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November 8, 2011

Advice From Our Readers on Book Groups That are Just too Large

Posted by Katherine


A few weeks ago, we got a request from a reader who wanted some feedback on a predicament. Her book group is bursting at the seams in membership --- which is why they now meet at a library instead of people’s homes. They had 26 members as of June, and now members are asking friends to tag along. At this month's meeting, some hadn't even read the book and never verbally participated. It appeared they enjoyed some refreshments and listened to others discuss a book. The group was so large that little side discussions were going on here and there, and the leader had to use her “schoolteacher voice” to ask them to wait their turn and share what they had to say with everyone. They almost needed a microphone for some of the participants!
As we at are lucky to have a large pool of reading groups at our disposal, we decided to turn to our readers for advice. We asked if anyone had any suggestions for how a group leader could handle this particular issue. Here are their responses.
I think 26 members is far too large to allow everyone to participate in the discussion. I suggest splitting the group into two. Having 13 members would give everyone an opportunity to speak. 
If the group is split, one half can be for those who want to seriously discuss the book, and the other can be for those who want to socialize as much as, or more than, they want to discuss the book. 
Another suggestion would be to eliminate refreshments for a few meetings to weed out those who are there just to socialize.
This is to let you know that two years ago our book group (which is now in its 40th year!!!) reached 26 in number. We announced to the group that it was now "closed" to new members, but that we would be happy to work with those who wished to begin a similar group. It is a policy in our group that everyone attending (you may bring a person as a guest once a year) should have read the book and come prepared to discuss it. We have refreshments beginning at 7:30 pm, and we sit down for our book discussion promptly at 8:00 pm. All of our socializing is done from 7:30-8:00.

At our June Pot Luck Supper, we select the books, discussion leaders, homes, and dates for the coming year. The discussion leader for the month is in charge of background material, discussion questions, and facilitating the discussion.

As "strict" as it sounds, it works. We wouldn't have it any other way.
I suggest you split into two groups, giving the people who have been with the book club the longest first choice of which group they want to belong to. Probably this would result in most of the newer members belonging to the 2nd group. Both groups could still meet at the library, but on different nights if that works best. Our group has always met at the library, but we've only ever had 12 members tops. We now have 10, and not everyone can always attend every meeting nor does everyone always read (or finish) every book. Still, meetings with 5-12 members showing up each month seems to work well for us. Our meetings are informal, but we try and limit the visiting and chit-chat to before and after the meetings.
Maybe you should try separating the group into smaller groups, giving each group a topic from the book to discuss. Then, you could bring everyone together to summarize the discussions. As an OLD school teacher, that’s what I would do.
Popularity is a good thing, but it can be a problem! I suggest the establishment of a few rules, the first being that everyone who attends must have read the book (or at least most of it). If possible, insist that people speak one at a time. Our group leader goes around and asks each person for an opinion in a gentle way that does not put anyone on the spot. Some readers may be intimidated to speak up in a group (especially if they're new), but it doesn't mean they don't have something to say. In fact, if the group is very large, it's OK for some to only listen --- they may gain confidence and feel more comfortable at future meetings.
At your next meeting, I would suggest that you tell members that the group has become too large and that some should start a new club. Our book club has 15 members, and we have a waiting list. We chose not to go over the 15. In August, 12 of us each choose a book we would like to present and also choose the month. We are now set up for the year. We also have a member as a back-up each month, in case the original person cannot lead as planned. At the beginning of each meeting, our group leader asks each one of us what we thought of the book. After that there is a discussion. We then go to lunch!
Truthfully, I think this group of 26+ has been allowed to get out of control. That many people cannot have a true discussion unless they put themselves in one large room and a teacher/moderator controls the meeting. Not reading or participating is a disservice to the group; the group needs to be addressed and it has to set down rules that need to be followed. (Do you hear the former school teacher in me coming out?) The only real solution is to break up into groups of no more than 12 so you can get back to meeting in a smaller setting, and create an atmosphere conducive to in-depth discussion. From the description, it sounds like this "club" is not a book club.

I am so lucky to be in a group of 12 --- a nice number. Actually it is rare that all 12 of us are present at any one meeting; we usually have 8 to 10 gals. We are all retired, and often travel keeps a few of us from making a meeting. We have met for almost 10 years. From all the background info I have read, keeping the numbers in your group to around 12-13 is the way to go. We meet from September to June; each of us volunteers to pick the novel (we read fiction only) and moderate the discussion for a particular month. The Internet comes in handy for some leading questions.

Our group meets in our members’ homes, therefore our membership must be limited. When it gets to a particular number, we announce that membership is closed. Anyone wanting to bring a friend MUST call the hostess or leader to find out how many are coming and if there is room for another. Members are to call the hostess or leader BEFORE asking the friend if they would like to come.

Your group sounds like it is no longer a book club, but has become a social time to meet with friends. Perhaps talk to your core of die-hard book readers and set up some rules so you can get back to enjoying being a book club again!
At the inception of our group in March 2007, we decided to limit our membership to eight women. That number enabled us to comfortably meet in each others' homes and keeps the cost of providing the brunch manageable. One of our members just left the group, and we have not rushed to fill the vacancy. Instead, we ask ourselves who we know that not only shares our interest in reading fiction and discussing it, but who also seems like a good fit for our group dynamic. Then we ask that person to join us for one or two meetings as a guest.  It's worked out well for us for over four years. 
Sometimes, we are approached by people who want to join our group, though we have no openings. We politely explain our number-limit and tell them we'll keep them in mind if and when we have the opportunity to add members to our group.
As to the particular scenario that you described --- where the group has enlarged to include people who have not read the book under discussion, and too many individual conversations are taking place --- my recommendation would be to ask anyone who has not read and is not prepared to join the discussion to leave the meeting. Good manners do not necessarily dictate that people abandon their group's intent by allowing “freeloaders.” If it were my group, I would ask that the core members not invite others to attend, and would suggest the possibility of forming new group(s) to accommodate the overflow.
We also have a very large book club and meet at the library. Most of us are avid readers and have read the book. We are very strict about not having side conversations, and making everyone raise their hands to speak. Nearly everyone abides by our rules; some of our women are former school teachers and they just stop talking and wait until there is no talk between members. No one wants to split up as we have been together so long and we all like each other immensely.
Here are a few ideas that might be of use to you:
1)    Break into smaller groups (of 4-6) for discussions, and then come back to the larger group and have someone record and report some of the individual groups’ main ideas
2)    Divide your book group into two book groups
3)    Construct some "rules of order," for example “we're here to discuss the book, side discussions should be tabled until the book discussion is through.” Let your group construct these guidelines
4)    Have people volunteer to bring a discussion question to the meeting to bring some order to the discussion.
Wow, what you described sounds more like a "girl's night out" than a book club. I have been in a book club for seven years, and it's kept to no more than eight members the entire time. We used to meet once a month at the home of the woman who started the group 10 years ago, though we've just decided to alternate homes. We have always met on the first Tuesday of the month at 7pm. 
We are having our "academy awards" dinner this month, for voting on the books to read next year. At this dinner we each pick different genres from a basket; whatever your slip says determines the genre your book should be (i.e. historical fiction, biography, western, Pulitzer, mystery, science-fiction, ethnic, etc.). We read a book a month. Some years a member may have two categories to pick from, since there's eight of us and 12 months. 
We base our discussions on questions, or on questions from other sites. The person whose book choice it is asks the questions. 
We do chat a bit before we dive into the questions, but we're definitely there to discuss the book, and although there have been times when one of us hasn't finished the book, rarely does someone come if they haven’t read it at all. 
Perhaps the large group of women in your club would be willing to break into other clubs.
My book club recently had a similar problem. While not as large as yours, people started showing up who hadn’t read the books, and therefore could not participate in the discussion. Some just didn't bother to show up at all, but then complained about the book selections. I sent out an e-mail to all on the list and just said outright that we needed to clean up the list --- if you didn't like the books and were no longer interested or couldn't attend due to other commitments, let me know and I would take you off all together or put you on an inactive list. We went from 20 to 10 just like that. 
I also might suggest breaking up your group into smaller groups, and maybe meeting once every 4 to 6 months for just a social get together. That would take care of those only there to socialize. 
Many book clubs probably share your concern. We have limited our book club membership to 11 members: one hostess for each month plus a Christmas Party. Members who join understand that new members can enter only when there is an opening and the other members agree to accept them. Because we have stuck by this premise for 10+ years, it
has worked well. If the group has 20 or so members/interested people, perhaps you should create two groups rather than one.

