We polled the members of West Side Stories for their tips on what makes a successful book club. Here are their responses.
1. Discuss the purpose of your book club
"Being on the same page is important. Are you gathering to study political or religious works? Or great literature only? I know people who found that differences in focus caused rifts in their book club, and, in some cases, implosion!" – Pat Butler
2. Agree on a fixed meeting cycle/time
"Establish a meeting day and time and stick to it: Maybe it's always the third Monday of the month at 7:30 p.m." – P.B.
3. Come up with a plan for choosing the books
"Determine how the books are to be chosen. Will you plan for the year or pick the next book each month? If you've planned your books for the year but something truly wonderful gets published in that time frame, can you deviate from the schedule? In our book club, the hostess has to supply the food and wine but also gets to choose the next book." – P.B.
4. Cap your numbers
"This is important with larger book clubs. You don't want it too crowded, but you want enough people to contribute to a good discussion. Fourteen works well for us – anything bigger gets to be more like a classroom. Anything less may give you some tiny gatherings." – P.B.
5. Respect your fellow members
"Respect and a willingness to listen are key. These attributes go hand-in-hand. I may not agree with someone else's point of view, but I will hear them out before presenting my own. With everyone in the group giving each other the same respect, we're able to have some great discussions where various legitimate viewpoints are discussed. And who knows – once we've listened to another, we may even change our minds."
– Beth Pollock
6. Fun and laughter
"A sense of humour is so important. A lot of hysterical anecdotes come from our discussions and that really adds something to our meetings." – Petra Osske
(Echoing this sentiment is Pat Butler, who admonishes book snobs. "Don't take yourself too seriously. Don't take yourself too seriously. And did I say 'Don't take yourselves too seriously'?!")
7. Avoid cross-talking
"Absolutely no cross-talking. When discussing the book, stick to one speaker at a time. Some of us (like me!) are easily distracted if there is a second conversation going on. When this happens, a little tap on the wine glass usually gets their attention." – Emily Eayrs Babiak
8. Try to read the book
"Make an attempt to read the book but if you don't have time to, show respect, sit quietly and just enjoy the food." – E.E.B.
(But, "Don't get your knickers in a twist if one member [or more] hasn't read the book – life happens!" says Pat Butler.)
Page 1 of 2 -- Find 12 more tips for running a successful book club on page 29. Be sensitive to other members' personal lives
"It's important that the group is understanding of what is going on in members' lives. Stay away from sensitive topics. If someone is going through a divorce or dealing with cancer, you probably want to avoid books on these topics." – Patty Staite
10. Be on time
"I firmly believe in punctuality. Allow half an hour for chitchat and for latecomers to arrive, then begin the book discussion." – Sheila Malloch
11. Don't rush the heavy stuff
"Ease into the heavy philosophical books with multiple themes of morality and faith. These conversations can only happen when confidentiality and trust have evolved over time amongst members." – S.M.
12. Give everyone a chance to speak
"Allow everyone an opportunity to voice his or her opinion. Some members need a little extra encouragement, but everyone will benefit from listening to the variety of opinions in the group." – E.E.B.
13. Include strangers in your group
"When forming your book club or adding new members, go beyond your immediate circle of friends and family. New faces bring new perspectives – and new friends." – Sara Street
14. Determine what genres and/or topics to avoid
In addition to the occasional personal issue, groups may decide to steer clear of certain types of books and issues. "Many of our member have young children so we made a rule that we would not read parenting books or children's books or anything that felt too close to our everyday routine." – Martha McGloin
15. Agree on food and drink
The West Side Stories book club loves to eat. "Discuss up front what hosts will do in terms of food." – P.S.
16. Make literary presentations optional
Not everyone wants to research an author's background and present before a discussion. However, others love to do this. "Such things should be optional. No research or presentations should be required of any one individual." – S.M.
17. Think about appointing a facilitator
"How will the meeting be run? Will you have a facilitator? If so, who will that be?" – P.B.
(Also worthy of consideration is Lynne O'Neill's caution that one should think first about formalizing your book club gatherings: "Our club likes reading, having fun and eating good food," she says. "It is not meant to be a replacement for the master of literature you never had time to get.")
18. Create a comfortable environment
"When the host makes an effort to ensure everyone feels comfortable in their home, it creates the best environment for discussion." – Liz Gordon
(To which Christine Biggar adds, "Comfortable spaces that are not too crowded are best. Stay away from boardrooms and workspaces if you can.")
19. Non-bookish gatherings
"Plan special evenings or outings together at least once a year – this deepens the bond and prevents boredom." – E.E.B.
20. End the evening on a sweet note
"Wrapping up the evening with a tray of sweets always works well – especially if the discussion has been on the passionate side." – E.E.B.
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