Parental Advisory for Books?

Just a picture, not actually a warning for this post.

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while, you might remember that I did a post on parental advisory for books almost exactly a year ago. Within the last couple of months this post has seemed to regain interest–the views have really started to pick up–and I’m not exactly sure why. I reread through that post and the comments the other day and I felt like I needed to write a new post addressing the topic. Now that I’m halfway done with my Masters in Library Science, I feel like I have a little more perspective and a more concrete opinion on the matter.

Just as a reminder from the brief research that I did for my last post, I didn’t find that ratings or labeling content as “explicit” was required for any medium (movies, video games, music) but that it was encouraged in a lot of them. I’ve seen some books that have warnings as part of the summary, but they’ve all been books that I’ve found on Amazon and appear to be self-published or published by a small publishing house–not by one of the big five.

The last time I talked about this, I proposed that books be given ratings similar to movies and video games. I think a lot of people took that to mean that children would be restricted from certain books if the rating was too mature like they are from R-rated movies and Mature rated video games (which started to feel like censorship to some). As I’ve started my degree, I’ve discovered that librarians feel very passionately about censorship (I’m taking an Intellectual Freedom course next term). They do not agree with it and actively fight against it in a lot of cases. I too do not believe that librarians have the responsibility to censor material for their young patrons–that is the job of parents. Who am I as a librarian to say whether or not someone else’s kid can read Fifty Shades of Grey? I know I wouldn’t let my kid read it, but that’s my own personal decision. I realize now that I should have clarified something in my original post. I’m not proposing that kids be kept from reading certain books if they choose to read them. What I am proposing is that books be given ratings as a source of information for consumers (and parents of consumers).

While you’re not given the responsibility to tell people what they can and can’t read as a librarian, you are given the responsibility of recommending books to people when they ask. This is called Readers’ Advisory (I took a class on that as well). Part of the RA interview is to determine a reader’s comfort level in certain areas. Perhaps you have a patron that loves reading romance. She’s comfortable with some steamy scenes, but she’s not a fan of erotica. It’s the librarian’s job to recommend books that fall within her comfort level. With what I propose, the rating system will only help readers to get the same information that they might get from a librarian during an RA interview. We already have a summary of the book, why not a brief summary of its adult content as well?

Ultimately I see this as a help for the consumer when determining what to read, but also for parents of young readers. My mom was a great mom. She was a stay-at-home mom so she was able to spend a lot of time with me and my siblings and was very involved in our lives. That being said, with the rate at which my sister and I consumed books, there was no way that my mom could keep up with what we were reading. There were a couple of times when my mom caught wind of something “bad” in a book or series that I was reading and she made it clear that I was not to read those books. Honestly, I didn’t care. There were plenty of other books to read so I did what she asked (I mean, she’s my mom…what was I going to do?). I think if books had the kind of ratings that I’m proposing, my mom would have had a much easier time helping us to choose books with content that she thought was appropriate for us to be reading which is exactly what we as librarians hope parents will do.

So now that I’ve made some clarifications in my opinion, what do you guys think? Do you still think it’s a bad idea? Or would you find this kind of information helpful as well?

HW Assignment: Book Club Recap

Despite the fact that I really enjoy reading, I had never participated in a book club until this assignment. Some of the ladies at my church had just started a book club a few months before–I’d meant to go to the first one, but then didn’t make it. This month we were reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown which had been on my “To Be Read” list for a while. I figured this was a good way to kill two birds with one stone (completing my homework assignment and reading a book that I’d been meaning to read).

When I showed up, it was initially just me and the girl who was hosting (I’ll refer to her as T). We chatted and started eating the snacks that she had prepared. After about half an hour another lady (who I will refer to as A and who is more or less in charge of the book club) came by, but she had only managed to read half of the book and could only stay for about 30 minutes. I could tell that T was really eager to start discussing the book, but it seemed like A was more wanting to just chat and socialize. She asked me about myself and was very excited to hear that I’m studying Library Science—I think A is under the impression that I may be able to resurrect this book club. We talked about book club turnouts from previous months and why the turnout for this month may have been so low. We figured it was probably the book choice that had deterred people as probably not many of the women in our church were interested in reading about sports. It was then decided that I (first time participant that I was) should be in charge of hosting next month’s book club.

We finally did get into talking about the book, though we tried to stick to topics from the first half of the book so that A could participate as well. T had prepared some questions ahead of time and we started discussing some of those. We talked about the time period and what else was going on in the world during that period of time. We discussed the main character, Joe Rantz, and his early childhood. Overall, we felt very sympathetic towards him and the things that he went through at such a young age. The discussion was a little difficult because A had not finished the book. She didn’t necessarily understand some of the things that T and I would mention and we had to explain some of what happened in the end of the book to her.

