20 April 2010

Lab: The Blog to End All Blogs

The most logical subjects for this assignment seemed to me to be some former co-workers from Ball State University's Bracken Library. Four of the five are those, and one is from outside the library. I was sort of restricted to Bracken's collection, so that the patrons could easily obtain the books. In some cases certain books were simply not available, so I did not pursue those once I found they were not in Bracken's collection.

First, I spoke with "Elizabeth." First, I asked her to tell me about something that she'd read recently that she liked. She mentioned "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. When asked what she liked about it, she said she liked the character development and the fact that several characters' stories intertwined. She also liked the community/family drama aspect, the historical (1960s) setting, and that it was not overtly topical or political. She likes things that are more reality based, with interesting women characters, but not too fluffy. She also spoke of Alice Hoffman, saying that she has not read all of her books, and would like to read more.

I searched read alikes for Kathryn Stockett, and initially found a book called "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer through Amazon.com. This is the one I thought she would like the most. She had already read this one, but said that she DID really like it! I did a google search for read alikes for the first book, and found a page created by a librarian in the Rochester Public Library in Minnesota. I found a book here called "Sisters & Lovers" by Connie Brisco. This seemed like it would fit her preference for character driven stories, with several characters intertwined, and a community/family drama. Unfortunately, she read about six chapters and gave up on this one, saying that it seemed to be the same problems and conversations coming up over and over. I also gave her "The Third Angel" by Alice Hoffman. I looked through synopses of books owned by the library by this author, and this one seemed like one she would like. She had tried this one before, but didn't get too far. She read the whole thing this time, and liked it better. Overall, she said it was a good choice for her, but she didn't love it. So, I was not entirely successful here, but not too bad.

Second, I met with "Shelby." I asked her what she had read recently that she liked, and she also mentioned "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. (So, I was set to find books for two people derived from a similar source... from the same library. Easy, right?) She said she liked that it was from the perspective of a maid, in the South, and that it was historical. I asked if the time period was important; she said no. She said she liked Amish stories, mentioning Beverly Lewis in particular. We then went over to peruse the Bestseller collection, and she gave me a string of authors and genres that she likes. She spoke of Patricia Cornwell, Jodi Pichoult, Lisa Gardner, James Patterson, Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts, and Julie Garwood. She said she likes suspense, women's lives, romance, detective stories, and the occasional autobiography (usually a movie star).

Some of the tools I know of require a subscription, so I often went to Literature Map first. I searched through several of these names. I found "The Keepsake" by Tess Gerritsen as a read alike for Lisa Gardner through Literature Map. "Shelby" had already read this one, but really liked it. Through the same tool, I found "One for the Money" by Janet Evanovich as a read alike for Patricia Cornwell. I searched this tool, Amazon, and even a general google search for Amish fiction, and was not getting what I thought would be good hits. Finally, I searched Ball State's CardCat with a subject search for "Amish." I found one fiction book and gave this to her with the Evanovich title. She recently sent me an e-mail saying that she was in the middle of another book at the moment, but did look through the two that I gave her. She said that she is sure that she would like them---"especially the Amish based one." I was a little iffy on the Amish book, since it was a little older (1962), but she said that didn't matter to her. So, I guess this was mostly a success, even though she hasn't read them completely yet.

Third, on the list is "Bill." I asked him the standard first question about what he had read lately and liked. He mentioned a book called "The Art of Intrusion" by Kevin Mitnick. Apparently Minick is a famous hacker from the 1980s, who was put in prison for his activities. What did he like about it? He liked the subject matter of hacking and computer security. He initially said he was interested in non-fiction, but I asked if he would be interested in fiction on this subject. He gave me a resounding YES! He went on to mention a couple of books by Neal Stephenson. He is interested in "tech-fiction," which may have mystery/thriller/paranoia aspects.

I found that it was not as easy to find non-fiction through the tools that I was familiar with, so I went to Amazon.com, and did a search for the Kevin Mitnick book. I found one called "Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World" by Bruce Schneier. "Bill" said this one looks good, but he hasn't gotten to it yet. By way of the listing for this book in the CardCat, I clicked on the subject heading for "computer hackers," and found "Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier" edited by Katie Hafner and John Markoff. He said this one looked okay, but he was skeptical because he had heard something about John Markoff that he didn't like (he didn't say what it was). William Gibson is a read alike for Neal Stephenson, through Literature Map. I wanted to give him "Neuromancer", since that is the book that sort of gave birth to CyberPunk fiction. Unfortunately it was checked out, so I have him "Virtual Light". He said it looks good, but hasn't gotten to it yet. The reason he hasn't read through the others is that the fourth book I gave him is the one he picked up first, and could not put down! This is a book called "Stealing the Network: How to Own the Box"... it is a book of short stories, by various authors (I couldn't find an editor listed). This was found as a CardCat subject search for "computer hackers" in fiction. He started this one because it is short stories and would be easy to stop and put down when he needed to. He was nearly finished with it when I spoke with him, and he really enjoyed it! He plans to look for the others in the series. I'd call this one a success, even though he didn't have time to read through everything I gave him.

Number four is named "Jake." He had recently read "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel. He liked reading about early church history. I asked him if there were any particular aspects about it that he liked. He said he liked reading about the customs and beliefs. He liked the style of the book, which is interviews, although some of it is in a narrative style and he would be fine with reading something that is more in a narrative style. He mentioned a book that he would like to read called "The Case for Faith" by the same author. I asked if he would be interested in reading fiction on this subject... he said maybe, but not really at this time. He would prefer non-fiction, and something that is more pro-Christian or something that presents a good pro/con arguement. He was not interested in anything arguing against Christianity.

Again, I had a difficult time finding something with the tools I know of, so I did a CardCat search for Lee Strobel. I did not find the book "Jake" mentioned in the collection, but I did find "The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence that points toward God" by this author. So, I gave him this book. On this entry, I clicked the subject heading for "God--Proof, Cosmological" and found "A Case for the Existence of God" by Dean L. Overman. Hoping to find something similar to the book he requested, I did a subject search for "Faith." I looked through several titles and settled on "Why Faith Matters" by David J. Wolpe.

As it turns out, "Jake" asked for these types of books because he is writing a paper for a class. When I spoke with him again, he said that he has picked through all three books to find something useful, and that all three have been helpful to him. So, I'm happy with the results here.

Last, but certainly not least, is "Sally." She told me that she had recently read "Practical Magic" by Alice Hoffman. She said she liked the magical elements, the New England setting, and that it was a story dealing with women's lives and the whole family aspect. I also asked if she'd be interested in reading more from the same author, and she said yes. Although at this point, I had already given the most interesting looking Alice Hoffman book to the first person.

I tried Literature Map and Amazon.com, and both (as I suspected) suggested "The Witches of Eastwick" by John Updike. I thought this would be a perfect match, since it seemed to fit everything she told me. However, she stopped about half-way; mostly because of the sexual content. She liked the setting, but not the other aspects. Literature Map suggested Fannie Flagg, so I found "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" in the collection. She sent me an e-mail saying that she is in the middle of it (although probably finished now), and is "thoroughly enjoying it! I love the writing style, love the content, love the interaction between people." I also did a google search... I searched read alikes for "Practical Magic" and eventually found "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel through a page a librarian had put together for the Northwest Regional Library System. Also, a classmate (Ben) had spoken about this one, and I remembered that it sounded interesting. "Sally" said that she LOVED this one... "was intrigued right from the start, and finished it the same day I started." I'd say this was mostly a success, with a suprising miss regarding "The Witches of Eastwick".

This was an interesting exercise. I actually kind of enjoyed looking these books up, and finding things for people. Although, it took longer than I expected and it wasn't as easy as I expected. I knew all of my subjects, and I was surprised by some of them. Once some of the other employees found out what I was doing, they wanted me to find something for them! I only had time for five right now... but I may go back and work with those people... just for kicks! ;)

Secret Shopper Assignment

I was somewhat limited on this one... I live in a very small town that is outside a decent sized town. Since I don't actually live in the decent sized town, I can't check anything out... and for this assignment, I wanted to go to a library where I'd actually be able to check something out. So, I was sort of stuck with "Smalltown Public Library" (obviously not the real name).

