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6 Ways To Avoid Killing Your Book Club

After all, you want a group with staying power, right?

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Stack of books with a rose and spilt wine on a violet background
Holly Andres
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For anyone who loves to read — and to talk about what they’re reading — book clubs are where it’s at. Over the years, I’ve been a member in a few different book clubs. I currently belong to a Zoom meeting club that began out of pandemic-lockdown necessity but has continued in a virtual format due to geographical distance between our members. Some of my previous book clubs have been made up of all close friends, while others have had a mixture of friends and strangers. Some of the book clubs met at members’ homes, and others decided doing that was too much work for everyone and too hard to clear out other household members for the evening, so we met only in restaurants.

Whether book clubs are serious about their reading picks, or more serious about sipping wine and socializing, book clubbing can become complicated if everyone joins with differing expectations and the group doesn’t work together to establish joint goals. Here are six things you can do to avoid killing your book club.

Pick — and maintain — a workable number of members

It is awkward and limits conversation to have, say, only two people attend, especially if they know one another only through book club. Yet it can also be difficult if you have 20 members vying for their turn to express their thoughts on the chosen book. From my experience, six to eight members always seems to work well; if a couple of people can’t make it, there still are enough to have stimulating conversation where everyone gets air time. However, depending on your club’s meeting spots and how you conduct the meeting, the more might be the merrier. It’s also good to try and invite a new member if someone leaves. It keeps things “fresh” with a new person who may have interesting and unpredictable input to share.

Decide if you are going to focus most of the meeting on the book — or not

I’m not suggesting you designate a set amount of time the book must be discussed and use a stopwatch, but in our socializing-starved environment, it’s easy to chat away without watching the time. Then suddenly not much has been said about the book everyone read. The best way to mitigate that is to ensure once everyone arrives, the book gets discussed first. It seems simple, but I’ve experienced putting on my coat to leave a book club meeting with everyone quickly saying whether they liked the book or not as we said our good-byes! That’s fine, if everyone agrees to make it more of a social club, but some might resent spending the time and energy reading the book without actually talking about it. The wine and gossip can always flow freely without resentment once a discussion happens about the book.

Divide the responsibilities fairly

Whether it’s picking the book, facilitating discussion-provoking questions, hosting at your home with food and beverage designations or picking a coffee shop or restaurant to meet at, book clubs take work! It doesn’t have to feel like a chore if everyone agrees to take their turn with each role, and it’s always helpful to draw up a schedule accordingly so everyone has it for future reference. Nicole Nel of Toronto shared, “Choose the list of books at least six to 12 months in advance to avoid ‘what shall we read’ discussions, and factor in wait times for popular books at the library.” She makes a great point that whatever can be decided in advance — meeting dates, venues, menus, etc. — should be determined up front to save last-minute scrambling or having too many duties fall to the same one or two people.

Have a good mix of personalities

A club full of talkers can be frustrating, but a club full of listeners can be uncomfortably boring. Getting the mix right is important, as well as ensuring a good combination of people who are friends and those who don’t know one another. Having all close friends discussing a book isn’t as interesting; you probably know your besties well enough to know exactly what they’d say about each book! That doesn’t present new perspectives or opinions for everyone to consider and discuss. A diversity of members with different life experiences and professions also leads to more robust conversation about topics that come up. 

Be flexible and creative, but also firm on what the club won’t do

I once had a book club end up in conflict and a member quit because some of the members wanted to watch a sporting championship that fell on our book club date and others felt that wasn’t a good enough reason to reschedule. In matters such as changing the date if something special comes up or agreeing to switch hosting/facilitation duties if someone needs it, there should be flexibility. Life happens! However, the club should also decide in the first meeting or two what “rules” aren’t negotiable, such as the genre(s) of books that will and won’t be included, or whether members who haven’t read the book should be welcome to join the meeting. (My experience is that members who haven’t read the book in full make the book discussion difficult, particularly if they still want to finish the book and don’t want spoiler alerts!) British Columbia’s Kyla Cornish belonged to an extremely flexible book club that is unique: “We never read the same book, so there was no pressure to finish. It was more of a book-swap group,” she said.

Have fun!

Don’t feel your book club has to stick to traditional concepts — if that doesn’t appeal to everyone. Nel belonged to a book club with an interesting variation: “For years our theme was ‘Around the World’ and we’d read (primarily female) authors from different countries, then go to the corresponding restaurant for dinner to discuss. Such as, Ethiopian author — Ethiopian restaurant,” she revealed.

Even with these suggestions, book clubs can sometimes have an organic expiry date, so don’t fret if your book club simply peters out naturally over time. There will always be people who love to read, so find them and start a new book club.