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How to Have an Effective Reading Group (the Book Club)

Stephen Earley Jordan, II

If Oprah could have a book club, so can you, right? It may not be as glamorous as hers, but let's pretend it is. And, with that mindset, we'll only have success, success, success! But the catch is to not only have a reading group, but to have an effective reading group. Allow this to be a guide to reinforce your already-found knowledge and love for literature. And, more importantly, let this assist you in finding some fellow readers.


I've found that if you purchase a hallmark card, (or if you're computer savvy, create a card) and cordially invite members. Give potential members a deadline to RSVP their spot in this "exclusive" reading group. If potential members feel that this will be professional, beneficial, and exclusive, they will probably join.

           A common trend is to maintain limited membership, and have a back-up list of potential recruits. Make a verbal agreement amongst yourselves that members must attend X amount of group meetings or the member will be asked to resign their position with the group. Sounds harsh? Nah, don't think of it like that -- view it as a professional group and each member must carry his own weight.


Meetings must revolve around the members' schedules. As such, give members about a month to read the text and develop an analysis of it. The last weekend (perhaps a Sunday? Saturday?) could be ideal. Don't let these meetings drag into the late hours of the night. Set aside an hour or two, during a brunch, and allow someone to be the time-keeper, making sure your group doesn't go overboard with the discussion. Why should there be limits? If members see that these sessions are lasting longer than they anticipated, there is sure to be obvious conflict and many members will decide to leave the group. Allow members to know up-front (when they accept the invitation to join) that the sessions will last no more than X amount of hours.


Perhaps your group would like to simply explore fiction written by and/or about Black or Japanese authors. If this is the case, make that known from the beginning when the group is organized and members are invited to join it. Some topics of interest members could appreciate include: Religion, Regional, Multi-cultural, Juvenile, Feminism, Gay/Lesbian, Adventure, Fantasy just to name a few. Of course, these categories can get more specific. It is a definite must, though, to ensure fresh material within these categories.


You don't want to read Gone with the Wind. Just the thought, alone, makes it a formidable task! Keep work schedules and personal lives in consideration when thinking of the text's length. As a reference, works by Virginia Woolf, Joyce Carol Oates, Jean Rhys, and Toni Morrison are generally excellent material for book clubs.


Ah, we mustn't forget about the important part -- the critique. When critiquing text, encourage members to discuss all aspects of the book such as: the time it was written, the author's biographical information, any sociopolitical undertones, and the list goes on. Allow each member about seven to ten minutes to discuss the text, with no interruptions. Upon completion of the individual critiques, allow members to discuss (as a group) how their interpretations differ and why they agree or disagree with other members.


During the discussion, encourage members to be active participants. Or else, what's the point of being in this reading group, right? What were some of the good things in the text? Was it the plot? Was it the development of characters? Or, perhaps it was the symbolism? What were some of the negative aspects of the text? Perhaps the climax didn't reach the peak you expected. Has anyone in the group read any of the author's earlier work? If so, allow them to discuss how this compares to the previous text. Questions posed during the discussion can be unlimited. But, so this doesn't drag on for hours and hours, set a time limit for the discussion. Once again, most of the members probably have hectic lives beyond this social group. If you play your cards right and with some advance planning, it's possible to find a local author to attend your meeting and read portions of their text the same month you discuss their works.

If members can't keep up with reading that much work each month, then find shorter text. Above all, reading groups should be a relaxed environment -- away from your significant other, your children, and your job. Let this be a time where you hone your reading and analytical skills with the assistance of others who simply seek the same thing.

About the Author (click here) © 2004 Stephen Earley Jordan, II, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission

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