I went into the tiny library, and saw a tiny gray-haired woman near the desk. I needed to get my card renewed, so I asked to have that done first. It took her quite some time to do this, so I looked around. I noticed that she started doing other things, and wondered if she was done with my card since she hadn't bothered to tell me... she was. I then asked her if she could recommend something for me... she asked, "Well, what do you like?" I told her that I had recently read a couple of Houdini biographies that I enjoyed (true), but that my next read didn't have to be a biography. What did I like about it? ...the "magician" aspect... fiction or non-fiction would be fine.

She then pulled a draw from the card catalog, and started looking through the "magic" subject-headings... not much there (it really is a small library). She found one called "Magical Thinking: True Stories" by Augusten Burroughs. The cover had a "magical" photo, and a quick glance made it look interesting, so I told her I'd try it out. She also took me to the biography section, to look for another book on Houdini... I didn't really want another book on Houdini, maybe she was looking for other illusionists. She didn't really have anything else to offer on the "magic" subject apparently. Finally, she asked me if I liked "crime books." I'm not sure how she made that connection, but I told her "No," I don't mind crime in fiction, but I don't want to read about the real stuff. ...and that was that. She stamped a card for the one book and told me that if it wasn't quite what I was looking for to come back. She was nice enough, but I didn't think she was terribly helpful. Then again, the tiny library doesn't give her much to work with.

So, I get out to my car and start really flipping through the book... This is not what I wanted at all. One of the first pages defines "magical thinking" as: "A schizotypal personality disorder attributing to one's own actions something that had nothing to do with him or her and thus assuming that one has a greater influence over events than is actually the case." This coupled with a look over the table of contents told me that this is not a book that I have much interest in reading... and really no interest in reading now. I looked through some of the stories, and I'm still not sure what this book is really supposed to be about. It seems like it's a bunch of little stories about people with obssessive-compulsive disorder.

Again, she probably did the best she could with what was available... but the (apparantly) only book in the library that would fit for me (from what I told her) just didn't really work for me.

Mini-Assignment: Blog Topic 3

Let's say a few words on digital books and digital book production, shall we?

First of all, until I read Fenton's article, I was not entirely aware that there were companies out there through which one could store a book and self-publish it. I was also surprised that the books are able to be printed on-demand, even one at a time. From the description in the article, it seems that one can choose to have a quality book printed at very reasonable price. I actually think this is very cool. I know of some people who have tossed around the idea of publishing a book, but thought that it would be too expensive... or that they might have to do a huge order of 500 or 1000 books, not knowing if they'd actually be able to get rid of them! This gives them a great alternative. This is one side of digital books that I do like... well, the end result is a printed book, which may be why I like the process.

As for simply digital books, whether it is online, a PC program, or a personal reader, I'm just not completely sold on those.
Some people in this day and age seem to think (without much real thought) that everything is going digital, so we should just abandon traditional books. Even some libraries are pushing for more electronic books, and getting rid of their regular books. To this, I say "no" ...just "no." The digital world is too fragile to have that as the only source. It's not bad for a back-up... traditional books are frail to some extent as well. But still... and maybe I'm a bit old-fashioned with this... but electronic information is just so fleeting... it's there, and then it's gone. A real book is physical... you touch it, you hold it, you smell it... all of this goes into the experience of reading, whether for pleasure or information alone.

Also, I think some people are jumping on this bandwagon far too quickly. The general public is not ready to give up on books. While record stores are being shut down left and right, I still see book stores standing strong... especially used book stores. The stores are staying open somehow, so it is just far too premature to think that people don't want books. This is why it drives me insane to hear of libraries going more digital, and discarding their books!

I wouldn't fault someone for getting a personal reader... I'll admit, they're kind of nifty... but only as a substitute. Some do offer cool incentives: Barnes & Noble offer thousands of public domain books for free download to the Nook. This is kind of cool, if you just want something for a vacation or whatever, but it's just not the real thing. Amazon offered an exclusive Stephen King story for the Kindle. I admit, I downloaded it for the (free) PC version of Kindle so that I could read it, but I'm still not inclined to buy the device itself.

