Reading Group Center

Tips for Meetings

The most important part of a reading group is, of course, the books. But no matter how good the book, it can be hard sometimes to get a great discussion started. Whether you’re a first-time group leader looking for general tips on what to talk about or an established group looking for ways to liven up your discussions, we’ve compiled a set of tried and true suggestions to help.

  • Do research: Look for materials that will supplement your reading. For example, try looking for interviews in newspapers, magazines, and websites to see if what the author has to say about his or her work provides additional insights into the book. Does any of it seem autobiographical? Are there any cultural or historical aspects that you can research to supplement the discussion? If you find them, bring both positive and negative book reviews to the meeting so that you and the other members can discuss whether you agree or disagree with reviewers’ assessments of the book.
  • Attend a reading or chat with the author: One of the easiest—and most rewarding—things you can do with your group is to read a book and then attend a reading by the author at your local bookstore. Many stores will even arrange for the author to meet personally with groups registered with the store who have read the book in advance of the appearance. Ask your local bookstore for a schedule of authors who will be in town in the coming months, or sign up for e-mail announcements from your local bookstore and favorite publishers to be aware of upcoming titles, readings and author tour details. Following your favorite authors on Facebook and Twitter will also keep you aware of upcoming events. Margot B. of Greenwich, Connecticut says of her reading group: “Whenever our schedules allow, we go to author meetings and book signings. Great ideas for discussion come right from the author.” If your group is unable to attend a reading, many authors also conduct chats via phone or Skype with reading groups, and websites like offer author chats online as well. You’ll be amazed at how enriching the experience of connecting with an author can be!And if geography is working in your favor, some authors are even willing to visit groups for a meeting.
  • Visit our Author Chats page to browse a list of available authors and to schedule your chat.
  • Take a trip: At first, this may seem like an impossible idea, but in fact, many reading groups enjoy combining their reading with travel, from meals at ethnic restaurants to day trips to local museums or historical sites to extended vacations to foreign countries! It’s up to you to set your limits and to be creative. Are you reading a book that is set in India? Have lunch together at an Indian restaurant. Are you reading a book that’s set in the Renaissance? You could take a trip to your local art museum to view its collection of Renaissance art, or you could organize a trip to Florence to get a more multifaceted, firsthand experience.
  • Read authors in-depth: Consider focusing on a specific author’s books over a series of meetings, tracing his or her progression as an author, the changing themes in the various works, and the effects of biographical events on the writing. You may want to include a biography as part of your list to provide your group with a better understanding of the author’s life and times. Sandi G. of Pottstown, Pennsylvania says: “We have a small group of five. About once a year we choose an author and each member reads one of her books. We’ve done Virginia Woolf, Anne Tyler, Jane Smiley, and plan on doing Willa Cather. These are fun and informative.” Another book club member, Dorothy I. of Port Townsend, Washington, takes a chronological approach: “If we choose one author, we usually assign different titles and discuss the writing in order of the copyright dates.”
  • Focus on a theme: Choosing titles on a specific theme, such as love and war, or a subject, such as current events or history, is a great way to compare and contrast books with each other. Marf S. of Greenwood, South Carolina shares: “I am getting more interested in linking and comparing books that have a common theme. I’m one of the few in the group who prefers nonfiction, but if we do read fiction, I like to compare it to a nonfiction book on a related topic.” Another great themed discussion suggestion comes from Diana L. of Brighton, Massachusetts: “We try to discuss current events issues, politics, and other books that are relevant to the book being reviewed. This was very successful, for example, with Snow Falling on Cedars. We talked about discrimination then and now, and its impact on ourselves.”
  • Explore a different culture: One of the most rewarding aspects of reading is the opportunity it provides to expose you and your group to new cultures and civilizations. Think about your current selection. Can you bring some of the cultural aspects of the book to your meeting? Consider the music, food, and customs described in the book and try to re-create some of that for your group. If you are reading a novel set in Japan such as Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, consider including the tea ceremony in your meeting. Find a book with instructions for the ceremony—or a particularly descriptive passage in the novel—and give it a try. If your book is full of references to a certain artist or composer, bring a sample of that person’s work and share it with your group. Or if you’re reading fiction like The Great Man by Kate Christensen which has a philandering artist at its center, look at the works of Picasso and compare how the many women in his life impacted his art. Experiment with new kinds of foods, or sample a restaurant that specializes in the cuisine of your chosen culture. Judy R. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, says that exploring different cultures through books has given her reading group new perspectives and insight: “We try to select books that have multicultural points of view, and we have benefited greatly…. We’ve read authors like Edwidge Danticat, Julia Alvarez, Amy Tan, and Sandra Cisneros.”
  • Consider movies and theatrical tie-ins: Reading a book and then going to see the movie is a popular idea for reading groups because it provides instant comparisons—and often, lively debate. Reading a play and then going to see the live performance is another great way of comparing the ways a story is treated in two artistic mediums. Check your local listings for events in your area—on-screen or onstage—that you can pair with a book your group can read.
  • Plan questions and discussion topics ahead of time: Your reading group’s discussion will be enhanced if you have questions or discussion topics prepared ahead of time. Some reading group members across North America have some wonderful ideas of their own to share. Nancy H. of Champaign, Illinois, suggests: “Have members make note of questions and observations on an index card while they are reading the book.” Debi A. of Brighton, Michigan says of her reading group: “We do not focus on whether we like a book or not. It’s about whether you got something out of it. We go around the room when we start and have everyone answer a question to get the conversation started. It guarantees that everyone gets an opportunity to speak.” From Indianapolis, Indiana, Mary F. advises: “I think it is a good idea to stress the importance of marking passages and taking notes as you read the book—hopefully with the discussion questions already in mind. It is easy to forget things about the book if you haven’t taken notes. Also, it’s fun to hear other people’s favorite passages—how they responded to them and why.” Jane C. of Collingwood, Ontario suggests: “Handing out the questions prior to reading the book and the discussion is most helpful in promoting more thoughtful, insightful discussion.”
  • Track your reading list: Keep a book log to record which books your group has read for reference, and if you like to, record the reactions of different members in your group to each selection.
  • Try some seasonal reading: Whether your group is reading love stories around Valentine’s Day, romance novels on the beach during the summer, or mysteries and thrillers around Halloween, try drawing inspiration from the season when it comes to choosing a book with your group. Erin B. of Rock Island, Illinois shares a holiday tradition from her reading group: “At Christmas we draw names and buy a book for that person that we think they would enjoy but not buy for themselves. Then we report on our books in January. It’s fun, and we find great books we might not have found!”
  • Add a culinary treat: Connecting food and drink with your book club reading is a great way to spice up a meeting. Mary F. of Saunderstown, Rhode Island shares from her reading group: “We pick one book each year that can be associated with a type of food (Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle) and have a dinner with that theme. Each member brings part of the dinner.” Food themes are obvious when there is food in the book but sometimes it is just the culture or setting that brings food to the table. Your group could even choose a cookbook as your read for the month and have everyone make one recipe from it for your meeting.