In my last post I talked about the resources I use when looking for potential book-group selections. That part of the process can be tricky enough, but so can the next step—putting the selections on the calendar. Sometimes the book itself makes it easy if, say, the book mentions a holiday or deals heavily with a specific season. But what do you do for the rest of the year?
A great model I like to use is to place a fiction and a relevant nonfiction book in consecutive months. Book discussions always seem to profit from this setup, but perhaps the best thing about this trick is that it works with absolutely any genre, even those you might not expect—science fiction, for instance. I once picked Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (2011) for my group. Most of the group had been in high school or college during the 1980s, so I knew they would get the many cultural references the book makes. I had them read Ready Player One in June, and in July I had them read a nonfiction book about video games: Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto (2012) by David Kushner. A video game was such a big part of the fiction selection, so why not read about the beginning of one of the biggest video games ever made? The pairing was a great success that really enhanced our discussion.
Pairing books like this can be a great way to get readers to explore different genres. Though I believe it’s good to respect a patron’s reading preferences, I also take it as a personal challenge to surprise readers into liking a genre they previously thought they couldn’t. I have a patron who absolutely refuses to look at mysteries, so one year I took a chance on Nick Drake’s Nefertiti: The Book of the Dead (2007), a great whodunit set in Egypt, excellently written. The group gobbled it up. The author’s use of Egyptian history and royalty set us up perfectly to read a nonfiction selection next, though it was a bit trickier for me to find it—be warned, there is a lot of dense literature on Egyptian history out there, literally and figuratively. Happily, I found Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra (2010), an immensely readable, excellent work about the famous queen. While not everyone finished Cleopatra, enough members read it to enhance our discussion, and some even persuaded the others to go back and finish it.
I am curious to see what other techniques book-group leaders use to organize their year. As always, let me know what tricks you have found success with!