Friday, April 23, 2010

Lab: Reader's Advisory, Volunteer 5

My last volunteer is actually a friend of a friend. I had not met her prior to my advisory with her. I was actually pretty happy to work with someone whose reading habits I didn't know and didn't have such a relationship with them that I can tell exactly what they mean regardless of how they say it.

The first question I asked her was what type of book she was in the mood to read. She told me that she was really in the mood for a good fantasy novel and she wanted a whole bunch of titles to choose from. I asked her what made a fantasy novel good for her and she said that she liked those that had a fast-paced story and also a plot that had fantastic elements to them, but also still had some elements of reality. I then asked her to tell me about the last book like that she had read and what she liked about it. Her response was the Harry Potter series. She loved how the books took place in this fantastic world, but that Harry and his friends were very human to her. I then asked if there was anything she definitely did not want and she said that she wanted to stay away from any Christian fiction and anything with any religious overtones. She also wanted to stay away from anything historical. I asked her if she wanted to stay within the adult category or if YA was okay and she was definitely okay with YA titles. She also was very interested in any title that had won awards, particularly the Newbery, as she had enjoyed every Newbery winner she had read.

I used NoveList, hoping they would have a list of Newbery winners, but for some reason, NoveList does not have a straight list of Newbery Medal winners. So, I did a search for read-alikes for Harry Potter. Her favorite was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so I used its subject tags to find other novels. At first, she wasn't really satisfied with the results, but after talking a little bit more about what she did and did not want, we realized that she wasn't interested in reading about wizards and magic all that much. She wanted just some fantasy fiction. So, I searched for that. We got over 10,000 hits. I then realized that I needed to do some more investigation as to what kind of story she really wanted and went back to NoveList's home page and pulled up Joyce Sarick's outline on Fantasy. I went through the key authors with her to see which ones she had read and which of those might interest her. I figured we could find a few examples and build from there. She seemed interested in the idea of Urban Fantasy and wanted to check out Neil Gaiman's works. She was especially interested in American Gods and The Graveyard Book. I asked her if she wanted to expand to find more books like these or if she wanted to try another search. She said that she would like to expand on The Graveyard Book, so I searched for similar and came across Greywalker, which she was also interested in.

Then she asked me the one question that I did not want to answer. She asked me which fantasy titles I liked. I didn't want to tell her because I didn't want her to read anything simply because I had said I liked it. I tried to avoid the question by saying that I didn't have a particular type of story I liked, but for some reason, she kept pressing. Since she was already interested in The Graveyard Book, I told her that I had enjoyed that one, thinking that would satisfy her. Instead, she just asked what other titles I had liked. Of course, I wanted to tell her how much I loved The Hunger Games, but I refrained. Instead, I redirected and asked what about The Graveyard Book and Greywalker interested her so I could look for further titles for her. She liked the idea of a normal person interacting with the fantastic. Even though both books involved ghosts and other supernatural elements, she was also interested in stories involving different worlds. I asked if she wanted to look for adventure stories within the fantasy genre and she lit up at that. I entered those terms in and looked at the series tab of my results, figuring that if we found one plot line she liked, we would then have a few titles she could work through. Somewhat surprisingly, the series that she seemed most interested in was The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. With those five books in the series and the previous three titles, she felt set on her reading for awhile.

Before I could check back with her, she contacted me to tell me that she enjoyed Neil Gaiman's books and also really liked SuzAnne Collins' books as well. And then she asked me if SuzAnne Collins wrote anything else. -She had seen a good list of books Neil Gaiman had written when we were looking through NoveList, but wondered if all Collins had written was The Underland Chronicles. I told her that she had written an unfinished series called The Hunger Games. I didn't have to look anything up. I simply described the plot to her over the phone. She said that it sounded interesting, but disturbing. I told her that some people have found it disturbing, but that it was also very popular. She said that she was going to put in a request at the library, but I haven't had a chance to check in with her to find out if she did and if she liked it.

I actually felt kind of honored that she called me back for more suggestions after she got through her first recommendations. I don't know if that means I'm really good or really lucky.

Lab: Reader's Advisory, Volunteer 4

Volunteer 4 was another friend who really put me to the test. The first thing I asked her was what she was in the mood to read and she said that she wanted a "good novel." I asked her to tell me about the last good novel she read and she really only told me the title of the book, The Help. I asked her what she liked about it and she said that she liked that it had good characters and a good story. When I asked her what about the story appealed to her, she said that it was the complex issues. I continued to prod by asking what the complex issues that interested her were and what it was that she liked about them. She really couldn't give me an answer to that. She just said that she wanted a novel she could sink her teeth into and that it was very important that the characters were interesting to her. I asked her if there was anything she wanted to stay away from and she said that she didn't want any sci-fi, horror, or fantasy novels and she definitely didn't want anything "frothy." So, most chick-lit would be excluded as well. She said that mysteries would be okay, but that wasn't exactly what she was looking for.

I worked with NoveList and Fiction Connection to find some possibilities for her. First, I tried finding books that were similar to The Help. Fiction Connection gave me nothing, which really surprised me. I checked NoveList, but had to remove several subject tags at the request of my friend so we could find topics more suited for her. NoveList suggested titles such as and Cotton Song and The Piano. She turned all of the suggestions down saying that they were not what she wanted. I asked her what about them didn't appeal to her and she said that the stories just didn't sound interesting to her.

