Where Are You Going to Read About Today?
In my two previous entries, I’ve talked about two of Readers’ Advisor guru Nancy Pearl’s Doorways into fiction, Story and Character. Pearl believes that readers will often seek out books according to their preferred Doorway. Those who prefer story often look for fast-paced stories or books they just cannot put down. Readers who are drawn to character as their Doorway like well-drawn characters who they feel as if they get to know them as they read the book.
Pearl’s third Doorway is setting. Readers who seek out books in which setting is dominant often enjoy reading about the daily activities of their characters or details about the places where the books takes place. Readers of science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction like to get lost in worlds and times that are completey foreign to them. Readers whose main doorway is Setting enjoy the feeling of traveling to new places from the comfort of their own armchair. Patrons who are about to travel to a new place often come to the FMM desk for help finding fiction set in that country. Recently, a patron asked us to help find her books about Turkey, in advance of her trip to that country because she wanted to know more about the place than she could learn from reading travel books and maps. I have a friend who is reading everything she can find about England during WWI---she’s also a big fan of Downton Abbey. Another patron always comes to our desk for help finding books set in the American South because she grew up there and reading about it seems to assuage her homesickness a bit. I love reading books about small towns because I grew up in one and can identify with many of the issues that face those living in this sort of community. If you like to read books that take place in a specific place or time-frame, your preferred Doorway is setting.
Here are some authors for whom setting is an important part of their novels:
1. Carl Hiaasen (Florida)
2. Pat Conroy (South Carolina)
3. James Michener (varies by book)
4. Louise Penny (Quebec and environs)
5. Alexander McCall Smith (Botswana and Scotland)
6. Sara Paretsky and Jim Butcher (Chicago)
7. Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan)
8. Charles Dickens (19th century London)
9. Kent Haruf (Colorado)
10. Louise Erdrich (North Dakota)
11. Tana French and Maeve Binchy (Ireland)
12. Ron Rash (North Carolina)
13. Barbara Kingsolver (Appalachia region)
14. Nevada Barr (American national parks)
15. Jacqueline Winspear (WWI, London)
16. Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus, fantasy world)
17. David Wroblewski (The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Wisconsin)
18. Pete Hamill (Manhattan)
19. Stieg Larsson (Sweden)
20. Fannie Flagg (American South)
Come see us at the FMM desk!
Imagining the Lives of Famous Better Halves
We all know the saying “behind every great man there’s a great woman.” Lately, a number of fiction titles have taken their inspiration from that feminist adage, reimagining the lives of the women behind famous men: Zelda Fitzgerald and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, among others. And it’s fascinating stuff. I’ve read a number of these books, and each time, I’ve found myself wanting to learn more about the real circumstances surrounding these couples. Seeing the lives of these acclaimed men through their spouses’ eyes offers such an intriguing perspective on the men themselves. More often than not, it seems that the men's accomplishments came at the expense of their wives and families. Here are some titles in this mini-genre that I’d recommend, along with photos of the famous couples. To check on a book's availability in our catalog, click on the book title.
Many of you have probably already read this one in your book clubs, so you know that the book chronicles the life of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, living in Paris in the 1920’s and hobnobbing with the likes of the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. However, you might not have seen Random House’s excellent web site about the book, which includes photographs of the Hemingways and the spots where they lived in Paris. It also delves more into the history of their marriage. Check out http://www.randomhouse.com/rhpg/features/paula_mclain/index.php.
This book is next on my list. Here is the starred Kirkus review of this recently-released book. “Fowler’s Zelda is all we would expect and more…once she meets the handsome Scott, her life takes off on an arc of indulgence and decadence that still causes us to shake our heads in wonder… Scott’s friendship with Hemingway verges on a love affair—at least it’s close enough to one to make Zelda jealous. Ultimately, both of these tragic, pathetic and grand characters are torn apart by their inability to love or leave each other. Fowler has given us a lovely, sad and compulsively readable book.”
I love Everest stories (Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air is a favorite), so I was initially drawn to this novel because I wanted to read about George Mallory’s ill-fated final attempt to summit the mountain in 1924. However, once I began reading the book, what kept my interest was the story of Mallory’s wife, Ruth. The author moves back and forth between Mallory’s long and excruciating trek up the mountain and Ruth’s equally excruciating wait for news of her husband. Although we know what the final result of the expedition will be, Rideout manages to create a suspenseful adventure story, as well as a deeply emotional one.
Ms. Benjamin paid a visit to our library as part of our Authors Out Loud program and did a wonderful presentation on the lives of Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the subject of this book. Of all the women chronicled in these novels, perhaps most has been published about Mrs. Lindbergh – her own writings, as well as those of her daughter, Reeve. A cold, driven man who dedicated his life to exploration and flight, Charles Lindbergh was not an easy man to live with. Anne’s struggle to come out from under his shadow as an aviator and author in her own right is beautifully chronicled in this book.
Chicagoans always love stories about local hero Frank Lloyd Wright, and this book isn’t about his relationship with his wife, but with his longtime lover, Mamah Cheney. It offers a nuanced, thoughtful portrayal of Cheney, whose feminist ideals were well ahead of her time, and of the difficult choices she had to make in following her passion and choosing to be with Wright. This is also a wonderful book club book, and part of our book club collection at Cook.
When someone comes to the FMM desk seeking out recommendations for a good book, we try to get an idea of what that reader is looking for by asking about other books he or she has enjoyed. With a few quick questions, we can get some clues about what sort of Doorway that reader prefers to use and sort of book the patron is in the mood that day to read.
Story is the biggest Doorway, according to Nancy Pearl's theory, and most prevalent type of fiction. A reader who is looking for that will say they want a book that keeps them reading and turning the pages. Most of the books on the best-seller lists are compelling stories.
Character is my favorite Doorway to fiction. That means I love to read books about characters who I get to know so well that if I ran into them on the street, I would recognize him or her. I don’t always need to like the book’s characters, but I want to learn more about them and what motivates them to act as they do in the book. Books with a character’s name in the title are often character-driven, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Iriving, Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, both by Elizabeth Strout and are good examples of this. Often, books in series use the Doorway of character as their main highlight in the book and one I’m currently loving are the Three Pines mystery series by Louise Penny. After finishing the seventh book in this series, I think I have a little crush on Armand Gamache, the main character. At the very least, he is someone I could go to for advice on the most serious problems I might be facing.
Other authors I’ve enjoyed who emphasize character development include:
1. J. K. Rowling
2. Charles Dickens
3. Tana French
4. Ann Patchett
5. Tom McNeal
6. T. C. Boyle
7. Jonathan Franzen
8. John Irving
9. JoJo Moyes
10. Chris Bohjalian
Come visit us at the FMM desk anytime you’re looking for ideas about what to read next!
Reading a Classic
John Steinbeck with his traveling companion, Charley.
I love to read lists about books that I should have read before I graduated from high school, or lists of books that every well-read person has on their shelves, or lists of classics that I must read before I die.
This week the Morning Book Discussion Club at Cook Park discussed a book that I probably should have read in high school and probably should have on my shelf at home. I’m glad that I did read it before I…well, I’m glad I finally read it.
Travels with Charley In Search of America by John Steinbeck is a travelogue of Steinbeck’s three-month trip back in 1960 across America in his trailer “Rocinante” with his faithful, aging French poodle, Charley. Steinbeck plans to see a cross section of America, talk to strangers, listen to political views, enjoy the view and write about his experiences and what he learned. His trip didn’t exactly go the way he planned.
I laughed at his personification of Charley and his interactions with characters along the way. I marveled at the beautiful country he was describing. He went back to Salinas, California, where he was born and raised and realized that “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Toward the end of his journey, Steinbeck was traveling along the Deep South at the beginning of school integration and saw a side of America that discouraged and disgusted him.
I can see that this is a small memoir that I will want to re-read. Many of Steinbeck’s observations and impressions are still true after 50 years. There are layers of insight and emotion that I haven’t unearthed which is a sign of a classic and the work of a great writer.
Need a Good Book to Read?
How to Find Your Next Favorite Book
Do you need a good book to read? What are you looking for in your next book?
A fast paced book you just can’t put down?
A book whose characters are so real that you feel as if you’d know them if you met them on the street?
Something that will take you someplace completely different?
Or a book whose language is powerful or poetic?
Did you ever think about why you loved your favorite book? What was it about that particular book that appealed to you so much? Was it the story, the characters, the setting, or the language used by the author? That part of the book that hooked you is called it’s appeal characteristic (by those of us who practice the fine art of Readers’ Advisory) and the trick to finding your next favorite book is to find one that has similar appeal characterics.
Readers’ Advisor guru Nancy Pearl (author of Book Lust and several other books) calls these appeal characteristics Doorways and has determined that there are four main Doorways, of varying sizes, through which readers prefer to get into a book: 1. story, 2. characters, 3. setting and 4. language.
The largest doorway into fiction, according to Nancy Pearl, is story. If you are drawn to books that you just can’t put down and can’t wait to get back to, story is your preferred doorway. You might like a book that’s easy to get into and has a fair amount of dialogue. As the largest doorway, books whose appeal is story are the most prevalent: most best sellers, thrillers, police procedurals, chick lit, romance, horror and young adult literature appeal to readers because of their emphasis on story.
Here are some suggestions of authors you might enjoy if you’re mostly looking for a good story:
1. Dan Brown
2. Stephen King
3. Clive Cussler
4. James Patterson
5. J. D. Robb
6. Jodi Picoult
7. David Baldacci
8. Scott Turow
9. Charlaine Harris
10. Harlen Coban
11. Nicholas Sparks
12. Stephenie Meyer
13. Suzanne Collins
14. Michael Crichton
15. Ken Follett
Next week, I’ll write about my favorite Doorway into fiction: character.
Come visit us at the FMM desk and tell us what you've been reading lately!