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How to Prepare for Discussion

We receive so many suggestions for how to make discussions lively and interesting, and there is an enormous variety! But the one common element from the years of suggestions and experience is: a little preparation goes a long way!

In our annual survey, we ask groups about meeting preparation, and nearly 98% of groups prepare in some way before their meeting (and to be clear – that’s in addition to reading the book!).

We hope some of the ideas below, which come from reading groups worldwide, will help make your discussions even livelier. There are a few unique ideas too that go beyond the last-minute Wikipedia skimming on our phone (it’s okay – we’ve all done it!).

Sometimes if there is something different about the book, we’ll add it to the discussion. We learned how to play Mahjong when we read The Joy Luck Club.”

Occasionally we invite someone in the field to enhance the discussion, a local doctor who worked in Haiti after the earthquake when we read Mountains Beyond Mountains; a local Y.A. author to discuss teen fiction as well as her own book; a classics scholar to discuss The Odyssey, etc.”

It is fun to mix things up. We participate in author phone chats, go to hear/see authors when we can, have an annual “dinner & a movie” night where we read a book, watch the movie based on the book and discuss the transfer to film.”

We had a hosted a local professor, an English professor, talk about The Paris Wife, and then on his life in Paris, his domestic and personal life, his literary circle of friends, and we also read A Moveable Feast by Hemingway.”

We enjoy preparing food/drink that relates to the book or author. And sometimes we’ll go out to a restaurant for a special month and when we just don’t have time to get our creative cooking time in! The food elements provide an incentive to get some of our members to read the book when they might not have otherwise!

We each come with a question or a quote from the book to discuss. The items were then put in a large bowl, and different people drew and read them.”

If a member of the group has recently taken an exciting trip, the group reads a book about that location and the traveller leads the discussion and shares their experience. For instance, one of our members travelled to Kenya and we read Out of Africa and planned appropriate refreshments.”

We have an email list for our group. Our group “president” reminds us about our next meeting date, location, and book, and provides a link to discussion questions – usually to Reading Group Choices. It’s helpful because even if we don’t go through the questions one by one when we meet, we can think more about it before showing up. We can also read a little more about the author and read reviews to see what other people thought.”

Our group reads one book each month, but our group leader also provides a list of optional books we can read as well – a biography or related book – or a movie we can watch. It’s nice to have that additional list that we can take advantage of when we have the time.”

When we get to our meeting, we take time at the beginning to fill out a notecard where we each write one positive comment, one question, and one thing we weren’t quite thrilled with. Some members write their cards ahead of time because they like to think about their responses longer. Then we talk about our positives first, our questions second, and our negatives third. It’s fun because sometimes you don’t even end up sharing what you wrote on your list, or sometimes it’s a reminder of something you want to add to the conversation.”

One of the groups I’m in chooses the books for the year at once, and some people read them months before the group meeting and can’t remember them by the time we meet. We’ve decided that if people are going to read them that far in advance, then they need to refresh before the meeting by either reading the book again, or taking notes the first time so they can return to their thoughts when it’s actually time to read the book.”