Monday, March 29, 2010

Annotation 6 - The Historian

Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian is a story within a story within a story. Sort of. The unnamed narrator, who we are to assume is actually the author per the author's note at the beginning of the book, tells the story of her teenage years in the 1970s after she discovers a mysterious book and set of letters in her father's office. Over a series of trips throughout Europe, her father tells the story of his mentor's search for Dracula around the 1930s, his own in the 1950s, and Dracula's past in the 1400s. They believe that Dracula is still alive, or rather, undead. The book the narrator discovered is centuries old and full of blank pages, except for the center, where there's a woodcut image of a dragon and Dracula's name. Receiving this book leaves the historian (the narrator, her father, his mentor) who received it under the power of overwhelming curiousity and a drive to solve a historical mystery.

There is so much I want to say about this book, but I can't without revealing things that took me soooo long to discover. But I can say that this book is a beast. Not in a bad way, but do not attempt to read this book under any kind of timeline. I can put away one of the longer Harry Potter books in a weekend, but though this book is of a similar page count, it is far more dense. I spent about two weeks reading this (not full time, obviously) and hadn't even made it to the half-way point. I thought about trading this book in for something faster, at least for this assignment, but I was determined to prevail! And it was worth it, in my humble opinion. I really enjoyed this book. It's not really a horror novel, though this Dracula fits that mold better than a sparkly or bar-owning vampire, but it does have an eerie vibe. I think the style may fit a bit more with what Carrie described for her review Bram Stoker's Dracula; it's not racy or terribly graffic, it has a more mysterious or investigative feel, with the addition of a more historical bent.

I think this would be a great entry into the historical genre for non-fiction history buffs or someone who wants to test the waters of the horror genre, without all the gore. The Historian feels a bit more like a psychological thriller, in that there's not a lot of the scary stuff, but the way Kostova writes seemingly mild scenes still impart a sense of general spookiness. It also occurred to me, and this may sound strange, but I think this would be an excellent read while someone is stuck somewhere convalescing or on bedrest, or perhaps on a long European tour (for someone who can't afford a Kindle or pack too many books). But this is definitely not a beach read!

A final thought - one thing I discovered after reading this (through wikipedia, so take from it what you will) was that Kostova's mother was a librarian; suddenly underlying themes started to make a lot more sense.

More links...

Young Learners Need Librarians, Not Just Google (a Forbes article)

Shhh! That's the Sound of Public Libraries Closing (aolnews article)

The 11 Most Surprising Banned Books (a Huffington Post article)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Library Programming: An Irish Jig

When I started my search for a library program for this class, I asked a fellow student and friend what programs her library had coming up. This friend works at a library on the south side (Greenwood, I believe), and had mentioned a few cool things they'd done for their teen group (if I remember correctly, they had a lock-in a few months ago with somewhere between 30 and 50 teens!) and I figured they'd have some cool adult activities there, too. The first thing she told me about was a Salsa lesson and wine tasting event (Dancing! Booze!), but it was being held right about the time I asked the question, so I couldn't get there in time. The next event they had was an Alice in Wonderland themed tea-tasting (Tea! Johnny Depp!), but alas, it occurred on a Thursday night that we had class.

After failing with that library, I went back to IMCPL's calendar, determined to find something. I eventually decided on seeing an Irish-playing music group in honor of St. Patty's Day (Ireland! Music!). This appealed to my Irish roots and love of music. So on the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day, I made the trek to the Wayne Township branch of IMPCL to see the musical stylings of Alair, a female trio of harp, flute(s), and cello/violin.

The music was lovely and I liked that the library offered this program to its patrons. A few interesting things about what I saw there:

~The event was easy to find, as it was in a room right off the entry way. I've never visited the Wayne branch, and I appreciated the fact that I had no problem finding where I needed to go.
~There were no librarians or staff present for the program. I initially thought the man running the front table and directing traffic was the librarian in charge of this event, but he turned out to be the harpist's husband.
~I would estimate the average age of the audience to be about 70. I was easily the youngest person in the room, besides the musicians' kids. There were about 15-20 people who attended, some couples, some groups, but the majority were older and women.
~The door was left open during the concert. This was nice because some people heard the music and came in for a while, but I could also see this as a possible distraction to the patrons, as the stacks were right outside the room and the musicians weren't exactly playing quietly. I, for one, would dig searching the stacks whilst jigs and reels played in the background, but that's just me.

All-in-all, I thought this was a fun event and I thought it was cool that an older generation was taking advantage in the library's event. It was free and the music was beautiful and the audience really enjoyed it. It's too bad, though, that so few younger people were in attendence; I don't know if this is the standard audience for this library's events, but if it is, I wonder how they could reach out to other age groups.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Links 'o fun!

