Last Chance Fiction | Mechanics' Institute

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Last Chance Fiction

Ever hear a librarian talk about “weeding”* books and wonder what, exactly, that means? Don’t worry; it’s not as ominous as it might sound. Sometimes, we even find some undiscovered gems – the “heirloom seeds” in this garden analogy.


As I’m working through fiction, I’ll be adding titles to a pop-up display on one side of the 2nd floor staff picks shelf. I’m calling this display “fiction you may have missed”. These books are a few years old; they were reviewed well, have some interesting recommendation blurbs from authors you may know and love, or sound interesting in some way that I thought our members might enjoy. …but no one has checked them out (yet)! Take a look at the display and see if anything strikes your fancy. Examples of what’s on the shelf include:


Irene Sabatini The boy next door

Sabatini brings to life her own recollections of her Zimbabwean childhood in this sweeping story about two people whose lives become inseparable from the turmoil that surrounds them. This is a novel about “what it means to witness, to change, to love, and to remain whole when the world outside is falling apart.” (Hachette)


Saša Stanišić How the soldier repairs the gramophone

A child flees his hometown of Višegrad, Bosnia – a town previously unconscious of racial or religious divides – on the day his magician grandfather dies. Ten years later, he returns to find out what happened to a childhood friend and to recover the lost magic of the life he left behind. Library Journal calls Stanišić, “the voice of a bold young Europe,” lauding this book for its “brilliantly cockeyed prose that borders on the surreal – or maybe the psychedelic.”


Pamela Ryder Correction of drift

The Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping was called the crime of the century at the time when the story occupied every front page. This novel imagines the private lives behind the headlines. Author Christine Schutt says, “The sentences, headlines, and ransom notes accrue to powerful effect until even the [smallest details] seem ominous portents of violence and loss.”


Nisi Shawl Filter house

The stories in this collection leap forward and backward through time and space, weaving together realities like resource depletion, colonization, and racism with the fantastical: dragons, gods, and interstellar travel. High praise from Ursula Le Guin: “…these superbly written stories will weave around you a ring of dark, dark magic.”


Alix Kates Shulman Ménage

Shulman is author of the feminist classic Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen. In this work, she tells the story of a couple who has it all, but for whom “having it all” isn’t enough. They add a third member to their household and, as sometimes happens with triangular relationships, complications arise… Critics call this novel “a bravura performance from one of America’s most renowned feminist writers.”


Paul Scheerbart, John A. Stuart The gray cloth

This 1914 modernist novel on architecture is sometimes called sci-fi, sometimes called "experimental techno-utopianist fiction"; whatever you call it, especially with its supporting images, the book is worth a look. Kenneth Frampton, Columbia’s Ware Professor of Architecture, says, “As close to Baron Munchausen and Gulliver’s Travels as to Jules Verne and the psycho-physics of Gustav Theodor Fechner, Scheerbart’s astral modernity envisages a brightly colored…architecture, at one with a pacified cosmos.”


Scott O'Connor Untouchable

Whitley, a.k.a. The Kid, is an 11-year old social pariah, bullied and bereft. He has not spoken since his mother’s death, preferring to communicate via a series of notebooks, which makes him feel that he lives in a safer world of his own imagining. As that world unravels, The Kid must become the hero he’s been hoping to find. “One of those books you can hardly stand to stuff the bookmark in at the end of the night.” (Scott Phillips)


Michael Shea Assault on sunrise

In this near-future dystopia, the rich are richer, leaving the poor more desperate for survival by any means necessary – even if that means taking on a role as an extra in a genre of blockbuster Hollywood films in which the onscreen deaths are real. Comedian and geek extraordinaire Patton Oswalt says, “Assault on Sunrise features language used as a sly weapon, action that snaps your head in different directions, and a bar raising in the field of science fiction and horror.”


*We weed library materials because hoarding books that no one reads prevents our patrons from learning, growing, and being entertained. In case you want to dig a little deeper, here’s the skinny on how librarians decide what stays and what gets donated to charity:

Mechanics’ Institute Library holds about 130,000 items and we add 300-500 more each month. Since we have a finite amount of shelf space, we have to prioritize the items that our members are actually reading. Of course we won’t get rid of those tried and true masterworks – even though The Murder of Roger Ackroyd hasn’t been checked out in six years, we’re hanging on to all of our Agatha Christie novels, for instance.

Each librarian at Mechanics' Institute Library manages a few different subject collections, and each librarian takes into account the circulation of items in her collection, the particular interests of our members, the depth and breadth of the collection as a whole, and how each item fits into that subject area. She considers whether a title is well-reviewed, a “classic” of the subject matter, and whether the information contained in it is up-to-date. In fiction, I like to keep complete runs of a series as well – I never want you to read up to Q is for Quarry and then find that we’re missing R is for Ricochet!

We consider all of these elements (and more, depending on the subject area) in light of how much space we have on the shelf to showcase what’s available in the stacks. Weeding is an art rather than an exact science, so if you see a librarian in the philosophy section and it looks like he’s poring over Epicurus, he’s not avoiding a tough reference question by hiding in the stacks – he’s probably just deciding whether he’s holding the most accurate translation, or if there’s a better one that just hit the market.

Posted on Mar. 23, 2016 by Heather Terrell