Summary: F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival organizers Dr. Jackson Bryer and Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham, as well as Twinbrook Library Manager Eric Carzon, talk about the upcoming festival, as well as the life, work, and Montgomery County connections of jazz-era author F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Recording Date: August 9, 2018
Dr. Jackson Bryer, author of several books about F. Scott Fitzgerald and one of the founding organizers of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival.
Eric Carzon: Branch Manager of Twinbrook Library and MCPL liaison to the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival.
Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham, Professor Emerita of Concordia University Saint Paul and one of the organizers of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival.
Host: Lauren Martino
What Our Guests Are Reading:
Eric Carzon: The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle
Books, Authors, and Other Media Mentioned During this Episode:
"Babylon Revisited" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo
Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo
Trajectory by Richard Russo
Straight Man by Richard Russo
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Vegetable, or From President to Postman (play) by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"Winter Dreams" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Other Items of Interest Mentioned During this Episode:
The Elevator Repair Service Theater Company: Performs original works with an ongoing ensemble.
F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival: This literary festival features writing workshops, panel discussions, the presentation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award to a prominent author (the 2018 recipient is Richard Russo), and much more. The festival honors the works of jazz-era author F. Scott Fitzgerald and as well as the work of current, prominent authors. The festival also supports and encourages aspiring writers and students interested in the literary arts. The festival takes place Saturday, October 20, 2018 at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD. There is an opening lecture by National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas on Thursday, October 18, as well as a special event Friday evening, October 19,"Readings in Tribute to Richard Russo and Literature Without Borders." MCPL will host several Fitzgerald related programs before the festival begins.
Friends of the Library, Montgomery County: A nonprofit organization that supports MCPL by providing supplemental funding, programs, materials, and equipment.
Kanopy: MCPL's free, online movie streaming service. Includes film festival favorites, award-winning documentaries, indie films and world cinema.
The Writer's Center: A literary organization in Montgomery County, MD hosting writing workshops and literary events to promote the craft of writing for people of all backgrounds.
Summary: True crime enthusiast Carol Reddan shares her love of true crime books and recounts some of the better known national and local true crime stories.
Recording Date: August 9, 2018
Guest: Carol Reddan, Library Associate at Olney Library.
Host: Lauren Martino
What Our Guest is Reading: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidyng Up by Marie Kondo. There's a graphic novel based on this book called The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story.
Books and Other Media Mentioned During this Episode:
The Anatomy of Motive by John E. Douglas
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
The Borden Murders: Lizze Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller
Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
The Legend of Lizzie Borden (film)
Lizzie Borden Took an Ax (film)
Making a Murderer (documentary)
The Mystery of the Moss Covered Mansion by Carolyn Keene
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann
Other Items of Interested Mentioned During this Episode:
Julie Dina: Welcome to Library Matters. I am your host Julie Dina. Our topic on today’s episode is English Conversation Clubs. Have you ever wondered about our widely acclaimed English Conversation Clubs, well today we have two special guests who will tell us all about it. First, I would like to welcome Nancy Sillcox who is the librarian too from Quince Orchard.
Nancy Sillcox: Hi.
Julie Dina: Welcome Nancy. I would also like to welcome Annie Etches who is our English Conversation Club facilitator for Quince Orchard’s Library.
Annie Etches: Hi Julie, nice to be here this morning.
Julie: Welcome. So let’s just go ahead and dive in. Can you guys tell me a little bit about yourself so our listeners can know all about you?
Nancy: Hi I am Nancy Sillcox, I am the Adult Services librarian at Quince Orchard Library since 2008. And I have also worked as a information specialist at the International Tsunami Information Center in Honolulu Hawaii and also at Childrens Library in San Francisco before I moved to Maryland. And of course I enjoy hiking, drawing, and of course reading the latest best seller.
Julie: Sounds interesting, Annie?
Annie: Hi I am Annie Etches I am from London in England. I have been here now from 40 years. My husband and I came with say four children, but three really; one had to go back to England. We have lived in this Montgomery County area for almost 40 years and he was always interested in library work of all sorts. We both did volunteer work all our adult lives anyway and there seems to be so much interest in the libraries in this county that we both got, you know, involved. And so he died a couple of years ago, he used to do the Tuesday morning class and then I was asked if I would like to step in and do it. And I was very nervous at first because we both, all our lives had our own interests and I somehow felt I didn’t want to sort of step on to his shoes, but I did and I just love it. It’s, my Tuesdays morning are absolutely fantastic, so I am so happy about that.
Julie: We thank you for all that wonderful work and thanks to your husband too who led the way.
Annie: Yeah he was great.
Julie: So why don’t we just go in and tell out listeners exactly what English Conversation Clubs are and are they in fact classes?
Nancy: Well for many English speakers or English learners I think the hardest part is speaking, I think that’s the most difficult part of learning a new language. And so at our Conversation Clubs you know, our facilitators make them very comfortable, make them relaxed and they ask the right questions, so get them you know, talking and speaking, also it helps them with listening to the language as well. And we depend on our facilitators to help our English learner to develop the speaking skills and I think they do a great job.
Annie: Yes I think you’re absolutely right; they have told me quite often actually that they like listening to us talking to them as much as they like talking to us which is very good and it’s very interesting, because for me they are hearing English, English. And they often bring that up and laugh about it that you know, because they are the facilitator that sits on my table and of course she is an American English and therefore it can sometimes be different. But we get past that usually with laughing and joking about something and they tease me quite a lot about my English, and but that that’s fine. Certainly, I think for them learning to speak is more important than learning to read and write and learning the grammar. Not that grammar doesn’t come into it of course as you, you know, because we do a lot of reading, reading and it does, but it is not the focus. And sometimes we get people who that’s what they want the focus to be is on the grammar and sometimes that’s because of the job they are doing here and they need that more in their job. So then we can always direct them to Montgomery College and they often go there for English grammar classes as well, so that’s quite good. But yeah I think they love it, I know they love our class and I do appreciate that every class during the week has a different approach to how they run the things and so maybe mine is a little you know, I don’t know --.
Nancy: Yes, yeah being the coordinator I do see the difference, your Tuesday morning you guys have a lesson plan?
Nancy: They have three tables and each table has a volunteer that helps about five to eight people and they have a lesson plan where everyone talks about the same topic. And then Thursday Conversation Club each of the volunteer have their own topic that they want to talk about. So they decide what topic that they want to talk about. In the Saturday Conversation Club, it’s just whatever the participants want to talk about, if they want to talk about politics, you know, something is happening, they would talk about that or food or anything that was happening in current events. It’s like, it’s the mix and there is no organization to their talk. And I think they like it that way participants in a Saturday one, they just like this very loose format and then the Tuesday evening I think there is only one volunteer, oh actually I am sorry there is two volunteers and I think they just bring up a topic and then they discuss it.
Julie: Now would you say the same participants go to the Tuesday, the Thursday, and the Saturday classes?
Annie: Occasionally, but also I know one or two of my – say students, they also go to Germantown Library, they sometimes go to Gaithersburg Library. I think that because some of them walk a long way, some of them come on two buses Tuesday morning, they don’t want to drive a car and come like that. And sometimes they go to another library because I don’t know maybe something was advertised or may be their kids have gone there for some reason or something. So but I do know I think next week when they are closed Tuesday morning a couple of them did say to me, “Can I go to one of the other classes,” and I said, “Of course you can anytime you want,” so yeah.
Julie: So I guess depending on what they are looking for and what is convenient at that time?
Annie: Yes at that time, yes, yes, yes. And in fact let’s just say, we start, of the three tables okay in our group. My table and I have tried to encourage the other two they don’t do it quite so much, but we begin with making sure everybody knows who everybody is at the table because we have had some new people in the last couple of weeks and that has been quite fun. So everybody says who they are. And then I ask them, “Well how was your week, what did you do, anything special?” So we start with just talking about anything and everything. And sometimes we don’t even get to the paper work because that goes off at so many tangents as to, you know, sometimes they have a problem they want to talk about. And because I am also an immigrant, I can align with a lot of what they are going through in their first years here and some are only here for a few years anyway.
And so we start with the talking and then we go to the paperwork and as we get, nobody has to read if they don’t want to; I always say that if you don’t feel confident with your reading that’s fine just listen you know, but everybody likes to read. And I try to correct their pronunciation as much as my English allows, but I try not to over do that because I don’t want them to be thinking every second word they say I am going tell them how to say it better. So we ease up on that as we go along. Everybody else underlines words or phrases that they don’t understand so at the end of every paragraph we will say, “We go back,” and then people will say, “I didn’t understand that, what did that mean.” So then we go over that. Sometimes that takes us off onto a completely different tangent of what we are discussing, but that is okay too. And usually we sort of finish up with everybody saying, “Oh, oh is it over, we got to go now.” And I say, “Yes sorry I do have to.” So it is a big mix of the paperwork and just general talking and things like that. I mean somebody got caught going through a red light and --.
Julie: That’s something to talk about.
Annie: Yeah, the police car was sitting right there, picked him up and he had a really hard time, you know, and that often happens I know that. So things like that so I was able to tell him what he needed to do and yes he did need to go the court and all the rest of it. So there are things like that we can help with.
Julie: Now how do people get started with a Conversation Club also do they have to register for these classes and where can they find a Conversation Club and how often do they meet?
Nancy: Well the Conversation Clubs are open to all adult, it’s a drop-in meet up, you don’t have to register and you can attend as many classes as you want here at Quince Orchard, we have four and they are welcome to attend all four if they have time.
Julie: And there are also others at other branches?
Nancy: Yes and all the other branches also have Conversation Clubs as well that they can attend.
Julie: Now this question is for you Annie, why did you decide to become a volunteer coordinator for Quince Orchard?
Annie: It was my nearest library.
Julie: That’s convenient.
Annie: But no, I mean that’s, we live close by and that’s where my husband got involved with things, I, well both of us got involved with the Saturday monthly book sale, so we were busy with that. I was on the library board for a short while, I don’t know there just seemed to be lots of things there and we would always encourage our kids and grand kids in that to be involved in the library if possible. I think it’s a great place especially for the teenagers to be able to go to from the high school over there in the afternoons and you know, be over there, I think it’s a good place.
I love the idea that every Tuesday morning I have people from all around the world who are sitting there enjoying each others’ company even if they don’t always understand quite what’s being said you know. And one day we had a I think there were about 12 people at my table, this is going back to when we were at the church hall during the time we were closed. And a guy from Iran, we had all been laughing and joking about I don’t know what now may be food or something and just before we finished he just said, “Everybody I think it’s so wonderful that we can sit here; we are all different, different countries, different religions, different ideas and yet we all get along and we love meeting together.” And that to me summed up what I want life to be about and it was just great.
Julie: Wow so you know, you get the privilege to travel around the world in one room.
Annie: Yes, yes, absolutely, yes absolutely
Julie: Now I know earlier Nancy mentioned that the classes are for adults and you also mentioned it is a good form for teens to come to, what about kids, can kids attend these classes as well?
Annie: Yes in the last few years we have had two babies born, not there, I mean you know. And the mothers don’t come every week it depends on what’s going on, you know. And we have a young woman from Russia it’s her first baby and she is very conscious that the baby might make a noise or anything so she comes occasionally when she is pretty sure that he is going to sleep the next hour anyway, you know, but no we just love that. In the last few months, I have had two teenagers who have been visiting this country to be with their father or their mother or whatever. And so they have come with them and their English has been you know, good anyway, but no I think that that is fine and the two little babies we have had have been absolutely fine, no problem at all.
