Hitting the Books: A Memory

by Brittney Reed-Saltz

It will probably surprise no one to learn that I was an incorrigible nerd in school. I mean, I went on to become a librarian, and while our experiences vary, a common thread tends to be that we are incorrigible nerds. And as such, when I look back on my education, I feel a great deal of fondness for assigned reading. This was not always the case.

Throughout elementary and high school, I had a sometimes contentious relationship with assigned reading. Bookish I was, but I also had a rebellious streak and interests that often conflicted with curricula. I knew my own tastes and my own reading level, so why (went my childhood and adolescent logic) would I want to waste my time reading what someone else told me to so I could pass a test? (There were notable exceptions, and I could often be enticed to love a book about which I was initially skeptical: The Outsiders, Fahrenheit 451, Night, The Scarlet Letter.)

That attitude changed somewhat when I entered college and had conferred upon me the heady power of choice. Sure, I had a list of prerequisites and major requirements, but within that list was so much freedom. I could flip through my course catalog and read through the listings for upper-division English and order as though from a menu, each course unique in flavor and theme.

My favorite day of the semester was always the first. I like beginnings, I always have, and I place much stock in making sure that they are auspicious. In college I would pick my outfit to set the tone I wanted, pack up my new notebooks and pens that smelled of potential, and head off to the Humanities building eager to get started.

I loved the well-worn format of the first day, each professor going through the syllabus and revealing their personalities in how they chose to communicate their expectations, in tones either nurturing or apocalyptic. And I loved getting my list of assigned reading. I would have already ordered the books, having the lists in advance, but there was the structure of the order of the assignments, and of course, some surprises. The Norton Anthology is huge; there’s no way to cover it all in a semester, so being told which selections to read for the next class was like being handed a map to guide me through a vast, unfamiliar wild.

It didn’t matter that I was, despite being an ambitious A student, an inveterate procrastinator. It didn’t matter that I would invariably dislike some of my assignments or get overwhelmed by the volume of reading that comes with taking 20 credit hours of literature classes. By November I might be staring wanly into my copy of Julius Caesar wondering how I was ever to discuss it in an original and substantial manner for 10 pages and considering escape plans, but on the first day of the semester, all was new. Hope tinged everything with a rose-gold glow that had yet to fade into the harsh, dark reality of essays finished at 2:00 AM (and prayers that the printer works, oh please, please don’t jam, please let me have added enough money to my printing account, please…).

I miss those days now. Because they were frustrating, and there are some assignments that I detested and still do to this day. (Those authors will retain their dignity in anonymity.) But along with the stress there were moments of transcendence, when I discovered authors I had never read before and who left me changed. Back then, every word had meaning and weight, and even the most confusing poem would be unraveled in class to reveal a core of diamond at its center, clear and pure and precious.

We’ve reached the conclusion. If I were older, I might adjust the lapels of my tweed coat and bite my briar pipe thoughtfully and admonish the students trooping reluctantly back to class, reminding them of the passage of time and encouraging them to drink in everything their education has to offer. But I don’t have a pipe, or the years of perspective. So I’ll just say to those students: I envy you.

To be young and unsuspecting and arrogant, not knowing how a book that you don’t even want to read can reach right between your ribs and touch a heart still soft enough to feel things sharp and deep. What a misery and what a joy.

Have a great school year, everyone.


Taboo: Death and Grief

by Marlene Kupsch 

I find that when faced with the words death or dying people often tend to shy away or run as fast as they can. Death is not something that can be undone; yes, we all understand that, but it should not take over your life. We must find a way to move forward. Not forget, by any means, but live our lives as best we can. Your loved one would not want you to grieve for the rest of your life.

For me, the best way to get through a difficult situation like this and carry on is to talk about it. With anyone! Always seek professional help if the feelings become too powerful for you to talk through them with your family or friends. There are times were a book is exactly what is needed. That is when the library and the endless supply of reading material becomes a great lifeline. The more we can learn, the less scared we will be! My picks:death 1

Dying to Know… About Death, Funeral Customs, and Final Resting Places by Lila Perl
If you want to know the history on why certain customs or rituals have come to be, Perl is your woman! Why did the custom of putting a headstone on top of the grave start? Did Queen Victoria start the fashion of mourning in black when her husband passed away? When did we start the practice of embalming and why?

death 2One of the newest books that I have had the great fortune of finding is Grief Works by Julia Samuel. The author is a grief psychotherapist, who has written about some of the people she has counseled overthe years and the steps she helped them take to try to move forward with their lives. She has a lot of helpful information throughout the book.

