Saturday, September 21, 2013

What you're not reading

Did you do a double-take when you read that headline? After all, it's usually what you ARE reading, right?

I'm going to let you into the secret lives of librarians now. Ooh, sounds exciting, doesn't it? Really it's just about a part of our job with which you may not be familiar: It's called "weeding."

Weeding is when we take each book off the shelf and check to see how many times it's been checked out. If it's been checked out a whole lot, this would prompt a few actions by us:

  1. Buy another copy, either to have as extra or to replace this one if it's thrashed (for instance we have 48 copies of The Hunger Games, and we have replaced it 27 times);
  2. Buy more books by this author!
But what happens when the book hasn't been checked out for awhile? As in, three or four years? Or, even worse, what if it's five or eight years old and it hasn't been checked out EVER? This is when we have to take a critical look at the book and ask Why? Maybe it has a really lame cover, or a dopey title. Maybe the book jacket description isn't very enticing. Maybe the subject matter is dated--it was a topic that was hot and now it's not, so the book went out 12 times the first year, two the second year, and then that was it.

We approach the next step differently in different sections of the library: Adult fiction, mystery and sci fi may hang around for quite awhile, but if it's YA fiction, we may turn things over more quickly, because we figure that if teens don't like it now, they probably won't change their minds in a year or three. Plus, there's a LOT of new teen fiction coming out all the time, and we want to make room on our shelves (where, let's face it, we YA people have limited space!) for the new, cool stuff you are asking for!

However, let's go back first and look again at that book that hasn't checked out in six years. It's sitting on the desk in front of you, and it doesn't show any of the obvious warning signs: It has a great cover, a good title, and intriguing book jacket text. Do you weed it? As Ralph Waldo Emerson says, "What is a weed? A plant (or in this case a book) whose virtues have not been discovered."

This was a very long explanation to get to my introduction of a new intermittent feature on the blog: Books you aren't reading. The book that prompted all of this was Fly By Night, by Frances Hardinge. I scanned it and discovered we bought it in 2006, and after checking out eight times in 2006-2007, it has been sitting collecting dust ever since--not one checkout since 2007. That's six years, which would ordinarily mean it was headed for the book sale. But the cover art, by Brett Harquist, is charming, quirky and true to the book; the subject matter is not dated; and the description made me want to read it. So I did, and...

I really liked this book! It reminded me of several others--the Inkworld series of books (Inkheart, Inkspell, Inkdeath) by Cornelia Funke, because there's a lot of book mythology in it; the Septimus Heap books by Angie Sage (Magyk, Flyte, etc.), because of the quirkiness of the characters and settings; and a tiny bit of the Lemony Snicket books (although I rather disliked those) because of the odd relationships between children and adults (plus the protagonist is an orphan). So if you liked any of those books, you might like this one as well. And the language, oh the language is delicious!

Also, here is the perfect segue into this coming week, because...the protagonist, Mosca Mye, lives in a world where books (other than the official ones) are banned and reading is a subversive act. Since this week is BANNED BOOKS WEEK, it's the perfect way to celebrate, by reading Fly by Night, by Frances Hardinge! (I also just discovered on Goodreads that there is a sequel--Fly Trap. So instead of getting rid of a book from our collection, I may just have to add one!)

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