Monday, May 10, 2010

Reader 5

This is a relative who is a reluctant reader. I had a strong sense based on her History Channel viewing that she would like biographies of historical figures and other nonfiction titles. The biggest part of the RA interview was a trip to Barnes & Noble to look through new biography titles to see what ones caught her eye. We then took these stacks to the cafe and she told me what had attracted her to each title. Then I had her choose her top 5. Three or four of them were biographies of U.S. presidents. Also, we determined that page length is a definite consideration. With books that are too big, she says she feels "defeated before I even begin." The magic number seemed to be 300 pages or less, so I stuck to that for her list.

My recommendations
-- Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life by James McPherson
Found this while browsing in Borders. It's only about 80 pages and Reader 5's small county library carries it.

-- This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett
Reader 5 really liked "The Carol Burnett Show," and so when I heard about this book on NPR I thought is sounded like something she would enjoy

-- Little Heathens : Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm during the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
This is one of the titles Reader 5 selected on our Barnes & Noble trip.

So far she hasn't read any of these but she does want to, especially the Lincoln book. She said that her husband wants to read Little Heathens. Should I tell her no, that's your book! If he wants something to read tell him I'll give him something else. :-)

Reader 4

This man is one of my coworkers at Purdue, and he was one of the most challenging to pick books before because he wasn't very specific about his interests at first. I.e., he was clearly very interested in biographies, nonfiction, and history (genres rated 9 or 10), but what subjects did he want to read about?

I ended up giving him a list of interesting titles from the ALA Notable Books list, and then we had a sit-down conversation to try to pinpoint what he was really in the mood to read about at this time. We ended up with Abraham Lincoln, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, so I told him I would select a book that the Tippecanoe County Public Library owns for each of these topics.

My recommendations
-- Lincoln by David Herbert Donald
-- Spanish-American War by Michael Golay
-- World War One: A Short History by Norman Stone
-- Eisenhower: Soldier and President by Stephen Ambrose
I selected these through a process that involved browsing at Borders, looking at Recommended Reads in NoveList, and reading book reviews online.

Reader 4 immediately thanked me for my efforts and said he really appreciated it. Today I talked to him and joked, "Have you read all those books yet?" and he laughed and said no, but added that he planned to read all of them.

Reader 3

Reader 3 is a good friend in Lafayette who's probably the most voracious reader I know. She rated the following genres above 7: bestsellers, biographies, classics, romantic suspense, women’s lives, and young adult.

My recommendations
-- A Good Yarn by Debbie Macomber
Reader 3 likes knitting, and this book is a women's lives/gentle reads pick, so I thought she would like it.

-- Austenland by Shannon Hale
Sounds appealing to any Jane Austen fan, and Reader 3 is a big one.

-- A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth
Reader 3 loves musical theater, so I thought she would enjoy this memoir. I read it, so I can vouch for it.

-- The Ladies’ Man by Elinor Lipman
Readalike author for Austen, according to NoveList, and I looked through numerous plot summaries and this book had the most scintillating one, in my opinion.

-- Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles
Young adult book I read for YA class last summer. Funny and written by a southern writer, which I know Reader 3 will appreciate.

-- The Hotel Riviera by Elizabeth Adler and Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson
Good escape books related to traveling and cooking -- to subjects Reader 3 is passionate about.

-- To Dance and French Milk
Two graphic book titles that I have read and that I think Reader 3 would enjoy based on her interests in the arts and all things French.

"How cool is this, as good as a personal shopper! I’ve not read as much as I normally do because I’ve run out of ideas and didn’t feel like digging through new stuff. I’ll be anxious to try these. Austenland sounds particularly appealing and I had not heard of it."

More recently (as in today), I got this message from Reader 3: "I didn't realize my reading list was two pages long until just this minute. I've printed it out and will take it with me to the library this evening to return "Austenland." ... I love the concept of "Austenland," but the author wasn't a very good writer, so there were lots of trite phrases and improbable situations. You could rewrite it!"

So, bummer about Austenland. But that's the hazard of recommending books you haven't personally read. What can you do?

Reader 2

Reader 2 is a good friend who lives in New York City. She gave a "10" to classic lit, literary fiction, nonfiction, and short stories, so I focused my search on just those.

My recommendations
-- The World without Us by Alan Weisman and Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn by Hannah Holmes
My friend said her favorite nonfiction topic was the interaction between humans/society and nature. The first title I found on a ALA Notable Books list, and the second is written by an author who NoveList said was a readalike for one of Reader 2's favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver.

-- News of the Spirit by Lee Smith and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories by Haruki Murakami
These were interesting-sounding books of short stories from the ALA Notable Books lists.

-- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
This was my pick for literary fiction, found on an ALA Notable Books list. I read an Atwood book for book club several months back, so I could vouch for her writing skill. I thought her prose was very poetic.

To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel
Reader 2 said she was open to graphic novels, so I recommended this one, which is one of my favorites. I told Reader 2 I thought she would appreciate this one because she enjoyed the Alvin Ailey dance recital we went to several years back, and I detailed other reasons as well.

Reader 2's immediate response was, "Thanks for my reading list! I have not read any of those books, although I have read (and liked) other books or stories by Lee Smith and Margaret Atwood. I remember hearing about "The World Without Us" when it was published. Looks like a good list!" And when I visited her in New York last week, she brought up the list out of the blue and said she wanted to read these books as soon as she was done with the ones she was currently reading.

Reader 1

I used the questionnaire for readers 1 through 4 because they were avid readers. Reader 5 is a reluctant reader, and I thought my form would overwhelm and/or confuse her, so I used a different info-gathering technique with her. Details on all readers are listed below.

Reader 1
A colleague of mine at Purdue, this reader revealed through his favorite authors that he liked what I would call business-related self-help books. He rated biography, classic lit, nonfiction, and two categories he created (relationships, business & history) a 5 or higher. Everything else he had "0" interest in. I made sure the lengths of my recommendations were in the 200-400 page range, and that they were books carried by Indianapolis Marion County Public Library. Bonus: three of the books I recommended were available as audiobooks, so I gave him those call numbers in addition to the hard copy call numbers for help with his long commute.

My recommendations for reader 1:
-- The Slaves’ War: the Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves by Andrew Ward
Reader 1 said on his questionnaire that he was most interested in American Civil War history, so I used the "Recommended Reads" feature in NoveList to come up with this book. I also e-mailed him NoveList's other suggestions.

--The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman
This book fits Reader 1's "relationships" category. I didn't use RA tools in this case. This book is my personal favorite on the topic, that's all.

--Super-Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres
Found this title while perusing lists of past ALA Notable Books. It sounded like something Reader 1 would like because he has a strategic planning position.

--212: the Extra Degree by Sam Parker and Mac Anderson
This was my choice for the business-related self-help category. I wasn't aware of any RA tools that covered this, so I ended up recommending a book that my vice president had suggest my division read. She said it's what Purdue alum Drew Brees uses in leading his New Orleans Saints teammates. (Reader 1 is not in my division.)

--American born Chinese by Gene Yang
Reader 1 indicated he was open to graphic novels, and I know he has a great interest in diversity issues, so I recommended this award-winning title.

Reader 1 sent me this feedback when I sent him his list of recommendations:
"Thanks, Emily! These look most interesting! I do use audiobooks (daily) so that extra information will be put to use. Thank you for this, I shall give you feedback as I finish each if you like."

My Foray into Form-based RA, part I

I decided early on in the semester that I wanted to advise five readers for this project, and that I wanted to send "my" readers a questionnaire to gather information about their preferences.

The questionnaire I developed:
The questions below are meant to provide an insight into your reading experiences and preferences. I will use your answers to put together a list of 4-5 books (with descriptions) that I think you might enjoy. Most of the titles will be from genres you like, but I might throw in one book meant to stretch you a little.

1. On average, how many books do you read per month?

2. Who are your favorite authors? (Please list their names and say what it is you like about them.)

3. What authors do you least enjoy? (Please list their names and explain what it was you did not like about them.)

4. On a scale from 0 to 10 — where 0 means no interest and 10 means high interest — indicate your level of interest in the following genres:




Classic literature


Historical fiction (works of fiction set in a real time in history)


Literary fiction



Psychological suspense


Romantic suspense

Science fiction




Women’s lives and relationships

Young adult

Other: _________________

5. Of these genres, which one(s) are you most in the mood to read right now?

6. Have you read any graphic books? (These are fiction or nonfiction titles that generally use comic book-style storytelling. Examples include American Born Chinese, Persepolis, and Watchmen.)

-- Yes

What was your experience like and would you read another graphic book?

-- No

Are you open to reading a graphic book?

7. Are you sensitive to book length? If so, what is too long and/or too short for you?

8. Nonfiction fans: Are there any particular subjects you’re interested in reading about at this time?

9. Do you frequent your local library or libraries? If so, what is the name of the one you use most often? (When I select books for you, I’ll place a priority on titles owned by your library.)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Hotel Riviera / Elizabeth Adler

For those who dream of someday vacationing in the south of France, The Hotel Riviera is the ultimate escape. It's about an American named Lola who is the chef/owner of a quiet villa near Saint-Tropez. It's been six months since her husband, Patrick, mysteriously disappeared, and Lola is picking up the pieces of her life while trying to figure out whether Patrick is alive or dead. The latter activity is the basis of the suspense half of this novel.

The romantic half focuses on Lola's developing relationship with a man named Jack, who lives on a small boat docked in the bay behind the hotel. He is the rugged, hard-bodied type -- a boat-builder who has lived a life of adventure and somebody who would never settle down, or so it would seem. He's a consummate charmer -- the kind of guy who could attract any woman through his signature smile. But in Lola he finds a challenge, for she seems not to notice any of his charms.

Romantic suspense is tricky in that it has to juggle romance and suspense in a single narrative. Adler does this by leaving the suspense portion in the background until midway through the novel. The first half mainly sets the scene of the story and establishes all of the characters. But then the suspense picks up -- the police find Patrick's car abandoned in Marseilles -- and Jack ends up being one of the people who help Lola get to the bottom of her husband's disappearance.

I enjoyed this novel and could see myself reading more books by this author. Ultimately, what became the main appeal of The Hotel Riviera was its heartwarming qualities. Sure, the romance and suspense are engrossing, including a fantastic chase scene near the end, and you need only an ounce of wanderlust to appreciate the idyllic setting. But what this book is ultimately about is a woman rebuilding her life following a disappointing marriage, learning to love again, and finding herself in the process.

Briar Rose / Jane Yolen

This semester I learned I have to be careful about how much extracurricular reading I do. Adult Readers Advisory really opened my eyes to the fact that there are all kinds of interesting fiction out there. Whenever I would read the chapters in our textbook, I kept seeing books that sounded good, and several times I ended up reading those instead of doing homework for my other class. Case in point: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen.

The textbook talks about this novel in the "Fantasy" chapter: "In Jane Yolen's Briar Rose, the Sleeping Beauty story is reimagined in Nazi Germany." I'm really fascinated by Holocaust stories, so when I read that sentence I immediately placed a hold on the book and ended up reading it in one sitting.

The premise of the novel is this: A young journalist named Becca is losing her grandmother, Gemma, to dementia. Gemma had told Becca and her two sisters the story of Briar Rose on a continual basis while they were growing up, but near the end of her life she began insisting that she herself was Briar Rose.

"'I was the princess in the castle in the sleeping woods,'" she says to Becca on her deathbed. "'And there came a great dark mist and we all fell asleep. But the prince kissed me awake. ... Promise me you will find the castle. Promise me you will find the prince. ...'"

Becca promises, and begins her investigation following Gemma's funeral. I can't tell you too much more because it would ruin the suspense, but suffice it to say that with a small box of her grandmother's belongings, her investigative journalist skills, and help from her boss/love interest and a translator in Poland, Becca manages to figure out the mystery of her grandmother's past.

Briar Rose is a compelling read, a definite page-turner. As the reader, you get excited as Becca finds each piece of the puzzle and puts it in place. You get frustrated when she hits a dead end. And you are fascinated when you finally learn how the story of Sleeping Beauty played out in Gemma's life. Originally I was afraid that the parallels between the two stories would be cheesy or forced, but instead I ended up really admiring how the author handled this aspect. It actually was what I enjoyed most about the book. Well done, Jane Yolen!

I would recommend Briar Rose to any young adult or YA crossover reader, as well as to anyone interested in the Holocaust. This is a work of fiction, which should probably be pointed out in case a reader is only interested in stories of real survivors, but Jane Yolen did research the real-life setting of Gemma's fictional story, and these facts are weaved into the narrative and detailed in the "Author's Note" at the end.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye / J. D. Salinger

Whenever I read a classic, I always think about why it's a classic. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding why. But with The Catcher in the Rye, it seemed apparent from the first sentence. Those 63 words incorporate what I think are the main appeals of the novel -- a unique narrative style, sarcastic humor, and a compelling main character, Holden Caulfield:

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

What he does feel like talking about is the substance of the rest of the book. The plot is fairly simple -- Holden gets kicked out of (yet another) prep school and his parents won't find out until they receive a letter from the school several days later, so he decides to leave his dormitory and kill time in New York City for a few days so he doesn't have to break the news to his parents himself.

The narrative style is intensely personal and refreshingly honest. Holden is inviting the reader into his life -- on his own terms, but with an implied promise that he will tell the raw truth instead of saying all the things one is supposed to say. The everyday language he uses reinforces the fact that he's going to tell it like it is.

The sarcastic humor is what I enjoyed most about the book. One of Holden's main observations seems to be that a lot of things and people are "phony." When one of his teachers tells him his parents are "grand people" in chapter 2, Holden says to the reader, "Grand. There's a word I really hate. It's a phony. I could puke every time I hear it."

Holden himself is the third main appeal; he's a really compelling character -- mostly because he's hard or even impossible to figure out. For instance, he's really smart but doesn't apply himself at school. Why? And he gets disgusted by so many things but has joy in a few others, like how a summer (girl) friend played checkers, and almost any detail related to his siblings.

And of course there's the bigger question -- what will happen to Holden? Well, like many good literary novels, whose endings are "often open or ambiguous" (Saricks 178), so too is the ending of Catcher. And that's a good thing. Because in a novel so intent on telling the raw truth, slapping on a Hollywood ending would seem utterly out of place. And Holden would not approve. As he says in the first chapter, "If there's one thing I hate, it's the movies. Don't even mention them to me."