There’s nothing more dulling than the same-old, same-old. It’s good to shake things up. No, I’m not doing anything radically different on this here blog (other than hopefully getting back to, er, updating it again.
I’m talking about my book club.
When I started my current job almost two years ago, I inherited a book club. A flagging book club, but a book club nonetheless, and it has become one of my favorite parts of my job. Oh, and it’s not flagging anymore.
When I took over, I found out the person before me sort of just… made executive decisions on book club books, based more on availability than what the members wanted to be reading. So when I asked what they wanted out of the book club and me during the first meeting we had under my leadership, I got a LOT of feedback. Book club attendees typically read a lot, and they’re often savvy enough to know exactly the things they like, so it was a good conversation with a lot of useful feedback for me.
And I chose a lot of good picks that first year. Safe picks. Lots of historical fiction, lots of what you think of as traditional book club fare. They enjoyed the selections, and membership slowly grew. In each approximately six month set of picks, I would bring a list of about double the titles we actually needed and let them vote on what they wanted. Not everything was a universal hit, but with a say in the choices, no one got too bent out of shape about it. There was always a next book.
But… it was all part of a scheme.
At the end of last year, I had another chat with them. The first year was an exercise in trust building, and I was pretty sure I had earned it. They agreed. How would they feel, I asked, about branching out in our choices a bit, really embrace the book club as boundary pusher idea. I tossed out some genre ideas, and they were open to it, chiming in and asking for other types of books as well. Imagine how much my heart sang when I heard, “You know, I’d be open to trying some science fiction or fantasy” and hearing agreement. By the time the phrase “and maybe some young adult fiction too?” came along, I was floating.
We’ve read widely this year. Gothic mysteries, a classic here, some non-fiction, a couple young adult novels there (yes, I snuck in an extra one in another category because I can do that), some zany science fiction. Each title is chosen with them in mind–for example, I wasn’t going to plunge them straight into hard science space opera, but a genre-bender sci fi romp filled with wordplay and sly literary allusions would help bridge the gap a bit. Or rather than plunge them into a contemporary YA romance, I selected a historical story with a determined heroine and a rich sense of setting, all of which are things they’ve appreciated in other reads. One category was a tie, so I chose one of them for this round and plan to just book the other one for a future meeting since it was so close and so many people wanted to read it.
The experiment has proven successful. At halfway checkin, before I compiled the next list of titles, I asked for feedback on the new process. It was a hit, though they wondered if I would be able to provide three choices per category (which I agreed to do, pending availability of enough titles in the system). And they had new requests this time, including a category I never would have thought to throw in the mix–children’s literature!
I will probably keep this method of selection for a while longer as it clarifies the voting process, encourages more eclectic reading, and exposes people to a wider range of titles to potentially pursue on their own even if we don’t end up choosing something as a group. Of course, this may also be revisited at some point if we decide to move in a different direction or things start stagnating for some reason.
But for now, we’re reading more broadly and all expanding our horizons a bit, and that means I’m doing my job right.