Friday, December 20, 2013

Help I'm starting a book club?

In a grand plan to take on 2014 by storm- some coworkers and I have decided to start a scifi based book club. We have lovingly started calling it the "BombAss Brunch Book Club" with the idea that we will meet at various restaurants around town and sample the best brunches and mimosas we can find.

The idea here is that 5 ladies (from different areas of the company) want to bond over some good space adventures (or magic adventures... or creepy ghost stories). The problem is that all of the members are book club newbies. (Unless you count the discussion posts I made on GoodReads groups in college?):

-We aren't sure how to structure the discussions- not that scifi/fantasy novels are going to provoke deep and meaningful life conversations (although maybe we will be surprised?) OR whether the discussions actually need to have any sort of structure or similar "book club guide" questions that some books have in the back...
-We have a facebook group that we are trying to get up and running with brainstorms about books we could read throughout the year- but no way to figure out which book will be THE NEXT BOOK. And none of us have dominate personalities - so every conversation is "I'm okay with whatever you  choose"

Basically I'm turning to you all and asking for help. Have you ever tried to start a book club? How did you structure it? How did you deal with months where people were "meh" about the book (or didn't read it at all)? Do you find having a more guided discussion help or did it all just come naturally? And most importantly: Did you find that having a book chosen for you every month was fun or a chore... Did you continue to love the book club or did it make reading tedious for you?

I would love to hear your book club successes or woes. And Do's and Don'ts

Hope everyone has a GREAT holiday season


  1. I'm starting a historical fiction book club through my local indie. For the sci-fi and ya ones, they usually start with "What did you think of the book?". I think the leaders of those might google questions, or the author and book. Or the write questions after reading the book. Sometimes people pop in with questions during discussion. And some books have questions in them.

    The ya ones, we pull out a bunch from the shelves at the end of a meeting, read blurbs and say if it sounds like something we want to read or not. Then we group them so there's not so many of the same genres in a row. We tend to stick more to the paperbacks, for cost and shelf space reasons. Sci-fi is generally the same. I've heard one of them had each member take turns picking the book for the month. Perhaps you can meet at the bookstore every so often for a planning trip.

    I've dropped one book club, partly because there is this one guy who is VERY loud, and hijacks every single meeting. The store owner, who leads the group has to get after him to let others talk and stop interrupting. I liked it and the books picked better when it was a smaller group. I still like the YA and Scifi, even if I don't enjoy the books much. I'd suggest nominating someone as the leader, either fixed, or whoever picks a book the given month, to be question prodder if necessary. Sometimes it is needed, sometimes not.

  2. Maybe one person can choose book and then you take turns? Like in january A decides which book to read (Maybe from the list you've already Done) and i february B decides which book :)

  3. We rotate whose turn it is to pick a book (starting in January, we'll have a pre-planned schedule) and host. Our book club is called 'The No Pressure Book Club' since we've got a lot of women with competing priorities (jobs, children, schedules, etc.) -- the idea is that you come when you can, you read when/what you can, and no one judges you for it. We read all sorts of things, but I think sci-fi sounds like a great idea. There is the potential for many really weighty, big ideas to talk about with sci-fi. I admit that we have long meetings, which are comprised of discussing the book for about one quarter of the time and talking about whatever we want to the rest. It's wonderful!

  4. The most successful, long-lived book club I was in had a designated leader for each discussion--that person did some preliminary research on the author and the book itself, and had a few questions in mind for the meeting. However, a lot of times we wouldn't even get to most of the pre-planned questions because the discussion would just flow naturally--but it's always good to have some questions in mind to start things off. The best discussions seem to be when people respect each other's opinions, but aren't afraid to disagree--some of the best discussions occur when everyone doesn't love the book! It's also OK to sometimes pick a book that no one ends up liking--it happens! We used to pick books twice a year, 6 months at a time. Each member would bring a few titles and give a little "book commercial " about each, and then we'd select from those. The most important thing is to have fun--a book club shouldn't feel like taking a class! Good luck!

  5. My mother is in a book club where they don't all read the same book. What seems to happen with traditional clubs is that the book is assigned using whatever method, and if you find you don't like it, you either suffer through or feel guilty for not finishing that book. Instead, her book club members each read a book and bring it to the monthly meeting. They then present the book and tell what they thought about it - good, bad, excellent, etc. After some time, you get to know who has similar reading tastes, so that if they recommend a book or didn't like a book, you know that you might like/not like to read it. If you want something a little less free-for-all, instead of assigning a specific title, you could assign a genre. Everyone has to read a YA dystopian or a cozy mystery or a contemporary romance or something off Oprah's list, and so on. Take turns being the one to name the genre. Then discuss how each person's chosen book worked within that genre.

  6. Our book club had some challenges with a lot of the same issues you're asking about. We've been together for 6 years and are still going strong, though, when any other book club I've tried to be in has fizzled after a few months.

    What we've found most successful is this: We pick all the books up front for the year and set all the dates ahead of time. (You could do 6 months if you didn't want to be too locked in.) We try as much as possible not to change dates or books--everyone's lives are too busy to deal with last-minute changes, and if you change to accommodate one person, it can inconvenience someone else! We rotate hosts alphabetically--the host either has the meeting at her home or picks a restaurant where we meet. To pick books, we all bring four or five titles and then we draw them out of a hat anonymously so no one gets their feelings hurt if "their" book isn't picked or isn't enjoyed, because (theoretically) no one knows who picked what.

    As for discussions--we are all teachers, most of us language arts, so asking questions and finding things to talk about is never a problem. In fact, that's WHY we started the club, because some of us had been in other book clubs and found that either we couldn't geek out about writing, etc, quite as much as we wanted to , or that the other group members would clam up because we were "experts" and it felt more like we were teaching a class rather than being in a fun group of peers.

    We have a tacit understanding that we make all efforts to read the book, but if someone comes having not read or not finished she can't be upset if there are spoilers.

    I talked with a lot of people who've been in long-term clubs and they all agreed that having a planned-out schedule and list were the most important factors. After a while together you get much more comfortable with "agreeing to disagree" and come to realize that we can all teach each other so much about how to see the books we read.

    Great general questions to get clubs talking:
    1. what is an idea or an image from this book that you will remember, and why?
    2. if you could ask the author about one choice he/she made while writing, what would it be?
    3. what connections do you make between this book and other books you've read?

  7. When we started up a book group at work, we tried to keep it really low-pressure since everyone is so busy. Some things that worked for us:
    1. Set guidelines on books (i.e., available in paperback, maximum # of pages, etc)
    2. For book selections, each month one person was assigned to bring in three suggestions for the next month. We'd all vote, and the top-voted book would win. Pretty low pressure, especially as it takes the burden off of any one person to choose the book for the whole group. This way it's a group dynamic that makes the selection.
    3. We tried to always get everyone to meet, even if some of the people hadn't finished or even started the book. Sometimes the discussion would end up focusing more on why people hadn't read the book, but that's okay.

    We never really wanted a formal discussion format, preferring to leave it open-ended and organic. Sometimes the person who'd recommended the book would bring in some talking points or discussion starters, but for the most part, once the conversation started, it was fun to see where it would end up.

    Good luck!

  8. What my book club did was compare books on goodreads. Then we added the TBR ones we all had in common to our groups bookshelf. (Since we have a group on goodreads.) We then assigned the "holiday" themed book to the appropriate month of December, and picked a handful of books to be assigned to the selected months. (via polls, or rotating to let one person decide.) We typically only have 3-4 months planned in advance. That way we can add sequels or delete books we've read samples of and no longer want to read. There is only four of us in the group and this format works well for us.

    As far as discussions go, we do not have a structured format. We use goodreads forums to select a folder for the book and create threads as desired. As far as what we talk about, it depends solely on the book. We talk about settings, themes, characters, plots, quotations that make us think, just about everything. Some months, the forums have more love than normal, and others only have a couple threads. It depends on which book we choose. For us, we all have known each other in real life for some time, so not having a structured format keeps it all informal and fun.

    "How did you deal with months where people were "meh" about the book (or didn't read it at all)?" That turned out to be this month. Which turned out discussions into 'OMG this book was bad, how is this *insert majorly depressing thing* supposed to be passed off as Christmas cheer?' Basically we say what we have to say, and move on. If someone doesn't finish the book, they toss their opinion for why they DNF is and then await next month's book.

    I've been in this book club for over a year now. It's still fun, and I still look forward to our books every month. So the only real advice I have for you is to keep things fun. If someone doesn't want to read a book, let them skip over it with out a comment. If you know the other members well IRL, then be sure to talk about other things during those meetings so that everyone feels still a part of the group. If you keep things fun, I think you will be ok.

  9. We'll done, very exciting and I'm jealous. I used to run a book group but had to move for work, I miss it!

    We picked books by taking it in turns to suggest books to read, order was sorted by a random ballot. We found the conversation ran itself most of the time but I usually made some notes to prompt conversation if needed. If we didn't read the book, we discussed why, was it the book or life, and instead talked about what we had read or movies or tv!

    Good luck, I'm sure it'll be treat!

  10. I'm in many book clubs and while they each are run a bit differently for most of them we have members suggest books and we vote on a poll. With a book club as small as yours taking turns on picking a book would probably be best, and the person who selected the book can be responsible for writing or finding discussion topics and questions. Someone definitely needs to take charge to keep things running and organized though.

  11. We started a book club at work about a year ago. What we do is everyone in the meeting selects a book to nominate. We put a post on our online forum with the summaries and a link to a survey monkey. Then we let everyone vote for a day. Surprisingly, I think I have only voted for the book I nominated twice! We had a tie last month so we just revoted. Then we meet at lunch one day and just start talking. Usually someone brings up something and we just take it from there. Techinically (and we did this a lot in the beginning) the person who nominated the winning book brings some prompting questions (or someone volunteers to do that for a month).

    We only have six people who show up to the meeting.. now four actually since two left the company. But since we do a related post on the forum where there are more people who sometimes contribute even though they cant make the meeting. It actually usually works out for us.

