24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

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Abby Reads: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Ecco Press, 2014, 272 pages
Horror/Thriller

In Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, the people of America have been plagued with unseen creatures that, when viewed, cause the victim to go insane and inflict violence on others before killing themselves. When these creatures first arrive, Malorie soon discovers she is pregnant. It’s not long before she is convinced of the reality of these creatures, their existence and impact brought home by her sister’s grisly death. Malorie becomes a housemate at a small group of survivors and witnesses — and participates in — the various conflicts that come with dealing with this new world. In the present, Malorie endeavors to escape the house and make a perilous twenty-mile journey down the river where she’s been promised safety. But how do you navigate to a Image result for bird box book coverplace you’ve never been without opening your eyes?

If you’d asked me before I read Bird Box if I liked horror novels, the answer would have been no. I tried Stephen King when I was in middle school (Pet Sematary, if you’re curious) and was bored to tears over it, so I figured horror just wasn’t my thing. While I’d read a few other things marketed as horror since (Asylum by Madeleine Roux, for example), nothing in literature really scared me. Plenty of people said they’d read books they couldn’t read at night they were so terrified by them — often listing Pet Sematary as their own example — and so I figured there was something wrong with me.

Bird Box did not keep me up for fear — but it did keep me up for wanting to read more. Though I don’t have a lot to compare it to (see the previous paragraph), Bird Box feels painfully original and Malerman does an astounding job at creating tension and a weird sense of slow urgency in the context of his highly inventive plot. As the reader moves between Malorie’s present and past, the question remains until the end as to whether or not she and the two children she brings with her will survive and thrive.

Though Malorie begins as one of the more blase characters when it comes to the existence of the creatures at the beginning of the novel, she is easily one of the most neurotic about surviving them by the end. It’s this character development that pushes Malerman’s novel to the top. Originally somewhat self-absorbed and, aside from her pregnancy, fairly lighthearted, Malorie ends up a nervous wreck who is specific, demanding, harsh, and tense. She names the children Boy and Girl, fully aware of how futile it seems to give “real” names to children who don’t live in a “real” world and may not survive the day. Meanwhile, deceit and alliances create fascinating relationships throughout the novel with a manageable size of a cast. Seemingly small choices, like the lack of names for the children, indicate in very powerful ways the mental states of the characters and Malerman manages each character fantastically this way.

Malerman doesn’t push the gore too much in the novel. This means when he does describe scenes of carnage, it’s especially effective. Malerman is sometimes restricted by perspective of his characters who are often forced to keep their eyes closed, but he uses this again to his advantage, creating suspense much like the lack of visual on the famed Jaws creates dread in Jaws.

Even if you’re not a fan of horrors or thrillers, Bird Box may be well worth a shot. On top of being fantastically exciting in the most dreadful way, the novel poses fascinating questions and is an impressive exercise of the senses. Fun and smart, the novel doesn’t take too long to read — no matter how I tried to pace myself, I just couldn’t. And once you’ve finished Bird Box, you can look forward to Malerman’s spring publication, Unbury Carol.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Pro Talk: How to Read More Books

At the end of 2018, I knew I wasn’t going to make my reading goal. I’d aimed for 110 and “only” managed 100. I didn’t count picture books, which I read at least four of a week during the course of story time at my day job, and I typically don’t listen to audiobooks just because of personal preference. If you’re not ultra-concerned about quality but want 2019 to be the year of quantity when it comes to books, check out the twelve tips below to maximize the number of books you read.

Read what you love, not what’s popular or prescribed.

There’s a lot of pressure to read the latest and hottest, especially if you work in the book world. And there is something to be said for staying aware of trends in publishing and popular works. But just because Oprah says you should read it, doesn’t mean you have to. Read what appeals to you, not just what’s popular or prescribed, and reading will keep from feeling like a chore. The more enjoyable it is, the more you’ll want to do it — the more you do it, the more books you’ll read. Simple!

Three letters: D. N. F.

I really need to take my own advice on this one. If a book just isn’t “doing it” for you, there’s no shame in putting it down and marking it as “did not finish.” A book, if it had expectations at all, cannot expect you to put in more than a good faith effort. That might mean the first chapter, the first thirty pages, or a solid 25% — whatever makes sense to you. Ultimately, there’s little sense in pushing through a book you’re not enjoying. If DNFing makes you anxious, consider instead giving yourself permission to put a book aside for a period of time — whether that’s days, weeks, months, or even years — and come back to it. Sometimes, our situation in life can make all the difference as to whether or not a book can hit its mark in you.

Read multiple books at once.

This strategy may be counterintuitive and, indeed, not work for some — for others, it might be a game-changer. The benefit of having multiple books going at once is that, the second you get bored of one, you can easily switch to another and keep the momentum going before you get too frustrated and give up entirely. When you’re in the right frame of mind, you may find you can easily return to a book with which you were easily frustrated. I find it’s useful to have a bedtime/house book and a going out book (and sometimes a gym book and a work book). The bedtime/house book is primarily read in bed or otherwise at home, going out typically stays in my bag and goes out with me (my Kindle is great for this because it’s small, lightweight, and fits into all my bags), the gym book keeps my brain entertained at the gym (also often via my Kindle as it’s easier to hold one-handed), and the work book is sometimes something I’m reading for work or have checked out from work (a library, if you didn’t know) so it’s naturally easy to have it available for slow periods or lunch breaks. I used to also keep a book going on OverDrive’s desktop reader, which allowed me to read bits and pieces during downtime at an office job.

Always have a book with you.

You’d be surprised at how much reading can accumulate when you sneak in a few minutes here and there. With my ereader on me all the time, it was easy to grab a few minutes of reading while waiting for the train, in line at the grocery store, or waiting on food at a restaurant. With my ereader, I had a small library on me at all times — and sometimes connection to my actual library’s digital database if I also had a wifi connection — and I could take it with me everywhere because of its small size and low weight. Soon enough, reading a few pages here and there added up to a whole book that I might not have otherwise been able to add to my have-read list.

Go for series with cliffhangers.

What’s better than a book you can’t put down? A series you can’t put down! Fly through a handful of books in a short period of time when you just have to know what happens next. You can’t know, of course, whether a book will land on a cliffhanger or not, but you can Google around — there are a few lists out there. Even if a book ends in a cliffhanger and doesn’t have a sequel, you might just plow right into the next book to avoid a book hangover.

Pick books with simpler prose.

The easier is something to read, the faster you’ll read it. Meant for younger readers, juvenile chapter books are often overlooked by adults but are actually the perfect place to start here. As a children’s librarian, I’m always encouraging adults to read juvenile literature. You might be surprised by how complex and poignant many of the stories are. If you aren’t sure where to start, try some award winners or revisit old favorites from your childhood to see how they hold up for you. These books also tend to be shorter, so many of them are easy to breeze through and push you to add another tally to your count of books read!

Listen to audiobooks.

I should preface this with the fact that I don’t consider myself an audiobook person and I very rarely listen to them — my attention span just can’t handle it. But I know a few folks who really bolster their have-read list with audiobooks, whether they listen at the gym, while cooking, on their commute, or some other time. Like ebooks, eaudiobooks can often be accessed through your library’s digital catalog and via your cell phone, so they’re easy to get when you’re out and about so long as you can get a quick wifi connection. Multitasking while reading (listening to audiobooks) naturally increases the time you spend reading and therefore the number of books you read in a year.

Read more graphic novels.

Like juvenile fiction, graphic novels are another easy way to pump up your have-read numbers. Generally, with fewer words to read and process, graphic novels (or memoirs, etc.) are typically faster reads than novels or nonfiction. It took me a long time to come around to graphic novels, but I finally discovered it was the kind of graphic novels I was reading that was holding me back. Highly stylized art and action stories don’t work for me, but bold, simple styles with more social or emotional plot lines are perfect. I found a lot to read in juvenile graphic novels and of the 25 books I’ve read so far this year, 10 have been graphic novels.

Select shorter books.

When racing against the clock for my annual Goodreads challenge the last couple of years, I’ve definitely resorted to selecting shorter books to read. For obvious reasons, this helped to ensure I’d finish on time. (Poetry is often a great candidate for this strategy!)

Ask friends/the internet/your librarian for fast-paced suggestions.

Shameless plug! Librarians handle books all day long, even if they haven’t read everything in their collection (spoiler: it’s impossible; I’ve tried). Therefore, they often have a good idea of which books are fast-paced and quick reads. Visit your library, fill out a reader’s advisory form on their website, or give them a call to get some suggestions of books that will keep you glued to your seat as you flip through them. Don’t underestimate your friends, either — crowdsource on social media or ask one-on-one, there are bound to be a few fast-paced books you haven’t heard of or read yet that they can suggest. And if all else fails, Google it. As for why this works — well, it’s pretty obvious: if a plot is exciting and compelling, you’ll be more interested in reading it.

Say yes to reading, not no to distractions.

One of the best pieces of advice I got last year during my own reading slump was from a coworker. She had taken the approach the previous year of saying yes to reading, rather than saying no to distractions — and it worked for her! I tried the same thing this year and even this simple reframing made a big difference for me. Don’t say no to your phone, social media, television, music, or whatever else might distract you: say yes to reading. Don’t say, “I’m not going to look at Facebook,” instead, say, “I’m going to read my book.” Simple mental reinforcement here may change things significantly for you, so don’t give up on it if it doesn’t work pronto.

Use a tracker/timer.

There’s nothing like good old shame to get your eyes on the page. Use the stopwatch feature on your phone or computer (or a real stopwatch) to track how much time you actually spend reading. Every time you pick up your phone to check the latest on Twitter, pause the watch, and only restart it when you begin reading again. Snack break? Pause it. Checking the mail? Pause it. You might be surprised by how little you’re actually reading. Take note of it and see if you can compete with yourself to read more going forward. You’ll be proud to see how you progress, and you may even notice a difference in your ability to focus for longer periods of time in your life outside reading.

