You Don’t Need to Read the Same Book, Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about why you should consider book group formats that go beyond the tradition of discussing a single book. In this post, I want to address how you can discuss multiple books. There are many different ways to do it. Consider trying these approaches as an experiment in one of your book groups:

1) Your group may already use the easiest method of bringing more books to the conversation: Simply go around the circle and have everyone briefly share what else they’re reading. This is a way for group members to quickly introduce each other to great reads and become familiar with each other’s reading interests. Books brought up in this kind of discussion often become the selections for later meetings.

2) Taking that idea a step further, one of my book groups divides the evening into two halves. We begin by discussing a shared book, then after a break for refreshments, we come back and share the rest of our month’s reading in more depth. If you try this or any of the upcoming options, it’s recommended that you bring copies to pass around the table. The only downside of this option is that it does take a little more time. It works best in smaller groups.

3) Pick an author instead of a single book. If you like the depth of one-book discussion, it can be just as rewarding to discuss a single author. This is particularly useful when you are taking on an author with a large or varied output and no single book as an obvious entry point. Many readers avoid prolific authors because they don’t know where to start, and hearing about a range of their work may provide a personalized solution for each reader in the group. It will also give you a sense of the author’s themes and let you know if work you have read in the past is typical.

4) Discuss a theme. This is particularly rewarding for nonfiction groups or groups that read genre fiction. The speculative fiction group at my library would not survive if we required everyone to read the same book: our interests are just too diverse. By using themes, we can all pick books that fit our own styles and we get along swimmingly. Themes can be plot elements, settings, character types, award winners, formats, subgenres, historical periods, time of publication, or anything else you can think up.

5) Sam posted an interesting comment on my last entry. At his library, he is working up a program where people will be allowed one minute each to talk about a book they’ve read. He’s mixing it with video clips of library staff talking for a minute about some of they’re favorites. It’s the book group equivalent of speed dating. I’m sure everyone will go home with a list of ideas about what to try next (and perhaps what to avoid).

As you can see there is a range of ways to implement multi-book discussion. For some groups, these methods work well as a permanent modus operandi; for others it will be a nice variation from the usual. Give one of them a try and see if it livens up the discussion at one of your group meetings or helps to balance the participation of your members.

I’ll post once more on this topic next week, with hints on a few of the mechanics you should keep in mind if you try a multiple book discussion.



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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