Northanger Abbey

“It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language” (Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey) 

I am a reader who likes Jane Austen. It’s always been at the core of my reader’s identity. I’ve read and reread each of her works, but I’ve always saved Northanger Abbey for later. It felt comforting to have an unread Austen lying in wait, knowing I could open it at any time and be both reassured and thrilled. Only my recent rut of unsatisfying reads could have made me desperate enough to pull it out. Though I loved the light, teasing air of the work, Austen spent most of her time parodying the Gothic literature of the day instead of creating robust characters. I got the feeling of having missed out on the punchline of an essentially historical joke; it’s too specific to be timeless in the way her other works are.

I worry that this is the final sign that I have become too critical in my reading: an unloved Jane Austen work. A reviewer likes to think that all of her criticisms are objective, but I’ve seen a growing trend towards dissatisfaction in my reading habit. Perhaps it’s not that I’ve been unlucky in my choice of books recently, but that I’ve been unwise. If I were to give a reader’s advisory interview to myself, I’d surely diagnose a reading rut: “Stop reading fantasy, sci-fi, or anything published in England” I would advise myself, “Pick a completely unknown genre and get to it.”

So, in an effort to climb out of said rut, I’m banning myself from reading in any of my old-standby genres until my 8th anniversary post. This opens up so many possibilities in unexplored areas: Thrillers! Historical Fiction! Romance! Noir! Nonfiction! Even the word ‘armchair travel’ sends goosebumps up my arms. It’s definitely time for a change.

Recommended Action: Buy Borrow Now – Borrow Sometime Avoid
Length: 179 pages
Ending: tidy
Incidental Learning: all about tropes of gothic literature
Further Reading: Move onto the rest of Jane Austen

Excited to Eat Your Books? I am.

Sometimes, weeks have a theme. Most of the time the theme turns out to be something like fatigue, stress, or if you’re lucky, home-made marshmallows, but this week, my theme was bookish resources. Don’t worry – it is not nearly as boring as it sounds.

Eat your Books homepageFirstly, the founder of Eat Your Books came into the America’s Test Kitchen library to talk to us about her delightful database.  Although databases may conjure up memories of desperate research projects from your college days – this one is all fun. Basically, you input your cookbooks into the site and then -magically – search for recipes across all of your books. This means no more looking through 12 cookbooks for how to roast a chicken again! I ended up making green tea butter cookies this week because I searched for ‘tea’ in an experimental mood and found a lovely recipe on Chocolate and Zucchini (a blog I hadn’t bothered to check out until now).

You may be thinking that you didn’t come to this book blog for the chronicles of my cooking experiments, and you would be justified in your sour mood, but Eat Your Books is also an excellent tool for finding more cookbooks. Not only do you see your own bookshelf, but you can also search through any cookbook that has been indexed. Books can be ranked by popularity in order to discover which cookbooks are owned by other home-cooks. You can also witness the living rivalry between Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Julee Rosso’s The Silver Palate Cookbook. Apparently every user has one or the other of them, and they switch places on the popularity lists daily. My unconscious vote was for Julia – what will yours be?

However, in spite of its user-friendly interface, attractive name, and pleasant greens, every database has a downside. It costs the providers money to index hundreds of thousands of recipes and keep up the technical side of things – so this service isn’t free. However, 25$ isn’t too much to pay for a little more creativity and a little less frustration in your cookbook life. It might also make a good christmas gift for that sister-in-law who has every cookbook and gadget save this one.

Secondly, I discovered the incredible, non-academic power of WorldCat this week in a focus group. If you have ever heard about it before, you’ll be wondering why I keep dredging up dingy memories of college in this post, because most of us have used it only to locate an obscure book in Germany for a thesis or dissertation and not given it a thought since. Well, WorldCat is trying to change this perception of itself and has added a host of new features to make itself more accessible. You’ll have to spend a few minutes on the site looking at the genre lists and Identities Network, but I love it because it makes searching multiple catalogs so easy. If you live in a city and frequent multiple libraries, WorldCat will do wonders for your online efficiency – instead of clunking through multiple old public libraries’ catalogs, just search on WorldCat and save yourself a few minutes. They are also layering on a social networking component, with tags, profiles, and the ability to make public book lists. It is an excellent compliment to LibraryThing or GoodReads, because it allows you to track down copies of any books you might be recommended there.

