By February 29, 2008 1 Comments Read More →

You Don’t Need to Read the Same Book, Pt. 1

Most book groups follow a model learned from high school classes or Oprah: a book is assigned, everyone reads it, and then it is (cue angelic choir) DISCUSSED. While this can be great, especially when discussion goes well and that rare thing we call DEPTH happens, a single book is not the only way to go. In fact, there are many ways in which one-book discussion can be downright clumsy. Consider these problems:

1) The one-book group creates unhealthy competition for resources. The local library is unlikely to stock ten copies of anything but the newest bestsellers, and those books are likely to have hold lists. At the library where I work, a montly slapdown occurs as group members fight to get this month’s selection first. Our “gab bag” packs of ten books for reading groups solve some of the problem, but now the groups stage turf wars to get the most popular bags. In smaller towns, even bookstores can be hard pressed to support a group in a timely way.

2) If your readers don’t finish or aren’t interested in that month’s book, they’ll come, but squirm whenever a plot point is revealed. Or worse than that, they’ll sidetrack the conversation at every opportunity. Worst of all, they may simply stay home.

3) Some books don’t support extended conversation. Many genre titles, plot-driven books, and short books are difficult to discuss at length, even though they are great books that deserve readership. I’ve even seen discussion falter because everyone liked the book too much. Oprah has been accused of picking depressing books, but that’s not entirely fair: Books full of conflict and dilemma or controversial books often generate the most discussion. If that isn’t what your group wants, another format may be in order.

 4) Single-book conversations encourage lopsided discussions. In one-book discussions, the loudest and most opinionated group members often dominate conversation, while quieter readers may feel they have nothing to add. A multiple book format gives everyone something to talk about.

5) Many readers can only manage one book a month. When that’s the case, they may prefer options in their selection. Otherwise, they may skip meetings so they can squeeze in other books they want to read. Likewise, if your group of readers is diverse, they may respond to freedom of choice in their selections.

6) If your group suffers from too much strife between different-minded members or too much kvetching about the book selections, multi-book discussions are often less combative. Readers have no one to blame but themselves if they don’t like the book choice.

Depending on the needs and style of your group, there are many ways to implement a multiple book format. Next week, in part two of this entry, I’ll discuss them.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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