of which have been recently revamped and these for today specifically have had a further update/refinement. 
That’s what we will be doing today. Whether you are joining us or not, you can access those slides. If you want me to come to your library, system, or conference, contact me. I am currently booking August 2018 and beyond. Click here to contact me and here to see sample programs and my rates.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

What I’m Reading: Flashback/Omaha Edition

Today is a travel day. I am headed to Omaha for a regional library training all day tomorrow, but as soon as I land today I will be headed to Lincoln to tape a segment for Nebraska Public Radio’s All About Books program. [When the recording goes live on the radio I will let you all know.].

I thought I would leave you with the best novel I have ever read set in Omaha. It made my 2014 personal best list too-- The Swan Gondola by Timothy Scaffert.

This is a genre blended, backlist option that would work for a wide range of readers.

I pasted the original review post below and you can also access it with this link. I hope my trip to Omaha will now help you to find a backlist gem to suggest to a reader today, tomorrow, or sometime soon. Or maybe, it will simply serve as a reminder of the joys and pleasures readers can find in the treasure trove that is the backlist and spur you to look to an older suggestion as you help your readers. Remember, a book doesn’t have to be new to be a good read.

Back tomorrow with the info about tomorrow’s training session.

Back in March I had the pleasure of spending time with Timothy Schaffert’s The Swan Gondola.  Notice I said “spending time” not reading.  I did read this book, but as you will see in a few moments, this is not a novel you simply read. If that is the type of book you are looking for, stop reading this review. Rather The Swan Gondola is all about the atmosphere you are placed into while turning the pages.

But first, a tiny bit of plot, not because something will be given away if I give a lot of plot, rather I am simply giving a tiny bit because this is the type of book where nothing happens, yet everything happens. The plot is very inconsequential to whether or not you would enjoy the book.

The story begins and ends with Ferret, a ventriloquist/con man. The entire story is framed around Ferret’s escape from the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair in a hot air balloon, and while we keep returning to that “present” from which Ferret is recounting his story, the bulk of the tale is Ferret’s story of falling in love with Cecily, a performer at the Fair.

We spend Ferret’s days with him as he works the fair with his dummy, follows Cecily, watches her perform, meets new people, and has adventures.

The publisher’s sound bite is:
"A lush and thrilling romantic fable about two lovers set against the scandalous burlesques, midnight séances, and aerial ballets of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair. 

I think this makes the book sound more action packed than it truly is.  This is a fable, told in the form of an homage to The Wizard of Oz. The bulk of the action is taking place at the Fair, but there isn’t much action.  This is a leisurely paced, historical set piece.  It is all about the setting and the tone. You inhabit the place with Ferret, our narrator.  You meet his friends and associates.  These are people who live on the fringes, and we are meant to follow along.

Ferret and Cecily’s story has a macabre tone, in fact it is more like a ghost story than a romance, but an old-fashioned ghost story in the Gothic tradition.  Atmosphere rules here. The entire story is set slightly askew.  Their love story is odd, the people they know and meet are all over the top, but interesting.  Theirs is a doomed love, but we know this from the start as Ferret is recovering from his balloon crash and slowly unveils the entire novel to the elderly sisters who are caring for him.

While reading The Swan Gondola, I began to realize that it would become a book best characterized as “perfect for Becky.”  This is my kind of book all around-- odd, interesting, character driven, macabre, with historical details [involving a fair or carnival (bonus Becky love)], a frame that pays homage to another work of literature, and all of it told in a quirky, slightly askew way.

Now this being said, a perfect book for Becky does not mean I am out at the desk thrusting this book into every patron’s hand.  No, I am actually much more discerning about who I hand sell this book too because I realize how quirky it is.  I have only given it to one person so far, carefully chosen, and she liked it.  It is a book I will keep in my perverbial back pocket for years to come, puling it out at the right moment, for just the right patron.

But for now, I was happy to inhabit the world of The Swan Gondola for a few enjoyable days.  I may even go back out for another ride some day.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Atmospheric, historical, macabre

Readalikes: Because The Swan Gondola is so much the classic Becky book,  I have a ton of books which I have loved that share this same feel. I will list them with links to my reviews in no particular order:

For a more traditional readalike suggestion, if you have a patron who loved all the parts in The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson about the fair, but could have done without the murder investigation, than this is a great choice for him or her.

And of course, people who love the original L. Frank Baum Wizard of Oz tales will gobble up this book.  I would think twice about giving it to patrons who only love the movie version though.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What I’m Reading: Mister Tender’s Girl and The Woman in the Window

Today I am reviewing Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson and The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn, two brand new domestic suspense novels.

