Friday, October 10, 2014

What Makes a Good Book Club?

Last week I wrote about my four book clubs and how they're organized. Before settling on these, I tried out some other local book clubs that ultimately didn't work for me. By now, I have some opinions on what makes a book club work well — and what makes me peace out after only one meeting.

Picking a good location
Finding the right location can be difficult, particularly if you have a large group. Many places with private rooms charge for the use of them, and you may not want to have to charge dues to members in order to afford use of the space every month. For my local book club who recently had to move after the restaurant whose back room we'd used for years closed down, one of the organizers negotiated with a local restaurant for use of their private space every month in exchange for a minimum $5 purchase from each participant. This is not ideal, but it's better than nothing. I've attended book clubs that just met in a regular restaurant and got a table for the 10-15 people who showed up, and it was so loud and everyone was so far away from each other that having any sort of coherent discussion was next to impossible.

I prefer having a consistent location for every meeting vs. meeting in a new location each time, but that may be because I personally find it stressful to go to a new place where I have to find my way, figure out parking, etc. It's also nice to find a place that has good, reliable service and not have to take a risk every time. After the one club's meeting spot closed down, we tried a new place a few times, but they were rarely ready for us, the service was slow, and the last time we went they charged everyone the wrong amounts. If we hadn't changed locations again after that, I was ready to quit.

Actually discussing the book
This is the No. 1 reason I haven't gone back to several book clubs I tried. If I take the time to read a book in order to discuss it, and then commit an hour or two of my time to a book club meeting, I want to talk about the book! Yes, it's nice to get to know people, but once everyone's settled there needs to be a call to order and an intentional start to the discussion. I went to one book club meeting that was almost two hours long (from the time I sat down until the time I paid my bill and could leave) and we spent 5, maybe 10 minutes of that time actually talking about the book. Other than that, it could have been any happy hour get-together, with people talking about their lives, their favorite places to eat, and so on. If I wanted to make small talk for two hours, I would have sought out some other social group, not a book club.

Having a discussion plan
Some books are going to lend themselves to immediate discussion topics, but most will need a kick to get the discussion started. Hearing everyone's initial reactions (which could be as simple as "would recommend"/"would not recommend") is a good way to make sure everyone gets to contribute, and also lends itself to follow-up questions about specific elements that people liked or didn't like. A good organizer will have some discussion questions ready to throw out if needed and will also know when the discussion has been exhausted and it's time to wrap up.

Maintaining good communication outside of meetings
There are a lot of tools for organizing a book club (two of mine use and two use Facebook groups), but the main thing is that needs to be one place where people can go to find out 1) what the group is currently reading and 2) when the group is meeting to discuss said book. Whether books are selected by a group vote or a executive decision by the organizer, it should be clearly communicated so new members know how/when/where they can suggest new books to read and whether there are any restrictions on the genres or number of pages the group will read. Also important to communicate is if the group meets at the same time every month or if that month's meeting time is decided by consensus (or if the group meets more or less frequently than once a month), and if people needs to RSVP in order to attend.

These are the main attributes of a quality book club, in my opinion. I want clear communication about what we're reading and when we're meeting, I want to meet in a place that is conducive to conversation, and I want a facilitator who's going to get everyone talking about the book and keep the discussion moving.

How does this fit with your experience? What would you add?

No comments:

Post a Comment