Everything you need to know to start and lead a book club in your home or neighborhood.
Everything You Need to Know to Host an Awesome Book Club
“Can I read this to you?!”
That is the line my dear husband hears repeated over and over as he sits trying to read in the same room with me.
My non-fiction books are filled with underlines, comments, and questions that arise in my mind as I work through a concept.
I process what I’m reading, whether fiction or non-fiction, by talking about it and hearing other people talk about it.
Because of this, the idea of a book club has always held a special appeal for me (and probably for my husband although he still has to put up with my ramblings).
The Benefits of Reading
You’ve probably already guessed that I LOVE to read and I believe there are far too many benefits of reading for me to discuss in this short space (check out this article for some awesome benefits!)
However, one of my favorite, little talked about the benefits of being a reader is that I believe it genuinely makes you a better host.
Reading forces you to get to know the perspective of others and sit long in that perspective. Social media shares little glimpses of someone else’s perspective but we are never forced to examine their world-view, conclusions, and life circumstances that led to those conclusions. Reading, however, is an opportunity to sit at length in someone else’s perspective and glean from them without being able to shout back our approval or disapproval.
Reading also gives us something to talk about. It helps us understand cultural references, gives us better-informed opinions, and gives fuel for conversation.
For more information about why I believe reading makes you a better host, check out this post.
What You Will Need to Start a Successful Book Club
If you love to read or just want to read more, a book club and the built-in accountability it brings is a great way to move forward. Plus reading is always better in the company of friends who understand.
What you need:
- Friends who want to read with you
- A specific time/day to meet
- A place to meet
- A plan for how the meetings will go
- A way for members of the group to talk between gatherings
But don’t worry, when you’re finished with this post, you will have all the resources you need to get started ASAP.
Friends Who Want to Read with You:
Spread the word with people you think might be interested in joining you. Ask friends, fellow church members, neighbors, fellow sports parents, coworkers, whoever you think may be interested and gather their email addresses.
Your goal should probably be between 5-15 people. More than that and it gets difficult to host and discussion is challenging because there are too many opinions floating around which can lead to less enthusiasm and commitment.
If you are planning to read books with one central theme try to make sure the people you invite to have at least a possibility of being interested.
For example, if you want to spend the year reading Christian motherhood books, you probably shouldn’t put it out there to single men.
If it is a more open-ended subject matter (we will discuss your options a little later), put out the word to everyone!
Specific Time and Date to Meet for Book Club
How often should we meet?
If you have a group of people who are very avid readers you can meet once a week. This could either be to work through a book you read that week (reading a whole book every week will limit who can attend) or to work through a section of a book.
If you have a group of people who are not used to reading and are just trying to start the habit, you could meet once a quarter (every 3 months).
Most people will want to host a book club once a month. More than that and you run the risk of people not making it through many of the books in the allotted time. Less than that and you run the risk of people forgetting or procrastinating until the very end and either not finishing or not getting much out of their reading.
Once a month seems to be a sweet spot with plenty of time to read one book.
Time of Day for Your Book Club to Meet:
My recommendation is to set this ahead of time and include it in the initial messages you send to potential members of the book club. Trying to coordinate a million schedules will get impossible pretty quickly. Pick a time that is convenient for you (and maybe one other friend who is very interested) and go with it. Those who can make it will commit, those who can’t won’t.
If you decide to have food available (something I recommend), deciding what time of day will be very helpful for determining what food should be provided.
For example Saturday mid-morning may lend itself to a regular brunch, dinner-time on a weeknight will lend itself to a full meal, later in the evening probably lends itself to snacks and desserts (or just hot tea).
A Place for Your Book Club to Meet
There are three possibilities:
- You host
- You work with a friend who wants to host while you organize
- Everyone in the group hosts on a rotating basis
(Technically you can also use a similar framework for a virtual book club, however, because we are all about real-life relationships here we are going to assume that this is an in-person book club).
Set this up from the beginning. All of the options are good and it’s dependent on your home and schedule and the homes and schedules of those within the group.
A Plan for How the Book Club Gatherings Will Go:
The first question for your book club to answer is: What will you read and how will that be decided?
You have a few options.
- Supply a list of books to read and ask if friends, neighbors, and church members are interested in joining you.
- Assign each group member a month where they are responsible for choosing the book for the group.
- Pick a theme and mutually agree upon the books that will make the final cut (have everyone make suggestions and then take a vote after everyone has had a chance to review them).
Option #1 – Supply a book list:
If you want to work on reading specific books this year and are looking for friends to take the journey with you, I suggest you send out the book list with the invitation. That way you will only get people who are also interested in reading those specific books.
Leaving it open as a “book club” without giving specific direction will leave many people confused and they may regrettably discover they aren’t interested in the subject matter if you supply the list later.
For some ideas of great books to consider, check out my review section!
Option #2 – Each Member Contributes a choice:
If you just want to have a book club and are open to any kind of reading, this is a great way to do it.
