Book discussion groups act as a way for readers to meet as a group to discuss specific books and reading experiences. Successful book discussion groups have diverse membership, have a variety of readings, have semi-formal ground rules determined by the group, and have an informal structure.

History

Book groups have been attended for a very long time. Some of the first groups created were the literary society by Benjamin Franklin in 1726 and the Chautauqau Literary and Scientific Circle, in 1878, which still exists today. In America, book discussion groups were introduced by Anne Hutchinson, focusing mostly on women who were looking for opportunities for intellectual growth and social interaction and continuing with the Boston bluestockings and other women's literary circles. Also, in Chicago, the Great Books Movement began in 1929, which spread throughout the United States. In 1982, the first national book discussion series, "Let's Talk About It" program was introduced by the ALA. One of the most famous and popular was Oprah’s book club. The number and types of book discussion groups has grown since then and has contributed to many positive aspects of our society, such as an increase in the number of college-educated people.

There are numerous types of book discussion groups that exist in public libraries, in schools, in book stores, and in people's homes. Book discussion groups can be very diverse and have no defined membership or can only by geared towards specific groups of people, such as men or women only, students in the school, employee book groups, seniors in a senior center, or parent child groups. Book groups can be very organized, such as the One Book, One City book group or they can be very flexible like online book club groups.

Purposes of book discussion groups

  • To encourage children to read.
  • To create learning communities.
  • To socialize with other members of the community.
  • To allow readers to participate in intellectual discussions.
  • To broaden reading experiences and introduce readers to books outside their typical genre.
  • To enrich the enjoyment readers find in literature.
  • To strengthen the role of cultural institutions.
  • To enable librarians to talk up their collections.
  • To grow reader’s experiences with reading and increase their book borrowing.
  • To give readers a reason to dedicate time otherwise not spent to reading.
  • To develop leadership and management skills.
  • To re-introduce readers to classics and older titles.
  • To promote the library’s image.
  • To create an inexpensive way to promote adult learning.

Guidelines for organizing book discussion groups

  • Select a day and time that will be most convenient for the members of the group.
  • Decide how long the meeting will last (somewhere between 1 and 2 hours is typical).
  • Decide if there is a limit to how many people can join or not (8-12 is a good amount, if there are more than 15, start separating into multiple groups).
  • Plan a place to hold the meetings: will they be at a single dedicated place, such as a library or coffee shop or will members rotating hosting the meetings? Make sure the seats can be arranged in a circle for better communication among all members.
  • Decide if there will be a leader/organizer for the group or if it will be member lead.
  • Clarify expectations for the group to follow.
  • Will there be refreshments served and, if so, how will these be provided?
  • Pick a name for the group.
  • Send reminders to members about the meeting specifics.
  • Encourage members to bring questions and ideas, but be prepared with open-ended discussion questions
  • Be sure to research book before selecting it!
  • If you are providing the books, make sure that there are enough copies available and be aware if there are alternative formats that will be needed or desired (such as large print or audiobooks).

How to promote book groups

  • Create flyers that can be displayed in the library, local bookstores or coffee shops.
  • Distribute bookmarks with book discussion group name and details.
  • Notify frequent patrons and ask them to join the book group.
  • Talk it up! Word of mouth is a great way to let people know about the upcoming book group.
  • Make a display with actual copies of the next book to be discussed, along with information about the book club.
  • Create event on library Facebook page, with even notifications.
  • Send out emails with details.
  • On the library website, create a page dedicated to the book discussion group. Include book cover images and summaries of the book, along with some sample discussion questions.
  • Post a Wiki with questions to get the book discussion started.
  • Plan fun presentations to introduce the next book to be read.

How to select books

  • Look through top 100 lists from places such as BBC, New York Times bestseller list, Top 100, Radcliffe, Goodreads, and NPR.
  • Read through new release lists, reviews, dust jackets summaries, classics lists, or award winners.
  • Talk to people for their recommendations or the local library.
  • View other book club pages for suggestions.
  • Do not limit to any particular genre.
  • Have members of the group bring suggestions.
  • Choose themes and issues that lend themselves to good discussion.
  • Do not stick with only books that you loved, books that people dislike often lead to the best discussions.
  • Stay away from monotony (same subject and/or tone).
  • Decide if format is important. Does the group only want to read books that are available as paperback? Does the title have to be available as an e-book or audiobook?
  • Does one person choose all of the books? Do members rotate selecting the book? Does everyone bring suggestions and the group then votes on the next title?

