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Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Discussion: Sure Bets

Even the best RA librarian draws a blank when helping leisure readers from time to time.  There could be many reasons.  It could be that the reader is not willing to share more than that they want something "good" to read, but it can also be because we have a brain freeze and can think of nothing to suggest.  We have all been there.

One way to battle this is to keep a list of "sure bets;" books that you know have appealed to a wide audience in the past and should work for most readers.  Some libraries keep official sure bet lists.  At the BPL we use our Browsers Corner shelf and website to serve this function.  The staff are asked to contribute books that will appeal to a wide audience.  But if you do not keep an official sure bets list at your library, every person who has ever worked with leisure readers has some go-to books which they lean on when their minds go blank.  You may not do it consciously, but trust me, they are there.

But what makes a sure bet?  In general they are backlist titles which have stood the test of time.  They are books with no slower than a moderate pacing.  Sure bet options also tend to be under 400 pages and do not have any graphic sex of violence.  Over the years I have also found that quirky or non-traditional characters tend to make a book a good read for a wide audience.  Now, these are just grand generalizations based on my experience over the last 11 years, and I am sure I am missing something too.  You will have your chance to find fault in a moment.

So what are my go-to, sure bet titles for when my mind is blank.  The Big Stone Gap series by Adriana Trigiani is one.  Really anything by her works.  I also frequently turn to Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, anything by Bill Bryson, The Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny, The Thirteenth Tale by  Diane Setterfield, The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti or City of Thieves by David Benioff just to name a few.

I also tend to suggest titles we have done in the book club (click here to see everything).  Since I have spent time discussing these books, I know what a group of people really liked and disliked about the book and can more easily book talk it to a potential reader with confidence.

So, for today's Monday Discussion, what do you do when your mind goes blank?  How do you personally, and how does your library professionally prepare sure bets?  What are your go-to titles when your mind goes blank?

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Betty said...

Becky, your "sure bets" list has a lot of the titles that I use when I go blank. Kathy and I were talking about Maisie Dobbs on Saturday; it turns out that everyone we've recommended it to liked it! That's definitely a sure bet.

I've also started recommending Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, but it's not always a sure bet because it's checked out most of the time.

Kathy BPL RA said...

As Betty said, I definitely agree with your list especially "The Thirteenth Tale." My favorite sure bet is "My Year of Meats" by Ruth Ozeki. It is generally on the shelf, people usually have not read it and rarely have I had someone tell me they didn't like it. Some other ones I use often are "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie", "Mrs. Kimble" and "A Guide to the Birds of East Africa."

Laurie C said...

Not to find fault with your list, but City of Thieves was soundly hated by all of the elderly people in my book group! They could not get past the profanity and the obscenities to enjoy the humor and sadness of the book, so I would hesitate to include it in a sure bets list.

Becky said...

Interesting Laurie. My older ladies that I passed it on to loved how it was a WWII book from a different perspective. I will keep the profanities in mind when I booktalk it in the future.

Thanks for sharing.

Laurie C said...

There was one feisty older lady who said she could give as good as she got when it came to cursing, but she hadn't read the book, so I didn't get her opinion on the book itself! I had hoped they would step back and admire the creativity of the curses that were tossed back and forth in City of Thieves (which I loved and immediately wanted to have everyone in my family read!) but they were just too offended.