Tuesday, April 25, 2017

week 16 : the future of the book

Ursula K. Le Guin makes a good point that there was never a time when everyone read books, and there's no reason to expect everyone to start reading books today. The 'century of the book' understandably came to a close, it seems, as stories and entertainment began to take on new forms in television and movies. I like how Le Guin frames reading and watching TV or movies as both private individual and shared social experiences. With the increased popularity of Netflix and other online streaming sites, television and movies have acquired the potential to become private experiences, more similar to reading than even ten years ago when college students would crowd around one person's TV on Thursday nights at 8PM to watch the newest episode of Grey's Anatomy.

Thinking about the staying power of reading (especially in comparison to television and movies), I've noticed that people still carry a 'moralizing tone' when they talk about the amount of reading that they do (or don't do). Many people seem to feel ashamed for having read less than 'they should,' and, similarly, many people seem to feel ashamed for watching Netflix more than 'they should.' My own experience echoes these common sentiments; I often feel proud of myself for reading (as opposed to watching TV or aimlessly surfing the internet), and surely that feeling is rooted in a lifetime of being taught that reading is 'good' and 'productive.' For better or worse, I suspect that this perceived morality of reading will continue to pull some people towards reading, at least some of the time. I guess there's a lot more to say on this topic, but this was where my mind went!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

week 15 : promoting your fiction collection

1. Clear and readable signs for Readers' advisory services
When you spend twenty hours a week sitting at the reference or circulation desk, it's easy to forget that these service points aren't always clear and visible to patrons. My experience of working in a newly renovated library with minimal signage has provided a constant reminder that many patrons can't distinguish the reference desk from the circulation desk. And how could they, really? There are absolutely no signs indicating the function of these distinct service desks. Saricks' suggestion for clear signs seems like an excellent starting point for promoting a library's fiction collection. A sign reading "Ask here for reading suggestions" or "Not sure what to read?" provides a clear first step in the process of finding a book to read.

2. Book displays
For patrons who prefer to browse independently, permanent or rotating book displays allow librarians a chance to highlight specific titles. Saricks mentions her library's ongoing book display called "Good Books You May Have Missed", which she describes as one of their most successful book displays to date. The patron may have limited time to choose a book, or perhaps they would rather not discuss their reading preferences with a librarian. No matter the case, a book display can provide a less daunting browsing experience for the patron. It's sort of like sandwiches at a deli -- you can build your own from scratch or choose one of their in-house specials.

3. Annotated book lists
Book lists with annotations require time and energy. However, as Saricks points out, it's near impossible to get a sense of a book from just a title; a shorter book list with annotations provides a much richer resource for the patron. Further, locally created book lists can be beneficial for patrons and staff, alike. As I've learned from this class, the practice of writing annotations strengthens the librarian's ability to assess a book based on its content and appeal factors, and these skills are undoubtedly helpful in readers' advisory service.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

LGBTQ+ annotation: The summer we got free

The summer we got free
By Mia McKenzie

Genre: African American fiction; LGBTQ+ fiction
Publication date: 2012
Number of pages: 242 pages
Literary Awards: Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Debut Fiction (2013)


The reader meets Ava Delaney as a thirty year-old married woman, living together with her husband, her parents, and her sister in her parents’ house in Philadelphia. She works at a museum cafeteria during the day, and she’s largely indifferent to her surroundings. One morning, unknown woman shows up unexpectedly at the Delaney house, and her presence mysteriously stirs up a long dormant fire in Ava. Told in chapters alternating between Ava’s childhood in the 1950s and the year of 1976, when their visitor appears, the story unfolds to reveal the Delaney family’s path from once beloved among their neighbors and church community to dramatically ostracized and isolated after a violent and tragic event.


Storyline - character-driven
Characters - complex, well-developed
Writing style - descriptive, lush
Tone - haunting, stirring, amusing, sensuous
Pace - leisurely


What Night Brings (2003)
by Carla Trujillo
“Marci Cruz wants God to do two things: change her into a boy, and get rid of her father. What Night Brings is the unforgettable story of Marci's struggle to find and maintain her identity against all odds - a perilous home life, an incomprehensible Church, and a largely indifferent world.” (Goodreads)

I’ve Got a Time Bomb (2014)
by Sybil Lamb
“On her way home from a gay wedding, Sybil’s eponymous protagonist is ambushed, beaten, and left for dead on the train tracks. Days later, Sybil awakens in a hospital and finds her skull has been reconstructed, but it quickly becomes clear that her version of “normal” and “reality” may have been permanently altered. When she falls in love with a very beautiful, but very married, actress, Sybil does what comes naturally: she presents the object of her affection with a homemade explosive device, and then abruptly leaves town.
I’ve Got A Time Bomb chronicles her surrealistic journey living among the loners, losers, and leave-behinds in the dark corners of Amerika.” (Goodreads)