I tried to keep the exasperation out of my voice when I asked her to tell me specifically what type of story she was hoping for. She said that she wanted to find a story that dealt with the complex issues of a different era. She had really liked how The Help dealt with interracial relationships during the 1960s. I asked her if she was interested in historical fiction and she said no. Since she wanted to look at different eras, I was pretty sure that we were, indeed, going to have to delve into historical fiction somewhat, but I didn't tell her that. She then finally told me about another book that she had enjoyed and I tried using both of those as a base and, after a few more rejections, came up with a few titles. She seemed interested in On Green Dolphin Street, Loving Frank, and Patty Jane's House of Curl.

A week later she called me and told me that she loved Patty Jane's House of Curl and On Green Dolphin Street. She wasn't too thrilled with Loving Frank. To be honest, I still have no real idea what she was looking for. On the one hand, it sounded like she wanted literary fiction with an historical bent. Yet, she seemed to reject almost anything I suggested to her that I could not really say that that was what she wanted. Perhaps I wasn't asking the right questions for her. Maybe she would have been more forthcoming if I had taken a different approach. Regardless, it was good practice for me when I come across a patron who isn't too sure what they want and it also made me aware of how important it is to get the questions right for that particular patron. Since she did enjoy two of the books I suggested, I guess you could call this one a moderate success, though perhaps due mostly to luck.

Lab: Reader's Advisory, Volunteer 2 and 3

Volunteers 2 and 3 are two of my friends who are engaged, so I performed advisories for them on the same evening.

I asked Volunteer 2 what she was in the mood to read and she told me that she was really interested in reading some nonfiction. I asked her what topics in nonfiction interested her and she said that she really wanted to read sociological studies, particularly regarding drug use. I then asked her to tell me about the last book she had read that she would consider part of that topic and she told me that she had really enjoyed Methland and how it looked at what drugs had done to communities. I asked her if she wanted to focus specifically on the affects of meth or if she wanted to expand out to other studies on other drugs. She said it was fine to expand to other drugs both legal and illegal.

I tried NoveList first, but came up with very little. So, I turned to Amazon to see if it had any suggestions. We came up with two results that she was very excited about: Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Highjacking the Global Economy and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines.

Because she and I can get really chatty when we hang out, she and I started talking about other things that interest her while I was searching for books similar to Methland. During our conversation, she brought up that she was really interested in reading about religious cults. She seemed embarrassed to admit it even to me, so I can imagine that she probably would not have brought this up to an unfamiliar librarian. So, I was actually really glad that she had volunteered for my lab because she would now get a chance to have some books on that topic recommended to her when she might not have had the courage to ask someone other than me.

I asked her if there were any cults in particular she was interested in and she said the offshoots of Mormonism and the Branch Davidians really interested her, but she was also interested in reading about Scientology. I asked her if she was interested in them as religions and what they believed or if she wanted to read books that exposed the hipocrises of the sects. She definitely wanted books that exposed the religions, so I used Amazon once again. First, I looked into cults based on Mormonism and found mostly books that exposed Mormonism itself, not the off-shoot cults, which was not exactly what she was looking for. I tried combining Mormonism and cults, but that only seemed to give us the same results. So, I typed in simply "religious cults" and finally got what we were looking for. We found several books on religious cults in America including Out of the Cocoon: A Young Woman's Courageous Fight from the Grip of a Religious Cult and God's Brothel. I also found many books on the Branch Davidians and the massacre at Waco. She was extremely excited to read God's Brothel.

Volunteer 3 also wanted to read nonfiction, but he wanted to read history. In particular, he was interested in social history of the Native Americans, the colonization of America, or the Civil War. I asked him if there was anything in particular that he was not interested in reading and he said he wanted to stay away from military history. Given the topics he wanted to cover, I was a little nervous about finding some good books that weren't packed with military history, but since I also really enjoy this topic, I thought I could handle it and find some things for him. I decided to stay with Amazon as I thought I would have better results than with the more common readers advisory tools. I started with Native American history first and found a couple of titles that he said he would be interested in, such as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. For the most part, we were finding long books that covered the history of Native American people and even though he was saying that he was interested, I had a feeling that he was just trying to be nice to me. So, I asked him to tell me about the last book of this kind he had read and why he liked it. I probably should have asked that question before I started my search, but I thought I could find him something based on my own knowledge and the database.

He wasn't quite sure how to answer my question, but his fiance stepped in and said that he really enjoyed quirky history and humorous stories. I asked if either of them had any examples and neither could really come up with a title for me, so I felt just a little lost on how to come up with some titles for him. I tried to pull from my own stores of knowledge while searching Amazon and remembered a book I had read about sex during the Civil War. I asked him if something like that would interest him and, for the first time, he looked genuinely interested. I found the book I had read, The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: Sex in the Civil War as well as Sex During Wartime: History Under the Covers. He seemed really eager to read both of those and reassured me that he also really was interested in reading the other books I had suggested.