Julie: No conversation from them?
Annie: No conversation, no, no.
Nancy: Yeah as long as children are with their parents, I think we are fine with it but we don’t encourage children coming in by themselves because the conversation would be you know, adult you know, subject matter so yeah --.
Julie: Now who would you recommend to participate in these Conversation Clubs?
Annie: Well I would say anybody who is going to live here for more than five or six weeks may be. There have been occasions and the last time this couple came from Italy they came, because they came to see Richard but it was too late of course and they haven’t been back since. But I know they used to come once a year they came to visit their daughter who lived locally and they spent two months with her and they came as did a another older couple some while ago because they want to improve their English so that they communicate with their grandchildren because they were finding that you know, their grandchildren just spoke English and they just would not, with it the whole time, they just couldn’t and they wanted the communication to be better so as they came every and so they came.
Julie: Was that helpful?
Annie: They said it was very helpful; they loved it so you know.
Nancy: Yeah there was one woman who was going to have a job interview and she told me that she attended the Conversation Club so she could improve her English for the job interview. And she said the Conversation Club helped her to be more relaxed and feel more confident in her speaking skills and it helped her with her job interview. So she mentioned that and I thought that’s good yeah.
Julie: Those are great feedback.
Julie: Is there a lot of turnover among participants or do the same people come over a long period of time?
Annie: Both I have got at the moment on a Tuesday; I would say there are at least half the people have been coming for a long time. In fact I have two at my table who have been coming for years whereas I have another two people at the table it was his second week this week, he is going to be one more year in this country, so he is going to keep coming he says all that year. The other person I think she will be only here may be for another few months. So it is you know, and some people you see like particularly the Chinese people because of their culture, they go back to their own country usually to take care of parents for three, four, five, six months of the year and then they come back again. So I have several of those that are there for a few months and then gone and then they come back again. It’s a mix; it’s a good mix I think.
Julie: So for those who have been coming for a long time and not the ones who go for three months and come back, is it that they are enjoying the conversations or is there a particular upper level and at some point do you say well this has really helped me?
Nancy: I think for some of them it’s a great social outlet for them you know, I think a lot of them feel a little isolated because of the language barrier. And so when they go to the Conversation Club they get this support. And our facilitators you know, they would help them kind of maneuver around the neighborhood and tell them where all the resources are. I think it is a good place for them to connect with the community.
Annie: And with people from their country too. There is always a brightness about them when they know someone else at the table is from their country. And sometimes I have to, when they talk to each other and I have to say English, English only and we all laugh about that later.
Julie: Oh okay, that is very funny.
Annie: Yes, no it definitely is a social place for them and you will hear them say something that they saw each other in Giant or the nursery or something you know. And they were able to meet somebody that they could talk to in their own language probably, but nevertheless it was somebody that they recognized it was a neighbor and I think that is good for them too so.
Nancy: I think that’s great.
Julie: So while we are on the topic of them like participants knowing each other, do either of you know your participants well?
Annie: Several I do know, yes definitely, because when we are having, its amazing how much some of them will open up about what has just happened at home a sadness or may be a very happy thing and want to share it. I now have a lady who is just a little bit older than me and she is into gardening and she has a big green house so do I so you know. So we have a lot in common and she brought in the most amazing tomatoes and cucumbers last week and everybody thought this was amazing. And now she has done this many years running, so I wasn’t surprised, but of course other people were just like, “Wow.” So on Tuesday this other lady she brings in this big bag of chocolate and spreads it over the table for everybody to have you know, and everybody is just like, “Oh it is so nice.”
Julie: That’s great like a community, yeah.
Annie: Yes, I feel I do.
Nancy: I am green with envy.
Annie: You have to come visit us.
Nancy: Now I do.
Julie: So what would you say are the benefits of the Conversation Clubs?
Annie: I know how I came when I first came to this country and it took me three years before I really felt that this was home. It takes a long while, it doesn’t happen quickly or easily and I think for these people it gives them some sort of backup or some feeling that there are other people out there that I could talk to. You know, Americans are incredibly friendly, generous people, I mean they just are which is wonderful. And these people they recognize that very, very quickly. As we often talk about this and how it’s different in their culture in this way and that way. So they are very aware of that and they just think that is wonderful that they are accepted.
And I think one of the things is for them is to be accepted although they don’t speak good English and they may be misunderstood. And it’s just the simple daily things of life when you go to a store. A lot of them are very, very nervous about traveling on a bus, going into a restaurant and that’s something Richard used to do. He always had money to show everybody what you know, the money or the coins were and the things and that and he would take in menus and things so that people could see what food was in a certain menu and things. And sometimes we used to take people out to eat or something so that they could order something and feel confident that they could do that, because they feel very nervous in those situations. So I think it’s just the daily life things that we can encourage them and I think they feel more comfortable with living.
Nancy: And the libraries you know, it’s a perfect place to have these conversations clubs, because we have you know, we know have the, we know where the resources are. We can direct them to where they are and they feel relaxed coming up to us and asking us you know, information about personal things like you know, job hunting or like you know, the bus route you know, which bus to catch. And we are patient enough to you know, walk them through you know, where to catch the bus, child care services you know, some of them may not know about that, the best place you know, like banking.
Annie: Banking is a big thing, insurance is another big that they don’t understand and they want to know about and where they can go and find out things yes.
Nancy: And services like you know, who is a good roofer or lawn service, you know, so being in the library, we have all those information for them, yeah.
Annie: And also they, I don’t know whether they would actually say this but this is the feeling I get from them, they feel they are in a safe place.
Julie: At the library?
Annie: At the library.
Julie: And no one is going to swindle them.
Annie: No, no, absolutely. And they, you know, it is a government building okay, I am considering where some of these people come from that would be a scary thing in their countries to be trustworthy in a government building and yet you just sense it when they come in, that there is a relaxation, they feel safe and that’s very good.
Julie: Now as a coordinator Nancy, can you tell us what participants have told you about Conversation Clubs that have actually enhanced their lives?
Nancy: Well earlier yeah I only have one story; it is about the lady who was going to go for her job interview. And she was very appreciative that the Conversation Club helped her to relax and develop some speaking skills and feel confident in speaking English you know, during the job interview.
Annie: At the moment I have one person who is going for their citizenship and so I have been there and done that, so I can be you know, I can listen, I know what their worries are and what their concerns are, help them with questions and things. Green cards, yes same thing, a couple of people going for their green cards and so they you know, so I can help in that way, because they don’t know who else to turn to for those things.
Nancy: Exactly, right.
Annie: And one of the things I have found which amazed me at first time, I am used it now, but most of these people have got children in school. All the children speak perfect English or as perfect just as it is these days and yet will they speak English at home with their mother or their father, no. And everybody tells me the same thing that oh they can’t be bothered, we are too slow, they don’t want to do it. And I say look you know, for one hour every evening at the dinner table wherever say I need your help to your kids. I have been telling you what to do all these years now I need you to help me, tell me how to say these words, just for an hour at dinner or something, you know, speak English it will help you so much, but they always come back and say no they say I am not you know. There was one lady I remember she was with Richard before me but thirteen years, she had been in this country, her kids had gone through school okay her English was almost non-existent because she said no English is ever spoken with her apart from when she came to the class.
Julie: Wow that’s amazing.
Annie: And I was astounded at that.
Julie: So did she come to that class for thirteen years?
Annie: I don’t know that, no I don’t know that, but she had come for many years certainly. But and it was almost as if she wasn’t improving in her English and I think that was partly because I mean I don’t know her home situation but may be speaking English was not allowed perhaps who knows I don’t know, but I was surprised that the children will not be more involved with helping their parents speak English.
Julie: So having these Conversation Clubs actually are vital?
Annie: I think so, I think so, yes.
Julie: Nancy this question is for you, what would you say are Montgomery County Public Library systems top English has a second language resources and services that we provide to our customers?
Nancy: Oh Montgomery County has a lot of resources, we have this whole collection of literacy resources that anyone that wants to learn English can borrow and some of these include audio books and DVDs. And a lot of the audio books have instructions in their mother tongue like English for Spanish speakers, English for Farsi speakers or Chinese speakers, so they can understand the English by listening to the instruction in their own language. And we also have lots of books that talk about you know, English grammar, word usage; we have lots of dictionaries, books on American idioms. And of course we also have lots of resources in the community like Montgomery College has a lot of English courses that they can take and most of them are free if it is for beginners, they also offer classes for advance learners, but there is a little fee for advance courses. And of course the Literacy Council has a lot of classes as well as tutors that can meet with English learners one-on-one and MCAEL which stands for the Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy also puts out a directory of providers that provide English instruction throughout the community throughout Montgomery County. And you can get this brochure at the library or you can just go to their website. And Charles Gilchrist Immigrant Resource Center also have lots of classes, they are located at Gaithersburg Library, in Germantown, also in Silver Spring and they have the courses listed on their website. And if they come to library we can print out the flyers for them. And Montgomery County College also has the Workforce Development & Continuing Education and they also can take English classes as well as there.
Julie: So they have a wider ray of resources.
Nancy: Yes there is a lot.
Julie: Now do we have Conversation Clubs for other languages and if we do what are there?
Nancy: Yes we also have Spanish Conversation Club at Quince Orchard, they meet Monday nights every Monday at 6 o’clock. And the same facilitator also runs a Thursday night at Rockville. And there is also a French Conversation Club in Germantown that meets at 6:30 every Tuesday night. And Gaithersburg Library has an advanced level English class on idioms it’s called Easy Does It American Idioms.
Julie: Now what have you learned from your experiences with the Conversation Clubs and this is to both of you?
Annie: I think so many things but I think just overall what that man said that day about us all sitting around that table and you know, just being one laughing together. I think about that when today that seems to be so much downside to our life, sadness to our world and I think about that that comes back to me all the time and it gives me more hope that we are going to get through bad times and we can really do this, we can really do this together, because we are all human beings and we all need each other and we can all give something to each other, it doesn’t matter what it is, but we can all share something and make this world a better place and I just feel that that we do that on Tuesdays.
Julie: Yeah it seems as though we are more similar than we are different.
Annie: Absolutely, absolutely without question.
Nancy: We share a lot of common values.
Annie: Yes, absolutely.
Nancy: Friendship, caring for family, education I think and no mater where you are from, we share these values.
Annie: Yes we do.
Julie: Well we are talking about wonderful stuff. Do you have any fun or interesting stories to share from a Conversation Club meeting?
Annie: Well we do laugh a lot that is for sure about all sorts of things. This last Tuesday a guy, he doesn’t sit at my table he said, “Bobby,” he called me over to that table. And he said, “Come, come see this” and he had his phone out and he is just well – we were teasing him because he has only just told us, but he has a first grand child and he was so excited about it. But the baby is already five months old and he hasn’t told us before. So we were really going, “What you think you are doing you know, we need to know this,” you know. And so again everybody is laughing and the photograph get handed around and everybody was so thrilled for him and things so, you know, it’s just nice, it is good sharing, it is so good.
Julie: Right more than just conversation.
Annie: Yes, oh definitely, definitely, but at the same time, I guess what I have done in the past in the court and that, I am very aware that there is a line that I do not cross in giving advice or you know, some things I wouldn’t say to somebody even if I thought I knew the answer or knew where I should guide them. But there is a line that I shouldn’t get totally involved with issues.
Julie: Right, but you could stir them in the right direction.
Annie: Absolutely yes.
Julie: Now to the really fun stuff, it is customary on this program that we ask our guests what they are currently reading, who would like to go first?