Yabo (2014)
by Alexis De Veaux

“See YABO... like a Mingus composition: Pentecostal, blues-inflected, full of wit and that deep literacy of the black diaspora. The present, the past, the uncertain future collapse upon themselves in this narrative of place/s. Our dead move with us: behind us, above us, confronting us--in Manhattan; Asheville (N.C.); Buffalo, NY; Jamaica; the hold of a funky slave ship; crossing and bending lines between genders, sexualities, longing and geographies. Time is a river endlessly coursing, shallow in many places, deep for long miles, and, finally, deadly as the hurricane that engulfs and destroys the slave vessel, 'Henrietta Marie.' YABO calls our ghosts back and holds us accountable for memory."(Cheryl Clarke)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

week 14 prompt: LGBTQ+ and African American fiction shelving

I would choose to keep LGBTQ+ and African American fiction physically integrated into the larger fiction section rather than separating them into their own sections. As Erin mentioned in her prompt, complete separation prevents patrons from stumbling upon an author or a work that they may not have sought out on their own. In other words, the segregation of sub-genres like LGBTQ+ and African American fiction ensures that these books will only be noticed by patrons who are already determined to seek them out. 

LGBTQ+ and African American fiction titles should be visible and accessible for all patrons. However, the separation of sub-genres into physical sections prevents patrons from browsing anonymously. Perhaps especially for younger patrons (or patrons of any age who do not publicly identify as LGBTQ+) seeking resources and literature on LGBTQ+ topics, anonymity is crucial. 

One drawback in the decision to keep these sub-genres in the general fiction section is the possibility that these titles will be smothered by the overwhelming and disproportionate number of fiction works created by and for white heterosexual men. With that concern in mind, I would work to promote these smaller sub-genre collections through a variety of passive readers' advisory strategies: printed and online booklists for each sub-genre, rotating displays featuring new titles in LGBTQ+ and African American fiction, and stickers or markers on the bindings of these titles to increase their visibility for the browsing patron.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

young adult annotation: Inside out & back again

Inside out & back again
By Thanhha Lai

Genre: Historical fiction, Young adult fiction, Novel in verse
Publication date: 2011
Number of pages: 262


Ten year-old Hà has grown up in Saigon with the Vietnam War as a persistent reality of daily life.  Hà’s father disappeared on a navy mission when she was a baby, soldiers patrol the neighborhood nightly, and her mother rarely smiles anymore. And despite these and other traumas, wartime Saigon is the setting of Hà’s vibrant life, her home. In the months leading up to the fall of Saigon in 1975, friends and neighbors slowly begin to flee their homes. Along with her mother and three older brothers, Hà packs her bag and says goodbye to her house, her papaya tree, and her sense of belonging. They spend weeks at sea on an overcrowded ship before they reach Guam and then, later, America. At the mercy of a sponsor, Hà’s family is resettled in Alabama, where they must each start over again, in school, in language, in creating a home. “No one would believe me,” she writes, “but at times / I would choose / wartime in Saigon / over / peacetime in Alabama.”


The storyline is driven by the characters and notable moments of Hà’s experiences during this momentous year of her life. The characters are relatable and poignantly portrayed. The book is written sparsely in verse, and, despite the relatively few words, Lai’s style is lush, rich and candid. Perhaps it’s Lai’s economy of words that contributes to Hà’s effortlessly piercing and insightful observations about her surroundings. The pace is leisurely, and each day’s entry begs to be re-read.


The land I lost (1982)
Huynh, Quang Nhuong
“A collection of personal reminiscences of the author's youth in a hamlet on the central highlands of Vietnam.” (NoveList)

Out of the dust (1997)
Hesse, Karen
“In a series of poems, fourteen-year-old Billie Jo relates the hardships of living on her family's wheat farm in Oklahoma during the dust bowl years of the Depression.” (NoveList)

90 Miles to Havana (2010)
Flores-Galbis, Enrique
“When Julian's parents send him and his two brothers to Miami to escape from the Cuban revolution, the boys are thrust into a new world where bullies run rampant and it is not always clear how best to protect themselves.” (NoveList)

Brown girl dreaming (2014)
Woodson, Jacqueline
“In vivid poems that reflect the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, an award-winning author shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South.” (NoveList)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

week 13 : young adult, new adult, graphic novels

Speaking as a reader who has only relatively recently delved into the YA and graphic novel 'genres', I have identified with both sides of this debate about the place of YA, NA, and graphic novels in the domain of Literature. As a college student and in the years afterward, I thought that I should be reading Important Books. I tried reading a number of American classics with the assumption that if I had half a brain, then I would enjoy them immensely. But I didn't really enjoy them; I suffered through them, hoping that they'd get better or that I'd get better at "getting" them. At that time, I remember feeling like I had to push myself to grow into 'adult' literature and out of less 'legitimate' literature (as if our reading preferences should follow a prescribed, linear trajectory). 

