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January 8, 2010

Advice for New Book Clubs, Part 2

Posted by webmaster
We're continuing with our series of book club wit and wisdom --- words of advice for those looking to launch a reading group, from veteran members willing to share what has worked for them and what hasn't. Today we hear from Joan Leader of the 14-year-old NJABC (Not Just Another Book Club), Ann Maxwell of the BonBons Book Club in North Carolina and Peggy Jebavy, Information Specialist at the Pungo-Blackwater Library in Virginia.

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Advice for New Book Clubs

Joan Leader Says:

We are in the midst of our 14th year and enjoying each meeting, so I guess we must be doing something right. We meet once a month, on the fourth Thursday of the month for lunch. There are 15 members in our group, so it's only necessary to host one meeting about every year and a half, not too big an undertaking! We average about 12 women at each meeting and while we encourage everyone to read the book selection (duh!), we invite those who haven't read it to come anyway. I read about a group that doesn't allow you to come unless you've read the book, and that turned me off completely. It's a book club, not brain surgery!

We ask our members to bring in book selections each month, and then we pick the books for the next two months. The hostess acts as the facilitator for the meeting, and she tries to get information on the author, questions about the book and any other material she can find.

Our last book was The Help, and the discussion was phenomenal. We're all women who lived through the civil rights movement and school segregation so there were loads of stories to share. We discussed the book for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Some books don't lend themselves to such great discussions, but each meeting is special.

I send an email notice to all the members after each meeting with information about the next book and a short synopsis of the gathering just concluded. We ask each member to notify the hostess on the Monday before the Thursday meeting to let her know if they'll be there. I also include any important news (births, weddings, graduations, etc) for the members and their families.

I also made and continue to update Rosters of Members, which I distribute on colored paper (easier to find) about once a year. I also keep a continuous list of the books we've read, as it continues to grow! ---Joan Leader

Ann Maxwell Says:

I would strongly suggest that:

1. Agree to have a standard meeting date, i.e., the first Thursday of the month. If you don't, you will spend all your time trying to find dates to meet everyone's "busy" schedules.

2. Assign a month to each of your members for the entire year. The member assigned to a particular month should read the book before she picks it as her selection for that month. You will avoid bad selections this way.

3. The member responsible for the next month's meeting should provide info on her selection at the end of the current meeting. That way, there is no down time in finding out the book selected for the following month.

4. It is difficult to engage everyone in conversation if your membership is over 10 people.

5. Meet at each other homes, or pick restaurants that are quieter and/or have rooms to meet. ---Ann Maxwell

Peggy Jebavy Says:

Every group is different with different goals and ideas of what they want. I took over a group at my library about 6 years ago. I had little direction as far as what to do. At first I sort of let the group run itself. I got their books in plenty of time at the library so each member could read the selection, but that's about all I did other than sitting in on their meetings. After watching them and listening to them for a few months, I began searching for reading guides. They needed direction for their discussions. I wasn't even reading the book at first, which now I do religiously.

Once a year or so, we look at a list of books, many that I take from what other groups are reading from various web sites including I ask members to bring in a favorite read that they think would work for the group as well. Of course, I have to make sure we have enough copies in various media to satisfy everyone in our group. It has grown to 20-25 people a month. We had a few choices that weren't particularly good for a discussion last year so I went over guidelines from other book groups about what makes a good discussion book with our group. Now we try to make sure our choices will create a lively discussion in the end.

I have begun to play around with our guides to shorten some of the questions which often seem long and redundant to make them more interesting for us. Don't get me wrong, we love the guides. It's just that some of them have five or six questions in one question and we felt they were often repeating the same thing. We've just tried to simplify the questions a little. Also, in the beginning the group expected me to read all the questions and then have them speak up to answer as they wished. I found (by accident once when I had an extremely sore throat) that with a group this size it works better to let them take turns reading the questions with the idea that everyone can give their opinion, and the reader doesn't necessarily have to answer at all. It helps keep the extraneous chatter to a minimum and gives everyone a feeling of ownership that is necessary, I think, to keep things flowing smoothly.

We also try to include some author chats via speakerphone. The group loves talking with authors! We've even had a couple here in person, but they were sponsored by the library for various other promotions. Judging from the size of our group and the length of time they have been together (more than 10 years), I think we've hit upon a winning formula at least for us.