Books read in 2014

GoodReads is a fantastic online tool for keeping track of your reading and I have been using it for the last couple of years. By contrast LibraryThing is great for recommending books that suit your reading and uses crowd tagging extremely effectively.

I used the reading challenge within GoodReads setting my goal at 50 books for the year. I am not an especially fast reader and tend to abandon a book if it doesn’t grab me in the first chapter. With this challenge I was encouraged to read books to the end, and this worked well for the most part. I read 28 non-fiction books; 10 fiction books; and I did not finish (abandoned) 4. Only two received five-star ratings: one non-fiction and one fiction.

Also note the prevalence of self-help books. This is no surprise as it is a genre that I have always been fond of reading, ever since my father first introduced me to the book “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale. The last two years have been a challenging time for me personally trying to come to terms with the deaths of my mother and father, and life without them.

This tendency to read self-help books has been validated by the efforts of the Reading Agency in the United Kingdom, where their “Books on Prescription” program and the “Mood Boosting Books” program show the power of reading to lift us up out of habitual and damaging thought patterns.

So here are my results in order of preference:

TITLE AUTHOR RATING
1 The Goldfinch Donna Tartt ✪✪✪✪✪
2 An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth Chris Hadfield ✪✪✪✪✪
3 Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment Katrina Kenison ✪✪✪✪
4 10 Day Detox Diet Success: How to succeed on the 10 Day Detox Diet Mark Hyman M.D. ✪✪✪✪
5 Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster Jon Krakauer ✪✪✪✪
6 Love With A Chance of Drowning Torre DeRoche ✪✪✪✪
7 The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet Nina Teicholz ✪✪✪✪
8 The Fast Diet Michael Mosley ✪✪✪
9 Paris Letters Janice Macleod ✪✪✪
10 Why Mindfulness is Better Than Chocolate: Your Guide to Inner Peace, Enhanced Focus and Deep Happiness David Michie ✪✪✪
11 The Tenth Door: An Adventure Through the Jungles of Enlightenment Michele Hebert ✪✪✪
12 Walk Like a Buddha: Even If Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex is Torturing You, and You’re Hungover Again Lodro Rinzler ✪✪✪
13 The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife Marianne Williamson ✪✪✪
14 Demons Wayne Macauley ✪✪✪
15 Bringing the Sacred to Life: the Daily Practice of Zen Ritual John Daido Loori ✪✪✪
16 The Beethoven Factor: the New Positive Psychology of Hardiness, Happiness, Healing and Hope Paul Pearsall ✪✪✪
17 The Power (The Secret #2) Rhonda Byrne ✪✪✪
18 Gone Girl Gillian Flynn ✪✪✪
19 Wishes Fulfilled: Mastering the Art of Manifesting Dr. Wayne Dyer ✪✪✪
20 The Best of Me Nicholas Sparks ✪✪✪
21 The Gospel of Joy Amanda Gore ✪✪✪
22 A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose Eckhart Tolle ✪✪✪
23 Radical Forgiveness Colin C. Tipping ✪✪✪
24 Using LinkedIn Patrice-Anne Rutledge ✪✪✪
25 The Inside-Out Revolution: the Only Thing You Need to Know to Change Your Life Forever Michael Neill ✪✪✪
26 E-Squared: Nine Do It Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality Pam Grout ✪✪✪
27 Still Alice Lisa Genova ✪✪
28 Fitlosophy 1: chasing Physical perfection in a World of Gluttony Sharny Kieser ✪✪
29 The Breakthrough Experience: A Revolutionary New Approach to Personal Transformation John F. Demartini ✪✪
30 What Westerners Have for Breakfast: Five Years in Goa John McBeath ✪✪
31 Dying to Know: Is There Life After Death Josh Langley ✪✪
32 The Husband’s Secret Liane Moriarty ✪✪
33 A Long Way Down Nick Hornby ✪✪
34 Why Is God Laughing? The Path to Joy and Spiritual Optimism Deepak Chopra ✪✪
35 My Son and the Afterlife: Conversations from the Other Side Elisa Medhus M.D. ✪✪
36 Driving Under the Influence Jenna Martin
37 Elizabeth is Missing Emma Healey
38 Sisters of Spicefield Fran Cusworth
39 Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking Malcolm Gladwell abandoned
40 The Cuckoo’s Calling Robert Galbraith abandoned
41 The Word Exchange Alena Graedon abandoned
42 After Darkness Christine Piper abandoned

I plan to use GoodReads again to challenge myself once again in 2015 and I think that the target of 50 books remains a good one for me.

