PLA, day three: “The big ideas of the Internet were beautiful”

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Tim Wu at PLA

Tim Wu is a lawyer who clerked for a Supreme Court justice, worked at a Silicon Valley startup, then moved into academia; he’s now a professor at Columbia and a columnist for the New York Times. But if his name rings a bell for you, it’s probably because he coined the term “Net[work] Neutrality” in 2003.

The fundamental idea of Net Neutrality, said Wu, is that the user should decide what the internet is. The carrier (Internet Service Provider, or ISP) shouldn’t get in the way. ISPs should be “a medium in the true sense of the word medium, respecting the wishes of those on each side.” They should be “faithful agents” providing reliable service, not blocking, discriminating, or censoring.

The federal government adopted Net Neutrality as a rule under the Bush administration, but the Trump administration killed it (though it’s likely to return under the next administration). Why were they focused on that? “Free flows of information can be very threatening to those who wish to consolidate their power. The censorial instinct remains very strong.”

The next issue threatening our democracy, said Wu, is the “crisis of attention.” (His newest book is called The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.) “Our attention has become our scarcest and most valuable resource…[and] when you have a purely attention-based business model, the competition runs to the bottom. It’s not who can be the most accurate, it’s who can capture attention.” 

As Cory Doctorow says, if you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product. Wu put it differently, as he described an 1830s New York newspaper publisher’s idea to re-conceive the audience as a product to sell to advertisers. The advertising model, he said, is “the harvesting and resale of human attention.” And this is the “original sin” of nearly all of the Internet’s giants: they “embraced advertising as their only business model and tied themselves business to attention harvesting.” (Wikipedia, as a recent New York Magazine article pointed out, is an exception.) This, despite Google founders’ early recognition that “advertising-supported search engine will always be biased, always serving two masters (users and advertisers) and cannot be expected to produce reliable results.”

The dark consequences of this setup are clear, with new examples in the news every day (most recently, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal). Sites and platforms based on an advertising model are driven to capture people’s time and attention, and to learn more about them in order to offer targeted ads – or to manipulate them.

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“We’re at a moment in our democracy…information flow has changed how this country is governed.” What can be done? What should be done? Wu asked. Whose responsibility is it, who are the trustees of our time? He argued, “The largest information intermediaries of our time…must start operating with a true sense of fiduciary public duty or face regulatory consequences….The goal of aiming for truth is something that the tech industry needs to learn right now. The time has come.”

For the final two programs of the day, I indulged my YA-loving side. First was “How to Adult: Teaching Life Skills to Teens” presented by Kayla Marie Figard of San Mateo County Libraries and Elizabeth “Biz” Tanner of the County of Los Angeles Public Library. Their “How to Adult” programs teach “life hacks,” i.e. necessary life skills like healthy cooking, public speaking, car maintenance, etiquette, time management, organization, stress management, mindfulness, finding a first apartment, money management, self-defense, first aid, laundry (and sewing and mending), and the list goes on!

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A slide from “How to Adult” shows a word cloud of some popular topics

The presenters provided many short activities (tongue twisters for public speaking; a “multitasking is a myth” task) and a very handy program planning worksheet (see below). Some of their workshops for teens were single events, while others were a series. Nearly all included food, a surefire way to boost attendance at any program. Librarians ran some workshops, while others were conducted by outside presenters. With some research, you can find willing partners, like county/city/town departments, credit unions,  and local businesses; some presenters may come for free, others may charge a fee.

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Program planning worksheet

To decide on the topic(s), ask teens what they want to know! Think about your own young adult life – what did you wish you had known, and what surprised you? Talk to teachers at local high schools – they will know what school does(n’t) offer and where students’ knowledge gaps are.

Along with planning and running the programs, the presenters discussed evaluation and measuring outcomes – required for grant-funded programs, but good for every program. They suggested: (1) determine anticipated outcomes, (2) ask: do the programs teach teens something? Do they feel better prepared for adulthood? (3) conduct pre- and post-program surveys to assess growth.

This was an excellent program: the presenters were good speakers, and came prepared not just with their slides, but with copies of their worksheets, planning documents, examples and activities from their workshops. A+!

