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Reading Maps Made Easy

Post by Shauna Griffin
Posted August 06, 2014 in NextReads

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When contemplating creating a reading map, what’s your gut reaction? Is it anticipatory pleasure? Or is it fear and loathing? If it’s the latter, we’re here to help.

Generally, reading maps tend to focus on one book, usually a novel, with suggestions for further reading based on various types of appeal (writing style, genre, plot, setting, character, theme, or some combination of them all) as well as on those characteristics that make the book unique. It’s easier to make reading maps for books and series that have spawned trends (think Harry Potter or 50 Shades of Grey) -- and it can be a lot more challenging for other books that can be hard to pin down.

I walked through the basics of identifying appeals for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in my Recommendations: A Labor of Love blog post; with eight books recommended in four different categories (Dominican history, the immigrant experience, writing style, and coming of age in a multicultural urban setting).  You’ve got the basics of a reading map right there.

If you want to create one for a more recent book, you can use the same approach: identify the various appeals of the book, and try to think of (or search for) other books that share one or more of those qualities. The books don’t have to be identical to your starting book, rather you want to give your readers options to find further reading based on whatever aspects appealed to them.

In addition to the things mentioned above, you might also consider focusing on the “world” created in the novel. For example, the historical era, or the occupations or interests of the main characters, if they’re key to the story. This is frequently a great opportunity to cross the perceived chasm between fiction and nonfiction. Is this a novel with lots of details about Renaissance gardens or 17th-century Scotland? Is the main character dealing with an illness? Does his work as a spy merit attention? Include nonfiction books (or other novels) that address those factors. For instance, fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories (or the BBC TV show inspired by them) might like to learn more about forensic science -- or about the creation of the legendary character.  In addition to other fiction involving observant, infinitely clever sleuths, why not suggest James O’Brien’s The Scientific Sherlock Holmes, or even Thomas Goetz’s The Remedy (which really is about tuberculosis -- but did you know that Arthur Conan Doyle’s involvement in debunking an early cure may have helped him create Holmes?).

Given the opportunity to pick a book to base a reading map on, don’t limit yourself. Picking one for a bestselling stand-alone novel (like JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy) might give you obvious bang for your buck, but don’t forget your sleeper and indie hits, like Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, or the latest by your tried and true authors, like Elin Hilderbrand  (The Matchmaker’s the most recent), or that author who’s only been growing in popularity (Rainbow Rowell’s Landline). How about a classic?

You could also consider doing one for a series. All those perennial series bestsellers means that the longer that the series runs (or is being read), the longer that reading map will get use. Same goes for authors. Whether they write in one genre or in many, you can create reading maps to create new fans, or expand the reading options of existing ones.

And, don’t forget nonfiction! Take a look at whatever nonfiction book has the most holds in your library, and try to gather suggestions -- another book by the same author? Another book on the same topic, or some subset (or broader) aspect of it? A book from an opposing point of view? A book with a similar approach or structure if it’s more narrative nonfiction (humorous asides, trivia, personal anecdotes, strictly professional, etc)?

But there’s no need to limit your reading map to a single book, single series, or even single author. You can also do them for historical eras, events, themes (such as “independence” or “exploration”), current events (the Middle East, elections), and so on. You can do them to introduce readers to genres or to Dewey Decimal classes. You can do them in support of events at your library. One of the ones I had the most fun creating was in support of a Community Reads project. And keep in mind that for library events, the visual impact that a reading map can make is part of why they’re so useful – and why they can be fun to make. Seriously, book jackets are an art form.

Still stuck for ideas? Broaden your ideas of what a reading map “should be.” Use a NextReads newsletter as a basis for creating a playful, visual reading list. Stick a genre-related image in the middle, and display the new books around it, adding some other new releases as well. Or, use the theme to collect similar books together and advertise the others you have sitting on your shelves awaiting their next reader. You could also use one of the NextReads If You Like themes (those are our “read-alike” sections) or use NoveList’s Recommended Reads lists (or an article that’s caught your eye) to pull books together. You could create one for staff favorites.

As far as how to display them -- if you create these reading maps in LibraryAware, you can print them out, or post them to Facebook. You can find instructions for creating your own in this short video:


Shauna Griffin is the NextReads/ADEPT Supervisor at NoveList.