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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

RA Conversation Starter: How Relevant Is the Author's Bio?

The question above is one that comes up for all readers at some point in their lives.  Some readers always want to know how a work of fiction relates to the author's life while others do not care as long as the story they are reading rings true.

For me this question came up twice in the past week as I am working on fishing up a Read Alike article for Novelist on Dan Simmons [and considering his biography as I summarize his work and why people love him in a mere 1300 words] and as I read A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon for a book discussion, an amazing book all about Chechnya, but written by an American.

So it was fitting as I was catching up on old NYT Book Reviews to see this point counter point in the Bookends column, "When We Read Fiction, How Relevant is the Author's Biography?"

From the text:
"Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. This week, Thomas Mallon and Adam Kirsch discuss whether knowing about an author’s life deepens or detracts from the pleasures of reading fiction."
Author Thomas Mallon wrote about how much less the bio matters now, while writer and editor Adam Kirsch talks about how history has shown that there are times when understanding the biography of the writer makes 

What I like about the essays is that they are both right. Anyone who works with readers or is a reader his or herself would enjoy taking a look at what each has to say.

Me, I am still completely up in the air as to whether the author's background is important to me or not.  I guess it all depends on the book and my mood.  But I was happy to read 2 eloquent writers debate the merits on both sides of the issue.  It made me feel okay to stay ambivalent.

But the real reason I posted this installment of Bookends is to give you a new passive RA idea.  Why not post the weekly column of Bookends at your library near where leisure readers browse or near your desk each and every week.  Who knows what kind of conversations it will start between staff and patrons?

Sometimes, our patrons want to ask us for help picking out their next great read, but they think they need to have a specific title in mind in order to approach us. Let's anticipate that and instead give them as many reasons as possible to talk to us.  Once we provide the conversation starter, the RA transactions will flow. And if the conversation starter changes every week, they have a reason to come back.  Even better, if we use resources like the NYT Book Review (for which we are paying for a subscription already), we are making less work for ourselves and being more efficient with the patron's tax dollars.  Everybody wins!

Tomorrow, I will share with you one of the easiest and most effective conversation starter tricks that we employ to great success at the BPL RA desk.

1 comment:

Christi said...

Ahh the age old question: what kind of a literary critic are you? ;) In undergrad I was always a New Critic, taking the text as itself. But biographical criticism also fascinated me at times.

I think when it comes down to it, it also depends on the author, how much their own lives really did influence their writing. I would suspect the reality is that it's different for every author.