So, You Want To Start A Book Club?

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Last year, I made the decision to start my own book club. It was something I have always wanted to do, and it wasn’t until I volunteered at Kerem House did the opportunity fully present itself.

Today, it is still going strong. Once a month, we choose a book and then meet up to discuss it in depth. I’ve learned a lot in the year I’ve been running this book club in the Tel Aviv community. Notably:

  • It offers a place for introverts to meet once a month and intimately discuss thoughts, ideas, or themes.
  • It helped me read more outside of work, which is something I try and do.
  • It encouraged me to choose a variety of non-fiction titles that challenged my own ideas about politics and social issues.
  • It gave me a stronger sense of responsibility to complete tasks and honor my commitments to others.

A book club can be the perfect way to meet up and bond with people regularly. While recently actions are being taken to pivot online, the sense of community can still be felt on a Zoom call – at least for now. But how do you start? I’ve outlined some of the things I’ve learned while establishing and running a book club for your local community.

What’s Your Type?

Initially, you are going to want to decide what kind of books you will cover in your book club. This includes the difference between an academic book club and a social book club. Academic book clubs focus on elements like plot, character, or the meaning of a book. Social book clubs are inherently more emotional – exploring the feelings evoked from the theme of a book. This decision will steer your book club towards what it will ultimately become: everything from the crowd to the tone of the evening will stem from this decision. I’ve always been more prone to social, non-fiction, books – so that’s exactly what I decided to focus on.

Find Your Audience

Once you decide what kind of books you want to cover, now is the time to create an invite list. Generally, I set a date for my clubs at least four weeks before the event. This will give participants enough time to read the book in question or revise it if necessary. Invites can be made through social media – like a Facebook page – to ensure everyone receives updates and progress reports. I make sure my book clubs host around 10-15 people at a time. This gives everyone enough space to interact with others and it’s never too overwhelming to speak your mind.

Location, Location, Location

The setting of your book club is an important question that will set the tone of the meeting. You might want to keep it intimate, so loyal participants could create a rotor of hosting responsibilities at their own home each month. If no one has the space to host 10+ people, a cafe is also a great place to meet up to discuss your titles. Make sure you coordinate with all the members in the group to make sure access is easy and convenient. My book club would not have been possible without support from the Kerem House and its generous offer to host us once a month. The founders set up the House as a place to host community events, and we were thankful to be part of the project.

Set An Agenda

Most people find it daunting to enter a room and simply discuss key elements of any given book. This is why I make sure boundaries and restrictions are in place when it comes to steering conversations. I usually provide talking points ahead of time via our event’s page so that participants can prepare to discuss certain elements of the book. For example, what are the central themes in 12 Rules For Life, and how are they best demonstrated by Dr. Jordan Peterson? These initial questions can help kickstart a free-flowing conversation.

Snacks and Refreshments

No one likes a hungry crowd! The host needs to provide snacks and refreshments enough for each person. Since book clubs are inherently informal and discursive, snacks can be as simple as chips and dip or as ‘complex’ as mini sandwiches. While alcohol is always a healthy social lubricant to get people talking, be mindful of how much is served beforehand!

Embrace The (Organized) Chaos

While planning a book club is important ahead of time, I always embrace the natural flow of unfiltered conversation. After all, we can’t prepare for unique brainstorming and the subsequent ideas that flow from discussions. Once I address some of the key ideas introduced prior to the meeting, I like to sit back and go with the flow. Since reading is a solitary activity, this is one of the most exciting parts of a book club for me: now is the moment we hear new perspectives that might add depth to our initial read.

Leave Time At The End

Even if you structure one hour of solid conversation about the book, make sure to leave time at the end for networking. This is one of the most important parts of your new book club: after all, the point is to make friends. It’s always nice when participants get to know each other outside of the context of the book and see new friendships form. At the end of the evening, people can exchange details and see each other before the next meeting.

My book club has been a wonderful opportunity to read books I otherwise wouldn’t have read and make friends with people I otherwise wouldn’t have met. Even though we have temporarily pivoted online while we practice social distancing, I look forward to returning to our usual pace and meeting up again soon.

If this is something you would enjoy, then why not start today?

About the Author
James Spiro is a London native and culture enthusiast. With degrees from the UK and USA, James has a background in Journalism, Public Relations, and Political Analysis. He has a weekly newsletter that goes out on Fridays (www.JamesSpiro.com/subscribe) and is active on Twitter: @JamesSpiro
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