Top Five Techniques For Dealing With a Book Club Member Who Can't Stay on Topic

Q: "We recently gained a new book club member who is causing problems. She's only been to three meetings so far but she talks about herself non-stop. Every time someone makes a point about the book, she somehow relates it back to her life and tells a 10+ minute story. I've tried everything I can think - redirecting her back to the book, interrupting her, ignoring her but it's not working. She also puts people down, probably without meaning to, but still she does it. I don't think she has much of a social life outside of the club so I don't want to just tell her she can't come but she's ruining book club for the rest of the group at the moment so I need to do something. What is your advice?"

As you all know, we get a lot of book-related questions at BookBrowse. While we certainly have our own answers to these fascinating and excellent dilemmas, we love turning to our Facebook followers who always have the perfect answer - or answers! Here is their advice for addressing this sticky, tricky problem:

Technique #1: Rules

"Set and sign policies, including how many warnings you get before you get the boot." - Susie KC

"Send a general note or email to the whole group with guidelines for the meeting spelled out in black and white. You would not have to mention any names, but just say that in the last few meetings the club has been straying and getting off topic." - Bridget G

"Have each member contribute and set a time limit for each contribution. If this works, maybe you can relax eventually." - Liz G

"One thing I used (admittedly with a group of teens) was a beanbag. If you weren't holding it, you couldn't talk. Pass it around and make sure everyone gets to hold it once before anyone else gets a second time to talk. Time limits (with a small sand timer) also work. You could try making her "recorder" and have her take notes on what everyone says about the book." - Becky H

"Saying something like: Back to the book now usually does it. Or: Let's talk about that later." - Pat J

"Put the person who misbehaves in charge. That nearly always works to force them to stay on the straight and narrow." - Donna C

"Most clubs I have been in go around in a circle so everyone gets to have time to contribute or pass." - Tamara VK

Technique #2: Specific Social Time

"Our club has social time at the beginning of our get togethers, and then when we discuss the book each member gets to talk individually without interruptions. We socialize again at the end of the meeting. It works well for us and everyone gets to speak without interruptions." - Patsy B

"Be honest, address the whole group (perhaps via email) about having strict book discussion time, then poll everyone and perhaps choose to have a brief social time before or after the book talk. Good luck!" - Shelley RC

Technique #3: Talk To Her in Private and Be Kind

"It's important to be kind. A tactful person should speak with her privately, to reinforce that members are not happy that she tends to monopolize the discussions with personal stories, and the ambience of the group is being affected." - Carolyn L

"Be direct but kind. Have a one on one conversation with her. She may not realize what she is doing. Sharing this with her in person gives her the courtesy of letting her know. If you don't you run the risk of losing long-standing members, which isn't fair to them either. Honesty is always the best policy but honesty can be delivered gently." - Chris G

"Could two of you (one as a "witness") take her aside and talk with her about this, nicely, and ask her if everything is ok?" - Diane Elizabeth S

Technique #4: Tough Love

"Is everyone in agreement that she's being disruptive? I see no reason why you shouldn't kick her out. Undoubtedly others have experienced similar problems with her, so this shouldn't come as a surprise to her. Does she contribute anything to the club meetings? Would the others miss her, or would her absence be a relief? Good luck to you." - Pdawn MS

"You are going to have to speak bluntly. If you have 'rules' for your book club, then explain as nicely as you can what those rules are. Sorry, but I don't see any other way. Take the plunge before there is a big fight!" - Marion S

"She is an adult, treat her like one. Tell her to knock it off and don't let feelings enter into it." - George H

Technique #5: When All Else Fails...

"Make your next book club selection a book about narcissism. Then you can discuss it and maybe she'll get the hint!" - Joanne A

"Forget to invite her to your next BC meeting." - Maggie B

"Interrupt her and say: We are all going to forget what you said anyway, so just write a book about it. Now back to our book discussion." - Martie E

"Perhaps a dash of Ambien in her cocoa?" - Thomas C


Very sound advice, right?! Specific and varied. It sounds like an honest, open, and positive conversation with this woman, coupled with clear and publicized ground rules, is the most effective way to tackle this problem. Good luck, and remember that you are not alone. Many others have dealt with this same kind of issue. Here are four true-life stories and how they were resolved:

"We had a person like this in one of my book clubs. Totally unable to read social cues. You could avoid eye-contact, stop nodding, stop smiling, overtly look away, etc., and she wouldn't get it. We could've all passed out and fallen to the floor and she still would've continued her unrelated story. Interestingly, when she hosted a book, she was awesome - really good at it. When she was in charge of keeping the questions going, she didn't have time to gallop away on a tangent. We did have a good friend speak to her, and that friend from time to time was able to use humor to let her know when she was going wildly off topic, so she was a little bit better. Still - it's a hard thing." - Coleen D

"Does everyone in the group feel this way? If she has a good friend in the group, have them talk to her bluntly. If that doesn't work, ask her to leave - or wait until she gets pregnant and decides she doesn't have time for you...that's what happened in my book group?!" - Lee B

"We had a similar problem with a member who would talk about everything but the book and also when it was her turn to host, she would cancel at the last minute. We finally just told her the truth because she was ruining it for others. She stopped coming and we were all relieved!" - Brenda Gail S

"In my book group I had a similar issue, so before each meeting, I posted Book Group Rules which include: Stick to the Topic of the Book and Be Respectful of Others and Their Opinions." - Lesley M

Had a similar problem. Leader said that everyone should have a chance to talk. In order for that to happen for the next discussion we would uses a timer... 10 min per member. ( Or divide the discussion time by number of members.)
We used timer for a few meetings and the two members who talked on and on ... not always about the book, finally understood.
# Posted By Joan M Mazzu | 8/3/13 8:03 AM
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