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Moderator Tips: How Important Is It To Like The Book?

abstract:Every moderator or book group leader hears a call to action when the first comment out of a group member is, "I didn't like this book." Rachel Jacobsohn has been leading groups for over 30 years.  Here are her thoughts on this crucial topic, in our ongoing BookBuffet series of book group leader tips.


April 16, 2005

"This is a most mighty moderator tip. It transcends all the flotsam of jetsam of book groupness. Read my words carefully. Itís not important whether you liked the book, or didnít. Thatís a show stopper. 


Whatís more important to discuss are the major themes of literature explored in the text by your author. Some say you can know your author just from reading the text because, in this regard, the story is a vehicle to convey the authorís vision of the human condition. How well that is accomplished in both objective and subjective modes then becomes a fundamental part of your discussion, in terms of both literary criticism/analysis and personal and social interaction." 


[A comment like this can be a strong jumping-off point to turn negativity into creativity. Eg. "Hold that thought, and lets examine the themes the author is putting forward in this book." This leads the group toward productive and careful analytical skills. Not unlike musical ear training for intonation in order to hear subtle grace notes and half tones development of greater understanding of the piece.] 

Some Great Themes of Literature

      • Death and life
      • The nature of G-d
      • War and peace
      • Good and evil
      • (Hu)mans in nature
      • The individual in society
      • The question of identity
      • Love and hate
      • The question of truth
      • The nature of justice
      • Fate versus free will
      • The meaning of greatness


"I didnít make these up," she continues."My source is a thirty-five year old, YA middle and high school English book that does not cease to inspire my thinking about the texts I prepare for my discussion groups.  Themes in World Literature, edited by George P. Elliott, Philip McFarland, Harvey Granite, and Morse Peckham. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1970.Ē [We managed to track down rare and used copies of this book; click on link to purchase]

If you have questions, or would like to add/amend this list, please email me."

Reference Books

Rachel Jacobsohn,

Author of The Reading Group Handbook, Hyperion (1998) 

Founder of ABGRL,

The Association of Book Group Readers and Leaders

P.O. Box 885, Highland Park, IL 60035


Next column: Developing Thoughtful Discussion Lines 

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