How Whidbey Reads books are chosen

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Ever wonder how a book gets chosen for the annual Whidbey Reads community reading event? For answers, we turned to Becky Bolte, Sno-Isle Libraries district manager and Whidbey Reads project manager. Here’s her report.

Whidbey Reads started as Oak Harbor Reads in 2003 with author Connie Willis and her book Bellwether. Over time, the program expanded to Whidbey Reads and featured annual presentations from a popular author each year including Ivan Doig, Jim Lynch, Jonathan Evison, Elizabeth George, Daniel James Brown and others. The Whidbey Reads committee, consisting of staff from the five Whidbey Island libraries, Skagit Valley College staff, and community members begins reading books early in the year to recommend for the author presentation in the spring of the next year.

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. The goal of the committee is to select a book by September or October in order to present the title to the community in December. The title is promoted in January each year on the Whidbey Reads web pages.

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. Both fiction and nonfiction are considered.

Compelling theme. Because the purpose of Whidbey Reads is to bring people together, the work has to touch on themes that generate discussion. Does the book spark passionate discussion? Is it meaningful to current society and/or our local area?  The Boys in the Boat, had themes of commitment and determination. The 2016 selection, The Wind is Not a River, had themes of survival and sacrifice. The committee uses those themes to build a series of adjunct programs leading up to the author event to generate interest and discussion around the chosen work.

Format options. The book must be available in paperback when the title is selected, as well as available as an eBook, and audio book. The Whidbey Island Friends of the Library groups provide funds to purchase paperback and ebook copies of the chosen title, while Sno-Isle Libraries adds copies in all available formats to support the event.

Regional author. We prefer West Coast authors, 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.

Is there a book you’ve read that you can’t wait to share with a friend or give to a family member? Contact your local Whidbey Island library and make a suggestion.