Key Changes: New Quirky Music

I love ordering the music CDs for the library – getting the inside scoop on all the new albums coming out is great fun for me. The only thing I like better is sharing the cool new music with other people! Today I’ve got another two albums, recently ordered for the library, which give us a great opportunity to think about how the artist’s work has changed and matured over the course of their career.

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana Del Rey is another unique installment in already unusual body of work. Her music is hard to classify in my mind, with old Americana glamour (think 1950s and 1960s) fatalistically described in hypnotic, narcotic vocals. I’ve heard it described as a red rose smoking a cigarette. Another word people use is “sadcore”, which describes a moodier, alternative musical style featuring depressive themes, bleak lyrics, and/or downbeat melodies. It’s perfect music for thinking about doomed love or the flaws in the American dream. She has continually evolved over the course of her career: her first album, Born to Die, was a breakout hit, heavy with American nostalgia but influenced by hip-hop and indie pop. A subsequent album, Ultraviolence, was more guitar-based, sounding like psychedelic or desert rock, and was followed by Honeymoon, which had a thick, crooning sound that felt like a time warp, according to one reviewer. Her next album, Lust for Life, was for her fans, and it was followed by her biggest success, Norman Fucking Rockwell, which delved deep into twisted and sordid American fantasies and was called “massive and majestic” by reviewers. In Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, she has created a spoken word album, putting a series of original poems over musical accompaniment. Another studio album is anticipated in early 2021, titled Chemtrails over the Country Club.

Love Goes by Sam Smith is another artist that I’ve always felt stands apart from the crowd. They first rose to fame in 2012 and 2013 performing on other artists’ tracks, before releasing their first studio album In the Lonely Hour in 2014. This album rocketed to the top of the charts and won them 4 Grammy awards. They continued to release individual tracks, including Writing’s On The Wall, a very atmospheric song for a James Bond film in 2015, Promises with Calvin Harris, and Dancing with a Stranger with Normani. In 2017 they released a second studio album, The Thrill of It All, which was also a big success, especially the lead single Too Good At Goodbyes. This third album features another string of wildly successful singles including How Do You Sleep, To Die For, and I’m Ready with Demi Lovato. The beauty of Smith’s music is that it has grown increasingly personal and intimate over the course of their career; In The Lonely Hour had a crooner, R&B sound that was familiar, though extremely catchy, and the lyrics told age-old stories of love and loss reminiscent of music by Adele. With The Thrill of It All and subsequent singles, Smith became more vulnerable, putting more personal truth into their songs and developing a more meditative, unique sound. This album promises to be the most authentic record yet, featuring tracks that already popular as well as new unknown songs. Early reviews are positive, saying that with this album Smith celebrates freedom and self-expression in a way they haven’t before.

What Should I Read Next? Resources From Your Library (Part 2)

Continuing the theme of ways you can discover your next read, today I’m highlighting two databases the library offers — free to use with your library card.

NOVELIST

NoveList is a popular book discovery platform used by many libraries. To access it, go to our website, then under Research Tools, click on Online Resources (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

This will bring you to an alphabetized list of all our library databases. Scroll down to the “N”s, and you’ll find NoveList (Fig. 2). It may ask you to sign in with your library card.

Fig. 2

This tool is powerful because it not only lets you search titles, authors, and genres, but it also provides lists of recommended titles and an “appeal mixer” search tool that lets you look for books based on attributes like writing style, pace, storyline, characters, and more (Fig. 3). The downside of NoveList is that its lists of books aren’t always comprehensive and the appeal mixer doesn’t work with all combinations. Also, you will have to take any book title you get from NoveList and put it into the catalog to find it or put it on hold. I recommend trying NoveList as a way to discover books you might like and explore what makes books appealing.

