By February 8, 2008 2 Comments Read More →

From the Back of the Book

Those reading guides that publishers provide in the backs of trade paperbacks are an interesting lot of pages, aren’t they?

If you read the guide, you run the risk of encountering some spoilers (“At what point did you realize that Hortense was completely crazy and pouring her heart out to a shrink instead of her diary?”) or graduate seminar level topics (“Examine the use and significance of the feather quill, travel mug, and dromedary by Jeremiah Hackwith. Is one item more life affirming than another? What meaning can be applied to the colors the author has assigned to each item, i.e. chartreuse, indigo and tangerine?”) or just plain silliness (“Would this book make a good movie? Who should play the leading characters?”).

Some publishers are including more than just suggested topics for discussion. There are author interviews, summaries, lists of activities to engage in before the discussion, and in one case, a short description of a book’s journey into print.

How best to use all this extraneous material that is supposed to make our jobs as book discussion facilitators easier? I can’t tell you how to use all that information, but I can tell you how I use it.

I don’t. Much. First of all, there’s usually too much material back there for me to use. I’ll never get through all those questions, no book group could. So I treat them as a jumping off point and usually rewrite the provided questions into topics that fit my group’s personality and discussion level. Occasionally I find that the hapless publishing assistant charged with writing those guides has neglected something very significant in the story and I eagerly pounce on that and make sure my group talks about it.

My group members are divided on who reads the extra material and who does not. Those that read the material are better prepared to discuss the book. They do more thinking about their reading. Those that don’t may go back and read the discussion topics, but frequently once they’ve reached the end of the story, they are done.

As for author interviews, reactions are mixed on those in my reading circles. Some readers enjoy hearing how an author was inspired to write this particular story. Others could care less that the author penned bits of the story in between scrubbing the bathroom, arguing a court case, or while suffering insomnia.

Hands down the best “extra bits” I’ve found thus far in a book followed the end of I am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. The author asks readers to take a multiple-choice quiz about his life in lieu of reading yet one more “I write in my pajamas with the cat on my lap at 3 am” interview and also provides a list of “Music to Read Memoirs By.”

Now, this is stuff that will generate conversation.



About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

2 Comments on "From the Back of the Book"

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  1.' Robin B. says:

    Speaking of questions written by the publishers:

    When our library group read FLIGHT by Sherman Alexie, we were astounded by the number and depth of questions in the back of the book (the number of pages dedicated to questions seemed to take up about half the number of pages needed for the novel itself!). We didn’t use any of them for group but one question we came up with was did Sherman Alexie have anything to do with the questions. He appeared at our library that evening so our library liaison asked what he thought of the discussion guide and he replied that hadn’t even *seen* it!

    Sometimes the “back of the book” (and even NoveList)questions delve so deeply into metaphors, character motivations, etc. that we often wonder if the author even realized s/he was writing such an intellectual book. 🙂

  2.' misha says:

    Kaite, You are so right that these back of the book guides can vary. Some are quite good and others plan lousy. Sometimes the questions are quite helpful and other times too leading. And the spoilers! Here’s how I typically use them–I always feel like the first question I ask the group can be the most important. What should the ice-breaker be? I look to the reading guides for ideas on how best to get the conversation started or going again. Otherwise I can take ’em or leave ’em.

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