Schedule reading time.

Ah, guilt, the great motivator. Studies show writing down your goals increases the likelihood of completing those goals. So, whether you track your to-dos with a bullet journal, keep a traditional planner, or you love Google Calendar, start putting reading time into your schedule. You might task yourself with a certain amount of time spent reading or opt to challenge yourself to read twenty pages a day. Whatever you go with, you’ll probably find checking that item off your to-do list super satisfying. And if you read more than what you’ve assigned yourself, there’s no shame in rewarding yourself — add a fun sticker to your to-do list proclaiming your success, get a special treat from your favorite bakery, or invest in a new book to keep the momentum up.

Abby Reads: The Curiosities by Susan Gloss

The Curiosities by Susan Gloss
William Morrow, 2019, 368 pages
Contemporary Fiction

With thanks to William Morrow for the final copy.

After the loss of her newborn, Nell can only think of how to fill the void. Despite treatment after treatment, Nell and her husband Josh are seemingly unable to get pregnant. And while Josh appears to have moved on, Nell cannot let her grief go. Meanwhile, the bills from fertility treatment have added up and Nell has kept just how much money has been spent on treatment from Josh. Now, she has an opportunity to work as the director of a new artists 40712737colony in an attempt to chip away at the bills, but it might be more of a challenge than she’s up to. There’s the hippie-photographer who might be dealing out of the basement Annie, the even-keeled sculptor Odin who gives Nell a case of the butterflies, and Paige, a printer who isn’t ready to settle. As Nell navigates her new position and the people in her life, she must first get out of her own way.

While characters who are diverse in thought and age inhabit The Curiosities, their execution leaves something to be desired. Each character seems to be driven primarily by a personal tragedy, leaving no room for other traits or meaningful history. While certainly things like child loss and partner loss are hugely impactful events, their effect cannot entirely encompass a person. Gloss’s characters are, as a result, rather flat and lacking the roundedness and complexity of real people or believable and compelling characters.

Although the characters may not be entirely convincing, the plot of The Curiosities is reasonably so. The initial setup of Nell hiding crucial financial information from her husband is perhaps a bit far-fetched, but not entirely implausible. From there, Nell does conveniently get the first job for which she applies — and is evidently fairly unqualified for — but the subsequent events, involving the building of the artists colony and a death in the house that causes upheaval for all of the residents feel fairly natural and realistic.

Gloss struggles some with showing over telling, favoring a prose style that is rather unspecific. Rather than extend information into scenes that conveys the goings-on at the colony, Gloss indicates passing time with vague indications of the activities of the artists and leaves more detailed scenes for looks into the characters’ pasts, including the deceased benefactress. Overall, this makes the plot pass quickly and, to some extent, without notice. Additionally, the prose does its job and just that — there are few turns of phrase to savor and enjoy, few impressive descriptions. Readers who seek a more driving plot will latch onto the death and be lost in the details of seemingly more extraneous scenes that develop character, but do little to push events forward. Meanwhile, readers who prefer novels that are heavily character-driven will enjoy The Curiosities if they can get past the singular dimensions of the characters.

The Curiosities is a moderately quick and enjoyable read. Fans of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows will find some shared elements to enjoy, though the work is not quite as adept. It’s a novel that is easily categorized as women’s fiction — though that’s generally not something I believe in — and will no doubt find many book clubs to enjoy it.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
Speak, 2012, 352 pages
Young Adult Fantasy

Full disclosure: I work with Jessica Spotswood. I wasn’t coerced into reading her work; it was something that would have interested me anyway. My thoughts here are my own and have no bearing on Jessica as a person, who is lovely. Onward!

Having assumed responsibility for her sisters following the death of her mother in the face of a father who doesn’t know his daughters are witches, Cate Cahill has more to worry about than just being found out for her magic. In Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, a group known as the Brotherhood has 11715276striven to drive witchcraft out of society. Cate and her sisters live in a world that is an alternate history of our own, but with careful world-building and plenty of borrowing from the real-life Salem Witch Trials of the Seventeenth Century, Spotswood achieves a story that feels realistic despite its fantasy and will be a fun read for those who love teen romance stories.

With a specific kind of world-building to achieve and loads of exposition to provide, Born Wicked does feel slow at parts. Cate is reluctant to allow a governess into their home in the absence of their father and, while this conflict is one of the central conflicts of the story, its arrival in the narrative is a late one. Meanwhile, the threat of the Brotherhood, while certainly real, does not feel terribly heightened. The reality is the Cahill sisters have managed their threat for the duration of their lives, including three years without the protection and guidance of their mother — why is this threat suddenly so much greater? The Brotherhood does scrutinize Cate a little more carefully now that she is nearing their prescribed age of marriage and the uncertain presence of the governess makes the sisters uneasy, but neither of these things seem to quite warrant the panic Cate seems to feel around being found out.

