Sunday, December 30, 2012

April Queen

Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in 1122 and died in 1204 and became the most powerful woman in Europe. 1137 was an eventful year as at the age of 15 Eleanor became Duchess of Aquitaine, married the son of Louis VI of France and then became Queen Consort of France when her husband was crowned Louis VII. When Louis decided to take part in the Second Crusade to Constantinople and Jerusalem 1147, Eleanor decided to go as well on the three year expedition. In 1152 Eleanor and Louis were divorced. During their marriage they had two daughters but Louis needed an heir. Two months later Eleanor married Henry of Anjou and between them they ruled territories making up half of western France from Normandy in the north to Aquitaine in the south. In 1854 Henry became king of England as Henry II and Eleanor therefore became Queen Consort of England. Eleanor and Henry had five sons and three daughters, including Richard who was king from 1189-1199 and John who was king from 1199-1216. Eleanor was not content to lead a quiet life but took an active interest in the governance of their territories. She also supported her sons when they rebelled against their father resulting in her imprisonment in a number of castles from 1174 by Henry, including Old Sarum. She remained a prisoner until the death of Henry in 1189. When Richard became king Eleanor regained her position of power both in England in her French territories, particularly when Richard joined the Third Crusade and while he a prisoner of the Germans. When John became king in 1199 Eleanor's interests were focused on Aquitaine and her final years were spent as a member of the community at Fontevraud Abbey.

Douglas Boyd has made a detailed study of the life of Eleanor and the world in which she lived including the constant political power struggles between countries and between members of families,  the role of the church in the affairs of countries throughout Europe plus the alliances formed by strategic marriages of the children of rulers of countries and territories. She was obviously a very strong and remarkable woman.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The uncommon appeal of clouds

When a valuable painting by the artist, Poussin, is stolen from a country house Isabel Dalhousie is approached to support the owner when he is contacted by representatives of the thieves wanting to claim the reward for the safe return of the painting. Such a situation creates a series of ethical issues including should  a ransom be paid for a painting as this would only encourage the thieves to steal again. If a ransom is not paid, however, a valuable painting that was to be donated to the nation may be lost. Isabel's deliberations on this situation include meeting members of the family of the owners of the painting. Could they be involved in the disappearance of this work of art. As with all Isabel Dalhousie novels many issues about how we live our daily lives are raised and explored.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Trains and Lovers

Train journeys sometimes create opportunities where people who are only together for a short time may share thoughts and experiences during the journey. In Trains and lovers, Alexander McCall Smith looks at aspects of love through the eyes of four strangers sharing a carriage on the train from Edinburgh to London. People can be touched by love in many different ways and the stories provided by the passengers explore some of these. Hugh recounts the story of a relationship that developed from a chance meeting on a railway platform, David remembers a special friendship that bordered on love from his youth, Kay recounts the story of her father leaving Scotland for Australia and the new life he discovered in the outback while Andrew's story tells of his love for Hermione as well the the bond between parents and children. This could be a good book to read on a train.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunshine on Scotland Street

Further accounts of the daily life of the inhabitants of 44 Scotland Street and surrounding area. The compilation of stories begins with Angus Lordie's preparations (or lack thereof) for his wedding to Domenica. The one thing he did organise was the guardianship of his dog, Cyril, which he entrusted to six year old Bertie for the three weeks of the honeymoon however the three weeks turns out to be an adventurous time for Cyril until his master's return. Matthew and Elspeth continue to look after their triplets with the help of Anna though Matthew questions his chosen career while Bertie and his father, Stuart, contemplate how to live with the domineering Irene. Bruce returns to the the area and meets a challenge he never anticipated. Alexander McCall Smith once again entertains as he reveals the often mundane events in the lives of his characters but in so doing causes the reader to consider every day issues living in the twenty-first century.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The house of memories

Monica McInerney is one of those authors that you can rely on for producing an enriching reading experience and her new book lives up to expectations. Although the story is primarily about grief and grieving it is also about love and the strength of families providing support and understanding in time of need. Much of the novel is set in London at the home of Lucas Fox. His niece, Ella O'Hanlon, runs away to London to try and escape the grief of losing a young son in an accident. Through the support of her uncle and her step-brother, Charlie, who lives in Boston, Ella gradually comes to understand her feelings and also how the grief of losing a child affects all family members. Once I started reading this moving book I had to continue reading it as I became involved with the characters and their lives.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The gift of speed

In The gift of speed, Steven Carroll has written a book about ordinary people living in a Melbourne suburb in the summer of 1960 - 1961. The time period covers the visit of the West Indies Cricket Team to Australia.  In fact cricket is a major feature of the story-line. Michael is a bowler. He is happiest when he has a ball in his hand, when he is bowling the ball against the palings of the back fence, when he is practising or playing cricket. His aim is to increase the speed at which he bowls, to perfect the speed of his bowling. In parallel we learn of the progress of the West Indies team as they travel throughout Australia, the impact of the test matches on Australians - particularly the tied test in Brisbane - the pressure on Frank Worrell as the first appointed black West Indies captain. It is also a story about a marriage and family life. Throughout the book we also view the thoughts of Rita, Michael's mother, as she considers leaving her husband, the thoughts and actions of Vic, Michael's father, as he loses himself in playing golf but also considers leaving home, the thoughts of Victor's mother as she approaches death. The book captures a time in the life of a suburban family. The edition I read had notes for discussion at the end of the book plus links to websites providing further information about issues mentioned in the story.

This is the second book in a trilogy. The first is The art of the engine driver and the third is The time we have taken. It can, however, be read as a stand alone book.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Notorious nineteen

The first Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich was published in 1994. The nineteenth book in this series continues the exploits of bounty hunter, Stephanie, her off-sider, Lula, Grandma Mazur, Joe, Morelli, Ranger and a host of zany characters. When conman, Geoffrey Cubbin mysteriously disappears from a hospital in the middle of the night investigations show that he is not the only person to have done so. As well as finding out what has happened to Cubbin Stephanie is also employed by Ranger to act as a guard for him at a social function. Needless to say nothing goes smoothly as Stephanie and colleagues attempt to unravel the crimes and also keep alive. For those who are counting, the number of cars associated with Stephanie that meet a sad end increases dramatically in this book.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Geneva Trap

An agent's car is run off the road in Switzerland. In Geneva a Russian spy approaches MI6 officers about a planned cyber attack. He only wants to speak to Liz Carlyle who works for MI5 in London. Thus begins a sequence of events that occur in Switzerland, England and France as attempts are made to uncover the threat to a British - American joint project and also to foil an attempt to disrupt a G20 meeting in France. Stella Rimington worked for MI5 and was appointed Director General in 1992. This is the seventh book in her Liz Carlyle series. The plot is fast moving with plenty of suspense as the reader follows the work of Liz and her colleagues as they locate the source of the invasion of a supposedly secure computer network resulting in a threat to a major defence initiative. Liz's resources are also involved in helping the daughter of a friend who is in danger. A great read.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Aethelstan: the first King of England

Aethelstan ruled from 924 to 939 but during that time he completed the task begun by his grandfather, Alfred, and his father, Edward, to remove the Danes from England and so become the first ruler of a united country. During the time of Alfred only part of Wessex remained in control of the Anglo Saxons but his army managed to gain control of the country south of London. When Alfred's daughter married the king of Mercia this strengthened Anglo Saxon control of the southern region of England. Edward and his armies continued to gain land under the control of the Danelaw, a task completed by Aethelstan in 927. Unfortunately not many records remain recounting the rule of Aethelstan but Sarah Foot has made a detailed investigation  of the sources that still exist to produce an insight into the life of this leader and of England during his reign.

