Pleasant Surprises

Does this happen in your book discussion group?

Do group members bring to the meetings items related to the book  — without prompting from you — as a way of enhancing the discussion?

This happens from time to time with my group, and I got to thinking the other day what a pleasure it is.  Every time it occurs, it’s unexpected to me, although by now, after 30 some years of group leading, I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised.

I recall the time we were scheduled to discuss Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, and one of the participants came with her portable CD player and some opera CD’s so that we could appreciate some of the music that was mentioned in the story.  Another time, we were set to talk about Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and a group member brought several of her own books on Vermeer, with illustrations of his work, to share with us.

When we talked about Ivan Turgenev’s Spring Torrents, someone in the group passed around a program from one of his plays that she’d seen on a recent trip to a theater festival in Canada.  Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago brought a visitor to our group, who came with a notebook of correspondence he’d received from Dybek after meeting him at an earlier discussion, as well as photographs of the Chicago locations described in the book.

The Diary of Anne Frank inspired a reader to share with the group her mementos from a trip to Amsterdam when she visited the museum now housed in Anne Frank’s actual hiding place  — photographs, pamphlets, and other souvenirs. 

Often when an author we’ve focused on receives media coverage shortly after our discussion, group members come in with newspaper articles to share.  I remember this happening when the film version of The Kite Runner (which was released months after we’d talked about the book) drew criticism because of the use of child actors in  scenes depicting sexual acts.  We recently discussed Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, and the very next month, a new compilation of his essays was published — Armageddon in Retrospect — and a group member brought the review from The New York Times to let everyone know about it.

This “extra participation” by the book group members provides an added dimension to the book discussion experience that I, as the leader, greatly appreciate, and I believe my enthusiasm is shared by the group at large — the members always seem delighted to sample these surprise contributions.  I hope readers of Book Group Buzz will share similar experiences that have occurred at their group meetings.  Perhaps this will give both leaders and participants some new ideas for enriching their groups.

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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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