Aurora Public Library Blog

Welcome to Aurora Public Library’s blog. A place where our library staff share their thoughts, insider knowledge and overall love of all things book and community.

Feel free to comment on posts, re-blog and enjoy. To ensure a civil and focused discussion, comments will be held for a brief period before being published.

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Brew Tour seal

Cold brews, great books – enjoy both with the Aurora Craft Brews Tour!

Back for its third year, the Aurora Craft Brews Tour gives participants a chance to explore the city’s great craft brews scene, support local businesses and earn prizes from the Aurora Public Library! 

To start your adventure, pick up a passport at any Aurora Public Library or participating business, or print it off from Take your passport to participating locations, make a purchase and receive a stamp. Collect four stamps to receive your first prize – a commemorative glass – and collect all eight stamps to receive your second prize – a growler! Prizes are available while supplies last at all Aurora Public Library locations through Wednesday, Nov. 7. 

Participating locations:

We’re making this year’s tour bigger and better than ever! In addition to the passport portion, Aurora Public Library is partnering with local breweries to host fun, free events at the breweries during the tour! Below are a list of Aurora Craft Brews Tour events. All events are free and for adults 21 and older. Please note registration via is required for some events.

  • Disney Trivia
    Wednesday, May 16, Launch Pad Brewery, 884 S. Buckley Road
  • Craft Night
    Monday, May 21, Peak to Peak Tap & Brew, 16701 E. Iliff Ave.
  • Book Scene Book Club* (Registration required)
    Sunday, June 10, Cheluna Brewing Co., 2501 Dallas St.
  • Adult Spelling Bee
    Tuesday, July 31, 6:30 p.m., Ursula Brewery, 2101 N. Ursula St. #10
  • Netflix Trivia
    Wednesday, Aug. 8, 7 p.m., Launch Pad Brewery, 884 S. Buckley Road
  • Beer & Cheese Pairing* (Registration required and space is limited)
    Monday, Sept. 24, 6:30 p.m., Two22 Brew, 4550 S. Reservoir Road
  • Books & Brews (Library Costume Party & Book Drive)
    Saturday, Oct. 20, Dry Dock Brewing Co.

Earn a bonus prize for attending any of the above programs! Also, visit the City of Aurora booth at local events and show us your passport to receive a bonus prize!

Show us your tour and share your Aurora pride by using the hashtags #AuroraCraftBrews and #ThisIsAurora on social media!
For more information about the Aurora Craft Brews Tour, visit


Posted by  On Jun 08, 2018 at 2:29 PM

June New Releases and Best Sellers
Post by Kristin S.

Books that recently premiered on the New York Times Bestseller List:

New Fiction


The Fallen by David Baldacci

Borrow: [Normal Print] [Large Print] [eBook] [eAudiobook]

Amos Decker, known as the Memory Man, puts his talents toward solving a string of murders in a Rust Belt town.


After Anna by Lisa Scottoline

Borrow: [Normal Print] [Large Print] [eBook] [eAudiobook]

A woman marries a widower and reunites with her teenage daughter who is murdered soon after, and the husband is put on trial for it.


Noir by Christopher Moore

Borrow: [Print] [eBook] [eAudiobook]

In the summer of 1947, a woman and an Air Force general attract the attention of a San Francisco bartender while a suspicious flying object is spotted near the coast.


Circe by Madeline Miller

Borrow: [Print] [eBook]

Zeus banishes Helios' daughter to an island, where she must choose between living with gods or mortals.


I've Got My Eyes on You by Mary Higgins Clark

Borrow: [Normal Print] [Large Print] [eBook] [eAudiobook]

A high school guidance counselor tries to uncover the identity of her sister’s murderer.


The Overstory by Richard Powers

Borrow: [Print] [eBook]

Nine people drawn to trees for different reasons fight for the last of the remaining acres of virgin forest.


The Thief by J. R. Ward

Borrow: [Print] [eAudiobook]

The 16th book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Sola Morte falls for a man who sells weapons to a group of vampire warriors.


Shoot First by Stuart Woods

Borrow: [Normal Print] [Large Print] [eBook]

Stone Barrington searches for the person who plotted to kill the woman behind a cutting-edge software startup.


Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Borrow: [Print] [eBook] [eAudiobook]

Ten years after her daughter disappears, a woman tries to get her life in order but remains haunted by unanswered questions.


The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Borrow: [Normal Print] [Large Print] [eBook] [eAudiobook]

The relationship between a college freshman and a famous feminist reveals the challenges of intergenerational feminism.


The Sixth Day by Catherine Coulter and J. T. Ellison

Borrow: [Normal Print] [Large Print] [eBook]

The fifth book in the A Brit in the F.B.I. series. After the German vice chancellor dies, special agents investigate one of Dracula’s descendants.


Red Alert by James Patterson and Marshall Karp

Borrow: [Normal Print] [Large Print] [eBook] [eAudiobook]

The fifth book in the NYPD Red series. Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald investigate the death of a documentary filmmaker and an explosion at a charity benefit.


The Disappeared by C. J. Box

Borrow: [Normal Print] [Large Print] [eBook]

A Wyoming game warden teams up with his daughter to find a missing British businesswoman.


Varina by Charles Frazier

Borrow: [Normal Print] [Large Print] [eBook] [eAudiobook]

As the Confederacy and her marriage to Jefferson Davis fall apart, a woman flees Richmond with her children.


Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

Borrow: [Normal Print] [Large Print] [eBook] [eAudiobook]

In this adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy, police in a 1970s industrial town take on a pair of drug lords.


Cave of Bones by Anne Hillerman

Borrow: [Print]

Tribal police officers search the Navajo Nation for a missing instructor and investigate a troubled girl’s story of finding human remains.


To Die but Once by Jacqueline Winspear

Borrow: [Print] [eAudiobook]

In 1940, months after Britain declared war on Germany, Maisie Dobbs investigates the disappearance of an apprentice working on a government contract.


The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver

Borrow: [Normal Print] [Large Print]

Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs track a killer who targets engaged couples.

New Nonfiction


A Higher Loyalty by James Comey

Borrow: [Print] [eBook] [eAudiobook]

The former F.B.I. director recounts cases and personal events that shaped his outlook on justice, and analyzes the leadership styles of three presidents.


Fascism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright

Borrow: [eAudiobook]

The former secretary of state examines the legacy of fascism in the 20th century and its potential revival.


Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Borrow: [Print] [eBook]

A look at our biases and the argument for why the world is in a better state than we might think.


Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich

Borrow: [Print] [eBook]  

A look at aging, the ways people try to control the inevitable and strategies for accepting mortality.


God Save Texas by Lawrence Wright

Borrow: [Print] [eBook]  

An exploration of the history, politics and economics of the Lone Star State.


This is Me by Chrissy Metz

Borrow: [Print] [eAudiobook]

A star of “This Is Us” describes her journey toward self- acceptance.


Dear Madam President by Jennifer Palmieri

Borrow: [Print] [eAudiobook]

The director of communications for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Obama White House prescribes a new model of leadership.


Make Trouble by Cecile Richards

Borrow: [Print]  [eBook] [eAudiobook]

A memoir by the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and former labor organizer.


Killing the Deep State by Jerome R. Corsi

Borrow: [Print]

The conservative commentator describes a secret conspiracy to undermine the Trump presidency. From the author of "The Obama Nation." 


Our 50-State Border Crisis by Howard Buffett

Borrow: [Print]

An Illinois sheriff describes the close connection he sees between national security and the opioid crisis.


Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian

Borrow: [Print] [eBook]

A deeper look at the personal and professional triumphs and disasters of the champion golfer.


Faith by Jimmy Carter

Borrow: [Print]  [eBook] [eAudiobook]

The former president discusses the broader meaning of faith and its effect on our lives, including its religious aspects.


Unified by Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy

Borrow: [Print]

Two Republican lawmakers from South Carolina use their relationship as a model for overcoming differences.


Pretty Mess by Erika Jayne

Borrow: [Print]

A memoir by a star of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."


 DVDs - New Arrivals:


The Greatest Showman

Borrow: [DVD]

Hugh Jackman stars in this bold and original musical - inspired by the ambition and imagination of P.T. Barnum - celebrating the birth of show business and dreams coming to life.


Sweet Virginia

Borrow: [DVD]

The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal stars in this neo-noir crime thriller where hitman and troubled small-town motel owner collide in an unsettling tale of sex and violence.


