Why Do Some Book Clubs THRIVE and Some Take a Dive?

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Recently I was reading an article written by the Huff Post called True Life:  I am a Book Club Drop Out.  I am always drawn to topics on this as I am actually floored by how many times I head that a book club fails.  When I chat about our book club here on-line many of you share with me your desires to be part of a book club but can not find one, or you share a group that you were once in that just could not pull it together.  Through the years the main reasons I have heard for book club fail are:

 

  • Not committed to the read (the book is supposed to bring them together but they never read the book)
  • No one wants to take the lead and drive the conversation
  • The meetings become more of a social time and those that really want to talk about the book fade away
  • Too structured, no snacks, no extras, no fun
  • personality clashes, you can’t agree on how your time should be spent so the group implodes.
  • People who do not read the book, had no intention of reading the book, and month after month have nothing to contribute to the discussion.  (While one in your group may not be a deal breaker, a few of them could be)  *this is taken from a Barnes and Noble Article called why book clubs fail
  • Your book choices do not encourage discussion.  If you do not strive to pick books that will create conversation beyond “ooh the protagonist was cute!” (not that that is wrong 😉 ), your book club will become b-o-r-i-n-g fast.
  • One person always chooses what is read so you never branch away from the one persons tastes.
  • The group is just not interesting enough for people to fit it into their already busy schedules of work, kids, family, commitments…
  • poor location – restaurants can become too loud to talk, home meetings require people willing to open up their home and have an environment that works for discussion
  • Not valuing each others opinions on the books.  You do not have to always agree, but you do need to respect each others thoughts.

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Am I am expert on successful book clubs?

No.  I am simply someone who had an idea for a book club and the right people came along to support it.  I honestly believe it is our group as a whole that makes us successful.  We have had the bumps in the road…we are probably at one time or another guilty of everything I listed above.  The difference I believe, is that we adjusted and we moved on. 

It was not always easy.

I remember one particularly heated book club meeting from many years ago.  The book was My Sisters Keeper by Jodi Piccoult and the discussion became pretty hot at the end of the night about the decisions that were made in the book.  We had just went through a growth spurt in our group and I was still learning how to juggle the dynamics of a growing book club.  I remember leaving the meeting and calling one of my friends who was also in the book club but was unable to make it that night.  “I think we may have just discussed the book that killed book club” I said to her, and I was worried that it was true.

Since then we have had similar discussions over a read where someone may get emotional but the cool thing is, we have learned to grow together and appreciate each others thoughts and opinions more.  It’s actually a beautiful thing to watch a group discuss a book openly without fear of retaliation or disapproval and some our deep discussions are my favorite memories of book club.

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So lets discuss what makes a book club THRIVE.  I do have friends on-line and off who are in book clubs and when I hear how they do their groups, I am thrilled to see that they have a plan that can succeed.  Here are some thoughts on successful book clubs:

  • Have someone in charge of sending out email/Facebook communications to your group regarding the book, the time, the place…   these reminders are great!
  • If your group is on Facebook – create a group page.  This way you can send out reminders as well as discuss bookish things.  This is a great way to continue a discussion after a meeting and those that were unable to attend can chime in.
  • Don’t make it a lot of work for people to attend.  If you do food and drinks keep it simple and rotate the people who bring something.  Don’t give “home work” unless it is optional.  If you think it would be fun to dress the decade of the read, put it out there and those who wish to… do it. 🙂
  • Someone needs to lead the discussion.  This can be the same person every time, or it can switch off each time you meet up but someone needs to bring discussion questions or topics and direction to your meeting. 
  • Everyone should have a chance to suggest a book or a turn at choosing a book.  However you make that happen.  We vote each month on suggestions that members bring to the meeting, other groups rotate who hosts and decides.  Whatever works for your group.
  • Ask the hard questions.  Books bring up topics that are sometimes hard to discuss… for our group, this has led to some of our best discussions.  Bring up the questions, if no one shares, move on… but give people an opportunity to share something about how they feel about what they read. 
  • Do not be afraid to rabbit trail.  Books can open up personal stories and that is good.  Sometimes I love to just sit back and watch the conversation flow around the book.  I have learned so much about those in group when they share how they connect with a book.
  • Don’t go too long!  A good discussion from start to finish is around the 1 1/2 to two-hour mark.  Value people time and know that some may need to work in the morning or still do things when they get home.  Our group is currently around that two hour mark and that includes time to eat and chat with each other.
  • Pick a size that works for your group.  (We learned this the hard way.)  Agree as a group how many members you will grow to (if you decide to accept new members along the way).  This eliminates awkward discussions when you accept one persons cousin into the group but three months later turn down a members sister due to your group becoming too big.  If you settle on a number, everyone will know where you are at.
  • Its fun to encourage the little extras – looking up author info, having an author SKYPE, eating foods that surround the books culture or foods that are in the book, dressing up, going to a movie that was based on a book you read, occasionally attending a bookish event together that is in the area.

