Why I Love Book Clubs, & Tips On How to Start One

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Last year I wrote about how one of my New Year’s resolutions was to read two books a month, and since I joined two book clubs, that should have been a pretty easy goal to hit. I didn’t just join book clubs because I wanted to be forced to read, rather it was mostly for the social aspect. Both book clubs are with groups of friends I don’t see regularly, so it’s a chance to catch up, eat great food, and drink (lots of) wine. Kev calls it “wine club,” but I swear we actually do talk about the books…just maybe not as much as we discuss the lastest happenings on The Bachelor.

The two book clubs I’m in are quite different. For the first one every month we have a themed potluck, whether Mexican, Italian, or Chinese, and they are one of my favourite meals every month. We usually have structured questions about the books we read, and there are usually at least one or two people who either didn’t read or didn’t finish the book (hey, everyone has busy schedules, and not every book is everyone’s cup of tea). We always pick the book we’re reading at the end of every meeting, and we always set the date for the next book club.

My second book club is with former colleagues, and is a little more sporadic. Because most people (me excluded) are in PR, their schedules are pretty hectic and so people often miss them. They’ve been happening a little less frequently lately, but when they were more regular we would usually all bring appetizers, discuss the book, and then catch up on industry gossip.

For a list of what I’ve read in the past year you can check out my GoodReads account – I always update it there. I have to admit that sometimes I don’t read the books that are chosen for book club, either because they don’t interest me or I ran out of time. I read a lot of books on my own time, so I’ve tagged the ones that are part of my book club assignments.

I haven’t been blown away by many books over the last year. 2011 was a great year – I read wonderful books like Bel Canto, State of Wonder, Room, The Help, Sarah’s Key, and Before I Go To Sleep. Despite the fact that 2012 wasn’t as great a reading year, my fave reads over the last year have hands down been:

  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. Absolutely hysterical – I turned down the pages of every part that made me laugh out loud, and I’m pretty sure every other page has a folded corner. Just when you think her stories from growing up in rural Texas couldn’t be true, she includes photo evidence. Definitely a must-read.
  • Anything by Kate Morton, but especially The Forgotten Garden. Big fan of her historical mysteries – think Downton Abbey but in novel form. I’ve read all of them in the last year.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo. I’ve always had a fascination with India, especially after going there last year. Shantaram and A Fine Balance are my favourite novels about India, but this non-fiction account written by a journalist who lived in a Mumbai slum is captivating, heartbreaking, and enlightening.

And now, for anyone looking to start or join a book club, here’s some advice on how to make them run smoothly:

  1. Join with like-minded people who like to read the same types of books. If your book club only wants to read vampire fiction and you’re into the Brontes, you’re not going to enjoy it. 
  2. Join with people who have the same idea about how the structure will work – aka we talk about the book for a bit, but then usually spend more time socializing and hanging out.
  3. Decide where you’ll host. Usually one person hosts at my one book club, and for the other we rotate, and the person who hosts gets to choose the book.
  4. Decide how you’ll do food/drinks. Potluck seems to work great for us, and I love the themed nights (sometimes we tie them to our book – for example we made southern food when we read The Help).
  5. Figure out how you’ll choose books. Whether it’s the choice of the person who hosts, or you rotate, or  you put book names into a hat, set it out at the beginning so everyone feels like their choices are represented.
  6. Bring extra book ideas to each meeting in case people want to brainstorm the next choice.
  7. Make sure one person prints out a list of questions so you can have a structured discussion about the book.
  8. Set the date for your next meeting while you’re at book club. I can’t stress this enough, otherwise it will take way too much planning (and about 75 emails) to find a date that works for everyone.
  9. Set out the guidelines at the outset – if you’re flexible and don’t care if people attend or read the books month-to-month that’s fine, as long as everyone knows that.
  10. Don’t read a book you hate or don’t want to read just for the sake of it. Life’s too short to read a book you won’t enjoy – give them all a chance, but I’ve said no to book club books after reading the preview on my iPad, and I don’t regret missing out on those choices.

Do you have any tips on great books to read, or any tips on running an effective book club?

 

  • Alia Kotb

    Hi Erin, from one book lover to another, I agree Kate Morten’s Forgotten Garden was great. You might want to consider The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It is part of a 4-book series; 3 of which are out, The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven. Also his “Midnight Palace”, although written for young adults, is worth the read.

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Erin Bury

Managing Director at Toronto-based digital agency 88 Creative. Former Managing Editor at BetaKit.com. Marketing Magazine 30 Under 30.

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