Naturally, with a prescribed age of marriage comes potential suitors. Somewhat predictably, Cate finds herself at the center of a love triangle involving an old friend and a young man Cate’s acquainted with but doesn’t know well until he begins working on her land at the direction of Cate’s father. Despite the predictability of the existence of the love triangle itself, Spotswood executes it in such a way so as to make it feel somewhat new. The dynamics of the characters work in a way that freshens the trope in some aspects and does cast doubt as to with whom Cate will end up.

Character dynamics are something Spotswood does well in a variety of places. Known for her stories of sisters, Spotswood doesn’t make an exception here. For all its romantic love, witchcraft, and ostracism, Born Wicked is primarily a story about sisterhood. Each sister is uniquely developed and has her own interests. While Cate is the focus of the story, her sisters play interesting and important roles nonetheless and Cate is well aware of it. Other characters, too, have their own personalities and motivations with well-developed and defined characteristics.

Cate’s narration style does provide some roadblocks. Employing a vocabulary and sentence structure that attempts to indicate an antiquated world with various inflections and exclamations, the prose often feels put-on. Taking on this kind of stylized speech is a challenge, no doubt, and it didn’t always work in Born Wicked. A book written in speech more typical of modern times, however, might have more easily confused readers, so there might not be a “right” answer here.

Born Wicked is a fun read, if slow in parts, for readers who are looking for witchcraft without a dark or spooky element. It’s a novel of pastels and lace from the start, so if you’re looking for something a little more lighthearted, if in some ways heavily political (and politically relevant), this is a good place to start.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Monster by Michael Grant

Monster by Michael Grant
Katherine Tegen Books, 2017, 432 pages
Young Adult Science Fiction

I received this eBook from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Monster is available for purchase as of the writing of this review.

Years after the FAYZ has been eliminated, many of those who lived through the harrowing events of the original Gone series are struggling to live normal, healthy lives in Michael Grant’s Monster. But to make matters worse, the alien virus which kicked off those events has returned and with greater strength in the form of projectiles from space. As they land all over the world, kids and teens are exposed to the virus — both purposefully with the intent of gaining superpowers and by mistake — and the United States government wants to intervene. With both familiar26082351 and new characters, Monster brings a new level of thrill to fans of the Gone series.

Grant has a history of being called out for being problematic. He and Debbie Reese have come up against each other multiple times, particularly over his depiction of Native American characters. I have an opinion about the whole situation, but it’s not useful or valid to hear more white people talk about it, so I’ll just inform you that it’s a thing that’s been going on and you can decide whether or not you want to engage with Grant’s work from there. I’ll take one more beat to note that Monster features characters who are absolutely transphobic and homophobic, so be aware of that if you choose to read Monster. The remainder of my review will assess the book as separate from the author and these issues.

As in the original series, Monster has an excellent cast of characters, all of whom have strong, well-defined motivations, interesting and complete backstories, and personalities that are varied and play well against and with each other. Given the number of books Grant has written, I am always astounded by how thoroughly the characters are developed, both as characters, period, and how they actively develop on the page throughout the narrative. Without being heavy-handed, Grant manages to clearly trace back inciting events and circumstances to explain the actions of his characters and this helps bring a level of realism that is necessary for his high-intensity science fiction world.

Along with the intangible realism Grant provides in his novel is the visceral gore he continues to excel at writing. This signature style was one that really elevated the Gone series for me, and its presence in Monster is just as appreciated. Grant’s skill in depicting the grotesque and horrific lies in his ability to do so without cliche and with a great deal of specificity without becoming overly clinical or repetitive. The tedium isn’t held quite as well during fight scenes — of which there are many in Monster — but by the end of the book, it’s clear these moments of physical conflict are leading to something much bigger in a book yet to be published. Monster is, essentially, the first few chapters of the spinoff series, so it’s logical that it sometimes must play the part of exposition.

Grant includes interesting pieces of what I’ll call “mixed media writing,” particularly toward the end. These passages include a speech from the President of the United States and tweets. Like the characterizations and gore, Grant somehow finds a way to make these sections heighten the realism rather than cheapening the book, which, from many other attempts I’ve read, is a real challenge to do.

For all I’ve mentioned Gone, it’s possible to read Monster (and, presumably, its follow-ups) without reading the original six novels. It’s not entirely clear whether Monster is, in fact, part of the original series (Amazon and Wikipedia would have you believe it’s Gone #7) or truly a spinoff (the narrative and characters seem to suggest this — and I feel like Grant himself has indicated this status as well), but Monster includes enough detail about the events of Gone and its sequels that readers new to the world could easily hop on board without reading Gone (though, why you wouldn’t want to read the incredible first six books is beyond me).