First up: Mister Tender's Girl:

Remember back in 2014 when two teenage girls lured a friend into the woods and stabbed her in an attempt to impress the evil fictional character Slender Man? Well Carter Wilson does, and he used that horrific true crime as the inspiration of his intense and voyeuristic psychological suspense story, Mister Tender’s Girl. To all who know her now, Alice is simply the owner of the local upscale coffee shop in sleepy Manchester, New Hampshire, but she is hiding a huge secret. Alice was the victim of a horrible and famous attack 14 years earlier. Alice was brutally stabbed by twin girls in a park near her English home, girls claiming that they did it to honor the evil, graphic novel character, Mister Tender, a character Alice’s own Father had created. Barely surviving the attack, Alice watched her family fall apart in the ensuing years. Now, in America, Alice has changed her last name but inhabits a body covered in scars that will never let her forget. She lives in constant fear, a fear so real that she cannot even bare to keep a single knife in her home. Tense and dripping with creepy atmosphere from the very first  line, this page turner builds relentlessly as things steadily ratchet up from bad to worse to unimaginably awful. The complex plot unfolds brilliantly, with anxiety so palpable that it’s not only Alice who is constantly looking over her shoulder, but also the reader will walk away from the novel afraid to trust anyone, even their own family. This one has all the feels of a horror novel without a supernatural monster, but these human monsters might be even scarier than anything anyone’s imagination could dream up. Fans of serial killer stories, true crime, Ruth Rendell and Sharp Objects or Dark Places by Gillian Flynn will all enjoy experiencing the dread while they watch the complex plot satisfyingly play itself out.

Further Appeal: This book is creepy from the first lines-- Alice tells us, before we know anything about her, that there are absolutely NO knives in her house. Eating chicken is hard, she acknowledges, but she gets by. This sets the uneasy stage from the start and it only intensifies from there. 

Alice is very flawed, but still we are on her side. You may not be able to relate to her, but you do sympathize with her. 

You cannot ignore the true crime angle here too. Anyone who is interested in true crime will be intrigued by this book, and the last time I checked that's a whole lot of library patrons.

Three Words That Describe This Book: intensely creepy, complex plot, compelling

Readalikes: Seriously if you could merge the first two Flynn books into 1 novel, this book is a perfect readalike. Those links in the review above go to my my longer reviews which contain more readalikes and further details about those titles in particular. I would say if you were more drawn to the messed up family aspects of this novel try Sharp Objects first, but if the true crime survivor parts appealed to you more, go with Dark Places.

Ruth Rendell's backlist of excellent, compelling and intricately plotted psychological suspense novels are a great way to introduce readers to some of the origins behind this uber popular genre. You probably still have them all in your collections since she only died in 2015. Start with 13 Steps Down. You will look like a genius. Trust me.

Please do not forget true crime suggestions here.

Finally, as I mentioned above, another new psychological suspense book I recently read and reviewed here on Goodreads that makes for a "fun" pairing is The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn. Notice I put "fun" in quotes. That is because while I enjoyed pairing these super intense, psychological suspense stories with damaged female protagonists, you may not find the feelings of extreme anxiety and dread which you feel while slipping into Wilson and Finn's worlds as enjoyable as I did.

You can click through for my full review of The Woman in the Window.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Help Me To Help More Libraries Add interactive Elements to Their Displays

One of my 2018 mantras, something I bring up in conversation as many times as I can when I am working with library staff, is that every single one of our library displays needs to be interactive in some way. Click here for a post on the topic.

I have been spreading this notion far and wide and many of you are doing it. Some are embracing it 100% and others are taking baby steps to introduce interactive elements to your displays. But, unfortunately, there is a good number of you who have also contacted me to let me know that you are receiving push back from your administrators who despite encouraging you to watch my webinars and attend my training programs, don’t want you to “rock the boat.”

I have received a handful of emails from people who need more data, photos, or even just communication from libraries who have tried to make their displays more interactive before they are allowed to proceed further.

Now, if I have received 5 or 6 emails about this topic in the last few weeks, experience says that there are at least 5 times that many people who have experienced similar administrative resistance and have not reached out. Plus the number of you who are even afraid to try for fear of backlash from superiors.

So today, I am appealing to all of you to help me. I know that a lot of you have taken my advice and have had great success. I know because you have told me in emails and in person. But, I need this information gathered all in one place, here on this post, so I can help those who are encountering resistance at making their libraries more participatory and giving patrons a chance to have a say in their own service. Sigh. It doesn’t seem like I should have to do this, but alas, I do. And, unfortunately after almost 20 years working in the public library world, I do know the level of bureaucracy out there so I am not surprised.

