Start­ing a Book Club

How to Start

Do you like to share your thoughts about the books you’re read­ing? Look­ing for a way to spend some time with friends? Join a book club, or if you can’t find one you like, why not start your own? A book club is real­ly as sim­ple as a group of inter­est­ed read­ers com­ing togeth­er, but in order for a book club to be ful­ly suc­cess­ful, there are a few deci­sions that it’s help­ful to make from the begin­ning. So do you want the short ver­sion or the long one?

The Short Version

Begin with two or three oth­er book lovers/​friends who agree to recruit at least one per­son each. Your goal is about 8 – 10 peo­ple, but don’t wor­ry if your group is small­er or larg­er, or you don’t get per­fect atten­dance. Dis­cuss in advance how your group will admit new members.

At your first meet­ing, estab­lish the basics.

· Set up a sched­ule for the first few months. Once every 4 – 6 weeks works well.

· Do you want to rotate homes or meet in a pub­lic venue like a library, restau­rant, book­store, syn­a­gogue, or com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter? Be cre­ative — vary the venue accord­ing to the book’s theme or set­ting. In a home, the host can set the tone with music or snacks that reflect the book under discussion.

· Decide whether the group wants a leader and if so, who — the host? Will you rotate lead­ers? Some groups hire a pro­fes­sion­al leader or facilitator.

Now you’re ready for your group’s most impor­tant deci­sion: what to read?

If you want a lit­tle more detail or guid­ance, here’s a more in-depth out­line of the foun­da­tion­al ques­tions that are list­ed above (with a few sug­ges­tions and oth­er con­sid­er­a­tions as well) AKA

The Long Version

1. Where are you going to meet?

· Some­one’s house or a cof­fee shop, restau­rant, etc.

· If you are meet­ing at some­one’s house, dis­cuss what is expect­ed of the host (see below).

· Will the loca­tion rotate?

2. How often do you want to meet? 

Usu­al­ly 4 – 6 weeks works well, gives peo­ple time to read while keep­ing enough continuity.

3. How will books be selected?

· Will you a) decide on the year’s read­ing list in advance so peo­ple have time to get the books and read or b) decide on books one at a time (or some com­bi­na­tion of the two)?

· If you aren’t decid­ing on the list in advance, will you decide what to read next a) at each meet­ing or b) by email?

· Will one per­son sug­gest titles for the group, each per­son gets to choose one of the books, or each per­son brings a sug­ges­tion or a few sug­ges­tions and every­one votes?

· What are peo­ple most inter­est­ed in read­ing? Will your book group read only fic­tion? A mix of fic­tion and non­fic­tion? Will you have a par­tic­u­lar genre focus? Are there cat­e­gories you want to avoid (pol­i­tics, sci­ence, self-help, etc.). Some of this you can decide as you go (e.g. if you read a short sto­ry book and dis­cov­er that it does­n’t work for your group).

· Do you want to bring addi­tion­al mate­r­i­al (reviews, arti­cles, inter­views, etc.) around the book into the con­ver­sa­tion as well?

4. How will the meet­ings run?

· Hav­ing some­one lead each meet­ing is key for most book clubs, but will you hire an out­side facil­i­ta­tor or keep it in the group? If the facil­i­ta­tor is a group mem­ber, will the job rotate or will one per­son take on the role? If you are meet­ing at some­one’s house, is that per­son the leader for that meet­ing? Who­ev­er it is should come up with a few ques­tions to start the con­ver­sa­tion and keep it going. Many books have read­ers’ guides avail­able online or at the back of the book.

· If you are meet­ing in some­one’s house, do you want food/​drinks? Pro­vid­ed by the host or potluck?

