Archive for the ‘Announcements’ Category

We continue our compilation of all of 2011’s best-books-of-the-year lists and awards into one sortable Excel spreadsheet at Blogging for a Good Book. We’re happy to present the ABBC, version 3.0.

Since the release of version 2.0, Newsweek, the Vancouver Sun, New Statesman, Boing Boing, Indigo Bookstores, the Independent, ALA’s Notable Books, RUSA’s Reading List, the Huffington Post, USA Today, New Yorker, Gawker, the Morning News, Cuyahoga County PL, the National Book Critics Circle Awards, Boston Globe, Bookreporter, Booklist, Stevereads, the Left Coast Crime Awards, The Nation, Los Angeles Public Library, Flavorwire, Bookish, and the Village Voice have been compiled. 254 additional 2011 titles have been added, raising the total of books for which we’ve found mentions to 1824. 62 sources have been compiled. To date, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot has the most mentions among fiction publications with 30 to date. Joan Didion’s memoir Blue Nights has the most mentions for a nonfiction work so far, with 22. Download the full spreadsheet to see how all of your 2011 favorites rank or to explore your favorite genres.

We’ll continue to post updates here every couple of weeks. For analysis of the books at the top of various genre and subject categories, please wander over to Book Group Buzz and search for ABBC entries there.


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I’ll be presenting at the annual American Libraries Association conference in Washington DC on Monday, June 28th at 10:30. The panel is called “Science Fiction: Past, Present, and Future” and also features professor Eric Rabkin (talking about the history of the genre) and author and futurist Cory Doctorow (talking about where science fiction is going). My portion of the panel will focus on practical advice for librarians in working with science fiction and fantasy readers.

The following link contains the notes for my presentation, including ideas about who science fiction readers are and are not, basic ideas for collection development in SF, ten ideas for SF programming at your library, recommended science fiction writers for readers with various subject and genre interests, and list of other classic SF writers, YA and juvenile SF writers, and up and coming SF writers.

Working with Science Fiction Readers and Fans

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You will see some new features in Blogging for a Good Book coming in 2010.

  • Beginning on January 2nd we will offer a weekly post called The List. Each Saturday one of our editors will post a brief list of titles that are related to each by subject, appeal, or some other strand. We hope that our readers will contribute additional titles to these lists using the comments feature, expanding the offerings to the reading community.
  • Beginning in January we will have a link in each post that allows readers to easily share BFGB posts on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook,  Digg, and many others. This feature will also make it easier for readers to share posts via email and to bookmark favorite posts in Google Bookmarks or Delicious.

We are excited about the new opportunities here to interact with our readers and to continue to support the community of readers, and we look forward to an exciting and reading-filled year in 2010.


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The library is excited to announce our new collection of downloadable titles for audiobook listeners. These titles are compatible with most digital audio players, including iPods. The collection was purchased through the generosity of the Friends of Williamsburg Regional Library.

library_ilibrarylogoTo access the collection you will need an active Williamsburg Regional Library card. Titles can be located in the WRL online catalog or from the MyiLibrary page. Titles checkout for up to 28 days, and you can place holds on titles that are checked out to another WRL user. The initial collection consists of a mix of fiction and nonfiction titles, including both bestsellers and classic works.  For questions about this new collection, please stop by the Reference Desk at either library, call us at 259-7720, or IM us (Yahoo, Google, AIM, and MSN screen name InstantWRL).

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We are excited to announce that Blogging for a Good Book is the winner of the 2009 Louis Shores/Greenwood Publishing Group Award given for excellence in book reviewing. We are honored that the committee noted that “Blogging for a Good Book serves as a model for book reviewing of the future.” We thank the committee for selecting us for the award; we thank the writers here at Williamsburg Regional Library who have taken the time to craft thoughtful and entertaining reviews; and we also thank the community of readers and commenters without whom BFGB would not have a reason to exist. For full text of the award information, see the RUSA blog.

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Which books were really the best of 2008? That’s a very subjective question, but to make it a little less so, I’ve compiled a unified list of the best books of the year as named by 70 different review sources and award nomination lists. The unified list shows the number of votes received by each book and contains tables for general fiction; mysteries, thrillers, and action novels; speculative fiction; historical fiction; romance; inspirational fiction; young adult fiction; poetry; graphic novels; narrative nonfiction; biographies and memoirs; and how-to nonfiction. To see the full list, download the Excel spreadsheet at http://www.wrl.org/bookweb/best2008.xls.

