Positron 2020 Report

Analyses of Chicagoland Speculative Fiction Book Clubs
-Jake Casella Brookins, 5/11/2020

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Introduction | Executive Summary | Author Demographics | Genre
Age of Selections | Titles | Authors | Groups | Conclusion | Notes

Introduction
In-person book clubs are necessarily tied to very real and geographic communities. As I write this, Chicago is entering its second month of lockdown due to Covid-19. While many groups and organizations are successfully shifting to online meetings, the future of our clubs, bookstores, and libraries are uncertain. Ironically, this lockdown has given me the first chance to take a deep look at Chicago’s SF book clubs since Positron’s inception.

This report focuses entirely on book club meetings. While data from book sales and library loans would paint a much larger picture of reader behavior and preferences, there are a few advantages to using book club discussions as the unit of analysis, even beyond privacy and logistic concerns. At the most basic level, selection for a book club indicates that the book was definitely read, by at least some members. Furthermore, book club members are a distinct class of readers, committing not only to read books in community, but to share their opinions, a behavior that likely spills beyond the group itself. Through their recommendations, it is likely that book club members have an outsize influence on readers generally.

For me, joining a few SF book clubs was a huge part of adjusting to life in Chicago. They led me to massively important books I might not have otherwise discovered, and introduced me to my spouse and many friends. The clubs certainly have a direct influence on many bookstores and libraries. And, at the level of SF as a culture, the importance of book clubs is easily overlooked, and could provide a window into the specifics of how books, authors, and ideas move through the reading community.

I set out to prepare this report without knowing exactly what I would find. Positron was founded to facilitate connections in the Chicago SF community, and I wanted to see to what extent different clubs and groups share reading lists and interests. Several groups aim for more inclusive selections, using variations on "less all white dudes all the time" as the goal, and I was curious to see how club selections broke down by authors' gender and race. Top author and title lists, as well as analyses by genre and date of publication, may be of interest to current and potential book club members, scholars of SF/F and fandom, and librarians and booksellers.

A finding that really struck me is how committed the groups as a whole are to reading recent speculative fiction. While classics and lesser-known works from the past continue to be discussed, the book club scene is highly engaged with the evolving edge of the genre, with emerging authors and ideas. Whatever else it may reveal, the report below at least indicates the vitality of the Chicagoland SF scene to date.

Introduction | Executive Summary | Author Demographics | Genre
Age of Selections | Titles | Authors | Groups | Conclusion | Notes

Executive Summary

The Positron calendar has recorded almost two thousand book discussions to date, with over a thousand individual titles and seven hundred authors discussed. While info on a few clubs goes back to the early 2000s, most information in this report comes from 2014-present.

Gender and race balance: Male authors make up about 60% of all discussions, and white authors make up about 85% of all discussions. A handful of the most active groups have more diverse lists, and the overall trend in recent years is clearly towards more selections by women and people of color.

Genre: Science fiction titles make up more than half of all recorded discussions. There is an apparent increase in the percentage of fantasy titles discussed over time.

Publication date: Discussions are strongly weighted towards recently-published titles. Books from the 2010s make up 50% of recorded discussions. A handful of the top 20 clubs focus primarily on older works, however.

Title and author rankings: individual titles and authors are ranked from most-discussed to least, for the overall dataset and for the top 20 groups. Authors are also ranked by number of titles discussed. Programs such as “One Book, One Chicago” have a clear impact on reading lists.

Groups: Positron records show at least 40 persistent SF book clubs; about 88% of all discussions recorded come from groups with at least 7 meetings on the calendar. The top 20 clubs, despite some differences in generic preference, show a high rate of overlap between authors.

