advice for readers

Salute Your Shorts

Do you ever find yourself wanting to dig in to a nice long juicy book, like The Goldfinch or maybe some hardcore economics like Capital in the Twenty-first Century, but find that your life keeps getting in the way? Might I introduce you to a genre known as the Short Story (remember those)? They're not just for 8th grade English. This time, I'll just tell you about the existential, thought-provoking, and slightly horrifying stories, I wanted to include Dorothy Parker, that lady is sassy, but I think she deserves her own post. 
Book jacket of The lottery and other storiesFirst up, The lottery and other stories by Shirley Jackson
Oh, it's so creepy! In the Lottery, it's a lovely day in June in a nice village filled with a few hundred nice families who all come out to the town square in the morning for the annual lottery. Yay! People chit-chat, they talk about how some towns have done away with their lottery, which is unfathomable to some. The lottery commences and a winner is announced. But the winner violently protests, why? Well, this is the worstest lottery and I won't tell you what happens, but everyone has a pocket full of rocks. This story has been told and retold in fiction and a bunch of scifi movies and tv shows. It brings up thoughts of population control, resource rights and political power and control. If you've seen or read Hunger Games, that's The Lottery. The townspeople seem to think "every year we do this brutal thing, and then we go about our lives until the same time next year, it's normal." This is terrifying because we've all seen this behavior in the news and we know that if we're not careful, the same thing could happen to us.
In Book jacket of The Thing Around Your Neck,  Adichie's mostly Nigerian characters confront discrimination, death, heartache and that sinking, disorienting, almost choking feeling you have when you know you're not home. If you've been putting off reading this amazing, award-winning author, give her short stories a try, you'll be hooked.
 a collection of stories about people who know how they will dieOn a lighter note... but still about death, the one I'm reading now is, Machine of Death : a collection of stories about people who know how they will die. And that's what it is. The Machine doesn't kill you, it just spits out a card with a word or phrase printed on it: CHOKING, CANCER, A COLLISION, ALMOND, AFTER MANY YEARS STOPS BREATHING WHILE ASLEEP WITH SMILE ON FACE, NOTHING. I was really into those last two stories, they were very sweet, most of them are funny, bordering absurd. The machine doesn't tell you when, or really any of the circumstances. After reading these stories, I can't say that, given the chance, I'd want to know, but to each her own. If you're having an existential crisis, these stories might cheer you up.
And if you're into that sort of thing, try Sum : forty tales from the afterlives by David Eagleman. Eagleman is actually some smarty-pants neuroscientist, but he writes some fun and creepy stories.
Is that the end of the blog post? 

Even Monsters Deserve a Nice Name

It's Halloween, let's talk monsters!

For Book Club this month, we read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Before I get into my book rant, I'll fill you in on a few details of the author's life. Her biography is arguably more scandalous than the book's plot.

Mary Wollstencraft Shelley was the daughter of a famous feminist and a well known author who were too hip to get married. Her mom died shortly after her birth, so Mary grew up with her dad, her mean stepmom, her mom's daughter from a previous relationship (an affair with a soldier), her stepmother's kids from her previous relationship, and dad and stepmom's new kid. Mary was the poor brown-headed stepchild. As a teen, she met and started a relationship with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy was already married to another woman, but why let that stop the magic. Mary and Percy ran away to Paris and when they returned to England, both Mary and Percy's wife were pregnant. Mrs. Shelley (the first one) was unhappy, she sued for alimony and custody of their kids, but eventually drowned herself, allowing Mary and Percy to be married. The new Mr. and Mrs. Shelley suffered the loss of their first daughter, only one child survived to adulthood. Also, Mary's sister dies. Oh, and shortly after that, Percy fell into an Italian lake and drowned at age 29.  

Onto the book.

