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, December 27, 2019

What I'm Reading: Becky's Best Books I Read in 2019

For the third year now, I am doing my best books that I read in this year in a category list rather than in raked order, Why? Because why I loved these particular books matters more to me than the order in which I would place them. How I interacted with them, how they affected me, how they stayed with me is what is important here because that is why they are my personal "Best."

Some of the categories are the same from year to year, others change. This is because the books I read create their own experiences and categories to me personally and I want to capture that experience each year along with the titles. I am not a robot, I am a human reader, even if reading and suggesting titles is my job. In order to remind myself [and all of you] of the joy in what we are paid to do, I am trying to create a year end best list that captures, celebrates, and acknowledges that.

Also, by this time, lots of people have already weighed in with critically acclaimed "best" lists for weeks now, so why do you need more of that from me?  I played my part in that side of the "best" debate with my Best Horror of 2019 list as part of #LibFaves19. That is a place where my opinion on what is the BEST matter from that expert perch.

What I bring here on the general blog that is most helpful to all of you out there in the trenches, is a list that reflects my best experiences as a reader. This is a list that is personal to me, my tastes, and my weird quirks. You can use it to help other readers, yes, but because it is so specific to me, it is actually better used by you as a conversation starter.

For example, you can ask people "What is the most fun you had reading a book this year?" or "What title was the biggest surprise to you?" Those are questions readers can answer much more quickly and easily than "What was your favorite book?" These are also questions that encourage longer conversations.

The categories I have listed here provide great conversation starters to offer to your patrons. You can even use my answers to keep the conversation going by saying, "I was thinking about this question because Becky said [fill in the title] as her answer."

The point of my "Best" list is to both offer books that I loved this year, while also presenting an example of a regular reader view of a "best" list.

Below you will find my list of the best books I experienced in 2019 [regardless of publication year] in 14 categories created by me. It is arbitrary but so what? It's my list of what mattered to me the most this year. Each title links to a longer review which will explain why it is the "best" book for that category, and will include my "Three Words."

After today, I am off on vacation until 1/6/20. Have a safe and happy New Year.

Becky's Best Books I read in 2019

Most Fun I Had Reading a Book This Year: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Books from 2018 Best Lists That I read in 2019: Severance by Ling Ma [Fiction]; The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Stephen Brusatte [Nonfiction

Best Book I read in 2018 That Actually Came Out in 2019: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

Best Surprise: Sabbath by Nick Mamatas

Best Backlist Gem: The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin

Best Audio: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Best Graphic Novel: Good Talk by Mira Jacob

Best Horror: Growing Things by Paul Tremblay and here is the link to my 2019 Top 10 Horror for Libraries

Best Historical: The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames [also the Best Debut I read all year]

Best Speculative: [Tie] The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa and We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin [I can't shake either title; I just keep thinking about them and suggesting them, still]

Best Nonfiction: Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O'Meara

Best Story Collection: Orange World by Karen Russell

Best Book That Stayed with Me All Year But Didn't Fit Anywhere Else: Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Best Title That Snuck in Just Under the Wire: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Thursday, December 26, 2019

What I'm Reading: Final GoodReads Reviews Update of 2019

Today I have another installment of my catch up reviews. This post should serves as a reminder that I do periodic updates of all of the books I read for "fun" on Goodreads and then compile them here so that the titles are searchable on the blog too. 

See below for the authors and titles as well as my three words. Use the links [click on titles] to read the full review on Goodreads.


Monday, December 23, 2019

How I Have Come to Terms With All the Books I Will Never Read

As the year is coming to an end, I am always troubled by the number of library workers I see getting physically upset about all the books they didn't get to read over the lat year and also having extra anxiety about all the books they will never read.

I wrote piece on handling TBR anxiety back in 2017, and I know it has helped a lot of you, but I have something to add to it that I know has helped me. I hope by passing it on, it can help you too.

First, the key point to that 2017 post is that you need to come to terms with the fact that you will never read all the books. But coming to terms is a process, I have learned. It begins by owning the statement, not just saying it. YOU WILL NEVER READ ALL THE BOOKS! There is no wiggle room here. No but, I will try. You cannot and will not. Please stop trying.