Discussion Guides

Discussion guides are very important to have prepared before the meeting takes place. You can create a discussion guide specific to the title you are reading, use a generic guide, or search for a guide that has already been prepared for the title. Discussion guides are sometimes included at the end of the book, on library websites, or can be found by searching the title in Google, along with "book discussion guide." Many publishers and websites also provide prepared book discussion guides (see below).

Here are some sample questions that can be used for your book discussion guide:
What about this book made it appealing or unappealing to you?
Did this book remind you of any other books that you have read and liked or disliked?
Would this book make a good movie? Why or why not?
Was the plot believable or interesting?
Do you like how the story was written? Why do you think the author chose to write it this way?

Visit the ALA page about book discussion groups to find a great list of discussion questions.

Guidelines for book discussion groups

Having a list of guidelines for the group to follow before and during the meeting can be very helpful. Think about what the expectations are from the group as a whole, as well as for members as individual. Focus on what the goal is for the group as well. Make guidelines that will help the group run efficiently, encourage communication among members, assure that everyone feel comfortable participating in the group, and allow for the discussion to flow naturally. When the guidelines are finalized, they should be posted and available for all members of the group in order for everyone to be on the same page before the first meeting.

Online book discussion groups

Sometimes, in person book groups are not an option because there is not time to attend a formal meeting, people may have erratic schedules, transportation could be an issue, or there are no established book groups available in the community. There are a few disadvantages to online book groups, such as lack of in person contact, no social emotional aspects, and absence of tone of voice and facial expressions, all of which can truly change the dynamic of a book group. But, there are numerous reasons why online book groups can be a good alternative. First, having an online book group provides members with a convenient location since they can attend the book club from the comfort of their own home. Second, readers often feel rushed to finish a book by a specific day and time when they join an in-person book club, but when they join an online book club, they have a flexible schedule, they can read and discuss the books at their leisure, they can post comments and discuss any time of day or night, and these groups are easy to join at any time. Some groups may have limits to how many people can join or when the discussion has to take place, but it can always be more than the 2 or 3 hours that in-person book clubs can have and really, there can be as many members in a book group as have computers. Third, not everyone feels as strongly about discussing their thoughts and opinions verbally and would much rather write what they are thinking and would like to say. Everyone can be talking at the same time and you can respond to all of them! Finally, the technological aspect is very helpful because members of the group can re-read anything they missed the first time or would like to revisit, when that is not possible in person, members can easily post additional information, pictures, links or questions for everyone in the group to view, and there are unlimited amount of formats that these book groups can take place, such as wikis, blog posts, email groups, and more.

Mother-Daughter Book Clubs

Youth services librarians should be aware of the existence and potential popularity of mother-daughter book clubs. The concept is similar to other book clubs, except that all members are mother-daughter pairs. Daughters ages 9-14 are usually the most open to the concept and the potential benefits for emotional bonding and focus on great storytelling and literature. Girls at these ages are usually good candidates for mother-daughter book clubs because they often like to spend time with both their mothers and their friends, and they are also able to read books on their own. There is no theoretical age limit for a mother-daughter book club. If there is interest from younger girls, the group can choose simpler books and do readalouds; older girls can certainly benefit if they are interested!

The size of these book groups can vary widely. Most mother-daughter book clubs are typically formed by three or four mother-daughter pairs. When forming a mother-daughter book club, the facilitator will want to consider whether he/she is hoping to create a more intimate atmosphere, or whether a larger, more open environment is best. In the library setting, the librarian acting as facilitator will probably want as many members as possible, and will be open to new or drop-in members every month.