A few weeks later I asked them both if they had had a chance to read what I had suggested and got some positive results. Volunteer 2 had read and really enjoyed both Illicit and God's Brothel. Volunteer 3 had read The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell, Sex During Wartime, and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. I was pleased to hear that not only had he really enjoyed all three of them, but he also had recommended The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell to a friend.

Again, I had some positive results and I would consider those successful, but Volunteer 2 was a really good friend who I communicate with very easily and she also helped me out with Volunteer 3. So, I was still curious as to how I would do with people who are less forthcoming or who I don't know that well.

Lab: Reader's Advisory, Volunteer 1

The first person who volunteered to be a part of my lab was my mom. Since I knew her reading habits really well, I figured that this would be a pretty easy introduction to reader's advisory. For the most part, I was right.

The first question I asked her was: "What are you in the mood to read?" She said that she wanted to read a good mystery. I asked her to tell me about the last good mystery she read and what she liked about it so much. The last mystery that she really enjoyed was a Harlan Coben novel. She had read all of his work and wanted to find books similar to his. I started a search in NoveList and as I was entering Harlan Coben, I asked her if there was anything that she specifically DID NOT want in the books, such as sex, extreme violence, strong language, etc. She did not have a problem with sex or strong language, but she specifically did not want any story where a child was in danger or any violence towards children. I pulled up Harlan Coben and clicked on the Author Read-alikes tab. She seemed somewhat interested in Don Winslow's Neal Carey series, but really lit up at Sparkle Hayter's Robin Hudson series. She seemed particularly interested in it for the humor.

I found it interesting that she was excited about the humor involved because she had not mentioned that when we were discussing what she liked about Harlan Coben's mysteries. I don't know much about Coben's work, so I asked her if humor was something else she liked about his work. She thought about it for a minute and said that while she wouldn't have put humor high on a list of descriptors of his work, she did find his writing to be witty. I filed that away under "Things to Remember for When I Do This for Real."

After a few weeks, I checked back in with her to see if she had had a chance to read any of the books I had suggested. She had plowed through three of the Robin Hudson series and was reading one of Hayter's stand alone novels called Bandit Queen Boogie while she was waiting for the fourth book in the series to become available.

She was very happy with those books and I would consider this one to be a success, but I wondered if most of that was due to how much I knew about her reading habits and how easily she and I can communicate. The remaining four told me more about my skills and what I needed to improve.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Title: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Jack Finney
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Pages: 216

Perhaps more famous for the four movie versions of the novel (1956, 1978, 1993, and 2007), Invasion of the Body Snatchers is, nonetheless, a classic in science fiction literature. The story of a small town invaded by lifeforms that look like seed pods is probably very familiar to most people. Alien invasion itself was a common theme in 1950s pop culture. Yet, the emotions behind this particular story are what really makes it all work.

The novel follows Miles Bennell, Mill Valley's local doctor. The action begins when an old flame, Becky Driscoll, comes to see him regarding her cousin. Becky is afraid that her cousin may be going insane as she keeps protesting that her uncle is not her uncle, but a clever impostor. As the story unfolds, more people come to Miles panicked with the same problems as Becky. Then, suddenly one day, everyone is fine. Those who had come to Miles felt so silly for panicking. Everything seems fine until Jack Belicec comes to Miles because Jack and his wife had found what appeared to be a dead body in their basement. The body is of a man, but there are no defining characteristics about him. He has no scars, no birth marks, and no finger prints. Things reach a fever pitch when the body's appearance begins to change.

This is a story about survival and the enduring will to remain true to ones identity. There are a few scientific elements within the novel, but the main focus is on the characters. Most of the story focuses on Miles' attempts to solve this mystery and his inner thoughts regarding everything that was happening around him. Perhaps because the story has been made into a movie so many times, some readers may be frustrated that the characters so long to figure out what is happening around them. At the same time, others may enjoy the process Miles and his friends go through in battling these unknown creatures who are taking the forms of the their loved ones.

I would highly recommend this to any reader who is has never read science fiction before, but would like to try it. Since it is rather light on the scientific jargon, those who may not be as familiar with physics or astronomy won't feel lost or overwhelmed. I would also recommend this to any reader who enjoys character-based novels. Much of the novel is made up of Miles' thoughts and feelings. Those who enjoy getting to know a character will find this novel compelling, yet there is enough action that those who prefer story-based novels will also find it enjoyable. The chase sequence at the end adds a taut thrill. Overall, I found it to be a satisfying science fiction adventure about humanity's will to survive.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Title: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Pages: 235

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is classified as a "gentle read." Generally, these types of novels are considered "nice stories," or as Joyce Saricks calls them, warm milk. In many ways, Smith's novel fits right in. The story focuses mostly on the relationships between Precious Ramotswe, the private detective heroine and the only lady detective in Botswana, and the people in her life from both her past and present: her father, her ex-husband, her best friend, her clients, etc. For the most part, this novel leisurely moves through the story from one client's case to another without many twists. That is not to say that there is no story arc. There is one case that serves as the main motivator for action in the novel: a missing eleven-year-old boy believed to have been kidnapped by witch doctors. However, her interactions with her best friend, auto mechanic J.L.B. Matekoni, and his feelings for her are the true center of the story.

