I’m excited to announce that I’m adding a new feature to my reviews! It’s designed to help you decide if a particular book will be perfect for you.
Here’s how: Nancy Pearl, a librarian and author, says that there are four doorways that lead a reader into loving a book. Knowing your favorite doorways is a more reliable way to choose your next read than matching genre or subject alone.
I heard her talk about this several years ago and it has stuck in my head ever since. Pearl goes in depth in this article, but here’s a quick rundown of the four doorways:
1. Story – aka plot. “I had to see what happens next,” “I couldn’t put it down.”
2. Character – “The characters felt like real people,” “I was sad to finish – it felt like losing a friend.”
3. Setting – “I felt like I was there,” “I learned so much about that time and place,” “the setting was almost its own character.”
4. Language – “I didn’t follow the plot and that was okay – the writing was so beautiful I kept going,” “I found myself slowing down so I could enjoy the words.”
Personally story is my favorite doorway – nothing will suck me in like a riproaring plot. After that I like character and setting almost equally, with language coming in a distant fourth. I appreciate good writing, of course, but language alone won’t make me want to continue on. Everyone is different, and figuring out your favorites is a fun way to deepen your reading and choose what to enjoy next.
So what does this look like in practice on the blog?
I’ve made pie charts showing the proportion of each element. It’s subjective, of course, and we can quibble about percentages, but I think most people would agree on which doorways are most prominent. Let’s look at examples for books I’ve read recently:Rapture in Death, part of J.D. Robb’s In Death series, is a police procedural set in the future. The mystery insures it’s heavy with plot, and the recurring cast of characters is a large element, as well. The setting of 2058 New York adds makes for great worldbuilding. On the other hand, while the writing is good the language doesn’t set it apart, making it the smallest chunk of the graph.
On the other end of the spectrum, A Line Made by Walking is pure literary fiction. The language is stunning and the main attraction. Character and setting are doing their thing but there is very little plot. Therefore, if you’re a fan of plot like I am this may not be the best fit.
Here’s one more:
Warday is an epistolary novel about life in America after a nuclear war. Plot and setting drive the narrative as two reporters travel across the country to discover what remains. The descriptions of bombed out cities and dust storms are vivid, and while the characters are well developed they’re not central to the book’s appeal.
I’ll be adding these graphs to many of my reviews going forward. We all have different likes and dislikes, so I’m hoping it will help you decide on a book when our tastes don’t quite match up.
So which element – plot, character, setting, or language – draws you into a book the most? Is there one that you could do without?