Anyone Can Create Great Discussion Qs for Book Clubs
You don't have to be an English professor to participate in a book club. You don't have to be a prize-winning essayist to have interesting things to say about a book. And you don't have to be a literary critic to pose thought-provoking questions to fellow readers.
Italic Type creates experiences for readers to enhance their joy and learning from books – and one of the most impactful pathways we're focusing on to achieve that is to reduce barriers for people to talk about books together.
Talking about books with others is a profoundly powerful experience. Whether a formal book club discussion or even just a 1:1 chat – talking about a book with others lets us learn more about ourselves, learn more about other people, learn new things about the book we wouldn't have known before, and creates a fuller, richer experience of the book than you might have otherwise.
A recent essay in the New York Review of Books frames that insight more beautifully than I ever could (and that's OK!):
We are bound to appreciate the fact that to have the same experience of a book as someone else, to agree entirely and feel exactly the same way about it, we would have to be that someone. Books are such complex objects, many aspects of life appear in them, arranged in this or that way, filtered through this or that tradition; by bringing our own unique experience and requirements to them, which is the only way in which they can function as books, all kinds of thoughts, memories, and sentiments are set in motion.To argue consequently about whether a book was good or not, or how good, or what it was claiming, denying, denouncing, or commending—to seek, in short, against the odds, to pin it down—is actually to argue about who we are, to define our differences. We know each other through these discussions.
So we know that talking about books with others is powerful – but where do you start? How can you begin to mine deeper thoughts other than "was this good or bad?" or "did I like it or not like it?"
Here are some easy ways to start thinking about questions and thought starters for your next book club meeting. Or heck, maybe this is the push you need to start your own!
— Think about the author's style (diction, syntax, repetition, etc.). What's jumping out to you? Is there a particular pattern that's repeated? And why do you think that might be? Pose the question to your reading group.
— When I read (as I imagine most do), I am constantly making comparisons. Comparisons to things I have read, am currently reading, have experienced, have heard others experience, etc. These comparisons allow an entry point into the book and a way to make the reading personally meaningful. Sharing that with others creates a jumping off point where others can comment on a similar experience or to point to their own comparisons in different parts of the books.
— Sometimes a character will allude to another book or quotation that will make me curious enough to read more about the reference. These often deepen the meaning of whatever it is I have just read and I eagerly share that with the group to get their take.
— Other times I am genuinely unsure of what happened in a scene or or conversation between two characters. Discussion questions are great for getting clarity and learning how others interpreted these scenes.
There's no one way to do it because the point is to get people talking and you'll do that through sharing your own unique perspective. A lot of people get hung up on "sounding smart" in a book discussion, but the beautiful thing is that with most groups of curious, engaged readers there is no right or wrong answer. There is only our own experiences that we bring to the book and the learning that we get to share with others.