For any bibliophile the idea of being in a book club is nothing short of magical. Truly, you get to gather around with like minded souls and discuss books that you’ve read. For someone who seems to read a lot, but never can find someone to talk about the book, this is the perfect solution. Though there are things that can and can’t make such a group work.
The first book club I was involved in I was merely a participant. It was a group of upwards of fifteen women two of which I was close friends with. This group lasted I think close to a year before it completely disbanded. It was sad, but inevitable. You see, we had rules, but non were enforced. With no clear sign of leadership many didn’t read the books in time for the meetings and those that did were usually left feeling disheartened by not getting the full discussion they had hoped for. Still I stayed until the bitter end because I wanted it to work.
About a year later another friend of mine said she wanted to start a book club and I was eager to help. Again, she wanted to have a set of rules, but where as the last group were very lax, she was very strict. You couldn’t just show up and expect to be a member, you had to earn you membership by attending three meetings in a row with the book completely read. Any books with the slightest trigger warnings were forbidden, even if it was crucial to the story, because the leader was very much affected by such things and would get extremely angry if we picked a book with that subject material.
This book club slowly was filled up with my personal friends and after about a year the original leader decided that she would disband the group because she was too busy to carry on (though we are sure it was because she wasn’t a good leader). Not wanting to totally end the group, especially since attendance wasn’t the problem, I stepped in and took over. That was five years ago.
Though we have had members join and then leave for one reason or another I have managed to keep this book club going fairly strong. And if you are planning on starting a book club or already have one going I wanted to share some advice from my experience running ours.
1. Pick Your People Wisely
With my first book club we had a solid number in the beginning, but it was clear about two meetings in who were the serious readers and who was only showing up to socialize. Now, I have nothing against socializing, in fact it’s one of the key components of having a successful meeting. It’s only when your members prefer chatting to actually discussing the book that this can become a problem.
When you decide to make your club, make sure you pick people who don’t just read when they find the time, but find people who genuinely have a passion for reading. If you do this you’ll find that most of your members will not only finish the book, but will get deep into the discussion.
2. Having Rules is Important as Long as There is Balance
Both of my book clubs had rules of some sort, but I’m only going to go into detail about the rules of the current club I am in charge of. They are fairly simple, which is why I also believe they are easy to enforce without coming off as a dictator.
First we have a set day we always meet. This helps us stay on decent schedule, but we aren’t necessarily bound to it. If something comes up for one of the members we communicate and come to a mutual agreement on a change of date if that needs to occur. It has worked beautifully so far with a member very rarely missing a meeting.
This segways into the second rule, that in keeping open communication and democracy within the group. While I take the role of leader really all that means is that I am in charge of logistics. Major decisions such as if a date needs to be changed and even when we picked our name, these are all done collectively as a group. I only bring the group together so that we can all discuss the situation and come to mutual decision.
So while we have rules, we aren’t ruled over. I look at it more as a checks and balances so that each member gets the best experience from the meetings and the group.
As far as the other rules go, such as book selection, I feel like that is something each group can decide what works best for them. Since our group is rather small at the moment we go the route of each member getting to pick a book in a cycle. Our cycle is monthly, which seems to work out for us.
3. No Restrictions On Books
I have found in the five years of being in my book club that the biggest benefit is reading books I would have never even thought to pick up. It’s a way to have my brain expand from my comfort zone and I have enjoyed it immensely. While I can understand our previous member taking issue with some delicate subject matter I think that is a risk you take when taking on things you weren’t used to before.
Many books will have delicate content and adult content, but it’s books like these that are probably the most important to experience. Either we learn something valuable from the story or we learn how not to write certain subject matter that should be handled with care. Of course I’m not saying run out and read porn, but to give examples of books that are important stories with difficult content, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini or Room by Emma Donoghue. Both of these are incredible stories that should be told, they just happen to deal with difficult subject matter.
Which leads me to –
4. Take Something Away
When my group dropped down to three a little over two years ago I was worried that we wouldn’t manage continuing, but we did and in doing so we learned a few things about ourselves. It was the way we looked at the books and what we each brought to the table at each meeting.
One member has a Master’s in English and will pick apart a book and reveal things that us common readers may not catch on the first go around. She is truly magnificent and adds so much to our meetings with her knowledge. The other member in our group focuses on plot and story, how readable is the book in relation to how good the story is. She is an optimist and sees good things were we may be inclined to see bad, she brings balance. As for me I like to focus on characters. What they bring to the story and if they actually grow throughout it. I tend to get frustrated pretty quickly if a character is written poorly. We also just recently added a new member who is also a Master’s in English and I can’t wait to see what added perspective she brings to the group.
The point is we each have our strengths that we bring to the meetings and in return we each walk away with the other’s take. Above anything it is a learning experience to help expand our minds and make us think. To have the book stay with us long after we turn that final page.
If you are serious about starting a book club I totally think you should. It is unlike any group I have ever been apart of and I am so happy that we have collectively been going at it now for five years. That’s around 60 books read just with this group alone and even if I didn’t enjoy a book I am still grateful for the experience, which in the end should really be the entire point.
Book Review: Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jensen