Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Library Life: Displays

Display cases in libraries can serve many purposes. Sometimes they're used to advertise goings on at the library, sometimes they celebrate holidays or themes, sometimes they showcase unique collections. With such a small staff, we can't update our displays often as we'd like, but we do our best to make new and interesting displays as frequently as possible. This past month, a coworker and I were inspired to make a display celebrating Banned Books Week. Although the display case we have is quite small, creativity and energy help to make eye-catching displays! We decided to go with a literal book burning theme, so flames abounded in our decorations. 

I worked on a sign inspired by this ALA Banned Books Week poster. It ended up being pretty crooked, so I added flames to distract from the crookedness:

The complete display:

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran


352 pages, Published September 23rd 2014 by Harper

Caitlin Moran's debut novel How to Build a Girl is the story of fourteen-year-old Johanna Morrigan's reinvention and simultaneous coming of age in 1990s London. After suffering a huge embarrassment on local TV and making a slip-up that might cost her family their monthly benefits, Johanna decides to make some serious changes. She begins submitting music reviews to a London journal, discovers an all-black wardrobe, and falls in love with a rock star.

By seventeen, Johanna goes by her nom de plume, Dolly Wilde, and has become the quintessential rock journalist - she's a hard-drinking, poison-pen-wielding self-proclaimed Lady Sex Adventurer. Despite her success and adventuring, Johanna isn't quite happy living as Dolly Wilde. She no longer wants to write negative reviews of bands she hates, but to be positive about those that she likes. 

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran is one of those rare books that can be described in one word: hilarious. If you're like me, then you won't just be chuckling to yourself during this book, you'll be full-on laughing out loud. I expected a pretty standard coming of age story, mostly drama, some thoughtful musings. Instead I got a hilarious story told by one of the most unique protagonists I can recall. Johanna is smart, witty, and blunt. She speaks candidly about the things teenage girls deal with, like masturbation, sex, and periods. Johanna's voices makes How to Build a Girl into a refreshing take on adolescence and making one's mark on the world. My only qualm with the the novel was that Johanna's "sex adventuring" got a bit repetitive after a few anecdotes. I have no problem with mentions of sex and the stories were, of course, still funny. But after several tales of Johanna's misadventuring with men, the stories became a little more bland and ran together.

How to Build a Girl reads like a hybrid of The Bell JarAlmost Famous, and Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging. With a sharp, funny narrator, Caitlin Moran provides a story that's relatable enough for readers to reflect on their own adolescences and how they eventually "built" themselves.

Rating: 4/5

**I received a free e-galley of How to Build a Girl from Edelweiss.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

128 pages, to be published on April 7, 2015 by HarperPerennial

Amber Tamblyn's third volume of poetry, Dark Sparkler, examines the lives of actresses who died before their time (sometimes long before their time). Tamblyn covers a wide range of actresses - from Sharon Tate to Marilyn Monroe, from Brittany Murphy to Peg Entwistle - and includes an epilogue of more personal poems about the "business." Interspersed with her poems are original pieces of artwork by the likes of Adrian Tomine, David Lynch, and Marilyn Manson.

I'm definitely a fan of poetry, but I had never read anything by Tamblyn before and I had no idea what to expect - would this be the work of a spoiled Hollywood actress trying to forge a bond with these former starlets? Simple, rhyming lines? Just plain bad? Luckily, my worries were completely unfounded. Dark Sparkler completely blew me away. Tamblyn has an immensely strong grasp of metaphor and uses it to her advantage. Her prose never stumbles and she never pulls punches in this complex and haunting collection. Each poem is a portrait of a woman's life - sometimes the portraits are expansive, sometimes they're simply a snapshot, but they are all breathtaking. This book is absolutely wonderful with artwork that perfectly matches the tone.

In the foreword to this volume, Diane di Prima suggests that readers first take in Dark Sparkler how they normally would: read it straight through, pick out poems here and there, whatever works. Then, she instructs us to follow our curiosities...look up the women whose stories we're unfamiliar with (or the ones we already know)! Read their biographies, look at their photos, find interviews, do anything that strikes our fancy. I took di Prima's advice, but only partially. I couldn't stand the thought of waiting to finish the book before I found out more about Taruni Sachdev or Rebecca Schaeffer or Bridgette Andersen. I wanted to know them the way Tamblyn seemed to in her verse. I wanted to understand these words and stories. Once I read about one of these actresses lives, then I'd reread the poem and see what new dimensions the backstory brought to the work. Of course, the poems in Dark Sparkler can stand on their own, but we don't necessarily have to leave them on their own. 