Annie: My brother is an author and I just received last week, the last thing he had written which won him a prize in England. And it’s a short story it is the most amazing piece of writing that I think I have ever read in my life. I just couldn’t believe and it was just so absolutely beautiful and my brother had written it with just outstanding so, yes so.
Nancy: That’s great.
Annie: The name of the story is Unforgettable and his name is David Wiseman but I don’t know the prize.
Julie: We will be sure to mention the name of the prize in the show notes. Over to you Nancy.
Nancy: Okay, personally I am reading a mystery by Martha Grimes title Vertigo 42. So it is a story about a friend of a friend who is convinced his wife was murdered 17 years ago and not by an accidental fall off the tower called Vertigo 42. So it was gripping, I have enjoyed it a lot.
Julie: Thank you so much for letting us in into the world of English Conversation Clubs, I want to thank Nancy and Annie for being with us today. Let’s keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple Podcast app Stitcher or wherever you get your Podcast. Also please review and rate us on Apple Podcast, we will love to know what you think. Thank you once again for listening to our conversations today, see you next time.
Summary: MCPL's English Conversations Clubs offer those wishing to practice speaking English a friendly, welcoming environment in which to do so. In this episode, Quince Orchard Librarian Nancy Chiu-Sillcox and Quince Orchard English Conversation Club volunteer coordinator Annie Etches describe the program and share stories from MCPL's English Conversation Club at Quince Orchard Library.
Recording Date: July 25, 2018
Guests: Nancy Chiu-Sillcox is the Head of Adult Services at Quince Orchard Library. Annie Etches is a volunteer at Quince Orchard Library who coordinates the English Conversation Club meetings at the branch.
Host: Julie Dina
What Our Guests Are Reading:
Nancy Chiu-Sillcox: Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes
Other Items of Interest Mentioned During the Episode:
Charles W. Gilchrist Immigrant Resource Center: The Gilchrist Center offers a variety of programs, including English classes, citizenship preparation, free legal clinics, technological literacy classes, and more.
English Conversation Clubs: Regularly scheduled volunteer-led gatherings at MCPL branches throughout the county that offer people the opportunity to practice speaking and listening to English in an informal, friendly, and welcoming environment.
English for Arabic (Chinese, Farsi, etc.) Speakers: A series of English language learning resources designed for beginners with instructions in the beginner's first language.
English Language Learners Guide: Links to and descriptions of local resources for English language learners.
Friends of the Library, Montgomery County: A nonprofit that supports MCPL through supplemental funding, programs, and materials.
Literacy Council of Montgomery County: A local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening the English language proficiency and literacy skills of adults in our community. The Literacy Council offers a variety of English language and literacy tutoring services and classes.
Montgomery College English as a Second Language (ESL): Montgomery College offers ESL classes for beginners and advanced English language learners. Some classes are offered for college credit, others are non-credit courses.
Montgomery County Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL): A comprehensive listing of free and fee-based English language and literacy classes provided by a variety of organizations in Montgomery County.
Montgomery County Library Board: The Library Board makes recommendations to the County Executive on matters affecting the public library system, such as the location of new facilities, the adequacy of book collections, services to outlying districts, and the personnel needs of MCPL.
Spanish Conversation Clubs: Numerous MCPL branches offer opportunities to practice speaking and listening to Spanish.
David Payne: Welcome to Library Matters with your host David Payne.
Julie Dina: And I'm Julie Dina.
David: And today we're going to be talking about historical fiction. We're going back in time and visiting distant lands and times, and joining us today, I'm very pleased to welcome two very special guests, Anita Vassallo, our Acting Director of MCPL. Welcome Anita.
Anita Vassallo: Thank you David, I'm very pleased to be here.
David: Or shall I say welcome back. Our listeners may remember Anita from a very lively recording we made on the Game of Thrones.
Anita: Oh yes, Game of Thrones.
David: And joining us as well, we welcome Sarah Mecklenburg, a Library Associate from our Outreach Department. So welcome Sarah.
Sarah Mecklenburg: Thank you.
David: And both Anita and Sarah are very avid historical fiction readers.
Anita: Yes indeed.
David: And we're looking forward to hearing all about your favorite books and authors.
Anita: All right.
David: So let's start with a bit about yourselves. If you would just tell us a bit about yourselves and what you do, where do you work and what brought you here. So let's start with Sarah.
Sarah: Okay. So, I’m Sarah Mecklenburg. I've been in MCPL for three and a half years. I started in December of 2014, and before that, I actually worked in museums and actually even interned at the American History Museum. I was a history major, so I am very passionate about history. So that has kind of led to a lot of people coming at me going, “Sarah, you should come to the podcast. You read a lot about it and you should come in and talk about the fun you have reading historical fiction.”
David: Glad you joined us.
Anita: So I'm, as David said, the Acting Director of Montgomery County Public Libraries, to – a great honor for me. And I’ve worked for the library system for more years than I would like to admit. So I was always an avid reader as a child, I spent a lot of time in the library, loved just about anything. And Historical Fiction is one of the genres that I do search out and enjoy in a lot of ways and I think that maybe if I had turned into a librarian, I would have liked to been a historian. So, it sounds really fun that Sarah worked at the Museum of American history which I didn't know.
David: So Anita, I have to ask you, you've been Acting Director since what, September or so?
Anita: It's almost been a year now.
David: Oh, almost a year. That’s right.
Anita: Yeah. It will be a year at the beginning of August.
David: Have you found – you've been able to find sometime in your busy schedule to read or has that affected you?
Anita: Fortunately, I have a long commute. So, as you know, I commute here usually about an hour and a half, sometimes longer. So I definitely rely on audio books to keep me going with my reading.
David: Right. There are some benefits to being stuck on 270.
Julie: So, what exactly is historical fiction and can either of you tell us examples of well-known historical fiction?
Anita: Well, I looked up what is historical fiction. Googled it, of course. And there is a British prize the Walter Scott prize for the best historical fiction, and their definition is, a novel that is set at least 60 years prior to its publication, which really seems like a random number. Sarah, how would you define historical fiction?
Sarah: I would say fiction that’s set within a historical time period or sometimes I would – I personally have a passion for alternate history or historical fiction that is blended with science fiction. So, time travel, things like that.
Anita: Connie Willis.
Sarah: Yeah. So, kind of – or historical mysteries as well. So stories that are set within a past time period. Often they cover major historical events. Although there are some that are nice and cover a quiet historical event, or not even an event at all, but just a period or follow a family through various groups of time periods.
Anita: Yeah, I agree with that. I think some of the most interesting ones are the ones that are not centered around a major historical event but something a time period that maybe followed a historical event, because there are couple I want to mention like that, that I really liked. I think there's some really well known historical fiction books from the past that I would mention are Michael Shaara’s book Killer Angels, which is kind of the quintessential book about the civil war.
Another much older book that was very popular and, of course, was made into a really popular PBS series was I, Claudius by Robert Graves which delves way down into those Romans and all their goings on. So, those are two ones that I would consider well known.
Sarah: I'm having trouble coming up with some of the more well-known ones off of the top of my head. But a librarian actually, Quince Orchard Library, growing up, gave me a local author’s Civil War books and they were historical fiction with time travel element. That started me off in this path. But actually, I did think of one series that – well, a series of series, that is often associated with historical fiction for younger readers and that's the American Girl series. Also the Dear America series is another series that's really known. That's what got me into a lot of these as well.
I read through all of those and then basically went to the librarian and said, “I need more historical fiction.” And she was like, “Sure.”
Anita: She got hooked in the series. And those – the ‘Dear America’ books are usually centered around a historical event, but it's portrayed in the books which aren’t really very long through the eyes of a young person. Usually, it’s like a tween, I think who would have been involved in sort of the periphery of the event. So those are really interesting and I agree with you a great way to get kids hooked on historical fiction.
David: But what actually makes a book historical fiction versus history? Is it a very clear distinction?
Anita: I think it’s in a way – it's a little bit blurred because certainly, I have read books that are catalogued as nonfiction or biography that are written in a style that's very accessible and almost fictionalized. But I think historical fiction can take liberties with the thoughts and motivations of the characters, which in a straight work of historical biography or nonfiction, the author does not inhabit the central character or other characters in the same way. They are drawing from perhaps diaries, or letters, or research and they're laying that information out there. They're not generally putting words in the mouths of the character unless they're part of documented fact.
Historical fiction often will have as its main character, someone who's kind of on the periphery of the action. And so while you have the dates and the historical figures, you are really looking at it through the eyes of someone who was not directly involved in what was going on. I think some authors who do a great job with that and one of my favorites would be Philippa Gregory, who's written that wide ranging series focusing on the tutor and the women around Henry VIII and Elizabeth and earlier on.
But there're characters that we don't really know that much about him, Henry Tudor’s mother. Not a main character, but she has plenty to say in these books on the stage. I mean, I could read historical fiction about the Tudor’s.
David Payne: Write about that yeah.
Anita: It never stops and there's always more and different ways of approaching.
David: You’ve got a whole Soap Opera there.
Anita: You’re not kidding. And Philippa Gregory does not like Henry VIII and she makes no bones about it.
David: No, she doesn’t hide that fact.
Julie: So, those are really, really interesting also sort of the minor character approaches, Ken Follett with his trilogy that began with the ‘Pillars of the Earth’ and he's focusing on stone masons and nuns and nurses and various people. But it creates this whole picture of the society during that time period and the major events that impacted these kind of minor players on the stage.
David: So, when you finish the book, do you find yourselves delving into researching what actually happens that peak your curiosity.
Sarah: That's why I majored in history.
Julie: So, historical fiction got you to major in history?
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Julie: Oh that's so cool.
Sarah: Yeah. I sat in my classes and I started – actually I was taking a number of classes on colonial America and that's my favorite time period that has been since I was a little kid when I was reading picture books that were done by the Plimoth Plantation and it actually were photographs, but it was following a actually historical child. It's kind of where the history and historical fiction line blurs. Because it's a fictional story about a real person and that’s how Plimoth Plantation presents everything in the museum – is everyone is the historical character, but it's a little bit blurry about is that the real presentation.
So I got really into that as a kid and I ended up taking a bunch of classes in that time period and other topics in history, I was an Art History major too. Surprise. And I just really had always loved reading about these different time periods especially historical fiction and I was like, I want to know more, I want to know everything. I have always been someone who just wants to know more about everything.
Julie: Yeah. I think something I usually wind up doing during reading the book or immediately after is getting the family tree and figuring out who –
David: Who was who.
Julie: –Belongs to who and how they’re related, that's always interesting. Also, just going back and fact checking everything. I love the series by Patrick O'Brian, the Aubrey/Maturin books and I've read all of them more than once. And that's really informed all the knowledge that I have about the Napoleonic wars at sea, and then if you read Bernard Cornwell, Sharpe series, that's the Napoleonic wars on land.
So together, they really form a great picture of what went on during that time period. I'm trying to branch out more and kind of get away from the Brits, no offense, but there has got to be a whole body of work say about French, the French history. I've read much more nonfiction about French history than I have fiction. So kind of I'm looking for some good writers who would probably translate it in the English from the French. That would have that for us.
One of the other questions that we had here was do you have favorite time periods or countries for your historical fiction? And I like I really love stuff about The Tudors but I love ancient Rome, Steven Saylor. And that's when Sarah when you get into those historical mysteries, you probably have read those ones by Ruth Downie, the Medicus books.
Sarah: I don’t think so. No.