Introduction | Executive Summary | Author Demographics | Genre
Age of Selections | Titles | Authors | Groups | Conclusion | Notes

Results

Overview
  • Original Calendar Items: 2,773
  • Total Discussions: 1,935
  • Total Titles: 1,096
  • Total Authors: 714
  • Total Clubs: 182
    • Of these “clubs”, over 40 are named, persistent SF groups, while the rest are a mix of non-SF groups that occasionally discuss SF titles and one-off events, mostly from libraries, that may or may not represent ongoing groups.
    • The Top 20: In many categories, separate analysis is included for the top 20 groups. They each have at least 24 discussions recorded, and offer better insight into “self-identified genre-reading groups” than the dataset as a whole.
  • Time Range: 2002-2020
    • About 70% of all data come from the 5 complete calendar years that Positron has been running: 2015-2019. Data from 2002 through 2013 rely entirely on the existence and accessibility of groups’ records through websites or social media.


  • Geographic inclusion: Positron reads “Chicagoland” broadly, routinely including collar counties and beyond.

image: map of Chicago area, with locations of recorded book clubs
Locations of recorded SF book discussions


Introduction | Executive Summary | Author Demographics | Genre
Age of Selections | Titles | Authors | Groups | Conclusion | Notes

Author Demographics


The total authors discussed by all groups are slightly over half white men. Current census data puts the United States at about 31% white males, and Chicago at about 22%.

Gender and Race Balance



The data were surprisingly consistent with regards to gender ratio across different metrics. By title, author, and meeting analyses, there was very little fluctuation: male authors made up around 58-60%, female authors made up around 39-41%, and non-binary authors made up around 1-2% in all categories.



As with gender ratio, author ratios by race were very consistent across metrics, with a roughly 84:16 split between white and PoC authors. Considered as a group, individual PoC authors were discussed slightly more frequently than white authors: individual authors of color were discussed an average of 2.95 times each, while individual white authors were discussed an average of 2.62 times each.

Gender and Race over time


Pre-19501950s1960s1970s1980s1990s2000s2010s
Male3854102638694232460
Female1262542576394474
Non-Binary000000119

Gender ratio over time, here based on publication date of discussed titles, shows more fluctuation. There is the expected male predominance in the 1950s (90%), a notable increase in female-authored titles from the 1970s, and a swift jump towards parity in titles from the 2010s, where women represent a slightly higher percentage than men.

It’s possible that this change is an artifact of sampling conditions, due to the high volume of recent clubs recorded (see the discussion of fantasy’s apparent increase over time in the “Genre” section below). However, the increase in discussions of female authors does seem to be distinct from increase in overall recorded meetings, and external considerations—the relative paucity of female authors in earlier decades, and the clear trend towards equality in long-running awards such as the Hugo—suggest that the shift is not a sampling accident.


Pre-19501950s1960s1970s1980s1990s2000s2010s
White506012090121130272711
PoC00711151845215

Looking at meetings by the publication date of the title discussed, there’s clearly an increase in authors of color in recent years, going from 0% for the 1950s to 23.2% for the 2010s.


The Positron calendar records less than 2 decades of information about Chicago SF book club meetings, and a much smaller range of information on a large number of clubs, so caution is advised in extrapolating long-term trends. However, based on the 5 most-complete years of Positron data, there is a clear trend towards more representative equality of authors discussed.

Gender and Race discussions among Top 20 Clubs


5 groups had reading lists with more women than men. Think Galactic is explicitly pro-woman in their self-description, and are joined by Unreal World, the Evanston Public Library SF group (EPLSF), Volumes, and Blackstone in majority-women reading lists.

On the male-dominated side, Classic SF and Another Dimension focus on older titles. Bloody Reads, at almost 85% male authors, reads horror, and is also the third-most-focused on older titles.



Unreal World is way ahead of the curve, at 44% authors of color. They are joined by 7 other groups at greater than the 16% average from the total data set, with Volumes, EPLSF, and Think Galactic over 25%.

It should be noted that Forest Park SF are missing at least 2 years of meeting data due to a broken website. They would be knocked from their position of “whitest reading list” if their missing data includes 2 authors of color. Likewise, there are a few groups that have significantly longer histories that are not in the dataset (Lisle and Blackstone, for example), and might skew differently with that information added.

