A Beginner's Guide to Starting a Book Club
Updated: Nov 21
5 Steps for Success
Book Clubs enrich a reading life by creating a community of book loving friends to discuss, dissect, and debate great titles. They provide space to explore works you may not have heard of otherwise and to build new and deeper relationships. When we think of book clubs, we picture a close group of gathered friends sharing an animated and thoughtful dialogue about an amazing book with great plot, great characters, great everything... all while snacking on delicious treats and sipping a delightful beverage.
The reality, however, can be less charming. The logistics of running a successful book club can be complex and fostering lively discussion is as much an art form as writing a book. Still, the challenges can be well worth the effort. So if you'd like to expand your reading life by starting your own book club, read on for 5 things you'll want to consider.
1. The Basics: Who, When, & Where
These finer details can be the most frustrating to pin down, but there's no getting around them. Think about the bookish people in your life who might jump at the chance to join you for book talk. Don't assume that they're too busy! Many people want to add more reading to their lives, and book clubs can be a great way to do just that. Put your invitations out far and wide, and see what happens.
You may think meeting at a cozy coffee shop in the evening is ideal, but other times and spaces may better meet the needs of your members. A book club for stay-at-home parents might meet mid-morning at someone's home (with little ones in tow). A lunchtime session in between meetings might work best for others. In-home gatherings are quiet and comfortable, but you may also be able to meet at your local library or place of worship-- for free!
Online book club meetings may seem less personal, but using Zoom or other video conference platforms broadens the number of members who can take part. Online book clubs can also be a wonderful way to connect with friends and loved ones who live far away. When hashing out the basic details of your book club, a little flexibility and imagination go a long way.
2. What Should We Read Next?
Don't worry about picking the "perfect" book. Not every reader will enjoy every title, and those differences of opinion make for good discussions. Still, adopting some guidelines for your book selections can help. Some book clubs read exclusively from a certain genre like romance or fast-paced thrillers. Other groups focus on books by diverse authors. You could also pick YA literature or childhood favorites.
Slip behind the silver screen by reading the books that popular movies are based on. Read works by debut authors. Other ideas include working your way through a "Best Books List." You could try the most borrowed books of 2022 or challenge yourselves with choices from 100 Books to Read Before You Die.
Whatever you choose, give your members plenty of notice so they can buy the book (from an independent bookstore!) or request it from their local library. PRO TIP: Some libraries have book club kits available for checkout. These come with multiple copies of a single book and other resources.
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3. A Little Preparation...
OK, so you have a time, a place, and a book all picked out. But your work is not over! You still need to spend some time preparing for the actual discussion. While it would be great if the conversation would just flow naturally, I'm afraid that doesn't always happen. And simply asking your group, "Did you like the book?" doesn't lend itself to an in-depth exchange of ideas.
Prepare in advance of your book club meeting by considering the questions you'll ask to get things going. Some books have discussion guides in the back written especially for those stories. Use these premade questions to your advantage! You don't have to ask them all, but it's a great start. You can also use generic questions that can apply to any book. Some suggestions...
Which character did you connect with most? Why?
What surprised you about this book?
Did you agree with the main character's decisions?
If you were the author, would you have done anything differently?
What did you enjoy about this author's writing style? Anything not work for you?
If the conversation lags or includes a few awkward pauses, don't fret. You're among friends! Leading your members into a lively and thoughtful discussion is a skill. Like with most skills, you'll improve with time and practice.
4. Variations on a Theme
Time is precious, and I know how hard it can be for busy people to finish a certain book by a certain date. You could employ some variations on the book club theme to make your events easier and more accessible.
One option is to pick a collection of short stories or essays as your book club selection. Even if your members only finish a few of the entries, you can still talk about the book. You could also pick an overall topic, like "Hope" or "Love," and let members bring in books which they think exemplify that subject. Everyone can explain a little about their book (no spoilers!) and why they chose it for discussion.
You can also make the small shift from book club to "literary society." What's the difference? Members of a literary society can come to talk about absolutely anything they've read recently-- a book, a novella, a long-form magazine profile, an academic journal article. If you thought it was interesting, chances are someone else will too!
5. Grant Yourself Grace
Running a successful book club is daunting; starting one is even harder! If things don't go well at first, don't be too hard on yourself. You're to be commended for trying to create a space where friends can gather to talk about some great titles and share the stories of their lives. If even just one or two people show up, that's a success in my book!
The traditional book club format is tried and true, but there's nothing that says you have to do it any particular way. Don't be afraid to try something different that works for you and your members. The point is to share the love of books and stories, not just follow someone else's rules. There are no rules!
If you're thinking about starting a book club, what other questions or concerns do you have? Let me know in the comments. Or are you already in a book club? Tell me how it got started and what makes your group unique!
Best wishes for further reading!
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