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

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.