Guest Post: Dot Hutchinson Talks About Saving Our Libraries

Library Month Guest Post

Dot Hutchison has worked in retail, taught at a Boy Scout camp, and fought in human combat chessboards, but she’s most grateful that she can finally call writing work. When not immersed in the worlds-between-pages, she can frequently be found dancing around like an idiot, tracing stories in the stars, or waiting for storms to roll in from the ocean. Her debut novel, A WOUNDED NAME, a modern retelling of HAMLET through Ophelia’s voice, is available now. Visit her online at www.dothutchison.com, @dothutchison on Twitter, or on Goodreads.

Like many prolific readers, libraries have always been a very significant part of my life. I thought librarians were the smartest people in the world. They knew EVERYTHING. Whenever I needed to know where something was, or what to try next, or even just bizarrely random factoids that made me want to read *gasp* non-fiction (which was a dirty word when I was younger), the librarians either knew it already or could easily find out. As far as I was concerned, the only things librarians were missing were the capes that could identify them as superheroes.

I definitely took that supergenius for granted when I was a kid. The idea that libraries could struggle for funding, could close, the fact that people could grow up without access to libraries, never even occurred to me. There are libraries all over the place in my county, all working together to get books to people no matter what branch is their ‘home’ branch. There is always something happening, some kind of event, some kind of gathering. The librarians are so actively engaged in making sure that what’s on the shelves reflects what people are looking for; if they don’t have it, they can try to get it. My optimistic, childhood brain could not begin to wrap itself around the idea that libraries could be endangered.

And why would it? I mean, libraries have been an essential part of our cultural awareness for thousands of years. They weren’t just repositories of knowledge, they were cultural safeguards. Long before the printed book, before the bound book, libraries held not just facts but beliefs- myths and religious views and laws could be found there, histories, the things that we use to define ourselves as different peoples, nations, or civilizations. Even before parchment, before scrolls, we scrawled in blood and ink on scraped hides and carved into stone or wax tablets in the hope of preserving something for future generations. We dreamed of making a mark. Even in the European Dark Ages, when few could read or write, when libraries were all but useless to the masses and even to most of the ruling classes, monasteries gathered information, painstakingly preserving and copying publications over into works of art. True, many of these volumes went through a rather unhealthy pruning at the hands of the church, but think about it for a moment: at a time when a minimal percentage of the population knew how to read, still we felt the need to gather and save information for a time when it could mean more. We hoard knowledge, rather literally, and always have. It’s an innate part of us. Libraries, like churches or palaces, win from us some of the most beautiful architecture through history. Seriously.

We seek to give beauty to the repositories of knowledge because of the esteem we have for what they hold.

The thing about libraries is that they’re not really something we grow out of. Grow away from? Sure. There are people in the world who have access to libraries and choose not to use them, and I pity these people. Libraries are some of the very few places that can mean as much to us as children as they do when we’re a hundred. And, the older we get, the more we’re able to get out of them.

After Krysta approached me about writing this post (Thanks, Krysta!), I swung by a couple of the library branches here in my county to explore a bit more, chatting with the librarians about the services they offer. I mean, we all know that libraries=books, but did you know that libraries:

