It’s no secret that I adore books and being a part of two fabulous book clubs is testament to this.
There are many reasons why I love book club. It’s also why I have started a Style and Shenanigans book club which anyone can join. (You can find all the details and what we are currently reading here).
If you’d like to start your own book club and are not quite sure how and where to start, you have come to the right place.
I have accumulated a bit of intel over my 12 years of book club love. So, I decided it might be useful to share my experiences to a broader audience and also ask others how they run their book clubs and what works for them.
By the way, if you are after a more structured, guided book club experience, have a look at CAE book groups. My old book club started this way (although we supplied our own members) but about 5 years ago we switched to a DIY format (detailed below) which works well for us.
Also, for the sake of clarity, I’ll refer to my two book clubs as the old and the new.
1. Sound out some kindred spirits
When I started my old book club, I invited friends from school, Uni, church and friends of my husband. Since then, they have invited their friends, work colleagues, siblings and cousins. None of us had ever been in a book club before but we all loved reading.
Ideally, I think you need 6-12 people to start your book club, allowing that some months, several people won’t be able to make it for various reasons.
In my old book club, we have settled on 12 participants as the “magic” or maximum number. We have found that nearly everyone comes for the first few months but as the year wears on, our numbers drop off due to illness, family commitments, holidays and so on over the winter months.
In my new book club, there are 9 of us. I understand that the book club originated out of my friend’s husband’s workplace several years ago. There was a big influx of 5 new people last year (including me) as a few had dropped off including one who had moved overseas. All of us newbies have children who go to the same school.
2. What to cover off at the first meeting
Decide WHEN you’ll meet
In my old book club, when we first started meeting twelve years ago, many of us were engaged or newly married and all working full time. We agreed that Sunday afternoons were a good time and we would meet at 1pm and share lunch (soup and bread or salad) together.
Once the babies started arriving and many of us were on maternity leave, Sundays became increasingly difficult. We then chose Friday nights, which we have stuck to ever since. It is like our “happy hours” as we look forward to a debrief after a hectic week of work/kids.
In my new book club, we meet on a Tuesday night. It’s a night that is free and suits everyone.
Decide WHERE you’ll meet
In my old book club, we usually meet in each other’s homes although occasionally we go to a cafe.
Not everyone in my old book club has the space to host the whole group (12 people) and this is totally fine and understood. Some of us have much bigger lounge rooms or more living space while others have one living area or children who are light sleepers etcetera. For this reason, the people with the biggest lounge rooms/most seating generally host early in the year when attendance is usually at its peak.
In my new book club, to date, we have met in each other’s homes including one hot night last February where we discussed the book in the pool!
Decide how OFTEN to meet
In my old book club, we meet monthly to five weekly from February to December. Our Secretary (more on that below) basically sits down with the diary at the end of each year and works out which Friday nights we will meet, avoiding long weekends and the middle weekends of school holidays.
The dates then go to our resident footy head (who is a paid up member and goes to all the Collingwood home games) who goes through those dates with the AFL fixture to avoid any game clashes. True story! We also then decide our weekend away for the year and plug that date in.
Then voila, a list with all the dates is circulated at the end of the year ready to be written into the new diary.
My new book club meets bi-monthly, on the first Tuesday of every second month, from February to December. It is less structured though insofar as the date of the new book club is usually decided upon 1 or 2 meetings in advance, taking into account people’s other commitments and again, avoiding school/public holidays.
Decide how to CHOOSE the books
In my new book club, the person hosting the next book club chooses the book and emails the information to everyone in the group.
In my old book club, in the months leading up to our Christmas/final dinner for the year, we begin to circulate ideas and someone informally keeps a list (I kept an ever growing list on my phone which I added to whenever a recommendation came up).
At our December/Christmas dinner, we edit the final list, looking for a balance of topics and length (for example, to avoid long or traumatic books back to back) and including input from all members. In preparation for this last year, I went on to the Good Reads website and looked up the most positively reviewed books of the year to add to our growing list.
Other book titles came through recommendations from friends, family members or books one or two of us had read that we knew the rest would love (and would give us a month off reading!).
A blank table was then completed with the list of the books for the year, together with the venue (people sign up to host a particular month on the night) and facilitator (discussed below). The completed list was then circulated after the dinner so we can begin sourcing, reading and swapping the books.
Our book list for this year is the same as the SnS book club list (below). If you are after more book recommendations, you might be interested to have a look at my top ten fiction books and my favourite fiction series. We often discuss what we are reading on the SnS Facebook page too.
DECIDE how you’ll ORGANISE
As a hang over from our days of being a CAE book group, my old book club has a secretary every year who organises the “master list” of what we are reading, where we are meeting and who is facilitating. We take turns from year to year fulfilling this role.
In both my book clubs, in the week before book club, the person hosting book club generally sends an email to confirm the time (usually we start at 7.30pm but this depends on husbands, children and what time people can get home from work) and to ask for RSVPs. This is when people usually indicate what they will bring or the host politely insists not to bring anything.
Personally, I think it works best if the host doesn’t do it all and people take turns contributing as it is really difficult getting your house sorted and presentable and catering for people after working all day or being at home all day with kids who trash the house!
Decide how you’ll CATER
In both of my book clubs, the host generally provides most of the supper and a some/all people may bring something to share (usually communicated when RSVP-ing), see above. Anything goes, it’s just worth discussing it up front.
Decide how you’ll FACILITATE
This can happen informally and is not necessarily required to be spelt out.
In my old book club, we started allocating a facilitator as this role often fell to the host who was often organising food and drinks and not always sitting down. We also found by doing this we created a role for people who weren’t able to host, to spread the load and to also make sure someone read the book!
The facilitator’s role in my old group is to call us to attention (i.e interrupt the chit chat after a while) and begin the discussion about the book by asking the first couple of questions. These are usually who read the book or where people are up to, what people thought of it, which characters they liked/loathed/related to and so on.
In my new book club, the host circulates a list of questions to be discussed before the night which is more structured but helps to frame the discussion and get people thinking about the questions before the night. Often we just pick and choose the interesting questions and only manage to discuss a few of them before the conversation takes off. When it was my turn to host, I just googled “Burial Rites Book Club questions” and there were plenty of hits.
Decide how important READING the book is
This might sound a bit silly but some book clubs take the reading of the book a lot more seriously than others.
In both my book clubs, reading the book is encouraged, of course, but there is absolutely no pressure or expectation that everyone one will read the book every time.
We are very clear that people are welcome to come along irrespective of whether they have read the book or not. For us, catching up is the most important part of book club – the books facilitate this. We are not a studious, highly intellectual book club, even though sometimes our discussions are pretty fabulous and insightful. Other times, we talk about the book very little, particularly if we have all loved it. The best discussions usually occur when people have polarising views or when the topic leads people to share about their own experiences.
We are mostly busy people who love books who try to read as much as possible, which sometimes is a lot and other times, not at all.
The only rider to this is that the book will still be discussed whether or not everyone has read it, spoilers and all.
- Image by Zitona
3. Fun things to do to break up the reading
Sometimes, it’s important to schedule a break from reading or mix things up a bit. Below are some of the things we have done in my old book club over the years.
Movie nights – see a book adaptation of a book we have read either at the flicks or rent a DVD;
Board games night – have you had a board game night lately? They can be hilarious and lots of fun, particularly games like Taboo and Balderdash;
Plan a weekend away – schedule the book discussion for over breakfast or in the spa!
BYO recipe & recipe book – We have done this a couple of times. Each person brings their favourite recipe book and 11 copies of a favourite recipe – everyone goes home with a whole new repertoire;
Themed nights – If you are reading a book set in India, crack out the curries! Once we all brought our favourite children’s books and I served children’s party food for supper;
Create traditions – In my old book club, we always go out for dinner for our last book club of the year which we all look forward to and no-one misses.
Also, on our tenth anniversary, we decided to go away for the weekend and have carried this on for the two years since. It is one of the highlights of my year. We book in a long lunch somewhere fabulous, get into our PJs when we get home and spent the night watching DVDs, laughing, drinking wine and eating Toobs.
So they are my tips for starting your own book club.
Have you anything you could add? How does your book club work? I am happy to field any questions too!
Thank you for your comments. I love to hear from you.