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Book Club Blues

Book Club Blues—leading the discussion

Thursday, 26 July 2012 10:37

bcblues leadingIt's your turn to lead the book discussion. Does any of this sound familiar? Well, it might...

When we lead a book discussion in our group, we're supposed to do a full-blown presentation—author bio, book reviews, cultural objects relating to the book, and then coming up with good questions. When it's my turn, I get so anxious I lose sleep. I'm wondering if it's really worth it.
The writer isn't alone—most members will tell you that the most stressful part of a book club is leading the discussion. But why?! Why make it so hard?

There are other ways to hold discussions that take the onus off a leader. In fact, you don't even need a leader. One of the clubs I belonged to never had one. And our discussions were terrific.

Try these ideas for getting out of the Leader Trap:
  1. Use Discussion Questions (on LitLovers or publisher and author sites). Sometimes the questions read like a pop-quiz, but pick out one or two...just to get an idea of a direction. Even better...use LitLovers Generic Questions...they're broader but very helpful.
  2. Give everyone an index card to jot down (anonymously) one thing about the book they'd like to talk about. It might be a character, something not understood, or a particularly funny or insightful passage. Pass the cards back to one person who will use them to kick off a discussion. Or throw them, face down, in a pile and have people take turns drawing from the pile to read a question.
  3. Simply open up the floor to anyone who wants to say something about the book. Someone will always get the ball rolling...and others will always pick it up and toss it down the field.

So there's no need to fall into the Leader Trap—there are lots of ways to avoid anxiety and misery when it comes to holding a discussion. Explore a few, see how they work for you...and adapt them to fit your group.

 

Book Club Blues—when no one likes the books

Friday, 13 January 2012 11:55

bcblues-7bA cry for help—this one from a reader on our Facebook page. Its a fairly common book club problem. Recognize it?

I'm leading the discussion at my next book club—for a book I chose. But I found out most of the members didn't care for it. In fact, the organizer of my group hated it so much she wouldn't read or finish it. Kind of difficult to have discussion. Any advice would help.

Oops. It's your turn to lead the discussion...and no one likes the book. Even worse...YOU chose the book. What to do?

Start with the obvious—why don't members like the book? It can be as rewarding to explore the reasons you don't like a book as the reasons you do. And don't let people get away with "I just couldn't get into it" or "it was boring." The point is to be expansive, to engage in a give-and-take of ideas.

You disliked the book because of its...

Style
Too wordy or difficult? Too clunky or awkward? Too overwrought? Too pompous?

Plot
Too slow getting off the ground? Too contrived? Too predictable? Too little plot (a character- or idea-driven novel).

Characters
Too undeveloped or one-dimensional? (No emotional or psychological depth) Too perfect? (Irritating or lack believability.) Too unlikeable? (Stubborn or immature...arrogant, selfish, or petty...even villainous, like Humboldt Humboldt in Lolita)

Structure
Too unfocused. Too much back and forth between time frames? Too much shifting between characters and points-of-view? Too many unrelated subplots? If not handled well, shifts can be confusing or interrupt the narrative flow.

Ideas?
Do the ideas, philosophy, worldview of the author or characters disturb you, go up against your own values? Maybe there are no ideas—the book is shallow, unchallenging, and offers no ideas worth thinking about.

 

A good discussion, whether it's a book you love or hate, helps clarify what types of works you prefer. Most important, though, good discussions often change minds. Who knows...you might decide you like the book after all.

Be sure to see our READ-THINK-TALK chart. It's a handy guide for helping you think about a book while you read.

 

Book Club Blues—food fight

Friday, 01 July 2011 09:30

bcblues-6Is food a competitive sport in your book club? It's strange, but we finally got all of our LitFood recipes back up on the New & Improved website...when I got this email:

Our group meets at each others' homes, and whoever hosts serves dinner. It was fun at first. But now the meals are so elaborate that it's like a competition. I feel I'm being judged, and I dread when it's my turn to host.

Not good. But not uncommon either. In a NY Times article on book clubs a couple of years ago, this very complaint turned up. Food should be part of the fun—not the focus. Besides, lots of people who love to read..don't love to cook. So here's something you might try:

Talk about the issue openly...do other members feel the way you do?

If so, make the meal a joint venture, everyone contributing. Those who really love to cook could bring the main dish. My feeling is that hosting is already a lot of work—getting the house ready and laying out glasses, silverware, dishes...to say nothing of the post-meeting clean-up.

If others don't feel as you do, ask to be let off the hook. Suggest a compromise: you could host more often if others bring the food...or you could take care of wine or hors d'oeuvres for a couple of meetings. (Those things you can buy.)

If no compromise is forthcoming? You gotta go girl. Find yourself a new club, one with a more casual, easy-going hosting style.

 

Book Club Blues—best friends

Thursday, 29 April 2010 14:59

bcblues-1Do best friends and book clubs mix?  Here’s a  good question from the mailbag:

My best friend and I started a book club together. But it turns out that she just wants to read light romances. The rest of us like variety—bios, historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy—and novels a little more challenging. Any suggestions?


There are a number of ways you can go about this, depending on everyone’s willingness…or not…to compromise.

  1. Rotate monthly so each person gets to select a book. That way your friend gets to choose a romance once, say, every 6 or 8 months.
  2. Appeal to her sense of fairness if she’s unwilling to compromise—remind her (nicely, right?) that she’s in the minority.
  3. Offer to help her start another club if all else fails, a club based on romantic fiction. You can even come up with a  clever name…like Kiss & Tell Book Club...or Love'm or Leave'm Book Club. 

The best solution is to avoid the issue from the get-go. If you’re going to start a book club, first determine the kind of books you like to read. Then find like-minded readers. (Oh, sure…now I tell you.) It turns out that like-minded readers aren’t necessarily best friends. Love to read your thoughts!

 

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