Then step two is to NOT set a number of books reading goal for yourself at the start of a year. In my opinion, this is one of the least healthy things you can do to yourself mentally as a library worker. Also, contrary to what GoodReads wants you to think you do NOT have to set a goal on order for them to keep track of how many you are reading. I never do. It still keeps track of how many books you read, but you have to dig to find the data. It does not greet you every time you log in or is always on your dashboard.

Not setting a number of books reading goal for 2 years now has given me space to think about my reading a little differently; to think outside of the number of titles box. Specifically in 2019, this space allowed me to come to an overall life motto, one that I have extended into my reading life too, and extending it is key because my job-- books-- also happens to be my biggest hobby, well reading them is at least. When your job and your personal joys overlap, you need to make space for the joy to still be there or you will lose it first from your hobby, bit then second, and more slowly [as I was seeing firsthand] from other aspects of your life too.

My children are getting older and the first one will be leaving the house in the Fall of 2020. I want to make time to do things with my family and be present for them. I have a lot of books to read for my job, and I work very hard to read those during my working hours, but I also need to read books for fun in order to live my best life and be the best version of me for my loved ones.

A few months ago I was on the phone with a colleague and I told him what I am about to tell you when he was bemoaning all the books he was never going to get to finish and how upset that made him.

I said:
I have decided that living by best life does NOT include reading all the books. I have come to terms with the fact that I WILL miss out on plenty of good books, some that I even probably could make time to read. but instead,  if I read about them, maybe just check them out of the library for a day or two and look them over, or just let them pass by me personally but make an effort to suggest them to someone else to enjoy, that is enough.
This new motto also leaves room for me to embrace and enjoy the books I do read for fun because I now know that they are the special few that I WILL read. I not only enjoy reading them more, I am also more willing to stop a book that isn't working for me with out feeling guilt.

However, when I expressed this new motto to my colleague, he said that he found that even more depressing. Like I was giving up. We talked some more and I get it, for him, it might be. In his head space, he enjoys the books more if he reads them.

For me, though, this is not giving up. Over the last year I feel like I have actually embraced more books, more stories, and more opinions about them by others than I ever have before. And, I have also noticed that I am more present for, less anxious about, and more fully embracing all other aspects of my life more.

In work, I have been more easily able to prioritize what matters, make space to say no when necessary without feeling badly about it, and do a better job at the things I choose to work on. And in my personal life I am definitely enjoying everything more fully. I am willing to let other things I thought I had to do right away slide a bit too. Nothing important, but I see small improvements like not stressing about always having every dish washed and put away at all times. I have embraced the idea that time with family and friends is the most important part of my life and as a result, somehow, I am also finding more time and energy to do all the have to home and business things as well. It is about increasing overall satisfaction with my life and my choices and it began with decisions about my reading.

Now, I realize this is my personal story and it may not work for all of you, but I feel like sharing it may help you to rethink your life as a professional reader and a hobby reader too. I hope my experience will offer you a framework to think about your life and where work and pleasure overlap, allowing you to make the space you need to do your job and enjoy your life fully, including the books you read.

Scheduling note: I will have a final catch up of reviews on the 26th and then my Best Books I Read This Year here on this blog on the 27th, and my Best Horror of the Decade For Libraries on the horror blog that same day. After that, I am on vacation until 1/6.

But, after the new year, I will begin my annual series of posts where I asses my reading resolutions and goals from 2019 before setting out goals for 2020. So for those of you who want homework while I am away, before you start setting 2020 goals, please look back at what your goals were for 2019 and not only asses how you did, but if the goals themselves were healthy, attainable, and helpful. Because as I said above, I do not think setting a goal of the number of books you read in a year is healthy or helpful in anyway.

See you back here on the 26th.

Friday, December 20, 2019

2010-2019: A Decade of Change in SF and Fantasy: A Long But Great Read via Tor.com

Yesterday, Tor.com published this long discussion between four members of their team all about the large issues, trends, tropes, and books of the last decade in all of speculative fiction.

In fact, that is important to point out ASAP. They don't list Horror in the title of the piece [because Horror always gets put in the corner] but they 100% discus the horror genre and some of the key titles along with SF and Fantasy.

I am posting this on a Friday because it is long, but totally worth your time. Take a break over the weekend if you can to read this, or bookmark it for later.

You can use the piece for collection development, to help yourself get up to speed in the speculative genres, and to make a display.

Below is the intro and here is the direct link to the entire discussion.

2010-2019: A Decade of Change in Science Fiction & Fantasy


This December brings us to the close of a truly extraordinary and transformative decade for SFF. Epic series like The Wheel of Time finally concluded as A Song of Ice and Fire rose to mainstream prominence on television (with Wheel of Time to follow suit?). Newer stars like N.K. Jemisin rose, while familiar faces like Neil Gaiman published some of their most innovative work yet. We saw the rise of fiction that dealt directly with the ongoing Climate Crisis, works that wrestled with the tumultuous political shifts, cozy space opera, gritty space opera, and literal space opera, with like, actual singing. Zombies faded from favor while orcs and goblins and fishmen found their time to shine. Readers went from celebrating Strong Female Characters to asking for Complicated Female Characters, and the literary landscape became much more inclusive for writers who had previously been marginalized. And, as in every decade, the villains threatened to steal the show entirely.
Four members of the Tor.com fam, Publicity Coordinator Christina Orlando, Tor.com writers Leah Schnelbach and Natalie Zutter, and Tor Books’ Senior Marketing Manager Renata Sweeney sat down for a rollicking, five-hour-long conversation about the decade in genre, discussing trends, favorite books, the heroes and villains who have stuck with them, and even a look forward to some titles that will help define the next decade.
Click here to continue reading

Thursday, December 19, 2019

#LibFaves19 is a Wrap!

Thanks to everyone who participated in #LibFaves19 over the last 10 days. In case you missed Andrienne Cruz's guest post on the history of #LibFaves19 back on December 6th, click here.

And now they are done and the organizers, as they do every year, have compiled not only the Top 10, but also a spreadsheet of every single title that was mentioned. This spreadsheet is a wonderful resource of library worker, crowd sourced "best" titles and this year there were 775 distinct titles mentioned among 1616 votes!

You can access the full spreadsheet [view only] here.

Also, here is a screenshot of the top 10, as you can see there were a few ties:

Click here to enter the full spreadsheet
Or click on image to see it more clearly.

One of the reasons I choose to do my Horror Top 10 only as part of this countdown every year is precisely because of this wonderful spreadsheet. By mentioning only horror titles, I ensure at lest 10 horror picks end up on the overall best list. By the way, here is the direct link to my post on the Horror blog with that Top 10 list.

This list will be archived on EarlyWord where you can search for any year's spreadsheet by clicking here or searching #LibFaves in the search bar [except for 2018 which for some reason only comes up if you search #libfaves18].

These lists make for thousands[!] of sure bet titles to suggest to your patrons. You can even turn the last couple of year's lists into a "Great Reads You May Have Missed" display.

Your patrons are more aware of and impressed with your services when you point out the titles they would never have found without you. Giving them the obvious "best" choices is fine; that's the bare minimum of your job, but giving them 775 titles that library workers all over the country enjoyed, that is better. And what about mining the top 25 or so from the last 2-5 years for even more "best" choices. Now that is excellent RA Service.

And finally, one of the best things about #LibFaves every year is that it exemplifies the power of one of my 10 Basic Rules of RA Service-- Working Together is Your Best Resource!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Listening to Advisors: A Conversation About RA Services, Practice, and Practicing in RUSQ

In the latest issue of the RUSQ, the Reference and Users Services Association's quarterly publication, Neal Wyatt hosted a roundtable of RA practitioners from across the spectrum of service entitled, "Listening to Advisors: A Conversation about Readers' Advisory Services, Practice and Practicing."

She included a wide range of voices from across the spectrum of RA Service.

I have posted the participants information and their "word of advice," and then immediately after that, I have copied the intro to the discussion. A link to continue reading is included at the end [and here]

I highly suggest taking 5 minutes to read this. I found it highly valuable for me. And thanks to Wyatt for doing the work to pull this together and to the contributors for sharing their vast knowledge.

The Conversationalists

Katharine Janeczek, Children’s and Young Adult Librarian, Forbes Library, Northampton (MA)

A word of advice: “It is important to give the process of RA time and space. I think it’s very beneficial to give the patron moments to express themselves, as well as evaluate and reevaluate what they’re looking for. It’s so easy to overfill silences in the moment, and those pauses might be useful for internal processing, or provide a gateway to a patron thinking out loud in a way that leads to a more favorable Reader’s Advisory fit.”

