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So You Want to Start a Book Club: Part 1

Just recently, I passed my 10 year anniversary of running one of the local library’s book clubs. I got drafted into the position accidentally; at the time, I was a library employee and the then-current leader had taken off for greener pastures. Since the director knew I enjoyed science fiction, she handed me a copy of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and told me to report to the next meeting to “facilitate.”

And then I basically never left.

Before that meeting, I had never thought of myself as a book club person. Book clubs were actually all the rage at the time, popularized by Oprah and then a slew of talk show copy-cats. But book clubs were all middle-aged women reading horrible novels that made them cry and pine for the lives they never had. Right? Well, no. I have found the group to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my adult life, getting me to interact with the local community, introducing me to novels I’d have never read otherwise and a diverse group of people bound together by their love of reading.

As we are a bookish, clever bunch of people, the thought of joining or forming a book club may have crossed someone’s mind. I offer you my not-exactly-professional expertise on founding a book group.

Part 1: Putting Your Group Together


 

Like the tote? Click on the picture to buy one!

1. Decide what kind of group this will be.

To which, I mean, is this a group where you will get together and discuss books that you’ve read? Or is this a group where getting together to discuss the books that you’ve read is the excuse to get together, have wine, and gossip? Trust me, this is an important difference. You don’t want to be the person who has underlined and written notes about the subtext of Such a Pretty Face before your new group meeting, only to show up and hide your notes in your purse because everyone was discussing their most recent break-ups. Not that that has ever happened to me. Or anything.

Vice versa, if you’re the person who derails conversations about Lolita to talk about what happened on last week’s American Idol, because then you will also be the person everyone talks about how much they hate behind your back.

 


 

I do not think the Vatican will let you hold book club in their library, but you could always ask.

2. Decide on the venue

There are two broad choices here: online and in person. Online seems like it would be easier – you could have farther flung members, busy people could read at their own pace, you wouldn’t have to put on grown-up pants to go to a meeting. But online is actually a world of work – out of sight is always out of mind. So unless you have a group composed of total A-type over achievers, you may find yourself sending out a significant number of emails asking people to please read this month’s book and comment on it.

Meat space groups need a space to meet, obviously. That can be a member’s home, perhaps on a rotating basis so the hosting duties don’t always fall on one person. Libraries and community centers often offer free meeting space to community members (ours meets in the local library), but may not let you bring your boxed wine in. I run into a lot of groups that meet at Barnes and Noble or over dinner at a restaurant – if you’re looking for a very bookish club, stay away from loud public places. Barnes and Noble and restaurants offer too many distractions and too many options for conversation distracters.


This is what you get when you google image search book clubs. Bitches love their book clubs.

3. Find your members.

I’m in the midst of reading MWF Seeks BFF, in which the protagonist lays down the rules for their book club. Each friend in the group had to invite two people the rest of the friends didn’t know, to cut down on the gossip/catch-up temptation. I think this is a wise rule for friend-based groups. If you are forming a group with some family members involved, keep the ratio of relatives to regulars to at least a 40-60 breakdown. No one wants to feel like the fifth wheel.

If you are starting from scratch, I urge you again to seek out the local library. Where else will you find readers? The kind of people who are regulars at the library are the same people who are going to be dedicated enough to show up and make literary puns themed to the reading selection. If there isn’t a library sponsored meeting already, speak to the reference desk; they’ll be able to tell you where you can hand notices for a group forming, or if you’re really lucky, they might include a call for members in the newsletters.

 


 

Next time: how to pick the books

By [E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of powderroom.jezebel.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at slay@persephonemagazine.com.

She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

15 replies on “So You Want to Start a Book Club: Part 1”

I have wanted to join a book club for ages but I’m also so picky with my books. I mean, I’ll read a lot of things but my experience of hunting for book clubs is that they tend to pick the very emotional, popular, smaltzy type of books – not my thing.

I’m going to school to be a librarian, and I took a class about Adult Programming. Part of the class was we formed our own book club, and I do have to say that our book club meeting (outside of class, at a bar) was tons of fun – though we didn’t exactly stick to the purpose of talking about the book – and I think what made it awesome were the people involved.

I’ll get to this in one of my next posts, but setting out what kind of books the group wants to read is really important. One of the reasons I ended up sticking with this group for so long is because they were very adamant about not reading those kinds of smaltzy books — in fact, one of our rules is that if the book was featured on the O book club, we weren’t going to read it.