This is just one man's views... but the evidence that I've seen through friends and in the library is that people like these things as "something that will work for now," but most people still seem to prefer real books... I am certainly one of them.

Mini-Assignment: Blog Topic 2

I thought about writing about something more "important" for this blog, but I've decided that this is important.

At first, when I saw that this class would be spending a week on Young Adult fiction, I thought, "Why?" I mean, I've got nothing against it... I enjoy some myself, but this is Adult Readers' Advisory. The bottom line, however, is that many adults do enjoy reading Young Adult fiction. Like I just said, I'm one of them.

It's hard to say for sure where the recent trend started, but it may be the Harry Potter books that got adults back into reading YA fiction. The books are a lot of fun, and their easy to read. Of course, the Twilight books have also gotten a lot of older readers reading YA, this is probably a bit different crowd, but none the less they are finding something of value in books aimed at a younger audience. Around the time that Harry Potter ended, fans found a new fantasy hero in Percy Jackson. Many of these books are being turned into films, and I think this is a good thing, because it draws more people to the books.

The question may be "why?". Why are older readers finding themselves holding these books? Of course, it's not just the fantasy books, there are many realistic books that adults are also finding appealing. I think the biggest reason is that adolescence is such an important part of each person's life, that we never really lose those feelings... we never really let it go. Go to a high-school reunion, you'll see that often the same cliques get back together. The popularity of these books shouldn't really come as a surprise. There are a lot of YA shows on television (hello, CW network) that are very popular with adults. Adults see themselves in these characters. It's a way for them to re-live their youth... or in some cases experience, through the characters in the story, things that they did not or were not able to experience first hand.

Some have said that many of these books are really aimed at adults, just in a younger packaging. I'm not sure this is completely true... I would guess that it's more of a universal thing. The books are aimed at young people, with the underlying appeal to adults... if that makes sense.

I actually think this is a good trend, and the more popular it becomes, the more accepted it will be. Adults should be reading these books on one hand, to be aware of what their children are reading. On the other hand, adults should feel free to embrace this side of themselves... to enjoy an easy read, for pleasure.

Mini-Assignment: Blog Topic 1

I must admit, the tools for Reader's Advisory are something that I've had a bit of trouble getting a handle on for this class. That is to say, I sort of expected to find a few good websites and that would be biggest part of it. The fact of it though, is that there really are not just a few really good places to go, for the most part. What I've come to find throughout the book presentations and the Reader's Advisory lab is that there are many sources that one may have to sort through, and not just a few authoritative ones.

Books such as Saricks's The Reader's Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction can be a great tool for librarians and individual readers alike. By reading through that book, I have found several books that I would like to read. Actually, a few that I read for this class came from suggestions in that book. Librarians could of course find this book useful, but the downside is that the suggestions contained within are limited by space and by publication date of this book.

The online sources offer much more, of course. They can add titles immediately. But still, it can be difficult at times to find a good tool, or even a good list made by another librarian, to match what someone is looking for. There are a multitude of options, and it can be difficult to sort through them all. The genre specific ones seem to be the best really, which makes sense, since they have more focus (e.g. Fantastic Fiction, and Stop You're Killing Me). I especially found Fantastic Fiction to be good. Literature Map is okay, but it doesn't always hit the mark. Also, they only give authors, not titles.

One problem that I've run into on more than one occasion is that some of these sources, such as Novelist, require a subscription. This wouldn't be so much of a problem for libraries (although, if it costs money, that could be an issue), but it doesn't really help individual users much. I came across a few sites that were kind of difficult to navigate.

Often, if I was looking for a lesser known author, or non-fiction, I found myself having to go to google.com and searching the subject+read alikes. Sometimes I would find some good sources there, like a page a librarian had created for something specific, bit it involved a lot of sifting through the junk to get the good stuff. Sometimes, I had to look through Amazon.com recommendations. There actually is some good stuff there, but it is based on sales. Although, if one takes a few seconds to look through their reviews, sometimes recommendations can be found there as well.

