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
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.
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.
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