Fox Cities Book Festival has been in business for more than 15 years and hosting a community read for even longer! The purpose of the Fox Cities Reads is to select an author and title that encourages people in our community to read, think, talk, listen and grow together. Past selections have included books that celebrate life stories (Homecoming by Kao Kalia Yang), inspire social change (Evicted by Matthew Desmond), encourage acceptance (George, Melissa Gino), explore history (Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys), celebrate Wisconsin authors and humor (various titles by Michael Perry), and just make you feel (Whistling in the Dark, Leslie Kagen). The Festival strives to provide experiences that reach a diverse audience in so many ways, and what a diverse lineup of community read selections they’ve offered throughout the years!

This year was no different. This year’s selection, Bird Box by Josh Malerman, attempts to evoke empathy by placing readers in the front seat of an action-packed quest for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. Readers attended various book discussions hosted by Fox Cities libraries in Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Kaukauna, Little Chute, and Kimberly. Through this, they could informally review the book, rate their character empathy level, and explore the themes they discovered within.

Discussions included an exploration of how we would survive in a post-apocalyptic environment, drawing parallels of the book to personal experiences with the COVID pandemic. Readers also discussed the enigma of the creatures that brought about the apocalypse, what were they anyway? And WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE?! And how frustrating it was to not have answers. Who was the more dangerous threat: the creatures or the humans? A discussion of human senses (specifically sight) emerged, as well as the complications of raising a child in that environment. Finally, some groups even talked about the art of writing and techniques the author uses to keep the reader’s attention and the action moving.

  • One thing all discussions shared in common: “Why this book?” Book discussion leaders from all libraries reported that was the first question that participants inevitably asked.
  • Menasha Librarian Aaron Raschke reported, “Overall, I think the book club members had reservations about reading a ‘horror’ book, but after reading it they thought it was not so much a horror book and more a book about human psychology and how humans react to each other and their environment.”
  • Sarah Read, part-time librarian in Kaukauna and the festival’s genre expert, led a discussion at Stone Arch Brew Pub about how there are different levels of horror in any novel and that a book in the horror genre could fall under so many categories, ranging from cozy to slasher. Bird Box falls along the middle of the spectrum as more of a psychological thriller.
  • Nicole Hardima-Wilhelm of Neenah Library noted, “There were mixed reviews about the book, but several readers still wanted to pick up the sequel.”

So, why did Fox Cities Book Festival choose this book?

  • It is a celebrated novel by an award-winning author.
  • It is recognizable to the general public as a Netflix original starring Sandra Bullock; it promises to draw a good crowd.
  • The author is known to be a good speaker with solid entertainment value, not unlike Michael Perry.
  • It introduces a new perspective to the discussions that the festival has fostered.
  • The themes are relevant to our recent experience with a life-changing pandemic.

With so many reasons, why should we not have chosen it? While some regular book discussion participants appear to be apprehensive of the suspense and horror genres where Malerman’s works reside, many other readers expressed sheer elation at the chance to meet this award-winning novelist.

Whether readers enjoyed the book or not, it did get people talking. Reading is such a great tool to inspire thought and experience perspectives you may never otherwise consider. Readers have an advantage over others to practice empathy as they habitually explore differing perspectives every time they pick up a book. But, isn’t it so intriguing that even though we all read the same thing and get the same character perspectives the author provides, when we come together to discuss our reading journeys, there are always new insights and new information and perspectives to consider that one reader will touch on but another may have been oblivious to. That is the fascinating thing about book discussions and the reason why we host them!

If you didn’t get a chance to join in the discussion yet, there’s still time! Kimberly Public Library offers one more chance for you to discuss the Bird Box by Josh Malerman at one final book discussion event being held at Kimberly Public Library this Monday, May 8 at 5 p.m. Come with your opinion formed, of course, but, whatever that opinion may be, remember to keep an open mind so discussion can flourish and all attendees can explore the total spectrum of diverse ideas.

Then, come to Poplar Hall on Thursday, May 11 at 6 p.m. to be entertained by the author, Josh Malerman. I say entertained because he is more than an author; he’s a performer. A member of a rock band back home in Michigan, I’ve heard rumors of the possibility for both music and interactive experiences happening this Thursday. It promises be fun and memorable. It will also be beautiful as the view of the Fox River is right outside the wall of windows at the elegant Poplar Hall. You’ll be able to socialize, eat, and drink. While the event itself is free of charge, pack your credit card to purchase food and drinks at your convenience. Cash is not accepted.

We hope to see you soon!