Picture from "The Library Dragon" by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrations by Michael P. White

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist.
Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."
- G. K. Chesterton

Friday, April 6, 2012

YOUNG ADULT - The Red Pyramid

Working in a high school I missed the boat on Riordan’s previous best selling series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.” When I heard they were making a movie based on that series, I purchased a set for my media center and was amazed at how the books flew off the shelf. In fact, because they were never on the shelf, I never got to read them! So I decided early on that I wanted to read The Red Pyramid. Fortunately for me, my local library only had it in the audio version. If I had found the hardback version, all 528 pages of it, I might have chickened out. Also, the audio version was performed by two delightful vocal actors, Kevin R. Free and Katherine Kellgren, who really brought the story to life. I would highly recommend this version for those of you with tweens and above planning road trips this summer.

The story is told alternately by Carter and Sadie Cane, the children of a famous Egyptologist, Julius Cane. Sadie has been living with her mother’s parents in England since her mother’s death 6 years ago, while Carter has been traveling the world with his father. They all reunite at the British Museum on Christmas Eve where Julius, in an attempt to “make thing right” casts a spell that results in his entombment and the release of 5 Egyptian gods. Uncle Amos rescues the children and takes them to the family mansion in New York where he reveals that they come from a long line of magicians. Carter and Sadie must face many trials as they journey to the Red Pyramid save their father and the world. Along the way they are helped by one mentor in particular, Sadie’s cat who is in actuality the Egyptian goddess, Bast. Both children mature and discover important lessons about themselves on their journey until ultimately, they return to New York, at the end of one quest but ready to begin another.

Riordan obviously did a great deal of research about the Egyptian gods and goddesses as well as ancient life in the time of the Pharaohs. I admit there was a time or two when I was rather overwhelmed with all the different Egyptian names and myths but the author repeats those most important to the story enough times that ultimately I was able to sort everyone out. Riordan infuses his main characters with a remarkable sense of humor that often shows itself at particularly unexpected moments, possibly defusing what otherwise might be too scary for younger children. At any event, I found myself laughing out loud frequently. I also shed a tear or two over the losses the Sadie and Carter must endure. I have to say, I haven’t been this touched by a “children’s book” since Harry Potter. Fortunately, this is only book one of the Cane Chronicles. I’m already looking forward to listening to the next two books in the series, The Throne of Fire and The Serpents Shadow (to be released May 1, 2012.)

Riordan, Rick. The Red Pyramid [sound recording] Grand Haven, Mich. : Brilliance
Audio, 2010

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

WESTERN -- The Rattlesnake Season by Larry D. Sweazy

(Book # 1 of the Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger series.)

I first heard about Larry Sweazy and his Texas Ranger series on a local NPR broadcast. He was being interviewed regarding the second book in the series The Scorpion Trail which had just won the 2011 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction and the 2011 Best Books of Indiana literary competition in the fiction category. While I have never considered myself a big fan of Westerns, I was intrigued by the fact that Sweazy currently resides in my home town of Noblesville. Consequently, when I decided I wanted to read and review a Western, Sweazy was my first choice. While The Scorpion Trail was the more critically acclaimed of his novels, I knew I’d have to start at the beginning with The Rattlesnake Season since I can’t stand starting in the middle of any series.

The Rattlesnake Season serves as an introduction to the character of Josiah Wolfe. Wolfe is haunted by memories of the violence he participated in during the Civil War. He has also suffered the traumatic loss of his daughters, from influenza, followed swiftly by his wife, in childbirth. With a young son to support, he accepts an offer from his former commander, Captain Hiram Fikes, to rejoin the Texas Rangers. His first duty is to assist Fikes in transporting a former colleague, Charlie Langdon, to trial. When Langdon escapes and Fikes is killed, Wolfe ends up escorting the Captain’s body home and in the process meets Fikes’ daughter, wife, and favorite prostitute, Fat Sally (who he names his horse after.) He also discovers just how far Langdon will go for revenge.

