Thoughts as 2014 winds up

Scenic spot on the Airline that generated a story which ended up in a Level Best Anthology

Scenic spot on the Airline that generated a story which ended up in a Level Best Anthology

While there are three weeks remaining in 2014, this is my last scheduled post for the year at MCW. Looking back, it has been an interesting one to say the least. I became a grandfather to the neatest, happiest kid imaginable. Piper made Thanksgiving the best one ever and as I reflected upon it, I realized how different generations in my family are than previous ones. I remember my four grandparents but there wasn’t much in the way of warmth, involvement or overt affection. When we kids got older, the times we and our parents spent doing things together got fewer and fewer as well.

Contrast this with 2014. Everyone was happy to hold Piper and play peek-a-boo and similar games, She’s had at least 500 books read to her and it was a hoot watching her mother introduce her to slivers of pumpkin pie. The following night, Beth and I took our adult daughters to see Mockingjay. Going to see Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Hobbit and similar movies is part of out family tradition now and something that seldom happened when I was a young adult.

This was also the year I set a firm date to retire from the library profession and shared it with the folks who oversee the library as well as my patrons. June 1, 2015 will be my last day. That doesn’t mean I’m vanishing from the profession completely (I plan to be a cataloging volunteer a day a week for members of our library consortium), but I’m looking forward to the freedom to stay in bed, not shave and be completely indolent on days when the mood strikes me.

Imagine meeting these in a dense fog

Imagine meeting these in a dense fog

I had another bout with depression in the fall and let it get so strong that my ability to write, aside from blogging and book reviews, completely died. Whether it will return or not is still debatable, but losing it helped me focus on just how many book reviews I did and published this year. I’ve read about 225 books and reviewed more than 175. Pretty much every review was posted on Amazon and Goodreads, with most also being posted on the Central Maine Librarian’s review blog and recently to Edelweis. I pretty much write only positive ones and am fortunate in that there is an amazing abundance of really interesting and pretty immersive YA books being published. The response from other readers, authors and fellow librarians tells me that writing these is helpful to plenty of people. In fact I have a separate book case at the library that holds the YA books I’ve read and a dozen or so patrons hit it each time they come to the library.

If and when the ability to write returns, near the top of my gotta do list is a book or very long article I’m going to call Building the Best Small Library Possible and how you can do it too. I’m going to describe the things I and my extremely capable cadre of volunteers have come up with, as well as the mistakes we made and what we learned from them. No matter how long you’re in this profession, there are new things to try that often produce bigger benefits than you imagined they might. For example, we split out our Christian fiction into a separate location after listening to several patrons complain that they had to spend an awful lot of time looking through the shelves to find any.

It wasn’t long after that when we did the same thing with paranormal romance. That was extremely successful for patrons at other libraries when they were looking for PNR titles to borrow because we added the prefix of PNR to all the call numbers, making it easy to figure out what we thought fit. When we ran out of room in our DVD room a couple months ago, we weeded dead stuff from adult nonfiction and created room so we could put all the horror movies together. Not only did we get more room in the big movie room, but a lot of patrons told us the new sub-collection was a great idea. I know a lot of librarians would cringe at having a significant number of slasher and monster flicks in their collection, let alone feature a spot where they were all together, but it really did work well.

The other ‘niche’ market we’re really up there with is audio books on CD. We couldn’t afford to buy into the statewide down-loadable audio collection and we didn’t have a lot of Kindle or similar e-reader owners in Hartland. However, we still had plenty of people who liked to listen to audio books while driving to work, exercising or working around the house. Fortunately, my daughter Lisa hits book sales at fancy city libraries where she can get really good ones for a buck, sometimes less. Coupled with ones I review for School Library Journal or trade for on Paperback Swap, we have arguably the biggest collection of books on CD in Maine and our patrons never have to hunt very hard for something new and different.

The next challenge is going to be starting the process of disengagement while making sure the library is still moving forward. I am pretty certain I have one or more great candidates in the wings who can step in and take over. Will they run it as I have? Of course not, but they will have ideas and insights that, in many cases, will be even better than mine and that’s the way it should be.

One of Baxter State Park's many residents

One of Baxter State Park’s many residents

I will leave you with two more reviews of books that won’t come out until May of 2015. One advantage of being a prolific reader/reviewer is that publishers are happy to give you access to digital review copies so they can generate some advance publicity. If you remember my last post where I highlighted Brian Katcher, you know I was really eager to read his next book. Well, after uploading a bunch of reviews to Edelweis last week, lo and behold, I found his book was available for download. I had the best time reading and reviewing it. Likewise for another great YA book about a high school senior who has paranoid schizophrenia. Here are those reviews. I’ll see you all again in 2015.

ana and zak

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak, Katherine Tegen Books, Pub. Date May, 2015. Digital advance reading copy courtesy of Edelweis. Can uptight and laid back co-exist? Zak, AKA Duke, appears to be ultra-cool and unruffled on the outside, but he’s really sad and a bit hurting on the inside. He’s still missing his dad who died of cancer a few years ago and he’s really uncomfortable around his stepfather, Roger, in part because of how fast he and Zak’s mom got married after they met. Zak’s really into role playing and all the affiliated stuff that comes with it. He’s totally pumped because next weekend he’ll be in his element at Washingcon, the highlight of his year.