A bit about the unified list: which category I placed a book in was my decision and may not agree with yours. I only included books first published in the US in 2008 (although I may have inadvertently included a few reprints, 2007 books, or books published only in Britain.) The Dewey numbers listed in the nonfiction lists are based on where Williamsburg Regional Library chose to catalog the book. Books we don’t currently have in our collection don’t show a call number (I may add these later from WorldCat, but for now, you’re on your own!) The tables are sorted first by number of votes and second by title, but if you download the spreadsheet, you can re-sort them as you wish. The sources are listed in the last table of the spreadsheet. For the most part a mention in a list or a nomination for award counted as one vote, although I’ve noted a few spots where I handled the votes differently.

Such lists are never entirely fair: Any reviewer can only read a few of the thousand of books publishsed each year. Some books just receive more publicity than others or are more likely to be read by the kind of people who review books. If you’re a fan of lighter fiction, genres like romance, inspirational, or urban fiction, it’s hard to find lists of a year’s best works.  The same is true for many nonfiction categories: political works, biographies, essays, memoirs, and histories are well-represented and cookbook lists aren’t hard to find, but subjects such as self-help, religion, sports, and entertainment rarely make it onto the year-end lists.

But by adding up the number of votes from as many diverse review sources as I could find (and I praise the folks at the Readers’ Advisor Online Blog and Largehearted Boy for compiling lists of the lists), I hope I’ve given a slightly more fair look at the most-praised books published last year.

Which books were the big winners? I may still add a few more sources to the list as they come out or as I find them, but here are the top vote-getters so far, which I’ll list without commentary. For the full list in all categories, download the spreadsheet.

General Fiction

Jhumpa Lahiri  The Unaccustomed Earth 35 votes

Joseph O’Neill  Netherland 27 votes

David Wroblewski The Story of Edgar Sawtelle 25 votes

Roberto Bolano 2666: A Novel 23 votes


Mysteries, Thrillers, and Action Novels

Richard Price Lush Life 31 votes

Kate Atkinson When Will There Be Good News? 17 votes

Steig Larsson The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 16 votes

Tom Rob Smith Child 44 15 votes


Speculative Fiction

Neal Stephenson Anathem 14 votes

Toby Barlow Sharp Teeth 10 votes

Jo Graham Black Ships 7 votes


Historical Fiction

Toni Morrison A Mercy 25 votes

Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Burrows The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society 23 votes

Dennis Lehane The Given Day 19 votes

Aleksandr Hemon The Lazarus Project 14 votes


Romance Fiction

Sherry Thomas Private Arrangements 5 votes


Young Adult Fiction

Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games 24 votes

Cory Doctorow Little Brother 18 votes

Kristin Cashore Graceling 11 votes



August Kleinzhaler Sleeping It Off in Rapid City 4 votes


Graphic Novels

Lynda Barry What It Is 6 votes


Narrative Nonfiction

Jane Mayer The Dark Side 19 votes

Dexter Filkins The Forever War 19 votes

Mark Harris Pictures at a Revolution 17 votes


Biographies and Memoirs

Annette Gordon-Reed The Hemingses of Monticello 13 votes

Patrick French The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul 12 votes


How-To and Art Books

Stephen G. Bloom The Oxford Project 4 votes

Kenny Shopsin Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin 4 votes

Andrew Carmellini Urban Italian 4 votes

Do you agree with the critics, literary hoi polloi, and blogerati? There’s only one way to find out: Go read some of the books. Enjoy the list!

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Williamsburg Regional Library is the only Virginia site hosting Philip Roth’s online discussion of his new book, Indignation, on September 16. If you are interested in free tickets, please call the Adult Services desk at 259-4050.

I read Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here many years ago, so when Roth published Plot, it was natural for me to pick it up. Honestly, I hadn’t read anything by Roth since a college course that included Portnoy’s Complaint, which I admired for his ability to capture a tone not easily maintained – and, of course, the surprise ending that I’m sure was the talk of the town when the book was first published. I was (and still am) intimidated by his reputation and kept finding reasons not to go back to his work. That’s why The Plot Against America surprised me, and reminded me that authors don’t become great when they can’t write.

It is, simply put, an alternate history of the United States. Instead of Franklin Roosevelt winning re-election in 1940, Charles Lindbergh, aviation pioneer, celebrity, and vocal admirer of Adolf Hitler takes the White House and begins to implement his own solution to “the Jewish Problem.” Agreements with Germany and Japan remove international considerations from the stage, allowing Lindbergh to gradually introduce friendly-sounding legislation aimed at breaking up Jewish families and communities.

