Book Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage by Justin Cronin
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Ballantine Books, 2010

On paper, there’s a lot I could criticize about The Passage by Justin Cronin.

The plot isn’t terribly original: a virus is unwittingly unleashed by the government which turns people into something very much like vampires. Mr. Cronin presents the standard well-intentioned scientist whose work is hijacked by the military (which, as expected, doesn’t go well). There’s a roster of bad guys, a cop with a conscience, and a Chosen One whose arrival can save mankind. There’s even an oracle of sorts.

It’s a man-made apocalypse story built on fairly generic story tropes. We witness the moment it all goes wrong and then spend the rest of the novel living in the post-apocalyptic world of the few survivors.

We’ve seen all this before. I Am Legend, zombie movies, The Walking Dead, et al. The ending offers a faint wisp of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even the hive-mind wrinkle the author incorporates into his vampires is a familiar idea.

But none of that is a problem. None of it is a weakness. None of it feels derivative. This is one of the best renditions of all these ideas I’ve read.

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Book Review: Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke

Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke
Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke
The Overlook Press, 2014

Why do stories work the way they do? Why are they structured the way they are?

These questions fascinate me. Storytelling—its nature, how it works, the role it plays in human lives and society—fascinates me. As much as anything, storytelling is what marks human beings as unique among all the animals of Earth. The act of telling stories partakes equally of our capacity for imagination and our need to discern pattern in world around us. We use stories to try and make sense of our experiences and simultaneously celebrate the mysterious and unknowable. It’s both creative and formulaic.

The stories we choose to tell, and the ways we choose to tell them, tell us who we are and how we understand our role in existence.

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Book Review: Dead Set by Richard Kadrey

Dead Set by Richard Kadrey
Dead Set by Richard Kadrey
Harper Voyager, 2013

Dead Set by Richard Kadrey wasn’t what I expected.

The basic plot summary is very much in keeping with Kadrey’s métier:

A teenage girl starts having strange dreams after her father dies. She’s in turmoil, she and her mom fallen on hard times, their life turned upside down. She discovers a record store with a room full of records which contain the lives of dead people… including her father’s. There’s an imaginary brother she relies on who only appears to her in dreams, and an underground world full of dead people, monsters and myth.

It’s the kind of dark, fantastical setting Kadrey is so good at. Literally underground, too, like most of his settings. Dead Set gives us a compelling main character, a satisfying story, and takes on important themes.

So, too, Dead Set has all the attitude and swagger, the sense of outsiderness, and it drips with a punk aesthetic.

So far—typical Kadrey.

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On Customer Service & Reference Interviews

When I went through my library & information science graduate program, I took the required reference classes and I learned the basics of how to conduct a reference interview. The idea behind a reference interview is pretty simple:

People don’t always know how to ask for what they really need.

We all frequently struggle to voice our needs properly—we say things badly, misunderstand ourselves, head down misleading paths, etc. Also, library patrons often aren’t aware of all the options and resources that are available to meet their needs—but they usually think they know what the best option is, and so come in asking for something specific without realizing that there may be much better resources for them.

When it comes to digital library services, the issue tends to be that patrons don’t understand how these systems work, aren’t fully aware of what they can and can’t do, so when a service doesn’t behave the way they expect it to, they assume that it’s broken.

As librarians, it’s our job to connect our patrons to the best resources to answer their needs. The purpose of the reference interview is to make sure we know what their need really is, so we can find the best resources for them, or teach them how to get the most out of the services we provide.

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Why I Won’t Bash Romance Novels

I recently read and shared the following article on Twitter and Facebook:

Bashing Romance Novels Is Just Another Form Of Slut-Shaming by Sarah MacLean (posted on Bustle, September 29, 2016)

Now that I’ve decided to start reading romance novels, I find that I have a desire to learn more about the history of the genre.

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Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Crown, 2016

I’ve read some truly amazing books this year. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is probably my favorite of all of them. It’s a trip—a thriller, solid SF, mind-bending.

I had many people encourage me to read it in the months after it hit shelves. Everyone told me this book is original and mindblowing.

I admit: at first, I wasn’t sure what they were talking about. It’s a multiverse / alternate reality story. An exceptionally well-done multiverse story—much better than most—with interesting characters, high stakes, a driven plot. But the multiverse concept is pretty standard in scifi, not really original.

Then I got to the twist…

This novel is brilliant and mindblowing! I unreservedly love it! I encourage everyone to read it.

The Genres that Scare Me

I spend a fair amount of time talking about the importance of diversity in our stories and reading culture. I fully support the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. I’ve made a commitment to increase the diversity of my own reading, both in terms of authors and characters.

I read two posts over the past couple of weeks which spin the idea of diverse reading in a slightly different direction:

I Can’t Even with Librarians Who Don’t Read Diversely by Molly Wetta (posted on Bookriot, August 12, 2016)

Call to Action: Get Out There and Read Something You Are “Afraid” Of by Becky Spratford (posted on RA for All, August 22, 2016)

Normally, we talk about diverse books in terms of the ethnicity and cultures of characters, authors, and story traditions. What speaks to me about the two articles linked above is the call to increase the diversity of the genres I read. The call to “read outside [my] own taste and interest” (from Bookriot), to read things I dislike or that scare me to try (as per the RA for All post).

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