About two and a half years ago, I started a book club.
My friends and I had been talking about it for ages. I tend to run in circles with a lot of fellow bookworms, and throughout the years that I spent working in publishing, my pals were always encouraging me to get the group together for a book club so that I could share all of the secrets I was getting on the job. At that point, my enthusiasm for reading had (sadly) hit somewhat of a low because of my mixed feelings about work, and I couldn’t see adding something new to my plate. So we just kept talking about it for a few months.
After I left my full-time job in publishing to pursue freelance writing full-time, I decided that the book club was seriously overdue. My schedule had shifted so significantly and I finally had the time to devote to coordinating it, and as happy as I was to be out on my own professionally, I was seriously feeling the loss of the book talk that I’d been lucky enough to have so frequently in my publishing job.
I finally did it! I finally started the book club!
Our first meeting was planned for February 2017. At this moment, we were all good and mad — and so many other things — about the results of the 2016 election (TBH, I’m still good and mad and so many other things about it), so the initial thought was that we would focus on feminist authors and titles so that we could really get and stay educated when it felt like there were few other things we could do. We used Emma Watson’s reading list as inspiration and chose Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman as our first read. I can’t say that the book was a hit (sorry to those who loved it!), but the process of coming together to talk about a book that some of us may not have picked up otherwise definitely was. We got our March 2017 meeting on the books and have been meeting almost every month since.
In that time, we’ve picked up a few members and (unfortunately) said goodbye to a few others. We’ve eaten a lot of good snacks and sipped on all kinds of mediocre wine. We’ve cheered each other on through promotions and engagements and frustrating negotiations at work and so many other things. We’ve had some really intellectual conversations and some that I can only describe as the opposite of really intellectual. We’ve loved some books and strongly disliked others. All in all, our meetings are consistently among the highlights of my month and I encourage everyone I know to join or start a book club… even if they wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves big readers!
Here are a few thoughts on how I think book clubs can work best.
1. Smaller groups can be better.
Our book club has always consisted of fewer than ten members, and while I’ve talked to other people who think that bigger is better, I think that keeping it on the small side has been to our benefit. Each member of our book club knows that they’re an important part of the group, which makes it harder to disengage or to bail on a meeting just because you don’t feel like going. A smaller group also makes it easier for everyone to be heard, which is (in my opinion) the most important part of a successful book club.
2. It’s important to set dates in stone ASAP.
We all know how Type A I am, and that served me really well back in 2017 when we were trying to get the book club off the ground. My book club is made up of some of my closest friends, so it would have been really easy for us to take the approach of “we’ll figure out when we want to meet to talk about the book next time we see each other!” But we didn’t go that way! Instead, we set the expectation that we would never leave one meeting without having a date on the calendar for the next meeting (or at least a date that we could use as a starting point and rain check). This helps us keep the ball rolling!
3. Planning time to have non-book related conversations is totally fine… and actually pretty great.
I know a lot of people joke that book clubs are really just wine-drinking clubs where people happen to talk about books occasionally. I find that this feels a little offensive — especially because it’s almost always directed at book clubs made up of all women — but I’m also willing to admit that there have been times when my own book club has spent more time on personal chatter than we did on the book. And that’s okay! Often, the book we’re talking about inspires us to share things about our personal lives that we wouldn’t have otherwise. As a result, I’ve learned so much about people that I already considered close friends! Even if we spend a lot of time on book talk during a meeting, we also like to hold about 20 minutes open at the end to go around the group for updates. Sometimes, we also share our roses and thorns of the last month. You know how much I love to talk about books, but book club has also become a nice guarantee that I’ll have the opportunity to check in with my pals on a regular basis… and I appreciate that just as much as the book conversations.
4. Shake up your book selections!
As you may have guessed after my lukewarm reference to the first book we ever read as a group, we have moved away from focusing solely on officially feminist reads. That being said, we do like to read books written by female authors whenever possible, and we try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction somewhat regularly so that we are holding each other accountable to learn new things and stay informed. The women in my book club are all super smart and opinionated, and there’s generally at least one person every month who wasn’t thrilled with the book we chose. We try to let their feedback inform our choice for the next month so that everyone stays motivated to keep up with the reading and so that everyone is periodically being challenged with a book choice that may not have come naturally to them.
5. Celebrate the seasons.
We like to read a romance for our February meeting (last year, we read Lady Chatterley’s Lover and this year, we read Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, so there’s been quite a range!) and we lean toward beach read-style fiction in the summer months. We try to look for “cozy reads” in the wintertime, which can mean a lot of things. In between, we slot in lots of memoir and non-fiction.
6. Use Bookstagram!
I didn’t get seriously into bookstagram until I launched the SSR Instagram feed in May 2018, but my title recommendations for book club got so much better after I did! Because we are such an opinionated group, it can take forever for us to agree on a book for the coming month, and it’s nice to be able to pull up my Instagram feed and offer a few suggestions based on what I’ve been seeing around most often. If you’re like me and often find yourself getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of books out there in the world waiting to be read, bookstagram is a really good place to start!
7. Go for books that everyone isn’t going to love.
Every once in a while, I like to come prepared with a suggestion that I have a feeling is going to spark some interesting, slightly divided conversation. I happen to have a book club meeting tonight, and I’m planning to push Three Women. I’ve seen such rave reviews and frustrated commentary about this one, so I think it’s a great choice. Plus, I’ve been dying to read it myself!