So here you are – I give you the keys to several hours of online, bookish fun, and a whole host of techniques to improve efficiency and decrease frustration.

Reading the Romance

“Although she is now a self-confident and capable woman, Dot believes she was once very different. She claims that she has changed substantially in recent years, a change she attributes to her reading and her work with people in the bookstore.” (Reading the romance by Janice A. Radway)

Reading the Romance CoverAs perhaps evidenced by recent posts, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about reader’s advisory and reader response theory. Reading the Romance is just one of the books that I’ve been delighting in. This book, published in 1984, revolutionized the field of reader’s advisory by (get this) actually studying the readers themselves to find out why they read and how they pick their next book. Not only was it a fascinating read, but it also helped me change some of my inborn prejudices about romances and those who read them. Who knows – perhaps during a stressful time you’ll even see me put something along the lines of Nora Roberts on this blog, and in response to any criticism, I’ll simply point you towards this book.

In order to compliment my studies, I’ve set up a new page in the Booklion. If you look up, you’ll be able to see a tab that says ‘what do I read next?‘. Clicking here will take you to a survey designed to ask all the necessary questions to allow me to recommend the perfect book for you (or so the research claims…) Help me test out the theories, while getting your next read effort-free, by submitting a survey. Submit as many times as you want and even impersonate friends and family for holiday gift recommendations.

Further Reading: At the opposite end of the reader response theory chronological continuum, you’ll find Research-Based Reader’s Advisory by Jessica E. Moyer, one of the most recently published books on the topic. If you’re really looking to understand the field, I’d recommend this one.

Out of Curiosity: A Reader’s Advisory Question for All

I have been doing a interesting literature review about reader’s advisory (the art of recommending books, usually applicable in a library setting) for a research project recently. I just wanted to informally share some of the ideas I’ve discovered and query all of my reading friends as to whether they ring true for you. Apparently, the latest research in RA is happening in regards to reader behavior as opposed to book description (i.e. connecting a reader to a book based on their needs instead of the description of the book), and some of the findings, especially by Ross, were rather unexpected. After doing in-depth interviews with almost 200 ‘heavy’ (reading more than 1 book per week) readers, Ross concluded that people pick their next book based primarily on their mood. This means that a person with high stress levels in their lives will tend to want something easy and safe, like a book by an already known author, while those with less stress want to try something new or more difficult. So, not only might we consider recommending books based on mood, but also all books don’t have to be critically regarded as excellent to be worthwhile. A series book may be just the right thing for someone overworked and low on time.

So the question is: do you pick your next book based on mood? And if not, how do you figure out what to read?


Harry Potter Completed

We did it, we bashed them, we Potter’s the one, 
And Voldy’s gone moldy, so now let’s have fun!’

‘Really gives a feeling for the scope and tragedy of the thing, doesn’t it?”
(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling)

Harry Potter 7 CoverWhile I wasn’t attempting to time my re-reading with the release of the final movie, they did, unfortunately, happen to coincide. I am sure that HP fans everywhere have already cried out at the roundness of Voldemort’s face, the stout middle-agedness of Harry’s parents, and the fact that Neville was deprived both of his chubby-ness and his ability to kill horcrux/snakes, so I won’t go into all that. I must to say, however, for the sake of making my side abundantly clear: I do not see how people who have only seen the movies could possibly profess to love HP. There is just no squeezing all of those layers and details into seven, or even eight, feature-length films.

That being vented, I want to say that, despite a few grammatical oddities (the number of times J. K. Rowling writes “he, Harry,” is rather startling), the seventh book is starting to grow on me. I had the feeling previously that J. K. Rowling might not have successfully balanced out all of the plot points – that she may have taken on more than the story could handle. But I find now that all the speculation about Dumbledore is integral to the work and ads a more adult tone, which fits with how the characters mature in the later stories. As always, I now find myself with post-Harry Potter withdrawal. I have recommended a few fixes to other people in the past, like the His Dark Materials Trilogy or The Sea of Trolls trilogy, but sometimes one doesn’t have the luxury of meandering from exciting children’s book to children’s book. Sometimes, one must simply give it up and look forward to next year or the year after when this particular stack of books calls you over again.

I am also delighted to announce, given that I won’t be able to post for a few weeks, that the BookLion is getting married in August. I’m sure I’ll be reading quite a few excellent books, but it is likely I’ll be too busy picking out table settings and honeymooning to post. So stay calm and keep reading – I’m looking forward to starting a new theme when I get back.

