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How to Start a Book Club

How to Start a Book Club
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BY MARY JANE HORTON

Whether it’s for the company, the food, or the actual reading of the book, a book club with like-minded people is a great way to while away an afternoon or evening. Book clubs have gotten so popular that there is even a trend in cities, of inviting – or paying – the author of the book the club is reading to show up.  A recent article in the The New York Times talked about this phenomenon explaining that authors – even well-known ones – will attend for a fee. The service that does this, Book the Writer, www.bookthewriter.com, is only in New York, but stay tuned.

Book Club 101

If you want to start a reading group, there are lots of big-picture issues to think about. First of all, whom will you invite? Sometimes it is a work group, or a neighborhood group. Some groups are coed, some are single sex. A great way to start if you’re not sure how is to choose two or three people and then have them invite their friends. Here are some of the other nuts and bolts to take into consideration:

–Who’s in charge? I had a friend who started a reading group and I was a member. She wanted it to be run by all the members. She envisioned someone setting up a meeting when they were so moved. It didn’t work. Without a firm leader, the group fizzled. It’s best if someone is in charge.

–When and where? The way most groups work is that they get a reasonably-sized group together – 10-12 people – and each person is responsible for choosing a book, providing food and drink, and having the gathering at their house. Sometimes the person who starts the group just wants to be the permanent host or hostess and have it at their house each time.

–What will you read? Some people like non-fiction, others only read fiction, other swear by memoir. One of the first things to decide is if you will allow the person to choose the book and the genre. Some groups are fiction-only.

–How often? People all read at different rates, and books are different lengths. So it’s good to have a set time, such as 6 weeks, so that everyone can read the book. And that brings up another question. How strict will you be about finishing the book? Some groups are more social and don’t care if you finish, or even read the book, others are more serious. If the idea is to get together and chat, then maybe it doesn’t matter if everyone finishes the book. If you really want to discuss literature earnestly, you can make a rule that everyone needs to come prepared.

–Refreshments? One of the book groups I attended got out of control in this department. It consisted of about 10 women who all began to “one up” each other. The dinners – which were all very creaetively tied in with the theme of the book– got more and more elaborate. The good silver and china was set atop fancy linens. It all got to be too much and, luckily, several people started feeling that way at the same time. So the decision was made to bring it down a notch. The more casual dinners worked and the book club charged on. Some book groups meet in restaurants, in the park, or someplace else, so that no one has to cook or clean.

–How to structure the discussion? There are so many book clubs today, that often books will have questions in the back for use during the meeting. Do you want to just use those if they exist? Or do you want the host or hostess to come up with their own questions or find some online? You can also come up with your own set questions and use the same ones each time. Here are a few suggestions from Oprah’s (the queen of the book club) website to start you off:

1. The circumstance that sets the book in motion is called the inciting moment. What was the inciting moment of this book?

2. Describe the character development. Who did you identify with? Did your opinions about any of the characters change over the course of the novel?

3. How does the author use language and imagery to bring the characters to life? Did the book’s characters or style in any way remind you of another book?

–Keeping track The official head of the club usually keeps a roster a well as a list of the order of who will host. It’s best for this not to be in stone. We all have busy lives and sometimes the date you’re scheduled for doesn’t work. It’s good to give people some leeway. This person should also keep a list of the books read, and when. It’s fun to look back at all of the great – and not so great – books you’ve read.

–New members  Once you have your group set, you have to decide if you will stick to the number of people you have. Often if people start not showing, groups will add on a person to keep the numbers of the group consistent. And what if that person not showing up doesn’t show up for several months, are you going to “kick” people out?

–Author visits  Even if you’re not in a large city that’s crawling with authors you can hire or invite to come to your meeting, there is likely to be a local author who would be thrilled to come. Keep track of the book reviews in your local paper and keep your eyes open for someone like this. It definitely adds a spark to a meeting.

Finally, have fun. Book clubs are a great way to get together and have deep, enlightened conversation. Let’s face it, a book can often be richer if you have someone to talk about it with. And, it’s great to have people to explain nuances that you may have missed. So get some people, pick a book and get reading.

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