To the seven-year old Philip Roth (the adult author names his youthful protagonist for himself, and surrounds him with relatives that share names with the writer’s family), Lindbergh’s election is astonishing – he has never known any president other than Roosevelt, who is admired in the boy’s home. The shelter of home and neighborhood suddenly looks fragile as the adults around him begin to react to Lindbergh’s programs. The boy starts to see the immediate effects, including his mother taking a job to send escape money to Canada, his father losing his job, his brother signing up to work on a Kentucky tobacco farm, and his cousin going to Canada to join the fight against Germany. The reader continues the story with a growing sense of unease that, like the cumulative effects of public anti-Semitism, climaxes in the realized fear of assassinations and pogroms throughout the United States. The Roth household is affected by internal strife, but when violence does erupt in other parts of the US, the family pulls together.

The novel ends somewhat abruptly, with a sudden and convenient resolution that puts the world back on track with 20th century history as we know it. I wondered if Roth did that because the consequences of a real extermination of American Jews was too awful to contemplate or too difficult to envision in the confines of a novel; I still wonder if he did it deliberately to jar the reader back into this real world with a newfound sense of how easily tyranny and oppression can arise even in a supposedly open and tolerant society. As with American Pastoral, the reader is also left wondering what course of action would head off these events, whether an individual or group could hold off chaos long enough for people to rethink their prejudices, or whether anyone can consider themselves immune to social upheaval. By not answering those questions, Roth forces the reader to decide for himself. Perhaps not the most satisfying ending, but truly difficult problems rarely have simple solutions.

Check the WRL catalog

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Williamsburg Regional Library is the only Virginia site hosting Philip Roth’s online discussion of his new book, Indignation, on September 16. If you are interested in free tickets, please call the Adult Services desk at 259-4050.

American Pastoral is Roth’s attempt to process the fundamental changes to American society in the 1960s. That decade overturned the established “order” of the United States, leaving many people adrift as the underpinnings of our shared culture and individual values were exposed and washed away. Through the eyes of one man, Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, we see institutions – religion, family, industry, politics – crumble as they fail to live up to the ideals they espoused. In doing so, he extends Swede beyond the individual, and his times beyond a single decade in a single century to the profound question: what does one person’s life mean?

On the face of it, Swede has an ideal life. The renowned but humble high school athlete, the handsome Marine who married a former Miss New Jersey, the heir and director of a famous and successful business, the man who breaks away from his urban roots to live in a historic country home, the Jew who has transcended his Judaism to become just another American. But there is a worm at the heart of this apple – Swede’s daughter Merry. Cursed with a stutter (or is that the source of her problem?), cursed with a visceral need to solve the world’s injustices (or is she blessed with the power to recognize and confront evil?), cursed by unfavorable comparisons to her attractive parents (or blessed by a mother and father who love her unconditionally?), the 16-year old Merry forces these problems to a head when she disappears after a fatal bomb attack on a country grocery store.

Swede suddenly discovers that he doesn’t know his own daughter, can’t fathom the anger and hatred she must bear towards him and to all she thinks he represents, and won’t give up on the idea that she might be an innocent caught up in overwhelming forces. But he’s tortured by uncertainty – what if she’s a bad seed, what if she’s always hated him, what if she deliberately, cold-bloodedly, remorselessly planted the bomb, accomplishing the destruction she desired? What if, as one character suggests, she is a messiah of anarchy, a teen leading older people into a life of revolution and murder? What if, in her, he can find no trace of himself or of the parents and grandparents he knew and loved?

Added to the cumulative disruptions of Newark race riots, the end of the old-world industry that provided dignity, prosperity, and identity for three generations of Levovs, and the stresses on his marriage, for the first time in his life Swede begins to question who he is and to ponder what his life means in the face of chaos. What he finds is frightening.

Taking these threads and weaving them into a standard narrative would have been sufficient for most writers, but Roth adds an additional twist: this life of Swede’s is the product of his imagined ruminations as captured by Nathan Zuckerman, Roth’s fictional alter ego. A reunion with Swede, ostensibly to discuss a biography of Swede’s father, turns into the kind of superficial conversation that happens when people discover that old friends don’t really know each other. Zuckerman mentally dismisses Swede as an intellectual lightweight incapable of reflection and self-awareness; only during a high school reunion with Swede’s younger brother does Nathan learn that Swede was the tormented father of the infamous bomber, and that Swede was probably dying when they met. Zuckerman realizes that even he, a supposedly incisive writer, too easily mistook the outer man for the whole person, and sets out to write Swede’s life as he imagines it.

