Tuesday, April 27, 2010

RA Interview Lab: Person 5


This person is a good friend of mine from high school with whom I share many of the same reading interests. Like me, she primarily reads literary fiction and YA crossovers, and we often borrow from each other’s book collections. When I asked for a few of her favorite authors or titles, she immediately said Jack Kerouac. She loves anything that deals with the 1950s time period, the Beatniks, etc. So I started with that.

Oddly enough, Jack Kerouac doesn’t show up on RA Online at all. So I turned to NoveList and searched for read-alikes for her favorite of his titles, On the Road. Interestingly, I quickly found a fiction title called The Rebel: An Imagined Life of James Dean, by Jack Dann. I laughed out loud at this, because my friend has always been obsessed with James Dean. It’s basically a speculative story about what might have happened had James Dean survived his fatal car crash. My friend was excited with how perfect it seemed for her, and I marveled at how lucky I was to find it so quickly.

I asked if she was interested in finding another title based on some of her other interests. She said that she has noticed that lately she gravitates toward science fiction and fantasy, but that she isn’t into the hardcore stuff. She looks for books that feature complicated situations she can relate to that are made more interesting by the sci-fi/fantasy frame. It sounded to me like she prefers books in which the sci-fi/fantasy elements are not the main focus, but rather complement the main plot. She admitted to being a part of the vampire bandwagon, and named Stephenie Meyer and Laurell K. Hamilton as two of her favorites. Like me, she loves YA novels, and when I asked what about YA she personally enjoyed, she commented that so many YA books are incredibly well-written—some even better than adult books, and that she is still young enough to relate to the young characters featured in such books. She named Libba Bray as one of her favorite recent YA authors.

I started by searching for Bray in NoveList, but I wasn’t coming up with anything that appealed to my friend. Because of our tendency to enjoy the same YA books, I decided that in this case, it was appropriate to use my personal experiences to suggest some read-alikes. I asked if she had heard about Libba Bray’s new title, Going Bovine, which I myself have sought but not yet procured. She hadn’t known about the book, so I added it to her list. I had just finished reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, which blew me away; feeling that my friend would appreciate the science fiction aspects and the compelling story, I felt comfortable suggesting it to her. I also suggested Orson Scott Card and Neil Gaiman as two more excellent science fiction and fantasy authors.

She admitted to being an extremely slow reader, so I decided to stop there. I offered to look for the books in her local library, but she told me she wouldn't have time to go get them for a while anyway, so she wanted to wait on that.  This was her final list:

The Rebel: An Imagined Life of James Dean by Jack Dann
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

Orson Scott Card
Neil Gaiman

RA Online (attempted)

She told me she's been working and traveling a lot lately, so she hasn't gotten around to reading any of the books I suggested.  She also wants to finish her Jasper Fforde book she's been reading for a month or so, and then she plans to look at the library or bookstore for the James Dean book.

Monday, April 26, 2010

RA Interview Lab: Person 4


This is another nonfiction reader, but his interests lie outside of politics. His favorite hobbies are golf, acoustic guitar, and classic rock music, and he loves to read all he can about them. He is also mildly interested in learning to play card games like poker and black jack. He mentioned that the last book he bought, other than books of guitar tablatures, was an encyclopedia of body-building.

I decided to first look for something that fits his interests within his comfort zone—namely, nonfiction books. I recalled that RA Online includes some nonfiction, so I went and browsed the topics there first. I looked for “guitar” and found nothing, but I did find “Music—rock.” However, there was no nonfiction listed under this topic, so I browsed in "Golf" instead. I found John Daly’s autobiography, My Life In and Out of the Rough: The Truth Behind All the Bullshit You Think You Know About Me—a title which made me laugh out loud. I shared this with Person 4, who also laughed and said he was interested. Just to be certain, I asked if he thought he would enjoy an autobiography that might more closely resemble a fiction story than some of the guides and handbooks to which he was accustomed, and he replied that he was willing to give it a try.