Under suspicion

Scottish identical twin sisters, the Mulgray Twins, have written a series of books about D J Smith (an under cover customs officer) and her cat, Gorgonzola. In this second book in the series D J (Deborah) and Gorgonzola are working in Tenerife to discover how Ambrose Vanheussen runs his money-laundering operation. When in her collar and harness Gorgonzola has the ability to discover drugs missed by trained sniffer dogs. D J works undercover in Vanheussen's organisation where her role is to entertain prospective purchasers of luxury houses. The operation turns out to be a dangerous one not just for DJ and the other customs officers but also for Gorgonzola. This quirky crime novel is an entertaining read and you can imagine the two sisters having fun working out the next plot installment.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Flying the Southern Cross

Based on logbook entries, memoirs of the airmen, newspaper articles covering the event, official documents and photographs, Michael Molketin recounts the first flight across the Pacific Ocean by aviators Charles Ulm and Charles Kingsford Smith plus Harry Lyon (navigator) and Jim Warner (radio operator). 1928 was a time of exploration in Australia with the testing of the possibilities of new developments in transport. Motor vehicles, both cars and trucks, were being tested in outback conditions and the possibilities of long distance travel in aeroplanes had captured the imagination of many. The Southern Cross  left San Francisco on 31 May 1928 and arrived in Hawaii on 1 June. The flight from Hawaii to Fiji took place from June 3 to June 5 with the final leg from Fiji to Brisbane on June 8 and 9. Moltekin describes the long preparations required for such a flight, the flight itself and the effect of this pioneering flight on the lives of Ulm and Kingsford Smith. Images, plus transcriptions, of the pages from the log kept by Ulm as well as numerous photographs help record the story of this landmark in Australian aviation history.

Friday, November 16, 2012


On November 4, 1910 an explosion occurred in an engine of Qantas flight QF32 on route from Singapore to Sydney. Despite the Airbus 380 experiencing multiple malfunctions, the experienced crew managed to land the plane safely at Changi Airport, Singapore. The captain of that flight, Captain Richard de Crespigny, provides a vivid account of the events on that day explaining how the crew functioned as a team to fly and land the aircraft safely as well as the challenge of looking after the passengers and keeping them informed as what was occurring. The first half of the book provides information about the pilot's extensive experience in aviation, at first in the RAAF and then as a commercial pilot.  A great deal of detail about aeroplanes and flying them is provided in this book which will interest those who are aeroplane enthusiasts. I skim read much of this detail but found the account of the actual disaster and how it was handled interesting to read.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The beautiful mystery

The latest novel in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series by Canadian writer, Louise Penny, is set in a monastery in a Quebec forest. Garmache and Beauvoir visit the monastery when a body is discovered in the abbot's garden. Only 24 monks live in the monastery so one of them must be the murderer. The brothers in the monastery normally live under a vow of silence but they are famous for their singing of Gregorian chants. In this novel Louise Penny explores the power of music and the power of silence. Music, particularly the Gregorian chants - the beautiful mystery - forms an important thread throughout the novel. The use and impact of light throughout the building is also a feature.   On the surface the monastery appears to be a place of peace and harmony, until the murder, but as Gamache and Beauvoir discover this is really a divided house with undercurrents of fear and mistrust amongst the inhabitants.

Corruption in the upper levels of the Surete du Quebec continues as a theme in this book. Parallel with the life in the monastery Gamache and Beauvoir are still recovering from wounds, both physical and mental, received in an incident some months earlier. They respond to the quiet and routine of monastic life in different ways and were both making a slow recovery until Superindent Francoeur arrived at the monastery with his own agenda.

Once again Louise Penny presents the reader with a memorable plot, great descriptions of the location and the further development of the characters of Amand Gamarche and Jean-Guy Beauvoir along with the other participants in the story. The ending makes it clear that the story has not ended and I look forward to the next installment.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy is the first book for adults written by the popular children's author, J K Rowling. The story is set in the small English town of Pagford with the main plot revolving around the consequences of the death of Barry Fairbrother, a member of the Parish Council, particularly the need for an election to fill the casual vacancy caused by his death. Gradually we meet members of a number of  families living in the town as well as in the neighbouring community of The Fields. The adults are mainly unpleasant people with secrets that are gradually revealed. Their offspring are also a troubled group trying to survive in this dysfunctional community. Barry's death provides the opportunity for the Council to attempt to enforce the closure of the Bellchapel Clinic, a service assisting drug addicts. Barry Fairweather had been a great supporter of the Fields community and some of his friends initially attempt to carry on his work adding to the tensions among community members. This is a book about the disintegration of relationships and trust leading ultimately to disaster. It is hard to like many of the characters though some, such as the social worker, are trying to understand what is happening and try to improve what appears to be an impossible situation. It is only after tragedy that there is a glimmer of hope. Although few of the characters are likeable, I enjoyed reading this account of life and conflict in a small town.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A trick of the light

The opening of Clara's art show at the Musee d'Art Contemporain in Montreal is a focal point of this book. Finally she is recognised as an artist but not everyone is happy about this including Peter, her husband, who for many years has been jealous of the talent of his wife. When on the day after the opening a body is found in Clara and Peter's back garden Chief Inspector Gamache and Inspector Beauvoir once again visit Three Pines to identify the body and solve the murder. They are both still recovering from being seriously wounded six months previously and although the physical healing is progressing there are still mental scars not helped by a video of the event being made available online by a person unknown. Louise Penny's novels concentrate not only on the solving of a crime but also allow the reader to learn more about the main characters with each book published. This book also explores aspects of the world of contemporary art focusing on the artists, effects of reviews, art dealers and managers. What I particularly like is the continuation of threads relating to the characters which are unveiled as the series progresses. To really enjoy the books they should be read in order though they could be read as stand alone stories.