It took me a while to warm up to Wolfe who, in typical Western fashion is both a loner and ultimately a hero. Sweazy takes time in developing this character so that by then end of the book I felt a genuine connection with him. Most of the major characters are well rounded and believable although I Fat Sally was a bit of a stretch. This beautiful Mexican woman, supposedly Captain Fikes’ favorite prostitute, serves Wolfe a fantastic meal and then beds him (for free!) because she’s grateful for his service to her favorite customer, Fikes? I don’t think so! Still, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Sally or the captain’s daughter, who is definitely set up to appear in future books. While there was a bit too much detail for my taste, Sweazy’s lyrical descriptions add to the strong sense of place – Texas in the 1870s – and the overall mood of the story. While there is definitely violence, it is not extremely graphic. The same can be said of the one sex scene. In fact, the book could almost be classified as a “Gentle Read” and it contains much less profanity than I image I would have heard in the true old West.

All in all, found the book to be an easy and ultimately enjoyable read and I actually think I’ll continue on with the series when I have time. Now that I have a connection with the character of Wolfe and some background on his life and the people in it, I’m actually rather looking forward to reading the award winning second book even though I’m not usually a fan of Westerns.

Additional titles include :





Sunday, March 4, 2012

Library 2.0 and Readers Advisory

In recent years many public libraries have embraced Web 2.0 technologies as a means of promoting their services and materials. ““Web 2.0” is an umbrella term that is used to refer to a new era of Web-enabled applications that are built around user-generated or user-manipulated content, such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, and social networking sites.” (Smith, 2011) The movement of libraries to use these social media application has been dubbed “Library 2.0”. While initial use of these applications may have focused on community outreach and library promotion, there has been an increasing movement to use them to expand readers’ advisory services to users. “Library 2.0 tools play to the strengths of RA work and can deepen and broaden the interaction, introduce new ways of connecting books to other items, and enable librarians to enlist the entire community of readers in the collaborative creation of RA services for everyone.” (Wyatt, 2007)

This paper will review some of the literature regarding recent public library practices of using Web 2.0 tools for RA. In addition, I have studied the web pages of six central Indiana public libraries to see how they currently use these technologies. These libraries are the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library (IMCPL), Hancock County Public Library (HCPL), Carmel Clay Public Library (CCPL), Hamilton East Public Library (HEPL), Plainfield-Guilford Township Public Library, and Greenwood Public Library. I also contacted each of these libraries to ask the following questions:

Which of these tools would you say have been the most effective as a supplement to traditional readers’ advisory? Do you plan to either discontinue or increase the usage of any specific social media tools for expanding readers’ advisory in the future?
According to a Pew Internet study, “two-thirds of online adults (66%) use social media platforms such as Facebook.” (Smith, 2011) Another study found that three fourths of teens and young adults use these social networking sites. (Lenhart, 2009) While most adults say they use social media to connect with family and friends, fourteen percent “say that connecting around a shared hobby or interest is a major reason they use social media.” (Smith, 2011) How does this translate for libraries? If we consider books and reading a shared interest or hobby, it means that sites such as Facebook and Twitter could be excellent tools for sharing book recommendations.

Still such tools can prove problematic with RA since the person in charge of the library’s Facebook or Twitter page may not be trained to make book suggestions and/or library users may not realize they can use these mediums to ask for advice. One library found a solution. They held a RA Facebook event. “To generate interest, [they] teased the Facebook event, telling customers via Facebook and Twitter to start thinking about three good books they had read to share with our RA team. (Rua, 2011) This team was then able to give customized book recommendations quickly on the day of the event. The event was a huge success with 200 customers participating and 300 new fans added to their page.

