Friday, May 20, 2016

Let's Zine About It!

Despite not being as prolific a zine-maker as my peers, I’ve been making zines for nearly a decade, and my mother and aunt still forget how to pronounce the word (like “magazine” without the “maga”), but I think they understand what zines are—hand-made pamphlets or “mini-books” or, if we go along with the idea of a magazine, imagine that by dropping the “maga,” you drop all of the superficial gloss, the hierarchy, the advertisers that twist your original voice, content, and intent into a game of survival for mass appeal.

Zines can contain anything from art to poems to collective histories to recipes and other do-it-yourself tips to ... REALLY ANYTHING. A zine can be about as much as everything or nothing that the zine-maker desires. A zine can be any size or any length or make use of different materials, although your basic 8.5x11 sheet of paper folded in half is the most common.

Making a zine can be a radical act even if the zine is about Taco Bell or haikus about your cat because in a world where everything is literally within the click of button and a few keystrokes, putting something in print still matters. That’s why zines attract a diverse group of makers and readers of all ages, backgrounds, and interests. And now you can access a small collection of zines at Richmond Public Library!

The RPL Zine Collection is currently housed in Ready Reference at the Main Branch, but they can be checked out and returned to the circulation counter at any of the branches.  All 78 issues are fully searchable via the library catalog.

1.  Go to the library website at Perform a keyword search for "zine."

2. Browse the listing of zines. Each zine has been given a number starting with 101. If you spot one that interests you, click on the title in blue.

3. Once you click on the title, you'll see the following holding information. The zine number (in this case ZINE 176) is what you'll need when you request the zine for check-out.

4. To learn what the zine is about, you'll want to click on "Catalog Record." As you can see, this particular zine published in Richmond, VA, is one where you'll be sure to read some poems related to summer and self-discovery.

All of the zines currently in the RPL Zine Collection were donated at the 9th Annual Richmond Zine Fest in 2015. Thanks to supportive librarians at the full-day event, several zine exhibitors were thrilled to donate zines, so RPL could establish a zine collection that would allow library patrons to experience what zines can be and maybe even be inspired to make some of their own! Read some of the zines that were available last year, and join us for another free event where artists and writers will have their zines available for purchase, trades, or in some cases for free! This year, Richmond Zine Fest will be at the Main Branch of Richmond Public Library with exhibitors tabling all day Saturday, October 1st.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Too Soon? Check out the latest in 90s Nostalgia

How does this picture make you feel?

Alice & Oliver
by Charles Bock

This book is so chock full of 90s references reading it was like getting stomped into a puddle of Crystal Pepsi by a pair of Doc Martens in a mosh pit. In sort of the same way, it's an intensely raw and intimate portrayal of a young family's struggle with Leukemia. Drawn from Charles Bock's own experiences, the titular Alice is diagnosed with Leukemia shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Doe. The novel takes the reader deep inside Alice and Oliver's lives as they try to hold it together while navigating a healthcare nightmare and a terrible illness. In some ways, the often brutal, and fairly graphic, depictions of Alice's treatment and deteriorating physical condition, and the toll the disease takes on their relationship, reminds me of reading A Little Life--it can be a tough read but the personal connection to Bock's characters makes it worthwhile. It's an emotional roller coaster loaded with with 90s high technology and New York life.

Every Anxious Wave
by Mo Daviau

Karl Bender is an aging 90s rocker with a bar in Chicago and a few loyal barflys to keep him company. He also has a homemade time machine in his bedroom closet. He sends paying music lovers back in time to catch whatever legendary performances they always wished they could have seen. REM in Athens in before they were huge? Sure! Missed that one Sebadoh show? No problem. Until one day he accidentally sends Wayne, the guy who built his time machine, back to 980 instead of 1980 where he gets stuck and can't return. Karl finds an astrophysicist at the University to help him get Wayne back, and accidentally falls in love. This book is just downright fun. It's a touching, quirky-cute, time-traveling apocalyptic weird science romance with so much 90s music nostalgia you'll feel like you're backstage at a Pavement show.

by Rainbow Rowell

If you love Rainbow Rowell, you'll probably love this book. If you were a teenager in the 90s and you read YA, you'll probably really love this book. It's romantic YA for adults who get nostalgic over how their teenage romances played out over long and twisted phone cords, and it's really funny. Like Every Anxious Wave, this is also a time-traveling romance, or perhaps it's more of an inter-dimensional romance.
TV writer Georgie is having trouble in her marriage. She cancels on yet another trip to visit her husband's folks over the holidays. Fed up, he packs up the kids and goes anyway. She stumbles on a way to communicate with her husband's past self using the rotary phone in her childhood bedroom. What better vehicle than a landline to transport us to our pre-iPhone teenage selves?