    We don't do a specific genre, and have read across a bunch of genres. Sometimes we have a book that everyone loved (Ready Player One). Sometimes we get mixed reactions (14) and sometimes everyone just feels meh about it (Poison Study). It's great fun! I am glad you are starting one!

  12. I haven't been in a book club, but I have been in discussion-based classes. I would really recommend getting one person to be in charge of running the group discussion each month/book. This way if no one can think of something to say, someone will have prepared a few discussion questions in advance. Good luck!

  13. My book club is coming up on six years. We've picked books a lot of different ways, and the best way so far has been to pick all of the books for the year at one time. We each suggest three books, then vote on our top 12, in order of preference - first pick gets 12 points, last pick gets one point. Then we total up the points and the top 12 are our picks. It's so helpful to know the whole year in advance, so you can adjust accordingly to your own life. If I know I'm going to have a really busy month in June, I can read that book ahead of time and still be able to join in the discussion.
    Another thing we do that I love is book trivia at the beginning of each meeting! The host preps about 10-15 trivia questions about the book and we all vie to shout the answer out first. We have little dollar store prizes (if possible themed to the book - for The Book Thief we had little journals, for A Homemade Life we had recipe cards and kitchen-y things). It's a great way to jump start the discussion and help us remember specific plot points we wanted to talk about. It's so fun!
    Good luck with your book club! You're going to have so much fun!

  14. you could also use the potluck format, meaning you don't need to read all the same book: each time, each of you read the latest book you read and enjoyed, this is the format we have been using in the book club I set up 2 years ago, all the participants just love it! we are between 8 and 12 members, depending on the months, men and women, lots of us coming as couples. really fun, we discover all kinds of books in all kind of genres

  15. It's definitely a good idea to pick the books well in advance, because it gives people plenty of time to find copies and read them. It's sounds like a nice small group so one way to choose books could be to ask each member to suggest five books, and then everyone vote on them - like rank them, that was how it was done in one of my book clubs (a classics one), though the guy who organised it was a real nerd and enjoyed putting together the spreadsheet, which helped!

    I have been with book clubs that tried to meet in restaurants, and I can tell you that it doesn't work if your group is too big, because no one can hear anyone. Four works, six might if you know good places that have quiet spaces in the back.

    In the book clubs I've been a member of, we would take it in turn to host and whoever hosts is the person who leads the discussion - which simply means coming up with a few questions to help keep conversation going and on-topic. Even if you have the meetings at restaurants, you can still do it that way. It really helps if one person is responsible to moderate it, and that you change it each time.

    In my classics book club, we always started each discussion by going around the group and giving each person a chance to say what they thought, overall. First impressions, overall reaction, that kind of thing. It can be really good for giving you/everyone ideas for things to discuss, too, and you get a feel for who liked/disliked/is on the fence about it, which leads to some fun discussion too! And at the end we would each rate the book, which I hated doing but it was a good way to close - and see if anyone's opinion had changed through the discussion.

    I've only ever done a sci-fi book club online (through Goodreads), which was fun but different from in-person. Good luck with the new club, book clubs are a lot of fun!

  16. My book club has been together for over 15 years! Each time we meet, a few people bring along books they're interested in reading - they get passed around and usually there's a clear favourite however ultimately, the person who is hosting the next meeting decides which book we read.

    Our discussions vary - sometimes we talk a lot about the book, other times not so much (which is telling in itself). Either way, we always end up talking about what we've been reading.

    As a member of a long running group, I think it's important to decide early on how/ when you'll invite new members. This has been the biggest issue for us - on the odd occassion, group members have introduced newbies and it's not always a good fit. Don't have the answers for how to make it work though, but worth deciding on some 'rules'.

  17. I've been in my book club for about 3 years now, and it varies a little bit each time we meet. We've had to set some "rules" as time has gone by that work for everyone. We currently have 6-7 people, and we meet about once a month.

    1. We rotate who picks the book.We had problems agreeing on books, so about a year and a half ago, we just decided to start rotating so no one would get upset if their book didn't get picked. This also provides us with more variety in genres.

    We meet at restaurants, so whoever picks the book also picks where we meet. Since we all have kids, this was the best option for us.

    2. We instated a rule basically saying if you don't read the book, you can still come, but know that we will be talking about what happened. Same thing applies if you don't finish it. We had multiple instances of people coming who hadn't finished it, but planned on it, and didn't want the rest of us to discuss it. It was annoying for those of us that finished the book and wanted to talk about it. We reinforce this for certain books as well (like when we read Allegiant. Everyone knew we would be talking about the ending).

    3. Discussion. Some books lend themselves more easily to discussion. When I pick books I usually have a few questions/prompts prepared, but I'm usually the only one that does that in our group. Most of the time it's general impressions, like/dislike, etc.

    4. We plan out at each meeting when we will meet again, and where. I don't think planning out so far in advance will work for my group (we're all late 20s, early 30s), so month by month works best for us.We do have a set night we meet (Mondays), but other than that, nothing else is planned out.

    5. I do recommend having someone in charge. Whether its leading the discussions or communicating date/time/book/place whatever. It's nice to have a go-to person that everyone can ask what's going on. We actually have an iCalendar together since we all use iPhones. It's great.

    Good luck!


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