Here is what we are going to do...together. If you are willing to help, please post a comment to this post whenever you get a chance. Leave some information about what types of interactive displays you have done and if you can, link it out to some pictures from your social media or webpages. Also please leave your name and your library info so the library staff who need your help in order to serve their patrons better can contact you for more information.

Here what I promise to do in return for all of you. Once I start to get some comments here, I will include this post in all of my presentations. I will promote the good work each of you is doing at your libraries to every library I visit. In turn, I hope that by keeping this post “alive,” I will be able to encourage new people to add their comments. The result over time should be that I no longer need to field those emails from library workers who need more information before they are allowed to make positive changes in their service to patrons.

Please consider helping me and sharing your work. I know some of you have in the past by sending me an email or even contributing a guest post, but even if you have already done this, consider helping by sharing again, here on this post, in the comments. I know there are many more of you out there who have tried to make your displays more interactive than there are those of you whose hands are tied. Let’s work together to help patrons all over the country.

Finally, if you are an administrator reading this [psst all the rest of my readers, print this out and leave it for your hesitant administrator and yes, I know they can see this comment], stop being afraid of change. If your staff learn something new in a program, whether I was the presenter or not, let them give it a try. Who cares if it is new or seems unorthodox? If it doesn’t work with your community, oh well, at least you tried. And if the public complains, blame the trainer. I tell people all of the time to blame me when they are forcing staff or even patrons to try something new. I have even gotten calls from Directors who want to confirm what I told their staff members before they let them try it. [This is not an exaggeration, I have had more than 1 of these calls over the years. Fewer than 10 but I haven’t kept count exactly.]

Seriously, stop being so worried about it not working and just let your staff try. I am always shocked at the wonderful new things the people I have trained come up with. Most of it is 100% them. I simply put the concept in their heads and they run with it, taking these inspirations to places I never would have dreamed of. And you know who wins-- your patrons.

I am so proud of all of you. Now help me to help others. I hope to see your comments soon. And thanks in advance.

Monday, February 19, 2018

President’s Day Reading Lists

Today I have the middle school boy with me for President’s Day. The high school cancelled the day off after the snow day back at the beginning of the month, so the girl is at school.

This means it’s a partial day off here on RA for All. But I know many libraries are open today and the people coming in may have Presidents on the mind, so I will not abandon you completely. Here are a few links to help you suggest a good read today or to use to throw up a quick display. Remember, you can keep this display up past today too. People will still have President’s Day in the back of their mind after the actual day passes. In fact, often patrons are appreciative when our suggestions go past the actual date they are meant to play off of because they are busy and miss the “day” but are still interested in a read associated with it.

Might I also suggest when you put up that display that you ask people to tell you their favorite “Presidential” book, or better yet, ask them to add those titles to your display; and yes, put it in quotes to get a wider range of titles in your responses. As important as it is to make all of our displays interactive in order to make coming to the library as participatory an experience as possible, it is equally as vital to make sure we listen to what our patrons tell us in those responses.

Okay, enough, I have to get the boy off to get his TSA pre-check status [nothing says you’re turning 13 soon like a trip to have your fingerprints put on file with the government so mommy doesn’t have to wait in line zt he airport] and  the dentist. Yup, we party hard here on days off of school. Here are the links you need for displays and suggestions for this week:

Friday, February 16, 2018

What I’m Reading: BASH BASH Revolution

Today I have my latest review from Booklist, a title, when I received it in the mail did not excited me too much, but when I sat down to actually review it, boy were my initial instincts wrong. Below is my draft review with the citation to the published one followed by more appeal comments and readalikes.

Bash Bash Revolution.

Lain, Douglas (author).
Mar. 2018. 300p. Night Shade, paperback, $14.99  (9781597809160)
First published February 15, 2018 (Booklist).

