Friday, June 29, 2012

Wicked Business

The sequel to Wicked Appetite, Janet Evanovich continues the saga with Lizzie and Diesel in their quest to locate the Seven Stones of Power before they are found by others, including Wulf and Hatchet, who may use them for their own purposes. In Wicked Business they are looking for the Luxuria Stone believed to contain the power of Lust being looked for by a third searcher named Anarchy. As usual there is an array of unusual characters including Glo who is practising to be able to use the powers of wizardry as well as the monkey, Carl, plus an array of disasters and zany situations. I did not find it a laugh out loud book but it is an amusing and entertaining book to read.


Anya Seton wrote this novel in 1954 and it has been republished many times - the version I read was republished in 2006. It is a classic love story based on the long term relationship between Katherine de Roet (Swynford) and John of Gaunt (son of Edwad III and his wife, Philippa). Some records of the relationship, which resulted in their marriage in January 1396, remain but these are few. Seton therefore has used her imagination to write a romantic novel portraying what might have happened by weaving a story of the relationship with events occurring in the fourteenth century such as the Black Death, conflicts with the French and the Scots, riots in London along with political intrigue at Court and within the Church. Once I adjusted to Seton's style of writing I had to finish reading the 574 pages of this novel. 

Alison Weir in her biography of Katherine, Katherine Swynford: the story of John of Gaunt and his scandalous duchess  includes a section at the end where she discusses the novel and concludes that 'as Anya Seton herself stated - it is based on history, it is a work of fiction'. (p286)

Remembering therefore that Katherine is a work of fiction it is still a good read and possibly has introduced many readers to the world of fourteenth century England.

An article by Tamarra Mazzei To Katherine on her 50th anniversary discusses the impact of Anya Seton's book, Katherine.

What should I read next?

One of the questions in the revision quiz for module 2 of Front Line is 'How would you reply when a borrower asks: What should I read next?'

Eight options are provided :
  • Recommend the book that you last read
  • Recommend the latest bestseller
  • Ask what author they like best
  • Point out the display of new books
  • Ask what kind of read they prefer
  • Tell them they will find something good in the new promotion
  • Give them something from returned today (trolley)
  • Ask the next person in the queue what they would recommend
Generally you would begin by asking them about the type of books they prefer to read but after that there would be a variety of options depending on their response.
If the initial response is, for example, crime books then it would be logical to ask about the authors they prefer to read and then suggest authors who write similar books. Showing a borrower how to use Library Thing via the library catalogue may help them to explore the books of other authors. Who else writes like ...? (in print form or online version) may also be a useful tool. 
It could well be that there is a promotional display of books in the library that may be relevant in which case you could suggest that they might like to look at some of the books in the display. However if the display was of romance novels it is unlikely that a reader of crime would be interested.
New book displays and recently returned trolleys provide good browsing points for readers looking for something different to read if they are prepared to browse.
Asking the next person in the queue what they would recommend is problematic as the likelihood of the readers having similar tastes is not great and if there is a queue you want to move things along as quickly as possible. Recommending the book that you last read might work only if the book was similar to the tsaste of the reader.
The reader may already have read most of the books by an author or group of authors who write similar books so it would be necessary to establish what they like about books written by the author(s) and then try to find a different book that they might like to read.
Authors of books, of course, do not not always stick to one genre. Ken Follett, for example, is known for writing contemporary suspense fiction however in 1986 he wrote a book set in medieval England - Pillars of the Earth - which introduced him to a wider / different audience. The works of some authors are hard to categorise for example the Outlander series of books of Diana Gabaldon - are they fantasy, historical fiction, romance? - they contain all three elements.
Genres may contain many subcategories. Which subcategory does the author prefer? It may be possible to suggest books with similar subcategories in a different genre. If they enjoy historical romances is it the romance that primarily attracts them or the historical aspects of the books? If the reader likes suspence crime they may like to try an adventure or even a science fiction book. Humour is a component of many books and a reader of humourous crime books may decide to try a humourous fantasy or science fiction book. Readers of fiction may also be encourage to try books in the non-fiction section on a topic that formed part of a novel.
In short there would appear to be no simple answer to this question apart from working with the reader to explore other options that would hopefully lead them to discovering other good books to read.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fred Williams infinite horizons

Australia is a special place with distinctive landscapes. Some artists have been able to capture the essence of those landscapes especially the impressionist painters Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts who captured the imagination of the Australian population at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with their paintings of the Australian bush. Later in the twentieth century the artwork of Fred Williams provided Australians with an alternative view of the landscape of their country.

The National Galley of Victoria (NGV) in Federation Square currently has a retrospective exhibition of the work of Fred Williams providing examples of the range of artworks he produced along with brief commentary on influences in his artwork. Fred Williams was born in January 1927 and died in April 1982. It is particularly the works painted in the 1960s and 1970s that have captured the imagination of those viewing his works and caused many of us to rethink the way we view the Australian landscape. It is his use of colour and the often minimalistic approach to the painting with the emphasis on space and emptiness that encourages the viewer to see what he sees. Standing in front of a painting that at first glance contains a number of strokes and splodges on an overall background of colour you gradually see the perspective and depth created as the landscape emerges in the painting. Many of his artworks were part of a series - paintings of the You Yangs, the Dandenongs, Lysterfield, bushfires, waterfalls and later Weipa and the Pilbra. He also painted coastal landscapes.

The NGV has published Fred Williams Infinite Horizons written by Deborah Hart to coincide with the exhibition. It is a detailed study of the life and work of Fred Williams illustrated with copies of his paintings appearing in the exhibition.

The NGV has also republished Fred Williams The Pilbra Series about the this special collection now held by the gallery. The first edition was produced when the NGV first displayed the collection in 2002.

The modern library

In this book Callil and Colm Toibin have collated a list of what they consider to be the 200 best novels in English since 1950. The book is divided into a number of section. A list of titles in order of publication from 1950 to 2000 is followed by the list of books by author together with a summary of the plot of the book (or in a few cases, series of books) and reasons why the book was chosen. In the footer at the bottom of each page brief biographical details of the author are provided and mention is made of other works by the author that may interest the reader.

At the end of the book additional reading lists are provided: 20 of the best autobiographies & memoirs written since 1950; 20 of the best literary biographies written since 1950; 20 of the best collections of poetry written since 1950; autobiographies and memoirs by novelists chosen in the book;  literary biographies of novelists chosen in the book and lists of literary prize winners up to 2010 - Booker Prize, CNA Award, Commonwealth Prize, Governor General's Literary Award, Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year, Miles Franklin Award, Montana New Zealand Book Award, National Book Award, Nobel Prize in Literature, Prix Femina Etranger, Prix Medicis Etranger, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Stakis Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year, Whitbread Novel of the Year and Whitbread First Novel Award.

The compilers present an interesting selection of books with the primary criteria being books written in English that people want to read. Authors from a wide range of countries are represented including England, Ireland, Scotland, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Africa, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean and Hong Kong.

As well as being an overview of fiction written in the second half of the twentieth century the book is a great way to create a list of what to read next.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Choosing books to read - summary of responses

The first exercise in the Front Line program required short interviews with at least five library users in different age groups. I spoke to nine people - a child aged 11, two teenage boys, one younger adult in the 18-30 year group, two older men in their 70s and two older women one in her 50s and one in her 70s. The people chosen largely depended on who was in the library on an afternoon when I had the opportunity to talk briefly to people in between answering phone calls and general library enquiries. The selection of people to talk to was random and often occurred when I was taking books out to the returns trolley and there was a moment for a chat about how a person selected their books.

Recommendations from friends and family were common responses from most in the sample. This was a main method used by the younger readers. One older reader had belonged to a book-club but was not keen on the books selected. Reading the blurb was also a common response. A younger reader said he sometimes looked for books he had seen in bookshops.
Older readers, in particular often had definite tastes in types of books read – fantasy, westerns, crime etc. One reader chose only large print books. Another preferred books written by female authors and Australian or British authors rather than American. Another said she normally chose familiar authors. One of the teenagers deliberately chooses books for recreational reading that are different from those he has to read for school.

However some of the older readers regularly select their books from the Best Sellers display, return trolleys and displays at the end of the bays of books. A comment frequently made was that using a library enabled them to try different books and if they didn’t like them they did not have to read them.

The effect of the media and outside resources was also mentioned but was not a major factor. One of the students mentioned that he did not read a book if he had seen the movie. The internet will increasingly sway some readers' choice of books as indicated by my chat with the reader in the 18 to 30 age group who sometimes uses Amazon or GoodReads for recommendations when looking for new reading material.
This was a very small sample of library users and therefore it is not possible to generalise about the responses. However I found the range of responses provided interesting with some core threads appearing in most responses. Even this small sample provides a snapshot of how some of our library users select their books.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - the last straw

Upper primary school children, particularly boys, enjoy reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney. Written in diary format the books recount the thoughts and activities of Greg as he copes with living with his family, particularly his two brothers, school and his attempts to be noticed by girls. The text is presented as if it has been written in a notebook and is interspersed with cartoon drawings. The appeal of the books to children is not only the presentation that makes them easy to read but the humorous depiction of a young boy's view of perceived injustices in his everyday life.


Phantom is the seventh book (published in English) in the Harry Hole crime series by Scandinavian author, Jo Nesbo and the first that I have read. It took me a little while to become involved in the story, primarily because of the many different voices used to tell the narrative, however once I had time to read a few chapters without interruption I found the book hard to put down.

Harry Hole has returned to Oslo from Asia when he learns that Rakel's son, Oleg, has been charged with murder. As Harry determines to discover the truth his investigations involve understanding the structure of the Oslo drug trade including its infiltration into the police force and city hall. Harry is a flawed and damaged character facing many demons from his past as well as the  dangers he encounters from those following him throughout his investigations. The book is about addiction - drugs and alcohol - but it is also about making choices and doing things because, rightly or wrongly, they are the right things to do.