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March 23, 2010

Book Club Makeover – Stages and Pages

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Who doesn’t love a good transformation? I mean, in goes a plain little caterpillar out comes a beautiful butterfly. Who doesn’t wish for a fairy godmother to wave a magic wand and transform her from a frazzled cinder sweeper to a beautiful princess? Well book clubs of the world, you are in luck. The Reading Group Guides Book Club Makeover is here.

With a few tips and tricks and some false eyelashes you’ll have the book club you’ve always dreamed of. (Minus the false eyelashes). No more side conversations, no more bad books and all your appetizers will be magically fat free and still delicious. Well maybe not. But you get the idea. Now…(drum roll please), meet Stages and Pages…our first victim. Ahem. I mean recipient.


BEFORE

Sue Mullen of Stages and Pages in Portland, Maine says:

Our club is unique because until this year, we've allowed anyone to join. Our "open enrollment" policy has been a wonderful way to meet new folks. Unfortunately, we grew to 18 members so had to put a hold on new members. We really wanted to be "inclusive" not "exclusive". Generally, about 8 - 12 members attend most meetings. We each take turns hosting. This is our 6th year. Our youngest member is 41 and our oldest is 83. Most of us are 50 - 57.

We meet mostly on the last Thursday evening of the month at 7:00. Our meeting begins with a social until 7:30 at which time we officially begin our discussions. We always have lots of delicious appetizers at our meetings and of course lots of wine.

We read a variety of books. Each year we try to read a classic and a mix of fiction/nonfiction. The person who hosts the meeting chooses the book. We poll members for suggestions and then prior to the next meeting, I send an email with a short review of the suggested books. Some books which generated the best discussions are: THE POWER OF ONE, THE AWAKENING, THE CORRECTIONS, THE LIFE OF PI, EDGAR SAWTELLE, THE GLASS CASTLE, ANY BITTER THING, MONEY A MEMOIR, STOLEN HOURS and most recently, STILL ALICE.

What's best about our group is that we truly enjoy each other and laugh a lot. We also are good listeners and appreciate diverse opinions. Sometimes, we struggle with how to manage the meetings. We tried organizing the comments by going around the circle and letting everyone have a turn but sometimes, it felt as though it wasn't spontaneous enough. It's a challenge to control the side discussions too. We ring a tiny bell which is mostly effective.

We just need some new life injected into our group and some help ensuring that everyone is heard equitably. We're ready for "stage 2" of our group!

AFTER

Now, imagine me as Carson Kressley or Stacy London and here we go.

What is right:
  1. Group Size: The size of the group is great. I love that you were initially an open group and ended up with a diverse group of women from an age perspective. (This is the equivalent of having great curves!). Having 8-12 attend regularly is a good number but consider opening up to new members again if regular attendees drops below 8.

  2. The books you are reading. Looks like a good mix of conversation rich books. So kudos on that. (That’s like having good skin).
What needs fixin’:
  1. The Bell. The bell is like having a mullet or wearing mom jeans. It has to go. I’m not so worried about the side chatters feeling bad about being belled, but the beller must feel like a no-fun-nick and general purpose stick in the mud.

  2. Lots of Indians, Not Enough Chiefs: Now I know that sounds like backwards logic, but work with me here. It is a book CLUB, everyone should pitch in. And not just once every 8-12 months!

The fixes:
  1. Spread the responsibilities, every month. In addition to the monthly host AND book chooser, have 3 people with jobs every month.

    • The Host: She hosts. That means she cleans her house beforehand, and provides food and drink. (Ostensibly others bring food and drink as well, but she’ll make sure there is at least something there if everyone else’s dog eats their homework).

    • The Moderator: She leads the talk. She can print and bring discussion questions (from ReadingGroupGuides.com of course) or just lead the group in her own way. If conversations get off track, she brings them back and she wraps it up when it feels done.

    • The Enforcer: She may do nothing at all. She is like a bouncer at a club. She has the moderator’s back. If side conversations start and she sees the moderator is losing the group, she jumps in and helps get everyone back on track. She takes the place of the bell. But the important thing is that it is someone different every month so no one has to be the bad guy all the time.

  2. Pick six months of books at one time. Plan an extra half hour to an hour at your next meeting and plan out the next six books. Make sure you have internet access at the meeting so you can research the books and read reviews as a group and just decide and make a calendar. This will take some of the monthly pressure off and get everyone more invested in the titles as well as letting them read ahead if they want to.

There – that wasn’t so hard, was it? Your new short hair makes you look sophisticated, and I hope these new tips will give your group some new energy.

If you’d like your book club to look younger and thinner – or if you’d just like an outside eye and some tips on making things better, email me at dana@bookreporter.com. You never know – you could be our next butterfly.

-- Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor