"No two persons ever read the same story" Edmund Wilson
Book Groups [[
I love book groups. They are a great way to connect with friends and make new ones. I know a bit about them because when I am not writing I work in Reader Development. This means I collaborate with libraries and bookshops creating projects to encourage reading for pleasure. Over the years I have set up numerous book groups across Cumbria and North Lancashire, many of which continue to thrive. I also host Readers' Parties, bringing book groups and individual readers together to celebrate a love of stories and gather reading recommendations and book group tips.
Book groups aren’t just about books. The books are simply the glue that holds the group together. Maybe a better image would be the jam that holds the cake together, because book groups usually involve some sort of food and drink. Book groups are about so much more than stories and discussion; they are about nourishment, really. They feed and sustain. Often they result in strong support networks that can enrich your life in unexpected ways. Why not give it a try and see where it leads?
(If you are already part of a book group, scroll down for Once Upon A Place discussion questions and information about Zoom Q&A Author events.)
All you need to start a book group is four people and a book.
How To Begin:
Choose the book.
Ask two or three friends to join you.
Ask each of these people to recommend a friend. A group of six to eight is ideal but you can have a perfectly good discussion with just three people.
Agree a time and place to meet to discuss the book. You can approach your local library or a cafe, you can take it in turns to host in your own homes, or you could meet via Zoom.
Read the book.
Meet and discuss. Allow about an hour and a half for a reasonable discussion.
Many books have discussion questions included in the back, or you can make up your own. Some groups simply talk about what they liked and didn't like. Some groups take it in turns to give their review. Try different approaches. See what works for you.
Most libraries have a book group loan service with hundreds of titles available in batches of 12 for book groups to borrow. You will need to book in advance. Check out your library website for more information or ask at your local branch.
You can often buy cheap copies of second hand books in charity shops or online.
It's good to have a mix of people in the group. You don't have to be close friends with someone to discuss a book, but discussing books can build new friendships. A mix of ages and genders can broaden a discussion, but it isn't essential.
Introducing new members from time to time or the occasional guest can keep things fresh.
Taking it in turns to lead the discussion and/or choose the book, can lead to interesting and varied approaches. My book group had a discussion of The Great Gatsby in period dress with cocktails!
Quizes can be fun. A review and ranking of the books you've read over the course of a year can also be entertaining and illuminating. At Christmas, my book group all select a book they've enjoyed that year and gift wrap their copy to give to another member of the group. We then take it in turns to select from the pile. If we choose a book we've already read we swap.
I am planning to write a short book about book groups and how mine saved my life. If you have a story to tell, or just want to share how your book group works, please drop me an email.
Once Upon A Place Zoom Book Group
Below are some discussion questions for your book group. If you enjoy the book and have any questions, or would like to hear about the next Zoom Q&A for book groups, contact me by email.
Questions For Discussion
This is a novel with multiple narrative strands. Stories overlap with other stories. Which is the key story for you?
Who, would you say, is the protagonist of this novel?
Is Renata a hero or a villain?
Who is your favourite character and why?
This is a novel about mothers and mothering (or nurturing). Who are the ‘mothers’ in this story?
What is the importance of food in the novel? How does the writer use food to reflect the central themes of the novel?
The novel shifts between time frames, but there are no chapters and no dates offered to guide the reader. What techniques does the writer use to differentiate between narrative strands so that the reader knows where they are? Why do you think the writer chose this structure and approach?
What is the significance of the landscape, particularly the bay? How does it affect the story?
Do you believe magic happens out on that bay or is it a trick of the light?
Is this a love story?
Fun Bonus Question
There is a famous Pretenders song that I kept returning to while I wrote this novel. Some of the lyrics are echoed in the text, though not quoted directly. Can you work out what it is?