Are you thinking about starting a book club? I love talking about books, and am currently in two book clubs, so I'm here to help!
My two book clubs operate somewhat differently. My young adult book club meets monthly, and we all vote on our next six books twice a year. It’s a larger group, so we meet with whoever is available on the scheduled date, and people come even if they haven’t read the book...as long as they don’t mind spoilers. My other book club is smaller – four of us. We take turns choosing books to discuss, and we choose books that none of us have read before. For this group, we reschedule meetings until everyone has finished the book, which means we don’t read as many books each year.
The three things you need to start a book club are: books to discuss, people to discuss them with, and a place to meet.
Books to Discuss
One reason to join a book club is to read books that you might not pick for yourself. So unless you find a magical group of friends with the exact same taste as you, you’re going to read some books you don’t like. And honestly, some of my favorite meetings are after everyone hates the book. We also have really interesting discussions when some people like the book and others don’t. As you talk about the books, you might find problems that you glossed over while reading, or notice worthwhile aspects of books that you thought were trash.
If you have a stable group of club members, rotating picks keeps things pretty fair. With my small book club, we also have a plan in case new people want to join. Anyone is welcome to drop into a meeting by reading the book we’ve already agreed on and joining in the discussion. If someone new wants the power of suggesting books, they first need to come to four meetings, reading one pick from each current member, and then they pick the fifth book and become part of our rotation. I know it's kind of intense, but people are always saying they want to join, but only if they can pick the books. Not happening! This book club doesn’t have a theme, but we’re all trying to expand our knowledge of experiences outside our own, so we’ve mostly been picking books by women of color lately.
For YA book club, we do things a little differently. There are about 15 people who rotate in and out of meetings, and the meetings usually have between six and ten attendees. We have a Facebook group, and when it’s time to pick new books, I make a document on the group page. Each member can add up to three suggestions to the document, and we copy in the book descriptions so the options are easy to review. At the beginning of the next meeting, we each vote for our top 6 books from the list. It can be really hard to choose, because we often end up with 20+ suggestions. If members can’t make it to the voting meeting, they’re allowed to send their votes with someone else. Whichever books have the most votes are our next six picks. If more than six books tie for the most votes, we do a run-off vote at the meeting. We assign the books to months based on topic (we usually try to have a scary book for October and light books during December, since the holidays get so busy) or availability (books that we know will have long waits at the library go at the end of the six months).
People to Discuss Them With
I mentioned the first purpose of a book club - to read new books and get better understandings of them through your discussions. The other purpose is to make new friends or connect more with your existing friends. My small book club has been going for ten(!) years, and started because two friends from college and I wanted to catch up regularly. We spend as much time chatting as we do discussing the book, if not more. My young adult book club has been going for about 8 years, and the participants have changed quite a bit during that time. This book club is open to the public, so a few people have joined by stumbling upon our Facebook group, but most people have joined through a friend.
If you’re looking for a book club to join, look for Facebook groups, Meetup pages, or flyers in bookstores, libraries, or coffeeshops. Try searching by genre to find people who are interested in similar books as you. For example, the Forever Young Adult website lists book clubs around the world for adult YA readers. It’s hard to find people who aren’t flaky, which is how I ended up in charge of my YA book club. Someone has to be the responsible one, and if you’re committed to having a book club, it might have to be you. Start a Facebook group or a Meetup, make some flyers, and commit to showing up. There might be months when you’re the only one who comes to the meeting (it’s happened to me), or maybe there will just be a couple of you at first, but keep trying. Post on social media, on community bulletin boards at grocery stores, libraries, or bookstores. Ask the staff at those places if they know of anyone else who’s looking to form a book club, or ask your friends to ask their friends. I’m sure one of them is just dying to discuss books with you.
A Place to Meet '>
With a private book club, the place can be the easiest part. If you feel comfortable, you can rotate meeting at members’ houses. My small book club used to meet in restaurants, but we recently switched to meeting at the home of the person who suggested the book. It’s nice to not feel like we have to rush our discussion to free up the table, or worry about what we're saying in public. Plus, we get to see each others’ partners, pets, and kids, and show off our new stuff.
Finding a space to meet for public book clubs can be challenging. My YA book club originally met at In Other Words feminist bookstore, which was an awesome resource for the community. Since In Other Words closed, we’ve been meeting at the Multnomah County Library. Libraries often have community rooms that you can reserve, as long as someone stays on top of making reservations and filling out paperwork. You can meet in a restaurant, but that means that most of the people in the group need to order food. Restaurants can also be noisy, especially if you’re a large group and can’t sit right next to everyone. Some coffee shops will let you hang out for a while if you buy drinks or pastries, which is a little less expensive. If anyone in your group has a connection to a college or university, maybe your group can reserve a space there. You can also try finding themed spots – if you have a queer book club, is there a queer community center in town that will let you meet there for a reduced price? Would a book store let you host a book club if some members buy the book there? It can take some searching.
Now What Do We Talk About?
I like to start meetings with each person saying a sentence or two about their thoughts on the book. If not everyone knows each other, this is a good time to introduce yourself to the group, and you can also share any personal news. I like dedicated time for each person to speak, especially if they’re someone who tends to get spoken over. Going around is a good way to gauge the thoughts of the group on the book, and you can always come back to things that are mentioned here. If there’s a lull in the conversation, it’s nice to be able to say, “So, you said that you didn’t like the ending of the book. What didn’t you like about it?” I personally like to ask people who don’t speak up as much to elaborate on their opinions, which hopefully they don’t hate too much.
For some books, you can find discussion questions online, which are helpful if the conversation hits a wall. If you’re looking for ways to prepare for your meeting, how about looking at the author’s Twitter feed or website, reading reviews of the book to see what other people think, or imagining who you would cast in the movie of the book? YA book club always ends with two questions: Who would you cast in the movie, and was this a feminist book? Once your book club gets going, you’ll also have a shared book history, so you can compare the book to others that you’ve read. If you run out of things to talk about in your current book, ask everyone what other books they’re reading, or what new releases they’re excited for.
My last piece of advice for starting a book club is to have fun. This isn’t school, and no one should get shamed or feel bad for not finishing the book or for interpreting a book differently than someone else.
Good luck out there, and I hope you find your people and discover a ton of new, exciting reads!
I like cats, feminism, queers, making things and writing, apparently.