All the Money in the World

Borrow: [DVD]

After the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, in a race against time, his mother works to convince his wealthy grandfather to pay the ransom. Inspired by historical events. Certain scenes, characters and dialogue have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.


Father Figures

Borrow: [DVD]

Upon learning that their mother has been lying to them for years about their allegedly deceased father, two fraternal twin brothers hit the road in order to find him.


Beast of Burden

Borrow: [DVD]

Pilot Sean Haggerty (Daniel Radcliffe) must deliver cocaine across the US-Mexico border for his final run as a smuggler to save his wife


Molly's Game

Borrow: [DVD]

The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.


The Phantom Thread

Borrow: [DVD]

Set in 1950s London, a renowned designer and dressmaker finds his fastidiously planned life disrupted by the love of a young, strong-willed woman.

DVDs - Coming Soon:


Black Panther

Borrow: [DVD]*

When young King T'Challa is drawn into conflict with an old foe that puts his homeland Wakanda and the entire world at risk, he must release Black Panther's full power to save them.


The Last Movie Star

Borrow: [DVD]*

Burt Reynolds stars as an aging screen icon who gets lured into accepting an award at a rinky-dink film festival in Nashville, launching him on both a hilarious fish-out-of-water adventure and an unexpectedly poignant journey into his past.


The Strange Ones

Borrow: [DVD]*

Mysterious events surround two travelers as they make their way across a remote American landscape. On the surface all seems normal, but what appears to be a simple vacation soon gives way to a dark and complex web of secrets.



Borrow: [DVD]*

Two upper-class teenage girls rekindle their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. They hatch a plan to solve both of their problems -- no matter what the cost.


The Little Hours

Borrow: [DVD]*

Italy, 1347: Bored, volatile nuns Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginevra (Kate Micucci) live in a monastery under the watchful eye of Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly). The arrival of a handsome new groundskeeper (Dave Franco) - introduced to the sisters as a deaf mute to discourage temptation - soon leads to a frenzy of hormones, substance abuse, and wicked revelry.


I Kill Giants

Borrow: [DVD]*

Barbara is the only thing that stands between terrible giants and the destruction of her small town. But as she boldly confronts her fears in increasingly dangerous ways, she begins to question everything shes always believed to be true.


Mary and the Witch's Flower

Borrow: [DVD]*

From the director of When Marnie Was There, comes a dazzling new adventure about a young girl who discovers a flower that grants her magical powers - but only for one night.


Peter Rabbit

Borrow: [DVD]*

Peter Rabbit and family wreak havoc in hopes to win back the Manor House of Old McGregor and the affections of their neighbor, Bea.


Please Stand By

Borrow: [DVD]*

Wendy is an independent and brilliant young woman with autism. To submit her script on-time for a Star Trek screenplay competition she sneaks out of her group home and travels hundreds of miles not letting anything stop her from achieving her goals.


Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

Borrow: [DVD]*

Based on Peter Turner's memoir, tells the story of the actor's passionate relationship with aging Gloria Grahame, who finds support in her younger lover when she is diagnosed with breast cancer.


In the Fade

Borrow: [DVD]*

Golden Globe® Winner for best foreign language film. Katja's family is killed in a terrorist attack and her life falls apart. The killers are set free and Katja can do nothing else but seek justice.


The Insult

Borrow: [DVD]*

In today's Beirut, an insult blown out of proportion finds Toni, a Lebanese Christian, and Yasser, a Palestinian refugee, in court.


Red Sparrow

Borrow: [DVD]*

Jennifer Lawrence is Dominika, a former ballerina forced to join Sparrow School, a secret government program that transforms her into an agent who can manipulate, seduce and kill.



Borrow: [DVD]*

Jason Momoa stars in this intense action-thriller about a logger fighting for survival against drug traffickers who have stashed heroin in his hunting cabin.


Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds

Borrow: [DVD]*

In the wake of his heroic death, a firefighter experiences the afterlife with the help of three guides.


7 Guardians of the Tomb

Borrow: [DVD]*

7 Guardians of the Tomb follows a team of scientists in search of a colleague that disappeared in an ancient cave. To save him, the group must battle a swarm of deadly man-eating spiders and discover the elixir - before it's too late.


