10 tips for discussion at your book club, especially if you didn’t like the book

Even for Twitter, this was shocking.

An author was invited to a book club to talk about her new novel. At the meeting, one of the members took the floor to remark how intensely she disliked the book.

“When I get invited to a book club I don’t expect all positive feedback,” the author tweeted, “but when I hear ‘I hated your book. HATE it. It was full of stupid characters doing stupid things. I got it only read before the meeting, “felt a little hard.”

The author tried to put a humorous spin on it, but it obviously bothered her. And why wouldn’t it? To do that to a writer – or anyone else about their work – is cruel.

(How did the author respond? “That’s okay, I don’t like every book I read. I hope you enjoy the next book you pick up.” She added, “I never say, ‘I’m sorry. ‘”)

This might be a good time to talk about how to discuss books in a book club, whether or not the author is present.

Be civil. That, of course, is rule No. 1 for any group gathering.

Ask, don’t tell. By posing your concerns and observations as questions rather than decisions, you open the conversation instead of closing it. Instead of saying, “The main character was a jerk,” consider asking, “Why did the main character have so much trouble with his mother?”

Analyze your emotions. A strong reaction to a book – positive or negative – usually means the book has power. Instead of giving in to your emotions, examine what it was in the text that made you react so strongly.

Don’t say you “hated” the book. Even if you did. Try to analyze why you didn’t like the book. What didn’t work for you? And could the writer have done this on purpose? Why?

Don’t say you “hated” the characters. Even if you did. Should you have hated them? What made them the way they are? Despicable characters can be fascinating, and it’s almost certain that the writer worked hard to create them that way. Think why.

Remember that “like” and “dislike” are not really the point. While we all want to enjoy the books we read, in a book club discussion it doesn’t matter whether you liked a book or not. Try talking about what worked, or what didn’t work. What confused you? What made you laugh? Where are you lost? What sentences have you gone back and re-read because of their beauty?

Think of the title, the opening, the end. Remember that all of these things are authoritarian choices. What does the title mean? Why did the book start where it started? Why did it end where it ended?

Try not to take things personally. We invest a lot of time in reading a book and the characters can get under your skin. If someone praises a book that left you cold, be respectful in your response. Crushing the book can feel like crushing them to your book club friend.

Try to meet the authors where they are. In other words, try to understand why they did what they did. What was their intention? Their bigger point? Talk about whether or not you succeed.

And if you’re lucky enough to have an author come to your book club, don’t tell them you hated their book. Not to their face, not on Twitter, not at all. Even if you did.

Do you have other suggestions? What works in your book reviews? Write me down [email protected]

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