It's a story within a story and different characters get to play narrator at different points. The novels is both gothic and romantic, with some seemingly never-ending descriptions of nature and light and feeling.  The meat of the novel concerns the young Swede, Victor Frankenstein. He looses his mother, becomes consumed with thoughts of death and the essence of life, goes off to college and emerges a scientist. He decides to make a man, just because, he makes the man/monster. Man comes alive, Frankenstein freaks out and runs away abandoning his creation. His creature learns to walk and talk and read, he is badly mistreated, he goes on a murderous rampage, Frankenstein vows vengeance on his creation. Excitement ensues. Here's a better annotation

There are 235 entries just in the Oakland library catalog for the term Frankenstein. Many of the books and movies that refer to Frankenstein is the name of the monster, not it's creator. Which brings me to the topic of names. Remember in Roots, when Kunta Kinte's master tries to make him own the name "Toby" and Kunta refuses (it was bad)? Or when the Empress of Fantasia begins to fade and die until Bastian saves her and the whole empire by giving her a name. (And, yes, I did just make a Roots and Neverending Story reference in a post about Frankenstein.) Your name helps you form your identity, it lets others identify you. It's almost as if you're not real without a name. Frankenstein not only abandoned his creation, but, in not naming him, he refused to acknowledge Creature's existence. Dirty and wrong, Victor.

Creature is feared for his ugliness, he's badly beaten and spit upon, and, while he does go on a small killing spree, he has a low opinion of himself, he just wants to be loved, he needed a name. The book doesn't have too many sympathetic characters. In my opinion, Victor Frankenstein was a mad scientist, and a bit of a spoiled brat, driven even more mad by his experiment-gone-awry. His creature was literally a nameless man-child who probably should have known better, but has still captured my sympathies. 

Are you Team Victor or Team Creature?

Submitted 31 October 2014, by Jenera Burton, Piedmont Ave branch

The ‘Reading Minute’ presents: Funny Ladies


I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I am a librarian with little time to read these days. I read some wonderful books with my young children, and there are the informative journal articles I read for work, but my “spare” time is used for sleep, if I’m lucky enough to get some. It could be a good while before I revisit those long lazy days curled up with the perfect novel, I’m afraid. Worse, I don’t even think I have the capacity for sustained concentration anymore, having not had an uninterrupted moment for several years. I suspect my predicament is relatable by many. And so I bring you the 'Reading Minute'.

When I do pick up something to read for leisure I tend to look for the following qualities: Light and easy to digest, but still smart; discreet sections I am able to finish in one sitting without totally losing the thread when inevitably interrupted; finally, if it’s not too much to ask, just make me laugh and feel like I am connecting with a witty, insightful friend.

Lately I have been finding what I am looking for in these sort of autobiographical short essay-type books written by brilliant female comedians and comic writers. Most recently, I listened to the e-audiobook Seriously... I'm kidding by Ellen DeGeneres, which came out in 2011. I enjoyed listening to Ellen read her own book, with plenty of asides especially for audiobook listeners. Her quirky inflections made this series of silly stream-of consciousness musings (Some chapters are between 1-5 lines long, others are 20 pages.) delightful to take in while walking around Lake Merritt, laughing out loud and distractedly wandering into joggers. What I like about Ellen is that, besides being a naturally funny person and a writer with years of experience as a stand-up comic, she also has a profoundly kind take on everything and everyone. She wants us to feel great about ourselves, and to get along with each other, and to take care of the earth. And to laugh all the while, which I did.

Before that I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, also out in 2011. I have heard that this audiobook is worth a listen, too, as she is the reader, and you can’t beat a comic actress performing her own material. Tina, who was a longtime writer on the set of Saturday Night Live, knows how to punch you in the gut with funny. I came dangerously close to wetting my pants reading some of her thorny responses to ugly criticism of her found on the Internet. Bossypants is mostly about her time as the producer/writer/star of the popular sitcom 30 Rock, with hilarious yet affecting flashbacks to SNL, The Second City improv group and her awkward younger years. She goes deep, getting into what it is like being a woman in comedy and not following the lifelong conditioning of trying to please everybody. I think that, in large part, her success comes from giving an authentic voice to the way many talented women today still feel insecure and undervalued. Then she makes fun of the whole thing.

