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Q’s To Ask Before Starting Or Joining A Book Club

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, this is simply meant to be a guide, remember it’s your group, so you can set it up anyway you like that will encourage others to join.

All it takes to start a book group is to get two or more people together on a regular basis and start talking about books.

Having said that, thinking through a few things in advance will give you the best chance of creating a happy and cohesive book club that enjoys meeting to discuss, and sometimes even politely disagree about, books – an environment where new friendships can be made and existing ones can be strengthened.

How Many People?

A very small group is cozy but can fall apart quickly if a couple of members drop out or can’t make a meeting. A very large group can work but it needs to be run on a more “formal” basis in order to be sure that the conversation stays on track and everybody gets a chance to contribute.

Suggestion: Six to eight people is a good size to start with. It’s a small enough number to fit inside somebody’s home or around a table in a cafe, gives everybody a chance to voice their opinions, and if one or two members can’t make it to a meeting, or drop out altogether, there are still enough people left to form a good discussion.

What Type Of People?

Do you envisage your reading group/book club being all women, all men, or mixed? Another possibility for young families is to have 3-4 couples getting together, or mothers with children (one couple or Mom can even take it in turns to babysit)? Do you want people to be about the same age – or how about mixing different generations (such as a mothers and daughters book club)? The combinations are endless but you get the picture.

Suggestion: Look for people with some common ground (e.g. all women, all couples, all 30 something’s) or make a point of mixing things up so that there isn’t one individual who stands out. For example, one man in a group of women may find himself defending the “mans point of view” rather than discussing his own viewpoints – not always a bad thing, just something to take consider.

What Is The Purpose Of The Group?

Are you looking for serious conversation focused totally on the book, or are you happy with some off topic conversation triggered by something that the group has read?

Suggestion: Differing expectations is probably the leading cause of book club strife. If one person is expecting to spend the entire time in deep discussion while another signed up thinking there would be a token book discussion plus lots of chat somebody’s going to be disappointed!

Agree how your group will run at your first meeting and then try to stick to the formula, unless you agree as a group to change it.

How Many Books Do You Want To Read & How Often Do You Want To Meet?

Do you want to meet every week, once a month, every quarter? Do you want to discuss more than one book at a meeting (not really recommended unless they are linked by a theme which is the focus of your conversation – e.g. 2 books by the same author, 2 travel guides for the same place etc).

Suggestion: Start out by meeting once a month at the most, and discuss one book only with about 300 pages or less you can grow as the group does.

Where Will You Meet?

Do you want to always meet in the same place, either somebody’s home or a public space such as a room at the library or a coffee bar? Or do you want to rotate around each other’s homes?

Suggestion: If the people in your potential group are already known to each other, then meeting in someone’s home is probably the easiest option, but keep in mind that some people may not want, or be able, to host a meeting at their own home, whereas for other members – e.g. those with small children and no babysitter – it might be the only way they can attend.

Therefore, be sensitive and flexible to each other’s needs. If you meet at a different house each time, make sure that the host provides driving directions in good time before the meeting, and consider having someone else bring the snacks (that is if your group has snacks, and most seem to!) to take some of the load off the host.

However, if the members of your potential group are not known to you (e.g. you’ve advertised for members) then we strongly recommend that you meet in a neutral place such as a library, community center or coffee bar until the group is well established and you are all comfortable with each other.

There are two key reasons for this. The first is that meeting in a neutral location will allow your group to get to know each other as individuals without being weighed down by the preconceptions that come from visiting a person’s home before you know that person. The other reason is really just for basic safety – you wouldn’t invite a blind-date to pick you up from your house, so don’t invite a group of strangers into your house until you know them well enough to be sure you want to invite them into your home on a regular basis.

When Will You Meet & For How Long?

Most groups meet in the evening, but some meet during the day, over the weekend, or even at lunch or breakfast time. Some clubs are based at the workplace, in which case it may be easier to coordinate everyone’s schedules for an early morning meeting, or during lunch, rather than after work.

Suggestion: Select the time of day/evening that will best fit the profile of your group – and try to stick with the same time and day of the week once chosen. For example, 1st Tuesday of each month at 7pm.

For a relatively relaxed meeting schedule aim for about 2 hours. For example: Arrive at 7pm (meet, chat, snack – if food on offer, and discuss any book club business such as what book you will read next). At 7.30pm start talking about the book, 8.30pm close “formal” discussion allowing for plenty of time for discussion/chat outside of the group before the meeting ends at 9pm.

If you only have an hour for the actual meeting, consider discussing things like choosing the next book outside of your meeting, by email or spend one meeting every 6 months agreeing your selections for the next six months and discussing any other issues that might have arisen.

Overall, it’s usually best to have a basic structure that your book club can depend on, but to allow flexibility within that framework. What works for some may not work for your group. The bottom line is that if your book club’s going to work the members must want to be there.

Stay focused on making the group a fun and interesting place to be and whatever format your group takes it’s sure to be a success!

All the best,
Ray Evans Sig

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