21 Mar 2012

Book Club Challenges: Part III

No Comments Book Club Notes, Personal Thoughts

The novel is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. –Annie Murphy Paul

If reading fiction is the ideal way to “enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings,” then belonging to a book club is the quintessential social experience. Smart women grow through the exploration of what we are reading while we deepen our bonds with one another.

Yet, the success of a reading group depends on the goodwill of its members. It is important to listen, to engage, and to respect one another as we work together to gain greater understandings of the fiction at hand.

Maintaining this positive experience is sometimes a challenge, so we offer a few suggestions:

  1. Set aside social time. We are always eager to see one another and catch up on what’s been happening in each other’s lives. However, this may overshadow the reason we are meeting—to discuss a specific book. So, the best approach is to begin each meeting with a dedicated social time (say twenty to thirty minutes). Then, when you sit to discuss the book, you can maintain your focus. Make a commitment to this clear demarcation between social and discussion time. And, as a courtesy to one another, arrive at your meetings on time.
  2. Read with a purpose. While you are reading, ask yourself questions. What is the book about? What are the significant themes? Which characters are compelling and why? Does the work have flaws? Write some of your thoughts and take them to your meeting. Be prepared and take your reading seriously (this also means finishing the book before the discussion).
  3. Select books in advance. How does your book club select the readings? Do you pick one book at a time or do you establish a list for your season? Is your group flexible and encourage reading that you wouldn’t ordinarily select, or do you limit yourselves to contemporary fiction, as an example? Is the purpose of reading as a group more social or intellectual, and does this impact the books you pick? Regardless of your response, it makes good sense to follow some kind of model. This eliminates the need to spend much of your time talking about what you are going to read and allows you to dedicate your meeting to the book you are currently reviewing. It is helpful to appoint one member as “the keeper of the list,” and this person can document new titles for the next round of selections.
  4. Pick a moderator. Some groups hire a facilitator to keep the discussion on track. But, you can do this yourselves. For each discussion, identify one group member who will prepare the questions and lead the conversation. The moderator also is responsible for keeping the group focused and minimizing sidebar conversations.
  5. Be kind to each other. Challenges will arise in our book clubs. Some members will dominate a discussion, arrive late, or insist on a particular point of view. Some will fail to read or finish the book. Be open and truthful with one another when these issues arise. Be direct and address your concerns kindly and clearly in the best interest of maintaining a healthy group dynamic.
We are interested in issues that have arisen in your reading groups. Please share with us by clicking on ‘comment’ at the top of this blog.

I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.–John Burroughs

written by
Lisa Forman Rosen is an avid reader and facilitator of book clubs in Miami, Florida. She has worked at the University of Miami since 1986, first in the Department of English Composition as a lecturer and now at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as a writer. Lisa created this site to share her love of literature with others and expand the conversation into the virtual world.
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