How to: book club!

December 5, 2016 in Career,Life,Philosophy,Travel

Over the past four and a half years in New York City, I’ve been a part of three book clubs: two failed, and one that’s been thriving since the summer of 2014. Book club has been such a fun part of my life in the city: it’s introduced me to new people and deepened existing friendships, been an important source of female bonding and encouraged me to read more and differently. It’s always a highlight of my week when it occurs!

But book clubs aren’t always the easiest to form and maintain, especially in a group of young women who are all dealing with demanding jobs and hectic schedules and personal commitments. You have to find books that everyone wants to read, that everyone has time to read, that everyone wants to discuss. And then everyone has to show up! It’s not easy, but it’s so rewarding when it works. Here are a few things that I learned from the book club that worked–and the ones that didn’t.

Ask around

What to start a book club? Start telling people! My current book club is a group of friends and friends of friends: I went to high school with Maggie who went to college with Katherine who grew up in Seattle with Ashley, and so on. It’s a nice mix since we aren’t all best friends: it’s actually expanded our friend group through a common interest. My other book clubs happened in a similar way: I mentioned to David’s roommate’s friend how much I loved the last book I read, she agreed, and a book club was born.

Find people who a) love to read and b) have time to read

Let me first say this: I am a voracious reader. I’ve always read a lot and I’ve always read very quickly and I’m very intentional about making sure I make time to read. I know that the number of books I read is fairly unusual, and that was really driven home in two of my book clubs: about half the members didn’t read the book (or weren’t able to finish the book). It makes it really hard to discuss something when people don’t know how it ends–and it’s no fun to worry about spoilers during the whole discussion. There are still occasional times in my current book club when people haven’t had time to finish the book, but we have a general agreement that we’re going to discuss the ENTIRE book.

Have a designated organizer

Honestly, scheduling is like 90% of keeping up a book club–especially when everyone has crazy schedules. We use Doodle to figure out a day that works for everyone. And we have Katherine! She is essentially our book club admin: the day after every book club, she emails everyone with a Doodle for the next six weeks to pick, either confirms the book we chose the night before and/or asks for recommendations, and figures out who’s hosting next. It is important to have a Katherine to handle the logistics!

Find the number sweet spot

In my opinion, it’s between five and eight people. Too many, and it’s impossible for everyone to have a voice in the discussion and fit everyone comfortably into tiny apartments. Another more unexpected downside of having too many people is that people don’t feel guilty about not showing up–so it’s possible for everyone to cancel because they think they’ll be the only one, and then you end up with no one. And it’s nice to have enough people that if one person can’t make it–there’s still enough to have a worthwhile discussion. Also: if people don’t show up, don’t feel bad about kicking them out. You want to make sure everyone is on the same page and similarly committed: if not, it will never work.

Figure out a format that works

For us, we trade off hosting in our apartments. Whoever hosts usually puts out a spread of snacks and a bottle of wine, but we all bring something to nibble on and something to drink. By now, everyone sort of brings the same thing–i.e. one person brings crackers and cheese, one person brings grapes, another brings chips and guac, and the host always has celery, carrots and dip–so that we always have a varied and healthy spread. And there’s always enough wine! I’ve heard of book clubs hosted in bars (especially in NYC), but I find that it gets expensive, can be tough to find a big enough table, and it’s hard to hear.

Choose books that have something worth discussing

I love chick lit as much as the next girl, but what I’ve found in book clubs is that there’s really not much to discuss–so it becomes less of a book club and more of a gossip sesh. We’ve actually found that career books (Lean In, The Confidence Code) and economy books (The Great Stagnation, Sweat Equity) can inspire much more interesting discussions and also give us a reason to read something a bit more intellectually stimulating. When we do want something a bit lighter, thrillers (The Girl on the Train, Luckiest Girl Alive) or historical fiction (The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See) tend to have more layers to unravel.

Be open to an article club

Sometimes there are months when reading an entire book isn’t going to work for everyone–and for those months, I suggest an article! Articles can often spark a more interesting discussion, and they’re definitely easier for people to squeeze into busy schedules. (Shoutout to Cup of Jo for the original idea: all of her suggested articles make for great discussions!)

Be intentional

The biggest thing to a successful book club: everyone has to want it! You have to like the other people and value their opinions (even when they differ) and generally like reading the same time of books. And you have to show up, and rely on other people showing up. Like I said earlier, it’s not always easy–but I do think that it’s incredibly valuable, both in terms of intellectual stimulation and female friendship.

What are your best tips for having a book club? 

p.s. if you need more book recommendations, check out my favorite beach reads V1 and V2

  • So many great points! I’ve been to a couple of book club sessions over the years, but have never committed to one club before. I think the pressure of reading a book in a certain amount of time puts me off, but I do love to read! And, thanks to you, I’ve just added another book to my ‘to-read’ list (Luckiest Girl Alive). Cheers!

  • camorose

    Yay! I really liked that one, and it was a fun one to discuss!

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  • Ashley G.

    Great post. I joined a startup book club last year and it fell victim to many of the problems you list here. I got tired of being the cheerleader, but I really would love to find another one that actually thrives. Thanks for some of the book suggestions, too!

  • camorose

    Yes! It’s tougher than it seems to start one and actually keep it going, but it’s really fun once it all clicks.

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