One day, over the summer, I decided that I wanted to start a book club. Despite being a voracious reader for my entire life, I somehow had never been part of one and was eager to change that. I knew that I wanted to start hosting events in Cleveland – both to meet more people and because I love organizing – and I also wanted to create more spaces and occasions to talk about deeper things (drunken bar chat doesn’t count). A book club seemed like the ideal situation! I sat on it for a couple of weeks before I started casually mentioning it to a few ladies to garner interest. Enough girls said that they would be interested that I decided to do a tester round in September. That first Tuesday evening, I was so nervous (I had never even attended a book club before never mind hosted one), but it went so well that it has become a monthly thing, and interest continues to grow!
I can honestly say that taking the plunge and deciding to organize it is one of the best decisions I have made this entire year. Not only have we read books that have been on my reading list for ages, but it has also introduced me to smart, insightful women and deepened my love of the written word. If you are in Cleveland, we would love for you to join us next month. If not, and you would like to host your own, here are my top tips for starting a book club.
Think About Your Purpose
Before you start planning the book club, take a few moments to think about your intentions. Ask yourself why you are starting this book club and what you want to get out of it. Do you want to work your way through a genre? Or read a wide variety? Are you looking to meet new people, or curate a group that has a similar specific interest to you? One of the most critical questions you need to ask yourself is how much you want actually to talk about the book. Some “book clubs” lean more towards a social club with a few minutes of book-talk splattered in, others only want to talk about the book. Neither of these is wrong; you just need to set the expectation from the get-go. As with most things in life, there are a gazillion ways to do this, so understanding your purpose will help you make the decisions that are right for you and your group.
How My Book Club Does It: Mine definitely leans more towards an all-about-the-book club, but we tend to dedicate the first 30 minutes to socialization and a little shopping in the store.
Select A Theme (And Book)
The next step is to choose a theme. This will help you attract the right people and will also make it easier for you to select your books. Plus, being able to describe the theme in a sentence makes it easier to explain to potential members. When picking a book, make sure to consider the topic, length, reading level, price, and availability on different readers (eBooks and audio options).
How My Book Club Does It: The books we read are written by women and available in paperback. As long as they fall into these categories, I don’t mind the genre. In fact, one of my intentions was to have us read lots of different styles of books: fiction & non-fiction, contemporary & classics, domestic & international authors. At this point, we have read contemporary fiction (Little Fires Everywhere), contemporary non-fiction (Educated), classic fiction (Beloved), and now our first international book (Celestial Bodies).
Choose A Frequency
We have all been parts of groups that started strong, only to slowly dwindle away and then cease to exist. I think the key to longevity is to have the group meet regularly. The easiest way to get around everyone’s busy lives is to plan. Decide whether you want meetings to be online or in-person – I know some people who love being part of a blended book club, with meetings online for one month and in-person the next. No matter what schedule you choose, remember to allow enough time for most people to read the book. Once you have selected your frequency, make sure to stick with it. This will demonstrate to everyone (including yourself) that you are serious about it.
How My Book Club Does It: For me, once a month, in-person seemed right. It is regular enough that we can build relationships with each other, and keep the momentum going, but not so frequent that it is a massive commitment or extra stress. To make it easy for everyone to remember, I decided to have it on the first Tuesday of each month. Again, the easier the details are to remember, the more likely people will stick with it.
Determine A Location
The location of your book club meetings (whether that is a restaurant, a library, your living room, or a cute vintage shop like mine!) will influence the number of members you can have and vice versa. Wherever you decide, make sure that the place can fit your entire group comfortably and that everyone will have a place to sit. You also want an area that is free of distractions and quiet enough that you can hear each other talk. Moreover, consider accessibility and convenience. Don’t forget snacks and drinks! Are you going to switch off responsibility each month? Does everyone bring a little something each time? You get the point.
How My Book Club Does It: We meet in Moonstruck Cle, the cutest vintage shop in Little Italy. Each month Elisa (the owner of the shop) and I provide the snacks and drinks.
The people in your book club are going to be what makes or breaks it, so it is crucial to find good people! There are many kinds of book clubs, and the people who come will depend on the type you choose. Even if you plan on opening it up to strangers (like my book club), I still think you should start with some people you already know. Talking about books can be a vulnerable experience, so it is essential to have the space feel safe and supportive. Throughout your book club, you may swing between being “open” and “closed” – this is okay! You don’t want to have so many members that people don’t get to say what they want, but you also want to have enough perspectives to keep things interesting.
How My Book Club Does It: We are open to all Cleveland ladies! Although, we do have a cap on the number of people we can have in the space. Each month I make an Eventbrite that allows a limited number of people to register. At the moment, I like this system because it means that new people can find the event, while I don’t have to worry about going overcapacity. It also means that members can pick and choose which meetings they want to come to. After three months, we have regulars, but each meeting has had a couple of new people. The dream! New people inject new life into the conversation.
Choose A Leader
In every group, there needs to be a leader (not necessarily always the same person) who gets things moving. You may find that there is one person who naturally fills that role, or you may want to rotate that responsibility. This person will be tasked with sending out the details for the next meeting, choosing the next book, bringing up any book club “business,” and helping to start the discussion. That being said, no-one wants a book club dictator, so figure out a way to make some of the choices democratic.
How My Book Club Does It: As we are a new group (and I started it), I have filled the role of leader for the past few months. It may always be this way, or perhaps we will move to more of a rotating leader system as we develop. But, for the moment, I am happy to organize and do the logistics!
Prepare For Discussion
How much structure you give your book club is going to depend on how talkative your members tend to be. Generally, you are going to have some who are more introverted than others, but you want to ensure that everyone has a voice in the discussion. Remember that you’re there to talk about something very personal: reading. You want all of your guests to feel welcome and to be comfortable sharing. For help with discussion, many books have book club questions in the back, which you can use as a jumping-off point. Or, you can head to the author’s website for other ideas.
How My Book Club Does It: At the beginning of each meeting, we go around the circle and say our name and a little overview of what we thought of the book. This ensures that everyone says something within the first few minutes and also gives me an idea of areas we can start the discussion. Before each book club, I write a list of questions/thoughts/themes/topics that I think would make for an interesting conversation. However, most of the time, after the first initial push, discussion flows quite naturally.
Keep The Momentum Going
Ah, the hardest part, keeping the book club going. At this point, I don’t have too many tips for this (perhaps in a year, I can write another post), but I do think it is crucial to keep everybody excited. From our first meeting, girls have expressed how happy they are to be part of this book club, which makes me so happy that I want to keep it going. On this note, you need to be honest with yourself about how much time you have to dedicate to organizing your book club and whether or not you need/want others to help with logistics. To keep it going, someone needs to be on top of it.
How My Book Club Does It: Will report back next year!
Obviously, we are still in the early days, but I wanted to share my tips for getting a book club off the ground. If you are part of a book club and have any suggestions for keeping it going (my new focus), the comment section is yours for the writing!