At a minimum, a good Reader’s Guide should include:
- an introduction to the book. The introduction should succinctly summarize the “what” of the book, e.g. answer the question “what’s this book about?”.
- a well-researched but relevant biography of the author. Don’t just copy and past stuff from an author’s home page or from Wikipedia. Include information that tells us significant things about the author, things that will help a reader to appreciate and recognize important things in the novel.
- a compact rendering of the cultural and social context for the novel. In other words, what kinds of social and cultural information will help the reader to contextualize the novel, to see how the novel connects with contemporary debates or issues, to understand the place of the novel within historical currents or circumstances?
- a rich introduction to the main themes or formal innovations of the novel. This will give readers a way to measure and understand the significance of the novel. This part of the Reader’s Guide isn’t necessarily argumentative. Instead, think of this section as pointing to some major themes or formal issues that deserve attention and seem to play a significant role in the narrative.
- a brief introduction to the major and minor characters in the narrative. Who are the characters in the novel? What kind of “people” are they? How are they characterized? How does the novel use structure and form? Avoid telling readers what happens to the characters. Instead, think of this section as a place readers can use to keep track of and remind themselves of who characters are.
- discussion questions. This is the really critical part of a good Reader’s Guide. Your task here is to formulate open-ended questions that will help readers to think about the novel. At the same time, these questions should also guide readers to productive discussions, e.g. discussions that pull them deeper into significant issues, features, and meanings within the novel. These questions should be organized in a chapter-by-chapter sequence.
- further reading. Here, you want to point readers to other opinions, reactions, and interpretations of the novel. Further reading entries should include the author, title and link to external sources. Each entry should also contain a brief summary of the content of these sources.
Each of these sections of your Reader’s Guide should be at least one page in your Scalar book. If certain sections get too unwieldy, feel free to break them up into subpages. As always, make the pages visually interesting.