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 PĂ©rez-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.