Where do we get great ideas for what to read next?
Lincoln City Libraries recently unveiled an update to some of our website information–take a look at “Books Movies & More!” You’ll be guided to a variety of lists and other information. I refer to this feature often for great ideas, and I love how the lists connect directly to our library catalog…keep in mind, too, that our libraries offer free holds, so place a hold if you need a copy sent from one library to another for you to check out.
I’ve also recently been perusing Library Journal’s “Dusty Books” feature, part of its “Shelf Renewal” feature. One of the strengths of the public library is our collection of older books. While it’s true that we depend on new and popular titles for much of our circulation, many of our customers love finding something a little older, a little less known, and yet very rewarding.
Due to a “Dusty Books” recommendation, I just read “Learning to Fly” by April Henry, a novel about a young woman who takes on another’s identity. It gets going when Free Meeker picks up a hitchhiker, Lydia, and then drives into a dust storm on the Interstate that results in a multi-car, multi-death pileup. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, Free tries to help a badly injured young man by finding a Nike athletic bag that he’s fixated on retrieving. He dies, and Free realized that this bag contains nearly $750,000.00. Lydia dies, and Free decides to become Lydia, using the found money to support a new life. This is her opportunity to ditch her upbringing by two hippie counterculturalists and become something she’s craved–becoming a conforming member of society. What she doesn’t know is that Lydia’s psychopath husband will come after her, and so will the drug kingpin seeking all of that money.
Henry sets up great suspense. I wanted to keep reading, although, to my mind, she’s a little obvious in leaving clues and tying up loose ends. This book read quickly, which matched my reading mood, but it lacked the depth I believe it needed to sustain the character development.
I’d recommend this to people who enjoy mysteries and suspense, who would enjoy the Oregon and Portland setting, and who would be interested in Free learning about her true identity by trying to shake off her upbringing.
Readers of youth books will recognize his name as the winner of the Caldecott Medal (for the best illustrations in a children’s book for a given year) a few years ago for “So You Want to Be President?” by Judith St. George.
This memoir is written in “graphic novel” format, so it looks much like a comic book. Small describes a childhood where his parents kept him at a distance. His mother seemed often hostile or unhappy, with just a few windows into a different part of her life. His father was a physician who chose to keep critical information from Small when he developed cancer as an early teen. Art was Small’s escape.
As I’ve written before, memoir may be my favorite genre. There’s something compelling about reading a person’s view of how a portion of life shaped the rest of their life.
Parents often ask librarians for books for their children that tell about someone who overcame obstacles in order to be successful. Truth is, nearly every successful person overcomes obstacles. The lack of loving connections in Small’s life feels hopeless; this is not a happy book, except in the sense that we know that Small becomes a successful illustrator. Small points to a counselor who helped him to see the possibilities in his life.
In an afterward, Small writes how he learned more about his mother’s health situation that explained some of her personality. I would have liked for him to have included in the graphic format his coming to terms with learning more about her, and about how he came to terms with his father, as well. Those are brief text notes with photos at the end of the book.
This is considered an adult book, also of interest to teens.
I learned about this from Vicki Wood, the Youth Services Supervisor at Lincoln City Libraries. I would recommend this to my reader friends who also enjoy memoir, to people interested in children’s literature, and in general to people who enjoy coming-of-age stories.
Ariely has done a variety of research about how we believe ourselves to be making choices rationally, when research such as his shows that we follow patterns that aren’t rational at all. For instance, when deciding between available options, the availability of choices that are similar skews our decisions in ways that are predictably different from when we are offered additional distinct choices.
I was especially interested in his research about the cost of social norms, or why we’ll happily do something for free, but will resent it or not do it at all if we’re underpaid for it.
I found that I could find many examples of his results in the ways that our library customers behave, and in how we think about work in general. For example, sometimes having too many choices results in no choice or a poor choice. Many people avoid the ranges of shelves in libraries, preferring the more limited offerings of special displays. (I’d say, too, that our staff are great at displaying the items that we know our customers especially want.) I’ve observed that as staff we remember the stand-out encounter with a customer in a way that gives it more importance in our minds than the countless everyday encounters.
This book was clearly written for laypeople. As a non-expert, I found it fascinating. I appreciate that Ariely writes in a storytelling style. I found myself looking forward to spending time with this book. Certainly, I began to reflect on my own choices, wondering what hidden predictable irrationality was guiding my thinking.
I recommend it to others who appreciate research-based thinking about why we behave the ways we do.