  • often serve as voting areas? Because they’re public access building, libraries are often selected as poll places for precincts, as well as homes for early voting. Because of this, the library can also help you register to vote.
  • can help you apply for financial aid in many forms? It’s true! Most libraries educate their librarians and keep forms on hand for aid or relief in the form of welfare, food stamps, discounted insurance, or even FAFSA applications or tuition waivers.
  • run language programs? Some of them actually hold classes to teach languages, with English as a Second Language dominating the schedules, while others act kind of like a dating service, matching volunteers to aid-seekers to help practice conversational skills and fluency.
  • serve as community centers? Because libraries are so embedded in their neighborhoods, they often serve as gathering points to offer free workshops or classes, even things like Zumba or pilates! Depending on your area and the interests of your community, you have the chance to come across anything from taxidermy classes to bird identification.
  • have free storytimes for kids? And not all of these are in the library itself. Many libraries partner with in-need communities to come out to the children, to expose them to books, to read to them, to talk to kids who might not have access to a library until they’re in school. Some of these off-site storytimes basically turn into tutoring sessions, taking the first steps to teaching children how to read and inspiring in them a love for reading than carry them to amazing places. They also have them at the libraries, sprawled out across colorful carpets. It’s hard to find something more heart-warming than a group of toddlers reciting along with their favorite picture book.
  • run summer workshops for kids? My nearest branch is holding something called Lunch and Labs- every Thursday, they provide a lunch for every kid who shows up and then provides all the supplies and instructions to let the kids perform a science experiment. How freaking cool is that?
  • host clubs and fan groups? If it’s a club, you can approach the library about signing out a reading room or meeting room to hold your gathering. On any given day in my county, you might find people gathered to play Magic: the Gathering, talk manga and anime, hold book clubs, writing groups, quilting bees, knitting circles, or even (I kid you not) Bronies. Yes, there are Brony chapters that meet up at libraries so guys can celebrate their mutual love of My Little Pony.
  • offer basic computer classes? These can vary from “this is the on button; this is a mouse” to “Here’s how to use Word templates to make an awesome resume”. They’re not just teaching how to operate a computer, they’re also teaching how to really USE it. They offer assistance in making resumes, in teaching you how to search for jobs online. And, of course, they have computer stations spread through the building that are open access to anyone with a library card.

And, as we move deeper into the multimedia age, libraries are adapting to provide amazing service to its patrons. In addition to transferring books between branches (or even separate counties in some states!), most libraries now offer e-book lending, available through a free app that can be downloaded to pretty much any device. They offer audiobooks in three separate formats: CD, downloadable mp3, and playaways. You can check out music or movies. They have newspapers, magazines, city or county specific reference books. They can tailor language sections to the needs of the community- my branch is the only one in our county with a significant Chinese language section.

About an hour before Amazon emailed me about Kindle Unlimited, one of my friends wrote on my Facebook wall to check it out-wasn’t it amazing! And as I looked through the information, I’ll be honest, I kept thinking “This doesn’t get me anything my library card doesn’t get me.” And my library card is free. I know that’s not always the case; when I lived in Colorado, I paid eighteen dollars for my library card. (Totally worth it) But the convenience isn’t any different, really; there’s so much use I can make of my library card without ever leaving my house. Or, you know, getting dressed. The news about Kindle Unlimited actually made me really sad, because so many people are getting excited about it, like it’s this Brand New Thing! When the truth is, libraries have been around far longer than books.

Even before we had physical libraries, before the various systems of writing were invented, we had living libraries in the form of historians and oral tradition keepers- storytellers. For as long as humans have existed, we have gathered our knowledge into libraries for safekeeping.

Nowadays, a lot of libraries are struggling to stay open. They don’t have budgets to begin with, but as more and more people turn to programs like Kindle Unlimited (or Oyster, or whatever that other one is), the libraries are losing even more money, because they’re simply not being used the way they should be. Libraries offer us so much more than a way to read a book for free, and sadly, there are many, many people who won’t realize how valuable libraries are until we don’t have them anymore.

So support your local libraries! And if you have the time, find out what programs they have, and how you can volunteer or help. Don’t let our libraries close and fade.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of AscensionInformation

Goodreads: The Well of Ascension
Series: Mistborn #2
Source: Purchased
Published: August 21, 2007

Official Summary

They did the impossible, deposing the godlike being whose brutal rule had lasted a thousand years. Now Vin, the street urchin who has grown into the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and Elend Venture, the idealistic young nobleman who loves her, must build a healthy new society in the ashes of an empire.

They have barely begun when three separate armies attack. As the siege tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

It may just be that killing the Lord Ruler was the easy part. Surviving the aftermath of his fall is going to be the real challenge.

