How to Start a Book Club–and Keep It Up!

Literature geeks out there know the feeling – it might be years now you’ve been yearning for a small group of similarly bright, thoughtful, just-a-little-dorky people with whom you can indulge your love of reading over a homemade goodie; people you can talk to about the nuances of a new novel’s supporting characters or narrative structure; people who aren’t embarrassed to gush over a lush description or afraid to tackle the hard questions, like: what is the author really saying about love?

Or you might be more of a non-fiction lover, tired of your roommate’s disinterested look as you explain the way this book has totally opened your eyes, changed your worldview, your life; wondering, how can I get all my most interesting friends in the same room to talk about politics or history or science or psychology or ALL of those? And how can I make it a regular thing??

Reader, I feel you.

I’ve been in a handful of book clubs over the years, and they’ve all had one thing in common: they didn’t last. This summer I finally got starved enough for intellectual activity that I decided to start one myself. After a handful of successful meetings, I feel I’m qualified to offer a few tips to fellow chatty readers:

1. Don’t just invite your BFFs.

As much as you love them, the people in your regular circle of friends are NOT the people you want in your book club. At least not all of them, and not exclusively. Invite people who will have a real interest in the books and the conversation, not just you. If you’re not sure who that is, take a leaf out of my book: I put a poll on my Instagram story asking, “Kalli (my roommate) and I start a book club. How interested are you actually?” Then I DMed everyone who answered the poll enthusiastically. You might be surprised who responds!

2. But definitely get your roommate on board.

That said: your roomie is one person you absolutely want to participate, if at all possible. Makes it much easier when the day of the meeting arrives and you have to clean the apartment, make a treat, and prep for the discussion––things we’ll talk more about later. But a roommate who’s in on the fun is much more likely to be willing to help you make it happen.

3. Send a reminder.

Being as fascinating and knowledgeable and cool as all your new book club members are takes work––chances are, they’re all just as busy as you with school, jobs, and extracurricular activities, not to mention the day-to-day task of keeping themselves alive. Excited though they undoubtedly are about the book club, it might not be their top priority. So send a reminder, or even two: one a week ahead of the meeting, and one the day before.

4. But expect people to flake.

Sometimes it’s not just an issue of remembering when and where the meeting is being held––life happens. Not everyone you invite will make it to book club every month. With that in mind, invite several more people than you hope will turn up. And be okay with the fact that your group will vary month to month.

5. Take turns choosing books.

Initially, I thought we’d have people make book recommendations and then vote as a group on what to read each month. But it’s much easier – and fairer – to just take turns choosing. Plus it motivates people to keep coming and gets you reading beyond your usual interests. You can set parameters if you want, though. Your group may want to stick to novels, or memoirs, or short-story collections. My book club’s only rule is a 300-page limit.

6. Set aside time to write discussion questions.

Prepping for the book discussion is essential to a successful book club. Take 20 minutes to scan Sparknotes for ideas about themes, symbols, etc., and write a handful of questions so you have a way to keep the conversation moving and focused on the book. You can start broad to get the ball rolling – Favorite characters or passages? What people liked or hated about the book? – but specific questions really make for a good discussion. Ask how the author’s commentary on industrialization might apply to our own time, or how their ideas about love differ from the last book you read. A good one for wrapping up: Is there anything you learned/changed your mind about because of this book?

7. Don’t be a hardass.

Not everyone will finish the book every time. That’s okay! Be excited to have them and hear their thoughts anyway, because there will come a month when life gets the better of you and you don’t finish either. Rather than being judgmental of people who don’t read all the way through, be congratulatory of the few people who manage to finish. (That doesn’t mean you have to avoid spoilers in your discussion, though.)

8. Most importantly: bake something.

Finally, be prepared with a treat. If you can possibly make it yourself and keep it warm until your guests arrive, do it. They’ll love you––and keep coming––for it and the praise will make you feel great. If that’s too tough to make happen, though, you can always order a pizza or have everyone meet at a local coffee shop.

I won’t lie to you – hosting a book club requires some effort. Sometimes you’ll scramble just to get halfway through the book and rid your apartment of secondhand smoke from next door by the time people show up. Sometimes you’ll read things you don’t like at all, or have people hate your recommendation. But if you can pull it ~mostly~ off each month, it can be really fulfilling socially, emotionally, and intellectually, and not just for you. These pointers should have you off to a great start.

 

Sources: 1, 2