I asked him if he would be interested at all in reading fiction, and he confirmed that he would, but he had no idea what he would like since he never enjoyed reading the assigned material in high school. He entrusted me to give him a good starting point. I asked him a few questions about the kinds of movies or television shows he enjoys, and he gave me vague answers that told me he dabbled a little in every genre. I asked if he liked science fiction or fantasy, and he said yes. He then mentioned the Harry Potter movies and how he had heard repeatedly that the books were even better, and he asked me if they were easy books to get into. I confirmed this, telling him that I knew many people who didn’t particularly enjoy reading, with the single exception of Harry Potter. So I went ahead and lent him my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

RA Online


He started reading the first Harry Potter, but was finding it “childish” and a bit tedious, as he already knew what was going to happen. But he was still interested in finishing the series, so I told him it would probably be okay for him to skip to the third or fourth book, which I have found contain a lot more details that were left out of the films. I encouraged him to try to get to the seventh book before the next film came out, because there is nothing quite like reading a new Harry Potter book before being spoiled by the film versions. I lent him my copies of the third and fourth books, and he told me that he would try to get through Harry Potter before moving on to the John Daly title.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

RA Interview Lab: Person 3


Outside of my parents, it wasn't easy to find readers in my family. Thankfully, my grandma reads and has been looking for new books to pick up. I am not quite as close to my grandma as I am with my parents, so I had to work harder to get a feel for what she was looking for. She made it clear to me from the very beginning that she is primarily interested in “no-brainers”—she reads solely for entertainment and has a difficult time enjoying books that require her to concentrate or ponder things too deeply. I asked for an example of an author she enjoys and why she enjoys his or her work. She first mentioned Nicholas Sparks, and she explained that she loves him because she feels that though his love stories are often sad in tone, they are also heartwarming and make her “appreciate the human spirit.” I asked her which of his titles she likes best, and she told me that she could relate better to the ones that featured older characters like herself.

This time, I went straight to RA Online. I looked at the author read-alikes for Sparks’ The Choice and, using the faceted search, found Elizabeth Berg, so I asked Grandma if she was interested in her. She told me that she has heard good things about Berg. I read her some of the summaries for Berg’s more recent works and together we selected Dream When You’re Feeling Blue.

Next, I ask her what other authors she enjoys, and she initially had trouble coming up with one name. She says that she used to read Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins religiously, and she might like to read something akin to their work. Although NoveList isn’t one of my favorite RA tools, I decided to try it to look for read-alikes for Danielle Steel. Interestingly, I found a detailed list of author read-alikes compiled by Joyce Saricks, who described each of the appeals of Steel’s worked and what other authors shared these characteristics. Sarick’s recommended titles with a focus more on women’s lives and may feature a hint of romance. Barbara Delinsky’s A Woman’s Place seemed like a suitable choice for my grandma, who prefers books that are contemporary, but that don’t rely too much on modern technology or fads as plot devices. After I read the summary for her, Grandma expressed interest, and we had a second title.

She seemed satisfied with these two books, so I searched and found them in her local library catalog and told her they were ready for her to pick up. I also went ahead and quickly wrote up a list of more author read-alikes from literature-map.com for future possibilities. My grandma does not have internet access, and would have no idea how to operate it if she did, so she was especially appreciative of this list:

Nicholas Sparks read-alikes
Wally Lamb
Richard Paul Evans
Mitch Albom
Luanne Rice

Danielle Steel read-alikes
Barbara Taylor Bradford
Kathleen Woodiwiss
Kristin Hannah
Eileen Goudge

Jackie Collins read-alikes
Nelson De Mille
Jilly Cooper
Brock Cole
Jacqueline Susann