Here are a few links to book-related Top 10 lists. Just for fun :)

10 of the best: Heroes from Children's Fiction

Kevin Jackson's Top 10 Vampire Novels (because we can't seem to lay off the vampire stories)

Francesca Simon's Top 10 Antiheroes

Will Davis' Top 10 Literary Teenagers

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Secret Shopper - Readers Advisory

I went to a library on the west side of town today, one I've never visited before. I found a sign for "Adult Reference" and made my way over. Two gentleman sat at side-by-side desks and I moseyed over and landed right between the two. Gentleman #1 looked up first (I didn't have to wait long) and asked me if he could help me.

Well, I wanted to mix things up a bit. Instead of asking for a recommendation for a "good" book, I asked for a "fun" one (heh). And the look on his face - it was pure "oh, crap" for a good five seconds. He shook himself out of it, and asked with good-natured sarcasm if my idea of a fun read was Abyssinian archaeology (which was clearly his idea of a good read). Then he asked me what my idea of "fun" was. I mentioned a TV show I've been watching called Leverage, which he actually heard of (so I didn't have to explain that it's a show about theives who start playing Robin Hood). I also mentioned Ocean's 11, heists, and funny as examples of what I'm looking for.

Ok, let me start by saying that I didn't hate this experience, the librarian was very nice and that counts for a lot in my book, and he did provide me with information. Unfortunately, he wasn't really on the mark with his response. I was hoping for a fun caper-style book, something where the crooks are the good guys and the "victims" are the real crooks, and they do all kinds of clever and twisty things that you don't understand until they reveal it at the end (see, I had a plan - I was all ready to be very specific if I was given the chance). Alas, I didn't get a chance to say any of that before he was "helping me." I think he figured that the closest he could come to a fun heist book was with a cozy mystery. He told me that he'd created a book list for cozy mysteries - or mystery-lite - and mentioned that these were often humorous and had less sex and violence than the regular mysteries. He went off to print off the sheet (titled "Cozy/Amateur Mystery Authors"). He mentioned two of the authors, and that one (or both) had stories where cats solved the crime. (I have no idea how he went from George Clooney to cats, but whatever.)

He took me over to the mystery section and pointed out a few titles that matched authors from his list and then he left me to it. All told, I think this lasted only five minutes. Then, because I wasn't sure if he'd come back and check on me (I didn't want to just leave after that, I was supposed to be looking for a book), I spent at least 10 minutes searching for something to take home. But when you're given a list of authors and then go searching the stacks, it's not exactly easy to find things. Most of these authors write in series, and it seems that few of these smaller branch libraries have all of the books in each series. I got close a few times to picking something, only to find out it was book eight. So I did leave with two books: Big Foot Stole My Wife and Other Stories by Joan Hess and The Xibalba Murders by Lyn Hamilton. Both authors were on his list, but neither were heisty.

Final Grade: B- (mostly for attitude)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Something fun for my fellow library lovers...

Check out this Mental Floss article about funky special collections at US academic libraries!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fantasy: Alphabet of Thorn

Some time ago, I was browsing through Half Priced Books and found a book with a truly lovely cover. I thought I may have read something from the author before (the artwork style seemed familiar, but I wasn't sure if the illustrator was connected to the author), but I figured something that pretty was worth the dollar this clearance book cost even if the book sucked. (Pretty, isn't it?)

The book is Alphabet of Thorn written by Patricia A. McKillip. According to the cover, she's a 'World Fantasy Award-Winning Author,' so I figured this would be a good book to dust off and use for my assignment. Plus, I would achieve the satisfaction of having one less unread book on my bookshelf, not that there are many, but they mock me.

This story takes place in a fantasy world (rather than an earth-bound fantasy) called Raine, and follows several characters. First is a young woman who was abandoned as a baby and left on the edge of the cliff. Nepenthe (don't ask me how to pronounce that) was raised in the palace that was built into the cliff where she was found, and was raised by librarians in a library (fun!) deep beneath the palace. She's a translator who has come across a mysterious text that was written in a language of thorns and has some mysterious hold over her. A young girl, about 14 or 15 I think, has just been made queen over Raine. No one thinks she can handle the job, particularly the old king's advisor, the mage Vevay. Finally, there is a young man named Bourne (and every time he was in a scene, I recalled the yumminess of Matt Damon in the movies of the same name) who is a student at the mage school who is discovering new abilities as well as an affection for Nepenthe. The Kingdom of Raine is suddenly at risk, and these characters have to figure out where the danger is coming from and what they can do to stop it.