I hear Clearly Canadian is coming back, you guys. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Get carried away with historical fiction

Us Conductors by Sean Michaels

A couple of months ago Clara Rockmore was featured as the Google Doodle and it got me thinking about this book and how easy it is to get so swept up in historical fiction that you either A) forget that it's fiction, or B) forget that the characters in the fictional account were actually real, or perhaps some combination of A and B resulting in completely losing your grip on reality and slipping through the looking glass. Hasn't that happened to you? Anyway, historical fiction can be powerful stuff, approach with caution.

Winner of the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Us Conductors is the captivating fictional account of real Russian scientist, spy, and inventor of the theremin, Lev Termen (Leon Theremin) and his muse, electronic music pioneer Clara Rockmore. The story, told through correspondence and flashbacks, speculates about Termen's unrequieted love for Rockmore, and the circumstances surrounding his return to the Soviet Union. Once I finished this beautiful book I couldn't let the story go,  so I immersed myself in YouTube videos and audio recordings of Lev and Clara playing the theremin. Clara Rockmore was a classical violin prodigy from Lithuania. Suffering from tendonitis she was forced to give up her beloved instrument, but was later introduced by Termen to his invention: an electronic musical instrument controlled by gesture. She helped refine the instrument, and defined it as an art form, becoming its most prominent performer. I've included a couple of the videos to pique your curiosity.

The Anchoress 
by Robyn Cadwallader

The Anchoress is the fictional account of a (probably fictional) anchoress in 1255 named Sarah. What's an anchoress? Good question! Until a patron recommended this book to me, I admit that I didn't have a clue. Then I did some googling. In Medieval Europe, an anchorite was a religious recluse, someone who would lock themselves away, denying themselves all but the very minimum required for survival. They felt that through complete solitude and denial of all earthly pleasures they were "hanging on the cross with Christ". They would be enclosed for the rest of their lives in a tiny cell adjoined to a church and were a symbol of piety and a source of comfort for their communities, living out their days in contemplative prayer. Author Robyn Cadwallader takes the reader into Sarah's time and culture, her tiny cell, and delves deep into her mind and motivations.
An anchorites' cell in England
In an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald the author describes a point in her PhD research into the life of Saint Margaret: "I came across this word 'anchoress', wondered what it was, started to read a bit more and was absolutely horrified, fascinated, really thought it was just a terrible, terrible thing," she says. "I just kept reading and in a way, it wasn't essential to the thesis, but I was so fascinated by it that I just kept reading." That's what I'm talking about.

Looking for more? Check out Thomas Mallon's recent, well-reviewed Finale: A Novel of The Reagan Years, or The Revenant by Michael Punke (I could go on all day). You'll enjoy exploring the real people or events behind these marvelous fictional tales as much as the tales themselves.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

It's International Dublin Literary Award Time!

Behold! The Richmond Public Library Nominees for the International Dublin Literary Award!

It's time once again to nominate a few good books for the International Dublin Literary Award. Since we've already sung the praises of our three nominees for The Award on this blog, I thought I would recommend some "readalikes" for our picks to you. The thing about books like these, the books that stand out as completely outstanding, award-worthy, one-of-a-kind and all that, is that they can be tough to compare to anything else. For A Little Life, I would look for other literary novels featuring complex characters, friendship and love, haunting secrets, abuse and trauma. A search for "five-star, gut-punchingly sad, haunt-you-forever, fiction" not surprisingly does not compute, and looking under subject headings like Families--Fiction, Bildungsromans, and Domestic Fiction just doesn't quite cover it. As I mentioned in an earlier review, Yanagihara's second, and thus far most massive melancholy masterpiece, is a bit of a tough sell when people ask me for a personal recommendation, even though it is easily one of the best books I've ever read. Maybe if I just hand a box of tissues over with the book people will get the idea.
So much tissue.
Anyway, NoveList to the rescue! This neat service ties in with our OPAC to deliver you the kind of nuanced "appeal terms" normal people (read: not librarians?) might use to describe the "feel" of books, from now on referred to as BookFeel™*. Search iBistro for a favorite book, click on the entry and scroll down to see what terms NoveList uses to characterize books, and what they might suggest for you to read next. Example:
All of these things appeal to me.

