I hope this set of messages has convinced a few of you to try a discussion of multiple books at a future group meeting. If you do, you’ll find that the mechanics change when everyone reads a different book. Here are ten hints to make sure your discussion doesn’t trip over too many titles:
1) Don’t Give Away the Ending
It’s a major no-no to include spoilers when you discuss a book that others haven’t read. Warn participants in advance that they shouldn’t assume others have read the book.
2) Lean Toward the Positive
Without corroboration, a completely negative review may not be fair. If you didn’t like the book, balance your negative review with acknowledgment of its stronger points. Try to identify audiences of readers who might find it of interest.
3) Make Time Expectations Clear
The biggest challenge of discussing many books can be finishing your meeting in your allotted time. It’s easiest to address the time limit question in advance. (Subtract 15 to 30 minutes for general discussion and asides from the time you want to spend on the full meeting, then divide the time remaining by the number of participants to get an idea of how long each person can take). If time is tight, discourage participants from talking about more than one book until everyone has had a turn. If someone goes on too long, don’t be afraid to interrupt with “I’m sorry, but we need to move on so we can hear about everyone’s book.”
4) Don’t Forget Discussion
In the rush to get through everyone’s book, you don’t want to lose interaction. Please join in if you have something to add about a book that someone else introduces! Discussion leaders should make sure that at least one question or comment follows the introduction of each book.
5) Draw Out the Quiet and Shy
Multiple book discussion puts more pressure on readers who are reluctant to talk. Hearing their input can be a great benefit of this approach, but it can also be uncomfortable to listen to someone who doesn’t know how to talk about books or gets nervous talking in front of others. To help them, distribute a few ideas about how to present a book to new group participants (I’ll expand more on this in a future post). If the presentation is still lacking, trying prodding the participants with a few friendly questions.
6) Help the Readers Find Books
To help readers prepare, distribute a list of suggested books that fits the discussion theme, or a bibliography (possibly annotated) if discussing an author. Such lists are usually easy to find through an online search site like Google. A good clearinghouse for booklists is at http://librarybooklists.org.
7) Develop the Theme
To enhance your discussion, introduce the meeting’s topic with a few tidbits about the theme or author. In ten minutes, someone can preview the history of the theme, highlight a few central issues, or provide a brief biography of an author. For even better results, distribute a few thematic questions a month in advance.
8 ) Pass the Books Around
Encourage participants to pass their books around the group. People will listen more closely to talk about a book they haven’t read if they get a chance to examine it. This will also help them determine if they would like to read the book themselves.
9) If the Theme Fits…
When you find a theme that your group enjoys, don’t be afraid to revisit it. The first thematic group I tried ultimately floundered: I should have taken the hint from the extremely popular first meeting and mined the readers’ enthusiasm for British and Irish fiction. Another group I lead had great fun with a discussion of romance/speculative fiction crossovers, which we playfully labelled SMUT! We’ve revisited that discussion every Valentine’s Day with Son of SMUT, Bride of Smut, and Return of SMUT. The short books and light conversation seem to lighten up dreary February for everyone.
10) You Don’t Need to Read Different Books
The variety of multiple book discussion can invigorate a group, but variety is good for all book groups. Those that regularly read different titles should occasionally focus on a single book to keep things fresh.