Lynn Lobash, Associate Director, Readers Services, New York Public Library

A word of advice: “Take a few minutes before the library opens and browse your collection. It is important to have a fresh picture of what is on your shelves every day. Maybe one of your favorites was returned and is ready for another reader, or maybe one of your go-tos is out and you need to identify an alternative. This is especially true when working with a floating collection.”

Catherine Sheldrick Ross, FRSC, Professor Emerita, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, University of Western Ontario

A word of advice: “Start with the reader and with what the reader says about the reading experience that is desired. The goal of readers’ advisory work is not to improve reading taste or to get more people reading the classics or to push people up the reading ladder. The purpose is to help connect readers with the materials that they will engage with and enjoy. When you start with the reader, you avoid the pitfall of thinking of the book as something existing apart from any reader that can be ranked on a hierarchy of quality from low to high.”

Joyce Saricks, retired readers’ advisor, author of Readers’ Advisory Service in the Public Library, and passionate fan of audiobooks.

A word of advice: “Understand how personal an interaction this is and how carefully, thoughtfully, we need to consider every interaction. RA isn’t just throwing out a stack of books and hoping something works. Listen to what readers say and explore with them the possible suggestions. It’s not what we love but what they want. This listening is a skill that helps in all our interactions—in the library and in life.”

Kim Tipton, Adult Services Librarian, Crystal Lake Public Library (IL)

A word of advice: “I used to think that RA was simply helping the patron find a book similar to one they’d already read. Now I know it encompasses so much more than that: the teacher who needs books on a topic to supplement her class materials; the parent who brings their child in and does all the talking for the child; putting up a book display and choosing (or not choosing) books for it; or addressing the parent who wants to censor what their child reads.” 

David Wright, Reader Services Librarian, Seattle Public Library (WA)

A word of advice: “When it comes to RA, People First, Then Books. Your ability to relax, listen and enthuse with others is key. The rest can always be picked up later, and there are great tools to help you with connecting readers with books: Use Your Tools!”

Listening to Advisors: A Conversation About Readers’ Advisory Services, Practice, and Practicing

Interviews conducted and compiled by Neal Wyatt, contributing editor and readers’ advisory columnist for Library Journal.
As RA service has moved from its second-wave renaissance during the late twentieth century/early twenty-first century (with a steady stream of reference tools, conference programming, and think pieces) into an often underpromoted but bedrock mainstay of the public library, what do advisors continue to discuss among themselves and see as areas of need? If you could gather a handful of advisors together, over a cup of coffee one rainy morning before book group began, what would they talk about? What would they ask each other? What do they know to be foundational about the service? As important, what might they suggest we all re-think? This column invites you to eavesdrop on such a conversation. It was conducted over email between six advisors: two at the start of their careers, two helping to define the field, and two who have lead the way for librarians, for a combined eight decades. These advisors share research, hard-won and lived-in lessons, showcase the luminous nature of RA work as well as its difficulties, propose a change for RA education, and, of course, each suggests a book to read. 
While the conversation (which has been condensed and edited) began with a set of prompt questions ranging from best practices to RA education, it quickly became clear that the subjects on the minds of everyone centered on four key topics: RA education, common challenges, building reader-useful displays, and the importance of RA in libraries and our reading lives.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

New LJ #LibrarianRecs Column is Fun, Helpful, and a Great Conversation Starter To Jump Start Your RA Service

Kiera Parrott, the Reviews Editor at Library Journal and School Library Journal, decided to see what would happen if she asked a RA question on Twitter and crowdsourced the answer. Well what happened was that she received a landslide of suggestions.

Here was her initial question:
Library friends, let's try something! I'm a patron who just walked into your library. I like sci-fi/horror. My favorite movies/shows are John Carpenter's The Thing, the Alien franchise, Stranger Things, & Black Mirror. What books would you recommend? #librarianrecs
I love this idea both to draw attention to how good we library workers are at matching a wide variety of titles for readers and because it is extremely interactive for us, the library workers. We need to be exposed to more questions and connect with each other more often. This is a fun way to do that virtually.

The response was so enormous that Parrott is going to turn this idea into a semi regular column; in fact, she has already posed the next question.

