Discuss

Diana left a book she was reading, The Girl Who Could Fly, open on our bed, and my husband picked it up. Paging through it, he found a discussion guide in the back. You know the type: Why does the the author…., What does it mean when…., When the main character….

He said (I think he was tired, and it dawned on him slowly), "Wait, it's a reading group guide."

"Yeah, Daddy. Pretty much all the books have them now."

"They do?"

"Yeah, isn't that sad?"

Here's the thing: I completely agree with her. Now, while I think that, I simultaneously think, "Oh, but I'm sure it helps a lot of people, and it probably makes it easier to talk about in the classroom, and it really encourages kids to get deeper into the story, and and and…." But which side of my simultaneously-thinking brain do I agree with? The part that thinks it's sad.

I know I have a ridiculously romantic view of reading, and that not everyone thrills to it the way I do. But to me reading is an amazing, legal, socially approved form of experiencing absolute pleasure. I can't quite believe something so excellent exists in daily life. And discussion questions? The equivalent of someone reciting instructions about eating berries while you're enjoying a strawberry. In short, a drag.

And I know that if I were a balanced, non-irritable person I would just ignore them. And I do, really. I mean, that's no law and all that says you have to look at the guide, it can just be there in the back without bothering anybody. But it does bother me, because, I guess, I'm not a balanced and non-irritable person. It's just that it makes the whole enterprise so academic somehow, and brings it that bit closer to earth. Which is the exact opposite direction I want to be going.

10 thoughts on “Discuss

  1. Would it help you to think of them as there for me? I like to think about the books after I’ve read them but I am lazy and out of practice having been out of school for so long and I love the well-written ones that make me say “OH! I didn’t notice that but they are TOTALLY right!” because I was too busy reading and enjoying to think about the Deeper Meanings and stuff.
    But a lot of them are just lame, and that makes me sad.

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  2. Ok I am probably lame but I used to love those, and would answer ALL of them in my mind after reading. “Clearly,” I’d think, “the author meant such-and-such because…” etc. But I might be a secret (or not-so secret) smartass who likes to prove that I’m right, erm….
    However, I do 100% understand your point! Having your reading seem like a “chore” is the exact opposite point of reading.

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  3. I love the questions in the back like MemeGRL above, but I only briefly answer them in my head… and contrarily, I HATE being forced to answer the very same questions in an environment like a classroom. There’s SUCH a difference between discussing books (as in a book group) or being forced to dissect your reading in an atmosphere like a classroom…

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  4. Maybe the divide is between people who hated analyzing things in school and said it sucked the pleasure out of reading, drama, watching film, whatever the subject of micro-analysis, and those who loved doing it. I was in the latter group and never asked “do you think the author did all of that symbolism stuff on purpose?” because I just utterly loved the playing with and thinking about the material.
    But I hate readers guides (and hated teachers) who seemed to have preformed opinions about what was right and wrong and who brooked no discussion about other possibilities.
    So I can take or leave readers’ guides, but they are often neighbors with interviews with the author, which I LOVE.

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  5. Hmm. Interestingly, I just finished reading the copy of “The Girl Who Could Fly” that my daughter checked out from the library, and hadn’t given the notion of discussion questions in it or other kids’ books much thought. I kind of like the feature where they do interviews with the author (see books by Pam Munoz Ryan, like Becoming Naomi Leon or Painting the Wind), as they give you some insight into what makes the author tick. I think I have also thought, regarding the discussion questions, “oh wow, this gives insight into the CRAFT of writing and how to make a story come together, how cool, now kids can do the same” but now realize that that is a very adult perspective, and I’m not sure whether it would be instructive or just intimidating, to a kid. It probably depends on how it’s done, and on the kid.
    Anyway, now that you’ve made me really think about it, I realize I don’t really like the discussion questions. My book club never uses the ones that are intended for book clubs, thank goodness! But we do like and often discuss any other types of materials that come at the end, about the author or by the author about the work, etc. I guess the discussion questions are only ok when they are framed in such a way that they are revealing as much as they ask, if that makes sense.
    Hmmmm, now I am reading Kablooey’s comments as I type. I think I agree 100%!!!!
    Incidentally, I did enjoy “The Girl Who Could Fly”!

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  6. I agree with you too, mostly I think because I find the questions in the readers’ guides puerile and asinine. Oh, and dorky. I love talking about symbolism and teasing out the threads of a novel, but the questions in the readers’ guides don’t spark those kinds of ideas.
    In the book club I’m in, those questions bring our discussions to a grinding halt, because the answer always seems to feel like a 6th grade book report.
    On another note, I’m grouchy because my daughter discovered a whole new subset of the dreaded Berenstain Bears books: Big kids chapter books! OH NO! I thought we were almost done with those wretched bears, and here’s a whole new universe of gender stereotyping, one-dimensional problem solving, annoying… speaking of puerile and asinine!
    Ugh, don’t know how I’m going to live through this.

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  7. I don’t hate them. Sometimes the questions are really surface level and that’s annoying, but for the most part, it’s part of the whole afterglow for me. Reading the questions and answering them in my head and basking in the story for one last time before I move on to the next book.

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  8. They make me sad, as well. And I don’t know if it’s me, and my general grumpiness about such things, but I sometimes feel, after reading some books, that they were written specifically with these questions in mind. With a truly good book, at least the questions seem imposed on the book afterwards, if that makes any sense. “Book Club Books” is how I’ve dubbed the former in my mind, although that’s pretty insulting to any good book club, I’m sure.

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