Blogs, YouTube and podcasts are all Library 2.0 technologies that libraries utilize to promote books and solicit readers input. Many libraries use blogs to review materials in the collection. These reviews can then be commented on by readers. Zeller’s notes that these reviews reach people beyond the physical boundaries of the library and that, in her experience, “nearly every item discussed on the blog has circulated following the publication of the review.” (Zeller, 2007) Similarly, library can use YouTube and podcasts to provide video and audio book trailers and book talks. Users can then comment on these and in some cases, even create their own. “Creating commercials for upcoming and already available literature has become the latest Library 2.0 trend which includes interactive services and programming that encourage community involvement through the use of technology.” (Ellis, 2010)

Another Library 2.0 tool increasingly used are book-centered social networking sites, such as GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Shelfari, which focus on gathering readers and their book titles. According to Stover, such sites are a combination of the in-person RA interview and the more in depth form based questionnaire. Not only does the user share recent titles they have enjoyed but they have time to reflect upon the qualities they enjoyed in that title. These sites allow users to tag or review titles and participate in discussions or forums. Librarians can use these tools in many ways. Stover recommends using them for book clubs or searching them for suggestions when working the RA desk. “It's a quick and easy step to click a "historical fiction" or "cozy mystery" tag or shelf and get many suggestions immediately for the patron waiting at the desk.” (Stover, 2009)

“One of the most exciting social environments emerging right now is a place few might have expected: the catalog.” (Wright, 2010) New library system interfaces allow users ability to tag, review, make lists and even add audio and video to the library’s catalog. These interactive catalogs may just be the next big thing in expanding readers’ advisory beyond the physical library.

In reviewing my six library web pages, I found that these libraries were utilizing some, but rarely all, of the Library 2.0 technologies described in the literature (see chart below.)

Most of the libraries I looked at had a specific web page devoted to Books and RA. IMCPL has a page they call Readers Connection. This “group effort” by the IMCPL staff incorporates several Library 2.0 technologies. This is primarily a blog where staff and patrons can read, comment and submit book reviews. There are also links to the Readers Connection Twitter account, reading lists, and other book related information. One tool IMCPL uses that none of the other libraries I looked at have are RSS Booklists. According the website “We add new items to our collection as often as we can. Add one, or all of our RSS feeds to your favorite reader (like Google Reader) to keep up with what we’re adding.”

Carmel Public Library incorporates several Library 2.0 technologies into their Readers’ Page.  There is a form patrons can fill out to receive a personalized reading list. Book Alert is a service that allows patrons to receive monthly recommendations of new books that meet their reading criteria. Staff and patrons also post book reviews that can be commented upon. According to Carmel librarian, Brian Barrett, patrons have been particularly receptive to their online winter and summer book clubs. Patrons not only list the books they have read but can also comment on them. In addition, others can react to these comments. Barrett says that “This has created a discourse and patrons seem to enjoy seeing what others are reading.”

Plainfield has links on their materials page to the company who provides the “DearReader” services. These subscription library services include an email book club, Author Buzz, and Book News. HCPL also uses the email book club which allows patrons to sign up for specific book groups then get a daily five minute read in their email. By the end of the week they have read the first few chapters of the book and can then decide if they want to go to the library and check it out. According to the online book club founder, Suzanne Beecher, “Today more than 330,000 library patrons start their morning with a book excerpt in their email.” The company also maintains a forum where readers can post comments. Laura Brack, Innovative Technology Coordinator at Plainfield-Guilford Twp. Public Library, says “The email book clubs are a hit (as of January 31 we had 131 ‘members’) because people don’t have to do anything extra to take advantage of it.” Additionally she says that, “These DearReader services are awesome, and are so flexible and fairly easy to use. It’s a lot to manage, but many of our patrons have commented that they love the service.”

Greenwood Public Library has a link on its web page to a page called Readers Resources. Readers Resources includes links to Library 2.0 tools such as book trailers, blogs and Goodreads. Greenwood librarian Emily Ellis says Greenwood is “making efforts to really push Goodreads.” The only other library I found to have begun incorporating book-centered social networking sites was HCPL. Their teen librarian has a link on the teen web page to her LibraryThing page as well as a teen blog and YouTube videos.