For children, The Saddest Time by Norma Simon is something death 6worth reading to your little ones. This book gives you three different stories on why death might occur. It talks about the ways you might feel and what you could do to help your loved ones or yourself. It explains death in a way that is not overwhelming or scary.

We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman is about a nurse who writes letters for the patients under her care in a hospice facility. She promises to post them once the patient death 3passed, but what if she can give the chance for redemption by breaking that rule? Should she let things in her personal life interfere with a promise she made the patient?death 4

There is a series written by Neal Shusterman that makes you wonder about the future and all the advancements of science and technology. What if all diseases were cured? What if the world conquered death? How would we “thin” out the population? Scythe is a young adult novel that I was not able to put down. I was in this world all night long, cover to cover, wondering if I was given the opportunity to become a Scythe, would I want the power? How would it feel to be the person who was given just a few hours left to live? How would I choose the method of death for me?

death 5Last but not least, for those young’uns, The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst is a must read! The story starts after the family pet has died. The little boy is understandably heartbroken and struggles to come up with all ten good things about his cat that his mother asks him to say at the funeral. Letting go is never easy. Barney was very much loved.

There are so many books and so little time. I could easily turn this into a 100-book-plus list. The important thing is that you can find at least one book that gave you a smile or gave you that “I’m not alone” feeling. Death is no stranger to me. I have gotten that 3 am phone call that you hope you never get, I have sat by the bedside of family members as they have taken their last breaths, I have lost friends and family, young and old. Death does not discriminate, and it is not usually welcomed. You must grieve for each and every one,and sometimes in all different ways. There is no wrong or right way to grieve, and there is no time limit. From all my experiences, as long as you do not stand still for too long, you are on the right path.

Thank you for giving me your time!!

True Crime Books that Aren’t About Murder

By Brittney Reed-Saltz 

Recently I jumped onto the true crime train, which everyone else has been riding for quite some time. Although interest in true crime is nothing new, recent podcasts like Serial and My Favorite Murder, as well as books like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by the indomitable Michelle McNamara, have brought plenty of new fans to the genre.

But what if you want to explore true crime without reading about grisly murders, kidnappings, and other violent crimes? If you want to avoid this kind of content, are you just out of luck?

As it turns out, no! There are plenty of true crime books about heists, espionage, gambling, deception, and even arson that provide the adventure of complex investigations, real-life mysteries, and heightened danger, with less troubling content than the plethora of serial killer books that flood the market.

American Fire by Monica Hessetrue crime 4
A true crime love story, mixed with arson? The premise automatically sets this book apart from others in its genre. Hesse explores a series of arsons that took place in Accomack County in rural Virginia. Each abandoned building burned bred more suspicion among the county’s residents, tension growing as vigilante groups sprang up, the police force searched for the culprit, and residents worries when the arsonist would strike next. But when the culprit is apprehended, his reason for setting the fires will prove more bizarre than his crimes.

The Snowden Files by Luke Harding
In 2013, former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden became a household name–and a hotly debated one–when he came forward with information about the previously unknown scope of the NSA’s intelligence-gathering practices. Written “like a spy novel,” this is the book for you if you’re looking for an insider look at a case that changed how we think about our data.

The Woman Who Wasn’t There by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo
After 9/11, Tania Head came forward with the remarkable story of how she survived the World Trade Center attacks. She became a champion for other survivors, taking an active role in the World Trade Center Survivors Network, leading tours of Ground Zero, and providing leadership and advocacy. There was just one problem with her story: It wasn’t true. Take a look at the story behind this act of fraud.

true crime 1The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
And now for a story of intelligence and espionage that predates Snowden, and was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks: the case of Brian Regan. A U.S. government contractor, Regan smuggled sensitive information out of his office, burying it underground in the hopes of selling their locations to foreign governments. Read this book to learn about his crimes, his brilliant cryptography, and how his dyslexia ultimately led to his capture.

Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom
Go inside the world of underground gambling with Molly Bloom, who at the age of 26 became the leader of the most exclusive high-stakes poker game in the world. Celebrities, financial giants, and politicians all played at Molly’s table, winning and losing millions of dollars and making her privy to exclusive gossip. But Molly’s empire came crashing down around her… Find out why in her memoir.

Hot Art by Joshua Knelman
As years pass and the value of art increases, so, too, does the lure of stealing it. Knelman spent five years immersed the world of art thieves, exploring their backgrounds and activities, as well as learning about the rare special investigators who specialize in foiling them. This book is the result of his research. true crime 3

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
Before I found this book, I had no idea that there even was such a thing as “America’s strange flower-selling subculture.” Orlean follows eccentric John Laroche on his obsessive quest to clone an incredibly rare orchid. Where does the crime come  in, you might ask? (I did.) Answer: from Laroche’s illegal attempts to poach orchids out of the Florida swamps, which led to his arrest. This story inspired the movie Adaptation. 

The Bling Ring by Nancy Jo Sales
Another case of unusual theft: When you think of a burglary ring, privileged teenagers might not come to mind. But during the Aughts, a group of Los Angeles teens used social media and TMZ to track the whereabouts of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan–and steal more than $3 million in valuables from them. Their crimes provided the inspiration for the movie of the same name, starring Emma Watson.


True Crime Books I’m Reading After ‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’

by Brittney Reed-Saltzi'll be gone in the dark

After waiting on the holds list for weeks–see, it happens to librarians, too!–a copy of Michelle McNamara’s posthumous true crime blockbuster I’ll Be Gone in the Dark came in for me. It was exactly what I needed: I had been in a reading slump, but I tore through the pages. It would be hyperbole to say that I became as engrossed in McNamara’s writing as she did in the Golden State Killer case, because I’ve never seen anyone so doggedly obsessed with a project. But this book haunted me in a way that I haven’t been haunted by my reading in a long time. My tastes are hard-boiled, yet this book gave me nightmares.

The truth is, I’m a true crime newbie: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is only the second true crime title I’ve ever read, along with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. I remember flipping through my mom’s beloved true crime paperbacks as a tween, poring over the glossy photo inserts with a mixture of disgust and fascination, but I never got into the genre.

Well, until now.

Here are the true crime books that I’m planning to read next, despite the havoc they will wreak on my sleep schedule.

the fact of a body

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and A Memoir by Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich
Marzano-Lesnevich took a summer job working at a law firm in Louisiana when she encountered the case of Ricky Langley. Her reaction was so visceral and so contradictory to her anti-death penalty stance that she felt compelled to investigate more deeply. After I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, I’m ready to follow another DIY sleuth down a dark, obsessive rabbit hole, and The Fact of a Body sounds like just that.

midnight in the garden of good and evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
This book has shimmered in my periphery for a long time. It’s an atmospheric examination not just of a murder, but of a unique town and its equally unique inhabitants: Savannah, Georgia, home to criminals, drag queens, society ladies, and voodoo priestesses, to name only a handful. I share McNamara’s opinion that the most interesting part of a crime isn’t the act itself, but the people it impacts, and I think that Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil satisfy this interest.

my friend dahmer

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (available through Hoopla)
When someone’s crimes are as lurid as Jeffrey Dahmer’s, it’s easy to conceive of the perpetrator as an inhuman monster. The thought that they were just a human being taxes the mind and inspires terror, because we don’t want to acknowledge that people are capable of such things. This graphic memoir, written by Dahmer’s former classmate and friend, presents the chilling truth: serial killers are people, and you might know one.

green river running red

Green River, Running Red by Ann Rule
The Green River Killer was another serial murderer who, like the Golden State Killer, amassed a large number of victims and eluded capture for decades, which for me is the most bloodcurdling aspect of the GSK case. I have read reviews that attest to Rule’s focus on the victims, which is something I admire about McNamara’s approach, as well. This book also has the added scare factor of proximity to the killer: Gary Ridgway ended up living within a mile of Rule’s house.

helter skelter

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
It’s hard to look into true crime without encountering Helter Skelter. This classic is massive both in terms of its size and the notoriety of the case it documents: the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders committed by the Manson Family. Readers have described Helter Skelter as engaging to the point of dizzying, packed with twists, aliases, and chilling details aplenty about Charles Manson’s hold on his cult members. I feel like my exploration of the genre would be incomplete without giving this one a try.

2018 Eisner Award Winners Announced!

By Brittney Reed-Saltz

What better reason for a bonus blog post this week than the announcement of the newest batch of Eisner Award winners? The honorees were unveiled at San Diego Comic-Con, and RCLS has several of them available for you to check out!

You can peruse a full list of nominees and winners here.

monstress monstress 2

Best Continuing Series and Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17) and Best Cover Artist and Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art): 
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda


Best Adaptation from Another Medium:
Kindred by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings

world of wakanda

Best Limited Series: 
Black Panther: World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Alitha E. Martinez

tea dragon society

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12) and Best Webcomic: 
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

my favorite thing is monsters

Best Graphic Album – New and Best Writer/Artist and Best Coloring:
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris

my brother's husband

Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia:
My Brother’s Husband, Vol. 1, by Gengoroh Tagame, translated by Anne Ishii



Rediscovering Riverdale

By Brittney Reed-Saltz

If it weren’t for the Piggly Wiggly in my hometown, I might not be the comic book reader that I am today. Every shopping trip, I would situate myself in the magazine aisle while my mom gathered our family’s groceries. Alongside the teen magazines and copies of the incomprehensible-looking Farmer’s Almanac was a spinning wire rack of comics. And that’s where I would amuse myself.

I didn’t actually know anyone else who read comic books. My dad and I both liked the funnies in the newspaper, but I was on my own when it came to figuring out which comics to read. As a result, I often came into arcs in the middle, or would pick something based on the cover only to find that I didn’t know who any of the characters were.

But I always knew that I was safe with Archie comics. I could pick up any of them without losing the thread. There was consistency: Betty and Veronica would always have their own brand of embattled friendship, Archie would always be clumsy, Jughead would always be jonesing for another hamburger at Pop’s, Reggie would always be a jerk. But regardless of the unchanging nature of Riverdale and its denizens, I was never at a loss for a new adventure to read.

Years have passed. Archie, already old for a perpetual teen back then, is now over 75. Plenty in the world has changed, even that old Piggly Wiggly, which has moved across town. But as I recently discovered, I still love Archie comics as much as an adult as I did back then. Luckily, there is plenty of new and exciting material to choose from in the Archieverse now.

Here are some that I’ve enjoyed so far.

archie vol 1

Archie by Mark Waid
The new Archie updates the characters in a way that doesn’t ignore modern realities like social media while refusing to sacrifice the integrity of the characters. While there are serious and emotional moments, Waid doesn’t try to write a grimdark Archie here. This series is big on humor and on heart, telling new stories about the same characters that readers have loved for years, and reading it feels both fresh and reassuringly timeless.

riverdale season 1

Riverdale (TV show)
If you want a snarky, high-school-noir revamp of your favorite characters, look no further than Riverdale. The first season centers around the very sudden, very suspicious death of Jason Blossom. There’s plenty of intrigue beyond the potential murder, though: illicit affairs, dark family secrets, and revenge. I’ve not finished watching yet as of the time of this writing, but I’ve enjoyed it so far. There are some definite changes in characterization–Archie is not the lovable klutz of the comics, and I’m continually surprised to see a much more sympathetic version of rich-girl Veronica–but the casting is superb, and the twists are fascinating to watch.

jughead vol 1

Jughead by Chip Zdarsky
When I read Archie as a kid, Jughead was sort of a non-entity to me, so I’m continually pleased and surprised by how much depth authors are bringing to his character across titles. This is on display especially in his own headlining graphic novel series, penned by the seemingly unlikely but deft hand of Chip Zdarsky, known for his work on Sex Criminals. By contrast, Jughead is an all-ages-friendly comic that centers Jughead in his efforts to thwart a new regime at Riverdale High, indulging in many flights of fancy along the way.

chilling adventures of sabrina

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Sabrina Spellman inhabits one of my favorite fringes of the Archieverse. Chilling Adventures takes everyone’s favorite teenage on a wild ride through the haunted woods by way of vintage occult horror, blending a 1960s aesthetic with chilling storytelling that echoes the “24 Hours” issue from the first arc of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. As a horror fan, I adore this twisted version of Sabrina, but the subversive re-characterizations and explicit gore won’t be for every reader.

What Kids are Reading For Fun This Summer

by Brittney Reed-Saltz, with input from Mindy Barrett and Liz McLuckie 

Book recommendations. It’s why you read this blog, right? You want to hear which titles we, the librarians who are trained to find books you’ll love, think are worth your time.

And that’s what this blog seeks to do, but today I’m turning the model on its head a little bit. Today’s recommendations aren’t coming from me… They’re coming from the kids who visit our libraries.

As an adult, it can be difficult to figure out what the kids in your life will want to read. Recommending books that you liked at their age can be a good start, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. After all, everyone has their own interests, and sometimes the books that we view through the rosy light of nostalgia just don’t resonate with younger generations in the same way. Times change, and sometimes they change very quickly.

So, what’s an adult to do?

I always pay attention to what my younger patrons are checking out and reading, and I love when they tell me about particular titles that they think are awesome. Not just because it means that they’re enjoying books, which is sort of the whole goal, but because it helps me build a mental list of books that I might recommend to other kids.

Do you know a kid who’s struggling to find their next great read? Or are you at your wits’ end trying to help a reluctant reader? Try out one of these titles, selected from books that kids have been checking out at all of our branches this summer. kids read 1

The Geronimo Stilton series by Geronimo and Thea Stilton
Fast-paced illustrated stories featuring the adventurous newspaper mouse Geronimo Stilton and his sister, Thea (both the pseudonyms of author Elisabetta Dami… look for them under Stilton).

The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer
Middle-grade fantasy focusing on a set of twins who fall into a book of fairy tales and find themselves face-to-face with the characters they have read about.

Dog Man graphic novel series by Dav Pilkey
kids read 2From the creator of the long beloved zany chapter book series Captain UnderpantsDog Man follows the adventures of a new kind of crime fighter: one with the body of a man and the head of a police dog.

The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel series by Raina Telgemeier
The plots you might remember from Ann M. Martin’s classic series get an update with art by Raina Telgemeier. Kids also love Telgemeier’s other graphic novels: Smile, Sisters, Ghosts, and Drama.

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
A graphic novel about an 11-year-old girl trying to adjust to public school after being homeschooled, and to find her place in the Renaissance Faire where her parents work.kids read 3

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Kinney’s stories of a kid trying to survive school and documenting his misadventures are perennial favorites. For a readalike with a female protagonist, try Rachel Renee Russell’s Dork Diaries series.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Wonder has been in the spotlight a lot over the past few years as the result of being included in school reading lists and being adapted into a movie. It continues to be popular with kids who enjoy realistic fiction.

Stick Dog series by Tom Watson
Burgers, hot dogs, pizza, ice cream, and more… This light-hearted series follows an insatiable dog on his quest for food. These books promise to make kids laugh, and make kids read 4them hungry.

Peter Powers series by Kent Clark 
Although Peter comes from a family of supeheroes, he has the worst superpower ever: making ice cubes with his fingertips. Can he somehow use his power to save the day? Find out in a chapter book series perfect for fans of The Incredibles. 

My Weird School series by Dan Gutman 
A.J. goes to a very weird school, where teachers don’t know math, kiss pigs, wear dresses made out of potholders, and more. Each book introduces a new teacher, each one weirder than the last. Gutman’s series is a good readalike for Louis Sachar’s older Wayside School books.

Goosebumps series by R. L. Stinekids read 5
The Goosebumps books are an example of books from our childhoods (if you’re somewhere in your early 30s, at least) that are still captivating new audiences. The books stand alone, so don’t worry about reading order. Your kids can jump in anywhere and be assured of a good scare with a unique premise, whether it’s ventriloquist dummies, garden gnomes, or a haunted mask providing the chills.

Minecraft books
The library has tons of books about Minecraft, from how-to guides to middle grade novels set within the world of the game. What if your kid isn’t into Minecraft? Try searching the library for books that fit their interests, whatever they might be! Even in the rare occasion that we don’t have something about a particular topic they love, we can always help you put in a request for the library to purchase a particular book.