After A had left, T and I were able to talk a little more in-depth about how we felt about the book. T did a good job of asking questions that really provoked thought and weren’t just yes or no questions. She also did a good job of letting me give my response and didn’t dominate the conversation. She obviously had some thoughts about the book and had been thinking about the questions that she wrote, but she still let me speak first.

The discussion that T and I had was really interesting because we both liked and disliked different aspects of the book. T really likes reading non-fiction and she found the history parts of the book fascinating but had to drag herself through the sports sections. I was the other way around. My husband graduated in Journalism and is currently working on the sports desk for a local newspaper. As a result, I have been exposed to a lot of sports writing and have developed an appreciation for it. I think having that base helped me to enjoy the sections of the book about rowing. On the other hand, I didn’t find myself enjoying the parts about Germany and Hitler’s Propaganda Department. T and I were able to have a good discussion about the book despite our differences, but I do think the overall experience would have been more enjoyable if more people had showed up.

After arriving back at my apartment, I immediately started thinking about what book I should choose for the book club that I would be hosting. I thought about all of the books that had been previously read (Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, and The Boys in the Boat). It sounded like the first two books had a rather good turnout but the second two didn’t. An issue with The Boys in the Boat was that it’s a very popular book right now, so none of the libraries had available copies—in order to read the book, you probably would have had to buy (like T and I did). I knew that I wanted to pick a book that the library had available book club copies for and one that would be a fast and fairly easy read. In addition, since this is a church-based book club, I wanted to be really careful about choosing a book without any kind of questionable content in it like language or sexual content. I ended up picking Austenland by Shannon Hale. The book club is supposed to be next Tuesday and I’m hopeful that we’ll have at least one more participant than we did last month.


ANNOTATION: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley


6218281The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Genre: Mystery

Publication Date and # pages: April 28th 2009, 374 pages

Plot Summary: Flavia de Luce is an unusual girl. At eleven-years-old, Flavia has a deep passion for chemistry (poisons in particular). One morning she stumbles upon a dying man in the cucumber patch and her father is consequently arrested for murder. In order to clear her father’s name, Flavia must discover who the real killer is–all while avoiding her two annoying older sisters. This is the first book in a series.

Characteristics of Mystery: I would describe this book as a Cozy. Amateur detective with an unusual hobby, a puzzle to solve, small-town feel, quirky secondary characters

Appeal Terms: Leisurely plot, quirky characters, small-town setting, light tone

Read-alikes: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple; The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R King; Hotel Paradise by Martha Grimes

ANNOTATION: Bird Box by Josh Malerman


Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Genre: Horror

Publication Date and # pages: May 13, 2014; 272 pages

Plot Summary: There’s something out there that’s making people kill themselves and if you see it, you’re dead. Mal doesn’t believe in this “monster”–she thinks everything’s gotten blown out of proportion by the media. But one day she finds her sister lying on the bathroom floor with a pair of scissors sticking out of her chest. Alone and pregnant, Mal answers an ad from the newspaper. She finds herself with a new group of housemates who are just trying to figure out how to survive in this new world. This story follows Mal and the housemates through those first few months and also gives the reader glimpses of what the world will be like five years later.

Characteristics of Horror: Sense of unease throughout, erratic pacing, haunted/vulnerable characters, supernatural monsters, unresolved ending, moments of surprise

Appeal Terms: Sympathetic characters, nightmarish tone, deliberate pacing, violent

Read-alikes: The Silence by Tim Lebbon; Cell by Stephen King; I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

HW Assignment: Prompt #2

Ebook only books, which are increasingly popular (especially in the romance genre) see little to no reviews in professional publications unless they have a big name author, and then still it’s usually only RT Reviews (formally Romantic Times) or other genre heavy publications. How does this affect collection development?
It seems like there will be disproportionately fewer eBook only books compared to those that are published in print as well. They’re likely not going to be on librarian’s radars like other more marketed books will be. In addition, I think patrons are more likely to come in, browse the shelves, and then leave with a few print books. It doesn’t seem like eBooks are as popular with most libraries as print books are. Because of this, it doesn’t make as much economic sense to spend money on eBook only books when you could be purchasing books that will have a wider appeal simply because of format.

