Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Assigned Reading That We Loved

Anyone who has been through high school or college knows the feeling of being assigned a book and being less than thrilled at the prospect of reading it. Even the bookish among us have occasionally balked at an assignment, and oftentimes, just the fact that you have to read a book makes it much more difficult to want to read it.

But sometimes something pretty amazing happens: You're assigned to read a book and, despite initial reluctance or what you might have thought at first, you discover that you love it. It opens up a new world for you or illuminates the world you know in new ways. It becomes a personal favorite.

Here are some of the books that LPLS staff had to read for school, and which we still count among our favorite books.

The Westing Game- I love everything about this book. :)

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
I'd already seen the animated movie a number of times and loved it.  I rented it from the video store and watched it when I needed a break from reading the book.  I kept hearing the singing from the movie in my head any time I read a song.  And when school started back up I was the only person to get a perfect score on the test.

The book I remember the most is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I was touched by the idea of being marked for life and how people treated her. It's a book about secrets hidden and unrelenting revenge, both of which torture souls. It was beautifully written and drew you into the story and characters.

Brittney R.:
Night by Elie Wiesel
I had studied the Holocaust before in elementary school, but it was being assigned Elie Wiesel's memoir as a freshman in high school that really drove home to me the inhumanity of which people are capable. It grew my awareness of the dangers of totalitarianism, the necessity of understanding the past, and the importance of empathy.

What's your favorite book that you were assigned to read in school? Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Last year, Seanan McGuire released Every Heart a Doorway, which took the familiar trope of Doors that Lead to Other Places and turned it over to see a different angle: what happens when the children
who go through those doors come back. The short novel is part urban fantasy, part boarding school book, part murder mystery, but is at its heart a story about what happens when you just want to go home but no longer can. And it took our staff by storm.

This year, McGuire has returned with the second in her series, Down Among the Sticks and Bones? How does this novel fit in, and does it live up to its predecessor?

For one thing, DAtSaB isn't a sequel. It drops back in time to the events leading up to EHaD, tracing grisly twins Jack and Jill's upbringing, their discovery of another world at the bottom of their grandmother's trunk, and their eventual casting out of their own blood-stained Eden. This will appeal greatly to readers of EHaD who left with burning questions, which I think probably was every last person who read the book. If you wondered just what Jack and Jill got up to with the vampire and the mad scientist, DAtSaB will take you by the hand, lead you down the staircase, ask if you're sure, and show you, whether you're sure or not.

And what's it like down there? The glimpses that we catch in EHaD, from the twins' reminiscences and from their actions, insinuate a panorama of Victorian grue. The Moors have the hallmarks of classic Gothic fiction that are familiar to us through decades of mining and re-mining of the Gothic genre, from the wind-swept moors stalked by night creatures to the mad scientist conjuring life out of the grave á la Victor Frankenstein to the vampire feeding off of his young pet who yearns for the gift of everlasting life.

Where McGuire shines, and makes DAtSaB shine with her, is in her re-tooling of these conventions. Jack and Jill aren't white-nightgowned waifs clutching candelabra and fleeing a Gothic Villain after discovering a Dark Family Secret. They are full participants in what happens to them, and they make quite a bit happen to others. When they enter their alternate reality, they are able to create their own identities, in a triumphant contrast to their childhoods, over which their parents rule with arbitrary and implacable expectations. They choose how to act, what to wear, and in Jack's especially touching case, with whom to pursue a relationship.

Ideas are all well and good, you say, but what about the story? If you're a fan of EHaD, you're going to love DAtSaB, too. It's got a similar dark fairy tale essence, with beautiful, craftsmanlike sentences that manage to keep it taut without skimping on loveliness. The story is character-driven, right up until it's not, so much, and the plot ratchets itself up to a conclusion that feels inevitable when it happens, but surely could have been avoided. That's the really heartbreaking thing about this book: You know it's going to end badly, but you want to find some way, any way, to avert that catastrophe. It could have been different! you wail, but could it have been? Really?

