Is Everybody in the Mood?

When you are preparing to lead a book discussion, do you ever think about which members of your group will probably respond very positively to the book?  Which ones will be more critical?  Which ones may have a lukewarm reaction?  I do.

Sometimes I’m quite accurate with my predictions, but other times I miss the mark completely, and when that happens, I have to admit I tend to be somewhat surprised.

Why is this? I asked myself recently, and as I thought about it, I had a sudden flash of insight.  Maybe the members who reacted negatively, and openly dissed the book  just…weren’t in the mood for a discussion.

Could this be?  I wondered, thinking about the new emphasis in readers advisory service that encourages advisors to determine the patron’s mood at the time of the interview before recommending a book.

It’s a situation that’s certainly beyond the control of the group leader.  You’ve picked the book because you thought it would engage the members and stimulate a great discussion.  People may sign up for the session without knowing much about the book, and then may feel obligated to come to the meeting, even though they found the book disappointing and now aren’t exactly charged up about the idea of talking about it.  But they come to the meeting anyway — and then complain about the book, perhaps because they aren’t in the best frame of mind.

Recently I led a discussion with a group of graduate students of a novel I consider to be a classic — Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.  This poignant story, about an isolated deaf man and a sensitive teenager, was written over 50 years ago, and I wanted the students to experience the power of McCullers’ complex characters and beautiful prose.  But many of them failed to connect with the book.  “Maybe we’d have gotten more involved in the discussion if we’d been able to read a book of our own choice,” one of them remarked.  Hmmm…perhaps they weren’t in the mood?

Last month at the library, I led my regular book group in an examination of Irene Nemirovsky’s shattering study of life in World War II France, Suite Francaise.  Most of the participants had good things to say about the book, which received raves from the critics, but a few days later, I encountered a group member who hadn’t attended the session.  “Sorry I wasn’t there last week,” she told me, “but I just didn’t relate to the book.  Too depressing!  I know I should have liked it — but I didn’t.  Guess I just wasn’t in the mood.”

Well, as I’ve already said, there isn’t anything the leader can do about this situation.  You pick what you think are the best books you can find, and you hope they will lead to satisfying discussion experiences.  But when participants unexpectedly turn up their noses and then turn their thumbs down, it’s probably a good idea not to beat yourself up about it and conclude that maybe, just maybe, the disgruntled ones in the group simply weren’t in the mood.

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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).

1 Comment on "Is Everybody in the Mood?"

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  1. gary warren niebuhr says:

    Thanks for talking about this angle of the discussion process–I am not sure I have thought about it this way before. Good points I will ponder.

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