How to discuss books

A good book has no ending.” – RD Cumming

If you want to join in on a discussion, don’t be shy! Your opinion and insight into what you’ve read can add another facet to everyone’s enjoyment of the book.

Some book clubs prefer to have a discussion leader to keep everyone on track. Others would rather chat about everything and anything and just occasionally mention the books they may have read. The way your book club runs should be the way you, and the other members, want it to run. Having some guidelines from the start helps everyone feel comfortable about contributing. Many clubs, for example, agree that everyone should have a chance to talk, and that only one person should speak at a time.

The Reading Group Choices site offers advice and tips including dealing with “book group divas” and “dead air” (when no-one has anything to say about the book).

Tips for discussing books

Here are our top tips for discussing books. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

  1. Read the book. Sounds obvious, but you will get a lot more out of the discussion (and be able to put a lot more in) if you’ve actually read it. Recently. And not just watched the movie or TV adaptation. Read actively, thinking about what you’re reading, rather than just skimming the pages. Make notes of thoughts and questions that occur to you while you’re reading.
  2. Read reviews and related material. Reading what others have said about the book can help you formulate your own opinions. Your understanding of, and appreciation for, the book will be greater if you have some context for it, so reading related material can help. For example, some factual historical background on Tudor England would enhance your reading of The Other Boleyn Girl and having read Jane Eyre would make discussion of Wide Sargasso Sea much more enjoyable.
  3. Think about “everything the author hasn’t said”. Sound advice from Nancy Pearl (of the Seattle Public Library and model for the popular librarian action figure) – consider the book’s themes, characters, symbolism; what the author’s choice of character names and book title tell you; what tensions, beliefs and assumptions underlie the book.
  4. Listen to the ideas of others. Listen actively, or read their opinion carefully – don’t just wait for them to stop speaking so you can start. It’s fine to disagree, but make sure you understand what they’re actually saying, not just what you think they’re saying.
  5. It’s about the book, not the person. You don’t have to agree with what others think of the book (what would be the point of discussing it if everyone agreed?) BUT keep your comments focused on the book. Remember that this is supposed to be fun!