Click on #LibrarianRecs here [whether you are on Twitter or not] to see the questions and answers, or follow the column as it appears on the LJ website.

Click here for the first column. I have posted the intro below, but you will need to click through to see the suggestions.

Why not turn this idea into a display? In fact, you can do that with each and every column hereafter. And you can ask your patrons to add more suggestions of their own. Call it "RA Query of the Week." And then when Parrott doesn't have a column, use a question you have had form one of your patrons recently as the prompt. Or, use yourself. That's what Kiera did for her first column. Or use the #AskALibrarian weekly conversation to find more RA questions and crowdsourced answers that you can quickly turn into a display.

Doing a display like this will also solve one of the biggest problems RA Service providers tell me they have...that no one comes and ask them questions. Well, show them that you are there to answer their questions by turning really life RA questions into displays. I promise you, having a "RA Query of the Week" display will 100% cause at least a patron or two to approach you and ask for their own personalized recs.
Books for Fans of John Carpenter, "Black Mirror," & "Stranger Things" | #LibrarianRecs 
Welcome to the inaugural #LibrarianRecs column, where we pose a readers' advisory (RA) question and crowd-source recommendations from librarians and library workers. This week, I tweeted an RA question on behalf of myself: "I like sci-fi/horror. My favorite movies/shows are John Carpenter's The Thing, the Alien franchise, Stranger Things, & Black Mirror. What books would you recommend?" 
Librarians from around the country chimed in with more than 60 excellent reading suggestions spanning body horror, interstellar monster tales, technothrillers, and more. Here are their picks.
Click here to keep reading

Monday, December 16, 2019

Library Reads: January 2020

Library Reads day and that means four things here on RA for All:
  1. I post the list and tag it “Library Readsso 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.
  4. Every upcoming book now has at least 1 readalike that is available to hand out RIGHT NOW. Book talk the upcoming book, place a hold for it, and then hand out that readalike title for while they wait. If they need more titles before their hold comes in, use the readalike title to identify more readalike titles. And then keep repeating. Seriously, it is that easy to have happy, satisfied readers.

    Also, the Library Reads Board has also started another great book discovery and suggestion tool for you, a monthly What We're Reading column. This means there are even more library worker approved titles, new and old, for you to choose from. 

    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.

    Announcing the January 2020 LibraryReads list!

    You voted, we counted, and January's LibraryReads Favorite is:

    Dear Edward

    A Novel
    by Ann Napolitano

    (The Dial Press)
    “A dear, dear wondrous novel. Edward is The Miracle Boy, the only survivor of a plane crash. As he struggles to navigate the landscape of his new life, we hear the voices of those who didn't make it.

     Napolitano is an amazing writer who deserves a wider audience. For fans of Did You Ever Have a Family (Bill Clegg),The Grief of Others (Leah Hager Cohen), and The Friend (Sigrid Nunez).”

    Jennifer Dayton, Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield, CT

    NoveList read-alike: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

    And now, the rest of the LibraryReads January Top 10:

    Don’t miss the January 2020 Hall of Fame Winners!
     Scroll down or visit the Hall of Fame page!

    All the Ways We Said Goodbye: A Novel of the Ritz Paris 

    by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White 
    (William Morrow)

    American Dirt: A Novel
    by Jeanine Cummins
    (Flatiron Books)

    Followers: A Novel
    by Megan Angelo
    (Graydon House)

    Highfire: A Novel
    by Eoin Colfer
    (Harper Perennial)

    How Quickly She Disappears

    by Raymond Fleischmann

    Long Bright River: A Novel
    by Liz Moore

    Love Her or Lose Her: A Novel
    by Tessa Bailey

    When We Were Vikings

    by Andrew David MacDonald
    (Gallery/Scout Press)

    You Were There Too

    by Colleen Oakley

    Big Lies In A Small Town

    by Diane Chamberlain
    (St. Martin's Press)
    Somebody Knows by Lisa Scottoline
    The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis
    Dreams of Falling by Karen White

    Lady Clementine
    A Novel
    by Marie Benedict
    (Sourcebooks Landmark)
    The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher
    Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan
    Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

    A Long Petal of the Sea
    A Novel
    by Isabel Allende
    (Ballantine Books)
    Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
    Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
    Love and Ruin by Paula McLean