Faculty Bookshelf: An interview with Steve Bein

Faculty.Bein2Steve Bein is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, teaching classes on Asian philosophy.  Dr. Bein sat down with Kate Pitcher earlier this year to talk about books, reading and his writing life.  Dr. Bein’s second novel in the Fated Blades series (Year of the Demon) is newly published by Roc (an imprint of Penguin Publishing) this October.

What are your current research interests?

My recent projects have been in compassion, environmental ethics, and applied ethics.  My upcoming project is a book chapter on a Japanese philosopher called Watsuji Tetsurō.  There I’m writing about problems of how we self-identify in the face of climate change.

What is your favorite literary genre to read for pleasure?

At heart I’m a science fiction and fantasy guy.  They’ve got the most potential to be philosophically provocative.  But when I’m reading for pleasure, I also have an eye for reading the kind of stuff I’m currently writing.  So for Daughter of the Sword and Year of the Demon, I’ve been reading urban fantasy, historical fiction, and anything with strong female protagonists, because my books have all of those elements.

Do you read one book or multiple books at a time?

I read multiple books at a time.  (In my line of work, there’s not much choice!)

What book(s) are currently on your nightstand or e-reader?

I make it a point to read some philosophy and some fiction every day.  In philosophy I’m reading a lot of Watsuji Tetsurō right now.  In fiction, Kurt Vonnegut’s Sucker’s Portfolio and Hugh Howey’s Wool.

Tell us about a book that changed your life:

Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki is the first book I read on Zen, at fourteen.  It’s the book that put me on my career path. It taught me the importance of mental discipline, and that you didn’t necessarily need to replace one religion for another. The essential message is that your problems are problems because they are problematic for you.  Stress is not objective.  It’s not like weather; it’s not inevitable.  You can manage it.the-hobbit-tolkien

As for fiction, I read The Hobbit when I was a kid and I was hooked on fantasy after that.  Tolkien led me to Madeline L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, Robert E. Howard, all of that stuff.  From there I got into the sci fi side: Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, writers like that.  But I think The Hobbit is the snowflake that triggered the avalanche.

Name a book you just couldn’t finish & why:

I was asked to review a first novel, The Name of the Wind, which was advertised as Tolkienesque.  In my review I wanted to write, “it’s exactly as Tolkienesque as my work is Tolkienesque, which is to say not at all.”  No one is Tolkienesque—not until they redefine an entire genre and influence everyone in it.  My review of that book was, “Harry Potter without an interesting school, interesting adventures, or interesting friends, blathering on endlessly while taking superhuman efforts to remain a virgin.”

What were your favorite books as a child?

The Black Stallion, Choose Your Own Adventures, typical kid stuff. Thousands of pages of comic books. So many Conan novels. I was just at the right age when comic books made the shift from kid’s fare to adult fare.  Batman, Wolverine and those guys were my mythology, but then graphic novels came into being, so I could follow them into high school and beyond.

Do you have any favorite books related to your academic background in Japanese philosophy and history—books that non-experts would find accessible?

SophiesWorldZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is brilliant, and very accessible.  Robert Aitken is also very accessible; he’s one of the guys who brought Zen Buddhism to the United States.  The Mind of Clover stands out as a good choice.  On the Western side, Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World is a lovely little introduction to philosophy.

You also write fiction –how do you manage the difference in the writing process (or is there a difference?) between creative and scholarly writing?

They’re different but they inform each other. I think the demand for research in my academic life has trained me to do a lot of background reading for my fiction—which is a good thing, because historical fiction is heavily research intensive.  On the flipside, the fiction acts as a reward system for the academic scholarship; in fact, I’m sure I never could have finished my dissertation without it.  I was writing a novel at the time, and my system was to write 500 words a day for the dissertation before I was allowed to do any fiction writing.  A year later I had a finished dissertation and a novel manuscript in hand.

And then there’s the obvious: no matter what you write, I think the more time you spend writing, the better you get at it.  In my philosophy I want to be clear and lucid; in my fiction I want to write with panache.  Not a lot of philosophers focus on the latter, but in my opinion, writing clearly, lucidly, and with flair is no bad thing.

