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Book Discussion Groups
Resources for libraries--or others--seeking to establish a book discussion group.
How to Start a Book Discussion Group: Answer 10 questions and you're on your way!
What kind of book club? Decide on a club orientation: somewhere between highly social and seriously academic.
What kind of books? Choose a literary genre or a mix of genres: fiction (current or classic), poetry, drama, mystery, sci-fi, current events, history, or biography.
How many members? 8 to 16 members are best: enough for a discussion if several are absent, but not too many to make discussions unwieldy.
How often should we meet? Once a month works best for most clubs. Some meet every 6 weeks. Pick a schedule and try to stick with it.
When should we meet? Weekdays: mid-morning, lunchtime, dinner, evening—depends on jobs, childcare, family dinners or difficulty driving at night. Weekends: Saturday morning, or Sunday afternoon or evening.
Where should we meet? Homes, clubhouses, public libraries, churches, local Y’s, restaurants—all make good meeting places.
What should we call ourselves? Give your club an identity — Brookville Book Babes, Reading's Red Hat Readers, New London Literary Lions. Or simply the Lakewood Book Club — that works.
How do we keep in touch? Send out monthly meeting reminders. If not everyone uses email, mail postcards. Distribute a complete list of phone numbers, home addresses, and e-mails.
Keeping memories. Keep a club journal—a 3-ring binder to keep track of the books you’ve read, plot summaries, discussion highlights, and members’ opinions. It's especially useful to bring new members up to speed.
Give back to the community. Collect dues for a scholarship or an annual literacy award at a local school. Purchase books for your local library, or become involved in a tutoring program
Meeting Do's and Don'ts
How to Structure a Meeting
Basic Ground Rules
Members who haven’t read the book. Come anyway. Not everyone can finish every book, but non-readers may still have valuable insights.
Disagreements about the book. Be gracious! There is no one way to experience or interpret a book. In fact, differing opinions are good.
Members who prefer to socialize. Be gentle but firm. Insist that discussion time be limited to the book. Some clubs hold book discussions first and invite "social members" to join afterward.
Dominating personalities. Never easy. “Let’s hear from some others” is one approach. Some clubs pass an object around the room; you talk only when you hold the object. If the person continues to dominate, a friendly phone call (no e-mail) might work. If all fails, well...sometimes they've just got to go—for the good of the club.
Allow 2 to 2-1/2 hours per meeting
30-45 min. — social time
15-20 min. — club administrative matters
60-90 min. — book discussion
Establish a format. Find what works for everyone and stick with it.
Holding the Discussion
With a leader
Appoint a club member—whoever selected the book or the person who is hosting. Some clubs have one member who enjoys leading all discussions.
Invite an outside facilitator (English teacher or librarian), paid or unpaid.
Without a leader
Take turns going around the room, allowing each member to talk about his or her experience reading the book.
Hand out index cards. Ask everyone to write a question or observation; then select one or more to discuss.
Advice for librarians seeking to provide a wide range of programming that targets their communities of book lovers:author readings, book signings, and author panels; marketing and outreach pointers; interviewing authors for local radio, library podcasts, or webinars; nuts-and-bolts of organizing and hosting book clubs; creating displays of "staff favorites" and other ways to get staff involved and engaged.