Several weeks ago my editor made a simple, logical request. Please come up with reader discussion questions for the back of my next novel, One Mountain Away, which debuts in August. One Mountain Away is the first book in a new series, Goddesses Anonymous, and centers around issues readers might want to talk about in their book clubs, or even simply think about after they finish the last page.
I always provide discussion questions on my website. Click on any book cover on my book page and you’ll see a tab for “reading guide” with ten questions. This time, though, I began to consider all the possibilities. As one of my Facebook readers pointed out, there’s more than one type of book club. There’s the club where the book is completely peripheral to chatting and eating. There’s the academic club where more analysis is better. There’s the in-between club with an interesting discussion that still leaves time for catching up with friends.
Authors love book clubs of any kind. After all, each one involves members purchasing our novels and reading them. What’s not to love about that? But thinking about the variety this week, I questioned my own questions. So I asked my Facebook readers this: “Do you like questions that ask you to relate the book to your own life and experience? Or questions purely about the story/characters?”
My educational and work background (pre-novelist) is in counseling. So for me, a good question asks the reader to relate something in the book to events in her own life. It’s a little like group therapy. “Jennifer’s having problems with her mother this week. Has anybody here had the same issues? How did that make you feel?” Readers, of course, are not counselees, but all of us have lives outside the book club. And this is a good way to voluntarily share experiences in a non-threatening environment.
For more academically oriented clubs, though, delving into the personal might seem beside the point. After all, who cares if anybody had the same problem as Jennifer? It’s all about how well the author portrays Jennifer’s struggles, her language, theme, ability to plot and draw memorable characters.
My Facebook readers split evenly down the middle. One pointed out that if she couldn’t relate the book to her own life, she’d missed out. Another said any group of women will relate the book to themselves whether I ask them to or not. Others thought the questions should be more about me and my thought processes while writing.
Of course my solution was to give readers some of both, so that’s what I did. The bonus of doing this exercise? I was reminded that One Mountain Away has lots to discuss, and lots of ways to relate the story to our lives or the lives of women we know and love. By the time I’d finished my list, I was glad all over again, that I had written it.