Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Starting a Book Club. *EDITED*

I don't know about you guys, but I have a hard time finding people to chat books with in real life (not that you aren't real). It is not that I don't know people who read, but there is no one who loves and reads books the way I do. I eat them up and must always have my nose stuck in one. So when I find a friend who loves to read, I scare them with my passion.

It may also be the fact that I am currently in the midst of this insanity. I think some of my friends are surprised that I have stuck with this project for so long (and let me tell you, I am NOT giving up). I mean, who reads just classics? (the correct answer would be me).

Anyway, I have had this obsession with finding a book club in the area. I looked on Craigslist and found nothing interesting. I searched my library's site but that was no so helpful. My only option was to put my feelers out and see if anyone I know was interested in reading some books and talking to me about them.

Here is my problem, however. Since I have never been a member of a book club, and neither has anyone else I invited to join, I don't know what I am doing. I get the general idea that we somehow agree on what to read and someone hosts. But what are the particulars?

I am hosting the first meeting and already have an idea for the book to read (I want to pick The Glass Castle since I need to reread it to teach it, and I thought it would be a good place to start). I am just going to schedule the day and we'll have at it then, but I was hoping that those of you who have had experience in such things could offer advice and answer my annoying questions:
  • How do you choose books? How far in advance do you choose them?
  • How many members is too many?
  • Can I make a rule to ban boys from joining? :)
  • What do you do if certain members of your group refuse to read certain things? (there is a girl who wants to join but told me she won't read anything "hard")
  • Does the same person host each time? Or do you go elsewhere to chit chat?
  • Do you come up with discussion questions ahead of time?
  • Does someone "lead" the talking?
  • Am I going to annoy everyone because I am going to want to teach them?
  • Anything else I should know?
I'm sure I sound like an idiot, but I would very much like this endeavor to be a success so I can have another outlet for my reading and all these crazy thoughts in my head. Anything you have to say would be helpful!

Thank you!


Based on some of the comments, I felt like I needed to explain a couple questions above. I don't want anyone to be offended by my joking manner, since jokes don't always carry weight over the internet.

I meant no insult in my third question by asking about not allowing boys. What I truly meant was whether your book clubs are solely female and if that works? I asked because the members I invited were all girls and one guy asked about it. I was unsure of a response and wanted some insight. I like the idea of an all-female club, which is why I asked it in that way.

Again, I didn't mean to offend anyone (thus the ridiculous smiley face). I hope you all understand it was said in jest and was not a serious question. I would never ban anyone from joining in and reading with me!


  1. I've belonged to several book clubs, so I'll answer as much as I can (We're military and move around a lot, so the first thing I try to do in a new place is find a book group.) I've never actually started one, but since you work in a school, I wonder if some of the teachers or staff would be interested -- yesterday I was at my daughter's school and started chatting with some of the ladies in the counselor's office, we had quite a conversation about current book-group type books -- I would love to have them in a book group. Or ask the librarians! If there's not one at the library already, they may let you advertise or even hold it at the library as long as it's open to the public. That's how my classic book group started.

    I would not ban men from joining -- we have a man that comes to our monthly book group at the library, and it's really nice to have a male perspective. But I do think that everyone should agree to at least TRY new things -- I think the point of the group is to expand your horizons.

    In non-library book groups, we have either found a mutual place, i.e., bookstore with a meeting room, library's meeting room, or restaurant that's not too noisy. In one group where we met at houses, we alternated. In some groups the host chooses the book that month. The host usually leads and has discussion questions or background information about the book, author, etc. It's not always necessary for the discussion but it's nice to have for backup in case the discussion lags.

    If you're just starting out, it might be small, but six to 12 is a nice number. Of course not everyone will attend every month. And I would say don't try to teach right away until you're comfortable with the group. Some people will probably appreciate your valuable input but some people might not, so I'd say wait and see.

    I know this was a long comment but I hope it helps!

  2. I've been in a couple over the years and they've been pretty different. In one group, we met together in December and everyone brought book suggestions and shared why they wanted their book selected. Then we put it to a vote and selected the twelve books for the year. Someone made the schedule into a book mark so that we could all keep track. We rotated houses and generally the person whose home it was would lead the discussion. It wasn't really formal and the discussion really followed whatever path we took it.

    The second had a host each month and the host would have the meeting in her home and select the book for the month. You would know one month in advance what the book would be.

    I personally preferred knowing all of the books for the entire year so that I could plan ahead. I'm weird like that.

    I would say that if someone refuses to read a particular book, they should just skip that meeting if everyone else is willing.

  3. Bookclub 1: very informal and no boys allowed. We never set a limit to participants because organically we always have between 8 and 10 people (ideal!) monthly. At each meeting 1) someone offers to host the next one, and 2) we chose the next book, also very informally, from what people recommend or have read recently and liked (sort of a reward for attending!). This style works better when people know each other a bit. No formal recruitment, participants just sometimes bring friends along and either they like it and stay or we never see them again. We only meet each other outside bookclub only for birthdays and other celebrations. No one exactly leads, (again, discussion is very informal), but usually the same person (she’s a journalist) sends to the mailing list a couple of paragraphs about what we thought of the book, what’s the next in line and who’s hosting. Closer to the date, the host sends an email to the mailing list with a reminder and directions. Because of the informality and the whole girls-and-a-glass-of-read-wine mood, we sometimes talk about the book for 1hour and then get sidetracked, which can be good or bad.

    Bookclub 2: part of the Brussels Bronte Group (we only read 18-century books), boys allowed. Much more formal than the other. We started meeting at a specific location (backroom of an English bookshop) but as we got to know each other better we moved to the system where people volunteer to host. Recruitment is usually made from members of the Group or friends. At the end of each year we chose all the books we’ll read the next year, who’s hosting, who’s bringing snacks and “who prepares the questions”. Ahead of each meeting the person “who prepares the questions” send a simple A4 doc around with around 10 questions about the book (usually taken from somewhere online) and it’s this person who “leads the discussion”. No sidetracking, all about the book!

    Hope it helps!

  4. I'd never been part of a book club when I started mine back in 2006. I decided to do it my own way since I really had no idea what I was doing, and made it a classics book club. I got together a bunch of people who seemed interested, and asked them to all submit to me 5 classics they'd be interested in reading. I provided a list of like 150 classics they could choose from if they didn't have ideas of their own. From their lists, I chose at least one book each and I made a reading list for the entire year, and passed it out to them. I went to the library to see if we could use their meeting room, and they said yes as long as the group was open to the public.

    Since that time, only one person from that book club still comes, but we've gained a whole bunch of new members because it's open to the public and advertised through the library. I would never dream of banning men, because we have at least five male members who come either regularly or every once in awhile and they always add good input. We also have a huge range of age in our group, which helps diversify our conversations, too. We always choose our books a year in advance, and I lead the discussions. I've asked if other people want to, but they're all content to let me do it, though from time to time when I'm out of town or can't read the book i ask someone else to lead instead.

    All I do for "leading" is open the conversation and direct it if we go off-topic too long or there's a lull. I try to study the book ahead of time so I have things to bring up in a slow conversation. I don't bring in questions because that personally makes me very nervous and I can't pay attention to the organic nature of the conversation. I end up stumbling, interrupting, and generally sounding ridiculous, so I prefer to bring in nothing with me but my thoughts.

    I think 6-8 people in a group is ideal. More than 8, and you start having more than one conversation going on and as the leader of the group, that's very hard to keep up with.

    We tried to make book limitations in our group based on the demographic that started it (all mothers with young children). We said our books would be under 500 pages and at least 50 years old. We generally keep to that now, with a few exceptions.

    Good luck! :)

  5. It sounds like you know what you want out of your bookclub, I thought you might like to read this, it almost echoes what you ask, but it helps to see your questions asked by someone else.

  6. I was in your exact position in 2009. I desperately wanted to join a book club (I wasn't blogging yet), but I'd never been in one. I tried a couple I saw advertised and they were awful! It was just a bunch of moms who wanted to get together and talk about their kids, which is fine for them, but I actually wanted to talk about the book.

    Then I found my current book club and it's perfect. There are 5 of us and we meet on the same day every month. That way everyone can plan in advance. If someone is going on vacation or something we just move it to accomodate everyone.

    We meet at a library so no one has to freak out about hosting and new people can join if that want to. It's advertised in the library's newsletter.

    No one "leads" our discussion, but everyone is good about reading the book and commenting. We don't have specific questions, but everyone in the group brings their own prespective.

    We choose books in Nov/Dec for the following year. That way people have plenty of time to get a copy and read it. I'm with Kristi, I prefer it that way. Everyone makes suggestions throughout the year. We keep a running list and then pick the ones that everyone wants to read. We always read at least one classic, nonfiction, foreign setting, etc.