  • If you are the discussion leader, think of something extra to add to your discussion – perhaps pictures of the time period, or try a new recipe that was mentioned in the book, artifacts, culture….

 

One thing that seems to be true, as the article mentioned, we want to be social.  We want to bring our friends and hobbies into the same space. 

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I would love your thoughts on this topic, please add your thoughts on hits and misses for book clubs.  How do you feel a good book club sustains life?

About Sheila (Book Journey)

Bookaholic * Audio Book Fan *Bike Rider *Rollerblader *Adventure Seeker *Runner*Coffee lover *Fitness Fan * Movie junkie

Posted on April 27, 2014, in Book Club and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Great article! I’m in a book club for the first time…was encouraged by a move to a new city as a way to meet people. Though I obviously love to read, I had always shied away from book clubs because I just wanted to read what I wanted to read. And now that I’m in a book club, I still feel the same way…I sometimes choose not to read the book if it doesn’t look appealing and, consequently, skip that month’s meeting.

    • Sarah, I know for our group when we started branching out from our “go to” authors we really learned to stretch ourselves as well as our reading tastes. Love it or hate it, everyone’s opinion helps to make for a good discussion. I know I have been surprised by books that I never thought I would enjoy.

  2. I was in two book clubs in Toronto. Both had been started by an individual who kept control of membership and organisation, plus if a new member came and upset the dynamic or just wasn’t a good fit, they basically kicked them out after talking to the other members about it. The first got too big for me and I wasn’t interested in the books we all voted in; the second was classics only which was great, but I missed loads of meetings because of not reading the book.

    We would always take it in turns hosting the meetings – we tried restaurants but like you said, they’re way too noisy and if you have more than 4 people, it just doesn’t work. We would volunteer to host which also means supplying snacks and wine, but you got to choose when, to fit it into your life. The person hosting would also take on moderator duties and do a little bit of prep to get a list of questions going, mostly for backup. It worked well, and generally you only had to host/moderate once, maybe twice a year.

    Good times. I’d like to join a book club again but they’re hard to find where I live now, and I don’t think my work-life balance has any room for one right now. But I made some great friends through book clubs – yes you can make friends over books! There’s no reason why you can’t discuss a book for an hour and a half and then let other talk take over once the book discussion is exhausted. Good bonding eh. 😀

    • Have you ever considered starting one? That’s how ours started. The beauty of starting one is you have the decisions of when you meet, where and how big you would like it. Once you establish your core people then it can be a group decision. I hope you do start one! It was an exciting time for me!

  3. I think you have to establish some ground rules before you start up. The book club that I belong to basically meets during the fall and the spring and because its only four of us, its easy to decide on what to read. And our system works for us quite well. Also you have to have it work for everybody involved in the group and because we only read 4 books, it isn’t that big of a issue and yes I have attended meetings in which I haven’t finished the book.

  4. I’ve only been part of one book club, and left after a year. I think much of this being me, I was in a group that were on a different level to me, indicated by my book choices never being ready by any. They also went way over the top with catering and squabbles about who would host the christmas function. Maybe I’ll join another one in years to come.

  5. This is so helpful as I have been thinking of starting an IRL book club for a while now. I have not yet because I have been scared of the exact things you listed. Maybe I can get over that now with your helpful tips!

    • Awesome Becca! Start slow and make it up as you go 🙂 I think you are ahead of the game as a book blogger. Back when I started I had about 4 “go to” authors and that’s where we started until we started to branch out. We started with a Nora Roberts book (which I still love Dance Upon The Air and read it every few years). 😀 Good luck!

