New Hampshire is a pretty great place to be a bookworm.
Sure, everybody has Barnes & Noble and Borders. But we also have a few solid indie bookstores — including Gibson’s in Concord; Toadstool in Milford, Peterborough and Keene, and River Run out in Portsmouth (as well as Used Book Superstore locations in Nashua and Salem and smaller used bookstores like Lee’s Spot in Manchester). And in addition to big-name authors with local ties, like Dan Brown and Jodi Picoult, we get some pretty big-name authors coming through the area.
Just in time for National Library Week, we take a look at the series that bring those authors to Concord and Portsmouth as well as some other updates on the local book scene, including the expanding collection of e-books for New Hampshire library cardholders and the explosion of teen sections, books and programs at area libraries. We also check in with the poets at Slam Free or Die, which has moved its events to a bigger location to accommodate growing crowds and is preparing for nationals. And we take a look at recent releases and what area book clubs are reading.
With all this excitement in the local book scene, why wait for summer to do your reading?
Authors up close
Events in Concord, Portsmouth go way beyond book signing
By Adam Couglin
At the end of a two-minute acceptance speech for winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature, Ernest Hemingway said, “I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.” Actually, Hemingway wrote that, he didn’t say it. John C. Cabot, United States Ambassador to Sweden, did. Hemingway wasn’t even at the award ceremony.
Now many authors are venturing out from seclusion and are entering bookstores and concert halls to talk about their work. And they’re coming to New Hampshire. Especially the Music Hall in Portsmouth and Gibson’s Bookstore, Concord’s only independent bookstore, according to Deb Baker, events coordinator.
Baker was hired two years ago to bring more events to Gibson’s. Before her arrival, there were some, but store owner Michael Herrmann hoped to offer a more varied and regularly scheduled program. This is certainly the case now. Baker said the bookstore hosts authors, from a variety of genres including commercial fiction, poetry, non-fiction and literary, on a weekly basis. These authors include big names like Andres Dubus III, whose novel House of Sand and Fog earned him national fame, and local legends like Tom Wessels, who writes about the New England environment.
“The events are what separates an independent bookstore from a big box store,” Baker said. “When people want to meet an author, they know to come to an indie store.”
Having these authors is a real cultural opportunity for the residents of Concord and surrounding communities. Creating these literary exchanges was important to Baker and the rest of the folks at Gibson’s.
“When I came on I wanted to emphasize that service to the community,” Baker said. “We have received a positive response.”
So too has the Music Hall in Portsmouth, whose Writers on a New England Stage, which is a collaboration with New Hampshire Public Radio and RiverRun Bookstore, has showcased such literary luminaries as Stephen King, John Updike, Michael Lewis, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood and Dan Brown.
“Writers on a New England Stage has been a tremendous success,” said Patricia Lynch, the Music Hall’s executive director. “That is why I know people will love Writers in the Loft as well.”
Lynch was referring the Music Hall’s newest venture, which will allow viewers an opportunity to hear and talk to famous scribes in an intimate setting.
“It is going to be the sexiest book club you’ve ever seen,” Lynch said.
Tom Holbrook, owner of RiverRun Bookstore, said he was “jazzed” about the Loft opening. He said organizers have been able to leverage the success of Writers on a New England Stage to entice top authors to come to Writers in the Loft. The collaboration between the bookstore and the Music Hall began five years ago following a joint Harry Potter event, according to Holbrook. Its success led to the idea that a writers series might work. He said such collaborations — like the one in Concord between Gibson’s, Red River Theatres and the Capitol Center for the Arts — are win-win. They allow all the participating businesses to get their names out and to divvy up the heavy workload required to stage such an event. And, while these businesses are different, they often appeal to similar clientele. Holbrook said his target audience has a lot of overlap with the audiences of the Music Hall and NHPR.
“Our community partnerships... have helped the author program because we can broaden the audience we reach by working together, so publishers are likely to consider us for big tours like Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes tour,” wrote Baker in a follow-up e-mail. “It’s also great to be able to partner with a venue that seats more than the store can — at Capitol Center for the Arts, our Writers in the Spotlight events can seat 250-1,300 depending on which stage we use. And it’s great for the community, because Gibson’s and its partners are strengthening the entire local arts/culture scene by supporting each other’s work.” According to the latest Gibson’s newsletter, Jodi Picoult drew an audience of 900 at the most recent Writers in the Spotlight event, making it “the largest book event Gibson’s has ever been involved with.”