Fig. 3

 

GALE BOOKS AND AUTHORS

Gale Books and Authors is another database you have access to with your library card, and it’s listed in the same place as NoveList  (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

In my opinion, this is a slightly more powerful and useful tool for searching for books. It provides an advanced search function, the ability to browse by genres, authors, or by book lists (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2

It includes both fiction and nonfiction in several genres, and provides for a very useful set of subgenres as well. The only problem I had with the genre browsing was that it didn’t seem to provide for literary or general fiction, sticking very strongly to genres. You can’t search by subgenres either, until you’ve picked a genre from their limited list (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3

In this way the advanced search function can be a useful workaround, because it lets you search for books featuring certain subjects or certain types of characters – under which is a very impressive list of many ages, occupations, and relationships (Fig. 4). However, you still can’t put items on hold directly, and the lists of books aren’t necessarily comprehensive either. I recommend this resource for a more detailed search for authors or titles you may be interested in.


Fig. 4

Great Podcasts: Storytelling

To be honest, I’m notoriously fickle when it comes to podcasts. I can’t seem to remember to listen to them, because I just haven’t figured out how to work them into my everyday routine. But I know it’s a great medium with a lot of die-hard fans, so I keep trying, and there are a few I really like, even if I’m nowhere near caught up on any of them. The Adventure Zone, which you might remember my recommending in an earlier post, is a big one. Two other podcasts, which I’ll share with you today, both revolve around history, sharing little-known facts and crafting interesting narratives out of them. Quick disclaimer: I’ve only listened to bits of these, so I can’t vouch for all the content they contain. You may know lots more about podcasts than I do – and if you do, please share your tips and recommendations in the comments! These podcasts are available on their own websites, as well as Spotify, iTunes, and other podcast platforms.

The Myths and Legends Podcast

This podcast is about what it sounds like: each episode, the host tells a different story from the realms of myths and legends. Some of the stories he shares are little-known myths from countries around the world, and sometimes he shares the original myth behind a now-famous story like Aladdin or Mulan. He tells the story in a conversational and engaging way, with modern asides, and each episode also features a profile of a different mythical creature, which may or may not be drawn from that episode’s main story. Sometimes the stories are funny, sometimes they’re gruesome or tragic, but for me they’re always intriguing, entertaining, and I always learn something new. If you like myths, legends, fairy tales, fantasy, or Disney, you may like this podcast.

The British History Podcast

Again, the name is fairly self-explanatory. The host takes on the massive job of telling the story of Britain’s history — from the beginning. The VERY beginning. Starting from its most ancient roots, he tells the story of the individuals, groups, and events that drove British history forward. Like the Myths and Legends podcast, the stories are explained in modern terms and delivered in a straightforward, conversational style. I really like the way he makes historical people relatable, fascinating, and sympathetic, bridging the huge gap of centuries between them and us. If you’re an Anglophile like me, or just a history buff, this may be a good podcast for you.

Hidden Database Gems: Chilton Auto Repair

Once upon a time, there were big fat books in the library with CHILTON written on the side. You could come into the library and use these books to find any information you might need about repairing or maintaining your vehicle. Sadly, due to changes in publishing and library budgets, not many of these books are still on library shelves. But never fear, that information is not gone, it’s just moved online!

Your library card gets you free access to the Chilton Auto Repair database where all that repair and maintenance information is recorded and easily accessible. Here’s how it works: first, from our website, look under Research Tools and click on Online Resources.

Scroll down this list to the “C”s, and click on Chilton Auto Repair. You may be asked to enter your library card number. Once you’ve logged in, the homepage will look like this:

Select your vehicle by year, make, and model and click Select. Then choose what category of information you’re looking for: Repair, Maintenance, Labor Estimating, or Bulletins/Recalls. From here, you can continue to narrow down the categories until you find the information you’re looking for.

This database is very useful because it includes not only downloadable and printable diagrams but also step-by-step repair procedures, a labor estimating tool, and ASE test prep quizzes for popular certification exams. If you’re looking for robust vehicle repair and maintenance information, I definitely recommend you check out this database!

What Should I Read Next? Resources From Your Library (Part 1)

Chances are, at one point or another you’ve found yourself at a loss for what to read next. With browsing time still limited at our branches, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you of the various ways the library provides for you to explore what your next read should be. I’ve tested all of them and want to share with you the features and effectiveness of each of them.  First up, I’m going to go over the benefits and hidden magics of the catalog. You may not know some of the very powerful ways to narrow down your search on this page, or to find similar things. If you’re interested in a detailed description, see below.