RA Online


Grandma read Elizabeth Berg’s novel, and really enjoyed it. She said that the author did a good job of portraying the WWII era, and she could relate somewhat to the characters because of their Irish heritage and because she also grew up in a time of war. She thinks she might look into reading more of Berg’s work before moving on to the other titles and authors I suggested.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

RA Interview Lab: Person 2


For my second person, I chose to interview my dad. I purposely chose him to challenge myself, as he is an avid nonfiction reader. He can’t even remember the last time he read a fiction book after high school, with the one exception of The Da Vinci Code a few years back. His favorites are autobiographies and memoirs, particularly of politicians or of famous people (comedians, athletes, film stars) interested in politics. He is staunchly conservative and Republican in every way, but he enjoys reading about both sides of the issues and so does not object to reading about a Democrat.

I asked him to name the last few books he has read and enjoyed. He mentioned Sarah Palin, Ted Kennedy, and Craig Ferguson. He explained that whenever he hears about a new nonfiction title by someone of prominence or about a topic that interests him, he buys it without even looking at reviews. He doesn’t particularly care how “good” a book supposedly is—he just want to be informed and to learn more about the issues he cares about. I ask him whether he wants to continue to read more about politicians or if he might like to read about another kind of celebrity. He thinks for a moment and then replies that he will read about anyone as long as they are current and relevant to what’s going on in the world in the present.

Based on his descriptions of the kinds of books he enjoys, it seemed to me that for him, the appeal of nonfiction lies primarily in the learning aspect of the experience. His preference of autobiographies and memoirs led me to believe that he probably appreciates nonfiction with a narrative structure, but his interest in certain topics led me to believe it is not required for him to enjoy a title. I asked him if he might be interested in a speculative nonfiction work, but he informed me that story isn’t what he really looks for in books—he is more interested in real people, how they live their lives, and why they think the way they do.

I initially did not know where to start for nonfiction advisory. I decided that because my dad is interested in current issues and events, checking out the nonfiction bestseller lists could be beneficial. I looked at the New York Times bestsellers and realized that I would need more specific information on what topics he was in the mood for. I asked if he was interested in the financial crisis or the stock market, as the top spot was occupied by Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, which covered those topics. He smirked at me, because we both know how much he loves arguing about money. So I read him the summary, he went for it, and we had our first title.
I went down the nonfiction list and found in the #4 spot the autobiography of President George W. Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, called Courage and Consequence. Dad said that he had heard of the title and had thought about buying it. I let him read the NY Times review of the book, and he decided that he would go ahead and check that out as well.

My dad didn’t seem interested in any of the other titles on the NY Times lists, and I figured that two political titles were enough, so I thought I would try to find something that would appeal to one of his other interests. I asked him what he was in the mood for reading, and he replied that he might like to read something about entertainment or celebrities. On a whim, I went to Amazon and looked under nonfiction, which was helpfully divided into topics. I clicked on “Entertainment” and scrolled down, searching for something new he might like. I came upon When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead—the biography of Jerry Weintraub, who I knew to be a famous producer who is friendly with several politicians and celebrities. Dad knew this as well, and decided that he would like to read it.

I now had three titles for him to try, but I wanted to give him more titles in case those ones didn’t work out, so I quickly scanned Amazon’s nonfiction bestseller list and jotted down the titles that matched Dad’s interests (especially his conservative leanings). This is what I came up with:

Jonathan Alter – The Promise: President Obama, Year One
Datyn Perry – Reggie Jackson (biography)
Eric Pooley – The Climate War (skepticism of climate change)
Roger Lowenstein – The End of Wall Street
Sean Hannity – Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda
Dick Morris – 2010: Take Back America
Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers: The Story of Success
Jane White – America, Welcome to the Poorhouse

I accessed his local library OPAC and searched for the first three titles I had offered him. I only found the Michael Lewis title, so I helped him place a hold on it. Dad told me he would either wait for the library to acquire the other two titles or he would just ask for my mom to buy them for him for Fathers’ Day. I suggested that in the meantime, he could check out some of the other titles from the bestseller list.

