How to Start a Successful Book Club

For those who love books and reading, there never seems to be enough time in the day for everything on the “to-read” list. Many bookworms also long for the opportunity to discuss things they’ve recently read with others but have a hard time finding people who share their interests. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in that situation. If so, have you considered starting a book discussion group of your own?

Book clubs come in many shapes and forms. Some read everything under the sun, while others focus on a specific genre such as classics, science fiction, mystery, or romance. Some meet as frequently as every few weeks, others meet as little as 3 or 4 times a year.

Those who coordinate book clubs are generally most successful if they keep things “loose” when initially organizing their group. However, if you are going to organize a book club you should make a few decisions before beginning to pull your group together. These include:

  • Do I want my club to be a general discussion group or do I prefer to organize a special interest club, such as a “horror novel book discussion group?”
  • How often am I available to hold meetings? Would I like my group to meet every two weeks? Every month? Every two months?

Once you’ve made these basic decisions, you can start pulling your discussion group together. First, you’ll need to figure out where your group will meet. Many book discussion groups meet in the home of the coordinator. Once a group is established, different members may take turns hosting the group at their homes. Other groups prefer to choose a central, more public location. If you prefer this, check with larger bookstores in your area. Stores like Barnes and Noble will often allow discussion groups to meet in the “reading areas” of their stores. This can work well, as members who would like refreshments can just head to the coffee shop in the bookstore. No one has to rush home from a hard day at work to prepare snacks for the discussion group meeting.

Another option is to check with local libraries or community centers to see if facilities are available.

Once you have established where you’d like your group to meet, it is time to begin recruiting members. Friends and acquaintances are an obvious source of potential members. There are many other free ways to recruit members.

  1. If you are a college graduate and live near your alma mater, contact the Alumni Association. Often college graduates, particularly humanities majors, miss the intellectual stimulation of discussing books and literature. The Alumni Association may be able to add your club to their calendar of events, newsletter, or email listserv. Perhaps, if you choose to make your group affiliated with the alumni association, they can even assist you with reserving space on campus to hold meetings.
  2. If you are planning to host meetings at a local bookstore or community center, find out if they publish a calendar of events and see if your discussion groups could be added.
  3. Contact community centers, libraries, stores, and other facilities that may have a free bulletin board where you can publicize your new group.
  4. Surf the net and see if there are any social or community bulletin boards or listservs that pertain to your area. Post a message about your group.

Generally, you will want to choose books to discuss in the first two or three meetings. After that, you may want to leave book choices up to the group as a whole. If you are publishing information about your group, you’ll want to have your reading scheduled for the next two or three meetings at all times. Different clubs choose books in different ways. Some allow each member to take a turn choosing a book. Others go by “common consensus” and choose two or three months’ worth of reading at a time.

It is a good idea to select a “discussion leader” for each book and to rotate the job among group members. The leader’s role is not to monopolize the conversation, but to keep the discussion rolling by bringing up relevant points and questions. Key points of discussion that will pertain to just about any book include:

  • Writing style of the author
  • How the characters/plot made everyone feel
  • Underlying themes
  • Symbolism in the book
  • The book’s relationship to other books the group has discussed
  • Information about the author and how his or her life has factored in the book

As your book discussion group moves along and becomes established, solicit feedback from the group. Does everyone feel they are being heard in discussions? Are meetings too long? Too short? Too frequent or not frequent enough? Is the meeting time convenient for everyone? Try to be flexible and allow your group to evolve into an entity that is “owned” by the active members of the group. If someone suggests a new meeting location, be willing to give it a try. But if you’ve published a schedule online or on a community bulletin board that says you’ll be meeting at your current location for the next three months, don’t make a change until after that date. Find a happy medium between keeping current members happy and keeping the door open for new participants.

Most importantly, enjoy! Don’t focus so much on organizational details that you lose sight of the reasons you started your book discussion group. Enjoy the opportunity to read and discuss books of interest to you with like-minded individuals. The rest will fall into place.

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