Whether you’re writing the reading group guide for your own book, for the next book you plan to have your local book club tackle, or for a classroom, it can be surprisingly easy to spin your wheels. Below are some tips for coming up with thoughtful, deep-reaching questions that will enrich your discussion rather than stifle it.
Do your research. Look at discussion questions for books you like. Oprah, as you know, is always all over the latest good books, and provides a thoughtful list of reading questions for each. Looking at what material other questions focus on can help you start to line up the main points you want to touch on in your own guide.
Map out the book. A good book is full of riches, so before you start writing the most obviously important questions, take the time to go back through and rediscover those hidden gems. Make a list of characters, events, and motifs—the act of remembering and researching them can help you make hitherto unseen connections.
Give yourself permission to have an agenda. If the book is your own, identify what you think are its most important points and craft your questions around getting those points across. After all, no one knows your book better than you. If you’re just a reader, come up with your questions with an eye to what affected you most powerfully without worrying you’re missing something. (If you are, someone else will bring it up.) Bonus: if you’re a teacher and plan on teaching this book again in the future, it can be fascinating revisiting your discussion questions year after year and seeing how you want to tinker with or even rewrite them to reflect your ever-evolving understanding of the book.
Leave some wiggle room for confusion. One of the most daunting things about writing a reading guide is the constant feeling that you’re missing something. If you’re the writer, you may worry that you’re not touching on the points that your audience will think are the most important. If you’re a reader, you may be tempted to avoid talking about the points that don’t seem to line up or that left you feeling baffled. But some questions can be left relatively open ended to allow for exploration of these unresolved issues, and these can be the ones that lead to the most rewarding, fruitful discussions.