Behind the Book ‘Tale’ librarians review many titles to find ideal pick for community reading project

Posted: Saturday, January 8, 2011 12:10 am
By Ben Beagle

It’s a question librarians involved with the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project are asked often: How do you pick the Tale book?
Luck? Magic? Serendipty? Fate?
If only it was that easy.
Before settling on this year’s selection, Hillary Jordan’s “Mudbound,” librarians considered some three dozen books, seriously considered them — after reading hundreds of reviews. The were looking for the one title that would be perfect for the program.
“Sometimes we find the book immediately, but more often than not we consider a wide number of books,” said Leslie DeLooze, the community services librarian at Richmond Memorial Library credited with starting the Tale program that involves 19 libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.
Just like how every reader has personal preferences, so too do the members of the Tale for Three Counties Council, the non-profit that organizes each year’s Tale project.
‘Mudbound’ is 2011 pick
Jordan will be the ninth author featured. Book discussions, contests and special events will lead up to four talks and booksignings with Jordan in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.
Jordan’s debut novel, “Mudbound,” takes place in the Deep South after World War II and features two families — one black, one white — and what happens when their sons come home from war.
“It begins with strong characters and a compulsively readable plot,” DeLooze said, revealing two significant qualities the librarians look for in considering Tale titles.
The Tale Council also looks for works of fiction set in small towns, especially those exploring rural family life, and books that have broad areas of discussion and appeal to a range of ages and audiences.
“Mudbound” has those qualities, DeLooze said, and also introduces a new author to Tale readers.
“We are always looking for the next good book,” DeLooze said. “And make the decision with much trepidation. Readers hold us to a high standard.”
Tale has featured coming-of-age stories, mysteries and historical fiction. Books have come from big New York City publishing houses and small university presses.
Sometimes, though, the selection is simply a fortuitous one.
When librarians chose Jennifer Donnelly’s “A Northern Light” for the 2006 Tale program, they didn’t immediately realize that the program would fall during the 100th anniversary of the Adirondacks murder case that inspired Donnelly’s story of Maggie Gokey and the letters she is entrusted with.
Two years later, Thomas Mullen and “The Last Town on Earth” was chosen amid warnings of a bird flu pandemic. The sometimes graphic novel, Mullen’s debut, was set in a town that tried to quartantine itself from outsiders during the 1918 flu outbreak.
Timing is also important. Last year’s author Garth Stein was selected mere months before “The Art of Racing in the Rain” made its big splash on best-selling lists. For the past two years, the novel has been among each year’s 10 best-selling adult fiction books.
“I think the selection of choices has been really good. They’re not books I would necessarily pick up on my own, and I read a lot,” said Meghan Hauser, a Perry resident who has participated in Tale book discussions, review contests and attended author visits.
From many, to one
The Tale Council is made up of librarians and representatives from public libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties and Genesee Community College. They are all avid readers, and since many of them also purchase books for their libraries they read through hundreds of book reviews each year.
Some reviews may catch the librarians’ attention as a possible book for Tale. Those titles are passed along for further reading by at least a couple of committee members. Then, if the book is recommended a majority of the Council members read the book and discuss it at a future meeting.
“We inspire each other with our reading choices,” said Peggy Parker, director of the Perry Public Library. “We always manage to find great reading suggestions in addition to those chosen for consideration as Tale books.”
Many books get reviewed by the council. “Although we know what we are looking for, a professional reviewer is not looking for the characteristics that we are,” DeLooze explained.
By following their criteria, the Council narrows down the contenders.
“Then we simply look for something we feel would be appreciated by a wide audience here,” Parker said. “We use our library experiences and past knowledge of the Tale choices to help with the final selection.”
Consideration is also given to awards a book may have received and the author’s ability and willingess to travel to the area to present programs in each county. Cost is also a factor for a program funded largely through grants, donations and the sale of the chosen author’s works.
And just because a title isn’t picked one year doesn’t mean it won’t be considered in other years.
“I find it a good sign if I had read a book a year or more ago and still remembered its fine points,” Parker said.
“Mudbound,” first suggested more than a year ago as a possible Tale selection, is one such book.
“The richness of the story line so aptly told by six different narrators stuck with me,” Parker said.
Making discoveries
Participation in Tale has even changed reading habits among Council members.
Sue Chiddy, a reading instructor at Genesee Community College, acknowledged that before becoming involved in Tale she would stop reading after a couple of chapters if she thought the book wouldn’t be worth her time reading.
“Knowing what I now know, I may have missed out on a few ‘good reads,’ ” Chiddy said. “After having read many books that were suggested as a Tale consideration, I’ve given books that weren’t ‘my style’ more of a chance and found that these books were worth my time.
“I feel that I’m reading with a more open mind and that my choice of books for personal reading has broadened.”
Readers recognize the Council’s efforts, and many don’t stop with just the author’s Tale title.
Hauser, the Perry reader, has read books from Howard Frank Mosher and Mark Spragg that were published after their Tale appearances.
“It’s hard to pick through a list of hundreds, thousands of books and pick out a winner,” said Hauser, whose memo book of authors and books she’d like to read is never far away. “I think the Tale program has helped me get through that list. Every pick has been a winner.”
The next chapter
Each Tale Council meeting covers a variety of topics, usually revolving around the business of putting on the annual event. But the meetings all end the same way: with someone asking what books have you read lately. The librarians then compare notes, pass books around and share their thoughts on the latest books to catch their interest. From there, the list gets longer. Until it gets narrowed down to that one.
“What is the ideal Tale title?” DeLooze ponders. “Well, it’s well-written, thought-provoking and involving. It could be many other things, but it has to be those things!”

Hillary Jordan website:

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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