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.

Hidden Database Gems: Reference Solutions

If you don’t spend much time scrolling through the research tools on our library website, you might not know about all the amazing online databases you have access to with your library card. The list includes encyclopedias, newspaper archives, genealogy resources, children’s encyclopedias, and much more! One specific hidden gem you might not know about is Data Axle Reference Solutions (previously known as ReferenceUSA).

Reference Solutions acts primarily as a business database, allowing you to look up established and new businesses by name, executives, location, or phone number. However, it also includes searches for individuals, health care providers, and job postings. It’s a very useful database for finding contact info or addresses, especially for people or businesses.

To try out Reference Solutions, go to our website, then under Research Tools, click on Online Resources. Scroll to the “D”s and you’ll find Data Axle: Reference Solutions.

You’ll probably be asked to log in with your library card. The front page when you log in looks like this:

Here you can choose to search for an individual, a business, a job, or a health care provider. When you hover over a category, words appear underneath saying “Search” or “More Information”. If you click on “Search”, it takes you to the default search page, which includes an Advanced Search on a second tab (circled).

You can put in as much information as you want, narrowing down by location and a name, and then click Search.  The search results will look like this:

For such a useful database, it’s pretty easy to use and gets you some fast information. One caveat: not every person or business is recorded in this database, so results aren’t guaranteed. Also, in the case of corporations, you may get several phone numbers or separate entries for regional offices. You can see where a business falls in the corporation by clicking on “Corp Tree” in the far right column.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

Love Hank and John Green? Devoured An Absolutely Remarkable Thing? Worried about our society? Then boy, do I have a book for you: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green! A fresh installment in the saga of April May and her friends shows us a world after first contact with an alien intelligence, bitterly divided over the aliens, their intentions, and what it means (and should mean) to be human. This is, like its predecessor, a timely book perfectly plugged into the realities of online communication, internet fame, and the deep ideological divides in our nation and our world. (Psst – no idea what I’m talking about? Check out our previous blog post about the first book.)

SPOILERS AHEAD: Maya, Andy, and Miranda are all processing their grief over April’s disappearance (or death, depending on who you ask) differently. Maya refuses to accept April is gone and chases conspiracies and mysteries trying to find her. Andy has stepped into April’s fame and struggles to feel worthy of the task. And Miranda, returning to her research, recklessly joins a suspicious scientific venture to protect April’s legacy. Meanwhile, as tensions rise between the bitterly divided camps of pro- and anti- alien (and anti-April, honestly), an intelligence beyond their comprehension continues to meddle in their reality, with intentions unknown…

This book really made me think, and debate with myself how I feel about it. I like that it’s written in short, addictive chapters that rotate between April’s friends’ point of view. Downside: all three of her friends are on different, very exciting paths, and it can be hard to switch back and forth between them and remember what’s going on. I also like that it picks up not long after the events at the end of the first book and continues the story in a believable way, creating cohesion and continuity between the two books. Downside: too much continuity! It’s been a long time since I read the first one and I no longer remember all the important details this book is referencing.

However, the characters are brimming with wry, self-deprecating humor, relatable 20-something angst, and deep thoughts about humanity, identity, and fame. Overall, this book rings with truth, and for me seems to hold up a mirror to our society, showing us the good and the bad about the path we’re on.

Girls Save the World in This One by Ash Parsons

Full disclosure: I was never a huge zombie fan. I’m usually too squeamish for intense gore, for one thing, and I get caught up in thinking about the person a zombie used to be, which only makes it harder to see the zombie gruesomely killed. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve watched more intense shows and movies like Jurassic Park, Torchwood, and Supernatural, which have helped me sort through both those issues and appreciate the action and heroism, so I’ve gotten… let’s say “lukewarm” about zombies and undead media.