Fifty Shades Freed

Borrow: [DVD]*

Newlyweds Christian and Ana embrace an inextricable connection and shared life of luxury. However, new threats could jeopardize their happy ending before it even begins.



Borrow: [DVD]*

Believing her house is haunted, firearms heiress Sarah Winchester decides to keep building onto her home in order to appease the spirits of people killed by the Winchester rifle.


The Post

Borrow: [DVD]*

Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep team for the first time in this exhilarating true story about how the Washington Post exposed a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades.


Paddington 2

Borrow: [DVD]*

Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt's 100th birthday. Hilarity ensues when the gift is stolen.


12 Strong

Borrow: [DVD]*

Weeks after 9/11, U.S. Special Forces go to Afghanistan ordered to take the city of Mazar Sharif. To survive, the U.S. must adopt the rudimentary tactics of the Afghan horse soldiers



Borrow: [DVD]*

In 1892, a legendary Army captain reluctantly agrees to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family through dangerous territory.


Forever My Girl

Borrow: [DVD]*

A country music super-star returns to his hometown after leaving his love behind 8 years ago.


The Commuter

Borrow: [DVD]*

Liam Neeson stars as a man who gets caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home and works against the clock to stop a deadly attack to save the lives of his fellow train passengers.


Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Borrow: [DVD]*

In the epic Maze Runner conclusion, Thomas leads the Gladers on their final mission - they must break into the legendary Last City, which turns out to be the deadliest maze of all!


Proud Mary

Borrow: [DVD]*

Mary is a hit woman working for an organized crime family, whose life is turned around when she meets a boy during a professional hit.


Den of Thieves

Borrow: [DVD]*

A gritty Los Angeles crime saga which follows the intersecting and often personally connected lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff's Dept. and the state's most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank of downtown Los Angeles.

 *Caution: Once DVDs are released, the links above may stop working.

Sources: The New York Times, Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon, Goodreads, EarlyWord, Novelist, DVDs Release Date

Posted by  On Jun 04, 2018 at 3:47 PM

Animal Books

Post by Justine C

When you think of great animal literature, you probably think of Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows. It’s very likely you’ve also heard of Marley & Me and A Dog’s Purpose, but there are so many more stories featuring animals (fiction and non) that you may not have had the pleasure of reading yet.

It’s not just a dog’s world anymore as Americans are turning to a larger variety of animals for companionship, from tropical fish to owls! 

I’ve devised a list of a few lesser known titles featuring animals that might pique your interest. I’m hoping that you’ll be so eager to check them out, you’ll run straight to your closest branch of the Aurora Public Library!

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl
by Stacey O’Brien

Wesley the Owl

It was the title of this book that caught my eye, as the only book I’ve ever read featuring an owl was Hoot back in the fifth grade. Owls are beautiful and mysterious creatures that we rarely interact with due to their nocturnal nature and tendency not to live in areas highly populated by people. It’s even rarer to encounter a book like this about them, especially as pets or companion animals. Biologist Stacey O’Brien recounts in this semi-autobiographical tale her two-decade adventure with a barn owl named Wesley, whom she rescued when he was a newborn injured owlet. While I don’t recommend you go out and try to adopt an owl (as I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to own owls in Aurora!), you can have the next best thing by reading this touching story of an owl and his human. 

Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of AnimalIntelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process
by Irene Pepperberg
Alex and Me

Another book featuring a beloved bird, Alex & Me tells the story of an African Gray parrot and the special bond he shares with psychologist Irene Pepperberg. If you’ve heard of the famous African Gray parrot Einstein, you know how intelligent and fun this particular breed of bird can be and will love reading about Alex and Irene’s shenanigans as they proved that some animals have the ability to communicate and understand complex ideas. 

A Street Cat Named Bob
by James Bowen

Cat Bob

Cats are one of the most popular pets in the United States. Due to their small stature and independent nature, cat owners tend to own multiple cats in the household which is why statistically they are more popular than dogs, with 88.3 million cats as pets versus 74.8 million dogs. Whether you’re a dog lover or a cat lover, it goes without saying that there aren’t enough books out there featuring felines, which is why the next title on our list is A Street Cat Named Bob​. London-based author James Bowen writes about his special bond with a stray cat he saves off the street--and how Bob in turn saved him. In the UK alone this book has sold over 1 million copies and has even been turned into a feature-length film, which we also have for you to check out here at the library! And wouldn’t you like to know the real Bob played himself in the movie?Talk about a smart cat! 

