Susan G. Baird formerly with Oak Lawn P.L., IL
“I can think of almost nothing more enjoyable than being read to! That’s why I love reviewing audiobooks,” says Baird, who adds, “I want to share excellent books presented by outstanding narrators with audio buffs and those who might be new to the audiobook experience.”
I chose Susan as my reviewer of the year for a number of reasons: her enthusiasm and evangelism for the format, her dependability, and the amount of thought and care she puts into her reviews. While many reviewers have genres or nonfiction subjects they prefer, Susan is happy to review anything related to Asia, especially China. There were a wealth of titles that fell under that umbrella this year, which gave her the opportunity to review memoirs (On the Noodle Road), pop fiction (Crazy Rich Asians), thrillers (The Shanghai Factor), and history (Empress Dowager Cixi), among others.
Sally Bissell Fort Myers, FL
What does an editor (or any reader) want from a review? Not just a neat encapsulation of a book’s contents and value but a real conversation in print. And that’s what I get every time from Sally Bissell, reviewer extraordinaire, who takes each book as a special challenge and delivers something intelligent, witty, luminous, thoughtful, hypnotic, penetrating, lusciously written, and spot-on—something, that is, that makes me think. Sally gives each assignment her full attention, and whether she turns in an insightful rave or a pointed critique—she’s not afraid to topple giants and can do so convincingly—I always want to go back to the book and read or reread it, then call her for an extended chat. Sally, who went on a dream trip to Africa a few years back, has been especially helpful as a reviewer in the burgeoning area of African literature, where other reviewers might not feel sure enough to tread. Though she’s recently retired from South County Regional Library, Estero, FL, I’ll never let her resign from LJ. So pay special attention to her reviews—and for double the reading pleasure, catch her blog, Read Around the World, at readaroundtheworld-sallyb.blogspot.com/ as well.
Kristi Chadwick Emily Williston Memorial Library, Easthampton, MA
“Send it on!” These are the words I most frequently hear from Kristi Chadwick whenever I ask her if she’s willing to tackle a new book. Kristi, director at the Emily Williston Memorial Library in has covered a wide range of books at LJ since she first started reviewing in 2011, including genre fiction as well as cookbooks and food-related titles. Kristi approaches every assignment with an upbeat and positive attitude, whether it’s a work on fermentation, making your own soda, or even beekeeping. While I’ve only worked with her a few months, it’s easy to see why she’s such a beloved member of the LJ roster. Kristi responds, “It has been such a pleasure to review for Library Journal and expand from genre fiction to nonfiction titles in topics that are near and dear to me personally.”
Graham Christian Pelham, MA
Overseeing book reviews in religion—and the attendant “Spirituality & Religion” column (formerly titled “Spiritual Living”)—became part of my job almost five years ago, a responsibility that started me working with my 2013 reviewer of the year, Graham Christian. It began with a blunder: in my first email to him, I called him “Christian” instead of Graham, a gaffe that did not appear to amuse him. He’s kept me on my toes ever since, a position I enjoy, not simply because it makes me a couple of inches taller but because it keeps me learning. There is no greater pleasure than working with reviewers who are deeply familiar with their reviewing territory yet convey that learning lightly in elegant and incisive evaluations of the books that LJ sends them. Graham began reviewing for LJ in 1996, and his territory for those first years was poetry. (To this day, LJ editor Barbara Hoffert speaks sadly of the loss of Graham from her category.) Graham’s own background reflects his humanist and spiritual strengths. He was head of monograph acquisitions at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library of the Harvard Divinity School for ten years. Graham has gone on to complete his MSLIS from Simmons and last year received his PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Under his purview, the quarterly “Spirituality and Religion” column is responsive to reading trends in public libraries and to the special concerns of theological, parish, and academic readers. It is owing to Graham that the column, under one reviewer’s oversight, can live and breathe as it does. Thank you, Graham!
William Gargan Brooklyn College Library
A librarian at Brooklyn College since 1979, Bill has been a reviewer of literature for LJ since 1985. His expertise is the Beat Generation, but he’s taken on other assignments from me, too. In essence, Bill personifies LJ’s corps of reviewers—he’s smart, reliable, passionate about literature, and always good for an informed review. He recently reassured me that I had “the right reviewer” for a 700-page volume of Ernest Hemingway letters before he submitted a starred review (LJ 9/15/13) that proved it. Bill is a part of the large LJ family of reviewers who make our job as editors, among many things, rewarding; you have made my first year memorable. Thank you so much.
Bill responds, “For nearly 30 years now, it’s been my pleasure and privilege to review for LJ. During that period, I’ve completed over 200 reviews, most focusing on the Beats, the Lost Generation, and the Harlem Renaissance. Once in a while, however, I get a surprise in the mail, a wonderful book I might not have read otherwise, like Gary Soto’s A Summer Life (LJ 7/90) or Thomas Froncek’s Home Again, Home Again: A Son’s Memoir (LJ 6/1/96). The opportunity to read the latest books in my field keeps me current; the chance to explore works by less familiar writers keeps my mind engaged. Reviewing is its own reward, but it’s always fun when someone at the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference or BookExpo recognizes the name on your badge and stops to chat about your reviews. And especially gratifying is that rare instance when an author writes not to complain but to commend you for getting it right.”
Joan Greenberg Warminster, PA
The marvelous, dependable, and exceedingly erudite and creative Joan Greenberg has been reviewing video programs for LJ since 1989. After roughly 160 reviews, here’s what she has to say:
“I owe my long and happy relationship with Library Journal to two people. Hilma Cooper, director of the Cheltenham Township, PA, library system when I was a branch manager, was an LJ book reviewer and suggested that I submit my application. Since my writing at that time was largely confined to reports to my library board, press releases, and grant proposals, writing reviews sounded like an interesting challenge. My background, which includes a graduate degree in broadcasting, made reviewing video programs a good fit. The idea of having my words published in a national professional journal was also, I confess, very appealing.”
“Bette-Lee Fox has been improving on those words (thank goodness) for the past 25 years, and I highly value the relationship we have developed over that time. I love opening those boxes from her to see what’s new! My professional experience has largely been in smaller public libraries with limited funds, and with each review I am mindful of whether the program is worth the expenditure from an already-stretched library budget. As someone who has had the opportunity to produce television programs, I am also sympathetic to the challenges of turning out a first-rate production. The downside is that every movie or TV show that I watch for pleasure seems to set off an automatic “review response,” and I start composing in my head as I watch the credits roll!”
Jane Henriksen Baird Anchorage P.L., AK
When Jane Henriksen Baird, acquisitions librarian at the Anchorage Public Library, AK, signed up to review genre fiction for LJ in 1998, she was hoping to get SF/fantasy titles but instead cheerfully reviewed novels set in biblical Israel (India Edgehill’s Queenmaker), mythological Greece (Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles), medieval England (Bernard Cornwell’s The Archer’s Tale), and colonial Mexico (Colin Falconer’s Feathered Serpent). Fortunately, these were all her favorite historical time periods. Because Jane quickly proved to be such an excellent writer and a thoughtful critic, I turned to her when we expanded our best books coverage to include genre fiction; since 2011, Jane has annually picked the year’s top historical fiction titles. But Jane is not completely stuck in the past. She recently praised Pierce Brown’s Red Rising (LJ 9/15/13), a much-buzzed-about debut sf thriller, and draws on her Alaskan roots to review novels set in her home state (Brian Payton’s The Wind Is Not a River). When she’s not writing for us or SLJ (since 2007), she is performing in local theater productions such as Nunsense. A multitalented librarian indeed! Reviewing for LJ, Baird notes, “certainly has made me more aware of the importance of reading critically and reviewing honestly, as much of my job involves selecting materials based solely on others’ reviews.”
Thérèse Purcell Nielsen Huntington Public Library, NY
Thérèse Purcell Nielsen, a reference librarian in the Adult Services department at the Huntington Public Library in Long Island, NY, brings grace, humor, and erudition to her memoir reviews for LJ, which are published every other month online. A former litigator who quips, “I got a chance to take a do-over and became a librarian in midlife (I hope it is midlife),” she makes me laugh every time we communicate. Thérèse began working with LJ fairly recently—in 2010, she and several other librarians e-interviewed a mystery author for the magazine—but she’s done a lot in that timespan. She was part of LJ’s reference librarians roundtable at ALA Midwinter 2012 and has occasionally held down the fort as the only memoir reviewer. Thérèse’s sense of humor filters into her reviews, especially her column introductions, and her main theory about reviewing memoirs, that it’s not a “referendum on the writer’s life, it’s all about the story,” is intelligent and compassionate, just like her writing. It’s a pleasure to work with someone who’s so wise and patient—must be all that time answering “odd questions” at the reference desk.
Brian Odom Birmingham, AL
Brian Odom is a reference machine. His current job, as an archivist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, makes it apt that he’s a tireless science reviewer for LJ and SLJ, but he also reviews reference and trade history publications for us and test-drives (flies?) databases for SLJ, too. His considered reviews touch upon the aspects of the work that are most important to librarians (what if a set is excellent but it’s available in works your library already owns? You’ll know it from Brian’s review). “It’s an honor to be recognized for doing something I find so enjoyable,” says Brian.
LJ editor Margaret Heilbrun says, “First I thought that Brian Odom was my secret treasure, one of those wonderful reviewers who make your editorial life a dream in so many ways. Would I share him? No way. Turns out I was late to the game. He was already reviewing videos for Bette-Lee Fox, who is very fond of him as well. He was reviewing materials for School Library Journal, too. Here’s to you, Brian! May I still think of you as my secret?”
Expand your library’s collection and your résumé all at once! LJ is looking for reviewers in all subjects, and some of our editors seek reviewers in specific categories. Senior Editor Margaret Heilbrun is looking for history and biography generalists as well as reviewers in religion (especially Islam, Judaism, and Christian theology); Latin American history; science (especially physics); and political science (domestic and global), as well as in professional reading for librarians. Barbara Hoffert, Editor, Prepub Alert, would like to recruit reviewers for material from small presses. Editor Henrietta Thornton-Verma is eager to find reviewers for reference books and for other titles covering psychology, business, education, and careers. Finally, fiction editor Wilda Williams seeks reviewers to cover historical fiction and Westerns. Please contact us for details.