What We’re Reading

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

It’s been a particularly hectic and busy spring semester, which is at least partly due to the fact that I spent January teaching twenty hours a week rather than preparing for the spring semester. I’m still finding time to read, but I’ve been finding myself craving mysteries more than my usual literary fiction. When my husband and I went to Chicago for a spring break mini-vacation, I continued a long tradition of reading books set in the city I’m visiting. For my trip I picked the first novel in two different Chicago-based mystery series: Clare O’Donohue’s Kate Conway series, whose protagonist is a documentary film producer, and Michael Harvey’s Michael Kelley series, whose protagonist is a thirty-five-year-old disgraced Chicago cop turned P.I. I enjoyed both of them so much I quickly devoured the second books in each series and am about to begin the third Michael Kelley mystery (I have to wait for Clare O’Donohue to write a third Kate Conway book.) –Carrie

I went on a wild and rollicking road trip this month with the delightful novel You Don’t Know About Me by Brian Meehl. When 16 year old Billy Allbright receives a package in the mail from his father, a man Billy thought was dead, his life is turned upside. The package contains the first clue in a wild treasure hunt across America, in search of Mark Twain’s lost sequel to The Adventures of Huck Finn. As Billy travels the country in hunt of his elusive treasure, the people he meets and the adventures he has mirrors those of Twain’s Huck. The result is an amusing and charming tale of adventure and self –discovery, that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. –Heather

On this week’s edition of the Slate Culture Gabfest, Stephen, Dana, and June joked about hating to read books that are over-reviewed and over-recommended. In doing so, they liberated a problem that I’ve always struggled with as a reference librarian: There’s little that makes me less inclined to pick up a book than to hear a chorus of praise, made undoubtedly louder by the fact that I am a known librarian. You must read Lean In! You haven’t read Franzen? You need to now!! To be fair, I’m pleased that people enjoy printed stories enough to spread the word, and I appreciate thoughtful suggestions from avid readers. It is in this spirit that I would like to complement the authors of Chasing Reference for their off-beat recommendations. I also wish to beg their forgiveness for promoting an excellent collection of short stories called I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro It’s really well reviewed, everyone is talking about it, and I loved it to pieces. I immediately reread several of the stories after finishing them. Stephen, Dana, and June will resist this one, but you must read!  –Amy

I’ve just started reading Helene Wrecker’s forthcoming fantasy novel The Golem and the Jinni. I’m usually don’t read fantasy, but this book has me hooked. The golem was created in Poland and brought to the United States. Her owner dies during the crossing shortly after he wakes her up. She arrives in New York City literally quite new to the world. In a parallel story a tinsmith, while rubbing a scratch out of a flask, awakens the jinni living within it. The jinni, a Syrian over a thousand years old, suddenly finds himself living in New York City at the turn of the century. Of course the golem and jinni are going to meet up. The book is a lovely mix of fantasy, folklore, and historical fiction. –Emily

Being the new guy on the block, I felt some pressure to be all professional and “I’m reading [fill in the blank with a dense, academic tome concerning librarianship].” Well, the book I’m actually reading right now is Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. It’s been on my must-read list for a while, but I’ve finally just picked it up recently. While it is firmly in the fantasy genre, it has some intriguing twists. The world in which the story takes place draws its inspiration from Middle Eastern and North African influences rather than the stereotypical medieval-European milieu. The protagonist is not a young unsuspecting wizard or peasant with a secret past but rather an old experienced “ghul hunter” who is ready for retirement but gets dragged back into an adventure due to circumstances beyond his control. The book has won wide recognition: Reddit Fantasy’s Debut of the Year for 2012, multiple “Best of” lists, and Nebula and Hugo Award nominations. I’m very much looking forward to diving into the Crescent Moon Kingdoms! –Don

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Chasing Reference: One Year Later

This week, Chasing Reference is celebrating our first anniversary. After meeting in person and beginning to plan this blog in January 2012, we quietly launched in April 2012 by posting about what the typical day is like for each of us. (Want to reminisce? Check out what Carrie, Heather, Amy, Sarah, and Emily were up to this time last year.)

