If you get a reputation as a “reader,” it won’t be long before folks you know start asking you about books. “Read any good books lately?” “What are you reading now?” “I need a good book recommendation – what do you suggest?”
You’ll hear that even more often if you happen to be a librarian or work in a library. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that, I’d have more money than you.
People like all sorts of books. As discussed earlier, the most popular books in libraries usually fall into the genre fiction areas. (Mysteries, thrillers, romances, etc.) When asked the question about a good book to recommend, I could ask “What types of books do you usually enjoy?” If the questioner was someone like my friend Stephen, and I knew he liked history, I could say, “Have you read 1491?”
If it was someone like Chris, I might say, “Try Ghostman – it’s a quirky, well-written thriller.”
But I do have a “go-to” title, that so far has been remarkably well-received by almost everyone I’ve ever recommended it to. Like mysteries? Like romance? Like history? Like books that have a story within a story? Or for my library colleagues, “Do you like stories featuring libraries?”
There are some other things to like about this book. The first thing is that it was originally written in Spanish. Not too many people (besides Westley Roberts) have known many Spaniards, but Carlos Ruiz Zafón is one worth getting to know. Besides the author, the translator is also outstanding, and her work on translating this title to English is amazing. Her name is Lucia Graves, and she is the daughter of Robert Graves.
This book, written in 2001 and translated to English in 2004, is a worldwide international bestseller titled The shadow of the wind. At the heart of this story is the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books. A young boy named Daniel Sempere, whose mother has died, is taken there by his bookshop owner father shortly after the end of the Spanish Civil War, but pre-WWII. The Cemetery is a huge library of old and forgotten titles. A few secret librarians guard the library. Traditionally, anyone once admitted is allowed to choose one book, which can be taken from the Cemetery, but which must then become the responsibility of the initiate and guarded for their lifetime. Daniel chooses a book by Julian Carax called The Shadow of the Wind, and becomes its guardian.
Daniel becomes enraptured reading the book, and soon sets out to find other works by Carax. He tries to find out all he can about the author. In his investigations, he unleashes the dark forces that have tried to bury Julian and destroy his works, including every copy of The Shadow of the Wind.
This book is full of fascinating characters and a lot of history as well. The writing is exceptional, and the descriptions make the story come alive in your mind. The story captures the sweetness of youth and adventure, as well as the darkness humanity is capable of. Some characters are models of loyalty and integrity, while others are monstrous and implacable.
So with some trepidation but also some confidence, I recommend The shadow of the wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Let me know what you think!
P.S. – if you like the book, the author has written two others in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle.
I’ve done over 50 blog posts in my career here at Fontana Regional Library. 50! Seems like a lot. The reason I bring this up is because this post that you are reading right now is my last. I am leaving the library and we are moving across the country (2,674 miles to be exact). And by we I mean me, my wife Christina, who co-wrote the early blogs, and Bellatrix.
So then, what shall we talk about? I thought of a few things, like talking about my favorite books once again, or reminiscing about previous posts. I discarded those ideas, because they don’t take us anywhere. Been there, done that.
Next I thought about the identity of the blog, and specifically my posts. What have I been trying to achieve? What was the point? The answer is obvious. Glaringly, blindingly obvious. The answer is books. Sure, I ventured off the beaten trail a few times (and note how I am avoiding referencing previous posts. They are there. You can find them yourself if you want), but the main focus was always books. It is always gratifying when someone likes or shares or comments on a post, but when someone says they read one of the books I suggested? That is sublime.
I already said I wasn’t going to prattle on about books I already prattled on about, and a couple of posts back I talked about the miscellaneous titles I hadn’t gotten around to talking about yet. So what am I going to talk about? Nothing. Okay, that is a gross oversimplification. If you think you are getting out of this without me slipping in some of my favorites, you are crazy. What I really mean is that I am going to let others do the talking.
I asked a few of my co-workers if they wanted to suggest a title or two, or three, or four in one case *coughEmilycough*. The idea is that while I may not be around to give you reading recommendations, there are lots of other people who are. Remember, these are their words, not mine.
