Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How to Select Nonfiction for Your Book Club

Books clubs are not just for fiction readers any more. While some are indeed dedicated to discussing only works of fiction, others manage to work a few nonfiction titles into the mix every year. However, lately, book clubs dedicated to discussing nonfiction are popping up nationwide. Nonfiction titles offer the reader a chance to explore different topics and learn something new. It also gives participants the opportunity to read books that you wouldn't necessarily choose on your own; thus, opening ones eyes to a whole new world.

In fact, carefully chosen nonfiction titles can be just as engaging to read as fiction. But how do you pick just the right nonfiction titles for your group? Consider the following guidelines when making your choices:
  1. Start off with shorter, lighter selections that have reading guides available.
  2. Select topics that are different from month to month.
  3. Read book reviews and compare ratings.
  4. Take a look at bestseller lists.
  5. Consider books that have won awards such as The Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Awards as well as local prizes.
  6. Check availability. Newer titles may be difficult to obtain, while older titles may have less appeal.
  7. Consider the reading format. The most obvious choices are hardcovers vs. paperbacks, but also consider the availability of  other formats as well such as audiobooks, eBooks, and large print.
  8. Page length can be an issue especially if members of your book club belong to other groups. Work as a group to set a page limit.
  9. Decide how long your discussions will be. If your group only meets for one hour, there might not be time to discuss a 500 page tome.
  10. Finally, consider recommendations from friends or colleagues.

Keep in mind that there are a few don’ts as well:
  1. Don’t choose several heavy topics month after month.
  2. Don't get stuck on a topic either. While the Civil War era might appeal to some in your group, discussing three books in a row on the same topic might discourage others.
  3. Is the book too controversial? Some members may shy away from controversial topics.
  4. Some groups may want to avoid the following types of books: divisive topics, religion, books with offensive language, and books that may offend members of different cultures.
  5. Remember, a book doesn't have to be a prize winner to inspire a thought provoking discussion.

Finally, your book club will need to agree on a procedure for choosing books that may or may not include some of the above suggestions. As the moderator for my group, I personally select the titles up to one year in advance when planning my programs. I am careful not choose books that reflect only my reading preferences.  Instead, I try to choose books that I think will appeal to the group as a whole and inspire conversation. In order to do this, I make a list of topics we are interested in, check book reviews and ratings, and consider the physical characteristics of each book such as page length and font size. Also, I take a look at how these titles fit in with current events.

Another option instead of having just one person pick all of the titles is to have the group vote on suggested titles. Likewise, other groups may implement a rotation system allowing each member to pick a title and lead the discussion when her turn comes around. There’s no wrong or right way to choose books; simply outline what works best for your group. However, do learn to accept the fact the not everyone will like every title, and that’s okay. Sometimes the best discussions arise from the least liked books. With a little practice, selecting nonfiction titles for your book club can be a rewarding experience for all.

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