Advice for better book club sessions?
September 24, 2017 6:34 PM   Subscribe

6 meetings into a newly formed local history book club, and while we've got good material and smart members, our discussions have been a little rambling, formless, and scattershot. I am looking for suggestions (either full sets of guidelines or just tidbits of practical advice) from seasoned book club members that will get us to more satisfying and comprehensive discussions.
posted by ryanshepard to Human Relations (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you using a list of questions to guide discussion? My club is really informal but we tend to have more thoughtful discussion when the host prepares and pulls together an outline with themes, particular passages they liked/hated, relevant news/historical tie-ins, personal anecdotes, etc. to help keep things on track. Otherwise it goes off the rails and devolves into unrelated chatter.
posted by gatorae at 6:51 PM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

One thing that works well for a book club I frequent is designating someone 'in charge' of every meeting. The person 'in charge' is a rotating volunteer, who leads that meeting. They come up with guiding questions/suggested topics/an outline and are in charge of steering the discussion into some sort of coherent path. Social norms usually make sure that the person 'in charge' isn't too overbearing, and it works well enough.

The other thing that helps this book club is that there is a designated time at the end for silly, off-topic and derailing discussion. This designated time has a silly name, and anyone who initiates off-topic discussion is told to 'table it for $SillyName". This keeps things on topic better than they might otherwise be, and mention of $SillyName causes sufficient giggles that it adds a moment of comic relief to maybe add more energy to the discussion.
posted by sidek at 6:52 PM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes, seconding a rotating facilitator and tabling things that aren't super germane. In a book club I used to be in, we submitted questions/topics we wanted to discuss to a Google form a day before we met to discuss. That way, the facilitator knew what specific topics interested people and could structure discussion time in a way that flowed through most of those topics. (It wasn't unnatural; discussion topics were ordered in a way that made sense. If there was a lull in the discussion, we moved onto the next topic. If the discussion veers in a way that's unplanned, that wasn't restricted as long as it wasn't rambly and was actually interesting.) We usually started with a question that someone submitted.
posted by typify at 10:14 PM on September 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

My book club uses these question cards: Table Topics Bookclub Edition

They are generic enough to use with many books, so nobody has to prepare specific questions for a specific book. First we talk in general about anything anyone wants to say about the book. Then each person chooses a card and we go around the table.

We also have a person whose job it is to reign in the conversation if it's going way off track. It's usually me. I'm not sure if anyone else thinks I should do this, but i do :-)
posted by CathyG at 1:12 PM on September 25, 2017

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