I picked this up while thinking ahead about an upcoming League of Women Voters book and movie display, since one of the characters is a former suffragette, and I thought it might complement the Carey Mulligan/Helena Bonham Carter movie we’ll be showing.
This quiet little book just ended, and burst my heart wide open! Books that make me cry are highly recommended.
Emily at Hudson recommends Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – and not just because they share the same name! Station Eleven is well-written, easy-to-read, and considers the importance of Art as an essential part of survival in a post-apocalyptic (so to speak) world.
This spectacular work covers a single day at the WTO protests in Seattle and forces readers to empathize with characters they would not normally identify with – which is arguably an essential function of great literature.
I have a lot of favorite movies and books, but there aren’t many that have actually affected me in such a way that I remember the first time I experienced them. In fact, I can only think of two.
For both times, I was in high school. The first memory was when I was fourteen, and was out walking with my friend. Neither of us had a car or even a license, so we ended up walking to the movie theater (we had missed a bus to something and therefore had all day to kill). After buying a ticket for a PG movie, we snuck into Pulp Fiction (don’t do this at home, kids!).
My friend and I sat in a mostly empty theater, stunned by the violence, unforgettable characters, and sharp dialogue. We laughed when others gasped and left the theater grinning from ear to ear. I remember thinking, “when I create something, I want to have an impact like that”. It’s still one of my favorite movies.
The second memory involves my favorite all time comic, George Carlin. I was in a bookstore with two friends (one was the Pulp Fiction fellow sneaker), and we spotted Brain Droppings. Curious, I picked it up and began reading it out loud. Soon we were all hysterical, and I made a beeline for the checkout counter. I ended up reading most of it to my friends during lunch but had to stop because we were laughing so hard our stomachs began hurting. I still have the book, and it still makes me laugh.
It was quite startling to listen to Bowie’s final CD and realize that as much credit as he was given we may still have underappreciated him. An astounding piece of work.
Okay, that last one was me. I want to thank everyone for contributing, and hope some of you readers read some of their reading recommendations. I know I will.
Speaking of thanks, there are a few personal ones I want to pass out. I would beg your indulgence, but this is still my blog, so I can do what I want. First, my wife Christina, without whom none of this would have happened. Sounds cliche, I know, but I wouldn’t have started blogging at all if she hadn’t done it with me. Plus she has had to listen to me bounce ideas off of her ever since. Thank you, and I love you. And a shout out to our cats, Bellatrix, Scrambles the Death Dealer, and Siouxsie, who if nothing else provided plenty of pictures for the blog.
Thanks to Don, the first blog admin I had. He provided lots of support and help as I started writing, not to mention spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out how I could use spoilers in a post.
Thanks to all the other Shelf Life in the Mountains blog contributors, especially the current ones, Amy and Stephen. Besides her excellent writing, Amy is also the “looks” of the organization. By which I mean she created the new logo, and she creates the images for each new post that we use on the library website. Thanks Amy! And Stephen…well Stephen just keeps going like clockwork. I feel like that in 50 years from now he will still be educating and entertaining us with new posts.
Finally, thanks most of all to the readers. Whether you are a long time aficionado or first time peruser, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few minutes (or a bunch of minutes when it comes to some of my posts) to take a look. None of this happens without your support. We have had readers from near and far, and I hope all of you got something worthwhile out of it. Thank you all.
Just one more thing. I promise! It is easy enough to find bestseller lists and classics and such. One thing I always liked was being able to point people towards good books they may not have found otherwise. So I conclude with a list of some of my favorites, many of which I think not enough people are aware of. No Commentary, just a list and a final bit of wisdom: keep reading!
We as a society cannot seem to function online without the prolific usage of acronyms. Individually we may have differing views on the value of these acronyms, but regardless they are part of life now. There are surely a variety of reasons for this, and we can point the finger of blame at many things, but I think this is the main culprit/catalyst:
Take note of those keys. In order to type out a text message on there you had press a lot of keys. For instance, in order to get an “i” you had to press 4 three times. It is easy then to see where this led. Saying “are you there” took 26 (feel free to check my math) button presses, while “r u there” took only 19. You can’t argue with math and science and general human impatience.