In celebration of this anniversary, we’re taking the entire month of April to celebrate. Today we’re highlighting some of our personal favorite posts from the past year. It’s no surprise these also proved to be some of our most popular posts too. On Friday we’ll share our monthly What We’re Reading post. Starting Monday, we’ll be writing brand new Day in the Life posts each Monday and Wednesday. How much has changed in a year? Here are a few teasers:

  • one of us changed jobs (you can read all about her new job on April 17!)
  • there’s now a brand new Chasing Reference contributor (look for his introductory post on April 24!)
  • you’ll also be treated to a special guest post from our fearless adviser on May 1!

April will be full month of posting here, and May will mark a return to regularly scheduled programming with posts each Wednesday, as well as the first Friday of the month.

We’re also always looking for guests posts. If you’d like to contribute, send us an email with your idea(s).

Without further ado, here are some of our favorite Chasing Reference posts from the first year:

Last but not least, do you remember how we came to call ourselves Chasing Reference? It all began with C-H-A-S-E.

Thanks for reading. We hope you’ll continue on this journey with us for many more years to come.

What We’re Reading

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

This month, I giggled my way through Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella. This collection of essays is a delightful treat, full of love and laughter. Scottoline and Serritella, mother and daughter, write stories of everyday life that are charming, witty, and insightful. Their voices are warm, and reading them feels like you are sitting down and chatting with a good friend.  This is their fourth collaboration together, and each one is simply a joy!– Heather

A dear friend asked me to join her book club. In the past and for many good reasons, I have made it a rule to politely decline all invitations to join book clubs. For this woman, however, I will break rules, which is why I am now plodding through Arcadia by Lauren Groff. I badly want to love this novel, a lyrical tale told in three bumpy acts. Narrated by Bit, the first child born on a hippie commune in upstate New York, the story is two parts coming-of-age and one part dystopian fantasy. The prose is lush, but the characters don’t seem round to me. Nevertheless, I better finish it by Sunday! –Amy

One of my book clubs read God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy this month. It’s a heartbreaking novel. Each character in the novel has a deep love for someone, but the love is barred by tragedy. The story jumps from the present to the past, so you know the outcome of the tragedies before you know how the tragedies happen. It’s lovely and sad, with moments of childlike humor. During our discussion we listened to the BBC’s World Book Club interview with Arundhati Roy. This is a book that you need to talk about after reading. –Emily

What We’re Reading: February 2013

Like so many of you, I’m quite enamored with Downton Abbey. After watching the first two seasons during the semester break, only getting a new episode once a week has left me wanting more. I’ve found it with the delightful new young adult novel Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown. It’s the first in a series and follows the lives of three young women: sisters Rowena and Victoria, plus Prudence, who is like a sister to them. Prudence is the daughter of their governess, who died several years ago. The girls’ father mostly ignored class conventions, but when he dies, all three girls must go live with Rowena and Victoria’s uncle, who is a traditionalist. Rowena and Victoria insist Prudence must come with them, and thus Prudence shifts from sister and best friend to lady’s maid, where she feels like an outcast with both the upstairs and downstairs crowds. I rarely read young adult fiction, but this coming of age novel has the perfect background when England itself is at a fascinating time of change. If you’re looking for a fun, escapist tale in the style of Downton Abbey, Summerset Abbey is a good one. –Carrie

This month, I was delighted to read Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, the first book to ever receive both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Author Award in 2000. Bud, Not Buddy whisks readers away to a Depression-era Michigan, soaked in the sound of the blues. We follow the adventures of Bud Caldwell, as he searches for Herman E. Calloway, bandleader of the Dusky Devastators of the Depression and the man who just might be his father. Bud’s journey is full of excitement and memorable characters, and Bud himself is a charming narrator, optimistic and imaginative. Christopher Paul Curtis’s writing is infused with warmth and life, creating a story that draws you in and makes you feel welcomed. Truly, it was a wonderful read! Reading this former Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Author Award winning book has left me eager to read this year’s newest selection of  books on the Youth Media Awards list  announced just this past week at ALA Midwinter. — Heather