Anita: Those are great There's about four or five and they’re centered on a character who is- well a doctor, a Medicus. But he's found himself kind of shipped off to ancient Britain where there we are again back to the Brits. And he’s slogging through this kind of total backwater and he gets involved with some of the local tribal people who were living there. But they're funny and they do have a good mystery aspect to them and they also have that whole history. So, she's got a new one in – that's about ready to come out. I can't wait for that.
Medieval Europe also even going back to the Brother Cadfael mysteries and on all of those. So wonderful and there’re quite a few that have nuns, I guess, or other religious central characters. I think because they were able to move around more, they worked with people from both the upper echelons of society and then down to the lower, so you get that whole flow of people. It's the people that really make the historical mysteries interesting, but I love those.
And then, you've probably read these books by Margaret Lawrence. These are mysteries also. I believe the first one, I’m not 100% sure, was called Blood in Ashes or Blood in the Snow, anyway, they're set immediately after the end of the Revolutionary War.
Sarah: Oh, and now I have to find them.
Julie: And they're really good because it was a horrible time.
Sarah: Yeah, it really was.
Julie: When people were trying to recover from what had happened and you still had people who had supported Britain and were Tories and they’re trying to make a life with these people who had won the Revolutionary War. And so, that whole thing is just fascinating. Not so much the war itself but what happened afterwards and I hope that – the author is definitely Martin Lawrence, L-A-W-R-E-N-C-E, but I can't quite remember the titles. What are some of your favorite time periods?
Sarah: I’ve done – obviously done a lot of Colonial American Revolution, but I recently have gotten into World War I, World War II, but also the 1920. I started watching the Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries yes, but those are actually based on a fiction series. And I've read all of the books and they're really great series of books, very different from the television series which in itself is a historical mystery, but they're set in the 1920s.
The author doesn't actually want to go beyond 1929 with the stories, so she doesn't really want to go into the Great Depression. And so, she basically follows this young socialite, the character is younger in the books as she solves some really interesting mysteries.
Anita: Who’s the author on this?
Sarah: Kerry Greenwood.
Anita: Kerry Greenwood. Okay.
Sarah: And she also does write contemporary stories as well. And so she's writing in Australia. I've also really enjoyed Laurie R. King also set in the same time period. Her Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes of books are really interesting. It's a different portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. I haven't read the whole series yet, but I'm working my way through them. The audio books are amazing. That was actually – I started them years ago because of the audio book, it was a summer reading for school and we turned on the audio book all the way to Minnesota. And then I also have been enjoying Jacqueline Winspear’s books on the series-
Anita: It’s Maisie Dobbs.
Sarah: Maisie Dobbs, yes. And it’s a Maisie Dobbs series and so she is a really interesting character, she's a detective. It starts off in the aftermath of World War I and now the series is actually progressed to the middle of World War II. And so it's kind of following how war has impacted people, how war continues to impact people. It goes into a in-depth discussion of PTSD and how that effects people, not just the soldiers, but those who are caring for the soldiers, the nurses on the battlefield, that's also something that Kerry Greenwood goes into.
I also personally really enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is historical fiction set on Guernsey Island, which is a really unique part of the British Isles because it – it’s own government and was actually- I did not realize was actually invaded during-
David: It was occupied during-
Sarah: Yeah. It was occupied during World War II and the book is about that basically about the aftermath of that. And Netflix is coming out with it, a movie of it – it was released in England recently and then they're going to be releasing it here. So I'm excited about that.
Anita: That sounds cool. So you were – when you were speaking there you mentioned the Laurie R. King books which are about Mary King and Sherlock Holmes or Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, so that's kind of what you would call I guess historical fantasy because, I mean, Sherlock Holmes, not real. So, but I think they do mesh the historical events that would be happening during his life time well in those mysteries.
I think another kind of historical genre, there are historical romances, there's that whole Diana Gabaldon series, Outlander which was historical fantasy, romance [crosstalk] [00:17:46]. But boy, those are- they’re definitely page turners if you like those sagas. I don't think that the giant sagas are quite as popular as they were when books like the R L Delderfield series about the – I can’t remember the name of the family, but those were so incredibly popular at one time period.
David: They were classics, they were classics.
Anita: There was another really long series about a family, it was set in Canada prior to World War I and they were by the author Mazo de la Roche, it's called the Jalna Series. And those probably spanned 30 or 40 years in the life of this one family. I don’t even think they’re in print anymore. You can really just pick up a whole lot. It’s like painless learning when you're reading or listening to even better historical fiction.
Another genre that I think is popular right now and I don't know where you would put it because it's not really- it's more like fantasy, but the novels that are based on mythology, Greek mythology or on the writings of Homer. I just, just finished yesterday listening to a book called Circe by a really good author Madeline Miller and a wonderful reader her name was Perdita Weeks. This book just drew in the stories of the gods, the story of Odysseus and Daedalus. It was a great, I guess, historical fantasy, whatever you want to call it.
David Payne: So it was like an adult version of Rick Riordan.
Anita: Yeah, it kind of was like that and that's a real trend. People are loving these. This woman also wrote another novel called The Song of Achilles, which is about Patroclus and Achilles in the Trojan War. So not really real but history, kind of.
Sarah: Elizabeth Peters, she’s a really interesting author, not only because she wrote the Amelia Peabody series which is set in an archaeological dig, but she sets it at this particular time in that history I – that was another period of time I studied in college, where archeology was just becoming what it was. And so it's also kind of this – it's another one that's not based around historical event, but it's kind of set in that world of historical movement which is also kind of a slightly different thing.
Anita: Yeah, as that series progresses, you definitely bring in more of the political impact of the British imperialism in Egypt and the movement of the Egyptian and Arabic peoples to recover their own independence. And the characters in the book interact with both sides of the conflict in that and particularly as the character’s – you know, her son Ramsey's ages and he’s more involved in that. So that is a whole another wonderful series of books.
Julie: So now that we've heard a lot about your favorite time period, your favorite books, can you tell us about your favorite authors and why you like them.
Anita: Well, I had mentioned a few of them earlier. I think Philippa Gregory, I also very much like Geraldine Brooks who doesn't write about one time period in particular, but chooses different topics. She wrote a book about the plague called ‘Year of Wonders’ that had some wonderful characters in it. It was about a town that basically sealed itself off from a village, from the rest of the country in order to try and contain the plague. She's written one called ‘The Song–’ something, it has chord in the title. Anyway, it's about David from the Bible.
She just does a really good job with her characterization. So I think you can pretty much pick up any book by her. She wrote one if we're going to talk about that kind of historical fantasy again, March, which is centered about Mr. March, the father of the family and little women and what happened to him when he went off to war and left his wife and his girls at home. So that was really interesting so I do like Geraldine Brooks.
Julie: How about you Sarah?
Sarah: Right now, the author that's really speaking to me when I'm reading historical fiction is definitely Jacqueline Winspear. There's something about her books that just draws me in and doesn't let me go. And so she’s just one of the authors that’s really stuck with me, Kerry Greenwood. Kevin Crossley-Holland wrote a really wonderful historical fantasy that I read a long time ago, but it has stuck with me and I'm actually- I just put a hold on it so I could reread it. And it's about a young boy who is living in the footsteps of King Arthur in a way and is mentored by a man named Marlin and basically watches the story of Arthur through a magical stone.
The first book is called The Seeing Stone and Kevin Crossley-Holland is the author. MCPL has the series as well as a follow-up that he did about one of the female characters. I personally also have been really, really into S.E. Groves. It's a middle grade book series that transcends being middle grade and it's a- I'm not sure if I would call it historical fantasy, but it's historical fiction with a time element where she really kind of challenges what we think of time by basically having the world rewritten as of 1791.
I've written actually a review for the MCPL Librarians Choice about the series and this first book is called ‘The Glass Sentence’ called the Mapmakers Trilogy but basically in 1791 the whole world is interrupted and the United States is no longer the United States. You have to pay in order to have your voice heard in Congress and you’re paying for the amount of time, it actually becomes a parliament and then other regions of the world and even what the United States was has been broken up.
She covers all sorts of really pertinent topics. The whole book starts off with the Prime Minister closing the borders and ordering all of the immigrants to leave the country. And so it is a very prescient series and doesn't have fantastic elements to it, but the author is a historian who specializes in Central American and Spanish history, focusing on middle ages and colonial periods as well.
And so it's a whole book on kind of talking about xenophobia and colonization and the impact of colonization. It's a really amazing series I just I can't get enough of talking about it and I recommend it to everyone. I read it as an audio book series. Each book is about 11-13 hours. So it's an [crosstalk] [00:25:40].
Julie: What was the author again? Who?
Sarah: S.E. Grove.
Julie: S.E. Grove. G-R-O-V-E, Grove?
Sarah: Yeah, Grove. And it is in MCPL. We have digital copies and paper copies of the whole series.
David: So let's go from books you've read to historical fiction you’d perhaps like to read about. Is there any time period, place or event that you really want to read historical fiction about, but haven't found any?
Anita: I haven't really found in any good historical fiction about pre-Columbian, Central America or the United States. So that's my family background, from Mexico, so I would like to be able to read more about the prehistory prior to the Europeans coming over and doing what they did. But I don't really know of an author who focuses on that time.
Julie: How about you?
Sarah: I just visited the Canadian Maritimes recently for my honeymoon, so I would love to read more about that region. I would really like to read more Southern Asia I think would be a good thing to do because I haven't read enough Southern Asia. I just – to spread my experiences. I did read some- when I was younger but I'd like to have some more experiences of that and also just basically places that I haven't been which is most of the world. My Canada trip was my first time out of the US, so I want to be able to expand my experiences a lot more. And historical fiction sometimes does that because once you've got that- you start that learning about that place, you want to read more about it and then you’re like, “Maybe I want to go there.”
And that kind of expands kind of your interests in that. So I would just read, yeah. I’d also really like to read more fiction set in this area historically because-
Julie: Like the Washington DC area?
Sarah: Washington DC area. I would love to find more history and not particularly focusing on Washington DC, but the areas surrounding it or – and I know we did a few set in the civil war, but I would love to read a book written about the Smithsonian, the historical fiction. Early Smithsonian has amazing stories and there's a club that they would go out and serenade the director's daughters because they lived in the Smithsonian Castle and I’d love to read stories about those sorts of things. Maybe that's just the truth is stranger than fiction.
Julie: Maybe you just need to be writing that story. There you go. Now, how accurate do you want your historical fiction to be?
Anita: Well, I like it to be pretty accurate, but I wouldn't really notice unless something was so far off the rails that- something that didn't belong in the time period popped up and sometimes I do think – did they really have that then. And I might go back and check that if like a character picks up a telephone to make a call and it's 1842, that kind of thing you would probably notice. But again because I like the ones that focus on the minor characters, I don't think it pops up that much.
What does kind of jar sometimes is when a character in a historical fiction novel will speak in a way that is contemporary. And that it is kind of jarring and you do think to yourself a woman, or a child, or a servant or whomever, would probably not have spoken in that way during that time period and Sarah is nodding her head like crazy. So that must bother her.
Sarah: I have a story about that. I once read a book that was set in American revolution in the South and I'd read a few others that were set in that time period, had read about it and what we qualify as the South nowadays is actually you really would go a bit farther north than even this book qualified it as. The book itself, the characters started speaking in like thick Southern American drawls and then they were using language that felt so civil war that I felt very confused. They referenced some things like clothing, the way it really wasn't accurate and I finally looked at the back of the book and I realized the author had no background in the American Revolution and spent most of his time writing about the Civil War.
And then I realized that that was probably why. I really like my books to be accurate. I once was very upset. I was skimming a book, trying to make sure I knew if I could reference it for someone, help someone find a book that they're interested on. And I was really upset because the author started talking about historical family, the Greene family, Nathanael’s Greene family in a way that was disconcerting and I was like I think something seems off. What I've read and what I know of his family, this doesn't seem right.
