24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: September 2018

Abby Reads: The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life by Andy Miller
Harper Perenniel, 2014, 352 pages
Nonfiction

When he realized he had effectively stopped reading for pleasure, Andy Miller knew he had to do something about it. He began a short list of novels he’d always wanted to read, from classics to popular fiction, and started in on it. Before long, he’d caught the reading bug again and added to his list, deeming it 20910034the List of Betterment. In The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life, Andy Miller discusses his journey through literature, espousing his feelings on classics such as Moby Dick and War and Peace alongside his disdain for The Da Vinci Code and Middlemarch.

The Year of Reading Dangerously is, sadly, poorly titled. Miller’s stories about books are hardly tales of how they saved his life and he refrains from visiting each of the fifty-two books promised in the title. While the discussion of how Miller came to read the books featured is engaging enough, Miller doesn’t deliver on the title, if that’s what you’re looking for.

But moving on. In terms of the actual content of the book, it’s decidedly British. Full of dry humor, Miller’s anecdotes are sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes depreciative of the material he reads. That he’s able to maintain the humor throughout the book — which is fairly lengthy, given how he chooses to go about the topic — is impressive. Both in-text and in footnotes, Miller injects dry, and often sarcastic humor throughout, both at his own expense and at the expense of the books he reads. While I’m not one to usually pick up on humor in books — to give you a sense of how bad it is, I really didn’t get The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — it was well-placed and written here, allowing even me to laugh at passages.

Speaking of the footnotes, they did become a bit much. Though some of them certainly add to the book as a whole, many of them felt egregious and superfluous. Plus, two chapters themselves felt like footnotes. The first of these is a fan letter to an author Miller admires. He admits in this chapter that, were he the editor of the book, he would cut it. It’s long and rambling and doesn’t seem to connect well with the rest of the material and I have to say I agree that it didn’t belong in this work. Another chapter — the last — is an epilogue about Miller’s relationship with Douglas Adams and his most famous work, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. While the content of this chapter was a lovely tribute to Adams and his novel, it ultimately felt out of place and far more specific than all the other sections of the book.

Overall, reading about books with which you’re already familiar is more fun — at least, this was what I found in The Year of Reading Dangerously. Chapters about books I hadn’t read myself felt tedious and long, as I couldn’t pick up on much of what Miller described. Although he does a decent job at providing what information the reader needs to get through those chapters where they haven’t read that book, there still seems to be something missing that can only be gained by reading the original material.

The Year of Reading Dangerously might not deliver on its title, but it’s a reasonably fun read for book-lovers who will see themselves reflected in Miller’s descriptions of himself, even as he laments the challenges of reading. Though it’s a bit on the long side, it generally reads quickly and might give you some inspiration to pick up a book that’s been hanging over your head for years or avoid ones you thought you’d always want to get your hands on.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Pro Talk: How to Find a Book You’ve Forgotten: Tips from a Librarian

I like my job as a librarian and there are a few tasks I especially love. One of them is readers’ advisory. The other, a sort of branch of readers’ advisory, is when patrons come to me and say: “There was this book I read several years ago. I don’t know the title, and I only know a little bit about it. Help?” And it’s a more common problem than you might think. One of my favorite things is finding the book in question and watching the joy and amazement come over the reader’s face. It’s at this point that, when they express their surprise that I found the book, I note that I didn’t go to library school for nothing. (Which then leads into something like, “Librarians have to get a master’s degree?” and there’s a whole thing about it—but I digress.) If you want to know a bit about how the magic happens, read on to find out how to find a book you’ve forgotten.

woman using laptop

GET HELP

There are a number of strategies when it comes to how to find a book you’ve forgotten. Plenty of folks enjoy the rush as much as I do and there are online resources that will join you in your quest. Goodreads’s “What’s the Name of That Book???” group is an active and popular place to throw your enigma to the pros. You can also try Facebook’s Library Think Tank, which is a general gathering place for librarians and library staff, but accepts all library lovers and will happily pounce on such a question. Then, there’s “What’s That Book Called?” on Reddit. Finally, you could also join the top tier of Book Riot Insidersand ask on the Insiders-only forum.

If you’re intent on figuring out how to find a book you’ve forgotten yourself, though, try these strategies.

