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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How I Remember So Many Books

People are always asking me how I remember so much about so many books.  The secret is not a steel trap memory or even hours locked in a room, alone, reading.  In fact, it isn't even a secret at all; the answer is clearly stated in my VERY public 10 Rules of Basic RA Service in rules 4, 5 and 6:
4.   Write down adjectives about what you read; plot you can find. 
5.   Read widely (at least speed read widely).
6.   Read about books. 
One of the reasons people find my trainings so useful is that I actually practice what I preach.  Over the years, my "10 Basic Rules" have changed because I use them every day myself and when they are not longer accurate or useful, I go back and revise.

But steps 4 thru 6...those could quite possibly be the key to my overall success. They lay the foundation that makes it possible for me to do what I do. So let me help spell it out for you and make them yours too.

First things first, with Rule 4, ADJECTIVES, that is the key.  If you notice in my reviews I always list the top 3 key words or phrases that described the book. These words are NEVER the genre of the book either. The genre is always in the post’s tag. The genre and the plot are easy to find on Goodreads, Amazon, or even in the OPAC, but the feel of the book is not as easy to find in another resource.

By forcing myself to think about the essence of the story, the main reasons why someone would love or hate it, I am also forcing myself to think about the book I just read in relation to its very best reader. The person for whom this book would be their next great read. This alone, puts me in a better state of mind to suggest the book to readers than if I am simply rehashing what happened. Putting the reader first is always going to lead to success and focusing on the adjectives that best describe the book are the best way to put that reader first each and every time.

By getting at those adjectives, I am already thinking about how I will book talk the book. I am coming up with my flashy hook to grab a potential reader's attention.  Compare this plot heavy opening of Swamplandia! from NoveList's description:

"The Bigtree children struggle to protect their Florida Everglades alligator-wrestling theme park from a sophisticated competitor after losing their parents."
to my adjective focused opening:

Swamplandia! is exactly the type of book I adore:  dark, odd, completely character driven (almost without a plot really), quirky, and just plain fascinating.
Which one better tells you, the potential reader of this award-winning novel, if this book is right for you or not?

Those adjectives are why the readers in front of you will love or hate the book. It’s not the plot. I should note that I did pick Swamplandia! as my example on purpose because it does show that sometimes a simple plot statement, like the first example above, is enough to tell a reader that they are not interested. Everglades and alligator-wrestling will turn some readers off from the start.  But even a quirky plot like this one does not provide enough of the WHY.

Thinking about the book I just read from this adjective perspective also opens me up to thinking about possible readalike suggestions from a wider angle. I am matching similar books based on the essence of the novel at hand, not on its plot. Why? Because I am not wasting my time thinking about the plot, so it does not cloud my judgement or limit my readalike suggestions.

As you can see, I spend a lot of my time thinking about the books I have read from the perspective of the adjectives that best describe their appeal. The second part of Rule 4 is to write them down. Why? See the above few paragraphs. You put in all that work, you want to remember it, right?

Seriously though, get them down somewhere, preferably in the cloud where you can retrieve them anywhere at anytime.  I have a blog, but you can easily do this on Goodreads.


As I have said [quieter] above, that something should be at least 3 adjectives that best describe the book. Once you have spent the time thinking about it and then write it down, you have already given yourself a better chance at remembering it.

The retrievable part is the final point here on Rule 4.  I have a better time remembering 3 adjectives about a book than the characters' names or the setting, but I definitely cannot remember every adjective for every book I have ever read.  But, I can pull up this blog, search for the book, quickly glance at the bolded section "Three Words That Describe This Book" [you thought the bolding was for your benefit...ha, nope..it's for me] and my memory is jogged in an instant. Those words trigger a meaningful opening for me to talk about the book. I can scan my review for more, but honestly, those words open up my memory.

But the secret to my super success and why people are constantly impressed with my "book knowledge" is that I use all of what I have said here about Rule 4, for the books I read cover to cover, and apply it to rules 5 and 6 also.

What I mean here is that I have practiced honing in on the essence of the appeal of the books I read so much that I can now do it for books I have not read.  I make sure I am at least skimming books from every genre all the time [see my famous genre-a-day post for more on that] and I am constantly reading about books-- backlist books, new books, hot books....everything that is written about books and authors. I analyze what I am speed reading and what I am reading about for the appeal. I filter out plot and look for the essence of why someone would enjoy the book at hand.

I know this may sound hard right now, me having sprung this on you.  But, I can tell you from experience, both from my own experience and from the experience of those I have trained, it is merely a matter of practice-- years and years of practice-- but it works. And when you combine your work on the books you encounter with your colleagues--oh my goodness that is some serious compound interest of knowledge [but that is another talk].

So there is my not so secret, secret on how I remember so many books. Contact me if you want to know how I can work with you and your staff to start showing off your own book expertise to your patrons.

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