Top Ten Guidelines For How to Behave in a Book Club

Q. "I am trying to get out more and decided to join a book club, in part to get over being socially awkward. I have a tendency to be outgoing, but sometimes in a silly way because of my awkwardness. Can you please provide the top ten guidelines for how one should act and speak in a book club?" - Anne

We get a lot of book-related questions at BookBrowse. Sometimes, when I'm stumped for a response I turn to our wonderful Facebook followers for answers, and they never let me down! Here is their advice for Anne:

Words of Wisdom

"Relax and be yourself. The first time with people you don't know is always nerve wracking. So you are not alone there. Just take a deep breath and if you think you are getting too gidddy just step back and take some deep cleansing breaths and calm yourself down. You will be able to judge how the club is by watching how they act. Some are light and fun while others may be more low key and some may be downright boring from your point of view. Don't give up - if one doesn't work for you then find another. I'm sure they will welcome you with open arms." - Dianne T

"Listen, more than talk, until you get the 'feel' of the group." - Kate M

"Just be yourself and keep trying groups until you find one you are comfortable in. It is great you are getting out! Just accept yourself! You are the only you this world gets to enjoy!" Dorothy B echoes this sentiment adding that that "you should always be yourself, as the more you are 'you' the more comfortable you will become with being who you are, no matter where you are." Mavis D adds that it's okay to be 'shy' until you get the lay of the land, to look for a friendly face and not to be afraid to ask questions about what is acceptable." - Sheila H

"Try to avoid discussions of politics, religion, etc. If you are discussing a possible upcoming book, which you have already read, don't be negative, unless of course it was god-awful." - FE

"I actually have similar issues to the person who asked this question. I am introverted and do have social anxiety which can then become social awkwardness as I 'nervous talk'. Last year, I joined a new in-person book group to help me get out more. Since I love books so much, it's a reassuring comfort zone. I decided to be very upfront about my social anxiety and awkwardness and just told the other group members this is something I struggle with. They were very lovely and supportive, so that was great. But it turns out a lot of people live with these things too. My advice - which I try to remember for my own self each meeting - is to listen well and ensure others are getting a chance to speak and be heard. Sometimes quieter members get talked over by the more outspoken members. I prepare notes beforehand with the things from the book I hope we talk about, or information I have researched in support of the author or book." - Jennifer

Editor's Note: Making notes can be very helpful but keep in mind that many book clubs have been brought to their knees by a member who brings pages of notes and feels the need to speak to them all. I've even heard of book clubs where a member brings a typed book report with them and insists on reading it at the start of the discussion! By all means take notes, but please don't fall into the trap of feeling that you have to express each and every point you've made

And lastly, a note of encouragement from Gayleen T: "I've been part of a book club for a year now - its been a wonderful way to meet new friends and new books that I would not have met otherwise. Being open to learning from others, even if their tastes are quite different has been a key point to having a sense of belonging."

Margie A's Top Ten

  1. Actually read the book.
  2. Don't show up drunk.
  3. Don't sit next to Chatty Cathy, you'll never get a word in.
  4. Bring a chocolatey dessert, like caramel brownies, everyone likes the girl who brings chocolate.
  5. Eat before you come so you're not starving and devouring the snacks.
  6. Think of something from the book that really made an impression on you and speak up early so no one brings it up first.
  7. Compliment others, but not in a fake way.
  8. Get your hair/nails done so you feel your best.
  9. Have a good sense of humor.
  10. Don't fret the small stuff, it's a book club, you're not being judged.


Carrie R's Top 5

  1. Read the book. Sometimes life gets in the way and it's not possible to finish, but the group suffers if you aren't fully able to contribute.
  2. Listen thoughtfully to the other members. All opinions should be welcomed.
  3. Take notes while you're reading. This will help you feel confident & prepared for the discussion.
  4. Stay on topic when you're speaking. There are always tangents, but don't monopolize the meeting.
  5. Enjoy yourself. Being in a book club is a wonderful way to make friends. It's my favorite personal pursuit!

Chaitri D's Top 10:

  1. Listen
  2. Understand
  3. Respect
  4. Smile
  5. Agree
  6. Explain it simply
  7. Enjoy
  8. Help
  9. Correlate*
  10. Be yourself while doing all this

*I think by correlate Chaitri means to look for connections in what you're reading, perhaps to other books, perhaps to the group's lives)

What advice would you give Anne? Please post below (if you don't see a field to post click here); or respond to the quick poll. The poll is now closed - view the results.



Davina, BookBrowse Editor

I've been in a wonderful book group for 22 years, all women. The group is actually 30 years old, and I am a newbie to some of them! We have about 20 members. Some have passed away. And we get the occasional person who is a bit irritating, but they never seem to last more than one reading year. We respect each others' opinions. Everyone feels free to say they hated the book and to explain why they felt that way. We try to make sure everyone is heard by, at the very beginning of the discussion, going around person to person in order so everyone gets to say something. And then the free-for-all begins. In January we have a book suggestion meeting where a bunch of possibles are thrown out. I then email everyone the full list, and we vote by email. The top 10 books are then spaced out so non-fiction alternates wtih fiction, etc. So we read the books selected in January from February through November. No December meetings. Usually the person who suggested one of the books that is chosen hosts at her home that month. This was my first book club. I'm in one other through a Friends of the Public Library organization. But Remnant Readers, my first experience, is my favorite.
# Posted By Sylvia | 6/18/13 12:05 PM
Hi Sylvia, thanks for sharing your book club experiences. It's marvelous to hear about a club that's been together for 30 years - but I can go one better, we just interviewed a group that was formed in 1922 :) http://www.bookbrowse.com/featured-bookclubs/archi...
-- Davina (BB editor)
# Posted By Davina | 6/18/13 12:29 PM
I really loved Chaitri D's short and succinct list - will certainly share with my club! Reminders are always helpful.
# Posted By Sharon Lucas | 6/27/13 3:24 AM
The African American Book Discussion Group of Rockville Memorial Library is ten (10) years old this year. We average 15 members each meeting. Members include married couples, portfolio analyst, grandmothers, new mommas, an attorney, school teachers and librarians, retired people, office workers of all stripes, immigrants from Canada, New York, the Caribbean and people who just love a good book. Everyone gets to recommend and vote in November on the books that will make up the reading list for the following year. Most of our books are borrowed from the library (saves money), but we purchase books we want to read when the library doesn't own it. We read fiction, non-fiction, black authors and white authors. Our only rule is that the book must be by or about people of African descent. We take turns bringing snacks, and listen to jazz before we convene, during the break and after we adjourn. Every December, we have a pot luck at a members home, where we eat and read our favorite poems. We're looking forward to our eleventh year.
# Posted By Dianne Betsey | 6/27/13 5:26 PM
The only point in Chaitri's list that I would expand upon is #5--"agree." I would say, don't be afraid to disagree (and you can do it in an agreeable way). I love it when members have different and even opposing viewpoints regarding aspects of the book--I think this is where the best discussions occur.
# Posted By Mary Garner | 7/15/13 5:02 AM
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