Library reading programs

I was lucky to attend the Reading Agency Seminar held at the new Library at the Dock in Melbourne.

Debbie Hicks, Director of the Reading Agency, opened the seminar with a presentation about the reading programmes offered in the UK. They offer UK public libraries tools for reading activities under a sustainable strategic framework that is benchmarked nationally for ensure continuity.

Their programmes include:

  • Summer Reading Challenge
  • Chatter Books
  • Reading Activists with volunteering opportunities for youths.
  • World Book Night
  • Reading Groups
  • Books on Prescription
  • Mood Boosting Books

Dr. Jacinta Halloran talked about the gap between the early stages of anxiety and depression and the need for prescribing drugs. She talked about the sinking feeling she gets when she prescribes drugs for depression, knowing that bibliotherapy could help at this early stage. Jacinta is the author of two novels: Dissection, andPilgrimage. Jacinta works with Susan McLaine and more information about their work can be found at the Bibliotherapy Australia website.

Lisa D’Onofrio showcased the ‘Go Goldfields project. Part of this included a Literacy Strategy “read all about it”, that involved collaboration across sectors using the National Numeracy and Literacy Framework in order to adopt a common language.

Bec Kavanagh spoke eloquently about the Stella Prize which seeks to highlight gender inequality in literature for children and teens.

Rosie Cirrito from Brimbank Libraries talked about their Reading Buddies program that matches volunteers with readers. A reward system uses stickers, etc , to acknowledge milestones.

Sarah Hopkins and Karyn Siegmann of Bayside Libraries talked about the reader experience in libraries. They aim to support a reading culture by maximising library spaces, displays, and collection usage trends (Collection HQ). “The book is the hero.”

Sue Wootton of Eastern Regional Libraries talked about their Read with the Reading Dog program that incorporates dogs for reading practice for children identified as needing extra help by local schools.

Robyn Childs from Moreland Libraries talked about their Read More program that encapsulates all of their reading activities: from author talks, displays, writing competitions, workshops, etc.

Shirley Bateman of Melbourne City Libraries facilitated some reflections on the presentations. These were:

  • Value of partnerships to be “courageously collaborative”.
  • National Literacy and Numeracy framework
  • The value of families in the reading journey
  • Diversity of content and the danger of the single story. This story was referenced and I recall loving it when I first watched it: 

Paula Kelly, Library Manager of Melbourne City Libraries reminded us about the SLV/PLVN Statewide project READ (yet to be completed).

Debbie Hicks of the Reading Agency said that “libraries are unifque community spaces for the delivery of interventions for wellbeing.” Books on Prescription offers a book list of self-help books that are professionally selected using a book selection protocol, and made available through public libraries in the UK. A user leaflet is also provided that offers further information.

Susan McLaine talked about the power of literature to move and heal, saying that “in the library is healing for the soul,” and that “there is often wisdom within the story. Our aim should be to enrich life quality, life spirit, and nourish connection.” Susan’s website is Words That Heal and she is currently working on her PhD at RMIT on the topic of “creative bibliotherapy” while continuing to facilitate session within a prison.

Dr. Louise Roufeil is a psychologist that provided an overview of mental health in Australia. 45% of Australians experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime. 20% had a diagnosed mental health disorder in the last 12 months. The high prevalence of anxiety impacts on productivity across the board. Early intervention is not readily available. Bibliotherapy can fill this gap and libraries are well positioned to do this.

