Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Choosing books to read

As part of the Front Line program for information service librarians we are asked to to conduct brief interviews with library users asking them how they choose books to read. This, of course, prompted the question how do I choose books? Working in a public library obviously provides me with access to a wide range of reading material including new books entering the library collection. Obviously I cannot read them all so what causes me to select a book to read?

There are lots of ways to find out about books. Each weekend I read the Saturday and Sunday Age and note any titles or authors I might want to investigate. Book shops such as Readings and Readers Feast provide short reviews of a range of books available at their stores several times a year and I find these useful for introducing me to authors or topics I may not have previously considered. Television programs such as The First Tuesday Book Club and interviews on radio can lead me to wanting to read a particular book. Displays of books in book shops promote latest books by authors prompting me to sometimes place a reservation for a book. Films and television programs can encourage me to read a book. A recent example is reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret after seeing the film Hugo. Working in a library the patrons often recommend authors and/or titles of books they have enjoyed reading and some of the recommendations have led to books that I then read.

Books can be chosen on impulse. In the library I might pick up a book and borrow it after reading the blurb. However there are certain authors that I read whatever they publish. For other authors I may just read one or two books in a series. I try to read a wide range of books. Some I read because I know that they are popular and want to find out why. Books by Matthew Reilly that I tried recently is one example. I am also trying to catch up on a range of Australian publications. I recently read the books on the short list to establish the most popular book recently published in Victoria. A number of lists are available at present promoting Australian authors so I have many more authors to investigate. I also want to catch up on books written for young people. When I worked as a children's librarian many years ago I enjoyed reading books books written for children and teenagers. I need to catch up on some of the more recent material.

My reading patterns, particularly when choosing fiction, can depend on my mood. There are times when I will read a really novel in which I become totally involved in the plot and characters causing me to thinks about a range of issues and scenarios. At other times I just want some light reading to escape what is going on in the world and then Janet Evanovich's books may be chosen. I enjoy reading fantasy and also some crime novels provided that they are not too graphic in their depiction of violence. Some books can just be too intense.

Projects and other interests also affect my selection of reading material. When I was indexing the names on the 1891 Woman's Petition I read many books on the suffrage movement, particularly in Australia but also in Britain and New Zealand. My family history research causes me to select books about the countries where family members lived such as India during the time of the Raj, early convicts in Australia  or England during the Industrial Revolution, particularly the transitions in the woollen and cotton industry.

It is great having access to a wide range of books but sometimes I retreat to reading my comfort books - books that I have in my own collection that can be read again and again and enjoyed. Books by Jane Austen being one example.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

End Blyton at Old Hatch

Growing up in the 1950s most of us as children read books by Enid Blyton starting with The Folk of the Far Away Tree, the Wishing Chair, and Noddy books and then moving on to the adventure stories series of the Five Find-Outers and Dog, the Famous Five and to a lesser extent, on my part, the Secret Seven.

Forty kilometers west of London at Bourne End on the banks of the Thames is Old Thatch Cottage, the home of Enid Blyton from 1929 to 1938. Bourne End was the setting for Enid Blyton's mystery series following the adventures of Fatty, Larry, Daisy, Pip and Betsy plus Buster the dog. Tess Livingstone has written a book about Old Thatch Cottage and the surrounding village and countryside along with an outline of the stories in a selection of Five Find-Outers and Dog books. The book is richly illustrated with photographs. The book acts as a travel guide to the region and as well as providing background information for and reviving memories of a well loved series of books.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Act of faith

Set in 1640 this book by Kelly Gardiner recounts the story of  sixteen year old Isabella Hawkins who is forced to flee England as her father's radical views about freedom  and related topics have come to the notice of Oliver Cromwell and his followers. She finds safety in Amsterdam where a friend of her father allows her to assist him with his printing business. However it soon becomes obvious that Europe is also not safe when Master de Aquila vanishes, taken by agents of the Spanish Inquisition.

This story of the quest for true freedom, not one imposed on people by others provides an insight into life in Europe in the seventeenth century, particularly in London, Amsterdam and Venice and also introduces us to a feisty heroine in Isabella Hawkins..

Monday, May 7, 2012


When working at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, several years ago, I was able to work with the Macpherson Robertson collection - a collection of images, scrapbooks ephemera and artefacts relating to Robertson, his chocolate making business and his other interests. I found him a fascinating person so have enjoyed reading books by Jill Robertson written about this important Australian businessman.

The Chocolate King was published in 2004 and is a detailed account of the life and work of Macpherson Robertson. In 2010 Arcade Publications produced a shorter account of the life of this entrepreneur, also written by Jill Robertson. This small well illustrated book captures the spirit of the man, his drive and achievements and provides a great introduction to a person who contributed so much to Melbourne, particularly providing  donations for the building of Macrobertson Bridge and MacRobertson Girls' High School. Robertson was a great promoter of his products and the book contains images and quotes from some of the advertising material. It also covers Robertson's passion for advances in transport including cycling, motor vehicles and aeroplanes. Robertson also provided funds for Mawson's expedition to Antarctica in 1929 - Macrobertson Land being named in his honour. It must be said that he was also an expert at self-promotion. Macrobertsonland, as well as telling the story of this larger than life figure provides a social history of Victoria in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. After reading Macrobertsonland many readers might then like to read the more detailed The Chocolate King.

Bones in the Belfry

Suzette A Hill has written a series of books about an English country cleric, Reverend Francis Oughterard and his dog, Bouncer, and cat, Maurice. Bones in the Belfry is the second book in the series.
In the first book, A load of old bones, the vicar apparently murders one of the parishioners but is not convicted of the crime. However in this second book he is worried that his part in the crime will eventually be discovered. In the meantime, a former friend to whom he owes a favour leaves two paintings for him to look after. Of course he discovers that the paintings are stolen creating additional stress for the vicar, the cat and the dog as they all contribute their version of the story.