The benefits of the catalog search is that it lets you easily find titles similar to ones you already like, as well as what’s new, and it lets you narrow your search based on many different filters and criteria, including whether we own it at our Davenport Library locations. And, of course, you can put items on hold directly from the catalog interface, which saves you a step as you’ll see in future posts about other resources. I recommend the catalog for semi-directed browsing or for looking for very specific materials..

To get to our catalog: go to our website and type a search term in the box on the top right-hand side of the page (Fig. 1). You can enter any search term you like and you’ll be redirected to our catalog website (Fig. 2) to narrow it down and browse your results.

Fig. 1

First,  check out the filters in the left-hand column. Here, you can narrow your search by subject, author, format, the target audience, which libraries own it, and more. If you search a general term (“romance”, “murder”) these filters can help you create a narrow list of possible titles you’d be interested in.

Fig. 2

Another way you can find books you’d like is to search a book you know you like, and when it comes up in the catalog, click “details” on the right-hand side. From this page (Fig. 3), you should see a list of blue subject headings. If you click on one of these you can see other titles that are labeled with the same subject.

Fig. 3

You can also scroll down the “details” page of a book you like to a section that says “Suggestions and More” (Fig. 4). This links to the website Goodreads and will show you similar books you might like.

Fig. 4

If you’d just like to see what’s new, click on the library logo (top of the page) at any time to be taken to our catalog’s main webpage. Here, our on-order and new materials are highlighted for you to browse.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Let’s be honest: this post is more of a love letter to Fredrik Backman than it is about just his newest title. But to be fair, Anxious People is a good example of what makes Backman such an amazing writer.

In Anxious People, a desperate bank robber flees from the police into the first available door in the first available building: an apartment showing where seven people and a realtor have gathered to examine the property. The hostage drama only lasts a few hours, but afterwards, the bank robber is nowhere to be found and nothing will ever quite be the same.

My experience reading Backman has taught me to expect three things from a book by him: lots of unexpected humor about the absurdity of everyday life, deeply empathetic descriptions of each and every character’s personality and circumstances, and tears of heartbreak for senseless tragedies. The first is what draws you into a Backman book in the first place; the sense that you’re at a very gentle comedy club. The second is what keeps you reading: a sudden and deep attachment to the characters which makes you anxious for their wellbeing. To be honest, it took me a few books to catch onto the last one, so be warned: you will probably cry reading Backman. But don’t worry, it’s worth it. In some ways, Backman’s books are acts of catharsis: by experiencing the highs and lows of these ordinary people’s lives, you see the truth of what living is like for all of us (including beauty, pain, frustration, and tedium), and hopefully come to terms with it.

In my opinion, this book displays the classic Backman strategies and emotional impacts, and it’s definitely going to linger with me for a while. The examination of poverty and class are really thorny issues, and he also raises the question of responsibility; how heavy a responsibility it is to be a parent, and how much responsibility we bear for the effect our words and actions have on others. It is also, of course, a very funny book: the pair of policemen investigating the event are father and son, and that partnership goes about as well as you’d expect — and as it turns out, each of the hostages has their own opinion on how the bank robber ought to be doing things. Basically, personalities and foibles clash and sarcasm ensues, to delightful humorous effect. Moreover, for me, this book was very heartfelt, but full of hope — something we all need more of right now.

If you need a good laugh, a good cry, or to feel like humanity as a whole means well (even when they’re idiots) please do try reading this book. And if you’re new to Backman, I cannot recommend him enough: try Beartown, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, or Britt-Marie Was Here (as well as Man Called Ove, of course) for the ultimate mashup of tearjerker and comedy.

Either, Both, Neither: Gender Identity 101

I don’t know about you, but sometimes the best way for me to learn about a big, confusing topic is to read both fiction AND non-fiction about it. Fiction often helps us make sense of things in a story-telling, empathetic way, while non-fiction is more explanatory and logical. Reading one (or two) of each on the same topic can help me get a well-rounded view of a complicated idea. Today I’d like to show you what I mean by talking about gender identity. This is a big and messy topic that is coming up more and more in politics, popular culture, and general conversation – and speaking as a genderqueer, genderfluid, gender-vague person myself I do think it’s something more people should know about. But where to start, with such a huge area of research, history, and complex personal experiences to draw from? Good news: there are some really great books for that – all available through the library! All you need to bring is your library card and an open mind. Here are just a few titles I’d recommend trying to help you better understand your gender-diverse neighbors, coworkers, family members – or in my case, your librarian!

NONFICTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon is a brief, manifesto-style book, packed with thoughtful insights and explanations of just what “the gender binary” means, along with how (and why) people like them want to disrupt it. Primarily, Vaid-Menon focuses on how your expression of gender is an act of creativity, imagination, and liberation.

How to They/Them by Stuart Getty is a light-hearted, visually engaging book which acts as both a guidebook/dictionary of the world of gender-nonconformity, and as a memoir. Getty explains these confusing topics through the lens of their own personal experiences, in order to help anyone and everyone understand.

What’s Your Pronoun? by Dennis E. Baron is a title for those deeply concerned with the grammar of gender identity. Baron delves deep into the long, long history of gender-neutral pronouns, explaining all the different options that have been used over time and why they matter.

FICTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Salem by Hal Shrieve is my most recent fiction read on this topic: a powerful and gritty YA urban fantasy. The book focuses on Z, a genderqueer teenager who has recently become a zombie. Together with their new friend Aysel, an unregistered werewolf, they struggle to survive in a town deeply, violently prejudiced against them. Z’s experiences both as a zombie and as a genderqueer teen show the rejection, dismissal, and suspicion faced by transgender individuals in the real world. I appreciated that despite the book’s dark depiction of society, the ending was hopeful.

I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver is another great but somewhat intense YA read. In this realistic fiction book, Ben comes out to their parents as nonbinary and is kicked out of the house. They move in with their estranged older sister, but struggle to overcome the trauma of their parents’ rejection, at last finding healing in a new romance with classmate Nathan. I like this book because it’s honest about how hard it is to navigate a complicated gender identity with both supportive and unsupportive family members. It’s also a good portrayal of living with anxiety, and has a hopeful ending.

The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan is a fun fiction title I would recommend to get introduced to this topic. This is the second installment in Riordan’s Magnus Chase series, and in this book Magnus meets the feisty Alex Fierro, a genderfluid shapeshifter. As he builds an alliance and a friendship with Alex, Magnus (and the reader) gets a crash course in what it means to be genderfluid, including how pronouns work for those who are sometimes male and sometimes female. I recommend this book for a more light-hearted introduction to a complicated issue.

There’s Someone In Your House by Stephanie Perkins

This fall, I’ve made a real effort to read more scary or creepy books, just to get in the spirit of things. Honestly, I really liked most of them, but so far I think my favorite is There’s Someone In Your House by Stephanie Perkins. For an author whose previous work had been mostly light-hearted romances, this 2017 book was a bit of a departure. It tells the story of Hawaii-born Makani Young, who was transplanted to Osborne, Nebraska after a shocking incident in her junior year of high school. Now a senior, Makani is trying to focus on the future, especially a future involving Ollie, the mysterious loner with whom she shared a brief summer romance. Everything changes, however, when her classmates begin to die, brutally murdered in horribly personal ways. Makani, her two best friends, and her maybe-boyfriend must scramble to survive and expose the Osborne Slayer before it’s too late — and Makani finds herself forced to confront her darkest secrets along the way.

There’s a few reasons this book really stuck with me. First, the characters were thoughtfully diverse and believably well-rounded. For each character, the author gives you insight into their character, their talents and insecurities, and what kind of person they are, so you can’t help but empathize with them. This happens not only for the main characters, Makani and her friends, but for minor characters as well. In an extremely effective writing tactic for the genre, Perkins begins alternate chapters by focusing on a different one of Makani’s classmates, describing their thoughts and feelings as they go about their everyday routine, becoming increasingly uneasy as unusual things begin to happen around them until finally, the killer emerges, completing his terrifying work. I personally thought Perkins did an amazing job making the victims real and sympathetic to the reader in just enough pages to make their deaths devastating. At the same time, no character is simple. Reading it, I was left very aware of the complex inner life hiding in every individual, no matter how put-together or straightforward they appear. In the same way, no one is purely good or purely evil; Perkins explores the ways that circumstances, chance, stress, and other pressures bring out the darkness in different people.