I had never sought out readers' advisory, formally or informally, and I didn't talk about reading much with friends or family. I didn't know what others actually enjoyed or why. In more recent years, I've found myself surrounded --thank heavens-- by friends and peers who tend to unapologetically read exactly what they please. When a friend raves about the latest YA or graphic novel that they've read, I am reminded once again that these genres can be just as powerful, provocative, and relevant as any other genre. 

I'm grateful to friends for normalizing and promoting YA and graphic novels for me. Librarians have many opportunities to do this same work with patrons. I was struck by the image that Erin posted in this week's blog post; I wonder how much sooner I would have picked up a YA novel if I had seen such a sign on the shelves at age 20. I imagine that librarians can integrate YA, NA, and graphic novels into book displays along with other popular fiction in such a way that the patron may not immediately notice distinctions between genres. 

The integration of these genres can also happen as a part of active readers' advisory strategies. A librarian may choose to recommend a YA or graphic novel to a patron based on their interests, even if they haven't specifically requested a novel of that type. A recommendation of this sort may require a bit of finesse; it's possible that a patron could feel belittled or misunderstood if the librarian doesn't provide some context for suggesting a type of book that is commonly disparaged.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

nonfiction readers' advisory

The Readers' Advisory Matrix for Future Sex by Emily Witt

1. Where is the book on the narrative continuum?
Highly narrative

2. What is the subject of the book?
On the state of sex and erotic possibilities -- including polyamory, kink, group sex and orgasmic meditation -- in 21st century America.

3. What type of book is it?
Somewhere between memoir and investigative journalism

4. Articulate appeal:

What is the pacing of the book?
Much like an extended feature story in a newspaper, this book reads quickly but takes its time in moving the reader through richly detailed descriptions of people, places, situations.

Describe the characters of the book.
Witt introduces the reader to quite a few fascinating characters. Some characters, like the polyamorous triad in San Francisco, are the subject of an entire chapter, while others receive a few paragraphs of attention. Framed as a sort of memoir of self-discovery, Witt is the thread between the varied contexts of the book.

How does the story feel?
wry, detached, yet relatable at moments

What is the intent of the author?
To explore current expressions of "free love" and sexual freedom, told from the context of her own experience as a curious outsider to these communities and practices.

What is the focus of the story?
Witt focuses on a handful of communities and practices that reside somewhere along the fringe of the dominant heteronormative sexual culture in America. She explores polyamory, kink, internet porn, live webcams, group sex and orgasmic meditation through a combination of observation, interview, and personal experience.

Does the language matter?
Yes! Despite her own hesitance in many of the settings, Witt's rich descriptions of characters and settings bring the book to life.

Is the setting important and well-described?
Yes and yes.

Are there details, and if so, what?
Lots of details, ranging from physical descriptions of people and places to historical context of practices and communities.

Are there sufficient charts and other graphics? N/A

Does the book stress moments of learning, understanding, or experience?
Though the book does provide some in-depth demonstrations of firsthand experience, there was surprisingly little emphasis on learning or understanding from these experiences.

5. Why would a reader enjoy this book?
Memorable characters, vivid settings, richly detailed

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

audiobook appeal

Generally, I avoid ebooks because I don't own an e-reader, and I don't gravitate toward audiobooks because I don't process aural input as easily as visual input. When I've listened to audiobooks in the past, I often zone out for minutes at a time and lose track of my place in the story. This happens when I read print books, too, but it's always easier to jump back in at the place where my mind wandered from the page.

As fate would have it, I listened to an audiobook for the first time in recent memory this past weekend as I drove twelve hours alone from South Carolina back to Indiana. In addition to losing the storyline when my mind wanders, audiobooks often put me to sleep, especially when I'm driving alone for long stretches. As I readied myself for departure for Indiana, my friend insisted that I sign in to her Audible phone app and choose from one of the books that she had previously downloaded. From a relatively short and varied list of audiobooks, I chose to listen to a mystery/thriller called The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This isn't the sort of print book that I would normally pick up to read, but I was hopeful that a book of the mystery/thriller genre would draw me in and keep me engaged hour after hour.

When considering audiobooks, there are several appeal factors that take priority, for me and for many others. Perhaps most important is what Kaite Mediatore calls the "audible presentation," or the manner in which a written work is transformed into a recorded reading performance. As she goes on to discuss in the article, the audible presentation can greatly enhance or detract from a book's pace, tone, storyline, and character distinction. Further, the listener may be affected by the quality of the recording and the quality and characteristics of the narrator's voice. The story that I listened to was told from the perspective three female protagonists, and each character was narrated by a different person -- all British women with slightly different accents. I'm not sure that I would have been able to match the voice with the character without context, but the entrance of a new narrator signaled a subtle shift from chapter to chapter.

