Building Better Book Clubs: An Insider Glance

January 12, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

is a series of posts focused on all things book club related: discussions, listicles, how to’s and more!


I started this feature because I love book clubs. I adore them. I think they are an incredible way to connect with people, enrich our lives, and… well, you can read the other reasons here.

People have asked about my own book clubs many times over the course of the past year. I reference them often. Not only because I am passionate about them, but because they consume quite a bit of my reading. People have asked about how many I participate in, what types of book clubs they are, and why I love them. In this post, I’m going to give you a glimpse into the book club world I live in. I hope that this will provide you some opportunity to reflect on all the book club options in your world.

 

This book group began hosted by the library closest to where I live. We met once a month at a local coffee shop where a librarian would lead us through a book discussion. The book group was intended for those in their 20s and 30s. But, unfortunately, funding was eventually pulled for this group. This group of very dedicated ladies (4 of us!) still meets 11 times a year at the coffee shop, even if the library doesn’t sponsor our discussions any longer.

I love this group because we are small and intimate. We select our own books a year in advance so everyone always knows what is next. No one person really has to lead the discussion, and we often discuss non-book things for at least a third of our time together– that time varying from 1.5-3 hours. Favorite books this club introduced me to include RebeccaThe Shadow of the Wind, and The Night Circus.

 

 

Another library-hosted book group for those in their 20s-30s, this one couldn’t be more different than West Side Stories. I started going here as they were close to my job and met at a bar – the perfect after work event! This is a group of ~60 people who inconsistently attend. But that still means our meetings have 20-30 people attending! Led by two librarians, this discussion always lasts EXACTLY 60 minutes. No more, no less.

This group is fun because there are always new voices to hear from and different opinions than my own. I appreciate how well-organized the library staff is, but they select the books for us to ensure the library system has enough copies for such a large group of people. That said, sometimes it can be a challenge to find a place to speak. Favorite reads this club introduced me to include A Tale for the Time BeingThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Lock-In.

 

 

When Emma Watson announced she was starting a feminist book club, I KNEW I was in. I desperately wanted a forum I could express my thoughts, learn from others, and more strongly form my own opinions around equality while feeling safe. Yet, I needed a personal connection. So, I took it upon myself to host a “local chapter” of Our Shared Shelf in my living room. It was the first time I really took complete charge of a book club and I found it is a great fit for me.

Meetings started out strongly. The first 6-8 meetings were well attended. Everyone brought a snack and their book and we had amazing, powerful, passionate discussions. I wrote up 10-15 questions to discuss if conversation lulled. We typically met for ~2 hours. However, interest eventually faded. Now this book club manifests itself in many ways. Sometimes we still meet together if a book really draws people in, but many times I’ll just meet 1:1 with someone in a coffee shop. At this point, I’d say I talk about these books quarterly in person, and on the Goodreads group fairly regularly. Favorite books this club introduced me to include The Color PurpleMom & Me & Mom, and How to Be A Woman.

 

 

No offense to my other book clubs, but this is THE book club in my life. About 5 years ago, one of my friends read The Happiness Project and decided “I too need a Kids Lit book club in my life!”. Originally, four of us got together at a local wine bar to discuss books and, obviously, drink wine. Over time our size has grown, but these ladies are some of my favorite people in the world. It is always the highlight of my month to see them. I don’t know when or how we got so close, but I completely blame books for these wonderful relationships. 

We meet monthly in a rotating home to discuss a book selected jointly by everyone who attended the previous meeting. We always meet on the same day of the month for 3-5 hours depending on our schedules. We talk about the book we read, but we also talk about other books and our lives. There is always booze and emotional support. It’s an incredibly positive environment focused on wonderful, fun, light-hearted literature. The rules? You are welome if you don’t read the book, but expect spoilers. And no boys. 😉 Favorite books this club introduced me to include The Heroes of OlympusThe Book Thief, and Fangirl. Plus about 100,000 more.

 

 

I am on the board of directors for the Verona Area Concert Band. As social chair (obviously) and a member, I long since decided that a great way for band members to interact outside of the performance space would be a book club. We started out small, and we thrive on the consistency of a core group, but it’s become a fun addition to our musical world. 

This collection of band nerds (I can totally say that- I have two music degrees) gets together once a quarter to read books based on that quarter’s concert theme. As with the Our Shared Shelf meetings I host, I write a collection of discussion questions for us to use. We meet from 7-9 pm, which is the exact time of a rehearsal, on the off weeks between concerts. Books are always selected through a Jackie-tatorship. The best way to select books. 😉 Favorite books this club introduced me to include HolesSlaughterhouse-Five, and Janesville: An American Story.

 

 

One consistent member of West Side Stories was taking an evening course one semester and class conflicted with our book club meetings. Instead of letting this friend skip book club for four months, we arranged to have brunch the weekend after West Side Stories met to discuss the book. This quickly expanded and we selected our own book to read as well. Now, a few years later, she has moved to Ohio and we still chat over the phone each month to discuss a series of books.