Ultimately it doesn’t really matter how the trend started or what our feelings about it are. The important thing is to recognize that even if we never use any ourselves we will come across others using them, and we should be have at least some rudimentary knowledge of what they stand for.
There are dozens and dozens of them, but most are not widely used. Some are very specific towards particular types of conversations, topics, and websites. You can find a variety of lists of acronyms online, including an explanation of lolspeak, and also find articles warning about how teenagers use acronyms as codes to do things they don’t want their parents to know about. I never worried about that too much. I assumed my teenagers would try that sort of stuff, being teenagers and all.
So what we have here is a list of the acronyms I most commonly come across or use myself. Your results may vary, of course. I’ll not only spell them out but also use them in a sentence that also links to a book I like. I’ve probably blogged about these books before, but that is okay. This is my blog post and I can do what I want. Also, most of these can be done with either capital or small letters, either/or.
Laugh out loud. This one is so overused and cliched now that I have seen people write “actual LOL”, to convey that they really did laugh as opposed to it being a stock reply. There are variations to express increasing levels of supposed laughter, such as ROTFL (rolling on the floor laughing).
In real life. So people know you aren’t talking about something you made up on the Internet.
“I work at a library IRL, so I can always give you good book recommendations, like The Gone-Away World.”
Not safe for work. A way to let someone know that what you are sharing (often a link) has content (often language or nudity) that might not be (or definitely is not) suitable for viewing in a work environment.
“Here’s a clip from Gone Girl, where Amy takes out Desi. Totes NSFW, tho.” [Ed. note: that link actually just takes you to the Gone Girl dvd in the library catalog.]
As I said before, there are tons more of these. Share any you think are interesting in the comments, or ask about ones you wonder about.
I’ve always been surrounded by books. Reading is a popular activity in my family, something my mother championed, and something I was able to pass on to my own sons. My mother’s motto was “it doesn’t matter so much what you are reading, so long as you are reading”. In fact, when some relatives disapproved of me reading comic books, she went and got me subscriptions to the Star Wars and G.I. Joe comics.
When I had children of my own it was neat to go to the bookstore and see many of the same books I had as a wee tot still on the shelves, classics such as Are You My Mother and Make Way for Ducklings. It was a treat to watch them discover their own favorites, like Richard Scarry and series such as Goosebumps and Captain Underpants. And yes, they also read comic books, although one favored The Simpsons and the other liked Spawn. I am confident that when they have their own children the reading legacy will continue.
But this blog is about my faves, not theirs. And I really want to talk about books that I liked as a child and as a teen (and as a parent, though here is a list of kids books that adults should read, or read again).
I don’t believe any such list can be made without including Dr. Seuss. He is the grandmaster of the genre. My favorite as a child was Green Eggs and Ham. I can remember wondering back then if there was such a thing as green eggs. And I was delighted when in kindergarten my eldest had a classmate named Sam, so I could use the phrase “that Sam-I-Am” a lot. My boys took a liking to their mother’s favorite, Yertle the Turtle. My coworkers can attest that to this day I can recite most of the book from memory.
A staple of children’s books through the years are Little Golden Books. My favorite was The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover, written by Jon Stone (who was a Sesame Street writer and producer) and illustrated by Michael Smollin. In the book the narrator, Grover, implores you to not read the book, since there is a monster at the end. He employs various tactics to try and stop the reading, only to find at the end that the monster is Grover himself. A great interactive read, and as an adult you appreciate the subtleties of the book, which I talked about before here.
Another all timeless favorite is Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. It is a book that sparks imagination, and it is fun to read to kids as you get several text-less pages where you can just go “RUMPUS! RUMPUS! RUMPUS!”
One of the first books I loved as I became an independent reader was a bit of an anomaly, being that it is a “girly” book. The author having the same last name as me probably got me to initially read it. Little House in the Big Woods was the first of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. I really liked how the life that it portrayed was so different from mine. I don’t recall if I read any of the others.
I believe it was in 4th grade that my love for fantasy books was kickstarted by, unsurprisingly, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the first of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. I read those books repeatedly, especially enjoying The Silver Chair and The Horse and His Boy. As a kid I would sometimes read a book and when I finished I would go back to page one and start over. As an adult I recently cleared a number of books off my shelves, since I have read them once and I am fine with that. Also, if you are wanting to get a child to read this series, make sure to start with “The Lion…” Some editions number the series chronologically, which puts the driest of them, The Magician’s Nephew, first. Bad idea to me, but opinions vary.
