How to Start a Book Group

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

Reading is a guilty pleasure. Growing up, Mom would reiterate that as long as there are books, there is always something to do. As a teenager, Dad handed me a long list of books suggesting I read them as preparation for college. I grew up reading; loving the solitude and the feel of a book in my hands.

Share the Love

Book Group, Reading, WineDiscovering a local book group is a wonderful way to share the love. When I lived up North, I belonged to a monthly group hosted by the local library. I joined as a stranger but quickly made friends with the members.

We were a small but dedicated group, and Matthew, our librarian, moderated the meetings. Together we selected and voted on books for the year, making it easy for Matt to get enough for all of us via inter-library loan.

A few years ago, I joined an online group (thanks Aline!) to share book recommendations. I found a great way to expand my reading list while exchanging reviews with other book lovers. Members provide opinions, a plot summary and answer questions.

New Beginnings – New Book Group

Our move to Florida meant the loss of my beloved book group. I immediately sought new options, beginning with the library. To my dismay, they had a waiting list. The original group became too large and split into two smaller groups. I was thrilled when a spot opened in the Saturday morning group.

Reset Button, new beginningsMy joy was short lived. It was poorly moderated, too large (30+ people) and just a bit contentious. My participation was also short lived. It made me appreciate the high bar set by my former book club.

I began thinking about starting a book group myself, with no idea how to begin. At a local potluck gathering I mentioned the idea to my friend Lori. We were discussing books when we realized starting a book club was something both of us wanted to do.

Define the Book Group

The first step is figuring out the guest list. Be clear about your purpose. Are you a book group that drinks wine or a wine group that occasionally reads and discusses the book?

You Are Invited, organizeDefining the group is the most important decision, because it affects everything else about the book club. Once you nail that down, determine where and when you meet and how to choose your books.

Be transparent about the group’s intent and format. The only thing worse than showing up not having read the book is showing up and being the only one who finished it. Our group feels that not liking the book is a perfectly good reason not to finish it and we incorporate that option into our discussion.

Our group is small, book-centric and social. Currently we’re just women, but men are welcome. Members like each other and love to read, and everyone had book club experience. It’s a great starting point to build a book group! We created a Q&A structure to discuss the book but prefer a relaxed atmosphere for the discussion itself.

Most books have companion group discussion questions easily found online.

How to Choose a Book 

Reading is personal. Give every member a voice (with veto power) in case too many have read the book or there is minimal interest.

People reading, book group, booksPeople have different ideas about what makes a book good. The list below offers criteria that engage most readers and leads to worthy selections:

  • A good topic and setting
  • Historical significance and accuracy
  • Well-paced plot
  • Strong character development
  • Solid writing and dialog
  • Reasonable length
  • Connects with readers feelings
  • Availability on eBooks and other audio options

Practice democracy in your selections by encouraging input and feedback from all members. Being open-minded is a key to discovering some great reading! My personal favorite in recommending a book—I couldn’t put it down.

When selecting books, consider publication dates. New releases may have a long wait list at the library and not everyone wants to buy the book. I often buy a used paperback and donate it to the ‘read and return’ section in the library after I’ve read it.

The Importance of Structure

Begin by defining the group’s purpose; then determine how often and where you meet.  We also decided to choose a group name and a logo. At our first meeting (held in my home) I welcomed everyone with a handmade bookmark.

Email works well for group communication and shared information. Creating an agenda around the selection process and discussion format jump-starts the conversation. I offered to moderate our first review with feedback from the group to refine the format.

Members volunteered categories, authors and titles, and I wrote a summary (using Amazon) to aid our selection process. As book lovers, we have lots of ideas and interests. We distilled our list to six books over six months with options everyone liked.

Our first official meeting went well so we decided to keep the format, setting a regular date and time for future meetings. It is possible to read and discuss the book and share a glass of wine!

Many authors are willing to chat with book clubs using Skype, Zoom, and Google Chat.  Check their websites for additional information.

Discuss Amongst Yourselves    

Discuss Amongst Yourselves, Book group, Saturday Night LiveThere is more than one way to interpret a book. Differing opinions make the best discussions. Not everyone will finish every book, but input from everyone brings valuable insight to the discussion.

An important part of each review is making sure everyone’s voice is heard.  Understanding what participants like and dislike uncovers aspects of the story others might miss. Observations about the author’s nuances and style can make or break the rating.

A book group is an awesome way to bring together friends with a shared interest in reading. Throw in comfortable seating, killer good snacks and drinks and you have a great way to spend an evening.