This is a disturbing book, not least because the reader falls into the same trap that Zuckerman did, but also because Roth taps into the often surreal, sometimes dangerous, and always chaotic decade of the 1960s. He brings forth the rawness of public and private lives left without protective social structures, but does so in a way that has a gradual, cumulative effect until the disaster is completely unveiled and Swede’s life is laid bare. He has a disciplined control of the pace and and placement of revelation, but makes no judgments and gives no answers. There is little comfort here, and that makes it a great book.

Check the WRL Catalog

Or place a reservation for the Gab Bag

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This week our Bluesocks book group will highlight discoveries from the stack of ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) from which we selected books for our monthly meeting. We’re pleased to share these brand-spanking-new titles!

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Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline WinspearOn this week’s Blogging for a Good Book, I’m posting about four authors who are coming to the Williamsburg Library Theatre on Monday, March 31. We’ll be having a relaxed conversation with Margaret Coel, David L. Robbins, and Jacqueline Winspear, led by Willetta L. Heising. The event starts at 7 pm in the Theatre at 515 Scotland Street, and will be followed by light refreshments and a book-signing.

Maisie Dobbs is the brightest character to hit the Mystery world in some time. And boy, does the Mystery world recognize it! The Agatha Award for Best First Novel; named of the best books of 2003 by Publishers Weekly, Booksense, and the New York Times; nominated for the Edgar. As a follow-up, three more Agatha nominations (winning Best Novel for Birds of a Feather), and both the Bruce Alexander and Macavity/Sue Feder Awards for Best Historical Mysteries. Maisie Dobbs also earned the Alex Award for Best Adult Book for Teens. So what is it about Maisie?

Well, there’s the timeframe. Set in England between the World Wars, Jacqueline Winspear faithfully recreates a country that has had its foundations knocked from under it. Every family knows at least one man killed in the War to End All Wars. The maimed and wounded are a daily sight on the streets. The class system is surviving only on the momentum that will carry it through the end of World War II. Cutting edge technology – phones and cars – are displacing people and opening new realms.

Then there’s Maisie herself. These times of turmoil enable people to escape the old limits, and that is what Maisie has done. In the first book, we learn that Maisie was headed for a life of service before unusual circumstances gave her a way out. Then war erupts, and Maisie leaves her old life to volunteer as a nurse. Sent to a forward medical unit, she is exposed firsthand to the maiming and loyalty, the camaraderie and death, and the waste that is war. I’m not going to spoil the plot of the first book by saying any more than that, but Maisie emerges from the hell of France changed by her experience.

Ten years after the War, Maisie opens an office dedicated to using her study of psychology as an investigator. With the backing of her sponsor, Lady Rowan, and her mentor, Maurice Blanche, she begins to build a clientele. Her professional ethic – she will not divulge the results of her inquiries until clients agree to take a path of reconciliation – springs from an innate compassion honed by her experiences. Those experiences, and Maisie’s unique placement outside the rigid class structure, make her an intuitive and successful detective.

Winspear also builds a cast of secondary characters that flesh out Maisie’s place in the world, most notably Billy Beale, the wounded veteran who becomes Maisie’s assistant. Maisie’s father, Lady Rowan, Maurice Blanche – all provide both support and a source of tension in Maisie’s life. Even the minor characters are rendered as individuals, which makes the world Winspear has reconstructed come alive.

Maisie Dobbs (2003) is the first novel in the series; the fifth book, An Incomplete Revenge, came out in February 2008 to rave reviews. Jacqueline Winspear must be as entranced with the character she ‘discovered’ (as Alexander McCall Smith put it) as we readers are, as she continues to explore Maisie’s fascinating life with skill and enthusiasm.

Check the WRL Catalog for
Maisie Dobbs large print
Maisie Dobbs on CD

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Happy Birthday, BFGB!

I’m interrupting the week’s postings on the authors coming to Mysteries @ Your Library to recognize this milestone in our Blogging for a Good Book site.

If the tone of this post is too self-congratulatory, please know it isn’t meant to be. When you pull off a project that has widespread backing among your co-workers and managers, that gets mentioned in your profession’s publications, and that regularly receives positive feedback from people you don’t even know, then you know you’ve something worthwhile on your hands. So it is with Blogging for a Good Book, and that’s hard not to be happy about.

