My Favorite Sources for Book Recommendations

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Last week, one of my colleagues asked me how I find and decide what library books to get. Her question made me think not just about work but my personal reading life too.

Sometimes I’m baffled by the idea that certain readers struggle to find their next book. I feel as if I’m drowning in books some days, so the thought of someone not knowing what to read next is hard for me to wrap my head around.

Those thoughts sparked the idea behind today’s post, which is a list of my favorite book recommendation sources. I include sources I use for school libraries and my own reading. I hope this is helpful and that you find a new-to-you resource. Let’s jump in!

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Any New Books

I’ve been a longtime subscriber of Any New Books newsletters. Each week, I get emails listing that week’s most popular book releases. You can sign up for whatever genres interest you most. I receive lists for teens, fiction, nonfiction, biographies, history, and spirituality. These newsletters are an excellent resource, especially if you’re doing work that requires you to pay attention to the latest book releases.

Book Marks

Book Marks is a site from Lit Hub, another tremendous literary resource. On Book Marks, readers see aggregated book reviews for the newest releases. I get an email from the site every Friday that shows me the top-reviewed fiction and nonfiction releases of the week. I always find at least one title on either list to add to my “to be read” list (as if that needs to get any longer).

Book Riot

Book Riot is one of my favorite sources for teen book lists and recommendations. They have book lists for every topic you could imagine. Book Riot shares the latest books but also highlights backlist titles, which is helpful for me to make sure I haven’t missed any big YA releases.

Instagram

One of the good things about social media is the celebration and attention its users give to books. Readers can find photos, videos, and recommendations for niche interests with just a couple of clicks. Here are some of my favorite literary Instagram accounts:

The Millions

Twice a year (January and July), The Millions shares its most anticipated books preview. I look forward to these lists because I always end up with a ton of recommendations. The Millions focuses primarily on literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, both of which I love. The site also offers book lists and well-written essays.

Modern Mrs. Darcy

Anne Bogel is probably the most famous book blogger out there. (She also hosts the delightful podcast, What Should I Read Next.) On Modern Mrs. Darcy, a blog I’ve followed for many years, Anne shares all kinds of bookish goodness. Her summer reading guides are always packed with exciting titles, and I also love her book lists

My Local Indie

There are few things in this world I love more than a bookstore, and I’m lucky to have some good ones in my city. Auntie’s Bookstore is my favorite and the one where I shop the most. Their inventory includes titles and authors I’ve never heard about before, which makes shopping at Auntie’s extra exciting. I always make sure to stop by their staff picks section on each trip. Auntie’s also has an excellent Instagram account. Each Tuesday, they show off the newest arrivals for adults, teens, and kids. These photos help me remember which books I want to read and which ones I should get for my school libraries.

NoveList

NoveList is a subscription database you might have access to through your local public library. It’s like the best bookish search engine out there. You can search for titles by unique genres, story elements, author characteristics, etc. I use NoveList to search for the latest YA releases. I can see when a book was published, read multiple reviews of it, and save it to a list so I’ll remember to purchase it. During last year’s remote learning, I led a virtual training for my coworkers on using NoveList because I love it so much.

Social Justice Books

Last school year, I completed diversity audits of the high school libraries where I work. This was the same year when my school district passed an equity resolution, promising to provide a more inclusive learning environment for all students. As I searched for diverse books to help support that resolution, Social Justice Books was a site I turned to repeatedly. They have all kinds of book lists and sort titles by grade level, making it quick and easy to find books for teens.

Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

YALSA is the best resource for finding good YA titles. They have much to offer, including book lists, book awards, quick picks for reluctant readers, and helpful articles. It doesn’t hurt that their acronym sounds like “salsa,” one of my favorite things in the entire world.


What sites should I add to my list? Where do you get book recommendations? Let me know!

A Day in the Life of a High School Library Clerk

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This September marks my tenth year as a school library clerk. I love my job and how varied it is. No two days look exactly the same, especially since I split my full-time schedule between two high schools. When people ask what my job entails, I say that it’s a little bit of everything. I get to do nearly all library tasks: circulation, reference, collection development, marketing, shelving, and technology help. In addition to my daily work, I help run a multicultural literature book club and serve on one school’s equity committee. I like being busy when I’m at work, and that’s certainly no problem, especially this year.

Since the past year and a half of school has been virtual, my job was primarily virtual, too. Thankfully, students are allowed back in the library this year, and I think I forgot how busy the days could be.

I thought it would be fun to celebrate my tenth anniversary by sharing what one of my workdays looked like this week. People tend to think of libraries as quiet, calm places, but that’s an old stereotype. Here’s a glimpse of what the library is like for me on an average day.

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7:00 a.m. | My workday begins at 7:15, but a crucial part of my day often starts around 7:00, when I stop by Starbucks to pick up my usual mobile order (Venti decaf shaken espresso with sugar-free vanilla, in case you were curious, which you definitely were). When I walk through the door, most of the staff greet me by name, so it’s fair to say I choose Starbucks over my at-home coffee maker most days. Sorry, Nespresso machine.

7:15 a.m. | I walk into the library, flick on a few lights, and turn on the vintage circulation computer that sometimes takes a while to wake up (I relate, so no judgment). I help with laminating at one of my schools, so I usually turn on that machine, too. There’s nothing like the smell of burnt plastic in the morning.

7:30 a.m. | I open up the library doors for students to come in. Sometimes kids are waiting, and sometimes only a couple of students come by before class. I’ll check out a few books and give students the holds they’ve come in to pick up.

8:00 a.m. | I help with laptop distribution, so kids start steadily coming in either needing a computer or needing help with a computer problem. I have several carts full of new books in my workroom that need to be processed, but I’m so busy with laptops that I only finish processing a handful.

10:00 a.m. | The first class of the day comes in for book checkout. After not having students in the library for so long, it’s a delight to have it packed and busy again. I start by giving the students a quick introduction to the space, and then they’re off to find books that look interesting. I have several displays set up and books faced out everywhere, hoping to make it easy for students to find engaging titles.

11:00 a.m. | It’s time for the first lunch of the day. We let kids eat in the library, so it fills up pretty quickly. I check out a few more books during lunch, but most kids are there just to eat and hang out. I heard a student say to a friend, “The library is where all the kids with social anxiety come for lunch.” I’m thrilled to be part of a place where kids feel safe and able to relax.

12:00 p.m. | Second lunch is happening while another class comes in for checkout. It’s a little chaotic, but the students are good listeners and end up finding a lot of books to read.

12:30 p.m. | I finally get a moment to pause and eat my lunch. I usually bring my Kindle to read during my break, but since I’ve been so busy today, I skip the book and play around on my phone instead. I knew I couldn’t focus on a book, which is a tad ironic, considering my job.

1:00 p.m. | The final classes of the day and kids needing help with their laptops fill the rest of my afternoon. I try to process a few books between students at my desk, but I don’t get very far.

2:45 p.m. | School is out, and I’ve waited a few minutes for the halls to clear. Now it’s time to take a book cart to an English teacher whose students had placed a ton of titles on hold. Kids have been so excited to have access to library books again, which makes me happy. Some kids requested one book, while several others requested five. I relate more to the kids who requested five!

3:00 p.m. | I return to the library, where the homework club is in full swing. Though this happens in the library, I’m not in charge of it, so I finally have some time to shelve, get books checked in, and straighten up the shelves for the classes coming in the next day.

3:30 p.m. | I reply to any emails I’ve missed, check the library visit sign-up calendar, and clean up my desk.

3:45 p.m. | I’m finally heading out the door! I turn on a podcast in my car while I drive home, looking forward to a (very long) nap.

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That’s what my Wednesday looked like last week! For those of you who are also library workers, what are your workdays like?

The Something of Books

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“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

― Ray Bradbury,
Fahrenheit 451

I work in a high school library and made a banned books display a couple of years ago. I chose the words above to be the centerpiece, not merely because of the censorship flowing through Bradbury’s novel, but because I loved this quote on its own. Sometimes when people ask me about my favorite books, I can’t explain why I like something. When I read a poem or a complicated text that I don’t fully understand, I can still find it beautiful and essential. I echo Bradbury’s words in those moments: “There must be something there.“

fahrenheit 451 book cover

Reading is an endless search to find that something. For some, it’s comfort. For others, it’s entertainment. William Nicholson writes, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Realizing there’s someone else in the world who thinks what you think or feels what you feel is a wonderful thing, especially when those thoughts and feelings are dark and isolating.

I think about the link between reading and loneliness a lot since working with teenagers. I feel a unique duty to these kids to be able to point them toward books that will inspire and teach them, but also toward books that will lessen the blows of that still-familiar teenage feeling of aloneness. A fictional character can say to them what someone else might not: “You’re okay. You’re not the only one. Life gets easier; I promise.”

Before I took my current job, I never read many young adult books, even as a teenager. I still don’t consider myself well read in the world of YA lit, but I do have a few favorites that I recommend frequently. When I dipped my toes into the water of YA books, I was surprised at how stellar the writing is and how adult the subject matter can get. I realize that sounds snobbish, but it’s true. I’m thankful for great writers like Sara Zarr, Courtney Summers, and Laurie Halse Anderson, who not only address hard topics but do so with eloquence.

Some of my favorite young adult books

For me, the element of surprise is one of the best things about reading. Not only does surprise open my eyes to whole new genres, but it gives me pause. A beautifully written sentence or paragraph makes me slow down and take note. Sometimes I end up seeing more in the long run by focusing on one small thing. Throughout my reading life, I’ve had my eyes opened so many times to new ideas and unique ways of seeing the world. Whether it’s discovering a whole new genre or reading a line of poetry that invites me to pause and see something ordinary in a new way, those moments of newness and wonder are necessary elements to the something of why I read.

There must be something there. I want each student who walks through the doors of my library to sense that truth. I want them to develop their own reasons for reading. I want books to become a joy and not a chore. Not every student is going to become a reader, but I want even the ones who don’t to be curious about how any character could stay in a burning house for the sake of some words bound together.

On Losing School Librarians

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Last Thursday, I found out that all of the librarians in my school district had been laid off. I’ve been a library clerk in this district for nearly eight years and had no clue this was coming. I still haven’t heard if I have a job next year or, if I do, how that job will change in light of these recent developments. The district claims school libraries will remain open and that students will continue to have access to books and other resources. If we clerks get to keep our jobs, books will be cataloged, processed, circulated, and repaired just like they are now. But elementary students will no longer have stories read to them each week. Middle school students will no longer have a librarian to hand them that perfect book that would make them feel a little less alone, a little less awkward. High school teachers will lose classroom collaborators and students will lose the person who knows just what database they need to use for their assignment. The library is the heart of some schools, and with librarians gone, that will be compromised.

Like so many issues, this one boils down to money. (I should note that teachers and other staff members have been laid off, too.) Logically, I realize that when schools are forced to make cuts, keeping teachers is their priority, as it should be. Having teachers in the classroom is an obvious necessity. Still, it saddens me to know that some people see librarians as disposable. I want librarians to be essential in every school and for others to see their work as crucial to student success.

I’ve asked many questions over these past few days, such as:

  • Do librarians not promote themselves and their work enough to be appreciated and given credit?
  • Do people believe that librarians only check books in and out all day?
  • If school administrators value student literacy, how can they get rid of the people who are experts on the subject?

I can’t answer these questions, and even if I could, I doubt I’d be satisfied. People I care about would still be laid off, programs I’ve seen flourish would still come to a halt, and students who need librarians would still be without them. Other than contacting my state legislators and asking for more funding, there’s not much I can do in the face of the school district’s decision. I can keep talking about libraries, though. I can tell people about the little kids who stop at my desk and tell me how much they love coming to the library each week. I’m happy to share stories about energetic classes who become silent when a librarian reads them a great story or focuses their attention with a fun, hands-on project.

If you too love libraries and appreciate librarians, speak up! Show your support, whether or not jobs are on the line. When you notice a librarian who’s doing great work, spread the word. Use your public library and vote for library bonds. Enthusiasm is contagious, and while it’s not enough to make up for budget shortfalls, it certainly can’t hurt. If you believe librarians matter, do what you can to spread that message.

YA Fiction & Nonfiction Pairs

In the high school library where I work, it can be difficult to get students to read nonfiction. One of the ways I like to promote it is to do a display in which I pair high-interest nonfiction titles with a novel about the same topic. Today I want to share a few pairs with you in case you too are looking for ways to promote nonfiction to your teen patrons.

Click here to read the rest of the post over at Teen Services Underground.