The best part of a fantastic book club is the conversation about the books. What’s the secret to having great conversations? Sure you need great books (as we talked about last week), but you also may need to make some preparations.
Preparing for Discussion
The meeting’s facilitator needs to be prepared to begin and direct things, such as with background information on the book or author, and with a list of questions to start the conversation. What sort of background information? Start with why the group picked the book – what made it worth reading.
If you’re reading a travel book or one with a strong sense of place, share a map or pictures of the locale. In addition, you may try to read some critics’ reviews of the book to see if they prompt any questions for discussion.
If you’ve had time to plan ahead, one good way to prepare everyone to discuss the book is to ask a pre-reading question: something to consider while they read (a.k.a. “homework”).
Keeping the Conversation Going
As the facilitator, don’t feel compelled to stick to a list of questions you have prepared in advance, if the discussion is flowing in a different direction. Similarly, don’t be so worried about getting through all of your questions that you squelch the discussion. It’s ok if it moves in directions you didn’t expect, but be prepared to circle back to topics that were addressed briefly before the conversation moved away from them, especially if it seemed like some members didn’t have a chance to respond. Also be prepared to redirect the conversation back to the book, if it veers off course into personal chatter.
Ask members to back up their views – if they loved the book, why? If they hated the main character, why? However, try to steer conversations away from absolutes, leaving room for dissenting opinions. Encourage members to expand on others points – this can be an excellent way to get quieter members talking.
If conversation is stalled, play Devil’s Advocate and see if that elicits responses. Another technique that works for most books is to focus on the title and/or opening and closing lines. Even members who were didn’t finish the book can then contribute.
Remind members that spoilers are allowed – if people haven’t read (or finished) the book, they should be aware that the ending may/will be discussed, and expect to be have the conclusion spoiled.
While the facilitator needs to be ready to get the meeting started, they also need to be prepared to get out of the way once the discussion gets going. It’s not a lecture on the book by one person, it’s a conversation.
Have a few *short* passages flagged to read aloud to illustrate a point or lead into a question.
Avoid simply asking “did you like the book” or other yes and no questions. You want a discussion, which is helped by open-ended questions.
Don’t be dismissive toward’s others opinions, even if you vehemently disagree with them. Bring the conversation back to the book, and use the book to bolster your points of view.
Socialize before or after, not during the discussion.
Wrapping it Up
It can be fun to talk about other books or movies that connect to the discussion title. Is there another book you should read now? Is there a book you should have read instead? Are there movies adaptations, or connected ones that simply bring the setting to life?
If you read a fiction book, is there a nonfiction title you’d recommend as a complement? Or vice versa?
Think about how to end the discussion – do you want to ask everyone for their own rating on the book? Attempt to cast the book if it were made into a movie? Imagine where the story could go after the book ends?
This is part of the Booked: Reading Together series. Throughout October, I’m writing all about book clubs.
Check out the archives in case you missed a post.
Previously on The Deliberate Reader
Two years ago: 31 Days of More Great Nonfiction: Sounds like Home
Three years ago: 31 Days of Great Nonfiction: The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry