24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Author: abbyrhargreaves (page 1 of 16)

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?

Abby Reads: The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Viking Press, 1967, 192 pages
Young Adult Fiction

As one of the local greasers, Ponyboy Curtis finds trouble with the privileged Socs often enough. After befriending a soc name Cherry Valance, things come to a head. Cherry’s group isn’t so keen on Ponyboy and the others spending time with her, so they attack Ponyboy and Johnny viciously. When this Image result for the outsiders hintonevent becomes bigger than Ponyboy could have anticipated, everything spins out of control and nothing will ever be the same in S. E. Hinton’s young adult classic The Outsiders.

If you didn’t already know, Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was fifteen. The book was published when she was eighteen. This is especially impressive when evaluating the book critically. Structurally and thematically, The Outsiders is a mature and nuanced look at things like cycles and privilege. The way Hinton ties the ending of the novel to the beginning may seem overused at first glance, but the grace with which she handles the transition is excellent. Even as the final pages started rolling by and I realized what Hinton was going to do structurally, I worried — but there was no need. Despite the trope she uses, it feels entirely fresh thanks to adept handling.

Meanwhile, themes of the novel are clear but not heavy-handed. Issues of privilege, albeit with minimal intersection (it’s of its time and so on — there is a Native American slur used and the plights of the characters are, at the end of the day, mostly white-people problems), show up in various ways with nuance and great understanding without making the issues too complicated to grasp. All of this is underscored by Ponyboy’s first-person narration, which is delivered in a well-defined voice. As it turns out, the social commentary Hinton lays down is timeless, too. As some supplementary material points out in the Speak edition I read, the terms “greasers” and “socs” may change over the years, but the fundamental concepts behind the groups and their conflict remain.

Part of Ponyboy’s voice is his attention to detail. This sometimes means the plot seems to be moving slowly, but the reality is the plot is simply a more subtle one and not bogged down with side plots. The Outsiders is short, at 192 pages, but a delicious thing to digest with all of Ponyboy’s observations. A few literary allusions, too, help to define Ponyboy as a character and add value to the book as a whole. Though I often find literary allusions to be on the cheap side, Hinton once again surprised me here.

I don’t think I believe in perfect books, and there were a few moments of The Outsiders where dialog or phrasing was awkward. The single side plot of Sodapop and his relationship with a girl named Sandy certainly had symbolic significance, but I could have done without so much of it. But The Outsiders has stood strong for fifty years for a reason. It’s a strong example of structure and theme woven well together without being an intimidating piece of capital-L Literature and I’m not surprised it’s been used in schools for years.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Grove Press, 2017, 272 pages
Short Stories

Famed feminist writer Roxane Gay collects several short stories in Difficult Women. From a woman who is essentially married to twins to sisters who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a stranger for a period of weeks during their childhood, these stories explore primarily women and their Image result for difficult women roxane gayrelationships with the men in their lives.

This is the first work of Gay’s that I’ve encountered. My expectations were pretty high: plenty of people have recommended and buzzed about the collection and Gay has a reputation for being an excellent writer with a strong feminist angle. While short stories are not usually my thing — I find it hard to invest in plot and characters in such a short period — this collection was especially challenging.

Though each story tells of different women, the collection ends up feeling incredibly repetitive. At the heart of each story is this message, at least based on my reading: sex with men means bad things for women and in order for a woman to enjoy sex, it must be painful or punishing for her. Perhaps this is what Gay wished to get across. Based on her history of feminism, I somehow doubt it, or else I am misunderstanding how this depiction of heterosexual relationships is feminist. Or, perhaps Gay was purposefully anti-feminist in this collection. I’m not sure. Regardless, I was troubled by the depictions at all, but especially troubled by the fact that this was the same story again and again.

Most of the women in Gay’s stories seem to be thin, light-skinned (if not white) women. This gives me pause only in that she perhaps uses sex as the forced circumstances of life for white women and it becomes a metaphor for living as a black woman in America. The women in these stories abuse themselves either directly or through asking or allowing others to abuse them in various ways, often for things that are out of their own control. Is this a comment on life as a black woman in America? The constant barrage of abuse in one form or another, certainly undeserved, that they face? This is the only thing I can think of that makes any sense.

Beyond the content of the stories, I was disappointed in the prose and writing style, which often felt forced. Gay frequently refers to venison and hunting — perhaps this is something highly present in her own life, perhaps she’s drawing another metaphor here — which felt like overkill. And in many instances, I felt the story ended just where it was getting started, and not in the way many authors want.

While I mostly enjoyed one story titled “The Sacrifice of Darkness” — and it was a science fiction story, so perhaps that makes the difference for me with her — Difficult Women was a total letdown for me otherwise. Where I expected to read about a huge variety of women being difficult against others, I got the world being hard on mostly thin, white, heterosexual, cisgender women. Maybe I’m missing something here, but Difficult Women wasn’t for me.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #22, “Read a collection of short stories by a woman,” and I leave it behind with one-and-a-half hearts.

❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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 ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Borderline by Mishell Baker

TW: suicide, mental illness

 

Borderline by Mishell Baker
Saga Press, 2016, 400 pages
Urban Fantasy

A twenty-something Los Angeles filmmaker, Millie doesn’t have a lot going for her in the first of the Arcadia Project series, Borderline. Recovering from a severe suicidal episode that cost her her legs, Millie suffers from borderline personality disorder and has, for quite some time, lived in a facility in which 25692886she has access to healthcare professionals. But when a mysterious woman shows up and offers her independence in the form of employment, Millie jumps at the chance. She soon discovers her work will include plenty of detective work as she works to hunt down a missing fey person and work out how his connections are involved with the help of her partner and the rest of those working for the Arcadia Project.

