Bookmark and Share

Tina Fey's rules of improv will make your book club better

Bossypants by Tina FeyBefore Tina Fey was the hotshot executive producer of a critically acclaimed sitcom, an award-winning actress and bestselling writer (if we didn't like her so much, we'd absolutely hate her), she was a struggling comedian performing improv shows with the Second City troupe in Chicago. It was during this time that Tina honed her comedic skills and learned about what makes a good improv show — and what makes a bad one. These lessons form the basis for one of the essays in Tina's new book, Bossypants, but they are good lessons for almost everything in life, from performing jokes for a judgmental crowd to finding the best way to iron your clothes. (Okay, maybe not ironing. But pretty much everything else.)

We decided to take these rules and apply them to the foundation of book discussions everywhere — the book club! Nearly everyone we know is in a book club, and are often in several! People use book clubs as a way to get together with friends, and to be introduced to new reads.

But, too often, we hear about clubs having difficulty picking the right books, and even greater difficulty keeping the conversation on track. With Tina Fey's handy rules, we hope that will change.

That is, unless you like having your literary book club turn into a boozy gossip-fest. Just use these rules to ensure good times for all! We won't judge. Just as long as you invite us.

Rule # 1: Agree

[T]he Rule of Agreement reminds you to "respect what your partner has created" and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where it takes you.


When you're on stage performing, you need to go with whatever the other performer throws at you. You can't stop the show, shoot an idea down and then spend several minutes coming up with something better. You need to make whatever is happening in the moment work. The same should be said for book discussions: be willing to throw ideas out there. When someone tries something, even if it's comparing Snooki's Shore Thing to Jane Eyre, go with it before you decide to move on. You might come out of it with new insight into both Jersey Shore and the Brontë sisters.


Rule #2: Yes, and...

YES, AND means don't be afraid to contribute. It's your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you're adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.


The best way to keep the conversation flowing is for everyone to join in and offer their own insights and observations. So when someone offers a discussion topic for your book club choice, try to come up with original ideas or supporting evidence to add to it. The most dynamic discussions will develop from unexpected starting points, as long as everyone in the group agrees to build on the ideas put forth.


Rule #3: Make statements

Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don't just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.


While the Socratic method works when you're pushing for ideas from someone else, book clubs are a collaborative game. Being the person who just shoots down everyone else's ideas will make you the downer of the group. Be willing to put your own thoughts and conclusions about the book out there. It will push the discussion in a new direction, and could provide valuable insights to the other members of the club.

This rule works especially well when choosing a new book for the club to read. Offer suggestions instead of pointing out why someone else's choice won't work. Be open to new authors and genres — you never know when you'll find a favourite new read!


Rule #4: There are no mistakes

In improv, there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents.


Do you know what the best thing about literary criticism is? You can't be wrong! Not if you provide evidence to back it up and form a comprehensive argument. This is especially wonderful with book clubs, because you'll be surrounded by friends who want to hear what you think, no matter how out there or how silly an idea might seem. So don't be afraid to speak up. It won't be wrong. We promise. Even if everyone disagrees with you, you'll send the conversation in an exciting new direction as everyone else explains why they don't agree and offers counter arguments. You may come up with a stunning new interpretation that could change the world (or at least your perception of it!).


There you have it! Thanks to Tina Fey, there are four simple rules to follow to make sure that your next book club meeting is a rousing success. Feel free to apply these rules to the food you serve, the location you choose and even what you wear! Good times are guarunteed to follow.  

 Have you read Bossypants yet? What important life lessons did you learn from Tina Fey? If you haven't read the book yet and want to, you're in luck! We have a copy of Bossypants to give away. To enter, comment on this post, leaving your best advice to book clubs on how to keep the conversation going! The contest closes on midnight, Sunday, April 17. The complete rules and regulations are here. Good luck!

Looking for your next great read? Singer/songwriter Jimmy Rankin has a suggestion.

Eleanor Wachtel's exploration of Spanish writers comes to an end. Listen to the entire five-part series.

Michael Bhardwaj and the Cookbook Club tackle the cuisine of Southeast Asia with Hot Sour Salty Sweet. Is it worth slaving over the stove for?