Review

As readers of the blog know, I’m becoming a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson.  I had nothing by praise for Steelheart, Elantris, and Mistborn.  So suffice it to say that The Well of Ascension showcases the same great writing: tight prose, incredible world-building, etc.  Just assume Brandon Sanderson is amazing at all times so I can get on to a few observations that are more specific to this book.

First, Sanderson continues with very strong character development.  He throws Vin, Elend, and company into entirely new roles in The Well of Ascension, and they react very realistically: with effort, but with doubts.  They are attempting to build an entirely new society, and they have to figure out how they fit into it.

To that end, the book asks a lot of deep questions—about what it means to be a good person, what it means to be a leader, and if the two can ever be the same.  It prods at the question of what it means to be an assassin, if killing can ever be a good skill, if there are different kinds of killing.  And it asks how much one owes society and how much owes oneself.  In a sense, the book keeps asking how people can find balance in their lives, and how they can accept who they are.  The answers are all different but all very good.

One flaw that I have not experienced with Sanderson’s other books (because they are either standalones or the first in their series!): The Well of Ascension does at times feel like a middle book.  The pacing is a little slow occasionally, and there is a definite sense—despite there being a plot arc specific to the book—that we are really waiting to get the somewhere else, the meat of the entire series.  It is not too overwhelming of a problem (after all, seeing how the characters plot to do the impossible, again! is actually interesting), but I was kind of disappointed that Sanderson did not write an absolutely perfect book for once.  Apparently he actually is human. ;)

That said, Sanderon completely makes up for the slow bits with a mind-blowing ending.  A second time.  Usually when authors pull off crazy, clever plot twists, they have difficulty replicating the process.  Not Sanderson.   He entirely upends readers’ expectations in Mistborn and he does it again in The Well of Ascension.  And, again, the stakes suddenly skyrocket.  Vin and her friends are having a really hard time saving the world here.

Sanderson is simply a fantastic writer, one who can deliver both good content and good prose.  He knows how to write a story that is interesting in terms of plot, but which also teaches readers about human nature and asks them to think about how they themselves fit into the world.  Definitely an author to continue watching.

Before the Blog: Reviews from the Past

Past Collage

I’ve mentioned before that Krysta and I both spent years reviewing books for ourselves before we ever started blogging, and, for better or worse, we still have a lot of those reviews.  Knowing this, I thought to myself Wouldn’t it be fun if we did a little flashback feature and posted some of those past reviews?  Krysta said it would just be embarrassing (and actually she’s probably right), so that’s why I’ve decided to share some reviews from 2009.  They’re not quite as old as some of the others, and so of somewhat better quality. (Notice too that my personal reviews and summaries were often much shorter than the ones I write for the blog!)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyFahrenheit 451

Summary

A modern classic, this is the story of a world where books are banned but not forgotten, and men—like Montag, a fire man and burner of books—must choose between comfort and knowledge.

Review

Bradbury tells an engrossing, provoking story populated by real, dynamic, and diverse characters that will be appreciated by any bibliophile.  One can practically feel the ashes flowing about Montag’s person and small the kerosene he can never wash away, as Duncan’s blood forever stained Macbeth.  The fear, the questions, the uncertainty, and the hope are all real, all richly layered.  Bradbury redeems American literature with pure style, great thoughts, and a futuristic vision horrible but not unbearable.

Today’s Reaction

I haven’t reread Fahrenheit 415 any time after 2009, but I think my opinion would be very similar if I did.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest HemingwayA Farewell to Arms

Summary

An American ambulance driver serving in the Italian army during World War I falls in love with an English nurse.

Review

The title of A Farewell to Arms is, without a doubt, the most intriguing part of the entire novel—and it was borrowed from a poem by George Peele.  The book may officially qualify as one of the most boring pieces of literature ever penned by man—surpassing both Ethan Frome and Brave New World to mount the top of worse summer reading assigned.  The former has New England style to redeem it and the latter some thoughts on antiutopia that were worth some investigation.  Hemingway has little.

The characters in general are flat and, if not disagreeable, hardly likeable either.  One is most attached to Frederic Henry, as he is the narrator and the tale told from his perspective.  Yet, despite the natural sympathy, one must constantly wonder what he sees in Catherine Barkley—besides escape from war.  She is submissive and dull and does nothing but repeat herself and ask foolish questions—and repeat the foolish questions.  Fitzgerald’s Daisy is both a goddess and genius in comparison.

The middle of the book is not half-bad, with some interesting perspectives on war and some varied characterizations, ranging from military enthusiasts to those who think that war a waste and joke.  The depiction of the battle police and their self-righteous judgments is gruesomely captivating.  The beginning, however, is a prolonged torture, and the end effaces whatever point one saw in the preceding three hundred pages.  And destructive as it is, it somehow is missing.  Henry is absurdly stoic, moving on as if little had happened—thus, the effacement.

A Farewell to Arms achieves most in its inspiration [for me] to avoid religiously Hemingway’s work in future.

Today’s Reaction

Ouch.

The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim PotokThe Gift of Asher Lev

Summary

The sequel to My Name is Asher Lev, the book begins about twenty years after Lev’s exile to Paris.  The death of his uncle recalls him to Brooklyn and his past, where a new understanding of old stories will bring both loss and gain, and potentially help rekindle his dormant creative genius.

Review

Potok pens another compelling novel, taut with the conflict of two different worlds bound by one man who understands and loves them both.  Insights on truth, art, family, and love come rolling off the pages.  Abundant, they reveal Potok’s great and gentle knowledge of humanity.  The Gift of Asher Lev is nothing less than the natural successor to My Name Is Asher Lev and a book that cannot be missed by anyone who believes literature is both beauty and truth.

Today’s Reaction

Chaim Potok remains one of my favorite authors, and I still admire his masterful ability to understand and portray human nature.  I also love the Keats allusion I threw into this review.

Heaven to Betsy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Heaven to BetsyInformation

Goodreads: Heaven to Betsy
Series: Betsy-Tacy #5
Source: Library
Published: 1945

Summary

Betsy and Tacy are about to enter high school and, to Betsy, that means only one thing–boys!  Soon she’s hanging out with the Crowd, a group of fun-loving friends that includes Cab Edwards, the boy next door; Herbert Humphreys, the girls’ grade school crush; and, most importantly, Tony Markham, a mysterious new arrival in Deep Valley.  Betsy is head-over-heels in love with Tony, but will he return her affection?

Review

Heaven to Betsy is a welcome change after the first four Betsy-Tacy books.  The girls have grown up and their world expanded.  Previously the stories often seemed more like fond recollections recited by a mother to her children than novels, but now the books begin to take more of a narrative form, connecting events, fleshing out characters, and introducing more exciting episodes than simply two little girls walking up a hill or coloring sand.  All this served to capture my interest more than ever before, so that by the end of the book, I could finally say I was actually looking forward to the next installment of the series.

Still, Heaven to Betsy is not quite the book I had expected.  The adoring blurbs on the backs of each volume and the fond introductions to each of the books indicate that generations of readers have found Betsy to be a friend, a kindred spirit, if you will.  I hoped that Betsy and I could develop a similar relationship–who doesn’t want to find a new friend in the pages of a novel?  But such is not to be, at least not yet.  For it became clear quite quickly that, if that author were not providing some redeeming insights into Betsy’s mind, I would not have found much to like in Betsy at all.

Heaven to Betsy, though in some sense a coming-of-age novel (or the beginnings of one–that arc really comes to fruition in the next book), really just focuses on boys.  Betsy lives for them.  She wakes up in the morning pondering how she’ll never “get” any because she thinks she isn’t pretty enough and she goes to bed trying to improve her chances by curling her hair and attempting to erase her freckles.  But, though convinced she is not good enough for a beau, Betsy certainly attracts a fair share of boys to her side.  Most of them like her as friends and some of them she suspects just like the hospitality of her home, but she flirts with them all and has her share of little flings.  She is what most books would call “a terrible flirt”.