Second, the writing style and strategy was simply fantastic. The structure and order of the chapters kept the suspense building, with bursts of action raising the stakes and advancing the story. What I really liked was the interludes where Makani and Ollie slowly got to know each other and developed their relationship. Since I’m not a huge romance reader, I appreciated that these interludes weren’t distracting from the overarching story, but provided both a respite from the terror and hope for a future beyond the Osborne Slayer. As romances go, this one was believable and sweet for me, with both parties mostly communicating well, confronting their demons, and making an effort to be there for each other in friendship and in romance.

In short, while this book rings true both in the slasher genre and the YA romance genre, it didn’t feel cookie-cutter or standard. For me, Perkins created a rich world in Osborne, where there was a lot more going on than just the Osborne Slayer. I fell in love with the characters, I got addicted to the action, and I was pleased with the ending. I definitely recommend this book to any newbie or veteran reader of thrillers and horror.

Change Your Habits: Reading for a New Year

I recently read a book I’ve been meaning to for a long time: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. If you haven’t already read this book, it’s an absorbing exploration of the science behind the habits that shape our individual lives, our companies, and our societies. The best part about it is, it’s written as a series of anecdotes about individuals, sports teams, companies, and groups that have changed their habits to improve their performance. Each section and chapter is engaging and readable, and builds on what came before it to craft a detailed picture of how habits work and how they can be changed. It explores neuroscience, psychology, belief, economics, and more, and it left me feeling like I had a good grasp on how habits work and how I could change mine.

Because we’re approaching a new year, you may be thinking about how you want to change your life and what you’d like to do better. My personal recommendation is that the first thing you do on that journey is read a book about habits and how they can change. If you’d like something more recent than The Power of Habit (published 2012), check out any of the great titles listed below.

 

 

 

Tiny Habits by B.J. Fogg recommends you start small to make changes.

Habit Swap by Hugh G. Byrne focuses on mindfulness and self-control.

Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood draws on scientific research.

Healthy Habits Suck by Danya Lee-Bagley is a realistic guide to motivation.

Atomic Habits by James Clear highlights small behaviors that drive change.

Stick With It by Sean Young highlights how lasting change is made.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

I love when an unfamiliar book’s dust jacket describes it as a mashup of my favorite things, because in my experience this is a great way to find new books I’m likely to enjoy. In the case of The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, it was described as “Harry Potter meets Ghostbusters meets War of the Worlds” – and that was it, I absolutely had to read it. It turns out my instinct was right! This is a great book, in large part because it has all the dry humor of both Harry Potter and Ghostbusters along with excitement and action of War of the Worlds. I saw elements of Kingsman in the mix as well – both feature the secret organization facing an unprecedented threat, and a mentor-rookie relationship that adds real pathos.

The book opens with a young woman finding herself in a rainy London park, with no memory of who she is or how she got there. She finds a letter in her pocket which opens Dear You, which turns out to be from her body’s former occupant, explaining that her name is Myfanwy Alice Thomas, and she’s a supernatural secret agent being actively hunted by an unknown enemy. This new Myfanwy must take over her predecessor’s complicated life and discover who wants her gone, all without letting anyone know what’s happened to her. Luckily for her, her predecessor was an excellent administrator and left many detailed notes and letters telling her everything she needs to know – if only she can stay alive long enough to read them.

Not only is this book funny and action-packed, the characters are widely diverse and supremely entertaining. The huge variety of supernatural powers that they display is staggeringly imaginative, and the personalities are compelling as well. I personally love that the main character, Myfanwy, remains confident, humorous, and decisive despite the fact that she’s lost her memory and is scrambling to get up to speed with the dangerous world she now inhabits. Whether or not her sanguine attitude is realistic, it makes for a much easier read than if she was dripping with angst and insecurity- and I find it somewhat inspiring! If only we could all feel confident that even if the worst should come, we can figure out whatever comes our way, and laugh about it. She also has a real knack for making friends, especially with the other strong women around her, which only increases the hilarity and inspiration. If you love Ghostbusters, Harry Potter, Kingsman, Doctor Who, Independence Day, or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I definitely recommend you try this book — and its sequel, Stiletto.