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Breaking with Tradition

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 16 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
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While it’s important to set goals for your book club and to decide on rules for the group and to stick to these rules sometimes it can also be good to challenge expectations slightly and create new traditions.

Different discussions…

Rather than go through the usual questions about character, setting, plot, style…try approaching discussions from a completely different perspective. For example, relate everything in the book back to the author’s own background or collect all reviews of the book from newspapers, magazines and websites and critically assess them. Get all members to research one aspect of the story, with regards to culture or history, and discuss the book in relation to the bigger picture within those areas.

Different meetings…

Have the meeting in a completely different location and setting. For example, if you always have it at night in someone’s house, try having it at lunchtime in a park or outdoor café, weather permitting, of course! Or how about the zoo or the seaside? Or even on a boat or train, providing that discussion will not be hindered.

Invite an author to a meeting to take part in the discussions – if you can’t get hold of the author, invite an academic specialising in the author’s work or some relate aspect of the book. Alternatively, go to a book reading and hold the meeting afterwards, either in the book store or library or convenient nearby venue, such as a café.

Different activities…

Instead of book discussions, plan another activity for the group to do – such as going to a film or theatrical tie-in of the book and then comparing and contrasting the two versions in the two artistic mediums. You can also plan outings and trips to places featured in books you have read, such as the historic settings, cities where the author lived, museums on the topic or just places with great book stores! Some book clubs even plan day trips and foreign travel together. For example, if you have just read a book set in the Renaissance, you could consider a group visit to an art museum to view collections of Renaissance art – or even organise a group trip to Florence to get a first-hand experience!

Use the books you read to explore a completely different culture. Ask members for ideas on how to incorporate cultural aspects of the book into the meeting, such as recreating some of the customs described in the book or including the food and music featured. For example if you have just a book set in Japan, such as Memoirs of a Geisha, then how about trying out a tea ceremony at the next meeting? Libraries should be able to provide information on how to stage a traditional tea ceremony and whether you succeed or not, it’ll be a fun activity to try with the group. If that sounds like too much work, try all going out to a restaurant which offers the cuisine of the country featured in the book.


Sometimes – especially if your reading group has had a couple of serious discussions lately – it is good to incorporate some games into proceedings. This is also a good idea when members are still getting to know each other at the first ever book club meeting – or when new members are introduced. Of course, just doing a round robin where everyone introduces themselves and says a few words can also work but this can be a bit intimidating for some people and games may be better ice-breakers. And playing a game together can help members bond and feel like they belong to the group faster. Some suggestions are:

  • Favourite Book – all members give the host two pieces of paper – one with their names and one with the title of their favourite book. Then all names and titles are displayed and everyone tries to guess and match up the books to the members.
  • Book Group Quiz – the host prepares a quiz and gives all members 10 minutes to answer the questions, before sharing members’ answers. Keep questions short and fun and remember that ideally, while they should relate to books and reading in some way, this is not a literature test and not intended to embarrass members by testing their literary knowledge!
  • Find a Member – a great way to get members chatting and exchanging information, give all members a list of criteria and they will have to find a name to fit into each category. For example, “Find a member who has finished War and Peace”, “Find a member who has been in a book club before” or “Find a member who can recite a poem”.
  • Memory Game – get a selection of books and lay them on a try. Allow members to look at the titles for a set period of time (e.g. 1 minute) and then remove the books from sight and ask members to list all titles and/or authors they can remember.

Other fun ideas…

  • Have a theme night based on the book you have just read and organise food and music to match. Alternatively serve food and beverages that have significant meaning in the book or are the favourites of characters in the book.
  • Get all members to come dressed as characters from the book or if that is too much effort, get them to simply act like characters from the book and maybe get everyone to guess each other’s chosen character at the end and vote for the best impersonation.
  • Get members to pick a favourite section in the book and read it out loud, with dramatic flourish.
  • Organise a fund-raising event for a chosen charity, such as a literacy-related charity.
  • Have a book-free meeting, especially on special occasions like Valentines or Halloween.
  • Stage your own version of the book, for example as a play with members taking on the different roles.
  • Ask members to come with alternative endings – even try writing them and reading them out loud.
  • Create your own literary awards and ask members to vote for their best reads, favourite authors, etc.
While your normal book club format may work successfully and therefore, you may not want to disturb this too much, it is always a good idea to introduce creative changes and new challenges or experiences from time to time to keep things interesting and fresh.

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