The Voice of the Dead – guest post by Mallory Owens

Our first guest poster for 2013 works in a Defence library and presented at the  Celebrate the Book Readers Advisory Conference in Kansas last November. Mallory Owens has some interesting tales to tell of practising RA in her research library, but today she has posted about discovering dead narrators in young adult fiction – the topic she discussed at the conference. Read on…

***

Despite growing up and moving on to bigger and better things (or so I like to think), I continue to have a love affair with YA fiction.  Even in my mid-20s, teen angst and melodramatic life conundrums of adolescent characters appeal to me in a way that no other genre has quite been able to.  National sensation brought on by titles like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games sparked a greater interest in this continually evolving field.  YA literature isn’t just for young adults anymore, but can be enjoyed by readers of all ages!  Whether it serves as a reminiscence of good-ol’-days or a thankful reminder of what has been outgrown, YA fiction taps into thoughts and emotions everyone will or has experienced.

So when I decided to speak at the 2012 Reader’s Advisory Conference hosted by the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and the Northeast Kansas Library System this past November, I knew YA fiction would be my focus.  As I began to think over the recent titles I had read, I realized a reoccurring theme throughout: dead people.  Since the release of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold in 2002, dead characters have been making more frequent appearances in YA literature.  Similar to Sebold’s Susie Salmon, many of these characters appear as narrators, recounting their death and observing the impact it has had on the world they left behind.  Included on the handout I made for my breakout session are 16 titles with dead narrators with this similar theme.  Also included are titles with dead characters in supporting roles, narrators that are undoubtedly dying, and those that begin with the foreboding sense of death that will affect the reader’s entire view throughout the novel.  [The Voice of the Dead handout]

Although the titles vary in characters and carry different themes including supernatural, romance, suspense, thriller, and horror elements, they all strive to make sense of death, a subject almost incomprehensible to an age group that often views themselves as invincible: teenagers.  Writing styles also vary widely, from long chapters full of prose to short, insider views composed in verse.  Yet each author targets the emotion of their readers to more fully focus on the elements that make us all human.  All the titles encourage thought on human nature and what we leave behind when we vacate our human bodies.  In a sense, they are all trying to make readers think about exactly what the manager of Our Town was hoping to discover in the quote included at the top of the handout: what is eternal in terms of a human being?  What legacy, if any, do we leave behind?  The biggest common denominator within YA titles with dead (or soon to be dead) characters is that they will leave the reader feeling haunted by the characters who are now haunting their former lives.  Will they leave the lasting impact they believed they would before they realized their short time on earth was complete?

Have you read any titles recently, YA or not, with a dead narrator or deceased character in a supporting role?

***
Mallory Owens is a reference and acquisitions librarian at the Combined Arms Research Library in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, USA.  Although much of her work is of an academic nature, she enjoys participating in reader’s advisory whenever she can and can often be seen cornering people into conversations about what they are currently reading.  When she isn’t devouring YA novels or attending book club, Mallory serves as the president of her local chapter of the Special Libraries Association and volunteers with Make a Wish Foundation of Missouri.  In her few moments of free time, she enjoys perusing Netflix with her husband Elijah and cuddling with her beloved cat Oliver.

Advertisements

Book talking

Book talk at Riverbend Books

I attended an end of year function at Riverbend Books a few weeks ago and was blown away by one of the best examples of book talking I have seen.  I ended up with a list of titles from outside my normal genres that I simply must read, as well as a list of titles to give as presents this Christmas. Wikepedia states:

booktalk in the broadest terms is what is spoken with the intent to convince someone to read a book. Booktalks are traditionally conducted in a classroom setting for students. However, booktalks can be performed outside a school setting and with a variety of age groups as well. It is not a book review or a book report or a book analysis. The booktalker gives the audience a glimpse of the setting, the characters, and/or the major conflict without providing the resolution or denouement. Booktalks make listeners care enough about the content of the book to want to read it. A long booktalk is usually about five to seven minutes long and a short booktalk is generally thirty seconds to two minutes long.

Pru from Jimboomba Libray in Queensland has introduced Book talking with her Junior Book Club.  She says:

We look at the display on new items mostly from the JF collection that have come in during that month.  I have read a couple of the books and talk about why I did/did not like the book, intended audience and genre recommendations. Sometimes there are new Beginner Readers that may be of interest to the boys.

Next we go around the group and ask what the kids have been reading, did they like it, what type of genre, who do they think would like to read this type of book.  This is only a couple of sentences form each child and they only join in if they want to.

Also displayed is another part of the Junior collection such as Audio Books, JNF or mags.  This is to show the kids that there are other things at the library that can be borrowed.

Does your library provide book talking as one of your readers advisory tools? If so, we would love to hear about your experiences.

Staff picks

Following on from our last post on connecting our communities with reading, today we feature Chris Orpen, Regional Librarian from Logan North Library, in Queensland.  She attended “Best Sellers” readers advisory training with Paul Brown in November 2010, and then introduced retail principles of customer service and visual merchandising via staff picks into her library.

Chris writes:

Encouraging staff to write regular short reviews for shelf talkers has always been a problem.  All start out enthusiastically but the demands of day to day ‘busyness’ often pushes the reviews to a low or non priority.  We developed a simplified process to overcome this issue.  Each staff member has a colour coded book mark with a 5 star graphic and their name.  They simply choose a book they enjoyed or would recommend, place the bookmark inside with the label showing, and place it on our designated end displays.  Using this method we have loaned over 11,000 ‘staff picks’ in the last 12 months.

We had always planned to expand this concept if the project was successful.  To overcome the lack of written review, each staff member has their photo (with the corresponding colour code) on display near our Readers Advice desk.  Accompanying the photo is a dot point list of reading preferences and hobbies/interests.  This assists borrowers in selecting items of common interest.  The concept has proved very popular with many borrowers ‘following’ particular staff members, and it also adds a personal aspect to our selections.  An unexpected advantage has been that new members get to know the staff much more quickly.

 

Chris’s paper,  ‘If the shoe fits… the heart and sole of a retail librarian‘ is definitely worth a read!!