Doctor Who - the Dalek and Tardis handbooks

The first episode of the television show, Dr Who, went to air on 23 November 1963. Eleven doctors later the show continues to entertain viewers throughout the world. Designed originally as a children's show the later episodes of the program are shown in prime viewing time to be watched by the whole family, particularly those who watched Dr Who as children.

The TARDIS Handbook and The Dalek Handbook published in 2010 and 2011 provide background information about the machine used by the doctor to travel through time and probably his most popular adversaries, the daleks. Earlier this year we went to a concert where the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra played music form recent series of Dr Who. Clips from the shows were projected on large screens and some of the characters, including daleks, made an appearance. It is a little unnerving to look up and make 'eye' contact with a dalek.

The books include copious illustrations from the shows and trace history of the tardis and daleks in the shows. The TARDIS, on the outside a Police Box which for many years were to be found on corners of London streets, is a time machine. TARDIS stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. Inside the TARDIS is large with the control room being the main feature plus other spaces that may sometimes make an appearance. The second book covers the evolution of the daleks in the programs. They have been described as human sized salt and pepper pots and their cry 'Exterminate, exterminate' is the immediate reaction provided, usually with pointed arms, when people talk about the daleks. In early series the BBC could only afford to make three daleks but now with computer graphic imaging masses of daleks can appear at one time.

For the many fans of Dr Who, these books will bring back memories of series and doctors seen many years ago as well as filling in the back story for these two important features of the show.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sweet Tooth

Serena Frome wants to study English at university however she bows to parental pressure and goes to Cambridge to study mathematics. In her final year she has a brief affair with an older man who encourages her to apply for a job at MI5. Ian McEwan has set the book in the early 1970s at the end of the Cold War. It is also the time of IRA bombings, petrol shortages, an economic crisis and industrial unrest in Britain. Serena, who has maintained her interest in reading, particularly modern literature, is seconded to the project, Sweet Tooth, where her mission is to encourage a young novelist to accept a grant from a literary agency funded by MI5. It is believed that the writings of the targeted novelist along with other authors in the program will promote the MI5 message.

Books and writing are a major thread of the book. It is the short stories of Tom Haley that have brought him to the attention of MI5 and some of these are included throughout the book along with literary discussion between Tom and Serena. Serena soon discovers that working undercover is not always easy, especially as her relationship with Tom develops. Should she tell him about her real role and risk losing her job and his love or should she continue with the situation as it it in the hope that he will not discover the truth. The book, although set within a spy agency, is not a thriller but  is about truth, trust and betrayal. It also investigates the relationship between authors and readers.

Bury your dead

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife are on holiday in Quebec visiting Emile Comeau, the former police officer who had been the initial supervisor of Gamache and who had greatly influenced the future decision making of the young policeman. A recent event had resulted in the death of four officers and serious injuries to others including Gamache and his friend and fellow officer, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Memories that haunt both Gamache and Beauvoir reveal the details of the past horrors as the two men are investigating two other incidents. While Armand is in Quebec there is a murder at the Literary and Historical Society library, the organisation that he frequently visits to research early Canadian history, and reluctantly he agrees to act as a consultant on the case. Meanwhile Inspector Gamache has asked Beauvoir to go back to Three Pines on holiday but in reality to reinvestigate a previous murder investigation as doubts have arisen about the guilt of the man arrested.

Burying the dead, by Louise Penny, therefore contains three interwoven plots to intrigue the reader. The author also provides an insite into the history of the city and its founders resulting in the tensions between the English and French that can surface in Quebec - a city with many cultures. Throughout the book the feelings of guilt about decisions made in his attempts to save his kidnapped officer haunt Gamarche and it is not until the end that he finally comes to terms with the realisation that he and his team need to 'bury their dead'.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel has just won the 2012 Man Booker prize for her novel, Bring up the bodies. She won the same award for her first novel in this trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall, in 2009. Short reviews for both these books appear in this blog. Now we await the third volume in the series.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Say you're sorry

Clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin, in Oxford to give a lecture at a conference, becomes involved in the investigation of double murder that occurred at a near-by farmhouse. On the the same day the body of a young woman is found frozen in the lake. As it becomes obvious that the deaths are related, the unravelling of the story is conveyed by Joe and also by Piper Hadley, one of two girls kidnapped three years earlier, who keeps notes of her experiences. Joe convinces the police that they are not only investigating a murder but also need to discover the fate of the missing Bingham girls. Australian author, Michael Robotham, provides the reader with a well written psychological crime novel that is difficult to put down.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bones are forever

Dr Temperance Brennan is asked to investigate the the discovery of the bodies of three babies found in the room of a house in Quebec. The quest to locate the mother leads Brennan and Andrew Ryan, along with Ollie Hastie, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to Yellowknife, a diamond mining community near the Arctic Circle. I did not know about diamond mining in Canada but as the plot unwinds and is finally resolve, Kathy Reichs provides a detailed description of the area where the book is set including the history and issues affecting this far-flung region of Canada. The relationship between Temperance and Andrew has also been under strain with the resulting tension between them acting as an underlying feature of the book. Another exciting Temperance Brennan book.

The 26-storey treehouse

In March this year children's author,  Andy Griffiths,  visited Nunawading Library where he entertained  200 children. His latest book is The 26-storey treehouse, a follow up to an earlier work, The 13-storey treehouse. Illustrated by Terry Denton the reader is invited to explore the treehouse's  recent extensions including the dodgem car rink, a skate ramp with a crocodile-pit hazard, a mud fighting arena, an anti-gravity chamber etc., etc. You get the picture. When their publisher wants to know when the next book will be ready, a young Andy and Terry describe how they met and recount adventures with the pirate, Captain Woodenhead. A mix of text and pictures encourages young readers to explore and enjoy these humorous tales. Of course, this is not the end of the tree house. When last seen, Andy and Terry were adding another 13 stories to their creation.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Assessing library displays

The final display for Front Line was to be tried and assessed over a period of three weeks. Each Monday the display shelves were filled with selected books and a note was kept of the titles on display. Over the week, when books were borrowed, additional books were added by staff but notes of items added to the display were not kept. The sample used for the assessment was therefore the original books on display at the beginning of each week.
The books chosen were those that may be of interest to older users of the library - Baby Boomers and older.
Depending on the size of the books there were usually twelve or thirteen titles in a display.
Nine (9) of the original books in Display no. 1 were borrowed during the week. The books in this display were  only non-fiction titles.

Eight (8) of the original books in Display no. 2 were borrowed during the week. The books in this display were primarily non-fiction with a few fiction titles.

Eleven (11) of the original books in Display no. 3 were borrowed during the week. The books on display were a mixture of fiction and non-fiction titles.

