How Do You Start a Book Club?

A group reads the 2017 One Book South Dakota, "Kitchens of the Great Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal. Book clubs can get a copy of the One Book or other selections from the SDHC Lending Library for only $50 (application fee). 

Finding the Best Book Club Books - and More

Do you want to be in a book club but don't know where to start? What are the best book club books, and how do you recruit members?

If you've ever asked these questions, you've come to the right place. Starting a book club may seem easy, but without proper organization, it won't run smoothly. Read below for tips on how to start your own book club, and visit our Reading Group Toolkit page to choose from the SDHC Lending Library, where we'll provide books from our lending library for your entire group for just $50.

To start a book club, you'll need a leader, enthusiastic participants, clear methods of communication and a careful book selection process.

If you're starting a new book club, the first thing to do is prepare to be the official "leader" for organizational purposes. That doesn't mean you have to rule your club with an iron fist. (You can read about and discuss Joseph Stalin. Just don't act like him). But your club won't get off the ground without solid leadership. Ideally, you have a group of friends interested in reading and discussing a book each month.

Membership - Ask Around

Find at least three or four people who want to join. However, vet your potential members carefully. You'll need enthusiastic, committed participants. Nobody appreciates a fellow member who fumbles through a discussion because they haven't read the book - or fails to show up for meetings. Your book club members don't necessarily have to be your friends. A book club is actually a great opportunity to meet new, like-minded friends.

So how do you find members? Send an email or text to people you feel might be interested. You can also post on Facebook to find less-familiar acquaintances. Craigslist can be a good option, although you'll want to carefully screen members.

What are the best qualities of a book club member?
• Well-spoken
• Respectful
• Committed
• Energetic
• Open-minded

Establish Communication

You have book club members. Now what? The next step is to set up a clear communications strategy. There are many ways to communicate. The method itself doesn't matter as much as sticking with it consistently. Most people are quite busy and won't enjoy a barrage of text messages, phone calls and emails regarding book club business.

Communication is the framework for choosing a book, setting meeting times/places and other necessary discussion. Email is typically the best method of organization. Start a single email chain devoted to the book club.

Meetings

Now that everyone is on board and communicating, decide how often to meet. A 1-2 month timeframe is best. Monthly meetings will give people time to read the book without forgetting too much before the next meeting.  Two months is probably the longest you can wait between meetings without people losing interest.

As for the location, you can either set a regular meeting time/place or switch it up each time. Keep the agenda loose. Book club members shouldn't feel like they're in class or at work. But this is where you'll need to show your leadership. Keep the meeting on track. Point the conversation in a new direction if it lulls or becomes unproductive.

Serve refreshments. Our 2017 One Book author, J. Ryan Stradal, has thoughtfully included a book club kit with his book. It includes everything from recipes to Spotify playlists and wine selections. Choosing food and drink that are related to the book can make meetings even more fun. For example, if you're reading "The Great Gatsby," you could serve martinis.

Thanks to technology, your book club members don't have to be physically present to be at a meeting. That means you can invite members who live in a different region to participate via Skype, FaceTime, or the telephone. If you'd like to make things really interesting, consider starting an online book club.

Book Club Agenda

The agenda doesn't need to be formal. It just has to be enough to keep the meeting on schedule.

Example agenda:

  1. Socialization time - Members exchange formal greetings, eat, enjoy adult beverages and engage in small talk. Don't start a loose discussion of the book during this time period, which you should use to get the small talk and catching up out of the way so that the official discussion is meaningful and uninterrupted.
  2. Book Discussion - Talk about the selected book. A good time frame is 1-2 hours. If you go past two hours, attention spans will wane.
  3. Choose the Next Book/Schedule the Next Meeting - With everyone together, you've got a perfect opportunity to choose your next book and schedule another meeting to discuss it.

What Are the Best Book Club Books?

The crux of your book club is, naturally, the book. There is an infinite variety of good books. However, there are some not-so-good books. Others may be good books but not good book club books; e.g. books that are too short or too long.

A 50-page essay probably won't provide much opportunity for discussion. On the other side of the coin, your members probably won't be able to plow through "War and Peace" or "Infinite Jest" in a reasonable amount of time. Aim for 300-400 pages.

The best book club books have a unique perspective. Such options abound in the SDHC Lending Library. You can explore anything from the Quran to South Dakota One Room Country Schools. A book doesn't need to be contentious to be worth discussing, but a new world view or perspective adds more possibilities. If your group has similar political or social views, don't pick a book whose philosophy everyone will agree with.

When selecting the book, you don't have to get carried away with parliamentary procedure. Keep it simple. Take turns choosing the book. Or, take turns nominating a book and vote as a group. Make sure everyone gets a say on the selection so that people stay interested.

Book Club Rules

The first rule of book club: you must read the book. The second rule of book club is...you must read the book. This may sound like a no-brainer, but there are some people who may join a book club for socialization purposes rather than reading. You don't need many rules besides this one.

Book Club Benefits

Now that you know how to start a book club, you'd probably like to know why you should start a book club. Other than the obvious benefit of exploring your interest in reading, there are a few additional bonuses. 

You'll make friends (if you aren't friends with all members already). Naturally, meeting and socializing with people who have one thing in common - reading - will lead to some great friendships.

You'll also learn what one 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books author refers to as "Reading Without Walls." Part of being in a book club is reading books you didn't choose. You'll broaden your horizons. If you love a good mystery, your book club will make you learn to love, or at least respect, a tightly woven biographical or historical account.

Readers have an opportunity to meet authors for free at the South Dakota Festival of Books.

Readers can meet authors for free at the South Dakota Festival of Books. Book clubs can take advantage of this opportunity by reading a book by a Festival author then traveling as a group to the Festival. 

Take Your Club a Step Further

What if your club could read a book, discuss it between members, then actually discuss it with the author? Thanks to the annual South Dakota Festival of Books, you can! Organize a discussion on a book written by a South Dakota Festival of Books author, then travel together to the Festival and meet the author. Tell them what you thought of the book, get their autograph, and listen to them talk about why they wrote it.

Download a Free Book Club Kit!

Not sure which book to select first? We can help! Join bibliophiles across the state who are reading the 2017 One Book South Dakota selection, "Kitchens of the Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal! Not only can you borrow copies for your entire group for just $50, you can also meet J. Ryan on his book tour or during the Festival of Books and discuss the book with him! Download the free Book Club Kit for "Kitchens of the Great Midwest" below to make your book club meeting a breeze!

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