Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Reading Romance and History

Cover of Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer
One of my favorite
Georgette Heyer books.
I few weeks ago, I was seated in the café area of the grocery store near the office, reading a book during my lunch break. As I got up to go back to the office, I heard a familiar voice say: "I didn't want to interrupt, you were obviously enjoying your book." I looked up to see that our Acting Director, Anita Vassallo, had sat down only a few tables away from me. She asked what I was reading, and we discussed our mutual appreciation for the magic of Georgette Heyer and the historical worlds she created in her books.

Heyer, 1902-1974, wrote historical romances (regency and Napoleonic era), histories (medieval and renaissance settings), and murder mysteries (set more contemporaneously with her own life—many of the plots came from her husband, a barrister). One of her great gifts as an author was the ability to make the time period she was writing about come alive. She brings to her books a level of accuracy and detail about daily life that is often not present in fiction written long after the fact.

As a lover of many fictional genres, as well as nonfiction, I find that the historical details of Heyer's novels make it easier to envision the real historical events that I read about in books like We Too: Victoria and Albert by Gillian Gill.

Cover of Through the Storm
Set during and after the
Civil War on the battlefield
and in New Orleans
The events, people, and society that Heyer writes about in her books are well represented in popular culture and popular history. However, there are many talented and writers writing books that illuminate extraordinary history with which many people may be less familiar.

Beverly Jenkins has created a twenty-five year career writing historical romances that feature African American characters. She was recently recognized for her achievements with the 2017 Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. While crafting interesting characters and stories, Jenkins also illuminates aspects of African American life throughout US history—from the Revolution to the Civil War to the Wild West. As Jenkins has described her work: "We're a very, very proud race. And America could not be America without the African American patches in the American history quilt." (Quote from our Books & Authors database.)

Cover of An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
First book in Cole's Loyal
League series
Recently, more writers of color have broken into publishing, sharing other stories that might not ordinarily be told. Alyssa Cole's Civil War-era Loyal League books tell the story of African American spies during the Civil War and are based on the true history of the Loyal League (or Union League) in the South.

Books like those of Jenkins and Cole help create a human context for the history in books like Grant by Ron Chernow. While Grant dives deep into the life of the title subject, the lives and fates of thousands of free African Americans and ex-slaves are discussed from an abstract view without being humanized as individuals. Unfortunately, due to the losses of history, many of their stories may never be told in the depth that can be brought to their white contemporaries. These fictional portrayals can help fill in holes in the historical record.

If you want more romance recommendations, may I recommend checking out the latest episode of our Library Matters podcast? Two of our Silver Spring librarians take our hosts on a deep dive into the many subgenres of romance and also give their recommendations if you're looking for romance novels to read on Valentine's Day.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Hail and Farewell, Ursula K. Le Guin

Four winged cats sitting on a tree branch.“Where do you get your ideas from, Ms. LeGuin?”

“From reading signs backwards and forgetting Dostoevsky.”

Those lines are from Ursula K. LeGuin’s notes about one of her early short stories, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” The “sign” mentioned above was from a road sign for Salem, Oregon. The quote illustrates not only LeGuin’s sense of humor but her range of inspirations and topics, from children’s stories about winged cats to a retelling of "The Aeneid" from the point of view of the hero’s intended bride. Far more than a genre fiction author, she wrote general and historical fiction plus a wealth of nonfiction, on topics including writing, growing up with Native American “uncles,” and being at the end of one's life.

Image of an iceberg that looks like a swirling soft serve ice cream cone
When LeGuin died recently, the media championed her as a multi-award-winning author, one of the first feminist science fiction and fantasy writers, and one of the first in those genres to include major nonwhite characters. The protagonist in The Left Hand of Darkness, published in 1969, is a man of African descent who is the first official “alien” encountered by a world of long-separated humans who are “red-brown or yellow-brown” (they’re also hermaphrodites, which leads to an exploration of how gender and sexuality might differ in alien societies). LeGuin’s literary style and her intense exploration of serious themes led to her work being some of the first sci-fi literature to be studied at universities.

