Main Library (File photo)

By the time you read this, we’ll be approaching the end of Santa Monica Reads’ 14th year. This year’s featured book is “Station Eleven,” a literary take on the post-apocalyptic fiction genre and National Book Award finalist, by Emily St. John Mandel.

This year’s program wraps up on Saturday, April 16, at 2 p.m. at the Main Library with a moderated author talk by Emily St. John Mandel, where she’ll discuss “Station Eleven,” as well as her earlier noir mystery novels, and her plans for the future. The program is free and open to all. For more information on the book, or any of this year’s special events and book discussions, visit the Santa Monica Reads website at http://smpl.org/StationEleven.

Which leads us to next year and the question we hear the most consistently from those participating in Santa Monica Reads: “How do you pick the book?” The how involves many factors that change slightly from year-to-year, based on the books we’re considering, but one thing is always consistent: the book selection process begins with suggestions made by the community. With Santa Monica Reads approaching its 15th anniversary in 2017, we’re hoping that will translate into something very special for next year’s book.

In the past, we’ve tried out several different means of soliciting suggestions, but we’ve found over the last few years that most of them were coming from those already participating in a given year’s book discussions and special events. They’d informally suggest a book and we started taking note, so to collect those suggestions more easily, we created a special postcard that those participating in the discussions could fill out to suggest titles on the spot, or take home to think about it and turn in at a later date.  It was from those postcards that we got last year’s very popular selection, “Longbourn” by Jo Baker, as well as this year’s book, “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel.

Still, with our 15th anniversary coming up, we want our 2017 pick to be something very special. Santa Monica Reads is one of the most successful, continuously-running community reading programs in the world and we want to continue that streak of success  Our program has been cited by the national media, including The New York Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and Publisher’s Weekly.

We’ve picked many books just as they were exploding in popularity. Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” has been picked by no less than 50 communities across the United States, but Santa Monica was among the first. In 2010, we selected Chris Cleave’s million-selling novel “Little Bee” before it ever reached a paperback printing. In fact, Cleave’s publisher Simon & Schuster lists Santa Monica Reads among the critical plaudits and pull quotes included on the first pages of the paperback edition.

We’ve picked classics with a local flavor, including Santa Monica-based author Christopher Isherwood’s “The Berlin Stories” and Raymond Chandler’s “The Lady in the Lake.” We’ve picked books with topical themes – from R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder,” which dealt with childhood bullying, to Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” which touched on the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And we’ve picked books with a rich historical setting, including Dolen Perkins Valdez’s “Wench,” a portrait of slave mistresses before the Civil War, and Marianne Wiggins’ “The Shadow Catcher,” a winding, fictionalized biography of early 1900s photographer Edward S. Curtis.

Now we need suggestions from Santa Monicans like you. The criteria for a Santa Monica Reads suggestion are simple. We want a book that is ripe for discussion with fellow community members.

In the past, we’ve asked that the book be fiction only, but we’ve lifted that limitation and would like to consider nonfiction as well. The book “must be challenging, but not exclusive.” You can interpret that however you like, but I take that to mean the book must make you think, but not make you feel like you’re going to have to write a doctoral thesis afterwards to explain it. The book must also be currently in print and available for purchase in paperback format by the time we read it – which will be sometime in the first quarter of 2017.

That’s it! So help us out, Santa Monica. Tell us what you want us to read together in 2017. Help us get our suggestion list to such a deep pool of strong possibilities that it gives our selection committee an embarrassment of riches to choose from.  If you’re attending one of our remaining discussions or programs, ask for a postcard there, otherwise you can email us up to three suggestions at libraryprograms@smgov.net. We’ll announce in the fall which book you’ve helped us select.

– Robert Graves, Public Services Librarian