The Four Doorways

Recently, intrepid Book Squaders Polli and Kate sprinkled some of their reader’s advisory (that’s librarian-speak for recommending stuff you might like to read) mojo on others of us here at LPL by teaching us about uber-librarian Nancy Pearl’s Four Doorways: story, character, setting, and language. Basically, part of identifying what you might love next is figuring out which of these factors matters most to you in your reading.

That got me to thinking: what IS it about the books I love that makes me love them? For me, the very best books make it hard to tease apart these four strands--you find yourself travelling side-by-side with an intriguing character through a spellbinding world in a situation you can’t wait to see unfold, all spooling out around you in language you want to eat with a spoon. Upon reflection, I’ll admit I probably give some extra weight to sense of place: put me in a forest, on a rocky sea coast, on the edge of a marsh. Turn back the clock, or nudge it forward to a time when we’ve gone backward. Add just a smidgen of something magical, or otherworldly, or at least seemingly inexplicable. Into that place a character who doesn’t quite belong in a situation that doesn’t quite add up, and I’m all in.

So, what are some examples of books that fire on all four doorways for me? Here is a trio of recent reads that I’ve loved:

Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder: Lib Wright is an English nurse who is sent to a poor Irish village to keep round-the-clock watch on a young girl who appears to have eaten nothing in months, and yet lives. Is her sustenance faith alone? Is the whole situation a hoax orchestrated by her parents? Or is it something more complex than either of those possibilities?

Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon A River: A young girl is pulled from the Thames and appears to be dead. Hours later, she revives, and the mystery of who she is and where she belongs deepens: She is mute, and registers no recognition of any of the people she meets. But there is more than one family that would like to believe she is their child.

Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water: This work of speculative fiction is set in a future in which the geopolitical situation as we know it has been scrambled, and water is scarce and tightly controlled by an authoritarian regime. Noria Kaitio is in training to become a tea master--a role of unique importance in her culture--and has inherited secret knowledge of a sacred water source. Knowledge, like water, is powerful, and as her village struggles to survive, Noria will learn that both have the capacity to create or to destroy.

-Melissa Fisher Isaacs is the Information Services Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.