The Benefits of Re-reading

“I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! Oh, Ron, how wonderful! A prefect! That’s everyone in the family!’
‘What are Fred and I, next-door neighbors?’ said George indignantly…” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)*

Harry Potter 5 CoverI must confess that I’m not really a re-reader. I always feel a slight, self-imposed pressure to keep discovering new books and an equally slight sense of guilt when I revisit old favorites. But I have to admit, after having re-read HP for the dozenth time, I am starting to appreciate the benefits of the exercise. If I had a complex and highly sophisticated charting tool at my disposal, and had decided to map my ratings of the HP books over the past decade, the chart would tell the tale of my life.

Firstly, a sharp dip in this hypothetical chart would reveal the embarrassing period in the beginning of my college career when I turned my back on these stories in favor of more ‘worthy’ literature. At this point I was apparently trying to act as little like myself as I could. This period was preceded by a deep dislike of the fifth book, probably because all the teenage grumblings reminded me too much of my own young adulthood. And as a kid, who still partially believed in magic, the first book absolutely entranced me. I would often read over the descriptions of Diagon Alley and the first Hogwarts classes – mostly for any scraps of information to include in a game I was trying to make.

This time through, squarely in my mid-twenties, I found the fourth book a little slow and overly dramatic, the third full of a lovely symmetry I had hardly noticed before, and am currently delighting in the portrayal of Umbridge. This sharp reversal in attitude towards the fifth book is largely a product of increased experience; I’d never had the pleasure of a truly dreadful superior before. Now I find I have a great affinity with Harry at this particular point in the story. Although the books themselves didn’t change, I have. Every time I look at them I appreciate different scenes and ho-hum over ones I used to enjoy. Do you have any guilty re-reading pleasures?

Reminds me of… The Harry Potter books usually stand on their own for me, but this time The Prisoner of Azkaban reminded me very much of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin for its complex intertwining plot.

*No matter how old I get, this line always makes me laugh.

Harry Potter

“Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and their son, Dudley, were Harry’s only living relatives. They were Muggles, and they had a very medieval attitude toward magic.” (Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling)

If the BookLion is a faithful log of all my reading, I have to admit that I haven’t quite been as honest, or maybe I should say precise, as I could be. The thing is, sometimes I fall off the literary (or in this case non-fiction) wagon: I read magazines, books for school, reread old favorites, and continue with long-winded series that I post virtually nothing about. I tend to value posting about books that I’ve read in their entirety, but why should I? Magazines, for example, tend to get pushed to the bookish wayside even though they are exceedingly valuable and worthwhile. Also, one of my favorite books last semester was my reference textbook, a category that produces a cringe in most readers, but in this case was filled with wit, sarcasm, and many a well-turned phrase.

One thing I’ve learned from A Gentle Madness, library school, and This Book is Overdue!, is that the seemingly insignificant ephemera of everyday life can be just as important as the commonly perceived Big Events; they just show a different, less polished, side of history. So – and feel free to weigh in on this – I have decided to start being more liberal in what I post about in this blog, starting with my impromptu and yet well-conceived decision to reread Harry Potter! Even though I am enjoying my foray into the lush land of non-fiction, sometimes the comfort food of reading is really what’s needed. Although I meant to post after The Sorcerer’s Stone, I accidentally opened up book two and now, all of a sudden, I’m on book three.

I’ve been thinking about how great it will be once HP has been around for, say, 50 years. I heartily look forward to dragging my 80 year old self out the door for the opening of the inevitable re-do of the HP movies; this time with one producer, no switched Malfoys or Dumbledores, and some Very Serious magic scenes. It is also likely that in 50 years fan-fiction about HP will be legitimized and possibly even considered literary. I can’t help but imagine what the ‘magical community’ would look like through someone else’s eyes, a random person on the metaphorical fence about Voldemort and the Dark Arts for example, or a student just starting school when Harry’s in his Horcrux-hunting phase. There could even be a mystery book where a muggle sees Harry and Ron’s flying car and decides to hunt down witches and wizards. I am not sure whether I want to see the good movies or read the future fan-fiction more… Through whose eyes would you like to see the non-muggle world?

Incidentally, J. K. Rowling will be making an announcement about her mysterious Pottermore website on the 23rd – and my perhaps wild hope is that there will be a new book….