Monthly Archives: September 2015

Three reasons to read banned books

Banned Books Week. September 27-October 3 is Banned Books Week, a week when librarians, teachers, booksellers, and other readers celebrate those books that have been banned or challenged over the years. When I hear that a book has been banned or challenged, I’m actually more likely to read it. Why? I’m not often one to start arguments, but I do like to understand both sides of them. And when one person takes it upon herself to deny an entire community access to something she finds “offensive” or “inappropriate,” I want to know what all the fuss is about. So, here are a few reasons to pick up a banned book this week (and any other time!).

  1. You will learn about people and situations outside your own experience. The majority of banned books are by or about people of color — voices which are already woefully under-represented in mainstream publishing. Take Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, about a Native American teen who leaves the reservation’s school to attend a white public school. Or Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, about the friendship between to Afghan boys and the secrets that tear them apart. I’m not Native American, and I’ve never been to Afghanistan, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and learn from these characters’ experiences.
  2. You will develop greater empathy for others. This is true with every book you read, but when you read books about people who are struggling with difficult situations (and books that contain violence, rape, hate crimes, or LGBT characters tend to be banned more often than lighter, happier books), you develop a greater understanding of what those around you might be going through.
  3. You will read something others have been kept from reading. Reading a banned book is like accessing a website that your school or workplace (or in some countries, your government) blocked. So not only do you access new information, you also get street cred for subverting the system.

Of course, there are many other reasons to read banned books. What are some of your reasons? And what are some of your favorite banned/challenged books? If you’re looking for suggestions, ALA has lists of frequently challenged books.


Genre Lessons: Historical Fiction

Pizarro seizing the Inca of Peru.

Pizarro seizing the Inca of Peru by John Everett Millais. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

This month we’re reading historical fiction, which is especially relevant to me because I’m in the process of querying my YA historical fantasy novel. So I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction already this year, but added some new time periods and categories (fifteenth century England, adult fiction) to the mix this month. So here are some of my takeaways from the genre.

1. Don’t bog readers down with details. In my research of Inca history and culture, I came across a lot of neat things that I really wanted to put into my book. But my earlier drafts wound up having a lot of unnecessary jargon and references to events or rituals that weren’t relevant to the story I was trying to tell. Once I got rid of the references and swapped some of the Quechua words out for their English counterparts (I didn’t really need to call guinea pig cuy or way stations tampus to immerse readers in the setting), I had a much stronger (and less confusing) book.

2. That being said, don’t assume your readers know about historic events, even if they are huge within the scope of your research. My knowledge of fifteenth-century English history is shamefully narrow, and when I picked up a book that takes place during the War of the Roses, I got a little lost trying to keep loyalties and lineages straight. Famous battles were mentioned casually, and I wasn’t always familiar with all of them. There was a handy chart showing the different families at the front of the book, which I probably should have consulted more often than I did, but the downside to eBooks is it’s much harder to flip back and refer to charts or maps on earlier pages. It also didn’t help that everyone was named after their parents and grandparents, so the same names kept coming up over and over again. (Not the author’s fault, and she did a great job differentiating between all the Edwards, Richards, Georges, Annes, and Elizabeths.)

3. As exciting as the historical and cultural setting is, make sure you have a story, complete with satisfying plot and character arcs. I loved the setting and voice of one of these books, but struggled to remain engaged when the story seemed to flounder. The protagonist’s goal had been laid out at the beginning of the book, and as far as I could tell, she’d achieved that goal about two-thirds of the way through. It didn’t take long for her to be presented with a new goal, but I would have appreciated the book more if I’d had one overarching goal to follow. The story was so closely tied to the actual historical events that I was surprised when it ended — I wasn’t sure why the author chose to end there and not at an earlier or later point in history. It didn’t feel like the main character’s story was over, nor did it feel like she’d achieved any of her newer (last third of the book) goals.

Those are the main lessons I learned from studying historical fiction. What would you add to this list? Are there any books you’d recommend for someone looking to study the genre more?

Fall Releases

Fall is my favorite season for a number of reasons — football, fall colors, everything pumpkin, and that sense of new beginnings. (I know, that last one’s supposed to be spring, but even though I’m no longer a student the start of a school year always makes me feel like something new is coming.) But with the new colors and cooler weather comes another of my favorite things about fall — fall publishing season! Here are a few new and upcoming titles that I’m excited to dive into. All descriptions are from Amazon and Goodreads.

Violent Ends. Violent Ends, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson, out September 1, 2015

It took only twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to exit his car, march onto school grounds, enter the gymnasium, and open fire, killing six and injuring five others.

But this isn’t a story about the shooting itself. This isn’t about recounting that one unforgettable day.

This is about Kirby and how one boy — who had friends, enjoyed reading, played saxophone in the band, and had never been in trouble before — became a monster capable of entering his school with a loaded gun and firing on his classmates.

Each chapter is told from a different victim’s viewpoint, giving insight into who Kirby was and who he’d become. Some are sweet, some are dark; some are seemingly unrelated, about fights or first kisses or late-night parties.

This is a book of perspectives — with one character and one event drawing them all together — from the minds of some of YA’s most recognizable names.

Orbiting Jupiter. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt, out October 6, 2015

The two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt delivers the shattering story of Joseph, a father at thirteen, who has never seen his daughter, Jupiter. After spending time in a juvenile facility, he’s placed with a foster family on a farm in rural Maine. Here Joseph, damaged and withdrawn, meets twelve-year-old Jack, who narrates the account of the troubled, passionate teen who wants to find his baby at any cost. In this riveting novel, two boys discover the true meaning of family and the sacrifices it requires.

Zeroes. Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, out September 29, 2015

Ethan, aka “Scam,” has a way with words. When he opens his mouth, whatever he wants you to hear comes out. But Ethan isn’t just a smooth talker. He has a unique ability to say things he doesn’t consciously even know. Sometimes the voice helps, but sometimes it hurts – like now, when the voice has lied and has landed Ethan in a massive mess. So now Ethan needs help. And he needs to go to the last people who would ever want to help him – his former group of friends, the self-named “zeros” who also all possess similarly double-edged abilities, and who are all angry at Ethan for their own respective reasons. Brought back together by Scam’s latest mischief, they find themselves entangled in an epic, whirlwind adventure packed with as much interpersonal drama as mind-bending action.

What We Left Behind. What We Left Behind by Robin Talley, out October 27, 2015

From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love isn’t enough to conquer all.

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They’ve been together forever. They never fight. They’re deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college — Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU — they’re sure they’ll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won’t understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni’s life. As distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide — have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

George. George by Alex Gino, out August 25, 2015


When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

This just scratches the surface of my to-read list. What books are you looking forward to this season? Any new (or older) titles you’re excited about?

The life of a public librarian

I Work at a Public Library. This past week has been busier than normal for me, so I haven’t had a chance to write a longer post. I hate to leave my readers hanging, though, so I thought I’d share a Tumblr I came across recently that’s had me laughing, smiling, and nodding along. Gina Sheridan’s I work at a public library has tons of weird, funny, and heartwarming stories from the stacks. I haven’t read through all of them, but so far my favorite is this one. If you’re a public librarian, or if you want to know what life is like in the trenches — er, on the reference desk — then check this out. And if you like the Tumblr, consider buying Gina’s book.

The library of the future

The Future Next Exit.

Image by Flickr user Buck

The other day I had a conversation with some fellow librarians about the future of public libraries. I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot since then, so I thought I’d share my ideas here and ask readers to do the same in the comments. This post describes my ideal future library; I don’t predict all of these things will happen in libraries, but I think it would be awesome if they did.

First and foremost, the public library of the future is driven by the community. Libraries exist and will continue to exist as a community forum, a place for people of all ages and backgrounds to gather and exchange ideas. This can take the form of book discussions, town hall meetings, or just casual conversations. People will come to the library of the future to explore topics of interest to them, discover new interests, and learn new skills.

I realize that description is pretty vague, so I’ll break this down with some more detail.

The library of the future has a variety of flexible spaces for different uses. There are quiet areas for individual research; comfortable reading and café areas that accommodate different volumes of conversation; and group study rooms equipped with dry erase boards, projectors, and other equipment to facilitate collaborative projects. There are designated computers for gaming/pleasure and for research/business in separate areas, so the groups of Minecrafters or League of Legends players (or their future equivalents) working together don’t disturb the woman applying for a new job or the student writing his thesis. All of the furniture is easily movable to allow for a variety of arrangements and uses.

I think the library of the future will also be equipped to facilitate some kind of making or creation, though what that looks like will vary depending on the community. If there’s a big film festival in the area, perhaps the library will have a video recording studio or video editing software on some of its computers. If the city hosts a music festival, maybe there will be a sound recording studio and software to edit audio recordings. If there is interest in coding or robotics, maybe there will be a robotics lab with Arduino boards (or their future equivalents) and equipment that allows creators to experiment with building and programming interactive electronics. Whatever type of creation the community engages in, there will be experts on hand to help creators of all skill levels use the software and equipment. The makerspace will be a collaborative learning environment in which people are comfortable trying new things and patrons and librarians learn from each other as they work to improve their skills.

Yes, the library of the future has plenty of eBooks, digital audiobooks and magazines, streaming videos and music, and research databases. But it also has a robust collection of print materials, especially in the fiction section. In an ideal, perfect world, everyone would have mobile devices and Internet access at home; but my ideal library of the future will still accommodate the less-than-ideal reality that people’s circumstances and situations vary. Also, there are many readers today who prefer print, and I don’t see that changing in the future.

The fiction collection has new and popular books, as well as classics and older works that still circulate often. These are presented in appealing displays on easily browsable shelves. Though I have mixed feelings about genre shelving, I think the ideal library of the future will be arranged this way. While some books may be hard to classify by genre (a book like Patrick Lee’s Runner could fit with the thrillers and the science fiction), and arranging fiction alphabetically by the author’s last name could lead the occasional browser to discover a new favorite book, I think readers will prefer the convenience of genre shelving. This still allows readers to browse within the genre they’re interested in, and if they’re looking for books outside their usual reading habits, they probably won’t choose to start browsing a random shelf in the library anyway. They’ll go to a friend or a librarian or an online recommendation service like NoveList or Goodreads to discover their next great read.

Print nonfiction has more of a place in future academic libraries than in the public library of the future. Most people conduct their research online using the public library’s databases, which are arranged by topic on the library’s website. The library does carry some print nonfiction, but this is limited to current/timely topics and books by popular authors like Erik Larson and Steve Sheinkin (or their future equivalents). As with everything else, the nonfiction collection is driven by the community, so if there is a lot of interest in true crime or books on race relations, these collections will be more robust.

The library of the future also has a local history collection that allows both residents and visitors to explore the community’s past. These materials are in a separate part of the library designed for more in-depth research. Note, the library may not need this collection if there is a local historical society that collects these materials.

Finally, the library may also circulate other materials, such as mobile devices, gardening tools, or cookware, based on the needs and interests of the community.

Like libraries of the present, the library of the future offers a variety of educational and recreational programs that allow community members to explore their interests, discover new ones, and make meaningful connections with one another. There are workshops, classes, discussions, and activities for all ages that foster and promote all types of literacy — information literacy, digital literacy, and traditional literacy (the ability to read, write, and understand a piece of writing). Community needs and interests guide the topics of these programs.

So, that’s what my ideal library of the future looks like. What about yours? I’m especially curious to hear what those of you who aren’t librarians see as the future of libraries.