We also have problems with side conversations during meetings. To help with this, we socialize for about half an hour before our book discussion. We then use discussion questions, with the hostess leading the group. If there is a loud or prolonged side conversation, we get our “alpha” female (or several) to raise her
voice above the chatter and tell people to pay attention. After she does this a few times, people tend to get the message. Our book club is very social --- we have events and trips outside of the book club meetings --- but we all agree that the purpose of the book club is to select, read and discuss good and diverse books. Socializing is an added bonus, but not the focus of our club meetings.

This situation is like any other, business or personal: there needs to be some leadership or the purpose of the group gets lost, and enjoyment disappears.
We had the same problem, and I had to announce that our membership was closed. I send out a newsletter every month (usually after the meeting), and this statement was part of the letter. We have 24 members, and like your group, many do not read the book or just come to talk. I have a gavel that, unfortunately, I have had to use many times to gather order. In our group, a member must raise her hand to be recognized. Unfortunately, we meet in the library (in the children's room), and there is no larger place to go.

We collect yearly dues of $5.00 that go towards a yearly luncheon. We also keep attendance so that I know if anyone has not shown up in a year or has not paid dues in a year. That way I can email or call them and ask if they still want to be part of the group. If they say yes and still don't show up, I email/call and tell them they are being dropped from the group. We have a waiting list of people who want to join our group, so I just select a new member from this list. All existing members vote on any action taken by the group.
My FIRST requirement for my book group is that members MUST have read the book. That will eliminate quite a few of the socializers in your group. What is the point of a serious book group if members haven't read the book? Be very firm about this.
Also, if people choose a book to discuss, they have to have read it first.

We had the same problem, and solved it by dividing into separate groups. We meet in different places but on the same day. Both groups read the same book at the same time. Once a month we have a large group meeting all together. It seems to work rather well.
My group has only 10 members, and to keep order, I make copies of my discussion questions for each of them. The rule is, the first gal takes the first question and answers it. After her response, we all can make comments. Then onto the next gal and question. 
We have been meeting for over 10 years, and in the beginning I found that some gals never said anything because they were out-spoken by some of the more aggressive ones. That was the reason I set up this schedule. This way we find that we all have a great time, and no one is ever left out.
Your book group is TOO big. Why not split into two book groups reading two different books, and members can choose to attend either group? Also, maybe you should make reading the book a requirement. 

