My word for this year is “reading”. More reading for me, for my kids… I may even drag my husband along for the ride. First, though, me.
I decided a few weeks before Christmas that my first step would be to join a book club.
The source of numerous benefits for all sorts of people, book clubs can be especially rewarding to moms who struggle with making time for their own pursuits. A scheduled time to socialize that also compels us to pick up a book and force a little “me time” once in a while- such a good idea!
Despite my enthusiasm, I had a hard time finding a book club in my area to join. That meant I really only had one option, to start my own.
The idea both excited me and made me nervous. Founding a club can be a lot of pressure! So I did what I always do when faced with something new, researched and planned.
Today I’m outlining my strategy for starting an amazing book club of your own. I’ll do my best to update you guys on how it goes!
6 Steps to Starting a Kick-Ass Book Club
Step 1 – Find Your People
This was the most straight-forward part for me. Once the idea of a book club started percolating in my head, I began casually mentioning it to people. When you look around, there are lots of places you can recruit members.
My group ended up being mostly neighbors but if I didn’t have enough interest there my plan was to cast my net wider to friends, friends of friends and moms at my kids’ school and sports teams. Starting a book club is actually a great way to reach out to someone you’ve been hoping to get to know a little better.
Also, don’t forget to ask the people you invite into the group if there’s anyone they would like to include, another great way to meet new people.
Step 2 – Figure Out the Best Way to Communicate
There are lots of ways to communicate amongst groups these days. Since our group ended up with a very manageable 10 members, I kept it super simple and sent all communications via text, or email if I needed some kind of participation from everyone (see step 3).
For larger groups, you can start a private Facebook or Slack group.
Step 3 – Set Up the Deets of Your First Meeting and Pick Your First Book
Once we had everyone signed on and ready to go, I sent out an email with two objectives; to find a meeting time that worked for everyone (for the I used Doodle) and a book everyone wanted to read (for that I used Survey Monkey).
In picking our first book I wanted to make sure it was something people wanted to read and hadn’t read already. I also wanted to use the selection as an opportunity to get an idea of the kinds of books our group would like to read throughout the year.
I made a list of 20 books, ranging in topic and type, and used Survey Monkey to ask each member to click “Read and Liked“, “Want to Read“, “Read and Didn’t Like“, or “Don’t Want to Read“.
I did my best to cover lots of different types of books from fiction and memoir to self-help and young adult. I didn’t want to make any assumptions about everyone’s interests!
Using the responses to the survey, I was able to find a book that nobody had read but we all wanted to, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, and to get a good idea of the direction the book club would be heading in.
If you’d like to create a similar survey, here is the list of books I used:
- A Man Called Ove
- When Breath Becomes Air
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette
- The Underground Railroad
- The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
- The Girl on the Train
- Station Eleven
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
- Me Before You
- Yes Please
- The Giver
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japenese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
- The Martian
- My Life in France by Julia Child
- All the Light We Cannot See
- NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children
- Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
- One in a Billion: The Story of Nic Volker and the Dawn of Genomic Medicine
- Vinegar Girl
Next on the list was where to meet. I am fortunate to have a meeting space available to be reserved in my neighborhood. For most clubs, though, this initial email would also be a good time to poll members on where they want to meet.
Good options include rotating between members’ homes, reserving a library space, or meeting up at a local restaurant, coffee shop, or wine bar.
Step 4 – Plan to Feed ‘Em and Keep ‘Em Happy
The first meeting is definitely the most stress-inducing part of all this. There are so many what-ifs. What if the group doesn’t gel? What if it’s too social and no one talks about the book? What if we all want to talk about the book but no one knows how to start?
For us, the best place to start is good food (and good wine). Since we aren’t meeting at a restaurant that means we have to bring the provisions ourselves.
Make it easy the for the first meeting and simply ask everyone to contribute something to eat or drink. If everyone shows up with a bottle of wine and nobody brings food, you can pass around a sign-up sheet for the next meeting to even things out.
Step 5 – Help Everyone Prep for a Successful Meeting
I’m the type that does much better with a little preparation. Meaning I’m much more likely to have a thoughtful answer to a reading guide question if I’ve been stewing over it for a while than if it’s sprung on me after a long day of working and carpooling kids around.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one.
I’m planning to do a quick google search of reading guide questions for our book and to email them to everyone in the group about a week before we meet.
Along with the reading guide questions, I’ll also send them the results of the book survey. I’ll rate all positive responses to a book (“Read and Liked” or “Want to Read”) with a value of 1 and all negative responses (“Read and Didn’t Like” or “Don’t Want to Read”) with a value of -1. Then I’ll score each book accordingly.
So, If 3 people read and liked The Girl on the Train and 1 person didn’t want to read it, that book’s score would be 3 + -1 = 2. (I know, who knew there’d be so much math involved in book club?!)
The idea is to compile the results and send the list out to everyone ordered from highest to lowest score so we can all see what the group as a whole is interested in reading.
Finally, I’ll remind everyone to bring something to eat or drink and ask them to come prepared with three selections for our next book.
Step 6 – Have a Loose Agenda
I’ve done my fair share of public speaking and group leading but I’m still not the type that loves running the show. To keep things moving, and still be relaxed, a general plan is a must for me.
Here’s my strategy for our first meeting:
- Give everyone time to socialize before diving in. I’m going to set a timer for 20 minutes after everyone gets there on my phone. When it goes off it will give me a natural time to ask if everyone’s ready to dive in.
- Warm things up with an Ice Breaker. I’m gonna play this one by ear. If it seems like we’re ready to go to book mode I’ll skip it. If it feels like we need something to help us transition, this book-themed pass the hat game is a nice way to do so while getting to know each other’s reading tastes a little better.
- Lead off with one of the reading guide questions. This is the time in the evening where there’s the most potential for things to go south. I’m really hoping for a book club that sparks enthusiastic conversation about books but I’m definitely not looking to make everyone feel like they’re back in 10th grade English class. To strike a good balance, my plan is to start off with the juiciest question from the list and hope the conversation flows from there. I’ll probably bring a couple copies of all the questions and leave them in the middle of the table in case we get stuck but I’m stopping short of passing them out to everyone at the meeting- just feels too formal for the vibe I’m going for.
- Do some club housekeeping. Once the book discussion wraps up, it’s a good time to poll members on how often and where they’d next like to meet.
- Give something away. For an extra bit of fun, I’m going to draw someone’s name out of a hat. The lucky winner will get a copy of The Mothers; pages 100% intact, cover 30% chewed by my new puppy.
- Select your next book and moderator. The lucky door-prize winner will also be the person in charge of leading the next meeting and helping to pick the next book. She will give her list of three book selections, along with a brief synopsis of each, and the group will vote on what we want to read next.
That’s it! My six-step recipe to book club success. Once we get the ball rolling we made spice thing up more but, for now, this feels like a good plan of attack.
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