The types of books borrowed from the display can be divided into the following categories:
·     using computers, the Internet including Picasa, Office 2010 and digital photography (7)

·     recreation books (8) including playing golf and fishing and also knitting (2 each) as well as genealogy and writing a memoir (2)

·    lifestyle books (5) including health, aging and finance (one each) plus two travel books

·    fiction titles (7) (mixture of large print and general fiction) plus one memoir made up the rest of the books
A check of the borrower information for items borrowed showed that the items were primarily borrowed by members of the target group.

The experiment was continued into a fourth week but this time only three rows of shelves were used as it was considered that the bottom shelf was too low. The display was extended to end of an adjoining bay as well. The end of one bay contained nine (9) non-fiction books while the end of the other bay held nine (9) fiction titles. Hopefully these two bays will routinely be used to display a mixture of fiction and non-fiction items of interest to older readers.
Displaying selected titles from the general non-fiction collection in an area where fiction books are primarily located would appear, from this experiment, to be a useful way of broadening selection choices for library users.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Experimenting with displays

The final execise in Front Line was to prepare a display for a catagory of library users. This display was prepared generally for Baby Boomers (and older readers).

The First Display showing general location within the library. 
The books were displayed at the end of a bay in the Large Print section of the library.
It was in an area passed by people (including grandparents) taking children to the Children's area.
It was also close to the Non-Fiction section.

Second and third versions of the display.

Books were on display for three weeks.

Many of the books in these displays were non-fiction to highlight a number of library collections.

The focus was on recreational reading.

 For the final experiment the fourth shelf was removed 
so only three shelves were used.
Displays were on the end of two bays - one fiction and one non-fiction.
In future I would be inclined to have a
 mixture of fiction and non-fiction in each display.

Displaying books in libraries

The display of books and items in public library collections not only provides library users the opportunity to discover the range of collections and items held in the library but also the opportunity to extend their use of the library by expanding the range of material or authors they normally borrow.

The Front Line course encourages librarians to look at the range of material in their collections, discover links between collection items and promote items in an interesting and eye-catching way. The emphasis of the exercise is books but the same principles could be extended to other collection media.

One exercise encourages the librarian to take a selection of books, from different collections within the library, that may be linked by a theme and then display the collection in a prominent space in the library. Over a week the uptake of books in the display is recorded noting additional browsing of books in the display area as well as the borrowing of the material.

One experiment was selecting books from different parts of the non-fiction collection including the music scores plus a small selection of fiction. The link in this exercise was the covers - primarily red and white with a little black on some. The result was a dramatic display which caught the attention of patrons when they entered the library. As it was in the non-fiction area it may have encouraged some patrons to explore a little further into the building that they might normally do.

Thinking laterally a variety of theme related displays could be created using books from different collections to entice readers to try something new. Although fiction books in libraries are often classified in broad genres, each genre can usually be subdivided with patrons normally reading different sub genres of books. Crime fiction is one example. Crime fiction can be police procedurals with the plot unfolding with the investigation of the crime. A popular sub genre has been detective based - private or amateur detectives as well as those in the police force who may not follow strict procedures. Contemporary crime fiction is often based around the work of pathologists and other medical or scientific investigative staff. Another trend in contemporary crime writing is the story being revealed by providing viewpoints from a variety of characters - often the perpetrator, the victim, other suspects as well as the person solving the crime. Crime novels can be graphically violent with suspense a key element. In contrast another sub genre has been referred to a 'cozies' where violence is minimised and the writing tends on the humorous. In most crime novels the plot is usually the focal point of the book with the development of the characters being a minor aspect. It may be a stand alone book or form part of a series. Series of crime books usually place more emphasis on the characters in the book and in some the crime is the vehicle for continuing the story of the main characters. Crime fiction can also be subdivided by the country or part of the world where it was written - Australian crime fiction, Scandinavian crime fiction, British crime fiction. Crime novels gained popularity in the nineteenth century and to some extent can also be sub divided according to the period in which it was written.

Part of the course has been not just been to investigate the type of books people consider a good read but the reasons why patrons choose books. A patron may choose crime novels because of the suspense but there can also be suspense in some historical novels, or science fiction or fantasy titles.

We know that crime fiction is a popular genre and the library has many books in the category in the spinners devoted to paperback crime fiction, crime fiction shelved on the A-Z Adult Fiction shelves as well as many crime titles in the Bestsellers section. However in the non-fiction there is also a section for 'true' crime and a selection of books from all these areas could be used as well as books in the the literature section on crime writing, including novelists and also books about films with a crime theme.

Similarly romance books are located in the spinners devoted to paperback romance fiction, romance fiction shelved on the A-Z Adult Fiction shelves as well as many romance titles in the Bestsellers section. In the non- fiction collection many biographies and some books in the history section may be of interest to readers of romance. Books have also been written about writing romance novels as well as romance themes in books on film and music.

One of the aims of this course has been to encourage librarians to consider the way in which they display the material held in the library, including linking material from different collections within the library, thereby encouraging readers to experiment and discover new forms of reading material and / or different authors.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Brutal Telling

The fifth book in the Armand Garmarche series by Louise Penny returns us to the village of Three Pines where a body has been found lying on the floor of the Bistro. Inspector Gamarche and his team encounter a web of secrets as they attempt to discover the name of the victim, how long he had lived in the area, how his body came to be in the Bistro as well as who murdered him. Early indications implicate Olivier and the police and his friends have to work very hard to try and clear his name. Part of the plot is revealed to the reader before the police begin their investigations and this helps add to the intrigue as the layers of the story unravel. Meanwhile other characters continue their lives in the village, especially Ruth with her duck, Rosa and Peter and Clara as they continue to gain recognition as artists. Another intriguing mystery novel continuing the saga of Three Pines.

The festival by the sea

A month before the Shelly Beach Arts Festival is due to open, Gina discovers that she is the new director when Adrian's work commitments prevent him from finishing the task.  This sequel to The Shelly Beach Writers' Group by June Loves reunites us with the busy and capable members of the small Shelly Beach community. The challenges faced are many but Gina, with the assistance of Dog and her many resourceful friends, manages to find creative solutions to ensure the smooth running of the festival. Meanwhile Gina must decide whether to leave Shelly Beach to take a job in the city or perhaps work full time in the local library. Her relationship issues with Adrian need also to be resolved.

Tales of Provincial Life

I recently received a message from Abe Books promoting the new book by J K Rowling - The Casual Vacancy - and also providing a list of 25 novels depicting British Provincial Life.

Titles include:
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell [Jason is 13 and lives in a dull village in a dull county. This novel follows 13 months of his life.]

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson [Edgecombe St. Mary is a packed with characters including Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired).]

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald [A kind-hearted widow risks everything to open a bookshop in a town that doesn’t want a bookshop]

Emma by Jane Austen [Emma Woodhouse attempts to orchestrate romance in a small English town.]

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie [Lymstock seems quiet but then the poison-pen letters start arriving. Miss Marple to the rescue.]