For the very last PLA program, I went to the YA Crossover, or “AAP Crossover Appeal: Books that Work for Teens and Adults.” Despite the program’s title, it didn’t really focus on the “crossover” aspect so much as the teen aspect, except in the sense that some of the audience had read some of the authors’ books as young adults, and still loved them.

Luanne Toth of School Library Journal moderated the panel of four authors: Ally Carter, Carolyn Mackler, Gayle Forman, and Ashley Woodfolk. Woodfolk is a debut author (The Beauty That Remains), and the other three are further into their careers. Mackler’s most recent book, The Universe is Expanding and So Am I, is a sequel to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things (a Printz honor book in 2004).

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Here are a few quotes and paraphrases from the panel:

  • “I write about young people but I don’t write young stories” -Gayle Forman
  • “Young people are given license to feel your feelings.” There’s this idea that as you age you don’t feel things as strongly/intensely. You do have to moderate your feelings but you do have them. Satisfying as a writer and a reader. -Gayle Forman
  • “A lot of what happens in high school shapes your adult life….And you don’t really get it until you get older.” YA writing is cathartic because it helps revisit and dissect what happened & what you felt. -Ashley Woodfolk
  • “The world would be a lot better if we all read more broadly and more representatively.” -Ally Carter
  • “Libraries are our outposts in every corner of the country” (some places don’t have bookstores or people can’t afford books) -Ally Carter
  • “Encourage people to read everything…a kid might want to read something you won’t expect they want to read. Find out what a kid wants/needs” – Ashley Woodfolk
  • “Every book is a mirror. No matter how different somebody is from you, there is still an emotional through-line.” -Gayle Forman

And that is a wrap! See all PLA 2018 posts here. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go to this conference, and I think I made the most of it, attending a variety of sessions and programs. I do wish I had a Time-Turner and could have been to even more. If you were at PLA, or followed along via a great blog or Twitter thread, please share your favorite links!

 

 

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PLA, day two: Because fake news is harmful to your health

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.My new favorite #LibrariesTransform item

My first event on Friday was another stop at the PLA Pavilion for “Early Literacy Enhanced Storytimes: Intentionality is the Key” with Saroj Ghoting, an early childhood literacy consultant (earlylit.net). Presenters packed a lot into these 20-minute sessions; Ghoting addressed the challenge of keeping adults engaged during children’s storytimes, and provided several specific examples* to make storytimes more interactive. She also noted the different types of interaction during a storytime: librarian-children, librarian-adults, children-adults, and adults-adults. Adults value time with and advice from each other, and if they’re engaged during stortytime, they’re more likely to do the same activities with kids at home. Adult-child interaction also supports rich language development for children.

*Examples included books that lent themselves to two call-and-response parts, like Too Much Noise (kids make animal sounds, adults say “too noisy!”), The Cow Loves Cookies (adults say “but the cow loves…” and kids say “cookies!”), and Jump, Frog, Jump (adults say “how did the frog get away?” and kids say “jump frog jump!”).

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Slide from Saroj Ghoting’s presentation: song lyrics to “Cell Phones,” to be sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”

After the “Enhanced Storytimes” session, I went over to the Children’s Book Buzz on the other side of the exhibit hall to hear about more upcoming children’s and teen titles, but left in time to get to the first morning program, “The Path to U.S. Citizenship Can Start at Public Libraries.” Laura Patching from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) spoke first, giving a short history of the service and talking about its work in and with libraries: sending community relations officers to do naturalization workshops, including mock interviews; setting up “Citizenship Corners” or “New Americans Corners”; and the “Bridges to Citizenship” program. Community relations officers will visit any library; find your local one by e-mailing public.engagement@uscis.dhs.gov.

Next, Tiffany Nardella and Nate Eddy from the Free Library of Philadelphia (“Start here. Go anywhere”) spoke about their work welcoming new Americans in the library, in partnership with USCIS and with other partners, like the Office of Adult Education and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. And Michelle Gordon of the Fresno County Public Library in California said that naturalization ceremonies in libraries are “the best thing that I do,” and “If you don’t work with USCIS yet, do it! It’s worth it.” She suggested inviting local representatives to these ceremonies – new citizens are new voters! Elected officials might come or not, but it’s nice to invite them.