  6. bostonbibliophile1

    I have been in two book clubs and really enjoyed both- to a point. The first was a group of local alumnae of my college; we got along OK although it felt like no one was going to be friendly with anyone else outside the club, which made the club feel like work rather than a gathering of friends. Because really, it wasn’t. That club’s selections were driven by the taste of one member, who didn’t want to relinquish control, and that also brought it down for me because her taste was very much for dysfunctional family memoirs. Believe it or not that gets old for some of us! I stopped attending after reading a book so bad I wanted to hurl it across the room- after about a year of tedious choices with few gems, I just couldn’t take it any more, and since nobody there was my friend, I didn’t think it was any big loss.
    The second club I joined was based on discussing books that were about the three Abrahamic religions-Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The problems in that club were deeper and more personal for me but a big part of it was that the club refused to discuss any book that made any member feel uncomfortable, and when you’re dealing with religion that doesn’t actually take much. My last straw in that group was when the club read a book that I really loved, and then on the eve of the discussion itself, cancelled the discussion because one member was upset by what she viewed as political content. So rather than talk about it, the discussion was shut down and we watched a movie that month. Lame.
    I would really love to find a club that read neat books that I like but it seems like most of them read really middle of the road things that I’m not interested in, and I don’t want to be one of those people whose tastes dominate a club and bore everyone. I’d like to dominate in a good way! 🙂

    • Wow! You have been in some groups that really missed the point. That’s too bad. The religion group would be interesting but you are right, you would need a group of people willing to share their thoughts openly without it becoming a debate. Perhaps your next group will be started by you… and thank to the wonderful blogging world it is a lot easier to find book treasures than it used to be. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Great article, made me think. I’ve started a book club a about 2 years ago with mainly former work colleagues, partly to keep in touch and partly because most of us love reading. We had a couple of new members, but most left after a while, I think because they didn’t feel part of the same crowd, although I tried to make them very welcome (which they were). We first started off reading one book together which we had voted on, but because so few kept reading them, it didn’t work. Now, everybody suggests books and in the next meeting I try and bring discussions around the books to see who read them and what they thought. That works much better. As your notes say, a big problem we have is that there are a few members who never read any of the books and really only have it as a social event, which is sort-of nice, but for lots of us not very satisfying. But, as they are friends, it’s difficult to stop it alas.

    Lately I have been wondering myself if I should try and find another more “reading” orientated club myself, but time is sparce. We’ll see.

    • Thanks for commenting! That would be hard having people that come to the discussion but never read the book. I wonder if they could be in charge of something such as if the book has food or drink in it ask them if they would consider bringing something for everyone to try, or share about the culture – something that causes them to go into the book for the information and hopefully they start reading. 🙂 Maybe if they see the rest of you enjoying it so much that could bring them into it too.

      You are right about book clubs taking time – they do. I have tried to handle a second group before but just couldn’t manage it.

  8. Great post! I need to take some of this advice to heart when I try to revive my book club.

    • I love picking up ideas from other groups. We have implemented a few through the years. Its fun to be where we are at now almost 13 years later because we do all take an interest in our book clubs success. I think our group loves to share stories of the group and when someone asks why did you dress up like that, or why did you cook that, or sit on the floor and eat with our fingers for the discussion on Cutting For Stone, they can respond, “because of book club.” Gives me chills just to type this 😉

  9. Great, thoughtful post, Sheila! I belong to a very successful neighborhood book group. They were already closing in on their 75th book when I joined about 7 years ago, so they have been around for a long time! Many of the members are very close friends (and most of us are neighbors), so it is a good dynamic. We don’t actually use a discussion leader and don’t seem to need one – perhaps because everyone is so comfortable with each other. The discussions just flow naturally and – like you said – sometimes down the rabbit holes!

    I belong to another book club that is hosted at a local Unitarian church, though we aren’t all church members. That one has struggled a bit in its early years but has hung on and is growing. My two closest friends go to that one with me, so that always keeps it fun for me!

    And, on the failure side…my first book group was one that a friend started about 10 years ago that only lasted about a year. Some of its problems: the woman who started it controlled a lot of it – she held every meeting at her house, for instance. She did try rotating book selection after a while. I got pretty fed up when it was my turn to choose a book and half of the members didn’t even read it! They had definitely judged the book by its cover and decided they wouldn’t like it without reading a single page. Since it was my favorite book, I took that pretty hard. Ultimately, the woman who started the group just suddenly said “it’s over” one day – to this day, I still have no idea why.

