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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Working Through The Details of Appeal: A Note On the Benefits of Continuing Education

This afternoon I will be participating in the second of 6 meetings of the ARRT genre study on Graphic Novels.  Today's topic is "Superheroes."  Now, I love graphic novels with one glaring exception-- I don't like the superhero ones.

As I prepared for this meeting, I was really trying to understand WHY these superhero comics did not appeal to me.  This got me to thinking on an ever broader level about how specific each person's personal reading likes and dislikes are.  So I thought I would make this post a two fold learning opportunity for myself and everyone reading it.

  1. I am going to talk about why it is important to understand the details of what a patron wants in their next good read and why.
  2. I will provide myself as the specific example to serve as an illustration as to why working through all of the details of appeal is crucial.
I will address these goals in tandem as I work you through my thought process.

Okay, so let's start with the big picture.  As I mentioned, if you ask me if I like graphic novels, I would tell you with much enthusiasm that I LOVE them.  But as I am learning as part of this genre study, that is not an absolute truth. You would have to engage me in a detailed RA conversation to get to the correct version which is that I love alternative, literary, and memoir graphic novels.  That encompasses a lot of the format, but by no means all of it.

The most interesting point here is that I had not thought about my own personal dislike of superhero comics.  Being in the genre study has offered me the chance to take a magnifying glass to my own reading tastes.  It is forcing me to think about why I like what I like and why I dislike what I dislike.  

So here is what I came up with.  On the surface, the classic superhero graphic novels such as those by Frank Miller should appeal to me.  They are dark stories, filled with complex characters, intricate story lines, compelling action, and alternative reality setting; all things I crave in a story.  However, when I read them I find the stories are too plot driven for me.  Also, even in the darkest superhero tales, those with the most moral ambiguity, they still end up fairly predictable.  The good guys always win.  I find that predictability a bit boring.  This is also why I don't really like superhero movies too.

If I really look at even more closely, I am also not really drawn to the drawing style of the superhero story.  All those action words annoy me. The closest I get to liking a "superhero" graphic novel is Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which is steampunk and based on figures from literature. It has a Gothic sensibility that is different from a Batman or Spiderman comic.  It also uses larger, more brooding pictures.  There is less frenetic action.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to look at your own reading tastes.  As I look at myself and am forced to articulate it (in this case to a room full of my peers ), I can understand my own quirks better.  I get to my "WHY." This exercise also makes me conscious of the fact that every single one of my patrons is filled with as many quirks as I am. But most importantly, without participating in this genre study I would not have taken the time to work through the details of my personal appeal.

If I want to help my patrons to the best of my ability, I need to turn that magnifying glass on them; although I need to do it in a nonthreatening manner.

We attend training meetings and classes for just this reason.  I get so angry when I hear people tell me that they do not need more training.  I often retort to these people that I disagree and say, "I teach the class on Readers' Advisory and I take training. How can you not need it?"

That can be a bit harsh, I know.  But maybe a post like this is a better way for me to get it through to everyone that we all need to assess our own skills.

I am excited to hear the people who love superheroes to sell the appeal of them to me.  I may not end up changing my mind, but by being a part of this genre study, I will be able to use their enthusiasm for the superhero comic to improve my skills at helping my patrons who feel similarly.  I will gain a new understanding as to the draw of these graphic novels. And then next month, I hope they will listen to me and my love of the alternative comics to help them gain a new appreciation for the books they are less excited about.

Also, by taking the time to work through the details of why I dislike superhero comics, I have reminded myself that patrons have quirky likes and dislikes too and I need to take the time to work through those details with them so that they can go home with the best possible book for them at that time.

I hope this post encourages you to continue to improve yourself and your skills.

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