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A tweet from the program “Eliminating Fines and Fees on Children’s Materials to Create a Win-Win for Your Library and Your Community,” during the same morning time slot as the citizenship program.

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After the citizenship program, I followed a tweet from @NYPLRecommends and chatted with the hosts of the New York Public Library’s “The Librarian Is In” podcast, Gwen Glazer and Frank Collerius, who were delightful. I rarely listen to podcasts, but I am sure I would enjoy theirs.

I ate my lunch sitting on the floor and listening to the Adult Book Buzz, and then it was time for the afternoon programs. The first one I attended was “Refuting the Idea of ‘Neutral’: Supporting Civic Engagement & Information in the Library,” presented by Amy Holcomb, Amy Koester, and Mimosa Shah, an enthusiastic team from Skokie, IL. As the title of their program indicated, they refuted the idea that libraries are neutral: “If your library adheres to the Library Bill of Rights, you are not neutral.” Being neutral, however, is not the same as being nonpartisan; the library can have a stance (being in favor of access to good information) without taking a political position.

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A tweet from the “Refuting the Idea of ‘Neutral'” panel

The Skokie Public Library started a Civic Lab to promote and facilitate citizen engagement by increasing awareness of issues, facilitating conversation, and providing access to quality information. They hoped to achieve several goals: to have patrons participate, not just passively consume; to offer more active, participatory experiences; and to have patrons engage with information so they feel confident and can make decisions based on that information. “We don’t want to get them to a particular point of view, we want them to have a point of view. If you have bad information, whoever gave you that information is making up your mind for you.”

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The Civic Lab is a pop-up event in the library four times a month, addressing topics planned in advance as well as those that are timely and topical . Library staff at the pop-up station facilitate discussion between patrons, and each pop-up has a banner, display crates, media, books, and an activity. They suggest having “multiple access points [e.g. reading, listening, viewing]….There isn’t a right way to engage, it’s whatever is comfortable for the patron.”

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How do we define “civic engagement”? Slide from Skokie.

Skokie also offers news discussion groups, which are scheduled events about quality news sources and how to navigate through the many news outlets. These cover news literacy in general as well as specific topics. They employ the reflective listening model for discussion.

There were also some good strategies for engaging kids and teens, from gamification (activities and questions that are more like trivia than quizzes) to clever program titles (“The media wants your brains” for teens). To get adults – patrons and staff alike – engaged, have them bring experiences from their own lives and family histories; “help people understand how much they can learn from each other.”

“The library is a place for difficult discourse.”

Programs like these can be equally inspiring and intimidating; you might want to do something similar in your library, but you’re already doing many other programs and displays. “Don’t add ‘civic engagement’ [on top of] everything you’re already doing,” the Skokie team suggested; rather, “Apply a civic engagement lens to what you’re already doing….Do a civic engagement audit of what you already offer.”

During the Q&A after the panel, someone asked, “How do you keep it to a discussion and not regurgitation of strongly entrenched opinions?” The Civic Lab team advised, “As a facilitator, restate what they’re saying and then ask to hear from someone else.” You can say, “You obviously believe this very strongly. How did you come to hold that belief, what are your sources? Tell me more, where can I find more information?” They said, “Opinions are fine, we want people to have informed opinions based on facts.”

“We want people to have informed opinions based on facts.”

For the final program of the day, I went to “The Information Needs of Citizens,” presented by Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center. Lee Rainie is a regular at library conferences; he is an excellent speaker, with excellent data which, it just so happens, supports the value of libraries. Although the country is experiencing “a crisis of truth, a crisis of trust, a crisis of democracy,” there are a few institutions and professionals that the public still trusts: librarians, teachers, and the military.

It’s no surprise that someone from a “fact tank” still believes that “facts matter.”

  • “Facts are the atomic unit of truth.”
  • “Facts drive outcomes for individuals and societies.”
  • “Facts underlie justice” – they are the cornerstone of democracy.
  • Facts are democratic. Facts are tied to trust – when trust grows, good things come from that. Trust in a culture binds people together, to overcome vulnerability and uncertainty. Trust cements interdependence.