Ana is about as far personality-wise from Zak as one could get. She’s ultra-serious, driven (in large part by her parents’ rigid expectations to have a perfect daughter), is locked into a perpetually tight schedule and has a responsibility bump the size of Guatemala. She’s stressing out about the quiz bowl competition next weekend. She feels full responsibility for the team’s success, even to the point of having convinced her parents to let her precocious younger brother, Clayton, be on the team.

Two completely different personalities and two completely different sets of weekend plans are about to be dumped into the same bowl of life and get thoroughly mixed together. A recipe for disaster on the surface, but much more fun and interesting underneath.

When Mrs. Brinkham, the health teacher and adviser to the quiz bowl team, has Zak step into her office, his life is about to get a lot more interesting. She confronts him with the fact that he downloaded a Wikipedia article and copied it almost word for word when submitting it as his health paper. She gives him a choice: Be an alternate on the quiz team and rewrite the paper for a passing grade, or fail completely and have to take health over again in the summer.

It’s a tough choice for Zak. The Con is his one happy event now that Dad is gone, but he really wants to go to the community college next fall and not passing health will kill his chance to do so. He agrees to her terms.

Ana is less than pleased with him as an alternate and becomes even more so when Clayton starts getting really interested in Zak’s stories about previous Cons. She thaws a little when Zak saves the team from defeat in an early round, but when Clayton hops into a taxi later that evening to see what the Con is all about, she freaks completely. If her parents get wind of what her brother is up to, she’s sure all the blame will fall on her head.

When Zak agrees to help find her brother, they take off in another taxi and what happens over the next several hours is alternately scary and hilarious. Ana has no clue what she’s about to encounter, nor does she have any idea how much popularity Zak has with the folks who go to Cons.

The cast of characters Brian creates to populate the Con, the language, the events and the misadventures will be familiar to anyone who has attended one or more of these events. He gets it all right and, coupled with his ability to make both Zak and Ana appealing and ever more attracted to each other as the night progresses, makes this a great fun and feel-good read. There’s nothing in the book that might deter tweens from reading it, so this is going to be a dandy addition to any library, public or school. I’d love to see it as a movie down the road.

Made you up

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia, Greenwillow Books, to be published in May, 2015. When she was seven, Alexandria freed the lobsters at the supermarket. She was helped by a mysterious boy who had bright blue eyes and smelled like pond water. He agreed to be her friend after helping her, but he vanished.

Ten years later, Alex is struggling with reality. She has paranoid schizophrenia and has to rely on medication, obsessive and constant perimeter checks and her trusty digital camera to cope. She takes lots and lots of pictures that she looks at later to help determine what’s real and what are visual hallucinations.

She’s starting at a new school, having painted the word communists in big red letters on the gym floor at her old high school. Hopeful that she’ll fit in and maybe find some real happiness at the new school, she’s been working at Finnegan’s a restaurant all summer and has made friends with Tucker who has been filling her in on East Shoal High, her new school. When Miles comes in for his usual cheeseburger and fries, Tucker hints vaguely that he’s not normal and has Alex wait on him. The mystery boy barely talks to her, but when he does look up, his startling blue eyes pull Alex back to that day ten years ago and she’s filled with an array of emotions. Could it be that the boy she remembers really does exist, despite her mother telling her most of what she remembers that day wasn’t real?

When she starts school, Miles is running the club that gets all the kids who have to do community service. Alex has to participate because of her paint job at the other school. She’s a bit scared, but far more intrigued by Miles who is beyond smart, has a slight German accent and apparently hires out to do really strange stuff for other students.

Both of them, along with Tucker, are curious about the principal’s obsession with the gym scoreboard that was donated in honor of a girl more than twenty years before. When she returned five years after graduating, the scoreboard fell, killing her. They suspect there’s an odd link between the principal, the scoreboard and Celia, a cheerleader who has a thing for Miles and whose mother was in the same class as the girl the scoreboard killed.

This could have easily turned into a typical teen romance, but the author moved it into far more interesting directions and I am incredibly impressed with how she built Alexandria’s personality, especially her battle to distinguish reality from her illness. Having worked in inpatient mental health for more than 25 years, she got this aspect as right as anyone possibly could. So much so, that there are several completely gut-wrenching moments in the final third of the book that are directly related to her illness.

Miles is also well crafted and has some intriguing issues of his own. He’s both brilliant and terribly vulnerable, but keeps that latter piece hidden from everyone until Alex manages to get inside his shell.

This is a love story, a mystery and an excellent look at two teens trying to perceive the world through flawed lenses. While there is a fair amount of profanity and some violence, neither should deter any library from adding this to their collection. It would be particularly good for libraries who care about offering insights into teen mental heath issues. On a final note, there are sufficient mystery elements for this to be considered as a YA Edgar candidate.

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1 Response to Thoughts as 2014 winds up

  1. Lea Wait says:

    Hoping the dark days pass soon, John .. and that you don’t retire from Maine Crime Writers! I’m off to order a copy of Made You Up.

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