Monster holds up to Grant’s previous work. It’s just as well crafted as an exciting story with originality, excellent characters, and striking realism within a fascinating science fiction world. The novel is a tough one to put down most of the time, even as a piece that is introducing a new storyline and requires a lot of explanation and exposition which sometimes means sections that feel a little slower. If you enjoyed Gone, Monster is absolutely worth the time and the space on your bookshelf.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Ever by Gail Carson Levine

Ever by Gail Carson Levine
HarperCollins, 2011, 288 pages
Juvenile Fantasy

When her mother is sick and nearing death in Gail Carson Levine’s Ever, Kezi and her family will do just about anything to spare her. When her father makes a promise to sacrifice the first person who congratulates him on his wife’s healing — assuming their god grants them Kezi’s mother’s health — it’s not long before the mother improves and Kezi’s aunt visits. Just as she’s about to congratulate Kezi’s father, Kezi jumps in and does it herself, thus 2204464dooming herself as a sacrifice. But nearby is the self-made outcast known as Olus who is a god unknown to Kezi and her family. His presence has been periphery since his arrival as a tenant of Kezi’s father, but he’s about to become more.

Apparently drawing from many existing mythologies, Levine does an impressive job building her world and new mythology. Though the reader isn’t overwhelmed with details (this is, after all, a juvenile novel), the universe and explanations for it still seem quite complete. I don’t pretend to know of every religion or mythology out there and, in fact, checked quickly to be sure that Levine was not pulling solely from one existing faith or cast of gods. The world in which she works here feels well-established and seems to exist beyond the pages the reader is given.

Levine lacks this skill in her development of Kezi and Olus’s relationship. Perhaps due to the target audience of the book, the chemistry between Kezi and Olus is practically nonexistent. Neither character, it seems, is developed enough to warrant feelings for the other. Kezi’s character is wrapped up in her love for her family and dance while Olus is mostly concerned with his identity of a god. Beyond this, neither character has a personality enough that there’s any substance for the other to fall in love with. While both characters are young, this does not fully explain the lack of character development and the consequential lack of chemistry. Though mythology and fables are often populated by characters with little definition as characters, for a novel-length work, this shortcoming has bigger consequences.

Throughout the entirety of the story, Levine uses a stylized prose which helps to build the world and explain the lives of the characters. In alternating first-person perspective, both Kezi and Olus have similar — though not identical — voices. That said, the style is a little distracting and melodramatic. Though its richness might be appropriate for a less observant, younger audience who needs something with a stronger flavor, the strength of the prose style is such that it might be distracting for older readers.

Ever likely would have worked better for a young adult audience, though the plot might have been a little more trite in that space. While the world is well-developed, Levine falls short with her characterization, chemistry, and, in some ways, the prose. The conflict at times feels contrived rather than natural and this is underlined by a similarly contrived-feeling solution to the conflict. Ever is pleasant enough, but isn’t a stellar novel for any audience.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Ticknor and Fields, 1851, 240 pages
Fiction

In the generations that follow the Salem Witch Trials, one family continues to experience what they believe is a curse placed upon their ancestor by one of the accused in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic classic The House of the Seven Gables. Now caring for the house that belonged to the accused and was 90192taken into possession by her ancestor, Hepzibah Pyncheon has found herself near poverty and must open a shop to offset the costs of living in her old New England town. It seems that various forces are trying to get her out of the house, including her relative who has an interest in owning the house himself. Meanwhile, a young cousin, Phoebe, arrives to Hepzibah’s home and finds herself courting Hepzibah’s tenant, a man by the name of Holgrave. Their connection, however, is more than it appears and the question of the curse continues to linger over the household.

I’ve had an interest in reading this novel for a long time — ever since I visited Hawthorne’s home in Salem, Massachusetts, which is widely believed to be the structure upon which the house of this novel is based. While I tried to read it last October, the prose proved to be too dense for me at that time, so I held off and returned to it this year in the spirit of Halloween. I expected The House of the Seven Gables to have a creepier feel to it, and found that the supernatural elements of the book are more ambiguous and the descriptions less grotesque than I expected, but still found many of the societal horrors Hawthorne portrays chilling.

Hawthorne is surprisingly socially aware, particularly for his time. While you shouldn’t expect anything to the level of Black Lives Matter in Hawthorne’s work, like The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables explores themes of the marginalized. In this case, those in poverty. While the story’s aim, it would seem (never assume author intent!), is primarily one of entertainment, these comments on society find their way into the narrative and Hawthorne finds excellent ways to illustrate the effects of systemic, generational poverty and how it is perpetuated.

Additionally, Hawthorne’s awareness extends into the philosophy of perception, in that while readers are first introduced to Hepzibah Pyncheon essentially through her eyes, her reliability and sanity come into greater question as the perspective shifts to be more from cousin Phoebe. This subtle move brings interesting questions into play about truth, reality, and, of course, perception in a way that is strong without being overbearing or distracting from the story.

Like its contemporaries, The House of the Seven Gables is full of rich prose, which can at times make the novel especially slow. The narrative itself is a bit of a slow burn with subtle plot points and a conflict that, frankly, is not terribly exciting. Still, Hawthorne maintains his readers’ attention with astute observations couched in a style that is fun to unravel and roll around in the mind. And, too, like a Dickens novel, this work slowly builds a case that is revealed in the end — at least in some plot aspects, while others remain shrouded in mystery or up to the reader, depending on what kind of reader you are.