Despite these possibly-mitigating factors and the encouraging rise in discussions of authors of color over time, it’s impossible to ignore the overwhelming whiteness of the majority of genre selections recorded.


Introduction | Executive Summary | Author Demographics | Genre
Age of Selections | Titles | Authors | Groups | Conclusion | Notes

Genre
image: wordcloud of titles, colored by genre and sized by discussion rank
Titles by genre

1,096 titles were each classified into one of four genre categories:
  • Science Fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Other: non-fiction and non-fantastic works.
  • Mixed Collections: anthologies which included more than one category.

For discussion of the classification process, see the “Methods: Genre” section.

Titles & Meetings by Genre


Science fiction accounts for for just over half of all titles, with fantasy accounting for about 42%, and the remainder made up of collections and non-speculative or non-fiction works.


Science fiction titles took up a slightly bigger percentage of all meetings, indicating that they were more likely to be discussed by multiple groups. Individual science fiction titles were discussed an average of 1.9 times, while individual fantasy titles were discussed an average of 1.6 times.

Genre by Gender and Race


MaleFemaleNon-Binary
Science Fiction6913708
Fantasy38335611

While meetings about both science fiction and fantasy were predominantly on works by men, female authors made up a larger percentage of fantasy discussions than they did of science fiction: about 47% vs. 35%. In absolute numbers, it’s worth noting that there were more discussions about science fiction by women than there were about fantasy by women, as science fiction discussions are a larger set overall.


WhitePoC
Science Fiction880156
Fantasy581145

Authors of color represent a slightly higher percentage in discussions about fantasy than in discussions about science fiction; however, in terms of absolute numbers, there were more discussions about science fiction by authors of color than of fantasy.

Genre over time


Pre-19501950s1960s1970s1980s1990s2000s2010s
Science Fiction304695749295166472
Fantasy20724254159128450

The chart above considers genre over time. The decade scale is for the date of publication of the titles being discussed, not discussion dates.

There’s a clear peak in science fiction vs. fantasy in the 1950s-1970s, which covers the Golden Age and New Wave eras, as well as many works of feminist SF in the '70s.

While science fiction still makes up the majority in recent decades, there’s a clear increase in the percentage of fantasy titles discussed, approaching parity in titles from the 2010s. A few points to consider:
  • Given that “science fiction” is a narrower term than “fantasy”, it may be that, as awareness & availability of fiction becomes more globally inclusive, fantasy is taking a larger share.
  • It also may be the case that, as there is increasing cultural comfort with speculative media, authors writing in genres outside of traditional SF/F are increasingly likely to use speculative elements and, again, fantasy being the broader category, this will increase the prevalence of fantasy over science fiction.
  • Authors of speculative fiction may be finding the “toolbox” of fantasy more useful at this moment in history. Likewise, readers may be finding fantasy more attractive at this time.
  • However, this apparent increase in fantasy may also be a sampling effect, the result of recency and volume of meeting data. As noted in the “Publication date and recency” section, discussions about books from the last decade comprise 50% of total discussions recorded; also, 86% of the data for this project come from the 2010s. It may be the case that fantasy works are relatively more popular contemporaneously with their publication, with relatively fewer titles receiving attention decades later.
  • By this hypothesis, the “Meetings by genre and decade of publication” analysis might look essentially the same for any time period: a roughly equal percentage of contemporary fantasy and science fiction being discussed during the period that data are being collected, with science fiction overshadowing fantasy overall due to a higher percentage of older titles still being discussed.
  • This hypothesis does not contradict the previous speculations, but it does seem to be supported by the analysis below, which shows the percentage of fantasy discussions growing in step with the number of overall discussions recorded.



Genre in Top 20 Club Meetings



Another Dimension, the Classic Sci-Fi Meetup, and Western Suburban SF are explicitly and nearly-exclusively focused on science fiction, and are weighted the most heavily in that direction.

Bloody Reads, which reads horror, is dominated by paranormal and non-fantastic titles. Northwestern Suburban Fantasy is the only group in the top 20 to primarily discuss genre fantasy, and has the next-least amount of science fiction in the mix.


Introduction | Executive Summary | Author Demographics | Genre
Age of Selections | Titles | Authors | Groups | Conclusion | Notes

Age of Selections


The overall title selection is weighted strongly towards recently-published books. Books published in the last decade make up 46% of all recorded titles, and discussions of those books make up about 50% of all meetings.



The chart above compares the year of a book discussion meeting to the year of the book’s publication, grouped into exponentially larger date ranges. The calculation only uses years, not months, so it is likely that a higher number of titles were actually read within 12 months of publication.

The “dip” in the chart may correlate with the perception of “forgotten” or under-discussed eras in recent SF history, such as the '90s. While the '90s are not under-represented as a decade, they are significantly overshadowed by more recent titles on the one hand, and the sum of “classic” titles from the '50s, '60s, and '70s on the other.

There’s a sharp drop-off in titles from before 1949 still being discussed, which lines up with histories of science fiction publishing and fandom. Of the 19 discussions about pre-1900 titles, 12 are accounted for by Frankenstein, Dracula, and H.G. Wells. There are no recorded Jules Verne discussions; it’s possible that notoriously-bad translations and the lengths of Verne’s work make him less attractive to groups seeking very early science fiction.
Publication dates and top 20 groups



Unreal World has the highest percentage of recent reads, with 83% of their picks coming from the last decade. Blackstone and Lisle also seem highly focused on recent publications; however, both of those are long-running groups whose history doesn’t entirely enter the data. Blackstone has no online meeting history, so the record begins with Positron’s inception, while Lisle’s record goes back about 30 years, but not all in a format such that they could be added to this report. Both groups appear to focus on recent SF titles, but a longer date-range would likely show them weighted more heavily in titles from at least the '90s and '00s.

On the other end of the spectrum, Another Dimension has a heavy focus on pulp & classic SF, with over half of their selections coming from the '50s-'70s. Classic Sci-Fi explicitly only selects titles that are at least 20 years old.


Introduction | Executive Summary | Author Demographics | Genre
Age of Selections | Titles | Authors | Groups | Conclusion | Notes

Titles
image: wordcloud of most-discussed titles
Titles sized by discussion ranking

Titles: Most discussed

Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the most-discussed book, with 25 discussions recorded. Second place goes to Andy Weir’s The Martian, and third place goes to Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.


Separate page for most-discussed titles

Do Androids Dream was the “One Book, One Chicago” pick for 2018-2019, leading to a high number of discussions that year and pushing it to first. Previous OBOC titles included Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2014-2015), which boosts that title’s ranking; Gaiman’s Neverwhere was the OBOC pick in spring of 2011 and does not appear to have affected Positron’s calendar.

The Cook Memorial, Indian Trails, and Vernon Area public libraries hosted a “One Book, One Community” series of events focused on Madeline Miller’s Circe from fall 2019 through spring 2020, accounting for 8 of the 14 recorded discussions of that title.

“One Book, One Northwestern” hosted a number of great events focusing on their spring 2019 pick, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but that series does not seem to have affected the discussion count for the novel—which still ties for the 5th most-discussed.

Other than the “One Book” programs, there don’t appear to be any major external factors among the most-discussed titles. Regionally-interesting books (Lincoln in the Bardo, Station Eleven) did well, as did books with recent film or television adaptations (American Gods, Annihilation, Ready Player One, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Martian)—though it should be noted that many of these discussions took place before the adaptations were announced.

Of the 24 most-discussed titles (the top 10 ranks), one-quarter are Hugo winners: Ancillary Justice, The Fifth Season, The Three-Body Problem, The Left Hand of Darkness, American Gods, and The Calculating Stars.

Titles: Overlap between groups



Of the total titles discussed by the various groups, over 70% were unique selections, not discussed by other groups. This speaks to the breadth of the field, and also to the groups’ willingness to read new and/or lesser-known works.

However, to flip this around and talk in terms of number of meetings about individual books, we find that the majority of discussions were about titles that at least one other group discussed.



The top 10 books constituted 14% of all meetings. While these are certainly the rockstars, there is also a sizable mid-list of titles discussed by multiple groups.

Titles: Crossover in the top 20 groups




Unsurprisingly, as the only horror group in the top 20, Bloody Reads has the most unique titles. Think Galactic is second, but they have the largest number of meetings recorded, as well as the highest count of collections and individual shorter titles. Forest Park SF, Another Dimension, and Unreal World were also over 50% unique titles; the other 15 groups had at least some crossover with other groups for the majority of their selections.

Ancillary Justice is the most-shared title in the top 20. The Fifth Season takes second. Third place is a tie between All the Birds In the Sky, Annihilation, Ready Player One, and The Three-Body Problem.


Separate page with top 20 clubs' most-discussed titles

Introduction | Executive Summary | Author Demographics | Genre
Age of Selections | Titles | Authors | Groups | Conclusion | Notes

Authors
image: all author wordcloud, sized by number of discussions
Authors by discussion rank

Authors: Overview


A total of 703 authors were included in the analysis. Where they had no separate titles, some co-writing authors were considered as a single unit. Where relevant, illustrators and other graphic novel artists were removed from analysis, retaining the writer. For multi-author anthologies, the editors were considered as authors, but these made up only 1.7% of titles.

Authors: Most discussed

Philip K. Dick holds the top position, with 37 discussions, 25 of them about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Ursula K. Le Guin easily jumps to second place with 33 discussions. Neil Gaiman takes third, with 29 discussions.


Separate page with most-discussed authors
Authors: Overlap between groups

Of the 703 authors in the set, 59% of them were discussed only once. However, when we look instead at all meetings, nearly 79% of discussions were about an author who was discussed by at least one other group.

Authors who were discussed more than once were discussed, on average, more than 5 times. While the top-ranking authors like Dick, Le Guin, and Gaiman jump out of the data, there is once again a very sizable mid-list: authors who were widely discussed across many meetings and titles.


1 out of 5 meetings were about an author who was never otherwise discussed. However, almost 2 out of 5 meetings were about an author who was discussed at least 8 times. Groups seem fairly willing to gamble on new or lesser-known authors, but there is also a very large shared set of authors that many groups will have read or have an opinion on.



Looking at author crossover between groups gives a better sense of how many connections there are between their respective reading lists. Unique authors are also here broken up into “Utter unique” (no other groups in the dataset read this author) and Unique to the top 20 groups.

Bloody Reads is the only group with majority-unique authors. There’s a high amount of overlap between the other 19 groups.

Ursula Le Guin is the most-shared author among the top 20 groups. John Scalzi and N.K. Jemisin tie for second. Third place is a tie between Ann Leckie, Ernest Cline, Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman.


Separate page with the top 20 groups' most-discussed authors

Authors: Catalog discussion
image: wordcloud of authors sized to number of titles from their catalog discussed
Authors by titles discussed

Although it’s overshadowed by the total number of meetings about an author or title, it’s also worth a quick look at how many individual titles by an author have been discussed. Having a higher number of titles in discussion would seem to indicate that the authors have a range of ideas that groups are engaging with, since the groups are often hesitant to select non-standalone series entries for discussion.

Ursula K. Le Guin is once again in the lead, with 13 titles, although it’s worth noting that the 4 Earthsea books are an occasional exception to the “no series” comment above, with several groups discussing multiple entries.

Terry Pratchett & Lois McMaster Bujold tie for second. Bujold has 8 titles from her Vorkosigan universe and 2 from Chalion. Pratchett has 8 titles from Discworld and 2 co-written works.

