Saturday, June 09, 2012

Article Note: Readers' Advisory and Escapist Reading

Citation for the article:

Begum, Soheli, "Readers' Advisory and Underestimated Roles of Escapist Reading." Library Review 60.9 (2011): 738-747.

Read via Emerald.

This article is primarily for public librarians; however, I've always had an interest in readers' advisory and recreational reading for college students. Then again, I may be also hedging my bets in case I have to work in a public library. I will admit that I do find some of that work appealing, even if it sounds heretical to some of my peers in academia. At any rate, I do read articles on this topic often. I also read a lot, even at a time when some of my professional brethren either denigrate leisure reading or see it as a joke. So when I found this article on escapism in recreational reading and how it applies to readers' advisory, I knew I had to read it.

In citing J.G. Saricks, the author points out that escapism is an important appeal factor in leisure reading (738). The author then reviews the literature and summarizes the struggle of librarians to bring leisure reading materials to their patrons. Fiction is often seen as a lesser quality of reader material, seen as pulp or trashy. Much of the criticisms and objections were, and still continue to be, regarding fiction. I would argue that some nonfiction can be just as escapist as fiction. In addition, "one of the main charges against light reading in particular was, certainly, the charge of escapism, i.e. the quality of books to take readers away from real life and into the world of the chimerical and imaginary" (739). My personal reaction to that is ask: this is a problem? I guess to some people it is. The author goes on to argue for the positive aspects of escapism in recreational reading and calls for librarians who may be skeptical to reconsider their positions on recreational reading. The author further notes that escapism is not a trait exclusive to light or popular works; serious works can also provide escapism. In other words, there is room for the "serious" and "real" literature as well as the light, genre, more "pop" materials.

Other notes:

  • "Most librarians, particularly in the public field, would agree that imagination is a key aspect of reading, and growing knowledge in regard to reader response and reader development theories support this" (739). 
  • "It would be difficult to find a librarian, particularly a readers' advisor that did not believe the reader to be an essential and active partner in the reader-text relationship" (740).
  • We seek to understand things like escapism in literature so we can better understand our patrons' reading needs. It is nice to see that what I studied about reader response theory (RRT) in graduate school does have some practical application. Some of what the article does is acquaint librarians out there who may not be versed in RRT with some of the basics and how RRT can be useful to their RA work. 
  • "Leisure reading can be used as a means of escaping boredom, but can also be a critical tool for self-preservation in far more turbulent environments. Additionally, leisure reading transports readers away from current situations and also shapes and affects how they view and respond to future events. The transformative nature of leisure reading is such that it can be considered by many a means of maintaining humanity and a sense of self in sometimes uncertain and dangerous settings" (740). 
  • "It is not always a mindless pleasure that readers seek through escapist reading; it is often a meaningful change, a meaningful transformation that they are after, even if this transformation comes about through painful realizations and soul searching" (744). 
  • "Librarians offering choices in reading material must not only be able to appreciate and understand the necessity of escapist reading, but also be able to emotionally connect with their readers in order to confidently recommend a wide array of suitable material, without judgment and reservation" (744). 
  • A call to rethink how things are done. "Training for readers' advisors to better aid escapist readers means rethinking traditional formats of advisory. One example may be to forego strict focus on genre lists or straightforward author/title knowledge (Van Riel, 2008, p. 196), and rather promote a holistic understanding of how genres evolve, and how readers search for elements of escape. Advisors must be able to imagine themselves in various reader scenarios and often think like a reader instead of just as a librarian" (745).  Some of this may also explain why I read as much as I do. I read, in part, so I can think like a reader, and thus help my patrons better.

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