My one and only gripe about DAtSaB is that it did not quite live up the the pretty high bar of creepiness I had set for it. While there is plenty of technically, intellectually horrific stuff happening, some of the effect was muffled for me by the fact that, in general, I liked the characters. Even the ones that I wasn't, perhaps, supposed to like, or would not have been supposed to like if this were a straight horror story, which it's not. To paraphrase Stephen King in Danse Macabre, as every horror fan knows, the scariest part isn't when the door is opened; it's the moment before, when the heroine's hand is poised on the knob and she's working up the courage to turn it and confront what awaits her. Nothing on the other side of the door is quite as horrible as what you imagined would be there, and if you, like me, imagined something pretty wretched from Jack and Jill's world, be prepared for something a bit cuddlier than you thought it would be.

Even so, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a great read that I devoured. You don't have to have read Every Heart a Doorway to enjoy this one--because as the publisher's copy asserts, they are standalones--but I would wager that you need to have read it to really love Down Among the Sticks and Bones. It will mesmerize you and leave you unsatisfied in the best possible way, impatiently crossing off the days on your mental calendar until the release of the next Wayward Children book.

(It's called Beneath the Sugar Sky, and will be here January 2018, at least according to Goodreads. And it has a cover.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Patronize Me: Featuring Counting By 7s

There are several patrons I have connected with at LPLS who are part of our young adult group and it's safe to say they are probably some of my favorites. They are so enthusiastic about what they're reading, trying different genres, and giving the staff recommendations. That enthusiasm gives me a kind of "librarian high." To witness such excitement on a child's face is inspiring. It fills my heart with joy!  Several of these patrons will come in from time to time to drop off books and chat about what they have been reading. As most of them read the YA genre, I get a number of things to add to my "To Read List" often.

YA (Young Adult) is my favorite genre. Some people like mysteries or thrillers... I like teenage coming of age stories with dramatic exchanges, strong characters, and a real world view of what the demographic faces. It is an addiction I have had for about 2 decades. Throughout those years of reading I have stumbled across some incredibly talented authors who I always make sure to share with teens seeking something to read (John Green, Victoria Schwab, Nancy Farmer, and Patrick Ness, to name a few). So, all of this lead me to this month's selection. I asked one of these young readers to recommend something to me.

Caitlen Yasui is one of the younger patrons that comes into Linebaugh. My acquaintance with the family developed after recognizing the mother while out eating at O'Possum's before it closed. I was hesitant to say anything when I saw here because I recognize patrons out around the Boro all the time. It's part of the care I give to our patrons at circulation. However those patrons don't always return that recognition. But Holly knew who I was instantly! From that moment on we would chat if I saw her and the girls come in.

The Yasuis have been coming to Linebaugh for over 7 years now. When they first moved out here it was right before summer, which is the best time to start coming to the library. Holly signed all of the girls up for Summer Reading. They were able to make some long-lasting relationships with other families attending the events as well as find a community to be a part of in the library. As the girls have gotten older and involved in school programs, their visits have started to lessen but their love for the library continues to be a part of their family.

Caitlen selected Counting By 7s  by Holly Goldberg Sloan. It was a book I had added to my list a while back while working at Barnes and Noble. The book flies off of the shelf in stores and libraries alike. It is the story of a young and highly gifted girl named Willow. When tragedy strikes it does not care about age, sex, or even what time of day it is. It has no prejudices. It just happens. A lot of time grief and loss are the ripples one feels after such an event occurs. Willow knows this and what the 5 stages of loss are. The story centers around this tragic event while bringing 6 people together who never would have crossed paths otherwise. They change each other's lives for the better while discovering the true meaning of family is not always found in genetics or blood.

