Author Archives: Lisa Kelly

Celebrate National Book Club Month by sharing your book club collection!

October is National Reading Group Month so I am inviting you to mark the occasion by sharing your book club kits on our Book Club Wiki. Nebraska Book Clubs are very active and eagerly work to locate multiple copies of their selections each month.  For the libraries that chose to share, this requires paying postage or arranging delivery of the books when they are requested. If you have a book club collection and would be willing to share with others in the state we can provide the password to you and we’ve included instructions on the book club wiki page to assist you . If you would prefer, we can list your books for you! If you are ready to get rid of any books club selections, we’d be happy to add them to our collection. We are grateful for the libraries that share their book club kits and have gifted extra copies to us; you have helped to grow our collection to well over 1,100 titles for all levels of readers. If you are interested and would like to request the password, please contact us at 800/307-2665 or

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Friday Reads: My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl

ruthI first read Ruth Reichl (pronounced RYE-shil) when I selected the book Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table for my book group several years ago. I knew Reichl had been a food critic, but wasn’t aware of her connection to Gourmet magazine until I heard of its demise in 2009. Reichl was the editor of Gourmet when it came to the tragic end of its 69 year run. This book recounts her grief in the aftermath, during the days and months as she moved beyond job loss.

Some of us turn to food for emotional reasons and Ruth returned to her kitchen as her way of healing, pairing food with personal events, and an honest and very personal dialog of working through change.  I agree with a statement in her introduction: “…recipes are conversations, not lectures.”  It registered with me because I’ve usually considered recipes more like guidelines as I negotiate the ingredients and their amounts.

For those who love cookbooks, photos are an absolute must. In this book, the pictures are informal and homey, supporting the intimacy of her diary format. She begins each daily entry with a tweet to her very active twitter followers who also serve as part of her support.  If you prefer the audio edition, Ruth narrates and she is an author who is genuinely meant to read her own material. You might think that listening to someone read 136 recipes would be a bit banal but Ruth is a genuine story teller and her throaty alto voice is as much of a comfort as the recipes she prepares. As Ruth says: “…I finally understand why cooking means so much to me. In a world filled with no, it is my yes.”

Not your ordinary cookbook – it’s like spending time with someone who likes food just as much as you – at the market, in the kitchen or at the table. Ruth chronicles four seasons of food and recovery in the kitchen, transforming from broken to hopeful. I’ve read other books of hers, but this one particularly stands out for me. It also makes a terrific gift for the food lover in your life.

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It’s our Aluminum Anniversary!

Several years ago, shortly after attending Lincoln City Libraries’ annual book sale, my colleague, Allana Novotny, said to me – do you think it would be a good idea to have multiple copies of books we could lend to libraries for their book groups?  That was ten years ago and not only have we not looked back, now we struggle to make room for our ever growing Book Club Collection of over 1,200 titles and nearly 12,000 physical volumes.  Each month we average a circulation of over 1,000 volumes   (including regular and large print books, audiobooks, and DVDs) from this collection to libraries around the state.

Looking back, there are many people to whom we owe thanks for helping make this service such a success:

  • First and foremost – to Vern Buis, our Computer Services Director, who helped create and design a very user-friendly database and webpage,with auto-fill request forms, special search capabilities by holiday, Nebraska themes, and most recently the Nebraska 150 book list celebrating the state’s sesquicentennial.
  • To Devra Dragos who created a special template for entering records in our catalog so we can reserve and check out book kits when they are requested by a library.
  • To the many librarians and patrons who have donated books to our collection – many directly from their book group after reading and discussing that title.
  • To all the shoppers at book sales, thrift shops, and used book stores, who have purchased (and many times delivered) books for our collection.
  • Last but not least – thank you to the libraries and schools who use our collection and tell us how helpful it is to their community.

I’m pleased that we support book clubs throughout the state and have heard wonderful stories of your gatherings. To continue assisting you, we have provided NCompass Live sessions on how to select titles and lead discussions with your book group.

Because of the great success of the book groups, we very nearly wear out Mary Geibel, who works with you all to make and confirm reservations, sometimes for many months in advance. She sends out books and checks them in with email confirmations and conducts an annual inventory each summer to make sure everything is correct as advertised on our webpage.

If anyone had told me in library school that I’d spend a significant amount of time on book clubs and a special collection just for serving groups in the state, I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have believed it. Growing and cultivating this service has been one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my years at the Library Commission. Happy Anniversary.

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Friday Reads: Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

ruthThis book came to my attention after I listened to Debra Winger read My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia precipitated selecting this title from my queue since Ginsburg and Scalia were known to have been fast friends despite their ideological differences. I am ashamed to confess how wholly unaware I was of the tremendous gender inequity around me as a younger woman.  Like watching episodes of Mad Men it is an all too visceral reminder of just how far we’ve come and how much we’ve yet to accomplish.

One reviewer wrote “her appointment to the Court by Bill Clinton will be seen as one of his greatest accomplishments” and I’m inclined to agree. Her quiet and pragmatic work on issues of equity and equality have made the world a little better and a little freer. Her uncanny ability to know which cases were ready to go forward and those that were not is helpful to think about as I examine current issues being debated in state legislative houses.

Learning about RBG’s marriage was a revelation of both envy and delight. I’ve always admired those kinds of partnerships and this book made me appreciate Marty as much as Ruth. Supporting Ruth and her career was his proudest accomplishment. It reminded me of Paul and Julia Child’s marriage.

The life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one worth knowing and one easily presented in this quick read. I don’t believe this book is meant to be a definitive biography of RBG but it is a tremendous introduction.

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Happy 100th Birthday Beverly Cleary!

ramonaWhile we are celebrating National Library Week, we can also celebrate an author many of us have cherished – Beverly Cleary – who turns 100 tomorrow. My neighbor sent me the following article from the New York Times and I was delighted to learn how she got started writing and also to learn that she was a librarian! One of Cleary’s quotes from the article is worth sharing: “As a child, I very much objected to books that tried to teach me something … I just wanted to read for pleasure, and I did. But if a book tried to teach me, I returned it to the library.”

If you would like to check out copies of Cleary’s books for your book group, here are the titles we own: The Mouse and the Motorcycle (8 copies); Ramona and Her Father (5 copies); and Ramona and her Mother (5 copies). As the article indicates, Ramona is her favorite character but isn’t directly modeled on her. “I was a well-behaved girl,” she said, “but I often thought like Ramona.” Happy Birthday Beverly, we are grateful for the wonderful characters you gave us.

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Librarian of Congress Nominee Announced

Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Carla D. Hayden as Librarian of Congress. Meet President Obama’s Nominee for Librarian of Congress

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Friday Reads: A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

Oa is for alibine year for Christmas I asked everyone to give me a copy of their favorite book; just one book and hopefully an explanation of why it held that honor. This was well over 20 years ago and my college roommate gave me a copy of A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton. One of the many librarian stereotypes is that we love mysteries so I’d avoided this genre but I read it and I liked it. Sue’s books saved me on a dreadful flight when I was sick and a horrible vacation and the fictional character Kinsey Millhone became a good friend. She’s a low-maintenance, hard-driving, common sense kind of woman whose luck in love has sometimes been similar to my own. If you are a series reader and have yet to read Sue’s books, the book club collection may be just the ticket. The order could not be any easier to understand: A is for Alibi; B is for Burglar; C is for Corpse and on and on through the most recent release X. In the series, Henry Pitts plays Kinsey’s friend and landlord and is a favorite character of mine with the runner up being Rosie who runs the local restaurant and bar where Kinsey often has dinner or meets clients. You may want to know that Sue has adamantly said no to ever selling her rights to turn this series into a movie which actually pleases me because the characters will always stay in my mind, tidy as you please with no alterations from Hollywood. Here is a list of the titles so you can make your reservation.


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National Book Award Finalists

Here is the list of fiction, non fiction, poetry, and young people’s literature nominations for the National Book Award revealed this morning. Winners in each category will receive a bronze sculpture and a purse of $10,000, at a ceremony in New York City on Nov. 18.

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Celebrate National Reading Group Month!

October is National Reading Group Month and to celebrate I wanted to investigate what makes a group endure. I located plenty of information on starting a group, selecting titles, and leading a discussion but very little on how to keep it going through the years. My book group celebrates its anniversary in the fall so as we are wrapping up our 13th year, I interviewed them and posed the question, what makes you keep coming? The answers not surprisingly resemble the qualities of any other long-lasting and good relationship:

  • I keep coming because of the people and the chemistry of the group.
  • The discussions are rich and varied.
  • The group is respectful and agrees that completing and actually discussing the book is an important part of our gathering.
  • The frequency of the group (six times a year) keeps me coming because my personal reading isn’t always being interrupted.
  • The group is intimate because we’ve created trust which allows us to share things we otherwise might keep to ourselves.
  • The discussion can really turn around my opinion of a book. Sometimes it seems we have each read a different book with the same title!
  • I like the way the group selects titles (everyone takes a turn); it provides a variety of reading and makes each one of us take the roll of selecting very seriously.

The takeaway is, now that you’ve created a book group, how are you gauging their dynamics? Reading a book takes precious time and discussing it is an additional level of commitment.  Perhaps taking time to ask about your book group’s assessment might be worthwhile to iron out any kinks and keep it running satisfactorily for all.

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Focus on Nebraska authors: Jonis Agee

Omaha native Jonis Agee grew up in Nebraska and Missouri so they are often the settings for her novels. The New York Times Book Review called her “a gifted poet of that dark lushness in the heart of the American landscape.”  She is a Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and teaches creative writing and twentieth-century fiction. She earned her BA at the University of Iowa and her MA and PhD from the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Jonis has been awarded two Nebraska Book Awards for The Weight of Dreams and Acts of Love on Indigo Road and three of her books — Strange Angels, Bend This Heart, and Sweet Eyes — were named Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times. She is the co-writer, with her husband Brent Spencer, of the screenplays Full Throttle, Baghdad Rules and Everlasting.  Together they live on a small acreage north of Omaha in Ponca Hills. Of her five novels four are included in our book club collection:  The River Wife, Strange Angels, Sweet Eyes, and Weight of Dreams. In each she creates a strong sense of Midwestern place alongside compelling family dramas laced with grit. Please consider selecting one of Agee’s titles for your next book club selection.

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Tracking fees have now been eliminated

Beginning June 1, 2015, Library Mail and Media mail packages sent through the U.S. Postal Service can be tracked for free, as the $1.05 per item tracking fee is being eliminated. All you need to do is ensure a barcoded USPS tracking label is affixed to your mailpiece. Delivery information can be obtained at (using the search box) or call toll-free 1-800-222-1811. Tracking labels can be ordered online at no charge in packs of 50 at this link.

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Focus on Nebraska authors: Stephanie Kallos

I became aware of Stephanie Kallos, an author with a Nebraska connection, when I served on the committee to help select One Book One Lincoln in 2006. Her first novel, Broken for You had been nominated and I was struck by the artful way Kallos spun multiple themes of brokenness, both overwhelming and subtle, together into one plot. The selection committee ranked it in the top 5 five of all the nominations and I successfully recommended it to a few of my friends after I finished.

Stephanie grew up in Lincoln and now resides in Seattle with her husband, two sons, a Labrador and two tabby cats and is currently working on her third novel.  Broken for You was published in 2004 and was chosen by Sue Monk Kidd as a "Today Show" book club selection and received the Washington State and PNBA Book Awards. Her second novel, Sing Them Home, was published in 2009 and was selected as a January ’09 IndieNext title.

We own both of Kallos' titles in our book club collection so consider selecting this Nebraska author for your next book club read.

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Focus on Nebraska authors: Kent Haruf

Kent Haruf (rhymes with sheriff) graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1965 where he later taught as an assistant professor. He earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1973. These are only a few of his credentials but he came to my attention when his book Plainsong was announced as the very first One Book One Lincoln in 2002. That book marked the beginning of my own book group and a relationship with the One Book One Lincoln program that remains to this day.

Plainsong takes place in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado and is based on the town of Yuma where Mr. Haruf lived in the ‘80s. In a Newsweek review, Jeff Giles called the book “a moving look at our capacity for both pointless cruelty and simple decency, our ability to walk out of the wreckage of one family and build a stronger one where it used to stand.” Many local readers were miffed at the lack of quotation marks throughout the book and this caused a bit of kerfuffle. As I listened to the audio version, it wasn’t an issue.  Another Haruf title follows some of the same characters in Holt and is entitled Eventide.

Kent Haruf died at the age of 71 in November of 2014. To honor this writer, you may wish to select some of his titles in our collection: Eventide, Plainsong, The Tie That Binds and Where You Once Belonged

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How to help in Nepal

I asked Barbara Cornelius, our colleague from Nebraska Wesleyan University for her council on giving to Nepal because she has studied and lived there. Here are the places she recommended:

Verified list of earthquake response initiatives for Nepal

Manjushree Thapa (Nepali author living in Canada now) tweeted this yesterday:

Facebook initiative for International Medical Corps:


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Focus on Nebraska authors: Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser served as the United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004–2006 and spoke in many venues around the state and the country during his tenure. I heard him speak at the Lied Center in Lincoln, NE and I recall him sharing that he had been compared to a hobbit. In fact, one of his speeches at Wartburg College in 2012 was entitled: American Hobbit or a Great Storyteller. In 2003, I helped select his title Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, for the Nebraska Book Award for Nonfiction and as a One Book One Lincoln finalist in 2005. It was also selected as One Book One Nebraska for 2011. I have given copies of this book to many friends and family members. Here is my favorite quote from that book:

If you can awaken inside the familiar and discover it new you need never leave home. Local wonders.

I remember Ted sharing how he hoped to make poetry more ubiquitous and approachable to readers. If you reread the line above it may not register as poetry or at least, not the kind you dealt with in your high school or college literature classes. If your book group would like to branch out and read something besides a fiction or non-fiction selection, try Local Wonders. Have your readers pick their favorite parts and read them aloud at your discussion. You may do the very thing Kooser hoped he could accomplish and make a poetry lover out of you.

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Focus on Nebraska authors: Alex Kava

Alex Kava writes full-time and lives in Omaha, Nebraska and Pensacola, Florida. She is a bestselling author known for her psychological suspense series featuring FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell. Fans of Maggie O’Dell will be interested in Kava’s new spinoff series featuring Ryder Creed, a retired marine dog handler. Creed’s investigative and rescue work with his dogs leads him to team up with O’Dell in both Breaking Creed, the first book in the Ryder Creed series, published in January 2015, and Silent Creed, the second book, scheduled for publication in July 2015.

Kava’s book One False Move was selected as the One Book One Nebraska for 2006. My book group read this title, much to the delight of one member who is an avid mystery reader, and had a good discussion about genre books as well as the book itself. As often happens when readers have first-hand knowledge of the location where a book’s actions take place, the familiar Nebraska setting also stimulated discussion.

We have several of Kava’s books in our book club collection including: At The Stroke of Madness, Black Friday, Fireproof, Hotwire, A Necessary Evil, One False Move, A Perfect Evil, The Soul Catcher, and Split Second. If you are concerned about reading the books in order – here is the series listing. Perhaps for the summer you may want to select several from her Maggie O’Dell series? Visit our book club kit page to make your selections!

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Focus on Nebraska authors: Roger Welsch

I’m not sure many of us could remember who gave our high school commencement address, but I do remember that Roger Welsch spoke at my Senior Honor Banquet. What’s more, I still remember one of the jokes he told; still use it too. I also have fond memories of living in Texas and relishing Roger’s Postcards from Nebraska on CBS Sunday Morning News. And, after working my way straight through college and graduate school with no break and no time for reading anything other than what was assigned,  I remember the first book I really enjoyed reading after graduation; It’s Not the End of the Earth, But You Can See it From Here, by Roger Welsch.

We often hear that book clubs are looking for a break from serious titles. If you’re familiar with Welsch’s style, you know that his works might be just the ticket! You can find the following Welsch titles in our book club collection: Catfish at the Pump: Humor and the Frontier, Everything I Know About Women I Learned From My Tractor, From Tinkering to Torquing: A Beginner’s Guide to Tractors and Tools, It’s Not the End of the Earth, But You Can See it From Here: Tales of the Great Plains, A Life With Dogs, and Shingling the Fog and Other Plains Lies. Please consider selecting one of these books for your book club and let us know when we can reserve them for you.

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Focus on Nebraska authors: Timothy Schaffert

Timothy Schaffert teaches in the English Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is the director/founder of the (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest, and is a contributing editor to Fairy Tale Review. He grew up in rural Nebraska near the city of Aurora and I had the good fortune to meet him at my neighbor’s house and talk with him about his books. Timothy has written five novels, all of which we own in our Book Club collection. I read the first chapter of each book and one thing was evident in all of them, Nebraska settings and very quirky characters. Timothy writes the kind of literary fiction that book groups are always looking for because they provide rich discussion and strongly-felt opinions. His latest book, The Swan Gondola, is set during the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair and has recently been described as a costume-drama novel every intelligent woman needs to read. The best thing to know about this Nebraska author is that he has attended book group discussions in the past and would consider your invitation if you would like to include him in your discussion. Timothy makes for charming company, so please think about selecting one of his titles and perhaps scheduling an author visit for your group!

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Focus on Nebraska authors: Mary Pipher

If your book group would like to select a nonfiction title to read, let me suggest getting to know Mary Pipher. Mary lives in Lincoln with her husband Jim and has written 9 books – four of which we have in our Book Club collection. My book group read The Middle of Everywhere a few years ago and as the setting for the text is Lincoln, many people recognized several locations and people mentioned. That is always an intriguing element of a book with a local author. The book is also informative as Mary presents Lincoln as a refugee relocation center and illustrates how new citizens of Lincoln need assistance. She coins the expression cultural broker and explains the sorts of ways she provides help to refugees earnestly trying to make the United States their home. My group had an excellent discussion with this title and I think yours could too.

A colleague and I both read Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World at the same time and had great discussions. With this book we learned about Mary’s background and her personal life especially in terms of negotiating balance between her family and promoting her books. Mary read from this book at the Nebraska Book Festival sponsored by the Nebraska Center for the Book and it was a pleasure hearing her voice present her own text.

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October is National Reading Group Month!

October is National Reading Group Month!

To help you celebrate your reading group, here are some novels that feature book groups you can check out from the Nebraska Library Commission Book Club Collection.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
21 Copies
Available to Talking Book Service users
Request This Kit

Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
13 Copies (also 1 Video (DVD) copy)
Request This Kit

The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
7 Copies
Request This Kit

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
12 Copies
Request This Kit




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