There is something about the fall that makes many of us eager to curl up on the front porch, or by the fire, with a warm blanket and a good book. Yet, reading Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty or Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities alone isn’t the same as reading it with friends, and meeting up at the end of the month to discuss the book together over a delicious meal or bottle of wine.
As the popularity of book clubs around the nation is on the rise, now is the time, if you’re not already a member of a book club, to start your own. Whenever I get together with friends, be it over dinner or cookies late at night while standing in the kitchen, conversation always veers to whatever must-read book is on the nightstand, anyways. It’s only natural to make discussing a book just another reason to schedule that monthly dinner.
Starting a book club of your own with a group of friends every month doesn’t have to be tedious and taxing — nor does it have to be in someone’s living room every time. Let what you’re reading be your inspiration and plan your meeting with a themed menu, or in a place inspired by the story’s setting. Use our easy tips and clever ideas below to get started.
1. Assemble a Membership
This can be one of the most challenging parts of starting a book club. Start small by asking a couple of close friends, and then tasking each to recruit one or two others. When inviting members, keep in mind where you plan on meeting so that you have enough space to accommodate everyone.
2. Organize the Group
Once your group is determined, have an initial meeting to go over meeting schedules and locations and create a general flow for each club get-together. Nominate a club organizer, who will maintain schedules and the calendar, as well as a secretary, who will send out meeting reminders and discussion points, if you wish, before each get-together.
Each meeting should have a host, and two to four people who are in charge of coordinating food and drink. While the host is in charge of coordinating the meeting location details, it need not be in a living room or around a kitchen table each time — be inspired by the book’s setting. Consider moving the meetings to a restaurant, over brunch, for a book set in an urban environment, or outdoors in a park, if like in John Casey's Spartina, the book is set outdoors.
3. Choose What to Read
When planning the initial meeting, ask each club member to bring a list of three or five books that they would like the group to read, taking into consideration that a mix of genres and themes will keep things exciting. For example, consider something thought-provoking, like Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin's Three Cups of Tea one month, then opt for something lighter, like Tina Fey's Bossypants the next. Have wanderlust? Choose a book like Marlina de Blasi's A Thousand Days in Venice, where you can vicariously travel through Italy in the character’s shoes. Struggling for ideas? Check out this list of 101 books that the editors at Daily Candy can't live without, or consult the best-seller lists in bookstores and in newspapers for ideas.
Once the suggested reading list is complete, add books that more than one member suggested to the final calendar. To fill in the remaining months, have members nominate or vote on what other titles should be added.
As no social gathering is complete without food, or at least a bottle of wine, or a beverage of sorts, keep in mind what kind of food and drink should be offered at each gathering. Reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast? Use the book as inspiration and plan a proper French bistro meal to enjoy while discussing the book. Or, if a book like Kathryn Stockett's The Help is on the calendar, plan a Southern-style potluck supper. Ask each guest to bring a dish inspired by the book to share, like fried chicken, biscuits, or a caramel cake inspired by Minny’s favorite.
5. Brainstorm Discussion Questions in Advance
Before each meeting, the host should plan about five discussion questions to share with members to facilitate the discussion. The questions could be those that you had when reading, or could be pulled from the "questions for book clubs" sections many books now have in the back. The Seattle Public Library offers some good general questions to start the conversation off. Alternatively, look online at what other questions readers who have read the book already have shared, or ask each member to bring two to three questions of their own.