Starting your own book club is a great way to share your love of books with other book lovers. Chances are many book lovers would love to start a club but simply don’t know how, or for some reason think it is difficult. Starting your own book club can be easy, inexpensive, fun, and rewarding. The main requirement? A passion for words!
Step One: Decide The Kind Of Club You Want
Book clubs come in all colors, shapes and sizes. The first thing you need to do to is decide what kind you want yours to be. So take out pen and paper, and start planning!
*Would you like a club where members discuss only fiction, or non-fiction as well? Would you like it to be specialized, handling a specific genre? Or you want your club to handle only classics? Or books written by a specific prolific author? Or perhaps only books which have been banned or won Nobel Prizes?
*Do you want your club to be big or small? Eight to twelve members is a good number, big enough for a variety of ideas and small enough to stay cozy.
*Do you want to keep the club between friends or recruit a diverse group of people? A diverse group may offer a more varied contribution to discussions, but do you really want strangers in your home?
*Do you want food to accompany book discussions, or only beverages? From my experience, food isn’t a good idea. People can’t concentrate well while chewing food. But it’s nice to have coffee or tea, especially if it’s a morning session. In fact, drinking hot beverages during discussion is an important part of the book club experience. Some hosts/hostesses serve wine if the discussions are held at night.
*Do you want to conduct the book discussions at your home, in a rotation basis at the other members’ homes, or outside at public places like libraries, bookshops, or restaurants? There are advantages and disadvantages either way. My favourite is a combination of both to keep the sessions fresh, lively and less routinely.
*How often do you want to meet? One month is a good idea. Less than this would be too often. People live hectic lives and members should have sufficient time to read the book comfortably. More than 6 weeks would make members too detached, and even prompt them to forget about the book until the last minute. Also, will you meet on weekends or weekdays?
*How long do you want each session to last? In general, two hours are enough time: The first 15 minutes for chatting, the next 1 ½ hours for the book discussion, and the last 15 minutes to wrap it up and chat some more.
Step Two: Name Your Club
I’m amazed at the number of book clubs out there that don’t have a name. Be original and inventive. Remember, this is your creation. A name gives it importance and legitimacy. Choose a name which suits the club. If your club will only handle vampire fiction, for example, The Transylvania Book Club would be a good name. Okay, maybe that’s not too original, but you get my drift.
Step Three: Recruit Members
Now that you know all about your book club and have given it a name, you can start recruiting members.
*If you want to keep it between friends, several emails or phone calls will do.
*If you want a diverse group with both friends and strangers, then put a few ads in several places where you know people would be interested to join, like local libraries, bookshops, your children’s school, or your church.
*Make your ad eye-catching, interesting, and professional. Include the name and some general info about your club.
Step Four: The First Meeting
Now that you have recruited the amount of members you wanted, you’re ready for the first meeting, which normally will take place at your home.
Once the members have chatted a little, got their coffees and teas and settled comfortably in their chairs, you can begin discussing the rules with the members.
Remember to be flexible. A “dictator” attitude is sure to turn members off. Be enthusiastic. You should aim for a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
*Discuss with the members all the points covered earlier in “Decide The Kind Of Book Club You Want,” so they can have a clear idea of your book club.
*As leader, you could make the first book suggestion. Simply bring a list of several books you would like the club to read and let them decide by majority one title. Be wise! The future of your club may well depend on the first book selected. You can print out some reviews about these books and read them to the group to spark their interest and help them decide.
*Decide as a group how the books will be chosen and subsequent meetings held.
-Ideally, each member should have a turn at suggesting books, being leader and hosting meetings.
-Will you purchase hardbacks or paperbacks?
-Who will order books and keep record of books selected, as well as keep record of rotations?
-Will books be selected in advance for the whole semester, or a meeting at a time? Selecting books in advance is generally more convenient.
*Remind members to be punctual, and, ideally, to turn their cell phones off during discussions. Needless to say, it is each member’s responsibility to read the whole book before each discussion.
*Make sure the “rules” are understood by all members and be prepared for questions.
*Reading is great, but reading critically is even better and will heighten the book club experience and add insight and depth to discussions. Offer the following suggestions to keep in mind when reading:
-Keep a pencil or highlighter in hand
-Look below the surface at underlying themes or ideas
-Is there anything unusual which gets your attention? Recurring images? Symbolism? Metaphors?
-Unusual plot devices?
*At the end, suggest they take out their agendas or planners so they can write down the date and place of their next meeting. This should be done at the end of each meeting.
Step Five: The Subsequent Meetings, The Discussion Sessions
You’ve finished the first meeting. Congratulations! You deserve a big hug. The worst is over and the best is yet to come.
If the first meeting was a success, chances are the subsequent ones will be, too. As host or hostess of the first book discussion, you will set the standard. Remember to conduct yourself warmly and enthusiastically. Though you may use index cards, it is always better to express your thoughts in your own words and not read from your notes. Trust me, this will put people to sleep. Always try to keep eye contact with the group. Begin by talking a bit about the author and how this particular book fits into his other body of work, or if it’s somehow related to his life.
Next get some general reactions:
-Did you enjoy it? Hate it? Was it entertaining? Boring? Exasperating? Did it grab you until the end? Was it a challenging, difficult read?
Once you have got some first reactions and “warmed up” the group, you can start going deeper:
-Were the characters believable? Stereotypical?
-What about the plot and pace?
-Did the book evoke any particular feeling? Anger? Frustration? Terror? Indifference?
-What’s unique about the story?
-Any recurring themes, images, symbols or metaphors?
-Any quote or passage which got your attention?
-Any similar works by other authors?
-Do you agree with the reviews written about this book?
If the book is non-fiction, you may want to discuss the following:
-Was the book helpful? Controversial? Informative?
-Was it objective or biased?
-Was the book persuasive enough to change your mind or stand on an issue?
-What was the author’s intention? Did he accomplish it?
Some Last Tips
*Several days before each meeting, send a quick reminder to all members with either email or a phone call.
*If you have small children and will need a baby-sitter during meetings, plan ahead.
*In all groups there will always be a couple of shy people. Encourage but don’t insist in making them talk if they don’t feel like it.
*If you have trouble coming up with a list of book suggestions, check book reviews on newspapers and online and print publications, or simply check titles on Amazon. Try not to stick only to bestsellers. There are wonderful gems out there from small presses, just waiting to be discovered.
*If you’re very serious about your book club, why not make some T-shirts or sweatshirts, mugs and caps with your club’s name—and even logo!—on them. This can be easily done at a print shop and members would share the cost. For a mystery club, for example, you could purchase deer hunter’s caps and smoking pipes, and have them personalized with the club’s name and/or logo. It’s fun and your club will get even more attention—specially if your meetings are held in a restaurant! The only limit is your imagination.
Good luck. Above everything else, enjoy!
By Mayra Calvani, aka The Dark Phantom