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Organising Book Club Meetings

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 16 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Book Club Meetings Reading Group

Good planning is the key to successful book club meetings. It is very important to set a consistent time and location for meetings and to lay down some ground rules for how the meetings should take place. Not only does this save time as members will not have to go through the process of scheduling the next get-together at the end of each meeting but having a fixed regular time and place means that more members are likely to attend and to have read the book for discussion. Deciding on things like refreshments and the level commitment expected from each host also means there won’t be any misunderstandings or resentment from members.

Where?

Location is important and this is covered in more detail in another article. Please see Book Club Meeting Locations.

When?

Many book clubs meet monthly and in general, it is good to give members 4-6 weeks to read a selected book so that they are sure of having something to contribute to the discussion. If the meetings are in private homes and there are around 10 members in the book club, then this means that each member will only have to host a meeting once a year, which is not too onerous. Setting out the schedule ahead of time so that everyone knows whose turn it is is very useful.

It is best to try to stick to the same day as this makes scheduling easier and also makes it easier for members to remember – for example, the first Tuesday of every month. Make sure you decide a time frame – two to three hours usually works well. Although it is a bit of extra effort, it can be worth sending out “reminder invitations” about 2 weeks before the next intended meeting – whether by phone or email. Ask for everyone to have read at least one chapter and prepare at least one question to discuss.

Although it is inevitable that some members may cancel at the last minute, try to ensure good attendance by scheduling your meetings well in advance and making it clear to members that they are expected to fit their personal commitments around the set book club meetings. It can be very helpful to appoint a “club secretary” who can type up the schedule for an entire session (e.g. September to June) with information on book titles, authors, meeting dates, times and places – so that all members have this to hand and can make sure that they prioritise the meetings in their diaries. It can also be a good idea to take a break during “busy” times of the year – for example, the summer school holidays, when members may be busy with additional family commitment and may be less likely to attend. This way, everyone can return “refreshed” and enthusiastic when the sessions start again.

How?

You can make meetings so much better by investing a bit of effort and creativity into proceedings. For example, decorating the room along the theme of the book can really add to the atmosphere of discussions – such as dim lighting and candles with ropes, knives and other “weapons” for a mystery or crime thriller. Books themselves are a great addition to the room – try getting out all other books by the same author from the library or even biographies about the author if there are any. Not only do the books add to the atmosphere but they can be used as reference as well during discussion.

Another way you can add to the atmosphere is with music. Instrumental, classical or soft jazz makes the best background music for conversations although you can also choose music that matches the theme or era of the selected book.

Good choices for music include:

  • Moonlight Sonata/Beethoven
  • Rhapsody in Blue/Gershwin
  • Carmina Burana/Orff
  • Bolero/Ravel
  • Carmen/Bizet
  • Eine Kleine Nachtmusik/Mozart
  • The Four Seasons/Vivaldi
One thing to keep in mind is to possibly separate the socialising time from the discussion. As many groups serve food and drinks, the meetings can easily turn into social gatherings as well as a book club event - so to prevent some members being dissatisfied because the discussion is being hijacked or distracted by social chit-chat, make a clear statement about the nature of the meetings. For example, you could state that the homes are open from 7pm onwards for drinks, snacks and gossip with discussion beginning at 7:30pm; or you could even have book discussions on alternate months with the meetings in between reserved for socialising. This partly depends on whether you want a serious, scholarly group or a more informal, social one.

Another thing to think about is babysitting in case any members of the group have children. To prevent cancellations and poor attendance, think about having all members bring their children and joining together to pay for one baby-sitter to look after the children while you conduct the meeting. Alternatively, get support from spouses to bring all children together for a “field trip” or similar while their partners attend the meeting.

Don’t Forget the Food!

As book club meetings tend to be social events, food and drink can be an important aspect of the gatherings. Deciding on the level of catering can prevent disappointments and resentments as well as additional stresses for the hosts of each meeting. In many cases, reading groups operate on a “bring a plate” policy where each member contributes some food and the host provides the drinks. Sometimes, this can be designated as snacks and nibbles that are “shop-bought” to prevent any competitive home-cooking or members worrying about their own efforts compared to others and feeling compelled to slave away in the kitchen before a meeting.

It can be fun to have food and drink that matches the theme of the books featured – for example, having Chinese, Mediterranean, Italian, Mexican, Indian or other ethnic foods when reading authors from or stories set in those countries or fish & chips for stories about the sea or even try finding foods as they would have been served during a particular era if focusing on a historical story. You can also organise signature drinks for the evening – Pimms for an English country caper, perhaps or cocktails for sophisticated stories set in glamorous locations. Using your imagination can really add to the fun of preparing for the book club meeting and the possibilities are endless!

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