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R4R @ Rutgers: Reading for Recovery: Book Clubs

R4R is a resource geared towards those interested in the use of bibliotherapy, i. e., guided reading, for substance use problems. It was created at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies Library in 2015-2016 with the help of an ALA Carnegie-Whitney grant.

About Book Clubs

While the words “book club” might conjure up images of loosely literary social gatherings and liberal helpings of wine, there are as many varieties of book clubs as there are kinds of readers seeking the chance to regularly read books and meet to share thoughts.  Many book clubs are organized or supported by public libraries: major metropolitan libraries like the New York Public Library, the Seattle Public Library, and the Chicago Public Library all have large and popular book club programs, and even the smallest town library will often have a book club or two.

The Internet has also provided new models for book clubs.  Big Library Read is the world’s largest digital book club, and social media reading platforms like Goodreads and LibraryThing also can help facilitate discussion groups.  As a March 2014 New York Times piece attests, the information age hasn’t killed book clubs — it’s only made them stronger, easier to create, and more precious to participants eager to connect.

Book Clubs 101

Reading for Recovery: Public Libraries and Bibliotherapy

How to Run a Book Discussion

In a 1956 lecture at Oxford, W. H. Auden claimed that his approach as a literary critic starts with two basic questions.
The first is about style: How does this “verbal contraption” work?  How does it say what it says, how does it interact with its reader?
The second is about the textual world and its characters: What sort of a person “inhabits” this work?  What does he or she aspire towards, fear, conceal?

Both of these questions are meant to elicit not definitive answers, but observations that can lead to connections.  A text is above all a constructed world (even when that world is built from memories of real life, as in autobiography), as seen from a certain point of view, and getting really acclimated to another world takes time and attention.  A discussion starts with noticing: “I found it hard to be sure why X acts this way.”  “This story jumps around in time a lot.”  “Y seems like a really important moment here.”  Each of these is an implicit opportunity for a further question: how does the text do this, or why?  In fact, articulating a question can be just as valuable to a discussion as providing an answer.

Principles:

  1. In this setting, personal experience is part of how we process the text and the text is part of how we process personal experience.  Share the connections you make if you think they might help the group get some insight into the topic at hand.
  2. Participants should not feel compelled to jump to the “point” or “lesson” of the text right away.  Philosophically speaking, the text doesn’t contain the “lesson”; if anything, the discussion does.
  3. If you find yourself doing most of the talking, try hanging back to get a feel for the flow of conversation; if you’re feeling timid, formulate a specific, concrete point or question you can raise and offer it up!
  4. A group conversation develops a life of its own, and the more you put into it the more you get back.  Respond to, develop, and connect the points other people raise; linger on the questions and topics that seem to resonate, rather than constantly jumping around (even out of a desire to “cover everything” -- that’s not necessarily important).
  5. Disagree with ideas, not people.
  6. Often the most productive way to focus a discussion is to linger on a particularly complex, weighty passage.  What does it mean?  What sticks out to you here?  What’s the role of this passage in the work as a whole, and what does it connect to?

Tips for Leading a Book Discussion Group

Prepared by the reference staff of the Franklin Township Public Library in Somerset, NJ, the document below offers useful, hands-on tips on preparing for the meeting, leading the discussion, developing questions, and more on book club resources.

Helpful Links on Book Clubs

Links to Book Clubs

Not only large libraries, such as the New York Public Library, the Seattle Public Library, and the Chicago Public Library offer book clubs, but local public libraries run their own programs almost without exception

Among the most popular virtual book clubs is the  Big Library Read, the world’s largest digital Book club. The popular social media reading apps both offer options as in Goodreads Reading Groups and LibraryThing Book Groups