New York Times Bestseller List – Nonfiction
Amazon (new in nonfiction)


He has read the Michael Lewis book and he enjoyed it. That’s pretty much all he would tell me. He’s a man of few words, and while he does read a lot, there are very few books (or movies… or TV shows… or anything really) that he gets really passionate about. He hopes to read Karl Rove’s book next, and he has already asked for Jerry Weintraub’s autobiography as a Fathers’ Day gift from my mom.

Friday, April 23, 2010

RA Interview Lab: Person 1


The first person I interviewed was my mom. She and I are very close, and we are both avid readers, but our tastes are usually quite different. Mom tends to stick with the same authors—every time Jodi Picoult, Harlan Coben, or Nora Roberts releases a new title, she immediately shows up at the book store to pick it up. Since she knows exactly what authors she likes and obviously didn’t need recommendations of other titles by those authors, I decided to try and expand her reading horizons by finding new authors for her to explore based on her preferences.

Because she is so loyal to those three specific authors, I felt that looking for author read-alikes would be the most helpful in her case. I first went to literature-map.com, having had success with this site for author read-alikes in the past. The search cloud is a fast and useful tool for getting a general idea of what authors share certain characteristics and how closely related some authors are. I created a short list for each of her favorite authors:

Jodi Picoult Read-alikes
Sue Monk Kidd
Alice Sebold
Anita Shreve
Elizabeth Berg
Audrey Niffenegger

Harlan Coben Read-alikes
Jonathan Kellerman
Stuart Woods
Walter Mosley
Dennis Lehane
Michael Connelly

Nora Roberts Read-alikes
Janet Evanovich
Jayne Ann Krentz
Mary Higgins Clark
Diana Gabaldon
Karen Robards

I then repeated these names to my mom and asked if she had already read any of them. She read The Lovely Bones and didn’t particularly enjoy it, so Alice Sebold is out. She also doesn’t didn’t enjoy Mary Higgins Clark. I know very well that my mom isn’t too interested in “unrealistic” books that deal with fantasy or time travel, so I went ahead and eliminated Diana Gabaldon. She also mentioned that she didn’t want to read Evanovich, as she has never been able to get into series of books, so Janet’s off as well.  We went down the lists and eliminated a few more authors based mostly on what my mom didn't want to read.

Next, I asked her what aspects of each author’s writing she most enjoys so that I could look for similar aspects when I researched the new authors. She enjoys Jodi Picoult because she “explores the human condition, really picks her characters apart, and always has a deeper meaning.” I used the Reader’s Advisor Online to research each favorite author and to explore some of the appeals shared with other authors and titles. For Jodi Picoult, I found Anita Shreve on the read-alike list and found that the two authors’ appeals are often their characters and their storylines with multiple points-of-view. I read my mom the summary of Shreve’s Testimony, and she thought it sounded worth checking out, so I wrote down that title for her.

My mom loves mysteries, and she loves that Harlan Coben always keeps her guessing until the end. According to RA Online, just about all of Jonathan Kellerman’s recent books are part of his Alex Delaware series, so I eliminated him from the list. I found this to be the case with most of the other author read-alikes, so I abandoned Harlan Coben and took a different approach. I asked my mom what she liked best in her favorite mysteries, and she replied that she enjoys murder stories, and loves when a smart woman is involved, whether she’s the investigator or the villain. So, I browsed RA Online’s “Related Theme List,” where I found a list of recommendations for “Women of a Certain Age, and the Crimes They Solve.” There I found a few titles featuring women who solve crimes in their communities. I read the summary of Josephine Carr’s My Very Own Murder to my mom, and she said it sounded perfect, so I recorded the title.