But enough about what the outer world says. LeGuin’s work was and is beloved of fans. She’s the standard to which I hold authors of all genres in so many ways: expressive yet clear prose with a poetic rhythm, characters who are realistically appealing and flawed, and rich detail. LeGuin created religions, styles of magic, at least one musical instrument (I imagine the gossiwor to sound like a vuvuzela crossed with an off-key tuba, only worse), and thousands of large and little elements that make up a society. If you aren’t familiar with her work, she’s written something to appeal to nearly every age and interest, so try a book or two!

Beth C.

P.S. Interested in hearing more about science fiction and getting great book recommendations? Check out our recent Library Matters podcast episode all about sci fi.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Celebrate Library Lovers Month

Family with Mom and 3 children holding books and Library Lovers Month postcards
How do I love thee, MCPL? Let me count the ways. I'm hoping Elizabeth Barrett Browning doesn't mind that I've slightly modified a line from her poetry! I thought her words were the perfect introduction to talk about one of my favorite celebrations, Library Lovers Month.

I have been an enthusiastic public library user and reader since I was a baby. My mother would bring me to the library, and we would pick out many picture books to take home and read together. I even remember that I got my first library card at 5 years old. When I was growing up, you had to be able to print your name to get a library card. Now anyone can have their very own library card at any age. It is still the most important card (and only memorized number!) in my wallet. And while there are still so many adventures that I find in print books, there is even so much more for you at MCPL!

Here's a list of 20 free library resources and services to help you celebrate being a proud library cardholder and user.
  1. Explore science themes with your kids by checking out a STEM Go! Kit.
  2. Check Consumer Reports from home.
  3. Learn to play a musical instrument, sing, or make art through ArtistWorks.
  4. Learn a language online.
  5. Find a musical score online.
  6. Stream one of 250 performances of the world's leading plays.
  7. Use a collaboration space at a branch for individual study or group work.
  8. Prepare for the SAT, LSAT, NCLEX and more.
  9. Search your family history with HeritageQuest Online.
  10. Take an online technology, business, or creative class with Gale Courses, LearningExpress, or
  11. Download e-books.
  12. Start your own business.
  13. Download music from Freegal.
  14. Renew your materials online.
  15. Download audiobooks.
  16. Read an e-magazine from home.
  17. Discover your next favorite book
  18. Attend an engaging and exciting event at our branches. 
  19. Find articles, encyclopedias, and biographical information for your school project.
  20. Get ahead in your job or learn skills for a new career.
Two children filling out Library Lovers Month postcards
We love and appreciate you, our customers, as well as our Friends of the Library, Montgomery County (FOLMC), our Friends of the Library branch chapters, and the Montgomery County Library Board. When you stop by our branches this month, be sure to fill out a postcard and tell us why you love your library. These postcards get shared with our local representatives.

The Library Lovers Month kickoff event is Bubbling Potions and Explosions by the Science Guys of Baltimore. It is on Saturday, February 3, 11 AM at the Aspen Hill branch. You can also celebrate Library Lovers Month with stacks for the stacks. You can dine in at The Original Pancake House on Thursday, February 22, 7 AM - 3 PM at two locations in Bethesda and Rockville. They will generously donate 15% of sales to FOLMC.

So let's celebrate this February and all year long. Remember, there's something for everyone at MCPL! 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Meet MCPL - Davis Branch

MCPL’s Davis branch is located at 6400 Democracy Boulevard in Bethesda. It was built on land donated to the county in memory of Floyd E. Davis, Sr. by his family. The branch, which reopened in April 2017 after undergoing a refresh, has laptops to loan for in-house use, collaboration spaces, and a thriving English Conversation group which meets weekly. In 2018, Davis staff will greatly expand programming for the community, particularly for children, teens, and families. Stop in and check out all the great resources, services, and materials!