Another appeal factor for audiobooks is length in terms of time (hours) rather than pages. If a person is picking out an audiobook for a car trip of a particular length, they may choose a book based on the idea that they could finish it within the time of the trip. Format is becoming an increasingly important appeal factor. CDs and MP3s seem cumbersome to me now that audiobooks can downloaded and streamed through phone apps offered by companies like Audible. Phone apps, however, may be intimidating or frustrating for people who have been listening to audiobooks on cassette or CD for many years. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

book club experience

A few weeks ago, several friends started talking about starting a “middle-brow book club.” For context, I am the only person in this particular group who is not currently pursuing or already in possession of a doctoral degree in English literature. Unsurprisingly, English literature PhD students years deep into their studies commonly experience reading literature as ‘work’ instead of ‘pleasure.’ The idea behind this book club, one explained, was to focus on “middle-brow” literature that might allow them the opportunity to intentionally read books for leisure and discuss them casually with friends.

A month prior to the first meeting, we submitted suggestions for books to read and then, from those suggestions, voted on the first book. The winner was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Initially, I had fully planned to read the book and to attend the book club as an active participant. However, other books got in the way, and, despite my best intentions, I attended the meeting as an observer.

Given the purpose and intent of this book club, our meeting was very relaxed. We met at one of our homes, and we each brought a snack or a drink to share. The atmosphere was very comfortable and open. The members of this group have known each other for years in a variety of capacities spanning the personal and the professional, and that sense of familiarity certainly added to the relaxed environment of the discussion.

There was no leader, but the friend who had introduced the idea of this book club served, in a way, as the facilitator for this first gathering. It was a relatively small group -- five people including myself. It was clear from the give-and-take flow of the discussion that these women shared common background and experiences critically engaging with literature. Admittedly, I was a little relieved that I hadn’t read the book and therefore didn’t feel pressure to contribute my own opinions to the conversation (though I do look forward to the challenge next time!).

The discussion itself went in many directions, veering away from and back to the book organically. Some of the participants may have come with specific questions in mind, but there was never a formal list of questions presented or consulted. Mostly, people worked their questions or ideas into the conversation, building on others’ comments and questions. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

special topics paper

Note: For this paper, I chose to focus on the topic of this week's readings! 

Quality vs. demand

During the first week of this current spring semester, I was casually talking with a friend and a fellow MLS student about this Readers’ Advisory course. I was thrilled, I told them, for the chance to delve into genres that I have avoided up to this point for various reasons. For example, I had categorized romance, mystery, and thrillers as ‘low-brow’ guilty pleasures and had not in many years allowed myself a chance to enjoy them for what they offer. I went on to exclaim to my friend that there exists such a genre called ‘gentle reads’! Admittedly, we both lightheartedly poked fun at the gentle reads genre, neither of us knowing much about it. Eventually, I made a comment along the lines of: “Well, it’s not my place to judge a reader’s taste. I’m just supposed to help them find something that they might enjoy.”

At this point, we diverged and fell into a debate about the role of the librarian in the service of readers’ advisory. From one perspective, the readers’ advisory librarian should strive to provide a non-judgmental reference service for the reader. If the patron is seeking a gentle read, then it is the librarian’s responsibility to help them find a gentle read that they might enjoy. As Joyce Saricks puts it, “Readers’ advisory is about public service, about meeting readers where they are and helping them find something they’ll enjoy. Whatever that may be today—or tomorrow” (2008, p. 12). The other perspective imagines the librarian as a resource for the patron but also as a source of guidance and on the subject of reading and a guardian of intellectual history. “Is it not your duty as a librarian,” my friend asked, “to challenge the reader, to aid the public in becoming knowledgeable and ethical members of society?” I didn’t have a great rebuttal.

In his article entitled “Should Libraries' Target Audience Be Cheapskates With Mass-Market Tastes?” (2007), John Miller poses a series of questions that hits at the heart of this debate: “What are libraries for? Are they cultural storehouses that contain the best that has been thought and said? Or are they more like actual stores, responding to whatever fickle taste or Mitch Albom tearjerker is all the rage at this very moment?” Miller’s inquiry brings to the surface broader questions about the intrinsic value of reading. Can we compare the value of reading for pleasure with the value of reading for information or edification? Is it even possible or necessary to disentangle these two ways of reading?

Mary Chelton has named this split the “entertainment vs. information false dichotomy” (2009, p. 254), a dichotomy which implies (incorrectly, I believe) that reading for fun or pleasure is not as valuable as and does not overlap with nonfiction or reading for the acquisition of information.
Connie Van Fleet responds to these looming questions with a discussion of a librarian’s inherent and inevitable personal bias. Librarians and MLS students are often avid readers, and many, she argues, have learned to judge books by supposedly objective, academic standards of literature rather than by subjective individual taste. She refers to this as the “‘good book’ versus ‘good literature’ dichotomy” (Van Fleet, 2008, p.226). Van Fleet contends that librarians working in readers’ advisory must accept the validity of personal preferences and focus on the value of books based on their appeal to readers.

