Thursday, October 01, 2009

How To Have a Fantastic Book Club Discussion

I love reading books and after I finish a good one I love doing my Internet research to find out all I can about the author, his/her creative process and perhaps the historical background of the book. What’s even better is taking this analysis to a book club meeting. Here there are other people who are just as passionate about the book as I am. For the next 90 to 120 minutes, we discuss a single piece of artistic work and really try to drill down the layers of why the author did this and that or why she chose to make her character act like an idiot or a hero. (I also need to mention that I can analyze anything I like to death, which made me a perfect candidate for grad school, and leading book clubs.

In the last decade many people (mostly women) have flocked to book clubs to enjoy camaraderie with other book lovers. I joined a book club soon seven years ago soon after my son was born because I had more time on my hands and I wanted to escape the tedium of diapers, feedings and nightly temper tantrums. This was also the same time that I wanted to get serious about my writing and knew that better readers made better writers.

Now seven years later, I have led two book club groups and have compiled this guide to help you lead a fantastic book club meeting!

• Distribute the reading discussion questions (most books have a reading guide found in the book itself or via Google) a week prior to the book club members so everyone has a chance to prepare
• Offer some kind of food and beverage at every meeting. You can keep it simple and everyone will appreciate the water and cookies. Sugar makes you think better!
• Appoint yourself as the facilitator to keep things moving or appoint the host if you rotate locations every month
• Pick paperback books that are easily found in the library, at used book stores or via friends who let you borrow their books
• Plan out the books for the entire year at a December or January meeting so there everyone knows what the schedule is
• Have everyone introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting for 30 seconds to a minute. Also provide name tags.
• Do everything in your power to finish the book before the meeting. If you finish the book and encourage others that it’s a good idea to finish, then most folks will comply. No one wants to stay up late, finish the darn book and then show up to the meeting to find out that half of the people there didn’t finish. Can we say, ARGHHH! Now, I haven’t finished every book we’ve read this year in Wonderland Book Club, but I did let my members know and I did finish the book soon after the meeting so the momentum was still there.
• Go around the room or table and let everyone have a turn to share their thoughts on the book. As facilitator, you also have to make sure no one interrupts each other and have personal discussions kept to a minimum. (Ex. “This book reminds of the time when my husband and I decided to sell our house back in the 60s….”)
• Keep an open mind and learn from others who have differing opinions. Listen! Also, try not to repeat what someone else has said – offer a new tidbit!

Here are a few book club conversation Starters from Reading Group Choices (www. if you don’t have the reading group guide on hand.

• Do one or more characters tell the story? Are these characters believable?
• What are the book’s themes? What the main conflicts in the story?
• How does the setting and the time period affect the story?
• Did the story change your opinion of a place, event, time period, etc?
• What do you think will happen to the characters next?

So what did I leave out? Tell me what has worked in your book club to make members come back again and again?

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