Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What is a good book? Nancy Pearl's answer

Nancy Pearl, yup, the one that's the model for the librarian action doll, was recently named Librarian of the Year.  In Library Journal's article about this, Nancy discusses her idea of 'a good book'.  I've highlighted a couple of bits that particularly caught my attention.

What is a “good book”?

As part of the author tour for her newest book, Book Lust To Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers (Sasquatch Bks.; LJ Xpress Reviews, 10/8/10), Pearl went to Westport, CT, to “talk about good books” to librarians and library patrons. “By good,” she says, “I don’t mean any literary canon, but just books that you might enjoy. A good book is a book someone likes and a bad book is one they don’t like. When someone doesn’t like a book, it doesn’t mean they will never like it. They don’t like it for that moment,” says Pearl.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to suggest a wide variety of books to people. I think libraries are the last democratic institution, small ‘d’ democratic. It wasn’t always that way. Librarians were gatekeepers.... When it comes to readers’ advisory, though, I think we need to validate a patron’s reading,” Pearl says.

“When people ask, ‘What should I read next?’ we should always try to give them three books. One should be pretty close to the one they loved. The second should be a little bit different, a bit of a stretch. The third book is the real stretch book, the reach book. The book they never would have found because it is nonfiction and they only look at Westerns,” Pearl says.

“People come into the library and head straight to the section where they have found the most pleasure.... It is our job to take them around to the rest,” she ­continues.

“I do believe that the more well-written books you read, the less tolerance you are going to have for bad writing, but the hardest thing to define is a well-written book. When someone tells you they liked a book because ‘I love well-written books,’ they usually mean books like award winners, for instance the Pulitzers. Those books win awards for the writing. You don’t have to understand what somebody means by ‘well-written,’ but you have to go beyond the awards we all know and see which books won the Governor General’s Award in Canada, or [Britain’s] Man Booker Prize. No one who reads for the story will say, ‘I like well-written books.’ They will talk about page-turners, books you stay up too late to finish,” Pearl ­concludes.

Lots of food for thought there.  I'm going to try that three book idea... I think I've been more likely, when kids ask, to find three similar rather than that three book progression.  Not always, but often enough that I should be trying to extend myself, as well as my readers.  Always good to get a new perspective!  Read the complete article here.


A few more thought-provoking quotes from the article:

...she is a passionate and diligent advocate for old and important library ideas: literacy, reading, entertainment, enjoyment.... She is neither snobbish about the old ways nor disdainful of new ideas. Ask her about audio or ebooks or gaming, and you’ll get an earful about the importance of stories told in their myriad forms,” says Janes.
says Pearl. “My fear is that we don’t recognize or will forget that library service is like a three-legged stool: information, outreach and programming, and reading.”
The book will never disappear as a piece of narrative fiction or nonfiction, according to Pearl, but it is obvious that the format, the way it is delivered, is changing. She knows people will always need escape, stories, and ways to look at the world through the experiences of others.

“I think the more you read, the better person you become, because you can see how other people respond, the way they think, and the way they behave in various circumstances,” Pearl asserts.
“When you read a book, it is just you and the author. Even when people read the same title, everybody reads a different book.... When you listen to a book, a third person enters the equation,” Pearl says. “It is a different experience.”

1 comment:

Momo said...

Thanks for all those pearls of wisdom from Nancy Pearl. I have all her books Book Crush for kids, Book Lust one and two for adults and I love them. I heard her speak at the Sydney Writers festival many year ago I sat in the front row and it was one of the best nights of my whole life!