I highly recommend this to any age. A great story of a small community forming to help the life of one child. Your heart may be broken with this one. But fear not! It will put the pieces back together as you take a leap of faith with Willow. By the end you will have tears or joy or at least a smile etched on your heart. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Patronize Me: Featuring Cry, the Beloved Country

Laura Bickel chose May's selection for me. Most everyone at circulation knows the Bickel family well. The Bickels are frequent visitors to our DVD and Blu-Ray collection. If it is a new release, they are one of the first in line to place a hold on the item. The Bickels have been coming to the library since they moved here in 2001. Not only have they used the library for entertainment purposes but we are a research source for them as well. They are part of the homeschool community here in Rutherford County. Laura is one of the happiest patrons I have encountered at circulation. A smile and a chit chat with her usually puts me in a great mood for the day.

The first time I actually talked with her was at our Farmer’s Market booth last year. We greeted each other and chatted a bit before she headed to the library to pick up some holds. After that, she started to pause and share in small talk if she saw me at the circ desk. However, I didn’t know her that well until a few months ago. I was shelving some holds when she came to grab hers. We ended up discussing classic literature we had decided to reread from our high school required reading lists. We had a lot in common when it came to the classics. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was a great bookworm match. Classic literature is one of my favorite things and I now had someone to share that with. It was like Christmas for this librarian. All of this eventually lead to a discussion about the monster books of classic literature. The ones that had always intimidated us like: War and Peace, Les Misérables, The Count of Monte Cristo, etc. For some reason, the size and page number of these types of books leaves one feeling intimidated and so scared to even open the book. I have managed to read one of them, Anna Karenina and ever since I have tried to tackle about one a year. The conversation had to end due to the nature of the library circulation call of duty.

I eventually asked Laura to participate in this article. She filled me in on her Les Misérables...Apparently I, in turn, inspired her to pick up a book. Most of us are aware of the thickness of this book and I must say I was applauding her inside. (Plot twist: I have yet to read the book myself. I just know I have never heard a bad thing about it, which is something I pay attention to: when a book is still highly praised decades or even centuries later.) Needless to say, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She thought she would tire of the historical descriptions and references but those ended up being the parts she enjoyed most. Victor Hugo’s work has now made its way to the top of my list thanks to Laura. Two books from one patron! Laura’s recommendation for me wasn’t Les Misérables though, instead it was Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. She shared some words with me on why she chose it:

"Cry the Beloved Country was required reading in my senior English class in high school, and I just really loved the story. So when my oldest got to her senior year in high school I also had her read it. She liked it, too. It is another example of a good story helping the reader understand and remember a particular time in history in an enjoyable way." 

Going into this story I knew little about any of South Africa's unrest and history. The little I knew was from a various history classes, and a few movies I had seen over the years. Needless to say I learned a lot from this story. It even sparked the desire to learn more. If I am honest, I now understand why there continues to be so much pain in that country. One can always look to a country’s history to find the how's and why's of it ending up the way it is.

The story is about 2 fathers from different walks of life who both live in South Africa. One, a reverend named Kumalo from Ndotsheni and a man of color. The other, a white man, named Jarvis who lives in Johannesburg. Each man is searching for his son; Kumalo in the physical sense and Jarvis in a more spiritual form. We see two sides of Johannesburg (1948) through the eyes of two men with contrasting viewpoints. Paton uses these two ways of life to present the reader with the injustices and racism experienced by many at that time. The stories come together when both men find their sons. These families find redemption, hope, love, and forgiveness in the most unlikely of places. I really liked the story Paton told in spite of the angering discrimination. I was amazed at how optimistic and hopeful the story ended up being despite the presence of so much hate. Even in the midst of such an arduous situation the cast of characters found a way to heal. Hope can and does exist; sometimes we just have to let go.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Reading Challenge Reviews: Traveling With Pomegranates

This year I'm participating in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. It has led me to some books that
I might never have read otherwise, and I'm sharing my experiences here on Read This Next! 

One of the prompts on this year's Read Harder Challenge is to read a travel memoir. This prompt is one that more closely aligns with my normal reading interests than some others; for example, I'm still wondering which sports book I'm going to read. While I love memoirs, though, I haven't read many that are focused specifically on travel. Having that requirement made me look more critically at potential books. I couldn't just grab a book by a person whose work I like or that sounds interesting, like I do when selecting other memoirs to read!

