Have You Ever Been in a Book Discussion Club?

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bookclubMany 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.

Basic Discussion

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.

Adding Depth

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.

Malcolm

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10 responses

  1. Yes, I’ve led a book club. However, it was not a great experience. It was with my local Senior Citizens Center, and Kimberlee and I worked out a deal so I could review VHP authors books for a nominal fee. I even wrote questions for the discussions if the author hadn’t already provided them. After a while, I detected some grumblings from a couple of members. “We want to review the books WE want to read,” was the complaint. OOOOOkay. What books? And you can’t get a better feal, dollar-wise than what I’m offering. “Well, I get mine at the Dollar Store.” Sigh. I said, “There’s a REASON those books are in the Dollar Store.”
    We failed to reach an agreement and we folded. Rather, I folded.
    I had also started a writers group at the same center. They balked at my assignments, which were very liberal, such as “What’s your fondest childhood memory?” They didn’t want to do that.
    Sooooo, I haven’t been back to the Sr. Citizens Center in a loooooong time.
    I hope I’m not seen as being so “set in my ways” as these women were.
    When well-run, they can be a joy. I;ve recently joined a Meet-up reading club in Fort Worth. I missed the January meeting but am going in Feb.

  2. I belong to a wonderful book club here in town, but have had to put my membership on hold in order to schlep kids from one sports activity to another. I miss my book club ladies, but the president has very kindly continued to send me their current “pick” so I can stay current. And there has to be some season during which a sport isn’t played…right?

  3. Malcolm, thanks for the post. I’ve been fortunate to get invited to attend two book clubs – one next week and another in mid-March – through friends who loved my four thrillers. The members of both clubs thought it would be fun to read a book and then have the author attend the discussion. I have never belonged to a book club so I am not sure what to expect. The discussion leader of one asked me for input on discussion topics.

    I am really looking forward to these two events. What author does not love talking about his or her work? On the other hand what if no one reads the book or doesn’t like it? Could be awkward! At least I will have my “sponsor” there for support.

    Book clubs seem like an terrific way for an author to spread the word, so I am curious if any of your readers have ideas about how to get introduced to local clubs.

    Don Westenhaver

      • Malcolm,

        Last Friday’s book club meeting surpassed my highest hopes. Of the 15 members in attendance, 13 had actually read the book (Nero’s Concert). It helped that it was an Episcopalian Church group and the book touches on early Christians. The meeting lasted 3 hours and I was able to sell some copies of my other titles, which I had left in my car, not wanting the meeting to look like a Tupperware Party. I had also sent the leader a list of proposed topics to ask me, so the Q&A was extensive – not just about my book but about the writing process and today’s revolution in the book business. I received lots of positive feedback, which was gratifying. I encouraged them to write book reviews and will be searching for more opportunities like this!

        Don

        • It’s nice when one of these meetings goes well. Very nice when so many people have read the book. Being prepared with those prospective topics was a good idea. Yeah, I would have left my extra books in the car, too. Glad it went well.

          Malcolm