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Book Club Advice: How and why to start a Book Club/Book Discussion Group

Starting A Book Club

Why Join A Reading Group/Book Club?

A book discussion group (sometimes referred to as a 'book club', sometimes as a 'reading group') is simply a group of people who get together on a regular basis to discuss books. There are so many reasons to join a book club or start your own. They can be an excellent way to enjoy books more and challenge your mind, they can also encourage you to read more, or to read books that you might not normally choose. In short, most people join a book club, or start their own, in order to have fun, make friends, stimulate the brain cells and meet like minded people!

How To Find A Book Club/Reading Group to Join, or Publicize Your Own

Many reading groups start when a few friends get together and decide that they'd like to meet to discuss books on a regular basis. Therefore, if you want to start a group - who better to start with than existing friends who share your similar tastes and interests?

Equally, if you're looking to join a reading group your first stop should be to ask your friends if they're already part of a group or know somebody who is - but don't be hurt if a friend says that he/she is in a book club but that they're not open to new members, as one of the important dynamics of a book club is its size, and therefore many groups rightly restrict their membership to a limited number of people.

If you're new to an area or want to expand your literary horizons in the company of a new group of people, a good place to start looking (or posting your own announcement) is your local library. Also, many local bookstores will have notice boards or will be able to put you in touch with people - they might even run a book club from the store.

Finding people with similar time constraints and interests as your own can be a plus. For example, if you have children in school, consider posting a notice in the school magazine or on the notice board. Community centers and local newspapers can also be good resources for finding a group or publicizing your own.

Because book clubs/reading groups are most often groups of people meeting informally, often in private homes, there is no one stop resource, online or offline, for finding local groups across the USA (let alone across the rest of the world). Having said that, with a little search engine legwork it's likely you'll find some clues to groups in your area - especially if you live in an urban area. For example, recently I was asked to find a book club in New York - a quick Google search using the terms 'book club new york' produced a wealth of potential links, including one site specializing in information for newcomers with links to all sorts of clubs and groups, including book clubs.

Questions To Ask Before Starting your Own Book Discussion Group - or joining an existing Book Club!

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. At the end of the day, all it takes to start a book group is to get two or more people together and start talking about a book. However, thinking through these questions will give you the best chance of creating a happy and cohesive book club that enjoys meeting to discuss, and disagree about, books - an environment where new friendships can be made and existing ones can be strengthened.

  • How many people?
    A very small group is cozy but could fall apart if a couple of members drop out or can't make a meeting. A very large group can work but needs to be run on a more 'formal' basis in order to be sure that the conversation stays on track and everybody gets a chance to contribute.

    Suggestion: Six to eight people is a good size to start with. It's a small enough number to fit inside somebody's home or around a table in a cafe, gives everybody a chance to voice their opinions, and if one or two members can't make it to a meeting, or drop out altogether, there are still enough people left to form a good discussion.

  • What type of people?
    Do you envisage your reading group/book club being all women, all men, or mixed? How about 3-4 couples getting together, or mothers with children (with one of you taking it in turns to babysit)? Do you want people to be about the same age - or how about mixing different generations (such as a mothers and daughters book club)?

    Suggestion: Look for people with some common ground (e.g. all women, all couples, all 30 somethings) or make a point of mixing things up so that there isn't one individual who stands out. For example, one man in a group of women may find himself defending the 'man's point of view' rather than discussing his own viewpoints - not necessary a bad thing, just something to take into account.

  • What is the purpose of the group?
    Are you looking for serious conversation focused totally on the book, or are you happy with some off topic conversation triggered by something that the group has read?

    Suggestion: Differing expectations is probably the leading cause of book club strife. If one person is expecting to spend the entire time in deep discussion while another signed up thinking there would be a token book discussion plus lots of chat somebody's going to be disappointed! Agree how your group will run at your first meeting and then try to stick to this formula, unless you agree as a group to change it.

  • How many books do you want to read and how often do you want to meet?
    Do you want to meet every week, once a month, every quarter - it's up to you? Do you want to discuss more than one book at a meeting (not recommended unless they are linked by a theme which is the focus of your conversation - e.g. 2 books by the same author, 2 travel guides for the same place etc).

    Suggestion: Start out by meeting once a month at the most, and discuss one book only with about 300 pages or less.

  • Where will you meet?
    Do you want to always meet in the same place, either somebody's home or a public space such as a room at the library or a coffee bar? Or do you want to rotate around each other's homes?

    Suggestion: If the people in your potential group are already known to each other, then meeting in someone's home is probably the easiest option, but keep in mind that some people may not want, or be able, to host a meeting at their own home, whereas for other members - e.g. those with small children and no babysitter - it might be the only way they can attend. Therefore, be sensitive and flexible to each other's needs. If you meet at a different house each time, make sure that the host for that evening provides driving directions in good time before the meeting, and consider having someone else bring the snacks (that is if your group has snacks, and most seem to!) to take some of the load off the host.

    However, if the members of your potential group are not known to you (e.g. you've advertised for members) then we strongly recommend that you meet in a neutral place such as a coffee bar until the group is well established and you are all comfortable with each other.

    There are two key reasons for this. The first is that meeting in a neutral location will allow your group to get to know each other as individuals without being weighed down by the preconceptions that come from visiting a person's home before you know that person. The other reason is simply a matter of basic safety - you wouldn't invite a blind-date to pick you up from your house, so don't invite a group of strangers into your house until you know them well enough to be sure you want to continue to meet with them.

  • When will you meet and for how long?
    Most groups meet in the evening, but others meet during the day, over the weekend, or even for breakfast! For example some people form clubs at their workplace, in which case it maybe easier to coordinate everyone's schedules for an early morning meeting, or during lunch, rather than after work.

    Suggestion: Select the time of day/evening that will best fit the profile of your group - and try to stick with the same time and day of week once chosen. For example, 1st Tuesday of each month, 7pm.

    For a relatively relaxed meeting schedule aim for about 2 hours. For example: Arrive at 7pm (meet, chat, snack - if food on offer, and discuss any book club issues such as what to read next). 7.30pm start talking about the book. 8.30pm close 'formal' discussion allowing for plenty of time for discussion/chat outside of the group before the meeting ends at 9pm. If you only have an hour to spare, consider setting up an email list to discuss things like choosing the next book outside of your meeting, or spend one meeting every 6 months agreeing your selections for the next six months and discussing any other issues that might have arisen.

Overall, it's best to have a basic structure that your book club can depend on, but to allow flexibility within this. What works for others may not work for your group. The bottom line is that if your book club's going to work the members must want to be there. Stay focused on making the group a fun and interesting place to be and whatever format your group takes it's sure to be a success!

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