It’s been a long time since I cared about being cool or following trends, but after starting a book club, I find that I am trendy again (by accident).
Thanks to Oprah and her cult like following, book clubs and reading groups are all the rage. And why not? For those who love to read, what could be more fun than discovering a great new book, or an author you’ve never read, and coming together with friends each month to talk about your reading experience. Throw in some good food, good wine, and a cozy setting, and let the conversation flow!
But is it really that easy? I’ve talked to several people who’ve tried to make a book club work, without much success. People lose interest, or there are personality conflicts, or they aren’t committed to reading the book that has been selected. Groups can get too big, or not big enough. What, then, are the ingredients of a successful book club?
Size Matters: You don’t want your club to be too small. If you have fewer than about 6 people in your group, you can run into problems if people are sick, or on vacation, or too busy to read on a given month. You also wouldn’t want more than about 12, because it would be difficult to accommodate a group of that size in someone’s house. It would also be hard for everyone to make their points and participate. For good conversation, 8-12 members is ideal.
Like Minds: You may want to invite your best friend, but if she doesn’t LOVE books, should you really include her? Seek out READERS. You want people who are excited to see what the next selection is, and can’t wait to tear into it. Reluctant readers will be unlikely to finish the book, and won’t contribute much to your book club meetings.
I Don’t Have Enough Friends To Start A Club: You don’t necessarily want everyone in your club to be friends, or even to know each other at first. A group of close friends will have a history and possibly personal issues that could affect the dynamics of the book club in a negative way. Seek out people from a variety of places: parents of your kids’ friends, neighbors, work, church, etc. Once you have a core group, ask those people to invite others. You want a good mix of people with different backgrounds and life experiences, but you might not want them to be so diverse that they don’t have much in common.
Make Decisions in Advance: It’s good to have some guidelines or “loose rules”. Our group decided to limit our selections to paperbacks, to keep costs down, and to keep our selections right around 400 pages (although we broke that rule this month!). We read mostly fiction, but are open to other things. We rotate meetings in each other’s homes, and we do potluck. In some clubs, the hostess does all the food for that month. These things can be decided on at your first meeting.
Decide on a Method for Selecting Books: Some clubs take turns. Others have members bring suggestions and then vote. Some groups have the hostess for that month choose the book. Some go off book club lists or stick with Oprah. There are a variety of ways to go about it. It’s good to decide on a system early on.
Pick Great Books! When it’s your turn to decide on a book, take the time to look at reviews and read up on it. Do a little research so that you can “sell” it to the group. Chances are you’ll pick a great book if you’ve done your homework. Here are some ideas to get you started: Book Club Picks 2007
Designate a Group Leader: Generally, this is the person who started the group. You would be the one to keep in touch with everyone between meetings, send out invitations for the next meeting (we do ours through evite.com), update everyone with any news or changes, and keep people motivated to read the book!
Designate a Discussion Leader: It can be the same person each time, or it can be the person who selected the book, but there should be someone to facilitate conversation. It’s important to have someone to do a bit of background research on the author and on the book that has been selected. Discussion questions (whether from readinggroupguides.com, bookmovement.com, or other online sources, or questions the leader has come up with) are a natural jumping-off point for book discussions. Your group may want to have each member bring a discussion question for the group, or a favorite quote or scene from the book. Involve everyone as much as possible. The discussion leader should move the conversation along, giving each person a chance to have their say but also knowing when to step in if someone is going on too long, or going off on a personal tangent. Book clubs are definitely social, but primarily we are there to discuss the book.
Eat! Drink! Have fun! Our book club meetings would not be half as fun without lots of great food and wine. Sometimes the book we’re reading lends itself to a theme, so we will bring food that goes along with that (i.e. Chinese food for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan). In our group, everyone brings a dish to share, and we eat first. This is a great time to get to know each other better and talk about our lives before jumping into the book discussion. And there is always chocolate for after.
****If a real life book club is not your thing, you might want to try an online book club. K. at Planet Books has one that’s just getting off the ground. Check it out!
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