So You Want to Start a Book Club…

So You Want to Start a Book Club…

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With all the phone screens, computer screens and TV screens clamoring for attention these days, it sometimes is easy to forget about the simple pleasure of reading a book. In case some of us have forgotten, books are awesome! Rich stories that transport you, unforgettable characters that move you, lyrical writing that inspires you – all those are readily available within the pages of a book. But how to make time in our already overstuffed lives? If you’re not someone who naturally must read a few pages before falling asleep, being part of a book club is a great way to get started and stay motivated.

Now I should make it clear, when I say “book club”, I mean “book club.” Evenings out with girlfriends to catch up and vent is a wonderful thing. But for me, book club is something else. Book club is for reading and talking about books. Of course, that doesn’t preclude wine or baked goods from being involved, but the focus should be on the books.

Photo © Stuart Miles/123RF
© Stuart Miles/123RF

 

So if you are interested in creating a book club of your very own, here are a few tips:

Members

  • It’s good to start with a core group of two or three friends, with whom you share a vision of what the club should be. Then each member can invite one or two others to join. This way, you ensure a variety of personalities and points-of-view. Six to eight members is a good start. One or two people will inevitably cancel last minute and that still leaves you with enough people to have a lively debate.
  • When choosing whom to invite into the club, try to think about how they might mesh with the group. Your charismatic friend who tells hysterical stories about her kids might be great at a party, but could suck up all the air in a book club situation. Conversely, your brilliant but shy friend with whom you get into deep conversations with over sushi may have difficulty making herself heard.

Photo: Stocksnap

Planning

  • Reading a book a month is an ambitious goal. But is it attainable? With busy work and family lives, it might be more practical to meet every other month instead. Selecting dates well in advance also helps avoid scheduling conflicts. In terms of choosing the book, the simplest method is to rotate who hosts the club and let the host pick the book.
  • Choosing a good “book club” book is an art unto itself. Your choice should be rich enough that it will spark discussion, but not so dense that it’s hard to finish. Surprisingly, classics and recognized masterpieces don’t often make for a good back and forth. When everyone agrees a book is fabulous, there’s not much else to say. That doesn’t mean you should choose deliberately provocative or offensive books. A good rule of thumb is to pick a book that you love (or think you’ll love), but are not sure how everyone else will respond to. Remember the goal is not for everyone to like the book; the goal is for everyone to have something to say about it.
Photo © Ion Chiosea/123RF
© Ion Chiosea/123RF

Structure

  • When a group of intelligent and engaging women get together, there’s bound to be some socializing. But try to put a time limit on it – say 20 minutes of chat before the book discussion starts. It’s sometimes helpful for the host to say a few words first about why she picked the book and maybe give some background on the author. I also recommend having a few discussion points or questions in your back pocket for the moment if/when the conversation hits a lull. (Many books now even include ‘book club guides’ at the back).
  • Some clubs give each member an allotted time to talk; others are more free form conversations. There’s no right way, as long as everyone’s opinions are heard and respected. Remember, whatever your opinion of the book, it’s just that – your opinion, and it doesn’t carry more weight than anyone else (even if you’re 100% sure that person’s opinion is WRONG).

Whatever rules you set at the beginning, the most important thing is to be consistent. And don’t be afraid to be tough. If someone is not respecting the rules, or never finishes a book, or misses half the meetings, they’ve gotta go, no matter how good their banana bread is.

So happy reading everyone! And if you have a good book club recommendation, let us know in the comments…

Elizabeth Brahy
Elizabeth Brahy is a native of Los Angeles, where she worked for many years in film development. After moving to Paris 20 years ago, Elizabeth worked in the film and television industries before becoming a freelance writer and editor. An admitted pop culture nerd, she loves comedy podcasts, YA books and American television (as well as art museums and the ballet). Elizabeth is a board member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators France, and co-hosts the podcast "Alex & Mom vs The World." You can follow her on twitter at @expat_eliz

2 COMMENTS

  1. Your book club sounds exactly like my book club in Toronto! We do focus on the book after 20 minutes of chatter. We banter and comment and surmise ideas on the author’s intentions. Queries fly about – it’s great fun. Variant opinions are great as well as being in agreement. I am sure though that we would never ask anyone who consistently never reads to the end to leave. We don’t find a quiet member a problem but you raise an interesting thought if it were the same member every time. Thank you for the article.

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