Philip K Dick Award nominee, Lain presents an ominous, cautionary, AI dystopia that has much in common with Dick’s own Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It is 2017. Trump is President, Russia and North Korea are very real threats, and Matthew’s Dad has suddenly returned. He has been gone for a decade, working for the NSA on perfecting an AI known as Bucky; however, both the AI and the real world are unravelling, quickly. Matthew is recruited by his father to teach him the video game BASH BASH Revolution, as a way to work on perfecting Bucky. Told mostly in flashbacks, Matthew DMs his girlfriend [with a few unsettling interruptions from Bucky’s point of view], calmly explaining how the world has become what Matthew describes as a zombie movie but with gamers in VR goggles who are the undead. It is an intensely urgent, and terrifying story with a complex plot, but Matthew sucks readers in and pulls them along briskly, easily relating the hyper technical details while entertainingly unraveling the plot. It is a fun read, that is, until you close the book and start thinking about the implications of what you just experienced. Not only will you think twice before opening a game app on your phone after completing Lain’s novel, but you may also start wondering if we are already living as pawns to a superintelligent machine. This is not a cartoonish sketch, it is a realistic and bleak look at the post-singularity world. An easy suggestion for fans of current, accessible science fiction that thoughtfully contemplates AI such as Ready Player One or Sea of Rust, but it is also a great choice for those who enjoy John Scalzi’s narrative style.

YA Statement: Teens will be lured in to the novel by the video game frame, the artificial intelligence and government conspiracy details as well as the hyper current events, but they will stay for Matthew’s moral and philosophical journey as he tries to resist the AI takeover of humanity.

Further Appeal: The unsettling, thought provoking aspects of this book drove its appeal for me. Here are some notes I made while reading the book:
Is Matthew a reliable narrator; is the entire story the creation of Bucky; or are we already living in a world where superintelligent machines are in charge and we are simply pawns in a giant computer simulation?  Can we even trust Matthew or has he been corrupted by Bucky?
In my review I think I got the essence of these thoughts worked in, but I cannot stress enough how the hyper current events made everything feel real and scary and just so uncomfortably close.

Also, I make a mention of this book not being “cartoonish.” I say that because the cover does this book no benefit. It was way too playful for what is actually inside. I know I am a huge advocate of judging a book by its cover, but in this case, stay away from that instinct.

The science fiction aspects rule here, but there is a horror tone. Horror readers who like scientific frames and science fiction fans who enjoy a good scare should seek this one out.

Three Words That Describe This Book: unsettling, thought provoking, AI

Readalikes: I managed to work in 3 titles and an author readalike above. You can click on the three at the end of the review for many more readalikes by me from here on the blog.

You may find that fans of more technical science fiction with a focus on AI or VR like titles by Neal Stephenson or William Gibson might enjoy this one too. It would be a bit more fast paced and lighter option for those readers, but I think they would enjoy it if they knew that it was less dense going in. The ideas, tone, and themes are similar.

Also, another author who this reminded me of was Max Barry, especially Lexicon.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to Night Shade Books, a division of SkyHorse. They are a smaller publisher, but have great distribution through your normal ordering channels. Their lineup of speculative fiction never ceases to amaze me. They don’t have a huge promotional arm, but I can tell you from experience, these are genre titles that appeal to many library patrons. They publish new novels, important collections, and reissues of classics. One of my favorite books I read last year, In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson, was a Night Shade publication. I only know about these titles because they send them to Booklist and my editor passes them on. Here is the link to their upcoming titles. Give it a look.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

New Issue of the Corner Shelf

Today I am mired in deadlines including, if you can believe it, my Halfway to Halloween column for Library Journal [it will appear on the next to last page of the April 15th issue, but you can click here to see my backlist of LJ Readers’ Shelf Horror columns].

But, I am taking a short break to direct you to the most recent issue of Booklist’s Corner Shelf, the free newsletter “where readers’ advisory meets collection development.”

From editor Susan Maguire’s intro to the current issue:
I am an eternal optimist. This tendency to think things will work out for the best is sometimes at odds with my inner curmudgeon, but what can you do? I like to think this conflict keeps my also-inner Pollyanna in check, but sometimes, that Pollyanna is strong. 
Take, for example, the time my book group read The Ministry of Special Cases, by Nathan Englander. If you've read it, you know it's a deeply affecting novel set in 1970s Argentina, about a Jewish fixer of sorts, Kaddish Pozman, and his wife and college-age son. If you haven't read it, I'm about to spoil it. The son goes missing, and despite Pozman's shady connections, the ending is ambiguous, vis-á-vis his son's fate.  
At least I thought it was ambiguous. When I brought up the possibility that Pato might have survived his disappearance, well, the group laughed at me. 
Before you rush to my defense (and thank you for that), I think it was more of a laugh of surprise. They didn't know that my crusty shell held such a soft, gooey center! Frankly, neither did I.  
But that's the beauty of the book group, isn't it? Not that people laugh at you for naive optimism (which hopefully is an experience unique to me . . .) but that we can read unexpected things that can teach us about ourselves.  
Say, speaking of book groups! We've got a live event coming up in Chicago in partnership with NoveList: ROGUE BOOK GROUP CHOICES. Woo! And if you're not in the Chicago area, fear not: we will be streaming the event on Facebook live and recording it for posterity. (And I'll share a link in the next Corner Shelf.) 
And speaking of Chicago . . . in this issue of Corner Shelf, Stephen Sposato, from the Chicago Public Library, shares the way he turns their beloved Best of the Best list into a readers'-advisory training opportunity. Then we highlight some great, diverse reads: a top diverse nonfiction list, some suggestions from Keir Graff about soccer and immigration (which would be great to incorporate into any international-sports displays you may be doing right now . . . hello Olympics!), and I select a backlist title just because I like it. Happy reading, folks!
Click here to read the entire issue complete with all the links she mentions and a bonus shoutout to me. Can you find it?

