Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to Have a Book Club

Not that there's only one way to have a book club! But here's how my book club does it up.

We - a handful of friends and I - formed our little book club seven years ago (it's hard to believe it's been that long!). Originally, we formed it as an extension of the MOMS Club we were members of, but it wasn't long before we realized that having to adhere to the rules of that organization was holding us back from making our book club what we wanted it to be. Initially we met during the day to discuss the books we read, with our tykes scampering about at our feet. Sounds cute and sweet, doesn't it? It wasn't. I strongly advise anyone wanting to start a book club to hold the discussions sans kids. This is your opportunity to be an adult, among other adults, and to partake of adult conversation, and hopefully adult beverages.

We started out as a group of about a half-dozen stay-home moms, and we've grown to a group of women who include stay-home moms, teachers, a lawyer, a college professor, an actuary, and a number of other careers and identities. The group is ever-changing; there are a handful of us who have been members since the group's inception, and over the years lots of other women have joined and un-joined. There are officially roughly twenty members right now, and a little more than half of that number comprises the core group of members who are diligently active.

I am the unofficial coordinator of the group, which really means nothing more than maintaining a roster and sending out announcements and reminders via email of upcoming reading selections and dates and times of discussions. A couple years ago we started using, which is a really cool way of communicating with any sort of cohesive group you may be involved in.

So here's what we do: we take turns choosing books for the group to read. We read and discuss one book per month, skipping December and instead having a holiday dinner/gift-book exchange that month. Whomever chooses the book hosts the discussion for that book. There is no set order - we don't draw names or assign months, nor do we vote on books. Fortunately, we are an active enough group that members reserve a spot to host way ahead of time, so we usually have books and hosts signed up months in advance.

The discussions are hosted in the evening at the host's home. There is generally lots of food, talk and laughter. We try to use a published discussion guide (which can often be found in the back of the book, on the publisher's website, or on the author's website) to facilitate the discussion of each book, but once in a while we read a book that has no published discussion guide, as in the case of the recently read and discussed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. My friend Robin writes really excellent discussion questions though.

Sometimes the host might try to keep the theme or setting of the book in mind when preparing the evenings snacks. For instance, the very first book we read as a group was Memoirs of a Geisha, and at the discussion my friend Judy provided these little Japanese ice cream things, which I remember were really yummy. I hosted our discussion of Henrietta Lacks earlier this week, and here is my amusingly weak attempt at creating snacks and desserts that resemble cells, in keeping with the book's theme (go ahead and laugh!):

As I said, we usually use a discussion guide to . . . uh, guide the discussion. But the discussions inevitably digress and meander down different paths and we often talk about our own life experiences and views about different topics. This is what I love so much about my book club - it's very casual and intimate and has provided a means of getting to know and connect with other women. I have made some very dear friends through my book club.

We read all kinds of genres: classics, contemporary fiction, memoirs, nonfiction, mysteries - you name it. In fact, here's a list of all the books we've read thus far, starting seven years ago!

Memoirs of a Geisha*

Good in Bed**

The Christmas Box*

The Five People You Meet in Heaven*

The DaVinci Code

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West**

Cry, the Beloved Country*

The Secret Life of Bees*

The Red Tent*

The Awakening*

A Prayer for Owen Meany*

I Don’t Know How She Does It*

The Kite Runner*

The Stone Diaries**

Life of Pi*

Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim*


Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons**

The Egg and I*

Summer Breeze


Brideshead Revisited

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan*

East of Eden*

On Hitler’s Mountain**

A Walk in the Woods

The Time Traveler's Wife*


Pride and Prejudice

The Journeys of Socrates

One Hundred Years of Solitude

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn*

Running With Scissors*

To Kill a Mockingbird*

She’s Come Undone**

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter*

The Namesake*

Midnight’s Children

The Thirteenth Tale*


Gone With the Wind*

A Thousand Splendid Suns*

Three Cups of Tea

The Glass Castle*

Eat, Pray, Love

The Birth House**

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Shadow of the Wind

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings*

A Long Way Gone*

Road Map to Holland**

…And Ladies of the Club

The Gargoyle*

My Name is Asher Lev

Murder on the Orient Express

Saving Fish From Drowning*

The Help*




One Child*


Little Dorrit

The 19th Wife*

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet*

Franny and Zooey

Mommie Dearest*

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo*

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks**

Whooo-eeeee, that's a lotta books! Up next are Olive Kitteridge, followed by When Everything Changed.

In our group, there really isn't any pressure to read every single book chosen. My own personal feeling is: there are too many good books out there to waste your time struggling through a book you really don't enjoy. I usually give a book 50 pages to grab me; if it doesn't, I'm done with it.

Also, the point of a book club, in my opinion anyway, shouldn't be to choose books that everyone will love, but rather to choose books that will be the basis for good discussions. Even a book someone passionately hates can spur a provocative discussion.

Anyway, if you've ever thought about starting a book club, it's not too hard. Just gather together some friends who love to read and who are willing to take turns hosting, and get reading!

* books I actually read
** books I chose and hosted

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like fun. Thanks for laying down the basics. Like you, if a book doesn't grab me (FAST), I won't read it. I don't have enough hours in the day to waste on books I don't enjoy. I totally agree, sans children is the only way to stay sane.