Here are a couple of books on the horizon on which I have already placed my holds with high hopes:

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (just out this month), the twentysomething fresh-voiced dynamo behind the hit HBO series Girls, is called "really out-there honest" by The Library Journal. Says Lena of her book:  "No, I am not a sexpert, a psychologist or a dietician. I am not a mother of three or the owner of a successful hosiery franchise. But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle."


 Yes Please by Amy Poehler (out in late October), Tina Fey's BFF and castmate on SNL, as well as The Second City, is described by the publisher as a "big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice". Amy is a veteran comic known most recently for her work on Parks & Recreation and, earlier in her career, for several seasons on the Upright Citizens Brigade.

Gotta run, now!

Fact vs truth in non fiction

Lifespan of a fact book cover

Humorist Stephen Colbert coined the term "truthiness" in 2005, it means the quality of feeling that something is true even if it really isn't. The Lifespan of a Fact  is a conversation between the author of an essay, John D'Agata and the fact checker, Jim Fingal. The magazine that originally commissioned the work later refused to publish due to factual inaccuracies, but it became the basis for D'Agata's 2011 book "About a Mountain." The book (Lifespan) is structured with the main essay in the center of the page and messages between Jim, John and sometimes the magazine's editor around the perimeter. The messages between Jim and John start out cordial, I even saw a =) in there somewhere, but they quickly devolved into name calling and insults. Also, this went on for seven years.

In D'Agata's essay, there's a lot of truthiness, half truths, and flat out untruths, but, there is also a lot of beauty and sadness. It's a picture of a lonely boy in a lonely town who jumps from a lonely tower in Las Vegas. He tells of a series of events that occur before and after this boy's death that lead the reader to believe that the event was inevitable. The essay is so well-written, it flows so perfectly, and the author speaks with such authority that each fact presented is unquestionably true. "On the day that Levi Presley died, five others died from two types of cancer, four from heart attacks, three because of strokes. It was a day of two suicide by gunshot as well. The day is yet another suicide from hanging." Five, four, three, two, one, and then there was Levi, it's perfect, too perfect, how could this not be true? But it isn't, Fingal checked with the Coroner's office and these statements simply aren't all true. They aren't all big lies, but they are lies, and we are only four sentences into the piece. As Fingal writes to his editor, after fact-checking just the first few lines, "we're only one sentence into this piece, though, and I don't think this is the worst of it." And it isn't the worst of it.

My allegiance keeps moving between the fact checker and the author. D'Agata claims that Presley died at 6:01:52 in the evening, which, according to the Coroner's Report is one second off. The difference of that one second is probably trivial, except that D'Agata's excuse for not correcting his mistake is that it would "ruin the essay." On the one hand, how can the author be so morally corrupt that he would lie about someone's final moment? As Fingal complained, it's not as if the boy was a celebrity or some important historical character-come legend, but he was important to someone, and isn't that worthy of respect? On the other hand, there is a larger story here about our unaccommodating world. All of our stories deserve to be put into context, be made cinematic, and accessible. In a way, the whole book is about this one-second disparity.

Fingal claims a number of "factual disputes", and quotation inaccuracies in the essay, some of which are in fact, factual disputes, or quotation inaccuracies, some of which are simply good editing. For example  D'Agata says that in the 1990s the homeless rate in Las Vegas nearly quadrupled. Fingal rebuts "the raw data is correct. But there's a problem with the rate estimate…" blah blah blah "4.88, which is more accurately represented by the statement "nearly quintupled," not "quadrupled." Goodness, leave the poor man alone, I mean he's not a statistician, in fact he doesn't even claim to be a journalist! I think that we all have learned that statistics can be manipulated, and that a series of facts does not always equal the truth. But a series of truths also don't always paint and accurate picture.

I kind of don't like either of them toward the end. D'Agata sort of redeems himself, sort of. His essay is amazing, but full of... lies? "Lies", "truths", apparently the genre is called creative nonfiction, which is not a term that I'm entirely comfortable with. How do you feel about it?

Discover your next favorite book with NoveList

You may have noticed that our online catalog is looking snazzier these days. We have enhanced it with Novelist Select, offering over 5 million reading suggestions to help you find your next book.

The Readers' Advisory database known as Novelist Plus is not new to us, as we have offered it for several years. OPL patrons have often been delighted to find a NoveList match made in reading heaven for their interests. Here you will find "read-alikes" for favorite titles, authors, and series, or browse by topic or genre for lists of recommended titles. Access to NoveList Plus is also available through a mobile interface

Novelist Select is an extension of this service that has turned our catalog into a place for book discovery, with reader-focused features such as recommendations, series information, book reviews and more. We are seeing NoveList Select gather a community of OPL readers extending beyond the library walls. If you are at home looking for a book recommendation or want to expand your librarian recommendations, NoveList Select can be like a well-read friend who always thinks of the right book just for you.

Say, for instance, you search in the catalog for Flash Boys, a very popular new title by local author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, 2003), holding steady with around 60 holds on our 11 copies. Of course, we have many more copies on order, as we endeavor to maintain a 1 to 3 copies to holds ratio on books. But, while you wait for the supply to catch up with demand, you may scroll down to the bottom of the results screen to find some helpful suggestions about what might interest you in the meantime:


Among the titles and authors recommended here is David Wolman's The End of money.

Great. You follow the link to that title and look at reader ratings and reviews on GoodReads, also embedded in the catalog:

You further scan the professional review literature included right there in the catalog:

You place a hold, and pick it up within the next week.               

Done. And, who knows? It may end up being your next favorite book. 

Go Green with eBooks

This Earth Day consider checking out something from OPL’s quickly expanding digital collection; choose from thousands of eBooks. Whether you already dabble in eBook reading or are certain you could never give up the feel, smell and comfort of a good book, or even if you suspect eReaders and tablets are heralding the decline of civilization, you may be surprised at how easy it is to sink into a good eBook. I was. I was so sure I would never want to read from a backlit screen that I read books in the dark next to my sleeping baby with the flashlight from my phone pointed at the page. When my husband got me an iPad for my birthday I never planned to use it for personal reading, but I had to try out our eBook platforms as part of my job. (Didn’t I?) In no time I began reading mostly on the iPad. I read it in the dark, I read it in the light, in waiting rooms, on trips (you can load a ton of books onto one tablet). I would read it on the train, and I would read it in the rain (carefully). I would read it with a fox, and I would read it in in a box. I do so love my green earth-friendly tablet.

I am not alone. OPL patrons are checking out eBooks like crazy. Look at the upward trajectory of eBook checkouts at OPL over the past 2 years on the Overdrive eBook platform:

In spite of the addition of a second eBook platform, 3M Cloud Library, last January (over 400 amazing new titles and counting), Overdrive checkouts continue on their steady incline. We've gotten the message and have been enthusiastically purchasing all kinds of eBooks for adults, teens, and children. The majority of what we purchase are the latest popular titles on bestseller lists and topping our own print holds queues. We maintain a maximum ratio of 1 digital copy per 6 holds. But, also, a substantial portion of our eBook collection comes to us through Patron Driven Acquisition, which is an elaborate way of saying, "You choose the eBooks at your library". It works like this: If you see that Overdrive or 3M Cloud Library have titles that you want that are not currently owned by the library, you recommend them to us through the click of a button. Then we purchase them and you get notified. That's it. And you'll find much more than the bestsellers from which to choose.

Why do we now offer two options for borrowing eBooks? 3M Cloud Library has an easier setup process and eBook titles not available from Overdrive. Overdrive offers digital audiobooks and Kindle books, which are not available from 3M Cloud Library, and other eBook titles not available from 3M Cloud Library.

 A bit more about each eBook platform:


   Not just for Scotch tape anymore! 

  • Our very latest ebook titles for adults, teens, and kids.
  • Download ebooks for tablets, various eReaders, and Kindle Fires.
  • Get started with an easy setup process. Simply download the app and log in with your library card number and PIN.
  • Insider's tip: 3M hasn't caught on at OPL, yet, so there is little to no wait on most frontlist titles.