Mom claimed that she likes Nora Roberts for her mysteries that feature juicy romance. In RA Online, I found that Jayne Ann Krentz shares with Roberts the appeals of “engaging characters and smart storylines,” which is exactly what my mom looks for in every book she reads. I looked through some of Krentz’ most recent titles until I came upon the romantic suspense title All Night Long, which Mom said sounded great for her.

Thus, I found three new titles for my mom to seek out—each a read-alike of a different one of her favorite authors. After the whole process was finished, I realized that I probably should not have bothered using literature-map.com at all—Reader’s Advisory Online was quite sufficient for my purposes and going straight to that site would have saved me some time. But I went ahead and gave my mom the list of author read-alikes from literature-map, so she now has a long list of authors to explore in the future. I also showed her how easy it was to use that site so that she could look up more of her favorite authors on her own if she wanted to. She’s not very skilled with the internet and has trouble navigating complicated websites, so she appreciated the simplicity of the tool.

I checked her local library’s catalog for some of the titles, and I found that the Shreve title was available, but the other two were not at the library. I offered to see if I could help her borrow the books through interlibrary loan, but she said that she will probably start with the Shreve book and go from there.

Here is the final list I gave her.

Testimony by Anita Shreve
My Very Own Murder by Josephine Carr
All Night Long by Jayne Ann Krentz

Sue Monk Kidd
Audrey Niffenegger
Stuart Woods
Walter Mosley
Michael Connelly
Karen Robards

Readers’ Advisor Online


She is still working on the Anita Shreve title.  She gets most of her reading done at the beach, and there just hasn't been beach weather lately.  But she says is enjoying it, although it's been a little slow-paced for her tastes.  She's excited to try out some of the Harlan Coben read-alikes for more of a page-turner experience.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Digital Services: The Future of RA?

For my birthday, my friend bought me the perfect book: the timely This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson. I’ve only read the first two chapters, and I’ve already encountered several issues that relate to Readers’ Advisory and other class topics. Johnson uses real-life examples to demonstrate how librarians are stepping up to the challenges presented in today’s digital environment and saving the world from what she dubs “information sickness.”

The most thought-provoking idea introduced by the author so far deals with the importance of innovation in the ever-changing world of libraries. She describes a recently developed digital library that uses the virtual world known as “Second Life” to serve its community. This library appears on screen as a ramshackle wooden building that evokes an atmosphere of the late 1800s Wild West. People around the world with Internet access can take the form of avatars, whose appearance they can alter as they please as long as it fits in with the West theme. Virtual cowboys, saloon keepers, and barmaids can walk around the library and browse the “collection” (a list of links to dime novels and other old-time books in digital form). They can also type reference questions in a chat box, which are answered by the librarian Lena Kjellar, who appears on the screen as a woman in a bustle skirt. Interestingly, Lena Kjellar is actually a retired male electrical engineer who has been trained in reference, and who feels that taking on a female form in the virtual world makes him more approachable.

This struck me as a perfect example of librarians adapting to the Digital Age by using technology to their advantage. What a fun, innovative way to offer reference services to patrons! I think Second Life would be equally ideal for Readers’ Advisory, if not more so. I would think that most people who seek RA service have a passion for reading and immersing themselves in alternate worlds, and I think fiction readers would especially appreciate the fantasy of visiting a library in such an imaginative setting. The younger generations of patrons are technology-savvy and many possess an appreciation for video games and similar virtual playgrounds, so it seems to me that this Second Life idea may prove to be an important part of the future of libraries.

Another example of a Second Life library.  Apparently, these are gradually becoming more popular.