We meet for 1-2 hours a month over the phone. We use video conferencing when we can. We don’t often have to prepare discussion questions since we both have quite differing opinions of books and love the back and forth of debate. We always discuss the West Side Stories book and a second book, often chosen because one of us is reading it for another reason (like another book club, reading challenges, etc.). Favorite books this club introduced me to include The Hundred Thousand KingdomsA Gathering of Shadows, and Station Eleven.

 

The book club with the most boring name ever: The Science Fiction/Fantasy book club. This book club manifested out of a dinner party I crashed (well, I was invited to crash by an attendee) where I holed myself up in a corner talking science fiction and fantasy novels with one other attendee all night. Turns out, this was the talk of the week. Everyone at the dinner party wanted to read more SF/F after listening to us talk so BAM: The Science Fiction/Fantasy book club began.

This book club has the most diplomatic and complex processes. We rotate homes each month for a 2-5 hour event (sometimes we drink a bit much and get too excited). The host provides an entree, everyone else provides sides and snacks. We discuss the book in a passionate, but impressively intellectual, conversation. This is an extraordinarily diverse group of people through background, experiences, and education. In fact, it’s the only book club I participate in which is composed of primarily male members. At the end of the night, the host picks what book we will read for the next book club. Favorite books this club introduced me to include The Goblin EmperorSleeping Giants, and The Fifth Season.

 

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two other major sources of bookish discussion in my life– one being the obvious #AnneReadAlong2017. As we come to a close, this will no longer be a consistent source of booklish discussion. But it was a major part of 2017 for me. Through a series read-along like this I was able to discuss Anne of Green Gables with many more people than I ever imagined I would have been able to. Thank goodness for the internet!

I also find that occasional impromptu buddy reads and small group discussions pop up. For example, I did a buddy read this year with Evelina @ Avalinah’s Books. This is the only other buddy read I posted about on my blog, but I read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom with a friend who just wanted someone to chat with about these books. I am also SUPER COOL and will be hosting a book club discussion at my upcoming bachelorette party. Yup. We’re wild. And we’re reading Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu if you’re interested. 😉 I never turn down a chance for bookish chats.

 

 

So that’s it! It seems like quite a list, but it’s completely manageable for someone who reads an average of 8 books a month. It does mean I almost exclusively read books for my book clubs and very little else… but I hope to fix that in 2018 a bit. More on that for this coming week’s Top Ten Tuesday!


What do you think?

  • Do you participate in a book club? Tell us about it below!
  • Which of my book clubs would you be most interested in joining? Which is the least appealing? Why?
  • What other questions about book clubs does this spark for you?
  • What other book club-ish topics are you interested in digging into?

25 Comments

  • Lost In A Good Book January 12, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    That is an impressive list! I wish I had the guts to put a group up on Meetup or something. Unfortunately our local libraries don’t have a book club. One of these days!

    • Jackie B January 12, 2018 at 10:45 pm

      Thank you! Most of these books clubs just sort of fell into my lap, honestly. I’ve surrounded myself with friends who adore books. And that helps a ton too.

      Are you looking for something in person or would you be willing to get involved in an online or virtual book club?

      • Lost In A Good Book January 12, 2018 at 10:49 pm

        I would like to get into an in person book club. I was in one once through a book store in the town I used to love in. But that was … probably 15 years ago. OMG now I’m older and I do get exceptionally lazy sometimes so that may not happen. Lol

        • Jackie B January 13, 2018 at 9:51 am

          Hahaha. At least you’re honest about it! Laziness is a quality I admire in other since it is not a quality I seem capable of. O_o This is both a blessing and a curse.

          MeetUp is a great way to find book clubs. Also, if you are looking to find perhaps one person to chat books with in person, I recommend the app Hey VINA! It’s an app for women to find other female friends with similar interests. We had two new members to West Side Stories this year through Hey VINA! They were looking for book lovers and we brought them into our fold. It was a 1:1 connection which brought them in, though. But buddy reads are also fun!

  • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer January 12, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    WOW Jackie! I could not read 8 books a month for bookclubs! You are a saint and I hail you book club queen… I wish we lived near each other though so I could participate it at least one! <3

    • Jackie B January 13, 2018 at 9:45 am

      Haha– Well, I love discussing books in person much more than reading them in a vacuum. It’s fun for me to have these interactions and I connect more with the book when these happen. Everyone makes fun of me for my book club obsessed nature, but I don’t mind. 😉

      I wish we lived near each other too! I bet you’d really love West Side Stories. They are some cool girls and they tangent in the best ways.

      Are you involved in any book clubs yourself, Dani?

      • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer January 14, 2018 at 5:04 pm

        I am… I have one that meets most months. It’s a group of women and I love them all… however I’m not the biggest fan of the books they read, though I DO TRY every one of them, I just don’t have time or the energy to read books that depress me beyond reason.

        I just joined a second one that hasn’t met yet but I’m excited for!

        I LOVE you shared all of the book clubs you are a part of, you try new things and I love that! ♥️

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom January 13, 2018 at 8:33 am

    I’m impressed with how many book clubs you participate in! You should hold the title “book club queen” lol

    • Jackie B January 13, 2018 at 10:01 am

      Haha– thanks, Amanda! They bring me joy in a way which is hard to articulate. I love interacting with people who love books and bring thoughtful opinions to the table about what they read. It’s so meaningful to me. I cannot imagine NOT participating in them.

