Start a Book and/or Film Discussion Group

I’m honored and happy to have helped organize two dozen LGBTQ+ Literature and Film discussion groups, in the US and Canada, Latin America, the UK, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Anybody up for starting a group in Africa? Antarctica?! Hope this resource will be useful for your group, wherever you are!

NEW! Selected Book Resources – including background materials and discussion questions – for a small but growing number of LGBTQ+ and general books. These materials come from two groups that I belong to, one LGBTQ+ and the other general, where each book inspired lively and wide-ranging conversations. At this website, you’ll also find recommendations and resources for LGBTQ+ Literature, LGBTQ+ Cinema, and General Film, as well as some ideas for LGBTQ+ Fiction & Film comparisons. NEW! BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) LGBTQ+ Literature. NEW! Finding Book & Film Resources for Discussions, tips on collecting background materials for individual books or films, authors or filmmakers, and more.

Now, on to *YOUR* NEW GROUP!

  1. HAVE FUN! Keep your group simply organized, friendly, and preferably free. There’s nothing like the lively sharing of diverse opinions and insights, with old friends and new!
  2. ORGANIZING: First, decide whether you want to discuss books, films, or both. (Of course, a group can focus on any topic.) Around a dozen participants is manageable if you’re meeting for an hour or an hour and a half, but the group can be any size that works for you. The person/people who begin the group should establish clear guidelines. An organizer/facilitator can help everyone feel welcome, valued, and heard. Diverse opinions, from all perspectives, are the heart of a group, together with unconditional mutual respect. If any conflicts ever arise (they may not), the priority should be what’s best for the group as a whole. Prima donnas, whose favorite aria is “My Way or the Highway,” are for opera stages [smile]… and they are always welcome to start a new group under their own guidelines (this resource is for them too), rather than curtail your group’s free exchange of ideas.
  3. SCHEDULING: Decide among interested people what schedule works best. Keep the same day and time each month, while accounting for holidays.
  4. PUBLICIZING: Inform friends and members in your other organizations, about the new group. Also spread the word using social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, etc. Name your group, perhaps including the phrase LGBTQ+ Book [or Film] Club.
  5. MEETING, AND WELCOMING DIVERSE VIEWPOINTS: Will you meet online, in-person, or an alternation of both? The Covid pandemic has forced many groups to meet online, but that’s also provided an opportunity to increase diversity. For example, with Zoom meetings, you can welcome members from anywhere, across the street or around the globe. NOTE that with Zoom’s free version, if your allotted time (currently 40 minutes) runs out, simply re-start the discussion by having everyone sign back in – just takes a few seconds. Especially if you have a large group, consider opening with time for each member briefly to introduce themself and maybe share their impression of the book, then they can tag someone else for their introduction, until everyone has had an initial turn (thanks for this suggestion, Aman!). Also, maybe two-thirds through your discussion, or more often, consider pausing,and inviting anyone who hasn’t spoken yet (some people are shy) to share their opinions.
  6. SELECTING: Encourage members to nominate a book or film, for the next discussion or two, or even three. I recommend both nominating and voting in person, so that people can ask the nominator any questions about they might have. That also helps build solidarity within the group, encouraging people to be physically (even if only virtually) present. The nominator needs to make sure that the title is readily available, including in libraries; ideally, they should have read at least some of it. Diversity is important, and that’s a hallmark of the millennia-spanning LGBTQ+ tradition, that includes all types of fiction (classic and contemporary, general, science fiction, suspense, adventure, romance, humor, more), non-fiction (history, biography, memoirs and letters, current events, the sciences), drama (including both plays and musicals: sing out, Louise!), and poetry. Consider connecting your selection to a Heritage Month (Library of Congress list): February commemorates Black History, March for Women’s History, May for both Jewish-Americans and for Asian-Pacific Heritage, June is LGBTQ+ Pride, September is Latinx/Hispanic Heritage, November for Native Americans / Indigenous Peoples, and more (not every month has a Heritage theme). For manageability, consider limiting nominations to one book (or film) per member per month. If a recommendation isn’t selected, they can continue nominating it. That will