Lisa Lang of Melbourne City Libraries read an excerpt from a Tobias Wolff novel that left us hanging… A great example of their Story Lounge programme that runs monthly at Library on the Dock.

We finished the day with a practical planning session that only served to reaffirm the need for collaboration amongst library services in order to provide similar programs. What do we do already? What more can we do?

Book Club Lists

One of the joys of my job is being able to choose books for the book clubs to read. The existing Book Club Collection I work with has currently almost 150 titles. And there are about twelve book clubs using this service.

My job in recent months has been to trim the existing list by analyzing whether titles were unpopular and not likely to be read, as well as what titles were already read by our clubs. I decided on ten titles that I offered to other library services and these were all gratefully accepted and moved on.

At the same time I began a new list of possible contenders for the 2015 list. This list grew to about 25 titles that we read and debated about, although we didn’t get time to read them all. One is not yet published. So there is an element of educated guesswork and relying on published reviews.

My colleagues and I agreed on ten titles and these we have ordered to add to our collection for 2015. We also add ten titles from the SLV Summer Read from last season. Add two titles that we picked up through the library swaps, and we have 22 new titles to add to our Book Club Collection. You can see the list here.

Now all I have to do is find time to continue to read the ones I haven’t yet read.

Square astronaut round hole

Chris Hadfield is known for his rendition of A Space Oddity performed on the International Space Station. It is a beautiful, unique and poignant piece of poetry in motion.

“The purpose of the music video was to make the rare and beautiful experience of space flight more accessible.”

Square astronaut, round hole” is Chris’s final assessment of his career. As a 9 year old Canadian boy he was inspired when he saw the grainy black and white television broadcast of Neil Armstrong’s “small step” on to the Moon. He decided then to become an astronaut. His plan was firmly placed in his mind and from that day he applied himself to that purpose.

And as we can all appreciate, this is no small task, especially for someone who is not an American. His tenacity, humility, and intelligence provided him with the skills needed to endure this difficult quest.

Not only did he need all of the complex technical knowledge and be able to apply those with precision, but he also needed to learn to speak Russian, survive in the wilderness, be an underwater reconnaissance specialist, fly and test jet planes, and be patient. What a guy! Most mere mortals would only be able to fit one or two of those things into a single lifetime. As well as all of this he finds time for a family, and to play guitar.

an_astronauts_guide_to_life_on_earthChris Hadfield writes an interesting account of his career in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I loved this book. Chris shows his humility and generosity that serves him well as he establishes himself as part of the large NASA team.

Not only does this book provide a great description about what is required to become an astronaut; he also provides an excellent blueprint that could be applied to any vision or goal. And he writes this all with humour and humility.

 

“…everything counts: the small moments, the medium ones, the successes that make the papers, and also the ones that no one knows about but me.”

In his TED Talk he tells us how to face our fears while also sharing his absolute love of our planet. He has played his part of the larger quest to take “giant leaps” into our Universe, and he has communicated that experience to us on the ground through the poetry of description and the art of photography from the ISS, distributed through social media channels.

“The windows of a spaceship casually frame miracles.”

You can follow Commander Chris Hadfield on Twitter @Cmdr_Hadfield

Ambrosia between paper leaves

What is that state of being between books? How do we describe it? What word properly fits the feeling?

You know the feeling of that lull between reading books? Especially when you read a satisfyingly great story such as The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

You close the last page, you feel satisfied by a great ending, you sit and pause with the book closed on your lap, and you drift, still absorbed in the atmosphere of the story. You wait, linger, dwell, reflect, and hesitate before reaching for the next book to read.

You know if you try to relive or reread the story it won’t have the same impact. The surprising twists in the plot won’t surprise you. You know the fate of the characters. You know what it is about now.

A great satisfying work of fiction is a rarity, so you are not keen to start a new book just yet. And you want to continue to luxuriate in this story while it continues to have a hold on you.

What is this feeling? Is there a word that best describes it? I wracked my brain, used a thesaurus, gathered together a word cloud of possibilities:

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 8.16.45 pm

Once the lovely hiatus is over and we have properly assimilated the themes and meaning within the story, we are enriched and can never return to our former selves known to us before we read this story. We are more. We mature a little more. Our knowledge and wisdom has grown.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” ~ Oliver Wendell Homes Junior

I wonder if anyone who chances to read this blog post can offer the perfect word that describes this delicious lull between reading books?

Reading fiction

Reading fiction is not my preference. I prefer true stories; epic adventures; personal quests; travel, and description of place. Fiction has to grab me in the first ten pages; otherwise I become bored and abandon the book. After all, life is too short and there are too many books to read.

For me, a good fiction story is a page-turner that makes me keen to know what happens next. I hate reverse chronology. Often I find a story has hooked me in the first chapter, and then the following chapter takes me back to some point in the past. And that’s where I usually abandon the book.

I like a good story, told from the beginning to end with some unobvious point of focus that gradually unfolds to a satisfactory close. It is disappointing to say, “ I liked the story, but I didn’t like the ending.” I loathe nihilistic tales of woe with hopeless and detestable characters that seems to be a current popular theme.

But is reading fiction a waste of time, as some people suggest? After all it is just someone’s imaginary tale. And why bother when our world is full of amazing and interesting real people, lives, places and situations?

Research provides interesting reasons that support reading fiction as a valuable activity. Not only does this pursuit provide insight into situations and ideas outside of our everyday life, but there is evidence to suggest that it has positive effects on our brains by making new neurological connections that remain activated long after the reading activity is over. This heightened activity called a ‘shadow activity’, similar to muscle memory, by scientists working on the Emory study.

We reiterate the idea that there are only seven basic plots:

  1. Overcoming the monster.
  2. Rags to riches.
  3. The quest.
  4. Voyage and return.
  5. Comedy.
  6. Tragedy.
  7. Rebirth

Typically though our bookstores and libraries arrange fiction into genres of:

  • Romance
  • Relationship
  • Humour
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Adventure
  • Historical
  • Classic
  • Western
  • Chick Lit
  • Paranormal romance
  • General
  • And others.

My fiction reading sometimes follows a typical pattern of author trails. I discover an author I like, then I am keen to read more by that person; until I am satiated with their voice, style, and ideas. Elizabeth Gilbert and Joanne Harris are two authors I enjoy reading. I loved The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is stunning with its unique story and intelligent prose. I like to follow a trail of reading that is unique to my interests at that time.

Many librarians use website tools such as Fantastic Fiction, Literature Map, LibraryThing, GoodReads, and others to find the next great read for ourselves and our customers.

But there is more to be said and understood about the activity of reading fiction and how it impacts and influences our community and society. Librarians get a very real sense of this phenomenon when working with library users. Some book titles seem to grab hold of the attention of the populace and there is a groundswell of interest that seems to defy understanding. The Slap by Christos Tsolkias is an example that comes to mind. It was an uncomfortable book to read. Not everyone liked it. One incident provides the focus for a masterful portrayal of multi-cultural suburban Melbourne in current times. The slap itself – right or wrong – receives attention and opinions from different generations and cultures, and ultimately judged in politically correct times. This resonates with a culture where this experience is known, shared, and debated. We all have an opinion and all are valid.

“Texts affect readers on many levels – emotional, ethical, intellectual, sensual, spiritual. Consequently, two readers can respond very differently to the same text.” ~ Robert Beardwood

But this book had its time and that groundswell of attention is past. Did we learn anything? How has the experience of reading this book of fiction influenced our society? You will still find this title in the bookstores, libraries, and on Book Club lists, but it has been read, discussed, made into a TV series. Why have we gone past that particular book when there would still be many people who haven’t read it? We could apply the analysis of this phenomenon to many new and popular fiction titles. It would be an interesting study.

Fiction of this type leads our collective conscience. We read, we think, we learn, we discuss, we grow, we evolve. I think that this is key to the function and popularity of Book Clubs in our communities. But we know that.

Now relieved of my requirement to read bureaucratic reports and academic articles, I have been trying to catch up with some fiction reading. I have just read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks. And now, like so many others at present, I am immersed in the book The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I am thoroughly enjoying the voice, the story, the situation, and the intelligence.

Books as life rafts

A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. ~ Caitlin Moran

Forlorn and adrift on the sea of life; I flounder.

No longer daughter, mother, sister, granddaughter, daughter-in-law; my ego plunges into the classic existential crisis – if not that, then who is this ‘I’? The identities that gave the ego a firm structure where it could reside with comfort and confidence, vanish into the whirlpool of the relentless hunger of “life’s longing for itself”.

Stripped bare, languishing with the flow, the ego in abeyance, waiting, watching, wondering.

I recall the story told by Og Mandino. Reading books in a public library saved him. Homeless, destitute, and about to end his miserable life, he walked into a public library to pass some time before the gun shop next door opened. He sat and started to read, then came back the next day, and the next, turning his life around to become an author, speaker and motivator.

Lovers of books and reading know the power of the written word and that’s what keeps our noses inside books. But why are the words of others more influential than the words we might string together ourselves? They aren’t! The thing is that when we find ourselves in a state of despair or confusion, often due to circumstances not of our making (such as the death of a loved one, or two), then we might be incapable of making our mind do anything beyond grieve.

This is when the words of others offer a lifeline. Throw us a book and we will use it as a life raft. It doesn’t matter what book. Some might say it needs to be a religious book and that would be fine. But really, it could be anything. Works of fiction are perfect because they allow our mind to escape. It gives us a holiday from our own dismal and repetitive interior and whisks us away to another land and time.

As a long time reader of self-help books I can attest to the fact that this genre does not help at these fragile times.

As I steer my life raft to safer waters, these are the books that buoyed me over these past few months: 

*   A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

*   Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping

*   The Gospel of Joy by Amanda Gore

*   Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

*   Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

 But really they could have been anything. I would have liked to have re-read Echoes of the Early Tides by Tony Moore but my copy is packed away in a box somewhere still. I am about to plunge into Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes.

Plans for 2014

If there is one thing I learned from 2013 it is that not all plans are successful. Life sometimes takes over and the best laid plans with the right intentions need to be put aside.

But inspired by the ladies from the Up for a Chat podcast, and because I do believe in the power of intention and visualisation, here are some of the things I want to accomplish and/or work towards this year:

Review of 2013

Once again inspired by Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity I look back over my experience of 2013. It was a really difficult and challenging year for me.

Here is what didn’t go well:

  • On 23 January my mother passed away after a four year battle with cancer.
  • Dad was alone for the first time in his life and grieved and this sat heavily on my mind.
  • Dad was diagnosed with Mesothelioma at the end of July just prior to his 77 birthday.
  • With family members I shared care responsibilities for Dad which meant a lot of organisation and travel to and fro.
  • We sold our house and most of our possessions.
  • We resigned from great jobs.
  • We moved and left some great new-found friends.
  • I went from being a fully employed professional to being a full time carer with no wage.
  • Dad passed away on 16 December.
  • The funeral for Dad was held on 20 December.
  • Our annual family Christmas get-together was held on 22 December and was a horrible out-pouring of grief.

Here is what went well:

Zombies and the future of libraries

What do zombies have to do with the future of libraries you may well ask? In ‘reality’ if there was a zombie apocalypse, libraries would perish along with all of humanity. And being zombies, one would hardly expect them to have an active interest in the future of libraries or indeed any intellectual pursuit.

Like many librarians I have been thinking about the future of libraries a lot lately. It is a hot topic in the library world, mainly due to evolving technology, the proliferation of internet-connected personal devices, and the cheap and easy access to eBooks. The spread of the World Wide Web did not result in the end of libraries, but it has reduced our physical non-fiction collections substantially. Now with the second wave of internet-enabled technologies, does anyone need to go to a library at all to get hold of the reading material they want and need? Perhaps that end is in sight and this has resulted in a lot of talk amongst library professionals. So what are we here for?