Somehow my reading’s gotten ahead of my blogging, so here are brief descriptions of recent recreational reading, all courtesy of the public library.
I finished “The Likeness” by Tana French this morning. It’s the sequel to “In the Woods” which was a focus of an earlier blog entry. Both stories are set in contemporary Ireland, though there’s little “Irish” focus. I enjoyed “The Likeness,” once I decided that it didn’t matter that I considered the plot entirely implausible. This book follows the story of Cassie, one of the detectives in the original story. Here, Cassie goes undercover among a group of four roommates. Their fifth roommate has been murdered; the murdered woman looks exactly like Cassie, and she was carrying identification showing the name of a made-up persona that Cassie had used years before when she was working undercover. I just didn’t believe that Cassie could come across as Lexie, the fifth roommate. The roommates were also best friends, and I can’t imagine that anybody could go into that kind of situation and not be outed within minutes. I decided to set my doubts aside and just enjoy the story. French writes well, and is especially skilled at creating interesting, not stereotypical, characters. I especially enjoyed the relationships among the police. I’d recommend it to people who enjoy suspense as well as mystery.
“Hurry Down Sunshine” by Michael Greenberg is a father’s memoir of his daughter’s first descent into the world of serious mental illness. LIving in a shaky relationship with a landlord, and perpetually on the edge, Greenberg wonders often whether his lifestyle choices led to Sally’s illness. Her first “acting out” in their Greenwich Village neighborhood hits him full force, as he tried to make decisions, faces the implications of lack of health insurance, and wants so badly to do right by his daughter. It’s a strongly personal story. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a big fan of memoir, even when it’s about difficult times. Greenberg does a great job of keeping his story focused. Fairly few other characters enter. They include Sally’s stepmother, Greenberg’s brother, the landlord, and Sally’s mother. But there is still a sense of how his life must go on, even as he can’t get his mind away from his daughter. A brief postscript tells what’s happened with Sally since Greenberg began the book.
I picked up “The Bible Salesman” by Clyde Edgerton at Eiseley Branch Library one afternoon. I love Clyde Edgerton novels. This is t ypical–a southern setting, interesting characters who want so badly to do the right thing, and a quirky plot. And underneath the funniness, a fundamental respect for people. In this case, a young and naive Bible Salesman named Henry Dampier gets involved with Preston Clearwater, a man he believes works for the FBI solving car thefts. Clearwater is clearly a crook. Their adventures make for a light read, with the reader always wondering just exactly how long it’s going to take Henry to wake up and smell the coffee. I wouldn’t describe this as very often laugh-out-loud, but there’s something always a little sly about Edgerton. I picture him writing with a perpetual chuckle. This story seems unlikely and almost silly, but the way that people respond to it seems quite likely indeed.
In my reading life, I’m in the blissfully open season after I’ve read the current year’s American Library Association Notable Books list, and before the next list is announced in January. I’ve got a pretty substantial mental list of titles, but found myself foundering for a title. So I took a look at a list from Amazon of the “Best of 2008.” Indirectly, I found “In the Woods” by Tana French, because it was mentioned in the annotation for “The Likeness.” And yes, I borrowed it from the library.
LOVED it. I like a suspenseful mystery, and enjoyed the contemporary Irish setting. This story of a detective whose childhood included the unsolved disappearance of two friends and his own lack of memory regarding the incident, set a perfect stage. Bob Ryan gets called back to his hometown when a girl is found murdered, not far from where he himself was found all alone 20 years before.
The relationship between Bob and his partner, Cassie, creates much of the energy in this story. Bob narrates, and the one quibble I have with this book is the Gothic-like “If only I’d known…” statements. Well, I appreciate being told that things won’t turn out perfectly, but I do find that repetitive refrain tiresome. It is with Cassie that things go especially badly.
I confess–when I read a mystery, I don’t try to follow the clues and solve the case. I just wait for it to unfold. I sensed that French revealed the story in a way that made sense (and would have made sense to the over-achievers who expect to solve the mystery on their own), and she made use of Bob’s blind spots for the reader to see what he would not.
This was just the kind of book I was seeking–I put off plenty of housework and even a few phone calls to friends and family to keep reading.
Even if you’re not usually a mystery reader, I might recommend this if you enjoy a story about people’s relationships when they’re put in a pressure cooker. It also has a feeling of those PBS and BBC Mystery series, where the detective and his/her assistant develop that relationship that propels the story into sublimity.