Magazine article American Libraries

Party on! at Your Book Discussions: Shouldn't a Book Club Be about the Fun of Sharing?

Magazine article American Libraries

Party on! at Your Book Discussions: Shouldn't a Book Club Be about the Fun of Sharing?

Article excerpt

An avid colleague once told me that facilitating a book discussion is the most fun we can have at work. She was right. However, she didn't mention the three Rs of any professionally done book discussion: reading, rereading, and research.

As lovingly dedicated book laborers, we do most of this in our off-time with little concern (or hope) for compensation since we have so much to do every day at work, and since we love doing it. As a result, we spend countless hours first reading, then revisiting and carefully plucking pertinent themes and discussable topics--the grand ideas that make for great discussions. Then we grab some biographical information and additional questions off Novelist, Gale Literature Resource Center, the publisher's website, reviews, Amazon, Booklist, and so forth, not to mention all the pertinent books, whether criticism or biography. As information professionals, we cast a wide net.

Now--all that hard work that you are so proud of? Eviscerate it. Spend time on the ugly necessity of editing and cut it down to size.


True, the 30 hours (or more) of research and development you have done so far is rewarding and interesting. You are the expert on your book, its author, and all related works, precedents, influences (not to mention read-alikes for takeaway), and life's grand ideas as represented by your book.

But a discussion that would do your research justice could last 10 hours. You have to pare your presentation way down. Then--and only then--will you feel you can lead a discussion you can honestly be proud of.

There's no need for all this stress and worry. Take a break from the intense work of readying for a book discussion--and keep your library's focus on books--by making your next book discussion a reader party.

Set up food and beverages, and then sit and relax. All you have to do is talk about your book--a book you want to read, for once. After engaged patrons hang on your words, make it their turn. Sit back and let them do the work for you. Enjoy an easy, inexpensive, relaxed program that not only runs itself but brings it back to the book.

My first boss, Ann Weaver of Westchester (Ill.) Public Library, runs a tremendously successful summer reading program for adults. She signs people up, and they read whatever they want. At session's end, they attend a party. In Westchester, Illinois, which has a population of 17,000, Ann's parties attract dozens. Amazing statistics, for those of you who greet between two and six people at your discussions.

In conceptualizing Oak Park Readers, Oak Park (Ill.) Public Library's very own book lovers' appreciation society, I tried to do something similar. I brainstormed with colleagues and we boiled it down to one question: "What do people want out of these things?" We swapped tales of meager discussion turnouts and the gifts left behind: knickknacks, coffee mugs, toys. The lesson learned: Patrons have enough stuff. They love books, some even more than we do. Remember S. R. Ranganathan's fourth law: "Save the time of the reader"? Well, we are here to save the time, rather than clutter the life, of the patron. So the concept was to bring it back to the book.

A no-stress book club

We did a lot of work on the front end to make Oak Park Readers as low-stress as possible for patrons and the facilitator. Still, I stressed and worried; we always want these things to be as good as possible and sometimes fret ourselves to disaster (but that's another article). I thought back to library school--in particular, my Readers' Advisory class. My professor, Joyce Saricks, taught us to glean whatever we could from everything associated with a book or genre, learning in depth about the author, what appeal the book held, and what genre it fit into according to that appeal.

Joyce also taught us how to deliver an effective and engaging booktalk. Read the book. …

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