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Librarians, Rainie said, are in the vanguard of people who are going to help us solve these problems. Libraries are a free, open, trusted institution for learning. Research shows that people are glad that libraries are still here and providing access to information, helping bridge the digital divide and navigate the information environment online, and serving people and communities and on issues like net neutrality.

Lee Rainie from Pew Research Center
Lee Rainie from the Pew Research Center with a slide about what people say they want/need from libraries and librarians

The next library will be built around five new insights:

  1. People seek personal enrichment and entertainment in new ways
  2. People seek knowledge and reference expertise in new ways (reference questions have gone down in number, but up in complexity)
  3. Some groups especially need and want access to technology through trusted institutions (library as tech hub, tech support, wifi)
  4. Learning is a social process, an ongoing process (learning happens in networks)
  5. Where they fit on these continuums (PDF: ALA’s Confronting the Future report) physical/virtual, individual/community focus, collection/creation, archive/portal, everything for everyone/specialized niche
Figure 1 from Confronting the Future report
Figure 1 from the ALA Confronting the Future Report

Rainie concluded, “A day spent with librarians is a better day.”

Catch up on the two previous PLA blog posts if you missed them, and stay tuned for one more.

PLA Conference 2018: Imagine the Possibilities

IMG_20180321_160127Despite “winter storm Toby,” PLA went more or less as planned. Over the next week or so, I’ll be condensing and revising my sixteen (16) pages of notes into a more easily readable, digestible format to share here, but for now, here is an outline of my conference activities:

Wednesday: Drove from the Boston area to Philly. Definitely not the worst weather conditions I’ve ever driven in, but bad enough to keep lots of people off the road, so no traffic! Arrived safely and in good time, checked in at the hotel, and went to the convention center to sign in and walk through the exhibit hall. Met some friendly vendors (especially from Charlesbridge and Candlewick), and picked up several Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs).

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Adult fiction and nonfiction

 

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YA and children’s

Thursday: Started bright and early with the morning’s “Big Ideas” talk, with author Elizabeth Gilbert. The exhibit hall opened up after her talk, and I was able to meet a few authors and pick up a few more galleys (Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead!). Then I caught a quick (20-minute) talk at the PLA Pavilion about “Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR): Play in the Library,” and – on the other side of the exhibit hall – caught part of the AAP Children’s Publishers Book Buzz, where we heard about upcoming titles.

For the first program of the day, I chose “Talking is Teaching: Opportunities for Increasing Early Brain and Language Development,” where we heard about a partnership between the San Francisco Public Library and Too Small to Fail. Then I zipped back into the exhibit hall to meet Simon Winchester and pick up his upcoming book, The Perfectionists. Lunch, and then the first afternoon program, “Push Comes to Shove: Supporting Patrons of Color in Your Institution.” At the break between that session and the next, I caught some of the AAP Adult Publishers Book Buzz. Finally – and this was the hardest time slot to choose a program, because so many looked so good – I went to “Lost in the Library? Never Again with User-Centered Design.”

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Friday: Another visit to the PLA Pavilion for a quick session on “Early Literacy Enhanced Storytimes: Intentionality is the Key,” then over to sit in on part of the Children’s Book Buzz. (I ran into an old acquaintance from publishing, Juliet Grames, who is now working for SoHo Teen!) The morning program I had planned to go to, “Re-envisioning the Library: Engaging Staff and Building Capacity for Change” with Maureen Sullivan had been cancelled, so I went to “The Path to U.S. Citizenship Can Start at Public Libraries” and learned about U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Following a tweet from NYPL Recommends, I went to visit Gwen and Frank to talk about books, and I might have been on a podcast. (Do you listen to NYPL Recommends? Let me know!) They were excellent to talk to (and they were handing out neat “The Librarian Is In” buttons). I grabbed a quick lunch from Reading Terminal, then sat on the floor to listen to some of the Adult Book Buzz before it was time for the afternoon programs: “Refuting the Idea of ‘Neutral’: Supporting Civic Engagement & Information in the Library” and “The Information Needs of Citizens: Where Libraries Fit In,” the latter with Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center.