give people time to explore nominated books. If you use Amazon’s “Look inside” feature, found in the upper left corner for every title in print, you can read the complete opening dozen pages or so, to see if you like the writing style: books are about the specific words on the page, as well as the overall story / narrative. Also, each member can post their own comprehensive, and evolving, list of recommended titles, perhaps through your group’s own newsletter, or with social media (such as a private,or public, Facebook group). Or they can share the link to a personal website (free web pages are available – I’m not endorsing any platform – but be sure it’s not just a limited-time free trial.) NEW! Selected Book Resources, featuring a small, but growing, number of both LGBTQ+ and General Literature titles – your group is welcome to use these materials!
  7. CRITERIA: Consider a mix of contemporary and classic works. LGBTQ+ literature spans 5,000 years, and its themes – including self-identity, empowerment, resistance to oppression, and love – are timeless. For example, Walt Whitman feels more urgent than ever, with the visionary inclusiveness of his epic autobiographical poetry, Leaves of Grass [free online]. One lively discussion topic can be the relationship, and quality, between a work’s function (including ideas and emotions) and form (how that content is expressed through the ‘words on a page’ or ‘images and sounds on the screen’). For me, the best books or films achieve a memorable connection between form and function, with a great story and imaginative ways of expressing it.
  8. GETTING BOOKS OR FILMS: Have the group vote for the book and/or movie to discuss, but the nominator needs to be sure that the book or film is available, and that they (the nominator) will be present. Sources: 1) You can check out books, and films, from your local library or through your inter-library loan network, likely for free, 2) download free public domain works (pre-1927) via links throughout this site or use the Online Books Page (over three million titles), 3) may be able to download a free temporary copy of a book, including new titles, from the publisher-supported OpenLibrary (the book will automatically ‘evaporate’ from your e-reader after a few days but you may be able to renew it), 4) at Internet Archive, some titles can be read online in one-hour increments (just keep “renewing” the book), or 5) buy a title, new or used, from a local bookseller or other retailer (also, I have an Amazon Associate link – at the bottom left of every page on this site – that may generate a small commission: Thanks). Sources for free movies online include Tubi, IMDbTV, Crackle, YouTube Movies Free With Ads, Vudu Movies Free With Ads, Plex (including a LGBTQ+ channel called Cinepride), Pluto, Redbox Free on Demand, RokuChannel (on any device), more spring up regularly, also there are selected silent era classics via this site, or do a search.
  9. FICTION & FILM: You can have amazing ‘cross-fertilizing’ discussions with a Fiction & Film Group. At one such NYC-based LGBTQ+ group that I founded, we’d all read a book in advance, then together watch the motion picture version, and have a discussion of both, along with a friendly potluck dinner (less expensive, and more personal, than ordering out). Check the legality for your country, but typically watching a movie with family or friends, in a private home and with no admission fee, does not constitute a “public performance” for which you would have to pay the right’s holder.
  10. FREE: Ideally, participants would not have to pay any fee to be in your group. Times are tough all over. As a cost-saving measure, and if it follows pandemic health guidelines, meet at a member’s home (so no facility rental). Share a pot luck meal. People can bring their favorite dish (that fits their personal budget), and that can also be a good conversation starter. Maybe have a group discussion and meal during a Zoom meeting; you can always coordinate in advance, even share recipes [smile]!
  11. FILM PARTIES: If you meet online, some streaming services (including Netflix Party and Amazon Prime Video Watch Party) let you view — and share comments during — a movie simultaneously with a group, so long as everyone subscribes. Instead of using text-based chat, some people enjoy a simultaneous phone conversation (so long as the group’s viewing remains in synch: coordinate when you all pause).
  12. GROUP RESOURCES: Whether meeting in-person or online, consider a shared resource for members, such as a Facebook Group or a Google Group. Then people can continue the discussion by posting their latest thoughts, sharing resources (such as personal favorites lists), and announcing upcoming discussions. All the best to you & your group! HAVE FUN!!
LGBTQ+ Literature & Jim's Film Website
LGBTQ+ Literature / Jim’s Film Website

Website begun 1997 / Updated April 2, 2022

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