What are your neighbors reading?

The Heavy Hitters
It’s that time of year again when everyone is making lists and I feel I must join in with the Library’s List of Most Checked Out Books of 2008.    I’ll post the fiction this week and get to the non-fiction next week. I don’t think you’ll find too many surprises - these are all bestselling authors and blockbuster books which we have multiple copies of.

  1. 7th Heaven by James Patterson7th Heaven by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
  2. The Quickie : A Novel byJames Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
  3. You’ve Been Warned by James Patterson and Howard Roughan
  4. T is For Trespass by Sue Grafton
  5. Amazing Grace by Danielle Steel
  6. The Darkest Evening of the year by Dean Koontz
  7. Pandora’s Daughter by Iris Johansen
  8. Double Cross by James Patterson.
  9. Duma Key by by Stephen King
  10. The Appeal by John Grisham

The Lesser Known Works
Just out of curiosity, I filtered my most-checked-out list for books that we only have one copy of at the Main Library, and came up with interesting results.  Some of these authors have only written one or two books, so check them out, you just might find a new favorite:

  1. A Promise to Remember by Kathryn Cushman. When a car accident kills two teens from opposite sides of the tracks, the aftermath threatens to tear a community apart.
  2. Virgin River by Robyn Carr. When recently widowed Melinda Monroe sees an ad for a midwife-nurse practitioner, she quickly decides that the remote mountain town of Virgin River might be the perfect place to escape her heartache.
  3. Colorado Pickup Man by Jacquie Greenfield.  Burdened with guilt and debt after the death of her father, Debra Walker blames herself, sells her father’s ranch and moves to the city. She falls in love with J.D. while searching for the truth behind her father’s suspicious death.
  4. The McKettrick Way by Linda Lael Miller.  Another novel in the “McKettrick Cowboy” series. Meg McKettrick longs for a baby—husband optional. Perfect father material is gorgeous Brad O’Ballivan, old flame and new owner of his family’s ranch in Stone Creek.
  5. Chillwater Cove by Thomas LakemanThe Book of Old Houses by Sarah Graves.  In her 11th “Home Repair Is Homicide” mystery, Jacobia “Jake” Tiptree  finds an old book listing the previous owners of her 1823 home. Strangely, the list, which was dated and appeared to be written in blood, includes Jake’s name.
  6. Chillwater Cove by Thomas Lakeman. While shutting down a Philadelphia child pornography and slavery racket, FBI agent Peggy Weaver discovers among the perpetrators’ possessions photos of her childhood friend, Samantha, who was kidnapped when she and Peggy were ten years old.

What the Experts Say
If you want to check out what the experts say are the best books of the year, try these:

1 commentDecember 18th, 2008

Magic for grown-ups

I have a confession.  I love Harry Potter and I’ve read all of the books at least once and some of them more than once.  I never wanted the story to end, perhaps because they reminded so much of the books I loved as a child where ordinary people stumble upon magic - like the children in Edward Eager’s Half Magic or C.S. Lewis’ children finding Narnia at the back of the wardrobe.  I have wished many times that someone would write grown-up books about witches and wizards in the modern world, so imagine my delight when I found that some wonderful authors have made my wishes come true!

Girl's Guide to WitchcraftMindy Klasky’s chick-lit series features Jane Madison, a sassy librarian heroine (Yes! A librarian!) , who discovers a treasure trove of magic books in  her basement that ignite her inner witchy powers.  Along with them she inherits a most unusual familiar and a dreamy Warder who is there to teach and protect, not woo.  These books have the usual chick-lit elements of a single girl in the city with wacky friends, workplace perils and a love life gone awry mixed in with a healthy dose of magic. The first book in the series is Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft (a tongue in cheek homage to the original chick-lit novel, A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing.)  If you like the Bridget Jones novels, The Nanny Diaries or The Devil Wears Prada, then these books are for you.

Storm Front by Jim ButcherFor the darker side of magic, look to Jim Butcher’s series The Dresden Files.   These books feature Chicago wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden doing battle with various nefarious paranormal elements - evil sorcerors, vampires, werewolves, demons, fallen angels, faerie Queens and much, much more. Like all good series, Harry’s past is revealed bit by bit and he begins to feel like an old friend.  I’m completely hooked on this series which begins with Storm Front and now has a total of ten books and a novella.  I’ve read the first seven and I’m impatiently waiting on book number eight. I keep telling myself that I should pace myself and read other books in between Dresden File novels, but my mind keeps turning back to Harry and wondering what will happen next.

