The 5 W’s of a Successful Book Club

If you’re thinking about starting a neighborhood book club (and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you are) there are a bazillion ways to do one right. But, for those who can already feel the panic monster looming over their shoulders at the mere thought of ‘where do I even begin,’ I wanted to provide an EZ PZ  guide of book club how-to’s to help you get started.

Over the past 20 years, I have led and facilitated various kinds of study groups, from book clubs to corporate training workshops to faith-based topic groups.  Trust me: you can do this.  And I’ve got your back.

Drawing from my journalism roots, my failsafe “How to Launch a Successful Book Club” plan is crafted around the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where & Why. And I’ll toss in a How for good measure.

Ready?

WHO

Cultivate a neighborhood book clubWho will you invite? Would you like your club to be all women?  All men?  Open to anyone? Couples?  Think about what YOU would like to do and then, as my friend Wendy did (see previous post on book clubs) cast a wide net with your invitations.  You will ideally want to end up with a critical mass of 8-12 people. Send out emails, knock on doors.  You gotta start somewhere.

WHAT

Deciding what to read can be one of the more arduous tasks for launching and sustaining a book club. The obvious stressors are ‘how do I/we narrow down a reading list?’ and ‘what if I pick something nobody likes?’

To help you get started, this Friday I’m going to do a quick post that includes my book club’s list of our favorite books that have elicited great discussions. selectionchartSome book clubs have an annual “pitch night” where all participants have a chance to offer up their favorite book(s) for consideration, then a master year-long calendar is set. Here’s an example (left) of what one club provided to participants at the beginning of each reading year.  I was quite humbled when I first saw this. This is SERIOUSLY organized.

At my book club we simply take turns picking a book. You pick, you host. If you don’t want to host at your home, you pick a coffee house or restaurant on your night.  Everyone takes a turn. EZ PZ. This format has allowed us to pick books quickly and plan a few months ahead, taking the “planning/leading” function off of one person’s shoulders. Also, we do not make it a requirement to finish the book in order to attend discussion night.

The important thing is to choose a format that works for you. Why not an all science fiction group if that is your preferred genre?  Why not start a group focused on reading leadership or parenting books you’ve always wanted to get around to?  Short on time? Why not do a group that focuses on plays?  Both classic and contemporary plays often delve deeply into the human experience, fostering lots of great conversations.  And they only take a couple of hours to read.

There is NO WRONG SELECTION. We have found that even when everyone generally doesn’t like a book, that alone can make for a great discussion.

WHEN

To provide adequate time for reading, most book clubs meet monthly. But if you’re pressed for time, there’s no rule that says you can’t meet every other month or every 6 weeks or once a quarter. Do what works best for you and your group.

WHERE

When launching a book club, discuss up front the expectation of WHERE the group will meet. Some groups always meet at the same home; some groups meet at a local coffee shop or restaurant; some groups meet at their local library.

For our book discussion of The Boys in the Boat, our host assembled this spectacular "Tapenade Boat" appetizer.  Gotta love it!

For our book discussion of The Boys in the Boat, our host assembled this spectacular “Tapenade Boat” appetizer. Gotta love it!

As stated above, we take turns meeting at each other’s homes.  We find this is a good way to ‘share the load’ of investment and leadership, and it’s also a great way to check out everyone’s furniture and/or kitchen remodel, which of course if very important in the burbs. ;o  In our group, whoever hosts provides whatever snacks they’d like to offer. There are no hard and fast rules about that, but we do have a couple of creative types that work hard to create a snack that ties in to the book. Check out the appetizer (right) that was made last month when we read “The Boys in the Boat”.  Uhuh.

WHY

Do we really need to unpack this one?  If you need more convincing, see my original blog post: “I’m Declaring War on the Seattle Freeze!”

HOW

All of the above sounds relatively straight forward, you say, but if you’ve never been in a book club before, it can feel a little nerve wracking the first time you facilitate a book discussion. So, I thought I would provide a list of my top 10 questions that you can always fall back upon to get the conversation moving:

  1. Have the person who chose the book give a 3-minute background on why they chose the book, a little bit of background about the author and any reviews the book has received.
  2. Overall, did you ‘like’ or ‘not like’ the book/story?  What were your favorite or least favorite aspects about it?
  3. For fiction: Did you find the characters believable?  Well-developed or one-dimensional? For non-fiction: Did you think the author did a good job making the people in the book ‘come alive’?
  4. What did you think of the author’s use of language and imagery?  Did you feel absorbed in the story, or did you feel like a casual, outside observer?
  5. Did you identify with any of the characters in the story?  Why?  Did you have a favorite character?  Why?
  6. What, in your opinion, were the main statements about society or human nature that the author was trying to convey with this book?
  7. Did you underline or dog-ear anything?  Please share why (was it funny, profound, ridiculous, confusing, etc.)
  8. Did you learn anything new from reading this book?
  9. Were you impressed, unimpressed or neutral about this author?  Would you read other books by him/her?
  10. Did the story or perspective of this book or author challenge your views or values in anyway?  Did anything give you pause to reflect upon?

And, of course, The Fallback Plan

So, if after reading this you’ve still got the nervous heebee geebees about taking on such an enormous Seattle risk as inviting people into your home (let’s be honest, we have issues, that’s why I’m doing this blog), your King County Library (or any local library, for those residing outside of King) would love to encourage you to participate in one of their book clubs. This might be a great way to get your toe in the water. Check your local library to see if there’s currently a book club that might work for you. Or, see if you can use their facility to start one.  It would still be comprised of people in your local community who want to connect by enjoying a common love of reading.

This really is do-able. Have I made a believer out of you yet?  On Friday, along with our recommended reading list, I’ll include some ‘don’t-just-take-my-word-for-it’ testimonials from some of the gals in my group about what being in a book club has meant to them.

C’mon. We can do this. It’s one more great opportunity to thaw the Seattle Freeze.

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One Response to The 5 W’s of a Successful Book Club

  1. Linda A says:

    Becky
    Twelve years ago I started a book club with a good friend of mine. Our kids were young and we wanted to talk with like minded Moms about different types of books. We called ourselves the BBBs, which stood originally for Books, Booze and Babes, 12 years later, we have a unique group of real friendships and our monthly get togethers have the disclaimer of what happens at book club stays at book club. These women have enriched my life, are true friends and have also opened my mind to books I never would have read on my own. I love my B’s and I am so grateful that God brought these gals into my world through my love of books.

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