If you have a child or young adult in your life who would love to read about Bob but without the more graphic backstory involving the author’s difficult life, you can check out My Name is Bob, which tells the story from Bob’s perspective in this beautifully illustrated book for children! 

Maxi’s Secrets (Or What You Can Learn from a Dog)
by Lynn Plourde


Yes, this one is about a dog. But I would be remiss to exclude all literature featuring pooches. They’re popular and beloved for a reason, and it can be even harder to find books about them when you’re trying to find something new to read because of how many classics are out there. This 2016 book, unlike the others on our list, is suitable for younger ages, isn’t based on a true story, and features a female companion animal for a change. It isn’t your typical “a dog and his boy” tale either, although it is about a dog and her boy. The catch is, Maxi is deaf. Timminy is determined to help his special needs dog, but as dogs often do, Maxi ends up helping him navigate the difficulties of fifth grade and learn that life isn’t all that bad. 

Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom
by Jennifer S. Holland


Unlikely Friendships is a bit different from the others on our list as it doesn’t feature just one animal and its bond with a human, but rather several animals and their bonds with other species. This in-depth look into interspecies animal friendship is sure to tug at the heartstrings and features beautiful full color candid photographs of the odd pairs. From cats and dogs to calves and leopards, all the notable odd couples of the animal kingdom are explored expertly by National Geographic writer Jennifer S. Holland. 
Posted by  On May 18, 2018 at 11:19 AM


Post by Chris G. 

The history of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction is fairly interesting. The award itself is named after the international association of writers, PEN (which is an acronym for "Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Editors, and Novelists), and the prolific American author William Faulkner.
Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 "for his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel." In 1960, he used his prize money to establish the William Faulkner Foundation, a charitable organization intended to support young writers. Among other things, the Faulkner Foundation gave out an annual literary prize called the William Faulkner Foundation Award, the winners of which include names like John Knowles, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, and Robert Coover. After 10 years, the Faulkner Foundation was dissolved in 1970. The PEN/Faulkner Award was named to honor Faulkner's philanthropy, as well as to continue in the Faulkner Foundation Award's tradition of recognizing works of literary excellence.
The PEN/Faulkner Award was founded in 1980 by Mary Lee Settle, who herself had won the National Book Award in 1978 for her novel "Blood Tie". This resulted from some controversy surrounding the 1979 National Book Award winner, "Going After Cacciato" by Tim O'Brien. Many in the publishing industry believed that year's award should have gone to John Irving for "The World According to Garp", which led to a rift among the panel of judges and ultimately changes to the rules of how the National Book Awards were judged. In protest of these rule changes, PEN voted to boycott the awards, citing them as "too commercial." The following year, the PEN/Faulkner Award was established. Settle's vision was that the "awards would be judged by writers, not by industry insiders, and no favoritism would be granted to bestselling authors."
Now in its 38th year, the PEN/Faulkner Award is among the most prestigious literary honors an author can receive, and continues to fulfill Settle's mission "to create a community of writers, honor excellence in American fiction, and encourage a love of reading."
The 2018 PEN/Faulkner Award winner was announced on Saturday, May 5th. All of this year's nominees, the winner as well as many winners of years past are available to be borrowed from the Aurora Public Library. You can find those titles and the formats in which they are available below.  

  This Year's Nominees

 "In the Distance" by Hernan Diaz

 "The Dark Dark" by Samantha Hunt Also available as an eBook.

 "The Tower of the Antilles" by Achy Obejas

 "Improvement" by Joan Silber

 "Sing, Unburied, Sing" by Jesmyn Ward Also available as an audiobook, eBook, and eAudiobook.

Past Winners


 "Behold the Dreamers" by Imbolo Mbue Also available as an eBook.

 "Delicious Foods" by James Hannaham

 "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" by Karen Joy Fowler

 "The Buddha in the Attic" by Julie Otsuka

 "War Dances" by Sherman Alexie Available as an eAudiobook through RBDigital. 

 "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill Also available in Large Print and as an audiobook.

  "Everyman" by Philip Roth Also available as an audiobook and eAudiobook.

  "The March" by E.L. Doctorow

 "War Trash" by Ha Jin

 "The Early Stories, 1953-1975" by John Updike

 "Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett Also available as an eBook.

  "The Human Stain" by Philip Roth Also available in Large Print.

  "Waiting" by Ha Jin Also available in Large Print and as an eBook.

 "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham

  "Women in their Beds" by Gina Berriault

 "Independence Day" by Richard Ford Available as an eAudiobook through RBDigital.

 "Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson Available as an audiobook, eBook, and eAudiobook.

 "Postcards" by E. Annie Proulx

And the 2018 winner is...

 "Improvement" by Joan Silber 


Sources: The Nobel Prize in Literature 1949 Notes on People; New York Writer Getting PEN/Faulkner Award Novelist Mary Lee Settle; Founded PEN/Faulkner Award PEN/Faulkner PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction PEN International William Faulkner Foundation
Posted by  On May 17, 2018 at 2:10 PM

Blog pic

Post by Steven K 

If you’re intrigued by anything you read below, join us at APL Central on Saturday, May 26th at 3:00pm for a journey into the world of Arrakis, the setting of Frank Herbert’s award-winning science fiction novel, Dune.

2018 has been an interesting year for me. So far, I’ve witnessed a half-orphaned teenager dismantle a planetary trade empire and start a holy war. I helped another teenager free the solar system from a brutal socially-stratified imperial regime. When I finished that, I traversed a glacier on an icy alien planet with an exiled politician who could change his (her? their?) biological sex. And when I got bored, I watched in awe as two star-crossed lovers stole a magic gem from an evil god. Oh, and I’ve spent 20 hours a week working at Aurora Public Library, which is often just as exciting.

I’ve obviously only done one of those things since the start of the year. (Mars is beautiful in February, by the way.)  Still, I have experienced all of those adventures secondhand from the comfort of my own couch. Truly, books are gateways to other worlds. If Worldbuildersyou read, you can live thousands of different lives in a single lifetime. You can live vicariously through other characters’ lives—you know, get a feel for what it’s like to rule a fledgling empire or brush shoulders with your fellow wizards at a school of magic. You can travel on the cheap to exotic locales, to the past and the future, to universes with different natural laws and wildly different living things. Reading grants you all these freedoms and more, all for the cost of a few hours (or days) of your time and a few bucks (or for free, if you use the library!).  

Yes, books are marvelous gateways, but even novice readers will tell you that some of these gateways are better than others.


Say what you want about genre, or historicity, or style or form—I won’t argue with you there. Personally, I prefer science fiction and fantasy, but wonders can be found throughout the literary landscape. Regardless of category, the best books are those that feel real and ring true. There are many ways to accomplish these goals, but I’m particularly fond of one strategy: worldbuilding.

All writers worldbuild, whether they’re writing something realistic or fantastic, modern or historical, mysterious or romantic. Simply put, worldbuilding is what writers do to give their settings depth, richness, and complexity. The goal: to make you, the reader, feelWOrldbuilders like you could climb inside those worlds and really live there, instead of feeling like they’re cheap amusement park rides or half-hearted high school productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s an exercise in immersion, an effort to make you momentarily forget about the real world and transport your mind elsewhere.


So, how exactly does a writer achieve this effect? I would argue that effective worldbuilding happens on two distinct levels: the small-scale and the large-scale. On the small-scale, worlds are built from careful, detailed descriptions of places, people, things, and actions. Cumulatively, all of these descriptions conjure up images in our mind’s eye, essentially transmuting black and white pages into rich canvases full of light and color and texture. It’s as close to magic as mere mortals can get. Take, for example, the opening passage to the final book of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy:

In a valley shaded with rhododendrons, close to the snow line, where a stream milky with meltwater splashed and where doves and linnets flew among the immense pines, lay a cave, half-hidden by the crag above and the stiff heavy leaves that clustered below.

WorldbuildersThe woods were full of sound: the stream between the rocks, the wind among the needles of the pine branches, the chitter of insects and the cries of small arboreal mammals, as well as the birdsong; and from time to time a stronger gust of wind would make one of the branches of a cedar or a fir move against another and groan like a cello.

It was a place of brilliant sunlight, never undappled. Shafts of lemon-gold brilliance lanced down to the forest floor between bars and pools of brown-green shade; and the light was never still, never constant, because drifting mist would often float among the treetops, filtering all the sunlight to a pearly sheen and brushing every pine cone with moisture that glistened when the mist lifted. Sometimes the wetness in the clouds condensed into tiny drops half mist and half rain, which floated downward rather than fell, making a soft rustling patter among the millions of needles. (The Amber Spyglass, 2000, p. 1)

The passage continues for several more pages, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. What I do want is to draw attention to its vivid imagery, both visual and aural. It’s absolutely arresting. Every time I read it I feel like I’m in that forested valley, a valley that’s alive and breathing, and it almost aches when I’m snapped back into the reality of the concrete jungle, which somehow seems dead in comparison despite its endless racket. Pullman is a gifted small-scale worldbuilder; you’ll find passages like this throughout his work.

Large-scale worldbuilding is harder to define—so I’ll let another master of the craft explain it for me. In his landmark essay “On Fairy-Stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien—creator of our beloved Middle-earth—puts it like this:

What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful “sub-creator.” He makes a Secondary World which your mind 

Worldbuilderscan enter. Inside it, what he relates is “true”: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. (p. 351)

For Tolkien, large-scale worldbuilding is an act of “sub-creation.” Though he’d never have put it this way (on account of his staunch Roman Catholic beliefs), it’s as if the “story-maker” is the god of its own little universe—and as such, it must ensure that universe is whole and balanced, that everything in it “accords with the laws of that world.” In this regard, writers working with realistic fiction have a pretty good template to work with, so long as they’re keen observers of society and the natural world. But for writers of speculative fiction—especially science fiction and fantasy—this is where the fun begins.

Imagine that you are the sub-creator god of your own secondary world. Think of the power and freedom! You’re not bound by the limitations of our universe, though your world still needs that Tolkienian “inner consistency of reality.” What would you create? What novelties or magics or technologies would you introduce into your world? What environments would you construct, what beings would you populate them with, and by what processes would you have them interact? What do your world’s inhabitants eat, Worldbuilderswhere do they live, what do they value, what do they fear? Where have they been, historically, and what’s just over the horizon? In the end, the accomplished worldbuilder needs to be part scientist, part historian, part engineer, and part anthropologist, just to name a few other roles aside from “writer.” I know it’s a lot—but it’s not easy playing god.

Maybe you’d worldbuild like Tolkien: set your story in an environment similar to continental Europe, with a few notable exceptions (*cough* Mordor); design separate species/races of sentient life with different lifestyles and mortalities—elves, dwarves, humans, hobbits, ents, orcs, etc.; incorporate a mysterious “soft” system of magic available only to certain powerful beings; make the primary source of conflict a perpetual struggle between the forces of good and evil, where the good seeks harmony, freedom, and beauty and the evil seeks control, domination, and destruction; and so on.

Or maybe that’s too old school for your taste and you want to go the way of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising saga: set your world in a future version of our very own solar system, in which humans have colonized the planets and their moons with advanced technology; make your society rigidly hierarchical—where some people are born to rule, some to pilot starships, some to entertain,WB and others to toil endlessly to support everyone else—and reinforce that hierarchy with genetic engineering; sow the seeds of rebellion and interplanetary war by having your ruling class brutally enforce their Romanesque social order, whether by ordering executions for petty offenses or reducing entire moons to ash for perceived acts of treason.

Maybe you just want to make some maps or draw landscapes from a world that’s been plaguing your dreams.


Whatever it may be, if anything about worldbuilding interests you, join us for Worldbuilders! Our next meeting will be on Saturday, May 26th at 3:00pm in the small community room at APL Central. You can register hereto guarantee a spot. We’ll be talking about Frank Herbert’s legendary science fiction novel, Dune, but feel free to bring some of your original work to share, too.

I hope to see you there!


Pullman, Philip. The Amber Spyglass. New York: Yearling, 2000.

Tolkien, J. R. R. “On Fairy-Stories.” Tales from the Perilous Realm. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008. 315-400.

Posted by  On May 17, 2018 at 12:44 PM
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