Librarians love to categorize things, but I find The Dresden Files don’t fit neatly into any one category.  There’s the aspect of magic in the modern world (which librarians would call a “Contemporary Urban Fantasy”) but they also have a dark, crime noir mystery aspect to them as Harry assists the Chicago Police Department’s Special Investigation unit with their more bizarre cases.  Arguably, the monsters he battles could classify them as horror novels, but there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor in them, too.   As a library, we chose not to pigeonhole them as mystery, sci-fi or horror and simply let them reside in the general fiction.  If you like writers like Tanya Huff, Charlaine Harris or Laurel K. Hamilton, you’ll probably like Butcher’s books as well.

2 commentsDecember 3rd, 2008

Odds and Ends

New kids computers!

Early Literacy WorkstationHave you seen our new AWE Learning Stations?  If you’re the parent or caregiver of a preschooler or early elementary child I highly recommend you take a look at them. These computers have a fun, captivating interface that encourage children to explore on their own and they come packed with educational software programs spanning seven curricular areas. The computers are targeted for children from toddlers through the second grade.

We purchased four of them for the Main Library in Martinsville and the Monrovia branch with a Library Services and Technology Act grant,  but I just found out that we have a received another grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Indiana State Library for three more units that we’ll install at the Brooklyn and Northeast branches.  Kids love these computers because they are made for little ones to explore on their own. They are bright and colorful and make cool sounds too!

Get rid of pesky overdue fines while doing something good for the community

If you’re like most people, you probably have some overdue fines on your account. Don’t worry, it happens to everyone sometime (even librarians!). This December, however, you can do something about it.  Food for Fines allows you to take $1 in overdue fines off your account for every canned or non-perishable food item you bring in and then we’ll donate the food to a local food pantry.  Please note that Food for Fines will only reduce your overdue fines and doesn’t apply to lost or damaged materials or collection agency fees.

David Ross Retirement Reception

Many of you already know that David is retiring at the end of December.  He has been the Library’s  Director for sixteen years and has wrought so many positive changes in our library system during his tenure.  Please come out to honor him on Sunday, December 7th between 2 and 4 p.m.  The Friends of the Library are sponsoring the reception.

2 commentsDecember 1st, 2008

Brief Book Reviews

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and I really have no excuse but to say that I’ve been sort of busy. However, I promise to do better in the future.

I’ve been saving up these reviews for a while - some of these books are new or newish, some are not so new.

Book Cover - People of the BookPeople of the Book by Geraldine Brooks was just as wonderful as I hoped it would be. It shifts back and forth from a present day mystery to the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah, an ancient Jewish text. Each historical period is one when Jews were persecuted and shows both the humanity and brutality of people of all religions. It is a very moving story, and it has the added bonus of being a book about a book which is something I always love.

Book Cover - When You Are Engulfed in FlamesDavid Sedaris’ latest When You Are Engulfed in Flames was just as much fun as his earlier works and had me alternately laughing and crying on the same page (sometimes within the same sentence). These are short stories, many of them based around his own life, family and relationship with his longtime partner Hugh, but perhaps with some exaggeration thrown in. This book is R rated, and can be a little shocking sometimes.  For an added treat, listen to the audiobook - David Sedaris narrates it himself. If you like Sedaris’ style, you might also like Candyfreak, Steve Almond’s part memoir, part history of the candy bar.

Book Cover - A Girl Named ZippyThe PG-13 version of David Sedaris could be Haven Kimmel’s A Girl Named Zippy.  Kimmel writes stories about her eccentric childhood in Mooreland, Indiana (near New Castle). She has the same wry humor, but she is gentler than Sedaris and less apt to shock. Her droll parents are particularly funny. In many ways, she reminds me of another Indiana author, Jean Shepherd, who is famous for the movie The Christmas Story.

