Book club is supposed to be a safe space to talk about books, completely geek out about books, and share bookish opinions. So what happens when book club becomes a hostile environment? Maybe this sounds familiar: you read your club’s book of the month and it’s not your favorite. You show up at the meeting, ready to talk about why you didn’t like it. Everyone else liked the book, they loved it, and you get spoken over repeatedly. Suddenly you feel that tightness in the back of your throat and you want to go home early.
Okay, so maybe your book club never turns into shouting match, but that weird tension, where you feel like you can’t disagree with the majority or you’ll be shut out of the conversation? That makes for a book club that no longer feels safe for everyone to share their opinions.
We as book lovers know that books feel incredibly personal. When someone loves a book you’ve recommended, it’s a triumph, a personal victory. When they hate a book you’ve recommended, it’s like a slap to the face. It can be hurtful when a friend hates — or even simply dislikes — a book you just read and loved. Everyone experiences books differently because of their own personal experience and taste. It’s a beautiful thing!
But sometimes, it’s easy to take the opinions of others too personally. This happens in all areas of life. It’s something we’re told over and over again, not to worry about what other people think. Opinions are opinions, and everyone has one. When you’re discussing a book, though, it feels like there has to be a correct answer. Why is that? In educational settings, literature often does have “correct” answers. It’s what we write on our tests, in our essays, discuss in class. In the way of opinions, though, there is no “correct” answer, only opinions to be shared and discussed.
Arguments that can escalate into fights may happen when someone tries to sway the personal opinions of others. They may insist on a “correct” answer when it comes to a book. That is energy and time wasted.
Poor communication skills are also a contributing factor to potential book club arguments. Inactive listening is a big culprit — mindlessly waiting for a chance to speak instead of paying attention to discussion — as is constantly interrupting or overtaking a conversation with things that are irrelevant. Some sidetracking is natural, especially among friends, but one minute, you’re discussing the hero’s journey, and the next you’re talking about weekend plans and sharing memes. It can be incredibly frustrating for club members who want to discuss the book.
Instead of giving up on book clubs altogether, here are some ways to keep the discussion lively and fun for everyone:
- If you are hosting, prepare discussion questions about the book’s theme, characters, and writing style. Discussion questions should focus on the qualities of the book, rather than opinion.
- If you are attending a meeting about a book you didn’t like, it never hurts to jot down a few notes and questions to bring up at the meeting.
- During discussion, engage in active listening and be mindful about not trying to change anyone else’s mind about the book. Remember that opinions are subjective. The reasons you liked a book might be the same that someone disliked a book. If you didn’t enjoy a book as much, share what you found interesting about the book, or keep it simple with “This book wasn’t my favorite.” Sometimes, though, if you truly have nothing nice to say about a book, it’s okay to just sit out a discussion and enjoy the snacks.
If your club is having trouble keeping cool during discussion, try implementing a few guidelines:
- First, relegate all socializing to before/after the book discussion. That way, the funny stories and new puppy pics don’t waste book discussion time. Everyone will still have a chance to hang out and talk, but it’s respectful everyone’s time.
- Next, set a timer for 20 minutes. During those 20 minutes, no one is allowed to say whether or not they liked the book. This is a great time to discuss characters, plot, and theme, without judgement.
- If there are frequent disagreements about the books selected to read and discuss, it might be time to find a new method of choosing books for book club. Everyone experiences books differently and has different tastes in books. Members can submit choices to be drawn from a hat, hosts can pick the book, or you can chose a book based on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.
- Lastly, if book club has become an unwelcoming place or something you no longer look forward to, it’s probably time to find a new book club.
Next time your book club meets up, you’ll be ready for any kind of discussion.
For more book club ideas and tricks, check out our Book Club archives!