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? 

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

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

If you are looking for more resources, check out this page

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