Reading is a solitary experience. Any attempts to turn it into a group activity -- reading over someone's shoulder, aloud, etc. -- are never as pleasurable as just taking in text on your own. But that doesn't mean books can't bring people together; in fact, it's just the opposite. Book clubs are made up of people who have one thing in common: a true love of reading.
Book clubs are sometimes formed by friends, while others are organized by complete strangers. Clubs can be made up of people from all over the world with various cultural and religious backgrounds. All that's needed is a desire to read and discuss. Books clubs meet regularly -- whether in person or online -- to delve deep inside the meanings of selected works. It's a nice way to gather with old friends (or new ones) and have an intellectual discussion about a work you may otherwise have never read.
Are you inspired to start a book club of your own? In order to host meetings full of passionate discussions, you'll need to find the right number of members to join your club. A small group of five to eight people is usually an ideal size for a book club -- too many members can lead to scheduling conflicts, and finding a venue to accommodate a large group can be challenging. Spread the word about your club by using social media, or post a notice at your office, church or a local library to recruit new members. You can even form an online book club and find members through a book publisher's Web site.
Now that you have some potential members in mind, you need to decide as a group how serious or casual you want your book club to be. Are you a group of literary scholars dedicated to dissecting every aspect of a selection or a close group of friends who want to get together every few weeks to socialize? Maybe your group will fall somewhere in the middle, leaving time to hang out before or after gathering to discuss a book.
Rules for Readers
Before a club is formed, it's important to make sure that everyone is on the same page as far as expectations are concerned and that there's no miscommunication between members. Be inquisitive! Ask potential members why they want to join and what they intend to gain from the experience. Ask whether or not they can commit to regularly scheduled meetings, and collect thoughts about how often the club should meet. This will also help determine a reasonable reading pace for the group once the club is established.
Once you've accepted all your members, schedule a time for everyone to meet and discuss titles for the first book selection. Make sure everyone knows when and where the first meeting will take place, and suggest they bring one or two titles to nominate to the group. At the meeting, hold an open and honest discussion regarding a general list of club rules. Does the group only want books to be chosen if they're available in paperback, and should rare books be included? Depending on how strict or laid back you want your club to be, you might talk about an attendance policy, how future members should be added and even whether or not a genre of books should be excluded. (Cat-centric mystery novels, we're looking at you!) Setting up a list of rules that are agreed upon by the entire club will ensure that there are no misconceptions and that you'll all be reading works that you will (or at least have the potential to) enjoy.
After the rules are in place, it's time to choose the club's first title. Encourage members to discuss possible books for nomination, and once a list is formed, decide a fair way for a work to be chosen. Some groups prefer to pull a slip of paper out of a hat at random, whereas others take a public or silent vote. Perhaps the fairest way to choose a title is to refer to a schedule of predetermined dates, like birthdays. By taking turns in order and giving members a schedule, everyone will have plenty of time to research books and make a choice. This can also prevent a specific genre from being chosen too many times in a row. To rotate between fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, classics or contemporary pieces, members can assign each person with a genre to keep book selections diverse and interesting.
Organizing Your Book Club
Every book club is different, but there are a few tips that will help ensure that meetings are well-organized and fun -- full of deep, thought-provoking conversations. Usually the person who initiates the book club is in charge of scouting out the first meeting location, whether it's a living room or a local coffee shop. Refreshments are always a welcome addition, but they're not required. Future meetings could be potluck-style or B.Y.O.B. Some groups even take hosting to a whole new level by creating a decorative theme to coincide with the book the club is currently reading.
Instead of meeting in person, it's also possible to chat about a book online through discussion boards, chat rooms and even over Skype or a video conference. Meeting online may not allow much time for socializing, especially if discussions take place through a message board or chat room. Meeting face-to-face using a webcam or Skype, however, might allow groups to hold more intimate discussions.
Online groups, just like regular clubs, should have a specific time and place to meet. Depending on the nature of your book club, you may also want to add an end time to meetings to help everyone plan accordingly. Just be sure to remember various time zones when scheduling a meeting online, especially if members are scattered across the country -- or even the world! Regardless if your club gets together online or at your buddy's house, make sure you arrive prepared and on time.
Tips for Hosting a Book Club
A book club meeting isn't complete without a lively discussion, but how can you make sure members are encouraged to contribute to the conversation? Regardless if the host is always the same or different every time you get together, it's important for the group to determine what the host's responsibilities will be. Will this person provide the group with a list of discussion questions and moderate the conversation? In addition to these tasks, will he or she take notes during the meeting to keep on file? (Notes can be helpful to a club if the group ever wants to refer back to a particular meeting and compare and contrast various books.) While the host has a job to fulfill, members should also come prepared with a list of questions and talking points. Try not to wait until the last minute to do this -- it's easiest to stay organized with thoughts and questions by marking pages and writing notes as you read.
Another great way to spark interest between meetings is to use the convenience of the Internet to your advantage. Members can share polls, book reviews and interviews with the author through social media, like Facebook or Twitter. Compare or contrast a book's characters or themes to current events by sending a link or newspaper clipping to members by e-mail. Some book clubs even start a blog, message board or chat room to have a designated place to congregate online and discuss a book before a meeting takes place. Just be sure to double-check what page fellow members have dog-eared before you type -- you don't want to spoil a juicy part of the story for someone else!
Finally, members of a book club should always strive to read the entire book or a predetermined set of chapters before a meeting -- after all, this is what a book club is all about! Even if you dislike a particular work or find it difficult to read, be honest and share your opinion with the rest of the group. It's practically guaranteed that no one is going to like every book that's selected, but explaining why the story made an unfavorable impression will make the discussion far more interesting than if everyone were to share the same exact feelings.
More Great Links
- Douglas, Jennifer. "Starting Your Own Book Club." Chilliwack Times. Jan. 26, 2012. (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.chilliwacktimes.com/news/Starting+your+book+club/6054503/story.html
- Minzesheimer, Bob. "How the 'Oprah Effect' Changed Publishing." USA Today. May 22, 2011. (Feb. 03, 2012) http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2011-05-22-Oprah-Winfrey-Book-Club_n.htm
- Oprah. "How to Start a Book Club." Jun. 22, 2008. (Jan. 24, 2012) http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/How-to-Start-Your-Own-Book-Club