  • OPL’s largest e-collection, with thousands of titles, for adults, teens, and kids.
  • Get books for most devices, including the Kindle, Nook, iPad, and your Windows or Mac computer.
  • Popular fiction and non-fiction titles in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian.
  • You’ll need to create an account using your library card number and PIN, and install free software (Adobe Digital Editions).


To learn as much as you could ever want to know (more even!) about these eBook platforms and other digital media available through OPL, go to: 

If you are browsing, you should go directly to the 3M Cloud Library for titles published since January (generally), and to Overdrive for those published in 2013 and earlier (usually). However, if you know what you are looking for and want to take the guesswork out of where to look, you can search directly through our catalog and find records for all our eBooks, updated every week or two. Here's an example:

Even niftier is that 3M eBooks are integrated with our catalog, which allows for quick e-book checkouts, holds and account management from the 'My Account' feature of the catalog. You never have to leave our site. As with most of our print collection, the checkout period is for 21 days.

Am I suggesting that eBooks should replace print books? No way! I'm a librarian. I love real live paper books. Plus, many publishers are still not working with digital library models, yet, and you'll need to stick with their print copies until they get there. But it may be rewarding, and environmentally friendly, to make a little room on your bookshelf for an eReader or tablet loaded with a few good books.

Boxer or Saint?

Boxers / Gene Luen Yang ; color by Lark Pien
Saints / Gene Luen Yang ; color by Lark Pien
I know that we're only in February, but this is the best book (actually two books) I've read all year.  This set is epic and dramatic and cinematic.  I turned off House of Cards to finish these books and I've skipped meals and sleep to catch up on that series.  In these and earlier books, Gene Yang has taken on the topics of race, nationality, immigration, religion and family with with honestly and humor, but without sweetener.  As the story goes, he was asked to write the reboot of the Avatar series (airbender, not blue people) after a blog post expressing his outrage at the lack of Asian and Inuit actors in the movie cast.  It kept me from seeing the movie.  
In Boxers and Saints we meet Little Bao, the youngest in boy in his family, and Four-girl, a child from a family with so many issues, they fail to give her a proper name. They are both coming of age in rural villages during the Boxer Rebellion in China; "foreign devils" have brought terror, political influence and a new religion. To some Chinese, the arrival of these foreigners means grief and destruction, to others it's safety and community in the short-term and the promise of an afterlife in heaven. Villagers must chose between this promise of community and afterlife and betraying their family, traditions and country on earth.
Both young people chose to become crusaders for their causes, Bao with aide of the ancient Chinese gods and the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fist defending the Chinese homeland, and Four-Girl, now with the Christian name Vibiana, with Joan of Ark on her side defending her faith.
If you don't know Gene Luen Yang and Lark Pien, and really, why don't you know them, their local, at least get to know their work.  You won't be disappointed.
Are you a Boxer or a Saint? Let's talk about nationality and religion, but keep it civil, and about comics if you can.
Submitted on February 21, 2014 by Jenera Burton, Piedmont Ave branch Library


A Valentine for Jim Dale

The plan for this blog post was to reflect on the impressive audiobooks that have come out over the past year, as nominations for the 2014 Audie awards have just closed.  Then I realized that there's really only one voice actor that I hold dear (besides Neil Gaiman, of course, I can listen to him read source code), and that's Jim Dale, ahem, MBE

Dearest Jim Dale,

Your voice is like buttered velvet, but not in a gross way.  Actually, that's a terrible description, what I mean is that your voice is complex and sophisticated and terribly pleasing. Will you please read the phone book to me?  

For me, what makes a great book even better is superior narration, and I'm a big fan of Jim Dale.  With every word, I'm more convinced that our world is filled with magic and wonder.  He seems to almost exclusively narrate stories that are moody, otherworldly, extraordinary, and often a bit dark.  He embodies each character completely, from the meek to the gruff to the absurd.  

The Harry Potter series is one of only two bodies of work to make in into the Audio Publisher's Associations Audiobook Hall of Fame. Granted, the APA isn't the only awards game in town, in addition to numerous Audie awards and nominations, Jim Dale has also won multiple Audiofile and Grammy awards for his work.