Blott on the Landscape by Tom Sharpe [Property developer Sir Giles Lynchwood wants a new motorway built but opposition grows.]       

Middlemarch by George Eliot [Art, religion, science, politics, society, relationships – the best ever novel on provincial life?]    

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell [Misunderstandings and mishaps galore in a fictional county.]       

A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym [An anthropologist moves to a quiet Oxfordshire village to write a book about the inhabitants.]

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy [Never read it? A must-read for any man who has sold his wife & baby daughter at a country fair.]

The Orchard on Fire by Shena Mackay [Set in the 1950s the story of the Harlencys who leave their London pub for rural Kent.]

South Riding by Winifred Holtby [Lives, loves and sorrows in Yorkshire of headmistress Sarah Burton and many others.]

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell [A comic portrait of a Victorian village and its genteel inhabitants.]    

Mrs. Ames by E.F. Benson [Mrs Ames revels in her position of superiority in the the merry-go-round of dinner parties.]

Lark Rise to Candlefor by Flora Thompson [Based on Thompson’s own experiences of childhood and youth.]

Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by D. E. Stevenson [Written as a diary of an army officer’s wife in the 1930s, who moves to Scotland.]

Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker [An 83-year-old woman is invented and causes havoc in a sleepy Buckinghamshire town.]       

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons [Flora Poste, orphaned at 20, goes to live with her relatives who live in utter chaos.]

On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin [The tale of identical twin brothers who toil on the family farm in Wales.]

Scenes from Provincial Life by William Cooper [Set in 1939, this novel tackles the life of a grammar school physics teacher.]

Waterland by Graham Swift [Murder, incest, guilt and insanity in the Fens of East Anglia – the story spans 240 years.]

Saville by David Story [Colin Saville grows up in a Yorkshire mining village against the background of war and industrialization.]

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield [The fictional journal of an upper-middle class woman in a Devon village during the 1930s.]
One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes [First published in 1947, this subtle novel presents a memorable portrait of post-war England.]               

Deadfolk by Charlie Williams [A small-town bouncer’s courage is questioned and he decides to prove himself.]       

Monday, October 1, 2012


Morris Gleitzman's novels for teenagers, Once, Then and Now, recounted the story of Felix, a young Jewish boy from Poland, who survived the terrors of the holocaust to eventually arrive in Australia. The fourth novel, After, is set at the end of the Second World War. Felix is now 13 and has been looked after by Gabriek for two years, hidden in a hole beneath the barn. When the farmhouse is destroyed by the Nazis Felix and Gabriek join the partisans who operate from the nearby forest. The story follows their existence in this new environment and also describes events that occur towards the end of the war as the Nazis realise that defeat is near.

These books are works of fiction but are based on events that occurred during World War II. On his website Morris Gleitzman includes information providing a background to the writing of the novels and also references for further reading - Once, Then Now - the real life stories.

Dead Cold, The Cruelest Month and A Rule Against Murder

Dead Cold, The Cruelest Month and A Rule Against Murder are the follow up volumes to Still Life - a series of detective novels - written by Louise Penny. In each volume there is a murder for Inspector Armand Gamache and his team to solve but the books also have another story evolving in the background. In Still Life a sub plot concerned an event that had occurred in the police force some years previously. In the next two books this sub plot is further developed as the reader becomes aware that someone in the police hierarchy is determined to destroy the career of Inspector Gamache. It also becomes obvious that a member of his team is spying on the inspector. In A Rule Against Murder the sub plot concerns the actions of the father of Inspector Gamache during the war.

The books are set in picturesque locations in Canada. The first three books are set in the village of Three Pines while the action of the fourth is centred at a hotel in the next valley. The author introduces the reader to a range of interesting and often quirky characters, some of whom appear in more than one book. As the series progresses more is learned about the main character, Armand Gamache, and his wife with whom he discusses his cases. In some cases this relationship is reminiscent of the relationship of Commissario Guido Brunetti and his wife in the Donna Leon novels of crime set in Venice. In both series of books the location of the plot is important in the telling of the story. In the Louise Penny novels French words and phrases, without English translation, flow easily throughout the text, adding to the atmosphere of the special setting portrayed.

I look forward to reading the next four volumes in the series to reacquaint myself with the world of Armand Gamanche and his team.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Still life

On Tuesday, while I was helping a patron reserve a copy of Louise Penny's latest book, I was asked if I had read any books by this Canadian author. She told me that they were well written mystery / crime novels set in a Canadian village near the American border. She particularly liked the portrayal of the main characters, especially Armand Gamache who leads the investigations, as well as the French / English setting of the novel. I was also told that in order to really enjoy the books I should begin at the first book.

I have now read Still Life the first book in the Armand Gamache series and have already placed reservations to read the next three volumes - there are eight volumes in the series so far. I had not heard of this author previously and now wonder how many other enjoyable books to read that I have missed.

Still Life is set in the village of Three Pines hidden in the middle of a forest. All appears to be quiet in this small community until the body of Jane Neal is discovered in the forest. She has been shot with an arrow. As this is hunting season the death is at first considered to be accidental however when this is proved not to be the case unease spreads as the residents wonder who killed  among them their friend. This could just be a run of the mill crime story but the development of the characters - the local and the police - combined with the descriptions of the rural setting and lifestyle make this book more than a who-done-it.

The website of Louise Penny provides additional information about the author and this series of books published since 2006. Plans for a film based on Still Life have also been announced.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Charles Dickens and the great theatre of the world

2012 celebrates two hundred years since the birth of one of the most influential English writers, Charles Dickens. In this book Simon Callow looks at the life of Charles Dickens not only as a popular writer but also through his involvement with the theatre. Dickens loved acting and the theatre and at one stage envisaged becoming a professional actor. Producing and acting in dramatic productions for family and close friends and also as a fund raiser for special causes became an important part of his life. In his later life he spent much of his time entertaining audiences with dramatic readings from his books. Dickens' love of the theatre can also be seen in the dramatic character of his novels, many of which were adapted for the theatre. Callow provides us with a greater understanding as to what drove Dickens to undertake the challenges of writing so many books along with contributions to magazines and newspapers along with live performances for his legion of fans. His works were not only entertaining but provided social commentaries on aspects of life in Victorian England. At the time his written work received mixed critical acclaim but his audiences largely loved it providing him with celebrity status in the UK and America. Today his works are still widely read, critically studied and transferred to film.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Daughters of Mars

Sally and Naomi Durance were sisters, the daughters of a New South Wales dairy farmer. They were both nurses but although Sally worked in the local hospital while continuing to live at home helping her father look after her sick mother, Naomi had escaped to work in a Sydney hospital. Then came World War I and both the girls enlisted to serve overseas. This novel by Thomas Keneally traces the relationships of the two sisters as they encounter the horrors wrought by war on the bodies of the young soldiers fighting at Gallipoli and then on the Western Front. The many aspects of the wrath of Mars are described through the experiences of the nurses first on a hospital ship, the Archimedes, on an evacuation station on the island of Lemnos and at clearing stations and at an Australian Voluntary Hospital in France. The story however is told through the lives of the two sisters and their friends as they struggle to survive and help those wounded in battle. Based on war diaries written by First World War nurses the book provides an insight into the effects of war both physically and mentally on those who become involved. Although euthanasia forms a sub-plot in the story a major theme is the development of the relationship and understanding between the two sisters forged largely by their war-time experiences.

