A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Brendan Dowling Author Archive


Email: bdowling@ala.org  


Lori Gottlieb Author Photo

Lori Gottlieb on Our Relationship to Happiness

Perhaps you know Lori Gottlieb from her popular “Ask a Therapist” column in The Atlantic, or her previous bestsellers Marry Him and Stick Figure. In her compassionate and emotionally generous new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Gottlieb reveals a new side of herself when she pulls back the curtain of a therapist’s world. Part memoir and part case study, the book shifts between Gottlieb’s sessions with five different patients as well as her own work with her therapist, prompted by an unexpected crisis that upended her life. The result is a humane and empathetic exploration of six disparate characters struggling to take control of their lives as they journey back to happiness.

Alex Kotlowitz Author Photo

Alex Kotlowitz on Underestimating the Effects of Violence and the Stories that Knocked Him Off Balance

Alex Kotlowitz’s An American Summer focuses on the effects of gun violence on the lives of different Chicago residents in the summer of 2013. Kotlowitz spent four years following various inhabitants of the city’s South Side, using his prodigious research skills to examine the insidious and long-lasting reach that violence has on these people’s lives. The result is an unblinking look at the trauma enacted by gun violence, as well as a testament to the tenacity and courage of the Chicago’s most vulnerable citizens. An American Summer adds to Kotlowitz’s already impressive roster of works of journalism, including The Other Side of the River and There Are No Children Here, which was listed by The New York Public Library as one of the 150 most important books of the twentieth century. The New York Times Book Review called An American Summer “a powerful indictment of a city and a nation that have failed to protect their most vulnerable residents,” while NPR.org hailed it as “a painful chronicle about an extremely violent city based on the narratives of those who managed to survive its streets.”

Sofia Lundberg Author Photo

“My Imagination and I Have Been Through A Lot” – Sofia Lundberg on Her Heartwarming New Novel

Doris, the vibrant nonagenarian at the heart of Sofia Lundberg’s The Red Address Book, lives by herself in her Stockholm apartment, sustained by the weekly Skype sessions with her beloved grand-niece Jenny. Her thick address book stands as a testament to her rollercoaster life, which include stints as a housekeeper for a famous artist in Sweden and a fashion model in 1930’s Paris. Filled with the names of people long passed away, the address book soon becomes a vehicle for Doris to tell Jenny not only the stories of her daring past but also to fill in the gaps of their family’s painful history. What follows is a beautifully rendered love story between great aunt and grand-niece that stretches across continents. The Red Address Book was a hit in its native Sweden, and now readers in the States can fall in love with the book that The New York Times calls “the sort of easy-reading tale that will inspire readers to pull up a comfy chair to the fire, grab a mug of cocoa and a box of tissues and get hygge with it.”

Margaret Verble Author Photo

Margaret Verble on the Irresistible Main Character at the Heart of her New Novel

In Cherokee America, Margaret Verble crafts a thrilling saga of threatened familial bonds, all centered around an unforgettable character, Cherokee America Singer, also known as “Check.” Ten years after the Civil War has wrecked havoc on the Cherokee Nation West, Check struggles to care for a dying husband while running her family farm. Tensions in her community escalate when a fabled stash of gold goes missing, and Check soon finds herself forced to make nearly impossible decisions to keep her splintering family together. Margaret Verble’s first novel, Maud’s Line, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and Cherokee America seems poised to reap similar acclaim, with Publisher’s Weekly hailing it as a “rich, propulsive novel.”

Eugenia Kim Author Photo

Eugenia Kim on Capturing the Emotional Impact of Family Stories

Eugenia Kim’s The Kinship of Secrets chronicles the complex and moving story of the Chos, a South Korean family who emigrate to the United States in 1948. Deeming their infant daughter too young for journey, they leave her in the care of family members. Yet when the Korean War breaks out, what was supposed to be a temporary separation unexpectedly stretches into one of many years. Kim traces the journey of the two Cho sisters—Miran in the United States and Inja in South Korea—through the years, gracefully exploring the intricate ties of family and culture. The Kinship of Secrets has been widely praised by critics, with the The Washington Post hailing the book as one that “beautifully illuminate[s] Korea’s past in ways that inform our present.”

Elizabeth Emens Author Photo

Navigating the Struggles of Life Admin With Elizabeth Emens

Elizabeth Emens’ Life Admin exposes the hidden administrative tasks that consume our daily lives and offers strategies to complete them effectively. Emens interviewed hundreds of people and conducted strategy sessions to probe our relationship to these tasks: who does (or doesn’t) do them, why we rarely talk about them, and how they affect our lives. Her resulting book is a lively exploration on this often stressful topic, providing insight into how we handle these tasks and how best to implement them into our lives.

Sy Montgomery Author Photo

There’s Going to be Enough Splendor to Dazzle You: A Conversation with Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery’s books crack open the interior lives of animals and provoke readers to look at their world from a new perspective, whether it’s The Good, Good Pig, a loving tribute to her pet pig Christopher Harwood, or The Soul of an Octopus, where she immersed herself into the world of octopi to explore their emotional intelligence. With her latest book, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, she turns that remarkable focus onto herself. In wide-ranging essays marked by her matter-of-fact candor, she examines her relationship with thirteen very different animals and the myriad lessons they taught her. Publishers Weekly praised the book, stating, “Montgomery’s lyrical storytelling and resonant lessons on how animals can enhance our humanity result in a tender, intelligent literary memoir,” while Nick Jans raved that it “stands as a vivid reminder of the deep and necessary connection we share with all living things.”

Lynn Truss Author Photo

Lynne Truss on Not Giving Everything Away, Big Characters, and Being the Cleverest Person in the Room

Lynne Truss is perhaps best known in the U.S. for her lauded book on grammar, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, but with A Shot in the Dark she establishes herself as a gifted comic mystery writer, mixing equal parts Christie with Wodehouse. Based on characters Truss originally created for a series of successful radio dramas, A Shot in the Dark takes place in the seemingly idyllic resort town of Brighton. When a fatuous theater critic is murdered on opening night of a touring theatrical troupe’s play, the idealistic Constable Twitten finds himself embroiled in a crime that stretches back to an infamous bank robbery decades prior. Joined by his lovestruck colleague, Sergeant Brunswick, and the station’s sagacious charlady, Mrs. Groynes, Twitten uses his wits to solve not only the murder, but also ferret out a criminal mastermind who has been hiding in plain sight for years. A darkly comic romp, A Shot in the Dark has been widely met with praise. The Guardian raved, “with plenty of brightly coloured bucket-and-spadery, including ghost trains and Punch and Judy and variety acts, this clever, tongue-in-cheek escapade is a perfect summer read.”

Constructive Confrontation: Being Decisive Rather than Nice

After a training presentation on dealing with challenging patrons, a young woman who works in our youth services department asked me, “How should I respond when a man says to me, ‘I’m glad I brought my library card today because I’m checking you out?’” Interesting question: I suppose it depends on the context. If she didn’t mind the comment, then fine. If, however, she found the situation frightening or she felt offended, I suggested that she tell him how what he said made her feel. She needn’t smile or worry about hurting his feelings. Being nice about it will only get her more of the same sort of comments.

Ransomware at the Library: Time to Boost Your Cybersecurity

Your computer has been locked! Computer blocked! Your personal files are encrypted! Oops your personal files are encrypted! These are the nightmare ransomware messages libraries, hospitals, and communities are seeing across the country. Whole municipalities and major state departments are seeing attacks. Mecklenburg County in Charlotte (NC), the city of Atlanta, and the Colorado Department of Transportation are recent victims. Public libraries in Spartanburg County (SC), St. Louis (MO), and Brownsburg (IN) have also fallen prey.

Reaching for Memories: Expanding Services and Programming to Patrons Living with Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease has personally affected millions of Americans and their families. Someone you know has likely suffered from Alzheimer’s disease or will in the future. Whether having served as a caretaker, provided monetary support, or offered comfort and guidance to those in need, your life will be touched by Alzheimer’s. Libraries are uniquely able to provide essential support and services to patrons living with memory loss and their caretakers.

Journey to a Makerspace

When the primary focus of our school districts became reading and math scores, art and STEM classes were the first to get cut from the daily curriculum. My library saw this as an opportunity to provide supplemental programming to fill this gap. In fall 2016, the Zion-Benton (IL) Library District (ZBLD) opened the Sandbox makerspace for patrons of all ages to create masterpieces, explore new things, and do something amazing. ZBLD is comprised of three communities in the Northeast corner of Illinois. We serve a diverse working-class population. Our mission is simply to broaden horizons and expose patrons to the universe of knowledge and ideas for discovery, enrichment, and lifelong learning.

Successful Beginnings

When I was asked to stand for election as PLA president, I remarked that I had never served on the PLA board and maybe that would be a barrier to serving. The nominating committee representative reminded me that I had served on other boards and certainly knew what might be expected. Had I ever led a meeting? Well, yes, many. Then there will be no problem, was the answer. Having served on PLA committees, I understood the organization, which should be helpful. So I ran. I appreciate being elected—thank you all who voted for me. Little did I know that I would be joining a group of some of the finest library superheroes I have ever known and would be dedicating my time, this new start, to a wonderful team experience.

Many Hands Make for Better Work: Enhancing the Library with Entry-Level Workers

My first library job was working as a page in a mid-sized public library. At that time pages had three main duties- check books in, shelve them, and shelf-read the shelves. There were odd jobs we’d occasionally do, but by-and-large those three tasks comprised the job. Years later, now with a master’s degree and in my first professional librarian position, I found myself in an academic library with a similar structure. Now called student aides, this entry level position had a core set of duties though this time they also included staffing the circulation desk and performing other additional duties. However, over the past three years, the Fulton Library at Utah Valley University has expanded the way it uses student workers with great success. Originally working almost entirely in the Circulation department, the student aides’ jobs were expanded first to include Technical Services, and following that success, to other departments as well. Looking back to my time at a public library, I believe many public libraries could profit from a similar expansion. How this evolved at Fulton Library may help you to integrate entry-level positions to new locations in your own library.

Bullet Journaling: Putting Pen to Paper

To-do lists that don’t get done. Perfect planners that go untouched for days or months at a time. Important information jotted on scraps of paper and promptly misplaced. Notes-to-self that are incomprehensible. If that describes your current organization system, it might be time for you to try Bullet Journaling. This latest trend in organization and planning is an immersive experience that combines productivity and mindfulness to help you discover the optimum system that works best for you. The best thing about it? Anyone can pick up a pen and paper and get started right away.