When I first moved to Vancouver, I knew that one of the ways I wanted to try to make friends was by starting a book club. It’s been three years since I first started asking around, and I’m happy to report that despite moves and pandemics, the core of our group still meets every month to discuss a book! If you are thinking of creating a local book club, here are some questions to consider:
Who do you want to participate?
Although this might seem simple – my friends! – I recommend a little discernment before you start inviting people. Your book club should be full of people who read like you. What I mean is, if you want to read one book per month, you need to make sure your book club has members who have the bandwidth and interest to read an “assigned” book every month. There is no point in filling out a group with a lot of people if only two have taken the time to read the book. That is a quick way to turn a book club into a hangout; that might be just as fun, but it is a different event.
Once you have an idea of the kind of reader you want for your book club, invite widely. Mention your book club at work, with your friends, post online, and mention it at the library. Encourage anyone who shows interest to invite people that you don’t know. Book clubs are a great place to expand your social circle since you will automatically be united in the goal of reading and discussing fun books.
Remember as you are inviting: Be clear about what you are envisioning so that people know what they are signing up for!
What will you read?
I am a big believer in the creative power of limitations. When anything goes, often…nothing does. My book club reads “anything that is not by a straight white man,” which encourages us to look beyond the bestsellers to diverse books by queer folx, people of color, and women. We especially like to read books by queer women of color.
Maybe you want to focus on a particular genre, era, or page length. Narrowing the scope of your book options will often prompt you to look for more interesting reads that you might have otherwise passed up. And of course, you can choose to read a certain genre for the first 6 or 12 months before switching to something new.
When it comes to choosing particular books for your book club, consider whether your participants will be buying their own books or checking them out from the library. If purchasing, it’s smart to go with something popular that will be easily accessible at most book stores. If you’re going the library route, you should probably do the exact opposite. Popular new books often have long queues, and it will be difficult for all of your book club members to check one out and read it before the meeting.
When do you want to meet?
Once you’ve put together a group of people and decided on the kinds of books you will read, you need to work together to decide the frequency of your meetings. I meet with my group on the first Tuesday of every month, where we discuss a single book from start to finish. You might want to meet more often, but discuss smaller chunks of a book. Or maybe you want to meet quarterly! (Though be careful with meeting less regularly than monthly. One missed quarterly meeting, and you’re only seeing people twice per year. It’s hard to create a cohesive group with that kind of attendance.)
You also need to consider what time of day you want to meet. Some coffee shops close early, and some book club members might have family obligations that require them to be home at a certain time. You will likely have to give up on the idea of satisfying everyone. Instead, I find it best to make your goal what works for the majority of the people the majority of the time.
Where will you meet?
If you truly went broad in your invitations, you might have to hold your book club online. The pandemic unintentionally caused my book club to move to Google Meet. While I look forward to returning to our preferred coffee shop to chat books, meeting online has been fun too!
If you can meet in person, try to find a location that is fairly central to all members. That might be a person’s house or a local restaurant, bar, or coffee shop. Make sure that wherever you are, there is space for everyone to sit comfortably and an atmosphere conducive to talking.
Remember: be kind to your host if you choose to meet at a member’s house! Consider either rotating hosting duties amongst all participants or go out of your way to ensure that your host feels appreciated. Far too often hosts clean and supply food without any compensation. If one person always hosts your book club, maybe the rule is that everyone else is responsible for bringing snacks, or everyone chips in to buy them a thank you gift.
Why are you starting a book club?
Although this question is less obvious than those previous, I think it’s important to consider the “why” of it all. Is your primary purpose to read books, to hang out with friends, or to make connections of some kind? Knowing WHY you are starting a book club will help shape all of the considerations, and it will also help you know if your book club needs to change in some way or even come to a close. Of course, it’s always reasonable to change your “why” if you find a motivation that fits you better!
How will you function?
Now is the time to consider all the other little details of running a book club:
- How do you choose books? I recommend rotating through members so that everyone gets to choose at least one book. If you want total control over book choices, it’s a good idea to have decided the titles before asking anyone to join so that people know what they are signing up for!
- How do you communicate between sessions? A group chat is the easiest option, of course. It might be helpful to discuss expectations regarding the group chat: Is this for book talk only, or are personal conversations allowed? Would you like people to announce if they can’t attend a meeting, and if so, is there time frame that you would like to know by?
- How do people join or leave the group? Once established, can people continue to invite friends to join in? What is your size limit (this might be constrained by location) or preference?
I know that some of these considerations are a little ridiculous. What can I say? I’m an anxious control freak who likes to plan! But I genuinely do believe that it is better to do some thinking before putting a group together so that you are set up for long term success.
Have you created a book club? What worked well for you? Is there anything you wish you had done differently? Leave a comment and let me know!
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