One of those, Good Omens, is co-written with Neil Gaiman, who ties with Nnedi Okorafor and China Miéville for third place. All three have titles from a broad range of their works, including short story collections.

Separate page with authors by catalog discussion

The large number of authors with multiple works discussed once again speaks to the importance of a kind of mid-list canon: there are almost 100 authors with more than 3 titles discussed on the Positron calendar; presumably, even more authors would appear in this category over a larger and more complete range of meetings than Positron has captured.



Only about 1 in 4 authors had more than one title discussed. However, those 190 authors made up about 54% of all meetings.




Introduction | Executive Summary | Author Demographics | Genre
Age of Selections | Titles | Authors | Groups | Conclusion | Notes

Groups

Image: wordcloud of SF/F book clubs


Original analysis of the Positron data showed 185 “groups”, of which 85 had only a single meeting. These one-offs include:
  • SF titles discussed by non-SF groups
  • Unique book discussions, not part of an ongoing group, usually library-hosted
  • Meetings that may represent an on-going SF-friendly group, but about whom I could find no other information

The majority of meetings, however, were hosted by groups with an ongoing and trackable presence.



Groups: possible gaps and oversights

  • Positron calendar listings are primarily drawn from groups and institutions with a strong online presence, as those are the ones easily found and added to the calendar. Given that established groups sometimes shift to direct communication rather than web presence, and that libraries and bookstores sometimes have strong programs that are relatively offline, the Positron calendar could easily be missing various Chicagoland groups.
  • The book club data here are all from English-language groups, with a few ASL events. The Chicago Public Library system routinely lists book clubs in Spanish, Polish, and Korean, and there are likely other active non-English book clubs, but Positron has yet to discover any non-English-language speculative fiction clubs.
  • At least in the city of Chicago, SF groups seem to be generally clustered in majority-white neighborhoods, which are generally more affluent and have higher concentrations of bookstores. However, given the activity at public libraries across the city, and the large and diverse attendance at some events—Nisi Shawl’s talk on Octavia Butler in Longwood Manor, or Eve Ewing’s talk about “Black Feminism Across Genre" in Hyde Park, for example—it seems clear that active speculative fiction readers are not restricted to those neighborhoods.

Groups: Miscellaneous commentary

This report does not consider any demographic data of the groups themselves. As mentioned in the introduction, the “group” or “club” is the level of analysis I’m interested in. While some data could be gathered about meeting sizes—from Facebook, Meetup, Goodreads, and groups that post notes with attendance—this is highly unreliable, and not available for most groups.

Purely anecdotally, some observations from groups I’ve attended:
  • Attendance ranges from 2-3 to the low 20s; I would guess that the average group I have seen is in the 6-8 range.
  • While a number of groups have disbanded since Positron’s inception, the majority on Positron’s radar seem to have increased or at least stabilized in average attendance since 2014.
  • Groups I’ve personally seen are much less male-dominated than the reading lists themselves are; I’d estimate no more than 30-40% men on average.
  • There is a wide range of organizational structure, communication practices, and book-selection techniques across the groups.
  • A good relationship with the meeting venue, and a low barrier to accessing titles—often, both provided by a library or bookstore—seems a key ingredient in many groups’ longevity. However, there are multiple groups in the top 20 that have nomadic location spots and/or no standardized option to acquire the books.
  • Many (but not all) of the most active groups have special relationships with certain awards and/or cons. Hugo nominees and winners influence title selection for multiple groups, as do guests of honor at Windycon, Capricon, and Wiscon.

Groups: Top 20 comparisons

These comparisons were a primary driver for this entire report: to get an objective sense of how much the groups have in common. While Positron’s primary goal is simply to list events so that SF fans can find them, a secondary goal is to support the Chicago SF groups as a community, and a measure of textual overlap between the groups is one objective measure of how much they might find in common.