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom January 13, 2018 at 8:35 am

    Since you participate in so many different BCs, you mentioned that BC books are pretty much all you have time for… Do you ever feel bogged down because you are reading so many books you “have” to read? Sounds like there isn’t much time for mood reading…

    • Jackie B January 13, 2018 at 10:03 am

      Occasionally I feel bogged down in the “have to read” category, yes. I still manage to get my mood reading in sometimes. But I know this is something I need to work on for 2018. It will be in my goal post on Tuesday! 😀 Right now I’ve been coping with it by just skipping book club sometimes with busy months when I don’t have time for them all. I can’t ever skip the book clubs I’m hosting though. 😉

      • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom January 14, 2018 at 5:58 pm

        Haha well good luck with managing everything in 2018! I get it though. I really love the book club I belong to (and hopefully will feel the same with the one I’m starting next month) and I get really bummed when I can’t make it. Really book club is the only place I can discuss books in real life… except at the author events I attend, which I really cherish as well.

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom January 13, 2018 at 8:37 am

    I participate in one, but soon to be two book clubs. The first book club I’ve been a member for a little over a year. My sister-in-law invited me to join up with a group of her friends. They all know each other because their kids all go to school together. The host will select the book, and we alternate hosting.

    • Jackie B January 13, 2018 at 10:04 am

      That’s a lot of fun! I like how low key this book club sounds. Does the host of the current meeting select the book you guys are reading at their house? Or the book for the next meeting? I’ve seen both done; I’m just curious.

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom January 13, 2018 at 8:42 am

    The second book club is one that I am starting within my community of Moms. Our club is going to be the Bellbrook Books & Booze Club. It is a combined book & wine/beer group. Since not all of the Moms are readers, I decided to have a wine/beer club portion so they could still participate. We will have a different alcohol theme every month: this month is Cabernet. Each person participating will bring two bottles of Cabernet. We will blind taste one bottle – the other bottle goes into a basket. The person who brings the best wine wins the extra bottles. Since our first meeting is next week, we will have to hash out the details – who will choose the books? will we take turns hosting? etc. etc.

    • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom January 13, 2018 at 8:43 am

      This was the longest comment I’ve been able to post!!! Maybe it’s fixed?

      • Jackie B January 13, 2018 at 10:06 am

        Woohoo! Maybe it is fixed!!! I hope so. *fingers crossed*

        I *love* this idea!!! This is super fun! How many people are participating in this group? You might be tasting a LOT of alcohol! XD XD I would be all about that book club. I definitely want to hear what happens with this longer term– it sounds like you’ve got a lot to still figure out, but it will be awesome. I’m curious to see if anyone has really strong opinions for or against alcohol themes too. For example, I’m a snob about Chardonnay. 😉

        • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom January 14, 2018 at 6:04 pm

          I invited 12 women and they all RSVP’ed that they were coming… We shall see if they all show up. Not everyone will participate in the alcohol club portion… or maybe they will lol Actually 3 of the women live within walking distance of me, so if things get a little out of hand they don’t have to find a DD haha
          I know not all of them are going to read the book. BUT typically you don’t really need to read the book to participate in the discussion. We do have some details to work out…

  • Krysta January 13, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Wow! I didn’t know so many book clubs could exist! I know even my local library has difficulty drawing patrons to book-related events. :/

  • Helen Murdoch January 13, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    I was in two book clubs and they are wonderful. I only stopped because I realized I wanted to read books that I was choosing. Selfish, but now I can see the women socially without feeling guilty about not reading books I don’t want to read. 🙂

  • Annemieke January 13, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    Oh wow so many. I envy you haha. When it comes down to it I can’t find book clubs that read fantasy here and I’m just not willing to endlessly read something I know I am not drawn to in the off chance I might like it.

  • Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks January 13, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    I know I’ve heard it time and again, that you’re part of many book clubs. But I can still never believe HOW many xD how do you even manage? This is awesome!

    I once had a local book club too (are you surprised I started it? It seems to happen to me), but it derailed into a lot of female drama and not a lot of book talk, eventually, although it had its golden age. I’d love to have one again though 🙂

  • Books, Vertigo and Tea January 14, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    I do not fair well with book clubs due to my odd and ever changing tastes. I normally cannot settle on a book being selected for me haha (as I believe we have discussed in the past), but I love the idea of West Side Stories. It sounds pretty causal and intimate, which I can appreciate. Some of the larger clubs intimidate me (more so since my symptoms have increased). It is too bad about the funding,but I imagine it is hard to request funds for such a small group. Was this possibly hosted by the same library as Books and Booze?

  • Grab the Lapels January 15, 2018 at 8:34 pm

    I can’t believe you read 8 books per month. That’s a lot, especially if you review all of them…though I’m not sure if you do because I would have remembered your review of The Color Purple. It’s such a strong work, and I love it. I think it’s really cool that you’re going to include a book club discussion at your bachelorette party! What is your vision for how the gathering goes?

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