Thursday, June 5, 2008

MLA Conference Report ~ Nancy Pearl

Massachusetts Library Association Annual Conference 2008 Report

Two reports on Nancy Pearl's MLA programs.

Opening Books, Opening Doors: Providing Effective Readers’ Advisory Service

What an exciting program I attended at MLA! Nancy Pearl talking about Readers’ Advisory services. I felt like I was listening to the queen of Readers’ Advisors. I mean, who could know more about this service than Nancy Pearl? Nancy brought up the question that all librarians everywhere fear the most: Can you help me find a good book? Desk paralysis sets in, the mind goes blank and the stomach knots. No matter how many great books you may have read in the last month you can’t remember a single one of them. And I thought that was just me!

Nancy has 2 rules for a good Readers’ Advisor:

1. It’s not about you (your likes or dislikes when it comes to reading)

2. You need to read widely (outside your comfort zone) and ask yourself what it is in this book that someone else might enjoy?

Nancy started out talking about using the whole library when providing readers’ advisory services to your patrons. Thinking more broadly about the kinds of books your readers are asking for, and making the connections to the non fiction section of the library makes so much sense, and provided that “aha!” moment for me for that patron who can’t get enough of her favorite mystery writers – how about true crime and the paranormal for starters? I have to admit I hadn’t thought along those lines before. The first patron I steered in that direction was completely overjoyed to find this “new” area of our library! Nancy calls this doing “holistic RA”.

Finding that perfect book for your patron is about finding an experience that that patron can relate to, enjoy, and wants to replicate. Basically, everyone relates to books through at least one of four “doorways”.

The “doorways” to enjoyment that readers everywhere experience when they read the books they love vary from reader to reader and from book to book. First, there are books that use story as the doorway: you know a person enjoys books with a story doorway when you hear them say something like this about a book they loved: “I couldn’t put it down, I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. I couldn’t wait to see what happened next!” Examples of books that have story as the doorway are: Michael Crichton’s Prey, Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code, and books by authors such as John Grisham, James Patterson, and Robert Parker. Non fiction connections for people who enjoy story as the main doorway to a book could include True Crime or Adventure such as The Perfect Storm.

Second, there are books with Character as the doorway. People may say “I loved the people in this book, I missed the characters when I finished that book, I felt like I knew them!” Books with Character as the doorway usually have a character’s name in part of the title such as John Irving’s Prayer for Owen Meany or James Joyce’s The Dubliners or Finnegans Wake. Non fiction connections for people who enjoy character as the main doorway to a book would include memoirs and biographies.

Third, some books use Setting or Place as the largest doorway. Lovers of these books claim that the time and place are so well evoked that you know it as well as you know your own house, town or country. Examples of books with this type of doorway include Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Arch Bishop, or A Thousand Splendid Suns by Hosseini. Science Fiction or Fantasy books use Setting as the largest doorway.

Finally, there are books with Language as the largest doorway. People who appreciate these books mention that the book was really well-written, or that they loved the writing. These books are the book award winners. They tend to be the slowest moving books, and what happens next is not that important. Books like The amazing Adventures of Harry and Clay, The Book Thief, and books by Ian McKeun, Rumor Godden, Alice Hoffman and John Updike would all be examples of books with Language as the largest doorway.

All books include the four doorways mentioned above, but one of the doorways is largest and it is this distinction that draws a certain type of reader to the book.

“A good book is any book that you liked” – Nancy Pearl

~ Karen Kappenman, Director, Edwards Public Library, Southampton

Book Buzz 2008

I am sorry to say I thought the session was over when everyone in the room rushed up to grab their free copies of novels by panelists Katherine Hall Page, Linda Barnes, and Mameve Medwed. While I missed the reviews for new titles coming out I thoroughly enjoyed the author panel moderated by Nancy Pearl.

It is usually interesting to get insight into the author behind the book and this case was no exception. Mameve Medwed, author of How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life, admitted she is never able to read her own books. When she is done they are dead and gone. Medwed admitted she is always listening in. Eavesdropping led her to the first line in her upcoming novel, “It all started with the twin pharmacists.” Carlotta Carlyle creator Linda Barnes has an acting background and often hams it up just to hear the voices, cadences and accents of her characters (Although when asked she wouldn’t “perform” for the audience.)

Katherine Hall Page talked about her Faith Fairchild series. Developing Faith Fairchild as a caterer was Page’s way to give her protagonist access to a wide number of characters and situations. And yes, she does try out all the recipes included in her mysteries.

All three authors agreed romances and mysteries were often trivialized – likened to sitting at the children’s table at Thanksgiving. Shelving all fiction together would be a better way to garner acceptance. Nancy Pearl chimed in saying she would like to see neighborhoods of books.

Each had an answer when asked about the problems with publishing. Barnes wished franchising would be eliminated. Medwed reminded us it is the book itself that matters. And finally, Page lamented that publishers are putting their money in bestsellers while cutting mid-list authors and new voices.

~ Deb Kern, Director, Dickinson Memorial Library, Northfield

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