Book Cover - Bad DirtBad Dirt is the latest installment of Annie Proulx’s short stories about Wyoming and her lush prose and descriptive writing are as delightful as ever. The characters are colorful like the men in the beard growing contest, or the yuppie couple who seeks the simpler life on Wyoming’s windswept plains only to find they never fit in; and have wonderful names like Fiesta Punch, the lady rancher. Proulx is probably best known as the author of the short story that the movie Brokeback Mountain was based on (that story can be found in her first collection of Wyoming stories Close Range), but it’s her book The Shipping News that ranks as one of my all time favorites.

2 commentsNovember 4th, 2008

Whew! What a month!

I can’t believe it’s July already, and I really don’t know where June went, but it was quite a month.

We kicked off Summer Reading at the beginning of June, and for the first time since I’ve been here, we have an adult summer reading program. It’s Summer Reading Bingo, and you cross off a square on your bingo card by reading a book and writing a mini-review. Complete your first square and earn a bookmark, complete a bingo and earn a library desk clock. Each mini-review also earns you an entry for the end of summer raffle and you can earn up to 24 raffle entries if you do a ‘coverall’ of your bingo card. Sounds easy, right? The catch is that you might have to read something outside your normal comfort zone - like a romance novel, western, true crime or a classic. We’ve had a lot of fun plotting our reading strategies and finding books we may not normally read. The challenge of it also pulled me out of my reading slump. There’s still time if you want to play along. Pick up your bingo card today at any library location.

The next thing that kept us busy was of course, the flood. Our sump pump at the lower level entrance failed to keep up with the rainfall and the drains were partially clogged, so the area outside the entrance flooded to about three feet deep. Fortunately the glass door held most of the water back, but a lot of it made it in to soak the carpeting and drywall in the Children’s Department. It wasn’t deep enough to damage the books on the shelves, but we had to move many of them so the carpet and walls could dry as well as knock some holes in the walls. It took several days before we could get the drying equipment out of the way and everything put back together again, but we’re back and good as new.

We were lucky that we had flood insurance and I know many of our patrons didn’t. If you were flooded and you had library books that were lost or damaged as a result of it, please let us know immediately so we can submit the information to our insurance company and take them off your record. I know library books are probably the last thing on a person’s mind when all of their belongings are floating downstream and we want to help out our flooded patrons, but we won’t know unless you tell us.

The final big thing this month is the imminent completion of the new Monrovia branch library. It’s beautiful and I can’t wait for everyone to see it! The construction is mostly complete except for a few odds and ends, like a light fixture that was overlooked and delays on the circulation desk construction. Now it’s our turn to get to work - there’s phone systems to be installed, internet connections to be set up, furniture deliveries to be coordinated, interior signage, landscaping and oh yes, books! Based on our calculations, we can pack about 32,000 books in there if we stuff the place completely. We want room to grow and add new materials as time goes by, so we’ll start out with about 16,000. We plan on a grand opening in early September, so watch this space as well as the newspaper for more information.

1 commentJuly 15th, 2008

In a Slump

Have you ever had one of those times where you just can’t find anything to read? You browse the shelves and nothing looks appealing? I’m in that sort of slump right now. I’ve tried all my usual tricks like asking myself what book from the past sticks out in my mind and trying to find a read-alike but it’s just not working. I always like books about rare and ancient books, so I placed a hold on Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, but it’s checked out. The review in Publisher’s Weekly sounds promising:
People of the Book cover

Late one night in the city of Sydney, Hanna Heath, a rare book conservator, gets a phone call. The Sarajevo Haggadah, which disappeared during the siege in 1992, has been found, and Hanna has been invited by the U.N. to report on its condition. In the present, we follow the resolutely independent Hanna through her thrilling first encounter with the beautifully illustrated codex and her discovery of the tiny signs—a white hair, an insect wing, missing clasps, a drop of salt, a wine stain—that will help her to discover its provenance. Along with the book she also meets its savior, a Muslim librarian named Karaman. In the other strand of the narrative we learn, moving backward through time, how the codex came to be lost and found, and made.

Devilish book coverIn the meantime, I picked up a Young Adult novel, Devilish by Maureen Johnson, that has some witty observations of a Catholic  high school but it won’t last me very long. It has many of the usual teen themes - popularity, fitting in, finding yourself and having your best friend sell her soul to the devil to achieve it all. OK, maybe that last one isn’t quite so common, but it makes this book unique.

