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?

‘Tis the Season for Lists, Awards, and Nominations

by Emily Hamstra

I always look forward to this time of year for many reasons–spending time with family and friends over the holidays, the end of a busy semester is approaching, and of course, lists and awards galore. I was delighted by this year’s National Book Award winners. Yesterday, The New York Times released the 100 Notable Books of 2012.

As you scour your favorite lists and anticipate your favorite award winners this year, I want to remind you to add RUSA’s lists and awards to your list of lists and award to watch. The RUSA awards are given out yearly to honor outstanding librarians, stellar books, and forward thinking publishers and editors. The RUSA awards are something that I look forward to. I always find the winners inspiring and encouraging, and I learn about exciting resources through the awardees.

The nominations for the RUSA awards are due December 15th. There certainly isn’t better way to honor your colleagues, someone who inspires you, or your favorite resource than by putting forward an award nomination! Do you know of a library or librarian who has developed a resource or guide to literature to meet the unique needs of patrons? If so, consider recommending them for the Gale Cengage Learning Award for Excellence in Reference and Adult Library Services Award. The winner of this award will receive $3,000. Where do you go to find a good book review? Do you have a favorite book reviewer or book blog you follow? If so, consider nominating an outstanding book reviewer, book review medium, or an organization for the Louis Shores Award. The winner will be recognized at the RUSA Awards Ceremony at the ALA Midwinter Conference. There are too many awards to mention them all, so read about all the awards on the RUSA Awards website.  

What We’re Reading: November 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.

After spending much of October reading 2013 releases (keep your eyes out for Tracy Chevalier’s new novel about the Underground Railroad and Quakers, The Last Runaway in February 2013), I’m devoting November to reading some backlist titles I’ve been meaning to read for years. First up: The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCrackenl. McCracken herself is a librarian, as is the novel’s main character. I’m only about fifty pages in, but so far I’m thoroughly enjoying the writing and characters as much as I am the library and librarian references. –Carrie

This month, I was delighted by David Levithan’s Every Day. Each day, A wakes up in a new body, lives a new life just for that day. A lives from moment to moment, day to day, always living in the present, and never dreams of the future. For A, there is no future, just an endless string of single days in new lifes. Yet, remarkably, in one day, in one life, A falls in love. Suddenly, A sees a need to look towards the future and live beyond just the present. Levithan’s writing style is warm and embracing, his characters gentle and realistic, his world insightful and thought provoking world. Every Day was an enchanting and wonderful read. –Heather

Around 8pm last night, I opened Amanda Choplin’s The Orchardist, reading one page and then the next, and so forth until it was long past midnight. That I am almost finished with the book should be no surprise to those of you that read Emily’s review of Choplin’s tense novel on September 7. Earlier in the month, I enjoyed Jane Smiley’s biography, Charles Dickens (2002). Although I wouldn’t describe it as an up-all-night page turner, Smiley writes a highly readable, streamlined narrative of a very famous man with a kinetic work ethic. It’s part of the fantastic Penguin Lives series. –Amy

I just started reading In America by Susan Sontag. I’m only 100 pages into the novel, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. So far the book is as much about the creating of stories as it is about the story Sontag is telling, something Sontag pulls off beautifully. Maryna, the main character, is a famous Polish actress in the late 1800’s. Plagued with restlessness and fame, Maryna is desperate for change. I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds for Maryna. –Emily

What They Didn’t Tell Me in Library School

by Emily Hamstra

My favorite article in the latest RUSQ is “What they Didn’t Tell Me (or what I didn’t hear) in Library School: Perspectives from New Library Instruction Professionals.” In the article, three new librarians reflect on what they have learned in the field of library instruction outside of library school. Julie VanHoose writes, “What they didn’t tell me in library school is that students don’t care about learning to use the library.”  Bridget Farrell writes, “What they didn’t tell me in library school is that sitting down with the faculty and administration is a vital step in the process of preparing for information literacy sessions.” And, Emily Rae Aldridge writes, “What they didn’t tell me in library school is that my colleagues would be my biggest asset.” I couldn’t agree with these personal reflections more. This article made me think about what they didn’t tell me in library school about library instruction.