This new side of Betsy regrettably means that her best friend Tacy, who does not understand all the fuss over boys, spends most of the novel on the sidelines.  She appears regularly to gush with Betsy over her crushes and to support Betsy in her attempts to snag a man, but otherwise is mostly left out of the action.  She really is the most loyal and supportive of friends (something Betsy tends to take for granted) and could be a really wonderful character–many readers who, like me, also do not want to spend all day mooning over boys, would find her refreshing and relatable.  She would also help to balance the plot, so to speak, giving readers a break from the boys, boys, boys!

Some important events do happen, of course.  Betsy and her sister consider converting to another Protestant denomination and schoolwork occupies some of Betsy’s time (though not nearly as much as it should).  The elusive but desirable Joe Willard makes his first appearance.  (We won’t count him among the boys because as soon as you meet him, you know this guy is serious and definitely meant to be the Gilbert to Betsy’s Anne.)  But all these matters are overshadowed by the constant (and sometimes almost desperate) flirtations.  I like a little romance in my novels, but this is too much.

Guest Post: Library Online Resources

Library Month Guest Post

Library patrons know that the library building can be an extraordinary place.  Rows of books shelter new worlds and forgotten classics.  Stacks of DVDs offer the promise of a free movie night.  And programming might bring author talks, academic lectures, or the chance to make glittery princess wands.  But even the most adamant library lovers sometimes forget that the library’s offerings don’t begin and end at the front door.  Even when the library is closed or you can’t manage to go across town, the ever-growing world of online resources is available to you any time you can access the internet.

Each library’s offerings are, of course, unique.  You’ll have to grab your card, log on to your local library website, and explore the resources available to you.  But, while you’re browsing, make sure you keep an eye out for the following services.

E-Books

There’s nothing quite like holding an actual book in your hands, but renting e-books does have its advantages.  Is your library closed because it’s Thanksgiving Day, Labor Day, or just Tuesday (but two o’clock in the morning)?  Are you traveling, and therefore too far away for a quick trip to the library?  No problem!  You can still browse the digital shelves, borrow a few titles, and read to your heart’s content.  If you have an e-reader, these books can easily be transferred onto it.  If not, you can just read them on a laptop.  You may even be able to borrow audiobooks online.

Zinio

Not only can you borrow e-books, but with Zinio you can also rent digital copies of popular magazines.  Depending upon the magazine you choose, you may be able to access recent issues or a variety of past issues.  Options include National Geographic, Seventeen, and Newsweek.  You can also read your rentals on portable devices.

Freegal

This service allows you to legally download free music and music videos.  There is a weekly limit to how many songs you can acquire, but you can treat those songs like any others that you have purchased (copying to devices, burning onto CDs, etc.).  You probably won’t find every song you look up, but there is a decent collection of classics and current chart-toppers to choose from.

Mango

This is a language-learning program that uses flashcards – and videos, depending upon the language – to teach grammar and vocabulary.  A full library subscription to Mango offers 63 languages, including Hebrew, Scottish Gaelic, and English as a Second Language.  It also offers a course in Pirate, if you feel like you need to brush up on that.  Mango keeps track of your progress and offers placement tests to help you figure out where in the course to begin.

Test Preparation

At lot of libraries subscribe to online test-prep resources, but they may appear under a variety of names.  If you’re preparing for college, graduate school, or a career exam, you should definitely see what your library offers.  A free, timed practice test that grades itself is a great way to get ready for the real thing!

Top Ten Tuesday (88): Characters I’d Want with Me on a Deserted Island

TTT 2

Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s topic is

Top Ten Characters I’d Want with Me on a Deserted Island

1. Aragorn from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn possesses many important survival skills, being able to scout for enemies (you never know if your island is really deserted!), find  food, build shelter, and provide medical care, but he can also liven up evenings around the campfire with tales of long ago.