Such innovations makes me excited for the future of the profession. I hope that through effective dissemination of such inspired ideas, librarians will prove their worth to the world and people will realize that they need libraries (in whatever form) more than ever. Obviously, we all have to do our part to share information and ideas with the professional community--word-of-mouth is the first step to transforming new innovations into widely-practiced customs.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ophelia, by Lisa Klein (YA Crossover)

The YA crossover is consistently the genre that brings me the most pleasure, which might have something to do with my maturity level lagging in that stage between teenager and adulthood. I personally can more easily relate to young protagonists than I can to the older and more experienced characters in much of adult fiction. I was actually hard-pressed to find a crossover I haven’t yet read at my local library, as I’ve sought out and read so many of them in the past. I was essentially forced to browse the teen fiction shelves, scan the pages of books, and try to determine whether a title could appeal to adult readers. Lisa Klein’s Ophelia was the result of that search, and it proved an enjoyable read for this adult-with-a-teenager’s-sensibilities.

Like Klein, I have always been dismayed at the weak portrayals of most of the female characters in Shakespeare’s plays. Hamlet is one of the foremost offenders, depicting Ophelia as a fragile damsel prone to madness and Gertrude as a dishonest shrew of a queen. Klein has taken it upon herself to re-imagine the story from a woman’s point of view. Young Ophelia grows up in the village of Elsinore with her father Polonius and her brother Laertes. Though girls at the time typically were not educated, she is allowed to sit in on her brother’s lessons with his tutor, and so she is rather educated for a woman.

Ophelia’s lifestyle changes drastically when her father earns employment in the king’s court and the family moves to Elsinore castle. Upon meeting the Prince Hamlet, Ophelia is smitten, but he initially sees her only as Laertes’ goofy little sister. As Ophelia matures, however, Queen Gertrude invites her to join her ladies-in-waiting and provides feminine and educational guidance. She becomes Gertrude’s favorite, and the two form a close bond based on their shared love of books. Prince Hamlet begins to take notice of Ophelia’s developing beauty, and he is even more impressed by her sharp wit. Because she is below him in status, they must keep their relationship secret, and they accomplish this by dressing as peasants and meeting outside of the castle in an abandoned cottage. However, their happiness is only temporary, because of course it is. This is Shakespearean tragedy, after all. A murderous plot is brewing in the court, one that will shape the fate of the star-crossed lovers.

The remainder of the plot more or less falls in line with Shakespeare’s play, but we get Klein’s interpretation of what was going on behind the scenes. Truly, the strongest points of this book are the unexpected twists that Klein manages to add the original play without changing any aspect of the play’s plot. Does Ophelia actually go mad with despair and drown herself, as characters in the play claim? Is Hamlet’s ultimate goal accomplishing revenge, or is there something deeper going on? Let’s just say that things aren’t what they seem on the surface.

Another reason I chose this book is because I’m an avid lover of the historical fiction genre. A successful author in this genre will skillfully bring the characters and lifestyles of a past time period to life, and Klein excels at immersing her readers in the lives of the characters we all know so well (or at least, we think we know). She paints the landscape through her detailed descriptions of the castle and village life, and she really tries to let the reader see through the characters’ eyes. Klein is also successful at presenting Shakespeare in a way that doesn’t require intense study or repeated readings; she directly takes some of the play’s more simple quotes, and the rest of the dialogue is kind of a hybrid of Shakespearean and “normal, conversational” language. This makes the book accessible for teens and adults alike. Some of Klein’s original dialogue is even in iambic pentameter, which was a nice touch.

I appreciated Klein’s take on Hamlet and the opportunity to see such famous characters in a different light. I have much more respect for Klein’s version of Ophelia and Gertrude than I did for Shakespeare’s limited portrayal of the two women. However, this book in no way detracts from my affection for the original play; in fact, I think it has enhanced my understanding of the characters and has expanded the play’s potential depth. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys Shakespeare, particularly girls and women who, like me, have often felt slighted by the bard’s seeming disregard for some of his female characters. Since Ophelia, Lisa Klein has published a couple more young adult historical fiction novels, including another Shakespeare-themed title called Lady Macbeth’s Daughter.

Book information:

Title: Ophelia
Author: Lisa Klein
Publication date: 2006
Number of pages: 336
Setting: Denmark
Time period: Late 1500s to early 1600s