The next entry on my list is probably the longest book I read as a youth, coming in at 500+ pages. Of course my kids read longer ones, thanks to Harry Potter. Duncton Wood is a book about moles. Not sold? Let me try again. Duncton Wood is a grand sweeping adventure novel, filled with romance, intrigue, harrowing battles, dastardly villains and heroic deeds. It just happens to features moles as the characters. William Horwood wrote another five books about these brave moles. When I read it I didn’t even know what a mole looked like. I had to look them up next time I was at the library.
Often times someone comes into the library and asks us to help them find a book they once read. This can be an easy task or an extremely difficult one (“It had a red cover, and maybe there was a dog in it”) In fact, the library had a challenge contest for all our staff a couple years ago to help track down one of these books. It was hard. This leads me to my next books, because for many years I couldn’t find them. I did not remember the titles or the author, and the parts of the books I did recall were too generic to help. Until I thought of one particular monster that appeared in the second book, a gelatinous cube (okay, it was called a Bayemot in the book, but I know a gelatinous cube when I see one).
The Prince in Waitingis the first in the Sword of the Spirits trilogy by John Christopher. It is a teen series mixing fantasy and science fiction. Set in England, it takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where technology is shunned and mankind has reverted to medieval ways. Our protagonist, 13 year old Luke, has to not only learn to deal with the political intrigue that comes from being the son of a Captain, but also cope when he finds that the ways and the teachings of his society are both wrong and are being manipulated.
My best exposure to puns came with A Spell for Chameleon, the first in the Xanth series by Piers Anthony.
The Xanth series of novels, originally planned to be a trilogy, debuted in 1977. The 39th volume was released this year, with more to come. Set in the magical land of Xanth, which is shaped exactly like Florida, these books are fun even before you factor in all the puns in them. Just look at some of the titles: Crewel Lye, Isle of View, and Knot Gneiss. They were a reading staple of my teen years. I haven’t fully kept up with the series as an adult, but they are always good for a quick, fun read.
These were my favorites, but I would like to mention some of the books my boys liked when they were little. Go, Dog. Go!, by Seuss protege P.D. Eastman, is a good read along book, one that helps the transition from you reading to them to them reading to you.
The Bravest Ever Bear, by Allan Ahlberg, takes standard childrens tales and turns them on their head, featuring a princess who won’t follow the script and kung fu bears.
This was my oldest son’s first favorite book. A prize to whomever can identify it.
Finding an old Pooh book lead to many great reads. Pooh and Piglet trying to catch a Heffalump had us laughing so hard that I could barely keep reading.
And then we have Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin. Farmer Brown’s cows find an old typewriter and use it to start to issuing demands. For those of us with offbeat senses of humor this book is a must. Plus your kids will like it too.
A lot of people shiver in anticipation waiting for Random Book Day. Sure, it is a day I made up last year, and no one knows when it happens, or even if it will happen. SPOILER ALERT! It is happening! Right now! So brace yourselves. Seriously, we are heading for 3000 words.
This year I have selected 15 titles for your enjoyment. Since several of them are similar to each other I have separated the books into 8 helpful categories. You are guaranteed to love each of these books, the guarantee being that if you don’t you can let me hear all about it in the comments section.
Category 1: Fantasy
As I mentioned in my fave kids books post, which exists in the future, I started reading fantasy novels at a young age. This trend continues today, although I certainly read many things other than fantasy. One of my favorite all time fantasy books (and series) is The Black Company, by Glen Cook. This book mixes gritty, militaristic narrative with epic, mighty magics, and does so seamlessly. Told by the viewpoint of a surgeon and historian for a mercenary company, it features characters ranging from lowly soldiers to an Empress and her array of world-shaking sorcerers. The series goes for 10 books, told by five different narrators, and never disappoints. I’m also partial to Cook’s more light-hearted Garrett, PI series, which is crime noir set in a fantasy world.
