By December 22, 2012 0 Comments Read More →

More Thoughts on Book Selection

I’ve been working on the selection committee for a community theater in Williamsburg, trying to select next year’s season, and I’m struck by how similar the task is to selecting a roster of books for a book group. In both cases, the goal is to make choices that attract participants and in both cases, the key criteria for selection is good balance.

For a theater season, we look for a blend of comedy, drama, mystery, and musical. While the genres vary some, with books you should also seek that blend. As with the theater, think not only about what your readers would enjoy as an audience, but what they can bring to discussion as a kind of performer. Just as we wouldn’t choose a show for our theater that requires a great actor in a particular part, a technical person of real skill, or musical or dancing talent which is not typically available, avoid choosing books that require a certain frame of mind to process unless someone in your group is well suited to lead such a discussion. If you don’t have a strong moderator, avoid controversial books on subjects like politics or religion that might cause feuds. If your readers don’t handle difficult literary fiction well or don’t like particular genres or plot lines, stay away from these until you find someone to lead the discussion who can elicit the pleasures of books for which your readers haven’t yet found an affinity. Also, factor the age and gender of your readers into your decision making.

At the theater, we would also get complaints if every show we produced was an old chestnut that audiences had seen again and again. While you wouldn’t read the same book over and over, your group can grow stale if every book is from the limited model that publishers deem “book group books.” You shouldn’t live on the bleeding edge, but it’s healthy to go outside the comfort zone a couple of times a year.

Some shows are beyond the scope of a community theater, and attempts to stage them become a comedy of errors. This is particularly true of shows that are too big for a small venue, where technical abilities might quickly be surpassed and small stages might become overcrowded with talent that isn’t big enough to pull off certain numbers. The same is true of book selection. Books of too many pages, books that require specialized knowledge or interests to appreciate, or books that you know are ill-suited to your group will just not result in good discussions, no matter how much you personally might admire them. Go as big as you can, but know where to draw the line.

Finally, the best planned season can unravel when it comes time to secure rights to produce the shows. While book groups don’t have licensing to deal with, they should also consider availability. A great selection can turn into a very bad meeting if only a few of the people in the group find the book. Theaters find it hard to license the newest shows, and book groups will find it equally difficult to get inexpensive copies of the newest books. For a sense of availability, look up the book in a few bookstores. Check with your local library to see how many copies are on the shelf. In literary fiction, if you wait, you’ll often find discussion questions included in the paperback edition.

The bottom line is this: put advance thought into organizing a “season” of reading. You’ll keep more of your readers happy and have a much better experience than if you pick haphazardly, book by book.



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).

Post a Comment