6 Tips For Leading a Book Club
At this time last year, I was having mixed feelings about the book club I’d been in for a few years. On one hand, it was a group of close girlfriends who I enjoyed spending time with. For the most part, everyone read the book, and we had thoughtful discussions. On the other hand, we usually met after 7pm and everyone is asked to bring a food dish that somehow relates to the book. Members alternate hosting and choosing the book, so a couple times a year, I’d have a turn.
While I loved spending quality time with those friends, I was getting burnt out on the obligation this club imposed on me. And I felt guilty about that. I’m a book blogger, for crying out loud, surely attending a book club monthly should be within my abilities?
The thing is, I don’t like leaving my house in the evening. Early morning alone time is an important part of my self-care and creative process. I can’t have that without an early bedtime, and if I’m out past 8-9pm, I can’t get to bed on time.
I was wallowing in hurt feelings because my friends weren’t able to make changes to accommodate my wants. This went on for months.
Then my friend V finally got to me. She’d been telling me I should start my own book club for a while, since I’d been making recommendations to her that she loved. I thought I didn’t have time for it, and I already belonged to a club. It hit me suddenly one afternoon: I can do this on my own terms! I don’t need to have hurt feelings about how someone else runs her club, I can make my own.
And so I did. I was super tentative at first, keeping the group small and trying to accommodate everyone’s schedules. That was a total bust. At the second meeting, someone suggested, “Maybe we can meet in the evenings and drink wine. ” NO! That’s exactly what I didn’t want!
It’s taking trial and error, and personal growth on my part, to create the club I have now, which is a varying group of folks who meet with me once a month at 10am on a Saturday to talk about a book we’ve read.
So if you’re considering starting a book club, or even if you already have, here are some things I’ve learned over the past several months that may save you some time and distress!
6 Tips For Leading a Book Club
1. Decide what level of obligation you want for yourself and your members.
When I started my own book club, I had two non-negotiables: a) We meet during the day b) There would be minimal obligation for me and my members.
I don’t want to host people in my house, so we meet in a coffee shop. All you have to do is read the book. You don’t even have to finish the book. I ask everyone to give it their best shot, then show up for a discussion. That’s it.
2. Decide how you’ll choose books.
I was doing a lot of work researching titles and creating surveys for my members to vote on. After many months of that, I found out my members don’t really care about voting! They trust my judgement and will read whatever I choose. I should have thought to ask that up front, but based on my past experiences, I assumed everyone would want a say in what we read.
If your members do want to contribute book suggestions, Survey Monkey is a super easy to use. Or you can go old school, write the book titles on pieces of paper, toss them in a bowl and have someone pick one for each meeting.
Either way, choose a process and try it for a while. This way you can make a swift pick each month without a lot of time and stress.
3. Have discussion questions ready.
This seems like a no-brainer but I’ve showed up to many club meetings that didn’t have structure. I’ve found that with pre-printed questions, it’s easier to keep the discussion on track and not miss any characters or themes that deserve mention.
3. Keep it low pressure.
This relates back to number one, but it’s really hard for me. Ideally I want everyone in my book club to prioritize reading as highly as I do. And I want everyone to show up to every meeting, having finished the book. That’s not realistic, it’s not fair to my friends, and it scares people off.
Instead, I’m learning to let go of what I thought a book club “should” look like. Ultimately, I want people there who love to read and are eager for discussion. Some times that’s six people, sometimes it’s two. I have come to appreciate that these humans want to make the time for reading and trust my guidance.
4. Everyone doesn’t have to love every book to consider the discussion a success.
When everyone agrees the book was wonderful, it can lead to boring discussion. However when I started my own club, I felt bad if someone didn’t like the book. My friends reassured me that disliking the book isn’t a total loss for them. We’ve found that having mixed opinions makes for more interesting discussion. And the one month we all loathed the book, we laughed a lot together, and still had a great time talking about why it sucked and how it motivated us in different ways.
6. Create a safe, judgement free space.
Things are going to come up during our book club discussions that probably wouldn’t if the group of us were simply meeting for coffee. Not only does it make for better discussion when everyone can speak their truth, it creates connection. People can disagree and share conflicting opinions without being mean or holding grudges.
Now, tell me about your book club. What works or doesn’t for you?