While you decide whether or not you can handle the agonizing beauty that is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, check out the much slimmer I Refuse by Per Petterson (2014), Did You Ever Have a Family (2015) by Bill Clegg, and Aquarium (2015) by David Vann. These each share much of the same BookFeel and are thematically kin, with a heavy emphasis on "heart wrenching".

While you wait for The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, try The Lowland (2013) Jhumpa Lahiri and Dust (2014) by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. NoveList uses the following BookFeel to characterize The Fishermen:

  • Character-driven
  • Haunting, Atmospheric
  • Lyrical
I would not have immediately come up with The Lowland to pair with The Fishermen but after examining the relative BookFeel I would score this comparison a 3.9 out of 5 on my completely arbitrary personal scale. 

The Sympathizer is seriously not to miss, but also be sure to pick up Dragonfish (2015) by Vu Tran, and All our Names (2014) by Dinaw Mengestu.

BookFeel for The Sympathizer:

  • Character-driven
  • Leisurely paced
  • Sardonic, Moving, Bleak
  • Stylistically Complex, Compelling 
You had me at sardonic. 

A side note, these are my personal picks for a Sympathizer readalike because NoveList recommended Purity by Jonathan Franzen and Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya, neither of which I wanted to second. (I just didn't really like them, OK?) While Dragonfish and All Our Names are quite different in style and narrator, both are highly original fiction dealing with identity and immigration, secrets, and cultural historical touchstones experienced from multiple perspectives.
Also: Whatever, Franzen.

*Bookfeel is a word (I think I might have) made up to describe the appeal of a book. See also: Mouthfeel, a word I hate because it is gross. Ew.
It's like you've known me forever, iBistro. 
Before you run off, check out the Dublin shortlist of nominees for the 2016 award. You'll see a few blog favorites on the list, and a few more you might enjoy.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Authors, R.I.P.

It’s an odd thing to say, and I don’t feel entirely comfortable saying it, but you could do a lot worse for book recommendations than the obituary page of any major newspaper. It’s hard admitting that the best thing a writer could do to get my attention is to stop writing forever, but there it is. Obituaries have introduced me to Leonard Michaels, to Muriel Spark and Beryl Bainbridge. In fact, it’s possible the New York Times obituary page has done more to populate my bookshelf than the Book Review.

Obituaries seem tailor-made to get you to start reading, including as they do not only titles but an author’s biography, their place in history, the general reception of their work, their interests and controversies, who they influenced and who influenced them. And if a writer isn’t winning awards or publishing now, or if they never wrote an instant-classic, it can be hard to stumble across them. Some writers retire, some simply go where the zeitgeist does not, and it takes an article buried in a newspaper’s obituary file to raise a flag. On October 2, 1891 New Yorkers read this over breakfast, and undoubtedly some had their curiosity piqued:

“There has died and been buried in this city, during the current week, at an advanced age, a man who is so little known, even by name, to the generation now in the vigor of life that only one newspaper contained an obituary account of him, and this was but of three or four lines. Yet forty years ago the appearance of a new book by Herman Melville was esteemed a literary event, not only throughout his own country, but so far as the English-speaking race extended.”

Obituaries are also useful for recommendations even if the writer is already world famous. Harper Lee’s obituary appeared in February this year. You may have already read To Kill a Mockingbird, but the Times obituary references William Dean Howells, Flannery O’Connor, and Truman Capote. It quotes Lee as saying, “In other words, all I want to be is the Jane Austen of South Alabama.” To understand that you’d have to go read Jane Austen. (This week the Times published obituaries on Arnold Wesker, a playwright, and James Cross Giblin, a children’s author.)

Gore Vidal called Truman Capote’s death “a good career move.” Snark aside, the author’s death is an important step in the life of her work. While a writer lives, she can take a pencil to any of her words, but after death, her work is cast and set. For the uninitiated reader stumbling upon an obituary, however, that work is only just beginning to grow and blossom.

So, if you’re looking for a good book: 1.) ask a librarian; 2.) read the obits. That might be where your librarian is getting their recommendations from in the first place.