26 people is way too many! Boundaries need to be set for this group. has some wonderful information about beginning a book group. I use it every year to remind our group of its purpose. I hand out copies of the boundaries, and go over the reasons for each. Of course my group, “The Read & Dialogue Book Group,” isn't that huge --- we have 16 members and we all read the books and take turns reviewing and choosing new books.
My group meets in the evenings. We mostly have just coffee and snacks, with a pot-luck once a year. Our focus is on the book, not the food. We begin with fun chitchat while we enjoy the food (brownies, cookies, etc.) and then we move on to our review of the book.
One of our rules is that you must have read the book. Of course there are times (traveling, family events, etc.) when one cannot; that is OK if that is not the norm.
Would it be possible for the 26 to break up into smaller and more manageable sizes? If you explain the purposes of a reading group, I think most people would recognize the need for smaller groups to allow for better discussions and more sharing. Maybe if boundaries are set, some will decide that the group is not for them. Have each get together separately --- choose different names and get each group to set their own boundaries. Some might like to meet over lunch, drinks, dessert, etc. or on different days; plus, with different guidelines, some of the groups could be more for socializing, and others more about books. Maybe you could also still have everyone come together once a year.
When all 26 are there, AFTER handing out and going over all the boundaries, ask what everyone thinks about the following: How can this group be made more manageable? What size group do they think is best? Allow everyone input so all members feel they have had a part in the decision-making process. 
Do use the excellent advice on about forming a group. Click on “For Book Clubs” and then “Starting a Group.” All that information certainly has helped me.
Our book group of 20 years also got too large --- but by that I mean it went up to 15 people. Eight to 10 is ideal. Recently two members dropped out, and they will not be replaced.  This 26-person group needs to form smaller groups, including one that is purely social. 
We share by going around in a circle, so that even the quietest members have a chance to speak. Even so, there are often other conversations and lack of focus.  Frequently someone has to bring others back in line. We never require that the book be read; by discussing it, we pique the interest of the sporadic non-reader so that maybe they will pick it up. 
We are serious about keeping our numbers down. We tell others who want to join that there is no space and we encourage them to find another group or start a new one.
Some people don't feel comfortable participating in any group, much less one that size.  With a group that large --- with side conversations and silent, non-participating members or guests --- one winning strategy is to break the large group into small groups.  Each small group will have a question to discuss, a poll to take or an excerpt to talk about within their group, and then to share with the large group. It's easier to build familiarity within small groups.  

The beautiful thing about book clubs is they can be anything you want them to be. You might want to try rotating leadership, which can provide alternative structures and programs for the members/guests.   
I would try making an administrative announcement/reminder to the group, and maybe a plea for help. Send a message out to the whole group, asking for suggestions on how to make the group work better.

Points to cover:
1)    Love that so many are interested, but I am concerned that the large size of the group may actually be chilling book conversation
2)    Would smaller monthly meetings for more serious conversations, along with a monthly happy-hour social gathering, work better than the current group?
You could try breaking the group up into a lit group, a popular novels group, a books into movie group, a memoir group (focusing on what the group is already doing), maybe creating fluid groups so that people can be in more than one group. Ask members to step up as organizers.
And definitely ask for more and better ideas.

Maybe cap meeting size to the first 15 interested?

Organizing people is always tricky.  It sounds as if you have a group of people who like spending time together, which is great...but it sounds as if they might not all want to talk about books. Maybe someone in the group wants to organize social outings to the movies, to dinner, or to other fun, social events. Doing so would keep the positive energy of the group, but get you back into productive book discussions.
Several years ago, the book club I am in had the same problem. We never had 26 members, but we probably had that many people show up at some of the meetings, and there are always side discussions. We also found that some people were not reading the books or finishing them, which meant our discussions had to side-step around the ending.  Doing so did not allow us to really explore the book, which made the meetings pointless.
We came up with some rules to combat these issues. The first is that we decided to discuss the entire book, regardless if everyone had finished it or not. We meet in our township building, and we moved from a room with a long table to a room that allowed us to move the chairs around to make a big circle. With everyone facing each other, side discussions  happened less often. We also made a rule that one person had the "floor" at a time. Another good rule: if you recommend a book title for the group to read, you have to have read it yourself or REALLY trust the person who recommended it. This rule was created after we read some real "duds" that were frustrating to have invested both time and money in.
We are purists in the sense that we don't have refreshments. We met once at a member's home and we have had one annual meeting at a coffee shop (due to a conflict at the township building), but the rest of our meetings have been solely about discussing the book. 
We are in our 11th year of meeting. The book club attendance did fall off after we made some of these rules. Our book club has a fluid membership too --- people will come and go depending on the circumstances in their lives. Our book club's founder, a very dynamic woman, left the group due to some family issues, and our attendance fell to as few to two to four people in regular attendance. Our numbers are creeping back up again though. We had seven at our last meeting. But I think that the smaller group allows us to get to know one another better, and leads to more in-depth discussions.
We had similar issues in our group. As a policy, when the club got large (over 20), we split into two groups. We thought it important to keep the group small enough to hold in homes, so that the gathering and discussion would be more intimate. We each wanted to get to know the other members better and keep it a “friends discussing books” kind of thing.

I would suggest you first break into at least two groups, maybe three, and go to someone’s home. The moderator should control side conversations. She is the one to keep everyone focused on the discussion and only allow one speaker at a time. There should also be some guidelines about bringing along friends and new members, so that the groups stay small and intimate. We have a master-list and rotate hostesses alphabetically as much as possible through the year so that everyone gets a turn and no one feels overwhelmed.
I would suggest the following.
1. Limit the group size to something like 15, creating a waiting list if necessary. I would suggest splitting your group into 2 groups
2.  Do not just let folks bring their friends to join --- keep it a restricted group and encourage others to form their own group. Our group only takes new members in the fall, and only to replace members who leave for whatever reason. We like to keep the group around 15 people. If you suggest a new person, you would need to tell the group why you think we should invite them to join. There have been times when someone has suggested a person and others gave good reasons why they didn't think the person would be a good fit for us (such as she is too busy and doesn't attend meeting X, she only reads light fiction, etc.)
3.  Prior to admitting new members, and to reinforce the group with current members, emphasize the group's expectations. For our group. we expect members to read the book prior to attending, attend monthly meetings regularly, volunteer to host or lead a discussion yearly, and come prepared to add to the discussion in some way.
4.  You could consider having everyone email or submit in writing a couple of written questions or comments PRIOR to the meeting and incorporate them into the discussion. You could try this by making it required for a couple months. It might stop the true socializers from attending. This would be a bit drastic, but it sounds to me that this group needs to clean house.
5.  If folks are coming just for snacks and to socialize, stop the snacks and run a tight ship.
6.  We collect $1 from each person at our meetings and then use the money for a donation to a book-related request from a local school. Also, our book group is part of 10 or 12 book groups run by the Women's Club in the community. We have one coordinator for all the groups. Book group members must also be dues-paying members of the Women's Club. The book club chair collects the names of those wanting to join a book group. She talks to each person and determines if there is a group with an opening that would be a good fit. Some people remain on a waiting list. We have gotten two new members this way.
Our Book Club is part of our Women’s Club, and is therefore open to anyone in the Women’s Club. This past week we had 29 people (we meet at our club house). If your book club just started its new year in September, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your members drop out. This has happened to us several years in a row. Another thought is to divide the group in half alphabetically, to be fair.
I had a similar problem when my book group jumped from six to eight members to 10-12. We were too large to fit around one ordinary table, which meant we had to sit farther from each other and the balance of the group was thrown off. One had to try several times to work one’s way into the conversation, as we had never had a rule about raising hands to speak. We also noticed a number of little, social, side-conversations that seriously detracted from the quality of the discussion. As you say, suddenly, I felt I had to be “policing” the group. Not where I wanted to be!!!!! Our group spoke about the issue. I told them I felt bad about having to police. Unfortunately, they simply told me they were fine with me taking charge. That’s not what I want at all.
Also, at first we had one member who didn’t necessarily read the whole book (language difficulty --- understandable), but she never inhibited the discussion. Then there was one member who often didn’t read the book, in such a way that it was obvious! Again, because I had originally set up the group, I brought it up and was criticized for creating restrictions on the group by the very people who talked and didn’t read. Sometimes I’d hear: “I guess I’d better read the book cause (my name) won’t be happy.” It broke my heart! I work hard for the group, and it IS a Reading Group first and foremost. We have rarely had a great  discussion since then. I so miss the atmosphere of the smaller group!
I have since moved to another town, but no one wants to take over the old group and no one wants me to quit. Therefore, we plan the meetings around the times I come back to visit.
I will be starting a new group where I now live, and believe me, I am NOT letting it grow to that size. Smaller is better as far as I’m concerned. I can’t even begin to imagine 25 members. You should charge something like $2.00 per meeting. You might lose some members, but, of course, it will probably be the bad ones you are losing! Or you could draw up a meeting protocol to which every attending member must adhere. Who knows. Maybe you could split into three groups?
I would suggest that they split into smaller groups, perhaps by interest.  
My book club in Toledo, Ohio, has been meeting for over 35 years and we keep the membership to about 12. That way we can still meet in our homes, everyone gets a chance to talk, and most everyone has had a chance to get the book from the library and read it. We try to choose books that have enough copies in the library and aren't the most in demand so that they are easier to get. You might think about having the group split, possibly dividing by what people like to read. There is one book club here that is a mystery book club. 
We have a few people we would like to include in our group, but they are on the wait-list. We cap our group at 12-14 to ensure maximum participation. I suggest the group breaks into two!
I have this same problem and would sure like to hear suggestions. I continually ask if the group would like to break up into smaller groups, but no one wants to. We meet upstairs in a bookstore and are running out of room!
I read your concern about the number of people in your book club. I would imagine such a group would be bedlam, especially for the very interested people who want to learn and share.
We have a book club that has been going for about seven years now. We limit the group to 10 members, and no one can come into the group without everyone’s consent. Each member must read the book. We meet about every six weeks from September to May. We meet in a restaurant, the social part of our meeting, and then we discuss the book. One member is the moderator, and she allows us about 15 minutes of catch-up time before our discussion. When we are done, you can stay on and talk if you like. This scheme works well for us.
It is not a sin if you do not read the book because you did not enjoy reading it, but you at least have to give it a try. I think you really need to set some ground rules or the group will not be enjoyable for all.
I've been in an all-guys book group since 1994, and one crucial rule we've stuck to for all these years is that any new member must be invited by a current member. We are not a "public" group and have turned down many members who have wanted to join over the years. The key to any group is having the opportunity to share insights and opinions with others who care about what you have to say. Having too many members has killed off more than one book group --- or at least caused new offshoots to form. In response to the current reader's plight, I can only suggest forming another group and learning to say “no” to member requests. Decide if you're a social group who happens to read books or are indeed a book group. I don't think a large group can function as a book group unless it's in a lecture format.
Our book club got too large several years ago, so we split in half. The last 12 members to join left and formed a new group. We have been meeting for about eight or nine years. We are down to nine members because some moved away and one dropped out. This size has worked very well for us. We also have a rule that guests have to be approved at the previous meeting, and must come having read the book.
I visited a group like this with the intention of joining. Immediately I realized in-depth discussion was impossible. SO I started my own new group with the proviso that we pass a rule at the first meeting to limit membership to 14 and maintain a wait-list if necessary. Lots liked this plan and continue to do so, and we always have a wait-list. Our group works; we have wonderful discussions.
Unless you're leading a seminar, I know from experience there is no good solution to your problem. I suggest breaking up into three groups of six and one group of eight. To decide on the groups, perhaps draw straws or numbers.

