Monday, April 23, 2012

Fifty Shades of Blushing

E. L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey is the most in-demand title we've had since The Help came out in 2009. It's the title everyone is talking about. James has made her way through the morning news circuit and Fifty Shades is currently riding the #1 spot on the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list. I first heard about this title a few months ago when I got a request from a patron. Then I got another request. And another. I started asking whether any of my colleagues had heard of this book. No one had, so I did a little research. It turned out that James is a British writer and had published the title through a very small Australian publisher. The book hadn't been reviewed by any of the typical sources librarians use when selecting materials to purchase, so I decided to pass on purchasing it. But the requests kept coming and finally it got onto the Times list, and I knew we had to purchase a copy. One copy. Then three copies. Now eleven copies! For a first-time author from a small press that hadn't been reviewed by any major source, this doesn't happen often. So why does everyone want this book?

I have heard numerous times the whispered remark from patrons: "I've heard it's practically porn." Yes, Fifty Shades is an erotic romance novel. When I read descriptions of the novel, I frequently saw the term "BDSM" (bondage, dominance, submission, masochism) linked to it. Really? This many people want to read BDSM fiction? I was perplexed. As put off as I was by that description, I decided that I needed to see for myself why so many women wanted to read this book. Maybe we have a demand for erotic fiction that the library isn't meeting?
Fifty Shades of Grey features Anastasia Steele, a college senior who is still a virgin. When she interviews the wealthy 27-year-old businessman Christian Grey for the school's newspaper, the chemistry between them is palpable. After a few encounters, they can no longer deny that there is something between them. Ana believes this could be the beginning of a romance, but Christian admits that he is not interested in a typical relationship. Christian is a dominant and wants Ana to engage in a relationship as his submissive. Ana is shocked and scared by the idea of this, but her desire for Christian is so strong that she is willing to give it a try.

I found myself torn over this book. On the one hand, the writing is extremely flawed, the dialogue is awkward, and I felt Christian's character wasn't believable. On the other hand, I get why the book is appealing to readers. The story is a typical romance story at its core: sexy, yet troubled boy meets innocent girl; sparks fly; girl hopes she can "save" boy and they will live happily ever after. Add to that a fast pace and super-steamy sex, and you have a hot page-turner. I was concerned about the BDSM aspect, but it wasn't as horrifying as I imagined, just not my cup of tea. I was also concerned that the story would support the idea that causing pain to women is acceptable, but it doesn't. In fact, I was surprised that Ana actually stood up for herself in the end, which I found satisfying. I am curious to find out more about Christian Grey and how he became the way he is, so I'll join the building waiting list for Fifty Shades Darker. This book raises so many questions, that I think it would make an interesting discussion. Have you read it? If so, what did you think?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Autobiography of Malcolm X

It may sound rather silly to say this but, one of the joys of working in a library is that it is filled with great old books!  I think sometimes as librarians we forget that.  We spend a lot of our time thinking about new books.  We read reviews of new books.  We order new books.  It seems we tend to read a lot of new books when they come out.  Sometimes I almost forget that I work in a library that is full of fantastic old books as well.

I had a patron come into the library about a month ago who asked me for some help finding a good biography for a freshman in high school.  The light bulb went off in my head and I recommended "The Autobiography of Malcolm X".  She thought it was a great recommendation and checked one of our two copies.  It hit me that I hadn't read this book in almost 20 years.  I decided to check out our other copy to read it again.

I started to read it and remembered immediately why I loved it so much the first several times I read it.  It's one of those books that simply tells an amazing story.  It reads like fiction but the events are all very true.  It's hard to believe that a single individual could have so many things happen in their life.  That their life could take so many twists and turns.  It also hit me reading it again that as a librarian, and a lover of books, it's hard not to feel a connection to the story.  The part of the story when "Red" is in prison and starts to read the dictionary is amazing.  I have to admit it brought tears to my eyes.  Malcolm learns every word in the dictionary and then starts to read every book he can get his hands on and educates himself while in prison.  When his time is done he's a new and changed man.

In many ways "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" is about the ability of individuals to grow and change and people.  He goes through so many pivotal events in his life only to learn and grow from each one.  He's willing to learn new things and change his opinions based on what he's learned and gone through.  This ultimately leads to his death at the hands of the Black Muslims, who he had once been a powerful spokesman for, because he had grown as a person and moved on, denouncing some of their most racist philosophies.

Malcolm X was a man who was often feared by our society at large when he was alive.  As the years have gone by and more and more people have studied his life and read this book his legacy has changed.  He is now considered by many to be a great American and someone who's contributions to the civil rights movement were extremely important.  If you want to read an amazing true story you should also consider checking out one of our copies.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Lost Memory of Skin

I have very strong opinions about sex offenders, as I'm sure many people do. I tend to see this issue as very black and white, but Russell Banks' latest novel Lost Memory of Skin, illustrates that there can be shades of grey. The main character, "the Kid," is a recently paroled sex offender. Typically, I have no tolerance for sex offenders, real or fictional, but Russell manages to create a very human and very sympathetic character.

