By September 4, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

Book Group Research, Part 1: Author Information

Did you know that Joyce Carol Oates was born a conjoined twin? The tragedy of little Carol Joyce receives oblique references in most of her sister’s writing to this day. Or that Pat Conroy chose his pen name because he was with Elvis in the week that the King died? (Does “con roi” ring any bells, French speakers?) It’s these kind of fascinating author facts that will add texture to your book group discussions.

OK, I just made my two “facts” up, and most author facts aren’t quite that fun, but there is a lot of discussion-enhancing material out there and it’s often easy to find.  But beyond Google-searching, where do you begin?

I start my hunt for author information at the source, with the author’s personal website. Most authors have one these days, where they often provide detailed (and current) biographical information. In addition, many authors post a blog or equivalent content that reveals some of their opinions, perspectives, and writing methods. Reading this material may help you gain greater understanding on their motives, style, and personality.

Most libraries provide patrons with access to at least one good online database that includes author information. Such databases will at the minimum include the author’s list of works and a brief biography, but often they have more extended biographical sketches, critical retrospectives, and interviews. Although such books are being weeded in many libraries, biographical encyclopedias are still available that cover many popular writers.

When you do resort to that Google search, add a few extra words such as “biography” or “interview” to bring biographical information to the top of the hit list. Switch to Google Images to track down a variety of author pictures. Print one, along with the best short biographical sketch you can find and pass it around at group.

Author talks are becoming plentiful on YouTube. A simple search there may yield an interesting clip of a reading or other public appearance. Find a tech-savvy group member with a laptop and you’ll have a great introduction or supplement to your group’s evening.

If you’re leading discussion, and a full-length biography of your author is available, consider going the extra mile with your research. At least check the index of available biographies and read about the period when the author was writing the work in question.

This is the first in a four part series of posts. In future weeks, I’ll look at how to track down and use reviews and other critical material; how to get the most from publisher and bookseller content related to the book; and suggest ideas for researching subjects incidental to the book.

While you wait on pins and needles for the next installment in this series, try tracking down some fantastic facts about the next author your group will read. Mystery writer Anne Perry, for instance, was one of the young women portrayed in the film Heavenly Creatures (Perry was the Kate Winslet character, Juliet Hulme). If you don’t know that in an earlier period of her life, Perry was convicted of murdering her friend’s mother,  your discussion of her mystery has really lost something.

And no, I didn’t make that last fact up.

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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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