· Is there a for­mal struc­ture to your dis­cus­sion or will it be more of an infor­mal con­ver­sa­tion? Will you begin each meet­ing going around the room to share thoughts or jump in with ques­tions? Or do you start each time with a sum­ma­ry (in case some­one has­n’t fin­ished read­ing or if some­one has read the book a while ago and does­n’t remem­ber) or maybe by going around and giv­ing gen­er­al impres­sions (both to start the con­ver­sa­tion, and to get a gen­er­al sense of where peo­ple stand on the book so that there are no assump­tions made)?

· Do you want to do themes? This can play out in which books you read, but also the food, music, loca­tion of meet­ing, even how peo­ple dress.

Then, there are a num­ber of less impor­tant deci­sions that you can choose to make in advance or on an as need­ed basis.

A few examples:

· How does it work if some­one new wants to join? Can any­one invite a new mem­ber or is it a group deci­sion? Is there a max­i­mum num­ber of peo­ple that you want to allow so it does­n’t get too unwieldy. Can peo­ple join any­time or only in the begin­ning of the term.

· One thing that can be an issue (but might be odd to decide in advance) is how focused you want to stay. If some peo­ple real­ly want to dis­cuss the book and oth­ers are most­ly there to chat, it can be a lit­tle difficult.This may be some­thing you can deal with if it aris­es, although who­ev­er is facil­i­tat­ing might want to know how strict” to be on keep­ing the dis­cus­sion to the book or not.

· Make sure that every­one feels that their con­tri­bu­tion — be it time, mon­ey or input in the con­ver­sa­tion — is fair and in pro­por­tion to every­one else’s. Some of this can be divid­ed up ini­tial­ly (how much mon­ey a host should spend, etc.), but some­thing like keep­ing every­one par­tic­i­pat­ing in a dis­cus­sion is some­thing that has to evolve and one of the traits of a good group/​discussion leader.

Now you’re ready for your group’s most impor­tant deci­sion: what to read?

(And we can help with that too! Here are some places to vis­it to help you find your next book to read!

Month­ly book picks, book reviews, read­ing lists, dis­cus­sion ques­tions, annu­al read­ing guides, indi­vid­ual book guides)

Vir­tu­al Book Clubs

In a vir­tu­al world, all the basic ques­tions to start­ing a book club pret­ty much remain the same, aside from where to meet and how to best use the plat­form. Below are addi­tion­al resources to help you start and mod­er­ate a vir­tu­al book club!

1. Where will you be meet­ing? 

·Zoom Meet­ings has worked well for book club dis­cus­sions (you can eas­i­ly see your full book club on screen!). It is impor­tant to have a Zoom host who has access to a Zoom account, ide­al­ly one that allows you to be on for longer than 40 min­utes (40 min­utes = a free Zoom account). An alter­na­tive free option for your book club is Google Meet.

·If you are using Zoom, it’s always best to make sure your book club mem­bers have upgrad­ed to the lat­est ver­sion of the platform.

2. How to choose a Zoom host or moderator? 

The Zoom host/​moderator should be famil­iar with the plat­form and how to mute/​unmute and assist the group in vir­tu­al hand rais­ing (and low­er­ing). The Zoom host should have every group member’s con­tact infor­ma­tion so that s/​he can send out the Zoom link pri­or to your book club meeting.

3. How many zoom hosts or mod­er­a­tors should you have?

If you can, you may want to have a sec­ond per­son who can jump in to help lead the dis­cus­sion if the host (or oth­ers) are hav­ing tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties and to help the host read ques­tions from the chat box.

4. What is the best Zoom eti­quette for a vir­tu­al book club?

We sug­gest the mod­er­a­tor should take the lead, at least ini­tial­ly, on call­ing on peo­ple and that if some­one is not speak­ing, they remain on mute.

5. How big should my book club be?

We find that book clubs of 8 – 10, whether in per­son or on Zoom, typ­i­cal­ly work best for an inter­ac­tive and thought­ful book club dis­cus­sion. When using Zoom, we also sug­gest using gallery view rather than speak­er view so that every­one can be seen on one screen.

6How do you mod­er­ate the conversation?

·Set expec­ta­tions at the begin­ning of the meet­ing (or the begin­ning of the club) about how every­thing will work. Who will lead the dis­cus­sion? Will the Zoom host” mod­er­ate every time? Will oth­ers share mod­er­at­ing duties? How long should peo­ple expect the call to last? 

·The moderator’s job varies depend­ing on the nature of the book club. For any book club, the mod­er­a­tor should go into the con­ver­sa­tion with a list of dis­cus­sion ques­tions, whether they are cre­at­ed by the mod­er­a­tor or found some­where online (JBC has lists of dis­cus­sion ques­tions plus the guides men­tioned above, and pub­lish­er or author web­sites are also good places to look). This is impor­tant to ensure that there are not long gaps in con­ver­sa­tion or tan­gents that over­whelm the discussion.

·As the mod­er­a­tor, you may want to cre­ate a Pow­er­Point or Google Slides pre­sen­ta­tion with dis­cus­sion questions/​prompts or oth­er media. You can share your screen dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion so that oth­ers can view it while you dis­cuss the book. 

7. How can I make Zoom more engaging?

·If you have a larg­er book club, you may want to start the group togeth­er for a gen­er­al dis­cus­sion and then take advan­tage of Zoom’s break­out rooms to con­tin­ue more focused dis­cus­sions. You will need to make sure you have turned on the break­out fea­ture in your Zoom account set­tings. If you go with this option, you will want to make sure you have a mod­er­a­tor or some­one who can take the lead in each room. You will also need to have some­one watch­ing the time and man­ag­ing the tech of the break­out room in case any­one gets stuck some­where in the vir­tu­al land (i.e., they may need to stay in the main” room or move between break­out rooms). 

·It may also be fun to all drink the same cock­tail or mock­tail to kick off your book club that’s con­nect­ed to themes of the book. Or per­haps a shared menu of snacks (JBC sug­gests book-themed snacks in its indi­vid­ual guides) or a playlist for the back­ground! If there is a film adap­ta­tion or doc­u­men­tary or film short con­nect­ed to the theme of the book, you can have some­one share their screen to play it fol­low­ing the dis­cus­sion. Or cre­ate a Net­flix Watch Par­ty to con­tin­ue the dis­cus­sion while watch­ing (assum­ing the film is avail­able on Netflix). 

8. How will books be selected?

·Select­ing a book for a Zoom book club is pret­ty much the same as it would be in per­son. Once the basic deci­sions are made — are you select­ing a book at each meet­ing or for the whole year, are you read­ing (or avoid­ing!) cer­tain top­ics, themes, or gen­res — then you are ready to fig­ure out your next book.

·Not every book is great for a book club, even if it’s a won­der­ful read. In look­ing for an appro­pri­ate book, think about the top­ics or gen­res that work best, the length of the book that will real­is­ti­cal­ly fit your book club’s time (if you are meet­ing every 4 weeks, a very long book may be less fea­si­ble than if you are meet­ing every 6 – 8 weeks), and choose a book that has some­thing to dis­cuss. A fic­tion book that is pri­mar­i­ly based on descrip­tions or a non-fic­tion that is more a report­ing of fact will like­ly gen­er­ate less live­ly conversations. 

·Since book clubs are all about inter­ac­tions and engage­ment, it is often ben­e­fi­cial to include the book club mem­bers in the process of select­ing books. Sug­ges­tions often come via word-of-mouth rec­om­men­da­tions or mem­bers who find book reviews in print or online. 

Addi­tion­al­ly, Jew­ish Book Coun­cil has some great resources. From indi­vid­ual guides that you can down­load for free, to annu­al read­ing selec­tion guides, to a search­able data­base of (thou­sands of) books, includ­ing books with dis­cus­sion ques­tions or books around a par­tic­u­lar theme. You can also check out authors’ rec­om­mend­ed read­ing lists on PB Dai­ly or JBC’s own read­ing lists.