James Woods’ New Yorker piece on the fiction of Elena Ferrante drove me into the stacks of my public libraries to track down her books. Elena Ferrante, a pseudonym adopted by an unknown contemporary Italian novelist, writes stories about the inner lives of women in crisis. Though the word has been ruined, I would describe her work as intense. In the novels that I read, The Days of Abandonment and Troubling Love (both translated by Ann Goldstein), I would describe the prose, narrative, and setting as claustrophobic and demanding. Time seems suspended, even warped, by dramas that dredge the grounds of second wave feminism. Ferrante’s most recent novel, My Brilliant Friend, is the first in a planned trilogy. –Amy

Lately, I’ve been working my way through David Foster Wallace’s essay collection Both Flesh and Not.  I never thought I would care so much about professional tennis as I did while reading Wallace’s essay about Roger Federer. I’m also reading Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods, a collection edited by Maria Accardi, Emily Drabinski, and Alana Kumbier. The pieces in this work grapple with the social justice and information issues that (among others) drew me to librarianship in the first place. If you have ever cringed at the uncritical use of the phrase “authoritative source” (or if you’d like to explore how Oscar Wilde’s aestheticism relates to enlivening library instruction), you will probably appreciate this book as much as I am. –Sarah

What We’re Reading: January 2013

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

After spending the last month of 2012 frantically reading all of the books that had been lingering on my physical and virtual shelves for months (and years in some cases), I’m devoting January 2013 to reading books being published in 2013. I’m currently enchanted with Level 2, the debut dystopian novel by Lenore Applehans (out January 15th). After that, I’m also hoping to dive into Me Before You by Jojo Meyers and The Midwife’s Tale by Samuel Thomas. –Carrie

This month, I found myself lingering over the delightful book Pinned by Sharon Flake. Pinned tells the stories of Autumn, a star wrestler but struggling student, and Adonis, a model student, and the year they spend circling around each other, learning more about each other and themselves. Autumn knows her way on a wrestling mat, can calculate what moves she needs to make to win on that mat, but when it comes to school, and particularly reading, she feels lost, that her brain just doesn’t work right. Adonis has always strived to be the best; born without legs, Adonis has sworn that it will never hold him back, and he is consistently the top of the class, the most sought after student. As they each deal with private troubles- failing at school for Autumn and overcoming a past trauma for Adonis- they slowly find understanding in each other. Both Autumn and Adonis are richly drawn and fully realized, with unique and distinctive voices, and their stories compelling. I found myself lingering over the pages, enjoying the richness of their voices, the truth of their stories. Truly, a delightful read, and I look forward to reading more of Sharon Flake’s engaging work. — Heather

During the holiday season, I spent a good deal of time entertaining at home with family, friends, and colleagues. I enjoy cooking very much, but what I really love is reading about food. When it comes to food writing, my go-to sources include The New Yorker and Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. However, when I need to get down to the practical business of roasting, sauteing, and baking, I troll my favorite recipe blogs, such as Smitten Kitchen or Lottie + Doof. And, of course, I browse my cookbook collection. One of my favorite new cookbooks is David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert (2012). Yes, the desserts are amazing–I’ve already put about half of them on the table– but also the writing is hilarious; he introduces each recipe with either droll humor or a bizarre anecdote. To ease the burden of cooking all day, the authors of Bistro Cooking at Home (2003) and The Newlywed Cookbook (2011) offer details about how to prepare some of their dishes in advance. Lastly, in 2013, if you find yourself making dinner for foodies or guests of Mediterranean origin, then I would recommend Simone Ortega’s The Book of Tapas (2010) or The Silver Spoon New Edition (2011), a classic! –Amy

Like Amy, I’ve spent a lot of time lately browsing cookbooks and trying out new recipes. Mostly I’ve been baking up a storm.  My two favorites are the cinnamon scrolls from Yvette van Boven’s Home Made and layered biscuits from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day.  When not cooking, I’ve been really enjoying Jeffrey Toobin’s The Oath. Toobin’s book focuses on the often contentious relationship between the Roberts court and Obama administration, and between competing ideas about how the Constitution should be interpreted and applied to the legal questions faced today. If you’ve read The Nine, you’re already familiar with Toobin’s accessible writing style and extensive knowledge of the Supreme Court, both of which are on display in The Oath. –Sarah

Over the holiday break, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s page-turner Flight Behavior. The main character, Dellarobia is a smart and young mother of two who doesn’t have the opportunities you want her to have. Her parents died young, she got pregnant in highschool which thwarted her chances at college, and propelled her into an early marriage to a man she never would have married otherwise. Now, the mother of a kindergartener and a toddler, Dellarobia feels trapped. When monarch butterflies migrate to the mountain near Dellarobia’s home in Tennessee instead of migrating to Mexico, her life changes. The novel is equal parts domestic drama and environmental drama. I found myself rooting for the butterflies and for Dellarobia. –Emily

Now tell us: what are you reading in the New Year?

