So . . . You Want to Start a Book Club

by BJ Williams
Television Programming Coordinator
Metropolitan Library System

You’ve just finished a fantastic book and desperately want to share it with someone, anyone. You know that by the time you “set the scene” most people will have a pressing appointment across town. What do you do? You start a book club!

How do you do that? Well, begin by realizing that, as the organizer, you will have a lot to do and decisions must be made. Fortunately, many of the decisions can be made by the group.

First you must create that group. Family friends, coworkers, community members (neighbors, church members, volunteer organizations, bookstore aficionados), and strangers are all possibilities. You must honestly assess the potential strengths and weaknesses of each person you might want to invite to join a bookclub. Aunt Jean may be perfect, you know she will read the book and be happy to talk about it, but one of your co-workers never quite gets anything finished. It’s up to you judge.

If you decide to recruit members from the community, call people, put up posters, run ads, get stories written in your local newspaper and organizational newsletters, or post an invitation on the net.

Next you must decide where to meet. Homes sound great (they have the advantage of being cost free) until you remember that even if you rotate from member to member, relative strangers are going to end up in your home and YOU will have to get it ready for guests, and make sure you have enough chairs. And what about lighting? Is there parking for everyone on your street?

Check out schools, community centers and libraries. Usually all three have liberal meeting room policies, but you might have to book well in advance and there may be restrictions on when and how often you can meet.There also may be room rental fees involved.

Bookstores and offices sometimes have meeting rooms. Some restaurants have meeting rooms that you can book for no cost if the group buys a meal. This location also eliminates any worry about refreshments.You will need to consider your group, it’s comfort level, need for a central location, parking, etc.

Basic ground rules for book clubs are important. These can and will be modified as you go along but here are some that will get you off to a good start:

• TIME MUST BE SPENT DISCUSSING THE BOOK. This is a no brainer and is, after all, the reason you are creating a book club.

• Request and expect punctuality.

• Start and end your group on time.

The following are recommendations that have worked for many clubs:

• Monthly meetings give everyone time to read the book.

• Weekdays are easiest for most to meet.

• Two hours per meeting provide a short time for chattiness (15 minutes) with enough time left for discussion of the book.

A few basic guidelines for discussion should also be established, and a limit should be set on the cost of books.

Options for group organization include dictatorship, democracy and socialism. Each has merits and drawbacks.

• Dictatorship obviously means that one person will decide everything, from where to meet to what to read to whom will lead the discussions. Members of the group might get a bit tired of that, though.

• Democracy, one member, one vote, works best when deciding the mechanics of the group: when and where to meet, how often, etc. Be aware, however, that majority rule in deciding which book to discuss could leave some members frustrated.

• Socialism, in this context, means that each member takes it in turn to choose a book for discussion and to lead that discussion. You will also experience a wider range of books and authors that way as well.

The first meeting will set the standard for future meetings, so it’s important to get it right. It would be wise to call everyone before hand to make sure they have read the book and will be on time.

You will want to review discussion guidelines (see How to Host a Book Discussion). Make sure the room is set up properly, refreshments are in place, and you're ready for a wonderful experience.

Much more information can be had with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Reading Group by Patrick Sauer. Plus, here are a couple of additional resources on the web you may wish to explore:

Ramdom House's Book Group Corner

Bookspot's Links to Book Club Resources


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