Made in America

How to Start a Book Club

We book lovers are often infamous among our non-book loving friends. We’re notorious for our long-winded rants that mainly consist of inscrutable noises and tears about subjects that our friends know (or care) very little about. Oh, sure, they’ll listen and respond politely, but still, we long for the companionship of someone who shares our enthusiasm, our passion and…well… our craziness for books. But instead of pining and longing like characters from our favorite guilty-pleasure romance novels, why not take action? Why not start your own book club? For those who dream of this but feel it’s the stuff of fantasy, here are some tips on how to turn fiction into nonfiction:

Book Club group talking

Step One: Start One

The first step is obvious before you can host a Book Club you need….well… a book club. You’ll need to decide whether you want it to just be family and close friends or if you want to make it something open to the public. If it’ll be more open, you’ll want to post the gathering on websites like Meetup to find potential book enthusiasts in your area. It may also be helpful to find a public space like a coffee shop that would allow you to meet every so often.

Step Two: Don’t Overcommit

The last thing you’ll want to do is push both yourself and your fellow book club members on what they can read. During your first meeting, ask everyone what a reasonable reading goal would be for the group and use their input to decide what would be best for your group. Book clubs can be like New Year’s Resolutions- they’re abandoned all too quickly if the goals are unrealistic. For most book clubs, typically a reasonable reading goal would be one book per month. If that’s what the group ends up agreeing on, you can either meet up once every week/two weeks to go over progress or just once at the end of the month to go over the book at large. Again, ask for everyone’s input to see what works best for each group member’s schedule.

Book Club group reading

Step Three: Decide what your book selection process will be

Now, to decide what books your group will read. If you want your Book Club to exclusively read books of a specific genre, that’s OK. Just make sure you put that in any advertisement or notice for your book club so potential members will be readers with that specific interest. If you’d rather your club be open to all genres and reads, that’s great, too.

Though you’re the group leader, the last thing you want is to be the only person choosing the book club books. Book clubs are tight-knit groups and you’ll want each person to feel their voice is heard. Typically, books are selected one of two ways. At the end of the month (during your month’s discussion) everyone brings a new book to pitch for next month’s read. After everyone has the chance to pitch their book, the members vote on which one they’d most like to read (not being allowed to vote for their own). This selection process makes sure the majority of the group is excited about each month’s read.

Another method you could use is a rotation. So select a rotation order for the group by giving them each a number (or month) and, whichever number they draw will be the month they choose the read for the group. This may mean there are some months where the majority of the group doesn’t enjoy the monthly read, but it also means everyone will get the chance to choose a book.

Step Four: Come to each meeting organized

As the host, one of the most important jobs is to come to each meeting organized. This partly involves coming prepared with your thoughts and questions for the group already written down. As far as your overall thoughts on the book, construct them in a way that is conducive to conversation. It may be helpful to break them down into the positive and negative aspects of the read. So start by asking yourself: What did I like about this book? Think in terms of characters, character development, plot, arc, themes, writing style, character choice, tone, etc. Next, ask yourself: What didn’t I like about this book? Break it down by the same categories and perhaps use bullet points as well.

When you’re going through each of your bullet points, don’t just lecture the group- open it up to the discussion. For example, let’s say you’re talking about how you felt a particular character didn’t necessarily add to the story. Open it up to the group by asking, “Did anyone else feel similarly? Did anyone else feel differently and why?” Make sure you let the group know that they’re free to jump in as you’re going through your list. The list isn’t meant to just allow you to get your thoughts out, it’s to give the group things to talk about.

After you go over your bullet points, ask the group if they had any thoughts on the book that you haven’t covered. Typically this will lead to more discussion, but if not make sure you have a list of questions prepared to keep the conversation going. Some fun questions to ask would be: “Who was your favorite character and why?” or “What was your favorite part of the book?”

If you wouldn’t always like to be the one leading the discussion, you can also have a rotating discussion leader. This person will fill the same role of bringing in bullet points to talk about, asking questions to the group at large, and keeping the conversation flowing. Though, if you started the group, we recommend you going first to give the other members an example of the discussion leader’s roles.

Book Club laughing

Step Five: Make sure everyone is heard

There are a few different ways to handle group discussions, but the most important part of them is to make sure everyone in the group is heard and feels like an active member. There are a few different ways you can conduct the group discussions. The first is to keep them structured by going in a circle and having one person talk at a time. So, every time you ask the group a question, you’d go clockwise around the circle so everyone gets a turn answering. Though this may take a while, it assures everyone has their opinions and thoughts heard.

The other way would be to have more of a free-form discussion, allowing the group to answer questions freely. Though less organized, this allows people with similar thoughts or ideas to bounce off of each other, rather than having to wait their turn to speak. If you decide to go this route, keep in mind that your more introverted members may struggle to be outspoken on their thoughts. We suggest that, should you go with this strategy, make sure (if you notice someone has been quiet for a while) to call on them and ask their thoughts on the question being discussed. Through time and experience, every member will grow to feel more comfortable speaking their mind and the conversation will flow more naturally with each meeting. And, before you know it, you finally have a group of like-minded book lovers to force all of your passion upon. And your other friends can breathe a huge sigh of relief.

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