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Saturday: Started the day early with the final “Big Ideas” speaker, Tim Wu, at 8:15. Two more sessions after that – “How to Adult: Teaching Life Skills to Teens” and “AAP Crossover Appeal: Books That Work for Teens and Adults” – and we were packed up and on the road back home.

IMG_20180322_203438Throughout the conference, I met library people from all over. I tried to strike up conversations everywhere, and met people from Grand Forks, North Dakota; Peterborough, New Hampshire; The Portland (ME) Public Library; Arkansas; New York (the Brooklyn Public Library and the NYPL); and Calgary, Canada. The Convention Center itself was also great: easy to navigate, pretty temperate (many conference centers are either overheated or like refrigerators), and full of art. And the section of Philly where it’s located is on that lovely, lovely grid, which makes it so easy to get around. Overall, a great conference!

Still here

It’s been a little while, but I’m still here. The last week and a half has been difficult because of a tragedy that occurred at the library. In the aftermath, everyone has been incredibly supportive: town officials, library administration, the local community, and the broader library community have all shown care and concern in different ways. Patrons left kind notes in the book drop while the library was closed, many people sent flowers or brought food, and a counselor has led coping groups and met with people individually.

In more pleasant news, I just wrote a long post about my favorite picture books for toddlers. And I just attended a singalong at the Cambridge Public Library for the first time and was inspired to make a song cube as a future storytime tool. (The song cube idea is stolen directly from my friend and colleague LB, a genius children’s librarian if there ever was one.) I actually had more songs that I wanted to include, but a cube only has six sides…I may need to make another one the next time we use up a box of tissues.

Song cube decoded: Turtle for “I had a little turtle, I named him Tiny Tim,” Rocket ship for “Zoom zoom zoom, we’re going to the moon,” Spider for “Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” Hand for “If you’re happy and you know it,” Teapot for “I’m a little teapot,” and ABC for the alphabet song. All pictures drawn freehand with marker and crayon, except the hand (traced my two-year-old’s hand).

I’m also very excited to be attending PLA for the first time this year. I’ve started combing more closely through the schedule, and realized that there are at least seven sessions that I want to attend in the same time slot on the same day. Where is Hermione’s Time Turner when you need it?

Questions for you, readers: (1) What are your favorite storytime inventions, songs, and books? And, (2) Are you going to PLA? Which sessions are you excited about?

 

New year, new look (and ALA YMA!)

After several years (long enough that the theme I’d been using, Misty Lake, was retired), I’ve chosen a new WordPress theme to have an updated look. (In real life, I also got a haircut, new glasses frames, and a new job. So. Changes.) Please let me know if something isn’t working the way it should!

As part of my new job, I get to work in Children’s Services, and I am loving it! I am “upstairs” at the adult services desk most of the time, but I work “downstairs” in children’s once a week. Neither desk is as busy as the library where I worked before, which is nice for me as I learn on the job. So far, projects have included cataloguing the storytime collection and organizing and updating booklists by topic/theme/genre and age/grade/reading level. (I’m making booklists “upstairs” too – read-alikes for book group selections.)

There are definitely some different questions in children’s, and some of them are much more serious and emotional than any I encountered working at the adult desk; for example, twice in less than two months I’ve helped people find books to help explain death and grief to their young children. I’m also working hard to familiarize myself with books for younger readers, particularly the chapter books and early middle grade books. A self-assigned project I’m working on is to read all of the 2017/2018 Reading Rocks books, a program for fourth- and fifth-graders in the town. (I made a new tag for it in LibraryThing; I’ve read 5 out of 20 so far.)

Big news in the children’s/YA world today is, of course, the ALA Youth Media Awards (YMA), including the Newbery, the Caldecott, and the Printz. The live stream of the announcement was here, and the award and honor books are listed below the video. As usual after the announcements, I celebrate the titles I read and enjoyed (this year: A Different Pond, Piecing Me Together, The Hate U Give, Saints & Misfits, The Eyes of the World) and start requesting those I haven’t (Wolf in the Snow; Hello, Universe; Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut; Long Way Down; The First Rule of Punk; We Are Okay).

