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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Understanding and Articulating Appeal Through the Example of “A Love Letter to Saga"

One of my newest talking points when I visit libraries to provide RA training is to stress the importance of having conversations with patrons about books in general. Stop worrying a out the transaction of giving them their next read and instead focus on simply talking about Books. It is hard to get people to talk about what they like to read and why. The fact that we library workers are surprised by this is shocking to me. Why? Because when I ask them to talk about a book they really love, but to do it without relating the plot, they think it is impossible.

Of course I get them to do it and show them how easy it was once they tried. But the point I try to make is that we get frustrated that our patrons cannot articulate why they love something and what it means to them. Without that information, our job is a guessing game. And yet, we who are attuned to the issues, also struggle with it. 

Appeal is personal. We have to learn why we love what we love and practice articulating it to others. This serves as practice for us, yes, but it also is a way to model behavior for the readers we would like to assist. We can’t expect them to get better if we can’t do it ourselves.

But we also have to know what questions to ask our readers in order to help them to be more comfortable verbalizing what they like and why. In others words, we can practice and model all we like, but we still need examples of others articulating their feelings about a book so that we can practice being the listener as well as the talker. When we listen, we gather more experiences about how different books make people feel. We can hear the range of emotions and feelings that others associate with their favorite reads, giving us more examples to draw off of as we help others.

I create this experience in my training sessions by having participants book talk the same book multiple times over the course of the day to different people. I make them move around and be somewhere physically different each time, doing the best I can to make each experience unique even though the book they are sharing is the same. But the book they listen to, that changes each time. I then have the participants think about how different each conversation was even though one half of it was the same each time.

But this is one day. We need to have as many examples as there are readers so that each of us can improve as listeners. So that we can have conversations that truly get to the heart of the feel of that book to that specific reader. To that end I have suggestions of how to practice here [Rule 10], but also, just below that I talk about using Goodreads 5 star and 2 star reviews as a way to eavesdrop on patrons. See what real readers who had strong feelings about a book have to say about it.

Much of what you will notice is that these readers do not focus on the plot. They talk about how the book made them feel, or that it helped them through a hard time [for the 5 stars]. And the 2 stars, they talk about emotions too-- anger, disappointment, disgust. It’s not what happens in a book that is why we love it-- it is how the book makes us feel. This is something we need to understand and internalize if we want to be better at providing RA service.

Today, thanks to my Book Riot daily email which summarizes what’s been on the site, I came across one of the best examples of someone sharing their pure emotional response to a series that I have ever read-- "A Love Letter to Saga” by Laura Sackton. From the letter’s opening:
Dear Saga, 
You were my first. Before you, I’d hardly given comics a thought. I’d read Fun Home, and Maus, and Persepolis, but beyond that I’d never bothered to foray into graphic storytelling of any kind. Then, because I was intentionally diversifying the kinds of books I read, and because several friends recommended you, I picked you up.
Click here to read the full letter.

Ms Sackton takes on a complicated series, one I also personally love very much, and beautifully explains why she loves it-- feelings which are also complicated.

But “listening” to her complicated feelings is extremely instructive. Read it as a professional who matches books with readers. Never anywhere does she mention the plot. Never is what happens in the series the focus. This is what we are trying to do with our own patrons, get to the heart of why they love a certain story so that we can help them find this joy again, in something new.

Ms. Sackton’s example of expressing these feelings as a “love letter” is brilliant. It liberates the speaker from using plot. Love is not ever bound up in facts, it is about emotion, emotion that is sometimes irrational or doesn’t make complete sense, but you feel it nonetheless.

I am going to try to internalize Ms. Sackton’s example of articulating the appeal of a book you love as a "love letter” into my own book sharing; I am going to encourage those I train to think of it that way too; and finally, I am going to try it out on patrons. It is a lot easier to ask a reader to tell me what you would say about your feelings for a favorite book in a love letter than it is to ask them what they like about the, for example, characterization. We want them to share their feelings about their favorite reads, well then let’s ask them in a language everyone understands.

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