I started a book club with three friends in August of 2008. The idea came up at my birthday dinner, my friend Priya to my right and my friend Rachel across the table. They didn't know one another, but engaged in a lively bookish discussion.
There was wine involved.
A few days later we confirmed that we were all still interested, we added Nora, and Book Club was born. Eventually we grew to a group of seven, and we met for almost six years before cross-country moves and babies and jobs forced us to regroup. But without a doubt, book club was always a highlight of my month.
Here are a few tips to running a successful book club:
1. Establish a few loose guidelines. You want to make sure everyone is on the same page and with the same expectations right from the beginning. Will it be come-one-come-all, or do you prefer to keep members to invite only? Will you meet strictly on the first weekend of the month or just when schedules allow? Where will you meet and at what time of day? Should you impose a page limit on selections? These things can all change over time, but start with a general idea of what you want.
We went with members only (unless we were purposefully adding someone), and our group was small enough that we could quickly choose a date each month that worked for the majority. We were a weekend brunch kind of group, but depending on our circumstance, weekday evenings could work well, too.
2. Pick a theme or don't. There are good book club themes out there. You could choose to read only Pulitzer Prize winners or first books in a series. You could focus only on women authors or only authors who wrote under a pen name. The nurses at my OB office are working through the classics in their book club. The possibilities are endless.
My book club doesn't have a theme, but we do tend to gravitate towards darker stories.
3. Establish a "picking" order and write it down. This may feel a little formal at first, but it has helped us to keep track of whose turn it is to pick the book that month. We each take a turn in a specific order, and when a new member has been around for several months, we add her to the rotation. I send out an email each month with the chosen book and the date picked to meet. We are fairly loose in deciding when we're going to meet, but do try to stick to a monthly timeframe.
I know some clubs choose their book selection by vote, but I don't recommend that. A huge benefit to a book club is that you're introduced to authors and genres that you might otherwise never have read. Don't get too wrapped up feeling "responsible" for the pick. Sometimes the worst books (or at least the ones we disagreed on) sparked the bed discussion!
4. Let the conversation go where it wanders. We joke that we spend about half an hour discussing the book and the rest of the time discussing everything else. And I do mean everything else. We have spent entire days, hours and hours, lounging in a living room parsing What It All Means. I have found my book club to be an intellectual outlet I didn't even know I craved, and I almost always leave the meetings feeling full and grateful.
I do not think there are any secrets to this. We keep our group pretty small, which helps. As a whole, we don't see each other all together except for book club, so the gatherings always feel special.
You don't have to be an ardent reader to participate in a book club. Almost anyone can manage one book a month. Sometimes it's even nice to have the discipline. If I don't get anything else of substance read that month, I can count on making it through the book club pick.
Don't wait until you have more time or more friends interested. If it's something you're interested in, don't hesitate.
If you're lucky, it may just be the best conversation you have all month.