For me, the pacing was too gentle. I would actually call it plodding. I don't mind slow reads as long as I feel I'm reading something I can sink my teeth into. This was not to case for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Also, while the characters were charming enough, I found myself bored with the fact that there is so little story and so much focus on personal relationships. To be fair, the gentle read is not a genre that I particularly enjoy and this novel is about as close to the perfect example of a gentle read as one can get.

Having said that, if anyone came to me asking for a gentle read, I could recommend this one without hesitation. It is the type of book that one could pick up and put down at their leisure. There is very little upsetting material and it does emphasize traditional values in many circumstances. The ending is happy and upbeat and, as I said before, the main characters are charming and likable. Precious Ramotswe is a character that readers can really root for and those who enjoy gentle reads will find her story to be quite satisfying.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Freedom to Read

Perhaps this blog post will be the biggest insight into just how scattered my mind can actually be. As you can probably tell by my last few entries, I have fallen in love with The Hunger Games series. I read both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire several times while we were on Spring Break. So, the idea of dystopic societies have been really prevalent in my mind. One evening I was settling into bed to read The Hunger Games for probably the fifth time and I started thinking about Fahrenheit 451 and the idea of books being outlawed. While we have Constitutional rights that protect our freedom of speech and the ALA fights for our Right to Read, my mind still ran to the idea that if our society fell apart and was replaced with an extremely oppressive government similar to those in The Hunger Games and Fahrenheit 451, then perhaps we would see books become illegal because they are considered "dangerous."

After thinking about that for awhile, I realized that I was clutching my copy of The Hunger Games to my chest as if I were protecting it from someone trying to take it away from me. What would happen if books were made illegal? How would people react to some government officials coming into our homes and taking our books or sending out a public notice that we must turn all of our books over to the government so they can be "disposed"? I can't imagine my life without books. I personally can't see myself giving my books over to someone to "dispose" of them. I would fight for my books regardless of how futile it may seem. I'm sure these thoughts are not uncommon among librarians, which is probably why we celebrate Banned Books Week.

Then the thought of a list of banned books got me thinking about something else. What if, all of sudden, we were only allowed to read certain genres? What if say Fantasy and Science Fiction were suddenly deemed as not necessary or even dangerous to society? What if Political Thrillers were banned because they might plant bad ideas in people's minds about the ruling government? What if mysteries were banned because they could possibly encourage people to start lives of crime or commit murder? What if we were only allowed to read government sanctioned books? What then? Chances are Fahrenheit 451 would not be on the approved list. The Hunger Games, with its unflattering portrait of government, probably wouldn't be either. Even books as seemingly innocuous as the Twilight series might end up on a banned list because the protagonists dared to challenge the ruling class of vampires. Actually, an argument can be made to ban any book if one argues hard enough. It's really quite a scary prospect that makes me glad that we have ALA. On a more base level, it makes me realize just how important the freedom to read really is to me.

This blog post IS NOT meant to start a debate as to whether or not this could actually happen. Nor is it a paranoid rant about how all books are in danger of being made illegal. I've merely been thinking about what life would be like if they WERE made illegal. Realistically, where would that leave us (both as librarians and as people)? What does everyone else think?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 391

Since I enjoyed The Hunger Games so much and had chosen Fantasy as one of my genres, I decided to read Catching Fire as my Fantasy choice. I am warning everyone right now, if you haven't read either of these books and don't want to be spoiled on anything, STOP READING NOW!!!!

For everyone who is still reading, Catching Fire continues the story of Katniss Everdeen after she and her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark, miraculously won The Hunger Games. While their lives are supposed to involve absolute luxury and fame, The Capitol is angry with Katniss for her bold act in the arena that forced the Gamesmaker to save both her and Peeta instead of one of them killing the other. This act, along with Katniss herself, has come to symbolize rebellion throughout the districts. Even President Snow, the cruel leader of Panem, has taken notice and made it clear to Katniss that she must stop the rebelling citizens by portraying her actions in the arena as those of a girl madly in love and not those of a rebel. But, she can't stop them. This time, the rebellion will not be quashed and the consequences for this failure lead to a cruel twist in the upcoming Hunger Games that no one was prepared for.

Catching Fire is an enjoyable sequel to the brilliant The Hunger Games. Readers are allowed to learn more about secondary characters, such as Haymitch Abernathy, and meet new ones, such as past victors of The Hunger Games. I plowed through this novel almost as fervently as I did the first one. Yet, I also felt a little bit of frustration with this one. Collins spent a little too much time recapping the events in the first book, so it took longer than I would have liked for the action to really begin in this book. I also found myself a bit frustrated with Katniss in this book as I thought that she was quite dense at times. Yet, once the action began, it was full-throttle all the way to the end with a great cliff-hanger.

Readers who enjoyed the first novel will definitely enjoy this one as well. Also, those who like reading books about futuristic or dystopic societies will probably enjoy this series. Those who have read the Uglies series would also probably enjoy these novels. Neither this book nor The Hunger Games would be advisable to those who have problems with violence or anything involving harm to children. That is unfortunately just the nature of this series. I don't recommend reading this book without having read The Hunger Games first. They definitely need to be read in order. But, since there are only two of them, that shouldn't be too difficult.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Interesting, very interesting

I did my secret shopper assignment last night and was both pleased and disappointed. I approached the information desk with the story that I had read all of Suzanne Collins' novels and was particularly fond of her Hunger Games series. Since the next book in that series isn't coming out until August, I asked the librarian if she could recommend anything to tide me over until the book was available. I figured it was a bit of a softball request because I gave her a specific author and a specific type of book that I was looking for. What happened next shocked me.

The first thing the librarian said to me was: "I'm not familiar with Suzanne Collins' novels. I haven't read The Hunger Games." At first, I thought that this was a dismissal and was about to be really upset, but I think she was telling me that by way of an apology (albeit prematurely) if she couldn't find the type of book that I needed because she immediately started searching for some read-alikes for me. Her computer screen was tilted to her left so she and I could both see what she was doing (points for that) and what tools she was using. I watched her type into Google (yes, Google) the phrase: "If you like Suzanne Collins." Of course, all she got were results about Suzanne Collins, not read-alikes. She then went to Amazon and typed in The Hunger Games, but only got recommendations for Collins' other books. I confessed that I had read all of her other books including her children's series. I guess I must have seemed embarrassed by that because she reassured me that there was nothing wrong with that and that she, too, loves many children's books. Again, points for her for reassuring me that there is nothing wrong with my reading habits. Not that I needed it, but I appreciated it nonetheless.

After clicking on a few titles, she turned to another librarian and asked her for her advice on what I should read since she was apparently more familiar with the YA fantasy genre. Since the other librarian was more than happy to help me, I switched to her while the first librarian helped other patrons. The second librarian asked me if I had read The Uglies series of novels (without even looking anything up online or using a printed RA tool) and I told her that I had. Still not looking anything up, she sat there thinking for a minute and then got up and walked over to the Teen section. I followed her and she pulled a book off the shelf that belonged in the fantasy genre, but that was really all that it had in common with The Hunger Games. I could tell that she was just going to suggest any YA fantasy novel if I didn't give her more information, so I told her that was really interested me were novels about futuristic, dystopian societies. She thought for another moment and then spent quite a bit of time trying to remember the name of a novel that she thought I might be interested in. After thinking for a bit, she came up with the title The Diary of Pelly D. She described the plot and it definitely sounded like something I would enjoy.
We went back to her computer and discovered that the library's copy had been checked out so she put it on hold for me.

I walked away feeling satisfied that they had found a book I might enjoy and I appreciated the fact that they never once made me feel uncomfortable for asking for recommendations. I also liked how they seemed like they did not want me to walk away without at least one book of interest. However, I was really disappointed with how little use they made of the RA tools available to them. It was all I could do not to say to both of them: "Your library subscribes to Novelist!! Use if for goodness' sake!" If the first librarian had used that instead of Google and Amazon, I think she would have been able to help me out even though she wasn't familiar with the author or the genre. I performed my own RA on Novelist and found that if either of them had used that, they would have seen the key word "dystopias" and I wouldn't have even had to tell them that that was what interested me. Also, on the flip side, if either of them had asked me what I liked about The Hunger Games, then they would have also found out that I was interested in dystopias without my having to offer that information. Granted, Novelist isn't perfect as some of the books recommended were definitely not ones that I would be interested in, but I was given more titles than just the one the librarian recommended to me.

In conclusion, I have to say that I did like the fact that they wanted to help me. I was immediately acknowledged with a smile when I approached the desk. I definitely appreciated that the computers were at an angle so I could see what they were doing. If I didn't know about all of the RA tools available and many of the proper questions to ask, I would have probably felt very satisfied that they were able to find something for me. However, I do know about these things and I really wish one of them would have used at least one tool instead of relying on Google or their own knowledge. While it might seem impressive that one of the librarians could recall the titles that she did to me, I kept thinking about what she would do if someone came to her with a genre she was not familiar with. What then? Again, they need to use the RA tools. However, at least I wasn't just given a list of the top selling fantasy novels and told to go on my merry way.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kirkus Review - The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: Doesn't matter; you won't put it down!

I have only recently been introduced to Suzanne Collins' work and have thoroughly enjoyed everything of hers I have read. My first experience with her was the YA fantasy novel Gregor the Overlander. While I could easily say I really liked that novel, that is nothing compared to how I feel about The Hunger Games. I finished this book within hours of getting my hands on it. I couldn't put it down even to go to bed!

Set in the future where most of North America has been destroyed, Collins created a dystopia called Panem that consists of The Capitol and its twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is home to all of the affluent and powerful people while the residents of the districts live only to serve The Capitol. As punishment for a rebellion that took place before the events of the book, The Capitol holds an event called The Hunger Games every year. For the game, one boy and one girl are chosen from each district to participate in a televised fight to the death for everyone's "entertainment."

Our heroine the Katniss Everdeen, a brave and resourceful sixteen-year-old from District 12, who volunteers to participate in the games when her twelve-year-old sister's name is called. Having replaced her sister, Katniss travels to The Capitol along with her district's male participant, Peeta Mellark. Once there, she and Peeta work with Haymitch Abernathy, the only living person from their district who has survived the Hunger Games, to develop a strategy to survive and win the games. Once in the arena, Katniss discovers that she has to fear not only her competitors, but The Capitol's antics as well. To make the games more exciting for the viewing audience, The Capitol will create dangers, such as forest fires, for the participants. What makes the audience grow bored? A lack of deaths. It is reality TV at its sickest.

