Theme Players

Tuesday, I came nervously to the meeting of my science fiction/fantasy book group. Our monthly theme, fantasy short stories, did not seem like an easy sell. The books that I assembled onto our monthly list (which I create for each theme to give our readers ideas) do not circulate well from the library.

But instead of a disappointment, I was pleased to watch as reader after reader came streaming through the door. When all was said and done, we had added three tables to our big rectangle and 27 readers were spread around them, a new record for a meeting of this particular group.

While most of the credit belongs to a great group of people who truly enjoy each others’ company, part of it has to be given to the themed approach to book grouping. These are not readers who would last together long if all were required to read the same book. Their tastes are all over the place. With the theme format, that variation in interests is half the fun.

In this format, readers choose any book they want to read that fits the topic area. The topic of fantasy short stories led to some obvious choices whom our readers have discussed many times in the past–Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Robert Heinlein, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Peter Beagle. That’s great: these are some of the best writers in the genre.

But what excites me even more is when less known talents get to rub elbows with the giants. I loved introducing Ellen Klages’s Portable Childhoods (reviewed here last week) to my friends. I saw several readers scribble down the names of forgotten giants like R. A. Lafferty and John Collier. Others were intrigued by the angry East Texas heat delivered by Joe R. Lansdale. A couple of our readers brought well loved (ragged) copies of their favorite childhood anthologies and passed them around the table to the great delight of all. And to see genre readers get excited about literary fantasists like Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges is priceless. 

Two hours doesn’t allow time for great depth in the discussion when 27 readers comes to play, but it does create an amazing review of the literature in a given area. The readers in this vibrant group don’t have time for tea and cookies (we save our hunger for the restaurant we visit afterwards), but anyone who takes the time to listen discovers new writers who are likely to please. To me that meets the definition of book group success.

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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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