Our new featured Reviewer for October 2019 is Garren H.
Garren has worked for Lincoln City Libraries since the Fall of 2018, as a Youth Services Librarian at the downtown Bennett Martin Public Library. Reading and books have long been an important part of his life, as he indicates in his answers to our following profile questions:
Would you care to share any personal info with our readers — such as where you grew up, what you read as a child, etc.?
I mostly grew up in rural North Dakota where my two great loves were books and outdoor adventuring. I remember reading Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott while camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and reading Huckleberry Finn while barefoot in the woods along the Missouri River which were right past my back yard.
School libraries were different in the 1980s. You tended to have books for kids in elementary school and then adult books. There wasn’t much of what we’d call middle grade or young adult literature today. This means I was reading full collections of authors like Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe in junior high. During the summer, I would bike out on dirt roads to meet the bookmobile every possible time. My parents tell the story that when I got my driver’s license at 16, the first thing out of my mouth was, “Now I can go to the library whenever I want!”
How long have you been an active reader, and were there any particular books or authors or other people that “made you a reader”? Has there been any book or author that “changed your life” or strongly influenced you?
The other story my parents tell is that I went straight to the bookshelves as a preschooler when we’d visit other people’s houses. Books over toys. In elementary school, I read and re-read our decades old set of Childcraft encyclopedias to learn about the world. I also had a set of science encyclopedias, but I remember the day my parents threw away the volumes that mentioned “millions of years” because we were a family that believed the whole universe was about six thousand years old. I looked into that more deeply in college and came to accept the scientific consensus, largely thanks to The Age of the Earth by G. Brent Dalrymple, which took the time to lay out the reasons we know our planet is much older.
In my early 30s, I kept a year-long reading resolution to not read books by white writers. Since I usually read about 100 books a year and had mostly read white authors, this meant I got to know a whole bunch of new authors across different genres and topics. It was an eye-opening experience. My understanding of racism was transformed from something extreme that only terrible people do, to something pervasive that all of us are socialized into. I believe that breaking out of white-dominated reading patterns is a vital part of saving our nation—and respecting our neighbors—so this has become part of my mission as a librarian.
Another reading resolution I kept was to read 1,000 picture books in a year. This is one way the staff at Bennett Martin library got to know me before I started working here. I was the guy who dropped off a big stack and picked up a new one each week as I worked my way through the same picture book shelves I now oversee as children’s librarian. At the time, I was volunteering at People’s City Mission by giving a family storytime on Sunday afternoons, so I had opportunity to try out many of these books with kids.
How important are books and reading to you, currently?
Pretty darn important! I need information on home improvement, music, cooking, and whatever else I’m into right now. I also love good stories, especially historical fiction, contemporary realistic fiction, and science fiction. (Past, present, and future!) I also read fantasy and romance, but rarely any mysteries. I read lots of kid and teen books for some mix of personal pleasure and professional knowledge.
How do you select what books to read next? What formats do you prefer (book, ebook, audiobook, etc.)?
Cool covers. I’m *always* up for trying something with an amazing cover. I’m also susceptible to social media hype about new releases. I completely cleared out my to-be-read pile a few years ago, so I’m free to pick whatever I want when I need a new book. It’s very convenient to be working in a library!
As far as format, I’m usually reading through one paper book and one audiobook at a time. The audiobook is for driving, washing dishes, and special projects around the house. I use the library’s physical and digital books so much that I don’t feel the need to own many books personally, maybe two dozen or so.
What do you enjoy about writing book reviews/recommendations?
I write them in hopes that other people will try some books that I think more people should try. I’m not usually thrilled with doing the actual writing. I strive to include enough information so that people who might like book will want to try it, and those who won’t will skip it.
Books are like food. We have our comfort zones that we feel safe ordering, but it can be rewarding to take a chance and try new things. We might find new instant favorites. We might find our appreciation broadening, which opens up all kinds of great new experiences.
My big recommendation is to try more variety in your reading, but also feel okay with stopping if you’re not connecting with the book. This makes exploration less risky because you won’t stall out. There’s so much out there, so go start that next book!
What is your history with the Lincoln City Libraries – how long have you been a customer, and how long have you worked for LCL? Which locations?
I’ve been a customer for over 15 years, since I moved to Lincoln after getting my degree in Linguistics (with a Latin focus) at Iowa State University. I did summer outreach work for LCL a few summers back, and have been a librarian here at Bennett Martin since Fall 2018. For two years before that, I commuted an hour each way to Valley, Nebraska as their youth librarian, then as their library director. So much audiobook time! Before all that, I led the effort to set up a library in our county jail. You’ll have a slightly better time if you get arrested in Lincoln now (you’re welcome).
Are there any interesting book- or reading-related stories or bits of trivia in your past that you’d like to share with our readers?
During my 7th grade reading class, one of my parents objected to the assigned reading and successfully ran for school board in Bismarck, North Dakota on a “ban the books” platform. I was sent to a private school that lacked a library. Most of the challenged books stayed on public school shelves. Today, I believe that books can be inappropriately placed in youth collections, but it’s important that youth collection include some of the things my parent objected to: age-appropriate information about puberty, positive portrayals of same-sex relationships, etc.
Do you have a favorite literary-related website you like to visit or that you’d like to recommend?
This list contains a number of sites I use: https://diversebooks.org/resources/where-to-find-diverse-books/
https://www.commonsensemedia.org can be a useful tool when evaluating books (and other media) for content appropriateness, whatever that means for your situation.
If there was only one author you could convince people to read, that author would be:
Jacqueline Woodson. She’s best known for her memoir-in-verse for young people, Brown Girl Dreaming. This book won the National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and a Newbery honor. The thing I found most memorable is that she was scolded as a child for picking out books that were “too young” and for reading the same books repeatedly. Yet here she is today: a best-selling and award-winning author who was appointed National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2018-2019.
Woodson’s other books are well worth a look. Her prose books are quite a bit shorter than average for age level, whether she’s writing for kids, teens, or adults. She writes with a fullness that doesn’t require a long string of events to be evocative reads, reminiscent of Patricia MacLachlan’s style. She often writes about being a kid or teen in tough situations and standing up for one’s self or another. She writes with care about inter-racial partnerships, adoption, and women loving women. She has a way to immerse readers in a place and time that may not be their own experience but will feel familiar.
A select bibliography of Woodson’s works:
The House You Pass on the Way
If You Come Softly
Beneath a Meth Moon
Hush (a National Book Award finalist)
Miracle’s Boys (a Coretta Scott King Award winner)
From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun (a Coretta Scott King Award honor)
The Day You Begin
Show Way (a Newbery Honor)
The Other Side
Each Kindness (a Charlotte Zolotow winner and Coretta Scott King honor)
This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration
You can find more about Jacqueline Woodson at her website https://www.jacquelinewoodson.com.
Booktalks Presented by Garren H.:
Sinclair Lewis: A Library BooksTalk (May 2019) [SLIDESHOW] Speculative Fiction (March 2022) [SLIDESHOW] Videos Garren H. participated in:
Kids Summer Reading Challenge 2020: Office Supplies Contraptions (July 2020)
Posted to the BookGuide pages in October 2019 | Last updated in March 2022