Statistics can’t tell the whole story, but we’ve had over 60,000 page views of our 275 posts; our best single day had 2712 visitors. Better yet, we were selected as a “Website You Can Trust” by The Librarians’ Internet Index, and were chosen (randomly?) by our bloghost WordPress as a ‘Hot New Blog’. As the number of reviews has grown, we have found more and more to say. Our first entry ran 75 words. We’ve gotten much longer since then; not always a good thing when you’re on deadline!

Our readers have written to tell us how much they like the blog, to chide us for adding more books or films to their ‘to do’ lists, and to politely let us know that we’ve misspelled words, gotten facts wrong, or misinterpreted the books we’ve posted. That’s OK – the whole idea is to share viewpoints and engage in conversations with people as interested in books as we are. As we work on implementing the idea of social networking (through things like instant messaging reference and adding user reviews to the catalog), we want to keep in mind that everything we do ought to be designed to make the library more accessible, more interactive, and more interesting.

So thanks Penelope and Jessica for getting us moving on Blogging for a Good Book; thanks to the library administration for supporting the project; thanks to all the WRL staff who have contributed their time and considerable talent to creating the content; and thanks to everyone who has stopped by, linked to us, and commented on our work. Now, back to our regularly scheduled posting.

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Eagle Catcher CoverOn this week’s Blogging for a Good Book, I’m posting about four authors who are coming to the Williamsburg Library Theatre on Monday, March 31. We’ll be having a relaxed conversation with Margaret Coel, David L. Robbins, and Jacqueline Winspear, led by Willetta L. Heising. The event starts at 7 pm in the Theatre at 515 Scotland Street, and will be followed by light refreshments and a book-signing.

An Indian reservation. Culture clashes with whites. Murder mysteries that center on Native history. Tony Hillerman, right?

Wrong. Margaret Coel.

The comparisons are inevitable, and Coel’s Wind River series offers much to Hillerman’s readers. Hillerman readers will appreciate another author who deals with Native Americans both accurately and with sensitivity. But where Hillerman uses Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn as our guides, Margaret Coel gives us John O’Malley, a Catholic priest, as our observer. He is trusted, but in a world not his own.

Father John has bridged many of the gaps between white and native cultures by his simple presence on the Wind River Reservation. His long service as a priest to people who value their Catholicism and blend it with their old ways makes him a integral part of reservation life. His willingness to advocate for the Arapaho in the white world, and to push criminal investigations on his own are the backbone of much of the series. O’Malley is also imperfect in many ways – an acknowledged alcoholic who struggles to stay on the wagon, a relationship builder estranged from his own family, a man of God with strong feelings for attorney Vicky Holden. And as a Boston kid, he is still developing a feel for the wide-open West.

A full-fledged Arapaho, Vicky Holden is also an outsider. Called Woman Alone by the Arapaho elders, she walks a nontraditional path after leaving her abusive husband, giving her children to family to be raised, and putting herself through law school. Holden is torn between serving her people and earning lots of money in distant places; her own feelings for Father John make it difficult for her to sustain relationships with more eligible men. She is a fascinating character – strong and driven on the outside, lonely and self-doubting on the inside.

Like any good author who has chosen to work in a series, Margaret Coel deepens relationships among her characters – not just Vicky and Father John – as the series develops. Readers also become more familiar with the seemingly infinite world of the Wind River Reservation through Coel’s powerful descriptions of the landscape and its impact on its inhabitants. Those two elements alone are enough to bring readers back time and again to these books.

These are Mystery stories, though, and their real test is the quality of the puzzles. And Coel does a great job with that, setting up red herrings, misdirecting our attention, but giving us clues to work with. Unlike Tony Hillerman, who bases many of his storylines on the spiritual world of the Navajo and other Southwestern Indians, Coel draws from all aspects of Arapaho history and modern experience as starting places for her stories. Tensions between Arapaho, Shoshone, and the whites who want to hold and exploit the resources of the reservation (including the people) boil over into murder. These are not especially violent stories – not as cozy as Jacqueline Winspear, nor as detailed as David L. Robbins, but there is a real sense of the action and danger in her stories.

I was lucky to be introduced to these Mysteries, and am very much looking forward to meeting Margaret Coel on March 31.

Check the WRL catalog for the first book in the series, The Eagle Catcher.

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This week’s posts are contributed by members of WRL’s Bluesocks book group. We’re going to share a variety of international mysteries for your reading pleasure.

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In celebration of the season, this week’s posts are contributed by members of WRL’s Bluesocks book group. We’re going to share a variety of holiday goodies for your reading pleasure.

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