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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Look Back at Some of Our Favorite Posts from 2015

About Books is on break this week. It’s a good time then to look back at some of our favorite posts from the past year. From Book Club Picks to Audiobook recommendations, from books of adventures to books of remembrance, About Books had a great year letting you know what Fairfax County Public Library staff was reading and recommending.

Happy New Year and happy reading in 2016!

- The Editors

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Move Over Buzzfeed, Hello Book Concierge: Make Your Own Best-Of-List

Book recommendations are tough business. Like the time I recommended The Luminaries to friends. (Still feel bad about that one, guys!) But that’s why I empathize with book reviewers this time of the year as they put forth their highly trumpeted “Best of the Year” lists. Yeah, I know. It’s hard to feel sorry for them. What a glamourous sounding job! But we expect a lot from these authoritative “Best of” lists and while we do discover great gems this way and experience validation when a book we loved lands on a Top Ten, truth is these lists can contain some clunkers, too. At its heart, reading is a truly personal experience. And what I like often isn’t what you like. So, how does one wade through the “Best of” lists to find something you are guaranteed to like? Especially in the Buzzfeed age of listicles?

I was pondering this question when I rediscovered NPR's Book Concierge. (By the way, has anyone noticed how NPR is killing it over on their website? Really innovative things going on there.) The Book Concierge is the perfect tool for book discovery. See their thoughtful, witty explanation here of how their “list fatigue” combined with a chance to work closely with the NPR NewsApp team gave birth to Concierge.

NPR's Book Concierge. Great way to find your next book.

A few moments in and it's clear that the site is a better reflection of how we actually discover new books than blindly following the same five or ten titles that pop up on all the end of year lists. It starts with 260 books that their staff and critics loved. From there you can browse by genre. Similar to how I don’t ask just anyone for book recommendations but instead ask friends or seek out reviewers who like to read the same types of books as I do. My colleague Rebecca found this great book with these filters on Book Concierge: Book Club Ideas + Rather Short + Realistic Fiction + Seriously Great Writing + Tales from Around the World. Which returned a book neither of us had heard. The Story of My Teeth by Valerie Luiselli. How did we miss this fantastic sounding title? It's not listed in any of the major Top Ten lists either so we wouldn't have found it that way. But we both immediately placed it on hold.

Moreover, Book Concierge is an answer to a digital-age dilemma - the problem with shopping for books online (or browsing an online library catalog) is that it’s really hard to duplicate the “discovery” process that happens from talking to librarians, bookstore staff and fellow readers inside a bricks-and-mortar place of books, where you can also browse displays of new titles and old favorites. Even Amazon just opened a bricks-and-mortar book store.  

NPR’s site might just have fixed that problem on its own, however. The engaging graphic display of all their top 260 book covers creates an opportunity to browse in a way you would in a store or library. And it casts a larger net of books than a Top Ten list, but far more appealingly and user friendly than either the Washington Post's Top 50 fiction or nonfiction books or the New York Times Top 100. Even though both of those are posted online, both of them are at their heart traditional print-first formats. There's no engagement similar to what Book Concierge offers.

With its genre-browsable refined searches and engaging visual presence, Book Concierge has enabled a new age of digital discovery for finding your next read. So, check it out – find new reads and create your own, best-for-you Top Ten list.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Finally Getting Their 15 Minutes of Fame

“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” ― Aristotle

Living your life in the shadow of genius can’t be very easy under the best of circumstances. Add a touch of eccentricity and a smidgeon of egoism to that genius, and then things can become very complex. So, I give a cheer when I run across a book that champions those who stand just outside the limelight. Writers of historical fiction must agree. These five books move that spotlight over just a tad to shine on the family and friends of the famous.

Gaynor Arnold gives Dorothea “Dodo” Gibson a chance to tell her side of the story in Girl in a Blue Dress: A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles Dickens.  Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, the novel portrays Gibson’s marriage to an adored but self-centered Victorian author. The once-loved wife, modeled after Catherine Dickens, was humiliatingly discarded once years of childbearing had taken their toll.

Hadley Richardson was swept off her feet at age 28 by the charismatic writer Ernest Hemingway.  The Paris Wife by Paula MacLain follows the Hemingways as they navigate the heady jazz and gin-infused atmosphere of 1920s expatriate Paris. As they rub shoulders with great names of the era, Hadley is challenged to keep her own identity while supporting his increasing fame. If you enjoyed this story, you might want to try Hemingway in Love: His Own Story by A. E. Hotchner.

Nancy Horan’s debut novel, Loving Frank, explores the life of a very different heroine from Hadley Richardson. Mamah Borthwick Cheney leaves her husband and children to flee to Europe with Frank Lloyd Wright. Since the renowned architect is also married, society is scandalized by the pair. Horan sensitively portrays the challenges Borthwick, a scholar, translator and feminist in her own right, faced as a mother, intellectual and partner to the talented but egotistical architect.

