Source : The New York Times Magazine
“It’s important to have a set of rules, even if over time they kind of disintegrate,” says David Peplow, a senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University in England who has done multiyear ethnographies of book groups. Make your guiding principles answer basic questions: What kind of books will you read? How will books be chosen? Where will you meet? How will you make sure everyone who wants to talk gets a chance to? Peplow believes that literary fiction and memoirs tend to prompt the most engaged conversations.
You’ll want about seven or eight people at each meeting. “Fewer than that and each person has to say quite a lot,” Peplow says. To ensure a quorum, your total group size should be between 10 and 12. Start meetings by going around the room, letting each person share some reaction to the reading. Rotate who chooses the book. The groups Peplow studied were all mixed gender. They met in a variety of locales, including pubs, homes and libraries. Most meetings included alcohol and food. “There’s nothing wrong with lubricating the wheels of conversation a little bit,” Peplow says. Meetings should last around two hours; aim to spend at least 45 minutes of that time discussing the book. To avoid devolving into all non-book-related socializing, invite some people who are not already fast friends. Consider including a few devil’s-advocate types, or at least those with divergent tastes. “You get the best discussions when people actively disagree,” Peplow says.
Don’t try to talk like an English professor (unless, of course, you are one). Nonacademic reading lets you experience literature in an emotionally raw way, enabling you to conflate real life with the text (literary theorists call this “mimetic reading”). A book group can become a sort of group therapy, a way for readers to collectively process their lives. When Peplow asked readers why they joined a book group in one-on-one interviews, many said they wanted to talk with others about books. But when he read through transcripts from dozens of hours of recorded group meetings, it became clear that they were grappling to understand themselves more deeply. “Reading and talking about fiction gives people a way of processing things that happened in their lives in a relatively safe space,” Peplow says.