In the News and On the Shelf: Fiction & Nonfiction in your Book Groups

I just wanted to jump in today and share some info from yesterday’s Booklist webinar, “In the News and On the Shelf: Fiction & Nonfiction in your Book Groups”. If you missed it, no worries, the link will be up on the Booklist Webinar Archives page next week.

Reps from Random House and W.W. Norton presented several backlist and upcoming titles that would make great discussion choices, and our 2 library experts, Lucy Lockley and BGB’s own Kaite Stover, have shared their notes with us, selections below.
From Lucy:

  • Once you have chosen which title to use for a book discussion, the next step is usually to find title-specific discussion questions.
    Some places to check are:

    • Author and publisher websites – either may have a prepared list of questions which can be printed off and are ready to use
    • Print resources such as:
      • The Reader’s Choice: 200 Book Club Favorites by Victoria Golden McMains has older titles but ones which have been enjoyed by numerous book groups
      • Read ‘Em Their Writes: a Handbook for Mystery and Crime Fiction Book Discussions by Gary Warren Niebuhr
      • Reading Women: a Book Club Guide for Women’s Fiction by Nanci Milone Hill
      • Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups by Neil Hollands
  •  If you can serve food during your discussions, you might be interested in:
    • The Book Club Cookbook: Recipes and Food for Thought from Your Book Club’s Favorite Books and Authors, 2nd edition by July Gelman and Vicky Levy Krupp
  • To add some appeal to you discussion or set the stage for the next book title, leaders may want to set up a display with read-alikes or other tools such as:
    • Primary Documents – for a discussion on the book The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, one discussion leader found newspaper articles and pictures which were specific to the  subject and the time period
    • Props – spruce up a display by using anything which might make it more appealing; for example: for a display on the book Homer & Langley (infamous hoarders) one discussion leader used stacks of newspapers, an old lantern, a beat-up fan (from the 1940’s), old spoons – things that might have been packed away in an attic
  • Using technology to enhance the discussion:
    • Laptop / WiFi Access / Projector – these can expand a book discussion to reach beyond the meeting local. For example: a recent book discussion on Born to Run by Christopher  McDougall (the book contains no map or photos) used a laptop during the discussion to access the author website to find pictures of the runners mentioned in the book, to search Google  for a map of the Sierra Madre mountains to ‘see’ where the Tarahumara people live, and find the product website for Vibram Fivefingers or barefoot shoes (one of the individuals discussed  in the book is “Barefoot” Ted, the ultrarunner who actually runs marathons barefoot!)
    • Conference Call – for a live interview with the author during your book discussion,contact the publisher, author’s representative or the author to try and arrange one for the date and time   when your group will be discussing their book
    • Video Chat: use Skype or Google Voice and Video Chat to have a live, in-person (visual and audio) interview with the author or with an expert on the topic of the discussion title
    • Book Trailers: use YouTube or BookRiot to find a video book trailer for the upcoming discussion title or for some of the read-alikes.  Many publishers are now producing book trailers for their titles, especially their book discussion suggestions so leaders wanting to try using book trailers should check their websites.
  • Do your meetings keep going outside the current discussion topic?  Members want to talk about something else?  You can offer a program for that! Let’s Talk About It!: A News & Current Events Discussion Group is a group we do in the St. Charles City-County Library District.  It provides the perfect forum for anyone who enjoys talking about current events and headlines in the news.

From Kaite:

In this advanced technological age where we are all bombarded with the news, current affairs, and issue of the moment 24/7, it’s no wonder that our readers want to sort out the miasma of info in book groups. Most book groups have a tendency to avoid these types of books because usually one one title is being discussed and it’s important the library and the programs is supports appear unbiased. But there’s a way to let readers explore their own beliefs and opinions and keep the conversation on an even keel with current events.

You may be wondering why would any book group choose to read any of these pairings if conversation could turn into a shouting match. Readers gravitate towards these types of books because they want more details and understanding than the news can provide. They want to feel informed with sound opinions. They want to understand why people and society behave the way they do.

People want to feel in-the-know and on top of the news and this is why they pay attention to the books of the moment. These are also the books getting media attention so book group leaders need to be aware of them, too.

What appeal elements should selectors be looking for? Can’t escape the popularity of some of these books, but you can look at them with a questioning eye. Most readers will enjoy the learning aspect of books about current affairs. The tone and story line adopted by the author with an air of expertise. The author’s intent is also important. Is the author supporting or refuting an established position. Is the author tracking the development of an issue, investigating, persuading. Is the argument skewed? Reasoned? Merely explanatory? Is the author looking to provide insight or just incite a reader? Writing style, amount of detail and pacing will be working with the above concerns.

Balance the selections—opportunity to offer two readings—confirm and explore. This gives readers the opportunity to consider a differing viewpoint in the interest of understanding the opposition to their own. Some readers may hold a viewpoint and need further support or education. Don’t need to ask which is a readers preference, and in some cases, it’s better for the conversation if readers are unaware of participant’s particular stance on an issue.

Bring some background—If time allows, have some additional background information on the topic at hand. Recent accounts in the news, other books, a quick history of the topic with facts. Having this info can be helpful if conversation gets a little heated. Can use it as a “cooler” and then steer dialogue in another direction.

Managing the conversation—keep it focused on the books and be ready for animated conversation from participants who may usually be on the quiet side. Discussing these books, I feel, requires a little more preparation from facilitators and more awareness of the body language and moods of the readers around the table. The point is to generate a good discussion and you don’t want to drive any reader away because conversation became too heated or personal.

  • For understanding the appeals of nonfiction, particularly books about social, political, economic, cultural issue, consult The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction by Neal Wyatt. Each chapter on a popular nonfiction subject area comes with reading lists. Chapter 11 will be the most useful for book groups looking to explore readings in current events.
  • The Real Story and The Inside Scoop, both by Sarah Statz Cords, an RA expert in nonfiction are treasures of discussable titles. Lists of titles to start with, fiction readalikes, and solid essays on the characteristics and elements that draw readers to a particular subject. The Inside Scoop has a chapter devoted to political reporting and a subsection on Hot Button Issues. Great resource for finding titles that balance each other.

Controversial topics in a book group can generate a little apprehension, but don’t let this stop you from introducing reading that could generate a lively conversation. Your readers may surprise you with their discussion and will welcome the chance to apply their own world view to their reading and share it with others. Book groups as arena for public discourse. What a civilized place to start.

Kaite will showcase some of her favorite pairings in upcoming BGB posts.








About the Author:

Rebecca Vnuk is the editor for Collection Management and Library Outreach at Booklist. She is also the author of 3 reader’s-advisory nonfiction books: Read On…Women’s Fiction (2009), Women’s Fiction: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (2014), and Women’s Fiction Authors: A Research Guide (2009). Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_RVnuk.

2 Comments on "In the News and On the Shelf: Fiction & Nonfiction in your Book Groups"

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  1.' Yolanda Cardenas-Parra says:

    Hello. I attended this webinar and found it very interesting and useful. I would like to ask if a similar webinar is available for titles in other languages such as Spanish. Thank you in advance for your time.

    • Admin says:

      Hi Yolanda – I’m sorry but at this time, we don’t have webinars available in Spanish. Or are you looking for a webinar (in English) about books written in Spanish?

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