I ended up checking out the audio version of Traveling With Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor and listening to it, appropriately enough, on a trip. While driving to Knoxville, I listened to the authors (who are mother and daughter) discuss their much more exotic travels together through Greece, Turkey, and France.

One of the richest aspects of the book is the way the authors use the places they visit as anchors that hold down the central narrative while they are able to float and explore the memories, tangents, and musings that traveling brought up for them. For Sue, this included thoughts about motherhood, aging, and her desire to write a novel (which would be published as The Secret Life of Bees). Meanwhile, Ann's inner monologue centered around the pain of graduating from college and being rejected from her first choice of graduate school, trying to discover her true vocation, and attempting to preserve her sense of identity while entering the new life phase of marriage. The women's internal narratives differ with their perspectives, but they are intricately woven together by their familial relationship to one another, by place, and by their increasingly complex and empowering understanding of the divine feminine.

Along with all the internal and emotional exploration, the reader (or listener, and it really is a good audio book) is treated to descriptions of ruins, temples, the Mediterranean, delicious meals, funny anecdotes, bits of Greek mythology, and other details that bring to life Sue and Ann's journeys.

Listening to this book definitely fit in with the spirit of Read Harder, making me consider points of view and religious traditions different from my own, and to see the similarities and connections that exist between my experiences and those of the authors despite these differences. It also made me long to take a trip with my own mother, so much so that I bought her a copy of the print edition for Mother's Day. Although we might not end up as far away as Greece, I hope that we will be able to have our own travel story to tell.

And don't worry: You definitely don't need to have read Sue Monk Kidd's novels or her nonfiction book Dance of the Dissident Daughter before reading about her travels, although her fans will enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at the writing of The Secret Life of Bees.

You can check out Traveling With Pomegranates in print or as an audio book through your local LPLS branch or on READS.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Reading Challenge Reviews: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

Although I typically read a wide range of books, last December I decided that I really wanted to go above and beyond in 2017. I decided to participate in a few official book challenges (and set a few of my own personal mini-challenges), but my favorite so far has been the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. I've completed several of the categories so far, and a lot of the books I've read have been ones that I might not have decided to pick up otherwise.

One such book that I read and loved is Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer. It fits two of the challenge's categories: a collection of short stories written by a woman and a book in which every point-of-view character is a person of color.

In the years since I graduated from college, I unfortunately began to identify as a reader who just doesn't like short stories. So I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. One of my objections to short stories was that it's difficult to become fully invested in the characters in the short span of time you're granted. Packer's characters feel full and real, though, largely due to her excellent dialogue. It's hard to define what makes dialogue work, but you know it does when you can almost forget that you're reading a book and "hear" the characters' conversations.

All of the stories in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere examine the experiences of black people in America, focusing on issues of gender, class, race, and religion. All of them are engaging, but I did have a few favorites:

  • "Brownies," which follows an all-black Girl Scout troop as they go to camp and clash with an all-white troop.
  • "Our Lady of Peace," in which a young teacher finds an unexpected ally in the form of a troubled student.
  • "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere," in which a college student struggles with making connections and with accepting her relationship with a classmate.
  • and "Doris Is Coming," in which a teenage girl finds the courage to begin taking part, in however small a way, in the struggle for civil rights.
One of my favorite things about each story is that it ends in an open-ended way, but not a cliffhanger. I finished each story feeling satisfied with how much information Packer gave me, and with the major threads of the plot more or less resolved, but with questions still lingering. I wondered what happened to the characters after: after conflict, after they went home, after they woke up the next morning and had to go on living their lives.

