Tag Archives: genre fiction

Reading Outside Your Box

Once or twice before, I have talked about and even challenged you to read outside your comfort zone. Just to let you know that we’re not all talk and no action here at the library, I want to share with you a project my First Floor colleagues and I are working on. Under the guidance of our fearless leader, each one of us is reading (or at least browsing) a book in each one of the featured genres we have in our First Floor: New & Featured collection.  Not to bore you with a list, but just to inform you, those genres are: Bestsellers, New Nonfiction, Biographies, Travel, Cookbooks, New Fiction, World Fiction, Mystery, Paperback Fiction, Romance, Inspirational Fiction, Historical Fiction, Short Stories, GLBT, Foreign Language, African American, Science Fiction, Horror, Graphic Series, Graphic Novel, Manga, Graphic Nonfiction, Magazines, and Zines. Whew!

There is a genre selected for each one of our twice monthly staff meetings. Prior to the meeting (sometimes wayyyyyy before) each of us selects a book from that genre and either reads it, or peruses and researches it. We then give each other a 2-3 minute talk about the book. Many of us are finding books we like in areas that we thought we wouldn’t. A few of us are having our biases confirmed. But nevertheless, we are exploring all the genres to help us do our jobs better.

Here are some of the books we’ve discovered so far:

Google_coverAre You Smart Enough to Work at Google? by William Poundstone – The entire book is devoted to the types of questions you may be asked in the new interview style. ʺYou are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown in a blender. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?ʺ   Even more interesting than these interview questions are the insights offered into how megalithic super successful companies go about finding the right employee amidst the thousands that line up for these jobs.  It turns out that the intelligent and well-educated person isn’t necessarily creative.  Also, the word ʺsmartʺ in the title is too general to relate to the specific areas of knowledge Google is courting.  Maybe “are you nerdy enough to work at Google” would be better.  Poundstone also wrote a book about Microsoft’s hiring process – How Would You Move Mount Fuji? : Microsoft’s Cult of the Puzzle: How the World’s Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers (2003). – Georgia (New Nonfiction)

Battleborn_cover  Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins – The ten short stories in this collection are first and foremost about setting – the West (Battleborn is the nickname of Nevada and the home state of Watkins) is a central character and the Western atmosphere gives a stable, vintage setting to the edgy stories.  The author’s life is as interesting as the book – she is the daughter of Charles Manson’s right hand man and a central part of the Manson Family, although he was not involved in the murders.  With Battleborn, Watkins won the 2012 Story Prize for outstanding short fiction. The two other finalists were Junot Diaz and Dan Chaon. – Sheila (Short Stories)

Christmas_Kid_cover The Christmas Kid and Other Brooklyn Stories by Pete Hamill – An iconic New York writer gives us stories set in Brooklyn, the borough in which he grew up and which represents an important part of his early life. The stories showcase a bygone New York and are filled with nostalgia. The title story is one of the strongest, about a young concentration camp survivor who becomes part of a new and extended family in New York. In ʺLullaby of Birdland,ʺ we meet a musician and the family whose life he inadvertently changes, then disappears. We encounter quirky people and everyday people going about their lives. Most of the stories are very short, originally written for the New York Daily News in an effort to bring short fiction back into newspapers. – Joanne (Short Stories)

Cowboy_Lust_cover Cowboy Lust: Erotic Romances for Women edited by Delilah Devlin – Satisfies the needs of those who are hankering for a good man. All of these cowboys are fit, ruggedly handsome, and in touch with their feelings. (This is ʺfictionʺ, remember!)  Everyone gets what they want, and need, in this collection of short stories, even if they didn’t know it was what they wanted in the first place.  A quick, light read perfect for a lazy Saturday afternoon on the porch. – Melissa (Romance)

Dream_Blue_cover Dream When You’re Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg – Set in Chicago during World War II, this nostalgic story focuses on the lives of three sisters who learn to experience wartime life. Food rations, USO dances, new jobs, and letter-writing all become routine tasks for the girls, and their strong caring for each other carries them through these difficult times. Snippets of letters from the soldiers abroad add realistic, heartbreaking twists to this well-crafted tale. – Karen (Historical Fiction)

Forgotten_Garden_cover The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton – Opens with a little girl who turns up on a wharf in Australia. She doesn’t know her name or who her parents are–but she does have a little white suitcase and a book of fairy tales by one whom she calls the Authoress. The dockmaster, who found her, raises her and calls her Nell. Decades later Nell’s granddaughter goes on a quest to discover her origins. – Bonnie (Historical Fiction)

