Let’s Talk About It History
A book discussion group that began in the mid-1970s among friends in a small Vermont town was the catalyst for “Let’s Talk About It,” a national humanities program that brings adults to the library to discuss books and explore contemporary life and culture. “Let’s Talk About It” participants read five books related to a single humanities theme and discuss them under the guidance of a humanities scholar. Scholars play a central role in “Let’s Talk About It” programs—they are the humanities link between the book and the reader.
How It Began
The American Library Association (ALA) launched the nationwide “Let’s Talk About It” program in 1982 with a $1.5 million grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). ALA developed six discussion themes and sponsored regional workshops throughout the United States to teach librarians how to organize “Let’s Talk About It” programs. Subsequent NEH funding helped more than three hundred libraries in thirty-three states start their own “Let’s Talk About It” programs.
How It Has Grown
Since 1982, the “Let’s Talk About It” model has spread to communities of all sizes in every state as well as to the District of Columbia via state humanities councils, state libraries, and centers for the book that organize “Let’s Talk About It” series for libraries in their states. Tens of thousands of men and women across the country have taken part. For example, in recent years, more than 30,000 Michigan residents have participated in “Let’s Talk About It” programs at 230 libraries in the state. In Connecticut, an annual series of state library–sponsored “Let’s Talk About It” programs draws thousands of people to libraries all over the state.
Why It Is So Successful
The success of “Let’s Talk About It” is rooted in the simple pleasure of reading a book and discussing it others. The “Let’s Talk About It” model lifts informal discussions to a more rewarding level by introducing critical essays on the books and bringing a scholar into the discussion to help connect text, concepts, critique, and scholarship.
Who Sponsors It Now
“Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature” themes and grants are supported by Nextbook, a gateway to Jewish literature, culture, and ideas, while “Let’s Talk About It: Love and Forgiveness” themes and grants are supported by the Fetzer Institute, as part of its Campaign for Love & Forgiveness. In several states, the state library, center for the book, or humanities council administers “Let’s Talk About It” programming for libraries. A few humanities-oriented regional umbrella groups also conduct reading and discussion programs in their areas. For information about these programs, please visit the resources page.
Many libraries continue to use the “Let’s Talk About It” themes developed by the ALA. All of these themes are still available on our discussion themes page. Others have created their own themes and materials using the “Let’s Talk About It” model.
In a standard series, participants meet five times—every other week for ten weeks—to discuss the five books related to a theme. At each session, the scholar gives an overview of the author’s background, the key ideas in the book, how the book relates to the theme, and other relevant matters.
Participants then gather in small groups with discussion leaders for thirty to forty minutes. The scholar spends some time with each group before everyone reconvenes for a brief closing period of questions and comments. Libraries have also been successful with modifications to this format determined by their local circumstances, goals, and patron needs.
What We’ve Talked About
ALA has developed twenty-nine themes over the years. These include:
- Being Ethnic, Becoming American: Struggles, Successes, Symbols
- End of the World or World Without End: Readings for the Millennium
- Exploring the West …. Whose West?
- Isabella’s Sisters: Women Creating Worlds
- Long Gone: The Literature and Culture of African American Migration
- Making a Living, Making a Life: Work and Its Rewards in a Changing America
- Not for Children Only: Classic Children’s Literature for Adults
- One Vision, Many Voices: Latino Literature in the US
- Sovereign Worlds: Native Peoples Reclaim Their Lives and Heritage
- What America Reads: Myth Making in Popular Fiction
New themes that explore topics in Jewish literature include:
- A Mind of Her Own: Fathers and Daughters in a Changing World
- Between Two Worlds: Stories of Estrangement and Homecoming
- Demons, Golems, and Dybbuks: Monsters of the Jewish Imagination
- Your Heart’s Desire: Sex and Love in Jewish Literature
New themes that explore love and forgiveness include:
- Love and Forgiveness in the Presence of the Enemy
- Love and Forgiveness in the Light of Death
- Love, Forgiveness, and Wisdom
Other themes created by libraries and state organizations include:
- Libraries and other groups have developed reading and discussion themes—many with a regional focus—to be used with the “Let’s Talk About It” model.
- Oklahoma’s “Let’s Talk About It” program has developed themes on Vietnam, contemporary Latin American fiction, and the Southwest experience.
- The Montgomery County, Maryland, public libraries created a book and film discussion series based upon various types of mystery fiction.
- The Vermont Reading Project offers themes devoted to the literature of other cultures, including Japan, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Africa.
What people say about “Let’s Talk About It”:
- "Personally, this program has reinvigorated me. The people were attentive, the discussion was stimulating, and the participants well-prepared."—Scholar
- "This program taught me a deeper understanding of how the arts and humanities can serve to brighten people’s lives and connect them to their community."—Scholar
- "I appreciated this opportunity to read and discuss good literature and ideas. Please have more programs like this."—Participant
- "People in my group were hungry for an exchange of ideas, and the level of interest and enthusiasm was high."—Participant
- "This is what I went to college for and never got."—Participant
Read excerpts from testimonial letters from a wide variety of libraries and communities to see what libraries say about "Let’s Talk About It."