The top 20 groups had the most meetings recorded in the Positron calendar; each had more than 24 meetings recorded, giving a large enough data set to do some comparisons.

Looking at the different foci and strengths of each group gives a sense of their character, in book selections if not discussion style. Looking at crossover between titles and authors gives a sense the extent to which the groups have a shared set of common references that could inform discussions.

Image: grid comparison of authors in common between top 20 clubs

Looking at authors in common between pairs of the top 20 groups, we see three predictable results:

  • The only horror-focused group is the only group with a low crossover count. There are 6 groups with no crossover with Bloody Reads.
  • The only other groups that have no crossover were a strictly fantasy group (Northwestern Suburban Fantasy) and a strictly science fiction group (Another Dimension).
  • Those groups with the highest total number of meetings recorded have the highest number of shared authors with other groups.

This last result is unsurprising, but non-trivial: it’s noteworthy that the groups recorded have coalesced around a similar if fuzzy core of authors and works, rather than stratifying into groups specialized in non-overlapping sub-genres or themes. Despite individual members’ preferences and the broad differences in group approaches to the genre (as hinted at in the demographic, genre, and time-based comparisons of the top 20 groups), there remains a significant megatext of shared works, if not an agreed-upon canon.


Introduction | Executive Summary | Author Demographics | Genre
Age of Selections | Titles | Authors | Groups | Conclusion | Notes

Conclusion

I’m fascinated by the commonalities between groups revealed by this report, especially given how little communication there is between them. Many of the most dedicated book club-goers behind this data are largely unaware of the idea of fandom, or SF as a community, but their club selections revolve around a surprisingly cohesive set of texts. Just looking at the titles, it’s clear that speculative fiction is providing a toolbox for thinking about gender and sexuality, race and class, technology and climate change, among many other topics.

Actual commonalities in themes, topics, and ideas that the groups are interested in are only hinted at by the data. One thing this report in no way captures is what the clubs thought about the titles discussed. At least at groups I attend, lively and insightful discussions about books that many of us greatly disliked are common. In talking through a work, readers’ opinions become more nuanced, balanced, though perhaps not ultimately changed.

This is a strange time to be running a site that’s primarily about physical gatherings and non-essential businesses and organizations. I have no doubt that some groups, particularly the longer-running ones, will have no problem pausing or shifting to on-line meetings until they can resume—but part of the appeal of clubs is precisely their in-person, off-line interactions. Some bookstores seem to be doing fine for now, while others are turning to crowdsharing and other fundraisers to survive; the immediate future of Chicago’s libraries, which provide so many services to so many communities, is a question I have not seen much discussion of. And, while it’s strangely distant in many ways, the thought of how the pandemic is threatening the physical and economic health of the readers behind all this data—as well as authors and everyone in the literary world—was very present to me as I worked on this report.

Book clubs are a quirky subculture to begin with, and doubly so for science fiction and fantasy. That Chicago quietly hosts such a large and active group of readers is continually fascinating to me. Setting aside the fears of the moment, I am excited to see how these groups will continue to evolve with the field.


Methods, Notes, and Further Reading

Notes about methodology in preparing this report are available on a separate page.

Acknowledgments

Huge thanks to my first readers, Kevin Wabaunsee and Alison Casella Brookins, who provided comments both meta and granular that helped me shape this report.

Sincere thanks to all the members of the Chicago book clubs who have welcomed me over the years. It wouldn't be home without you.
Introduction | Executive Summary | Author Demographics | Genre
Age of Selections | Titles | Authors | Groups | Conclusion | Notes


2 comments:

  1. Jake, thank you so much for this fascinating and thoughtful analysis! FYI, the EPL Sci-Fi & Fantasy book group has moved to online (Zoom) discussions during the current lockdown, and will continue to do so through at least our August 2020 meeting. All are welcome to join in! Details on what we are reading and can be found on the event calendar at https://www.epl.org.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! Good to see groups shifting to continue through this time.

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