Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Club Tips

Are you trying to start up a book club? Or are you in one that just doesn't really work? Do you need some help?

My friend K. was in a book club that didn't work. Here are some reasons why:
  • they met 12 months a year with no breaks
  • each of the 12 members got to pick a book with no input, feedback, or voting from other members. Which meant they frequently had 500+ page books, often two months in a row, had little variety in genre, and a couple of members who didn't understand picking books for "discussability" would pick absolute duds every single time, and would often pick hardcovers
  • they met at a restaurant each month which started to break the bank for my fiscally conscious friend
  • it was hard to hear anyone at the restaurant, and easy to get distracted
Oh, and no one ever read the books. She eventually quit. She's in a different book club now that does a lot of things right. Here's what my book club does that I think makes it fantastic:
  • we have different genres we hit every year including mystery/thriller, classic, nonfiction, historical, and we try to stick to paperbacks
  • we meet at members' houses. Everyone except two of us live in the same neighborhood so it's convenient. We ask for RSVPs a couple of days beforehand so the host knows how many to expect. We meet after dinner, there are snacks and wine
  • we take the summer off. We do meet once in the middle of summer, but we skip June and August. We also skip December. And we make sure that those months when we have two months for reading (January, July, and September) are the only months we can pick a 500+ page book
  • yes, we chat and gossip at first but after about a half hour or so, we move from the kitchen to the living room, which is the signal to discuss the book
  • we have at least two months' of books picked in advance so people who want to read ahead can do so
Reading Group Choices puts out an actual book filled with 65 book club suggestions every October and it's FREE if you spot it in a bookstore (otherwise it's $6.95 which is still really cheap.) You can also buy back issues if you want even more suggestions! They have a great website and blog with more books, tips, and advice. Book Club Girl is another great site/blog with suggestions, reviews, giveaways, and more. There's also Reading Group Guides, and Book Club Queen, and your local library's website.

If the main concern is not having anything to discuss, your book club might want to stick to books that have reading group guides. Not all books have them bound in - often there isn't enough room in the book itself, but there is a reading group guide available online. All the major publishers and most of the rest have whole sections on their websites devoted to book clubs, such as HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Hachette, and so on.

But what if you really want to read a book that doesn't have a reading group guide? Well, someone (probably whoever suggested the book if there isn't a book club leader) needs to make a little effort before the meeting. Check if the author has a website. They might have some information on there that can be used. But my own personal trick is to read reviews. Then I pick out the negatives, and that's what I ask about. When everyone just says "I liked the book," there isn't much to discuss. But when people disagree, that's a discussion! If someone doesn't like the non-linear structure, ask why do you think the author used that structure? What does he gain by that that he wouldn't by following a traditional linear structure? Someone else might criticize the author for writing from the point of the view of the other gender. Again, the best question to ask is why. Even if everyone in the group ends up disliking an aspect of the book, it's still good to explore why that might be there. So I would go to a couple of different websites with reviews, and read through them, looking for the negatives. Any sentence that begin with But, Although, However, Unfortunately, is a red flag. That's what you're looking for! Sometimes you might have to read more carefully to pull out the issues, but this really shouldn't take much time. And if this duty is divvied up amongst the members so one person isn't saddled with it every month (unless one person volunteered for it! But even so, they should be checked in with annually to be sure they're not becoming overwhelmed) it shouldn't be too burdensome.

So, what are your concerns? Do you have more specific issues in your book club? Questions? Problems? Suggestions? Let me know and I'll address those in another post this month!


Whitney said...

I have book club in a few weeks and will be choosing books for the next few months then. I really appreciate your tips, I'll have to put some of the suggestions to use.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

In one book club I was a part of we made sure to read one biography a year, one "big challenge" (like The Brothers Karamazov), and one mid-grade. The rest were usually classics or modern fiction.

It was nice to have some set idea as to what we'd read but also have the freedom to pick and choose.

Carin Siegfried said...

@Whitney, be sure to check out my posts that list title selections too! Every Monday throughout October. And my Oct. 1 post links to the list of Great Group Reads.

@Caroline, I really like that too. We have 5 categories we try to hit (and sometimes we can hit two with one stone, such as The Moonstone by Wilkie Colins was both a classic and a mystery) which leaves us at least 4 that are just "open." But we still try to mix it up - we'll try to not do two chick-lit books in the same season or two historicals back to back, that kind of thing. Sounds like our groups are set up similarly!

Jenny said...

This is the second post today I've read about book clubs and I already had a post scheduled for tomorrow about book clubs, lol! Thanks for the tips on skipping those months and keeping a variety of genres. I don't think I would have thought of that but it makes a lot of sense!

Kate said...

Great post! I linked it as part of my Friday Five!

Have a great weekend.