Many of us, authors included, have a few unsettling memories of some of the book discussions that occurred during our high school and college English classes. I wondered at the time how many prospective readers would swear off books forever after being subjected to highly technical book criticism discussions in survey and other general literature courses.
In contrast, book discussion clubs and readers’ groups can provide a breath of fresh air. The catch is, you have give some thought to your club’s membership, book selection methods and discussion format at the beginning, and then select a moderator who keeps things on track and gives everyone a chance to talk. Rachel Jacobsohn provides a few tips that will get you started. The American Library Association also has had some great ideas.
In fact, if you search on line with search terms like “readers group tips” and “how to start a book discussion club,” you’ll find more than enough ideas from publishers, The Library of Congress and libraries to get your group up and running.
Personally, I think you can have a great evening talking about a novel by focusing on relatively standard discussion questions:
- What happened?
- What plot twists surprised you?
- Who were the main characters and how did they interact with each other?
- Did the characters change during the course of the story?
- Did the author have a theme and/or a message behind the story?
If a novel fits into a specific genre, you might want to add a question about, say, its approach to fantasy, how romance fit into the storyline, or whether the mystery/thriller aspects of the plot were set up and then resolved.
Many publishers provide discussion guides or book club starter questions to help reading group moderators lead memorable discussions. You can decide whether this information should be handed out to all members after they read the book but before the discussion begins, or whether to keep these materials on hand for use by the discussion leader as needed.
Since most clubs are discussing novels for the members’ enjoyment rather than approaching fiction as it might be taught in a college course, I think you’ll usually get more spontaneity out of your group if you don’t show them in-depth discussion questions in advance. Sure, these questions provide food for thought, but they can also lead to members planning their answers in advance rather than listening to and responding to what other members are saying as the discussion unfolds.
I’ve spent the morning writing “starter questions” for the novels in my upcoming series of fantasy adventures. As I wrote them, I wished I could turn myself invisible and listen in on some of the discussions. I haven’t been in a reading group for a long time and miss the great discussions that come up right after people finish reading a memorable novel.