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May 15, 2013 BOOKLIST
Find more At Leisure with Joyce Saricks
Readers’ advisory is about passion. That realization came to me not while I was working in a library but when I was teaching students, trying to instill the qualities and skills that readers’ advisors need. While there are certainly intellectual aspects to readers’-advisory work, passion forms the foundation of what we do. We need to be passionate individually about what we read, listen to, and view. If we aren’t, how can we possibly understand readers’ enthusiasm for the titles and types of materials they enjoy? Or how desperate they feel when they discover they don’t have a book or video that meets that need right now? If we understand our own passions, we can identify with theirs.
Of course, we don’t need to like what our patrons enjoy. We simply need to recognize and accept another’s passion when we encounter it. The ability to acknowledge that interest allows us to share their enthusiasm for whatever they enjoy and to help them navigate our libraries to find more titles to please them.
We do this best when we recognize and feed our own passions. Unfortunately, I’ve always found that the books I love are the hardest ones to share. I want to say, “You have to read this—you’ll love it!” which is surely the kiss of death for almost any interaction. Readers’ advisory would be so much easier if we could just pass out the books we love. Since we can’t, our favorites are best shared in our blogs—if we can moderate our pleasure and talk about appeal—and on displays. Then readers can discover them on their own, and with luck, they’ll come back to share their pleasure with us.
With that in mind, here are some of the books I read this year that I’m passionate about. Consider this my display. I hope you’ll find something here that you’ll love, too.
Like many readers around the globe, I was taken by Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, and I listened to all three novels, spectacularly narrated by Simon Vance for Books on Tape. As everyone in libraries knows, this is not the series for every reader. The novels feature dark themes, explicitly played out, but Larsson’s superb storytelling skills kept me totally immersed in his terrifying world. The books, the audio versions, and the Swedish film versions are all standouts in my opinion.
For a very different mood, I love all of Eva Ibbotson’s charming romantic novels for adults. A Countess below Stairs had slipped by me, and this year I found it on audio. Like her other novels, it’s a perfectly delightful, satisfying, and heartwarming story. In this one, a penniless Russian countess finds work in England as a maid and steals the young earl’s heart. I know, a fairy-tale romance, but gracefully written and magical enough to please many readers, including fans of Sarah Addison Allen’s contemporary novels.
I was inspired to revisit—this time on audio—Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere before we saw it performed on stage by Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre, which produces excellent adaptations of adult and children’s novels. Gaiman is always worth a read, or a re-read, and I was immediately sucked back into his richly imagined world of London Below, inventively populated by monsters as well as princesses. The pacing is relentless (it’s a quest after all); the tone is dark and menacing but magical, too; it’s rich in wit and danger, with appealing characters engaged in a battle between good and evil. It’s provocative urban fantasy that captivates on the page, on audio, and on the stage.
Mary Balogh has long been a favorite romance author, and at just 224 pages, A Matter of Class is surely the shortest and one of the most charming books I read this year. This fresh take on the arranged-marriage theme offers likable characters, witty conversation, a heartwarming love story, and an ending that left me laughing out loud. That’s an accomplishment!
My man Jeffery Deaver was at it again this year with Burning Wire, the latest entry in his Lincoln Rhyme series. As usual, there’s an impressive balance between characters and investigations, both police procedural and forensic, with lots of danger and suspense and a ticking clock to keep the action moving. The labyrinthine plot, breathless pacing, and numerous cliff-hangers make for super suspense, with the added personal element of paraplegic investigator Rhyme’s deteriorating health.
Before you begin to think I only listen to audio and never read, let me add two titles that I loved reading in the past year: Kage Baker’s space-opera romp, The Empress of Mars, and Guy Gavriel Kay’s gorgeous historical fantasy, Under Heaven. Baker died too young, but she has left a legacy of titles to ensure her reputation. Among them stands this clever and entertaining romp that turns Mars into a locale reminiscent of Alaska during the gold rush. Mary Griffith, fired by the British Lunar Company that controls all business on Mars, opens a bar that attracts all the misfits this outback society can produce. The ending is straight out of Monty Python, and in homage to that series, I will “say no more.”
Kay’s masterpiece, on the other hand, is an intriguing mix of fantasy and historical fiction set in exotic Kitai, a country inspired by China’s Tang dynasty. Against this richly imagined landscape, Kay brews a relentlessly paced and dramatic concoction involving political intrigue, battles, and family responsibilities and relationships. Polished prose and colorful descriptions enhance this character-centered epic fantasy.
My nonfiction rave is for Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life. As always Bryson’s books satisfy because they exceed expectations. In addition to a history of habitation and all that means, this is a delightful lexicographical exploration of the language of the home—the derivation of such terms as room and board, cupboard, and so much more. It’s history, social history, and wordplay, all deftly delivered with his inimitable wit and style.
So much for my passions today. I hope you can find a platform to share yours.
Joyce Saricks is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, second edition (2009), from ALA Editions.