Friday, July 07, 2006

What's the value of a book discussion? (Friends of Yesterday.SG reads "Mid Autumn")

Just came back from the 3rd meetup. Unlike the previous meetups, where I blogged about the meetup itself, this time I'm blogging about a book discussion. This particular book discussion:

The idea of a "book discussion" needs some lots of getting used to for Singaporeans. The concept is not intuitive to a lot of our library customers. It's definitely a learnt behaviour.

It's 1.35am as I blog this. I really should be sleeping now but having read Siva's post on the 3rd Yesterday.SG meetup, I'm pretty psyched up. Here's a guy who, by his own admission, would not have read the "Mid Autumn" story on his own and in addition he's never attended a book discussion.

By his account, he got it!

I suspect many of the Friends of Yesterday.SG (FOYers) attending our 3rd meetup wouldn't have given two hoots a "Book Discussion" had it not been for the meetup itself. No offence folks, but I think that was the reality, wasn't it? : )

On our way to the MRT station, Siva asked me about the group dynamics of book discussions. He said during the first part of the discussion, the comments weren't forthcoming. It was only later that the group opened up and shared some really personal stories (in relation to the story).

I told him I'm not the best book discussion facilitator. That was one primary reason why (I sensed) some awkwardness at the initial part of the discussion. Other factors were the environment (it was rather warm and noisy at the basement garden), the choice of the story, and the comfort level of the participants in sharing their thoughts (that's three main reasons that I can think of).

Interestingly, while in a train carriage, Kenneth shared that he didn't identify with the characters in the story (said his parents didn't bring him up the way the mother in the story did). I asked why he didn't share that particular insight. He wasn't sure why he didn't. But hey, there you go -- the dialogue continues long after the event itself!

I'm speculating that Kenneth is like many of us -- we often think we've got nothing insightful to share. We think what we have is too minor and a waste of time to say out loud.

If that true for you, then I say let others make that judgement (of what's useful or significant). Besides, so what if it's not "useful"? So long we don't get all longwinded and blab on and on, it's really no harm just sharing a few thoughts out loud.

I like book discussions for several reasons. For one, it's a platform for me to consciously listen to what others have to say -- to develop my listening skills. Two, it's an opportunity for purposeful discussions (or you can say the book is a good excuse to start conversations). Book discussions are one of the plaftforms where librarians are central in generating dialogues and engaging our customers intellectually.

It's not the book per se -- it's the conversations.

Most library customers are used to attending "sessions" in order to listen to others. Most find it strange to attend a session in order to share what they know.

It need not be that way at all. Not if libraries and librarians can help it.

Plug for NLB: Here's a list of reading groups.

Tag: read singapore,


  1. Hey Ivan, I've wanted to attend a book club for the longest time so this was really fun! The environment as too noisy though and some of us were really soft. It was still interesting though. I think your facilitation is fine; it's inevitable that we needed to warm up first.

  2. Confession - I didn't read the book before I came. Didn't know I was supposed to. Otherwise, I surely have a lot to say becos I very used to this format which we used in our bible study session.

  3. I enjoyed the wonderful view of the city lights from the 11th (?) floor. Thanks for hosting the meet.

  4. Hi Chun See, alamak! I prepared printouts and also copies of the books just for that purpose. Guess you missed it. Before the session started I asked who didn't read and perhaps that was wrong question to ask 'cos people might be shy to admit they didn't read : )


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