The House of the Seven Gables is about what you can expect insofar as Nineteenth Century classics go — a little on the slow side; full of dense, flowery prose; atmospheric; and philosophical. Although the plot is not full of excitement and drama, it’s still an interesting one and the book as a whole provides a fascinating study of life in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1800s.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
Kathy Dawson Books, 2017, 464 pages
YA Science Fiction

After her Aunt Magnolia makes her promise to accept any invitation to a house known as Tu Reviens, Jane of Kirstin Cashore’s Jane, Unlimited finds herself the recipient of just such an invitation from her former tutor, Kiran. With her umbrella-making supplies in tow and her heart still broken by the 32991569death of her Aunt Magnolia, Jane heads to Tu Reviens where a strange cast of characters, from the owner of the house to Kiran’s twin brother to the housekeepers, all seem to have something to hide. While odd things happen around Jane, she’s not sure who to trust and where to go. It all comes down to making the right decision — but what is it?

The feeling I got from Jane, Unlimited was, in short, this: (perhaps inspired by E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars), Cashore had a gimmicky idea and placed the importance of that concept over the actual quality of the book as a whole. Like We Were Liars, it’s difficult to talk about the shortcomings of Jane, Unlimited without giving away the bulk of the book. The book is not realistic fiction, but instead mixes fantasy and science fiction in pursuit of the concept in a way that doesn’t feel entirely natural. And, due to the construction of the idea, the idea itself is never fully developed in a meaningful way.

So, the gimmick wasn’t executed well and the prose Cashore seats it in doesn’t help. Cashore employs third person, present tense in the novel, combined with a style that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around. Something about the sentence structure is incredibly deliberate and, consequently, distracting. Much of it made the narrative drag even more. While present tense often serves to amp up the tension (ha) and immediacy of a plot, here, though it was necessary for the concept, it seemed only to slow things down. The development of the concept, meanwhile, requires a significant amount of exposition, which further slowed down an already-sizable book at 464 pages.

Another aspect bogging down Jane, Unlimited was the sheer number of characters. Although many individuals live and work at Tu Reviens (and, indeed, a party is one of the central plot points of the story), the house always seemed to have an empty feeling. I suspect this was partially by design, but further emphasized by a challenge of character development — again, the victim of the concept of the novel. Too many characters inhabit the story and, without getting to know many of them, the narrative falls short. This, however, has another side — Jane knows as much about the characters as does the reader. Her confusion and such, then, is more palpable and easier to invest in, in some ways.

Cashore’s ending — again, a complicated term, given the concept of the book — felt insufficient. Without a better development of the concept, the concept is unable to be resolved and the ending provided by the narrator and all of the frustration built up over the course of the book doesn’t pay off in a way that matters.

Jane, Unlimited might do interesting things with allusions (especially Jane Eyre, from my perspective), but the gimmick of the book ultimately provides an excuse for all the flaws in the novel without making up for the flaws. With all the excitement over the book, I was pretty severely disappointed in this one. As one Goodreads reviewer, Sarah, wrote, “I’ve been walking around for days thinking that I don’t like reading anymore.” And, truly, that was my experience with Jane, Unlimited, too. Don’t buy the buzz on this one.

❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Hogarth Press, 1925, 224 pages
Fiction

Virginia Woolf’s classic Mrs. Dalloway opens with the title character preparing for a party. In the day to follow, Mrs. Dalloway and her friends, family, and acquaintances weave in and out of a loose narrative that follows a stream-of-consciousness prose style, seamlessly jumping from character to character.14942 With strong social commentary evident on each page, Woolf sketches early-Twentieth Century London through the eyes of various social classes and makes a strong point about the intersection of class position, perception, and biases.

One of the remarkable achievements of Mrs. Dalloway is Woolf’s ability to be both specific and broad in context and theme simultaneously. Although the story focuses on a select group of people, the implications of their thoughts and actions are easily applicable to society as a whole. While this is often the case or aim for fiction, Mrs. Dalloway gets at it especially well by creating characters who are both stock and individual. This works because she provides a first-person look into each character’s life, allowing them to reveal themselves to the reader while also providing the perspectives of other characters on a given point-of-view character. So while Mrs. Dalloway herself can appear as a sort of stock character who is a high society lady and readers may well accept that as the truth of her person, her maid Lucy’s understanding of Mrs. Dalloway is quite different, and adds dimension to the title character. It’s important to note, however, that racial, religious, and other identifying intersectionality is minimum, at best.

Woolf tells of these characters, too, with prose that is elegant and meandering, much like many of its contemporaries. Despite being a very different kind of work, Mrs. Dalloway frequently reminded me of J. D. Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” I can’t quite put my finger on why, but if you enjoyed Salinger’s short story, you might find something in Mrs. Dalloway to enjoy as well.

