Could you say that again?

As a book discussion leader, it does fall to me every once in awhile to lead a discussion on a title that I have previously done.  Last night, at our spring Greendale Reads book discussion, I had a similar experience.  After leading a book discussion on The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (see my October 21, 2009, post), last night I got to sit back and watch another book discussion leader do the same.

The discussion leader was Dr. Edwin Block from Marquette University’s Department of English.  Ed is a good friend and has been doing a great job leading our Greendale Reads discussions for years.  While I would describe my style as folksy, Ed is slightly more professorial.  A simple example is while I let people play if they want to, Ed will call out individuals who are not fully engaged in the discussion.  I keep my questions a secret, springing them on the group like a cat jumping down from a hidden perch.  Ed hands the questions out ahead of the discussion and provides a character list to help. 

Last night we had an active and lively discussion on The History of Love.  Krauss’s book, by the way, is great for a discussion because it has a zillion layers, about fifty themes, multiple narrators that seem to consistently confuse half the people in the discussion, and a compelling story that ends with a mystery.  If you do not people me, review the experience the ARRT folks had in the post from February 18th. 

I learned a few things last night, confirmed a few things, and found myself really enjoying being a part of the discussion rather than having to lead it.  Sometimes that last point can be lost when you are the leader.  I know I have had nights where I am thinking “that did not go well” only to have one of the participants thank me for a wonderful experience.  Sometimes you just have to step outside to remember how much fun it can be to be inside.



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

2 Comments on "Could you say that again?"

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  1.' Sarah says:

    Wow. Individuals are “called out” if they aren’t “fully engaged in the discussion”? How does Ed know they aren’t fully engaged? Does he take away their cellphones? Does he give college credit? Does he – a professor – know that people have different learning styles?

  2.' Debbie Walsh says:

    In 2010 Adult Reading Roundtable (ARRT) of Northern Illinois developed a program to address just this issue/problem. Our Quarterly Literary Book Discussion is designed to allow book discussion leaders to participate in a discussion that they don’t have to lead or facilitate. Steering Committee members take turns – in fact, you mentioned our January 2011 discussion of The History of Love by Nicole Krauss facilitated by Becky Spratford, and I just led our April meeting tackling People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. It is so freeing to be able to participate instead of always having the responsibility for managing a discussion. I would highly recommend finding a group you can join as a participant. Our program is intended to be fun but it does also have an instructive component –toward the end of each meeting, we take about fifteen minutes to discuss techniques, problems and nuts and bolts issues that arise in our own groups. And Gary, (or anyone else, for that matter) if you are able to take a road trip in July, please consider joining us in Itasca when we discuss Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

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