I love book clubs, but I didn’t always. I fastidiously avoided book clubs in my first years after college because I don’t like being told what to enjoy, I’m a bit of a book snob, and I’d gotten the impression that book clubs were more for gossiping than talking about books anyway. All that changed six years ago when we moved from Arizona to Alabama. Josh was busy in graduate school and I was home with a toddler and no friends or family nearby. When I heard about the church book club, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try and make some friends. I spent most of the evening sitting quietly when what I really wanted to do was talk about imagery in the opening scenes of A Tale of Two Cities, all in an attempt not to be that girl who shows up and dominates the discussion with words like “symbolism” and “motif.” (Predictably, that restraint only lasted a few months.) Since then, I have been a member of quite a few book clubs, each with its own personality. Whether you’ve always toyed with the idea of starting a book club or are attempting to revive a struggling book club back to its former glory, here is my very best suggestion:
Be clear about expectations.
Of all the book clubs I’ve attended, the most successful ones are unapologetically something. That something can range from a dessert and gossip club to a monthly literature seminar in tone and still be successful. The trick is figuring out where on the spectrum your book club falls.
If you’re still wondering where to start, I’d suggest establishing expectations in the following four areas: book choice, book discussion, membership, and housekeeping.
Book choice: I’ve seen book clubs with eclectic choices and others with very specific tastes. I’ve known clubs to publish the entire year’s book list ahead of time and others that announce the next read each month. Ultimately, you’ll want to decide who picks the books and what kinds of books are fair game (in length, genre, content, and price). The most common approaches I’ve seen are picking books by popular vote or each member taking a turn choosing.
Book discussion: Who is leading the discussion, and how important is it that those in attendance have read the book? Will you discuss the book until the conversation wanes or for a set amount of time? Is this a casual chat or a focused debate? I’ve seen it all work, as long as everyone knows what they’re getting when they show up.
Membership: Where will you find members? Is the book club open to all (think the library book club) or invite only? Most book clubs I’ve been in have recruited by word of mouth, with members inviting friends they think might be interested. Is this a co-ed book club or strictly girls’ (or boys’) night out? How about teenagers who’ve read the book along with Mom? Are they welcome to tag along?
Housekeeping: Everything else from refreshments to location falls into this category. If you’re meeting in someone’s home, will you take turns hosting? If there’s going to be food, who will bring it? What about food allergies? If someone has small children at home, can they tag along? I don’t mind getting a babysitter, but I get nervous if I’m not sure whether or not I should. What if I’m running late? I’ve been in book clubs that welcome stragglers and others that start (and end) on time.
As of Thursday, I’ll be regularly attending three book clubs. How many is too many? I’ll let you know when I find the number. I would love to hear if you think I’ve left out something important. What has worked for your book club, and can I join? (I’m kidding. Sort of.)