The perfect book club is made up of three key things: a great reading selection, yummy snacks, and a lively discussion. The first two things are easy to accomplish — just read anything by Gillian Flynn and have a good variety of cheese available — but getting a good dialogue going may be harder than you think, which is why you need a list of general book club questions that will work for any discussion. When the conversation starts to lull, these questions can bring it back to life.
Book clubs are often seen as simple social get together, a challenging way to read more books, or an excuse to drink wine on a weeknight (as if you needed one, right?), but they're so much more than that. Sure, book clubs are a great way to meet new friends, get together with old ones, and up your monthly reading quota, but they're also a place where book-lovers can come together and discuss, dissect, and disagree over every little detail of a book. They're a space meant for lively arguments over plot twists, character flaws, and alternative endings. They're like your high school English class, only this time, you read and actually liked the book you're talking about, which makes the whole thing much more fun.
While the concept of open book discussion at your book club is easy to grasp, it is a little harder to practice. Some members may be shy, others might have a hard time openly disagreeing, and you just might not know where to begin. Luckily, I do.
For the next time you get your bookish gang together, here are 13 general book club questions that will work for any book.
1. "What was your initial reaction to the book? Did it hook you immediately, or take some time to get into?"
Before diving into the heavier plot points or contesting the ending, begin with a book club question that asks about everyone's first impression of the book. It will give you a jumping off point to discuss what about the selection kept you turning the pages, and what made it difficult to get through, all information that will help you pick an even better book next time around.
2. "Do you think the story was plot-based or character driven?"
Another question that will get people thinking about the book as a whole, discussing whether the book is all about the characters or all about the plot will help frame the remainder of your conversation. From here, you can either dive into a deeper discussion of character flaws or move on to plot holes, depending on where your group lands.
3. "What was your favorite quote/passage?"
One of my favorite part of discussing books is finding out which parts of the book stuck out to other people, especially in terms of quotations. Asking each member in your club to read their favorite part out loud will not only give you a chance to hear the story again, but it also gives you an opportunity to learn more about the members of your book club, and perhaps interpret a scene from the book in a whole new way.
4. "What made the setting unique or important? Could the story have taken place anywhere?"
In many books, the setting is a significant part of the story, even acting as a character itself. Use this question to explore what made the setting of your reading selection so important, and how it affected the events of the story.
5. "Did you pick out any themes throughout the book?"
I know what you're thinking, this sounds too much like an essay question from your high school literature class, but in reality, it's the perfect open-ended question than can generate some great conversation.
6. Any "If/then" Questions
Use the "If... then..." model when it comes to formulating book club questions, like "If the protagonist chose her other love interest, how might the book have been different?" or "If So-and-So had lived, do you think the ending would have changed?" Your options are limitless.
7. "How credible/believable did you find the narrator to be? Did you feel like you got the 'true' story?"
Whenever you discuss a story from a book, its important to consider who told that story. Is it a narrator who you can trust and rely on, or do they have ulterior motives in the way they tell it? Unreliable narrators are among the most intriguing characters to discuss, so use this question as a starting point to really explore them.
8. "How did the characters change throughout the story? How did your opinion of them change?"
The best king of stories feature dynamic characters who change throughout the book. Ask your group about which characters from your reading selection grew and changed throughout the book, and who stayed the same. Follow up by trying to figure out what changes you liked, which you didn't, and which changes you were left waiting for, holding your breath.
9. "How did the structure of the book affect the story?"
Another question like the ones you used to dread in English class, talking about the actual structure of a book — the timeline, the viewpoints, the syntax — can be more revealing than you think.
10. "Which character did you relate to the most, and what was it about them that you connected with?"
A fun question that is sure to get a diverse list of answers, this is a good way to not only dive into your reading selection more, but an opportunity to learn about the members of your club.
11. "How did you feel about the ending? What did you like, what did you not like, and what do you wish had been different?"
A simple opinion-based question, asking how people feel about the ending is a great way to start healthy debates within your book club. Some people will like the ending and be satisfied by the way things wrapped up, but inevitably, someone will pipe up and share their displeasure. Buckle up, because that's when the good discussion really gets going.
12. "Did the book change your opinion or perspective about anything? Do you feel different now than you did before you read it?"
As corny as it may sound, books do have the power to change lives and influence people. Have a discussion with your book club about the ways your reading selection has changed each of you. You might be surprised to hear how inspired, empowered, enraged, or even educated your friends are from a single reading experience.
13. "If the book were being adapted into a movie, who would you want to see play what parts?"
A popular question to end the discussion off with, talking about possible book-to-movie adaptations is always a fun game of make-believe. By discussing possible casting choices for a movie adaption, you can learn how others saw the characters in their minds versus how you created them in your own. It's a great question that is sure to turn into a lively debate.
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