During the next few years with the centenary of the First World War approaching this book is a valuable contribution to the material written about events occurring between 1914 and 1918.

Monday, August 6, 2012


The twenty-first book in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett was published in 1997. The books in the series are not necessarily sequential and often deal with different sets of characters. The characters featured in Jingo are primarily from the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, the city's force against crime. Included in this group is Sir Sam Vimes, commander of the Watch, Captain Carrot who is six foot but was raised by dwarfs, Detritus, a troll, Corporal Angua, a werewolf and Reg, a zombie - not your normal police force.

The story begins when an island appears between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch with both countries wanting to lay claim to the new land even to the extent of going to war over the ownership of Leshp. Only Sam Vimes and the Patrician Vetinari voice their opposition to the proposed battle and outlawed they strive against the odds to stop the inevitable disaster.

Pratchett has created a fantasy world populated with an assortment of zany characters to not only entertain but in this case to also underline the futility of war and its effect on the people involved.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Not Dead Yet

This book by Peter James, is the eighth title in the Roy Grayson series, novels set in Brighton and surrounding areas in England with the emphasis on police procedures in solving crime. Gaia, an American rock star, is about to travel to England to star in a film about King George IV and Maria Fitzherbert when a staff member driving Gaia's car is murdered. Detective Superintendent Roy Grayson is made responsible for overseeing her safety when working on the film. He and his team are also investigating the finding of a torso at a nearby poultry farm. The reader is invited to follow the workings of the police as the investigations occur but like a number of other modern crime writers the story is not told from just one viewpoint but through the actions and thoughts of a range of characters including those committing the crime. As you would expect the plot has many twists and turns but towards the end just when you think you know what is happening a new twist is revealed. An enjoyable read.

The Office: a hardworking history

In 2012 we take working in an office environment for granted. However this has not always been so. Gideon Haigh provides a detailed account of the history of office work from references to the notes kept by scribes in Egypt 4000 years ago, the records kept by monks particularly in the Middle Ages, the need for detailed financial records to be kept with the rise of banks and merchant trading to the offices of today. Haigh suggests that although business records were recorded through the ages it was primarily the growth of the East India Company that required the need for actual offices where people worked recording and transacting business.

Haigh documents the many changes that have occurred in office design and work practices as well as changes of work practices in offices. Working in the office was the domain of men until the second half of the 19th century when women began to be employed in offices. This practice increased with the introduction of new technologies, the telephone for example,  which women could operate efficiently for a lower wage than men. Haigh looks at the changes in technology used in offices, such as the dictaphone and photocopiers, and their impact on office organisation. The adoption of typewriters then word processing machines and more recently personal computers have changed the way we work. Once secretaries and clerks carried out the clerical duties in a firm. In larger organisations secretaries worked in typing pools as equipment became more sophisticated. With the advent of computers most staff do their own clerical work on their computer. 

Haigh looks at the design of office buildings particularly in the twentieth century, the introduction of air conditioning in office buildings as well as the introduction of cubicles in office design. More recently offices are being designed with fewer work stations than employees as new technologies make it easier for staff to conduct business away from the office.

The employment of women in the office, equal pay, type of work undertaken and opportunities for promotion are also issues discussed. Haigh also looks at office conventions such as the tea lady now replaced with a coffee break and also at the 'office party'.

Throughout the book examples of how office work and the office environment is portrayed in film, television and books help demonstrate changes in attitudes to office work. At 600 pages this book provides an insight into something we take for granted but which impacts on many of our lives - the office.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sunday's Garden: growing Heide

Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan have created a beautiful book about the gardens creted by Sunday Reed and her family and friends at Heide. Sunday and John Reed moved to their new home, Heide, a former dairy farm in 1934 and during the following 47 years lived at and developed the property, particularly the gardens. The area near the Yarra River was near the location of sites painted by Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton, members of the impressionist movement in Australia from the 1880s - the Heidelberg School. It is only fitting therefore that the area maintained its associations with art when the Reeds with their interest in modern art invited artists including Sidney Nolan, Arthur Tucker and Joy Hester to visit them and Heide and also help form the gardens first at Heide I and then at Heide II. Neil Douglas from Bayswater spent many years helping establish the original Heide gardens. Initially English plants were tried but later especially from the 70s, more and more Australian plants were introduced. A later chapter looks at the development of Heide as a focus for the arts in context with other arts based settlements including Monsalvat, Open Country at Murrumbeena and Stonygrad at Warrandyte. In the 1980s Heide II was sold to the Victorian government and now forms the Heide Museum of Modern Art at Bulleen.  A timeline at the end of the book is followed by short biographies of most of the people mentioned. Richly illustrated with photographs this book will appeal to a reader interested in the development of gardens as well as anyone interested in the influence of the Sunday and John Reed on Australian art in the twentieth century.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bring up the Bodies

This is the sequel to Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize winning novel, Wolf Hall. The story revolves around the life of Thomas Cromwell, Secretary to King Henry VIII and Master of the Rolls as he strives to look after the interests of the King and also ensure his position in the court. The story unfolds between September 1535 and the summer of 1536. Henry is married to Anne Boleyn but although she has given birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, she has not been able to provide a male heir to the throne. When Henry becomes infatuated with Jane Seymour he is determined to end his marriage to Anne so that he can remarry. It is left to Thomas to gather the information leading to the trial of Anne and her admirers, to try to placate the rival powers among the nobility who all want the promotion of their interests, to carry out the changes regarding church properties after Henry declared himself head of the church as well as navigating the fragile relationships between England and its neighbouring counties, especially those who support the Pope.

Throughout the book we are reminded that Thomas is the son of a blacksmith and does not belong to the nobility, compounding his difficulties in enforcing his policies. However we are also reminded that he is a fighter who, unlike his rivals for power, has wide practical experience through living in a variety of European countries as well as experience as a banker and a lawyer. Thomas carries out his master's bidding but he also looks after his interests and those of his friends. This is particularly demonstrated when the act of prosecuting the young men accused of relationships with the Queen allows him to avenge a previous injustice to his previous master and mentor. The final sections of the book demonstrate Thomas' skill at interrogation and creating a case to serve the royal cause resulting in the execution of Anne and a new wife for Henry.

