Suggestions for Discussing Books

The World Wide Web gives us the chance to talk about subjects we all love--in our case, feminist sf/fantasy.  But as with any communications medium, miscommunication often takes place which leads to anger and frustration.

The list of suggestions for the book discussion group below are just that: suggestions.  I have taken some of the ideas that I've found useful in teaching writing and melded them with ideas developed by the BDG volunteers for list discussions.  My suggestions are based on works by Peter Elbow and Orson Scott Card.

Our goal is to make book discussions more effective and to spend less time in miscommunications and misunderstandings!

  1. Assume the author is listening even if s/he's not visibly present on the list.  Authors appreciate reader responses and constructive feedback, but not personal attacks (see #2/c/d below).
  2. Give "reader-based" feedback. You can describe what you see/understand as a reader; you cannot know for sure what the writer 'intended.'  You can write reader-based feedback by doing the following:
    DESCRIBE what you are 'reading' or the process of your reading.  What is happening to you as you read?
    SUMMARIZE the writing; describe your understanding of what it says or what is happening.
    FOCUS on the book, not the "author."  NEVER assume any character in the book reflects the writer's personal perspective or beliefs, although you might explain why you think a character reflects something about the author. A book is NOT a person, and trying to guess at the writer's "intent" from a fictional text is an exercise in futility.
    DO UNTO OTHERS.....don't write or say anything to somebody that you would hate to have  written or said to you.  This suggestion does NOT mean you only have to say "nicey-nice" things about the work--it means you phrase your comments to be constructive.  If something didn't work or confuses you, try to explain why.
  3. The list and BDG focus is "feminist" sf/f.  Sometimes people waste time arguing about what "feminism" means (as if it can mean one thing). Maybe we can agree that think that various books have different feminist elements, ideas, philosophies, characters, etc.  Why not identify what elements of the book you see as feminist rather than assuming there are only two possible positions (FEMINIST/NOT FEMINIST) for a book.
These suggestions have kindly been provided by Robin Reid.