Thursday, April 22, 2010

LAB 1: The Reader Advisor is IN

Ben Franz

Putting theory to practice

Since I come from a large family, and the greater majority of them are avid readers, I thought it would be useful to provide reader advisory to five family members. In the interest of non-identification, I shall not reveal which five members of my family they are. Rather, as with all other examples of this sort of narrative, I shall use an initial from one of their names to label them and grant them the required privacy.

The entire clan was gathering for the 8 day festival of Passover, so in preparation of that I provided Reader Advisory to the following initials: R, M, J, L, and S. Before I get into the particulars, let us handle the generalities. I started off each interview with the following 3 questions:

1) What do you like to read?
2) Would you like to read that or something different?
3) What do you not want to read at all?

As with any reader advisory situation, I clearly delineated what each person felt was not of interest to them. For the selections, the tools I used primarily were Fiction Connection and Reader Advisor Online. I also sifted through the IMCPL online catalog to make sure many books were available here, as some of these people do not actually have their own library cards yet, and thus I would have to acquire their books for them. I also decided that 3 books was a good solid number for the 8 day holiday in which they would ingest their particular selections. Without further ado, let’s assess each one’s experience.


R is middle aged, female and generally prone to fits of cackling. She absolutely did not wish to read any romance, although she greatly enjoys watching the romantic dramas each week on Masterpiece Theater. She wanted light and funny materials, preferably by American writers. She especially prefers writers with a Jewish bent. She also enjoys more lyrical fare, particularly about animals. For her, we found the following texts:

Uncle Boris in the Yukon and other Shaggy Dog Stories by Daniel Pinkwater
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

R tackled the first two books, and did not get around to reading the 3rd, citing the need to read many other books she had selected for other purposes already. R thoroughly enjoyed Daniel Pinkwater’s semi-fictional auto-biography of his life through the various dogs he and his family have owned. She thought It was simply ‘charming and hilarious’ great fits of cackling abounded as she wend her way through that book.

The Underneath she found quite haunting and lyrical. R rather enjoys YA literature, so long as it’s not TOO challenging to her principles and morals. With The Underneath, sure you saw acts of abuse against a hound, and a terrible killing happen to a mother cat. It’s really a grim series of violent acts. The conclusion she felt was quite optimistic, and thus made up for the horrible stuff that happened over the course of this story involving a pregnant cat, an old broken down hound dog, her kittens, the terrifying man who owns the hound dog, a Lamia and a thousand year old alligator. R gave it rave reviews, even though it was a hard story to read.


M is a young man, somewhat scattered brained and disheveled of appearance. He has a deep and abiding love of Fantasy-Romance, especially the kind people have labeled ‘trashy’, particularly the word of Mercedes Lackey. He wanted to read some science fiction in a similar vein. I tried hard, but I could not find anything that seemed quite that melodramatic in the vein of science fiction. What I did find, were 3 good books written by women. And they were:

Grass by Sherri S. Tepper
Crystal Singer by Anne McCafferey
The Telling by Ursula K. Leguin

M experiences a ‘fear of success’ sometimes. If he feels he’s doing too well at something, he shuts down and won’t do it anymore. He burned through the first 200 pages of Tepper’s novel, and threw it down and wouldn’t pick it up again. When asked why, he simply responded ‘It was too much’. Working theoretically here, I presumed that he had experienced too much joy reading the first book, and thus was not interested in finishing it; which means, it was an unmitigated failure on my part. The other two books he read, but he would not tell me much outside of the fact that they were ‘okay’. So I was 2 for 3 with M, and was awaiting to see what would go with the others.


J is an analytical young man with a clean shaven head. He has a real penchant for military science fiction and fantasy. However, for this assignment he wanted something ‘light and funny’. Working off of authors I knew he enjoyed, I cobbled together the following 3 books:

The Rumpole Omnibus by John Mortimer
Myth Conceptions by Robert Asprin
The Color of her Panties by Piers Anthony

J solidly worked his way through all 3 books, and thoroughly enjoyed them. There was much guffaws and rejoicing as he tackled for the first time the adventures of Horace Rumpole, who is a barrister specializing in criminal law. The books are written in a humorous manner recounting Rumpole’s thoughts on his life and the legal profession. I found it thoroughly enjoyable, so when the book came up as a read-a-like for Terry Pratchett, it felt a sure recommendation. Myth Conceptions, is a book in the greater Myth Series. This is a very funny fantasy series which explores the mis- (or myth) adventures of a young and novice magician named Skeeve and his mentor Aahz, a large green scaly reptile from the dimension of Perv (It’s pervect, not pervert!). I knew that J had attempted some Xanth books before, so I thought it would be good to try him out on the sequential volume that he had reached. It was very reassuring to see that I had finally nailed someone’s reading interests for once.


L is a very tall girl, and somewhat resembles a ‘teutonic shield maiden’ with the blonde hair, large shoulders, generous proportions, etc. She has a penchant for fantasy and comic books. She absolutely did not wish to read romance either, but if a little romance crept into her books, she wouldn’t stop reading it. She wanted a mix of silly, funny books and space opera science fiction. For L, I recommended the following books:

Startide Rising by David Brin
The 13 ½ lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers
Rendevous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

L did not take to Startide Rising very well. The epic struggle of a ship run by genetically engineered dolphins, did not suit her well. She found Captain Bluebear to be very ‘silly and fun’. Finally she has yet to read the work of Mr. Clarke, so I shall give it a 1/3.

Finally, we come to


S is a high-schooler. An introvert, and painfully shy, she retreats behind novels very effectively. To find her reading would not prove a difficulty. For Passover, she had an assignment to read French and English classics. She wanted action oriented ones. So, having been given my marching orders I found her the following 3:

The Lighthouse at the End of the World by Jules Verne
The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton
The Mysterious Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

She found that though the first book had action, Verne’s writing proved ‘terminally boring’ to S. She absolutely adored the skewed predictive future of an England in Civil War created by G. K. Chesterton, and Dr. Moreau gave her ‘collywobbles, but the good kind’. She too was a two out of three.

Ultimately, I think I did a fair job finding books for each of my readers. It helped that I actually knew most of them well enough to figure things out with the help of reader advisory tools. It also helped that most of them, except M, are fairly easy to please. I find this sort of exercise incredibly thrilling, especially when I successfully find something a reader enjoys.

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