It initially took me a while to become involved in the book, possibly because I was only able to read small sections at a time, but as the plot progressed I became fascinated with the intrigue of the politics within the royal court. The third volume in this saga is yet to come.

A detailed review of this book appeared in the New Yorker 7 May 2012 - Invitation to a beheading

A short biography of the life of Thomas Cromwell provides details about his rise to power in the English court - Tudor citizens - Thomas Cromwell

Beastly Things

Beastly things by Donna Leon, a Guido Brunetti novel, is number 12 in the series set in Venice but each can be read as a separate book where Commissario Guido Brunetti and his colleagues have a crime to solve. This time an unidentified body is found floating in a canal, therefore no obvious crime scene.

The crime, however, is only one part of Guido Brunetti novels. Descriptions of the city of Venice form a major feature of the stories. Members of Brunetti's family are not just background characters and by the end of the book the reader has experienced Brunetti's views, not just on resolving the crime but also on day to day life in Venice. In this book investigations lead to a slaughter house on the mainland with animal rights issues, particularly the killing of animals for food, becoming a topic for discussion among some of the characters.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Wicked Business

The sequel to Wicked Appetite, Janet Evanovich continues the saga with Lizzie and Diesel in their quest to locate the Seven Stones of Power before they are found by others, including Wulf and Hatchet, who may use them for their own purposes. In Wicked Business they are looking for the Luxuria Stone believed to contain the power of Lust being looked for by a third searcher named Anarchy. As usual there is an array of unusual characters including Glo who is practising to be able to use the powers of wizardry as well as the monkey, Carl, plus an array of disasters and zany situations. I did not find it a laugh out loud book but it is an amusing and entertaining book to read.


Anya Seton wrote this novel in 1954 and it has been republished many times - the version I read was republished in 2006. It is a classic love story based on the long term relationship between Katherine de Roet (Swynford) and John of Gaunt (son of Edwad III and his wife, Philippa). Some records of the relationship, which resulted in their marriage in January 1396, remain but these are few. Seton therefore has used her imagination to write a romantic novel portraying what might have happened by weaving a story of the relationship with events occurring in the fourteenth century such as the Black Death, conflicts with the French and the Scots, riots in London along with political intrigue at Court and within the Church. Once I adjusted to Seton's style of writing I had to finish reading the 574 pages of this novel. 

Alison Weir in her biography of Katherine, Katherine Swynford: the story of John of Gaunt and his scandalous duchess  includes a section at the end where she discusses the novel and concludes that 'as Anya Seton herself stated - it is based on history, it is a work of fiction'. (p286)

Remembering therefore that Katherine is a work of fiction it is still a good read and possibly has introduced many readers to the world of fourteenth century England.

An article by Tamarra Mazzei To Katherine on her 50th anniversary discusses the impact of Anya Seton's book, Katherine.

What should I read next?

One of the questions in the revision quiz for module 2 of Front Line is 'How would you reply when a borrower asks: What should I read next?'

Eight options are provided :
  • Recommend the book that you last read
  • Recommend the latest bestseller
  • Ask what author they like best
  • Point out the display of new books
  • Ask what kind of read they prefer
  • Tell them they will find something good in the new promotion
  • Give them something from returned today (trolley)
  • Ask the next person in the queue what they would recommend
Generally you would begin by asking them about the type of books they prefer to read but after that there would be a variety of options depending on their response.
If the initial response is, for example, crime books then it would be logical to ask about the authors they prefer to read and then suggest authors who write similar books. Showing a borrower how to use Library Thing via the library catalogue may help them to explore the books of other authors. Who else writes like ...? (in print form or online version) may also be a useful tool. 
It could well be that there is a promotional display of books in the library that may be relevant in which case you could suggest that they might like to look at some of the books in the display. However if the display was of romance novels it is unlikely that a reader of crime would be interested.
New book displays and recently returned trolleys provide good browsing points for readers looking for something different to read if they are prepared to browse.
Asking the next person in the queue what they would recommend is problematic as the likelihood of the readers having similar tastes is not great and if there is a queue you want to move things along as quickly as possible. Recommending the book that you last read might work only if the book was similar to the tsaste of the reader.
The reader may already have read most of the books by an author or group of authors who write similar books so it would be necessary to establish what they like about books written by the author(s) and then try to find a different book that they might like to read.
Authors of books, of course, do not not always stick to one genre. Ken Follett, for example, is known for writing contemporary suspense fiction however in 1986 he wrote a book set in medieval England - Pillars of the Earth - which introduced him to a wider / different audience. The works of some authors are hard to categorise for example the Outlander series of books of Diana Gabaldon - are they fantasy, historical fiction, romance? - they contain all three elements.
Genres may contain many subcategories. Which subcategory does the author prefer? It may be possible to suggest books with similar subcategories in a different genre. If they enjoy historical romances is it the romance that primarily attracts them or the historical aspects of the books? If the reader likes suspence crime they may like to try an adventure or even a science fiction book. Humour is a component of many books and a reader of humourous crime books may decide to try a humourous fantasy or science fiction book. Readers of fiction may also be encourage to try books in the non-fiction section on a topic that formed part of a novel.
In short there would appear to be no simple answer to this question apart from working with the reader to explore other options that would hopefully lead them to discovering other good books to read.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fred Williams infinite horizons

Australia is a special place with distinctive landscapes. Some artists have been able to capture the essence of those landscapes especially the impressionist painters Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts who captured the imagination of the Australian population at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with their paintings of the Australian bush. Later in the twentieth century the artwork of Fred Williams provided Australians with an alternative view of the landscape of their country.

The National Galley of Victoria (NGV) in Federation Square currently has a retrospective exhibition of the work of Fred Williams providing examples of the range of artworks he produced along with brief commentary on influences in his artwork. Fred Williams was born in January 1927 and died in April 1982. It is particularly the works painted in the 1960s and 1970s that have captured the imagination of those viewing his works and caused many of us to rethink the way we view the Australian landscape. It is his use of colour and the often minimalistic approach to the painting with the emphasis on space and emptiness that encourages the viewer to see what he sees. Standing in front of a painting that at first glance contains a number of strokes and splodges on an overall background of colour you gradually see the perspective and depth created as the landscape emerges in the painting. Many of his artworks were part of a series - paintings of the You Yangs, the Dandenongs, Lysterfield, bushfires, waterfalls and later Weipa and the Pilbra. He also painted coastal landscapes.

The NGV has published Fred Williams Infinite Horizons written by Deborah Hart to coincide with the exhibition. It is a detailed study of the life and work of Fred Williams illustrated with copies of his paintings appearing in the exhibition.

The NGV has also republished Fred Williams The Pilbra Series about the this special collection now held by the gallery. The first edition was produced when the NGV first displayed the collection in 2002.

