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How to Start a Book Club

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 6 Jul 2017 | comments*Discuss
Running A Book Club Starting A Book Club

Before you think about starting a book club, it might be worth looking around and thinking about joining an existing book club in the vicinity or online.

Running your own book club can be very time-consuming and frustrating and so unless you feel that you would enjoy managing such a group or you want a very specific type of book club that you cannot find elsewhere, it might be wiser simply to become a member of an existing book club and enjoy the benefits that way.

Having said that, if managed correctly, running your own book club can also be rewarding and fun, as well as a great way to socialise and meet new people. As online book clubs are very similar to internet discussion forums, this article will focus mainly on how to start a traditional book club.

Decide on the Type…

Think about what kind of book club you would like. Do you want serious, intensive discussions on each book or just casual opinion exchange and social chat? What kind of books will you be covering? Will it be genre-specific or focused on an area of special interest? Will it be literary? Or “light” popular fiction? What kind of book selection procedure will you use? Will you all read the same title simultaneously or share a pool of books? It is vital that you decide on the guidelines of your book club before doing anything else and that you stick to these guidelines in order to have some kind of structure to your group and set the style or tone of the book club.

Recruit Members…

A reading group needs people, so recruiting members to your book club will be a first priority. This may be easier than you think. Many book clubs were started with a core group of 3 or 4, quickly extending to other friends, work colleagues and acquaintances. You may be surprised how quickly membership grows and may even have to think about imposing a limit on numbers.

In general, book clubs do best with 5 to 15 members – this number allows the reading group to thrive and be successful. To some extent, the size of your group is determined by where you would like to meet. Obviously, if meetings will largely be conducted in the living rooms of private homes, it might not be practical to extend the membership beyond 8 members. On the other hand, you must remember that you may not get 100% attendance at each meeting and with too few members, discussion may suffer. If you really have difficulty recruiting members, asking at the local library or book shop and putting up notices on community noticeboards or in local publications can be a good way to raising awareness of your new club.

Work Out Logistics…

One of the most important things to consider is the proposed schedule of meetings. It is important to have regular meetings to keep the momentum of the book club going and help maintain the interactions between members. However, if members are not given enough time to read the books – especially with the increasingly busy lives we lead - then the discussions will suffer and the meetings will lack meaning anyway. Often a 4 to 6-weekly interval works well. Traditional book clubs met monthly but this may have been in the days before the stresses and frenetic pace of modern life.

It is best to choose a regular night or time which suits all members and to try and stick to that. This saves time and the hassle of scheduling each future meeting every time. In addition, decide on a time frame (e.g. 2 hours or finish by 10pm) and make sure you stick to this as well as otherwise discussions can become very long-winded and unfocused.

The other important decision is the location of meetings. Traditionally, members took turns to host the meetings in their own homes and this form of rotation still works well. In fact, if there are 10 or more members in the club, you will each only have to host a meeting once a year. Otherwise, members can meet in a local café, restaurant or even library.

Another point to consider is the level of catering expected. Light snacks or a full meal? Cocktails or tea and cakes? For some busy members, the pressure of having to provide gourmet offerings may be too much while for other members who may be food enthusiasts with all the time in the world, cooking and preparing for the meeting can be part of the enjoyment itself. Many clubs often ask all members to bring a contribution, to lessen the load on the host or hostess; some even stipulate that all food should be bought snacks to remove the pressure or competition involved with home cooking. In many cases, keeping it simple may be the best idea as the meeting should be about the books and discussions, not about the food and refreshments on offer.

While running a book club can be a challenge, it can also be a very rewarding experience if things are well planned and managed correctly.

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[Add a Comment]
JK1 - Your Question:
I'm seeking advice on informal evaluation of success in my newish book group. We have been running for nine months. I would like to include the group in the evaluation progress. I know I need to look at the range of books we have read, but any advice on softer information from individuals about their reactions about what goes well, and not so well would be welcome. I should have set up some criteria when we started. However..

Our Response:
It's not something books groups tend to do as a rule...people leave if they don't like it or keep coming if they do! Perhaps the easiest way to establish what people think and to encompass any thoughts/ideas they have for the future success of the group would be to print out a few simple questions and get people to complete them and put them in a box...anonymously. Some ideas:
How do you feel about the book club?
What do you think works well/doesn't work well?
What could be added/includedin the way the meetings are held in order to improve the club?
You could also add a few specific closed questions, not as part of the evaluation but to gauge interest in further activities, such as field trips, community events, blogs, talks, games etc
TheReadingClub - 7-Jul-17 @ 10:57 AM
I'm seeking advice on informal evaluation of success in my newish book group. We have been running for nine months. I would like to include the group in the evaluation progress. I know I need to look at the range of books we have read, but any advice on softer information from individuals about their reactions about what goes well, and not so well would be welcome. I should have set up some criteria when we started. However............
JK1 - 6-Jul-17 @ 11:24 AM
I found your web site interesting & informative since we are striving to establish reading club in Harari Regional State of Ethiopia. I hope i will benefite more in the future.
Gerado - 8-Mar-12 @ 6:04 AM
I appreciated your effort of bringing out some ways leading to setting a new book club. For several months now, I have been wandering on how to join or set a new book club. One problem I have in my community is that it is difficult to start something and maintained it for quite a long time. Several colleagues have tried to set up a book club, but within months it collapses. So I became confused on How to start and maintain such a good thing in my community. So when I came across this article, I became impressed and happy that at least I have a starting guiding principle that can lead me set a more interesting and entertaining book club. My community need such a club for the survival of the community and for creation of better decision makers and future leaders for our their country in general.So please, if there is any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me. I need both technical and logistic support. Thank you.
Doctor - 30-May-11 @ 11:06 AM
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