Useful Questions, Part Three

Here’s my last post in a series of useful questions to improve the quality of your group’s discussion of any book.

Question 1: How did the setting of the book contribute to its impact?

When to use it: When the conversation needs more depth; when this aspect of the book is not getting enough attention

Settings are important to any book and critical appeal factors for some readers. Bringing them into the discussion opens the door to comparisons to other books set in similar places or times and invites interesting personal stories from your participants. A related question that also works is to ask if the same story would have worked if it had been set in a different time or place. Don’t forget settings beyond the geographical and the historical: books set within a certain social group, in a particular occupational group, or emphasizing a particular hobby or other activity.

Question 2: Did reading this book change you in any way?

When to use it: When the impact of the book on readers needs to be clarified; when a few readers need a chance to explain why they loved a book in the face of mediocre reception by others

There are so many ways a book can impact us: creating resolve for change; bringing an unnoticed aspect of our lives to our attention; giving us empathy for others; or making us aware of new places, events, or people to name just a few. Weighing these impacts can be a fertile area of discussion and a nice way to summarize what we’re taking away from the book. This question is an excellent way to help those who felt passionately about the book explain that impact to others.

Question 3: I was interested in your comment about… Could you explain a little more?

When to use it: When someone is interrupted or when an interesting lane of discussion is glossed over

This is a procedural question, a graceful way to steer discussion back to an interrupted speaker or a missed conversational opportunity. It’s also a mild, artful way to chastise the interrupter.

Question 4: What is most likely to happen to the characters next?

When to use it: When the book has an unresolved ending or generates different interpretations among the readers

The game of “What if?” is both fun and productive for discussion. It’s a great question if the author leaves plenty of open doors at the end of the novel. A related question, good when the book doesn’t quite click with your readers, is “What should have happened instead?”

Try implementing some of these questions the next time your group is struggling with a book. If any of you have other questions to suggest, particularly questions that can help solve a common problem that occurs in book discussion or group dynamics, I hope you’ll add it as a comment.



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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