By September 15, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

Deal Breakers for Book Groups, Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts discussing aspects of books that may make book groups stay away. Today, I want to look at three qualities that are often viewed as deal breakers, but perhaps should not be.


Genre fiction–mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, romance, horror, graphic novels, and historical fiction–should never have been ghettoized by mainstream literary critics, English departments, and many readers. There have always been discussion-worthy works of literary merit in these genres. That’s more true now than ever as dozens of our most gifted writers work their craft in genre settings. If you or your book group still avoid all genre fiction, it’s time to drop the knee-jerk pooh-poohing and find a more sophisticated, considered opinion. Dismissing an entire genre (and by extension, its readers) as fluff isn’t better than other forms of bigotry that generate antipathy for an entire group because one has encountered a few bad apples among its members.


One of the reasons that genre fiction is underread by book groups is that the greatest strength of many of its works is plotting. A clever, twisty-but-believably-integrated plot may be elegant, but it’s easier to admire or to recount than it is to discuss. So to avoid a quick resolution to your discussion, seek out plot-driven works that also have strong characters, interesting conflicts and themes, and unusual settings.

Don’t, however, give up on the plot discussion. It might just be a matter of asking the right questions about the plot. Discuss whether or not readers were surprised by particular twists, debate what was believable and what wasn’t, ask if there were holes in the plot, or even delve into the what-ifs of alternate plot developments. Devote an occasional month to a thematic meeting where each reader introduces a plot-driven book instead of discussing a common book.


Elements such as politics and religion can lead to fascinating discussions, but can just as easily result in arguments. Whether or not to select books that focus on such subjects requires judgment, experimentation, and mindful facilitation, as some groups handle conflict more gracefully than others.

I would encourage groups not to assume that they cannot handle controversial subjects without at least making a few attempts. These are big, potentially rewarding subjects to eliminate by default. Look for books with a considered, complex take on such subject matter, not those with an axe to grind. It never hurts to preface discussion with a reminder to be respectful to the beliefs and backgrounds of others.

I’ll finish this discussion later this week, with a look at the last three deal breakers on my list.



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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