Bianca Jane Winter, Readers’ Circle member, blogs about choosing the 2014 Summer Reads and reader expectations.
Participants in Writers’ Centre Norwich’s Readers’ Circle have one thing in common: we love reading. But perhaps that’s as much as can be said about our similarities. So how can a diverse group agree on a selection of a handful of books?
What has surprised me about the Readers’ Circle is that readers have taken on a commitment to discovering the clutch of books for Summer Reads 2014 with utter seriousness. That’s not to say it hasn’t been a process full of fun and enjoyment, but it has been evident in all my encounters with members of the Readers’ Circle that serving the ultimate purpose – of bringing together a collection of books that will delight and inspire a wide readership – takes precedence over personal preferences.
We could perhaps argue that the best books are those that challenge our judgement
I’d say the rule of thumb for the Readers’ Circle ought to be expect the unexpected: so many reader reviews begin ‘I didn’t expect to like this…’ or ‘I had high hopes, but…’ – and it’s no exaggeration to say that most of us formed some notion about what we were about to read before we did so (elaborate tactics of selection to avoid this are a whole other story)! Selecting a book inherently involves a judgement – but we could perhaps argue that the best books are those that challenge our judgement; that surprise us, that move us in ways we couldn’t possibly anticipate.
Revealing, too, is the way that our understanding of ourselves as readers has shifted as a result of this process – many people are open to new genres, new authors and new imprints. But it’s not just an increase in appetite for different sorts of books that I’ve noticed – it’s what we learn when we’re forced to articulate our opinions. Discussing books, contrary to my assumption that it would reveal ‘camps’ of people with similar tastes, only served to highlight how diverse a group of readers had come together. I’m now celebrating the fact that, as readers, we are completely unique, and our passions simply can’t be predicted.
Such a diverse group of readers makes it impossible, of course, to reach a consensus about the greatness of each of the books that make the final selection. But what can be guaranteed is that each book has earned its place by eliciting passions and gaining advocates that can champion even the book’s flaws. For no book is perfect, and all that can be promised for Summer Reads 2014 is a collection of books that are varied in tone, subject matter and form, but that all possess qualities that readers have fought for and proclaimed. We each, no doubt, have our own list of books to recommend, but by harnessing the collective in order to reach the final selection, we ensure that Summer Reads represent a breadth of opinion, and is the richer for that.
Underpinning Summer Reads is a belief in the transformative power of reading, a belief borne out by the process of selection and shared by every member of the Readers’ Circle. It results in a collection of books that have been interrogated, argued for, loved and sometimes loathed – a collection of such richness and varied appeal that it simply couldn’t be selected by a single person. So, I urge every keen reader to pick up some Summer Reads and expect nothing except a powerful experience.
Bianca’s love affair with books started when she was 2 by copying words from the Encyclopedia Britannica, includes much illicit ‘reading in the dark’ as a child, and has recently encompassed a love-hate relationship with the Man Booker prize. Participating in the Readers’ Circle, with such a dedicated and erudite bunch of readers, has been a real privilege. Professionally, Bianca is a Digital Producer working with two companies, Hoipolloi and METIS, based in the East. She’s worked to develop new work and support artists and writers over the last six years, and before that, she graduated from a degree in Fine Art.
Follow Bianca on Twitter @DiscoverBrevity