Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Nonfiction Narrative: Exploring Nonfiction in a Readers' Advisory Context

Neal Wyatt of Chesterfield County Public Library in Virginia, author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction, spoke to about 40 librarians from around the western and southern Chicago suburbs about The Nonfiction Narrative: Exploring Nonfiction in a Readers' Advisory Context this morning at the Metropolitan Library System headquarters in Burr Ridge. In the spirit of her presentation, here is a brief on the workshop.

Narrative: Low, for this was an instructional workshop. Wyatt did incorporate some story telling. I especially liked her quick summaries of the books that she highlighted.

Nonfiction Categories: Task Instruction, How-To

Nonfiction Types: Explanations

Subjects: Library Science, Readers' Advisory, Nonfiction Books

Pace: Fast, Quick, Lively

Tone: Upbeat, Affirming, Instructive, Humorous

Intent: Learning/Experiencing

Special Features: The attendees formed four groups (1) to write up RA briefs for popular nonfiction books and (2) to prepare to recommend other books to a client based on the book enjoyed and its appeal factors. Wyatt also provide helpful handouts with tips for working with nonfiction.

What You Should Know: Narrative is just another word for story. Narrative nonfiction includes books that are basically true (some memoirs less so) that score high on story factors, as apposed to straight factual style. Like fiction, narrative nonfiction appeals to readers for characterization, story line, setting, good pacing, and appealing tone. Unlike fiction readers, nonfiction readers want books about subjects from which they learn or experience. Any librarian can with just a little thought and practice adapt to recommending nonfiction as well as fiction, to work toward a whole collection approach to readers' advisory.

Target audience: This workshop (which I assume will play in other venues) will appeal to librarians wishing to improve their ability to get good nonfiction books into the hands of appreciative readers. They will also like getting a few new titles to put on their own reading lists.

What I'm Taking Away: I will play around with her nonfiction types, which are sub-genres that can move around beneath various nonfiction categories. Wyatt said that as a profession we are still sorting out how to organize our readers' advisory tools. This is of particular interest to me as I try to write a book on biography, which ends up as both a category and a type in the Wyatt's scheme. There is no one right way to do this. Various schemes will probably always be needed for differing client needs.

Last Thought: Wyatt says that pace and tone are the two most important appeal factors in recommending books that clients enjoy. I think that she is right, and they may be the most challenging to identify. The librarian and client may not have a common vocabulary from which to work. We're going to have to do good interviews, welcome feedback, and try again and again.

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