When I moved to Arizona eight years ago this month (!) I was just out of graduate school and eager to read novels instead of textbooks. I had always loved the idea of belonging to a book club and as I put together my post-school adult life I set out to find one.
The first book club I came across on Meet Up was the East Valley Casual Women's Book Club which described exactly what I was looking for and it turned out to be a perfect fit. Just as I suspected I love having a book club in my life.
There is no one magical formula to creating a lasting book club; I think it's a combination of book club structure and member personalities and what works for one book club might not work for another. But I do think there are several things that have helped to make our book club sustainable and a place where I've found dear friends. I'd love to share some of the things that make our book club work well for us:
Our fearless leader Becky founded the book club in 2007 by creating a group on Meet Up (I joined in October of 2008). This resulted in a group of women who didn't necessarily know each other but lived in the same next of the woods (the Phoenix Valley is a BIG place) and had the common interests of books and meeting new people. When book clubs are made up of friends who already know each other it's easy to fall into talking about the things you always talk about when you get together and not the book. This isn't a bad thing, but just something to keep in mind.
There are two important considerations for the right number of book club members. One number is how many people generally show up for a book club. We've found that a group of 5 - 8 is great; there are enough people for a lively discussion but no one has to wait too long for their turn to give a review of the book. For 5 - 8 people to show up for each meeting there will likely need to be 10 - 15 members of the book club, but of course this will depend on each group.
Through the years our membership has swelled (once we had to have two separate tables to hold a discussion!) and waned. Over time a group of committed members emerged and we decided to close membership to the general public and moved our online page to a secret Facebook group. Now new members join our group by invitation. A couple years ago membership had dwindled and in the new year we each invited one new person.
Our book club is democratic but with an executive leadership branch (aka our founder Becky) and it works great for us. Becky sets up each book club meeting as a Facebook event and chooses the book although we can always suggest books and occasionally we'll have a Facebook poll to choose a book. I appreciate having someone else make decisions about books and I've read - and enjoyed - many books that I never would have considered this way.
We don't have a specific book genre although we tend to stick to contemporary fiction but do occasionally read non-fiction and classics. The only rule might be no straight chick lit.
Having a casual but committed group...
We have the following membership rules for our casual group:
+ after a few no-shows to book clubs for which you RSVPed you'll be removed from the group (with fair warning)
+ at minimum be active on our Facebook page if you aren't attending meetings; no activity in four months says you're no longer interested and you'll be removed from the group
+ you don't have to finish the book or even start it to come to book club as long as you don't mind hearing spoilers. There are definitely months when I haven't finished the book or didn't have interest in the book and I still go to book club just to hear what everyone else thought and to socialize.
Meeting at a consistent, neutral location...
By neutral I mean "not someone's house." While I love my book club friends I love not going to their houses for book club. Here's why: meeting at someone's house means that someone has to host and will inevitably worry about cleaning, and about having drinks or snacks. I get a bit stressed when I host so that would make an aspect of book club stressful for me. Plus it would be hard to do dinner/bedtime with my young kids and successfully host bookclub. It's also hard to breeze in and out of someone's home. You enter and are greeted, there is chit chat. When you want to leave you say thank you and make chit chat about how lovely it was. At our book club you can arrive late and leave early if you need to and can do so easily, I love that.
My book club meets at a neighborhood Irish pub (some of us get drinks or food, some people don't and the restaurant is fine with that) and for years before that we met in the cafe of a Barnes and Noble (with their blessing). We ended up getting a bit boisterous (ahem, language) for the book store and so moved to a bar conveniently just a couple doors down. I love that I know exactly how long it will take me to get to book club each time and I know exactly how to get there, no looking up directions or having to trek across town one evening. The exception is that our December book club is held at Becky's house for holiday-ish get-together.
We also always meet on a consistent day: the second Wednesday of every month. There will always be someone who can't make it to book club and scheduling is easier if scheduling isn't a question.
Our book club meets at 7 PM and we start our official meeting a few minutes after 7. We go around and each have at turn to give our thoughts on the book and each give the book a letter grade, A+ down to F. While someone is speaking someone else might make a comment here or there but generally we try to let each person have the floor for their review. After we've gone all the way around the circle then we have open discussion.
That's about it! I would love to know what works well for your book club. Or if you've been wanting to join or start a book club DO IT, I will definitely be your cheerleader!
P.S. Everyone is welcome in The Girl Next Door Podcast Book Club!