How To Start The Best Book Club In All The Land

For the last four years a group of friends has met the second Thursday of every month to talk about books; Book Club is a solid pillar of my social life and my reading list. Really, Book Club is my favorite. In fact, it is SO MUCH my favorite that even with a 700-mile move, Book Club is still going strong and I have managed to arrange my work trips to still be able to host/attend every month. Yep, I love it that much. We are still going strong with many original members and some new(ish) ones, we average about 15 attendees, but have had as few as 6 and as many as 30. I want to give a preliminary disclaimer that this is for an actual book discussion group; we talk about the book every. single. month. No exceptions. Honestly, I think that is part of the reason our book club has been as successful and long-running as it has; the other reason is because it’s a freaking awesome group of people who are super smart and have interesting ideas and great hair. Great hair not a requirement for joining, but it doesn’t hurt. (Wink.)

Here is everything you need to know to start your own fantastic book club:

How to Start a Book Club_feistyharriet_April 2016

How To Start A Book Club

1. Send out an email to a handful of friends to gauge interest. Be clear that this is a book club, not a monthly dinner party or gab-fest; the expectation is to read the book and attend the meeting prepared to discuss. We have a mix of men and women, single and married people (both with or without their spouse) and a pretty solid variety of backgrounds. There are many hard core readers and some recreational readers. And, to be honest, there are probably a few who come just for the conversation and the food, which is okay too as long as they don’t detract from the discussion. Be clear about whether or not members can bring friends or invite others who may be interested. I asked for some notice if a member was bringing someone new and tried to vet them a bit prior to officially adding them to the group. If you are still short on attendees, you can always put a call out via social media, or if you’re brave you can put an ad on Craig’s List or a flyer at a bookstore or library.

2. Decide where, and how often you want to meet. I wanted to meet monthly knowing that every person may not be able to come every single month; we opted for the second Thursday. For the first four years I always hosted Book Club at my apartment, and it worked splendidly, now the location is rotated among member’s homes and that’s been great too. Other options include using a room at the library, a church, or bookstore to have your discussion.

3. Decide what mix of books you will read. Some book clubs do all their readings from one genre–sci fi, romance novel, biography, memoir–and others have rules on content or length. Decide if you want to choose books that no one has read before or books that a couple of members have previewed and recommend for reading. We decided that we could go either way, although I do quite a bit of research/review reading on any book I’m unfamiliar with prior to adding it to the rotation. We alternate fiction and non-fiction and try and get a wide variety of topics. Our only real hard-and-fast rule is that books must be under 400 pages and available in paperback, that’s it. That being said, our January selection is always a little longer than 400 pages because we don’t have a book club discussion in December.

I made a simple Google form for people to suggest books, and I ask everyone to suggest at least one book per year, but it’s not required. Having that survey makes it easy to keep track of all the books and who recommended them. I like to have the next 4-6 months scheduled out with title and discussion leader, and I include this information & schedule in an email after every discussion (date, title & author, discussion leader, location) along with a brief synopsis of our discussion and any Book Club announcements.

4. Decide how to determine the discussion leader or moderator. Do you want to be the moderator for all titles, or if the person who suggested the book is the discussion leader. I get a lot of suggestions for books to read and I always ask whether or not the suggestee is willing to lead the discussion, most people agree to do so. I’ve surprise-asked a couple of people to lead a discussion on a title, sometimes because I know it’s a subject they are interested in or because they have some kind of background that I think is relevant to the book. I think overall I probably lead 30% of the discussions, but it’s my Book Club and I am totally fine doing that in order to keep a solid schedule and discussion. I usually make a list of 10-12 questions to talk about (sometimes lifting those questions straight from the publisher’s website) and that easily gets us through an hour’s discussion.

5. Decide what format you want your book club to take. This was the aspect I did the most research on, reading dozens of articles and blog posts about different book clubs. Our format works really well for our group, and it has not changed for four year; it’s also the one aspect I am most adamant we maintain. We always meet the second Thursday of the month, from 7:30-8:00 pm there is chit-chat, and a few light appetizers, people showing up throughout, but no book discussion. From 8:00-9:00 pm is the formal discussion and that block of time is strictly reserved for talking about the book: no gossip, no relationship updates, just book discussion. After 9pm many people hang around chatting and laughing and having a good time, sometimes for 30 minutes, sometimes for a couple of hours (this is also one of my favorite things about book club: the after party). If you don’t want to chit-chat before hand, you can come only for the discussion and leave at 9:00 pm. If you haven’t read the book and don’t want to hear all the spoilers but want to see your friends, you can come before or after the discussion. If you want to stay for the discussion but haven’t read the book, you need to a) somehow contribute to the conversation or b) you need to stay quiet, no distracting side-convos. The last few minutes of the discussion (like, 3 minutes, tops) are for any housekeeping items and an announcement of the next month’s book selection.

Our Book Club has a holiday party every December, we exchange books (sometimes our favorites, sometimes White Elephant selections) and instead of talking about one specific book we talk about reading in general, eat a lot, catch up with each other, and oftentimes see members who haven’t attended a discussion in months. It’s an easy way to continue the book club tradition without adding additional stress (must read the book!) to an already busy holiday season.

6. Decide what kind of food situation you’d like, formal or casual, pot-luck or not? I always think food is a good idea for a get-together. At our meetings we will be having a mix of salty and sweet, healthy and not-so-healthy appetizers, snacks, and desserts. If possible, I love to include food that somehow relates to the book either because it was mentioned in the text, or whatever. (Example: when we read a book set in Iran we had a Middle-Eastern feast. When we read a book set in Germany we had all sorts of Germanic foods). Most attendees bring something to share and we almost always have leftover food. I usually print up some RIDICULOUSLY simple food label tents so everyone knows what is on the table and those will allergies can make better decisions. If I’m feeling fancy I’ll take those food label tents (that I made in Microsoft Word) and add a themed background or something, but usually they are pretty black and white, literally.

That’s it! It’s really only a few simple steps to start a book club of your own, solidify your bookish friendships, and quite possibly, change your life for the better. Because I’m in a sharing mood, here are some easy ways to get started on your own fabulous book club.

  • Want to see the survey I use to get book recommendations? It’s right here.
  • After the break is a list of the books we’ve read since 2012 , an asterix denotes (in my opinion) an extra stellar discussion. You can also view the spreadsheet here.
  • Want to get a copy of the (Easy! Microsoft Word!) file I use to make reminder bookmarks? Right here. To update for your needs, just google-image search for the title of the book and you can copy-paste the cover onto the front of the bookmark. On the back you just need to copy-paste the book summary from Amazon or Goodreads. Print double-sided (flip on short edge) onto cardstock and cut into bookmarks. Viola! Easy-peasy. You can also just print the front-side and call it a day, I doubt anyone will think less of you if a summary is not included on the back.
  • Want to download some of the book-themed food labels I’ve made? Right here. Feel free to use however you’d like.
  • Are we friends on Goodreads yet? If not, please add me! I love to see what other people are reading!

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