They didn’t tell me in library school that working on the reference desk is library instruction. In library school, they teach you about library instruction and information literacy, and they teach you about reference resources and services. I was reminded of this last week during a particularly busy chat reference session. A patron asked me for our book request form. I sent the patron a direct link to the form. The patron chimed back with a “thank you,” and asked me how to get back to the link in the future. In my rush, I had forgotten to teach the patron how find the form on her own. Good thing this patron kept me in line!

At the reference desk, we encounter a lot of patrons who have never looked up a book in our catalog before, never read a call number before, or are baffled by which database to start looking for the information they need. This is library instruction at the point of need. Moments like this are when the patrons we help are going to learn and retain the best, because they need the information we’re giving them. Library instruction in the classroom, as I encounter it, is not often at the point of need. The paper or project we’re talking about in the class might not be due for another week or two, sometimes longer. At the reference desk, a student comes searching for books and articles she needs right away. She needs to do research for paper, and the paper is no longer something far off on her calendar. I have her attention, and she wants to know how to find information on her topic.

They didn’t tell me in library school that learning starts with a question, and so does every reference desk interaction. They didn’t tell me that reference is more than a fabulous service, it’s an opportunity to teach.

What We’re Reading: October 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.

I’m reading Eleanor Henderson’s debut novel Ten Thousand Saints, which the New York Times placed on its top five fiction of 2011 list. I’ve been meaning to read it since it came out last year, but I finally picked it up as a playaway audiobook at the public library last week. Typically, I only listen to about one audiobook a month, but I was enjoying this novel so much, I picked up a print copy at the library to finish it more quickly. The story opens in a small Vermont town in the 1980’s with two best friends, Teddy and Jude, doing all they can to get high and find a way to New York City and its punk and drug scene. Henderson paints a fascinating picture of 1980’s Lower Manhattan and Vermont, and I’m utterly enchanted with it. –Carrie

This past month I was entranced by Maggie Stiefvater’s new novel The Raven Boys. Stiefvater writes with a skilled and deft hand, creating worlds and characters that draw the reader in, and The Raven Boys is Stiefvater at her finest. Filled with delightfully quirky and realistic characters, an intriguing plot revolving around the legend of an old Welsh king, and lyrical writing, The Raven Boys was truly a treat. Following The Raven Boys, I’ve delved into another wild and quirky world, that of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. It’s the story of a mysterious bookstore in the heart of San Francisco and the many secrets it hides.  I’m enjoying the quick and engaging writing, and the mystery behind the shelves–it draws a booklover in with the secrets it hints at. –Heather

I just finished Robert Harris’s The Fear Index.  This thriller follows the story of a hedge fund trading system that runs amok (i.e. develops an independent will no longer controllable by programmers).  I can’t say it’s the best book I ever read, but it was entertaining and engaging–perfect escapist reading.  Sci-fi and dystopian literature fans might enjoy this easy read that nonetheless raises interesting questions about consciousness and the role of technology. — Sarah

I’m reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken. In the book, she argues that video games can help us fix our world, or reality. She provides fixes to reality throughout the book and examples of games that improve our lives. McGonigal argues that games make us more social and creative, and games should be embraced as creative problem-solving method for the issues we face from our health to education and the environment. — Emily

What We’re Reading: September 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.

I may have finally caught election fever after the conventions the past two weeks, as I was inspired to pick up Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. Even though I remember the 2008 presidential election season vividly, it’s been both fun and fascinating to relive it. I’m particularly enjoying the parts about Iowa, as the 2008 campaign was the first one I spent living in Iowa and participating in the caucuses and the fervor leading up to them as both parties had wide open fields. I followed the campaigns closely, and Heilemann’s articles in New York Magazine were among my favorites. As captivating as current politics can be, I realize I appreciate a little distance to really understand the strategies, successes, and failures. I’m also still working my way through this year’s Booker Prize longlist in preparation for Tuesday’s short list announcement. My favorite (so far) of the longlisted titles is Deborah’s Levy’s slim, haunting novel, Swimming Home. It’s breathtaking, heartbreaking, brilliant and destined to be a modern classic–if it can only find its audience. –Carrie