Every library I looked at had a Facebook presence and all felt that it was their most successful social media tool. Unfortunately, none are using these quite as creatively as the library Rau described, but there are attempts to do some passive RA. Plainfield’s Laura Brack says she uses their Facebook page to “share blog posts from Huffington Post, NPR, and other similar websites about top ten books, notable books, books-to-movies, etc. “ Hayley Netherton, the HEPL reference librarian in charge of that library’s Facebook pages says they tried to utilize Facebook notes to share book lists but the EdgeRank algorithm (which determines what comes through on users newsfeeds) prevented these from reaching most of the library’s friends. They plan to attempt this again in the future. Greenwood’s Emily Ellis says that “with Facebook, we consistently receive comments and can easily spark online discussions on library services and readers’ advisory. It is also convenient to link back to our website and our reader resources page.” Twitter is beginning to catch on with public libraries but is not yet as prevalent as Facebook.

So what does the future hold for libraries looking to expand readers’ advisory services using Library 2.0 tools? As previously noted by Wright the future of RA may just be within the library catalog itself through the development of interactive catalogs. So far, IMCPL is the only library that actually has begun to develop an integrated catalog. Their catalog, Sherloc, contains enhanced content for most of their books including professional annotations and reviews. What makes it interactive though are links to the titles in Google Books. Google Books allows patrons to interact with other readers and see how the book has been rated or reviewed by nonprofessionals.

An integrated catalog is on Hancock County Public Library’s wish list for the future. Assistant Director, Dave Gray commented that, depending on funding, the library would like to add the SirsiDynix native Facebook application to their catalog. This would allow patrons to search the library’s catalog and access their account via their Facebook account. The RA component of this application would allow patrons to share and “like” what they’re currently reading and invite friends to check out their virtual bookshelves. Brian Barrett says that Carmel is considering creating links in their catalog to other sites such as Goodreads and Novelist. This would enable readers to look for read-a-likes, additional reviews, new authors, etc. and thus make it more interactive.

Greenwood’s Ellis sums up the future of RA and Library 2.0 very nicely. She states that “Our library has a social media committee that meets on a monthly basis to discuss ways to improve our online presence, increase usage, and introduce any new ideas. So I suppose we plan on increasing usage of our social media tools as we find the niche for our community.” Public libraries will need to experiment with various Library 2.0 tools in order to find those most effective for increasing readers’ advisory with their particular patrons. Ideally, this will be a group effort between the RA librarians and the “techies” who may be more knowledgeable of current trends. Ellis was the only librarian I contacted who mentioned an actual social media committee but such a committee would definitely be a positive move for libraries wishing to more effectively use social media for readers’ advisory in the future.

Works Cited

Barrett, Brian. “Re: Readers Advisory and Social Media.” Message to the author. 20 Feb. 2012.

Brack, Laura. “Re: Readers Advisory and Social Media.” Message to the author. 28 Feb. 2012.

Beecher, Suzanne. “Dear Reader Library Services” 2012. Website. (accessed February 25)

Ellis, Emily. 2010 “Book Trailers: Available at a Library Near You.” Indiana Libraries, 29 no 2:
24-26. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost
(accessed February 18, 2012).

Ellis, Emily. “Re: Readers Advisory and Social Media.” Message to the author. 28 Feb. 2012.

Lenhart, Amanda, et al. 2010 “Social Media and Young Adults”. Pew Internet Project, February
3. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Social-Media-and-Young-Adults.aspx

Netherton, Hayley. “Re: Readers Advisory and Social Media.” Message to the author. 20 Feb.
2012. E-mail.

Smith, Aaron. 2011 “Why Americans Use Social Media.” Pew Internet Project, Nov. 15, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Why-Americans-Use-Social-Media/Main-report.aspx.

Spurgeon, Erin. 2011 “SirsiDynix announces the Industry’s First Fully Native FacebookApplication. SirsiDynix Newsroom, June 24. http://www.sirsidynix.com/press/sirsidynix-announces-the-industry’s-first-fully-native-facebook-application

Stover, Kaite Mediatore. 2009 "Stalking the Wild Appeal Factor: Readers' Advisory and Social
Networking Sites." Reference & User Services Quarterly, 48, no. 3: 243-269. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2012).

Wyatt, Neal. 2007. "2.0 For Readers." Library Journal, 132, no. 18: 30-33. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2012).

Rua, Robert J. 2011. "Mission: connect." Library Journal, 136, no. 8: 26. Library Literature &
Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 17, 2012).

Wright, David, and Abby Bass. 2010. "No Reader is an Island: New Strategies for Readers'
Advisory." Alki 26, no. 3: 9-10. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2012).

Zellers, Jessica. 2007. "In Blog Heaven: A Painless New Approach to Readers' Advisory."
Virginia Libraries 53, no. 3: 23-24. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2012).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Classic Science Fiction - Flowers for Algernon

Follow Charlie’s emotional and intellectual journey from retardation to genus, in his own words, when he undergoes an experimental surgery that has already successfully increased the intelligence of a mouse named Algernon.  Will Charlie end up like Algernon?  This classic science fiction tale was originally written as a short story in 1958 and first published in the April 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.  It won 1960 Hugo Award for Best Short Story and the expanded book version won the1966 Nebula Award for Best Novel.  Like much science fiction, Flowers for Algernon “explores moral, social, intellectual, philosophical and ethical questions” (Sarick.) It does so through the character of Charlie.  By writing as Charlie, the author was able to use a range of styles and language as well as tone and mood.  Since the book does focus on ideas, the pacing is slower.  The setting of the book does depart from the usual other worldliness of most science fiction in that it is an everyday setting we are familiar with.  If anything, because it was written over fifty years ago, it seems almost antiquated in many respects.  It’s the experimental operation and the idea of playing God that pushes this novel into the realm of science fiction.  I don’t read much traditional science fiction, but perhaps becasue this novel focused on character and ideas, I really enjoyed it.

Keyes, Daniel. Flowers for Algernon. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1996

Sarak, Joyce G. The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. American Library Association Editions, 2009.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Horror -- Breathless by Dean Koontz

I’ve always been a fan of horror authors – particularly Stephen King and Dean Koontz. While I’ve kept up with King, I haven’t read a Koontz novel in many years so I decided it was time to check in with him again. Having recently started a new job that requires spending quite a bit of time in the car, I decided to try an audiobook. I must confess, it was the silhouette of a dog on the cover that convinced me to try Breathless. As an animal person myself, I just love the way Koontz writes about dogs.

The dog in this story is an Irish wolfhound named Merlin. While hiking with his master, Grady Adams, near their Colorado Mountain home the two discover a pair of previously unknown and completely wondrous white furred creatures. They end up following Grady and Merlin home, and Grady enlists the aid of the local veterinarian, Camilla “Cammy” Rivers in trying to determine what they are, where they came from and what should happen next. Grady and Cammy are the perfect horror protagonists, both scarred (literally and symbolically) by their tragic pasts. Will they save, or be saved by, the creatures that Cammy names Puzzle and Riddle.

When discussing the language used by horror writers, Joyce Saricks references several of Dean Koontz’s novels for their “rich adjectives and descriptions.” An excellent example of this language can be seen when Koontz describes the color of Puzzle’s and Riddle’s unusual eyes as “sapphire washed through the gold, and then many shades of blue at once, and the gold repeatedly bloomed through the other hues, like the base-weave color in a rippling garment of lustrous silk.” Generally, I get bored with flowery language such as this, but since I was listening rather than reading I was able to let it flow over me and found it did add to the mystical quality of the story.

The creatures, while obviously of supernatural or paranormal origin turn out not to be the monsters in this horror story. The monsters turn out to be all too human. Chapters alternate between fanciful descriptions of the creatures interacting with their new friends and the introduction of a trove of seemingly unconnected characters, many of whom appear to be quite sinister. It is these characters who fuel the atmosphere of fear and foreboding, climaxing with their intersection with our protagonists. In traditional horror story style, the ending left me wondering exactly how the fate of mankind will be affected by these magical creatures, for Koontz leaves no doubt that they will have a profound impact.

See Amazon video at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m3IK6EUL69LTG8/ref=ent_fb_link

Koontz, Dean. Breathless [Audiobook] Jeffrey Cummings, Reader. Brilliance Audio, 2009.

Saricks, Joyce G. The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. American Library Association Editions, 2009.

