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10 Generic Book Club Questions to Jump Start Your Discussion

You’ve been all over the web. You’ve searched every book club site you can think of, but you can’t find a reading guide with discussion questions. Not a good sign-especially because it’s your turn to lead the book club discussion. So now what do you do?

First thing-don’t panic. Second-keep in mind that book club reading guides are fairly new to the trade: publishers began issuing them with any regularity about 10 years ago, maybe less. So B.G. (before guides), book clubs actually had to figure out how to lead their own discussions. Yikes.

But even if you can’t find a specific reading guide for your title, things still aren’t as stringent as they were back then. Now you can find Generic Book Club Questions-like the set listed below. These 10 questions are designed for any novel and will generate rich, lively book club discussions.

  1. How did you experience the book? It’s not always helpful to talk about whether or not you liked the book, but rather how you felt as you were reading it? Were you pulled effortlessly into the book…or did you have difficulty getting into it? Why? Did you find yourself amused, intrigued, enthralled, disturbed, fearful, irritated, angered, or impatient?
  2. Are the characters convincing-do they come across as believable human beings with underlying motivations? Are they fully developed as emotionally complex individuals? Or are they one-dimensional, with little emphasis on their inner lives?
  3. Which characters do you admire or dislike-and why? What are their primary characteristics; how would you describe them? In what ways do the characters interact with others-a parent with children; a husband with his wife; a friend with friend.
  4. What motivates the actions of a given character? To what degree does the character’s past play a role in her present actions? Are those actions justified or ethical?
  5. Do any characters grow or change over the course of the novel? Does any character come to learn something about himself or view the world differently? If so, what does she learn? Or is the character “static,” unchanging from beginning to end?
  6. What is the central conflict of the plot? Is the conflict internal to the character (a psychological conflict)? Or is it external, having to do with character vs. character? Character vs. society? Character vs. nature? (Most novels have a combination of both internal and external conflict.)
  7. Is the novel plot-driven? In other words, does the plot unfold quickly, focusing more on action than on the inner lives of the characters? Which do you prefer?
  8. Is the plot well-developed? Is it believable…or is it forced? Is it suspenseful or more contemplative? Does it unfold naturally, or do you feel manipulated along the way by coincidences, odd plot twists, or cliffhangers?
  9. Is the ending satisfying? Predictable or not? Does is wrap up the ends neatly? Is it too neat, too pat? Does it leave some issues unresolved, questions unanswered? If you could change the ending, would you…if so, how would you change it?
  10. What central ideas might the author be exploring-the novel’s themes? Consider ideas about the nature of love, the requirements of goodness, the meaning of justice, the burden of the past…basic human issues that are at stake in the book.

At times I think generic book discussion questions are better than the ones issued by the publishers. Those read too much like a nasty pop quiz. I can’t answer the questions-sometimes they’re too specific, too precise. In fact, I’m not sure anyone can answer them, except the author…and even then I’m not sure.

The generic book questions, on the other hand, are more open-ended and depend to a larger degree on the experience of the readers. And because of their broader nature, I think they get to the heart of a novel more effectively than the pre-packaged versions.

So the answer to the question above-what do you do when you can’t find specific discussion questions for your title-is to relax. Use generic questions and you’ll do just fine. In fact, you-and your book club-will do brilliantly!

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