Friday, 5 March 2010

What do you read?

Recently, I was lucky enough to take a reader's advisory workshop sponsored by my employer featuring Nancy Pearl. In case you are not familiar with Nancy, she is the queen of reader's advisory, an author, NPR commentator and the former Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Book. And she even has an action figure designed after her. Not bad for a librarian!

Nancy says readers select reading material based on four elements: plot, character, setting and literary with plot being the most popular and literary the least. Of course, many books overlap criteria. And the best novels balance more than one element.

Examples of plot driven books include legal thrillers, suspense and adventure novels by authors like Tom Clancy, John Grisham and Dan Brown. These books are often referred to as page-turners and appear on best seller lists. If you open a novel and see a lot of white space, it is probably a plot driven book.

In character driven novels, authors develop and follow a main protagonist, such Lily Bart in the House of Mirth. Other examples include Huckleberry Finn and Cather in the Rye. Authors use characters to tell a story using their emotions and experiences. Many books on Oprah's list are character driven novels.

Books based on setting include a specific time period or location. Many readers enjoy historical fiction, which falls in this category. Novels such as the Other Boleyn Girl (Tudor Dynasty) by Philippa Gregory and the Prince of Tides (South Carolina) by Pat Conroy are both examples of books with prominent settings.

And last but not least is literary fiction. Literary fiction requires some thinking and is not for everyone. Authors capture readers with the use of language, description, imagery and prose. Literary fiction is the hardest category to define, crosses all genres and often includes more than one element such as plot, character development and setting.

Many classics and award-winning books fall under literacy fiction. Of course, what one reader considers literary another reader may deem trash. Some examples of literary fiction include The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, Snow Falling on Cedars by Guterson and Breakfast at Tiffany's by Capote.

It is important to remember, there is a book for every reader, a reader for every book but not all books are for all readers!

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