Monday, February 6, 2012

V is for Vengence by Sue Grafton

Reading Sue Grafton’s latest Kinsey Millhone mystery, V is for Vengeance, is sort of like slipping into an old pair of sweats – comfortable but not terribly exciting. The story is set in motion when California P.I. Kinsey visits a Nordstrom’s lingerie sale and spots a woman shoplifting. Kinsey alerts the store’s security, the women is caught, and later apparently commits suicide by jumping off a bridge. Or does she? And what about the woman she was “shopping” with who almost runs Kinsey down in the parking garage? Kinsey dons her faithful little black dress to attend the viewing (and hopefully spot the shoplifter’s accomplice) and soon becomes entangles in yet another mystery. This book differs from Grafton’s earlier works by shifting between three points of view -- Kinsey, the mobster Dante, and rich housewife Nora. While Grafton manages to bring these three characters stories together in the end, she takes her time getting there. As usual she goes into way too much detail about Kinsey’s daily routines. Series readers will enjoy the appearances of well-loved characters (even Rosie) but can’t help wishing Kinsey could have found happier way to spend her 38th birthday.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Readers Advisoy at Hamilton East Public Library Fishers Branch

I visited HEPL Fishers Branch on a rainy Saturday to test their librarian’s skill at readers advisory. I began by perusing a large display of readers advisory pamphlets displayed near the reference desk. These seemed to focus primarily on mysteries and thrillers. There were also some on Christian authors. Nothing there particularly caught my eye so I strolled over to the reference desk. There were two staff members seated behind the desk. I’m not sure if they were full-fledged librarians as I didn’t see name tags. The one closest to me looked up from a magazine she was reading and pleasantly asked if she could help me. I asked if she could recommend a book for me.

She kept looking at me like she was waiting for more and I felt rather awkward so I blurted out, “I need to find a Western for a class I’m taking and I’ve never read any Westerns before.” She seemed to jump at that and said that she really liked Louis L’Amour. She told me to follow her and as we went to the stacks she talked about how she loved watching Hopalong Cassidy as a kid and reiterated how much she enjoyed his books. I believe she even used the cliché’ “truth, justice, and the American way” in describing the type of stories L’Amour wrote.

Once in the stacks she floundered a bit and mentioned that they had just rearranged the paperbacks so nothing was where it used to be. She was able to locate the books fairly quickly despite this. There was close to two full shelves worth of books by L’Amour, which would have been overwhelming had I actually planned on selecting one. As I stood there she did give me some additional information. She said that while some were part of series, they could all be read as standalones. Also, there were skinny books (in case I decided I didn’t really like these Westerns) and thicker ones (if I did like them.) I thanked her and she left.

Obviously, this was a less than satisfactory exchange. To begin with, my reader’s advisor did not attempt to interview me or determine my reading preferences at all. The fact that she enjoyed Louis L’Amour westerns did not mean that I would. Yet, as we mentioned in class, I was too intimidated to tell her I never watched Hopalong Cassidy, nor was I looking for the type of westerns she liked. Had she asked, I might have mentioned that I watch the HBO show Justified and then she might have steered me to Elmore Leonard. She also offered only one author (they one she approved of) when she really should have given me a choice of at least three. As it was, she led me to the only western author I had ever really heard of so I learned nothing new from this exchange.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"The Confession" by John Grisham

John Grisham, master of the legal thriller, has been slipping in recent years but he comes back strong in The Confession. The story begins on a Monday morning and races towards the expected execution of one Donte Dumm set for that Thursday at 6:00 pm. Drumm is an innocent man, convicted of the murder of a popular cheerleader in the small Texas town of Sloan. Grisham begins by introducing us to the real killer, Travis Boyette, a convicted sexual predator recently released and diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor. Facing his impending death, Boyette seeks God’s forgiveness through the guidance of Reverend Keith Schroeder, who presses Boyette to confess in order that Drumm may be saved. If only it were that easy.