This month, I have found myself immersed in the words and worlds of author Maggie Stiefvater, a fantastic author who is actually visiting my library later this month–so exciting! I’ve been reading her fantastic Shiver series. The books–Shiver, Linger, and Forever–are a compelling re-imagining of the werewolf legend. In Stiefvater’s world, werewolves are real, but they are not the slavering monsters that change at each full moon. No, these werewolves turn into true wolves when the weather turns cold. They spend their Spring and Summer season as human, and Fall and Winter as wolf. Eventually, every werewolf reaches a Spring where they do not change back into a human, and they remain a wolf until the end of their days with only the barest recollection of their human selves. The series introduces us to Sam, a werewolf approaching his final season of change, and Grace, a human who was bitten but never changed. The two meet and sparks fly, but can love last as winter approaches? Stiefvater writes with a beautiful, lyric hand that creates a wonderfully atmospheric read. She is a skilled writer, and I am looking forward to starting her new series, The Raven Boys, and immersing myself in her words and worlds once more. –Heather

This month I returned to the oversized stacks to look at pictures. Sarah Sze’s Infinite Line (Asia Society) reveals the relationship between her concept drawings and the dizzying, architectural installations that she ultimately creates. Sze’s delicate work may also be viewed in the September 2012 issue of Sculpture. Corey Keller’s exhibition catalogue, Francesca Woodman (D.A.P./SFMOMA), is a haunting collection of the young artist’s influential self-portraiture, beginning with her work as a RISD student and followed by images produced in Italy and New York before she committed suicide at age 22. Fame and accolades also arrived posthumously for Vivian Maier, a Chicago-based nanny who shot outstanding street photos during the ‘50s and ‘60s. Her curious, naturalistic photographs were collected and presented for the first time in Vivian Maier: Street Photographer (powerHouse Books). –Amy

Lately, I’ve been enjoying John Jerimiah Sullivan’s Pulphead. Fellow Chuck Klosterman fans will probably like this collection of essays on widely varying aspects of pop culture (e.g. interviewing Bunny Wailer at his home in Jamaica) and the author’s personal life (e.g. the story of his younger brother surviving a freak electrocution accident).  Sullivan is a talented storyteller and although some of the pieces are less memorable than others, it’s a fun read that (for me) has been perfect for the hectic start of the fall semester.  –Sarah

I’m on the verge of finishing Amanda Choplin’s novel The Orchardist. The Orchardist is set in Washington in the very early 20th century. Talmadge, the orchardist, lives a quiet life, until two young and very pregnant girls start stealing apples from him. As Talmadge discovers more about these girls’ troubled lives, he decides to give them refuge in his orchard, forever changing his quiet and calm life. This book is tough to put down! –Emily

Now tell us: what are you reading this month?

Imagine: extra-creative nonfiction

by Emily Hamstra

John Lehrer’s book Imagine: how creativity works didn’t slowly creep off the bestseller list, it just disappeared. First, Lehrer admitted that he “recycled work” from articles he previously published. Then, he admitted he fabricated the quotes from Bob Dylan included in Imagine. The Christian Science Monitor summarizes some of the false quotes. Imagine has been pulled from bookstore shelves, and it’s vanished from the the bestseller lists it dominated a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, at my library, the hold list on this title has grown. Whether the interest in the book relates to the controversy surrounding the book, or simply the lack of supply in bookstores, I’ll never know.

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Welcome to the Library, Freshmen!

by Amanda Peters and Emily Hamstra

For the last 20 years the University of Michigan Library has worked with the Office of New Student Programs to host presentations during Freshmen Orientation. Every Monday through Thursday, early June to early August, roughly 130 students (over 6,000 students per summer) come to the library for presentations about the library, campus computing, and student involvement and study abroad opportunities.

Last year, we updated the library presentation to make the presentation more interactive and visual. We used Comic Life to create a choose-your-own-adventure-type narrative using Prezi and i>clicker. The i>clickers are easy to use, and help to bring energy to the presentation. Using the i>clickers, students choose different options for a student character, Peggah, throughout the presentation. This allows us to gauge the interests of the students. The presentation follows Peggah through a day at the library as she researches for a project. We focus on library study spaces, services for research and technology help, and collections of particular interest to undergrads. Over time we’ve realized that this type of presentation is more useful to students at orientation than a detailed hands-on session with library resources. Students come to orientation with a lot on their minds, and our main goal with this presentation is to let students know that the library is open and available to them. Continue reading

What We’re Reading: August 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.