Having not one but two venues in one city where the public can meet or listen to authors shows just how far the scene has come in recent years.
“When you read a book you might have an image of the person in mind, but in person the author could be very different than you expected,” Baker said.
Lynch noted that many movies and plays are adaptations of books, and so in many ways authors, hidden behind their computers, are driving popular culture and are the primary generators of public imagination. Lynch said being close to these people is exciting and inspiring.
“Authors in many ways are our imaginative content providers,” Lynch said.
Baker agreed. Gibson’s previously hosted Paul Harding, whose debut novel Tinkers shocked the literary world when it won the Pulitzer Prize. Meeting Harding taught her he was a man of great ideas: “You could feel you’re in the presence of someone operating on a different level of intelligence,” Baker said.
This affirmation for the public — that their favorite writers are as witty in person as they are in pen — is also important for the authors. Since writing is such a solitary profession, writers often toil alone at a desk never knowing how the words they so laboriously put on a page will be received. Going on a book tour and meeting their audience gives them that validation.
It also helps them sell books.
The publishing business is in total flux, as technology has changed the way people read. Baker does not fear for the written word, as she said many young people do consume books on a regular basis — they just do so in a different way. This change has led most publishing companies to limit huge national book tours to only the most grandiose names, while new or younger authors are confined to regional book tours. There has also been a rise in vanity publishing and the publishing of books online. The relative ease with which a book can be published has led to an explosion of authors. Distinguishing yourself amongst this plethora of wordsmiths can be difficult. One of the best ways to do so is through book signings and readings.
Teaching these skills has trickled down to the universities. In a previous interview, Dr. Monica O’Brien, chair of the Writing and Literature Department at Chester College of New England, said public readings at the college were started four or five years ago and were done to encourage the school’s interdisciplinary approach to art.
These readings are part of the school’s Senior Exhibition and are held on the same nights as art showings. O’Brien said the readings are always well attended. Writers must time the readings for their 20-minute slot, so they get to their best material. They must also train their nerves so they speak slowly and clearly.
O’Brien said this is an important skill for any writer because being an enthusiastic reader can help a writer sell books.
Even as technology changes the way readers consume literature, there is no app that can replicate what it is like to meet an author in the flesh. And, as Baker often says: “It is not the same thing to get your Kindle signed.”
The growing e-library
Public libraries increase their offerings of e-books and audiobooks
By Jeff Mucciarone
For some, there will probably never be anything that replaces an actual book, paperback or hardcover. They want the feel of the pages in their hands. But many people are opting to let technology lead the way. Those folks are opting for e-books they can read on their Kindle or their iPad or maybe even their smart phone.
Thanks to a consortium administrated by the New Hampshire State Library, more and more community libraries are able to provide their patrons with access to e-books and audiobooks.
“It’s definitely been expanding,” said Bobbi Slossar, who coordinates the e-book and audiobook program.
There are currently 160 community libraries involved in the New Hampshire e-book and Downloadable Audiobooks Consortium. The state has 234 public libraries in all. Currently, the consortium represents 1.1 million of the 1.3 million people in the state, said Michael York, the state librarian.
The program began just about a year ago. The state library offered a large selection of audiobooks prior to the consortium, which began with just 20 libraries. The State Library established a website for downloading audiobooks, as opposed to disks or cassettes, which libraries still provide. The State Library is enrolling new libraries in the consortium several times each year.
Last year, the State Library circulated 31,161 e-published books. Every week the library is purchasing more e-books. It currently has 1,500 e-books in circulation.
“There’s been a really high demand since we started introducing them,” Slossar said. More access through different devices such as the Android or the iPad has helped increased popularity as well. “We’ve really seen everything take off, the demand take off.” Prices have dropped for some of those e-reading devices, thus providing more accessibility for more people, York said.
New titles recently added to the consortium include Henning Mankell’s The Pyramid, which is the ninth book in the Kurt Wallandar series, Chris Crutcher’s Ironman, A Simple Government by Mike Huckabee and Frozen Assets by Quentin Bates.
Whether people are listening to audiobooks on their commutes to work or simply enjoying having someone tell them a story, interest appears to be growing with downloadable audiobooks as well. The state has 4,500 downloadable audiobooks, which are distributed through the same system as e-books. The program has circulated 474,735 audiobooks in the last five years, and Slossar said the popularity of audiobooks is growing.
In choosing e-books, Slossar follows the New York Times bestseller list as well as the predicted popularity of new titles and authors. If one book by a certain author is popular, there’s a good chance a new one will be as well, she said. The library also considers book reviews and patrons’ requests in choosing titles. So if you want a particular title, go ahead and ask for it.
About six years ago, libraries came together that were interested in offering downloadable audiobooks, York said. “The difficulty was that they didn’t have a enough money on their own,” York said. The cost of setting up an e-book program at an individual library was prohibitive. So the State Library set up the mechanism — a website — for downloading books and put the resources in place, through a separate company. Member libraries pay an annual fee — it’s a self-funded consortium at the state level, York said. The State Library pays the separate company for access to the service.
“We provide all the services,” York said.
The consortium is key, because financially even the state’s largest libraries would have difficulty footing the bill to provide an e-book service, officials said.
“We have a real community spirit among the 234 public libraries,” York said.
“It would be difficult for any one library to offer this service in a way comparable to the way it’s happening now with the cost factor,” York said, adding only the wealthiest libraries would be able to provide the service without the State Library’s help. “It benefits all the smallest libraries in the state. They’re able to provide state-of-the-art services to their patrons.”
Patrons can visit their local library’s website to access downloadable audiobooks and e-books. It does require users to install free software. If using an Apple device or an Android, users will need to acquire the appropriate app for OverDrive Media Console. Users do not have to go through the State Library. Most libraries in southern New Hampshire provide the service. If a patron is interested, and it’s not being offered, “they should inquire about it,” York said. Visit nh.lib.overdrive.com.
There’s a book club for you
Why read alone when you can read together?
By Lisa Parsons
Just about every area library and bookstore hosts at least one book discussion group. Library groups often read popular and/or acclaimed novels or nonfiction. Local bookstores have some groups targeted to specific themes or genres.
Most local libraries host book discussion groups monthly (some take a break for summer). They usually have extra copies of the designated book on hand for borrowing. Call to see whether registration is required (it’s usually not, but sometimes) and whether the group is limited to library cardholders. And call to reserve a copy of the book.
Amherst: At Amherst Town Library there’s a book club that meets on the second Friday of each month, and the Friends of the Amherst Library book club meets on the second Tuesday of each month from September through June in a member’s home. Having just wrapped up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Friends group will read Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter Borneman for its May 10 discussion. Join the Friends, a library advocacy group, and you can join the club. Call 673-2506 for info on these clubs. Amherst Town Library is at 14 Main St., 673-2288, www.amherst.lib.nh.us.
Candia: Smyth Public Library in Candia hosts a book group for friendly one-hour discussion once a month. On Thursday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. they’re discussing Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. For Thursday, May 19, at 7:30 p.m., read Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a novel set in 19th-century China. The Smyth library is at 55 High St., Candia, 483-8245, www.smythpl.org.
Derry: The Derry Public Library readers’ group meets monthly, new members always welcome. For early April they read The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. Call 432-6140 to learn what’s next. Derry’s library is at 64 East Broadway, 432-6140, www.derry.lib.nh.us.
Goffstown: Goffstown Public Library hosts two book discussions each month: an evening group called “Tuesdays with Books” that meets on the first Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., and an afternoon group called “Literary Ladies, Etc.” that meets on the third Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. The library website has a list of titles the groups have read in the past and how group members rated them. For May 3 the Tuesday group is reading No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe. For April 27 the Literary Ladies are reading March by Geraldine Brooks. Goffstown Public Library is at 2 High St., 497-2102, www.goffstownlibrary.com.
Hooksett: The Hooksett Public Library book group meets on the third Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. Hooksett Library also has a teen book group (for ages 13 through 18), which will meet Wednesday, April 20, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. to discuss The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and a kids’ book club for ages 8 through 12; registration is required for these. A Sustainable Book Club community group was recently in the works at HPL as well. Hooksett Public Library is at 1701B Hooksett Road, 485-6092, www.hooksett.lib.nh.us.
Hollis: The Bleeding Hearts Book Club for girls ages 12 through 18 (mothers welcome with daughters’ permission) meets the last Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at Hollis Social Library. A Tuesday morning book group meets the second Tuesday of every month in the morning — this is the only book group sponsored by the library that meets at the library. No sign-up is required. For May, the group is reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Hollis Social Library is at 2 Monument Square, 465-7721, www.hollis.nh.us/library.
Hudson: An afternoon book group meets at Rodgers Memorial Library in Hudson on the third Tuesday of the month; to add your name to the group mailing list, call 886-6030, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.rodgerslibrary.org. On Tuesday, April 19, from 1:30 to 2 p.m., they’ll discuss Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano. The Rodgers Memorial Library is located at 194 Derry Road in Hudson, 886-6030.
Manchester: The Manchester City Library evening book discussion group meets on the second Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. in the Hunt Room at the main branch. On April 14 they’re discussing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. On May 12, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Also at MCL, a Brown Bag Book Club meets on the last Tuesday of the month from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. in the Hunt Room. On April 26 they’ll discuss the novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. The Manchester City Library is at 405 Pine St., 624-6550, http://manchesterlibrary.org. (The West Side branch is at 76 N. Main St., 624-6560.)
Merrimack: A book discussion group meets at Merrimack Public Library at 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month from September through June. On April 20 they’ll discuss Betsy Ross and the Making of America by Marla R. Miller. On May 18, Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton. The Merrimack library also hosts a family book group for ages 8+ and a junior book group for ages 7+: parent and child read the selected book at home, then join the group for discussion, a craft and a snack (registration is required). The Merrimack library is at 470 DW Highway in Merrimack, 424-5021, www.merrimack.lib.nh.us.
Milford: Wadleigh Memorial Library hosts several book clubs that meet monthly. The morning book group will discuss Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo on Thursday, April 14, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The evening book group will discuss The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty Tues., April 26, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. (for May 24, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman). The library has had a senior book club on occasion; call for information. Wadleigh Memorial Library is at 49 Nashua St., Milford, 673-2408, www.wadleigh.lib.nh.us.
Nashua: The Nashua Novel Readers group meets monthly on a Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Music/Art/Media wing of the Nashua Public Library. On April 14 they’re talking about For Us the Living by Robert Heinlein; on May 12, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, the Harvard-trained neuroscientist who also wrote the novel Left Neglected. The Nashua Public Library is at 2 Court St., 589-4600, www.nashua.lib.nh.us.
Pembroke: The Pembroke Town Library book discussion group meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. For May 11, they’re reading The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas, a novel about a young woman in the Colorado Territory in the late 1800s. The Pembroke Town Library is at 313 Pembroke St., next to the town hall, 485-7851, www.pembroke-nh.com/library.asp.
Bookstores and other sites
Big-box stores like Barnes & Noble in Manchester, Nashua, Salem and Newington and Borders in Concord and Keene have been known to host a variety of book groups — they’ll try whatever, and see what survives. Nashua’s Barnes & Noble has hosted groups about science fiction, kid lit for adults, and other themes, and Manchester’s Barnes & Noble has hosted book discussion groups related to Red Sox baseball, metaphysics, gay & lesbian readers and more. Call the bookstores to see what’s current or in the works.
Local bookstores have some consistent, in some cases long-standing, book groups, often geared to a certain genre. They’re always open to newcomers. Here’s a sampling:
The Classics Crowd at Toadstool Bookshop in Milford (Lorden Plaza, 673-1734, www.toadbooks.com) reads 19th-century British classics and meets every other month to discuss books voted on by consensus. On Thursday, May 19, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. they’ll meet to talk about A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. The Milford Toadstool also hosts a Science Fiction and Fantasy book group at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday. This one doesn’t read prescribed books but simply welcomes older teens and adults to share whatever sci-fi/fantasy books they’ve recently read. The Socrates Café meets for philosophical discussion at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Milford Toadstool. And a teen galley group meets at Milford Toadstool monthly, usually on the fourth Thursday. They select free books, many in advance of publication, and review them the following month. Call Sarah Brodin at the store and sign up to reserve a spot for that one.
Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord (27 S. Main St., www.gibsonsbookstore.com) hosts monthly book discussions and sells all discussion titles at 25 percent off until the date of the discussion. Meetings are usually at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of the month. Monday, May 2, the group is discussing Small Island by Andrea Levy, a story of emigration following two Jamaicans and two Britons in post-WWII England. It won the Orange Prize and the UK’s Whitbread Prize for best novel.
A Buddhist philosophy book discussion group focuses on current literature on Buddhist topics and meets on the second Monday of each month from 7 to 8:30 p.m.; anyone with an interest in Buddhist philosophy is invited to join: www.meetup.com/Manchester-Buddhism-Sangha. The April and May discussions will focus on The Universe in a Single Atom—the Convergence of Science and Spirituality.
The Warner Area Book Club meets on the last Sunday of the month at 3 p.m. at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner. All are welcome; call Jenn at 456-3021 or e-mail Jennkane@tds.net to sign up. For May 22, the group will read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.
The University of New Hampshire at Manchester frequently hosts a “Books in the Mill” discussion series that is free and open to the public. This spring the UNHM Library community book group has invited the public to join discussions of books by English novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. in the UNHM library at 400 Commercial St., Manchester. The series concludes on April 28 with a discussion of Jude the Obscure — it’s OK to attend even if you missed the earlier installments. For info, call the library at 641-4173 or visit www.unhm.unh.edu.
Good reads with a XX perspective
By Amy Diaz
For a certain kind of book-lover — one with diverse tastes and, probably, though not necessarily, two X chromosomes — there is one heck of a great book-buying spree available to you at the moment. Two fun (but in delightfully different ways) memoirs, a cracking good history, a delicious bit of nostalgia and a junk-foody bit of modern young adult entertainment: you don’t have to be a gal to enjoy this stuff, but isn’t it nice to have so many female-perspective recent releases available?
The current It lady-book is Bossypants, by Tina Fey (2011, Little, Brown and Company), the ultimate It Lady for a certain kind of dorky Gen X/Gen Y-er. Bossypants is a memoir of sorts, though it is one that will go for the riff rather than the personal story whenever possible. Which is fine with me — I don’t need an examination of Fey’s soul. I am perfectly happy with what she provides, which is awkward-hilarious tales of growing up, attempting to date, finding and perfecting her talents and working in show biz, all accompanied by delightful diversions about weight loss and gain, Photoshop and what a wienerhead Christopher Hitchens is. Bossypants is a fun, fast read that gives you not just Fey’s voice but a sense of how TV comes together and some good behind-the-scenes stuff from 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live, including her guest spots during the 2008 campaigns.
What Tina Fey is to comedy (specifically, a fresh new voice who writes smart and is able to gain mass appeal), Sarah Vowell is to history. Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates was an entertaining look at the Puritans who arrived in Massachusetts just after the Pilgrims of Plymouth. She brings that same ability to make centuries-old history lively and recognizable to Unfamiliar Fishes (2011, Riverhead Books), the story of how Hawaii became part of America. Other than as a backdrop for TV shows (particularly the awesomely cheesy comfort food that is the remake of Hawaii Five-O), Hawaii was a relative unknown to me — how often do you hear the word “Hawaiian” without it being followed by “birth certificate,” “honeymoon” or “punch”? Here, Vowell takes us back to Hawaii as it was in the early 1800s, an island kingdom, and tells us how it became a land of sugar plantations and statehood ambitions. In some ways, Unfamiliar Fishes is like The Wordy Shipmates: The Next Generation, with the descendants of Puritans this time boldly going to Hawaii, to bring yet another group of natives (and their land and natural resources) into the shining city on a hill. What makes Vowell’s histories such a delightful read is her attention to details — she brings women (Queens like Keopulani, Kaahumanu and Liluokalani; missionaries, like Sybil Bingham, and current Hawaiian historians, like Laurel Douglass) into the story and doesn’t shy away from embarrassing tidbits, whether it’s the condescending behavior of the missionaries or the sexism and incestuous marriages of the Hawaiian royalty. As entertaining as Vowell’s general essays can be (as heard on This American Life and seen in the book Partly Cloudy Patriot), her histories are truly her standout works — with solid research and first-person sourcing and details about historical sites that make you want to plan a trip. With Massachusetts and Hawaii down, can we get her to give the same treatment to the other 48 states?
Claire Dederer also touches on history in her memoir Poser: My Life in Twenty Three Yoga Poses (2010, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) — specifically, the period in the mid to late 1970s when children saw their moms heading out to find themselves. Some found new careers, some, like Dederer’s mom, found a new man and a new home and raised now-two-home children who, when they grew up and started their own families, were so determined not to repeat their parents’ mistakes that they focused all their energies on things like making homemade baby food. Dederer describes pushing organic food through a food mill as a ritual that is all part of an organic, home-made, locavore way of raising children aimed at keeping disaster at bay. Except, of course, that if two people spend all their energy on being perfect, work-at-home, kid-at-home parents, what happens to their marriage? We see Dederer struggle with marriage, work-life balance and raising kids, all while she discovers the joys of yoga, in Poser. But don’t let that scare you away — Dederer is funny, sharp and decidedly down to earth about yoga and why she likes it. She and the life she and her husband build are wonderfully ordinary. If Fey’s book is like a long, chummy Fresh Air interview, Dederer’s book is like an afternoon chat with a good friend.
Sharp, funny observations about domestic life are not why you turn to Sweet Valley Confidential (2011, St. Martin’s Press), despite the many domestic dramas of the blonde Wakefield twins. This return to Sweet Valley, California, is all syrupy goo and marshmallowy frosting, like a nostalgia-filled bite of a Hostess snack cake. I first met Jessica and Elizabeth, the blonde-haired and aqua-eyed identical twin daughters of a successful lawyer and his fit wife, in the series Sweet Valley Twins, which gave us the adventures of the girls in middle school. Sweet Valley High, the mothership, was also augmented by Sweet Valley University and Sweet Valley Kids, all of which told the story of shallow party girl Jessica and smart scold Elizabeth and their many friends. Some had cancer, some came from broken homes, some died in afterschool-special-ish ways. The stories almost always included a switcheroo scene, where one of the girls was mistaken for/pretended to be the other, and some kind of tidy resolution at the end. In Confidential, we meet up with the girls, now 27, in the middle of a deep-freeze in their relationship. Jessica has betrayed Elizabeth horribly and now they are on opposite coasts. Befitting the soap opera these books have always been, the action switches back and forth between the twins and then folds in other characters as well. The book is, yes, undeniably dopey and shakily written but a flashback treat for how it recaptures their personalities and the wonderfully goofy town on Sweet Valley. I don’t know that the book will bring in new fans, but longtime readers, now adults, will enjoy catching up with the characters. Plus, it has swearing!
Barring a marketing blitz to reintroduce the twins, today’s tween and teen readers are more likely to go for novels like Delirium by Lauren Oliver (2011, HarperCollins). I first heard of Oliver from her book Before I Fall, a nice little Groundhog Day-ish teenage thriller which boasted some solid writing and look at intragirl relationships that seemed smarter than your average main-girl-and-sidekick setup. Delirium, which appears to be the first book in a series, has shades of Matched and The Hunger Games, other YA dystopia novels people my age pretend not to read. In Delirium, main character Lena is weeks away from her 18th birthday when she’ll undergo surgery to prevent her from being “infected” by love, which is considered a disease in this orderly and controlled version of the U.S. She’s all for this emotional lobotomy until, of course, she meets a boy. Not quite as smart as Before I Fall, Delirium is diverting, as a girl in a novel from 100 years ago would say — a quick bit of entertainment, like a good action movie.
Bossypants: A; Unfamiliar Fishes: B+; Poser: My Life in Twenty Three Yoga Poses: B; Sweet Valley Confidential: C+; Delirium: B.
A space of their own
Libraries keep teens interested with sections, programs
By Tori Loubier
With e-readers, smart phones and iPads, it seems there is little motivation for teens to step away from the screen and toward the paperback.
But not according to local libraries, which have adapted their programs and services to create a world in which classic books, new movies and interactive video games are all welcome. Libraries are offering specialized teen services — programs, book groups and bigger collections of young adult novels. Libraries in Nashua, Milford and Hollis give a look at what’s bringing kids in these days.
On the rise
When Carol Luers Eyman, the outreach and community services coordinator, starting working at the Nashua Public Library eight years ago, there was a small shelf for young adult books and no such thing as a teen librarian.
In an interview, Eyman recalls teen books as not belonging in the children’s or adults’ sections. “Teens wanted to be recognized as older and different,” she said.
Since then, the circulation of teen books has seen the most growth of all materials at the Nashua Public Library, Eyman said; in addition, the library has hired a teen services librarian and teen services assistant.
“Teen materials (including books magazines, audiobooks, video games) circulated 23,892 times in fiscal year 2010 (July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010). That was an 80 percent increase from fiscal year 2007, when the number was 13,263.... The numbers go up every year,” Eyman said in an e-mail.
Katie Spofford, the young adult and reference librarian at Wadleigh Memorial Library in Milford, has seen a similar rise in teen programs. Spofford said the young adult/teen genre began 10 to 15 years ago. “Even just five years ago, the young adult section was a shelf in a dark corner of our den,” Spofford said. The Wadleigh now devotes a large section to teens. “Young adult publishing, more than any other genre, is exploding,” she said.
‘When I was a teen, none of this was around’
With a rise in young adult publishing, it’s natural that libraries have developed more teen-directed programs and clubs to attract the demographic.
“The library now is less about ‘Oh, you’re a bookworm,’ and more about hanging out,” Spofford said.
“Programs and activities are necessary because [teens] are hanging out here anyway. Sometimes people get nervous about teens, but if you have something positive going on for them, people are OK with it.”
Different libraries define “teen” differently, but most target the group from sixth to 12th grade. Most places separate tweens, a group roughly defined as grades 3 through 5.
The Wadleigh Memorial Library offers an Anime Club, Teen Gaming, Teen Writing Club, Chicks with Sticks Teen Book Club (for seventh grade and up) and Pizza and Pages Book Club (for fifth grade and up) and other regular events. Most programs have attendees ages 10 through 17, Spofford said.
The Nashua Public Library offers TAG (teen advisory group), Anime Club, Science Madness, live homework help (in which teens can chat with a tutor online about homework questions they may have) and monthly activities including Wii: Just Dance and movie showings. Eyman is excited about a program scheduled for May called “Ghost Hunting 101,” in which a paranormal investigator will present a workshop on ghost hunting for ages 11 to 17.
Anime club meets once a month at the Hollis Social Library, and there is a Wii day every Friday. “Wii is popular here because I always have a snack. I let them bring in food, I leave them alone and check in every once in a while and they like that,” said Amanda Hogue, the teen and children’s librarian at HSL. “Teens like stuff that is in the moment. They don’t always like coming in every single week, but they like to hang out. They don’t want =-the library to be like school,” Hogue said.
Hogue notes the difference between teen programs in rural areas, such as Hollis, and urban areas, such as Nashua: “It’s a very different dynamic here. There is possibly more money in a rural community and better after-school programs, so not as many children come into the library.”
Library officials in Nashua, Hollis and Milford all agree that the anime club is by far their most popular teen program, consistently getting the highest level of attendance.
“Anime got really big about 10 years ago,” Spofford said. The anime club is for teens who are particularly interested in Japanese culture. Manga books, which are Japanese graphic novels, have been on the rise.
“Kids who wouldn’t normally read a long novel love the manga books,” she said, adding that the artwork and fashion draw them in.
Many libraries encourage teens in anime clubs to draw their own Japanese art, and the Nashua Public Library has framed some of their best works.
“They like being with other kids who share the same interest,” said Hogue of anime club. “I chat with them and they like that I don’t have as much knowledge as them. They draw pictures the entire time and they get so excited about it.”
Most libraries offer computer and Internet access, and special times to play video games. The technology has been a major selling point.
“Teens like having their own niche. They are left alone but in view enough so we won’t have issues. It’s their own oasis. We do special things for them, and they love it,” Hogue said.
Wizards and vampires
“Young adult books are a lot different now than they used to be,” Spofford said. “They have really complex ideas. Even 10 years ago the books used to be really innocent, with only one solution to a problem. Now they offer many different solutions for the reader or the main character to decide how to solve a problem. They aren’t so black and white anymore.”
Series like Harry Potter and Twilight have been major selling points for teen and tween audiences and continue to bring new life into libraries. The books, Eyman said, have also encouraged a renewed use of the library by older audiences. Spofford defines young adult books being of interest to anyone under the age of 30. The series have brought in families, parents with children and adults in general.
“Series like Twilight hold an interest for adults as well,” Spofford said.
The influence of Twilight has sparked an entire vampire genre. “We have found girls coming in to read Twilight books that wouldn’t read before now,” Eyman said. And “Now just vampire books in general continue to be popular,” Eyman said, noting Vampire Diaries by Lisa Smith and books by Richelle Mead and P.C. Cast.
Libraries have taken advantage of books’ translation into movies. And many offer free showings of the latest flicks, book-based or not.
“Whenever a new Harry Potter movie comes out, I have kids coming in re-reading the books,” said Eyman, adding that the Nashua Public Library will be showing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part I for free on Wednesday, April 27.
“I remember when one of the earlier HP books came out, we ordered 24 copies that were all reserved immediately. To make it exciting, we opened at midnight and let them come pick their books up,” Eyman said.
Spofford is excited to see what happens with The Hunger Games, a book series set in the future that is now being made into a movie, which she predicts will be as popular as Harry and Twilight.
Bigger crowds, tougher competition
Slam Free or Die gets ready for 2011 nationals
By Angel Roy
Mark Palos knew there was a community of poets in Manchester before he helped form Slam Free or Die; it was just a matter of getting them together regularly.
Palos had recently returned home from college, where he was used to having a community of writers around, when a friend mentioned a new poetry open mike at the Bridge Café on Elm Street. “There was no microphone, no anything,” Palos said. “It was very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants.”
Palos called in a few favors to secure an amp and microphone for a weekly poetry gathering, and began offering the organizer suggestions on how to better run the event. At that point, he had no interest in taking the reins; he “just didn’t want to see the night fail.”
When asked by the café owners to take over as slam master in 2005, Palos enlisted the help of two open-mike regulars, Hope Jordan and Matt Tremblay, better known as “Unseen the Poet.” A year later, Jordan suggested forming a team to send to the National Poetry Slam. New Hampshire was the only New England state that was not taking its local poetry to the national level.
A slam is a two-round poetry competition with specific rules. A slam poem must clock in at three minutes or less and must be original. No props or instruments can be used during the performance.
“It has basically got to be you…. Poetry is a passion, but slam puts that passion into the driver’s seat,” Palos said. There is no firm rule about memorizing the poems, but Palos said it is helpful.
“Part of what’s happening is you are trying to engage the audience as much as possible in the short amount of time you are given,” he said. “A lot of what helps with that is body language … if you don’t have a piece of paper in your hand physical movements can be more dynamic.”
Five judges are chosen at random from the audience. The only judging qualification is that they cannot know any of the competitors.
“A judge could have never been to a poetry slam or read poetry in their life … we like to have judges that are really sort of raw and experiencing this for first time — we get a clear unfiltered reaction from them,” Palos said. ”
Six slams must be held during the “season,” which Palos said starts in August. Slam Free or Die runs its season, which includes eight slams, from early September through April, and trains its national team from May through August. Poets are selected for the team based on their cumulative scores from the monthly competitions. The top two scorers from each month are given the opportunity to compete in the semi-finals. From there, 10 make the finals and five are selected for the coveted national team spots.
Slam Free or Die sent its first team, coached by Jordan, to the national competition in 2007. What was then only a four-member team, of which Palos was an alternate and assistant coach, placed 73rd out of 76 teams.
“Most teams finish last,” Palos said. “So the fact that we (a) didn’t finish last and (b) a couple of teams we finished ahead of had been to the competition before — we could have done better, but we also could have done worse.”
When local poets learned that their participation in the Queen City slams counted toward something, crowds began to increase. Palos was used to a comfortable amount of space left in the room during summer poetry events, but come September 2007 it was standing room only.
The following year, poets from all over New England trekked to Manchester for a shot at making the Queen City’s national slam team. In the end, two out-of-staters made the team, of which Palos was a member and head coach. The 2008 slam team placed 10 spots higher in the national competition, and the team has continued to make its way up the ranks, placing in the mid 30s out of 86 teams in 2009 and in the top 25 at the 2010 competition in St. Paul, Minn., where Manchester poets also placed well in individual competition. The 2011 National Poetry Slam will be held in Boston.
“We’re not just a hick team from New Hampshire anymore,” Palos said. “We are actually presenting a challenge to better teams in the country.”
This year, Slam Free or Die held a Ninja Warrior Slam that served as an optional competition for all semifinalists. The winner of the competition secured an automatic spot on the national team without having to participate in the semifinals.
“There is a lot on the line, but we are also asking poets to step up to a level [they’ve] never been on before,” Palos said.
During the slam, poets had to compete in 10 rounds, including a haiku round and another on form poems, which Palos called “classic Shakespearean-style poetry.”
“It’s a challenge to write an expressive poem in form because most poets these days don’t write that way anymore,” he said.
Palos said he finds that nearly everyone has some sort of interest in poetry or feels as though they could write it. “Rarely do I meet people that flat out say ‘I hate poetry’ or think it’s dumb,” he said.
As the number of participants and spectators at the café slams grew, Palos sought a larger venue. The final slam of the year draws 200 people, Palos said.
Having attended a few music shows at Milly’s Tavern, Palos knew the space boasted a great stage, sound system and lights. He hesitated because of the noise level at the bar, but when he approached the higher-ups at Milly’s with the idea of holding finals there, they immediately asked if he would like to make it a regular Thursday night event. Palos was offered the use of the back room, which has a private entrance and will allow them to keep the slams open to all ages.
“It’s scary how perfect it all ended up being … it has grown into something really special,” Palos said.