With the stream-of-consciousness structure, Mrs. Dalloway can be slow at times. Though the commentary on society is endlessly fascinating, it can also be fatiguing with line after line making some point or other about this or that facet of life as a human. It’s a lot to take in and would likely require several reads before a reader could feel like they had a grasp on the majority of it. Woolf’s depth and attention to detail is extraordinary in Mrs. Dalloway and this means the reader’s attention, too, must be hyper-focused. For such a short novel, it can take a lot of scrutiny and turning over in the mind to impart the most on the reader.

Mrs. Dalloway is, for sure, one of those novels that you’ll get more out of if you’re in a classroom and have the guidance of historical, geographical, cultural, and literary context. But that’s not to say you can’t find value in Mrs. Dalloway reading it on your own. Woolf has lovely turns of phrases and, if you can manage the stream-of-consciousness style well enough, there are lots of opportunities to pick up on allusions and the various points Woolf makes about society. At the same time, this means Mrs. Dalloway requires a bit of work. If you’re looking for a straight entertainment read, this probably isn’t it, but if you’re up for a bit of careful reading, give Mrs. Dalloway a shot.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Reflections on C3 at Hollins: 8 Tips on Networking and More

When I was a junior in college at Hollins University, the school instituted a new program that would be known as the Career Connections Conference, or C3. The idea was that the school would bring alumnae/i back to speak with current students about various topics relating to the professional life. At the time, at least six individuals in my class (which had a total number of around 100) were interested in pursuing library science. We were disappointed to discover none of the alumnae/i invitees had backgrounds in library science, despite the strong student interest. The following year proved to be about the same.

So when I received an invitation to attend C3 as an alumnae this year, I knew I had to make it, whatever obstacles came up. (And, naturally, they did — finding time off from work, travel, expenses, you get the idea.) I drove to Roanoke, Virginia from Washington, D.C., spent some time visiting old haunts, and before long I was in Lorimer House (previously known as the President’s House) at a reception hosted by the brilliant President Pareena Lawrence. Before I headed back to my hotel, I realized that reception was an example of successfully meeting fellow alumnae/i (many for the first time) and, well, networking.

Back in the hotel room with my nostalgic Wendy’s chicken nuggets, I marveled a bit at how I — I — had successfully networked. I, who had always lamented my inability to do so and regularly felt uncomfortable in regular social gatherings (let alone networking events), had done this thing and even felt pretty good about how I’d done it. Neat.

The following day, I went back to campus, networked more at breakfast — this time with more familiar faces, but still –, spent some time listening to others speak about interesting things, networked with current students at a luncheon, spoke on my panel, caught up with some staff and professors, polished off official conference events with a speed networking session (more on that later), and finished the day with a brief visit to the closing reception where I — get this — networked more, before doing a quick change in a public restroom and hurrying back off to D.C.

I learned a lot throughout the day, mostly that I knew a lot more than I thought I did. Most of this became evident to me during the speed networking session, which worked like speed dating. Alumnae/i sat at numbered tables, students shuffled in, we were given four minutes before “times up!” and then students stood, moved on to the next table, and we were back at it with the next one. These one-on-one interactions with students, though brief, were really eye-opening for me, as was the networking session during lunch.

These things that I learned feel so obvious to me now, but were decidedly not when I was a student during C3. And, what’s more, I was surprised to realize that the things I’d been so concerned about learning and knowing as a student were not things that I consciously learned, but rather picked up over the years in my professional life. Maybe I even knew some of these things, but couldn’t articulate them until now.

Below are those lessons, but I know there will be more in the future. I look forward to potentially serving at C3 again in the future and learning even more.

 

  1. When you’re young and/or new to networking, no one expects you to be good at it.
    As a student, I could barely define networking and its uses, let alone do it well. The trick, I now know, is to go in to a networking situation not with a goal of networking, but of a goal of practicing networking. Then, you’ll want to pay attention to the kinds of questions people ask, even if it means just listening in a conversation. If you can, go in with an idea of what kinds of actionable or tangible help or things you want and from whom (especially if you know who will be there ahead of time). You don’t have to be shy about straight out asking for those things, either. While I thought the game to play was being coy and overly polite (and therefore, not direct nor clear), it didn’t do me any good — and now from the other side, I see that it just makes sense to go ahead and ask, “Do you know of any openings in libraries right now that would be good for someone in my position to apply to?
  2. Have an elevator pitch with keywords.
    I got this advice as an undergrad and I thought it was some of the stupidest stuff I’d ever heard. Everyone knows how fake elevator pitches are. And yet. Every time I spoke with a student at C3, I found myself hoping for one because it gave me a quick snapshot of who they are and what they want and it made it easier to flip through the files in my brain. “She said photography! Quick, pull up the list of contacts on photography!” They feel silly and disingenuous, but I promise, they’re worth it. (And your partner in networking knows what nonsense elevator pitches are otherwise, so don’t feel embarrassed to use them.) Practice them, if it makes you feel better, but at a minimum, have those career-related keywords ready to go! (Something as simple as, “I’m interested in marine biology” could do you wonders.)
  3. When people offer themselves as a resource, believe them.
    The example of C3 is perhaps more extreme than what most people are likely to encounter, but you can generally count on the fact that if someone made the effort to come out on a weekend to get coffee with you and talk about your career, they’re also willing to do other things, especially if you make the request at that meeting. As a student during C3, I felt that it was very nice of the alumnae/i to revisit Hollins and share their wisdom, but that any offers of assistance beyond that, whether vague or specific, were just them saying it to say it, like you ask, “How are you?” as you pass someone in the hall. Every time I offered to be available for questions or whatever else a student thought I could offer during C3, I sincerely meant it. (And if there’s anyone who responds poorly to you reaching out after an offer, that’s on them for offering in the first place when they didn’t mean it.) I can only imagine on how many opportunities I’ve missed in the past for not taking these offers at their face value.
  4. This goes for professors, too.
    Although I’d heard the advice to make connections with your professors while on campus, I didn’t take it seriously. First, I figured, professors are insulated with other academic connections — not people who would necessarily be helpful in my career (I was wrong to believe this on a few levels, but moving on…). Second, even if I went to office hours, I wouldn’t have known what to talk about to make those connections. That’s still a tough thing, but a great old standby is to share articles in which they might have interest with professors. An email can be as brief as, “Thought of you when I saw this!” (Though ideally you’d also add a comment about the content and maybe a question, even just about their thoughts on it.) The good news is, you can also do this post-grad.
  5. Be confident, but not arrogant or condescending.
    Go into each interaction assuming the person with whom you’re speaking is the missing link between you and your dream job, even if that doesn’t appear to be the case based on whatever information you have about them beforehand. If you go into these interactions assuming the person not only can’t offer you anything, but is also definitely less knowledgeable than you are in the given field, you’re setting yourself up for a useless conversation. Even if the person across from you doesn’t know as much about caring for starfish as you do, any arrogance you project could make the person shut down, and you might miss out on discovering the person’s cousin is the top dog in starfish caring because no one wants to be condescended to. Don’t be that guy.In short: always assume your communication partner has something to offer and treat them accordingly. If you’re someone (like me) who struggles with tone and can come off disagreeably, practice, in earnest, with someone you trust to point out your shortcomings. Always, always be gracious and open-minded. You might be surprised what useful things people can dig up for you.
  6. You know more than you think you know.
    On the flip side, if you’ve had even a semester of college level chemistry, you are basically an expert as far as I’m concerned. At C3 as a student, I imagined myself as a total novice. Surely even the lawyers and professional chefs who came in knew more about libraries and publishing than I did, despite the independent research and academic work I’d done toward both ends. Nooope. Plenty of students with whom I interacted had a better understanding of their area of interest than I did. Or, if not more, then a different set of information. Don’t assume everyone older than you are also knows more than you do. You might have to elaborate a bit and it’s okay to recognize the knowledge and expertise you do have.
  7. Know what you need.
    Frequently early in my job search, I felt at a loss as to how to make myself stand out to employers. Inevitably, I applied to things only to be told I didn’t have sufficient experience. Looking back, I wish I had taken the time to sit down with job descriptions before I graduated and then figure out how to get those experiences in less traditional ways. I couldn’t conjure up an MLIS, but I might’ve sooner applied to write for Book Riot than I did to bulk up my experience with readers’ advisory.

    Take a look at the requirements and duties for jobs you have interest in. Then, if you can’t determine the best way to get that experience yourself, ask around (this could be a great networking question! “How would you suggest getting experience answering reference questions outside a traditional librarian position?”). You can also build a portfolio as a response to some of these things — blogs aren’t exactly all the rage these days, but sometimes just writing it out helps and you can always link folks to it who ask about your credentials. Then, make a name for yourself elsewhere — ask to do guest blog posts, write articles and letters to the editor, attend conference (and present, if you can). Eventually, you might find people connecting you to your work and most of the networking is done for you before you even step foot in the room where it happens. (#NotThrowingAwayMyShot)
  8. No one is looking at your clothes (that closely).
    As an undergrad at C3, I agonized over what to wear (and later, in interviews, too.). Was wearing a non-neutral primary or secondary color too bold? What if I chose flats instead of heels? Is the jewelry from Claire’s obviously not from Tiffany’s? Except for one exception, all the students I saw at Hollins who were participating in C3 (all directed to dress to impress) were dressed just fine as far as I was concerned, and some of them were far more casual than anything I would have picked when I was in undergrad. And that’s not a dig — I say this to point out, no one is looking that closely. And, honestly, the folks who included a bit of their personality in their outfits were more memorable to me than those who wore neutrals (looking at you, past me.).

    Bonus Tip: Take pictures of people with whom you network (with their permission), followed by a picture of their business card (and take keyword notes on their business card for maximum memory retention, too) with your phone. I didn’t this time around, but learned from others and will definitely take advantage of this strategy next time!

So that’s the wisdom I have now, with many thanks to those who invited me to C3 this year and who contributed to my education — both official and unofficial — over the years. What have you learned since beginning your professional life that seems obvious now, but was not before?

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