Category Archives: library

Most Popular Library Books of 2015

Last year was a great year for books. I hit a bland patch coming out of the summer, but finished out 2015 with some great reads. Now that 2016 is here, it’s fun to look back and see what other readers were doing.

Libraries around the country have been posting their “most requested” and “most borrowed” lists for a few weeks. So I thought I’d sample a few and see what the commonalities are.

Here in Birmingham, Alabama, John Grisham’s Gray Mountain and two David Baldacci books, The Memory Man and The Escape, make the “most popular” list.

The folks in South Florida favored Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, but both Grisham and Baldacci made a Top 5 list from Miami Dade county also.

Paula Hawkins topped the lists in Boston as well as those up around Chicago as well. Interesting how there’s no Grisham or Baldacci there.

And patrons of the New York Public Library System prefer Jodi Picoult over everything else. Though Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train was second. But again, no Grisham or Baldacci.

There definitely seems to be a line, on the map, somewhere for what types of thrillers readers like in different parts of the country.

Hope you read some good books last year. And I hope you have many more ahead of you this year.

Happy New Year!

Hoopla Adds eBooks and Comics

I just noticed last night that the Hoopla app/service I use (thanks Hoover Library!) has expanded its offerings. Movies, music and TV shows have been readily available for download since day one. But now we have access to eBooks and comics as well.

* please note I have not tried to read or view comics in the Hoopla app. I am simply comparing catalogs and services at this point. eBook readers and comic apps are hard and I do not know yet if Hoopla has a good one.

I am always interested in finding new things to read and am pretty excited at seeing what the eBooks section will offer.

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So far it does seem to be a little different than what’s over on OverDrive which the library supports as well (thanks again, Hoover Library, you guys rock!). There seems to be a difference in publishers. Many of what is on Hoopla (while not big names) are not titles that I have access to on OverDrive. I only spot checked five books so far, but this seems to be the case. And I’m glad for it. The less overlap the better.

Hoopla eBooks so far as I can see seems stronger in the cooking, self-help, and Christian categories. Though there are lots of romance, kids, and some fiction as well. But OverDrive shares these strengths and is currently a little stronger in the mainstream categories.

I’m not a comic book/graphic novel reader. I wish I was because I hear such great things, but I just can’t get into the groove. It’s not a snob thing, they’re just too slow for me (maybe another post on this thinking soon?)

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Noticably absent are Marvel comics. I have no idea if they’ll come on board or not. They’re all Disney-owned and working with Amazon, who knows. But DC Comics is testing the waters here. There are about 30 comics presented in the “Featured” area. Most of these are “digest issues” so each book contains 4-15 comics in there. Which is handy if you’re trying to catch up on a series or something.

What they’re lacking in Marvel characters they make up for with. . .  a Bill & Melinda Gates comic? a Kate Middleton comic? I even saw an Amy Winehouse comic book.

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So the stock and quality is all over the map with Hoopla’s comic book offerings. No doubt it’ll get better.

I assume Hoopla is the same everywhere, but maybe it is dependent on each library’s contract. How it works here is that we’re allowed 10 downloads a month. That allotment can be made up of any mix of movies, music, TV, audiobooks, and now eBooks and comics.

Let me just say – libraries are awesome. I hope you live someplace with access to something like the JCLC system. To use Hoopla just load the app on your device and log-in with your library card number. You will instantly be able to access any content/services that your local library supports.

Do you use Hoopla?

The Original Birmingham Writers Workshop

Just after World War I things were changing at a rapid pace here in Birmingham, AL. It was against this hasty backdrop of industrialization, cosmopolitan awareness and a sense of “popping up overnight” that the Magic City got its nickname and its first official working writers workshop – The Loafers.

I ran across this entry on BhamWiki.com and had to know more. So I trotted off to the Linn Henley Library and found the bound archived April 1977 issue of The Alabama Review. After reading the article I was blown away at the velocity with which The Loafers cranked out their articles, books, plays, screenplays, essays and short stories.

Made up mostly of newspaper folks, almost all of the original dozen or so members had pieces published  in Harper’s, Munsey’s Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post and they even had a couple of O.Henry Prize winners among their ranks.

Roster and occupations of the first members of The Loafers.
Roster and occupations of the first members of The Loafers.

The group was founded, in the late 19-teens and early 20’s, by journalist Octavus Roy Cohen, who also wrote fiction, plays, and scripts for Hollywood. He wrote about black life in Birmingham, but one of most popular books was The Crimson Alibi, a detective novel that also made it onto Broadway as a play.

In the 1920’s, Cohen lived in the Diane Apts. on 21st St. South and writers flocked to his place. During gatherings of the literary club / writers workshop, writers would review, critique and edit each others work. As well as cheer and jeer rejection slips, reviews and sales of their books.

I was hoping to list all of the books and works that this group churned out, but it’s just too much. No doubt – they called themselves “The Loafers” as some kind of tongue-in-cheek joke. In fact, in one mention in the January 1922 Writer’s Monthly journal , the reporter states,

“. . .the annual income from the work of the group runs well over the hundred-thousand-dollar mark yearly. . .these twelve men write seven or eight novels a year, usually about one hundred short-stories, besides poems, plays and articles.”

Adjusted for inflation that comes to more than $1.4 million dollars a year this writers workshop was bringing home.

The second generation of The Loafers was lead by Jack Bethea who was another newspaperman and the first editor of the Birmingham Post way back in 1921 when the paper was founded by Scripps-Howard. His group and the dozens after his were just as prolific as the first members.

What I haven’t been able to find is an approximate date of when The Loafers quit meeting and why. Birmingham has been flush with colorful story tellers ever since and we certainly have the setting and history to craft compelling fiction. I wonder why it disbanded. Or better yet – I wonder who would be on the roster if The Loafers was still going strong in Birmingham today?

It’s worth your while to make it down to the Linn-Henley to read the full 8 pages over a lunch break. It’s very interesting ending the April 1977 article with:

“The Civil War had provided an aura for the South’s fiction writers for half a century,. . . World War I and its swift succession of social and economic changes left little room for nostalgia and the gentler scenes it evoked. These Birmingham authors who mockingly called themselves “The Loafers” were alert to the fast-paced life around them and sensitive to human values. Whether in hot indignation at social injustices or with a small at human foibles and fantasies, they wrote perceptively of their own times.”

Of course, if that doesn’t pique your interest, as you can see from these photos, it’s worth it just to pull up a chair in the library reading and “set a spell”.

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Literary Map of Alabama

I ran across this very cool map in the Hoover Library recently, tucked away, back in the non-fiction section. This map roughly plots out many of the significant literary works, people and places around the state of Alabama.

Many you’ll recognize like Zelda Fitzgerald and Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flag. But there are a ton of listings on there that I had never heard of.

This links to a very large image of the map.

The map states that the first book printed in Alabama, was near Thomasville, AL in 1822, and was titled Alabama Justice of Peace by Henry Hitchcock. It also shows that the first history of Alabama written by an African-American writer was History of Alabama for Use in Schools and for General Reading by John W. Beverly, back in 1901.

Some other interesting points:

  • First literary magazine published in Alabama was The Bachelor’s Button by William Russell Smith in 1837.
  • S.H. Goetzel & Co. is listed as the first publishing house in Alabama  and was established back in 1852, down on the gulf.
  • Up around Guntersville, in 1823, Western Arminian was first published which it lists as the first religious newspaper.

If you’re into history, it may be worth going by the Hoover Library to  take a look at the map. I asked and the print is not available for circulation. I did copy down some info off of the margin about the cartographer and the group that printed it, hoping to find a copy for my own wall.

If this map piques your interest then be sure to track down a copy of Philip Beidler’s First Books. It’s a bit academic in tone (which isn’t a bad thing) but packed full of interesting tid-bits about Alabama’s bookish beginnings.

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Have you seen this map before?