Wednesday, October 13, 2010

book talks, Pearl-style

Along with a few other Klub Katalog kontributors, I became a card-carrying member of the Cult of the Librarian Action Figure last summer. We took a week-long class on readers' advisory with Nancy Pearl, and she was totally inspiring. The class, more than all the other classes I took combined, changed the way I look at librarianship, and the power of reading, and and librarians' roles in connecting people with books that might challenge and inspire them.

Book talks, she said, are a way to expose your fellow librarians to books that you've read so that they can do better RA -- basically, just have more books on your metaphorical radar so you can suggest them to people. They're also a chance, she said, to push books you love (since that isn't something you're really supposed to do during RA, when you're tailoring your suggestions to people's tastes rather than just blathering on about stuff you like personally).

The talks are often part of staff meetings, and they're supposed to be very short and sweet:
  1. A first sentence that summarizes a book's subject (25 words or less);
  2. The takeaway, the most important part of the book, something that can be easily remembered (10 words);
  3. Something you liked or didn't like about the book, which can be as personal or impersonal as you want (one more sentence);
  4. An optional very quick statement about the author (a couple words).
All of this should be done in less than 90 seconds per book, and ideally should mention a "doorway" -- character, story, language, setting -- that a reader might use to enter the book.

Since my job now is about as far away from RA as you can get while still sitting in a library, and since Klub Kat has vastly expanded my reading horizons in the past, I thought it might be fun to practice doing book talks here. I am notoriously bad at being concise, as this post already suggests, especially when I am enthusiastic about something... I recall an afternoon this summer when I treated my husband to a rambling and incoherent summary of Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply on the way to the airport. Like, I literally told him every single thing I could remember about the book and why it was so great. I don't think he was very excited about reading it after that.

So yeah, I could probably use some practice.

Here is my first one, about Rashi's Daughters, Book 3: Rachel, by Miriam Anton. Ahem.
This book, the final installment in a trilogy, is about the learned youngest daughter of a rabbi named Rashi who wrote famous biblical commentary. It's character-centered historical fiction about Judaism during the French Renaissance and the Crusades' start. I liked the feminist slant of all the books, but the second in the series (about the middle sister, who becomes a midwife and performs circumcisions) is best. The author is a female Torah scholar and includes great historical detail.
It just took me like 15 minutes to write that. Maybe we get faster as we go? Will someone else do this too so I don't feel like a tool? I also just love knowing what all of you are reading, and I want you to describe the romance novels and YA fantasy series I know you're hiding behind your battered copies of Acquisitions, Serials and Collection Development, vol. 152.

Viva la Pearl!


  1. As someone who missed Pearl's class, I appreciate your explanation of book talks. We should definite do more!

    Also, I finished Await Your Reply last week and it is really hard to explain without describing the whole thing. I told Y. Moon to read it too and my description was basically, "It's really good, but I'm not going to tell you what it's about because that might ruin it."

  2. Ooh, thanks for the break down of a book talk! I will try to write one soon. However, I recently tried to read a hefty book about feminism and reading 3 chapters burned me out. I hate when that happens.

    We have a Leisure Reading collection that is on our first floor. On my first day I noticed L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad was prominently displayed which made me really excited to be here. I see people browsing the shelves a lot which is exciting! So far I don't think the staff is going to get trained on RA, but now I think it may be a possibility! Or maybe I just want an excuse to do book talks.

  3. I am so excited about this happening and I will gladly review books, although I've been on a massive fantasy binge lately that might not appeal to a lot of you!

  4. Hooray! And Katy and Bunny Watson, that's part of the point -- it exposes readers' advisory people to books that they might not read otherwise and/or books that other people didn't even really like or finish, but read enough of to get the gist -- so that is EVEN BETTER.

    Laura, that was the smart thing to do with Await Your Reply. I was like, "You're not going to read this anyway, right? Right. So now I'll ruin the entire plot for you."