Discussing Books

A Group of Artists By Jules-Alexandre Grün (1868 - 1934) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Group of Artists By Jules-Alexandre Grün (1868 – 1934) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I finally got to a book club. It only took me 30 years. With only half the assigned book read, I debated even going. Memories of college classes with teachers struggling to make us pull valuable conversations out of thin air about a book we didn’t actually read and most of us never even bought made me debate about going even more. But I had already invested several hours into reading the book and I wasn’t going to let that go to waste. I’m glad I went.

5 things I learned:

1. Not having read the entire book is a lame excuse for not coming.

There were many people who didn’t show up because they had not finished the book on time. Of those who did show up, only one had read the entire book. We still had an interesting discussion.

2. Unlike college, book club people are there because they want to be, and because they want to read that specific book. So discussions are more vibrant.

I’ll admit, I expected the leader of the group to read discussion questions from a can, followed by a determination of us all to listen to crickets chirping in awkwardness. Instead, the people there were genuinely interested in discussing the book. Or at least in discussing something. There were no crickets.

3. It’s very easy for the conversation to get de-railed.

We started out discussing the book, and ended up discussing our interests. And that was ok. I came to the book club to enjoy bookish people’s company, not to rigidly stick to a list of discussion questions. But I can see how this might bug me if we had been reading a book I was absolutely thrilled and confused about and had things I needed to ask the group. So, yay for making new friends. But I can see I’ll have to be more determined to stay on task next time.

4. It helps to come with questions ahead of time, and I don’t mean “discussion questions”. What do you legitimately want to know from others about this book?

My instinct is to answer this question by saying “I don’t need to know anything from others about this book. I read it. I’m an expert by now.” But finding out that someone else feels differently about the book than I do is valuable. For instance, when I read the first chapter of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman, I thought it was really sad. But when I heard him read it live, it was funny. Obviously, there are many different ways to see a book.

My top tip for coming up with questions that don’t sound like boring discussion questions: Use specifics. Instead of asking “How did you feel about the beginning of the book?” try to make the question specific to the book so that it couldn’t possibly be asked about any other book. Example: “What was your first thought about the Dursley’s when you read the first line about how proud they are to be normal?”

5. Don’t be afraid to disagree.

It’s the differences in how people experienced the book that are more valuable to me. If someone thinks the ending was awesome and so do I, we may be able to squee about it for a minute or two, but then we move on. Whereas, if someone else didn’t like the ending, I get to ask why. Getting to ask why is one of my favorite things to do and probably the most magical word in the English language.

Finally, I can’t end a post about reading without reminding you how good reading is in general. Because reading is amazing, essential, thrilling, and good for both your brain and your soul.

Get to it!

Largest Book in the World, Photo By Frank H. Nowell , via Wikimedia Commons

Largest Book in the World, Photo By Frank H. Nowell , via Wikimedia Commons

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