How to start a book club

When you think of book club what springs to mind? Men with woollen vests and women with eighties perms whose reading glasses come with a string attached? Or perhaps young intellectual types who discuss the virtues of esoteric Eastern European post-modernism? Perhaps images are also conjured up in your mind of calm, well-organised events containing cheese platters with sides of fresh figs and Shiraz? Well, I’ve been in a few book clubs and none of these things have ever happened.

The longest running book club I attended was for the most part a shambles. It ended up becoming “fook club” with the idea it would be a combined food and book appreciation club. What this really meant was the “readers” could eat great food and not feel guilty (or excluded) for turning up without having read the book … because (and this is pretty shocking) sometimes people come to book club without having … read *breathe* … the *breathe* … book *breathe*. I know, right? What’s with that? But in the end it was no biggie because our club was actually about catching up, having a laugh, and hopefully reading something you normally wouldn’t bat an eyelid at. Which brings me to probably the most important point of this entire post: what kind of book club do you want to have? Why are you there and what vibe do you want? I wanna help you figure this out. So here’s a breakdown of points to think about when starting a book club:

Numbers

Chances are people will come and go and you know what, that’s A-okay. Mixing up who attends will change the dynamic, keep it fresh and lively and you’ll get different viewpoints and ideas for books to read.

To begin with you could aim to have anywhere between six and twelve readers, but remember, even if you only have four to start with more people will want to join later when the core group begin telling their mates and colleagues how freaking fun and awesome your book club is.  They WILL want to get a piece of the book club action. Trust me!

Location

You’ll want to work out whether to have meetings in a public place (such as a cafe or pub) or in someone’s home. If at home you’ll have to decide whether you want to prepare a meal or just put out snacks and wine or coffee. For our fook club we had fun with the food. When I hosted Middlesex I did a Greek inspired meal. Also, we once read Life of Pi and our host cooked pie for main and pie dessert. It was Ahhhh-mazing but then again the host was a bit of a genius in the kitchen, he worked part time and only had to cater for six of us. If your reading group consists of 12 people who have kids and full time jobs it might be a big ask to get the host to prepare a three course meal.

Dates

Another problem in our fook club was sticking to a date. (I’m really not selling this well am I?) I would set a date and then a week before someone who was either frantic at work or in the honeymoon stage of a new relationship or just plain disorganised would email asking to push it back because they haven’t had time to read the book, which would then be followed by someone else replying all about what a great idea that is because they haven’t got around to even getting the book because well … life happens, ya know? Then we would have ten million emails bouncing back and forth saying: “What about this time?” “I’m busy that day.” “Well, could we make it … blah blah blah.” You do NOT want this to happen in your book club because it is a pain in the inbox.  Another possibility would be to have a set time such as the first Tuesday evening of every month, or every fourth Sunday brunch and then stick to it no matter what. It means a bit of extra work required to set it up because initially you have to establish what people’s commitments are such as French classes, dragon boat racing, Sunday morning hangovers and so on but in the end it will be worth it.

Preparation

The times we most discussed the book was when the host prepared questions. Even if at first you feel a bit silly about coming with a list of school-like questions it does work really well because it’s the questions that usually spark a more casual conversation. Aaaaand … a lot of bestsellers nowadays have reading group questions at the back of the book or on the net so you don’t have to go searching for your thinking cap, just go searching in google.

Choosing the book

We took turns for who nominated the next book and the host could choose any genre they wanted. So we read a rich (or weird depending on how you look at it) range of books. If you have some whacky people in your club who can’t be trusted to chose the book you could work out a different genre for each meeting where the host chooses three book ideas and everyone votes on which one they want to read. Varying genre is not a necessity for book clubs. Maybe the aim of yours is to finally read those classics or go through this year’s Man Booker Prize longlist. Or maybe you only want to read chick lit. When it comes to book club structures … the sky’s the limit. And if structure aint your thang you could do blind votes where your group puts a bunch of title ideas in a hat and then randomly selects … it’s like Kris Kringle but the joy is all year long – awwww.

Another tres tres important tip to consider is how far ahead you will plan your book choices. At the end of our meetings we would designate the next host but sometimes they wouldn’t have a clue what they wanted to do so it would take a week or two (or more) to decide the following book which cut into reading time and meant longer gaps between meetings. (Wow, I sound pedantic don’t I? But come on, book club is important okay and my mother always said if you’re going to do something, do it right or not at all.)

Finally, don’t choose a book that is so obscure it is out of print and only available at random garage sales or second hand book stores. Some people are too busy to go hunting. Ideally you also want the option for readers to go to the library or borrow it off someone rather than fork out $30-$40 a pop for a book they could potentially hate.

And if you want to do something a little bit different why not take a leaf out of Jimmy Kimmel’s book (club idea) … it’s pretty spesh:

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