In The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, Joyce Sarick writes that “Legal Thrillers address abuses of the law and often pit a David against the Golliaths of corrupt lawyers, legal firms, and justices.” (Sarick, 2009, 76) Grisham is an avowed opponent of capital punishment and The Confession dramatizes his many arguments against it. The book is packed with many stock characters. Drumm’s lawyer, Robbie Flak is described as “brilliant and brash” and “consumed with social injustice.” He is Grisham’s “David” – up against the racist and corrupt Detective Kerber, who railroaded Drumm into a false confession, and a prosecutor and governor who are determined to save their reputations even if it means executing an innocent man.

It’s hard to feel much empathy for most of the characters who inhabit the town of Sloan. Those of the side of right (fighting against Drumm’s execution) while portrayed somewhat more favorably, still seem somewhat beaten down and hopeless. Those working against Drumm are portrayed in as negative a light as possible. Even the victim’s mother, Reeva, comes across as a conniving publicity seeker, shedding more tears for the camera than her daughter. The only character I felt empathy for was the Reverend. It is his struggle to do the right thing and bring Boyette from Topeka to Texas to stop the execution that I could admire and identify with, and this was the main appeal factor for me.

I also enjoyed the fast pace, and the many twists and turns as the story jumped from one legal maneuver to another, through multiple characters points of view and numerous settings. While Grisham goes into some legal terminology, he does so in such a way that it doesn’t bog down the story. The details of the rape and murder are kept to a minimum so there is limited graphic violence, language, or sex. While not everyone has a happy ending, my favorite protagonist, the Reverend, does which made me happy. Grisham manages to ends the book with one final shot at capital punishment, demonstrating that despite everything that happened in the book, ultimately the death penalty prevails.

Gisham, John.  The Confession.  New York:  Doubleday, 2010.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Reading Profile – Characters, Familiarity, & Happy Endings

As I look back on some fifty years of reading, I notice some definite patterns emerging, yet I prize characters, familiarity, and happy endings above all. Once I discover an author I like I tend to read all their books until I’ve either read everything or just get sick of them. The first author I remember doing this with was Irving Stone back in high school. In my late teens I started with John Jakes. Based upon these two authors I would say that I found the historical settings of their works appealing. The authenticity of the material is also a factor. I like the idea that these books, while fictionalized, were rooted in facts. Even my most recent read, Stephen King’s 11/22/63 was in a sense historical fiction since the protagonist goes back in time to stop the JFK assassination. In addition, while these books all had action, the characters where the most important elements for me. I prefer a few central characters that I can connect with and become emotionally attached to. To this day I feel like I was a part of the creation of Michelangelo’s Pieta because I labored alongside of him in Irving Stones’ The Agony and the Ecstasy.

In my twenties I drifted to the emotional genres of horror and romance – Stephen King and Danielle Steele – yet characterization was still a key element. I realize that I began to prefer the kind of writing style that both these authors use. Both use plenty of dialog and action and only enough description to set the stage. They throw in just the right amount of violence and/or sex for me. The language they use is direct and straightforward (and in King’s case, often profane) and not at all dense or flowery. There is often a hint of humor or gentle sarcasm, particularly in King’s dialog. Neither writes what I would call literary novels. In fact, I eventually became bored with Steele’s novels because they seemed too formulaic. Fortunately, just when King’s books start to all sound the same, he throws in something totally off the wall. Because of this I can enjoy the familiarity of Kings writing (such as his occasionally cheesy dialog and his over reliance on writers and teachers as protagonists and North Eastern, Maine as the setting) while not getting tired of it.

Familiar characters are also important to me. Once I connect with a character, I enjoy revisiting them in future books. I realized this in my late twenties when I started reading series focusing on a main character such as Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels or Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone mysteries. I’m currently reading Grafton’s latest book V is for Vengeance and, despite that fact that she tends to use too much description for my taste, I will stick it out because I like the character. When I started reading the Harry Potter series to my daughter, I had never read a fantasy book before. I didn’t think I’d like fantasy yet I enjoyed reading these books as much as she did because I fell in love with the characters.

The fact that I agreed with the J.K. Rowling’s underlying messages of the importance of friendship and the triumph of good over evil also added to the appeal factor of this series. I like books that present an ultimately hopeful view of the world. I want my characters to face challenges and emerge victorious. As an eternal optimist I need my happy ending!