Tuesday, December 01, 2015

How to Start a Book Club

My book club has been around since April, and as you may have noticed from my incessant blog posts, tweets, and Instagram pics, I LOVE IT. This is only my second ever book club, which seems a bit shocking when you consider how much I love books. Shocking, that is, until you also consider the fact that I got an MFA, which was basically just one really long, really expensive book club.

Every time I mention my book club on the blog, I get a few questions about how ours works. I'm not an expert, but I do think book clubs are awesome and everyone should be in one. To that end, here's how we run things and some tips on starting your own awesome book club. 

1. Forming your club. 

This is the most obvious step, but it's also the hardest: the first thing you need for a successful book club is members. I was lucky, in that my book club consists of people I already know and adore and hang out with all the time. All of us love books, and a fair number of us are writers. When one of us suggested forming a book club, the rest got on board pretty quickly. 

If you don't have a book loving crowd of friends to recruit for your fledging club, all is not lost! In my previous book club, I was invited to join via Twitter by a local woman I had been stalking for a while because she seemed cool and funny, and guess what - she was! (Hi, Kate!) You can also put up signs at the library, your local independent bookstore, or on Craigslist. Branch out, be brave, and meet in a public place the first few times you get together, just in case.

2. Vetting your members. 

One of the biggest and best perks of a book club is being introduced to new authors and books you might not have otherwise picked up. That said, your reading time is precious and if your club members keep choosing hard core sci-fi when you'd rather read westerns, well, that's going to be a problem. If you're inviting strangers to join your club, ask them what books they've read and loved lately to get a feel for their tastes and interests, and be open about what you're interested in reading, too. (Related: why has no one invented a Tinder-type app for book lovers? I would totally swipe right for anyone who wants to discuss literary fiction about unlikeable women.) My book club tends to focus on contemporary fiction, but we're reading a memoir right now, so we're not too strict in this regard. Plus we have a semi-democratic process for choosing our books, which brings us to step three.

3. Choosing the book. 

My club meets roughly once a month, and we take turns hosting. At the end of each meeting, we figure out who the next host will be. The next day, that person emails the group a selection of three or four titles she wants to read, along with links to their descriptions. The rest of us reply, ranking the books, and the one with the most votes wins. I really love this process because we all get to offer input, but the host is ultimately in control. It's a nice balance and so far no one has suffered through a book that they absolutely did not want to read. (At least as far as I know.) Plus I inevitably end up adding the books that didn't make the cut to my mile long to-read list, which is awesome.

4. Hosting the meeting. 

There are seven people in my book club and that, I think, is a perfect number. Any more and it would be impossible to find a time when we could all meet. We try to get together once a month, though sometimes we'll go five or six weeks if life is particularly hectic. We meet at the host's home, which I prefer because then we can have unlimited drinks and snacks, and these are very important parts of a good book club meeting. We've met at night and during the day, but my favorite variation is the brunch book club. Waffles! Fruit! Quiche! Mimosas! Invigorating conversation and lively debates about the merits of a beautiful novel! What could be better?

Occasionally we try to bring food that fits the book (bacteria shaped cookies, anyone?) but mostly we just strive for delicious. Oh, and we all contribute food and drink, because no one should have to nourish seven ravenous readers all by herself. The first 30 minutes or so of book club involve eating, drinking, and chatting, and then we quickly get down to business.

5. Discussing the book. 

Make no mistake - our book club is not a sham, nor is it an excuse to drink wine and gossip. (We do enough of that already.) No, our book club is all about the book. We discuss our selection for a solid hour, often more. Sure, we go on tangents. Of course some gossip sneaks in. But we all love to read, and we inevitably pick fascinating books, and we have many opinions about those books which we are eager to share. Most of have MFAs or English degrees, which means we're pretty good at talking about books. Thus the conversation flows well, and I always end up with a better, deeper appreciation of the book.

If you're worried about lulls or stalled conversations, due to the members or the book itself, it's a great idea to prepare some questions ahead of time. If a book comes with a discussion guide, by all means use it as inspiration. I usually read a few reviews of the book and interviews with the author after I've finished it, so I tend to arrive armed with additional information I've gleaned from my obsessive research. If you know your group is particularly chatty, make sure to let other people talk and don't monopolize the conversation with your thoughts and feelings (cough*Chrissy*cough).

That's it! 

A book club isn't rocket science, but finding that magical combination of people, books, and snacks can sometimes feel like an impossible equation. I hope this post helps you in your quest to start an awesome club and fill your life with amazing books. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!