When Nobody Likes the Book

“I hated, hated, hated this book!”

Those words are probably not what most book discussion leaders are hoping to hear when they convene their group — and yet, that response comes up often enough, so that leaders have to be ready to deal with it.  But what happens when everybody in the group (or almost everybody) feels this way?  How do you keep the discussion moving along in a manner that can be enjoyable — and rewarding — for the participants?

 I suggest tackling the problem head on.  Ask people what they didn’t like about the book   — and why.  Once the reasons have been established, ask them if they think the author actually intended the average reader to respond negatively and if there was some purpose in doing that.  Could it be possible that the author wanted to upset you?  And if the aspects of the book that you found so irritating were changed or removed, what effect would that have on the book?

Readers always need to think about what the author was trying to achieve, and then deciding for themselves if he was successful.  Yes, perhaps he wants us to think his central character is a despicable person.  We need to consider whether or not the author is asking us to see this character as standing for all people of a particular type, or perhaps just an unusual and extremely difficult individual.

Something else to think about — and talk about — is whether or not there is an ideal audience for this book, readers who would respond to it positively, just the way it is.  Or, if it were revised, what changes would improve it, and then, what kind of a book would it be?

Readers need to become aware of what they find especially satisfying in books and why this brings them pleasure.  By talking about their tastes with others, they also come to know that other people may like the very quality in the book that they despise, and learn why it works so well for the other person.

So it is possible to talk about a book that nobody seems to like, and to talk about it at length.  But before closing the discussion, it’s always worthwhile to ask if there wasn’t something, some tiny little thing perhaps, that people did like about the book.  By this time, the group has purged itself of its anger, disgust, contempt, and whatever other negative emotions they came into the room with — and maybe there’s just a little bit of grudging enthusiasm for some part of the book that after all, was chosen because the leader, having read the good things the critics had to say about it, naively thought it would be a great choice for a discussion.



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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