    As for the girl who won't read anything "hard"... seriously? You're undertaking 250 classics, are you sure you want to limit adding any of those to your book club's list because she might think they're "hard"? I would pick the books everyone else agrees on (at least a majority) and she can decide whether she wants to join or not.

    Oh, and the secret of why my bookclub really works... everyone is 55 or older except me. They love to read and are actually there to discuss books. Unfortunately I can't find anyone in their 20s (in Indianapolis) who also feels that way. Fortunately, the women are awesome and I'm lucky I found the group.

    Hope that helps. Can't wait to hear how it goes!

  7. I may actually be able to help here.

    How do you choose books? How far in advance do you choose them?

    I create a list which members vote on, that only includes 'classics' (as we're a classic book club). They are chosen well in advance but members are notified generally 2 months in advance so they can search out used copies.

    Here is the current list:

    How many members is too many?

    I find more than 7 people at each meeting is generally too much, with optimal being 4-6. We have 10-12 members... I think participation rate is somewhere in the 60% area.

    Can I make a rule to ban boys from joining? :)

    I think it's silly (because I'm a boy), but we have age and geographic limits, and this works.

    What do you do if certain members of your group refuse to read certain things? (there is a girl who wants to join but told me she won't read anything "hard")

    Create a classics club. Have enough books to choose from on your list so that you can omit books that people as a consensus, do not want to read.

    Does the same person host each time? Or do you go elsewhere to chit chat?

    Hosting rotation. Sometimes we have a break mid-meeting to chat, but usually we get this out of the way at the start.

    Do you come up with discussion questions ahead of time?

    Up to the hoster. I find it's better if there is a general guideline.

    Does someone "lead" the talking?


    Am I going to annoy everyone because I am going to want to teach them?

    Don't know what this means.

    Anything else I should know?

    I think you've covered all your bases. I would come up with some sort of communications plan to notify people of meetings as well as do some advertising in your area to draw in people.

  8.! I moved to Richmond, VA from Oklahoma, and that's what I found when I googled local book clubs. The one book club in the area meets on days that I used to work, so I started my own (although if you start a group you do have to pay the fees) Joining groups is free. Soon I'll celebrate the one year anniversary of my book club, and I've made some really great friends through. But there's also all sorts of groups on Meetup. I joined a wine group, a movie group, and a trivia group. It's a lot of fun, and I hope they have some groups in your area!

  9. We all pitch our favored books and vote for the next year. We have six members and that’s perfect. One of our members was previously in a group of twelve and said that was too many.

    • Can I make a rule to ban boys from joining? :)
    I don’t believe you want to do this! Their perspective is valuable.

    • What do you do if certain members of your group refuse to read certain things? (there is a girl who wants to join but told me she won't read anything "hard") Dude, don’t let her join. She just won’t ever get it.

    We volunteer to host and we have dinner. The host prepares the main course and others bring the salad, dessert, and wine.

    • Do you come up with discussion questions ahead of time? I have done this with classics. A former instructor colleague/friend/book club member and I have taken a literary approach to setting, plot, characterization, etc. for the classics.

    • Does someone "lead" the talking? The bossiest person, just like in any situation. Hopefully that person will also ask others for opinions.

    • Am I going to annoy everyone because I am going to want to teach them? Perhaps. The thing to remember is that each person’s opinion is as valid as your own. If you love Heathcliff and I think he’s mentally unbalanced, that doesn’t mean one of us is wrong, just that we have different opinions.

    • Anything else I should know? Don’t sweat it. The group will establish its own dynamic just like all groups. It probably won’t look the way you thought it should or wanted it to, but that’s okay. It will be an adventure!

  10. Did you ever see the movie "The Jane Austen Book Club"? That's what your comment about banning boys reminded me of.

    I've never been in a book club but I would lean toward rotating hosts and leaders if that is something everyone is comfortable with. Either way, the most natural leaders (bossiest, as Peggy said), will gravitate toward the leadership role in any situation.

    Also, depending on what the person who doesn't want to read anything "hard" is like, she could really drag the group down or if she wanted to buckle down and challenge herself, could offer interesting perspectives.

    I also like the idea of planning you books out for the year, or at least several months in advance.

  11. I love all the answers that were provided above. Seeing I know just about all that have already thought of joining, I would offer the following as suggestions.

    Host the first meeting and have them read the book you want to host.

    Before they all come I would send them an email with the particulars and/or outline you think would work and ask for them to think of their own input to be discussed when they all arrive. That way they are prepared and you have a starting point.

    I would suggest that they each bring a list of their top 5 favorite books that they would like to read. At your meeting, discuss and choose at least the first 6, so everyone can have time to get the books and be prepared.

    I would have everyone sign up for their host night/book if that is what you choose to do.

    I would suggest the person hosting would be the discussion leader, seeing it is the book that they most wanted. They can do a little background checking on their own to set up the discussion or just "wing it" if that is what they would like.

    As for your teaching them, your part of the discussion would probably get into all the particulars, where some of the others may just hit the surface so to speak. Both are actually good. I feel any discussion is good when everyone comes from a different approach. It makes it more interesting and helps to see things from different sides and angles. Just remember, this is for fun, and there are no wrong answers or points of view.

    Don't worry about the one with the "hard ones". How would she even know if they are "hard"? She will either get into it, or she won't. She will decide on her own if she wants to really be involved.

    Sometimes when we head up groups, we feel like we have to have everything in place and order ahead of time. Sometimes it's good to relax and see what ends up fitting in. Just come with an outline and then all of you can figure out what works for your group.

    Hope this helps-good luck.

    Love, Mom

  12. I have the same problem. I wanted to join a book club that focuses on classics, but couldn't find anything. Also, my friends are not into books too much anyway, so that was another issue. If I belonged to a book club, I would like it to be run this way:

    1. Choose books at least a month ahead, but it all depends on a schedule. If you decided to discuss only War and Peace for the month of February, make sure you have books selected for March as well. It's always good to have several titles decided on at all times.

    2. I wouldn't go over 10 (and that's pushing), because I'd like the discussions have a cozy feeling, and for everybody to have a voice. Also, hosting for over 10 people on any occasion is hard work.

    3. It's ok to have girls-only club, if you think you want to maintain a "girls' night out" kinda feeling. If your readings are not gender specific (ie, only romance novels), it's fine for a guy to be part of discussion. Sometimes it is interesting to have a man's opinion on the topic, as it might be very different from a woman's.

    4. If your friend says she wants to join only if nothing "hard" is going to be read, then I wouldn't invite her. If you want to focus on classics, then it would obviously not be interesting to her. It would only end up in her dropping out anyway, which might hit the group's dynamics and motivation.

    5. I'd like different people to host each time. Not so stressful for you, and a change in environment is always refreshing.

    6. I think it's better to have a list of questions prepared ahead of time. There are many guides online that provide start up questions for classics to be discussed in a book club. That said, as discussion progresses, many more questions will pop up.

    7. It's fine for a host to lead the discussion.

    8. Learning things is wonderful. I know I would like to take something away from the discussion.

    9. Have fun!

  13. We read everything. We bring suggestions and plan out 2-3 months in advance.

    We meet at each other's houses, rotating each month. We live in a small town so it's very easy to get there.

    Occasionally, someone won't read they book because they aren't interested in it. Go by what the majority of the group wants.

    No one leads, but honestly we talk about the book way less than we talk about life.

  14. I have never been in a book club, but we are thinking about starting one up at work. I will be interested to see how yours goes!

  15. The best book club I ever went to was one where each person took turns choosing the book and that person would host. I found if you try to vote for books then a few louder voices are always the ones that get heard. I also liked being exposed to books I would never have chosen to read on my own.

    Some hosts would have discussion questions ready, others winged it (me). We also encouraged people to attend whether they had read the book or not. Book discussions often turn into discussions about life and relationships, and we all have something to contribute to that conversation.

  16. The one I go to isn't only female, but men rarely turn up.

    Mine is run through a bookshop - there are two hosters, each alternate a month. One of them picks an international book, and the other picks an Australian book. You know 1 month is advance at least what the book will be.

    Each hoster does it differently.

    The one who does the international book is a librarian, and she basically just lets every one talk about what they want. I don't find this particularly effective because people run out of things to say and she doesn't have anything prepared to help the conversation along. Her months are always smaller.

    The other lady who does the Australian books is the main bookseller for the bookshop and also a writer I think. She always has lots of parts of the book underlined and tabbed and has researched the author and the book. She has questions that she raises for us to discuss and certain quotes and things prepared to guide the dicussion. It is a little more of a question and answer session that works as a discussion.

    I find that a lot more effective for getting the discussion going and maintaining it for an hour - you also tend to find out more interesting things.

    Hoep that helps and good luck

  17. I think everything has been pretty well covered in the previous comments, but I thought I would suggest one thing--you might want to either have a preliminary meeting, or send out an email to all your potential members, and ask them for *their* opinions on your questions (except for the one about you teaching everyone. Oh, and you probably shouldn't mention the girl who won't read hard books.) ;) Sorry if someone else already mentioned this idea . . . after a while I just started skimming the comments. :)

    There are lots of options for book clubs--no real right and wrong way--you'll just have to find out what works best for your specific group. I recommend taking turns choosing books, but another good way is for each person to offer a short list (3-5 books) and everyone votes for the ones they want to read. If you pick one (or several) books from each person's list, then you'll be reading one (or more) of each member's choices.

    Where to meet? You can take turns hosting at home, or meet somewhere public like a library, a restaurant or coffee house.

    Neither of my book clubs have had anyone come up with discussion questions (or any other "homework" other than reading the book) or have had a leader. Our discussion is much more like a big informal conversation about the book. Sometimes we'll use the discussion questions in the back of the book (if there are any), but sometimes those questions suck. Lots of times I will jot down a list of things I thought about the book, because if I don't do this I'll forget what things I wanted to talk about!

    My current book club is girls only. I don't know that we've actually banned boys, but so far it's just worked out that way, and I think we all like it enough that we won't be going out of our way to invite boys. (Probably because we are all married, and none of our husbands are interested in book club, and unless a man comes in as part of a couple, it might be a little odd to have a man join us. Or my husband might think so, anyway.)

  18. I posted about this back in October (National Reading Group Month). I have a lot of posts that month with book suggestions, and links to other blog posts about book clubs. But here is where I posted all my gold-star tips for having a winning book club! I think there are some tricks and secrets that most book clubs don't do (such as varying book lengths, and not meeting every single month) that are crucial to helping stave off burn out and low turnout. Good luck!

  19. Abbe's remark, "Also, depending on what the person who doesn't want to read anything "hard"... if she wanted to buckle down and challenge herself, could offer interesting perspectives" is much more kind than mine and much more wise. Go with her, ignore me!

  20. I have no useful advice for you since I have never been part of a book club. Bad me. I just wanted to drop by and say you are awesome for starting a book club!

  21. I was part of a book recently that was books based on movie adaptations. We read the book, then met to watch the movie, the next week we'd meet and discuss the book and the differences. Sadly, I had to leave the book club when I got my new job.
    I would say in choosing books, the more variety you have (even within the range of classics) would probably encourage more members. Having the option to not read a book on occasion would be a good idea, too. We had someone opt out of Frankenstein due to content.
    Also, I think switching up who hosts or where you meet ever month would keep the variety and wouldn't put a lot of pressure on one person each month.
    I wish you luck with your book club!!

  22. I started a classics book club at my library because I like you wanted an in-real-life group to talk with. We are small: four of us regular every single month. We get an occasional other person joining for a month here or there, but people don't tend to return for every month. I lead the discussions and make the book list, but only after we've talked about what we want to read. We all really wanted to read War and Peace, for example, even though that's far longer than I'd have thought they'd want. So anyway, we go with the flow and so far we're enjoying it very much!

  23. Always sad when you feel you have to edit a post. I'm an elbow in the ribs type of gal, so I'm always afraid that my jesting and teasing won't translate well into written text--especially when people don't know me personally.

    Anyway--good luck with your book club. I wish I had pointers for you but my book club is failing miserably and I think I'm just going to call it quits (it's a work group and despite the fact that together, we just can't seem to get together). We each choose a book (rotated) and this worked pretty well. Some pitfalls were people choosing books that weren't widely available or books that were too similar in content (really, how many WWII books do you need to choose?). Unfortunately none of my "real life" friends are terribly interested in reading and would probably think that any discussion I wanted to have about books was dumb. Most act interested about what I'm reading but quickly their eyes glaze over. Ha!

    I actually looked on Craigslist recently for a group and found one but then the girl told me she primarily read Chick Lit and I never joined up. Kind of snotty of me, I guess, but when I only read 2 books a month, giving up one for chick lit just doesn't seem appealing to me.

    Um, so good luck! I wish I had a better group, but more times than not I'm grateful for the lack of committment.