Back tomorrow with a review of a book that I only read because I had to, a book I wasn’t expecting much from, and yet, when I finished it, wow!It was great. And with that teaser, I am back to work on that deadline

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

RA for All Roadshow Visits Winnetka-Northfield [IL] Public Library District

Today I am headed to the northern suburbs of Chicago to lead a training for selected staff of the Winnetka-Northfield Public Library District.

This library is going through a renovation of their main branch, so they are taking advantage and doing quite a lot of staff training during this time. I will be working with staff who already do RA and some of the staff who will be called on to start providing this service after the renovation.

Here is the schedule for today:

[Also, Happy Valentine’s Day.]

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Check Your Shelf: A New Librarian Focused Newsletter via Book Riot [Featuring a Mini Call to Action by Becky]

Friend of the blog and overall awesome librarian, editor, and author Kelly Jensen has been working for months to try to do her part to fill the void left by the closing of Early Word. Along with Katie McLain [librarian and Book Riot contributor], Kelly is coordinating an every-other-week newsletter just for library workers.

You can click here to see the very first issue.

But you also need to click here to sign up to get it delivered to your email box.

The newsletter has all of the categories you would expect such as, book news, adaptations, lists and more, but every issue will end with something I am very excited about-- A Call To Action. From that first newsletter:

Level Up
Do you take part in LibraryReads, the monthly list of best books selected by librarians only? Whether or not you read and nominate titles, we’ll end every newsletter with a few upcoming titles worth reading and sharing (and nominating for LibraryReads, if you so choose!). Links here will direct to Edelweiss digital review copies.
  • They Come in All Colors by Malcolm Hansen (May 29, 2018): A story about a biracial teen boy and his experiences with racial tensions that alternates between New York City and the deep south.
  • The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar (May 1, 2018): The pitch for this one is “the novel that is to Syria as The Kite Runner is to Afghanistan.”
This is so needed. As I have said many times on the blog, the LibraryReads list is too white. We need to be suggesting more diverse books because goodness knows we don’t need to know about bestsellers [there are at least 4 authors on this month’s list that many libraries would be receiving via their automatic orders for popular authors already. 4 out of 6 books I would be getting and authors who I knew about]

LibraryReads should be about getting those great, under the radar titles that the vast majority of library workers wouldn’t already know about out front and center. LibraryReads was create to show the power of libraries to drive book sales. I am pretty sure we show off less by promoting a book that the publishers already expect to sell well. Where we can shine and flex our book muscles is with titles that may have gone nowhere without us. [See Radium Girls from last year. We did that guys!]

Look, even the LibraryReads Steering committee wants us all to do better. We, the library workers of America, are responsible for the list. We need to read and recommend more diverse titles. It will not get better if you don’t actively work to make it better. You can read prepub books, for free, before they come out. You can find a hidden gem. You can click a few boxes and recommend it. You, yes you, any one of you who works in any library, no matter your position, you can become a tastemaker.

Guys, I got one recommendation, from one librarian in LA about a book from a crowdfunded publisher and I got that book considered for the Bram Stoker Award this year and that librarian got it in the running for The Reading List. It won the horror category for the Reading List and it is nominated for the Bram Stoker. That is two people working to get 1 book [Kill Creek by Scott Thomas] noticed by others, others who read it and also loved it. It is not that hard.

Kelly, is doing her part by altering you, with the links directly to the eARC. Kelly and Katie will include suggestions every newsletter. Why not try one? I am very interested in the Joukhadar myself. I don’t know as much about Syria as I should.

Again,  click here to sign up and get the “Check Your Shelf” newsletter delivered to your email box every other week.