50 General Book Club Questions for Study and Discussion

Make your next meeting more engaging

Women enjoying book club meeting
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As a member or leader of a book club, you are likely to be reading books on a wide variety of topics, both fiction and nonfiction. No matter the genre, age, notoriety, or length of the book of the moment, book club questions can kickstart or enhance your group discussion. Whether you are discussing characters and their actions, setting, theme, or images, having a guide to questions that will lead to fruitful exchanges on your enjoyment—or lack theeof—of the book, plot, and even its moral implications can help make your discussion more productive and keep it on track.

Before Diving In

Before you dive into the heavy plot points, character development, themes, or other weighty subjects, start off your book club discussion by finding out everyone's first impression of the book, advises Sadie Trombetta, writing on Bustle. Doing so, and starting slowly, "will give you a jumping-off point to discuss what about the selection kept you turning the pages," she says, or what made the book difficult to get through. These introductory questions can help you ease into the more detailed book discussion.

  • Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not?
  • What were your expectations for this book? Did the book fulfill them?
  • How would you briefly describe the book to a friend?
  • In a book in which the author was not a character or was not doing first-person reporting, was the author present in the book anyway? Was the presence of the author disruptive? Or did it seem appropriate or fitting?
  • How would you describe the plot? Did it pull you in, or did you feel you had to force yourself to read the book?

Characters and Their Actions

Before other elements of the book, such as the setting, plot, and theme, the characters who inhabit the book will either infuse the work with life or drag it down to dull reading. Your book club may encounter many types of characters: you may have a round, flat, or stock character, or even a traditional protagonist. Knowing what kinds of characters the author has used to populate her novel or book is key to understanding the story she is trying to tell. After asking introductory questions as discussed above, put the following book club questions before your group members. 

  • How realistic was the characterization? Would you want to meet any of the characters? Did you like them? Hate them?
  • If the book was nonfiction, do you think the characters accurately portrayed the real events upon which the book was based? If not, what would you have changed to make the book more accurate?
  • Who was your favorite character?
  • Which character did you relate to most and why?
  • Did the actions of the characters seem plausible? Why? Why not?
  • If one (or more) of the characters made a choice that had moral implications, would you have made the same decision? Why? Why not?
  • If you were making a movie of this book, who would you cast?

Setting, Theme, and Images

Many writers believe that the setting is the most important element of any fictional work. Whether or not you agree—for example, if you believe the story's characters are the most significant element—setting can have considerable influence over the events, feeling, and mood of a story.

If the setting is a horse racing track, such as with a Dick Francis novel, you're sure to find yourself reading about horse owners and trainers, jockeys, and stablehands working hard to prepare their mounts, as well as spirited and competitive races. If the setting is London, events may be influenced by the heavy fog and damp, dank cold that city experiences.

Just as importantly, a book's theme is the main idea that flows through the narrative and connects the components of the story. Any imagery the author uses is sure to be connected to the characters, setting, and theme. So, focus your next set of book club questions on these three elements. Following are a few ideas:

  • How does the setting figure in the book? 
  • If the book was nonfiction, do you feel the author did enough to describe the setting and how it might have influenced the plot or narrative of the book?
  • How would the book have been different if it had taken place in a different time or place?
  • What are some of the book's themes? How important were they?
  • How are the book's images symbolically significant? Do the images help to develop the plot or help to define characters?

Book Club Questions: Summarizing Your Reading Experience

One of the most enjoyable aspects of a book club—indeed, the very essence of why books clubs exist—is to talk to others who have collectively read a given work about their impressions, feelings, and beliefs. The shared experience of reading a single book gives members a chance to discuss how it made them feel, what they might have changed, and, significantly, whether they believe that reading the book altered their own lives or perspectives in some way.

Don't move on to your next book until you've thoroughly hashed out some of these conclusion-type questions.

  • Did the book end the way you expected?
  • If the book was based on real events, what did you already know about this book’s subject before you read this book? Did the story reflect what you already knew? Do you feel the book helped enhance your knowledge and understanding of the subject?
  • If the book was nonfiction, what did you think about the author’s research? Do you think s/he did an adequate job of gathering the information? Were the sources credible?
  • At which point of the book were you most engaged?
  • Conversely, were there any parts of the book that you felt dragged?
  • How would you describe the pace of the book?
  • What three words would you use to summarize this book?
  • What, if anything, set this book apart from others you've read in a similar genre?
  • What other books have you read by this author? How did they compare to this book?
  •  What did you think of the book’s length? If it’s too long, what would you cut? If too short, what would you add?
  • Would you recommend this book to other readers? To your close friend? Why or why not?