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be?  What would you want to know?

Plato, and everything.

Milne Library textbook resources

With the Fall semester right around the corner, it’s time again to go textbook shopping. If you have a tight budget, Milne Library may be able to help you access your required textbooks.

Textbooks on Reserve Collection

Milne Library has a growing collection of textbooks available for 4 hour loan. You can easily search the collection from our Find Textbooks and Course Reserves library guide. If the textbook is available in our collection, just drop by the Service Desk to request it. (Note: you can only check out one textbook at a time.)

Information Delivery Services (IDS)

If Milne Library does not own the textbook you need, you can request a copy through Information Delivery Services. If we are able to find another library that can lend us a copy, then we will borrow it via interlibrary loan. Please be advised that most interlibrary loan books can only be borrowed for 4-6 weeks and renewals are not guaranteed. As a result, this is not the ideal way to access a textbook you’ll need for the entire semester.

We highly recommend that you allow 2-4 weeks for us to find a lending library for textbooks. Because textbooks are in high demand (and because many libraries will not lend them through interlibrary loan), it can take longer than usual to borrow them. (Note: if a book is located in our Textbooks on Reserve Collection, we will not borrow it from another library.)

 

 

 

Milne Library Publishes Its First Original Monograph!

Tagging Along CoverMilne Library is pleased to announce the publication of Tagging Along: Memories of My Grandfather, James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr., by Stuart Symington, Jr., the first of what Milne hopes will be a long run of original titles published by the library through the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. This handsome 131-page, illustrated book is now available from Amazon.com, on a print-on-demand basis, for under $10. It will also be freely accessible in Open Monographs Press beginning in July.

A small group of librarians-cum-editors began working last fall with the author, who is the son of  U.S. Senator Stuart Symington, Sr., and Evelyn Wadsworth Symington, daughter of U.S. Senator James W. Wadsworth, Jr., of Geneseo. With Symington, the editorial team worked out style issues, added photographs, and designed the cover and layout for the book–everything, in short, that publishing houses do to ready a book for publication. Milne Library then uploaded the electronic file of the book to CreateSpace, and descriptive and ordering information for the book appeared in Amazon.com. When copies are ordered, CreateSpace will print them for Amazon to ship. It’s a publishing model that Milne has been using in conjunction with hosting the open access ebook versions on Open Monograph Press. The initiative began last fall, when Milne issued Recollections of 3 Rebel Prisons, by G. G. Prey, the first title in its Genesee Valley Historical Reprint series.

 Symington with his grandfather, James W. Wadsworth, Jr., in Paris during WW II

Symington with his grandfather, James W. Wadsworth, Jr., in Paris during WW II

Tagging Along recalls the time Symington spent with his “kind, wise, generous, and very patient grandfather.” The story of “Grampa” Wadsworth’s political career and private life, woven together with the author’s memories and impressions of long childhood visits to his grandparents’ home and farms in Geneseo, is set against the rich background of Wadsworth family history. As SUNY Geneseo President Christopher Dahl says in the book’s foreword, Tagging Along is “a lively, affectionate memoir of a politician and statesman who was present at some of the major events of the twentieth century, a man who represents a conservative tradition rooted in respect for the soil and responsibility to his community–a tradition, sadly, very little in evidence in today’s civic and political life.”

Stuart Symington, Jr., a retired member of the Missouri Bar and a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, was born in Rochester, N.Y., and spent much of his youth on the Niagara Frontier and in Washington, D.C. He served overseas in World War II and graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School.

 

Faculty Bookshelf: Rachel Hall

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Professor Rachel Hall in Holland.

Rachel Hall, Professor of English, Director of Writing, and award-winning author, is an avid reader of fiction, especially short stories. As a young woman, she became enamored of the short story, and continues to read them for inspiration and enlightenment. The stories of Alice Munro were especially important to her, in particular, Munro’s exploration of characters and their psychology.

Many of Professor Hall’s favorite short stories are by Alice Munro: “Dimensions” and “Free Radicals” from the collection Too Much Happiness; “My Mother’s Dream” from The Love of a Good Woman; “Friend of My Youth” and “Differently” from Friend of My Youth; “Labor Day Dinner” from The Moons of Jupiter; “Miles City, Montana” from The Progress of Love; “Carried Away” from Open Secrets.

Finding a Girl in America

Finding a Girl in America

She also enjoys Andre Dubus’ stories collected in Separate Flights and Finding a Girl in America, Robin Black’s If I Loved You I Would Tell You This, Jean Thompson’s Throw Like A Girl, The News From Spain by Joan Wickersham, and Siobahn Fallon’s You’ll Know When The Men Are Gone. And when she wants something new, literary magazines keep her well supplied.

Professor Hall says, “My philosophy on books and reading is that you can never be bored if you love books. I grew up in a family of readers and that is one of the best gifts my parents gave me.  I’m always reading something.  I read for many different reasons–for pleasure, or inspiration, or research or for models (how was this story built?) especially when I’m rereading.”

If I Loved You I Would Tell You This

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This

Next on Professor Hall’s reading list is Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s collection of related short stories about Vietnam, and two books by Philip Caputo, Rumor of War, which is a personal narrative of a soldier in Vietnam, and 13 Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings.

Not surprisingly when you look at her “to do” reading list, Professor Hall’s next writing project will be a novel set in the 1960s-70s, so she is set to enjoy researching for that book. Another future project is the Rochester Jewish Book Festival. She is on the committee that sponsors the festival and she will be traveling to New York City soon to recruit speakers for that event.

When asked what her favorite books were as a child, Professor Hall reveals a fascination with The Endless Steppe, by Esther Hautzig, spending hours imagining herself as the protagonist in frozen Siberia. Additionally, she enjoyed The Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and biographies of women such as Helen Keller.

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Professor Hall shares her love of reading with her daughter; the two are members of a mother-daughter book club. While this gives her the opportunity to explore some new books with her daughter, it also means she has to read some books she’d rather not (Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson comes to mind).

The author Professor Hall would love to meet and talk to? Alice Munro, of course! If such a meeting could happen, Ms. Munro would undoubtedly enjoy the conversation with Rachel Hall immensely.

 

History Professors Weed Milne Garden!

WeedingGraphic

What’s going on with all the books? WEEDING!

SUNY Geneseo History professors spent some time recently “weeding” the history books on Milne’s top floor. Weeding is the kinder, gentler word librarians use for discarding books!

The reality is that every library has to discard books from time to time, to make room for new books and to rid the collection of old, outdated, and possibly misleading books. In the science and medical section, for instance, a book from 1950 could be dangerous, with information that has long since been proven wrong!

Weeding the history section, however, can be tricky because a book whose information is out of date still has use for historiography purposes, in other words, to study the changing interpretation of historical events over time. So, for instance, a book published in 1962 that mentions Malcolm X might not be accurate in light of recent research about Malcolm X, but that 1962 book may be extremely useful as a primary source when studying changing attitudes about race in this country.

The history professors, then, had to determine the worth of each book as an information source, as a classic historical text, and as a primary source, as well as considering the condition of the book, how easy the book would be to obtain on interlibrary loan, and if students at Geneseo are studying the topic or not. If a book doesn’t meet the criteria, out it goes! Since January, 522 books have been weeded from the Milne history collection, and 129 new history books have been ordered so far to replace them.BWB

But don’t worry, the books we “weed” aren’t tossed in a garbage bin! We send them to a company called Better World Books, which re-sells them for us and sends us a portion of the profit, which we use to buy new books.  A portion of Better World Books’ profit also funds high-impact literacy projects in the United States and around the world.

Donate to the Future

TextbookReserveMilne Library is doing its part to save students textbook dollars, and now we need YOUR help!  The Milne Library Textbook Reserve Program currently contains approximately 780 textbooks and about 230 media items.  Since August of last year, these books/items were used 11,034 times!  If you have used this service, you know just how valuable it is!

How can you help? We need new and updated copies of texts so that others may use them next year. Simply drop your used textbooks in the book donations box by the front door of the library. Help us meet the needs of students in future classes.

Faculty Bookshelf: Joanna Kirk

A continuing series of interviews with SUNY Geneseo faculty on their reading interests; today’s “Faculty Bookshelf” delves into the pursuits of Sociology and Political Science professor, Joanna Kirk.   

JKirkWhat is your philosophy on books and reading?

You are what you read. Books are food for the mind, psyche and soul, and you can’t live a full life without them. Like dishes, you won’t like them all, and you shouldn’t feel obliged to finish your plate. In fact, don’t feel obliged to start it, or perhaps nibble around the edges to please the person who has brought it your way. Revisit your favorite books: like your favorite cuisine, your favorite literature offers comfort and delight, and (books do this better than food) you always learn something new.

What is your favorite literary genre to read for pleasure?

Fiction, particularly novels exploring social, political, economic and psychological issues; and creative nonfiction, particularly historical and travel.  Oh, and when I want a laugh, sci-fi/fantasy comedy – wish I could find more writers of this genre up to par with Douglas Adams (“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) and Terry Pratchett (“Disc World”).  Any suggestions, anyone?

AdamsBooks

PratchettBooks

What books are on your nightstand now?

Currently reading: Written by Herself: Autobiographies of American Women WrittenByHerself

Books currently on my bedside table (next up, in order):

Tell us about a book that changed your life:

EdibleWomanToo many books have influenced me to mention here (some of which are listed above), but the first that comes to mind as a work with an immediate and profound effect on my thoughts and behavior was Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman, a gift from my elder brother, who I know perceived what I was going through.  The book helped me greatly with an eating disorder, and drew me further into issues of gender stereotyping, inequality and violence.

Name a book you just couldn’t finish: Lord of the rings

There are two “classics” I never finished:

What were your favorite books as a child?

Most* memorable childhood and young adult books (all of which helped me formulate goals in terms of personal qualities, professional skills, and lifetime accomplishments):

* It would be more accurate to say that they are the ones that have come to mind over the week since I was invited – thank you, Milne Library! – to write my book-bio.LittleHouseSeries

 

What are your current research interests?

Global development policy, particularly environmental and social sustainability and justice; and women’s rights, particularly violence against women.

Many of these books are available in the Milne Library collection and the others are available via IDS, simply click on the links or book covers above to get the call number or click “Get It” to request the book via IDS.

New Common Core Textbooks!

ComCorTexts

Would you like to get your hands on the newest Common Core-aligned textbooks?

Milne Library has added new Math, Science, and ELA textbooks to its collection (Math and ELA include the common core standards).

 

 

Here are a sampling of the new texts with call numbers:

  • Algebra 2 – curr CT 373.72 G485a 2012
  • Math (Course 1) – curr CT 373.7 G485g 2013
  • Life iScience – curr CT 373.357 G485l 2012
  • Earth Science: Geology, the Environment, and the Universe – curr CT 373.355 G485 2013
  • Reading Street Common Core – curr CT 372.41 Sco81rs 2013

Common Core Workshop:

April 10, 2013, 2:30pm-4:00pm, Newton 209
Why School Librarians can be a teachers best ally: Common Core support from the library (Jim Belair, Kathleen Jaccarino, Ann Fox & Howard Enis)

In this panel presentation school librarians will share their knowledge about the Common Core and the resources and collaboration services they can provide to help teachers understand and implement the standards. Librarians will be represented from an elementary school, middle school, high school and BOCES.  For more information about how School Librarians can help educators with the Common Core Standards, take a look at this article.

To register for the presentation click here.

For help finding these texts or if you have questions/concerns please contact Michelle Costello ([email protected])

The truth, the truth! My kingdom for the truth!

Richard III

Richard III

Last month news story headlines all over the world confirmed that bones exhumed from under a parking lot in Leicester, England, are those of Richard III, King of England from 1483–1485. Last of the Plantagenet dynasty that had ruled England since 1154, Richard was killed—the last English king to die in battle—fighting the forces of Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII and the founder of the Tudor ruling line.

So what? This was over 500 years ago. Besides, Richard III was a bad king and a worse human being. Now if it was King Arthur’s bones that had been discovered… But actually, Richard III—or more accurately, the image most people have of Richard—is surprisingly relevant to our time. We think of political spin as something from modern times, but in reality, it’s been going on for centuries.

Thanks primarily  to William Shakespeare, Richard is best known as one of history’s great villains, responsible for (at least) usurping the throne, murdering his two nephews, having lustful designs on his own niece, and committing other random murders along the way. He also was hunchbacked, limped, and had a withered arm and squinty eyes.

PluckingEDIT

William Shakespeare’s version of the splitting of nobles into the factions of York and Lancaster, sparking the Wars of the Roses in 15th-century England.
Artist: Henry Arthur Payne (1868–1940).
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

The problem with the popular notion of Richard is that much, if not most to all of it, is untrue. In the time period Shakespeare was writing, Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, Elizabeth I, was on the English throne. Shakespeare would have certainly been aware that pleasing the monarch was the best way to success (including keeping one’s head attached to one’s shoulders), so he would have been extremely unlikely to write anything positive about the man Elizabeth’s grandfather had killed. The sources that Shakespeare drew upon in writing Richard III were similarly biased. John Rous, a chronicler writing  during Richard’s reign, lauded Richard as a good king with a good heart, who stood up for the common man. But after Richard’s death and the ascension of Henry VII, Rous described Richard as physically deformed and born with teeth and shoulder-length hair after spending two years in the womb. Other chroniclers took that description and ran with it…but in the process Richard’s supposedly withered arm moved from his right to his left. Oops. And portraits of Richard have, upon examination, revealed evidence of repainting to add uneven shoulders and squinty eyes. Double oops.

Similarly, most supposed murders by Richard took place during the reign of Richard’s older brother, Edward IV, and there is no evidence linking Richard with either planning or executing them. The two that did occur during Richard’s reign were both cases of treason, which was punishable by death. The only uncertain case is central to the idea of Richard as villain, though—the murders of his young nephews, commonly known as the Princes in the Tower, and one of the most famous unsolved historical mysteries.

Princes in the Tower

“The Princes in the Tower”
Artist: John Everett Millais (1829-1896)
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

The popular image of the princes is two young boys, one an anointed king, imprisoned in the infamous Tower of London and later secretly killed, either by Richard himself or on his orders, to preserve his usurpation of the English throne. The reality is much more complicated and involves a secret marriage, a possible secret betrothal, possible illegitimacy, power-hungry courtiers, and bitter divisions between the two major “parties” of the time. Briefly, Edward IV, from the Yorkist branch of the royal family, secretly married a woman named Elizabeth Woodville, whose family members were placed in positions of power in any way possible, causing major resentment of the entire Woodville family. After Edward IV’s death in April 1483, the former chancellor for Edward, a bishop of the Church, came forward and claimed that Edward had been betrothed to another woman before marrying Elizabeth. In those days a betrothal, or plight-troth, was as binding as a marriage; thus, Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was invalid and all of their children, including the two princes, were illegitimate. Consequently, as Edward’s younger brother, Richard was the closest legitimate heir to the throne.

Before the bishop’s revelation, Edward’s older son, also named Edward, had gone to  the Tower of London, which at that time was not only a prison, but contained living quarters. (Traditionally, heirs to the throne lived there before their coronations.) Elizabeth Woodville soon allowed Edward’s younger brother to join him. The boys were seen playing outside during the summer of 1483, but by late fall rumors were circulating that the boys were dead. The only certainty is that they were not seen alive after the summer of 1483.

There are others suspected of murdering the princes. Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, had initially supported Richard against the Woodville family, but less than six months later led a rebellion against Richard. Henry Stafford was related to the Yorkist royal family and potentially had his eye on the throne, and removing any potential claimants to the throne, even illegitimate sons, would have been in his interest. Henry Tudor was distantly related to the rival branch of the royal family, the Lancastrians, but his claim was tainted for two reasons: it was through a female line of descent, and it was through illegitimacy. Because of these reasons, Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was very tenuous, and he would have had even stronger reasons for wanting rival claimants to the crown removed.

Richard nearly defeated Henry Tuor at the Battle of Bosworth Field in August 1485. Henry was saved only by the treachery of one of Richard’s supporters, who turned his army against Richard’s during the battle, and by multiple fighters of Henry’s own household, who brought Richard down after Richard’s single-minded charge across the battlefield almost reached Henry himself, coming so close as to kill Henry’s standard-bearer. Henry’s troops hacked and defiled Richard’s body, which was then buried with no ceremony in the grounds of Greyfriars’ Church in nearby Leicester. During the Dissolution under Henry’s son, Henry VIII, the church was destroyed. For a long time it was thought that Richard’s body had been disinterred and thrown into the River Soar.

In the end, history was written by the winner. Henry Tudor became Henry VII, married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV, and subsumed all claims to the English throne into his own family. Under the rule of Henry VII and Henry VIII, most of the male members of the House of York were executed, removing any possibility that a York might claim the throne. Chroniclers of the era painted Richard with the blackest of brushes to further delegitimize the House of York and appeal to the Tudor family. These are the sources upon which Shakespeare drew to write Richard III, and these are what have shaped Richard’s reputation over the last five centuries. Five centuries from now, what sources will historians of that time be using to write the history of today—and how truthful will they be?

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If you’re interested in reading more about Richard III, Milne Library has some great resources! Check GLOCAT Classic for copies of Shakespeare’s Richard III, both in print and in video form, as well as a wide range of sources about the history of late 15th-century England and Richard’s reign, by searching for “Richard III” OR “Richard the Third.” (Be sure to use the quotation marks to ensure that the search engine looks for “Richard” and “III” or “the Third” together as a phrase!) And while two excellent historical novels about Richard III aren’t part of the library’s holdings, you can use interlibrary loan through IDS (available from the library’s homepage under the tab labeled “Requests and Services”) to find copies of Sharon Kay Penman’s thoroughly researched The Sunne in Splendour and Elizabeth Peters’ lighthearted yet historically accurate mystery novel The Murders of Richard III. RichardSunneFor information on the discovery and retrieval of Richard’s bones, and the ongoing argument as to where the skeleton will be interred, Lexis-Nexis (on the library’s homepage under “Popular Resources”) is the place to go for newspaper, magazine, and other current media stories from around the world. Searching on “Richard III” retrieves almost 1,000 stories; “Richard the Third” as a search term is less focused, mixing in stories about rugby players and such, but still retrieving some interesting stories. And for a look at the scholarly literature, Historical Abstracts, which can be found by using the “Find a resource by title” search box below “Popular Resources” on the library’s homepage, produces over 100 results, including articles on Richard himself, Shakespeare’s play, and the sources he drew on, especially Thomas More’s account of Richard’s life.

 

What are we reading? Staff recommended reads for April

2013.AprSR

Here’s what some of Milne’s Staff is reading!

Are you looking for a good book to read?  Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, so how does one choose?  Milne Library staff  have selected a few choice ones to highlight for the month of April.

If you are a fan of more traditional fantasy fare, Reference & Instruction Librarian Sherry Rhodes recommends the The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix:

Last summer my teenaged daughter picked up a book called Sabriel from her favorite bookstore. I took a look at the back cover and found the description to be interesting, and decided to read it. I sure am glad I did!

I really enjoy fantasy, but it’s got to be well done. Too much of what is published as fantasy are ill-disguised reworkings of previously published books. Sabriel, and its two sequels, Lirael  and Abhorsen, are set in a completely unique world, with completely unique characters and plots.

sabrielSabriel is finishing school when her father, known as The Abhorsen and a gifted necromancer, goes missing. She journeys home, to the Old Kingdom, where magic is alive and well—and the dead are alive as well. With the help—and hindrance—of a cat who is not just a cat, and a long-imprisoned mage she rescues, Sabriel uses the skills her father has taught her to journey into Death to attempt to rescue him, and in the process battle the forces of evil necromancers determined to escape Death and return to the land of the living.

liraelLirael, on the other hand, has spent her entire life in the Old Kingdom. She is a daughter of the Clayr, women who have the ability to see the future. Fourteen when the book begins, Lirael is painfully aware that she is the only Clayr who has not received the Sight by her age. She also has no family, with the exception of the aunt who runs the Clayr settlement and who has little time for her. Feeling alienated from her surroundings, Lirael seeks isolation in the enormous library and is apprenticed as a Third Assistant Librarian. Over the months she works there, her curiosity enables her to learn how to battle hideous creatures lurking in the library’s depths, as well as how to construct a magical dog who becomes her loyal companion. Events reveal that Lirael’s destiny is not confined to the home of the Clayr, and actually is closely intertwined with the ruling family of the Old Kingdom. The end of the book leaves readers with few answers, setting up the plot for Abhorsen and the convergence of the main characters from the previous books and the resolution of the various plotlines.

abhorsen

I especially enjoyed the character development present in all three novels. Sabriel, Lirael, Sameth, and Nick are all believable teens, growing more mature and confident in themselves as the books progress and they age. The Disreputable Dog and Mogget the Cat exhibit typical characteristics of their respective species, but are far more than just a dog and a cat. Their often humorous and sometimes caustic interchanges reveal more about the Old Kingdom and Charter Magic—and conceal far more. Nick and the other ordinary humans live in a kingdom reminiscent of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, flavored with a strong strain of Victorian/Edwardian steampunk. And Nix’s descriptions of the various levels of death, its denizens, and the dangers that are encountered there by the living are creepy and nerve-wracking.
If you’re looking for a really original fantasy series with appealing characters, Garth Nix’s The Abhorsen Trilogy is one to read.
Another favorite set of fantasy books is the comic fantasy series of  Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde, highly recommended by Electronic Resources & Digital Scholarship Joe Easterly:
fforde booksThe Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde are wonderful British novels which blend comic fantasy, detective fiction and literary wit. Set in a parallel universe where classic literature is revered above all, and criminal masterminds steal manuscripts and murder literary characters, literary detective Thursday Next is part of a specialized police force charged with protecting Britain’s literary heritage. As this fast-paced, endlessly imaginative series progresses, Thursday moves from one unusual situation to the next, such as running anger management classes for the cast of Wuthering Heights, to standing trial (set in Kafka’s book, of course) for changing the ending of Jane Eyre, and encountering fan-fiction versions of herself and Harry Potter. Start reading the series with the first book — The Eyre Affair. However, the third (The Well of Lost Plots) and the fifth (First Among Sequels) books are particularly good as well.
How about contemporary fiction?  Librarian Kate Pitcher recommends the recent publication of the novel, The Dinner, by Dutch writer Herman Koch and translated into English by Sam Garrett:
The Dinner is a contemporary book, set in present-day Amsterdam, although a specific day and time is never mentioned in the course of the novel’s events. The setting is dinner at an upscale restaurant in the heart of urban Amsterdam. Dinner is also the framework of the novel; chapters are nestled within sections of the book indicating which course is being served (“Aperitif” being the first, followed by “Appetizer” and so on ).
kochOur main characters are two couples, brothers and their wives. Narrated  by one brother, Paul, the other brother is Serge Lohman, an up-and-coming Dutch politician. The reader soon learns of the presumable reason the couples are meeting for their dinner – a horrible crime committed by the two brothers’ children. At the same time, we figure out Paul is an unreliable narrator; as the story moves on, not only do we learn more details of the sons’ horrible crime, but also the reason why Paul has lost his job as a history teacher. The reader is also continually struck by Paul’s anger and bitterness towards his brother, his sister-in-law Babette and their adopted son. As the novel progresses, the dinner itself feels surreal, the couples dancing around the decisions that must be made about their children and the impact it will have, not only on Serge’s career, but on all their lives.
A bestseller in his native Netherlands, The Dinner is an uncomfortable and disturbing story of how far people are willing to go to protect their family. It has surprises, and although the children’s’ crime is unforgivably brutal, it isn’t their crime that is the most horrible, but rather their parents’ reaction and response to it which moves this novel in so tragic a direction.  As The New York Times stated in its book review, the author  “…[he] has created a clever, dark confection, like some elegant dessert fashioned out of entrails. “The Dinner,” absorbing and highly readable, proves in the end strangely shallow, and this may be the most unsettling thing about it..”
Recommended and hard to put down, so save the reading for a day when you have a few hours to absorb yourself completely.

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