April 10, 2018

Reading without a compass

I have spent the last five years serving on book award committees (also known as HALF A DECADE, or an undisclosed percentage of my reading life so far). These experiences were largely exciting and rewarding, occasionally tumultuous, and certainly kept reading at the front and center of both my professional and personal priority lists. There have been countless times over the last few years when I’ve turned down social events or let my house or office fall into moderate disarray because “I need to read.” However, strictly reading with a destination or goal in mind changes your relationship to this essential and sustaining activity.

In the last few months, I have been left to my own devices when it comes to determining my personal reading. For the first few weeks of freedom, I crocheted while watching horror movies or binge-watching television shows I had missed. Once that was out of my system, I returned to some of my previous reading habits and ways of exploring and discovering books.

Methods of book discovery

Serendipity is probably what I missed most during my years of highly intentional reading for book awards. For me this means browsing library bookshelves (either for the gems that you all place in displays, or by a self-directed walk into the stacks). I also love browsing thrift stores and accumulating piles of books based on anything from name recognition to an openness to the random or obscure. My favorite recent find is a collection of non-Maigret crime and psychological suspense novels by French author Georges Simenon, complete with pulpy 1960s covers.

I finally have the opportunity to catch up on recommendations from friends: Genius on the Edge from a doctor friend after we bonded over the disturbing medical history covered in Jack El-hai’s The Lobotomist; Ancillary Justice and subsequent volumes (recommended by NoveList’s own Duncan Smith); and finally getting on the hold list for the Saga graphic novel series that everyone else in my book club has read.

I’ve been diving into some older books as well; after her biography Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life from the 2017 ALA Notable Books list made me eager to read more, I’ve been slowly building my collection of some of her lesser-known work, all the while stocking my e-reader shelves with free titles from Project Gutenberg. (I’ve not actually been reading any of these, but they are in the queue!)

While this freedom -- this “permission to roam” -- is lovely for the moment, I know that I will return in time to more professionally directed reading.

Balancing your reading

I think most of us probably struggle with dual obligations when it comes to our reading. What should we be reading to keep up with trends, with what our patrons are requesting, with what we should order for our libraries, vs. what do we want to read for ourselves? Should we, as Joyce Saricks advises, read broadly to understand the appeal of multiple kinds of books for our readers, or are we perhaps better serving the quasi-Jungian “reading unconscious” by digging deeply into what we love most, and knowing it well? As with many things in life, following a middle path probably provides a reasonable compromise (although I recommend allowing yourself leeway to veer pretty freely to one side of this road or the other).

NoveList can help you balance reading professionally with reading for personal reasons, providing tools for both kinds of book exploration and discovery.

Let’s talk about personal reading, first. I’ve worked for NoveList for nearly twelve years now, and began my career here as a metadata librarian (or cataloger, as my job title was at the time). Cataloging new books exposed me to so many unexpected things that I wanted to read, and I would save all of these in a “books to read” record set within our cataloging module. (While it’s not a cataloging record set, you can do something similar with personal folders.) My work responsibilities have changed since that time, but I still have an inside track to the ways that NoveList can help me find books that hit my particular sweet spot, as I know our metadata pretty intimately. We’ve done a lot of in-depth work over the years with providing a variety of access points to library collections, through appeal, genre, time period, diversity headings, and our soon-to-be launched Theme headings, among others. For an inside tip on how a NoveList metadata librarian searches in NoveList, you can unleash the power of our metadata using field codes.

NoveList can also help you track what you should be reading (or at least aware of) for professional reasons. Our Genre Outlines provide suggested key titles for genres that may not YET be in your wheelhouse. Recommended Reads lists curate books in particular genre and subject areas. Our “Browse Genres” section highlights recent books AND forthcoming books in various genre areas. Finally, our Awards page allows you to explore some of the books that industry professionals think are the best.

Browse genres such as Fantasy in NoveList

Browse recent award winners, or search awards by popularity or genre. 

What would help you?

We’ve been exploring ways to improve what we offer our customers in terms of being aware of books that are trending and what’s coming down the pike that should generally be on y(our) radar, but we’d love to hear from you what you would find helpful. Please feel free to email us your thoughts at novelist@ebsco.com; in the meantime, have fun exploring, whether your goal is personal or professional!

Victoria Caplinger is the Director of Book Discovery at NoveList. 

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