teaching query

Dear Scatterplotters, if you are not already dispersed for winter break, do you have ideas for me? I’m teaching a course where I want students to actually read the books, but I don’t want to test them on the material. If I could scan their brains and verify they had actually read the books, that would be fine. I’ve been using an ungraded book comment assignment that is often experienced as busywork by those who do it honestly, and has a non-trivial fraction of students who just work on ways to game the assignment without actually reading the books. I tell them to “read lightly, like reading a novel.” I want them to experience the books, histories of ethnic minorities in the US, so they have background for class discussions which are less focused on history. Do folks have suggestions about how to accomplish this goal while minimizing the busywork and faking it aspects?

Edit: To clarify my own problem, my lectures are too big for me to call on people to recite about the book and my educational goal is that they will learn things from the book that we don’t discuss in class.