Which, I think, is the mark of great fiction: When you let yourself forget that it's not real long enough to wonder what the characters are up to now.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Patronize Me: Featuring The Pigman

This month I had the pleasure to chat with Mandy Ray-Jones. She has been a regular patron here for a little over 10 years. In the two years I have worked here I realized I had not actually talked to her. But I always enjoyed when she came in because she has a positive presence that is contagious. So, I decided due to this blog post it was time to say, "Hello." She was excited to share a book with me, which made my bookish heart happy. Through emails, Facebook messages, and conversations here, I have gotten to know her. Mandy is one of the most outgoing and passionate people I have met. She loves her family and community fiercely, which I find inspiring, and it shows in her actions. The local theater is a big part of her work here in the Boro as well as a group she started called SOAR, Seeds of Acceptance Rutherford. It is an initiative to support the LGBT community. This is the first patron I decided to ask, "Why do you like the library?" and her response was so sincere it demanded to be shared. 

"Linebaugh Public Library has been a huge part of my life for at least ten years. When I asked my dear friend Joan Hemphill if she remembered when I started coming into the library, she seemed to think it was about 10-11 years ago so we will go with that! Over the years, my relationship with the library has evolved. In the beginning, it was a place I could take my children where they could participate in story time and safely play indoors for a little while. Eventually, the librarians became friends and seeing them became a highlight of my week. When my oldest child was diagnosed with leukemia, the librarians showed up for us in a major way. From visiting Hunter at home between hospital stays to literally wiping down books with Lysol wipes so that we could still check out items, they quickly became part of our support system. None of my kids are young enough for story time any longer but that doesn't mean we don't still utilize the library's resources. We participate in programs, reserve the board room for meetings, sign up for summer and winter reading, and enjoy laughing with the librarians upon every visit. Now, that same child who had leukemia is old enough to volunteer during the summer reading program and he's looking forward to his second year. Our library is more than just an invaluable resource for our homeschool but it's also this beautiful oasis filled with wonderful people about whom I've grown to care so much. We are truly grateful for our library family.”

For many of my coworkers and myself, the above is why we love our job. For just a moment, we provided support for a friend not just a book. I believe this is why so many patrons enjoy coming here and why we enjoy working here; to share a conversation, a book, a movie, and to make connections. 

Mandy’s choice for me was Paul Zindel’s The PigmanThe story is told from two points of view. John and Lorraine alternate narrating chapters as they tell the story of how they meet and befriend a man named Angelo Pigmati. Through this retelling, we learn about John and Lorraine’s home life. Mr. Pigmati’s home becomes a place of refuge. A place of acceptance, which is not often encountered in their own homes. The intent is to honor Mr. Pigmati’s life with this story. The Pigman is still used in most middle school curricula today and has won several literary awards.

She gave me the recommendation without hesitation. Whenever she sees a copy, she purchases it to gift someone. I immediately took this book suggestion seriously after she told me that. Obviously, this book was her heart and soul (we all have that one book). I later discovered that this was a book she read in middle school. I asked her why she liked Zindel's book. Here are some of the wonderful things she had to say:

 "The Pigman, in particular, was especially beautiful because it allowed the narrators to be supremely flawed and complicated while also letting the reader feel great empathy for them. I always appreciate baddish characters who are also pitiable. John and Lorraine are just that... baddish yet pitiable.
 It's a beautiful love story but not of the traditional kind. It's a story of tragedy and of loss. A coming of age story yet no one really changes very much at the end... and you are okay with that. I never wanted to be the characters in the book. I only wanted to love like the characters in the book. To love someone else and to be loved like they are. They have such beautiful and pure hearts."

I remembered reading this (or skimming this) in junior high. I was not as serious a literary soul then as I am now. Back then I wanted anything with paranormal entities, vampires and zombies...Anything that would scare me and this book wasn’t that. However, my taste has evolved drastically since that time. I was glad to take this journey down a path that was part memory lane and part brand new. It is short and sweet but makes good points about relationships, loss and love. I agree with Mandy...It's a coming of age story where the characters don’t really change and that is okay. It defines that brief moment we all experience in our life. The moment when you experience something serious/tragic in your life; after just arriving in your teenage years. You realize the world is not as easy or simple as you thought. So you begin to stop and process your world while also trying to figure out who you are. Mandy shared this and so much more with me. I am grateful for her willingness to do so. Thank you, Mandy!