10 Tips for Having a Stellar Book Club Discussion

books and tea

books and tea
Ah, book clubs. In my experience, book clubs have gotten a bad rap for being less about the merits and themes of a book and more about gushing over a story with un-constructive comments like, “It was soooo good!”.

Well, I’m here to put an end to that assumption. Book clubs aren’t all swooning and dead-end comments (though sometimes I just want to run around town, hoisting my latest favorite hardcover novel to the sky and shouting “IT’S SO AMAZING!”). It’s absolutely possible to have a thoughtful discussion about a book – any book! Yes, that means YA literature, too  – without going over everyone’s head and sounding pretentious.

Keep these tips in mind and with a little diligence (and love of reading, of course), you can make a killer contribute to a book club discussion:

  1. Take notes // Trying to remember everything that happened even in just one chapter can be too much to retain, let alone trying to remember the point you wanted to make about it. Whether you jot down notes in the margins, stick Post-It notes throughout your copy, or start an Evernote note about your thoughts, write those awesome realizations down before you forget them!
  2. Be specific // While it’s easy to recall a specific event from a story, it’s crucial you make note of the specific details including the page number, and even direct quotes from the text. You may want to go back and reference a particular detail later (like why it’s important that her dress was red and not blue) or, at the very least, allow others to find the passage you’re referencing.
  3. Support your views // My dad likes to say “You can think anything you want as long as you can tell someone why you think that way”. There truly isn’t a right or wrong answer when it comes to discussing a book (well, there are irrelevant answers; like trying to argue that Jane Eyre is an alien. Maybe she is; if you can give me supporting evidence I’ll consider it). Use the words in the novel to support your viewpoint either by pointing to a specific passage or quote. What in the text made you think that? Something did!
  4. Don’t be dismissive // It’s possible to be constructive and challenge someone’s argument without actually arguing and attacking the person or their point of view. Just because someone doesn’t share your thoughts on a novel doesn’t mean you have the right to discount their opinion. Remember: it’s called “constructive criticism”; you’re allowed to disagree, but no need to be a brute about it.
  5. Write three questions // One thing I have my students do is write down three questions or observations for each chapter they read. The question might be something you found confusing, or simply something you want to know more about.
  6. No “Yes/No” questions // … but don’t you dare write any questions that can be answered with a simple “yes/no”. How does that allow someone to add to the conversation? Answer: It doesn’t.
  7. Emotion vs. Intellect // Some books, some chapter even, are meant to make you think about big ideas and literary things like themes and messages. But some are there just to make you feel something or experience some kind of emotion. As you read, think about the author’s purpose with each chapter, as well as your reaction to it.
  8. Plot elements // Think back to middle school and lessons on plot, setting, mood, characterization, etc. Can you identify the setting of the story? What about the mood? Are the characters flat and one-dimensional, or developed and changing as the novel goes on? Do you even like the characters (“No” is an acceptable answer!)?
  9. Think about the experience of reading // Sometimes I just want to read a light, fluffy, everything-gets-resolved-in-the-end story, and I keep that in mind as I read and review. It’s simply a different frame of mind I enter than, say, when I’m reading Tolstoy. To me, Tolstoy is not a good book for wanting to spend the day feeling optimistic and carefree, lounging in a hammock with a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone. You can certainly bring this to the table in your discussion!
  10. Build off of other readers’ points // One person’s observations might’ve caused you to have an epiphany about your own idea, or question something about the novel you didn’t think of before. Great! That’s the point of a discussion; to make you think. And what better way to do that than to read others’ comments and think about them. It’s as simple as that!
See? – easy peasy. I bet you already think about quite a few of these things without even realizing it!
It’s not too late to join us for July’s NovelTea Book Club discussion of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Club! Whether you’ve read it before, or just want to dip into the discussion at your own pace, NovelTea is all about reading good books with other people who like to read good books (we like to keep it simple).
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How do you keep the discussion going?