WORLDCAT

WorldCat bills itself as “the world’s largest library catalog.” Essentially, libraries give access to their catalogs to WorldCat, which then makes it searchable for anyone. Access and searching is free, and it can helpfully let you know if the book you’re seeking is available at a library local to you. With WorldCat, depending on the details you know about your book, the basic search might be enough. Chances are, this will yield too many results. This is where the filters come in handy.

If you know for sure you read the book a particular year, consider filtering out all books after that year. When someone tells me they know the book was published in, say, 2008, I usually put a buffer around it. Frequently, readers are totally sure about a thing that isn’t actually accurate. It’s easier to rule things out than imagine things into existence, so add a couple of years on either side for better searching. You can also select “Print book” to rule out other formats, since that’s most likely what you’re looking for. Use the filters to narrow your search as much as you can, but try to keep a buffer when possible.

When the filters don’t get the job done, try switching up your keywords. A decent thesaurus can help you out with that, though often, you’re better off trying to come up with your own. Book cataloging, for the most part, is done by humans—while machine learning is all well and good, it can never exactly match human thinking patterns. Related keywords rather than exact synonyms sometimes yield a better result, so even if something seems a little off the wall, give it a shot.

Another fun trick with WorldCat is using subject headings. Especially if someone has already suggested a title that isn’t your book but has similar themes or concepts, this can be a great way to narrow your search. Go to the page for the suggested title, and under the “Subjects” category, find the topic that makes the most sense for your forgotten book and click the link. This will provide you with a new search based around that subject heading. From there, you can go back and narrow again using the filters.

Essentially, your goal when searching is to boil the book down to its most essential self. If you can derive any kind of theme or subject from memories of the opening scene, for example, you’re in decent shape. Sometimes this is something you can do quickly. Other times, it takes some angling and reframing of your memory of the book. With practice, this gets more intuitive, so don’t give up! Instead, when you get stuck, take a few hours or days away from your search and come back to it with a fresh mind.

BIG BOOK SEARCH

For when you can only vaguely remember what the cover looks like, try Big Book Search. If you can include a keyword from the title, you’ll be more likely to find what you’re looking for. However, if you really can only remember images on the cover, you still might have luck. The website’s interface is about as basic as it gets, so if you’re someone who likes a more detailed search method, Big Book Search might not work so well for you. On the other hand, it’s one more place to try a search for that forgotten book.

GOOGLE

Google is vast. But once in a while, it yields just what you need. I’ve typed seemingly nonsensical keyword strings into the search box and got lucky. (Pro tip: include the word “book” in your search somewhere; sometimes adding “young adult” or “juvenile” is useful, too, if your book is one of those.) I typically don’t spend a lot of time searching with Google, however. Because there are so many more results to sift through than with World Cat, it often takes more time than it’s worth.

THAT’S ALL, FOLKS

Because the searching process is something that isn’t an exact science, it’s impossible to put together a guaranteed-to-work step-by-step guide. It’s a fun challenge to take on now and then and practice definitely helps. You might help out some of the folks in the Goodreads group until you have your own need for that practice in the meantime.

What other strategies and resources do you use?

 

*Originally published on Book Riot, September 12, 2018.

Abby Reads: Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
St. Martin’s Press, 2017, 240 pages
Nonfiction

Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America takes a decided stance on racism in America in 2017, particularly within the context of the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America in the 2016 presidential election. Drawing from personal experience, 31421117anecdotal research, and data, Dyson illustrates the situation of the black man in America with poise, empathy, and clarity. Written as sections of a sermon, the book is directed at white readers but offers a great deal of material for American citizens and, indeed, beyond.

With regular references to the reader (often, “beloved,” as you might expect in church), Dyson effectively draws the reader in prior to beginning his argument for better treatment of African Americans. Much like officials including Trump’s name frequently in reports meant for his consumption in order to maintain his attention, Dyson’s frequent addresses to the reader does a powerful thing in actively engaging and interacting with the reader who might, without proper empathy instilled, wonder what this has to do with them. To get to the debate of what this has to do with them (assuming the reader does not see the poor treatment of other humans as relevant to their own lives — a reality, to be sure, for many), Dyson must first get the readers on his side. He does this beautifully with these gentle call-outs — calling readers in by name. Beloved. Paired with the history of the word beloved in black culture (think Toni Morrison), this method is hugely impactful to cultivating the reader’s attention.