Did you watch the ALA Youth Media Awards? Which winners did you cheer? Are there any books you wish had gotten awards or honors that didn’t? Which books have you added to your to-read list?

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Goodbye, Misty Lake theme. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

2017 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Previously: 2016 year-end reading wrap-up | 2015 year-end reading wrap-up | 2014 year-end reading wrap-up | 2013 year-end reading wrap-up

Number of books read in 2017: 240

Number of reviews by month
Number of reviews by month (2017)

Audiobooks: 15, mostly children’s and YA, and including three of the partially-read books (though one of those was a Neil Gaiman short story that I realized I’d already read in another collection)

Nonfiction: 34, including a couple of nonfiction picture books and a few of the partially-read books. Also, one entire book about compost.

YA/children’s (middle grade) books read: 31

Picture books: 104, including an unspeakable amount of Maisy

Partially read books: 16, including a few cookbooks and gardening books (i.e. not necessarily designed to be read cover-to-cover)

Books read in 2017, excluding picture books and partially read books: 120

Average number of books read per month (excluding picture books and partially read books): 10

Five-star ratings: 13

Total page count: Too damn annoying to calculate from LibraryThing exports. A lot.

Author Gender pie chart
Author Gender pie chart from LibraryThing: now a definite majority of my authors (nearly 54%) is female, while 46% is male.

Looking ahead (well, further into) 2018, I haven’t set any specific goals and am not participating in any challenges.* Some of my favorite authors are publishing new books this year, and I’m looking forward to those, of course – Gayle Forman, Maggie O’Farrell, Jo Walton, Curtis Sittenfeld. Like last year, I’m aiming to read even more in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks area, for myself and for the little one. (Lately, she’s really liked Jabari Jumps, Thunder Boy Jr., and A Different Pond.)

Books that have been recommended to me by more than one person (triangulation: not just for fact-checking anymore!) usually move up on my to-read list. I’ve already made a dent in the to-read list I made in November: I’ve read Fun Home, The Hate U Give, Rebecca; I have Far From the Tree checked out from the library, and my book club just chose The Bear and the Nightingale for February. (I have the cape, I make the whoosh noises! Note: that’s a link to a Cyanide & Happiness cartoon panel.)

*Okay, not entirely true: I do plan to read all of the “Reading Rocks” books [PDF] for the 4th- and 5th-graders in Winchester, where I am now working. Proper blog post about this change to come! So far I’ve really liked Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier and am listening to the excellent audiobook of Stella By Starlight.

I do occasionally read things other than books, though I don’t get credit for it in LibraryThing: most days I read at least one article from The New York Times, and most weeks I read a few pieces from the LitHub (“the best of the literary internet”) email newsletter. I read most of the Library Link of the Day links, and occasionally will find a good piece in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, or somewhere else (Teen Vogue!) via Twitter or Publishers Lunch.

So that’s the 2017 wrap-up. How was your year in books?

Favorite books read in the second half of 2017

Here we are, nearly halfway through January, and I’ve finally made my list of favorite books that I read in the second half of last year. (See favorites from the first half of 2017.)

There’s really no need to confine it to a list of ten, is there? Here are some books I really enjoyed over the second half of 2017.

Children’s/Teen (not picture books, that will have to be a whole separate post, there are SO MANY GOOD ONES, this truly is a golden age of picture books)

All the Bright Places and Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (audiobooks): Really top-notch realistic teen fiction set in normal high schools. These kids aren’t as clever and quippy as John Green characters; they’re damaged and struggling, but they find and help each other. Reminded me a bit of Cammie McGovern (Say What You Will).

Cover image of The Girl Who Drank the MoonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (audiobook): Pure, perfect fairytale/fantasy, truly inventive. Every character has their reasons for doing what they do, good and bad. Magical.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (audiobook): A prose poem that is easy to listen to, the story of a young girl who leaves Vietnam with her family (sans missing father) and arrives as a refugee in the American South. Full of imagery, and all the feelings that come from being different in a new place.

