If it were difficult to start a book club, there’d be fewer of them. But reading groups proliferate like squirrels at bird feeders. They meet in libraries and homes, churches, restaurants and bookstores. Oprah single-handedly launched thousands of isolated readers into shared experiences with books (and created best-sellers overnight). Professional organizations often have associated reading groups.
Still, I hear from T&G-area readers seeking a book group in their area. Usually, I point them to the library if I don’t already know of a group, since librarians tend to be tuned in to reading groups, and often help order their selections. So that’s where you start. You may even be able to leave a note on the library’s bulletin board.
Meetup.com has links to area bookclubs, listing selections, feedback and members. We found one for Leominster, as well as Worcester’s Wine and Dine and Page Turner book clubs; New Earth Book Club in Shrewsbury; an interfaith book group in Holliston, a history book group in Chelmsford, and even a dog-friendly group, the Sweet Wag Dog-Eared Book Club, in Framingham. A women’s issues book club meets at Barnes & Noble in Worcester. Many senior organizations sponsor clubs as well.
If you just want to launch your own, here are some recommendations:
· Decide what you want to read—it may be a select genre, like sci-fi, history, hobbies, current events, women’s fiction, romance, or biographies. Most groups gravitate toward a mixture, to broaden their exposure to new writers.
· It won’t take many people to make a book club, though seven to ten usually provides enough people to ensure a meeting with at least half that number. More than ten can be unwieldy, depending on the strength of the leader—there’s a bit of force needed in the art of keeping talkers from dominating and chatters from gossiping… all at once. Decide how many to start with, but be open to new members as word spreads—they’re the lifeblood of the group.
· Establish a time for the first meeting—to organize selections.
· Tell everyone you think would be interested. Tell the librarians. If it’s a special interest group, get the word out to likely readers. Post a flyer in likely places. Put a notice in your church, school or club news.
· At the first meeting, set a regular meeting time and location.
· Always serve food, unless meeting in a bookstore. Then, for pete’s sake, patronize the store!! Stores need book groups’ support.
· Don’t be too rule-bound: flexibility may work best for members, although your group isn’t likely to survive if you bend to whims. But democracy in book selection, discussion rules and food selection (just kidding) works wonders!
· Someone needs to lead the discussion—and it may be you. Or someone who loves a particular book. Or a teacher-member. Avid interest is the key to a good group discussion. But, mainly: someone does need to steer the conversation so that it doesn’t veer into politics, gossip, health complaints or “the great movie I saw last night.” They don’t call our Lancaster group “Off-Track Bookies” for nothing.
· Take the group’s temperature after a couple meetings. Is the discussion style working for everyone? Any second thoughts about the best way to discuss a book? Printed notes of the questions for discussion, if they exist, are helpful for some.
· You may wish to vote on selections after a couple of meetings, once you have a gauge of members’ interests. Or, let the person hosting the meeting choose a book. Some groups allow one person to pick the selections, but that’s a risk should other members grow bored. Consider dedicating a year, or a portion of it, to the exploration of a single topic or author. Out of ideas? www.bookmovement.com offers plenty, along with opportunities to win the book your club wants to read.
· Try not to contain book selection to one genre or time frame. New books are also available through libraries, websites like Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com, and on electronic readers at a lower price (which has begun going up—good news for writers). Second-hand stores and libraries often sell recent books at low prices; ask around.
· Be creative. E-mail an author to see if he or she will give feedback to your club, or even visit. Invite an expert in the subject matter, or a local teacher, to give the discussion deeper layers. Above all, experiment with your new group and find out what works for you as a whole.
· Consider a meeting at which each member brings in a favorite book, talks about it and lets the discussion flow around that talk. This works well with issue-oriented books in such areas as women’s literature, non-fiction, biography … and it stimulates new ideas for future reading.
· What to discuss? Newbies can be intimidated by a club setting, so start off with set discussion questions. Here are some areas to talk about: writing style, and whether it worked for the reader, and how it affects the story being told; social issues arising from the book, such as “The Help,” with its view of 1960s color barriers between women and household help; how readers react to the author’s point of view; how strong are the characters, and how do we like or hate them? It’s endless, really.
If you belong to a large book group, or an unwieldy one, contact me. I’d like to know how you keep order! Ann Connery Frantz writes fiction and blogs about books at www.readitandreeap.blogspot.com. Book club members are invited to share their experiences, recommendations and problems—on a book club level, of course! Email firstname.lastname@example.org