Intermixed with all of these characters' points-of-view is a back story of a conqueror and a mage that lived 3000 years before and their story. McKillip did a good job of going from one story to the next, but there were a few times where I had information overload, particularly because she holds out till the end of the book to tie everything together. Fortunately, the ending was satisfying and all the loose ends were tied up the way I like them (I loathe open-ended stories).

When I started reading this book, I wasn't sure I was going to like it - it felt like McKillip was trying to write in an old folktale style and I thought that maybe she was trying a bit too hard. I only felt that way for a chapter or two, though. I don't know if that's because she found her flow or if I just got used to it, but I had no problem with her writing style the rest of the story. She also changed the points-of-view with the start of a new chapter (not every time, but she rarely, if ever, switched them within the chapter); I enjoyed this and it fit with the unhurried flow of the story. I could easily get through a chapter and put the book down to pick up again later. I didn't realize this at the time, but I think I was in the mood for an unstressed read (not that there wasn't mystery or suspense, but something about certain types of fantasies gives the timing a magical quality and the anxiety of the stressful moments gets lost in the flow of the story). McKillip created a believable fantasy world that you could dive into and wade out of without difficulty.

This story definitely fit the fantasy vibe, and if you're looking for a story with the flow and style of an old fairy or folk tale, McKillip may be right up your alley. I would even say that this story lived up to its cover.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Brave New World - My Venture into Sci Fi

I thought I was a Sci-Fi reader. I really did. I liked books that took place in other worlds. I've enjoyed series where the characters could do fancy things with their brains. I love me some Stargate and Firefly and Richard Dean Anderson. I'd 'squee!' if Adam Baldwin ever called me.

But as I started to look into books for my Sci-Fi assignment, I learned something very important: I don't know squat about sci-fi books. Thought I did. But I don't. I actually know (some) Fantasy and some quasi-paranormal stuff. I browsed the library stacks hoping for inspiration and found a lot of Fantasy (not helpful) and a lot of series sci-fi (and I had no idea where any one book fit into the series).

I put a shout out on my blog asking for help and my lovely classmates (I'm talking about you, Ben and Carri!) gave me several suggestions. I also went on Novelist and looked at their reading suggestion lists. I then went to the IMCPL website and put a ton of books into my queue. I requested something from all three of these sources - books I thought would be attainable to my poor, un-sci-ified head.

I brought my haul home and surrounded myself with a dozen books that take place on various and sundry planets. I read the inside flap of each of them and eliminated about half. I then read the first few pages of each and landed on three. One was written by an author I've read before, but since I wanted to branch out a bit more, I put that at the bottom of the list. The next started out with the F-bomb. Man had his house stolen, so it was understandable, but it felt like we were starting off on the wrong foot that way. So I selected book number three: The Better Mousetrap by Tom Holt.

As I started to get into the book, I had an "Oh no, there are dragons in this book - did I accidentally pick a Fantasy after all?" moment, but they had fancy technology mixed in with the magic, so I figured I was ok.

The book takes place in present-day England (and occasionally New Zealand, and once in Renaissance Italy at what we assume is Da Vinci's back yard). Frank has a Portable Door that allows him to travel through space and time (like our favorite Hero, Hiro Nakamura). Emily is in Pest Control, except the pests she "controls" include said dragons, ginormous spiders (gak), and other monster-type creatures. She also dies a lot, so it's a good thing that Frank has that door. He has to go back in time to save her at least half a dozen times, because the Better Mousetrap of the title is actually a magical device that makes sure that someone dies, but in all realities or dimensions or...something like that, and one has Emily's name on it (thus the multiple deaths).

I did enjoy this book, for the most part. My biggest complaint is that it had way too many twists and turns, especially the closer you get to the end. You think you're following along, then suddenly you're lost again. It all ends up making sense, but I think I prefer to get a bit more settled in to the last twist before I have to deal with a new one. The book started out a bit confusing, too, but I blame that on a literary device: introduce your characters in weird situations apart so that you know that later there will be more weird situations, probably with those characters experiencing them together. The style was quirky and I enjoyed the British humor. But what was really interesting was how Holt interspersed the corporate culture into the story. Almost made it creepier...

This is definitely not your typical sci-fi, but I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Jasper Fforde or British comedy. It's clever, witty, and fun while mixing up the familiar with the unfamiliar.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quot libros, quom breve tempus.

I'm working on my Reader's Advisory project (recommending books to friends) and my already substantial to-read list just doubled in the last three days.