The Someday Suitcase by Corey Ann Haydu: I requested this book with trepidation, as a review mentioned Bridge to Terabithia. That comparison is not inaccurate – consider yourself warned.

Cover image of Tumble and BlueTumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley: Tumble doesn’t believe in curses – until she meets Blue and his family. Beasley (Circus Mirandus) creates an entirely different type of magic in this book: two families, blessed and cursed, vie for a special blessing under a red moon in a place called Muddy Branch.

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford: I adore Greenglass House and everything about the world of Nagspeake that Milford has created; Ghosts is no exception.

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore: I read this genre-infused, Choose Your Own Adventure-style novel over the course of three or four days, and it got so thoroughly into my head and my imagination that I thought about it even while I was sleeping. Very different from Graceling but no less brilliant.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green: Just finished reading this a second time, actually. Quite possibly one of the best ways to better understand what it’s like to have a mental illness, and also a really good book. I loved the (unusual, for YA) epilogue-type ending.

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman: Immensely satisfying. I could spend forever (or at least ten years) in Lyra’s Oxford. Can’t wait for the next volume.

Adult Fiction

When the English Fall by David Williams: An Amish man’s journal entries of a period of time including some type of disaster that wipes out all of our “English” conveniences: electricity, engines, etc. A few English join the Amish, and others protect them, but the community doesn’t want violence done on its behalf.

Among Others by Jo Walton: When I finished this book, I realized that very little had happened, and yet I loved it. Technically a fantasy novel (a witch, fairies, magic), the whole thing is a love letter to sci-fi, and librarians.

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: A blurb compared this to Jane Austen, and I scoffed, but actually…it’s sort of like Jane Austen meets the first season of Downton Abbey, with a bit of Maggie O’Farrell (The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox) thrown in. A small English town becomes more and more affected by the Great War, first taking in refugees, then losing its own men.

Cover image of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: This is such a brilliant title (if you have to say you’re fine, you’re obviously not) and I loved the cover too. Awkward, cranky, pedantic Eleanor narrates her story of being in the world, a rigidly circumscribed existence due to past traumas, as her routine begins to break down and she forms relationships with other people.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: Five perspectives on a Clinton/Lewinsky-type political scandal in South Florida; marvelously, pointedly feminist without sacrificing anything of character or plot. Zevin is great.

The Power by Naomi Alderman: What happens when women become physically stronger than men? (Hint: not a utopia.) A thought experiment with several narrators’ perspectives. Really, really thought-provoking and at times truly visceral.

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines: A time-travel road trip through American history, with our heroes pursued by terrifying faceless men, all searching for the physical manifestation of the American Dream. Fun!

 

Nonfiction

Cover image of All These WondersThe Moth Presents All These Wonders: I’m not a devoted listener to The Moth podcast, but these stories are amazing even on paper. There’s not a dud in the bunch, and in a collection with this many stories, that’s saying something.

Mama Tried by Emily Flake: So funny, so true, so disgusting. A chronicle of pregnancy, childbirth, and the early days of parenting, all in a quick graphic novel format. The author, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, lives in Brooklyn, a.k.a. hipster/yuppie-parent ground zero.

Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado: This was on the Arlington Reads Together (a.k.a. Community Read) shortlist, and it got my vote. A straightforward personal story of what it’s like to live at, under, or near the poverty line. If you can read this and not be convinced that we need a better social safety net – particularly better protection for workers, and high-quality universal health care – well then…read it again.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen: A thoughtful analysis of ten different modes of “unruliness,” as represented by eleven different women in the public eye. A forceful refutation of the myths that sexism isn’t still powerful and that feminism is no longer necessary.

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein: A recommendation from an extremely well-read and music-loving friend encouraged me to pick up this memoir about Brownstein’s childhood, adolescence, and life in Sleater-Kinney (Portlandia fans, be warned: the show is mentioned only once). I had “Dig Me Out” and “One More Hour” stuck in my head for days.

So – what were your favorite books of the year? Keeping in mind, of course, that none of us have read All the Books and our opinions are subjective (see this thoughtful, funny piece from The Cardiff Review on “best of year” lists).