Kissing_List_cover The Kissing List by Stephanie Reents – This collection of contemporary short stories explores the age-old philosophical questions, including ʺIs monogamy old-fashioned? Does it count when you’re drunk?ʺ Several of the stories follow young, fancy-free Sylvie, who has lived in London for the past year, kissing, kissing, kissing anyone and everyone. She moves to NYC, tries to be more adult-like, and eventually succeeds – hilarity and debauchery notwithstanding. This is an excellent choice for readers who’ve already read the typical chick-lit, have somewhat matured in their reading tastes, but aren’t ready for Margaret Atwood yet. – Rita (New Fiction)

Lemon_Grove_coverThe Lemon Grove by Ali Hosseini – Hosseini is an Iranian-American who chooses the setting of contemporary Iran with its uncertain politics and government. The story is the personal one of a family that is affected by and reflects upon the problems of the country as a whole. Lyrical writing and highly developed characters give a strong sense of time and place. One twin brother, after being saved, narrates why and how he came to attempt suicide, but returns stronger and tries to renew what has been lost. A great discussion book. – Terry (Inspirational)

Rise_Rome_coverThe Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt – Although much has been written about Rome’s decline and fall, it’s beginning is just as interesting. Born as a market town between the eighth and seventh century B. C. (according to legend founded by the twin brothers Romulus & Remus) Rome soon grew into one big bloody empire. Noteworthy is the way the Romans treated those they conquered (they invited them to be Romans), the duel between the plebeians and the patricians and the fall of the Republic. Famous people also make themselves known: Julius Ceasar, Cato the Elder, Cicero, Hannibal and Scipio Africanus, the Roman general who defeated Hannibal twice. It’s fun! It’s educational! It’s Rome! – John (New Nonfiction)

Russian_Travel_cover Russian Travel Made Easier: Advice for Friends by Elena Istomina & Natalia Khrystolubova – A new take on the travel guide, particularly for the traveller who has a dream destination that is somewhat forbidding, whether for language, culture, or exoticism.  This is a guide to Russia written by two Russians who are very familiar with the United States and its norms and customs, and who are driven by their desire to introduce Russia to U.S. (and other) travelers who might be unsure where to begin.  The guide is succinct and answers very fundamental questions, leaving it to the more traditional travel guides to post the hours of the Hermitage and other popular tourist locations. An insider’s view on how to get there and experience a more authentic Russia, consider it a necessary supplement to any travel guide to Russia.  It’d be really nice to have something of the sort for every other country out there as well. – Miguel (Travel)

Signet_Southern_cover Signet Classic Book of Southern Short Stories edited by Dorothy Abbott and Susan Koppelman – Nice selection of the usual suspects – Faulkner, O’Connor, Capote – but also women and writers of color, including McCullers, Walker, Hurston, as well as a fair number of lesser-known writers. This, and the fact that the works span 200 years, makes for a great range of material. – Jude (Paperback Fiction)

Slynx_cover The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya – Picture a barren, bleak, battered nation after a cataclysmic event that nearly utterly destroyed civilization. Also, it is Russia. And there are great beasts in the wilderness waiting to eat anything that moves. This is where our hero, Benedikt, labors to transcribe and preserve old books. There’s no prestige in the work, but at least he doesn’t suffer from any mutations and has thus far avoided execution for being a Freethinker. – Connie (World Fiction)

Some_Like_Hot_cover Some Like it Hot by K.J. Larsen – Cat DeLuca works for her deranged, but lovable, high school classmate at his Chicago PI agency. When he is murdered, it is up to her to avenge his death. Both cheeky and thrilling- this is a fun murder mystery! – Holly (Mystery)


Twelve-Tribes-of-Hattie_cover The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis – Each of the 12 chapters corresponds to one or more of Hattie’s 12 children, struggling for a better life in the non-Jim Crow north. This is a fictional companion to Isabel Wilkerson’s knockout non-fiction The Warmth of Other Suns, a history of the African-American diaspora of early 20th century America. Hattie loses her first two babies to illness and loses her love of life at the same time. Things are never really better outside of Georgia, but each child must find his own way, leaving Hattie and her misery (of which there is plenty) behind. – Jane (New Fiction)

Wrestling_Reality_cover Wrestling Reality: The Life and Mind of Chris Kanyon, Wrestling’s Gay Superstar by Chris Kanyon and Ryan Clark – Chris Kanyon was a popular wrestler in WCW and WWE, debuting in 1994 and semi-retiring in 2004. Throughout the height of his career, he remained closeted and went to great lengths to remain so.  He suffered several injuries in the early 2000s and, during one hospital stay, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  His career took a downward turn when he discussed coming out as a gay wrestler without succumbing to playing a stereotyped character. He stayed active in gay causes and independent wrestling in his final years.  Tragically, he took his own life shortly before the release of this book. – Rick (GLBT)

So if you are having trouble reading outside your usual “box,”why not do it in a group? Gather up some friends or co-workers and agree to read a book in a particular genre. You can all read the same book, or mix it up and all read a different one, like we’re doing. You never know what pleasant surprises wait on those shelves just outside your reach.

