This week I'm sharing how the utterly delightful Shanel developed such a passionate love for reading that lead her to a career at the library. Shanel (who's better known as @bookish_nel on the gram) is currently attaining her M.A. in Library & Information Science. She's been a part-time Library Teen Specialist at a public library for two years, and a Youth Services Assistant at another public library for a year. Before being in public library land, Shanel worked at a cultural museum for two years where she did everything from family programming to wedding planning to helping out in the archives! Coolest thing she's seen in the archives? One of the rarest editions of the Slovak translation of Dracula. [Side note: never read The Historian and work in an archive. Shanel was convinced a vampire was right around every shelf.] When she's not reading and being a library nerd, Shanel loves to tend to her veggie and herb garden, lift weights, visit museums, take road trips across Iowa, walk with her pup Mimi, volunteer with a local history group, and cook (she used to have a blog about cooking vintage recipes!).

I love following Shanel because not only does she gives great book recommendations, but her reading pictures are the coziest, most charming posts out there. Seriously. I want to dive into her feed and live there. I also appreciate Shanel's impeccable taste in Young Adult literature. While I want to stock my classroom library with the best new YA, I just don't read that much of it. Thankfully Shanel is around to point me in the right direction, and through her guidance I've discovered such great books as Opposite of Always and This Time Will Be Different. Even if you're not a teacher or big YA reader, you absolutely have to give Shanel a follow heading into the fall season. She is THE BEST seasonal reader and I love to pick up whatever she's reading to get me in the perfect fall mood.

Keep reading to learn all about Shanel's cozy reading life and her best-loved books from childhood.

Tell us about your current reading life. What types of books do you enjoy and where do you have conversations about books?

My reading life has finally struck a balance! I read about 100 books a year. That includes graphic novels, audiobooks, middle grade books I read for the Iowa Teen Award, required school reading, YA reading to help me perform readers' advisory, and pleasure reading. During the school year, I tend to gravitate toward witchy/paranormal books and romances. During breaks, I love to add classics, literary fiction, and chunkier books into the mix. During these breaks, I have more head space that I can dedicate to parsing through text and lengthier novels.

I love to discuss books with my in-person book club. We have a different prompt each month, and we meet at a local bar to give a short book talk on the titles we read. I also love discussing books on Instagram, with my coworkers, and friends.

As a teacher, I’m always curious about how people fell in love with reading. For you, was it in the classroom, or outside it?

Both! But mostly outside the classroom. My father is a huge reader. He would bring me to the public library as a kid, and he'd plop down in a chair while letting me explore for hours. No topic was off-limits. He didn't care if I read the same series over and over or if I brought back armloads of books on the occult. Both happened...frequently.

How did you figure out your personal taste in books? 

Throughout high school and undergrad, I thought I should only read the classics and literary fiction. While I found titles that I truly adored, it also could make reading feel like a bit of a chore or to-do list rather than a hobby. It wasn't until I started my career in public libraries that I discovered that I could unapologetically dive into books for the sake of pleasure and exploring new worlds. I didn't read YA or romance until entering my current role, and I feel like I have two decades to catch up on! I wish that I would have given myself permission to pleasure-read before now. Maybe my TBR wouldn't be so long now!

Did you do your required reading in high school? Did you read outside of your classwork? 

I did! I was meticulous about schoolwork and assignments, so the thought of skipping required reading would have made me apoplectic! I did read outside of classes, and it was mostly the "classics" with some exceptions. I went to a very small, rural Catholic school, and found most of my books in the public library. My form of rebellion was checking out and reading The Exorcist. I couldn't sleep for a week, and I was living in terror of being possessed.

Did you have a teacher in your life who helped you learn something new about yourself as a reader or appreciate books in a new way?

In high school, I had a social studies teacher who would bring me items from his own personal collection. My high school was 150 people, and the library was staffed part-time by the athletic director. The collection was sparse and out of date. Having a teacher care enough to bring me personalized recommendations was truly amazing and cemented my love of reading.

What is one book you LOVED reading in high school? 

It was the mid 2000s, and emo-angst reigned supreme. I was obsessed with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I couldn't get enough of the moody, gothic tales. No one understood me *flips thick angled bangs out of my eyes.*

What is one book you HATED reading in high school? 

Romeo & Juliet. I could appreciate its significance, but I hatedddd it. I couldn't stand either of them, and thought they were the most self-obsessed characters in all of English history.

What is one book you would love to see introduced in classrooms now?

The collection in my high school was about 95% written by old white men, and so was the curriculum. Own voices stories need to be added to classrooms or we are being complicit in upholding white supremacy and patriarchal structures. I have some favorites, but there are some stellar own voices recommendations from librarians, authors, and teachers out there! Listen to your teens, then you'll know the kind of stories they crave.

What is one additional piece of advice you would give teachers to help their students enjoy their reading more?

My advice goes more to parents! Let students read what they want to read. Nothing is more disappointing than hearing a parent or guardian telling their children they have to read certain titles, genres, or formats. That makes reading another area of life that teens don't have agency over.

What are you reading now?

I'm reading The Benefits of Being an Octopus, The Duke and I, and anxiously awaiting the publication of Winterwood.


Books mentioned in this post:


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*Starred books were graciously gifted to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.