We started off 2012 with a bang, as the January edition of Check It Out!—which offered some of Nancy’s “New Year’s Resolutions” for the publishing world—generated a lot of feedback, some of which we are delighted to share.
l Just read your New Years Resolutions in PW, and wanted to say what a great suggestion (#7) to include what I’m currently reading in e-mail correspondence. It seems more and more that e-mail is how I am notifying people of requested items. Thanks so much for that idea!
—Denise Hogan, Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library, Miss. Currently reading The Cat Sitter’s Pajamas by Blaize Clement
l I loved your New Year’s resolutions, and I have noticed some patrons placing items on hold in our library’s collection based on what our staff displays as what they are currently reading. As you say, the gesture of sharing one’s current book takes only a moment, and the ripples can go far and wide.
—Thomas Maluck, Northeast Branch Librarian, Richland County Public Library, Columbia, S.C. Currently reading Saints at the River by Ron Rash and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Thank you for the comments; I’m delighted to hear them. I think you are right about sharing, and the effect it can have. It seems to me that one of the most basic problems people have in choosing what book to read next is the sheer number of choices available to them. I think an all too common scenario these days is that a patron walks into the library with the name of one or more authors or particular books in mind—they may be suggestions from friends, books recently reviewed in their favorite magazine or newspaper, a bestseller that they’ve heard of—and, of course, inevitably, those books aren’t on the shelf. The patron then looks around at all the shelves filled with unfamiliar titles and authors, gives up, and goes home.
This is a crucial moment: with the patron thinking, “there’s nothing here for me,” this is the perfect time for an intervention by library staff. Unfortunately, many patrons won’t or don’t approach the public service desk to get help—they’re more likely to simply leave—so it behooves the staff to make it a practice to regularly troll the stacks and simply ask patrons if they’re finding what they’re looking for (more to come on this in another column.)
Meanwhile, when the patron does come to the desk, the results can be similarly unsatisfactory, since, if the book recommended is a bestseller or has been recently reviewed in a popular magazine, it’s likely there’ll already be a long queue waiting for the book. We certainly don’t want those patrons to walk out of the library empty-handed, and an easy way to prevent that is to walk them over to a display of staff favorites, or show them the library’s Web site, which (I hope) has a regularly updated section of staff recommendations, which come from everyone, at all levels, in the library, not just the professional staff (more on displays and marketing your collection in another column.) By the way, I’m currently reading The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.
Q: I loved your WWI book suggestions in PW. Do you know of any good ones set in Europe right after WWI (Paris peace conference era)? —Pam Jenoff
My first thought, Pam, is that you should become acquainted with Gertrude Bell, an amazing woman who spent much of her life in the Middle East. Bell actually drew the boundaries of present-day Iraq, selected its first king, was a friend of T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia), and participated at the Paris peace conference. It’s probably fair to say that I’m obsessed with reading about her. My favorite biography is Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations by Georgina Rowley, but Janet Wallach’s The Desert Queen; The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell is also excellent. And then there’s Birds Without Wings, a fabulous novel by Louis de Bernières that takes place during the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Another novel set during the same time period (and Gertrude Bell is one of the characters) is Mary Doria Russell’s Dreamers of the Day.
Q: I wish that publishers (and authors) would come out with more contemporary books featuring African-American central characters. There seem to be a lot of books (both fiction and nonfiction) dealing with slavery and the civil rights movement, but where are all the books about kids today who just happen to be African American? —Kathy Smargiassi, children’s librarian, Marysville, Wash.
A:I absolutely agree with you, Kathy. I think it’s very important that writers in whatever genre, from family stories to science fiction, include an ethnically diverse cast of characters without making a big deal of the fact that they’re not all Caucasian. And that can be very hard to find. One title for upper middle-grade readers that I think works very well is Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Egypt Game. There are several excellent examples from picture books, including Two Is a Team by Lorraine and Jerrold Beim. It’s long out-of-print and probably quite dated now (I haven’t looked at it for decades), but it’s the story of two young boys who get together to build a scooter. The only way that you know that one of them is black is from the illustrations. And of course there are the picture books by Ezra Jack Keats.
Q: Since we’re on the subject of finding good books to read, and great books that are out-of-print, can you tell readers a little about your new series, Book Lust Rediscoveries? It will be bringing back great books long out-of-print. How did the series come about, how will you choose the titles, and what’s forthcoming? —PW editors
A: For a very long time I’ve felt hampered whenever I do a presentation on good books to read, whether on the radio, at a Rotary Club meeting, or a library program, because so many of the books I’d like to talk about are unavailable. And I can tell you that people become very frustrated when I recommend a book in glowing terms and then they find that their library or bookstore doesn’t carry it and can’t get it because it’s out-of-print, and that it’s ridiculously expensive to buy used, online. I included some of these titles in my book, Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason. And after the book came out, in 2003, that desire crystallized. For a variety of reasons, my publisher, Sasquatch Books, didn’t feel that Book Lust Rediscoveries (as I called it in my mind even then) was something they wanted to take on. So I put the idea on what I thought was permanent hold and concentrated on other reading matters.
But after my book Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers was published in 2010, I started thinking again about the possibility of creating a series of reprints. Through a good friend in the publishing industry, I was introduced to Victoria Sanders, literary agent extraordinaire, who loved the idea of the project and wanted to see it come to fruition.
At this point, there are going to be 12 novels, published between 1960 and 2000. The first two are Merle Miller’s A Gay and Melancholy Sound, which was originally published in 1961, and Rhian Ellis’s After Life, which came out in 2000. The 12 initial books are all very different, but the common thread is probably that they are all character-driven. There’s a line in Liz Moore’s Heft, a wonderful new novel, in which the main character, once a literature professor, says of one of his former students, “she judged them [the characters in books] as people, rather than as literature.” He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but I know from analyzing my own reading that the novels I love best are filled with characters who I believe in and care about. I wanted other readers to have the opportunity to meet these characters, too.
Perhaps Book Lust Rediscoveries is a selfish project—I own all 12 of these books, mostly in terrible condition, because I’ve found them at yard or library book sales, Goodwill, and used bookstores. The thought of having new copies (with wonderful cover art) on my bookshelves makes me very happy. And the thought that now other people will get to read them, too, makes me even happier.
Books to Read Before You Die
Great short story collections you might have missed:
Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie
Among the Missing by Dan Chaon
After the Plague by T.C. Boyle
The Lone Pilgrim by Laurie Colwin
Fabulous Small Jews by Joseph Epstein
Mothers and Other Monsters: Stories by Maureen F. McHugh
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
Runaway by Alice Munro
Scar Vegas and Other Stories by Tom Paine
Oblivion: Stories by David Foster Wallace