WHEN: January 24, 2023
WHERE: This was a Virtual Zoom meeting sponsored by Leane and RA Potential.
Contact: Leane Ellis; email@example.com
Our next topic began our year of studying specific Appeal categories through Nancy Pearl’s Doorways. We began with Character. We will be discussing Tone (3/28/23), Pace (5/23/23), Frame (9/26/23), and Style (11/28/23) over the following year.
Assignment For the benchmark, everyone read Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge (2008). And read Sarick’s chapter on “Articulating a Book’s Appeal “ (p.40-73, especially on CH p.50-55).
Participants also read a Choice title in this category either from the suggested list on our blog, or one that you choose yourself; and then wrote a review on our blog below.
CHOICE TITLE Assignment with Leane’s Character Strategy Sheet is also available on Google.Group
Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust Readers’ Advisory: Doorways PDF (10/20/22) also originally linked from her web site (nancypearl.com–no longer valid 10/20/22).
Introduction to Readers’ Advisory: Doorways and Appeal Factors from Molly at the Library (1/05/23)
Molly Wetta’s take on Doorways is one of few resources on the subject I have been able to find, and it combines great graphics and content.
Saricks, Joyce G. Readers’ Advisory Service in the Public Library. 3rd ed. (2005) ALA, Chicago. p. 40-73; Character: p.50-55.
Genre: Literary fiction
Title: Territory of Light (2019) Author: Yuko Tsushima
Appeal Factors: Measured pace, interior content, bleak also tender tone, flawed character
Written in the first person, set in modern day Tokyo. A young mother struggles to manage life and parenting her two year old daughter after her husband leaves. Her story spans the first twelve months of separation. Her thoughts and dialogue depict her struggle, and her rage. She is introspective and self-sabotaging, and that gives a view of her as flawed and unlikable at times, yet also relatable. Her character develops over time – secondary characters are included to test the main character, but her reactions are the focus. She is closely observed by the author. We never learn her name.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Title: Circe (2018) Author: Madeline Miller
Appeal Factors: Character, Frame
Madeline Miller’s Circe is a wonderful example of book with a large character doorway. The story is relayed as a first person narrative by the titular character, Circe, a nymph, daughter of the Greek Titan Helios who is overlooked in her early years as ugly and powerless, firmly in the camp of the “lesser” gods.
Over time, Circe discovers her unique gift, her ability to employ powerful herbs to enact magical changes in the world, which eventually gets her banished by Zeus to the island of Aiaia. Much of the narrative takes place on Aiaia where Circe is secluded and alone. On Aiaia, the story’s pacing takes a backseat to Circe’s introspective existence as she hones her skills and reflects on her place in the hierarchy of the divine world. Though she interacts with some of Greek mythology’s most celebrated characters (and these celebrity sightings push the pacing up a notch) Circe’s story is about her own internalized experience of her growth from a powerless nobody with a screechy voice, to a formidable goddess in her own right, one who is willing to challenge the most fearsome and powerful gods to protect herself and those she loves.
Title: Bunny (2019) Author: Mona Award
Appeal Factors: Characters, Tone, Language
Summary/Thoughts: Samantha Heather Mackey is the very imaginative, insecure, jealous, and snarky main character of Mona Awad’s Bunny. She comes from a small town, raised by her now deceased mother, and is a scholarship student for an MFA program in a prestigious university. Most of the time she prefers her own company and that of her closest friend (Ava) to that of other people in her program, particularly a clique of girls she refers to as Bunnies, apparently-wealthy students who live to please their professors and comically fit into character tropes/stereotypes. She sees them as tropes who lack individuality, although this may be her own insecurities projected onto others. It can also be said that Smackie is a liar, mentally unstable, and very jealous of other students who don’t go through the same hardships she does. She’s not a heroine, but readers still root for her because her struggles are very human.
Most of the story takes place on campus and the city (frame), never really referred to by name. The setting is a prestigious university – an oasis in a gritty area known for its rampant crime. Mona Awad uses the first person narrator as a character and even though the story seems contemporary, there are horror and magical realism elements that fit with Sam’s quest for her own voice – so the tone can be somewhat ominous mixed in with often surreal elements. The magical parts mostly pop up during her interactions with other characters or when she’s dealing with her own creativity/voice. If you see the Bunnies as a twisted cult with supernatural powers (instead of creators dipping into the surreal) who invite Sam into their cult because she also has these powers – then the story takes a more fantastic/dark turn. It all depends on how you interpret it. Although everything reads as Sam’s perspective, the author uses dialog, which is often sardonic, ironic, and witty. This gives the novel a quicker pace.
Bunny’s biggest doorways are the characters and the language. Even if Samantha is an unreliable narrator with plenty of flaws on the verge of a mental breakdown, readers can identify with her insecurities and quest for self-discovery – the writing is that compelling. Also, supportive characters give the story its surreal vibe: are they tropes? Are they creatures? Are they experiments gone wrong? Are they hallucinations? These interactions are the main reason we know there’s something off about Smackie. The language is probably one of the most appealing factors due to its humor, uniqueness, and at times symbolic nature.
Genre: Dramatic Greek Play
Title: Medea (431 B.C.) Author: Euripides
Appeal Factors: Character; Pace; Storyline
Summary/Thoughts: Medea is the main character—a woman who betrayed her family and left her homeland for a man named Jason. Jason ends up leaving Medea for another woman and plans to ship Medea and their children away. Medea’s character is quickly revealed in the dialogue as a woman scorned and seeking revenge.
Pacing: fast-paced & engrossing storyline
Characterization: Medea is vivid & dramatic; chorus and secondary characters’ commentary on what Medea is doing and feeling adds to the dissonance Medea is dealing with internally
Story line: violent, layered, & thought-provoking
Frame/Tone: suspenseful–How will Medea respond to what is happening to her? A lot of possibilities are hinted at (e.g. suicide, killing Jason, etc.), but the outcome still feels surprising. (Leane’s Note: I can not confirm a fiction contemporary re-visioning mentioned in our meeting.)
Genre: Literary Fiction
Title: Normal People (2018) Author: Sally Rooney
Appeal Factors: Character, Frame
Summary/Thoughts: Connell and Marianne are classmates in high school in a small town in Western Ireland, she the the wealthy/awkward/unadorned outcast to his working class/gregarious/attractive cool kid, but they find connection and love despite their differences. If only they could see how true and real that connection is. The relationship plays out over four years, moving into their time as students at Trinity College in Dublin where roles are reversed (Marianne is in her element and Connell the outsider), each has other relationships, but the two keep falling back into each others’ arms as the two characters constantly struggle with society’s and, maybe more importantly, their own expectations about how a person *should* be (this is where the idea of “normal” people comes in). The language is realistic, introspective, and beautifully descriptive and allows us to come to know the characters intimately. The tone is a little bleak and sad, but ultimately many readers find hope. The frame is Ireland after the crash with a millennial, tech-savvy cast and anti-capitalist overtones that inform not only the characters’ conversations but, arguably, their relationships as well.
Title: The Martian (2011) Author: Andy Weir
Appeal Factors: Character, Pace, Tone
Summary/Thoughts: The Martian is the story of an Astronaut stranded on Mars. We get to know Mark Whatney through a series of log entries that detail his struggles to stay alive until help can arrive. We also learn about him through the words of the people working to mount the rescue attempt. He is resilient, quirky, adaptable, and, above all, funny. Reviewers have referred to him as MacGyver on Mars. The fast pace of the book is created by the short log entries and the need for rescue to arrive before the food runs out. The tone is created by Whatney’s reaction to his circumstances, his moments of despair, and, especially, his humor. Mark’s refusal to give up and his recognition of his own short-comings make him a sympathetic, relatable character. The dialogue of Mark’s former crewmates and coworkers at NASA give the reader an extra insight into his character and provide more hope for his survival.
A word of caution: I wonder about the author’s ability to create relatable female characters. I really liked the characters in The Martian and The Hail Mary Project, but I could feel no connection to the female lead character in Artemis.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Title: Another Country (1962/1993) Author: James Baldwin
Appeal Factors: Character
Summary/Thoughts: Another Country is a novel that relies almost exclusively on character development to explore issues of race and sexuality. The first section of the novel, entitled “Easy Rider” builds up to the suicide of Jazz musician Rufus Scott. The subsequent sections, “Any Day Now” and “Toward Bethlehem” focus on the impact this has on his sister Ida, his white friends Vivaldo, Richard and Cass Silenski; and former lover Eric Jones. Rufus is a difficult character to define but may fit the category of an anti-hero. While not entirely unsympathetic, he appears to have a loathing for white southerners, who he starts sexual relationships with and subsequently abuses. The novel explores whether his suicide was caused by his own behavior (he feels guilt over how he treated a woman named Leona and Eric) or whether he is brought to this point by the alienation he feels from mainstream society. The novel is extremely introspective as it examines the behavior and feelings of the characters, particularly in regards to their love lives. Themes of alienation, attempts to relate to one another, to live authentically and reach self-actualization drive the characters and the story. Vivaldo struggles to write a novel while carrying on a relationship with Ida, which is tumultuous due to her understandable preoccupation with race and what happened to her brother. Vivaldo is also in denial of his own bisexuality. Ida contends with her own desire for revenge on white people, her feelings for Vivaldo and her desire to get ahead in her singing career by whatever means possible. Cass is propelled by feelings of alienation from her husband, Richard, who has written a successful but unremarkable novel, and carries on an affair with Eric. Eric, an actor recently returned to the US from France, while comfortable with his bisexuality continues to be plagued by his complicated feelings about Rufus, his French lover Yves and Cass. This novel will be appreciated by a reader looking for a deep exploration of characters. Those looking for a plot driven story may become impatient
Title: Remarkable Creatures (2010) Author: Tracy Chevalier
Summary/Thoughts: Two characters: women who society rejects because of their interest in science
Characters are built mostly by comparison to other characters: Elizabeth and her sisters, Mary and her frenemy Fanny, hunters vs. collectors (they are hunters). First person, alternating between two characters (CHAT)
Genre: Literary Fiction
Title: A Visit From the Goon Squad (2010): Goon Squad#1 Author: Jennifer Egan
Appeal Factors: Character/Style/Frame
Summary/Thoughts: Egan’s strength lies in her Style choices and her ability to give myriad CHs individual hues in this robust CH-driven novel, almost like linked 13 short stories or thematic cuts from an LP. Her interconnected narratives revolve around the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never uncover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters in first, second and third person POVs whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Kenya. The reader sees many CHs in their childhood, teenage years, young adulthood, and middle-to-old age as one CH’s narrative is handed off to another—sometimes obviously connected, other times obliquely so. We hear from friends, lovers, spouses, co-workers, frenemies, etc., and see those CHs unmasked through their interaction with other CHs. Egan’s decision to shift both the time setting and the POV in every section offers the reader the gratification of comprehending things beyond what the characters themselves understand, as she hands off the primary focus to a previous supporting CH. Like a crystal prism, the CHs are refractions seen through other CHs’ perceptions, assumptions and analysis, as well as through each individual CH’s selective thoughts and dialogue. Egan employs an array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint. Egan captivates the reader through literary, artistic, and especially punk, musical allusions that underscore the messiness of being human and how the dance with self-destruction and quest for redemption are universal as is our duel with time. As for Setting, places become another form of CH that mirrors many of the internal emotions and mental gymnastics that occur internally for our human CHs, especially NYC, San Francisco and Naples. At one point in she describes NYC and the garbage dump the CH dives into along the East River as a graphic symbol of the putrid moral waste these kids swim through in their daily lives. This was an uneasy and fascinating read because Egan’s shifting CH and location sands also created a Tone of ensuing jeopardy and bad choices. It is hard to like any of the CHs; however, Egan did invoke empathy from me and a very deep appreciation for the deeply embedded thematic material. Her allusions to the Goon Squad as Time as the enemy, the constant antagonist is strategically placed into dialogue several times throughout the narrative. Readalikes are tough since this is such a singular read. ut fans of authors that push Style envelopes like David Mitchell, Gary Shteyngart, and Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land. Other possibilities are Adam Ross’s Mr. Peanut uses innovative narrative techniques to explore relationships and Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruin that spans both time and the globe.
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Speculative
Title: The Dresden File series (2000-2021) Author: Jim Butcher
Appeal Factors: Characters, Pace
Summary/Thoughts: Harry Dresden is the main character in the Dresden Files. He is a modern, practicing wizard who lives in Chicago and openly practices magic to earn money and help people. Harry is a likeable yet imperfect main character and the books are written from his perspective. I believe the reader can identify with Harry’s struggles with money, women and other elements of life. There are a number of memorable reoccurring characters that add to the story and help to flesh out Harry in their interactions with him. These books fall under the ‘white knight with a code’ theme. The style is dialog heavy and the plot/pace builds to a large battle at the end of each book. The choices Harry and the other characters make throughout the book build and help to support character development. The frame supports the character by establishing Harry as a regular presence in Chicago and the supernatural community there. The tone is dark-ish. There are a lot of bad supernatural things happening and Harry is there to save people and work with others to do so.
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Statement: RART-NE encourages all library staff to use leisure reading as a way to connect with the community, with a particular focus on reaching the underserved and promoting “own voices” authors. Throughout our discussions we will explore ways in which library staff can provide services, collections, and programming that puts EDI concerns at the forefront. Examples include but are not limited to, delivering the same information in different formats, advice on how to diversify your displays, and ways to include more staff voices in basic RA service [more voices leads to more equitable, diverse, and inclusive offerings]. Library staff attending RART-NE must be interested in allowing all staff [not just professional and/or public service staff] to participate in serving all populations, not just the ones most represented by staff or as identified in a local census.
Cancellation Policy: There is no plan to cancel a MA NE RA RT meeting since we will be meeting virtually using the Zoom platform sponsored by a group member for the foreseeable future. Leane will broadcast any cancellation or change to our meetings by 7:00am or before from the Google group, and post it on the group’s blog: https://ragenrestudy.wordpress.com/. Edited 5/09/22.