Does anyone out there have any suggestions? Something you’ve read lately and loved? Or maybe an old favorite that I’m missing? A broccoli book? E-mail me, please, or post a comment - I’m desperate!

Add commentMay 24th, 2008

Library Top Ten List

When I have conversations with non-library people about the Library, it dawns on me that things I take for granted about our funding and organization are not general knowledge to everyone. So, here’s my top 10 list of things I wish people knew about the Morgan County Public Library.

  1. The main library in Martinsville is not our only location. There are five other branches throughout the county at Eminence, Brooklyn, Monrovia, Morgantown and Waverly.
  2. The Main Library in Martinsville and the NorthEast Branch in Waverly are open 7 days per week to serve you.
  3. The Mooresville Public Library is not part of our system, but serves Brown Township residents only.
  4. It doesn’t cost anything to use the library (unless you don’t return things when you’re supposed to, or damage them.)
  5. Most of our operating budget comes from your tax dollars - nearly half comes from property taxes, so when your property taxes go down, so does our budget.
  6. We do a LOT with the money we get and have one of the lowest per capita expenditure rates in the state - we rank 221 out of 239.
  7. We rely heavily on money and material donations (hint, hint).
  8. We have a lot more than just books! - magazines, newspapers, movies, computers with internet access, databases, free programs for all ages and help with finding information are just a few of the things we offer.
  9. You need to bring your library card or photo ID with you when you come to the library.
  10. If we don’t have what you’re looking for, we can probably borrow it from another library at little or no cost to you.

Add commentMay 9th, 2008

My Trip to India

No, I didn’t really travel to India, but I find my reading sometimes takes on a theme and it is rarely a conscious decision on my part. One summer I found that I kept picking up books about Mormons or fundamentalist Mormon sects. Another time the subject was fish or fishing. Lately, however, it seems my subconscious keeps returning to India.

In hindsight, I suppose it started when I rented the movie Bride and Prejudice, which is a modern Bollywood retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Shortly after that, a friend sent me this video from Youtube which is politically incorrect, slightly inappropriate and has no literary ties, but it made me laugh like the dickens. Book Cover - The Hindi Bindi ClubAround the same time, a hold that I placed several months ago on Monica Pradhan’s The Hindi Bindi Club arrived unexpectedly (the book once was lost but now is found). Hindi Bindi tells the story of three very different women who immigrated from India to the United States and of their grown up daughters who were born and raised here. Each is working through their own issues of love, identity and family values. This is a wonderful book and would appeal to chick-lit fans, but Pradhan also manages to weave Indian culture and history seamlessly into every page while also highlighting the generational and cultural clashes between women raised in such different societies. Food plays a central role in their celebrations and encounters with each other and therefore each chapter ends with at least one recipe. (I’ve made a few of them and they’re excellent!) This book gave me wonderful insight into some of the historical events that have led up to the present day tensions between Pakistan and India and between Muslims and Hindus while still telling a warm and inviting story.

I usually have an audio book in my car, as well as having a print book at home and I frequently choose what I call a “broccoli book” for my audio books. (By “broccoli book” I mean that it is something I feel I ought to read, or that will improve me somehow, much like your mother telling you that eating broccoli will put color in your cheeks and that it’s full ofBook Cover - The Life of Pi vitamins.) In this instance, I’ve been meaning to read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi since it came out in 2003, but somehow it never made it to the top of my queue until I noticed the library has a copy on CD. It tells the story of an Indian boy named Piscine Molitor Patel or Pi. His father runs the zoo in Pondicherry and he decides to move the family to Canada due to the Indian political climate. The animals are sold off to zoos around the world, and the family boards a freighter that is also transporting some of the animals to Canada. The ship sinks unexpectedly and Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat with some unexpected four-legged companions for 227 days. On the surface it is a tale of survival, but it is also an amazing exploration of religion and spirituality and an allegory of the human condition. I can’t believe I waited this long to read it! (I frequently say this about ‘broccoli books.’) Pi focuses less on Indian culture or history, and more on religion, acceptance and the power of storytelling. I highly recommend this book.

I think I’ve left India for now and headed for outer space temporarily, but I just might go back when The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan by Yasmin Khan comes in.

Add commentApril 14th, 2008

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

Our budget is so tight that we have to weigh every purchase decision very carefully and it’s always agonizing. Just because an item is well reviewed or we feel it will fill a niche doesn’t always mean that our customers will use it or that it lives up to its hype. Fortunately, I have made one purchase recently that I’m really grateful for. Actually, it’s two items but they came bundled together: the Testing and Education Resource Center and Legal Forms Online. What are these wondrous things? Why, online databases, of course! One of which is loaded with practice tests for nearly every exam our patrons want to take as well as college and financial aid information and the other a very comprehensive listing of Indiana legal forms. These two databases join our stable of online resources that include HeritageQuest for genealogy research, Reference USA for business information and NoveList for fiction.

Why am I so excited about these two new ones? First, for years the County Clerk’s office has been sending people to the library for their legal needs and while we sincerely appreciate their vote of confidence, we a) don’t have lawyers on our staff and b) contrary to popular belief we don’t have a magic book of Indiana Legal forms lying around. Until now, that is. I have found more forms on this database than I ever dreamed of: emancipation of minors; name change forms; power of attorney, mechanic’s liens and living wills. The best part? The forms are downloadable in Microsoft Word format so that patrons can modify them to suit their needs. Better still, all you need is a library card and a computer and if you don’t happen to have a computer, we happen to have several that you can use.

Probably the only thing that is requested more often than legal forms are materials to study for the GED and ASVAB. We simply can’t keep enough books on the shelves for these two tests and are constantly re-ordering them. For that reason, I subscribed to the Testing and Education Resource Center because one of its features is a section of over fifty practice tests like the GED, SAT, NCLEX and law enforcement exams. What really blew me away, however, was when I found that there is far, far more to this database than those practice tests. You can download e-books to help you study. You can research colleges, careers, financial aid and scholarships. You can do side by side comparisons of tuition and expected financial aid. This database is such an invaluable tool for students and their families that I just want to shout about it from the rooftops. Again, this database is free for anyone with a library card and library cards are free for residents of Morgan County.

To access either of these databases, go to our home page, morg.lib.in.us and look under the “What’s New at Your Library” section for the database you want. Granted, you may not think they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, but they make my work day so much easier, and they offer incredible convenience to people who can’t make it in to the library. Happy information gathering!

1 commentMarch 12th, 2008

Book Review - Gentlemen of the Road

Gentlemen of the Road book coverSynopsis: This short, swashbuckling novel is the most recent work by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon. It is set in the Caucasus Mountains in the 10th century and is the story of two unlikely Jewish friends: a pale, skinny, black-clad Frankish physician named Zelikman; and a giant of a man and former soldier from Absynnia named Amram. ( I can’t help but picture Tom Petty and Michael Clark Duncan in these roles.) Zelikman and Amram are ‘gentlemen of the road’, a polite way of saying con artists, horse thieves, mercenaries and drifters. Their adventure begins when they encounter Filaq, the adolescent and unpleasant son of the recently murdered Bek of Khazaria. Prince Filaq is determined to return home to avenge his family’s death, and Amram & Zelikman begrudgingly join him in his losing cause. Swordplay, rescues, deception and daring feats ensue.

My thoughts: First, a disclaimer - I’m an unabashed Chabon fan, so perhaps I’m not the most unbiased reviewer around. That being said, I found this book to be completely delightful. It’s a classic, swashbuckling adventure story - think of Arabian Nights or H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines - but with the added twist of Chabon’s rapier wit and just a touch of Jewish angst. To immerse you in the idea of a classic adventure, Chabon employs a slightly anachronistic, highly stylized way of writing. Even the chapter titles reflect this prose style: “On anxieties arising from the impermissibility, however unreasonable, of an elephant’s rounding out a prayer quorum” or “On the melancholy duty of soldiers to contend with messes left by kings”. The style takes a little getting to used to at first, but it genuinely adds to the story. This latest foray into a highly stylized genre novel seems to be Chabon’s latest thing which began with his crime noir The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and now continues with an adventure story. If you like Chabon’s previous works, this one is a must read.

Red Flags: There is some sword-fighting type violence, some implied sex and many highly stylized insults usually referring to one’s lack of manhood or the lack of virtue of one’s ancestors.

Read-alikes: King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard, The Last Cavalier by Alexander Dumas, Indiana Jones novels (various authors).

Add commentFebruary 26th, 2008

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