There was a time when books based on games and movies and such were rare, other than the “official” novelizations. TSR, publishers of the Dungeons & Dragons game, was an early leader in changing this. One of their earliest book projects was the Dragonlance Chronicles, a series that was intended to tie in with simultaneously released game adventures. They looked at several established fantasy authors (such as Philip Jose Farmer), before settling on the in-house talents of Tracy Hickman (a game developer) and Margaret Weis (a newly hired book editor). They collaborated on the first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. TSR, unsure if sales would warrant future books, insisted that this volume, meant to be the first in a trilogy, have a definitive ending. Well, the book sold well enough for the trilogy to proceed. And another trilogy. And another…and now we have over 200(!) DL novels, written by many, many authors.
Anyway…Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a great fantasy read. Heroes of varying types fight monsters, battle dragons, and save the day. Until the next book, at least. As one early review said, it at least gives you something to read after Lord of the Rings.
I came late to the Disc World series by Terry Pratchett. Actually, that isn’t precisely true, since as a teen I read his novel Strata, that does interact with the Disc World, but that only sort of counts. I really started with the 31st book in the series, Monstrous Regiment. Polly Perks joins the army in order to save her family’s pub. To do so she has to pretend to be male. As the story progresses she discovers that not only do some of the other troops in her regiment (which include a troll, a vampire, and an Igor) have secrets, but that all of them do. While there are many recurring characters and themes in the series, you can pretty much pick up any of them and be good to go. And by the way, Strata is also a good read, darker in tone and much more science fiction than fantasy.
The final entry in this category is Ariel, by Steve Boyett. I read this in my late teen years, and just recently rediscovered it. It is the tale of a boy and his unicorn. But this book is much more post-apocalyptic than fairy tale. The world suffers a sudden change, when all technology ceases to work and fantastical creatures and magic become reality. Unicorns are rare and precious beings, and the Necromancer wants Ariel’s horn, even if it means killing her.
Boyett, after 20+ years of denying he ever would, finally wrote a sequel titled Elegy Beach. I really liked how he adjusted the world to take into account the technology differences between the times he wrote the books. Boyett also has become a DJ with one of the most successful podcasts on iTunes.
I started pretty early with the paranormal romances. I don’t read a lot of them, but a few series I have really enjoyed. Undead and Unwed, by MaryJanice Davidson, kicks of a 12 book series detailing the exploits of Betsy Taylor, a single, unemployed 30 year old who becomes Queen of the Vampires. This is a very fun read. Betsy is an irreverent character, and can do things that other vamps can, like go in the sun and swear properly. You will also learn a lot about women’s shoes by reading this series. Alas, my ultimate recommendation is read the first few and be done. They go off the rails later, and by off the rails I mean like falling into the Grand Canyon while on fire off the rails.
The story goes that Laurell K. Hamilton, who had a couple of novels out already, had difficulty in getting Guilty Pleasures published. The horror people said it was a mystery, and the mystery people said it was fantasy, and the fantasy people said it was horror, etc. Actually it is a crime noir style of book featuring Anita Blake, a woman who reanimates zombies for money and battles vampires on the side. Once it did get published there was no stopping it, as the Anita Blake series is in the 20s and still going. While the early volumes stayed true to the origins, up until the excellent Obsidian Butterfly, later ones took on a notably more sexual tone, for better or worse depending on your reading preferences. I prefer the early ones, that mix many elements together, giving an elegant look at the gritty undead underbelly of St Loius.
A lot of fantasy and paranormal series start small, as far as the monsters go. You find out in book one that there are vampires, and then come the werewolfs in book two, and then on to all sorts of other lycanthopes and fairies and ghosts and what have you. So one of the things I immediately liked about Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking was that it was a world that already had all of those things out in the open. Rachel Morgan is a “runner”, essentially a bounty hunter for supernatural creatures. While she tends to get the job done, often aided by her vampire and pixie partners, things rarely go as planned. There is some Stephanie Plum influence here, and I mean that in a positive way. Plus the titles are mostly Clint Eastwoodallusions.
