Thursday, May 3, 2007

Nancy Pearl Book Groups

Yikes. By the time I got my blogging legs, and packed up, I was late for Nancy's workshop.
No problem, I thought...I'd just sneak in, plug in and blog away.
No such luck!!!
The place was packed, standing room only!
I ended up sitting in the aisle staircase with others unlucky enough to grab a seat.
I couldn't help thinking of the Titanic, and feeling like a second class citizen, put in steerage for the journey.
It was an uncomfortable feeling.

Happily, Nancy soon had her audience so entranced, I forgot about my sitting arrangement.

She was very humorous, and the crowd loved her.

Here are some of her comments on book groups:
Give time to socialize. About 15 minutes. People need to talk.
It's not school, not English class, she reminded.

Book groups are an opportunity to read and discover,
and an opportunity to explore books in a new wayl

You sometimes read books you might not have tried on your own.

The question came up, what to do with the people who didn't read the book?
Still invite them to come. Let them know that the ending may be discussed.
They won't be "shielded" from this info. However, they will often proceed to read the book because they were so intrigued by the conversation about it

If SEVERAL people did not read the book, that is a clue that your group is (consistently) choosing wrong books.

Another interesting thing:
People don't come if they hated the book. They don't want to offend the person who chose it.

The worst thing to do is open the discussion with "What did you think of the book?" Some will love it, some will hate it, and you will have polarized groups. Wait to the end of the meeting to pose THIS question.

Better questions would be: What is the significance of the title?
or What was the Lesson, and who learned it?
or What if the author chose to tell it from a different point of view?
Which character did you feel seemed most real to you?
What did you think the author wanted us to get from this book?
and lastly"
How would you have re-written the ending?

Nancy feels that every book group needs a leader, and that leaders should rotate. Leaders help the group. Leaders empower people.
Leaders deal with the group dynamics.
Leaders keep the discussion group going.

Most importantly, the leader controls that one person who dominates a group, but is clueless that they do so.

She suggested that the leader sit next to this person and touch them on the arm and say "Let's let someone else speak.

Nancy had our group in gales of laughter when she said to do this "firmly but not abusively".
She said you can always tell who this person is because others will not look at them, or other people so as not to make bad facial expressions, roll their eyes, etc. You get the picture.

The leader's purpose is NOT TO LET THIS PERSON DOMINATE!
Don't embarrass them, but steer them.

"Be Brave", she said, but offered that she is not. Force yourself for the good of the group, or the group will disband quickly.

If this is impossible to do, take the person aside after the meeting and speak to them privately.
Often this person will leave the group or modify their behavior if corrected often.

She then went on to say that book groups don't always succeed, and not to take it personally.
People have lots of pulls on their time.

One person asked her if online was better than face to face groups.
She said she favored personal interactions, but that one was not better, they were just "different".

One reason she prefers face to face is that people who come together develop a common language, and I loved this quote:

"Book Groups counteract solo lives so that we can live."

Nancy's presentation was very linear, so it was easy to take notes.
She then spoke about the types of people who join groups,
and the leader's role again;
that some people need space - time to think before responding, but who would not interrupt, because that is rude. The leader can anticipate someone's wanting to respond, and help them to get started.

She also talked about the ideal setting of a group; a circle, and talked about silence.
A quote was: "Silence is so important", yet we areso afraid of silence.
She gave the example of the leader directing the group with a thoughtful question, and no one responds, or it seems a very long span of silence before someone actually responds.
The worst is to answer one's own question. She thought by being mindful of one's own bad traits and striving to correct those was good.

To summarize space, she said "You need to respect silence."

Onto the topic of being a leader. A leader can read book reviews prior to the meeting, but what is more important is what the group thought about it.

She rattled off author after author's work that would make good Titles for Book groups.
She related how the story behind the story was sometimes so interesting, but should be shared during the development of the discussion, not as a preface.

An aside: during my notetaking, I became mindful of the frantic click clicks of someone who was blogging. My notetaking reveals "Blogger in the back with a vengeance!" I might also note that I was still rather uncomfortable with my position on the floor, squished in between other attendees.

Because Nancy's presentation was so jam packed with crucial info, I was almost glad not to be blogging and working through those issues. I also heard that person stop for a while, and then pick up the pace again later in the lecture.

She added that she really enjoys characters and their motivations, while other leaders may focus on setting or plot. Someone from the audience commented that a group of three librarians alternated as leaders, and she agreed that that was great, as each person adds their own perspective.

She then spoke about which books are the most successful candidates, and that a fun book was often very different than a good book for discussion,

Meat, or the white, unspoken space on a page which can be interpreted is best. NYTimes bestsellers seem to "tell everything" and not leave much to interpretation. She cautioned against these.

Again, she was very funny, and added anecdotal spice along the way. She often offered us a respite from the serious stuff of book groups.

She suggested one meeting per year or 6 months to decide on a variety of books to be covered within that span, and said they could be grouped by theme, and also fiction, non fiction. She suggested Iraq/Pakistan as one theme, Africa as another.

I loved her numerous and succinct quotes: This one: Our role as librarians is to broaden the world of the reader".

If the book discussion drifted to the movie version, a nice way to steer it back is to ask what would the author think?

One librarian from the floor expressed reluctance to begin a mystery book group. She agreed, because "there's not a lot of meat there". and that you need to give groupers something chewy to work on.

One way others accomplished mystery discussions was to have more of a panel review than discuss one book.

Nancy thought that sci-fi was perfect for discussion, and suggested Ender's Game and Feed.

She said for optimal discussions the best books to choose had either an ambiguous ending or the main character makes a decsion that is pleasing to some and infuriates others.

Other advice: Don't label a book as a classic.
Be mindful of men in the group.

She also spoke on the fact that some libraries purchased multiple copies of books so that patrons did not have to have that expense.

Lastly, she said save "What did you think of the book" til the last question of the meeting, not the first.

In summary, it was a great workshop, not withstanding being a little sore from my spot on the floor for the duration. I enjoyed it immensely and took away some great ideas.


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