As a librarian at a research university, I am lucky enough to attend the American Library Association’s conferences once or twice each year. These gatherings of thousands upon thousands of librarians from all kinds of libraries are a major market for publishers and resellers of all types of books, as you can imagine. One thing they do to entice librarians is to give us lots and lots of free books, mostly prepublication copies. What could be better than free books before anyone else gets to read them?
My last few times at the conference, I have collected more and more of these books. It started when I got a few young adult and children’s books for my nieces and nephew. Once I started collecting those, I saw more and more titles that I thought they might enjoy. I love a good young adult read myself. Then I started perusing the adult books from many of the same publishers. There are so many interesting new novels by authors from all over the world. Would this new title be a breakout hit? I’d have to read it and decide for myself. So I saddled myself with at least a dozen paperbound prepublication copies to lug home on the plane.
At the conference in January 2014, I broke down and took all my collected loot to the convenient temporary post office set up as part of the conference, mailing the books home. Once I started this, there was no stopping. I mailed another box to myself each day the book exhibits were open, and still ended up with a dozen more books in my suitcase. My nieces and nephew have piles of fresh reading material and I have dozens for myself. You may be wondering, when will I actually read all of these? Even though I’m a fast reader, it will take a while. I have to give up on some if they are just not working for me. However, that disappointment is more than made up for by the thrill of finding a great book and then being able to pass it on to a carefully selected reader friend, hoping that they will enjoy it as I did. This is the librarian art of reader’s advisory, which I don’t practice in my day-to-day work so it’s even sweeter to be able to do it for my friends and family.
I did pick up a few mystery and thriller titles at the conference. So far, I have enjoyed Dominion by C. J. Sansom, well-known author of the Matthew Shardlake mysteries set during the reign of Henry VIII. Dominion is an alternate history set in the Britain of 1952, if the UK had surrendered to Germany in 1940. Germany has a tight grip on the UK, with plenty of SS, Gestapo, and other Germans stationed there. The Russian Front has become an ongoing guerilla war. The British Resistance, led by an aging Winston Churchill, is smuggling a scientist out of the country, and German agents, working with the British government, aren’t far behind. I am fascinated by Britain during World War II, possibly fueled by watching Foyle’s War on TV and reading Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, time travel stories that take place during the Battle of Britain. Sansom’s novel is an extension of that stressful time period, adding elements of cold war spyplay, in which the British are pushed further and further outside their comfort zone by the Third Reich. Fans of 20th century alternate history as well as cold war spy dramas will enjoy this one.
Gwen Gregory is is the resource acquisition and management librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She reads books the way many people watch TV.