The choice of books for a mother-daughter book club may come from the librarian or facilitator, the mothers, the daughters, or some combination thereof. In general, taking turns and encouraging the daughters to be involved in choosing books is beneficial. If group membership is irregular and more on a "drop-in" basis, the librarian acting as facilitator may need to schedule the books in advance using his/her professional discretion. When choosing books for such a group, a variety of genres and lists of award winners are good places to start. Be sure to look for books with female protagonists!

Socialization is an important aspect of the mother-daughter book club. A great way to build time for this is to have a snack and relaxation time where the daughters visit together while the mothers socialize. After a certain length of time, the group reconvenes for the book discussion.

You will also want to consider accompanying activities with the book club. The librarian may want to plan book-related crafts or games. For instance, if a book has a magic theme, such as Half Magic by Edward Eager or the ever-popular Harry Potter series, consider learning some magic tricks together!

Some examples of Online book groups

Booktalk.org - The book discussions here are held for between 2-3 months, the book selections are easily accessible, and staggered so there is always a new book discussion starting.
Book Clique - An online discussion blog from Tippecanoe County Public Library.
BookiesToo - An online discussion group that read 2 books a month, which are announced at least a month in advance.
For Mystery Addicts - An online book group dedicated to discussing any and all books in the mystery genre.
RRA-L - An online discussion group dedicated to readers of romance.
BookBrowse.com - An online site for readers to discuss designated books, read archived discussions, find book discussion guides, and gather advice about running a book discussion group.
Goodreads - Join online discussion groups, connect with other readers, follow authors, find new books to read, and track your personal reading.
Librarything - Join an online book club and social community while keeping track of the books you have read, are currently reading, and would like to read.
Shelfari - A social network where you can join book groups, track your reading, and connect to authors.
Rec.Arts.book - A Google groups page where you can find a huge amount of groups to join from Shakespeare to Tom Clancy.

School Libraries and Book Discussion Groups


Although all of the information above can be used to create book discussion groups in the school library, it is important to note what works best for creating book clubs and discussion books at the school library. According to the Scholastic website, “students involved in positive reading experiences such as book clubs report more motivation and interest in reading both inside and outside of school. Book clubs provide avid readers a community of other readers who share their enthusiasm, while the social nature of book clubs can engage developing readers who lack positive reading experiences.”

Here are a few tips on where to start:
  • Organize a “lunch bunch”, a group of students that would like to meet at lunch to have a book discussion.
  • Involve the students to decide on a book or a theme of books.
  • Hand out books and recommendations at every meeting!
  • Create bookmarks for your students based on the book or theme of your book club.
  • Use the tips mentioned in this Wikispace to create a fun book discussion group for your school library.

Other fun ideas for your book group

  • Reach out to authors and invite them to attend your meeting in person, by Skype, or by phone.
  • Attend an author's event.
  • Join online groups to win books for your groups or contact from authors.
  • Travel to the location where the book takes place.
  • Watch the movie after reading the book.
  • Select multiple books from the same author for the group to compare and contrast.
  • Keep a scrapbook or journal of meetings.
  • Collect dues from members to give back to the community or try to link it to the book you are reading.
  • Meet somewhere different for the book discussions.
  • Invite spouses to the meeting.
  • Serve food that goes with the theme of the book.
  • Play or create a list of songs that are featured in the book or you think go along with the mood.
  • Choose fantasy movie list for each book.
  • Predict what will happen in the next book you are reading and discuss this at the next meeting.
  • Make a top 10 or bottom 10 book list.

Games to Break the Ice


A lot of book discussion groups and book clubs these days start off with members that have never met. It is best to, at the very least, spend a few minutes introducing one another. However, seeing as this might be intimidating for some in order to get a good discussion going it might be smart to start off with a game to break the ice. This could be done just once at the beginning of your first meeting or a short ice breaker could be done at the beginning of every meeting to get the conversation flowing and comfortable.

