Participating in a book group can be a very rewarding experience. Here are some tips for enhancing your book discussions:
Choose a Leader
This may seem undemocratic, but to make sure that your discussion stays on track and everyone gets to participate, you’ll need to choose one member per meeting as a leader. We suggest this role is rotated; it can be the person who selected the book or the person who is hosting the meeting.
Provide Background Information
Information about the author and book can add to your discussion. We recommend that the person who selected the book be responsible for researching the book and author and bringing the information to the meeting. This could be an insightful review of the book, a transcript of an author interview, or even just the biography of the author. When you use our Links & Resources in combination with print outs of your My Journal notes, you'll find this extra duty easy and enlightening.
As a bookbuffet.com member you’ll have access to our general Book Archive with member and staff lists of reviews and research links—a rich resource that will grow as BookBuffet does, and is not available anywhere else!
Starting the Discussion
The leader's responsibility will be to start the discussion. We recommend using the background information as a book discussion starter. This could be a critical review, an author biography, or even an author interview.
Remember reading for school? You took notes! Every member of your book group should be responsible for jotting down notes about the book. The leader can go round the group and ask each member to share one or more notes to discuss. Write down quotes from the book or page numbers so you can read out loud those key passages or examples of literary technique you want to share. Comparing and contrasting other literature or past book group selections is important.
The type and level of detail of these notes will depend on your book group structure. If you have decided that your group will engage in literary analyses of each book, members will need to take focused notes on themes, language, etc. If your book group is less focused on literary analysis, members could make notes on their impressions. Again, it's helpful if everyone notes page numbers so that they can read from the book to support their comments.
Suggested Discussion Points
These suggested discussion points can also serve as a framework for taking notes.
- What is the story about? What is the plot and what is the theme? Sub-plots and sub-themes?
- How does the story develop? Does the structure lend itself to the plot or theme?
- Is the author trying to convey a particular message?
- Who are the main characters? Do they change over the course of the story? How?
- Is the main narrator reliable or not? Do you think the main narrator speaks for the author?
- How does the author use language? e.g. use of imagery, techniques, etc.
- How original is the author's voice and style?
- In what ways does this book fit into its genre? Does it transcend such classification?
- What is the book's relevance to history and/or current affairs?
- Does the book have any relevance to your own experience?
- Does the book remind you of anything else you’ve read? How does it compare?
Using Reading Guides
Many publishers offer free reading guides for books that contain author information, and specific questions and discussion points. If your book group has selected a book with an accompanying reading guide, you have a choice to review the guide before or after you have read the book. See how much you picked up on your own or be appraised of future discussion points as you read.
Respecting Everyone's Opinions
Remember that everyone’s opinion is valid. There is no right or wrong interpretation of a book. Keep it lively, but don’t make it personal. Help to ensure that vociferous members allow the quieter ones a chance to speak—you're there for diverse opinions, not just to hear the sound of your own voice.
Make It Fun!
Remember to have fun! Having a leader and taking notes is not as onerous or boring as it might sound. With a little creativity, you can make it interesting. For instance, one idea is to have everyone write down 2-3 discussion points—serious or silly—about the book on slips of paper. Fold the slips, toss them in a bowl, and take turns pulling out a slip. Your turn to talk about… ? Click on the author interview and listen to the author speak about their novel—it's like having your own private author reading. For an extra lively discussion, invite a local author and have everyone bring a guest.
Check our bookbuffet regular features on the home page to read about different book groups and how they make their discussions stimulating. Share your discussion tips by e-mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Book Group Tips” in the subject line.
Tips for Selecting Books
Having a solid structure and ground rules for a book group, having members excited to participate, and even having a great leader won’t mean much if your book selections are less than stellar. How can you pick just the right book for your group? You can check the bestseller lists, browse the book stores, and ask for recommendations. There’s no one right way, but as a bookbuffet.com member you’ll have access to Links & Resources to help you find interesting, quality books that are great for book groups. You’ll also have access to our Book Archive with books that other members have reviewed and rated.