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“Pearls” of wisdom: finding your next great read

SPONSORED — Not many librarians can claim superhero powers, but for Nancy Pearl, the action figure created in her likeness is just part and parcel of being what the New York Times calls “the talk of librarian circles.” Her superpower of choice: unleashing the power of reading through her website, blog, regular commentary on National Public Radio and her 2003 best-seller, “Book Lust.”

When it comes to picking up a book, Pearl, who spoke at AARP’s Life Regimented Speaker Series in Seattle this month, isn’t keen on keeping it casual. Her ideas take readers in new, other-worldly directions. Her best advice: Finding your next great read requires a little thinking outside the page.

Identifying reading “doorways”

After working as a librarian in Detroit, Seattle and Tulsa, Pearl knows a bit about helping people select their next great read. But according to her, readers often go about this in the wrong way.

“We often start by matching the book a reader has just read with other books on the same general topic or in the same genre,” Pearl told Publisher’s Weekly in 2012. “But when we link books by what they’re about — primarily, the plot details — I think we misunderstand what really goes on in our reading lives. … We need to start thinking about what it is about a book that draws us in, rather than what the book is about.”

Pearl suggests finding the book’s “doorway,” or the element that offers readers a memorable experience. Pearl outlines four basic doorways: story, character, setting and language. A book in which the story is the “doorway” is often called a page-turner. If the characters of a book are the doorway, you’ll likely feel a greater connection to the people in the book than to the story itself. If setting is your doorway, you’re attracted to books that give you the “wish I were there” feeling. And if you love to savor each word, language is likely your preferred doorway.

Creating the pie chart

Understanding these “doorways” is all part of Pearl’s “pie chart” theory. The idea, which she outlined in a 2012 Ted Talk, would help readers find their next great book by matching “pie charts” of books you love to books you’ve yet to read. While creating your own pie chart, wherein you assign weight to each of the four experience “doorways,” is a subjective endeavor, identifying which element gives you the most enjoyment will help you determine your next great read.

Pearl’s pie chart idea turns library perusing on its head. You might have loved “Everything is Illuminated” because of Jonathan Safran Foer’s intimate prose, But that doesn’t mean you’ll find equal enjoyment in a page-turner about the events of September 11. While the subject matter matches that of Foer’s novel, the doorway does not; you may be better served finding a language-driven read.

“When we link up books with readers by considering what the books are about — the details of the plot — I think we’re really misunderstanding what goes on in our reading lives,” Pearl said in the Ted Talk.

Sharing the experience

Reading is often a personal experience, but it has the power to connect friends, family and even communities. No one knows this better than Pearl, who in 1998 introduced the initiative “If All of Seattle Read the Same Book,” which later became the nationwide “One City, One Book” program. In Seattle, the campaign promoted literacy and community involvement by distributing free copies of one book in order to encourage community members to share the reading experience.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for a community initiative. On her website, Pearl outlines easy ways to get more out of book clubs and reading groups. Among her tips, Pearl advises book clubs to take select titles at least six months in advance and incorporate both fiction and non-fiction. She also advises organizing an occasional meeting wherein each member brings a book they’d personally like to share.

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