"Sharon Tate," "Peg Entwistle," "Jean Harlow," "Bridgette Andersen," "Samantha Smith"

Rating: 4.5/5

**I received a free e-galley of Dark Sparkler from Edelweiss.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Disappointments: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

544 pages, published January 1, 2013 by Anchor

"When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.

Description via Goodreads.

From the description here to the gorgeous paperback cover to the blurb that described Crazy Rich Asians as a "Pride and Prejudice-like send-up" I couldn't wait to dive in. But soon enough, I really, really wished I could dive back out. Here's what I found most insufferable about Crazy Rich Asians:

  • Lack of character development - The story is about Rachel and Nick's ups and downs on their vacation, but it's also about Nick's relatives and friends, and other members of the elite Singaporean circle with which the Young family runs. Some of these stories were actually interesting. At times I thought, Hey, I'd read a book about Nick's cousin Astrid and her husband! or whatever else struck me as fascinating But we were never given quite enough of these other characters' stories to make them stick. The minor characters are sickeningly snobbish and nasty and the major characters, even Nick and Rachel, aren't developed, leaving the storylines to fall very, very flat.
  • Label dropping - I don't mind reading about rich people, I really don't. But Crazy Rich Asians was so label-heavy that at times it felt like I was reading a very long catalog. Chanel this, Dior that, yadda yadda yadda. It was exhausting. It is possible to describe a wealthy person or an opulent home without 20 paragraphs about designers and extravagant adjectives, but I even started to forget that while reading this book. (ex. "
  • Awkward dialogue/bad writing in general - I mostly listened to the audiobook of Crazy Rich Asians, but read the physical book here and there. I will credit the audiobook narrator for making this much more palatable in audio form. Example: -- "Yes, I thought you were dead set against coming to the wedding," Nick said. -- "Well, I changed my mind at the last minute. Especially since Zvi has this fabulous new plane that can zip around so quickly--our flight from New York only took fifteen hours!" Cringe
  • The end story about Rachel's parents - *SPOILERS* What could have been a storyline throughout the book was thrown in at the very end for absolutely no reason. In a fit of bitchiness, Nick's mother reveals what her private investigator has learned about Rachel: her father, long thought dead, is actually alive. This information results in a confrontation with Rachel's mother who shares a very long, strange story about who Rachel's father really is. This is literally within the last 15 pages of the book, adding nothing to a story which had hardly mentioned Rachel's father at all. Once again, this could have been an interesting story; I might have even read a book about this! But the cheap twist was added at the end in an attempt to add some depth to a book that was incredibly shallow.
Rating: 1.5/5
Sigh. I actually feel better having written this down, but count me out of reading Kevin Kwan's sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, which comes out next year. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: Book Riot Quarterly Box

There are several things that I REALLY love in the world: my family, my friends, my boyfriend, my dogs, books, and lastly, getting things in the mail. I also really love combining these things. Since my boyfriend probably won't send himself to me via FedEx, I usually settle for getting books in the mail - books that I order online, the rare ARCs that I win, and most recently, every three months, a Book Riot quarterly box! Now, I don't want to spoil my review but...this subscription box is probably the best thing ever. It's truly a bibliophile's dream come true.

If you're unfamiliar with the words I am saying, Book Riot is a site that covers any and all things book-related. You have your reviews, lists, links, and quizzes. THEN you have special features like "Book Fetish" (a weekly catalog of bookish jewelry, clothes, art, and more), "Literary Tourism" (each post explores a certain location - bookstores, books set there, literary history, etc.), and "Reading Pathways" (suggested three book sequences to become familiar with an author). Needless to say, this website is the bomb.

While browsing around Book Riot a few months back, I noticed a section that I had overlooked in the past: "Subscriptions." Here, you can subscribe to Book Riot podcasts and...AWESOME REAL LIVE BOOKS DELIVERED TO YOUR DOOR! You have two options here:
  1. The Riot Read - For $30 you get "a great new book in your mailbox every month, along with related articles, interviews, and explorations brought to you by the writers of Book Riot." Right now there's only one subscription available, "The Main Event," which is mostly adult fiction. But Young Adult and Non-fiction Riot Reads are coming soon!
  2. The Quarterly Box - For $50, "every 3 months, Book Riot will send you a package of books and bookish stuff." 
I should also mention that I previously subscribed to a similar service - Powell's Indiespensible. Their boxes are $40 and ship every 6 weeks, but I was usually less than impressed. I kept waiting to get better goods, but ended up cancelling after 4 deliveries. So while I was a little wary of trying a similar service, looking at the contents of the previous Quarterly Boxes quickly helped me past my trepidation. I decided to take the dive - the BIG dive - and go for the Quarterly Box rather than sniffing around the monthly Riot Read.

