So you'd like to start a book club but don't know where to begin? Here's our quick guide to ease you through.
First, you’ll need to find a few like-minded people. It can’t be too few or meetings will be spoiled when one or two people can’t make it. If there are too many, nobody will get a word in edge-ways and there won’t be enough chairs to go around. Lots of clubs find that 6-8 people works well. Ask your friends, family, people you know from work. Put up a notice in your local bookshop or library – you’ll have enough people in no time.
After that, you can move straight into your first discussion. Unfortunately, this one won’t be about books, not to start with anyway. Instead you’ll be figuring out a time when everyone is free to meet and where to have the first meeting. If you can settle a regular day for meeting (e.g. first Tuesday of the month) that’s great – it makes it easier for people to plan around it. Also agree a time limit on the meeting; we suggest that about two hours is about right.
A lot of clubs meet at home, people taking it in turn to host the group, which makes for a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. There’s a long tradition of bookish conversations in cafes and pubs too, and nobody gets stuck with the tidying up afterwards, but you might find the noise of the other customers distracting.
Finally, you can start talking about what you like to read. Some clubs specialise in one kind of book, be it crime, biography or poetry. Others read anything and everything as the mood takes them. You might decide to avoid certain kinds of book, but don’t make too many rules – half the fun is finding yourself enjoying books you’d never have thought of reading otherwise.
You will need to save some time at the end of each meeting to decide the next book. Everyone is bound to have a couple of suggestions and choosing one that makes everyone happy can take a while. It might be easier to take turns choosing the next book. Either way, it’s good to pick books that will be easy to get hold of. Our bookshops will gladly order anything we don’t have in stock (but some older books may no longer be available). Most people will prefer paperbacks too – they’re cheaper and easier to carry around.
Once you’ve settled on your first book, you’re ready for...
You’ve cleared the kitchen table and the kettle is on. Your club members are knocking on the door and (hopefully) they’ve all the read the book – what next? The most common way to get discussion going is to have each person in turn speak for a few minutes about what they thought of the book. This is a nice way to make sure that everyone has their say and should throw up plenty to talk about.
If conversation flags, it helps to have one person to chair the meeting and push the discussion along – the host is the ideal person here. A couple of good questions can get people thinking about the book in a whole new light. We’ve included some tried and tested questions which should give you a few ideas for more of your own.
Of course, no-one will spend a couple of hours talking about books if their stomach is rumbling. If you’re in a café, no problem – just call for the menu. If you’re at home, the host might provide some snacks, or you can arrange for everyone to bring a dish and have a meal pot-luck style. A glass or two of wine often helps keep the conversation flowing too.
There are more books out there than anyone could read in a lifetime. Even so, sometimes it can be hard to come up with good suggestions when you’re on the spot at the end of a meeting. Consider keeping a notebook where you can write reminders and save reviews or articles clipped from newspapers and magazines. Check out the shortlists for the big literary awards such as the Booker, the Costa (formerly the Whitbread) and Ireland’s own IMPAC Award. Websites like salon.com or bibliofemme.com are a good source of recommendations that aren’t confined to the newest and biggest titles.