It is this language, however, that also contributes to a softening of Dyson’s call-out. He is empathetic to a fault, acknowledging directly that confronting racism within yourself and your peers is challenging. At times, Dyson seems to imply that confronting this racism is just as difficult and emotionally traumatic as it is being on the receiving end of racism — whether it’s personal or systemic. He concedes having white guilt is difficult and how white folks in America do have it hard. In doing so, he distracts from the central issue of racism and what people of privilege can and should be doing about it.

In many cases, Dyson’s arguments are strong for those of us who are already on-board. But aside from stating that white folks have it hard as a result of their own racism and using inclusive terms like “beloved,” his arguments are rarely anything new or particularly persuasive for someone who might disagree or is undecided. This is a tough thing to achieve. Certainly those who need convincing are the least likely to pick up the book in the first place, so this may be a misinterpretation of the purpose or target audience of the majority of the book on my part.

That said, the book is highly relevant for modern times. Dyson regularly refers to Trump, Ferguson, and other current events that make the book an immediate call to action. With — well, I don’t know what, luck? Hard work? — with any of whatever it is that we need, we’ll not need this book for too long. And, even more-so, news moves fast. Trump, we’ve seen, moves fast. Tears We Cannot Stop is a static piece of writing that, though perhaps able to be updated in reprints or new editions, will not remain relevant in its current form for long. These are ongoing problems, certainly, but the specificity sometimes takes away from overall goal.

Still, Dyson wraps up his work with an immeasurably useful chapter on real, practical actions readers can take to mitigate the strain of racism. Ranging from tipping people of color extra in their work to reading dozens of more writers on racism in America, these suggestions are some of the strongest I’ve seen in terms of making activism actionable in real people’s lives. Not everyone has the capability to organize a rally, but a good deal more people can effectively choose to patronize establishments owned by black people over white, and thus help even the playing field. The list of writers Dyson offers in terms of further reading is also impressive and helpful, though another format might have made the list more accessible.

Tears We Cannot Stop is readable and interesting, but won’t do much to bring new folks over to Dyson’s side. The actionable items at the end are invaluable and well-organized for those who stick to the end and feel inspired by Dyson’s sermon. As a piece of literature on racism, though it might not lend a lot of new material to the subject, it’s an important one and likely to become part of the canon.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Sourcebooks Fire, 2016, 336 pages
YA Fantasy

When her powers finally arrive in Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost, Alex couldn’t be more upset. It seems magic has only caused her family trouble since her aunt’s death and her father’s disappearance. After a boy, Nova, tells her there might be a way to reject her new bruja magic, Alex is on board. All she 27969087has to do is refuse her family’s blessing during her Deathday celebration. But as it turns out, there are consequences bigger than she’s willing to pay to live a life without magic, and it sends her on a journey in another realm where she’ll be tested at every turn.

Labyrinth Lost starts off strong.  Córdova’s weaving of magic into the real-life setting of Brooklyn, NY is a spectacular thing to behold. Though the bruja and brujo community may be small, its family-like structure is reminiscent of ethnic communities around the country with a strong root in tradition. This world-building brings readers right into Alex’s life and allows them to buy right into her story despite the fantastical elements. Once Alex and Nova cross into another realm, Córdova seems to stagger somewhat. Each layer of the new universe represents new challenges for Alex and Nova, much like the seven circles of hell. But each new location is underdeveloped and never comes well together as a whole, leaving the new world feeling un-built. Chapters following Alex and Nova’s descent into the magical realm frequently feel more like getting through a list of locations rather than experiencing a connected narrative.

Córdova begins strong with an explanation of the magical universe she’s created, too, but this soon falters when the magical realm becomes Alex’s new reality. Rituals and other features of Alex’s magic are dropped away once she leaves Earth, leaving readers wondering about the particulars of bruja magic and, by some extension, Alex, her family, and her culture. Labyrinth Lost is missing out on layers again and again: in world building, plot, relationships, and characters. Each of these somewhat flat, it’s difficult to invest in Alex and her story even when the stakes of losing her family permanently are so high.

Sections of prose in Labyrinth Lost are great examples of solid, atmospheric writing. Often, Córdova writes with vivid and visceral language that helps to describe the scene, even if the events of a moment are foggy — which they often are. Other times, the writing is clunky and doesn’t suit the larger, more general feel of the novel.

Labyrinth Lost feels paradoxical a lot of the time. Though Córdova begins with a great deal of confidence, by the end the novel she is more shaken — not just due to the hazy events that never felt especially clear, but also due to inconsistent writing and a lack of support for the big ideas of the book. Though Alex is one-of-a-kind as far as I’m concerned when it comes to young adult heroines, there were pieces of her that felt essentially missing. A reveal regarding her good friend, for example, seemed to come out of nowhere and jolt the book in a way that didn’t serve it well. This information felt far more throwaway than it deserved to be, and left me with more questions than I had answers. With all the Labyrinth Lost hype, I’m not sure I was as impressed as I expected to be. It’s an important piece in terms of diversity for young adult fantasy literature, but left lots to be desired.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Snow White by Matt Phelan

Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press, 2016, 216 pages
Graphic Novel Retelling

In 1920s New York City, Samantha “Snow” White is suddenly without a mother but living the financial high life with her father. When the Queen of the Ziegfeld Follies catches Snow’s father’s eye, Snow’s life changes pretty quickly. For a time, she is sent away. And when an inheritance becomes available, Image result for snow white phelanthe Queen will do whatever she can to get the lion’s share — including hire a murderer for Snow. Following the traditional plot of the classic “Snow White” fairy tale, Matt Phelan provides both the story and art for Snow White: A Graphic Novel with a twist in setting and circumstance.

Phelan’s take on “Snow White” is excellent. A writer must have a reason, generally speaking, to cast an old favorite in a new setting, and Phelan succeeds fantastically here with his Roaring Twenties look at “Snow White.” The new setting allows for great commentary on poverty and wealth while adding a huge potential for aesthetics, of which Phelan takes great advantage. As both writer and illustrator, Phelan mixes both arts well. His illustrations are truly lovely things to examine with a sketchy, noir, watercolor style tinged with just the right touch of magic and arresting splashes of color where it best serves him.

While the text is quite sparse, the images of the graphic novel carry the story well, even in more nuanced moments. Exact facial expressions and implications throughout the text help to develop characters in specific ways that can’t be translated through text. Although the Queen is an antagonistic character, even with the spare text, her personality and motivation are well-developed, allowing readers not necessarily to sympathize, but to certainly understand her position. With the backdrop of the Great Depression, the Queen’s desire for a large financial net — particularly as someone who works as a performer — is attractive, and it’s well illustrated through Phelan’s story even without spelling it out. Phelan’s one shortcoming with his art style is an occasional tendency to draw too much chaos into an image, making it unclear exactly what has happened from one pane to the next. Often, the surrounding work is enough to clarify, but on occasion, scenes of violence are difficult to follow.

Rather than the traditional dwarves, Phelan employs young street urchins to come to Snow’s aid in her time of need. Each with a street name, the apparent orphans are reliant upon themselves to live and get into some light mischief along the way. While Phelan mostly avoids magic and fantasy in his Snow White, the urchins are a perfect stand-in for the seven dwarves, if they don’t carry the wisdom the original dwarves are known for. The Dickensian twist works well within the context of 1920s New York City, too, and makes for a charming addition to the retelling.

Phelan does fall a little short in pacing with the narrative. With plenty of exposition leading up to the main event and conflict, the story feels a bit front-heavy. The role of the rescuing prince — here, a detective — seems to come from nearly nowhere, and his consequences are difficult to see form from any earlier appearances. His involvement earlier on might have solved this in some fashion, even as an appearance in Snow’s childhood to help bring the story full circle. It’s primarily this that makes me think Snow White: A Graphic Novel might have benefited from another round or two of edits.

The work stands solidly, however, as a whole. The artwork is truly remarkable and something I’d be willing to hang in my home, if not keep the graphic novel as a piece on a coffee table. Phelan very successfully brings “Snow White” to a new setting and to great effect, certainly enhancing the original story with his choices. His art and text mix beautifully and, while a few elements needed tweaking, the graphic novel is a win. Interestingly, the book is evidently targeted at elementary-school- and middle-school-aged children, though the quality and layers could easily serve an older, adult audience.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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