Do You Rate?

Book Group Buzz readers, does your discussion group rate the books it talks about?  I bring this up because a fellow discussion leader recently told me about asking her group members to rate Cormac McCarthy’s The Road on a scale of 1-5 before they launched into the discussion, and she was surprised by how many of them gave the book a “1.”  I’ve asked my group to rate titles in the past, but don’t do this as a regular practice.  Since this month’s book to be discussed was the afore-mentioned The Road, I couldn’t resist reviving the rating game to see how my group compared with my friend’s.  To my relief, there were only a few “1”s, but more “4”s and “3”s, and even one “5.” 

The way I use ratings is to get a sense of how the group has generally responded to the book, without asking for any comments or explanations, telling them to just call out the number.  Then I ask someone who has rated the book highly to elaborate on their rating, followed by a response from someone who has rated it very low.  I find it’s a great way to get the discussion started, and one additional benefit is that it immediately involves every member of the group, even if only briefly. 

Sometimes we have taken a moment at the conclusion of the discussion to see if anyone’s rating has changed as a result of our examination of the book.  Usually, there are a couple of switches — and this time was no exception.  We joked that one person who changed her rating was sitting next to the individual who rated the book “5,” and that her proximity to the most positive participant surely must have affected her opinion over the course of the evening!  (She moved from a “3” to a “4.”)  Oh, yes, and another person who found the book “unbearably depressing” wanted to know if she could rate it lower than a “1” — say, “.5”?  As you can see, employing the ratings can add a little levity to the proceedings — something we definitely needed with The Road.  For something different, why not consider giving this simple “icebreaker” technique a try?

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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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