Let’s talk about books: 10 tips for starting a book club

As I’m transitioning this travel blog to cover wider cultural interests and experiences, I thought I’d share some tips for one of my other favourite activities, my monthly book club.

I’ve always loved reading, but it’s easy to get into the habit of reading the same types of books and authors. So I’d wanted to join a book club for a while but could never find one that worked for me, location and time-wise. So, I came up with the perfect solution, start my own!

My book club has been running for over 14 years now, so it’s gone pretty well and I think the key to success is keeping it simple. So, here are my top 10 tips for starting and running a book club.

1. Find some book-loving friends

My book club started from a conversation with a new friend who I met when I moved house. We were both avid readers and realised that between us we had five or six friends, or friends of friends that might be interested in joining a book club. We started with eight people and have never had more than nine members which I think is a good number for everyone to be able to contribute to the chat.

2. Meet on a fixed day not date

If you go for a fixed day each month, e.g., my book club meets on the first Wednesday of every month, you don’t have to remember dates or engage in regular diary juggling to find dates everyone can do.

3. Pick a social location

Meeting in a pub or cafe makes it social and means there’s no pressure or work involved in hosting it in someone’s home. It’s best to ask the pub landlord or cafe owner first, but they’re unlikely to say no unless you pick their busiest night, which wouldn’t be ideal for chatting about books anyway! We meet in a pub at 8pm which means we can eat at home and those with kids can sort them out before they come.

4. Keep it informal

We’ve tried using book group questions that you can find online or in the back of some books. But I think the best discussions come from just asking what everyone thinks of the book and then letting the conversation flow.

5. Choose your reading list collectively

When we have two or three books left on the list, we all bring suggestions to the next book club meeting for the new list. It can include reviews of recent books or ideas of older ones we fancy reading. We send links in advance and at the meeting we collectively decide which to put on the list. Invariably there will be a suggestion that one or more of the book club have already read. They might remember it well enough to discuss if it goes on the list, but they have the right of veto.

6. Keep the books fairly short

Meeting monthly keeps the momentum going and means if you miss a book club meeting it’s not too long until the next one. But it can be challenging to fit in a lengthy read, so we aim for around 300-350 pages. It also means they are not too heavy to carry around if you like the printed versions like me. Some of the group have Kindles but I prefer hard copies and keep it affordable by getting my books from the library, a charity shop or an online second-hand retailer like Oxfam or Awesome Books.

7. Mix it up

The newest bestseller or Booker Prize winner is always tempting but there are stacks of books that have been around for a while that are well worth dipping into. As I said earlier a book club is a great way to make sure you don’t always default to the same types of books and authors. We mainly read fiction but biographies can also make for interesting discussions. And we occasionally add a short story collection to the list too.

8. Respect everyone’s views

Hearing how differently people can read a book is half the fun and opinions can really vary. So it’s important to listen and respect everyone’s individual views. Although healthy debate is very much encouraged!

9. Agree who will be the club admin

If you start the book club you might be happy to do the admin yourself, but to keep it going it’s important that someone agrees to do it. I’m the admin for my book club and it’s pretty low maintenance.

  • I created a book club WhatsApp group and every month I send a reminder message a couple of days before to check that everyone can come.
  • I schedule the new books once they are agreed. I try to mix up the genres and periods they are set in, and I put the longer books on the list where we have a five-week gap between meetings.
  • I add the new books to the list and send it on the WhatsApp group. I keep adding to the same Word document list, so everyone can see what we’d already read.
  • For our December meeting we always go to a restaurant or pub for a Christmas meal so I tend to keep that book short and festive-themed if possible. Though we may have read all the good ones now!

10. Have fun!

I’m not sure my approach to running a book club would suit everyone, some people may prefer it to be more formal. But for me reading is a fun hobby and I think talking about it should be too. We probably spend 30-40 minutes talking about the book each month but the rest of the time is catching up with a group of people that I share an interest with but have also become a really great group of friends.

Visit the new Books section of my blog for past and future reviews and posts about all things reading.

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