Afformations—forms that say Yes!

Check out the book clubs at your local library

Creating tools has been a part of my makeup for as long as I can remember. I’m not talking about those made from metal, but I am talking about job aids that guide us through a process. As a student, I converted long passages of text into outlines, charts, and other visual aids that stripped away the excess, leaving the headings, key points, and relationships. That was really all that was necessary to help me recall the whole story. As a teacher, I developed similar tools to help organize content for my students. As owner of a technical communication business, I developed tools for talking with clients to scope out jobs; identifying the qualifications that workers needed in order to complete jobs; working through the process of researching, designing, and delivering manuals; and more. Long ago, I labeled these tools Afformations—forms that say Yes. Yes, I can learn this. Yes, I can do this. Yes, I can succeed! Sure, off-the-shelf tools were available, but they never quite worked for me as well as my homegrown tools.

And today, I find myself applying this aspect of who I am to a volunteer endeavor. For several years, I have been a member of a nonfiction book club that meets monthly at our town library. About 10–15 adults take turns leading the discussion of books that we have selected. Often the discussion revolves around the subject of the book—healthcare systems, economics of the middle class, religions and faith, neighborhoods and community, genomes and stem cells, and more. Recently, a club member asked, “How else can we talk about a book?” When some of us met recently to finalize our book selections for 2012, we started to answer that question. Here’s what we did.

We looked over the various book reviews we collected when selecting the coming year’s books. We flipped through the pages of BookPage® America’s Book Review to learn how others write about books. There was nothing scientific about this approach. We spontaneously came up with items, such as genre, credibility of the author, verifiability of the data, organizational structure, voice, tone, theme, mechanics, and more. And, as the one who likes to create Afformations, it is my task now to create a tool for the club. I will type up all of the ideas from our brainstorming session, group ideas that are similar, title each group, organize the groups into a sequence that makes sense, and voilà, our nonfiction book club will have a form that says, Yes, we can talk about the subject of our nonfiction book—and so much more!

Someone in the group has already indicated that tools exist that provide ways to talk about nonfiction books in general and the books on our list in particular. As time goes on, we will no doubt use these resources and watch our homegrown tool evolve.

Now, tell me, what homegrown or off-the-shelf tools do you use to succeed at discussing nonfiction books or doing anything else? I would love to hear from you.

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5 comments
  1. P.S. I just completed this new Afformation, How to Talk About Nonfiction Books, and sent it off to club members. I’m happy to share. If you’d like to receive a copy, just let me know.

  2. First, Kudos to Judy for the fine job she does with Pittsford Library Non-Fiction Book Club. As an attendee who comes and goes as my travel schedule allows, I value this group to help expose me to new ideas of topics and authors I might not choose and opinions of community members I might not otherwise meet.

    The criteria she listed previously works well…credible authors with verifiable information is most critical….otherwise, a waste of time. Putting the criteria into a form will be greatly helpful. We are in a world flooded with information….too many choices/too many distractions. Judy’s systematic approach helps create process and peace. I am so glad she is wired accordingly. I benefited from her career book and now look forward to shoring up the selection process. The world will be owned by those who can focus, focus. The rest will nervously scamper with little to show for it.

  3. As one who does not like to “nervously scamper with little to show for it,” I continue to seek balance, equilibrium, and peace — for myself and others. Thank you, Kathy, for your very thoughtful comment and for the value you add to book club discussions.

  4. I’m so glad you added these questions, Jim, related to the initial selection of a book to read. And the idea that one person’s truth (or nonfiction) can be perceived as false (or fiction) to another person can add a whole new dimension to the discussion. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Jim Dillon said:

    Great work! I am a huge proponent of the process you utilized and use it often. I am hopeful that some of the items that surfaced had something to do with the readers asking themselves, “Why am I choosing this book to read?”, “Why do I feel called to absorb what is in this book?”, “Am I looking to be changed or challenged or am I more comfortable with information that agrees with my current thoughts and beliefs?”. Nonfiction can also be fiction in terms of whose reality is being depicted…

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