If you’re still looking to join a book club or will in the future, in my experience, groups that have a diversity in age and/or gender tend to not be dominated by those horrible books where the kids die. That’s a very niche market.

I’m glad you found a nice group with your classmates! What kind of librarianship do you want to do?

I run another book group at Slay Belle’s library and may I suggest a subject style book club? We read all books on one subject, but the book can be anything, fiction, non-fiction, etc.

The flow is a little different. Each person does a “book report” of the book usually accompanied by lots of other people writing stuff they want to read too. However, we find interesting juxtapositions of topics. For example, if you’re reading a book about “missing persons”, you’re probably in South America or the Caribbean.

The advantage, of course, is that if the book you picked sucks, you can pick up another one. People often come in with a stack of “I tried this and it was terrible. So then I tried THIS one…”

Also, maybe this would be fun? I know that IO9 has a monthly book club. Maybe we could have one too?

A few posts every once and a while could go up and we could both discuss the serious topics and freak out over minor details? Maybe something that’s readily available at libraries since many of the readers actively use them (and don’t want to spend hard earned cash on new books – IO9 seems to build their book clubs on new releases quite often)

Or, you know, use new releases of books written by few readers? :)

May I make a suggestion on future post topics?  Can you give advice on how to lure people into at least attending a first book club meeting?  I would LOVE to start an English language book club here and have even identified what I thought would be a great first book – Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mom – and every single person, without knowing the book or anything says, I’m not a book club kind of person.  One person never even responded to the email asking if they’d consider the invitation if I started a book club (I take that as a no).

I know a bunch of really interesting, smart people and think a once a month book club would be a grand idea but there seems to be a mental block about what ‘book club’ means.  Any suggs appreciated.

Oh, and if you don’t want to wait, I’ll give you a brief answer right now: offer food. I know that sounds silly, but the life and death of any sort of ‘out of school’ activity is getting people to attend for several meetings in a row. I find that a food bribe often sweetens the deal. No pun intended.

I’m not sure what your friends mean by ‘not a book club type’, because I think anyone who likes to read is a potential book club ‘type’, but honestly, if you’re one who wants to found this, you’re just going to find yourself doing a lot of legwork — send out multiple emails, reminders, etc. Bring it up in conversation. Post it on your facebook. You want to get the idea out in front of people without being too obnoxious about it, which is a delicate balance, AND you have to be the one to solidly suggest a date for the first meeting. ‘Getting together soon’ or ‘when would you like to meet’ is too vague for most people. Pick two days/times, email them to anyone you think would like the group, tell them they can bring a friend, and see which time works for the most people. And then commit to it. It make take a bit, but don’t give up hope! You’ll shake the readers out of the tree eventually.

Also, don’t be too depressed if not a lot of people come initially. We have 16 registered members, about 10 who I’d call ‘regulars’, and not all of them make every meeting. Memorably one time no one came but me. Another time only 2 people came and of the 3 of us, only 1 had finished the book (it wasn’t me). It just sort of ebs and flows with people’s lives.

We’re a science fiction heavy group. One time we had to put a moratorium on sci-fi titles because we had just read so many of them in a row.

Another time, we had to put a moratorium on books where people get beaten to death in fields. We read three books with that plot point in a row!

Yikes. I am not even going to ask what those books were.

I had to incorporate some non-sci-fi into my reading lately. Pretty Little Liars and Gone With The Wind really helped add some variety. :)

And since I just read Dune for the second time, I thought I’d move on to Scarlett, the sequel to GWTW.

My home town is rabidly conservative so I was very wary about taking over leadership duties for the club. However, I found that almost all the liberals in the town were actually in book club — that was a real eye opener for me, since it completely changed my perspective on my community. I certainly wouldn’t twist your arm to join one, but you might be surprised at who you’d meet there.

I think the liberal bastion here is the Philosophy club, which is invite only and is almost exclusively old white dudes. A lot of the libs here hide their views a lot of the time far job security. Lots of smile and nodding!

The book clubs I’ve seen here seem to favor “inspirational romances”- aka, Conservative Christian romances where if there is sex the sex is married sex, or at least the heroine finds christ and gives up the sex until she meets the “nice christian man” in the end. (I also know of a Quiverfull book club around here that is shockingly large and entirely women in their early to mid twenties. Young Wife Club basically.)

 

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