And then I found in her author's note and I really appreciate author’s notes, is that she actually used a rumor and played it up in order to create more drama that wasn't necessary. So I was quite upset about that.
Julie: You won’t be recommending that one.
Sarah: No, I won’t.
David: Well, the whole genre of historical fiction goes back quite some way. Can you give us some sense of how it's changed over time and has it changed let's say within the past 20 or 30 years, any recognizable changes that you've seen?
Sarah: One of the things that I've noticed is there has been a larger push for greater diversity in authors and their books. We're having a more diverse authors writing more historical fiction as well, which I think is really, really important and I think will be really good for us in the future too. And they're writing on stories that we are not – I know we've been talking so much about books that have really been Anglo centric, they have been mostly focusing on England and the US and I was looking at the books that I read, Oh Laurie R. King, set in England, Jacqueline Winspear, set in England, Kerry Greenwood, set in Australia, oh yeah, that was an English colony and is now- you know, American Revolution. US separating from England.
So, trying to kind of get away from that centralization I think is really good and will actually be really good for us for history in the future. And I think has a lot to say hopefully for direction we could be going.
Anita: Yeah, and I think you're right. Diversity in both the characters and in the authors as well as the time periods is really important for us right now. And I'm pretty sure that there are authors that may be available to us in translation that what we have not picked up with Montgomery County being as diverse as it is and people would enjoy reading about their cultures and where their history and ancestors came from. That's on us to find those things that are well written and good and bring them into our collection.
Julie: So, is there historical fiction for kids and teens are can you recommend any?
Anita: Of course, there are So many tons of historical fiction books for kids and teens. I do think that in some cases now, we want to think about the way that things are portrayed in some of the historical fiction that was very popular. Of course, when I was a child, I know there's a discussion right now about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her books and the portrayal of native Americans or first peoples in those. So I think that as we move forward and we see as Sarah said, more diversity and more thought given to the role that everybody played in history moving all of humanity forward to this point, we’ll see some different things.
But certainly, I think historical fiction has always grabbed children as they try to imagine themselves in another time or place and what it might have been like for them to be there. There are some great books out there that kids love.
Sarah: That's something I'm passionate about historical fiction for kids because that was what got me into my love of history. My mom grew up in near Plymouth, Massachusetts and so I grew up reading “The first Thanksgiving.” And then, studying it in college, wrote a independent study on it and the Samuel Eaton's day and Sarah Morton's day are two that Plymouth actually did, and then I’ve continued on with that series and I have actually improved upon them, made the stories even more accurate.
There's a story that's even told from the perspective of a young Native American Wampanoag boy. Done in the same process and thanks to that staff member a QO years and years ago, and she really nurtured that interest in me. So I was able to find some really wonderful books. And the S.E. Grove books are a different perspective on historical fiction, there's the Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood. He's also written Alternate History as well which he did the year of the Hang Man, and so I think that giving kids and teens a new perspective on history is good.
I love to mention the plethora of graphic novels and webcomics that we have that are out there that you might not see as common. There are a number of them that are webcomics only on the Internet like The Dreamer by Laura Innes in which the main character ends up kind of traveling back in time and experiencing the American Revolution. Lackadaisy Cats was set in probation era St Louis Missouri. So we have graphic novels too that are out there that are a different way to engage with history and can really encourage young people and older people to really engage with it in a different way.
Julie: That one the The March the John Lewis book.
Sarah: Yes. I want to read that so badly.
Julie: So, I'm really glad you brought up the graphic novels. I hadn't thought about those.
David: Well Sarah and Anita, we usually close each recording by putting you on the spot and asking what are you reading right now? So I'll start with Anita.
Anita: Well, as I said, [crosstalk] [00:36:51]. I am making my way painfully slowly through Column of Fire, even though it's a good book and I don't want to say that it's slow going. It's totally me. And then the Circe that I just finished by Madeline Miller was really good. I would recommend that to anyone with an interest in that. And I think I just finished the- is Jessica Mitford? No, it’s Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate. I love all those books by the Mitford sisters so go back to those from time to time.
Sarah: I've been bouncing around a little bit. I've been reading the third book of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and I can't actually place what the title is at the moment, but based on the main character fighting ghosts. So kind of I enjoy fantasy and science fiction a lot, so that's what I've been doing. I also just checked out A Wrinkle in Time for another reread. I've already read it twice and I just, I think that having books to reread is really important. There are a number of books that I reread regularly.
Julie: I want to mention one more author because we kind of passed her at the beginning is Connie Willis who writes a wonderful series of books that are sort of set in the future and in the past at the same time about a group of researchers at Oxford. It is Oxford not Cambridge I think, who are able to travel back in time to do their own in person, first person research in the Doomsday Book where the woman is sent back to the plague year and they get it a little bit wrong is just wonderful. And then the ones To Say Nothing of the Dog and Blackout. So Connie Willis is a great author to pick up if you like historical fantasy.
Julie: Well, we will like to say thank you so much to Anita and Sarah for taking us down historical lane today. Let's keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple podcast app, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Also please review and rate us on our Apple podcast. We’ll love to know what you think. Thank you for listening to our conversation today and see you next time.
Summary: Acting MCPL Director Anita Vassallo and Outreach Associate Sarah Mecklenburg share their love of historical fiction and recommended books they've enjoyed.
Recording Date: July 11, 2018
Guests: Anita Vassallo is the Acting Director of MCPL. Sarah Mecklenburg is a member of MCPL's Outreach team. Both are enthusiastic readers of historical fiction.
Hosts: Julie Dina and David Payne
What Our Guests Are Reading:
Anita Vassallo: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett, third book in the Kingsbridge series. The first book in the series is Pillars of the Earth, the second is World Without End. Circe by Madeline Miller. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford.
Books, Movies, and Authors Mentioned During This Episode:
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters
American Girls series by various authors
Aubrey- Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian
Blackout by Connie Willis
Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters
Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Dear America series by various authors
Doomsday by Connie Willis
The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Jalna series by Mazo De La Roche
Killer Angels by Michael Sharra
Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear
March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Laurie R. King
Medicus mysteries by Ruth Downie
Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland
The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell
Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
The Year of the Hangman by Gary Blackwood
Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks
Other Items of Interest:
The Dreamer by Laura Innes. A webcomic about a 17 year old high school student who has intense, realistic dreams about a Revolutionary War soldier.
"Game of Thrones Fandom Fun". An episode of the Library Matters podcast in which Game of Thrones fans Anita Vassallo Angelica Rengifo, and Susan Moritz share their love of the books and television series.
Lackadaisy Cats by Tracy J. Butler. A webcomic about anthropomorphic cats set in St. Louis during Prohibition.
Little House controversy. A division of the American Library Association voted to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder's name from a major children's literature award.
Julie Dina: Hi, I’m Julie Dina. In this episode of Library Matters, we are doing something a little different. For the past few months MCPL has invited children ages 10 through 14 to explore literature by recording a video about a book they’ve enjoyed. We’ve collected some of these book talks to share with our Library Matters’ listeners.
We hope you enjoy the enthusiasm these young readers have expressed for their books and for reading as much as we have. You can see these and more of MCPL’s literary explorer videos on our YouTube channel mcplmd. MCPL’s literary explorer program was made possible by grants from the NBC Universal Foundation and Washington’s NBC4.
Book Reviewer 1: Who knew forgotten letters stuck inside a book could change someone’s life. Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick, it’s heartwarming story about a girl named Truly Lovejoy who gets tangled in a mystery of a letter inside a copy of Charlotte’s Web. After Truly’s father gets injured by an IED overseas the Lovejoy’s move from Texas to a tiny town in New Hampshire called Pumpkin Falls.
When Truly finds a letter in an autographed edition of Charlotte’s Web, she follows the clues and is soon roped in a treasure hunt taking her all around Pumpkin Falls. I liked this book because it’s fun and its sweet mystery about friendship and family. I really enjoyed this book and I hope you do too.
Book Reviewer 2: With the Wrinkle in Time movie coming out hundreds of people were introduced to the characters of Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace but did you know that Madeleine L’Engle already wrote a sequel to it? Wind in the door also takes a sci-fi oriented trip but instead of going to the far reaches of space they go deep into Charles Wallace’s mitochondria, which is the body’s main energy producer.
With her companions, old and new, Meg was either prevail over darkness or loss her brother. Wind in the door gives you seven questions through the plot, such as – wait I shall not tell. It is a fast-paced book with several scientific facts that are mind bending. For instance, the microscopic scale from the mitochondria to you is about the same as the scale from you to out the galaxy, neat?
She also had a coming of age story about the creatures that were living in the mitochondria. With vivid characters, strange new creatures and an imagination that trumps all, Madeleine L’Engle has created a wonderful sequel that will thrill readers, young and old, with Wind in the door.
Book Reviewer 3: Some look like giant walking turtles, others are black with wings and look almost like armored ravens, “Shadow Titans!” Emily shouted. I’m Manisha and the book I will be reviewing is Pegasus The End of Olympus by Kate O’Hearn. The book I chose to discuss is about a girl named Emily and her best friend, the winged stallion Pegasus. Emily now has less powers and a different body so she feels as if she’s being judged. But she still has one more promise to fulfill, to rescue Agent B from the evil central research unit.
But while at the facility she finds a monster older than Olympus itself. I would recommend this book to someone else because it is action packed, filled with adventure and busting with excitement. Will Emily defeat the monsters? Will Olympus make peace with the Titans? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Book Reviewer 4: Right, let’s have fun. “Hallo Silver I didn’t see you there.” “I, a lowly Red am about to vanquish you, and if you survive, you should read this.” This is Red Queen. Red Queen is about the teenage girl named Mare Barrow in a world where the people are divided by their blood; Red or Silver. Mare is Red, [Indiscernible] [00:04:10] while Silvers are the nobles. Their Silver blood gives them superpowers.
One day Mare is called by the king to serve him but when she crushes the party, she realizes she has powers but she is a red. Mare latter joins the rebellion in order to give the reds their rights but the stakes are high, and when blood goes against blood, who will survive in the deadly of power. Red Queen is an amazing book about betrayal, loyalty, love. If you like bloodshed and epic battle scenes then you read the Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.
Book Reviewer 5: One second everything is normal, the next is not. In a blink of an eye everyone 15 years and older vanishes into thin air along with phone signals, internet, any way to get help. Gone by Michael Grant is a young adult dystopian series of seven books. In dystopia books somebody threatens the survival of the human race, creating a living nightmare. After an asteroid hits a nuclear power plant in California a radioactive monster is born.
It created an energy barrier that made everyone 15 and older vanish, living the kids to fend for themselves. Some of the kids even develop supernatural abilities, throughout the series the kids fight hunger, lies, plague, fear, and even each other. This series is full of unexpected twists and turns with mutations and monsters that will live your jaw hanging open.
I guarantee that you will be hooked into their world. Full of action, suspense, humor, mystery and fear, this is a series that teens will never forget.
Book Reviewer 6: Hi there, I was just reading this really cool book called Harry Potter and the Sorcery’s Stone by J. K. Rowling. In the beginning of the book, we find out how Harry lives a miserable life with his aunt and uncle, and spoil cousin. But all this is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives in the mail addressed to Harry.
