When the reference desk is jumping, however, it's easy to get hung up on your initial impressions and your patron's self-definition without pushing too much further. So when a reader comes up to the desk and says, "Can you recommend something to read? I like novels with lots of excitement and adventure. Travel is good too, " you may think, "Hmm, okay. Novel = fiction. Check. Excitement = fast-paced, maybe genre fiction. Good genres could be adventure, thrillers, suspense." You might follow up with queries about preferences on romance or mystery, or language and violence. Suzanne Brockmann, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, and Iris Johansen could all potentially fit the bill. From there it's easy to start assembling a list of popular thriller writers.
But...words such as excitement, adventure, and travel are also used by a very different readers to describe their preferences. A stalwart nonfiction reader, who enjoys books about travel in dangerous countries or into inhospitable environments might welcome suggestions such as The Lost City of Z or The Last Dive. Authors such as Jon Krakauer and Sebastian Junger may also be good recommendations for readers who relish books about exploration and real-world adventures (and misadventures).
Now what if these readers were actually one and the same?
The pursuit of adventure leads people into a variety of unexpected places and situations, and with any luck, the pursuit of a good story will do the exact same thing. People often tend to segregate themselves by their respective nonfiction and fiction reading preferences, and as librarians we are prone to doing the same thing. But so often the story is the thing - an intriguing tale well-told has the potential to trump anything else. Appeal factors such as a compelling story, rich character development, and interesting subject matter cross the division between fact and fiction more readily than you might think. Readers and librarians alike can readily cross back and forth between nonfiction and fiction, though the concerns and appeal factors may be a bit different depending on the patron's starting point.
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