My Book Club: Start-Up Basics and Personal Benefits

By Katie Barry

book-club-reading-cropEarlier this year a group of my neighbors and coworkers formed a book club. We weren’t entirely sure what a “book club” would mean for us; only one person had ever been in one. I read all the time, so I joined primarily as a way to get to know these women better (our group happens to be all women). I got much more out of it than I expected.

Here are some defining elements of our book club:

  • There are six of us. The group isn’t too big nor too small. We can all participate in conversations, but still enjoy breakout moments in smaller groupings.
  • The evening’s host picks the book. As not everyone likes to read in print format, we look for books that can accommodate everyone’s reading preference (e.g., Kindle and audiobook format).
  • We read both fiction and nonfiction. We didn’t set any guidelines beyond the host making the choice, but in the past six months, fiction choices have outpaced nonfiction by 2:1.
  • We meet at 6 p.m., with the evening’s host providing a main dish and beverages. The rest of the book club members fill in the blanks with appetizers, salads, desserts, and more drinks!
  • Our actual discussion time ranges from just a few minutes to longer periods for a more in-depth exploration of the characters and themes. Some months we talk more and some months we talk less depending upon how the book—and the evening—moves us.
  • We meet monthly, generally on a mid-month Monday.

What’s been fun for me is reading outside my norm. During the day, I edit nonfiction; think marketing collateral (e.g., advertisements, press releases, executive summaries), business (e.g., leadership, technical), and educational content. In the evenings, when I primarily read for pleasure, my taste tends toward mysteries and novels, with a good biography now and then. This book club has moved me beyond my comfort zone into novels and a memoir that I wouldn’t have selected—and I’m the better for it!

In case you need some inspiration for your reading or your book club’s next choice, here are my book club’s selections thus far:

  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
  • Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

I’ve always enjoyed reading, and as much as a cozy mystery is right up my alley and a variety of news magazines keep me engaged in the world, I’ve been in a reading rut. (It’s a quite enjoyable rut, but a rut nonetheless.) My book club partners expand my horizons, which I feel is improving my ability to read and synthesize information, making me a more versatile editor.

Ours is an informal group and suits us. But there are many other ways to approach running a book club. Some other common books club elements include the following:

  • Invite a guest who is somehow related to the book or topic. Take the discussion beyond the book itself.
  • Be prepared to disinvite a member who dominates choices or discussion. Mixing a number of personalities is a crap shoot—the first grouping won’t always be the best grouping.
  • Take turns so that each person is ensured time to have his or her say.
  • Meet outside a home—consider a library or church with meeting rooms.
  • Make use of book club question/discussion prompts provided by certain titles—check online if they aren’t included in the version at hand.

Have you been part of a book club? Do you find it’s changed your reading habits? Has it improved your writing and editing skills? Please share your experiences in the comment section below.

 

5 comments

  • Nancy

    What do you do about a book club member who consistently shows up to the meetings but never reads the books?

    • Katie Barry

      As long as she keeps plying us with food and drinks, she’s in! :) Love you Nancy!!!

    • Katie Barry

      It’s a few weeks later, but I thought I should probably give this a serious answer, too. I would say it’s up to the individual club and members to decide.

      There was one month that I was so busy with work that I was unable to read the book, but I still came to the meeting. The book was so positively spoken about that I still read it, just a little later than I was supposed to. I think every book club should expect that life will intervene and prevent everyone from reading every book, every month.

      If someone never reads the book? Well, it works in our group that one person doesn’t read them! But she doesn’t stop us from our conversations and joins the discussion when we’re discussing higher-level themes.

      If that individual was disruptive, then that would be another story (pun intended).

  • Debbie

    Reading out of my norm is what I love about book club! Of course getting together with friends and enjoying food and drink (my favorite things in the world) is a plus. We even forgive the one member who never reads the book, good thing she is so funny and cute! It’s a night out with the girls I look forward to every month.

    • Katie Barry

      She’s definitely lucky to be related to our club’s founder! :) That makes your role seem so official, which doesn’t suit our club, but if the shoe fits…

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