After several weeks of staring down the mailman, my first Quarterly Box arrived yesterday! Here are the goods.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Library Life - Pulling out the Weeds

In the library world, weeding isn't a summer chore your parents make you do. It's the process of deciding which items are no longer needed in the collection and giving them the boot. In fancier terms, weeding is also called "deselection."

Myself and some co-workers are planning a pretty huge overhaul of the library's children's section. A lot of the children's materials have never been weeded, or at least not in the past 20ish years. So part of rearranging and updating the section is weeding out the things that are no longer needed in our collection. I recently weeded the entire Juvenile Biography section and found some real gems. 

Every library has different policies when it comes to collection development and weeding. Some libraries remove materials that haven't circulated in five years or so. Others put a much longer expiration date on their items. But there are, of course, considerations aside from circulation dates to be made when deciding whether or not to weed an item. Here are some general guidelines that I follow when weeding:
  • Last circulation date - When is the last time the item was checked out? My library is pretty lenient here. If it was checked out five years ago, we'll probably keep it. If it hasn't been checked out for 10 or 15 years, it will probably be discarded.
  • Walt, you're looking a little old here... haven't been checked out in 22 years. I'm sorry, Walt, but this is goodbye.
  • Age of the material - Is a book so old that its information is no longer relevant? It might need to go. For example, books about politicians that are still alive can become outdated pretty quickly. I found several Hillary Clinton bios specifically about "The Life of the First Lady." Of course I think we should have biographies about Hil, but they should have information that goes beyond 1995.
  • Redundancy - Do we have several books on the same topic? Libraries should have a lot of information about certain popular topics and people. We don't, however, need a lot of information about every topic or person. For example, I pulled a particularly old and beat-up biography of George Washington. Sure, he's a popular guy, but I left about 15 other bios for interested grade schoolers to peruse.
  • Multiple copies - At one point, the library actually needed 8 copies of The Help. There was a ton of buzz over the movie, people were talking about the book everywhere, and we couldn't keep a copy on the shelf. Now, we could probably stand to weed that particular book down to about 3 copies (maybe even 2!). This is, like most of my "criteria", a judgment call. It's up to the weeder to decide how many copies of a book the library needs, but it helps to consider the other guidelines.
  • Relevance - I was drowning in biographies of 1990s athletes and movie stars during my weeding. Some of them I'd heard of (I see you, Tara Lipinski!) but some were so outdated that I'd their names didn't even ring tiny, distant bells. Unfortunately, kids no longer want to read about Sarah Michelle Gellar or LeAnn Rimes. I hurts my heart too.
  • Physical condition - Even if a book is still relevant and has been checked out, we may need to remove it from the collection because of its physical condition. We just can't keep books around that are falling apart. One of my coworkers is pretty brilliant at book repairs, so she fixes up anything that can be saved. But some books are simply beyond repair. If it's something that we think should still be in the collection, we'll get a new copy. I recently had to toss an old copy of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers because the cover was falling off and everything else was being held together with scotch tape. I immediately purchased another copy because, duh, we need a few Two Towers around. But if a book is super junky AND irrelevant, say sayonara.
  • Subject matter - Finally, it's important to consider the item's subject matter. Even if something has never been checked out or is pretty old, I'll keep it if it's considered a "classic" or if it touches on a unique subject. Some things are just important to keep in a collection. When I weed the young adult section, I try not to get rid of books that bring cultural and ethnic diversity to the collection. Even if they haven't been checked out within the arbitrary time period that we've selected as a weeding guideline, I'll keep these books in our collection because it's important that young people (and old people and in-between people!) have access to different narratives and perspectives.
These rules aren't set in stone! There's a lot of wiggle room and plenty of judgment calls involved in weeding. I also run weeds by my boss before I actually remove them from the catalog. He might know more about a certain topic than I do and think that we should keep a book that I weeded. Or a coworker might be able to tell me the value of a certain item that I then decide to keep in the collection. It takes a village! Or...something.

So what happens after we've decide to remove something from the collection? I'm sure it's different everyone, but this is how it works at my library...First we check out weeded books to a special "discard" account. This account is cleared out periodically by the people who work for our larger network (TLN) so that they're not just sitting in magical check out land forever. Then we rip out the first page of the book (the page with the library's bar code in it). I know, ripping books sounds blasphemous, but I promise it ends well! Next, we take our special "DISCARD" stamp and stamp it a few times on the inside cover of the book. And finally, we put the weeded items into our book sale in the lobby where they will await new, loving homes!

Some people seem to hate the idea of weeding. They think we shouldn't get rid of anything because WHAT IF??? But I generally like weeding. The physical act of weeding, like so many library duties, can be calming. And the results are good too! Weeding leads to a cleaner, more relevant and updated library collection. And of course it's easier for patrons to find what they're looking for when they don't have to sort through the weeds to get there.

It's not you, Leo, it's me. I'm just having a hard...okay, fine, it IS you.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Since the release of her widely acclaimed debut novel, An Untamed State, 2014 is shaping up to be the year of Roxane Gay. Next up is her collection of essays titled Bad Feminist, set to be released on August 5. I had the privilege of receiving an advanced e-galley of Bad Feminist and was incredibly impressed with the wide-reaching, profound material found in this collection.

Ms. Gay has separated her book into 5 equally riveting sections: Me, Gender & Sexuality, Race & Entertainment, Politics, Gender, & Race, and Back to Me.
As she explains in the "Me" essays, Roxane Gay is a self-proclaimed “bad feminist”: she believes heavily in the tenents of feminism, yet finds herself not quite able to give up certain behaviors and habits. She advocates for gender equality, but still enjoys listening to rap music with not-so-suitable-to-feminist-ears lyrics. She promotes a culture with positive representations of various races, ethnicities, and genders, yet waxes nostalgic for the whitewashed Sweet Valley series. It’s a conundrum that most modern feminists face and must come to terms with: do I disown things that I enjoy if they don’t align perfectly with my beliefs? Am I “bad” if I don’t loudly protest against every problematic situation I encounter? Maybe so. But maybe we can stake a claim in being bad feminists as Gay has.

From her "bad feminist" manifesto, Roxane leads into an acknowledgment of her own privilege, commenting that, "At some point, you have to surrender to the kinds of privilege you hold. Nearly everyone, particularly in the developed world, has something someone else doesn't, something someone else years for." Gay never forgets her privilege, but she also knows where she isn't privileged: as a black woman of Haitian descent she discusses the problems faced by women and people of color in our society, often focusing on their depictions in popular media. 

Ms. Gay's pop cultural commentary is funny and relevant, touching on subjects that still ring in recent memory. The "Gender & Sexuality" section of the book includes commentary on Girls, Bridesmaids, Girlfriends, the Sweet Valley book series, Kate Zambreno's novel Green Girl, VH1's "celebreality" shows Rock of Love and Flavor of Love, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, the Fifty Shades of Grey series, and many more. Gay uses these cultural milestones to discuss the portrayal of women in books, television, and movies, the expectations placed on women because of these portrayals, and the distorted mirror of popular culture through which women begin to see themselves. Her words are heavy, reminding us constantly of the ways women are forced to perform their gender and the barrage of unrealistic or problematic depictions of women in media. 

Similarly, "Race & Entertainment" is comprised of Gay's thoughts and personal experiences with race in film and television. She specifically addresses the popular "magical negro" trope, the supersaturation of media with struggle narratives, and the assumption that positive depictions of people of color here and there - "scraps from the table" as Gay calls them - will ever be enough. Sometimes Gay's prose is lovely, sometimes it's hard hitting, but it always leaves the reader with new information, and new perspective, and ultimately, the desire for more.  

The penultimate section of Gay's book is "Politics, Gender & Race" with essays ranging from women's reproductive freedom as a political bargaining chip to the media's treatment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev following the Boston bombing. These criticisms are brash and fierce, forcing open the eyes of those who may not have considered such topics with a critical lens. 

Gay's final essays are "Bad Feminist: Take One" and "Bad Feminist: Take Two" in the "Back to Me" portion of the book. They tackle the concept of "bad feminist" in more depth, discussing the danger of subscribing to an "essential feminism," a feminism that is black or white, right or wrong, and as Gay notes, "suggests anger, humorlessness, militancy, unwavering principles, and a prescribed set of rules for how to be a proper feminist woman." We all mess up. There are no perfect movements and no perfect feminists, so we might as well admit to our flaws and embrace our bad sides.

Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist is a collection of poignant and thought-provoking essays; she never hesitates, never pulls punches, and we readers are all the better for it. Every page is a wonder, every sentence a revelation. Now that I've finished Gay's essays and have had a few days to ruminate on them, I feel wide-eyed and ready to take on the world. And I am proud to call myself a bad feminist. 
Rating: 5/5
**I received a free e-galley of Bad Feminist from Edelweiss.