Finding something to read is a snap these days. We’ve all got wishlists and TBR piles. You can’t open your web browser without getting a reading suggestion from some social media outlet (definitely not a complaint – we librarians scour the web for great reads all the time). And of course, if you’re bookish, you’re probably friends with other bookish people with whom you swap titles, best-of lists, release dates, and reviews.
This led us to wonder if browsing for books was still a thing. After all, why go to the mountain when the mountain can come to you, right? Can sheer chance possibly deliver an enjoyable read the same way your trusted digital network can?
The Eleventh Stack team decided to throw caution to the winds and brave the uncharted territory of the library stacks to find a good book with no guidance other than instinct and personal preference. Here’s what we came up with:
Chemical Pink by Katie Arnoldi may be the strangest book I have ever ever read (and I’ve read Bear v. Shark). It’s the story of female bodybuilder’s highly unusual relationship with her sponsor, a wealthy man with some very… interesting… interests. If you choose to read it, you’ll learn all about the trials and tribulations of professional bodybuilding, but there are also pages and pages of crazy stuff that I just can’t write about on this polite library blog.
Those of us who serve in libraryland are familiar with Jo Godwin’s quote, “A truly great library has something in it to offend everyone.” If your library owns this book, it’s well on its way to greatness.
I Shall Be Near to You, by Erin Lindsay McCabe, is one of my favorites so far this year and I only noticed it because I was rearranging things on the new book table at Woods Run.
Did you know that over 250 women fought side by side with their husbands, brothers, and
friends during the Civil War? Based on the accounts of real women, McCabe gives us Rosetta – newlywed and a bit of tomboy, she finds that staying home to be a war bride is not her jam, at all – she certainly doesn’t fit the proper housewife mold that her new in-laws expect. Her husband, Jerimiah, has joined the Union army in hopes of sending home enough money so that they can eventually buy their own farm. Rosetta soon follows his regiment – to be near the only person who truly understands her and to double their payout. Jerimiah must come to terms with his wife’s new role in their relationship and Rosetta must keep her identity a secret at all costs, while Rebels loom over the next horizon.
Up until high school, I had mostly read superhero comics. But around my junior year, my local library started a graphic novel collection. It was small, but high quality. Most of what I found there came from Vertigo, DC’s “mature” publishing arm. Some, like Hellblazer and Fables, are well-known classics. Others, like The Books of Magic, are less known but just as good. The other two, Deadenders and Kill Shakespeare, I found while browsing CLP’s graphic novel collection.
Hellblazer and The Books of Magic take place in the same universe. The first concerns a cocky, sharp-tongued demon-fighter named John Constantine, and the second bears many similarities to the story of Harry Potter — but make no mistake, The Books of Magic came well before Rowling’s young wizard. Fables tells the story of fairytale characters exiled to modern-day Manhattan, and Kill Shakespeare takes on the world of Shakespeare in a similar fashion, minus modern NYC. Deadenders is a single-volume science fiction dystopian comic.
I can’t read enough sci-fi, sorcery, or spooky stuff, so when I was browsing my eyes were especially drawn to the telltale blue stickers we use for those genres. And then the words
leaped off the shelf like a dare and dazzled me with their crimson menace.
The book turned out to be Twists of the Tale: An Anthology of Cat Horror, a collection of short stories featuring–you guessed it — fearsome felines. Edited by Ellen Datlow, whose work is well-known by those of us who crave good SF/F/H, this collection contains stories from Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Tanith Lee, Nancy Kress, and other kitten-smitten contributors. The tales are consistently creepy, and more often than not, the human protagonists are more monstrous than their four-footed counterparts. If your personal reading venn diagram overlaps with cats and Creepshow, you might want to check this one out.
I took a few pictures of the book to include in the blog post, but for some (sinister?) reason, every single shot was corrupted. Cue the Twilight Zone music…
I get to browse our fiction section quite often. Usually while shelving returned items. The other day while doing just that in the Historical Fiction section, I pulled a few books off the shelf that were of interest to me. Then I discovered I had a “theme” going on. Apparently, I like fiction books about the 1920s, preferably set in New York City, but Chicago will do in a pinch. This is how my “to read” shelf of library books at home keeps growing and growing and growing…
Have you ever wondered why you think the way you think? Why do you fall in love with one person, but not another? Do honor codes actually work? Why do you procrastinate? Do you know you actually spend more on “free” things? I love reading weird little books about sociology, economics and why people act the way they do. I discovered this book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely when I was looking for another book about economics for this blog post.
First of all, the author has an amazing, tragic story behind the writing of the book (in the hospital for THREE years!) And maybe Mr. Ariely doesn’t have the glamour of the Freakonomics dudes, but his book just as engaging and possibly better written. Finally, there is a whole chapter on beer and free lunches, which are two of my favorite things in the whole universe.
If you’ve enjoyed our browsing experiment, we have a fun weekend challenge for you!
1. Visit the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location of your choice.
2. Browse the shelves for your own perfect serendipitous read.
3. Take a picture and tweet your find to @CLP_tweets, using the hashtag #BrowseCLP
Can’t make it to the library this weekend? We’d still love to hear your thoughts on book browsing, either physical or digital, so don’t be shy about tweeting at us with that hashtag. And, as ever, you’re invited to leave us a comment here, with your opinion.