Group of about 20 people who make up the staff of Davis Library
Davis Library Staff

Courtney Allen
Courtney Allen is a Library Associate for juvenile services at Davis Library. Courtney recently moved from Massachusetts where she worked as a Children's Librarian, Teen Librarian, and Catalog Assistant. She loves being a part of the supportive community at MCPL. In addition to reading, she enjoys watching movies, playing video games, and visiting as many historical sites as she can!

Felicia Minard
Felicia Minard is a Librarian I at Davis focusing on teen services. She is working to bring exciting and engaging new programs to the community and increase teen library participation. She joined MCPL in September 2017. Prior to joining MCPL, Felicia received her Master of Science in Library and Information Science degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with a concentration in youth services. She also has a mental health first aid certification. Her professional interests include intellectual freedom and censorship, health literacy, and graphic novels. She enjoys books across genres, especially historical fantasy and non-fiction. Outside of the library, Felicia spends her spare time running, cooking, and practicing yoga. She lives with her wife in Bethesda and is a proud Slytherin.

Christian Wilson
Christian Wilson joined MCPL in July 2017 at the Germantown branch. She transferred to the Davis Branch in October and loves the intimate, friendly atmosphere there. Christian came to MCPL from the District of Columbia Public Library, where she spent three years as a Children's Librarian. Prior to that, she was a Library Intern at the University of Pennsylvania. A Philadelphia native, Christian received her Master of Library and Information Science degree from Drexel University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from Temple University. She has intermediate level knowledge of the Spanish and Dutch languages and is attempting to revive her knowledge of French as well. When not at the library, Christian enjoys being a volunteer martial arts instructor. She holds a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and a Green Belt in Judo. In addition to practicing martial arts, she enjoys reading science fiction, traveling to visit her family members in nine different countries on three continents, and playing the classical guitar. She greatly appreciates the inroads Wawa has made into the DMV area!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

MCPL's Top Titles of 2017

cup of coffee on a table next to words 2017 report in blocks
It's January, which means it's time for another endless round of "Top of 20__" lists! Here at MCPL we don't want to be left out in the cold on this trend, so we thought we'd share with you a few of our top circulating titles of 2017. (Scroll down if you want just the list without the discussion...)

What makes a title a top circulator? Well, there are several criteria.

First, this list only covers MCPL's print collection. We also have an extensive and popular collection of e-books and audiobooks. Personally, I love the ability to check out a book and start reading without ever getting off my couch!

Second, the number of copies of a book MCPL owns will affect how many times it can circulate, as well its publication date. A book published in November 2017 can't be checked out that many times, even if MCPL has a lot of copies. Similarly, a book published earlier in 2017, but for which we own fewer copies, or for which copies were purchased later in the year, won't show up quite so high.

Cover of Hillbilly Elegy showing a house or barn on a hillside
The top title on our Adult list illustrates these principles perfectly. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance was published in June 2016, but remained popular throughout 2017. MCPL's copies circulated consistently throughout the year and we still have a holds list in 2018, as people continue to become aware of the book. In addition to the print book, MCPL's collection includes large print, CD, e-book and electronic audiobook versions of this title, although the print version got it on this list.

backpacks with books toys and tablets in front of them
Go! Kits on display at Quince Orchard branch reopening
One more note before we get to the list. MCPL's most checked out physical items of 2017 were actually not books at all. They were our Go! Kits. What are Go! Kits? They are themed bags for children and their caregivers to learn about different STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) topics. Go! Kits are available for two age groups: Little Explorer kits are for ages 3–6 and Young Voyager kits are for ages 7–12. MCPL currently has two sets of themes, which are available at different branches. Each kit includes theme related books, toys, and a tablet.

And now, on to the lists:

Adult Titles

Customers check out Harry Potter and
the Cursed Child on release day in 2016.
The book was a 2017 MCPL top circulator.
Children's Titles

Finally, if all of this wasn't enough for you or you just need some suggestions for the best books of 2017, may we suggest checking out our podcast? In the first episode of 2018, two of our librarians dove into the best books of 2017 for all audiences. Happy listening—and reading!