2. Faramir from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the RingsFaramir brings many of the same skills as Aragorn, including hunting and cooking, so if something happens to Aragorn, the rest of us can still survive.

3. Sara Stanley from L. M. Montgomery’s The Story GirlWhen Aragorn or Faramir do not feel like singing ballads, the Story Girl can charm us with her tales.

4. Otter from Sam Garton’s I Am OtterOtter would come up with all the fun ideas to keep us busy and entertained during our sojourn.  Of course, Teddy and Giraffe would have to come with her, and I believe we’d have to take Otter Keeper as well so she wouldn’t miss him.  But I’m going to count all of them as a set.

5. Bilbo Baggins from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The HobbitAragorn and Faramir know how to cook in the wild, but I think having a Hobbit along would be the best way to get the most out of our island fare.  And, of course, Bilbo can always regale us with stories about his adventures.

6. Hermione from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series: Her wand would no doubt come in handy, perhaps even helping us to an earlier rescue.  I’m sure she also has a lot of knowledge about surviving in the wild that she would be eager to teach the rest of us.

7. Robin HoodRobin, of course, is used to living outdoors, but he can also help while away the time by offering lessons in archery and swordfighting, perhaps with demonstrations with Aragorn and Faramir.  No doubt Bilbo would also want to prove himself with Sting.

8. Viola from Shakespeare’s Twelfth NightI almost chose Feste so someone could offer witty banter, but then I realized Viola is just as capable and she’s used to washing up on strange shores.

9. Corduroy from Don Freeman’s CorduroySleeping on a strange island might be a little scary, but everyone knows that teddy bears are the best protection from monsters!

10. Beowulf from Beowulf: Just so when I get home, I can tell everyone I met him.

Introducing Derrida: A Graphic Guide by Jeff Collins and Bill Mayblin

Introducing DerridaInformation

Goodreads: Introducing Derrida
Series: Introducing series
Source: Purchased
Published: February 10, 1993

Official Summary

Jacques Derrida is the most famous philosopher of the late twentieth century. His philosophy is an array of rigorous tactics for destabilizing texts, meanings, and identities. Introducing Derrida introduces and explores his life and work and explains his influence within both philosophy and literature.

Review

As a disclaimer, I have no direct experience with Derrida’s work.  I started my journey in critical theory by reading Introducing Critical Theory, which I found offers a useful overview of the subject but which is, perhaps necessarily, very general.  To help fill in some of the gaps, I decided to continue on to some specific theorists, starting with Derrida.  So my review of this book is purely of this book and how clearly and engagingly it seems to convey the complex, sometimes seemingly contradictory, school of deconstruction.  Whether it interprets Derrida “correctly,” I cannot accurately judge without reading his works myself.

Introducing Derrida, from a novice’s perspective, is a very approachable guide to deconstruction.  I went into the book really knowing nothing about the topic (besides the fact that people seem to equate it with tearing things apart) and came out feeling as though I could talk knowledgably about the general concepts and approaches of the theory.  The book highlights key terms and gives brief definitions and examples, providing a more than adequate overview of not only deconstruction itself, but also its historical reception and its political implications.

I do have some confusion, but I believe my issues are with deconstruction itself, and not necessarily with this book.  In many cases, deconstruction does not make sense to me.  The book is written clearly enough that I understand the explanations…but I fail to see the point of deconstruction.  I see that one can, for instance, show the “undecidability” of terms, but I have yet to understand exactly why one would want to, why deconstructive approaches are actually useful.

For example, the book explains that a deconstructive approach to architecture would theoretically result in a building that is ugly and functionless—but then hastily reassures the readers that this would not be quite the case, because perhaps beauty and function can be redefined—but then notes that no one has ever really solved this problem or built such a building.  First, this summary is contradictory.  Is the building useless or not?  Second, it fails to adequately convey why someone would want to build a maybe-useless building, besides as some type of protest or artistic statement.

In comparison with Introducing Critical Theory, the graphics in Introducing Derrida are notably less clever and less useful as mnemonic devices.  An inordinate percent of the illustrations are simply of Derrida himself, with speech bubbles quoting some of his works directly.  Many of the other remaining illustrations are of other theorists and philosophers, with their own speech bubbles.  So there is really no overwhelming benefit to the book’s being a “graphic guide” as opposed to having been primarily text-based—unless one simply enjoys pictures breaking up what can otherwise be a dense topic.

However, the Derrida pictures occasionally complicate the message of the book.  As in Introducing Critical Theory, the lines between instances where the authors are summarizing Derrida (or other scholars) and when they are adding their own personal commentary on deconstruction are vague.  The fact that there are so many mini Derridas with speech bubble quotes tempts the reader to suspect that anything not in a speech bubble must be authorial commentary…but it is impossible to be certain.

So, I still have a lot of work to do understanding Derrida and deconstruction, but I feel as if this book has given me a solid foundation from which to start.  Derrida is notoriously complicated (the word “incomprehensible” may have been thrown around as well), so I believe having a general overview of his primarily ideas will be essential in attempting to tackle his primary texts.  And after that I should be able to move on to figuring out how other scholars have used deconstruction.

Guest Post: Why I Love My Library: The Joy of Browsing

Library Month Guest Post

Today we welcome Katie of Doing Dewey!

As a reader, I’ve always adored my local library. Whenever I move, one of the first things I do is get a library card. The library is basically a place where anyone can walk in and receive advanced review copies – free books! There are often wait lists for the very newest books, but personally having the very newest books doesn’t matter to me. To me the only downside of a library book compared to an ARC is that you can’t keep it forever and even that isn’t a problem if you haven’t overscheduled your reading to where you can’t fit library books in between your ARCs. My favorite thing about libraries is what I’m going to talk about today – the ability to browse.

A few others bloggers have already tackled this topic. Aarti at Book Lust talked about the forgotten pleasures of browsing which inspired Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness to experiment with a return to book browsing. Like both of these bloggers, I used to do more browsing than I do now. I’d go to the library and simply wander the shelves. Unless I was in the middle of a series, I went in without any specific books in mind. As a book blogger, I do that much less frequently. I always have had so many good books recommended to me by bloggers I trust, I usually go to the library to pick up something specific. Even if I don’t, there’s my ever-growing goodreads TBR list to turn to once I’m there. However, as both Kim and Aarti pointed out, I think we lose a little something by never browsing.

As book bloggers or people who read book blogs, it’s so easy to stick to the book recommended by others. As a book blogger, it’s very easy to go overboard requesting ARCs and end up constantly following a reading schedule. Browsing is a wonderful way to add some spontaneity and diversity to your reading. I think spontaneity is just pure fun. If a book comes highly recommended, you can start it with impossibly high expectations. A spontaneous pick has none of the pressure, so it’s that much more thrilling when you find a surprising new favorite.

The diversity added to by browsing can be just as important as intentionally reading books by and about diverse people. It’s wonderful to read a book all your blogging friends are reading so you can chat about it, but I think it’s also important for each of us to approach the world from slightly different perspectives. Reading different books is one great way to make sure we each maintain our individuality. And if you do find a great book, you can often be the one to introduce your friends to that hidden gem. So live a little, bloggers! If you feel your reading is missing diversity or spontaneity, some browsing time at your local library might be just what you need.

May Bird and the Ever After by Jodi Lynn Anderson

May Bird and the Ever AfterInformation

GoodreadsMay Bird and the Ever After
Series: May Bird #1
Source: Library
Published: 2005

Summary

May Bird lives on the edge of the woods of Briery Swamp and, though most people find the woods creepy, May thinks of them as freedom.  There she can be the girl no one at at school would expect–the Amazon warrior; the princess who can fly; the girl who sets forth on adventure with her one trusty friend, Somber Kitty.  But then May starts seeing ghosts.  Of course no one believes her.  Soon, however, it does not matter who believes her or not because May finds herself dragged down into the world of Ever After, a place of ghouls, ghosts, and specters.  A place where Live Ones are not welcome.  Now on the run from the evil ruler Bo Cleevil, May must find and read The Book of Dead or risk being turned into nothing.

Review

 May Bird and the Ever After is the perfect kind of book for any who can relate to what it feels like to be different.  In her imagination, May is free and fearless, a warrior princess, an inventor, yet when she goes to school she is shy and remains an outcast.  All she wants is for someone to recognize her worth, yet even her mother thinks her a little odd.  Falling through a portal into the world of Ever After thus proves the opportunity she did not realize she was waiting for–the opportunity to show everyone her true self.

Thus Jodi Lynn Anderson introduces readers to a world magical and dangerous.  From the moment May finds herself in Ever After, the uncanny and the unexplained intertwine to create an atmosphere that beckons the readers ever farther in, promising adventure and beauty even as it threatens.  Tension lies ever beneath the surface, but it seems impossible not to want May to stay, just a little longer.

A cast of likable and strange characters completes the charm of this book.  From the loyal Somber Kitty to the fearful yet friendly Pumpkin, the story is full of personalities who invite the readers’ interest and sympathy.  Even the evil Bo Cleevil and his terrifying henchman the Bogey Man prove intriguing–no one wants them to capture May, of  course, but a few runs-in just so readers can meet them seems only fair.  With so many personalities to meet, May and the Ever After seems almost too short.

Fortunately, however, this book is only the first in a trilogy (and, these days, such words from me are usually not a recommendation).  May and the Ever After proves a fun romp through the afterlife, complete with just the right amount of danger and mystery, but the story knows when it is time to end and how to provide a satisfying conclusion while still promising wonderful adventures to come.  I cannot wait to journey with May through more of Ever After.

Why Book Reviews Are Not Going Anywhere

With the increase in popularity of discussion posts, there has been some anxiety in the book blogosphere that book reviews are becoming obsolete.  After all, compared to the traffic that discussion posts gets, it looks as if no one reads book reviews and no one comments on them anyway.

While I think there is some truth to that observation (our discussion posts probably get twice as many views as our reviews, and they can get three times as many comments), I also think it is somewhat of an exaggeration.  There are reasons discussion posts see more interaction.  But there are also reasons that book blogs will always have reviews.

Why Discussion Posts Get All the Fun

Simply put, discussion posts are more universal.  Anyone who likes to read (any genre, any number of books per year) can probably find something to say about how they organize their books, whether they prefer e-books or paper copies, or how they approach their to-be-read pile.

A book review, on the other hand, has a much narrower audience: it appeals mainly to people who have either read that exact book already, or people who are interested in something specific about that book (i.e. a fantasy book review will be more interesting to fantasy fans than to people who primarily reads memoirs).

So discussion posts naturally get more hits and more comments.

Why Blogs Will Always Have Book Reviews Anyway, Even If “No One” Reads Them

From reading the results of surveys that various bloggers have asked their followers to complete, I noticed a general trend: Blog followers overwhelmingly say they like to read book reviews on book blogs.  They may not read every review that a blogger posts, but they want to see them posted.

So, on a very base level, bloggers who want to keep their followers will probably keep writing reviews.

However, I think the desire to see bloggers reviewing reveals something a little deeper: Book reviews give a book blog legitimacy.  When a blogger reviews books, they are demonstrating that they read.  No one wants to read a blog filled with discussion posts about every bookish topic imaginable—without having any “real” indication that the blogger is actually a reader and is “qualified” to talk about books.

Secondly, book reviews give a blog personality.  They show what types of books the blogger likes, and what types of things they think make a book “good.”  Reading a blogger’s reviews helps followers determine whether they have similar tastes, and how much weight they should give to that blogger’s opinions.  They help readers decide which blogs to watch.

So, keep reviewing, everyone, and the right readers will eventually find your posts!

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