If you have 10 people in your book club, you will probably have the chance to read 10 different preferences and styles. It’s easy to get into a habit of reading only those things that you naturally gravitate toward. Allowing members to choose a book for the group gives everyone the chance to:
- Read something they love throughout the year
- Read different kinds of literature that might not otherwise appeal to them
- Explore topics and authors they wouldn’t choose otherwise
If you are open to this model, I do suggest making a few ground rules in the very beginning. Things like:
- No romance novels
- All non-fiction books
- Under 500 pages
- No or limited foul language
Those are just examples, you can choose whatever guidelines you would like but I do suggest you take the time to do this in the beginning because it will prevent some awkward/ lethal situations down the road.
Option #3 – Pick a theme:
You can pick an endless number of themes for a book club. If you plan to make this a long tradition, you can even change the theme from year to year. Book club theme ideas could include:
- Historical Fiction
- Christian Living
- Puritan Writings
- Church History
- Best Sellers
- Classic Literature
That list could be pages long but hopefully, you get the idea. With this option, you choose a theme for your book club and mutually agree on a set of books that you would like to work through.
My recommendation would be to choose a theme and have everyone interested submit their ideas. Send out a survey with the list and choose the top 10-12 books to get started. Put a schedule together and send the list to everyone so they can be prepared.
You can create a simple, free survey using this tool within Google.
For some great options, check out these books specifically for Christian moms.
And these books specifically for Christian women.
What will each gathering be like?
Answer these questions before you get started:
- Will you serve food?
* If so, who will be responsible for providing the food? Is it the host’s job? Does another member take care of it? Or does everyone just bring a dish to pass?
- How long will the gathering last?
- Who will be invited? (Is this for women? Couples? Families? etc)
- What happens if someone doesn’t do the reading? Should they attend the meeting or no?
Once you have set up the initial questions of who is coming, how long you will spend together, and what is necessary for each gathering, the next question is how each gathering of your book club will be structured.
Answer these questions:
- when will we eat?
* how long will that take?
- When will we discuss the book?
* who will lead that discussion?
There is no reason for this to be an overwhelming decision. A sample schedule might look like this:
7:00 – 7:45 PM – Eating and Hanging out
7:45 – 9:00 – book discussion
It SHOULD be super simple. If you make too many guidelines and rules, you will find yourself frustrated and discouraged because the more you include the harder it will be to make it happen week after week.
What questions will we consider about each book to get our discussion started?
It’s wise to have some introductory questions set up as your book club begins. This doesn’t need to be complicated and you don’t have to worry about answering every question. Primarily you just want to focus on getting the conversation started, where it goes from there is up to the group at each gathering.
You can also give a handout with an outline of the book at the beginning of the session to encourage those who may have read the book early in the month or worked at it slowly to remember the progression of the story or the main points in the book.
Some potential questions to consider that may be helpful include:
1. What main themes did the author discuss? What concept stood out to you as most important?
2. What passages did you find particularly profound, insightful, or significant?
3. If you could ask the author one question, what would it be? Why?
4. What have you learned after reading this book? Did it change you in some way or broaden your perspective?
For additional questions, based on genre, check out this resource.
Who will lead the conversation?
Will you have one moderator every week or will someone new lead the discussion each time?
Make this decision ahead of time so that everyone in the book club is prepared when they sign up that they may need to lead in the future. This makes some people very nervous and they should be warned ahead of time. Set up a schedule if you do plan to have multiple moderators so that everyone who needs to lead has adequate time to prepare their answers to various questions just in case the discussion doesn’t take off right away.
Set ground rules for participating in the discussion:
Again, each group can choose these for themselves and with some groups, it may not be totally necessary. However, some sample rules that might be helpful to go over include:
- Kindness and Respect- our group will practice kindness whether we like what someone has to say or not, we will recognize the value of their opinions and give them the respect they deserve.
- be prepared to give evidence for your opinion – this book club is based on discussion and opinion. If you express an opinion about a book or a particular idea discussed in a book, be prepared to give evidence for your claim.
- don’t be dismissive of someone else’s opinions – we will not all agree. One of the benefits of a book club is the ability to hear from different people about what they saw in a particular text. You don’t have to agree with anyone else but you can’t be dismissive.
You get the idea. Whatever rules you choose, clearly explaining them and discussing them often will lead to fewer issues down the road.
A Way for Members of the Book Club to Talk between Gatherings
This is important for a lot of reasons: it develops deeper relationships, more comfort and it gives opportunities for details to be worked out ahead of time.
If the host for the month has sick kids, they can ask for someone else to host. If the person supplying food needs to be out of town, they can switch with someone else. Whatever the case may be, providing a way for members of the group to talk with one another means that deeper relationships develop and you don’t have the pressure of figuring everything out on your own.
This can come in a lot of forms. I recommend either a Facebook group or a GroupMe chat because they are easy to keep track of and you are naturally notified.
Book Clubs – The Perfect Combo
Leading a book club is an incredibly rewarding process of developing relationships AND deepening our understanding of the world around us.
Book clubs combine my two favorite things – hospitality and reading! It doesn’t get much better than that!
Have you ever hosted a book club? What other suggestions would you give? Let us know in the comments below!
1. Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash
2. Photo by Fabiola Peñalba on Unsplash
3. Photo by Mad Fish Digital on Unsplash
4. Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash