Volunteer 4 was another friend who really put me to the test. The first thing I asked her was what she was in the mood to read and she said that she wanted a "good novel." I asked her to tell me about the last good novel she read and she really only told me the title of the book, The Help. I asked her what she liked about it and she said that she liked that it had good characters and a good story. When I asked her what about the story appealed to her, she said that it was the complex issues. I continued to prod by asking what the complex issues that interested her were and what it was that she liked about them. She really couldn't give me an answer to that. She just said that she wanted a novel she could sink her teeth into and that it was very important that the characters were interesting to her. I asked her if there was anything she wanted to stay away from and she said that she didn't want any sci-fi, horror, or fantasy novels and she definitely didn't want anything "frothy." So, most chick-lit would be excluded as well. She said that mysteries would be okay, but that wasn't exactly what she was looking for.
I worked with NoveList and Fiction Connection to find some possibilities for her. First, I tried finding books that were similar to The Help. Fiction Connection gave me nothing, which really surprised me. I checked NoveList, but had to remove several subject tags at the request of my friend so we could find topics more suited for her. NoveList suggested titles such as and Cotton Song and The Piano. She turned all of the suggestions down saying that they were not what she wanted. I asked her what about them didn't appeal to her and she said that the stories just didn't sound interesting to her.
I tried to keep the exasperation out of my voice when I asked her to tell me specifically what type of story she was hoping for. She said that she wanted to find a story that dealt with the complex issues of a different era. She had really liked how The Help dealt with interracial relationships during the 1960s. I asked her if she was interested in historical fiction and she said no. Since she wanted to look at different eras, I was pretty sure that we were, indeed, going to have to delve into historical fiction somewhat, but I didn't tell her that. She then finally told me about another book that she had enjoyed and I tried using both of those as a base and, after a few more rejections, came up with a few titles. She seemed interested in On Green Dolphin Street, Loving Frank, and Patty Jane's House of Curl.
A week later she called me and told me that she loved Patty Jane's House of Curl and On Green Dolphin Street. She wasn't too thrilled with Loving Frank. To be honest, I still have no real idea what she was looking for. On the one hand, it sounded like she wanted literary fiction with an historical bent. Yet, she seemed to reject almost anything I suggested to her that I could not really say that that was what she wanted. Perhaps I wasn't asking the right questions for her. Maybe she would have been more forthcoming if I had taken a different approach. Regardless, it was good practice for me when I come across a patron who isn't too sure what they want and it also made me aware of how important it is to get the questions right for that particular patron. Since she did enjoy two of the books I suggested, I guess you could call this one a moderate success, though perhaps due mostly to luck.