I came into this novel after asking the folks at Book Riot for a recommendation based on the elements of my all-time favorite book, War for the Oaks. I requested something in the urban fantasy vein that had a great female lead, faeries, grittiness, a little urban feel, a stark feeling of realism within the fantasy, and music. Based on those qualifications, Borderline had a pretty strong start. The female lead was interesting and by no means nice, Baker had her own take on faeries, Millie’s reality as a double-amputee and someone with a serious mental health diagnosis was certainly gritty, there was a reasonably strong sense of realism, and, while there was no music, there was a heavy presence of art in the form of movies. After a quarter to a half of the novel, most of those things had fallen away in one way or another from their strong start.

Millie, though originally with a refreshing, biting personality that is often reserved for men in procedural dramas (think Gregory House of House, MD) — to include hypersexuality driven by symptoms of her borderline personality disorder — became a bore after not too long. While it was fun to watch a woman inhabit this character for a while, Millie’s existence as a woman dissolves and the reader might as well be reading about a man. Because her gender felt so specific in the opening, the lack of its influence in the rest of the novel doesn’t fit well. Additionally, while Millie doesn’t need to be likable to be interesting — and I’ll again state that I don’t feel protagonists need to be likable to be worth reading about, nor do they need to be redeemed for a novel to be of value — there’s a strange disconnect in which Millie is often quite socially aware and politically correct, excepting for a few moments, one of which features her having an unkind, racially-charged thought to the detriment of an Asian American character. Her generally harsh personality combined with this propensity to be social-justice conscious seems at odds, and is never quite explained or developed enough to make sense, unless readers suppose it’s some feature of her personal experience with mental illness and stigma.

Grittiness remains throughout with Millie’s challenges as a double-amputee and someone with BPD, but the industrial grittiness I admittedly looked for in comparison to War for the Oaks was mostly absent in the shiny land of Los Angeles. And, I think the form of art featured (again, instead of the cool and dirty rock ‘n’ roll of Oaks) took away from any potential grittiness, especially as film is used as a sort of metaphor for illusions and glamor (a faerie concept, if you’re familiar with the genre, meaning magical visual illusions, primarily). So these things ultimately let me down.

Also frustrating for my tastes was that Borderline sits more comfortably as a detective or mystery novel, much like a procedural show like CSI might. It seems that Borderline is one of these, first, before it is a fantasy novel. This is partly evidenced in that, aside from the heavy procedural and detective influences on the plot, Baker seems to know more about her fantasy world than she lets on. This is somewhat natural, given Millie is new to it and she is the reader’s eyes for the purposes of this story. But the fact remains that Borderline doesn’t quite feel as advertised. Plus, Baker has a new take on faerie lore — fine, maybe, for others, but not for me.

Borderline has a sequel, but it’s not something I feel compelled to read. Though the novel might not be bad, it simply wasn’t what I was looking for and felt miscategorized and poorly marketed based on the dust jacket description and cover image. Baker’s world needed more explanation and less of a detective lean for my tastes.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Knopf, 2017, 80 pages
Essays

Drawing from her personal life and what she’s learned as a scholar, popular author and essayist (and famed TEDxTalk speaker) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes a letter to her friend who has newly given birth to a daughter in response to a request on advice in raising a child in a feminist manner. With fifteen short parts, Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions offers practical and evidence-based ideas to her friend and the world Image result for dear ijeawelebeyond, using examples from their shared experiences and beyond.

In one of the most succinct introductions to Gender and Women’s Studies I’ve ever encountered, Dear Ijeawele is absolutely a useful text for the novice feminist or pre-feminist. Certainly the collection of essays (most no more than a few paragraphs) lays out the very basics of feminism as it addresses things such as wage inequality between men and women, domestic abuse, gendered clothing, and workplace discrimination among other topics.

Adichie writes in a fashion that is superbly accessible and keeps from getting too into the weeds and thus keeps from scaring off potential new feminists with jargon and assertions which require an understanding of intersectionality and interconnectedness (for example, this is not the book for examining how poverty or a disregard for the environment also contributes to misogyny and vice versa). The unwillingness to dive into the depths of feminist theory — fine, of course, for Adiche’s stated purpose is a basic guide for a friend raising a daughter — does mean, however, that there is nothing new here. Adichie revisits old ideas that might just as well be found in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, perhaps with the added context of the Internet and other modern influences.

While Dear Ijeawele is one of the most simple feminist texts I’ve encountered, its prose does little to sway those who are not already feminists. And, frankly, if a reader already is a feminist, they won’t find anything here that is new to them. This can only mean, for me, that the work — while concise, simple, easy to read, well-written and organized, and all of that — is somewhat extraneous at the end of the day, and supplementary at best. Though perhaps useful in a classroom setting for an Introduction to Gender and Women’s Studies class, the book has little other use. Those seeking the advice Ijeawele seeks are not likely to see anything in the text they have not already realized for themselves. And while Adichie has a great opportunity here to explore intersectional feminism, she outright rejects it, and states in no uncertain terms that she believes sexism is a bigger problem in the world than is racism. She doesn’t explore the particulars on that opinion, even, so I am unconvinced there as well.

So, truly, Dear Ijeawele is hardly more than an introduction, if that. There’s no doubt Adichie makes important points and feminism is both relevant and crucial in modern times, but Adichie brings nothing new to the table in Dear Ijeawele, opting instead to reissue old favorites. The essays have value as ones that are well-written and as pieces that cover the basics, but there’s no incentive to read this over any other established feminist text. Many readers may well be better off with bell hooks or any other number of canon feminist writers.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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