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Some Like ´Em Hot, Some Not: Running a Book Discussion Group

December 16, 2010 by Reader's Connection

Prior to retiring from the Wayne Branch this year, librarian Donna Foster was kind enough to leave us these tips about starting a book club. The books pictured here are those that will be discussed at Wayne during the first four months of 2011.

The Wayne discussions are scheduled to take place on the first Monday of each month, at 6:30 p.m.

Monday, January 3rd

To Kill a Mockingbird

“That book was just high class trash,” declared a member of Wayne Library’s book club at a recent meeting.

“I thought it was great,” said another.

The discussion leader now had a challenge. She asked each person to explain what spurred such different reactions. The group was analyzing South of Broad by Pat Conroy. The ten people attending were all eager to join the fray according to the leader who later reported that it was an “amazing discussion.” Lively comments and even sharp disagreement, plus a bit of wit and humor have kept this book discussion group alive for seven years.

Book discussion groups come in many shapes and sizes, but they all have two things in common. People want share their personal reactions to a book that stimulates them emotionally or intellectually, and they want to learn something. Perhaps a thoughtful question by the leader will spur a new vein of thinking about the book. Maybe other readers can shed unexpected light on character motivation. By the end of the session every participant should feel satisfied that collectively they helped advance understanding of the book. 


Monday, February 7th

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

So how does one start a group? It doesn’t happen in isolation and it can’t succeed without leadership. Perhaps telling the story of one branch library’s experience will provide a framework for others to adopt and adapt.

In October 2003 after relentless pleading from a few Wayne Branch Library patrons, librarians got together to plan an approach. They felt they could only provide minimal assistance, so they determined to hire a professional discussion leader with special funds. The goal was to train the group to be self-sufficient within a year. The leader and the librarians selected six titles of general interest and literary merit.

Two months prior to the first scheduled meeting, the publicity stream got under way. By the first scheduled session twenty people had registered. This list provided the beginning for a roster of regular contacts. At its peak the group included 62 people for semi-annual mailings. An average of 15 people attended sessions. 


Monday, March 7th

TITLEEach meeting followed a formula: sign-in sheet and warm personal greeting from the leader; large name placards in front of each participant; hand-out packet of author and background information; a little quiz or puzzle for warm up; quick go-around for everyone to respond to a general question like “What was the most memorable moment for you?” or “What kept your attention?” Fifteen minutes into the meeting, the leader posed stimulating questions about the heart of the matter – setting, plot, character, and meaning.

As intended, the group said good-bye to its year-long leader and decided among themselves a method for rotating the moderator role and criteria for selecting new titles each six months. To date, interest has not waned, but the meeting style has changed. Members no longer bring refreshments, use name cards, or play warm-up games. They know each other well and get to work immediately. When new people arrive due to ongoing publicity, members fold them right into the group. Some return and some do not.

Monday, April 4th

Cutting for Stone

 For librarians, the main tasks are publicity, reserving books in advance, staying in contact with members and leaders, and making occasional suggestions for titles. The responsibilities are both manageable and satisfying.

But what do you do without funds to hire a professional? Select an outgoing reader who bones up on discussion skills by reading the many book discussion guides available on the web. Discussion questions are also found for many titles. And if your book discussion group is not sponsored by a library, be sure to make contact with one in order for your members to get selected books in a timely way. Feel free to contact any IMCPL branch for assistance.

Most importantly, have fun with it! — Donna Foster



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