I have posted two more documents in the week five files. One is two reviews of an ebook only romantic suspense novel, one from a blog and one from amazon. Look over the reviews – do you feel they are both reliable? How likely would you be to buy this book for your library? Is this ebook even romantic suspense?
I think the reviews are reliable to a point. Some of the things mentioned by the reviewers seem like they’re probably true—it’s a clean romance, the plot doesn’t make much sense. However, both reviews could’ve used a round of editing. While this does detract from the reviewer’s credibility (it sounds like a review coming from my neighbor rather than a reputable publication), it doesn’t take away from their opinion and what they thought of the book. Sometimes it’s still valuable to see that information. I would not be very likely to purchase this for my library. The reviews lean towards positive, but it’s not compelling enough for me to justify the money spent on it. I would not classify this book as romantic suspense—it seems more like a straight romance.

The other document contains some reviews of Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt, an incredibly popular memoir. These reviews are all from professional publications, feel free to find more on your own I just nabbed a few from the Book Review Digest database for you. How do these reviews make you feel about the possibility of adding Angela’s Ashes to your collection?
I would definitely consider adding this book to my collection as it sounds like it has a lot going for it—well-written, emotional, and descriptive. The reviews are very good at explaining what the book is about and praising its strengths.

Do you think it’s fair that one type of book is reviewed to death and other types of books get little to no coverage? How does this affect a library’s collection?  And how do you feel about review sources that won’t print negative content? Do you think that’s appropriate? If you buy for your library, how often do you use reviews to make your decisions? If not, how do you feel about reviews for personal reading, and what are some of your favorite review sources?
I don’t know if “fair” really has anything to do with it—it’s just the way it is. In my experience, if a book is good it will gain traction. I tend to distrust review sources that only print positive content. It feels like they’re not giving me the whole story—like anything I read from them is biased. I don’t want to only hear good things about a book and then be disappointed that there are some glaring problems that nobody mentioned. It’s a reviewer’s responsibility to be honest with their opinions, whether good or bad. I feel that this is the purpose of a review. If there is a book that I know I want to read, I stay away from reviews because I would rather go into the book with an open mind and form my own opinions. If it’s a book that I’m on the fence about, I’ll usually look at some reviews on Goodreads or from some of the book blogs that I follow to decide whether or not to read it. After I’ve read a book, I’ll often read reviews from other blogs just to see whether other people feel the same way that I did.

HW Assignment: Secret Shopper

This week’s assignment was to visit a library where the librarians do not know us and “test” them on their Reader’s Advisory skills. Here’s a summary of my report:

I went to the library hoping to get a good recommendation for an Adult fiction book that read similar to a YA book. The librarian on duty asked me what authors I enjoyed reading and I told her that I liked Sarah Dessen and, more recently, Morgan Matson. She said, “Okay, let’s see what we can find” and proceeded to start typing on her computer. After a couple of minutes of that, she turned to the other librarian at the desk and asked what she thought some good authors would be that were similar to Sarah Dessen in Adult fiction. The other librarian came up with a few authors and explained about their style while the librarian that I had first approached jotted down the names for me.

I liked that the first librarian I approached was very welcoming and helped made me feel comfortable in asking for a book recommendation. I also liked that she referred me to a librarian who seemed to know a little more about the genre I was interested in. It made me feel more confident that I would get a good recommendation.

The second librarian made an assumption about what I liked about Sarah Dessen’s books. And while I did like the aspect that the librarian referenced and based her recommendations off of, there are more elements of Dessen’s books and writing that I enjoy beyond that. I would have piped up and said something, but the librarian really didn’t give me an opportunity to. She gave a few author suggestions, but didn’t check to see if I’d already read anything by them.

In the end, it was recommended that I look into Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah (specifically “Firefly Lane”), Alan Bradley, and Anna Quindlen. Honestly, none of the Picoult or Quindlen books stood out to me as interesting—they all seemed to deal with women who were significantly older than me and in a completely different stage of life. I don’t really find reading about middle-aged women with teenaged children that appealing. I did like the sound of both “Firefly Lane” and Alan Bradley’s mystery series however.

I think I was expecting to be asked more questions about my reading preferences than I actually was. If I were in need of another book recommendation, I would probably give them another shot. It seemed like both librarians had at least some training and knowledge of Reader’s Advisory Services.

Overall, the experience was pretty good. I am legitimately excited to read both “Firefly Lane” and the Alan Bradley mystery book (I actually plan to use it for this class) but I’ll probably end up returning the Picoult and Quindlen unread.

HW Assignment: Prompt Response 1

With this assignment we were supposed to answer a few reader advisory questions using NoveList or some other RA tool. For those of you who don’t know what NoveList is, it’s FANTASTIC. You can access it through your local public library (note: not all public libraries have it) and you can use it to get reading recommendations! It’s seriously so awesome. I’m definitely going to be using it from now on!

