Setting up a book club is a great move if you find yourself in any of the following situations
- You want to get to know some more book-ish people
- You want to join a book club, but there aren’t any near you
- None of the book clubs near you are doing what you are interested in reading
- Just for the fun of it
If you find yourself thinking about setting up a book club, but don’t know how to go about it, then you’ve come to the right place. When I first moved from Surrey to Somerset I found myself in a strange new corner of the country, in a new job with no friends, acquaintences or even friendly adverseries. I needed socialisation and fast, so I set about finding my people by setting up a book club for my workplace and it worked a charm.
Find Your People
Who do you want to be in your book club? Are you after finding people who live near you? Who you work with? People who have a similar taste in literature to you? People who will challenge your ideas? These are all things that you might like to consider because they will impact the first consideration, which is finding members who want to join. There is little value to a book club of one person, since you are unlikely to be blown away by your own take on the latest Katie Fforde book. A book club of two people is not called a club, that’s called having a chat.
You probably want to aim for between 4-10 people. I would consider 10 to be a little on the high side, but workable, as it is difficult to get everyone talking and cheerfully debating when there are too many people present. You end up with a lot of interruptions, or people who can’t find a gap in the conversation to mention that really insightful thing they just thougth of.
Do you know people who you want to join together to make a book club, or are you looking for meet new people? If it’s the latter then you are going to need to get those peoples interests and let them know that it is happening. This leads you into the ever so fun world of ‘advertising’. Personally I took the easy approach and I posted on the workplace noticeboard that I was starting a book club for work people, and then people came and found me. I was lucky enough that I never had too many people join at once, and we had a fairly steady group of 5 for a while, though the first two book club meetings were terribly awkward because only one other person turned up to both, and they weren’t even the same person. After that it was fun though.
Where Will You Meet?
- You could meet virtually. This could be helpful for those with children or who live further away, getting rid of the need for extra travel or a babysitter. It may also help with the inevitable covid related issues which may or may not come up in the forthcoming weeks/ months/ years. Virtually isn’t everyones cup of tea, but it’s definitely a consideration
- At somebody’s house. This can work really well, though people who don’t know each other may not be all that keen on inviting new people into their homes, or walking into the house of somebody they don’t know without a friend to take them. This may be a good idea for pre-established friendship groups.
- The local pub. In my first ever book club we met in the same pub at the same table every month, which worked rather well for all involved. When I set my own book club up I was getting to know the area and chose to rotate around different pubs each month to explore a bit. As a result of this, I know the local pubs far better than my other half who has lived here 25 years longer than I have. Remember when meeting in pubs to call ahead and book a table, otherwise you may turn up to find that there’s no room at the inn.
- In a public place. In good weather local parks can be a pleasant place to meet, though you will find yourself a slave to the weather forecast (particularly if you are living in the UK). Libraries will likely lend you a corner to meet in, as will Cafe’s and community centres, or you could even use a spare room at work if it is a company social gathering. There are plenty of corners to huddle up in if you look around
How Often To Meet?
This is something that often divides the group, because some members may feel up for meeting on a weekly basis to catch up on the book gossip and enjoy a bit of literary banter. Not everyone can commit to a book a week however, so a little negotiation may need to take place. 2 weeks? 6 weeks? Once every three months? The choice is yours.
Personally I liked to meet once a month. A book a month is usually a reasonable commitment for someone looking to join a book club in the first place, but the club needs to work for its members otherwise there’s no point, so set it up however works best for you.
What To Read?
Here is where the real controversy lies.
My first book club took the BBC Top 100 list and worked through it one by one ( BBC Top 100 Reads, and the ‘obligated’ read. ). It was an interesting and useful list to provide ideas, but please see the attached link for further discussion on the idea of using a list to guide you.
When I set up my own book club we started off by simply taking suggestions from the group, and picking the one everyone liked the most. After a while however we had a librarian join us and she did that most useful and librarian-like of things; she researched book ideas beforehand and bought a list to meetings with her. She would take the ideas from the short lists for book awards and new releases and presented them to us on printed out lists including blurbs. She was fantastic. She ended up running that book club actually when I went to university.
Please feel free to browse my list of book reviews above to help find inspiration.
You will need to take into account things like accessibility of the book and financial commitments. Not everyone is going to be a fan of buying the latest hardback each month, and older books are more likely to be found second hand. You could also find out what your local library has in stock and order multiple copies ahead of time if possible.
You will also need to discuss things like length and genre. Not everyone wants to read a 500 page novel, and not everyone is a fan of thrillers. Discuss, negotiate and be willing to explore different things. Trust me, it’ll be fun.
Alternatively, you could all read a different book each month then bring them together to discuss. Your book club can be done however makes you all happiest, and so long as you are all enjoying yourself that’s the important thing.
This was something I learnt the hard way. You can only sit through so many meetings where the most insightful question you hear is ‘did you like it?’ before you do something about it. I got into the habit of pre-preparing questions about the book and taking them with me to keep the conversation flowing and I would strongly advise you to do the same.
It’s also worth remembering that if the conversation is flowing naturally without a list of questions then do yourself a favour and just let it flow. Do the research just in case, but be okay with that having being a waste of time, because it is a back-up plan, not a criteria to meet.
On that note, I have started writing book club questions for several of the books that I have reviewed. Please feel free to look at my list of book questions for inspiration.
I hope that this list of suggestions (and they really are just suggestions) is helpful to all of those budding book club members out there and that the world suddenly bursts into a flurry of book-ish socialisation over the next few months. More realistically, I hope you all enjoy yourself, and find a few like-minded friends to chat books with.