A few weeks ago I got an email from Sarah asking advice on an all too common book club problem. She wrote:
"I started a book club about a year ago which has 14 members. The members make book recommendations every six months and then we vote on what books to read. It is expected that everyone rotate being a host and a discussion leader.
One member has not attended a meeting since late 2011, and doesn't even RSVP to let us know that she won't be attending (which we agreed was something we'd all do when we formed the group). I know she is not sick or traveling. Should I try to feel her out and ask if she wants to continue as a club member? Should our club care when members are no-shows and don't participate?"
I posted Sarah's question on BookBrowse's Facebook page and soon we had a couple of dozen thoughtful and helpful responses.
About three quarters felt that it's definitely appropriate to care about book club members who don't participate - with a number stating that attending is, quite simply, the first rule of book club!
The advice from those who felt it does matter fell into two camps:
Just drop her from mailing list:
About a third of those who considered non-participation an issue suggested that the member should just be removed from the mailing list. The sentiment of this group is summed up by Kirsten who writes, "I'd take her off the e-mail list. She obviously knows when the meetings are so she can always show up but if she's going to inconvenience people by not letting anyone know if she's coming, I'd just assume she can be equally inconvenienced by not being kept in the loop. If she then asks about the book for the next meeting or whatever, she could gently be reminded about the RSVP policy and told that people assumed she was no longer interested since she hasn't come or responded in so long."
Diana felt particularly strongly: "I definitely think your club should care about member no-shows. If you are a part of a group that meets regularly, there is a certain protocol that should be followed if you cannot make meetings. The courtesy of a phone call or email letting someone know you cannot make it or will be late is not too much to ask from someone. In fact, it is the respectful, courteous, correct thing to do. In my opinion, this person seems like they haven't the least bit of interest in your club, and should not be invited to any future club meetings."
Dropping her without telling her is as rude as her not responding in the first place:
The remaining two thirds felt that to just dump someone from the mailing list is as discourteous as the member not communicating in the first place - in short, two wrongs don't make a right!
"Well, I am a big proponent of being friendly and direct, so see no problem with just asking her. Since she hasn't attended in a while, I think it's totally reasonable to check in with her and see where her thoughts are at concerning her participation in the group." - Jennifer
"Why not send her a brief note: 'Hi, it seems like the bookclub is no longer a fit for you. I'll take your name of the list so we don't continue to clutter your inbox. If I've got it wrong, let me know. We'd love to have you back.' If she does reply and wants to come back, you have the perfect opportunity to discuss participation, hosting, and RSVP responsibilities, and set agreements about what happens if she doesn't - or other members don't - follow through." - Jenni
"I also agree that a polite 'hey, we noticed you haven't attended or hosted in months. Just wondering if you're still interested in participating or if you'd like me to take you off the email list.' That will at least avoid the awkwardness that would inevitably happen if she notices she was unceremoniously dropped and was upset." - Wendy
"We had the same situation and one person in the club sent her a private email (without copying the rest of the group) to check. She hadn't been responding because she had the best intentions of coming, but simply could not fit it in her schedule. She ended up dropping out with the understanding that she's welcome back at any time. This way she could make the decision without just being cut from the group." - Marie
Lessen the pressure
A few commented that their book clubs have been structured so that no-shows are not a problem:
"I am in a book club that meets monthly at a local restaurant. Sometimes we are 8, and sometimes we are 14. All are welcome to come or not. that way no hosting or hurt feelings. We just feel the more the merrier for the discussions." - Carm
"We all decided that we didn't need the added pressure and stress of hosting at our houses and decided on the restaurant idea. I send out an e-mail about a week before reminding everyone about the meeting and they let me know only if they will come so I can get a big enough table. It's always worked great for us. I probably have 20-25 on my list and some have even moved out of the area, but they still like to keep up with what we're reading. We're a pretty laid back group, don't use formal discussion guides, just let the discussion begin. Has worked for us for 10 years!" - Donna
While a couple of others wondered why it mattered, for example, Leslie Ann wrote: "Maybe she just wants to read what your group is reading and doesn't feel comfortable going to the meetings. Is it really hurting anyone?"
Have a protocol for handling such situations
Others suggested ways to lower the chances of this situation happening in the future; for example:
"You might want to email everyone at the end/ beginning of your book year to find out who will be participating in the new year. It forces people to commit to belonging. In my own book club not everyone can host but they might review more than one book, etc." -
"We solved this by sending out monthly Evites to each meeting where members can respond as to whether or not they are attending. We also periodically remind members that food is being prepared so don't be rude and let the host know who's coming. Annually we send out an email asking for confirmation you want to continue getting meeting announcements. If a member doesn't respond, we drop from Evite list. At least once a year you can rid yourself of dead weight!" - Jane Haase
If you're reading this post because your book club is experiencing a problem like this, I hope you find these suggestions helpful; and if you're book club has never had such a problem, perhaps you'll find an idea or two here to avoid such a situation occurring!
One last thought - if person is not responding and all your communication is by email, keep in mind that it's possible she simply isn't getting the emails, so it might be a good idea to pick up the phone and call, or send a note the old fashioned way - by snail-mail!
For more on this topic see BookBrowse's Book Club advice pages
-- Davina, BookBrowse editor