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Wednesday, May 7, 2008 9:00 pm
Stalking the Online Reading Guide
Posted by: Neil Hollands

With the help of Book Group Buzz (or possibly, sniff!, some other minor resource) you’ve selected the next choice for your book group. Where can you go to get more information?

Many publishers make it easy these days, with discussion questions and author interviews included in the back of the book. When that fails, we all know about reader reviews and other material on the sites of online booksellers like the BookSense consortium, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. Your library should have access to great book and literature databases that will help with author bios, reviews, literary criticism, and readalikes for the upcoming title. Adding the word “review” or “blog” to the title of the book on Google can also reap a quick and easy bounty.

But if discussion questions aren’t in the back of the book, you aren’t out of luck. Several websites specialize in collecting these reading guides. Let’s take a quick look at five collections and how to search them.

After experimenting with a garage door remote, various intonations of “Open Sesame,” and several varieties of Gregorian chant, I can report that the most useful keywords to help you find questions are “reading guide.” Add them to the title of the book (and if the book title is simple or bland, add the author’s name as well) and Google away. If there’s a guide out there, this search string is likely to find it. Other terms like “discussion questions” or “book group” were much less likely to bring the guides to the top of the hit list.

The most extensive site is http://www.readinggroupguides.com. I couldn’t find a count of all the books that they have guides for, but there are 135 that begin with just the letter “A”. They cover a diverse set of books, feature original discussion questions, and include plenty of other advice for groups. There’s even a blog you might read (after you’re finished here of course). If they don’t have a guide for you, they have some lists of default questions broken up by the book’s genre or type.

The next best bet is http://www.readinggroupchoices.com, a site connected to annual books that collect the same content in print. Their archive includes original questions for over 500 books. The bad news is that the guides at this site don’t make it into search engine results without extreme contortions in your searching. Instead, visit the site itself and search for the title as a second resort if a broader search comes up empty.

BookBrowse, http://www.bookbrowse.com, is a good all-purpose book site that includes a variety of tools, reviews, lists, and other bookish doodads. They have over 500 discussion guides that turn up high on search engine lists. These are not, however, original questions: they’re reprints of materials from the publisher.

Book Movement, http://www.bookmovement.com, has a large archive of books and comes up in search engine results, but the guides here often lack discussion questions. When they do have them, they are publisher retreads. But this site has a large constituency and bears further watching for improvements.

Finally, BookMuse, http://www.bookmuse.com has good original discussion guides, but you must register (free) to access them and they didn’t come up in my experimental searches. The archive here is not large, with only 71 books on this viewing. The new titles here aren’t very new, and this site may be dying out.

There are two other major sources for discussion questions: publisher web sites and online databases. More about those in next week’s blog. Meanwhile, if you know of other large collections of original discussion guides, don’t hesitate to post a comment below.


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