Part of the librarian’s work in accepting the value of books outside of their preferences and biases lies in breaking down these misleading dichotomies of “leisure vs. work” or “entertainment vs. information” that often contribute to a prioritization of nonfiction or “literature” over popular fiction. In a critical exploration of escapist reading, Soheli Begum (2011) urges the librarian to (re)consider escapism -- so often associated with “pulp” or “trashy” fiction -- as the nurturing of a reader’s ability to imagine experiences outside of their own. Further, escapist reading can have broader implications than merely offering a leisure activity. In Begum’s words, “The transformative nature of leisure reading is such that it can be considered by many a means of maintaining humanity and a sense of self in sometimes uncertain and dangerous settings” (2011, p. 740).

When it comes to collection development and collection weeding -- making room for popular contemporary fiction by discarding classics that remain on the shelves, untouched -- the librarian may find themselves in a stickier position, navigating the space between patron demand, personal biases and notions of quality. We’ll return to John Miller (2007), who suggests at the end of his editorial that librarians should serve as “advisors and guardians of an intellectual inheritance,” grounding libraries in the foundations of this cultural inheritance without falling entirely to the force of the latest trend. Miller draws a comparison between a library and a dictionary, both of which, in my opinion, must remain permeable to the organic and shifting tides of language and reading while simultaneously retaining a firm footing in the many layers of language and reading that have preceded our present moment.


Begum, S. (2011). Readers' advisory and underestimated roles of escapist reading. Library Review, 60(9), 738-747. doi:10.1108/00242531111176763

Chelton, M. (2009). Reader’s Advisory Work. Reference and information services in the 21st century : an introduction / Kay Ann Cassell and Uma Hiremath. New York : Neal-Schuman Publishers, 254.

Miller, J. J. (2007). In the fray: Should libraries’ target audience be cheapskates with mass-market tastes? Wall Street Journal, D9. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB116778551807865463

Saricks, J. (2008). Readers' advisory--flash in the pan or here to stay?. Booklist, (21). 12.

Van Fleet, C. (2008). Education for Readers' Advisory Service in Library and Information Science Programs Challenges and Opportunities. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 47(3), 224-229. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

science fiction annotation: He, She and It

He, She and It
By Marge Piercy

Genre: Science fiction, Dystopian fiction
Publication date: 1991
Number of pages: 446


The year is 2059, and the nuclear holocaust of 2017 and subsequent worldwide famines have drastically altered Earth’s environment and human life on the planet. In a conditioned ‘multi’ corporation-zone in the Nebraska desert, twenty-eight year old Shira Shipman has just lost custody of her two-year old son to her spiteful ex-husband, who has abruptly left with their son for a two-year assignment on a platform away from Earth. Deep in despair, she leaves her hard-earned tech job at the multi and returns to her hometown of Tikva, a Jewish freetown, to live with Malka, the grandmother who raised her. Back in her childhood home, she works alongside Avram, a family friend, on the socialization of Yod, a human-like cyborg covertly and illegally created by Avram and Malka to protect the Tikva community. In the midst of her efforts to mold Yod into a convincing human, Shira is amazed by by his/its capacity to develop human-like expression and emotion, and before long she becomes involved in a sexual and romantic relationship with the cyborg.

Weaved into this story is a parallel narrative, told by Malka as a bedtime story to Yod, linking the 21st century creation of this beloved cyborg protector to the story of Jewish folklore wherein Polish rabbi Judah Loew creates the golem of Prague to protect the Jewish ghetto from the Easter pogroms at the turn of the 17th century.


Both storylines are character-driven, no small feat for one narrative that creates a convincing love story between a woman and a cyborg and another narrative that brings to life a well-known story of Jewish mysticism. The narratives are punctuated by dramatic events and heart-wrenching moments, but the stories move at a leisurely pace, slowly building the characters and their complex relationships by meandering through stories of their pasts. The novel carries a stimulating and thought-provoking tone as the reader is moved to consider philosophical concepts of creation and human identity alongside themes of gender, love, and family.


The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
“In a future world where the birth rate has declined, fertile women are rounded up, indoctrinated as "handmaids," and forced to bear children to prominent men.” (NoveList)

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
“The sole survivor of a crew sent to explore a new planet, Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz discovers an alien civilization that raises questions about the very essence of humanity, an encounter that leads Sandoz to a public inquisition and the destruction of his faith.” (NoveList)

Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel #1), by Connie Willis
“For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.
But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin--barely of age herself--finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours.” (Goodreads)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

week seven prompt: fake memoirs and book controversies

For typical readers outside of the publishing industry, the pre-publication action remains hidden. We only see the final product of a published work. A few of the readings for this week demonstrated for me that I have a shallow knowledge of the publishing process and that I, like many, make certain assumptions about the final presentation of published books.

I was shocked to read that Ramin Ganeshram had so little control over the illustrations that accompanied the text of her children's book. She writes, "I couldn’t respond to the public’s belief that I had creative control over the images even though, like most picture book authors, I had no authority to approve them" (Ganeshram, 2016). Prior to reading Ganeshram's blogpost, I would have assumed that these illustrations were the result of a close collaboration between the author, the illustrator, and the publisher, and therefore it's unsurprising to me that Ganeshram, the author of the text, received backlash for the images that depict Hercules as Washington's cheerful slave who delighted in his daily forced labor. Illustrations contribute greatly to the tone and message of a text, and it seems disrespectful to the author (and to the illustrator) to enforce creative directions against the will and intentions of the creator(s). Then again, I would assume that publishers will always wield a strong hand and prioritize sales over creator intent. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

romance annotation: Black Sheep

Black Sheep
by Georgette Heyer

Genre: Regency romance, Historical romance
Publication Date: 1966
Number of Pages: 279


Miss Abigail Wendover, said to be ‘on the shelf’ at age 28, lives contently in Bath, England with her older sister and their orphaned niece, Fanny, a bright and beautiful heiress to a considerable estate. During Abby’s extended leave from Bath, young Fanny has fallen head-over-heels for Stacy Calverleigh, a known ‘fortune-hunter’ who has squandered his own wealth and manages to get by on his good looks and polished manners. Determined to prevent her niece from hurrying into marriage with a person of questionable motives, Abby, who was herself prevented by her father from marrying a past lover, wonders how best to protect her moonstruck niece without jeopardizing their close relationship.
Coincidentally, Miles Calverleigh, the ‘black sheep’ of his family and estranged uncle to Stacy, has just returned to Bath from a years-long business venture in India. Unlike Stacy, Miles shocks the locals with his droll humor and blatant disregard for good manners. Miles is not impressed by Stacy’s hollow charms, and he may prove to be Abby’s greatest ally in preventing the unfortunate match between Fanny and Stacy. But, with a confounding ability to throw Abby into giggles in spite of herself, Miles may turn out to be more than just an ally.


The storyline of this book is heavily character-driven, and most of the story is presented through dialogue and third-person description of the characters’ personalities and behaviors. The writing style is highly descriptive, but the well-crafted and witty dialogue keeps up the pace of the novel. Social and moral issues do play a role in this novel, as Abby and Miles are both understood by their society to be ‘black sheep’ -- Abby, a clever woman past her prime, and Miles, a wealthy gentleman with a tarnished history and no regard for rules of etiquette.


Lady Elizabeth's Comet (Clanross #1) by Sheila Simonson
“Elizabeth Conway's greatest ambition is to discover a comet. Unfortunately, she is the eldest of eight daughters of an earl, so her relative expect her to take her rightful place in Society…Tom Conroy is a dull stick and ill-mannered to boot. Yet he is the only man who has shown respect for her astronomical work, and his concern for her younger sister’s welfare reveals a different side to him.” (Goodreads)

Venetia by Georgette Heyer
“Venetia Lanyon--beautiful, intelligent and independent--lives in comfortable seclusion in rural Yorkshire with her precocious brother Aubrey, but when she meets the dashing, dangerous rake Lord Damerel, her well-ordered life is turned upside down, and she embarks upon a relationship with him that scandalizes and horrifies the whole community.” (NoveList)

The Lion's Lady (Crown's Spies #1) by Julie Garwood
“In 1814, Princess Christina seems an enigma to London society because its members do not know that she was raised by the Dakota Indians in Wyoming and is in England on a secret mission for her dead mother.” (NoveList)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

week six prompt: genre promotion & integrated advisory

I believe that it's time to strengthen our library's promotion of our collection of Romance fiction. This genre is an important one, though its popular reputation presents some barriers to easy promotion. Some readers view the Romance genre as "low-brow" literature and may not consider it worthy of their time. Other readers may be hesitant to request readers' advisory assistance for fear of engaging in a potentially awkward discussion about steamy literature.

For these reasons, I recommend promotion on two fronts. First, I would like to supplement our existing "Romance fiction" display with a printed list of book club style reading questions that could apply to any book of the Romance genre. In a study of the promotion of Romance genre fiction in American public libraries (2013), Adkins, Esser and Velasquez note that romance novels can provide excellent opportunities to discuss the societal context that is reflected by the content and characters of the books. While the story lines may be relatively similar across the genre, we see variety in the discourse, power relationships, and daily life of the characters.

With these questions readily available to readers of the Romance genre, I would like to suggest a monthly Romance genre discussion group that will meet at the library. Loosely based on the discussion questions provided each month, it is my hope that avid Romance readers will come together to discuss themes and ideas that they may apply to the Romance novels that are of most interest to each individual. This discussion group may allow readers to learn about sub-genres and authors outside of their reading experience, and it may even catch the eye of readers who are new to the Romance genre as a whole. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Kirkus-style review: Autobiography of a Face

Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy

A gripping and candid reflection on an adolescence and adulthood marked by physical otherness, this memoir meditates on the competing urges to be the ‘right’ kind of beautiful and to be accepted as we are. 

