Back in February, a friend on Facebook posted that she was interested in starting a book club. I responded to her post and offered to repost it on my status to round up more potential members.
We got a pretty healthy response, with eleven people expressing interest. Since I was the common acquaintance of most of the people, my place was suggested as the location for our first meeting, scheduled in March. I was a happy to host but a little apprehensive — I didn’t know anything about hosting a book club and I didn’t want the first time everyone met to be a drag.
So, I borrowed a few of the library’s resources about book clubs. (That’s right, there are books about book clubs.) Two titles which caught my eye were: The Book Club Bible and Read It & Eat.
The Book Club Bible: the definitive guide that every book club member needs doesn’t offer tips on hosting a book club, but it offers pages and pages of book club worthy suggestions, backed-up with useful information in point form. The suggestions range in publishing date from 1848 to 2006 and includes titles by Ernest Hemmingway, Arthur C. Clarke and Toni Morrison, so there’s a ton of variety here. Interspersed throughout these recommendations are quick top-ten lists, such as “Top Ten War Books” and “Top Ten Cult Classics”. I recommend this book even if you aren’t in or considering joining a book club.
Read It & Eat: a month by month guide to scintillating book club selections and mouth-watering menus is a more gimmicky approach to book clubs. The author, Sarah Gardner, divides the book into chapters for each month. She assigns each month a theme and suggests a number of books that fit the theme, along with a full menu accompanying each suggestion. While this is an interesting approach, I found it a little too structured.
In the end, we managed to pick our first book club title by discussing it online before the meeting. I served cheesecake and some other munchies, coffee and tea, as well as some of the goodies that other members brought. We talked about the book (Still Alice) but we also talked about other books and broadened the conversation to include movies and documentaries. Five people came to the first meeting.
For a group of relative strangers it was incredible to watch how comfortable everyone soon became. We quickly settled on our next title and set a meeting for three weeks later. Last night we held our second meeting and it went even better than the first, as we lost track of time and probably wore out our welcome with our host (we talked for three and a half hours). We discussed the book The History of Love, but again, we also shared other things that we were reading or watching. We even picked up a new member.
So, if you’re thinking about joining or starting a book club — do it. These meetings are quickly becoming a social highlight and inspiring me to read even more. I think the best advice I can give (in my limited book club experience) is a diplomatic and open-minded approach to how the club will work. By this I mean: ask all potential members about their expectations or ideas around meeting structure, locations for meetings, books you’ll read, etc. If you’re thinking about joining a club that already exists, ask the members about those elements to find out if the club will be a good fit for you. There are countless ways to run a book club and knowing the structure in advance could be the difference between a good experience and a bad one.
We decided to meet again in three weeks and this time we’ll be reading my suggestion: Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I hope they like it. But I think I can take it if they don’t.