Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What Makes a Good Book Discussion Group?

I've been in several book discussion groups over the years, both locally and online.  I've enjoyed all of them.   In early 2013 I started an online book discussion group called Curl Up and Read.   We've enjoyed discussing books and growing as a group.

Our group is friendly and casual.  We have chosen (by vote) upcoming themes.  Each month members nominate a book for the upcoming theme.  We then vote in an online poll.  The person who nominated the book leads the discussion.  

I asked group members for some input about book discussion groups.  They gave some great answers, and (with their permission) I am sharing them here.

What do you enjoy about being part of an online book discussion group?

"I like the camaraderie, the book recommendations, the discussions and the structure." (Gayla)
 "Hearing other people's perspectives of the books we read. I often learn about something I missed or hear an insight that makes me appreciate the book more." (Arlene)

"Several things. One is being able to talk to people about the book. For me, reading is half of the enjoyment and talking about a book I just read is the other half. A number of my friends are readers also, but we seldom read the same type of books or read the same book at the same time. I enjoy hearing what others think and in return expressing my ideas, and getting feedback from others about my ideas.   A second reason is that I hear about books and authors that I am unfamiliar with. " (Fred)

"I'm a librarian in a public library, so my primary reason for joining online book groups was the exposure to lots of books, reviews and recommendations. I can only personally read about 4 books a month, if that, so this is a way for me to become familiar with books that I haven't necessarily read, and that helps me help patrons find books that fit their interests. Being a good reader's advisor doesn't mean that I have read a lot of books, but it does mean that I have read ABOUT a lot of books." (Laurel)

"I love it when there’s a lively discussion either about the book or some aspect of the book. I am also curious to see if other people respond to the book the same way I did, and if not, why not." (Pam)

I especially enjoy talking about books.  I was an English major and of course I loved literature classes.   A book discussion group provides some of the lively dialogue that I found in college.  I also love learning about new books!  (my response)

What types of books do you most enjoy discussing?

"I am getting better at reading all forms of book except for Dystopian and Horror Novels. Also not crazy as a rule of non-fiction unless it is an interesting biography of a person." (Gayla)

"Apart from books that are specific to a group like my Dickens group, I like a variety, and I like to discuss lesser known books, often indies, because those are the gems we are all less likely to find on our own." (Arlene)

"Fiction, non-fiction (usually science or essays on a variety of topics), mysteries, SF/F, poetry." (Fred)

"Books that I've actually read! Ha ha. My interests are pretty wide, but in particular I like 'literary' fiction, classics, historical fiction, and mysteries. I usually have some book challenges that I have set for myself each year and I am in a face-to-face bookclub that reads things that are outside of my usual comfort zone. This summer, for instance, I am reading as many titles as I can that fit The [fill-in-the-blank] Wife. Just finished The Crane Wife and am now reading The Anatomist's Wife." (Laurel) 

"I think probably mysteries. They’re usually ‘safe’, meaning they don’t contain content that might offend some group members. But a good one is always fun to read, and will generate interesting discussions on which clues different readers picked up on and why. I personally love science fiction, but I think I would need to be in a group of other people who also love it to have a fun discussion." (Pam)

I like discussing a wide variety of books, but especially classics, mysteries, historical fiction, children's fiction (especially classics/vintage), and literary fiction.  (my response)

What are a few books that you consider ideal for book group discussions?

"We Are All Called to Rise by Laura McBride, The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood, Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Dodd, The Blessings by Elisa Jurka, just for some suggestions."  (Gayla)

"From my most recent reading, Time Shifters by Shanna Lauffey is a good choice because there is an interesting writing style and it deals with time travel which is a popular interest, plus she's one of those indie authors I referred to in the second question and a lot of people may not know about this series.

Also some of the spin-offs from Classics like Jack Dawkins by Charlton Daines which I suggested in a group recently. These can be compared to the source material and assessed for literary quality.

I tend to like genre fiction, especially Fantasy and science fiction which isn't to everyone's taste, but I've found some really good ones over time that fans of these genres would enjoy."  (Arlene)

"That's hard to say. I frequently am wrong when I try to predict how a particular book will go over in the group. But, I will list some of my favorite authors, anyway:
Jane Austen--novels
Lawrence Durrell--novels
Hawthorne, Poe, Melville--novels and short stories
Kim Stanley Robinson--novels, SF
Gene Wolfe--novels, SF
Ray Bradbury, Ted Sturgeon,--short stories, SF
Loren Eiseley--essays, science and personal issues? (I have a number of posts by him on my blog)
Konrad Lorenz--essays
Russell Hoban--Riddley Walker and other works
Ingrid Black--mysteries
Batya Gur--mysteries
Eliot Pattison--mysteries"  (Fred)

"The books that most lend themselves to discussions tend to be books with multiple layers/ themes/ or even flaws. These tend to NOT be books that I have rated the highest. Books that deal with ethical issues are always good, like many of Jodi Picoult's books. They might have something that invites people to talk about their own experiences. You want to get different points of view in a discussion. Not everyone has to LIKE the book. A few titles that had good discussions in my face-to-face group: 
The Room by Emma Donoghue

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee"  (Laurel)

"Our group recently discussed The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) and it got a lot of people interested in participating. I would personally love to discuss Cloud Atlas because I not only enjoyed the story, I was very impressed with the structure of the book and the overall premise." (Pam)

"On a basic level, I always ask that nominated books be in print and available in a number of formats (print, Kindle, used books,  readily available at libraries).  I have particularly enjoyed book group discussions of The Great Gatsby and The Cuckoo's Calling (Robert Galbraith).  Those books stimulated a lot of talk and ideas, and we had a high percentage of group members participating.    I have really enjoyed several books we've read.  A few that come to mind:  The Mercy of Thin Air (Ronlyn Domingue), A Redbird Christmas (Fannie Flagg), and Maisie Dobbs  (Jacqueline Winspear)."  (my response)

Are you a member of a book discussion group?  What do you most enjoy about your reading group - types of books, specific reads, etc.?  I would love to hear from you in the comments, below.