Americans may be bowling alone, but the educated classes of this country are joining book clubs in large numbers. I say this anecdotally speaking, since I belong to two book clubs myself – one for fiction and one for nonfiction – and just about every woman I know with a college education belongs to at least one book club.
If you’re thinking of starting a book club or would like to enhance your experience in a book club you already belong to, LitLovers is a fine Web site to cruise. Begun by a former English professor named Molly Lundquist as an offshoot of an online course, the site is filled with useful information. Want to know how to get your circle beyond a simple, unelaborative ”I liked it” and into a real discussion? Try the Discussion Tips section. Here’s one I like from the generic questions for fiction list:
5. Talk about the book’s structure. Is it a continuous story…or interlocking short stories? Does the time-line move forward chronologically…or back and forth between past and present? Does the author use a single viewpoint or shifting viewpoints? Why might the author have chosen to tell the story the way he or she did—and what difference does it make in the way you read or understand it?
That’s a pretty English-teachery way to consider a novel, but non-English majors in my experience are not used to thinking about point-of-view, and it is indeed a key to understanding how a story works.
The site also offers well-thought discussion questions and background information on some 800 books. Here’s a fine double-barreled question for readers of Ian McEwan’s novel On Chesil Beach, a story about the misunderstandings involved in a disastrous marriage:
12. In the end, Edward [the huband] explores various “what ifs.” Would their marriage have lasted if he had consented to her request for platonic living arrangements? What are the best ways to predict whether a couple can sustain a marriage?