It's not just the games and Katniss' struggle to survive that captivated me. I was also intrigued during the journey to The Capitol and her time preparing for the games. Collins does an excellent job of presenting The Capitol as both this seemingly ideal world and a scary, corrupt, and twisted nightmare land at the same time. Katniss loves the attention and all of the fine linens, showers, and food The Capitol provides her, but she is also fully aware that The Capitol intends for her to either die a violent death or send all of her competitors to a violent death. They don't care one way or the other as long as it's entertaining. It is this inner struggle between wanting to survive and not wanting to kill that makes Katniss' tale so gripping. It is established at the beginning of the novel that she is a hunter, so she does know how to kill to survive, but she has never before killed a human being. Yet, she doesn't want to die either.

Katniss is not the only interesting character. Peeta, her fellow District 12 competitor, is a wonferfully complex character with seemingly useless talents that come in surprisingly handy. Haymitch, their strategist, reveals himself to be a shrewd and intelligent man who plays an even bigger role in their survival than even Katniss and Peeta would have imagined. Even minor characters such as Cinna, Katniss' stylist (yes, the participants are given stylists before being sent out to kill one another) proved to be interesting characters that I wanted to know more about.

As I said before, I couldn't put this book down. I began reading it one evening around 10:00 PM and imagine my shock when I looked up and saw that it was 5:00 AM! Even more surprising, I didn't care! I wanted to finish the book.

The book is the first part of a series. I will be getting the second book, Catching Fire, this weekend and the third book, Mockingjay, is scheduled to be released August 24, 2010. Guess what I'll be doing that day.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I don't think that's how it's supposed to be done.

I volunteer every Monday night at Zionsville's library. Mostly I sit at the reference desk and look up call numbers for students. Last night a woman came up to me and asked if the library had Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. It was checked out and she was about to walk away when I asked her if there was anything else I could look up for her. She then asked what I recommended. I was so excited at the idea of performing my first real reader's advisory that I'm sure I got some weird, maniacal grin on my face, but I at least refrained from jumping up and down in my chair. Anyway, I asked her what she was in the mood for and she said (and I quote): "Anything. My daughter is working on some homework and I just want something to read until she's done." I then asked her if she would like to stay within the Fantasy genre. Again, she said that she didn't care and, honestly, she seemed a little irritated that I was asking her so many questions and not suggesting any books. Since she earlier had said that her daughter had recommended Percy Jackson to her, I decided to stay within the YA collection as I thought maybe she and her daughter often shared books and maybe, if she liked the book she ended up reading, I could introduce both of them to a new book.

Anyway, I quickly scanned through the YA collection for anything by Rick Riordan and, of course, everything was checked out. Since she wasn't giving me any answers about what she wanted to read, I typed in the only other author I could think of who writes YA novels and that was Neil Gaiman. Fortunately, Coraline was checked in and when I suggested it, she seemed really excited about reading it. So, I took her over to the shelf and found it for her.

She walked away looking very satisfied, but I sure wasn't. I wanted to do it right. I was looking forward to performing an interview and using RA tools. She was in no mood for questions. She wanted to know what I thought she should read. It made me think of what Andrea said in our last class about how patrons tend to put us on pedestals and think that what we suggest to them is gospel. This woman seemed to want me to tell her what to read instead of me making suggestions based on her interests. Now, she probably just wasn't in the mood for those suggestions and just wanted me to hand her a book to keep her from getting bored. Perhaps on any other day she would have been a great person to perform readers advisory for. I don't know.

I'm wondering, for those of you who work in a library and handle these kinds of requests frequently, what would you have done in that situation? Is there a way to perform a proper reader's advisory even when the patron isn't really in the mood to answer a bunch of questions? Or is that just a situation where the interview kind of has to go out the window and we just have to flat out tell them what to read?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Undomestic Goddess

Title: The Undomestic Goddess
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Publisher: Random House, Inc.
Pages: 371

Samantha Sweeting is a highly stressed attorney working for one of the best law firms in London. She has been working her whole life to become a partner at Carter Spink. On the day the firm is set to announce her partnership, she discovers that she has made a mistake that will cost one of the firm's clients millions of pounds. Suffering from a meltdown, Samantha walks out of the office and gets on a train to... well, she's not sure. She simply got off the train with a group of travellers without even thinking about where she was. When she stopped at a house to ask for directions, she was mistaken as an applicant for the housekeeping position. The owners love her and before she knows it, she has accepted the postion. The trouble is, Samantha can't even turn on her own oven or iron a shirt, much less take care of an entire house. Yet, through hard work and the help of some local people, she learns how to sew on a button, how to make bread, and how to work that stupid, high-tech washing machine. Things are going great for her as she learns her new skills and also finding love and warmth that she had never felt before. Yet, her past mistake is starting to catch up to her and she won't be able to hide who she truly is for much longer.

I feel that I should admit that I am really not a fan of this genre. I've never really been interested in reading books about Women's Lives and Relationships. Yet, in spite of myself, I actually enjoyed The Undomestic Goddess. Yes, it was full of cliches we've all come to expect in these novels: the hard-working, put-upon heroine, her vapid, career-oriented foil, the crazy and spontaneous best friend, and the hunky love interest. However, there was something more to this book that grabbed me at the very beginning. I actually identified with Samantha.

In the opening scene, she is trying to use a spa gift certificate in an attempt to relieve some stress from her job. Except she can't leave her job behind. Despite taking the morning off of work, she has snuck her cell phone and her Blackberry into the massage room and it turns out that she needed to as her boss calls her into work for a meeting that was pushed up. While my job isn't nearly as high-stress as hers, I can relate to her situation as I also get frequent calls from my office when I take a day off. Again, her life is far more excessive than mine, but I can relate to it nonetheless. I also felt a great deal of empathy for her in regards to her relationship with her family. They are all high-powered people who are also workaholics and don't really have time for anything but their jobs (and that includes Samantha's birthday). This is really the crux of the novel. Kinsella created a character that women could identify with or at least feel some empathy for. The entire book revolves around Samantha and her struggles and a book like this would fail the reader if he or she did not care for or about the heroine.

As a woman who wants a career, there are some disconcerting themes running throughout the novel. Outside of Samantha, the only women we see who had or were working towards a career were selfish, rude, controlling, and kind of bratty. The most likeable and happiest woman was the local woman who taught Samantha how to cook, sew, and clean. So, there seems to be this idea running through the novel that women are happier doing "domestic" work and are kinder and warmer towards other people than those who pursue a career. The feminist in me kind of growled at that. Yet, it is also very clear that Samantha's employer, a woman of leisure, is unfulfilled with just going shopping and getting her nails done. She comes alive when talking to Samantha about the business she and her husband built from the ground up and all the work she put into it before they sold it. She again comes alive when she takes on a charitable luncheon. As the story continued, it seemed to become clearer that Kinsella's statement isn't really that women are happier doing domestic work, but that everyone should do what makes them happy. Not that women can't have careers, but that everyone (women and men) shouldn't let the pressures of what everyone else wants from them affect what they do in life.

I think many women would enjoy this book if they're looking for a nice, quick read. It definitely strikes me as the kind of book one would read while on vacation or simply as an escape. Those who enjoy reading Janet Evanovich, Jane Green, or Helen Fielding would probably enjoy The Undomestic Goddess.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Haunting of Hill House

Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Publishing Co.: Viking Penguin, Inc.
Pages: 246

The Haunting of Hill House follows the story of four people, Eleanor, Theodora, Luke, and Dr. Montague, as they attempt to uncover actual evidence of a haunting in the old, abandoned mansion called Hill House. While the beginning of their stay only seems to involve odd and annoying encounters with mysterious noises and doors that close on their own, but the house is waiting and plotting. As their stay continues, the house begins to release its sinister powers and will not stop until it claims one of them as its own.

The Haunting of Hill House
is a classic in the horror genre and with good reason! This book grabbed me at the opening paragraph. There is something so chilling about the line: "Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone." With just that one line, Jackson sets the eerie atmosphere and creates an unmistakable sense of foreboding.

It is Jackson's ability to create atmosphere that makes this book such a worthwhile read. More impressively, she creates several different tones within this Gothic horror story. When Eleanor sets out on her journey to Hill House, her near giddy excitement at finally doing something in her life after years of caring for her ailing mother is palpable. Anyone who has set out on a new adventure or gone some place they never have before can understand Eleanor's happiness and Jackson enhances this with wonderfully descriptive words and whimsical daydreams. She also includes some elements of humor with Dr. Montague's crass wife and her laughable dips into spiritualism. Yet, despite these lighthearted images, Jackson never strays too far from that inescapable sense of doom. Throughout the story, she leaves little reminders to the reader that something is wrong and that all will not end well.

I would recommend this book to those who are in the mood for a meaty novel to sink their teeth into. This is not a fast read. In fact, the text is quite dense. There is so much dialogue, interior monologue, and description, that it takes a while to wade through everything. Yet, every word is so important and the text's density makes this book work.

I would also recommend this to anyone who is in the mood for "a good scare," but prefers subtle scares over graphic violence. Indeed, readers who enjoy graphically violent horror novels could also enjoy this story. I am not implying that they would not. However, for those who do not want such an explicit read but definitely want to enjoy a horror story would find this book to be a welcome solution.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Everywhere That Mary Went

Title: Everywhere That Mary Went
Author: Lisa Scottoline
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Pages: 356

Everywhere That Mary Went is a thriller with just the right mix of mystery and legal drama. Lisa Scottoline firmly establishes a realistic legal setting at the beginning of the novel with a painful-for-characters-involved courtroom scene with a bully for a judge, a smug lawyer for the plaintiffs and our protagonist Mary DiNunzio. Scottoline used this scene to demonstrate to the reader (me) just how talented and determined Mary is to great effect. In just the opening scene I was privvy to Mary's inner thoughts and was able to quickly feel that I could connect with this character. She is a very intelligent woman who is ambitious about succeeding in the legal world both by winning her cases and making partner in her law firm. Yet, Scottoline also showed just how conflicted Mary is about the ruthlessness that is sometimes required to win her firm's cases. She has created a very full and realistic character in Mary.