 The boy with the cuckoo-clock heart  [a novel] / Erin Morgenstern  Christmas Carol 

Besides the entirety of the Harry Potter series, he's narrated several works of Adult fiction including:

The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu.  A modern fairytale, both chilling and sweet.  This is my favorite of the list.

The Night Circus: a novel by Erin Morgenstern, also available in e-audio version here

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

And just a quick program plug: if you're having trouble getting an audiobook on your phone or tablet, check out one of these programs at Main (1/25/14) or Lakeview (2/8/14). You can also talk to one of our Ready, Set, Connect! Assistants at the following branches for help: Main, Asian, César E. Chávez, Dimond, Eastmont or Rockridge, give them a call for details.

Do you have a favorite narrator? Whisper sweet nothings in the comments. 

Submitted on January 17, 2014 by Jenera Burton, Piedmont Ave branch

A few (1) of my favorite things

As I reflect on the great books I've read this year, one really stands out: Where'd you go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.  Bee is an over-schedule teen in a Seattle private school filled with parents who seem to have too, much time, show too much interest or otherwise are over-involved in school politics.  Bee's dad is an up-and-comer at Microsoft, and her mom, Bernadette, is a former prodigy-turned mom-on-the-verge (of a breakdown).  This book is sassy, charming, and Bernadette is totally relate-able.

At a recent holiday party, a friend told me that here favorite part of the book was actually in the reader's guide at the back (trade paperback version).  It's a short piece called "Dear Mountain Room Parents" and it's hilarious!  A mostly one-sided email exchange from a parent attempting to set up a Día de los Muertos altar at the school.  Everyone is too PC for their own good and everything gets lost in translation:

Hola a los Padres:

El Día de los Muertos begins with a parade through the zócalo, where we toss oranges into decorated coffins. The skeletons drive us in the bus to the cemetery and we molest the spirits from under the ground with candy and traditional Mexican music. We write poems called calaveras, which laugh at the living. In Mexico, it is a rejoicing time of ofrendas, picnics, and dancing on graves.



I sincerely apologize for Adela’s e-mail...How about we process our feelings face to face?

Finally, to those parents who are offended by our Day of the Dead celebration, I’d like to point out that there are parents who are offended that you are offended.


Lucky for us, "Dear Mountain Room Parents" is available at the New Yorker website.  If you haven't read it, consider this my gift to you.

Happy Holidays!


picture of book cover - Becoming Mr. OctoberWhen I started this post a few weeks ago, the A's were riding high on a wave of victory, sadly, the season is over for us now, but there's always next year.  Here's a look a one of the best players our team has ever seen:

Reggie Jackson played for our hometown Athletics from 1967–1975 and then again in 1987.  His phenomenal success led him to be dubbed "Mr. October" and what's even better (in my opinion) he got a candy bar named for him.  How Amazin' is that?  
In his book Becoming Mr. October, Jackson, along with co-writer Kevin Baker, describes his journey from sought-after high school football star to national baseball fame. Of course, his journey was not without tribulation, what would he write about? Jackson writes that even 19 years after Jackie Robinson went pro, he was still the odd man out on his college team.  After several successful seasons with the Oakland Athletics, he was lured by George Steinbrenner to the Yankees in 1977.  Having a major contract only served to make his teammates jealous and his manager question his worth.  "I didn't know what alone meant," Jackson remarked about his treatment.  He later returned to California, playing with the Angels and then the A's again.  He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and is now an adviser to the Yankees.
I remember Jackson of the '87 A's, the team of my childhood seemed unstoppable and he had the very best afro.  Hey! ESPN has announced that "the Bay Area has been the best sports region in the country this year."  That's thanks to the tremendous fans in the east bay.  Did you get a chance to see Jax in action in the 70's or 80's?  What are some of your favorite baseball memories?  Tell us in the comments.
Posted on: October 18, 2013, by Jenera Burton, Piedmont Ave branch