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Good Questions and Discussion Topics

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 18 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Discussion Questions Discussion Points

While choosing the right books is probably the most important aspect of book clubs it can still be hard sometimes to get a stimulating discussion going, no matter how good the book. Having a list of questions and topics prepared beforehand can go a long way towards moving the discussion forward as well as keeping it focused and interesting.

It’s a good idea not to try to cover every aspect of the book – in general, half a dozen discussion topics is the ideal number for most meetings. However, remember that this is just a guide and if everyone is enthusiastically discussing one point, don’t feel the need to rush onto the next topic, just to make sure that you have exhausted the list.

Starting with broad, open-ended questions with topics that are debatable is a good move and then look out for where the interest of the group tends to lie to give you an idea of which specific issues to focus on (or to avoid, if members are likely to get confrontational or upset!). A useful suggestion is for all members to come to the meeting with one question prepared beforehand – this way, everyone feels involved and the onus doesn’t just fall on one person to provide all the discussion points.

Good discussion topics…

Whilst novels can different radically in themes, characters and setting, they can often be approached with the same questions for discussion. Here are some suggestions:

  • Was the author focused on particular themes? How did the author highlight them? Were they successful in getting these themes across to the reader? Do you agree with the author’s views?
  • Did the themes blend well together and arise naturally out of the story or did the author seem to be labouring a particular point?
  • What was different or unique about the story’s setting and did it enhance or detract from the story?
  • Could you relate to the characters? Did you empathise with them and their plight?
  • How do the characters evolve or change in the course of the novel? Were the changes believable?
  • Did the book affect you in a personal way, such as offending you or making you uncomfortable? Did you reassess your views on certain topics because of the novel? Do you have a better or new understanding of certain aspects or a new awareness of something you’d never thought of before?
  • Are the characters or circumstances familiar to you?
  • Did the author do a good job of making the characters believable? E.g. do they speak in the right voice for their age group or the time period of the novel?
  • How do you feel about the author’s style? Is it lyrical, descriptive, objective, minimalist? Would the story have been told better if it was in the first person or third person? If it was told from multiple view points? If it employed flashbacks? Did the author use imagery and symbolism? Do you think that any literary devices used enhanced the book or were they just distracting?
  • If the book belongs to a ‘genre’, does the challenge the stereotypes in any way? Does it break the mould?
  • If the story is set in a historical time period, how do you feel about the image of the past? How would you have behaved in that time and faced with those issues? If the story is set in the future, was the vision of the future credible? Is it a future you would hope to happen or one that you fear?
  • If the book was written some time in the past, do you feel that it was dated well? Have things changed drastically since then?
  • How does the story reflect the author’s own life? Are there obvious influences? Is the story autobiographical? Is the book better because the author was able to draw on his own experiences?
  • What did you personally like or dislike about the book? What kind of person would you recommend this book to?
  • Is it possible to find a book interesting without actually really enjoying it? Were there any changes that would have enabled you to enjoy it more?
  • Is this book a “keeper”? Would you read it again?
  • Do you agree with the reviews of the book? Did it live up to positive reviews?
  • How well do the book’s cover and synopsis represent the book? Do they suit the story? Do it justice?
  • If you were writing a sequel, what would you plan for the characters? If the book did have a sequel, did things turn out as you expected? Were you disappointed?
  • Compare and contrast this book with others you have read – either by the same author or in the same genre or with similar themes or set in the same time period.

Don’t’ forget the non-fiction!

In many cases, book clubs choose to also read some non-fiction to add some variety and even an educational element to their reading. Many fascinating works of non-fiction make a fantastic basis for discussion – for example, biographies, memoirs and historical accounts. Here are some suggestions for discussion:

  • Is this a subject area you knew anything about before? If so, were you surprised by any facts introduced in this book? If not, were you surprised by how interested you were in it?
  • Has the book changed your opinion of a particular topic or certain person?
  • How do you think the author treated the subject? Was the material presented in an interesting and thought-provoking way? How did the author achieve this?
  • If the book is about a controversial topic, do you think the author gave a fair and balanced account of the subject? Did they consider all sides to the debate? Or were they particularly biased?
Many books now come accompanied by reading group guides and these will cover many of the points mentioned above. However, there is no reason not to make up your own discussion guides or to simply apply these types to questions to any book, whether it has an official guide or not.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Great article, thanks for posting. We had our first book club meeting last night, after deciding what we were going to read last week, and it was great. I lead the discussion last night and used many of the points and tips you gave in the article. The questions you suggest really sparked some great conversations and we really enjoyed ourselves. Next we we're reading 'The Help', so I'll be coming back to this site for some more tips! Happy reading everyone!
Linda - 18-May-12 @ 10:08 AM
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