How to Start a Book Club
Whether you want to expand your must-read list or find people willing to relive every twist and turn from the latest bestselling thriller, joining a book club offers a way to turn your solitary reading habit into a social activity. Starting your own, however, can be intimidating—especially when it comes down to inviting people who will actually stick with the reading list (and show up every week). This process doesn't have to be stressful, however. As you're about to discover, you can get your own group up and reading in just four simple steps.
Find a few members.
A book club—especially a new one—doesn't require dozens of members; many groups keep their numbers intentionally small to allow for more meaningful conversation. "For an ideal book discussion, eight to 15 is best," says Kaite Stover, director of readers' services at the Kansas City Public Library, who has been facilitating book clubs for more than 20 years. "I aim for that sweet spot and have found that around a dozen readers always provides enough conversation, without getting out of hand."
If you find yourself talking books with the same two or three friends over and over, start formalizing those discussions at a specific time and place, and then encourage them to invite their friends as you get into a routine. To reach out beyond your social circle, post flyers on community bulletin boards; start a group on Meetup; or use your neighborhood Facebook group to gauge interest.
Choose a meeting place.
If your club mostly consists of friends (and friends-of-friends), then you may feel comfortable hosting at your home. But if you're inviting strangers or your group is too large to fit in your living room, look for a public meeting space: Try the community room at your local library, ask churches or other religious organizations in your area if they have a spot you can rent, or reserve a table at a bar or restaurant. Just keep in mind that loud, crowded venues won't help the flow of your discussions—and your choice needs to have enough space for everyone to sit comfortably. "A good meeting place is one with seating for everyone where they can see all readers—and a space that isn't too noisy," says Stover, adding that the most successful book groups, however, happen at members' homes: "Rotate to each other's houses and divide the hosting and discussing duties."
Pick your first book.
Deciding on a first book may be the hardest part of starting a book club: You want something universal and engaging enough for all the members to stick with it, but with enough talking points—and room for diverging personal opinions—to inspire a lively discussion. It's important to know your members—will Moby Dick get them talking, or should you stick with the latest Gone Girl knockoff?—but remember that you don't need to please every person every time."The best books for discussion are ones that have readers examining characters and their choices," says Stover, noting that books with open endings are also well suited for clubs. "'Happily ever after' [endings can be] fantastic but there's not much to discuss there—same goes for 'The butler did it!' stories."
Looking for inspiration? Websites like Goodreads, LitLovers, and Booklist offer reviews and new titles to help you sort through the choices, while your local library and the American Library Association can also help (look for bagged sets of books aimed at book clubs, or ask the librarians for suggestions).
Prepare for the discussion.
Before the meeting, create a list of questions and topics you can use to guide the discussion—these can be based on your own reading, a list from the publisher, or from online discussions on the same book. You don't have to force the conversation to follow those guides exactly, but you should be ready to redirect the exchange back toward the book when the chatter begins to digress from, for example, a question about the main character's relationship with her partner to a complaint session about everyone's actual partner. "Most folks who take over conversation in a book club have no idea they are doing this—none," says Stover. "Many also have no idea how to wrap up their story. Good facilitators give those attendees help by interrupting and steering conversion back. This is not rude."
If you notice that some members have a hard time breaking into the debate, make a point of asking them to share their thoughts; and if talking turns into arguing, gently remind everyone to stay polite. Having trouble with your discussions, book picks, or scheduling? Troubleshoot your book club's pain points with help from the American Library Association by adding more time for socializing, re-evaluating your group's interests, and choosing to ignore (or ban) interruptions.