Cramming

Final exam season is here. This year, the knowledge that I neither have to take exams nor grade them fills me with giddy delight. Time that I once spent with towering piles of blue books is now dedicated to perfecting my glögg recipe and sleeping. I do, however, empathize with stressed-out students. I don’t like to see students so frustrated that they literally hit their books, as I witnessed last week. There must be a better way.

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What We’re Reading: December 2012

On the first Friday of each month, we share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

As 2012 comes to a close, I’ve been frantically trying to read all of the books I’ve been meaning to read all year, particularly those I’ve purchased and those I’ve been on the library’s waiting list for months. I ended November with what turned out to be my favorite read of 2012 (so far): These Days Are Ours by Michelle Haimoff. It’s set in the spring of 2002 and follows Hailey, a recent college graduate trying to figure out what ‘normal’ is. It helps that Haimoff’s characters are the age I was in 2002, but this novel is smart, affecting, and an intimate portrait of both adulthood and post-9/11 New York City. Next up for me: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, which has been languishing on my Kindle for over a year and Colm Toibin’s newest, The Testament of Mary. –Carrie

This past month, I immersed myself into two very different books. The first was Gillian Flynn’s very dark and twisted Gone Girl. It was an unsettling account of a woman’s disappearance on her five-year wedding anniversary. Her husband is the main suspect and as well as the novel’s narrator and his story is interspersed with her diary entries.  Nothing and no one in this book is what it seems, and it is an exploration of the dark side of humanity. It was truly chilling. Following Gone Girl, I delved into the strange and complex world of Crewel by Gennifer Albin. Crewel is a world of Spinsters, women who have the power to weave the very fabric of reality around them. With their power, they control every aspect of life in Arras. It is considered a great honor to be chosen as a Spinster, yet Adelice Lewys wants nothing to do with that life- she spends her days in dread of being chosen. When the inevitable happens, and she is chosen as a Spinster, she discovers that her vague misgivings and suspicions barely scratch the surface of the twisted reality of life as a Spinster of Arras. Albin’s creates a world that is fascinating, engaging, and compelling, weaving together a truly engaging story.  –Heather

After a month spent with agricultural fiction (“Neighbour Rosicky,” O Pioneers!, A Thousand Acres, etc.) , I forced myself leave the farm so that I could read Andrew Solomon’s brilliant book, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. I go into raptures thinking about the originality, scope, and importance of the arguments posited by Solomon. This book is about so much, including reproduction, diversity, identity, and tolerance. It’s kind of a big deal. Best of all, there’s a book trailer on vimeo. –Amy

This month, I enjoyed Rachel Maddow’s Drift. While I expected the book to be well-written and entertaining, as well as thoroughly researched (after all, Maddow has PhD in Politics from Oxford), I didn’t expect to end up thinking so much about the role of privatization in military decision-making and how the balance of power among the three branches of the U.S. government has shifted over the past 30 years.  I’ve also gone back and reread some classics in International Relations, as well as Jack Snyder’s “One World, Rival Theories,” which offers a broad perspective on the major strands of IR theory, and more interestingly, makes some excellent arguments for the ways in which theory can illuminate real-world events.  On the fiction side, I gave into my weakness for books about record stores and music fans, and have Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue next on my list. –Sarah

I’m reading Tobias Wolff’s Vietnam War memoir In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War. It’s a welcomed addition to the well-trodden genre of the Vietnam War memoir. Wolff is unflinching and brutally honest as he recounts his time in Vietnam—a time when he’ll take desperate measures to watch the Thanksgiving Bonanza special on a color television. Wolff’s gallows humor pushes me through the most sobering moments of the book. I often find myself thinking about this book when I’m not reading it. I’ve also been reading lots of email this week from the fascinating RUSA-CODES discussion about genre fiction. –Emily  

Now tell us: what books are you squeezing in before the end of 2012?