10 steps to starting a book club

10 steps to starting a book club

I belong to two book clubs and have done for years and this fact always seems to surprise and intrigue people. I get A LOT of questions: what do you read, how do you choose the books, where do you get the questions, where do you meet, how do I join one? So much so that I thought that I’d share my thoughts and tips on how to start a book club if you’re interested in doing it yourself!

  1. Pick the right crowd. This is an important one as get it wrong and it’s not going to be a whole lot of fun; and for me it’s all about spending time with like-minded people who are a laugh and who really enjoy talking about one of my favourite things.  In my experience 8 has been the magic number, but more than the size of the group that you put together, it’s so important to get the chemistry right as an odd assortment of people will kill a good dynamic and not be the best foundation for interesting and lively debate. So, choose wisely, don’t make sweeping invitations when you’re getting started and if you find that a spot becomes open, get consensus with the group before chatting to somebody about joining.
  2. Secondly, decide the logistics and make sure that you take into consideration all diaries/personal travel/work rosters e.g. we have a firefighter in one of my book clubs and we try and make sure that we work around her shifts as much as possible. We rarely get a full house and that’s fine; in fact, it’s kind of nice, as it gives you different kinds of nights, more intimate groups and the opportunity to have good chats with people that you might not ordinarily get the chance to chat to as when the wine’s flowing and eight pretty vocal women get going, you end up not being able to hear yourself think and chatting to just one or two people!
  3. Keep tabs on who’s doing what when, so everybody has a turn to choose. Do a simple spreadsheet for the year and just keep it simple e.g. decide that you’ll meet on the second Thursday of the month.
  4. Next, you need to decide where you’re going to meet. I do different things with each of my book clubs.  With one of them, we take turns hosting at each other’s houses; the host prepares the main and the rest of the group bring nibbles, desserts, wine etc. With my other (newer) one, we go to local pubs or restaurants.  I think it depends on the relationships that you have with the group and the people involved e.g. I work from home so like going out to the pub with the girls as it’s an excuse to go out!  Equally some people might not have the space in their house to host or it might be too intrusive with partners and kids.  See what works best for the group.
  5. And then decide on the practicalities.  When it’s your turn to host next, hand out the book that you’ve chosen at the preceding session to give people time to read it; you then collect them back on the night that you host. Because you’ll be talking about the book that you chose on the night that you host. And make sure that that’s really clear as nobody wants to have to chase people for overdue books if you go down the library Book Club Collection route – see below – as you have to pay overdue fees on each book that’s not returned.
  6. And now you need to decide on the books and how you want to get them. Do you want to buy /download them on a monthly basis or borrow the Book Club collections at your local library?  I’m sure that they all differ – at each individual library – but in essence the principle is the same; you pay an annual fee and can choose from an extensive list of titles that cover most genres.  They come in boxes of ten and with accompanying, relevant questions. I think that this is a great option for when you start out.
  7. And now decide how serious your book club is going to be i.e. is it going to be more a chatty social gathering that dips briefly into book chit chat then back into talking about the nightmare that you’re having with your renovation or your daughter’s home readers? Or are you going to print out questions and spend dedicated time talking about the chosen text? This will be dictated by the dynamic of the people in your group but essentially comes back to why people wanted to join in the first place; is it that they want to meet new people and to read a bit more or are they an avid group of book worms that want to meet and have interesting discussions? I think that you can have a bit of both; have the general catch up at the beginning of night but then spend a portion of the evening chatting about the book in hand. Perhaps decide that when you sit down to dinner or the food arrives that it’s book time and the host facilitates the chat?
  8. And on to questions. I appreciate that some books are very specific/unique and there will be glaringly obvious questions and lots to talk about e.g. something like We need to talk about Kevin, but it is helpful to have a set of general prompts to shape the discussion.  I plan to create some templates to help you on this front so watch this space! And a word of advice, encourage diversity with the book choices; you don’t want Liane Moriarty – as much as I enjoy her – every month.  I hate auto/biographies and very obviously and blatantly groaned when one of the first choices at my brand new book club was Andre Agassi’s autobiography. But I sucked it up and enjoyed pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Don’t agonise over or apologise for your choice when it’s your turn to choose either; we’re all different, you can’t please everybody and if you do use the library book collections chances are that somebody might have read your choice but that’s ok.
  9. And this one might sound obvious but read the bloody thing – don’t just watch the movie – it defeats the object; if you’re starting/joining a book you can surely manage one book a month?  Come on..!
  10. And finally, and most importantly, have fun!  Seriously, I love my book clubs and wouldn’t be without them; I’ve been going to one of them for 10 years and the women are some of my favourite people in the world so I couldn’t recommend them enough!  Have a ball, let me know how you get on and if there are any books that you recommend as I’m always looking for that next novel for the ‘to read’ pile.



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