Some examples of games:
  • Alphabet Soup
    • The first player will name their favorite character, place, event or object from a book starting with the letter A. The next player will do the same starting with the letter B and so on.
  • Hollywood Bowl
    • Cast the book as a movie. Pass around a bowl with folded slips of paper containing titles of recent book selections. Each member (or team of 2) draws a title and casts the movie. Take turns reading out everyone's choices.
    • Variation: Using the current book only, have everyone write his/her casting choice.
  • Name Walk
    • This is a good game for helping people remember each other's names. It works best with about 6 or more people. The object is to say the name of a person across the circle before you move from your spot. After you've said a name, e.g. 'Jack', you walk to Jack's spot. Jack must say a name, 'Tasha', and move to Tasha's spot. Tasha's out if Jack gets to her spot before she calls out a new name.

To see these in further detail and other examples of games to play at your book discussion group visit these websites:

Resources

Use these resources to find already created book discussion guides, pointers for creating your own book discussion group, and lists of books that could be selected for a book discussion group.

ALA-Book Discussion Groups. - Read more about how to select books, create discussions, and run group meetings.
Houghton-Mifflin Book Club - Find lists of books, discussion guides, and teacher's resources.
Library of Congress: Center for the Book - Search here to locate books organized by age group, topics, and genre, along with author webcasts, community resources, and much more.
LitLovers - An online reading community where you can find information about how to start a book club, popular books with reviews, and reading guides.
Macmillan Reading Group Gold - Find discussion guides, recommended books, tips for book clubs, and author information.
Mother Daughter Book Club.com - Find planning tools, book lists and reviews, and author interviews.
Mother Daughter Book Club (Scholastic) - Find titles with accompanying media for activities (e.g. recipes).
New York Times Book Review - Search best sellers, newly released books, books by genre and format, and reviews of many books.
Penguin Book Clubs - Find information about popular book club picks, discussion guides, or search by author, group description, or genre.
Reading Group Guides - Visit this “online community for reading groups” to find information about how to start a book group, select a book for your group, run the book group, ad well as discussion guides for numerous books.
Simon & Schuster Book Club Resources - Look through this site to find books, authors and discussion guides for many different genres.


Bibliography

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Boring, Susan E. “Starting a Book Club in a Mid-sized Public Library: A Practical Guide.” MLAforum (Feb. 2002). Web. 30. Oct. 2013.
http://www.mlaforum.org/volumeI/issue1/starting.html

Breen, Margaret and Terri Rubin. "Readers are Survivors: A Middle School Student/Parent/Teacher Book Discussion Group." Voices From the Middle 10.4 (May 2003): 8-10. National Council of Teachers of English. Web. 30. Oct. 2013.

Chelton, Mary K. "When Oprah Meets E-mail." Reference & User Services Quarterly 41.1 (Fall 2001): 31-36. EBSCOhost. Web. 30. Oct. 2013.

Dempsey, Beth. "The Evolving Book." Library Journal 136.14 (Sept. 2011): 24-6. EBSCOhost. Web. 9. Nov. 2013.

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“How to Create a Book Discussion Kit.” Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, 2013. Web. 30. Oct. 2013. http://www.carnegielibrary.org/books/bookgroups/howtobgc.html

Kerka, Sandra. "Book Groups: Communities of Learners." New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. 71 (Fall 1996): 81-90. Web. 30. Oct. 2013.

Lundquist, Molly. “How to Lead a Book Club Discussion - 7 Great Discussion Tips.” Articlesbase (Jul. 2009). Web. 30. 2013. http://www.articlesbase.com/literature-articles/how-to-lead-a-book-club-discussion7-great-discussion-tips-1035180.html

Smith, Sara D. and Quinn Galbraith. “Library Staff Development: How Book Clubs Can Be More Effective (and Less Expensive) than Traditional Trainings.” College & Undergraduate Libraries 18 (2011): 170-82. Taylor & Francis. Web. 30. Oct. 2013.

Taylor, Joan B. “Good for What? Non-appeal, Discussibility, and Book Groups (Part 2).” Reference & User Services Quarterly 47.1 (Fall 2008): 26-31. EBSCOhost. Web. 9. Nov. 2013.

Miller, Donalyn and Alyson Beecher. "How to Launch Your Own Student Book Club." Scholastic, 2012. Web. 30 Nov 2013.

http://www.scholastic.com/bookfairs/experience/articles/2012/sep/how-to-launch-your-own-student-book-club.asp