By April 28, 2008 0 Comments Read More →


At a recent discussion of Kurt Vonnegut’s acclaimed novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, I learned a useful lesson.  The group was talking about some of the more controversial aspects of the book that led to its being questioned as an appropriate reading choice for students at the local high school, and this prompted a number of teachers and ex-teachers in the circle to begin spinning off into anecdotes of their encounters with would-be censors.  Suddenly, one of the group members raised his hand, and when I nodded in his direction, he quietly asked, “Whatever happened to Kurt?”

That brought me up short.  I realized I’d become so interested in the horror stories the participants were recounting that I’d forgotten my role as the leader and my obligation to keep the group focused on the book we’d gathered to discuss.  Of course, we all laughed and quickly got back to talking about Vonnegut’s work, but what I learned from that slightly embarrassing moment was that I could use that question — appropriately revised — to keep future groups on track. 

And I intend to do just that.  When the need arises to pull the group’s wandering attention back to the book of the evening, I can simply ask, “Whatever happened to Jane?”  or more specifically, “Whatever happened to Ms. Austen?”  They’ll get the idea quickly enough.  It’s a nice little device to have in the discussion leader’s bag of tricks.  Very direct and not at all impolite.  And effective.  I urge you to use it, too.



About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

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