First Rule of Book Club (Don’t Talk About Book Club)
I’m a big advocate for book clubs. They’re a great way to meet new friends and people with similar interests. You could meet your future husband (Hi, Elizabeth!) or say something to the group that makes you feel so smart that your self esteem is boosted for days. Of course, the best part is that it gets people to read.
However, most book clubs fail. I’ve seen it. Most people expect their book club to look something like this:
Wine and witty banter!
But most of the time, it’s something like this:
“I had a real zinger about Eat, Pray, Love.”
The elephant in the room is that no one has time for a book club, despite all good intentions. Because of this, the time/date commitments are the most important items to address. Some people just can’t say no to someone’s face when they are asking for something. I’m thinking of my mother.
Send a poll out to your potential book club members (SurveyMonkey is free), giving them options for meeting times and then they can honestly assess how much time they can commit.
Finding a venue is the next hurdle. I would not suggest a different member’s home for each gathering, unless you are all friends. Life is not The Jane Austen Book Club. Strangers can rob and kill you. Many libraries have a room for meetings but sometimes you have to pay for it. Most Barnes & Nobles will allow you to have a book club and they are free. No matter where you go, try and follow these basic rules so everyone can have a good time:
1. It’s fine to think of your book club as a modern version of The Algonquin Round Table, but there is always one humorless person in the group who likes to use words like perfidiousness and remunerative and tries to tie in Breaking Dawn‘s themes with Sigmund Freud. Deep thoughts are great but if everyone else just wants to enjoy Nicholas Spark’s next book and down a box of wine, tread lightly.
2. Don’t vote for book selections. The best book club I saw had everyone write down the book they wanted to read and put the papers in a hat to be picked out. They read one book every month and everyone got a turn. A different club that had members go around the table and vote, was uncomfortable for me to watch (I wasn’t even in the book club) and just led to animosity and weird alliances before they ever started reading.
3. The person in charge is the person who put the book club together. Think of them as the Admin for a Facebook group. It’s tempting to overthrow the leader if you don’t think they’re doing a good job but either be polite or start your own book club.
4. Be inclusive. The worst book club I ever had to deal with was an “Officers Wives Book Club”. They always trashed the store and expected us to cater to their every need but that’s not the worst thing they ever did. One day a young girl, who was new in town and didn’t have any friends, went up to them hoping to join their club. Because her husband was “only” a Private in the Army, she was told she couldn’t join and she left, crying. Way to take the opportunity to show some good will you bunch of hags.
5. Be nice and choose a book that isn’t too long and is accessible for all members. Yes, Infinite Jest is one of the modern classics but it might take about a year get through and you’ll be the pariah. Also, any books about Jesus are best suited for a strictly religious book club.
6. Make sure your book club meetings are held on the days convenient for the bookstore. Hey, it’s a business. They’re not looking forward to you taking up an entire table where patrons read their possible purchases or an entire area in the cafe where they could be making money.
7. On that note you can thank the bookstore that is hosting you for free by buying drinks and eating food from their cafe and not bringing in bags of Rally’s.
8. Clean up after yourselves. You’d be surprised how many book clubs have come into my stores and trashed the place like kindergarteners.
9. Please buy the copies of your book from the store that is hosting you. Someone in your book club could get a Barnes & Noble membership and you all could share it and get the discount. Just let B&N know what your book choice is ahead of time so they can order enough quantities. Some independent bookstores even give special discounts to book club selections. You won’t know unless you ask.
10. Be careful about what you say. One of my stores had a Writer’s Club where they passed the story they wrote that week to the person next to them, who would then read it out loud. While my co-worker and I were recovering the Cooking section, we had to hear some poor guy forced to read some lady’s erotic dream sequence.
11. And then the most important rule as illustrated in Funny or Die’s NSFW video, below. Always make sure you read the book.