Shh!

It's not every day you meet a real live action figure. But today, we State Library staff were lucky enough for this lady to come and speak to us:

Her name is Nancy Pearl, and she is much better looking in real life. Her action figure outsells Beethoven's, Mozart's and Jesus'. Nancy is probably the most famous librarian in the world.

She talks about reading. More specifically, how to recommend books to people. The right books. This is what I learnt:

Don’t recommend books you love, just because you love them. Everyone has different taste.

So how do you know what to suggest?

Ask them this question: “tell me about a book you liked”. Don’t ask what the book is about, that’s a different question. The way that they answer will tell you a lot about what sort of thing they're looking for. Did they say "I couldn't put it down" or "I felt like I had always known the main character" or "It was like I was really there" or "it was just so beautifully written"?

Nancy says that there are 4 doors into reading: Story, Character, Setting and Language. People generally tend to enter books through one of those doors. If you enter through Story, then chances are you’ll enjoy other books that are primarily Story. Like The Da Vinci Code. Or Harry Potter. Or Stephen King.

Character readers will like Georgette Heyer, biographies, Bridget Jones.

Setting readers might like Bernard Cornwell. Or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Or William Gibson. Much fantasy falls into this category.

Language books have the smallest readership, but win the most awards. Here you’ll find A S Byatt, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Margaret Atwood. I’d also argue that you’d find Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde and PG Wodehouse here, too.

Some people might read, say, Master and Commander because they are a Character reader, and love the relationship between Aubrey and whatsisname (you know. Paul Bettany). But a Setting reader loves it because of the boats and the water and the history.

There are of course authors like Jane Austen and Tim Winton who have four equally sized doors. This is because they are awfully clever.

Try it. Write down five books you love, and figure out what door(s) you generally enter through. Here are mine.

  1. The Last Samurai (Language, Character)
  2. Alice in Wonderland (Setting)
  3. Fire and Hemlock (Character, Story)
  4. Love that Dog (Language)
  5. Skellig (Language)

(This surprises me. I would have said I was more of a Story person.)