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Guides for Smarter Book Talk.

Readers find there's more to group discussions than rambling prose: With help from comparison guides, book clubs raise the level of thought and better navigate conversations

Can we talk? With reading group guides, yes we can. The questions provided in these powerful discussion tools transform your group's casual conversation into structured and enlivened book discussions.

How important are race and gender to the story in The Warmest December?. This thought-provoking question--one of many featured in a Penguin Putnam reading group guide--provides a pivotal starting point for the discussion of Bernice McFadden's stunning sophomore novel.

"I believe readers will respond that race and gender are unimportant to the story line, as they are forced to examine their own lives and the people around them that are addicts or addict enablers," declares McFadden. "That would hopefully bring them to the realization that not even religion or socioeconomic condition is important in the story because the disease of addiction does not discriminate."

Designed to aid reading groups, the guide---like many other reading guides--contains an author's biography and a book synopsis. Its carefully crafted questions steer book groups through specific elements of McFadden's tale that may otherwise remain unexamined; and it forces readers to think beyond the boundaries of a typical character-driven book discussion.

"Some readers may view these particular areas of the story as `fillers' when in reality they are important to the story line and need to be discussed and examined to completely understand the characters, their actions and reactions," asserts McFadden. "Reading group guides add structure, especially for groups that may linger over certain areas of a book while ignoring other valuable points the story may impose. They are a great asset to book discussions."

Marketing Tools

For author Van Whitfield, reading group guides have proven extremely useful. "Because I write comedy, there's a tendency to belittle and even dismiss the themes, story lines and characters I create," Whitfield says. "People can love your work or hate it with a passion. But if they're not willing to discuss it, your work is irrelevant. Writers want their work to be discussed whenever and wherever possible. Reading group guides can frame a book discussion. They help create dialogue by posing significant questions that allow readers to further extend the relationship they've developed with your work."

Doubleday's Readers Companions are available for Whitfield's novels, Beeperless Remote and Something's Wrong With Your Scale and a companion guide will accompany his next release, Guys In Suits.

"If your company pony up the dollars producing guides for your books, it adds credibility to the work and tells readers that what they've read is relevant. Guides are great resources and outstanding marketing tools."

Guiding Their Own Discussion

Sans a reading guide for Silent Suspicion: A Lincoln Keller Mystery by author Lee Meadows, the Literary Society of Detroit generated discussion questions on their own. When the group asked, "What does this novel imply about the relationship between the police department and the judicial system?" Meadows participated only when points of clarification were needed.

"These ladies have taken book discussions to another level of thinking and examination," says Meadows. "This approach enabled me to listen to how the work was being interpreted through a directed dialogue and made me reexamine what I had written. It was like watching a group of 22nd-century scholars discussing the content of Silent Suspicion to understand its place in the social times of the 21st century. The use of discussion questions leaves room for the occasional digressive romp, but quickly brings the discussion back in focus and brings about a greater depth of understanding the story's contents among dub members."

Cliffs Notes

At The Good Book Club of Texas, Pamela Walker-Williams believes discussion guides are great resources for both book clubs and teachers. "Like Cliffs Notes in high school, they help facilitators and group members prepare for the meeting, they also add structure to the discussion and help navigate the conversation. The guides bring the author into the discussion by shedding light on important items." Williams professes that her book group sometimes focuses on just the main plot and characters of a story, but when discussing Tumbling by Diane McKinney-Whetstone, the group explored underlying themes and hidden layers when confronted with the following questions from the accompanying reader's guide:

What does the building of the road represent in Tumbling? What does it represent to the characters: to Noon, to Next-Door-Jeanie, to Willie, to Liz and Fannie? Of what larger metaphor might the road be representative?

"These questions transformed us from a book club to a literary circle. We began to really explore the work and came away with a great sense of accomplishment."

Williams began collecting reading guides for books of interest to African-American readers two years ago in an effort to establish a depository that her book club could use and share with other reading groups. Today, her collection includes guides from publishers, authors and other reading groups.

"Book club members contact each other all the time asking, "Do you have any discussion questions for ...," says Williams. "I am very happy when I can say, yes I do!"

Sources for Reading Guides

Discussion group guides are available for a large selection of titles. Here are Web sites that provide resources to aid your book discussion.

Book Browser--This site for avid readers offers reading lists and links to guides for discussion questions. http://www.bookbrowser.com/Resources/ ReadingGroups.html

The PageTurner Network--Provides a collection of reading guides from varied sources. http://www.pageturner.net/

Reading Group Choices--This book dub resource provides titles from several publishing houses to spark lively book discussions. http://www.readinggroupchoices.com

Harper Collins Reader Resources--http://www.harpercollins.com/ readers.resources.htm

Penguin Putnam--http://www.penguinputnam.com; click on "Home" and scroll to "Reading Groups"

Simon & Schuster Reading Group Resources--http://www.simonsays.com

Random House Reading Group Guides--http://www.randomhouse.com/ resources/rgg.html

Time Warner Bookmark--www.twbookmark.com/books/ reading_guides.html
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:book clubs
Author:Houser, Pat
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2001
Words:991
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