How To Form a Quality Book Club or Reading Group


This is unashamedly a “How to” post. How to form a “quality” book club or reading group. The adjective in this title is all important. It describes what kind of reading group you form. In my opinion, and since you have no possibility of redeeming wasted time, a quality book club is the only kind of reading group worth participating in.

Assuming that you value your time, this is the right post for you. Either it will confirm something you’re already doing right (that should make you feel good); or, it can prove helpful motivational to consider doing something worth your time and effort. Perhaps the information shared here will equip you to take that step you’ve been contemplating–planning the launch of a quality book club or reading group. So, where do we begin?

So, are you starting a group that you will lead? Or are you wanting something more democratic? Just remember, the more cooks you invite into the kitchen the better or worse the food may be, but the question is do you want the confusion that can come with a room full of cooks? If so, then bring the group together to form the group, otherwise, you form the group and see who’s interested. Some groups prefer to not have to make a thousand decisions. They make far too many decisions every day as it is. So they may LOVE that fact that the leader takes that load off. Other groups don’t like one person leading. At this point, it’s your decision and your group, if you haven’t formed one yet.

Let’s assume you’re beginning a group and you’re unsure.

Decide Upon the Nature of the Group

First of all, is it a “reading group” or a “book club.” The suggestions in this post apply to a group of either nature. A “reading group” may read any number of different kinds of books. It may read a novel one month and a non-fiction, self-help the next. The group may decide to read the likely definitive  biography of Neil Armstrong this month and a history of the game of Monopoly the next (there is such a book).

A “book club” usually forms around a particular author, topic, or genre. The participants may decide to read all the works of G.K. Chesterton or to read as many books as they can find about Sable Island. They could also be genre oriented. One book club I know of reads nothing but high fantasy another club reads only military history books.

It’s important to determine the nature of your club or group, but don’t get into angst about this. You can either decide up front–before you invite participants–or you can think of the people you want to invite into the group and bring them together to discuss what kind of group you’d like to be. Just make sure you enjoy the process. This is about FUN!! Keep that central. When it stops being fun, forget about it. You don’t need more stress in your life.

Once you know what kind of group you’ll be–reading group or book club–you’re ready to take the next step–determining the content.

Determine the Content

Is there an expert in the group from whom you can learn something new and valuable? Get rid of her/him. Just kidding. Actually, if you have a person who is knowledgeable in a particular area, and it’s an area worth exploring or learning more about, the group may want to invite that person to suggest or submit a bibliography and the group or leader could choose a reading list from the bibliography. In any case, bibliographies are invaluable when exploring an author, a genre, or a niche. Here is a source of bibliographies that can be invaluable to the reading group or book club.

Perhaps you decide you want to form a reading list from the top 10 New York Times best sellers (though that list is no guarantee of quality). A group that enjoys hiking or mountain climbing may want to Google books about climbing K2 or great hikes in the White Mountains of NH. Some groups I’ve heard of really like to gamble. They invite a different member each month to determine the title they’ll read for that month. It can be interesting and informative OR you could be held hostage to bad taste and disaster. You don’t want an exodus of members because they’re exposed to bad or bankrupt literature.

In deciding what your group wants to read, make sure that the writing is good and that it will hold the interest of the group. Fiction should engage the reader and allow for vicarious experience. Non-fiction should instruct, inform, challenge, and provide practical solutions. Both should come highly recommended by a diverse number of people, journals, or reputable sources.

Be able to answer the questions: What do you hope to get out of this group? What are you willing to contribute to the group?

Location, Location, Location

Will you meet in a home, at Borders (are there any left?), the local library? Find the right environment for the group. Make sure that it’s geographically central to the group members. Is it comfortable? Well lit? Free of distractions?

Will you meet in one place or move around? You can rotate homes on a voluntary basis or you can go to one location for the duration. This can be decided by the group or the club members’ circumstances. Libraries often have rooms available for reading groups and book clubs. And the libraries are usually central for a community.

There Must be a Facilitator – the same person or rotate? Clubs that are supposed to “just happen” don’t usually. They flounder unless someone is willing to facilitate–as opposed to dictate. See if anyone is experienced at leading small groups. If not, you do it, but read a few articles on “small group leadership” by searching on Google or your favorite search engine.

Invite Participants

Invite people who love books, reading, growing. Diversity brings growth. Avoid clones. I don’t much like being in a group where everyone has to think alike. I’m challenged and stretched by being with people who have different perspectives. But the key to a positive experience with people who hold different values is–respect the right to disagree agreeably. We don’t all see things the same way. We all have filters we walk the world with. As long as we’re willing to acknowledge that and understand that we don’t have to all agree to enjoy and respect one another, we have the opportunity to grow, to explore. Guard this freedom  in your group.

Other Enhancements

Begin a Blog or establish an email newsletter. Give everyone in the group access to share a review or suggestion.

If the group is an open group, Register at an online Finder like “Readerscircle.org” so that others in your area can find you.

Housekeeping

What time will you meet? How long will this club meet? Six weeks or throughout eternity? Eternal clubs usually only last six weeks anyway. A good rule of thumb is to read three to six books. If you read one book per month, then that would be three to six months. Then meet for a celebration or barbecue and decide if you’ll go another six months. This gives people the opportunity to opt out or have new people join (assuming you’re a closed club until the time limit is reached). Open clubs can have members come and go as they determine together.

Outside Speakers or not? (see my blog on “Speakers for Book Clubs – Yes or No?” I haven’t written it yet, but check back from time to time or, “Follow” this blog and sign up for email notification at top right)

Decide on a Format

Make sure that you have track to run on that makes your club comfortable because its predictable. Studies have been done that show that MOST people are more relaxed and comfortable when they know what to expect.

I like the following format.

Light Refreshments

Icebreaker–a question that gives some insight to the person answering. Ask the question. Let each answer in turn. “What was your favorite book when you were 11?” “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” If you write down the answers, you could surprise everyone with a special ice cream bash which includes all the flavors mentioned.

Discussion By chapter? By character? By topic? What stood out to you in this week’s reading? Leave to facilitator? Use a study guide for the book? I understand that guides are available for book clubs. Do a search.

Choose the First Book

However you decided to proceed, it’s time to pick the first book. Make it a winner! Read something that is absolutely engaging. How will you know? Ask around. Do you know other book clubs or readers? Ask a librarian. Read some reviews. What title keeps coming up? What do reviews at Amazon.com say on the book’s product page?

Now Go and read the “Do’s and Don’ts of Facilitating a Book Club Meeting” [This post is not written yet either, but if you check back, I’ll include the link just as soon as it’s complete.]

QUESTION: Have you ever started a group? Would you add something I left out?

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