Her character development for Mary is excellent throughout the novel. As the mystery of who is stalking Mary unfolds, I was able to see Mary as resourceful, strong, scared, confused, suspicious, guilt-ridden, and confident at many different times in the story. The mysterious notes, the strange car following her, and the anonymous phone calls brought so much tension to the story and Scottoline used these things as a means to also explore Mary's thoughts and feelings towards the death of her husband, religion, her career path, and her relationships with those she loves.

While some might consider this novel to be a by-the-numbers legal thriller, I found that there were several elements throughout that makes this novel stand out as a truly enjoyable thriller. I think those who enjoy legal thrillers, quick-paced stories, well-developed characters, and/or mysteries would find this to be a very satisfying read. However, I would hesitate to recommend it to the very conservative readers as it does not shy away from issues such as homosexuality, religious doubt, adult language, violence, and other adult themes that might affect a very conservative reader's enjoyment of the novel. In other words, if a patron says that he or she doesn't want to read anything with a lot of sex, violence, or adult language, then this book is not for them. For everyone else, this book is a sound suggestion.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Not Following Procedures

Technically, this isn't really about adult readers advisory, but I had to bring it up anyway. I just read an article on Yahoo! from the Washington Post that the Culpeper County public school officials have decided that the schools will stop assigning a version of Anne Frank's diary called: The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition (a version that was published on the 50th anniversary of Frank's death). The school library will still have the older version available to students and will also be used in classes. The newer version was removed due to a parent's complaint that the book included "sexually explicit material" and "homosexual themes."

According to James Allen, the director of instruction for the school system, there is a policy in place for such complaints. When this happens, the complaints are "submitted in writing and for a review committee to research the materials and deliberate." Allen claims that this policy was not followed in the case of this book. Instead, "the parent registered the complaint orally, no review committee was created and a decision was made quickly by at least one school administrator."

The ALA has weighed in on this story. Angela Maycock, assistant director of the office for intellectual freedom, was quoted as saying that the "hasty decisions to restrict access to some books does a disservice to students."

Again, this doesn't directly involve adult readers advisory. More than anything, I wanted to blog about it because it really concerned me. There are policies and procedures for a reason. Even though there are other versions of the book available, what this school system did is censorship is in direct violation of ALA's Freedom to Read statement. The administrators removed something without following the system's own procedures.

In a sense, this harkens back to something that we talked about in class last night about how our culture seems to be eliminating experts from just about everything. Instead of going through with the written policy of having a committee look over the challenged material, one or more administrators apparently felt that he/she/they knew better than anyone else and removed the item. Despite the fact that the school system's policy is to rely on "experts," those in charge ignored that and only listened to the parent.

Now, I am not angry with the parent. He or she was merely concerned about the material his or her child was reading. I am frustrated by the fact that standard procedures were ignored. I'm sure that this isn't the first time that this has happened in the history of libraries, but it still burns me up.

Anyone else want to chime in on this?

Chandler, M.A. (2010). "School system in Va. won't teach version of Anne Frank book." The
Washington Post.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Introducing Myself

Hello! My name is Lauren McPike and this is my final semester in the SLIS program! I started the program in the summer of 2008 and it's been a wild and crazy, but also fun and worthwhile two years.

I am currently working on the north side of Indianapolis as an admin at an executive suite of offices. What that means is that my company has an entire suite of offices and rents out the individual offices to different companies and I provide the receptionist/secretarial/administrative/technical support for all of them. At this time, I currently serve around 40 different companies and my work day is always an adventure. I can't say that I enjoy my job, but it does allow me to go to school without taking out student loans. So, in that respect, I am glad to have my job.

I am very excited for this course as I love to read, but I have a very strong tendency to only stay within certain genres and I need to expand my horizons. In fact, I've found that I mostly read non-fiction books and am not well-verse in fiction at all. I really love to read books about history and film studies. I do love mysteries, though, and am a huge Agatha Christie fan. Since I want to work in a public library, and particularly with retirees, I think I'm in deperate need of this class.

Just this month I started volunteering at Zionsville's Hussey-Mayfield Public Library to gain some experience working in a library. All of the librarians have been wonderful and have really taken an interest in helping me develop practical skills at the reference desk and with collection displays. As I get more comfortable, they are going to have me work with them on some of their projects, events, and classes as well. So, I'm really eager for that.

Between work, school, and volunteering, I don't have a whole lot of free time. In what little free time I do have, I work out, though I'm not a health nut, and watch movies. I am a movie nut. Just this last weekend I spent an hour organizing my movie collection and walked away thinking about all of the movies that I still don't own. I love movies from all genres, but my favorite is horror. Just this past weekend I had a little horror movie mini-marathon ranging from classics, such as Alien, to so-bad-they're-good ones, such as TerrorVision. I also have started doing a little freelance writing about movies for a friend's online magazine. He doesn't pay me for my essays, but I don't really care because I just do it for fun. Perhaps I'll end up at a library that will let me do some things with its film collection.

That's me in a nutshell. I look forward to meeting everyone face-to-face in class!