Thursday, April 29, 2010

Readers Advisory Lab

In the interest of full disclosure, doing this lab felt a little like cheating. I pretty much do this all the time with my friends and family members; and when I worked at the bookstore it was a huge part of the job. With the tools we have received and the knowledge gained in this class I have a new set of tools for something I have always loved doing. I still think that the most valuable way to find out what people will like is by talking to readers. You can’t read everything, and readers LOVE to talk about what they like and are pleased and proud when they learn they have helped you in your job. One of the things this class taught me was why readers often like who they like, even if the authors seem completely different, like Janet Evanovich and James Patterson. It also has given me ammunition for cross-overs; if someone has read most of their favorite adventure novels and like the quest aspect of them, I know I can send them to read an epic fantasy. I have to say, this class is one of my favorite classes I have ever taken, and I feel lucky to have been able to start my schooling learning about genre fiction with Andrea and such a great bunch of fellow students.

Person #1

My husband is not a huge reader – he’s a gamer. While the rest of us spend our time with our noses in our novels he’s got his in a computer screen or in an RPG manual of some kind. One of my goals in life has been to get him to read fiction. He is not one of those people who do not see the value in it – he has had the value of it hammered into him from a young age with both his parents and his sister all having advanced English degrees. It made him a rebel, a non-reading rebel.

To be honest, he has started reading some non-fiction in the past few years. Books about sustainable living and food mostly. But this lab gave me a good opportunity to force him to read fiction. I know in the past most of the fiction he read was fantasy, but he said that he really didn’t want to read that as much anymore. So I asked what might interest him, and he talked about things like military history and Japanese culture. He said he wanted something that he could set down easily because he’s a slow reader. Based on those criteria I thought historical fiction would be his best bet.

One of the first books I came up with on Novelist was Shogun by James Clavell. Since he was in the room while I was doing the search I mentioned that to him, and he said he loved the miniseries based off that novel and wouldn’t mind reading the book so I went no farther. We got the novel, or rather, the two volumes of the novel at a used bookstore and he is still reading it. He reads for about an hour in the mornings on the weekends while he is drinking his coffee, and likes to share quotes from the book that he finds funny with me. This gives me a ridiculous amount of pleasure because I love sharing my love of fiction and have always hoped that Mark would catch the reading bug. While we were on vacation with his family last month his mom took pictures of him reading and said it was a dream come true. Now if only I can get him to eat broccoli.

Person #2

This woman is a biology student and a voracious reader. She keeps herself incredibly busy with gardening, work, and schoolwork. Now, we trade books back and forth all the time, so I am pretty familiar with her tastes. That made this advisory fairly interesting for me, because I know this is a woman who will read ANYTHING. So I didn’t really have to worry about genre or difficulty, just matching her mood. She said she had just reread all of Dickens and wanted something obsessive – a series of thick novels that would last her a while and that she wouldn’t be able to wait to read the next one. The first series I recommended was the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. It currently has 12 books in the series and I remember when I first started reading it I would race to the bookstore at 10:30 trying to get there before it closed to get the next one. She immediately brightened at that because she had heard of it but never gotten around to reading it. I also recommended the Assassin series by Robin Hobb. She got both series and started with the Wheel of Time and read up to book four. Then she was out of Wheel of Time but still had Robin Hobb, so she decided to switch rather than buy the next one. She has since read nine of Robin Hobb’s books and is switching back to the Wheel of Time now.

Person #3

This guy is a good friend and fellow science fiction and fantasy fan. I always loan him books, so I asked him if he would mind participating in this lab with me. He said no problem. I asked him what he was in the mood to read and he said, oh you know what I like, just pick something. Great, I thought. However I do know what he likes, generally, so I did some searching. He loved the Forgotten Realms Drizzt Do’urden books, and I know his life hasn’t been easy lately, so I thought some light series fiction might cheer him up. I recommended the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. A few weeks later I asked him how it was going, and he said that it seemed good, but just wasn’t really what he was in the mood for.

Grrr…I thought. Regardless, I asked what he was in the mood for. He said that he was more into non-fiction lately, and if it was something I could loan him that would be even better, because he had library fines. The most recent non-fiction he had read and liked was a biography of Obama.

Now this made me feel a bit like a cheater, because really at this point I was limited to my own shelves, which made the search a lot easier. I have a pretty extensive book collection, so usually it is not a problem to find at least one book for someone to read. The choices I came up with for him were an autobiography of Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols, Reefer Madness by Eric Schlosser, Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner, and all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. He immediately went for Reefer Madness. I had not read it yet, but had enjoyed Schlosser’s other book Fast Food Nation.

When I asked him about the book he said he thought it would have more about marijuana from the title and that it had a lot about the porn industry. I apologized and he said that was ok, he liked both. Then he asked if I minded if he loaned it to his mom. Weird, I said, but sure. He laughed and said it had a lot about sex industry workers, and his mom was a nurse in a not-so-great neighborhood and treated a lot of sex workers. That made me feel a little less creeped out. So, despite the rough beginning and the almost cheating, I feel like person #3 was a success.

Person #4

This woman is my neighbor and a very good friend. She has an 8-month old boy and works full-time. She asked for something very light and fun to distract her from a stressful life. Honestly, I didn’t look anywhere, I just handed her a stack of Janet Evanovich books. I know her mom and her sister both enjoy them, and it is always a plus to be able to share books you enjoy with your family and friends.
Whenever I had checked on her progress on the books, she has ho-hummed and talked about how full her DVR was or her new X-Box game. She admitted last week that she hadn’t cracked one yet. This weekend I went to Drink for a Cure at Mallow Run Winery, one of our favorite wineries that we usually go to together but she wasn’t able to make it this time. I picked up a bottle for her, and when she asked what she owed me for it I told her she owed me some reading time and to get cracking on that Evanovich. Today she stopped by and said that she has started it! She said that she is just getting to know the characters, and she is interested in continuing to read it, but hasn’t gotten far enough to say whether she loves it or not yet. She was able to find the tenth book in the series so that’s the one she started with. I can never remember which ones have which plots so I asked her what had happened so far, and she said Stephanie’s car just blew up.

She was more of a reader before getting married and having a baby, and I think that she wants to get back into reading but hasn’t figured out a way to work it into her life yet. Hopefully my bribing her with wine and guilting her with my assignment due date will help her merge her new life with her old reader self. However, I’m not sure I can call it a successful readers’ advisory if I have to ply someone with gifts to get them to read a book. I’ll let you guys decide.

Person #5

Person #5 is my sister-in-law. When she and my brother came to visit she told me she was out of authors to read. She said her favorite lately was Kim Harrison, who writes urban fantasy. The hard thing about urban fantasy for her is that so much of it has so much sex and romance, and while she doesn’t mind a little sex and romance she doesn’t want it to be the center of the story. She also suggested the first few Laurell K. Hamilton books until they started getting “raunchy” as read-a-likes for what she was looking for. We did some searching together and I ended up recommending Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and T.A. Pratt’s Marla Mason series. I assured her that there was very little sex and romance in these novels. After I said that, she reminded me that she didn’t mind some sex and romance, so we looked more. After discounting all the series she has already read we decided to try L.A. Banks as well. When I spoke to her she said that she read L.A. Banks and really liked her. She said that she knows she read some of the other authors as well but couldn’t remember which ones, and said she would keep looking for them.

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