I’m stepping down off the shelf – sort of – for this post. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how people choose their leisure reading. What are they looking for in a book? What defines a “good book” for them? What makes you pick it up off the shelf and give it chance? What draws you in and keeps you reading it through to the end?
In my reader’s advisory class, we have been discussing appeal factors. There are a lot of different terms out there for thinking about appeal, so it can get confusing. One way to think about it is the author’s storytelling style. Where is the author’s strength or focus: is it characters, story (plot), setting, or language? These are Nancy Pearl’s four doorways into a book. Certain books may emphasize one aspect over the others and certain aspects appeal to certain people more than others. She describes her idea in this article.
Joyce Saricks, another experienced reader’s advisor, describes appeal factors differently. (Learn more about her here.) For her they are: pacing, characterization, story line, and frame. But really, Pearl and Saricks are talking about the same thing. Pacing depends on the style of writing and the density of the language; characterization and story line clearly align with character and story; and frame takes into account setting, mood, atmosphere, and context. Of course, there are other important factors in our reading: our mood and life situations are one. But, we tend to gravitate to a certain kind of storytelling.
My reader’s advisory teacher said if we write down 3 books we really liked, we will probably start to see a pattern. We will be able to see which appeal factor, doorway, or storytelling style we go for. Likewise, if we write down books we really disliked, we can understand what turns us off. This will also probably speak to what appeals to us. Sure enough, I’m seeing a pattern.
I think I’m a character girl. The 3 books that I really liked all have many characters and complex characters, interweaving stories, sympathetic central characters. The 3 books I disliked all have characters I did not like, could not stand. Now, there is a hefty helping of story involved as well, and language and setting are important to me too, so it’s hard for me to outright declare myself for character, but I can’t really deny the evidence in front of me either.
Understanding what appeals to you a reader, not just author, genre, or subject matter, really improves the chances of experiencing a good read. It also helps you with the first step which can be very tricky – selection. So let’s explore our reading to understand what kind of readers we are.
Here is another challenge. Right down your top 5 reads; and be honest – you don’t have to look like the reader only of the best to yourself. When you think about these books, what doorway opens up?