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10 Tips for Successful Book Club Discussions

Engage in meaningful debate and keep club members playing nice

By Holly M. Viola • July 31, 2019

Reading groups are a way to celebrate our love of reading, bring together fellow book lovers, and take a deeper look at the ideas, themes, and symbolism presented to us. You want your book club to work together toward these goals, but in this age of divisive rhetoric, it can be hard to maintain a civil discourse.

So just how do you get members to talk in a meaningful way, keep the extra enthusiastic members from dominating everyone else, and make sure nobody gets punched or leaves crying? Here's a few tips to keep the conversation smart, on track, and civil:

  1. Explore topics in depth. Avoid "yes or no" questions and get members to dive deep into statements such as "like" and "dislike."
  2. Decide in advance whether you want to have club members each bring a question or have one person come prepared with a set of them.
  3. Don't be rigid about prepared questions. Let the conversation flow naturally.
  4. Be a good listener.
  5. Try reading passages for discussion out loud. You'd be surprised how different they can sound.
  6. Remember that books are a form of art and every person has a right to their own opinions and interpretations. Treat each other's point of view with respect, even when you disagree.
  7. Controversial books that get strong reactions can lead to the best discussions, so long as members keep it civil. Don't use inflammatory speech, name call, or otherwise attack a club member personally.
  8. Let that member who didn't quite finish the book come anyway. If they're your club-mates, they probably already know how to talk about different themes and provide valuable insight.
  9. Go ahead – make rules. Set boundaries to keep your group civil and give everyone a chance to speak. Here's some good examples:
    1. Rule #1: Use a timer so that everyone has a chance to speak.
    2. Rule #2: Break the rules&endash;when appropriate. Say you're discussing a memoir written by a victim of domestic abuse. A club member reveals that she's in an abusive relationship. The timer goes off. Break the rule.
    3. If you have a rowdy group, consider setting a "3 strikes" rule before somebody is asked to leave if they are rude, disruptive, offensive, etc.

We've only touched scratched the surface on tips for book clubs here, but hopefully you've gotten a few good tidbits. Book clubs are all about discussion and sharing, so please leave a comment below, and we can grow our list of tips and tricks!

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