Category 4: Token YA Book
I always enjoy finding a Young Adult novel that brings something fresh to the table. Faking Faith, by Jodie Bliss, is the story of teenage Dylan, who is ostracized at school after a sexting incident. She looks for refuge online, and is fascinated by the blogs of fundamentalist home schooled Christian girls. She invents an online persona in order to interact with these girls, who are so different from her, and takes things as far as to visit one of them. Of course her deceit is deceitful and has consequences. It is a surprisingly nonjudgmental book, considering the topics it covers, and gives insight into teens from a fresh angle.
Category 5: Nonfiction
Perhaps the thing that impressed me the most about Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad is the way it was researched. If I wanted to study the epic and important battle I would…well, I would read Enemy at the Gates. But other than that I would be doing a lot of online searching. When William Craig set out to chronicle the battle there was no Internet. It took him five years of studying archival materials and conducting interviews to produce this book, travelling to the Soviet Union (not such an easy things in the early 70s), Germany, Israel, and the UK. His writing is approachable without stinting on the historical accuracy. The Jude Law and Rachel Weisz movie about snipers at Stalingrad is of course fictionalized, but there are real events in the book that are crazier than Hollywood is.
And I suppose we must talk about that statue. 279 feet from the tip of the sword to the base of the feet and made with nearly 8000 tons of concrete, it is truly an engineering marvel. I find it interesting that it is not attached to the base, but is standing on its own two feet. The model used by the sculptor found that she was recognized by her resemblance to the finished product. I hope to see it in person one day.
Category 6: Short stories
I am not always keen on short stories. Sometimes it seems that just when I am getting into the story it ends. But there are some collections that I truly cherish. First off we have 20th Century Ghosts, by the magnificent Joe Hill. These are mostly horror stories, and the opener, “Best New Horror”, is pretty brutal. But get past that one and you will find a surprising variety of high quality short fiction. My favorite? “Voluntary Committal” perhaps, but I think each time I read the book I have a new favorite.
My next book has a title that is true and yet misleading in a way. Geektastic is a YA anthology with stories from a number of acclaimed authors. Yes, geeks are the recurring narrative theme. But the underlying theme here is acceptance. Many of the stories emphasize that no matter what our hobbies and obsessions might be, we are all people. At a cona Klingon (a girl) and a Jedi (a boy) meet, and their friends are horrified at this treason. The couple realizes how absurd that is and head off for coffee. A cheerleader enlists the help of geeks to boost her knowledge of Star Trek to impress her boyfriend, only to discover she likes some of this stuff more than he does. A star baton twirler moves to another state, only to find her skills don’t carry the same popularity at her new school, and so on. Good stuff.
Have you ever read a story, have no idea what is happening in it, yet can’t get enough of it? If not, then give “Magic for Beginners” a shot. The story appears in Kelly Link’s third story collection, Pretty Monsters. Fantastic fantastical writings she does. But don’t just take my word for it. So far eight of her stories have won major awards.
Category 7: Baseball
Is anything as nostalgic as baseball? And if you want to reminisce about baseball years gone by, your go to author is Roger Angell. Not only is he one of the greatest of all baseball writers, but he wrote about different baseball eras, so you can choose the one that best fits your mood. Or go with Once More Around the Park: A Baseball Reader, that collects some of his best writings from throughout the years. And then you can tell everyone about how back in your day things, and especially baseball, were so much better.
Category 8: Gillian Flynn
Back in August I finally read Flynn’s bestseller Gone Girl. It was on the shelf at the library at the time. Now, at the end of October, it has 333 holds on it. Ah, the power of cinema. Gone Girl was not her first book, nor was it the first one of hers I read. Sharp Objects was her first book, which I stuck into my horror books blog. Her second book, and the first I read, is Dark Places. This is the story of Libby Bray, who as a girl survived the night her brother massacred the rest of their family. As an adult, still carrying physical, mental and emotional scars of that horrible night, she reluctantly is drawn into an amateur sleuths attempts to prove her brother innocent. The secrets they unearth are surprising and lead to, aptly enough, dark places. Wonderful read, and lets hope that the movie version in production, starring Charlize Theron, lives up to it.
Hmm. Didn’t even get close to 3000 words. Must be losing my touch. Anyway, one of the nice things about Random Book Day for you, the reader, is that you can mention, suggest, or ridicule any book you want in the comments section.