How to start a book club people actually want to join


For book lovers, January is less about fitness resolutions and more about reading goals. But both scenarios pose similar challenges. Just like with getting in shape, reaching your book target is way easier when you have a support group. And in both cases, people will eventually start skipping sessions.

One way to solve this issue? Cluster all your friends into a room to wax poetic on a title while downing alcoholic beverages. That’s called a wine club.

So how do you start a book club that won’t fizzle after the first gathering?

We asked two book whizzes for their best advice.

Drop the dictatorship

It’s OK if someone didn’t read the book — let them participate anyway.  The point of it all is really to bring people together and establish connections.

Find a genre that pleases everyone

Focusing on a subject or type of book can really help bring together enthusiasts. Science-fiction, non-fiction, YA fiction for adult readers are some the most consistently popular because they are already something that the people want to read.

Make it easy for people — provide a reading list

If participants have time to buy and read the book, they are more likely to come. Books can be checked out from libraries for four weeks, so there’s adequate time to read and attend the discussion.

Bring someone famous

Prepare questions to guide the conversation.  However, know when to coax participants and know when to stay out of it and let the group guide itself. Successful hosts bring guest speakers to the discussion like a local author.

Dana Revilla

Bring a guest speaker like a local author.

Stay flexible

Set a specific date (like the second Saturday of the month) so people can build it into their lives. Your group may want input in choosing the next book, or even want to meet at a different location.  It’s important that you can read the group and determine what works for everybody.

Schedule mingling time (and booze)

Set aside time to socialize afterward; it will keep things focused during the discussion. And if all else fails — make sure to bring snacks. Snacks are VERY important in making people feel comfortable.

Be patient

Sometimes momentum takes a while to build.  You don’t have to make changes immediately; take your time to see what really does not work.

Dana Revilla, director of Sulzer Library, one of two regional libraries in the Chicago Public Library system 

Put it to the vote

Many book clubs organize around social connections and sometimes become wine clubs.  Here’s a good strategy to avoid this: have the book selection voted on by group members. The advantage to this method is buy-in from the group as opposed to one group member choosing a title no one else really wants to read.

Most well-attended books are those with timely topics such as “Tell Me How It Ends” by Valeria Luiselli or “Dawn” by Octavia Butler, and those with a balance between accessibility and depth.

Become the social glue

Prepare discussion points before the meeting and set a tone so that everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves. This is particularly important if members don’t know each other. Some structure is necessary to ensure everyone gets a chance to speak but flexibility in pursuing interesting thoughts is also important. We host seven monthly book clubs at City Lit Books such as “Weird and Wonderful” — focusing on sci-fi and Fantasy; “In Brief” — short story collection or “Wilde Readers” —  classic and new LGBTQ fiction.

— Teresa Kirschbraun, owner of independent bookstore City Lit Books in Chicago



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