What makes a good Whidbey Reads book?

By Kathy Bullene
Assistant Managing Librarian, Oak Harbor Library

Kathy Bullene and Daniel James Brown

Kathy Bullene with 2015 Whidbey Reads author Daniel James Brown

For three years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a group of Sno-Isle Libraries staff members, Skagit Valley College faculty, and community volunteers who organize the community reading event called Whidbey Reads every spring in Island County.

Our committee begins meeting in September with the goal of choosing a title by early December. Those first meetings are a series of lively discussions in which titles and authors are pitched and discussed, all with the intent of finding the perfect book to read and discuss across our island.

So what makes a good Whidbey Reads book?

Broad appeal. The committee looks for something that will appeal to a wide variety of readers–female and male, Baby Boomers and high school students, long-time bibliophiles and those who only pick up a book because their class requires it.

The 2016 Whidbey Reads selection, "The Wind is Not a River"

The 2016 Whidbey Reads selection

Compelling theme. Since the purpose of Whidbey Reads is to bring people together, the work has to touch on themes that generate discussion.  Last year’s title, “The Boys in the Boat,” had themes of commitment and determination. The 2016 selection, “The Wind is Not a River,” has themes of survival and sacrifice. The Committee uses those themes to build a series of adjunct programs to generate interest and discussion around the chosen work. Check out the 2016 Whidbey Reads calendar to see what’s happening across the Island in March and April. Programs range from swing dance to Aleut relocation to wilderness survival.

Format options. We need the book to be out in paperback by early in the year, as well as available as an eBook, in audio and eAudio, and in large print. The Whidbey Island Friends of the Library groups purchase 100 paperback copies of the chosen title, while Sno-Isle Libraries adds copies in all available formats to support the event. This year, for the first time ever, I’m happy to report that the library district is offering no-wait access to eBook and eAudio versions of “The Wind is Not a River” between March 1 and April 30. You can request books of any format through our catalog.

Regional author. Finally we generally look for a West Coast author, because the culmination of Whidbey Reads is bringing the author to the island to speak to our readers. If the book itself has a local connection, even better. Our 2016 author, Brian Payton, is from Vancouver Island. Parts of the story take place in Seattle and much of the action is in Alaska. Brian will speak about his work in Freeland on April 13 and in Oak Harbor on April 14.

Is there a book you’ve read that you can’t wait to share with a friend or give to a family member? If it’s new in hardcover now, which means it likely will be out in paperback next spring. Those are the titles we’re looking for—because Whidbey Reads 2017 is coming.


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