Start Your Own Book Club

Learn how to start a book club of your very own.

Before Oprah began her book club brigade, most Americans had never considered spending time sitting around discussing novels. Here's how to start a worthwhile book club of your very own.

Find people to be in your book club. This is probably the most difficult part of starting a book club, but it's not too difficult if you know where to look. Because there is a whole world of books out there, you'll want to find people who share your interests. Otherwise, you and the other members of the group will end up reading (or skimming) books you don't care for. And then enthusiasm will drop, leading to book club demise.

So how do you find people who like reading what you like reading? If you're a member of a church, ask around at church about what kinds of books other members like. If you are a member of a club, ask around at the club. If you don't belong to any organizations you'll need to post signs. Put them up at the library, the grocery store, the recreation center, or wherever you think readers might go.

Be specific with your signs. Don't write, "If you want to join a book club call Bridget at 555-9473." No one will call because it's boring, and they don't want to waste time on a boring book club. Instead, write something like this: "Enrich your life with classic literature at the Poet's Corner Book Club" or "Blast off with Lynnwood's premier Science Fiction Book Club." Your book club needs a genre (poetry, science fiction, fiction, classics, non-fiction) to keep like-minded readers interested.

Hold an organizational meeting. Once you've found interested people, hold an organizational meeting to make decisions about the details. Here's an agenda for your meeting:

When to meet:

Where to meet:

What to read:

What to eat:

Where to obtain books:

Who's in charge:

Collect dues? How much?

If you meet more than once a month, some members may not be able to finish reading books in time. You could reserve a meeting room at a library, church, or school for your discussions, but meeting in homes may be more comfortable. To keep the burden down, rotate homes. When deciding what to read, ask all members for suggestions. You'll need someone in charge of making final decisions""or you could vote on book selections.

For some reason, a book club discussion is much more satisfactory when you have something to eat. Again, rotate food assignments among members to avoid burdening one person too much. It's fun to use theme food: Chinese food when you read the Joy Luck Club, fish and chips for Moby Dick, etc.

If you're the one who starts the book club, you'll probably be in charge of keeping track of everything: members, phone numbers, food assignments, the calendar. Or you could delegate these items to other members of the club.

If you read classic fiction, members of the club can probably obtain their books from the library. If the books are new, however, or in high demand, or just plain rare, book members will need to buy them on their own. Because book clubs are more common the ever, some retailers are willing to give discounts to book clubs who buy in volume. It's worth talking to local bookstores or even online booksellers to see what kind of discount you can get if you buy in bulk.

Conducting the meetings. For a book club meeting to be successful, an interesting discussion must take place. Therefore, you've got to come up with meaningful and thought-provoking questions.

Some book publishers, such as Penguin Classics, provide book club discussion questions online. Any book that is studied in high school or college can be found using an Internet search. You'll find background on the author and book and probably some great questions. My book club recently read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I found some fantastic discussion questions using a simple search engine search.

If you have trouble finding information or questions about the book online, try Cliffs notes. If there are no Cliffs notes for your book, ask each member of the book club to come up with five questions as they read. Advise them to use a 3x5 index card as a bookmark and to write down questions as they think of them. These questions, because they're personalized to people in your group, may be the best of all, even though they require more effort.

After your first couple of meetings and books, your book club will develop its own, individualized flavor, and members will recruit others who will enjoy the atmosphere. Although they take some effort, book clubs can really enrich your lifelong education.

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