As a fourth-grader, Lucy Grealy lost a third of her jaw in a surgical procedure to remove an Ewing’s sarcoma tumor that, by a matter of chance, had been found in the bone. In a matter of weeks, Lucy’s sense of normalcy was radically redefined as she embarked on a long and isolating path of chemotherapy treatments and reconstructive surgeries that extended for over four years beyond the initial diagnosis. Despite the multiple attempts to reconstruct her jaw, Lucy’s appearance was severely altered by the loss of facial bone. When her health finally permitted her return to school, the taunts of her peers became a constant reminder of the society that would reject her based on outward appearance. As the title implies, Grealy’s sense of self was overcome, at times, by her identification with her face. “I was my face, I was ugliness...” With simple and heartbreakingly honest prose, Grealy transports the reader to the mind of a young person in writing that feels at once intensely personal to Lucy and also familiar to the reader. This book is about more than one woman’s painful experience of visible otherness and her desire to feel content in her own body; Grealy’s words speak to a universal longing for acceptance and individuality in a society that demands both. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

adventure annotation: The Flanders Panel

The Flanders Panel
by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Genre: Adventure, Mystery, Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 1990, English translation 1994
Number of Pages: 295


Julia, a skilled, young art restoration professional, is preparing a 15th century Flemish painting for auction when she finds, hidden beneath a layer of paint, an inscription that reads: Quis necavit equitem? Who killed the knight? The painting depicts two noblemen, the Duke of Flanders and his knight, playing a game of chess while a woman of the court reads nearby. Curious about the meaning and the purpose of the hidden inscription, Julia consults her art historian ex-lover and finds that one of the painting’s noblemen was murdered two years before he would have been able to sit for the portrait. What begins as a quest to uncover a mystery of the distant past becomes a present-day chess game, a battle of logic, death, and betrayal, against a lurking, invisible player.


The storyline of this novel is intricately plotted and driven by the action of the real-life chess game, layered on top of the painting’s historical narrative. The pacing is brisk, but there are occasional lulls in the action that give way to contemplative and descriptive passages regarding the art and logic of chess and other puzzles in life. Characteristic of the genre, the tone is dark and foreboding, and the writing style is witty, richly detailed, and stuffed with chess-related jargon and theories. The action is set against the backdrop of art galleries, antique shops, and upscale late-night lounges of 1980s Madrid. The chessboard and positions of the pieces serve as a kind of map that links the present-day setting to the 15th century panel and provides the key to puzzle of logic.


The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
“When her teenage son disappears in the aftermath of a brutal murder, a determined mother sets out from her snow-covered nineteenth-century settlement to find him, an effort that is hampered by vigilante groups and the harrowing forces of nature.” (NoveList)
Appeal terms: intricately plotted, female protagonist/hero, descriptive, atmospheric, haunting

The School of Night by Louis Bayard
“Centuries after the founding of a scholarly organization that covertly discussed religion, science, and the black arts, disgraced Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish searches for a missing letter than may prove the group's existence and contain the formula for alchemy.” (NoveList)
Appeal terms: suspenseful, parallel narratives, romantic, richly detailed, witty

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
“In 1327, finding his sensitive mission at an Italian abbey further complicated by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William of Baskerville turns detective.” (NoveList)
Appeal terms: intricately plotted, atmospheric, haunting, thought-provoking, lyrical, stylistically complex

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

week five prompt: reviews

This prompt poses a lot of interesting questions, and I'm particularly drawn to the function of published book reviews and more informal reviews in selecting books for personal reading and for library collections. 

Using the book reviews provided for this week's reading on Canvas, I feel that both types of reviews - published and informal - are valid and valuable in their own right. Published reviews may provide a more efficient means of gauging a book: reviews are written by established subject or genre 'experts,' and the reviews often follow a consistent format that facilitate skimming. The idea here, I guess, is to present an authoritative read on the book in question, which can be useful and also problematic. 

Informal reviews, such as blog posts or Amazon reviews, follow no standard format, and they provide a platform for absolutely anybody to share their thoughts on a book. I've definitely gotten sucked into black holes of informal reviews. When they're brief and plentiful, I consume them one after the other, searching for broad themes and patterns, and I wonder how much I have in common with the people who have submitted these reviews. These sorts of reviews require more time and patience, but, as a supplement to other formal reviews, I believe that they can effectively represent an average reader's response to a book. 

I'm trying to make a case for the role of informal reviews, but, as I consider the examples of these particular reviews, I am clearly more inclined to purchase a copy of Angela's Ashes than The Billionaire's First Christmas. My bias is clear: regarding the contemporary romance e-book, I'm asking myself, "Hmm, I wonder if I could find a more formal review of this book?" and "If it's a free download, why do I have to purchase it, anyway?"

