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There is no question that book clubs can be equally beneficial for men and women. I think the core reasons why people like to be part of a book club is reading, discussing and most of all socializing.

So how do you start a group and an even more difficult  concern, keep it going.

There are many, many sites that tell you how to start and lead a club.  The problem is too much information and some of it is conflicting.  (At the conclusion of this posting, you will find a listing of the better sites that I recommend.)

I’ve put some of their ideas combined with my experience with our very successful group.

How to Get the Right Members 

Chicago group, together for 48 years

One website suggested that you just go out and invite six friends and let it grow from there.

That is just about how my book club came about.  We started with a core group of eight women, who played bridge and lunched together frequently, plus a few friends of friends.  Nice but too small and too all vanilla.

Suddenly a “guest”, only one person knew, came to a meeting.  That guest, turned member, invited two more “guests”, who were unknown to the core group.  Now, we have just the right number of members for us talkers, eleven women.  And even more important, a variety of thoughts-–left to right—vanilla to chocolate and some butterscotch, too.  However, we are quite alike intellectually.

If you only include people who you have known all the time, I believe you are less likely to get  fresh, alternative perspectives to enliven the discussion and enrich your reading of the book .

However, the problem for us became too much discussion. We had to learn how to better control the meeting so that everyone was able to participate and so that we could reach a decision. 

Selecting a Book. 

We had trouble picking a book because EVERYONE had an opinion.  We even tried some decision-reaching techniques used in business.  Still not everyone was happy.  Finally, we came to the conclusion that each person could pick any book for the group to read.  That person then was responsible for leading the book discussion. End of argument!

Another bed reader!

We do have a few general guidelines for selecting a book.

  • The person recommending the book must have read it or have read several positive reviews.  No:  “My sister-in-law’s neighbor liked the book!”

Here is where the Internet can be very helpful.  Many of the sites do have book recommendations, summaries and reviews.  I particularly like readinggroupguides.com  and  www.litlovers.com/.

Amazon.com not only has reader reviews but also will let you download the first chapter of many books onto your computer, ipad, smart phone and kindle.  You don’t have to own a kindle. Just down load the appropriate app.

Don’t forget. You also can do a search on the book in which you are interested.

  • The book must be easily available locally or through on-line vendors such as bookdepository.com or amazon.com.  Preferably in paperback or e-book. And visually easy to read.
  • The book must be of a length that can be read in a month without a struggle.  We started out with a limit of 350 pages but soon learned that that eliminates many outstanding books especially non-fiction.  Any book nearing 500 pages better be worth it.
  • We read a variety of fiction and nonfiction, avoiding too many books on the same topic. The best books seem to tap into our own experiences in which we develop a relationship with the author.  Obviously, the book has to have something in it that is worth discussing for an hour and a half.

Reading a book for a club.

When you read a book for a book club–whether you are the leader or a discussion participant—you most likely will read it differently than you normally would just for reading pleasure.  In addition to following the storyline and the characters, you need to look at the style, structure and themes of the book.  Assess the value of the book and its societal implications.   Participants also may  have questions to ask of the group.

I make notes and mark pages, often using a bookmark or paper clip to facilitate easier retrieval of these passages and notes.  This is even easier with many e-readers, such as a kindle, nook or ipad

Leader Hostess. Preparing a good discussion takes work and time, so we soon learned to separate the tasks of being the hostess and being the discussion leader.  Unlike many clubs, the hostess is not responsible for also leading the discussion.

By the way, we do not insist that everyone leads a book discussion.

Our Procedure for Leading Discussion

Our club has no set procedure for leading a discussion.  Each member has their own style and background.  Each book calls for a different approach.

I think that when starting to develop a discussion outline for the meeting it is most important to keep in mind the more unique interests of the group.  Also before looking for already prepared lists of discussion questions, review your own book notes to see what interested you the most and what questions you have.

Do a Web Search for Discussion Questions. To search the web, enter into your browser:

 name of book  author  discussion questions

You will find many, many sites this way.  I have listed some of my favorites at the end of the post.

Sparknotes.com    I came across a fantastic site that was new to me.  This awesome site has everything.  You certainly can recommend it to your kids and grands for academic use.  They may already know about it but they will certainly think you are with-it.

You can read it online or purchase either a PDF (a format that you can print out from your computer) or a Nook e-book for $4.95. Occasionally, sparknotes are also available on Amazon for Kindle.

http://www.sparknotes.com/sparknotes/

Book Club in a Box.  This blog has many interesting topics.  It also publishes currently about 50 classic and contemporary literary fiction discussion guides.  They are for sale in print, downloadable PDF and various e-book formats.

http://www.bookclubinabox.com/

Go to their site to click for a free preview

Your Library. I noticed from on various websites library that “book-club-in-a-box” and “sparknotes” guides may be available at your library. Many libraries also have their own discussion guides for some of the classics and more popular books.

Don’t Forget about the Author.  My book clubs likes to know the background of the author and what her thoughts about the book.  You can do a search

book  author

Many authors have their own websites where they discuss the background of their books and how they came to write them.  Don’t forget to look on youtube.com for videos.

Write Your Own Questions

Finally based on your own notes, this research and your knowledge of you group’s interests, decide on six to seven open-ended questions (ones that cannot be answered with a yes or no) that relate to the plot, the themes, the characters and the way that the book is written.

Managing the Discussion

A Brief Background. I first give a very brief summary of the story (after all everyone should have read the book), some details about the author and why he wrote the book and any historical and geographic background I feel is necessary to enrich the plot.

Warming Up. To get people talking I ask, “Would you recommend this book?  Why or Why not?” We usually go around in a circle as we are seated giving our opinions.  Even the more hesitant of the group seem to always participate at this point.

The Core. Next, come the questions.  I always need to remember that this is not school. I am only facilitating a discussion.  There is no right or wrong answers. People come to the club to participate so give them plenty of time to talk and feel a part of the group.

Although I might have an order to the questions, I find that it is best to let them flow as the conversation develops.

Keeping Control. However, you do need to have some control of the conversation so that it does not go to far off on a tangent or that some persons are so dominating that others cannot say a word.  It is OK to redirect the discussion back to your questions.  People have read the book and expect to be able to talk about it.

Differences of opinions are invigorating to a discussion but never allow any dismissive statements toward other people’s comments that make a person feel embarrassed or defensive.  When things get too heated, take the conversation back to the book by asking another question.

The Quiet Member. I differ from some discussion leader guides in that, unless I see that a quiet person is having trouble getting into the conversation, I never direct a question to her.  This is not school or work.  When a person is ready to talk, they will.

To the Personal.  We rarely finish all the questions.  Invariably, as we reach the end of the time for the meeting, the conversation will drift into the more personal realm.  This social exchange, I believe, is as import to a successful book club as discussing the book itself.

Socializing, the Most Cohesive Element.

At the beginning and the end of the meeting

Providing time before the meeting for socializing is like warming up before exercising or singing.  Essential for the long life of a group. We schedule  at least a half an hour.  Although we have occasionally do have a meal, we have found that a drink and a bite to eat is enough and does not take the focus away from the books.

We also allow some time after the discussion for another nibble and some socializing before we depart.

Management

We do take some time for managing what book and whose house at the meeting itself but much of the detailing is done by email.

This is how our book club succeeds.  You might want to look at some of these websites.

http://www.book-clubs-resource.com/

http://readinggroupguides.com/content/index.asp

http://www.bookmovement.com/

http://www.bookbrowse.com/

http://www.litlovers.com/

http://pinalbookclub.wordpress.com/

http://www.goodreads.com/

 Next Posting:  Online Book Clubs

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