I am, of course, new at using these tools, finding the tools, and using them effectively. I suppose if I were to do this on a regular basis, I would find some reliable sources and cut down on the time spent "sifting throught the junk."

08 April 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Annotation 6)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter... written by Seth Grahame-Smith... published by Grand Central... 2010.

I, probably like many other readers, expected this book to be somewhat light-hearted and campy. It really wasn't though. It is essentially a biography of Abraham Lincoln, from about age 9 through death, with a vampire storyline added into it. The book is divided into three sections: Boy, Vampire Hunter, and President.

The story opens with Abe hunting... turkey hunting, that is. He is going over and over what his father told him about a proper kill shot, so that the animal doesn't suffer more than necessary. He needs to hit the body, not the neck. Abe sets his sights on a turkey, but his shot is off... he hits it in the neck. He sees the look of fear and panic in the eyes of the turkey as it is hanging on and gasping for life. This affects him greatly; he refuses to take part in the dinner made of his kill. It also affects his later hunts. It is not much later, at the age of 9, that Abe's mother dies. At the time, it is from what is called the "milk sickness," believed to be brought on by tainted milk. Abe finds himself in a position to overhear a conversation between his father and someone who has lent him money. He discovers that his mother has actually died of a "fool's dose" of vampire blood (she has been made to ingest vampire blood, but not in such a way that will turn her into one of them). Abe vows then and there to kill every vampire in America.

He begins training himself and at the age of twelve, tricks the money lender (who is a vampire) to come to the Lincoln home. Abe "negotiates" with the vampire to cancel his father's debt. At the age of 16, Abe hears of a rash of young victims who are found drained of blood, not too far from his southern Indiana home. Abe finds and attacks this vampire, but his skills are not yet up for the challenge. He is rescued by someone named Henry. Abe wakes later in Henry's home, only to find that Henry is a vampire. They eventually talk, and Henry takes it upon himself to train Abe in the fight. Abe agrees, and becomes an excellent student. When he leaves, Abe agrees to take letters from Henry which will tell him the names and locations of vampires "who deserve it (death) sooner." This is all inter-woven with all of the factual information on the life of Lincoln. Grahame-Smith deals with Abe's difficult relationship with his father, life with his step-mother and step-siblings, and Abe's struggles to find work along the Ohio River to help support his family.

From then, the author takes us into Abe's early adulthood and somewhat beyond. We see Abe and his family moving into Illinois. Abe continues to find work. He begins building boats, which will then carry and sell goods down the Mississippi... all the way into New Orleans. Throughout this time, Abe continues to hunt when he can. In New Orleans, he meets up with a very interesting acquaintance, who also shows up later during Abe's time in Washington, D.C. The "Vampire Hunter" section shows Abe doing a lot of that, but it also gives the reader a lot of real information about Lincoln. After the age of 21, Abe no longer has to give all of his wages to his father, so he breaks out on his own. He tries various things, including working in, and later owning a retail store. He also runs for the state legistlature, and spends some time with that. We also see Abe fall in love, and make some unexpected friends. He begins his law practice, and continues to stay involved in politics. Eventually, he meets up with Henry again; and Henry introduces him to some very influential friends, who tell Abe they have big plans... in which he plays a large part.

Abe goes on to become president, of course, and his hunts are few and far between at this point. Vampires actually end up playing a large part in the Civil War, and Henry maintains contact with Abe. Actually, a lot of the "President" section focuses on Abe's factual life; the vampire elements are somewhat lessened here. The author takes the reader through the Civil War and on up through Abe's assassination. He deals with Abe's death, and the following events, in a very interesting way; and I don't want to spoil it for any potential readers.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book. I think I enjoyed it even more when it became clear that this wasn't going to be a campy story. It takes itself very seriously, and has a pretty serious tone throughout. It presents Abe as a tragic figure, and I guess in many ways he really was; but the fictional part shows him as a complex anti-hero. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested, and even those who are simply curious. It's a quick read, and you may actually be surprised to find that you enjoyed it.