That said, it was still an unusual choice for me to read Girls Save The World in This One by Ash Parsons. This recently-published YA horror novel is narrated by June, a high school senior attending Zombiecon with her best friends. She’s been saving up for this all summer, and is excited to revel in the convention celebrating all things zombies. At first, she’s mainly worried about seeing all the panels and actors she wants to, not to mention graduation, future plans, growing apart with her friends, and whether she’s really as cool as they say she is. But then, the con is thrown into chaos when a virus outbreak launches the real zombie apocalypse, and June and her friends are in a real fight for survival. I was mixed going into this book: while I enjoy fandom, I don’t enjoy the crowds, chaos, and costs of conventions, and I still don’t love the idea of the zombie apocalypse. But I do love girl power and stories where friendship is front and center.

Despite my misgivings, this book did not disappoint me. For one thing, it was helpful to hear June’s take on zombies: they’re not malicious, just hungry and following their instincts, like sharks. But more than that, the diversity is realistic, the friendship is strong, the enthusiasm is contagious, and the examination of ethics and larger issues at play is extremely thoughtful.  As I had hoped, this book was filled with empowerment, celebration of differences and friendship, and pulse-pounding action. I definitely felt, even as someone who’s not a zombie aficionado, that this book was a fresh and fitting addition to the canon of zombie literature. My only real issue with it was that the book’s focus on friendship and empowerment means that (spoiler alert) there’s never a great explanation of how and why the zombie / virus outbreak happens or how it’s going to be resolved. I can’t decide whether or not it’s just added realism: a teenager might not care WHY the crisis happened, as long as it’s over.

If you love feminist takes on classic stories, if you’re looking for a celebration of zombies, or if you have a tight-knit squad that would have your back even if the world was ending, I definitely recommend reading this book.

The Glorious Multimedia World of RPGs

Today, I’m going to share with you one of my deepest regrets: I’ve always wanted to play tabletop games, especially roleplaying (RPG) games like Dungeons and Dragons, but I’ve never had enough interested friends to learn how. I still hold out hope it could happen for me someday, but in the meantime, I’m happy to report there are lots of other ways to experience the RPG world, including podcasts, video games, and of course, books. Primarily, I want to share with you my favorite podcasts and video games that will give you the RPG experience even if you’re flying solo like me.

The arguably most famous – and wildly enjoyable – podcast about Dungeons and Dragons is The Adventure Zone made by the McElroy family. It’s available on a variety of free podcasting platforms including Podcast Addict. The formula is simple: a father and his sons sit down to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons together, recording it in real time so you can follow along with their campaign. The result is hilarious and addictive, and it gives you a real insight into how typical tabletop roleplaying games work. It’s so popular, in fact, that it now has its own graphic novel series!

The Glass Cannon is another option. This podcast is based on the Pathfinder roleplaying game, and is one of several put out by the Glass Cannon network. Like The Adventure Zone, it strives to give the listener an immersive gameplay experience, enjoyable for players and non-players alike. Unlike the Adventure Zone, it has an ensemble cast of various comedians, voice actors, and gaming nerds to flesh out the story and the characters. This podcast is also available on Podcast Addict, among other platforms.

As far as video games go, I personally strongly recommend trying Cat Quest and Cat Quest II for Nintendo Switch. As a self-declared newbie gamer, I appreciated the clear gameplay and intuitive controls as well as the frankly adorable graphics. In the second game (the one I’ve tried), you play as one or both of a cat and dog pair who are dethroned kings trying to regain their rightful places. Just like in role playing games like D&D, these two go on a series of quests to reach that goal, gaining supplies and abilities along the way. It presents enough challenge to be interesting but still manages to be relaxing.

If cute and cuddly’s not your thing, you might enjoy other RPG games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or the online World of Warcraft. These games lean heavier into the more typical fantasy world of elves, dwarves, dragons, and dangerous, bloody quests. In the case of Elder Scrolls, you play as a prophesied hero with a unique gift, which uniquely places you to deal with dragons returning to the realm.