I finished Misfit, the new historical novel by Adam Braver, this week. It imagines the life of Marilyn Monroe through snippets at various times. The novel’s publication is timely, as next week marks the fiftieth anniversary of her death. I’m a huge fan of novels featuring real people, and Braver provides some fascinating possibilities into the inner workings of a personality that still haunts pop culture. The Booker Prize longlist was announced last week, and I’ve just started to make my way through the twelve titles (The six-title shortlist will be announced on September 11 and the winner will be crowned on October 16.) Only three titles are currently available in the United States, so while I’m waiting on the other nine to come across the ocean to me, I’m enjoying Jeet Thayil’s debut novel, Narcopolis. Thayil is a poet, and his prose is simply luminous. The story takes place in a 1970’s Bombay opium den and brothel. The novel itself opens with a seven-page period-free narration. It’s intense, but so far I’m absolutely fascinated. —Carrie

My reading this month has been eclectic! I was caught up in the excitement and court intrigue of Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, a novel that revisits the world of Graceling and follows the reign of young queen Bitterblue as she tried to heal her kingdom after the monstrous tyranny of her father. Drama by Raina Telgemeier was a delightfully funny graphic novel, chronicling the trials and tribulations of a middle-school drama club. May B. by Caroline Starr Rose was a haunting novel-in-verse about a young pioneer girl stranded alone in a sod house in the middle of nowhere during a horrible Kanas snowstorm and her fight for survival.  Lastly, the supernatural thrills of Legacy by Molly Cochran held me spellbound as it wove a tale of modern day witchcraft in a small Massachusetts town.— Heather

I’m trying to read Kevin Wilson’s novel, The Family Fang, because I was quite fond of the characters he created in his story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. The novel tells the tale of two talented performance artists and their poorly-adjusted adult children, a mature family thrown together under one roof because of the recession. Wilson writes each sentence with an energy and style that make me wish that I cared about these quirky people and their situation, but I don’t. It’s like being made to watch The Royal Tenenbaums, again, though it annoyed you the first three times. Okay, maybe it’s not as bad as that. –Amy

I’ve been busy with moving to Philadelphia and starting a new job, but lately I’ve been enjoying Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus while waiting in line at the DMV and commuting on the train. Marcus’ book is a really fun look at the Riot Grrl movement and music scenes across the US during the late 80s-early 90s. Although the book is cheesy at times, I appreciate that Marcus balances telling interesting stories about the bands with asking bigger questions about feminism and politics. –Sarah

I finished Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves last night. Page one begins with a jarring murder scene. The rest of the book is the slow and meditative story of the intertwined lives of the people in a town on the edge of a Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota where the murders took place. The book’s multiple narrators are all connected by and haunted by the murders, decades later. It’s a story of deep injustices, and for my favorite narrator, Evelina, a coming of age story. –Emily

Now tell us: what are you reading this week?

Olympic Resources

by Emily Hamstra

I can’t get enough of the Olympic Games. Whether you love the Olympics or are already growing weary of the coverage, we all have patrons who will be asking for resources related to the Olympics. I pulled together some resources related to the Olympic Games to help as you put together displays, and answer readers’ advisory and reference questions.

Online resources:

The Olympic Studies Centre has a library of resources related to rules of the Olympic Games, history of the Olympic Games, champion records, and funding opportunities for those interested in Olympic studies, to name a few.

The International Olympic Committee Library (IOC Library) contains Olympic publications. Search for your favorite sport to read about the events at the London Games brochures, and to see brochures from Olympic games of the past.

The LA84 Foundation has made available an interesting collection of journals, bulletins, oral histories with Olympic athletes, and results from Olympic games.

If you’re interested in images, the Guardian has collected some photos of the Opening Ceremonies from 1924-2008. Library as Incubator has a post about images from past Olympic games.

If your library has a subscription to the database SPORTDiscus, search there for more comprehensive coverage of scholarly journals and trade publications related to sports, kinesiology, and fitness.

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