-Melissa M.

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One of my favorite librarian duties is choosing books for discussion. For Dish! A Foodie Book Club (which meets tonight), I vary the subject month to month—memoir, history, food industrycultural aspects of food.

Selecting titles for Bound Together Book Club, a collaboration between Carnegie Museum of Art and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, requires additional planning, since our mission is to create dialogue about art and literature.

House (1879, ink and watercolor on paper), by A. Charrie. Carnegie Museum of Art.

For our May 13 meeting, Bound Together’s focus is “Imagining Home,” title of the current exhibit of the Museum’s Heinz Architectural Center. To pair a book with this exhibit, I searched for fiction in which a house plays an important role, or could even be considered a main character.

I chose Sarah Waters’ horror novel The Little Stranger, with slight reservations. The thought of reading a thick (458 page) horror novel intimidated (and frightened) me, even though this haunted house story met the criteria of home as protagonist.

It’s frustrating that novels are categorized in reductive ways. Genre labels such as horror, romance, mystery, tell us where to shelve a book and offer a hint about storyline, but reveal nothing of literary quality.

The Little Stranger, however, came highly recommended. Sarah Waters previously penned three historical fiction novels, two of which were shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker prize. The Little Stranger landed on the Booker 2009 shortlist, too.

Just a few pages into The Little Stranger I relaxed, knowing I’d chosen well. Set in 1947 rural England, war rationing is still in place. The narrator, an articulate, likable middle-aged physician, answers a call to Hundreds Hall, a declining Georgian mansion he remembers visiting as a young child, when his mother worked there as a maid. Hundreds Hall and the family who live there gradually absorb, haunt, and finally possess his thoughts, time, and energy.

It’s a strangely beautiful novel, creepy, psychologically complex, atmospheric, one I’ll continue to ponder.


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Historic, Mystery, Science Fiction

If you enjoy a good audio book now and then but just don’t feel like sorting through the 1,600 (really!) or so titles that we have in stock at any given time, check out our display of historic, mystery, and science fiction titles. Each of the books on these shelves is lovingly hand chosen by yours truly, using an exactingly scientific process and a roll of cheerfully colored stickers. And here’s how I do it.


Historic – To me, historic fiction is written in the present but set in the past, where the book’s time period is almost as important to the story as the plot and the characters. For example, although Suite Francaise is set during WWII it’s not historic, because that’s when it was written (it’s just a book that no one bothered to translate right away). But these books have made it into my historic fiction section.

  • Heyday by Kurt Andersen – America, gold rush, blah blah blah. It’s really really long and I couldn’t finish it. Definitely historic, though.
  • The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery – You get two fires in this book, which is about an American orphan in Kyoto in the mid 1800s.
  • The Good German by Joseph Kanon – Don’t misplace your mistress, especially in Berlin, especially in 1945.

Mystery – The easiest way to find a mystery is to look for dead people, or if you’re me, look for the word “mystery” on the CD case. Those who write mysteries tend to keep writing mysteries, so if you find yourself fancying a particular detective you’ll often have many titles to choose from.

  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – Highlight the text between the brackets for a spoiler. (Everyone did it.)
  • Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith – You could argue that this one’s a western (due to the blatant use of cowboys) but it does say mystery right on the cover. So there you go (plus, I don’t have western stickers).
  • Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear – Okay, this one does border on historic since it’s set in the years after WWI. The main character is a charming female private investigator and former army nurse with a tragic love life, intriguing scar, and a sporty little car. What else could you want?

Science Fiction – If there are robots, spaceships, strange planets, hot green alien babes, stuff like that – you’ve got science fiction. Stay away from dragons, though, as that puts you into fantasy territory and I don’t have any fantasy stickers either.

  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – I will lose a little librarian street cred here by freely admitting that I’ve never read the book, but I’ve seen the movie.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert – Okay, I’m really bad at science fiction. You’ve got me. But Scott likes Dune. So you can go talk to him about it, right?
  • Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan – This one sort of veers into mystery territory, since the main character’s a UN investigator. But he’s also doing his detecting in a) the 25th century, and b) a replacement body. That covers the sci-fi requirements nicely.

And there you have it, the three genres that I’ve managed to label. I’m still campaigning for more stickers (Vampire Porn and Manly Adventure come to mind), but that may take a while. Until that glorious stickery day, you can always ask a librarian.

– Amy

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