To be young, artistic, gifted and a member of the bohemian Bloomsbury Group, should be a wonderful thing. Vanessa Stephens, however, shared that distinction, with her troubled sister Virginia. Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar chronicles the loving, yet challenging relationship of painter Vanessa Bell and author Virginia Woolf in their early years. Steadfast and stable, Bell must look after her own personal and artistic growth while managing her sister’s obsessive loves and fragile mental health. 

Although an aviatrix and author in her own right, Ann Murrow is known to history primarily as the wife of Charles Lindbergh. She met the aviator just after his legendary solo crossing of the Atlantic and threw herself wholeheartedly into his love of flight. His unprecedented celebrity and cold, somewhat domineering nature became less bearable to Murrow with time, particularly after the kidnapping and murder of their first child. Her quest to find and establish her own identity is movingly portrayed in The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin.

-Rebecca Wolff, City of Fairfax Regional Library

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Gingerbread Tales

You’ve heard of the Gingerbread Boy and perhaps the Gingerbread Girl, but have you heard the story of the Gingerbread Cowboy or the Gingerbread Pirates? Your small friends are in for a calorie-free treat with these delicious books to warm winter nights. Ask for them at your local Fairfax County Public Library branch or stay put by the fire, and place a hold online via our website 24-7.

The Gingerbread Boy, Paul Galdone. Run! Run! Run! Catch me if you can!” This favorite rendition of the classic tale is charmingly illustrated by the author.

The Gingerbread Girl, Lisa Campbell Ernst. Watch out Mr. Fox, the Gingerbread Girl has learned a thing or two from her brother’s mistakes and insists on giving this tale a new twist.

The Gingerbread Girl Goes Animal Crackers, Lisa Campbell Ernst. When the Gingerbread Girl opens a box of animal crackers, the cookie craziness reaches new heights.

The Gingerbread Cowboy, Janet Squires. “Giddyup, giddyup, as fast as you can!” His tale may sound familiar, but Gingerbread Cowboy was born on a ranch. After running from a roadrunner and a band of javelinas, he tries to escape on the back of a coyote. 

The Gingerbread Pirates, Kristin Kladstrup. A boy and his mother make gingerbread pirates to leave for Santa. But Captain Cookie and his crew have other ideas when animated by Christmas magic.

Gingerbread Man Loose in the School and Gingerbread Man Looseon the Fire Truck, Laura Murray. Gingerbread Man was made by schoolchildren and wants to become part of the class. In the sequel, Gingerbread Man saves the day on a field trip to the fire station.
Gingerbread Baby and Gingerbread Friends, Jan Brett. Further variations on the tale are lavishly illustrated by popular author/illustrator Jan Brett. See extension activities, including a printable Gingerbread Baby board game, on her website.
The Gingerbread Mouse, Katy Braton. When her old home is destroyed, Mouse finds a cozy gingerbread house to move into within a much larger house. But will she get to keep her sweet home?
Children can extend the last story by making an easy “gingerbread house” like the one Mouse lived in. Stuff a brown paper lunch bag with crumpled paper and fold over the top to make a roof. Decorate the house with markers or collage items and top with cotton “snow”. 
-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Book Club Picks: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

What is your book club reading in recognition of National Underdog Day, which falls on the third Friday of December? Consider discussing Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, in which the author explores the phenomena of victorious underdogs and explains how they often come out ahead not by luck but by design. Often the underdog’s perceived weakness doubles as strength, and vice versa. In the title example, Goliath was hampered with heavy armor and weaponry, allowing nimble David to prevail. Gladwell goes on to explain why a disproportionate percentage of successful entrepreneurs have dyslexia and how early civil rights leaders utilized the prejudice of the majority to further their cause. One of his counter-intuitive discoveries is that top graduates of average colleges are more successful in their careers than middle-of-the-pack graduates of Ivy League colleges.  This last topic he covered at length in a speech at Google.

In "Part Three: The Limits of Power," Gladwell applies some of the earlier theories to larger historical phenomena, explaining why some wars are unwinnable even though one entity should have a clear advantage. During "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, why were the Protestant majority, with strong British allies, unable to subdue the minority Catholics? How did the unsophisticated mountain dwellers of Le Chambon, France defy the Nazis and openly harbor hundreds of Jews during World War Two? For that matter, why was the great and powerful USA unable to win the war in Vietnam?

As Gladwell explains in David and Goliath, the powerful cannot subdue a populace by might alone. In order to prevail, the source of power must be perceived as legitimate. The group to be won over must perceive the ruling power as having recognized their interests. Gladwell writes, "...when the law is applied in the absence of legitimacy, it does not produce obedience. It produces the opposite. It leads to backlash." The corollaries in history and contemporary society are abundant.

Gladwell is more of a giant than an underdog in the publishing world; his international bestsellers are famous for spurring lively discussion. Other books by Gladwell that are popular with book clubs include Outliers: the Story of Success, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and Blink: the Power of Thinking without Thinking. 
--Suzanne LaPierre, Kings Park Library