When it comes to finding books for personal reading or for a library collection, it's a frustrating reality that many good books fall through the cracks when they don't receive the same publicity and attention as those published by major publishing houses. Just from my own experience of searching for adventure and romance novels for this course, I am reminded that 'authoritative' published reviews can help me to get a a sense of the genre and its trends, but it's also worthwhile to move beyond these limited tools, especially when searching for authors or sub-genres that may fall outside of the mainstream. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

secret shopper

I went to a nearby public library in search of a romance novel for one of the upcoming annotations. As far as I can recall, I've never sought out a readers' advisory interaction with a librarian, and certainly never to ask for help in finding a romance novel. Two firsts for Leah!

I ended up having a really pleasant conversation with a librarian about all sorts of romance fiction. When I told her that I recently read and enjoyed books by Margaret Atwood and Elena Ferrante, her eyes lit up as she suggested looking at Georgette Heyer, a prolific novelist who wrote "witty" romances during the first quarter of the twentieth century. She went on to tell me that she was a big fan of Heyer during her teenage years, and she pointed out a few of the titles that she most enjoyed then, probably forty years ago. She also encouraged me to take a look at some of the more popular contemporary writers, such as Julia Quinn and Jennifer Crusie.

She relied on personal experience as well as a handy, printed (on pink paper!) list of authors in the romance genre, which were categorized by sub-genre: contemporary, alternate reality, historical, and so on. She accompanied me to the stacks and spent some time thumbing through books with me. There was no follow-up, but, as she left me to continue browsing, I felt welcomed to seek her out again. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

week three prompt

1. I am looking for a book by Laurell K. Hamilton. I just read the third book in the Anita Blake series and I can’t figure out which one comes next!

Next in the series: The lunatic café (January 1996)

2. What have I read recently? Well, I just finished this great book by Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer. I really liked the way it was written, you know, the way she used language. I wouldn't mind something a bit faster paced though.

Saving the world (Apr 2006) by Julia Alvarez. Based on the appeal of the Kingsolver novel, I think that the reader might enjoy the reflective, romantic, suspenseful tone, the compelling and lyrical writing style, and the brisk pace of this novel.

3. I like reading books set in different countries. I just read one set in China, could you help me find one set in Japan? No, not modern – historical. I like it when the author describes it so much it feels like I was there!

The translation of love (Apr 2016) by Lynne Kutsukake
The thousand autumns of Jacob De Zoet (Jun 2010) by David Mitchell

4. I read this great mystery by Elizabeth George called Well-Schooled in Murder and I loved it. Then my dentist said that if I liked mysteries I would probably like John Sandford, but boy was he creepy I couldn't finish it! Do you have any suggestions?

A possibility of violence (Jul 2014) by Dror Mishani
The nature of the beast: a Chief Inspector Gamache novel (Aug 2015) by Louise Penny

5. My husband has really gotten into zombies lately. He’s already read The Walking Dead and World War Z, is there anything else you can recommend?
Day by day Armageddon (Sep 2009) by J. L. Bourne

6. I love books that get turned into movies, especially literary ones. Can you recommend some? Nothing too old, maybe just those from the last 5 years or so.

Wild girls (Oct 2016) by Erica Abeel
Judas (Nov 2016) by Amos Oz
The Wonder (Sep 2016) by Emma Donoghue
All the light we cannot see (May 2014) by Anthony Doerr

7. I love thrillers but I hate foul language and sex scenes. I want something clean and fast paced.

I had some difficulty searching within a genre and limiting the results to weed out foul language and sex scenes. Am I overlooking an important tool on NoveList or other RA resources?
I stuck to literary thrillers in the hope that the storylines and writing styles might not include a great deal of foul language or sex scenes.

The last days of night (Sep 2016) by Graham Moore
A guide for the perplexed (Sep 2013) by Dara Horn

Second, after you get a chance to do the readings and explore Mary Chelton's list of tools, I want to hear about how you find books to read. It could be a site or a resource you've just discovered or one you've used for years, one you use for yourself or for your patrons or family and friends.

It’s been just in the past few weeks that I’ve started to use readers’ advisory tools (like goodreads, Novelist, etc.) to find books that I might like to read. In the past, I’ve relied mostly on browsing sections of stacks and bookstores, Amazon.com recommendations, and book award lists. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

reading profile

It wasn't until partway through high school  -- when I started reading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech during school lunch -- that I started to read on my own terms. I think a friend might have exclaimed that this was her absolute favorite book as a kid, and I wanted to know what the fuss was all about. Since then, I've often read books based on recommendations from others or by observing what others are reading. Often this is great; it pushes me in directions that I might not otherwise have gone and helps me to feel connected to friends and strangers through individual and shared experiences of the same text. Still, there are many genres that I haven't gotten into, and I'm really looking forward to exploring further in this course.

I tend to gravitate towards fiction that allows me to enter the interior worlds of others. Currently, I'm reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf; the wandering descriptions and stream of consciousness style are testing my patience, in a good way. I also enjoy graphic novels, plays, nonfiction, and memoirs. 

Some of the highlights from my last year of reading are: the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Kindred by Octavia Butler, Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination by Sarah Schulman, Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman.