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Arts & Culture

Are you an ‘ultimate book nerd?’ Boise librarians say there’s only way to know for sure.

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Boise Public Library
Eliza Ruby and Maggie Dumont work in the Boise Public Library system.

One slight but rather shiny silver lining to the pandemic is that more people are reading more books. Indeed, more of us turned to books for comfort, distraction, escape, education … you name it. The result? The New York Times says print book sales have seen a significant jump.

Nearly as popular is the emergence of virtual book clubs. While safety protocols have dismantled most in-person book clubs, more people are turning to virtual book clubs.

One of the more unique is the Ultimate Book Nerd book club, facilitated by the Boise library system. In fact, a unique challenge is at the centerpiece of the book club — ambitious readers compete for the unique honor of being an ultimate book nerd (yes, there are T-shirts and badges).

Librarians Maggie Dumont and Eliza Ruby visit with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the competition, and to share some of their own personal favorite recommendations.

“I really enjoy being able to bring people out of their comfort zones … to see new genres and new authors, and maybe inspire a love of something new for them."

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News.  Good morning. I'm George Prentice.  During the pandemic… well, some things have endured. Some things haven't. Some things have been reinvented. But book clubs… book clubs are flourishing. Some through virtual sessions. Some engage socially distanced, many through social media. There is certainly the value of reading. But then there's the importance of connection and discovery. Maggie Dumont and Eliza Ruby both work in the Boise library system, and they're here this morning. For our purposes, they oversee something called the Ultimate Book Nerd, book club and Facebook page. Good morning to you both.

MAGGIE DUMONT: Hi.

ELIZA RUBY: Hi

PRENTICE: Ok, so who wants to tell me about the ultimate book nerd effort and the genesis of this? And where did it come from?

RUBY: So this is a year-long challenge, where people get to read 50 books in a year. One for each challenge category that we assigned. It runs January through December, and if you complete the challenge, you get to earn a little bit of swag. It's really exciting.

PRENTICE: So how many categories are there?

RUBY: There are 50 categories, so they have to read 50 books in the year,

PRENTICE: And I need to choose a book from each category to be the ultimate book nerd?

RUBY: Exactly. So, anyone, can participate in this challenge, but you do have to have an active Boise Public Library card in order to earn the swag. But you can always do this no matter where you're from… just for the bragging rights of being an Ultimate Book Nerd.

PRENTICE: Maggie, what works? My guess is social media works right?

DUMONT: Yes, we have multiple things that you can take a look at. We have a newsletter that you can sign up for just the Ultimate Book Nerd. We have a Facebook group that we update three times a week. We have YouTube playlists and also personalized book recommendations with our personalized pick service. We also have an online resource called Novelist, and you can also just ask any of our staff members.

PRENTICE: Can I just guess then, that the sense here is you want us to broaden our tastes?

RUBY: Exactly. Yeah, we really want to push people. So, we made some pretty hard challenge categories in there. We put some easy ones, like Your Childhood Favorite, just to give you a little nostalgic kick. But then, yeah, definitely added some challenges in there.

PRENTICE: I've got to hear some of the challenging ones.

RUBY: Micro History has been a challenging one for a lot of people, so finding a book that focuses on just one piece of history. So “Salt” is a really good example of that, where it is just the history of salt.

PRENTICE: What’s another one.

RUBY: I would say people have found that a Book Over 500 Pages to be challenging, just because to be engaged with a book for that long, especially if it's something out of your comfort zone. People have pushed through with that one as well.

PRENTICE: So, do you leave it to us to find a book in those categories and then we turn to you if we need some choices?

RUBY: Yep.  So, you get to choose; you get to plan ahead, make lists of all the books in those categories that you're interested in reading. And if you come across a challenge that you just can't find anything, you can ask people in the Facebook group, they've been really helpful in there. There are a lot of really engaged people chatting in there. You can do personalized picks like Maggie mentioned, so you can fill out a little form. Let us know what you're looking for and we'll send you back some recommendations or even just email or call us, and we're always happy to talk through it. Absolutely.

PRENTICE: This sounds fun, but the best part of this is I've asked for you to bring some recommendations. So, we'll just do one at a time. Maggie, give me your first recommendation.

DUMONT: So a book that I really enjoyed this year is called “Kill The Farm Boy” by Delilah Dawson. It's a very whimsical, satirical fantasy. It's kind of making fun of all of the fantasy tropes. And it was so much fun to read, and there are a lot of references for a lot of pop culture stuff, so you can see if you can recognize them all. It is a First Book in a Series. It does have Fairy Tales in it, and it is Recommended by Library Staff. So those are the categories of our ultimate book nerd challenge that it fits into.

PRENTICE: So Recommendation… Fairy Tale… and what other category might that fit into?

DUMONT: Library Staff Recommended.

PRENTICE: Got it! Ok. Eliza, you give me a recommendation.

RUBY: So right now, I'm listening to “Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir, who is best known for his book The Martian that came out a few years ago. Sure. So far, it has been a fantastic Audiobook to listen to, which is a challenge category. It is Science Fiction. It was Published in 2021 and it is Staff Recommended, and this book is all about a man who wakes up on a spaceship with amnesia. And as the book progresses, he's remembering that the Sun is dying, and he has been sent out into space to try and find out why.

PRENTICE: Oh, I'm so glad you mentioned that this is an audio book, because that's what I lean to. Ok, Maggie, give me another one.

DUMONT: Ok, my second one is “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry” by Fredrik Backman. He's very well known for the book “A Man called Ove.” This book is about a little girl whose grandmother passes away, and she's sent on kind of a journey by her grandmother to visit all of the people in their apartment complex and how they have related to the stories her grandmother told her growing up. It's Based in a Country You Might Have Never Been To, which is Sweden, and it is also Recommended by Library Staff.

PRENTICE: Great. Ok, Eliza, what's your second one?

RUBY: My next one is “Stepping Stones” by Lucy Knisley. It is a wonderful children's graphic novel by the artist Lucy Knisley. It is loosely based on her childhood, but it is about a young girl who grew up in the city and her mom moves her out to a farm and has to learn how to how to live on a farm, take care of chickens. So it's very cute, very heartwarming, and does go through a few of the challenges of pre-teens. I think she's a pre-teen trying to grow up. This book is in four challenge categories. It is a Book with Fruit on the Cover. It is a Graphic Novel and Staff Recommended.

PRENTICE: I'm sorry. One of the categories is a Book with Fruit on the Cover.

RUBY: Yes.

PRENTICE: Oh my gosh. What are some other examples of books with fruit on the cover?

RUBY: “Twilight” comes to mind, actually. Oh, let's see. We have a whole list. Let's pull it up for you so we can tell you some more

DUMONT: Vampire… another vampire book with peach on the cover. That's like a mystery series.

RUBY: Let's see “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” by Jeanette Winterson. Ok, let's see. “The Teahouse on Mulberry Street” by Sharon Owens is another one

PRENTICE: That is such an obscure category.

RUBY: We like to make things challenging. Yes.

PRENTICE: How are folks doing?

RUBY: They're doing amazing. We've had a lot of people already reach out to us to let us know that they finished the challenge, which we are so impressed with. I think our first one came in like June or something and before the halfway point in the year.

PRENTICE: And again, we can access these books on our own too, right? I mean, we could borrow these books. Maybe we have these books and just haven't started one of them yet.

RUBY: We even have a couple of categories in there to help you with your to be read pile like Books That You're Embarrassed You Haven't Read yet. Yes.

PRENTICE: Is there a book you're embarrassed you haven't read yet?

DUMONT: Maybe some of the classics like “Wuthering Heights” might be on that list for people.

RUBY: Yeah, for Books You're Embarrassed to Admit That You've Read. I think that's another one we have.

PRENTICE: Ok, give me some examples of those.

RUBY: Oh, like all those romance books, I think those are a big

PRENTICE: Like Harlequin romances?

DUMONT: Yeah. Yeah, those ones you want to read on your Kindle so that people can't see the cover.

PRENTICE: Can you talk a little bit about why you do what you do? Because my guess is it's got to be a passion.

DUMONT: Yes, it is. I want to bring the joy of reading new stories to people because I really enjoy stories and to be able to bring people out of their comfort zones to see new genres and new authors and maybe inspire a love of something new for them is really important to me.

RUBY: And I think reading is just such a safe way to learn about topics that you don't know about and you're not sure how to learn about. And there are so many social issues happening in the world right now that we do need to learn more about as individuals. And I think that reading is probably one of the safest ways to start that journey.

PRENTICE: Can I assume that if it's not the first question, it's among the first two or three that friends and family ask you all the time: What are you reading?

DUMONT: Yes.

RUBY: Yeah.

PRENTICE: Eliza, is it mostly audio books for you?

RUBY: Yeah, it's a healthy mix, but mostly audio books. I have a young kid at home, so I don't have much time to read my own books right now, so it's usually audio books in the car on the way to work and back.

PRENTICE: Maggie, what do you like? Because I know so many people have to have a book in their hands. For some people it's got to be a tablet. How about you?

DUMONT: I prefer the actual book, but I have just started audiobooks and it is very easy to be able to do something else while you're listening, which I really appreciate. And I don't mind a tablet every now and then, but I do prefer the actual physical book.

PRENTICE: She is Maggie Dumont and she is Eliza Ruby. And indeed, there is nothing cooler than a nerd when the nerd is one of these two women? This is a great idea. Congratulations on it. Number one. It grabbed my attention. And I'm not a social media nut, but goodness knows I'm a nerd, so I'm extremely grateful for you to give us some time this morning.

DUMONT: Thank you so much for having us.

RUBY: And if if it's too late this year for someone to get started, but they're interested in it, we are planning on making this a reoccurring series so they can always get started next year for it with us.

PRENTICE: And do you think you might mix up some of the categories?

PRENTICE: New categories coming next year…yeah.

PRENTICE: Have a great morning.

DUMONT: Thank you so much.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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