May 12, 2009

If a book on 'How to achieve success' is a failure, then could it be a success?

A room without books is like a body without a soul ~ Cicero.

That is one of my very favorite quotes about books. Ever.

I am currently re-reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. It is simply one of my very favorite books, only to rival A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith as an all-time favorite. The reason I am re-reading The Blind Assassin is that one of my book clubs is having a Year of Favorites - for this year's selections, we are all taking turns picking our favorite reads. I was very torn in choosing between The Blind Assassin and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but for selfish reasons went with The Blind Assassin. I want to reread it and I want to have someone with whom I can discuss it. I have had several friends listen to the audio book, but I really believe it is best read and not listened to.

In a past post here, someone asked for advice about hosting or creating a book club. I have thought a lot about this. What makes a great book club? How does one go about beginning a book club? I have been involved in some great book clubs, some bad book clubs and some book clubs that simply failed to take off past the initial few meetings.

After thinking about it, I came up with these questions to ask when going about creating your own book club:
  1. How many members? It is best to have a group with about 5-8 members. Less than that and it can be difficult to get a good, thoughtful conversation going. More than that, and you will have too many side conversations which can be distracting.
  2. What is the purpose of the group? I was in a club once that incorporated a wine tasting into the meeting. While this was really, really fun, it was a significant time and money commitment since purchasing a bottle of wine, a snack and a book could add up quickly. But I was in another group with co-workers where we met quickly for lunch. While convenient and cheap, it did not allow for nearly enough time to discuss the book. Consider whether everyone you are asking will be able to participate. Decide whether you want to have a social aspect or whether you want it to be all about the books you read. I am in one group where there is very little social aspect - we get together, nibble on some crackers and discuss the book. Quick, simple. I am in another group where we get together, eat a meal, discuss the book and then catch up socially. Not so quick, not so simple. Truly, I enjoy both groups equally and they both involve books. What's not to love about that?
  3. How are you going to determine the book selections? One group I was in did a drawing to determine who would select the next book. A group I am in now just goes in a democratic, alphabetical order according to our members' names. Another group I am in now is willy-nilly about it, but nobody seems to mind.
  4. Do you want to have basic guidelines for selections? For example, if new releases are allowed, this can increase the cost of participation. New releases are not generally in the lower-priced trade back version and getting a high-demand book at the library can be really difficult. Also, some groups may want a page limit if members are particularly busy or not hardcore readers. I am in a group that tries to keep selections to 350 pages or less. Yes, that limits our possibilities, but it also means that our members who read less are not stressed out about getting through the books.
  5. How often will you meet? Where are you going to meet? I am in one group that meets every other month, another group that meets about every 2-3 months since our schedules are insane. I have been in groups where we met at the same place for every meeting. Meeting in one place every time is convenient for scheduling, but it may put folks off if they happen to live far away from the agreed-upon location. The groups I belong to now mix it up a bit - we have met at members' homes, a local winery, a tea shop, a library and various restaurants. I also recommend setting up the next day before you wrap up current meetings - it is far too easy to let time fly before scheduling another meeting.
  6. How are you going to communicate? It is helpful to have a leader who is willing to take charge of communication. You could use Facebook or email. Also, consider using a site like Goodreads to keep track of your group's selections. I am using Goodreads for one of my groups and I wish I had been using it all along for the other group I am in as well.
  7. How are you going to organize the meeting? I always prefer a meeting that is a bit organized with questions, but it does not have to regimented. This is not a quiz, folks. My favorite discussions are the ones where we take turns on some initial questions. This also helps members who are shy and hesitant to voice their opinions, even though they may have some interesting points to add.
I am sure there are many things I am forgetting, but those are some great ideas to get you started.

I have had some great experiences with book clubs. In my opinion, a stellar book club is one that leaves you thinking about what you have read. And even if the book was not a great selection, that does not mean the meeting is a failure - I have read many stinkers, only to find the conversation itself well worth the having suffered through the book.


stephanie said...

Was I the one who asked for tips on starting a book club? I think it was me... but if not, this is great timing. My girlfriends and I just started one and we're on our second book/meeting.

We've decided that each person should try to come with a suggestion and synopsis of the book (like from the back cover or Amazon) and then we'll see which has the most interest. Any recommendations for a book that's a good reader for a beginner book club?

Anjali said...

I did not know you could use Goodreads to keep track of what you read... I will have to look into that!

(And Blind Assasin is one of my favorite books of all time.)

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

YES, it was you.

Anjali Sr.,
I created a bookshelf called Booksluts Bookclub. It is not mutually exclusive and so as I mark items as "read", I mark them for that bookshelf as well.

Rozanne said...

You are so organized. I'm in a book club that has been hanging in there for about 5 to 6 years now. I think that's pretty good. Sure, there are only 4 of us, and we often have pretty different reading taste, but it's a great way to get exposed to books we might not otherwise read. One thing we've always struggled with is deciding on the "next book." We tend to get all hung up on being "democratic" about it and trying to reach a consensus. I think we've finally decided to just rotate according to birthdays. Fingers crossed that that works. We usually have our discussions over a potluck dinner at one of our houses, which is always nice, but sometimes we go out for Sunday breakfast.

Also, we do use GoodReads for communicating and keeping track and it seems to work pretty well.

Moderndayhermit said...

I LOVE that quote. I moved my bedroom to a smaller room and moved my office to the master bedroom to accommodate all of my stuff - which is mostly books.

I've joined two book clubs and have yet to go...eek. I need to get on that.

Mojavi said...

i think the thing that killed wino book club was pregnancies and babies.. when we started only one person had any kids... By the end we were all pregnant or nursing... plus we met for 3 years...

we have also restarted with just a select few who wanted to get together.