Tuesday, March 28, 2017

nonfiction readers' advisory

The Readers' Advisory Matrix for Future Sex by Emily Witt

1. Where is the book on the narrative continuum?
Highly narrative

2. What is the subject of the book?
On the state of sex and erotic possibilities -- including polyamory, kink, group sex and orgasmic meditation -- in 21st century America.

3. What type of book is it?
Somewhere between memoir and investigative journalism

4. Articulate appeal:

What is the pacing of the book?
Much like an extended feature story in a newspaper, this book reads quickly but takes its time in moving the reader through richly detailed descriptions of people, places, situations.

Describe the characters of the book.
Witt introduces the reader to quite a few fascinating characters. Some characters, like the polyamorous triad in San Francisco, are the subject of an entire chapter, while others receive a few paragraphs of attention. Framed as a sort of memoir of self-discovery, Witt is the thread between the varied contexts of the book.

How does the story feel?
wry, detached, yet relatable at moments

What is the intent of the author?
To explore current expressions of "free love" and sexual freedom, told from the context of her own experience as a curious outsider to these communities and practices.

What is the focus of the story?
Witt focuses on a handful of communities and practices that reside somewhere along the fringe of the dominant heteronormative sexual culture in America. She explores polyamory, kink, internet porn, live webcams, group sex and orgasmic meditation through a combination of observation, interview, and personal experience.

Does the language matter?
Yes! Despite her own hesitance in many of the settings, Witt's rich descriptions of characters and settings bring the book to life.

Is the setting important and well-described?
Yes and yes.

Are there details, and if so, what?
Lots of details, ranging from physical descriptions of people and places to historical context of practices and communities.

Are there sufficient charts and other graphics? N/A

Does the book stress moments of learning, understanding, or experience?
Though the book does provide some in-depth demonstrations of firsthand experience, there was surprisingly little emphasis on learning or understanding from these experiences.

5. Why would a reader enjoy this book?
Memorable characters, vivid settings, richly detailed

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

audiobook appeal

Generally, I avoid ebooks because I don't own an e-reader, and I don't gravitate toward audiobooks because I don't process aural input as easily as visual input. When I've listened to audiobooks in the past, I often zone out for minutes at a time and lose track of my place in the story. This happens when I read print books, too, but it's always easier to jump back in at the place where my mind wandered from the page.

As fate would have it, I listened to an audiobook for the first time in recent memory this past weekend as I drove twelve hours alone from South Carolina back to Indiana. In addition to losing the storyline when my mind wanders, audiobooks often put me to sleep, especially when I'm driving alone for long stretches. As I readied myself for departure for Indiana, my friend insisted that I sign in to her Audible phone app and choose from one of the books that she had previously downloaded. From a relatively short and varied list of audiobooks, I chose to listen to a mystery/thriller called The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This isn't the sort of print book that I would normally pick up to read, but I was hopeful that a book of the mystery/thriller genre would draw me in and keep me engaged hour after hour.

When considering audiobooks, there are several appeal factors that take priority, for me and for many others. Perhaps most important is what Kaite Mediatore calls the "audible presentation," or the manner in which a written work is transformed into a recorded reading performance. As she goes on to discuss in the article, the audible presentation can greatly enhance or detract from a book's pace, tone, storyline, and character distinction. Further, the listener may be affected by the quality of the recording and the quality and characteristics of the narrator's voice. The story that I listened to was told from the perspective three female protagonists, and each character was narrated by a different person -- all British women with slightly different accents. I'm not sure that I would have been able to match the voice with the character without context, but the entrance of a new narrator signaled a subtle shift from chapter to chapter.

Another appeal factor for audiobooks is length in terms of time (hours) rather than pages. If a person is picking out an audiobook for a car trip of a particular length, they may choose a book based on the idea that they could finish it within the time of the trip. Format is becoming an increasingly important appeal factor. CDs and MP3s seem cumbersome to me now that audiobooks can downloaded and streamed through phone apps offered by companies like Audible. Phone apps, however, may be intimidating or frustrating for people who have been listening to audiobooks on cassette or CD for many years. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

book club experience

A few weeks ago, several friends started talking about starting a “middle-brow book club.” For context, I am the only person in this particular group who is not currently pursuing or already in possession of a doctoral degree in English literature. Unsurprisingly, English literature PhD students years deep into their studies commonly experience reading literature as ‘work’ instead of ‘pleasure.’ The idea behind this book club, one explained, was to focus on “middle-brow” literature that might allow them the opportunity to intentionally read books for leisure and discuss them casually with friends.

A month prior to the first meeting, we submitted suggestions for books to read and then, from those suggestions, voted on the first book. The winner was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Initially, I had fully planned to read the book and to attend the book club as an active participant. However, other books got in the way, and, despite my best intentions, I attended the meeting as an observer.

Given the purpose and intent of this book club, our meeting was very relaxed. We met at one of our homes, and we each brought a snack or a drink to share. The atmosphere was very comfortable and open. The members of this group have known each other for years in a variety of capacities spanning the personal and the professional, and that sense of familiarity certainly added to the relaxed environment of the discussion.

There was no leader, but the friend who had introduced the idea of this book club served, in a way, as the facilitator for this first gathering. It was a relatively small group -- five people including myself. It was clear from the give-and-take flow of the discussion that these women shared common background and experiences critically engaging with literature. Admittedly, I was a little relieved that I hadn’t read the book and therefore didn’t feel pressure to contribute my own opinions to the conversation (though I do look forward to the challenge next time!).

The discussion itself went in many directions, veering away from and back to the book organically. Some of the participants may have come with specific questions in mind, but there was never a formal list of questions presented or consulted. Mostly, people worked their questions or ideas into the conversation, building on others’ comments and questions. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

special topics paper

Note: For this paper, I chose to focus on the topic of this week's readings! 

Quality vs. demand

During the first week of this current spring semester, I was casually talking with a friend and a fellow MLS student about this Readers’ Advisory course. I was thrilled, I told them, for the chance to delve into genres that I have avoided up to this point for various reasons. For example, I had categorized romance, mystery, and thrillers as ‘low-brow’ guilty pleasures and had not in many years allowed myself a chance to enjoy them for what they offer. I went on to exclaim to my friend that there exists such a genre called ‘gentle reads’! Admittedly, we both lightheartedly poked fun at the gentle reads genre, neither of us knowing much about it. Eventually, I made a comment along the lines of: “Well, it’s not my place to judge a reader’s taste. I’m just supposed to help them find something that they might enjoy.”

At this point, we diverged and fell into a debate about the role of the librarian in the service of readers’ advisory. From one perspective, the readers’ advisory librarian should strive to provide a non-judgmental reference service for the reader. If the patron is seeking a gentle read, then it is the librarian’s responsibility to help them find a gentle read that they might enjoy. As Joyce Saricks puts it, “Readers’ advisory is about public service, about meeting readers where they are and helping them find something they’ll enjoy. Whatever that may be today—or tomorrow” (2008, p. 12). The other perspective imagines the librarian as a resource for the patron but also as a source of guidance and on the subject of reading and a guardian of intellectual history. “Is it not your duty as a librarian,” my friend asked, “to challenge the reader, to aid the public in becoming knowledgeable and ethical members of society?” I didn’t have a great rebuttal.

In his article entitled “Should Libraries' Target Audience Be Cheapskates With Mass-Market Tastes?” (2007), John Miller poses a series of questions that hits at the heart of this debate: “What are libraries for? Are they cultural storehouses that contain the best that has been thought and said? Or are they more like actual stores, responding to whatever fickle taste or Mitch Albom tearjerker is all the rage at this very moment?” Miller’s inquiry brings to the surface broader questions about the intrinsic value of reading. Can we compare the value of reading for pleasure with the value of reading for information or edification? Is it even possible or necessary to disentangle these two ways of reading?

Mary Chelton has named this split the “entertainment vs. information false dichotomy” (2009, p. 254), a dichotomy which implies (incorrectly, I believe) that reading for fun or pleasure is not as valuable as and does not overlap with nonfiction or reading for the acquisition of information.
Connie Van Fleet responds to these looming questions with a discussion of a librarian’s inherent and inevitable personal bias. Librarians and MLS students are often avid readers, and many, she argues, have learned to judge books by supposedly objective, academic standards of literature rather than by subjective individual taste. She refers to this as the “‘good book’ versus ‘good literature’ dichotomy” (Van Fleet, 2008, p.226). Van Fleet contends that librarians working in readers’ advisory must accept the validity of personal preferences and focus on the value of books based on their appeal to readers.

Part of the librarian’s work in accepting the value of books outside of their preferences and biases lies in breaking down these misleading dichotomies of “leisure vs. work” or “entertainment vs. information” that often contribute to a prioritization of nonfiction or “literature” over popular fiction. In a critical exploration of escapist reading, Soheli Begum (2011) urges the librarian to (re)consider escapism -- so often associated with “pulp” or “trashy” fiction -- as the nurturing of a reader’s ability to imagine experiences outside of their own. Further, escapist reading can have broader implications than merely offering a leisure activity. In Begum’s words, “The transformative nature of leisure reading is such that it can be considered by many a means of maintaining humanity and a sense of self in sometimes uncertain and dangerous settings” (2011, p. 740).

When it comes to collection development and collection weeding -- making room for popular contemporary fiction by discarding classics that remain on the shelves, untouched -- the librarian may find themselves in a stickier position, navigating the space between patron demand, personal biases and notions of quality. We’ll return to John Miller (2007), who suggests at the end of his editorial that librarians should serve as “advisors and guardians of an intellectual inheritance,” grounding libraries in the foundations of this cultural inheritance without falling entirely to the force of the latest trend. Miller draws a comparison between a library and a dictionary, both of which, in my opinion, must remain permeable to the organic and shifting tides of language and reading while simultaneously retaining a firm footing in the many layers of language and reading that have preceded our present moment.


Begum, S. (2011). Readers' advisory and underestimated roles of escapist reading. Library Review, 60(9), 738-747. doi:10.1108/00242531111176763

Chelton, M. (2009). Reader’s Advisory Work. Reference and information services in the 21st century : an introduction / Kay Ann Cassell and Uma Hiremath. New York : Neal-Schuman Publishers, 254.

Miller, J. J. (2007). In the fray: Should libraries’ target audience be cheapskates with mass-market tastes? Wall Street Journal, D9. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB116778551807865463

Saricks, J. (2008). Readers' advisory--flash in the pan or here to stay?. Booklist, (21). 12.

Van Fleet, C. (2008). Education for Readers' Advisory Service in Library and Information Science Programs Challenges and Opportunities. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 47(3), 224-229.