Tips for A Successful Book Club

30+ years together & my book club is still going strong

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or
a book long enough to suit me.
~C.S. Lewis~ 

Good books and good friends are two of the yummiest things in my life. I treasure them both. My book club of 30+ years combines these two loves--a gathering of friends who share a love of reading.

And, I do love a good read. The perfect day for me is spent reading while sipping a cup of tea, dozing occasionally, reading some more, pausing to reflect; a long, lazy day of reading and savoring every word. Those days don't happen often; but when they do, it's the ultimate luxury. That's how I'll be spending some of my Mother's Day.

When I moved to St. Louis in 1986, King-Man and I were parents of two young boys who were 1 and 4 years old. I didn't know a soul in St. Louis. Not one single person. Like all moms of young children, "me" time was close to nonexistent. By the time I'd get the kids to bed at night and get ready for the next day, there was little time or energy left for reading. That is, until my new neighbor, Sauci, invited me to join her book club. I said "yes" immediately; both because it was a way for me to commit to reading at least one book a month (I'm a deadline-driven person, so I knew I'd find a way to get the monthly book selection read), and because it was a way to meet some other women. These were my first friends in our new home town. 

That was over 30 years ago. I've been a part of that book club ever since. We all were mothers of young children who shared a love of reading. We all were hungry to get out of the house and have a "literary" excuse for a break from putting the kids to bed for that one night a month. A night for just us girls to discuss a book, share our life stories, and enjoy some yummy dessert. A sisterhood has developed in our group through the years. Our members have come and gone, some have moved away, some have moved on, but there is a core group who has lingered. Our monthly meetings have been a constant in my life. As I get older, the company of these women friends becomes more and more important to me. 

A good friend is a connection to life - a tie to the past,
a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.

~Lois Wyse~

We were a book club long before Oprah started the book club rage. In the early years, all of us were mothers of babies and young children; that was the common topic of discussions at our meetings once we'd finished discussing the book. As our kids grew up, so did the focus of our conversations. We've mothered together through high school graduations, empty nest adjustments when our kids went off to college, weddings, loss of parents, and other tragedies. Through the highs and lows of life, a constant for all of us has been our book club meetings. Month after month, year after year, these book-loving friends have fueled my tank and rekindled my spirit over and over again. 

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.  We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.  
~Albert Schweitzer~


Tips for running a successful, sustainable book club

There are lots of book clubs out there now, and there's more than one way to run a successful one. I've only had experience with mine, so I'll share how ours is organized and why I believe we've had such endurance. If you are in a book club and have some ideas to share, I'd love to hear from you.

1. Number of members. We've had as many as 18 and as few as 7 active members. You need enough regular members to allow for an absentee or two each time. It's hard to have a good discussion with fewer than 4 or 5 people in attendance.

2. A regular meeting day and time. We have always met the first Monday of each month at 7:30 pm. That way we can reserve book club meetings on our calenders and schedule other things around them. That makes good attendance more likely. The 7:30 start gives us time to eat dinner with our families before we come.

3. Rotating hosts. We move from house to house for each meeting. We don't plan this too far ahead, because often we don't know our schedules more than a month ahead of time. We let members volunteer to host from month to month, and it's casually self-monitored. I know when it's my turn to voluteer, so I do. Every one takes her turn when it works into her schedule.

4. Email reminders. It is the host's responsibility to send out an email reminder to the rest of the group with details about when, where, and what book has been selected for the following month. (In the "olden" days before email, we had to mail out post card reminders. Hosting got a lot easier when email came along.) We usually send out an initial reminder a month ahead, and then a second reminder a day or two before the book club meeting. 

5. Keep food and beverages simple. Our hosts offer everyone something to drink as we arrive. The choices are usually an iced beverage or a glass of wine. We discuss the book while we sip on our beverages. Towards the end of the meeting, the host provides dessert and decaf coffee. Some of us like to cook and make homemade desserts; others hate cooking and buy something ready-made to serve. We're all happy either way. Keeping hosting and food easy is important so that everyone is happy to host, and no one drops out because book club is too much work or they feel pressured to offer an elaborate spread of food. This is supposed to be a relaxing, fun evening; we don't want anyone stressing about the food they're offering. No appetizers, no meals, no themed celebrations. Simple, simple, simple. 

6. Rotating discussion leaders. We take turns leading the book discussion and do this on a volunteer month-to-month basis--just like the hosting. The host and discussion leader are always 2 different members, so that no one has to take on both jobs for one meeting--again keeping it simple. We keep this very informal, too. The leader can google "book reviews of (insert book title/author)" and print out plenty of analysis of whatever book we're reading. (In the early, pre-internet days, the discussion leader had to go to the library, read book reviews and author information in magazines and newspapers, make photos copies, and compile the information to share at the meetings. A much bigger job than it is now.) Most authors have websites now that have additional information about their books and biographies that often reveal interesting tidbits about their background. Wikipedia is another easy source of author information. Sometimes there are videos or interviews that can be shared at book club as well. Many books now include discussion questions and author interviews at the end of the book. Our discussion leaders simply read the highlights of the information that they find--no note taking or time-consuming preparation is involved.

Having someone do a little bit of homework about the author and book in advance makes a huge difference in the book discussion. It always adds to the understanding of the book if you know something about the author, why they wrote the book, how they prepared, etc. I've heard of book clubs that resist taking this step because they think it will make the book club too "hard", less fun, and too much like school. I disagree. It makes the discussion more fun and interesting. We have some of our liveliest discussions as we learn details about the author and his/her motivations in writing the book.

7. Make a commitment to attend. If you want your book club to last through the years, the members must commit to attend regularly. It can't be an "I'll go if I feel like it that night" kind of thing. Attendance will eventually start to diminish if members aren't committed to make it a priority to attend. I speak from experience. Our book club went through a period a few years back when our attendance had started to dwindle. I hosted one night and only one person showed up. I had cleaned my house, made a yummy dessert, bought wine, and sat with one person trying to discuss the book. Clearly, it couldn't continue with only 1 or 2 people attending. So, we had a serious talk about the future of our club. Bottom line: if we valued our book club, we all had to make a renewed commitment to attend. Sometimes people can't attend because they're out-of-town or there's a family birthday or important event. Of course, there are legitimate excuses. But, in general, we needed to "renew our vows" to the book club and make it a priority to attend regularly. That was the shot in the arm that we needed, because we've been going strong again ever since. None of us wanted this valued group of friends to fade away.

Even if we haven't finished the book, we attend book club anyway. In our book club, there is almost always someone there who hasn't read or finished the book. Life gets busy, and sometimes reading a book just isn't happening. We are completely comfortable coming anyway. In fact, it's encouraged. 

8. Book selection. Our book selection process is very casual, too. Any of us who has read or heard about a good book brings it to a meeting and we discuss the possibilities during dessert. Sometimes we only have one book selected for the following month, and sometimes we have a list of several books we want to read over the course of the months to come.

One of the things I value about being in a book club is that I end up reading books I never would have read otherwise. Everyone doesn't like every book, and that's okay. In fact, it makes for a better discussion if we don't all agree. 

9. Too busy to read? Go to a movie together. Because December is such a busy month for us and many don't have time to read a book during the holidays, we often go to a movie together in January in place of a book club meeting. We usually are able to find a movie that is based on a book we have read. That's a fun option occasionally. 

I cannot live without books. ~ Thomas Jefferson~

 Me either, Mr. Jefferson!


Make it a Yummy day!


Posted on Saturday, May 7th, 2011

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