1. I am looking for a book by Laurell K. Hamilton. I just read the third book in the Anita Blake series and I can’t figure out which one comes next!

There are so many books in the Anita Blake series so I understand your confusion! I looked on Novelist for you just to be sure—it looks like the next book in the series is “The Lunatic Café”.

2. What have I read recently? Well, I just finished this great book by Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer. I really liked the way it was written, you know, the way she used language. I wouldn’t mind something a bit faster paced though.

I’ve got a few great choices for you—all faster paced with a wonderful use of language. If you’re interested in reading about China right around the time of the Boxer Rebellion, I would recommend “Yellow Emperor’s Cure” by Kunal Basu. It’s about a surgeon searching for a cure for his father and he ends up falling in love along the way. It’s dramatic and definitely fast-paced but still with a lot of detail. If you’re in the mood for something funnier, I would recommend “The Plot Against America” by Phillip Roth. This is an alternative history where Lindbergh becomes president instead of FDR and he actually ends up making an accord with Hitler. It’s suspenseful and very character-driven with writing that is both lyrical and witty at the same time. But if you’re interested in sticking with the ecological themes from “Prodigal Summer”, I would recommend “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood—it’s the first book in her MaddAddam trilogy and it has wonderful world-building. It’s set in an apocalyptic world that is both thought-provoking and a little disturbing.

3. I like reading books set in different countries. I just read one set in China, could you help me find one set in Japan? No, not modern – historical. I like it when the author describes it so much it feels like I was there!

I’ve got three great choices for you. First, I would recommend “The Teahouse Fire” by Ellis Avery. It’s set in 19th century Japan and is about a young American girl who is adopted by a tea master. This book gives a lot of cool information about Japanese tea ceremonies. This book is a moving coming-of-age story. My next recommendation is also set in the 19th century, but instead of looking at Japan’s traditions, it focuses on some of the modernization that occurred during that time. The book is based on real events with very descriptive writing. My last recommendation, “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden, is set during WWII. It’s a rags-to-riches story about a girl who is sold into slavery and her journey as she becomes a Japanese geisha. This book is very atmospheric and the writing has a lot of detail.

4. I read this great mystery by Elizabeth George called Well-Schooled in Murder and I loved it. Then my dentist said that if I liked mysteries I would probably like John Sandford, but boy was he creepy I couldn’t finish it! Do you have any suggestions?

You should try “NYPD Red” by James Patterson. This book is about a detective who is investigating several crimes that happen to coincide with the arrival of a bunch of celebrities. It’s suspenseful and dramatic without being disturbing. If you’re looking for a little dark humor, I would suggest “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” by Michael Chabon. Instead of Israel, Alaska is the homeland for Jews and we follow two policemen as they investigate the death of a heroin-addicted chess prodigy. The writing style is a little different than you might be used to, but it’s still descriptive and suspenseful. If you’re looking for a classic, you can’t go wrong with Wilkie Collins. I would recommend “The Woman in White”. Our main character sees a woman dressed all in white on a moonlit night seemingly in distress on the streets of London. He has to find out what was wrong with her and that leads us on this psychologically thrilling journey. It’s atmospheric and Gothic without being disturbing.

5. My husband has really gotten into zombies lately. He’s already read The Walking Dead and World War Z, is there anything else you can recommend?

Of course! First, I would recommend “The Zombie Autopsies” by Steven C. Schlozman. This book is about a doctor and his staff who have isolated themselves on an island in order to find a cure for the zombie epidemic that has taken over. While there, however, they start to fall victim to the disease themselves. This book is written like a diary and has a lot of dark humor in it. If he’s interested in reading a graphic novel, I would really recommend “Rot & Ruin” by Jonathan Maberry. It’s about four friend who are travelling through the Sierra Nevada mountains while trying to stay ahead of zombie hordes that are after them. This graphic novel is seriously action-packed and has great world-building. If he has any interest in steampunk, I would recommend “Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest. While trying to build a machine, an inventor accidently releases a deadly gas that turns people into zombies. Years later, his teenage son tries to repair the family’s reputation. This book is atmospheric and suspenseful while maintaining a fast pace.

How do you find books to read?

I’m pretty active in the book blogging community so I get a lot of book recommendations and ideas from blogs that I follow. If I’m really stuck, I’ll take a look at Goodreads lists related to authors that I know I enjoy. Of course, I always make sure to be aware of when one of my autoread authors has a new book coming out as well. Now that I’ve discovered Novelist though, I’ll definitely be using it a lot to help me find new books to read!