Welcome to The Black Book Club Hub!
Do you have a book club or want to start a book club, but are not sure how to get the conversation going? Are you having trouble keeping your book club discussions from rearing off-topic and away from the book? For the past year, I've collaborated with the SOULpreneur community as book club coordinator which means I have been tasked with assisting with book selection, creating our weekly pacing guide, and writing 12-15 questions for our weekly discussions. For some books, this was an easy, natural process. When you have a juicy plot, interesting characters, or some controversial commentary on a social issue, it's easy to come up with exciting things to talk about. But if your group chose a book that turn out to be not so intriguing or introspective, how do you keep the conversation from seeming flat or monotonous? How do you discuss a memoir without being overly judgemental about someone else's life journey?
As book club coordinators, it’s our job to keep the conversation from going stale or from veering off the topic of the book, so I created this blog not just to celebrate book clubs that are dedicated to promoting African American and Latinx literature, but also to share some book-specific questions to encourage critical understanding and thought-provoking conversations.
The Black Book Club Hub will provide an opportunity for other book clubs to share their book selections and the questions that led their conversations. If you are a book club coordinator and would like to submit your book-specific questions for your recent book club reads click here.
For this first blog post, I wanted to give share some tips that have helped me develop some thought-provoking questions to discuss and analyze the book of the month:
Steer clear of generic discussion questions!
A few times in my first year as book club coordinator, I googled discussion questions just to get ideas for topics to discuss. I almost always encountered the most generic questions that weren’t "book-specific" and could apply to any book. If you really want to keep your book club discussion from veering off-topic, you must have discussion questions that refer to specific details about that book's plot or characters. Questions like “What did you think of the writing style?” or “Did this book remind you of any other books?” are great questions but they shift the conversation away from the contents of the book your group is reading, which is fine if that’s what you want. But if you want to encourage deeper engagement with the story, I would recommend using less generic questions and more questions that are book-specific.
Annotate, Annotate, Annotate!
Annotating is essential for the book club coordinator because how else are you going to keep your thoughts organized? Annotating helps to isolate important themes, identify key concepts and formulate your thoughts for a deeper understanding. Not to mention, it is aesthetically appealing if you use colorful book tabs! As you’re reading, use the tabs to mark quotes, controversial topics, or interesting themes then build discussion questions around them! Use sticky notes, or keep a reading journal to record things that come to mind while you’re reading. Then formulate those concepts into thought-provoking questions.
Consider your audience, or in this case the demographics of your group, and ask about personal experiences!
Conversations usually flow effortlessly when the discussion is centered around shared experiences. If your group is mostly women or women of color or members of the LGBTQIA+ community, find a theme in the book that provides commentary or even a simple observation about that community, and build a discussion question about that topic. There may be some people who can relate to that topic and others who can not, which will only deepen the conversation and allow your group members to get to know each other more without rearing off the topic.
When in doubt, quote it out!
Quotes are a great way to summarize a thought or idea. People tend to remember quotes, especially those that are impactful one-liners that make a statement. The biggest cheap code that I discovered when I struggled to come up with discussion questions was to find a good quote, perhaps one that could be viewed as controversial or provocative, and simply ask “What are your thoughts on this quote? Do you agree? Let's discuss.” This will allow the conversation to flow as it will permit people to share their personal interpretations of said quote. People may have differing interpretations but that's okay! Reading is an art form and art is meant to be open to interpretation so we must understand that we will not always agree on certain topics. A thriving book club environment is to make room for differing opinions. It's important that your book club members feel that their opinions matter, and will be respected. Besides, if we all agree on everything, then what’s there to discuss?