2012 Morris Seminar – “How Book Discussion Works”
The second session of the 2012 William Morris Seminar was a talk given by Nina Lindsay, a moderator of the Heavy Medal blog, and a past committee chair. She was talking about the actual book discussion process.
She assured us that you will need to take notes, maybe as simple as the one she uses the first time through a book: A dog ear on the top if there was something good on that page; a dog ear on the bottom if something negative. Then she looks back later to see if she can still find it.
Some book discussion groups you’ll be in are more about getting to know one another, but in award committees, it’s about the book.
It’s expected that you’ll wander off-track, but the committee chair will bring you back to the book. (We then paused to tell each other some personal story about one of the books – like how we met the author’s brother’s cousin, or how something said in the book reminded you of your ex-husband. This kept these things out of the book discussion time.)
*Look at each book for what it is, not for what it isn’t.
We always go over positive comments first. Small things that are good about it are still important to bring up.
When you bring up difficulties, use questions. Would she really feel that way in that situation?
Book discussion is not the time for a summary.
No personal anecdotes!
Compare with other books on the discussion list, but only those books.
There’s no single correct response.
Talk with each other, don’t just give a speech.
When you’re on an award committee, it helps the Midwinter discussion to go well if you’ve practiced book discussion all year long.
Also practice writing about books.
Overused words that don’t tell anything: love, cute, nice, good, sweet, lovely, perfect, unique, incredible, beautiful, wonderful, delightful, powerful, thoughtful, charming, appealing, fascinating, compelling.
(Then we practiced discussing a book without using any of those words. It was not easy!)
Commonly misused words: Simplistic, random, impressionistic, expressionistic.
No book is random. It may seem haphazard.
Impressionistic and expressionistic refer to a specific type of art.
When discussing a book, use the criteria for the award at hand. This doesn’t devalue other ways of looking at the book, but it is different.
The voting process only works if the discussion has worked.
Listen to others as even-handedly as possible.
The hope is that you only have to vote once.
You need to trust other committee members.
Enter the discussion knowing what you think, but be ready to be persuaded.
A final quote from Connie Rockman: We’re all in this because it’s FUN!