The Victorian Public Libraries 2030 Strategic Framework was published in 2013 after 18 months of intensive collaborative discussions by public library staff in Victoria, of which I was privileged to be a part. Future scenarios were discussed in detail, how these scenarios might unfold, and what might be the key drivers to certain future scenarios. The drivers were identified as: technology, environmental issues, commuting, economic problems, health, increasing ageing population, cooperative endeavours, education and lifelong learning. The final stages of these discussions allowed us to add public libraries into the scene, thereby discussing how best to address and take full advantage of some new unfolding situations. Two future scenarios emerged: the creative scenario; and the community scenario. Both of these scenarios described the future public library as a community space.

Library as ‘community space’ has already had a whole lot of verbiage. Isn’t that what public libraries have always been? Perhaps I am not old enough to remember the places of shush, where reading books was done alone and in silence. There is value in the concepts of place-making, maker-spaces, and community collaboration. This has been, and continues to be, my experience of the library. The only quiet library space I can recall is the reading room of the State Library of Victoria; otherwise libraries are full of conversation, activity, people traffic, meetings, entertainment, coffee, and laughter. Oh, and books!

Personally, I am typically bookish, introverted, nerdy, and self-motivated. I like to explore notions on my own. This is the main reason why I love libraries. I enjoy following a pathway through literature that is entirely determined by me and as a result of my reading. I have described this as ‘delving into the book’; it is an entirely unique journey that begins and ends with the book, with regular forays online when new information is needed. I concur with the words that Nancy Pearl wants as her epitaph, “I’d rather be reading.”

The IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto 1994 does not mention the book at all, despite being written pre-internet. The manifesto defines public libraries as “the local gateway to knowledge”, and is essential for “fostering peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women.” Key mission number two, “supporting both individual and self conducted education”, validates my own habits. Public libraries are seen as fundamental to democracy, prosperity and knowledge, so how can anyone consider a future without libraries?

At the recent ALIA Future of the Profession Summit Mark Pesce urged those librarians present to share their knowledge in order to plan a future for libraries. He reminded them that “the culture of sharing has its origins in the library.” And while “the light of knowledge shines more brightly than ever before, from two billion smartphone screens”, this is an opportunity because it is librarians who are the experts “in an environment of informational hyperadundance.” While the librarians in Victoria did just that last year, the resulting framework is one interpretation of possible future scenarios. The trick is in being able to recognise the triggers and apply the strategies at the right time.

Neil Gaiman is an enthusiastic supporter of libraries and he explained recently that “everything changes when we read”, that “libraries are the gates to the future”, and by closing libraries “you are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.” A dire warning indeed!

So back to the zombies… Dr. Matthew Finch is responsible for The Zombies of Tullamore:

In an interview with Corin Haines he talks about his approach to attracting people into the library. By choosing a theme that excites the imagination of a particular audience, he uses the activity to enhance the literacy experience within the library. I’m sure lots of librarians and teachers do this already, but this is a good example of how to do it well and to instill the learning opportunity into the activity. It is more than just a trendy promotional hook; it is immersive learning through role play and self discovery.

He identifies “why Zombies are good for libraries:

  1. Zombies attract kids and teens of all backgrounds.
  2. Zombies remind us that libraries are about more than shelves.
  3. Zombies promote choice and independent learning.
  4. Zombies may decay, but immersive literacy lives on.”

A lot more about the future of library profession can be found here.

This is what I know:

  • People will keep creating new content: fiction and non-fiction.
  • People will want to read that content for a multitude of reasons.
  • People will always expect and deserve to get unrestricted access to reading materials.
  • Technology will continue to evolve and change the way we live.
  • Library funding will continue to be threatened.
  • Librarians will continue to want to organise content.
  • Libraries will continue to be adapted and adjusted to accommodate the new.
  • Fun makes learning easier.
  • Zombies are fiction.

P.S. R. David Lankes talks about the future of libraries in this presentation From Loaning to Learning