Sunday, September 27, 2009

Drinkers, watchers & listeners' advisory

Although I've been quiet recently, I assure you I have been reading. I'm at work on Tessa Dare's Goddess of the Hunt and Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (two genres--romance and mystery--I haven't tried to tackle here yet).

While I was home sick with a cold this week, I noticed on the back of my Twinings ceylon orange pekoe tea box "If you enjoy Twinings Ceylon Orange Pekoe Tea, we recommend that you try English Afternoon Tea or Prince of Wales Tea." What a brilliant marketing idea! Keep people coming back by suggesting what to consume next from a position of authority (derived from individuals like librarians, brands like Twinings, computer systems, or a combination).

This got me thinking of other Readers' Advisory-like services outside the world of books. Pandora and iTunes Genius do it for music. And Netflix does it for movies, although not very well, I think. (Though they just announced the winner of $1 million prize competition to improve its recommendation matrix and began a second competition for an even better system.)

Yet these are all primarily computer based. I suppose a sommelier is a kind of human corollary. Librarians, too, can use databases like Fiction Connection or NoveList for RA support. But it is refreshing to see everyday counterparts to RA, a concept that can be so intimidating because it seems so ephemeral and personal yet is also complex and codified.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Readers' advisory & series

I just returned from a vacation to Seattle and realized I brought two sequels with me to read. I think I was, however consciously, looking for things I knew I would like and that would be an easy read.

I finished Jordan Summers' Scarlet (book 2 of her Dead World series, which began with Red), and I started Suzanne Collins's Catching Fire (book 2 in her Hunger Games trilogy) on the trip. I have to say, I think I would write up Red and Scarlet differently in an RAview or annotation/shelf-talker. Scarlet seemed to use a more paranormal romance construction (a new couple, a periphery and a nonexistent character from the last book, get the longest, final sex scene), and the fear and tension weren't as palpable to me as in the first book. Catching Fire does not have the shock and tension present from the very beginning simply because of the premise of Hunger Games. (More later.)

Do RA librarians generally recommend a series or simply a title or two from it? I know I read somewhere (likely in Joyce Saricks' Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library) that readers' advisors should recommend the best title in the series rather than the first. This seems problematic to me. First, in my personal efforts trying to pick what to read next, it seems near impossible to figure out which book is the best (although librarians do have more knowledge and resources than me). Also, some series can be entered at various points (especially mysteries, I'd think) and others will loose a lot without background. But publishers seem somewhat reluctant to sell things as series titles, probably because they want to attract new readers, which can make finding the first in a series while browsing in a bookstore or library really hard. And, let's face it, not everyone will take the time to ask their bookseller/librarian.

All in all, I'm somewhat baffled. I need to pick up an RA book on a specific fiction genre, which may help. In closing, here is a post on a fun book blog from Entertainment Weekly, Shelf Life, in which the blogger wants to skip ahead in Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series (on which True Blood is based). The adamant, exclamatory comments are the best.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

RAview: Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters is a character-driven novel that explores six years of Nancy's new adult life as a lesbian in 1880s England.

Although Nancy narrates in past tense, she presents her experiences like she felt them--we only understand her feelings by descriptions of how she felt her throat tighten or her heart beat out of her chest. It's a leisurely paced novel that follows her experiences closely, skipping weeks or months only when she falls into a routine that would pass in one's memory similarly quickly. As Nancy takes in surroundings as she moves to drastically different situations after leaving home for London, readers get all the details of her environment and personal (often sexual) understanding of herself. Nancy is sympathetic but flawed and inadvertently cruel to other people in her life at times. The other characters are all presented through her experiential lens, so they are generally only of temporary interest and not always entirely fleshed out for the reader.

Settings are evoked with rich, descriptive detail--the oyster restaurant/shabby home in which Nancy grew up on the Kentish coastline, London theater life, the poor and filthy Dead Meat Market neighborhood with blood literally running in the streets, wealthy "Sapphist" lady society, burgeoning Socialism and outreach to exploited workers. The language is fairly nondescript, save the evocative use of period vocabulary ("tom"-a derogatory term for a lesbian, "trousers," "gay girls"-prostitutes, "spit black"-eye makeup).

The tone is difficult for me to identify because it changes so much throughout Nancy's story. Overall, I suppose it's nostalgic, a little sad, exciting, feelings of discovery and understanding. Storyline elements include sex (and it's not shy, so this isn't for anyone who is squeamish about gay lovin'), theater, outward appearances vs. reality, coming of age, self-discovery, youthful journey, harsh reality, class differences, discrimination.

Although I read these two books as a teen and don't have a great memory, when trying to come up with readalikes I'd look at Emma Donoghue (I read Slammerkin, although What Should I Read Next? recommends Life Mask) and Lisa Carey (I read The Mermaids Singing and distinctly remember it as one of those youthful "whoa sex!" moments). Maybe Cristina Garcia's Dreaming in Cuban, if a little more literary flair or lyrical style doesn't bother you. Other ideas? And tell me if I'm off base because I'm really reaching here!