The modern library

In this book Callil and Colm Toibin have collated a list of what they consider to be the 200 best novels in English since 1950. The book is divided into a number of section. A list of titles in order of publication from 1950 to 2000 is followed by the list of books by author together with a summary of the plot of the book (or in a few cases, series of books) and reasons why the book was chosen. In the footer at the bottom of each page brief biographical details of the author are provided and mention is made of other works by the author that may interest the reader.

At the end of the book additional reading lists are provided: 20 of the best autobiographies & memoirs written since 1950; 20 of the best literary biographies written since 1950; 20 of the best collections of poetry written since 1950; autobiographies and memoirs by novelists chosen in the book;  literary biographies of novelists chosen in the book and lists of literary prize winners up to 2010 - Booker Prize, CNA Award, Commonwealth Prize, Governor General's Literary Award, Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year, Miles Franklin Award, Montana New Zealand Book Award, National Book Award, Nobel Prize in Literature, Prix Femina Etranger, Prix Medicis Etranger, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Stakis Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year, Whitbread Novel of the Year and Whitbread First Novel Award.

The compilers present an interesting selection of books with the primary criteria being books written in English that people want to read. Authors from a wide range of countries are represented including England, Ireland, Scotland, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Africa, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean and Hong Kong.

As well as being an overview of fiction written in the second half of the twentieth century the book is a great way to create a list of what to read next.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Choosing books to read - summary of responses

The first exercise in the Front Line program required short interviews with at least five library users in different age groups. I spoke to nine people - a child aged 11, two teenage boys, one younger adult in the 18-30 year group, two older men in their 70s and two older women one in her 50s and one in her 70s. The people chosen largely depended on who was in the library on an afternoon when I had the opportunity to talk briefly to people in between answering phone calls and general library enquiries. The selection of people to talk to was random and often occurred when I was taking books out to the returns trolley and there was a moment for a chat about how a person selected their books.

Recommendations from friends and family were common responses from most in the sample. This was a main method used by the younger readers. One older reader had belonged to a book-club but was not keen on the books selected. Reading the blurb was also a common response. A younger reader said he sometimes looked for books he had seen in bookshops.
Older readers, in particular often had definite tastes in types of books read – fantasy, westerns, crime etc. One reader chose only large print books. Another preferred books written by female authors and Australian or British authors rather than American. Another said she normally chose familiar authors. One of the teenagers deliberately chooses books for recreational reading that are different from those he has to read for school.

However some of the older readers regularly select their books from the Best Sellers display, return trolleys and displays at the end of the bays of books. A comment frequently made was that using a library enabled them to try different books and if they didn’t like them they did not have to read them.

The effect of the media and outside resources was also mentioned but was not a major factor. One of the students mentioned that he did not read a book if he had seen the movie. The internet will increasingly sway some readers' choice of books as indicated by my chat with the reader in the 18 to 30 age group who sometimes uses Amazon or GoodReads for recommendations when looking for new reading material.
This was a very small sample of library users and therefore it is not possible to generalise about the responses. However I found the range of responses provided interesting with some core threads appearing in most responses. Even this small sample provides a snapshot of how some of our library users select their books.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - the last straw

Upper primary school children, particularly boys, enjoy reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney. Written in diary format the books recount the thoughts and activities of Greg as he copes with living with his family, particularly his two brothers, school and his attempts to be noticed by girls. The text is presented as if it has been written in a notebook and is interspersed with cartoon drawings. The appeal of the books to children is not only the presentation that makes them easy to read but the humorous depiction of a young boy's view of perceived injustices in his everyday life.


Phantom is the seventh book (published in English) in the Harry Hole crime series by Scandinavian author, Jo Nesbo and the first that I have read. It took me a little while to become involved in the story, primarily because of the many different voices used to tell the narrative, however once I had time to read a few chapters without interruption I found the book hard to put down.

Harry Hole has returned to Oslo from Asia when he learns that Rakel's son, Oleg, has been charged with murder. As Harry determines to discover the truth his investigations involve understanding the structure of the Oslo drug trade including its infiltration into the police force and city hall. Harry is a flawed and damaged character facing many demons from his past as well as the  dangers he encounters from those following him throughout his investigations. The book is about addiction - drugs and alcohol - but it is also about making choices and doing things because, rightly or wrongly, they are the right things to do.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Choosing books to read

As part of the Front Line program for information service librarians we are asked to to conduct brief interviews with library users asking them how they choose books to read. This, of course, prompted the question how do I choose books? Working in a public library obviously provides me with access to a wide range of reading material including new books entering the library collection. Obviously I cannot read them all so what causes me to select a book to read?

There are lots of ways to find out about books. Each weekend I read the Saturday and Sunday Age and note any titles or authors I might want to investigate. Book shops such as Readings and Readers Feast provide short reviews of a range of books available at their stores several times a year and I find these useful for introducing me to authors or topics I may not have previously considered. Television programs such as The First Tuesday Book Club and interviews on radio can lead me to wanting to read a particular book. Displays of books in book shops promote latest books by authors prompting me to sometimes place a reservation for a book. Films and television programs can encourage me to read a book. A recent example is reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret after seeing the film Hugo. Working in a library the patrons often recommend authors and/or titles of books they have enjoyed reading and some of the recommendations have led to books that I then read.

Books can be chosen on impulse. In the library I might pick up a book and borrow it after reading the blurb. However there are certain authors that I read whatever they publish. For other authors I may just read one or two books in a series. I try to read a wide range of books. Some I read because I know that they are popular and want to find out why. Books by Matthew Reilly that I tried recently is one example. I am also trying to catch up on a range of Australian publications. I recently read the books on the short list to establish the most popular book recently published in Victoria. A number of lists are available at present promoting Australian authors so I have many more authors to investigate. I also want to catch up on books written for young people. When I worked as a children's librarian many years ago I enjoyed reading books books written for children and teenagers. I need to catch up on some of the more recent material.

My reading patterns, particularly when choosing fiction, can depend on my mood. There are times when I will read a really novel in which I become totally involved in the plot and characters causing me to thinks about a range of issues and scenarios. At other times I just want some light reading to escape what is going on in the world and then Janet Evanovich's books may be chosen. I enjoy reading fantasy and also some crime novels provided that they are not too graphic in their depiction of violence. Some books can just be too intense.

Projects and other interests also affect my selection of reading material. When I was indexing the names on the 1891 Woman's Petition I read many books on the suffrage movement, particularly in Australia but also in Britain and New Zealand. My family history research causes me to select books about the countries where family members lived such as India during the time of the Raj, early convicts in Australia  or England during the Industrial Revolution, particularly the transitions in the woollen and cotton industry.

It is great having access to a wide range of books but sometimes I retreat to reading my comfort books - books that I have in my own collection that can be read again and again and enjoyed. Books by Jane Austen being one example.