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?