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How To Form A Book Club That Doesn’t Suck

I can’t tell you how many women have told me over the years that they are in a horrible book club or would like to be in a book club but are afraid because they’ve heard the horror stories of being involved in one. I won’t lie; there are a lot of associated risks involved: obnoxious members, being forced to read cheesy novels, dull, vapid conversations, or worse yet, the lack of any discussion about the book.

At one time I myself was exposed to a book club that I had a love-hate relationship with. I loved that we read classics, and it exposed me to wonderful books I would never have read on my own and also to new restaurants that I always wanted to try. I hated that we never talked about the books.

So what’s a girl to do? Form your own book club! Seriously, if you want to be in a good book club, you have to take the bull by the horns and form the type of club you want to be a part of. I took this step many years ago with another woman who was fed up with her book club as well and am pleased to say that I am part of a group of six amazing women who share a love of reading, great food, and friendship. If you are interested in doing the same, here are a few tips for forming your very own book club that doesn’t suck.

Network. Find a friend or fellow book lover who you know has good taste in people and books, and approach her about starting a book club. Each of you will be charged with recruiting two other like-minded women to round out the club. It’s okay if someone you want to invite likes to read science fiction or biographies or a genre you typically do not prefer. That is the beauty of a book club—each member gets a chance to pick books, and you get the opportunity to expand your literary horizons.

Schedule. Once the group has been set up, you should pick the initial book and plan the initial meeting. At the meeting be sure to have everyone introduce themselves and leave enough time at the beginning and end of the meeting for socializing. It is important for everyone to get to know each other and, hopefully, become good friends down the road.

Avoid scheduling nightmares. Pick a set time for your meetings. For example, the first Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. That way everyone can plan ahead to keep that date open. There will be times when members can’t make a meeting, but trust me, this guideline will save you a lot of time and agony in trying to get six busy women together on a regular basis. The amount of time you allow to read the books is entirely up to the schedules of the group. A book club is supposed to be fun, not another task or stressful item on your list. My group meets every other month, which allows each of us enough time to fit reading the book into our schedule.

Location, location, location, and food! Where you have your book club and what you eat are critical components to a good meeting. My club mixes it up, and sometimes we meet at a local restaurant, which is really fun if you select a restaurant based on the food theme or a new restaurant everyone wants to try. For example, our last book was The Help, and we all met at a soul food restaurant for delicious Southern cooking. Sometimes we meet at a member’s home. It just always seems more relaxing, and I don’t feel the pressure of the restaurant owner trying to turn the table when we are lingering over a great conversation. Everyone in my group chips in to bring a food or drink item so the host doesn’t have to provide everything.

Structure. A book club meeting should start out with a good dose of socializing before the start of a robust discussion of the book, followed by a discussion and selection of the next book, and finally topped off with more socializing and perhaps dessert or a drink or two! If you don’t have any structure to your meetings, they will just turn into gab fests. Don’t be afraid to speak up if the conversation is getting off track, or you’ll never get to discuss your book.

The good stuff – book selection! Each member gets her turn to select a book. My club set the order based on our birthdates, so we have a method to remember who is next if we ever forget.

The role of the book selector is not one to be taken lightly, as it carries much responsibility. The person selecting the next book should come to the meeting prepared with either one book or a couple of books she would like to recommend and should present the books and provide a synopsis of the story line. This person has the right to either say, “This is what I’m recommending,” or she can put the selection up to a vote. The book selector gets to pick the venue for the meeting and should come prepared with discussion topics and questions to facilitate the book discussion. I always find the selection of the next book one of the best parts of the meeting. It is great to hear about new books, and I often end up reading some of the books that did not get selected. I guess the most important tips I can provide for the book selector is to put the effort in to select a great book. To the rest of the group: Be open to reading new genres even if you don’t like the selection.

Membership (no boys allowed). I’m a big proponent of keeping the club to six members (eight tops). If you get more than that, it is difficult to get every person involved in the conversation, or the conversations break off into groups. On the unfortunate chance that you lose a member, the two founding members should take turns in recruiting a new member or ask another member to recruit. This can be perilous, especially if the group has been meeting for a while and has a good chemistry. The rule of thumb is to discuss new membership as a group, and make the decision together before inviting in a new member.  And it is okay to have boys… if the rest of the group is down with it.

One last tip: During certain times of the year, like Christmas and summer, it is best to pick a lighter read to fit with the group’s busy schedules. And it is okay if you don’t get to finish a book. I have gone to many a meeting when I never found the time to read the book but still went to listen to the discussion and enjoy the company of the women in my group.

I love the fact that I have made new friends through my book club and have also been exposed to so many amazing books. Before I joined a book club, I never felt I had the time to read, but being involved with this group has given me the motivation to find the time to do something I love.

Here are a few great books that my club has read over the years that could be great starts to your very own book club. If you are in a book club and have a great book pick to share or a practice that has helped your club not suck or a question, please leave a comment.

The Stone Diaries: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

The Time Traveler’s Wife

Life of Pi

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