He gets accepted into Hogwart’s school of witchcraft and wizardry. Along the way Harry finds out 11 years ago his parents were killed by the dark lord Voldemort and now he’s planning on coming to kill Harry. Will Harry survive his deadly encounter with Lord Voldemort? Will Harry and his friends be able to protect themselves? Find out in Harry Potter and the Sorcery’s Stone.
I recommend this book for all ages that’s it’s a wonderful introduction to Harry Potter’s life and the wizarding world.
Book Reviewer 7: How ever imagined walking eight hours twice, everyday just to get to the closest water source that’s not even 100% clean? Linda Sue Park describes Nya’s struggles to find water in a Long Walk to Water. Nya has to retrieve water for her family, walking for 16 hours total every day.
One day, Nya’s sister was extremely sick. Her parents went to their tribe’s chief and asked for help. He tells them that the nearest medical clinic is 90 miles away. In Sudan the cars are a rare sight. Nya’s sister walked with her dad for three whole days until they found a small medical clinic. A nurse cared for Nya’s sister and said that the cause of her sickness is because of dirty water. Will the family get clean water? Will Nya’s sister survive? Read a Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park to find out.
Book Reviewer 8: “Olivia?” A voice called out, “Olivia Grace Harrison?” It was the most amazing sight Olivia had ever seen in her life. It was her Royal Highness Princess Amelia Mignonette of Genovia. Until that moment, Olivia was a typical sixth grader who lived with her aunt and step uncle after her mom passed away.
But when the royal sister she never knew suddenly emerges onto the scene to pick her up from school, Olivia’s life changes dramatically. In an instance, she is transformed from an ordinary school girl to a real-life princess. Olivia is whisked away in a royal Genovian limousine and finally meets her dad and family. A dream that until now was unfulfilled.
When her step uncle finds out that she was with her true family, he becomes furious and takes her back to the place where she grew up. Olivia ponders her future. Will she remain with the only family she knew, and live the ordinary life she was used to? Or will she be drawn to her royal roots in Genovia to be with her dad’s family? Will Olivia be able to live in Genovia happily ever after?
There’s only one way to find out. Pick up and read Meg Cabot’s imaginative novel, From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.
Book Reviewer 9: Do you like mystery? Then you should read one of the Hardy Boys books. This book by Franklin W. Dixon is called the Secret of the Caves. The Hardy boys are trying to find a missing person called Morgan Todd, but along the way people try to hurt the Hardy boys. One time in Honeycomb caves, very strange things happened. People who seem to be good are just criminals.
I like this book because at first the mystery can get really confusing, but finally the mystery is really interesting.
Book Reviewer 10: For English class, I’m writing a poem and I decided it’s going to be about sounds. Sounds of the wrinkled, squirm creatures that live in tide pools. The problem is my teacher thought it was terrible, she gave me an F. Then I showed it to my dad, a professor of literature, he changed my F into a Fabulous. My dad said not everyone can understand poetry. This is a passage from the book Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry.
This is about a ten-year-old girl who is confident, insightful, funny and stays on top of her world. She is a fourth grader dealing with all fourth-grade drama. Being ten years old is in deed confusing. Anastasia doesn’t know if she wants to be a ballerina or an ice skater. She hasn’t decided yet. She has an old grandmother who sometimes doesn’t remember her and makes her sad.
Anastasia has a lot to do with boys, baby brother on the way, friends, her gold fish, and school. Anastasia loves to make a list of what she likes, and what she hates. She is just writing to solve many problems but she will always hate eating liver.
I love this book because it motivated me to start a journal in which I can write in every day. Writing helps me work out difficult situations. I also try to solve my problems by looking at the pros and cons. This way I too, come up happier and wiser. This book will help you stay positive and help you deal with life’s drama, like it helps me.
Julie Dina: We hope you enjoyed these engaging book talks. We are so glad these young shared their enthusiasm for their books with us. You can find all these books in MCPL’s catalogue. Keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, on the Apple podcast app, Sticher or wherever you get your podcasts. Also please review and rate us on Apple podcast, we’d love to know what you think.
Summary: In the last few months, kids ages 10-14 from throughout the county have come to MCPL branches to record video book talks about books they've enjoyed. We've collected the audio from 10 of these recordings to share with our Library Matters listeners.
Book talks are brief summaries/reviews designed to convince others to read the book being described. You can see the videos of these and other Literary Explorer book talks on our YouTube channel, mcplmd. The Literary Explorer program was made possible by a grant from the NBC Universal Foundation and Washington's NBC 4.
Check our Calendar of Events for upcoming opportunities for your 10-14 year old child to be a literary explorer.
Host: Julie Dina
Books Loved in this Episode:
(In order of appearance.)
Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick
A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle
The End of Olympus by Kate O'Hearn
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Gone by Michael Grant
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
From the Notebook of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot
The Secret of the Caves by Franklin W. Dixon
Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry
Julie Dina: Welcome to Library Matters. I’m your host Julie Dina. Today’s topic is Reading Challenge 2018. And on this particular topic, I have two experts in that subject. First, I would like to introduce Lennea Bower, Digital Strategies Manager of Montgomery County Public Library.
Lennea Bower: Hi Julie. Thanks for having me.
Julie Dina: Thanks for coming. And also I have Candice Hixon who is also the Library Assistant Supervisor for Kensington Park Library.
Candice Hixon: Hi, Julie. It is great being here today.
Julie Dina: Welcome Candice. So let’s dive straight into the subject, but before we do that, I will like to mention the reason why you guys are the ones chosen to be on this episode. First, Lennea is, and including her team, they’re actually the ones who run the Reading Challenge for MCPL's 2018 Reading Challenge.
Lennea Bower: That is right.
Julie Dina: So, would you tell us a little bit of yourself and also how this got prompted and who actually started all of this.
Lennea Bower: So I’m the digital strategies manager for Montgomery County Public Libraries. I’ve been in this role since December of 2016. Before that, I was a member of our team, which was at that time called virtual services. And we started the Reading Challenge actually at the very end of 2015. Our first Reading Challenge was 2016 and it is an annual event.
And we started doing – the idea of Reading Challenges were getting really popular and we were hearing about them from the branches and some of us were participating in them, so the people who are on our social media team at that time, which was the members of the virtual services unit at that time, Mary Ellen Icaza, now our Assistant Director for Programming and Outreach, Susan Moritz, who is now our head of Children Services at Kensington Park, Mark Santoro from our podcast producers team, and Adrienne Miles Holderbaum also from our podcast producing team, and myself and we got together and started t the challenge then coming up with the first one for 2016.
Julie Dina: What a challenge that-
Lennea Bower: Yeah.
Julie Dina: And Candice, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the Reading Challenge as well?
Candice Hixon: Well, I have worked for Montgomery County Public Libraries for about 10 years now. I’ve enjoyed reading since I was very young, probably about kindergarten age. And my mom would bring home books for me when I was five, six years old. She also works for the library. She’d bring me home like 50 or 100 picture books and I would just devour them.
So this is actually the first Reading Challenge I participated in, where I was able to choose a book from different specific categories. I used to participate in the summer reading program when I was a kid though, and I just loved doing that. So I decided I would give this challenge a shot.
Julie Dina: And how has that been?
Candice Hixon: It has been going really well. I’m about half way through the challenge, and I’m hoping to finish it by November so I can read the bonus book as well. And I plan on doing it next year as well, so I really enjoy it.
Julie Dina: So for those of us who don’t know, can you tell us what exactly MCPL's Reading Challenges and what a reading challenge is in general.
Candice Hixon: So a reading challenge is meant to have yourself read books from other genres, different authors, books that you normally wouldn’t read, and to get yourself to read a book every month. I know sometimes we don’t have the time to do that with our busy lives, but this kind of gets you to go outside the box.
The goal is to read a book from each of 12 different categories throughout the year. If you finish a book from each category, there is a bonus challenge at the end. You can join the challenge for free online, through our website, or stop by, or call one of the braches for more information. You can either print out a copy of the challenge or create an account through Beanstalk to keep track of your progress.
Lennea Bower: So one of the things that I want to say about our challenge is that we decided to go with this format because we thought 12 books was going to be a challenge for a lot of people, but still very reasonable number. And we put in the bonus challenge both for us can decide if you want to do an extra one. But also if for some reason just one of the categories does not appeal to you or you don’t feel comfortable with it or, you know, this year most of them are kind of vague and you can go a lot of places with them, but sometimes you’ve had like doing audio book or do a graphic novel and there might be some people for whom that system of reading just doesn’t work, so we wanted to have the bonuses, the built-in option for them, so especially for those who are completing it online.
And we do have prizes every year and you do have to complete the online challenge to be eligible for the prizes. For people who do want to complete it for their prizes, they can complete any 12. You know, they could skip challenge one and complete, you know, two, three through 12 plus the bonus challenge and that would still count as completion for us when we’re looking at who has completed the challenge that are numbers for that. So that is something that we have done.
I’ve also seen other formats for reading challenges or seen some that are like 24 categories so, you know, that is a lot of books for some people.
Julie Dina: Yeah.
Candice Hixon: That is a lot. It is ambitious.
Julie Dina: Right.
Lennea Bower: I’ve also seen some that are like bingo card format or like different fun things, so it is like, you know, complete a row of books, complete a column of books you know. So there are different formats to do it. Ours is, as Candice said, you know, kind of 12 plus the bonus challenge are one of the things we’ve used to talk about as 12 months, 12 books. Again, that idea that you’re reading at least one book every month, but I’ve seen the other formats as well that people I know do their own as well through – especially people who use like Goodreads and stuff like that. A lot of them will set their own annual challenge goal, which might just be a number and not speak to the types of books.
So I think a Reading Challenge is set up by someone else, that's what Candice was saying and it really challenges you to maybe step outside your genre or author preferences, not just read, you know, 15 Robert’s Books although you could do that for several years in a row. But, you know, it really kind of vary what you’re reading and gets some other things in there. And that is what I like, and that's where I started with.
Julie Dina: And she liked that, we expect you might be incorporating some of these other formats that you’ve noticed?
Lennea Bower: You know, I don’t know if we will. I think we’re still – so this is our third year, 2016, ‘17, ‘18, and I think the other formats are fun. I mean, I do think a lot of those are incorporated in like our Summer Read and Learn, which this year is Libraries Rock. And those kind of more creative formats is going to be incorporated in that because those are like do a certain number of activities or pick from different activities and win prizes at different levels, so we don’t have a version of that.
At this point, that is for adults. That program is for kids and teens. And the Reading Challenge is for all ages. So I don’t really know if we’ll look at those other formats, but I do think they’re fun and I think they’re kind of creative and at some point we could look at that, but that is not something we have on the horizon right now or kind of we like this format and we feel like it is working for us and it is growing as a format.
Julie Dina: And for those who are driven by rewards and prizes, can you give us a sneak peek as to some of the prizes that are out there.
Lennea Bower: Well, we don’t have the list of what they’ll be for this year yet. But a lot of times we do incorporate maybe some signed copies of authorized books from different programs, from different authors usually that have visited MCPL. We might also incorporate other prizes that have been available, you know, water bottles and bags or things that we often have – that have often have been included in the prizes. I don’t have any exact list of what it will be for 2018 yet, but those are some things that we’ve used in the past.
Julie Dina: Designer bags?
Lennea Bower: No. Sorry Julie.
Julie Dina: So Candice, can you tell us specifically about your own individual experience with MCPL's Reading Challenge?
Candice Hixon: So far I’ve had a great experience. I have found so many new authors and genres that I enjoy now that I’ve never even thought to read. So I’ve really brought in my horizons. I usually try to pick up crime or mystery novels, but now I’m kind of thinking I’m going to go outside the box even, you know, once this challenge is over, I’m still going to go forward with that and try other challenges. I’m a competitive person, so I knew if I signed up for this, I would finish it and hopefully learn something new about people in the world in general from it. And so far I’ve been doing that, so it has been a lot of fun.
Julie Dina: That is great. And Lennea?
Lennea Bower: Well, I think Reading Challenges background 2015 or so, I set some goals for myself to step outside of some of the genres that I have been reading a lot. I also like crime and mystery novels.
Candice Hixon: Oh, yeah.
Lennea Bower: I also – I read a lot of romance novels. I read a lot of fantasy. And I was really trying to kind of branch out a little bit and not just in other genres, but also maybe authors that I might not have been as familiar with, and reading more authors of color and different – think different other aspects of, you know, perspectives and cultures and stuff that I might not have been aware of. And so I kind of first came across the idea of Reading Challenges through that concept.
And then around the same time, I sort of came across that Adrienne Miles Holderbaum who is at Gaithersburg at that time mentioned that she have been helping a mother and daughter with the Reading Challenge from another, you know, just from an online one that they had found and they had come in, they were reading it together. I don’t know if the daughter was a teen or a tween. I’m not really sure, but they were reading it together and they were looking for books that they could enjoy together kind of as a family activity, and we just thought that that was so cool. So that was sort of where we came. And I found that that experience sort of carries forward.
I think if you’re reading a lot of different things already, sometimes you feel like, “Oh, it is kind of easy to slot things into these categories.” But even so there is always still some categories that are kind of a stretch.
Julie Dina: Yeah. So it sort of pushes you outside of your comfort zone.
Lennea Bower: Yes, definitely has for me.
Julie Dina: So Lennea, being that this is our third year, would you say that more people participate has each year progresses? And also would you say that more people prefer each year than the other?
Lennea Bower: I would definitely say more people have participated. I actually just run a number this morning, kind of looking at it. So the first year, we didn’t have the Beanstalk online component. So what we did was around October we open up like an online form for people to submit.
And we’ve been talking about the challenge all year and so we know there are people who participated all year. But we had a relatively low number that actually completed the form to say that they had completed it. So we don’t really have anyway to track who kind of sign up and maybe started but didn’t go anywhere with it.
So in 2017, we started to move it to Beanstalk, which is where we do to our Summer Read and Learn program and also where we do our 1000 Books Before Kindergarten Program. I should say in 2016 we had a little piece of Beanstalk, but we only run it during the summer months, and so it was more limited and it was only adults. It wasn’t really set up to be a family program.
So last year we had almost 150 people who completed the program. And this year, I might sort of say that there were over 125 people who have already completed the program and we’re recording this in June.
Julie Dina: Wow.
Lennea Bower: Yeah. So – and that is the online program. And, of course, you know, some people aren’t doing it for the prize. They don’t really care. They’re just doing the printed version at home and that is perfectly fine too. And we also find – we get some people, like engaging when we talk about it online and making suggestions for the different categories for other readers like on our social media and so on.
In terms of other people who like the categories more, since we do only do 12 categories plus the bonus, we try to vary them up. And I would say the exception is I think we’ve done a book published this year – every year, because that is kind of different by default.
Julie Dina: Right.
Lennea Bower: But we try to vary the other categories. And so some people love them, some people are like, you know, “Bring back my favorite category from two years ago. You know, I want to do that again.” And I’m like, “Well, the point is kind of stretch yourself.” So, you know, I think we might at some point recycle some of the categories from the older ones, but we just don’t want it to be like every year you pick it up and it is the same because you could get into like a Reading Challenge reroute, which kind of depicts the purpose.
Candice Hixon: Right.
Julie Dina: Candice, could you tell us what resource within our library system would you say our customers use for book recommendations the most?
Candice Hixon: First and foremost from a customer service standpoint, I know there is a lot of customers enjoyed going up to the desk to ask information staff member what books they recommend. I also get a lot of positive feedback about the what do I check out next service. Library staff can give author and title recommendations based off of other books that you have really enjoyed. All you have to do is go on our website and fill out a simple form online and they get back to you with tons of great recommendations. I use it myself. I love it.
Julie Dina: Who best to tell you then are user of the product.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Julie Dina: All right. And Lennea, can you tell us what goes into creating the Reading Challenge and how do you decide what categories?
Lennea Bower: So we’ve used a couple of different models. I think the one we use this year for the 2018 was really successful. And we try to incorporate a lot of staff feedback, so there is only a few of us that are on the social media team or in the digital strategies unit and we don’t always have, you know, all the best ideas.
So this year, we did a model where we asked our digital strategies team, our social media team, and/or what do I check out next team to suggest a reader’s advisers to suggest categories and then we open up. I went through – I kind of eliminated some that were duplicates or were, you know, ones as I said that we try not to duplicate the past couple of years so they duplicated those or things that were really, really similar.
And then we open it up, actually, for all staff to vote on a category. So it was sort of an all staff option for people to vote. And then we went through that picked kind of the top vote getters from what all of our MCPL's staff who participated wanted the challenge topics to be. So that is our model we use this year and I think it worked pretty well.
And then we also kind of kept – I tend to keep the ones that lost in the previous years. It sort of like see topics for the next year so that I’m not offering people blanks, right? I can say, “Well, we’ve these topics suggested, but what else do you think?”
Candice Hixon: Right.
Lennea Bower: And kind of use that to start the discussion for the future years.
Julie Dina: Sounds wonderful. Now, how far along have either of you reach in the Reading Challenge? Have you just started? Are you half way there or are you still thinking about it?
Candice Hixon: I have read six books so far through the Reading Challenge. I have not been reading the books in number order or category order. I’m hoping to finish my list, again, by November so I can read the bonus challenge category and authors debut book.
I’ve heard a lot of positive reviews about Jane Harper’s “The Dry”. It is the first of a mystery series about a federal agent, Aaron Falk, whose best friend Luke passed away due to uncertain circumstances. The interesting part of this story is that Luke served as an alibi to agent Falk when he was accused of murder himself 20 years prior. So from what I hear, there a lot of plot twists, so I’m really looking forward to getting through November so I can read this book.
Julie Dina: I hope he has a good lawyer.
Candice Hixon: Yeah, right.
Female Speaker 1: And now a brief message about MCPL services and resources.
Female Speaker 2: Looking for a book to fit a tricky Reading Challenge category or just need something new to read? Talk to one of our enthusiastic well read information professionals at the information desk of any MCPL branch. They’re eager to help you find what you’re looking for. Check this episode show notes for a list of MCPL branch locations and phone numbers. Happy reading.
Female Speaker 1: Now, back to our program.
Julie Dina: Now, and just either of you can answer this. What is the biggest stretch you’ve made to make a book fit into a particular category?
Lennea Bower: I think the biggest stretch that I've made this year is probably for Not Your Princess, which is a collection of short stories and poetry and essays which is edited by Mary Beth Leatherdale and it is about Native American. It is a collection of essays, all these arts and essays and stuff are by Native Americans or First Nations people from Canada, mostly women or people who identify as women writing about their experiences.
And I use that for question six, which is a book fiction or non-fiction about our country or culture you’re not very familiar with. I wouldn’t say it's so much stretch in that – I mean I would love to know a lot more about native and First Nation culture than I do know, so it wasn’t stretch in that way. But it was a little bit of a stretch in that because it was such a kind of short book and such short collection of essays. I felt like, okay, I got like just a littlest window into what does culture are, but you know, it didn’t really open the door to kind of understand them more fully.
Candice Hixon: For me, I haven’t had to stretch too far yet in any particular category, but I guess I would say reading a young adult novel as my book from a different age level would probably be the further stretch because I read young adult novels anyway. So, I mean – but, you know, it still fit the category.
And I ended up reading “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green. It is his latest novel about a teenage girl, Aza, who suffers from an anxiety disorder. And so along with her best friend, she tries to become a detective and search for her like crush’s fugitive father who also happens to be a billionaire.
So if they’re able to locate him, they win like a hefty sum of money. I found that it was really funny and intelligent, and it gives a really to good viewpoint on teens living with mental illnesses. I have read all of John Green’s book so far and none of them disappoint me. So if you haven’t read any of his books, please read them. It doesn’t matter what age you are, they’re really good.
Lennea Bower: I kind of cheated in the same way for the different age level category, actually about a middle grade books, and I don’t read a lot of middle grade, but I read “Tempests and Slaughter” by Tamora Pierce. And I read her books when I was a middle grade reader and a young adult reader. So then “Tempests and Slaughter” is her newest books and it is like a new series about Numair Salmalin who is a character from her “Immortals” series and its his life as a child. So there is a little bit of stretch because I felt like as I was reading them I was like going back into like middle school stuff like I would have read this.
Lennea Bower: If this book had been around, I would have read it when I was, you know 12 or whatever, but it wasn’t around.
Candice Hixon: That is cool.
Julie Dina: Well, while we’re talking about our favorite books, which book would you say has been the most recommended in any categories so far this year?
Candice Hixon: From what I’ve read so far, I believe that “Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly has been the most asked for and recommended book that I’ve read. This was actually my pick for the Librarian’s Choice display at the Kensington Park Library. I not only found this book on display, but it was recommended to me by several staff members and by customers. It is a historical fiction book about the lives of three different women from different European countries during World War II. They each play their own role during the war. One young woman is a German doctor who takes on a medical position with the government of Nazi Germany. Another is a young Polish woman who was a courier for the underground resistance movement. Finally there is a single New York socialite who does volunteer work for the French consulate aiding orphans. She ends up aiding women in the rehabilitation whose lives were impacted by Ravensbruck, which was a horrific concentration camp during the war.
Anyways, all of their very different lives end up intersecting and I learned a lot about human resilience during a very dark time in history. I highly recommend it. If you can’t find time to read it, the audio book version is also really, really good. I listen to that because I drive a lot. So I really recommend it if you haven’t read it yet.
Julie Dina: You heard that folks.
Lennea Bower: I don’t know if I – well, I’m not in the branches as much so I don’t have the opportunity to have as much on a daily bases interactions with customers as Candice does about what books are recommended.
One of the books that I read, which was my non-fiction book about history or biography over historical figure was “Prairie Fires” by Caroline Fraser, which is a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. And it is actually kind of a biography of her and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who was a writer. I would say journalist, but she definitely don’t have any kind of sense of journalistic ethics if we would think about them now. She was kind of like in the yellow journalism era.
And it was about both of them and their relationship in sort of where is the – where is the line between reality and fiction and the Little House books that Laura Ingalls Wilder published. And so that was really fascinating and it did win a Pulitzer Prize. So I don’t know if it is the most recommended, you know, like day to day in the library sense, but it is highly recommended in a critical sense.
Candice Hixon: I have to read that one.
Julie Dina: Yeah. That is good to know.
Candice Hixon: Sounds good.
Julie Dina: So what kinds of response are we receiving from – concerning the Reading Challenge, what kind of response are we getting from our customers, Candice?
Candice Hixon: I find that a lot of costumers don’t know about the Reading Challenge yet. I tell them about my experience with it and how I’ve found new authors and genres that I really enjoy from it. I show them how to register and they say that they’ll give it a go, so I’m hoping it will become even more popular as we continue to have it.
As Lennea said, it is a growing challenge and I think as customers know that it is there, they’re going to continue to try to complete it and have fun doing it.
Lennea Bower: We hope so. Well, I mean, we – most of the customers I interact with about it are on social media or they’re customers that sign for it because it is in Beanstalk and some of our customers sign up for Beanstalk to participate one of other programs, like a 1000 Books, or Summer Read and Learn. Some of them discover it that way.
I do find sometimes the customers aren’t even 100% aware of the differences between the different programs, although I guess they enjoy them, it doesn’t really matter whether or not they know which program is it.
But most of them, you know, the feedback that we get is really exciting and when we talk about it on our social media and stuff, I would say overwhelmingly we get a positive response from people and people are excited about it and they’re, you know offering suggestions for the different categories and they’re also, you know, telling other people about it.
So I think that overall we get a really positive response for it. As Candice said, I mean, it is still relatively new program. Well, it has been around for a few years. It is not something that we put sort of the resources and effort behind or something like a Summer Read and Learn program, it doesn’t have as many components, it is not in your face in the branches and big signs and stuff all the time.
Candice Hixon: Right, right.
Lennea Bower: So it is more of like for people who are looking for that extra challenge and, you know, what do I check out next team knows about it so they might suggest it to someone if they know that that person really seems to be going through a lot of books and looking for things to stretch their comfort level, you know, they might make some suggestions about it.
So I think that is kind of how – at least to day it has been growing. But now we’re talking about in the podcast, so I’m really looking forward seeing those members spike.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Julie Dina: Let’s spike it up. Can you tell us, and both of you can answer this. Can you tell us something that is really fun or any particular on use your Reading Challenge category either of you have encountered?
Candice Hixon: The most fun reading challenge I’ve encountered will obviously be the laugh reader funny book category. I am reading “Naked” by David Sedaris. It is a memoir by him publisher [Phonetic] [0:25:14], hilarious and dysfunctional stories about his life, travels and family. I have heard of some of his book before, so I decided to give this one a try.
I’m really enjoying it and I expect to be done with it soon. I have been laughing hysterically through it. I even look my husband up accidentally while reading it because I couldn’t stop laughing. So, oh, I highly recommend it and now I’m going to read all of his other books too. So that is another new author that I came across that I never read any of his work before.
Julie Dina: Thank God for Reading Challenge.
Candice Hixon: Yes.
Lennea Bower: Yes it is. I think it is all fun. I think it is fun to be creative and read different things that you haven’t read before and – I mean as Candice said earlier, I mean I am competitive and so sometimes having a little extra incentive to be competitive and kind of have something that you’re aiming for can help sort of – if you’re struggling a little bit about a certain book.
So – I mean, I think it is all fun and – I mean, I think the categories we do anything that makes this kind of creative is there is a lot that you can do to kind of fit things into this category. You’re not going to be forced to read something you really have no interest in because the categories are so restrictive or something.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Lennea Bower: You should be able to find something that you’re interested in that fits the category. So hopefully you’re reading will still be fine. And if you want to use it to make yourself get through that, you know, 700 page biography that has been sitting on your shelf as, you know, challenge 11, you can do that, but we’re not saying you have to do that.
Candice Hixon: I’m not doing that.
Julie Dina: It is just a suggestion.
Lennea Bower: It is an option for you if you want to make it and have fun, you know, or less fun or if you want to make it fun, you know, and pick a shorter book or as soon as there is little more fast-paced, read one of – read “Assassination Vacation” or some other book by Sarah Vowell, “Lafayette in the Almost United States” and she is a history writer, historical writer, who writes really, really funny books and she – she is in “The Incredibles,” that is one of the stretchy people, right?.
Anyways, she is the mom I think in that movie and she has been in some other things and she gets a few of her, you know, her friends who read with her, you know, people you might have heard of like Jon Stewart and a lot of other people. So those are fun historical books. If you want to go more on the fun side with that, that is definitely a route you can go. You don’t have to work your way through “Grant” by Ron Chernow, although I read both of those books this year, but you know, you can pick your direction.
Julie Dina: Now, have reading challenges changed your reading habits?
Lennea Bower: I think a little bit. I think my reading how it has kind of changed and I got involved in reading challenges sort of simultaneously, and I think those sort of things complemented each other. Trying to read a little more widely, especially when it came to MCPL was in a public library environment was being asked a lot more to talk about a wider range of books.
So I think that sort of changed my reading habits and then I found reading challenges as a way to make sure that I didn’t just form new slightly wider habits but kept you know, redirecting and expanding them.
Candice Hixon: I would say it has changed my reading habits. I’ve read so many different books now that I’ve never would even picked up had enough been for the Reading Challenge like George Saunders book, again, David Sedaris. I just find that if you don’t challenge yourself to try something new, you won’t do it, like you’ll just continue reading – I’ll continue reading my crime or mystery novels and, you know, James Patterson over and over again because he has a book every week that comes out, so with this challenge, I think I’m going to actually start participating in other reading challenges that aren’t part of Montgomery County Public Library's just to keep going with it, because some of the books that I've read during this challenge have become some of my favorite books that I’ve ever read, so there is that. Yeah.
Julie Dina: Now, I know Candice said she plans on getting into other Reading Challenges other than MCPL's, what about yourself, Lennea?
Lennea Bower: So I do – I have participated in some other Reading Challenges or sometimes I kind of like printout other Reading Challenges and sort to see what I read that fits into the categories or look for categories even if I don’t want to complete that challenge, just kind of look for categories that I haven’t really read anything that fits and say, “Oh, well, maybe I really need to expand my reading in that direction.” So I have the Book Riot’s 2018 challenge printed out to kind of look at. That is a website about books and reading.
The Ripped Bodice which is a romance store – a romance bookstore in LA is doing a summer romance bingo card. Actually I don’t think you have to read romances, but they are a romance bookstore primarily. And so I have that that I was going to printout and see. And that one is kind of fine because it is romance novel readers like to talk about the different tropes, and people who don’t read romance novels talk about them disparagingly. But people who like to read romance novels talk about Romance Novel Tropes, kind of like what their favorite ones are and what they like, and that is a lot of what the bingo cards are.
Candice Hixon: Oh, okay.
Lennea Bower: It is like, you know, fake relationship, secret baby, you know, stuff like that. So, you know, billionaire, you know.
Candice Hixon: Right.
Lennea Bower: It is just sort of like some fun things.
Candice Hixon: Some fun.
Lennea Bower: So that John Green could fit in there –.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Lennea Bower: – even though it is a romance novel but –.
Candice Hixon: Yeah, yeah. There is a little bit, you know, not a little bit of romance, but we’ll get too far into that.
Julie Dina: Ooh la la.
Lennea Bower: So those are some difference once that I look at. I don’t know if I actually complete them but just to, again, kind of like take a look out. And a lot of times what they – will come along with these recommendations of, you know, “If you’re looking to fill this category, what about these books?” And then I’ll prove those books and see if there is anything that hasn’t come to my awareness. I might not start to read it, but just kind of keep expanding.
Julie Dina: Thank you so much. Now, for our customers who would like to participate in the 2018 Reading Challenge, could you tell them exactly where they would find this on our website?
Lennea Bower: Yeah. So it is part of our Readers Cafe. And the fastest easiest way to get to our Readers Cafe is to go to the books, movies and music. Drop down on our menu and then look for suggested reading and then you’ll see Readers Cafe, and Reading Challenge is one of the options there. So that – because they’re also – they have children in their life that are participating in either 1000 Books or Summer Read and Learn. When they go to sign them up, they can sign themselves and their kids if they want up for the Reading Challenge at the same time because it is in the same Beanstalk program.
Julie Dina: Thank you so much, Lennea. And also before the show comes to an end, it is a tradition on Library Matters for us to find out what our guests are reading. Candice, can you tell us what is you’re reading right now?
Candice Hixon: I’m currently reading “Go Ask Alice” written by anonymous. I think I read this book when I was like 12 or something or at least I started it and I don’t think I finished it, so I decide to pick it up again. I don’t remember much of it. Anyhow, I know that this book was banned for a while for many libraries. It is very dark book about the nightmares of drug addiction from a teenager’s diary.
Some claim it is a real diary and others claim that it is a work of fiction written in the ‘70s as propaganda to scare kids into not using drugs. Either way, it is very interesting and gives a perspective from someone suffering from drugs addiction. I believe it was banned due to its language and content and not because it was about drug abuse. But it is a short book. It is a classic. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t read it as a young adult.
Lennea Bower: So the books that I’m reading right now – right now I’m reading “The Obelisk Gate” by N. K. Jemisin, which is a second book in her Broken Earth trilogy which one – I think all three of the books won a Hugo Award or definitely the first couple. And she was the first African-American woman to win that award or – I can’t remember. I think Octavia Butler won some kind of award but it was not that one.
And I’m also just finished “Not That Bad,” which is edited by Roxane Gay. And it is a collection of essays about sexual assaults and some various survivor stories. So it is very, very dark and hard to read. It is like one of those books – I did the audio book and all the essays are read by their authors, so they’re extra emotional. They’re not a great readers, but I mean, it is just this very emotional because they're all very personal essays. It is the kind of book that you want to keep reading, but then you’re like, “No, I have to stop,” right, and like I can only read one or two.
Julie Dina: You got to take a break.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Lennea Bower: Yeah, yeah. It is a kind of book that will sort of suck you in to read it but you don’t do that. I don’t think that is probably very good for your state of mental health. Some of the stories are very, you know, just traumatic, the things that people went through. But also, you know, I thought it was really informative. And I read Gay’s other memoirs as well.
And then I also just finished “Beneath a Ruthless Sun” by Gilbert King, which is his follow up to “Devil in the Grove.” And so that is about – both of those books are about racism and other types of prejudice in Florida in the ‘50s and ‘60s. So “Beneath a Ruthless Sun” is his new book that just came out a few months ago.
And I’m really excited which isn’t out yet, but will be when this podcast comes out, “A Reaper at the Gates” by Sabaa Tahir and then “Smoke in the Sun” by Renee Ahdieh, just came out but I haven’t got my hands on yet because – but hopefully by the time this podcast comes out, that would be what I’m reading.
Julie Dina: There is a lot coming out.
Candice Hixon: Yeah.
Lennea Bower: Yeah.
Candice Hixon: Oh, yeah.
Julie Dina: Well, I’ve got to say you guys were very informative and this was very fun, no challenge at all. Thank you so much Lennea and thank you Candice for joining us on this episode.
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[Audio Ends] [0:35:43]
Summary: Digital Strategies Manager Lennea Bower and Library Assistant Supervisor Candace Hixon discuss the history of the MCPL Reading Challenge; how the 2018 challenge is going; and what they get out of reading challenges with host Julie Dina.
Recording Date: June 6, 2018
Guests: Lennea Bower is the Digital Strategies Manager for Montgomery County Public Libraries. Her unit runs the Reading Challenge. Candace Hixon is the Library Assistant Supervisor at the Kensington Park branch. She is an enthusiastic Reading Challenge participant.
Hosts: Julie Dina, Outreach Associate.
Featured MCPL Resource: Librarians! We encourage customers to approach our trained information professionals at any MCPL branch with requests for reading recommendations, assistance with library resources, or other questions. Find your nearest branch.
What Our Guests Are Reading:
Candace Hixon: Go Ask Alice by Anonymous.
Books, Movies, and Authors Mentioned During this Episode:
#NotYourPrincess edited by Mary Beth Leatherdale and Lisa Charleyboy
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
The Dry by Jane Harper
Grant by Ron Chernow
The Incredibles, animated movie
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Naked by David Sedaris
Prairie Fires by Carolyn Frasier
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
MCPL Resources Mentioned During this Episode:
Beanstack, online resource that provides book recommendations and is also the online home for some MCPL programs.
What Do I Check Out Next? online readers’ advisory service
Other Items of Interest Mentioned During this Episode: