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February 2, 2010

Starting the Discussion: How do you break the ice?

Posted by webmaster
Does your book club ever struggle to stop the chit chat and begin talking about the book? Or do you resist being the group leader because you're not sure how to get the discussion going?

I have lead many book club meetings over the last several years, and I pretty much always start the same way. I let everyone get situated with their wine or coffee and snacks and a little bit of gossip and then I'll get everyone's attention and ask if they liked the book. I'm pretty casual, so often that's usually all we need to get started.

If that's not enough to get the ball rolling, I'll also ask if everyone finished the book and if they didn't, why not. And if all else fails, I'll jump to a particular character or plot line that I want to discuss and jump right in. The other thing I always do - because the book clubs I have typically led have been open to the public - is to go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves and maybe say one little extra thing besides their name. Like where they live or what they do or how long they've been coming to the book club. Of course if you already know each other well, that would just be silly. Though you never know - you could go around the room and have people say what their favorite book club book has been - or their favorite author - and you might learn something about each other that you never knew.

In last month's newsletter we asked how your group starts the meeting and here's what you had to say:

Mary Healey of The Farmington Woods Book Group in Avon, CT says:
We open every meeting with the facilitator of the month giving us a brief biography of the author. Very often this gives us insight into the views expressed in the book. We just had a good example of this at this month's meeting. We were told of the many pets Sara Gruen has in her home and her extraordinary love for animals. That certainly explained the empathy shown for the circus animals in Water For Elephants. It also led to the opening discussion question where this fact becomes an important fact in the story.

Ellie Simon from Boquete, Panama says:
Our club has been operating for almost three years. We are all American ex-patriots who live in a small mountain town in Panama. Our group usually distributes, in advance of our meeting, a list of questions for discussion. Frequently we use the questions that are bound within the book or made available at the publisher's website. Occasionally, we have to make up our own questions by following the general template of other books we've read. So we begin our discussion by starting with the first question. That is, we do that after we finish with updates and gossip!

Ruth Schroeder of the Oshkosh Public Library Morning Book Club says:
We begin our book club meetings by relating some detail of the book to our personal lives. The leader reads each book a month ahead of time so that she can assign us our "homework" question. For example, when we discussed Come and Get It by Edna Ferber, we each recalled the means by which we were called home for meals as a child. This has been a great way for us to get to know each other. We then proceed to rate the book on a scale from one to five. We seem to have the best discussions when the ratings include both high and low scores. Someone has usually researched background on the author which they present before we start to actually discuss the book.

Look for more great tips from readers coming later this week!