I went and saw Nancy Pearl speak at St. Kates today about reader’s advisory and she spoke a bit about the use of library 2.0 tools. Her emphasis was on how to talk with readers about why they love a particular book. For Pearl, it is not about plot points, but the way a reader relates to a book. “When people love a book – they do not love it because of its subject . the love the experience of reading it.”
She described four ways to connect with, or experience, a book. She calls them ‘doorways’. They are Story, Character, Setting, and Language. Of course all books contain all of these elements, but different books will stress one over another. For example, a book with an emphasis on story would be The DaVinci Code. For character, she mentioned the books of Anne Tyler. Her example for setting was E. Annie Prouix’s The Shipping News and for language; Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. Books have multiple doorways, but readers usually have one or two ways that they enjoy connecting with a book.
Her issue with 2.0 resouces such as LibraryThing’s Book Suggester and NoveList, and are that she thinks that they compare plot points and not this more subjective experience. Her example was this: If you like the spy novels of Tom Clancy because of the fast moving and exciting story, you might not enjoy the more character driven John LeCarre, even though it is also a spy novel. She said that she would use these resources when a person wants a suggestion for a book with similar plot points, but even then you must match the ‘doorway’ within the recommendations, which these resources will not give you.
While I really like her way of creating a way to compare book experiences, I’m not sure that her criticism of LibraryThing is totally valid. I do not have any experience with NoveList, so I can’t speak to that. If I’m a person who likes books with strong and interesting characters I probably won’t rate a Tom Clancy novel as high as a John LeCarre novel. The power of LibraryThing’s suggestions is that they are created from the data of many many people. It seems like all the permutations of what individuals enjoy would create a rich tapestry, not many lists of subject headings. I think this tool, used in conjunction with the interpersonal skills and knowledge of a librarian, can be valuable.
By the way, here are LibraryThing’s recommendations from The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy.