By September 3, 2010 2 Comments Read More →

Deal Breakers for Book Groups, Part 1

The question of which qualities cause particular readers to avoid a book is important for individuals to ponder and  is magnified when an entire book group makes selections. On one hand, it may be futile to pick books that several members are guaranteed to dislike or avoid reading. On the other, the group shouldn’t be held hostage to the preferences of one or two readers, and risks becoming one-dimensional or dull by an overlimited selection policy.

Regardless of your group’s method for selecting titles, the best practice is to have a discussion about what qualities might be “deal breakers” for your group. If a leader or small group makes selections, group  input will help guide  future choices. If individuals take turns making selections, this discussion will help prevent inappropriate or problematic choices for the upcoming meeting. You might even want to summarize the results of the discussion and make it available on a group web site or recount it at future selection meetings. 

Long-standing groups should repeat this discussion of “deal breakers” every couple of years. Membership changes, reading interests shift, and what was once understood to be true may no longer be clear to many members. When you have this conversation, preface it by noting that the goal is not to generate a huge list of every potential offensive quality, nor is it to let pet peeves preclude books that the majority of  readers might enjoy. The purpose, instead, is to identify qualities that a strong majority finds offensive or beyond the group’s reading goals.

As part of this discussion, it is wise to identify options for individuals who find an upcoming title problematic. For instance, it might be a standing policy that individuals are allowed to report briefly on another book by the same author or to select a book with a similar subject or theme. This may become a benefit, adding dimension to the discussion. It’s certainly better than losing membership because readers stay away when they don’t like the book or allowing ill feelings to build because selections are viewed as insensitive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying.

If your deal breaker discussion reveals great discord about what is appropriate, your group might consider switching, in at least some meetings, to a thematic format where each member introduces a book that fits within a larger theme instead of reading a common selection.

There’s much more to be said about the subject of deal breakers. Next week, I’ll discuss the individual elements to which book groups frequently object. To help me organize that discussion, I’d love to see comments about the most common or most problematic deal breakers that have arisen in your groups.



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).