Tips on how to run a successful book discussion group.
Note: These ideas for setting up a book discussion group are from the Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library.
People often ask what qualities make a book a good candidate for book discussion. Probably the most important criteria are that the book be well written, have an interesting plot and three-dimensional characters. Good book-discussion books present the author's view of an important truth and sometimes send a message to the reader. A good book-discussion book often stays in the reader's mind long after the book is finished and the discussion is over. These books can be read more than once, and each time the reader learns something new.
During a book discussion, what you're really talking about is everything that the author hasn't said--all those white spaces on the printed page. For this reason, books that are plot driven (most mysteries, westerns, romances, and science fiction/fantasy) don't lend themselves to book discussions. In genre novels and some mainstream fiction, the author spells out everything for the reader, so that there is little to say except, "Gee, I never knew that" or "Isn't that interesting." Librarians, booksellers, and friends can often supply you with suggestions of good books to discuss.
(Incidentally, this "everything that the author hasn't said" idea is why poetry makes such a rich topic for discussion.)
The very best books are those that insinuate themselves into your experience: They reveal an important truth or provide a profound sense of kinship between reader and writer. Searching for, identifying, and discussing these truths deepen the reader's appreciation of the book.
Asking questions, reading carefully, imagining yourself in the story, analyzing style and structure, and searching for personal meaning in a work of literature all enhance the work's value and the discussion potential for your group.
Research the author using resources such as Current Biography, Contemporary Authors, Something About the Author. Find book reviews in Book Review Digest and Book Review Index. The Dictionary of Literary Biography gives biographical and critical material. These resources are probably available at your local library. The Internet is often another good source for reviews of the book and biographical information about the author.
A good discussion depends in large part on the skills we develop as participants. Here are some suggestions (based on the New York Public Library's book discussion program):
Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library
1000 Fourth Ave.
Seattle, WA 98104-1109
Tel: 253-548-3300 Fax: 253-537-4600 Washington Relay TTY: 711
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