When I lived in my old town, I had a book group of 14 friends and friends of friends; your group reminds me of this group. But then I moved to a nearby town, started a group of six people, and it's heaven! We made a pact to not allow any more to join. People are jealous of our great group. We even go away together and once a year take turns hosting a husband/wife dinner. Everyone has to read a book, and we make it a very special evening.

So I think six is perfect, eight is close. 26 is impossible and unmanageable. 
I had this same issue a few years back and was miserable. I had started the book club and was so disappointed that the group got out of hand because a few members felt the book club should be a "the more the better" kind of group. It became more of a “Mom's Night Out,” with side conversations all around and no respect for any book discussion. I did online research on how to form and maintain a successful book group and shared this information with the group. However, most of the members were not interested in having a structured format.  I finally got fed up and sent out a blanket newsletter letting everyone know I was leaving the group in search of a small, structured book club. Four members contacted me and said they were interested in the same and had considered quitting due to the lack of productive book discussion. So we formed a smaller group of seven women, and now we meet in each other’s homes, rotating hosts. We made sure we established strict guidelines so that we could maintain commitment to and integrity within the book club. Each hostess is responsible for facilitating her meeting and ensuring order. We formed a new name for our group and are so happy now. We appreciate our smaller book club and have been going strong for three years now. I am so glad I had the courage to make that tough decision! 
I think I would divide the group into two smaller groups. Each could continue to meet at the library and just break off into two different areas or establish themselves as separate book club entities altogether (two spinoffs you might say, with neither claiming to be the “original”). Such a large group sounds so unwieldy; I can't imagine anyone truly wants to discuss a book with the meetings as they are now.
I would suggest that the leader divide the large group into three to four small groups, and provide each group with a set of questions to discuss. Thereafter, you could rotate among groups to get an opportunity to talk to others. In the end, the leader could even simply review a few of the commentaries made by different groups and/or have each group give a brief overview. This would make the group manageable.
We had this problem (if you can call it a problem --- usually so few people show up) once. What we do when we have so many new members is make sure that at the beginning we actually have a short formal meeting before the book is even discussed (we are usually very informal). In this meeting, we go over the rules of our group, which are very simple:
1)    Everyone is welcome.
2)    If you have not read the book, we are going to discuss the end so you may want to leave.
3)    Be courteous; don’t speak when someone else has the floor, treat others as you would like to be treated.
4)    Keep to the topic of the book. If you do not, we will interrupt you.
5)    Let others have a chance to speak; your opinion is not the only one that matters.
6)    Be a participant --- we want to hear your ideas whether you liked the book or not.
I am one of a few founders of a large group that has been meeting since 1997. We also have had growth issues, although nowadays more often we have problems with people sharing too much, or having a long list of excuses for not reading the book. Our rule is we don’t care if you haven’t read the book, but if you haven’t, we don’t want to hear any excuses! We typically go around the circle and give everyone a chance to talk, strongly encouraging everyone to do so.  Since our book club is called the “Read Wine and Book Club,” talking is not a problem for us. We have also encouraged talking in the past by asking everyone to answer a specific question or share an experience. The question should be more personal than what is your favorite character in the book; for example, when we read THE GREATEST GENERATION by Tom Brokaw, an assignment was given beforehand.  Everyone was to think about how WWII influenced their family. As the ages of our members range from 27-65+, the stories peopled shared could either involve themselves personally, or their parents/grandparents. One person brought a letter from their father to their mother during the War. Another friend (I personally knew them for 10 years at that time) told us he lost his father in France and was raised by his grandparents (I had no idea!). 
At times, we have used the “talking stick” idea when the group gets too rowdy. Nowadays we don’t have to use it, as most people are pretty respectful. If there are side conversations, no one is opposed to saying “please be quiet, I can’t hear,” or pointing at the person sharing.
We have eliminated some problems by limiting our membership to 26 people. The hosts still have the book club in their homes. If a home is too small, then we offer up some of the larger homes. You’d be surprised at the small places we can fit into! The host supplies dinner for the group. With 25 members, you only host once every two years or so. 
Because of our membership limit, we typically have two to four people on the waiting list.  But people don’t leave! So to encourage participation, we send out emails semi-annually, reminding people that if they are not attending or actively participating, could they please leave the group and give others a chance to join. As I said, no one has left for at least two years now. 
We are a pretty tight-knit group, so sharing is easy for everyone.