The novel's premise is based on the actual colony of sex offenders that had been living under a causeway in Miami, Florida. Having no where else to go after his release from prison, the Kid takes up residence in this colony under the causeway. Soon he meets "the Professor." The Professor is a sociologist who is studying sex offenders and takes an interest in the Kid. From the Professor's interviews with the Kid, we learn the Kid's history, how he came to be a convicted sex offender, and what his life is like now. Russell does a superb job of capturing the Kid's fears and loneliness. While I didn't necessarily like the Kid, I found myself feeling sorry for him and wishing he could catch a break. This novel raises so many interesting questions about sex offenders, homelessness, and the criminal justice system, I think this book would make an excellent choice for book discussions. Squeamish readers need not fear: there are no descriptions of horrible sex acts. There is a lot of discussion about porn and masturbation and some crass language, but as a squeamish reader, I found it tolerable.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea

Aside from my affinity for the title (which sucked me right in), I adored this story because of its strong appeal towards both adults and teens. Lately I've been on a kick when it comes to reading adult fiction with teens as main characters, and Florine Gilham, the star of this particular story, is a high contender for one of my favorite protagonists. Florine is a wonderful combination of sassy and vulnerable as, in her small Maine town of the 1950's, she endures more family heartbreak and crises than anyone of her age deserves.

Florine's beautiful and charismatic mother disappeared her twelfth summer, and this event catapults Florine into a spiral that is both intriguing and depressing. Yet as much as the story of Florine is based on her mothers disappearance, this is also a tale about Florine's fisherman father who suffers silently for the wife he lost, her loving and strong grandmother who holds the tiny town together, and a group of faithful friends who will do whatever it takes to pull Florine through.

For a character that only grows 5 years in the span of the story, you as a reader feel as if it's been a lifetime. Florine goes through more in her adolescent years then I hope to experience in fifty, and maybe the best part of the book is that in the end you still don't know if she'll come out on top (but you hope with everything you have that she does).

I also have a love for most stories that are set in Maine (despite the fact that I have never visited...) and this setting didn't disappoint. The imagery is rich, the characters are vivid, and Florine is one smart alecky, prickly, (and yet so endearing) soul who is looking for her own definition of life and won't let you forget it. If you're looking for an awesome mix of mystery, coming of age, and true heart, this is the title for you.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Horror Stories

I know you horror fans are out there!!  The Horror Writers Association have finally announced the 2011 Bram Stoker Award winners and the Vampire Novel of the Century Award winner. So,without further ado, here they are:
    Superior Achievement in a NOVEL  Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney (Pinnacle Books)
    Superior Achievement in a FIRST NOVELIsis Unbound by Allyson Bird (Dark Regions Press)
    Superior Achievement in a YOUNG ADULT NOVEL (tie) The Screaming Season by Nancy Holder (Razorbill)
     Dust and Decay by Jonathan Maberry (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
    Superior Achievement in a GRAPHIC NOVELNeonomicon by Alan Moore (Avatar Press)
    Superior Achievement in LONG FICTIONThe Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine by Peter Straub (Conjunctions: 56)
    Superior Achievement in SHORT FICTIONHerman Wouk Is Still Alive by Stephen King (The Atlantic Magazine, May 2011)
    Superior Achievement in a SCREENPLAYAmerican Horror Story, episode #12: Afterbirth by Jessica Sharzer (20th Century Fox Television)
    Superior Achievement in a FICTION COLLECTIONThe Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates (Mysterious Press)
    Superior Achievement in an ANTHOLOGYDemons: Encounters with the Devil and his Minions, Fallen Angels and the Possessed, edited by John Skipp (Black Dog and Leventhal)
    Superior Achievement in NON-FICTIONStephen King: A Literary Companion by Rocky Wood (McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers)
    Superior Achievement in a POETRY COLLECTIONHow to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda Addison (Necon Ebooks)

    Vampire Novel of the Century Award
    I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Deader Homes & Gardens

Joan Hess finally returns with Claire Malloy in Deader Homes & Gardens. Bookstore owner Claire is back from her honeymoon with Police Chief Peter Rosen and they are now feeling the confines of living in small quarters with Claire's teenage daughter Caron. Claire sets out to find the happy family a new home that will meet every ones expectations.

After an extensive search with her realtor, Claire finds the perfect home in Hollow Valley.  A meadow with a stream, an orchard, a pool, a library, crown moldings, hardwood floors...what more could a woman want?  How about a seller?  It seems the last owner died under mysterious circumstances and not only does rightful ownership of the house seems to be in question, but whether it is really for sale seems to be up in the air also. Claire's realtor then disappears while showing the house to Claire and can't be found.  Soon bodies start piling up and Claire needs to solve several mysteries before Peter gets home from out of town and so that she can buy her dream house.

Deader Homes & Gardens is a fun, fast read.  Claire Malloy has been one of my favorite fictional female sleuths since her arrival in 1986 in Strangled Prose. I have always admired Hess for her snappy, witty dialogue, especially between Claire and Caron, and she doesn't disappoint in this book.  Need a smile and a laugh?  This is the book for you.