    Anyway, great post – very thought-provoking! I recently started an online book group for my far-flung family, using a Facebook group and the virtual world has its own pitfalls, but so far everyone seems to be enjoying it!

    Sue

    Book By Book

    Book by Book is now on Facebook!

    • Great comment here Sue! It is interesting to read about those who choose not to read the books because they do not think they will like it – we do not have that in our group and I cant explain it, but everyone “tries” the book even if they think they wont like it. Some times they don’t like it and their intuition was correct, but sometimes they find out that they were surprised that they did like it. 😀

      I always have questions that we answer for the books we read – but as you said, sometimes conversation just naturally flows and I can skip questions -or the questions change as our conversation does.

  10. I really wish I had time for a book club (to attend, not host), but I don’t, and this made me REALLY want to do it lol Just the other day, when at the front desk checking out my pile of books, a woman asked about the book club she thought was supposed to meet that night (she got the date wrong), but in the conversation she said, “She picks such great books!” So that was what I got out of that.

    What I REALLY don’t understand is this point that was listed:

    “People who do not read the book, had no intention of reading the book, and month after month have nothing to contribute to the discussion. (While one in your group may not be a deal breaker, a few of them could be) *this is taken from a Barnes and Noble Article called why book clubs fail”

    Excuse me, but WHY join a book club in the first place if this is what you do?! lol

    • Great comment! 🙂 I think some people just want to be readers and/or like the thought of being in a group that meets and talks about a book. It’s social, it makes (I think) us look well educated, and we are a part of something. Sometimes the “idea” of being a part of a book club and actually being in a book club and reading the book and making the meeting, do not mesh with what people thought they had time for.
      I have people in our book club that have not made a meeting for years and still when I run into them they refer to themselves as part of the book club. I think we all like to belong to something. 🙂 I hope even when they can not make the meetings, they are reading the books 😉

      I hope some day you are able to be in a book club. I LOVE mine… and I wish that feeling on EVERYBODY! 😀

      • In thinking about it, I think for me what I would love is to be able to read the books on my own list (I have tons) and then find people to talk to about them. I’d love that! Still, it all takes time. I’m lucky I find time to read actual books. I spend PLENTY of time reading the plethora of stuff here on the internet though! lol (…and don’t feel like you HAVE to reply, Sheila lol…you know what I mean 🙂 )

        • LOL – I am loving this whole conversation and need a break from the heaviness of my work day…. I want to talk Book Clubs 😀 I agree – I have plenty of books I want to read that I would love to have others read too. Have you ever seen the read a longs? They are when someone who has a blog posts that they are reading a certain book and they see if others want to read it with them and discuss it on line. I participated in a few a while back, they are kind of fun 😀

          • Nope, never heard of read-alongs! It sounds more up my alley, but I’d still probably have to keep pace which would be difficult to commit to *sigh* Maybe SOMEday I’ll have time for these things. Right now, instead of stuff like that, I’m keeping up with SOME blogs and soon will finally be working on mine 🙂 Too busy with too much stuff. Always trying to fit too much into each day ’cause there are NEVER enough hours! I know you’re familiar with that lol

  11. Your book club is certainly one to be admired! Our club has had its up and downs, we still don’t talk as much about the book as I would like but It’s good group and I am glad to be a part of it. I had to miss our last meeting and ended up texting to everyone to find out what I missed! We are reading Death of Bees for next club and already having side conversations – so funny when we try to stop doing that to ‘save’ for meeting!

    • I love that Care! I think we talk about the books so much because I have always had a list (I do like my lists lol) of questions. After all these years the others in our group are now asking questions in addition to the ones I found on line or wrote down myself from my reading. I love that and hope we continue to read and all ask questions 🙂

      Your group sounds warm and inviting.

  12. All awesome advice. I need to pin this for future reference ’cause I totally want to start one.

  13. I just noticed this post on your Monday recap. Our group is currently just about finished up with our 10th year together. Although I am kind of an “ad hoc” leader, I don’t ever make decisions about any changes without talking to the rest of the group first. I think an important factor in our success is that we all do have something in common outside of reading. Our book selection process has been tough as it’s been a bit Helter Skelter in the past. When it was time to pick our books many of our members would just suggest one title, and wanting everyone to have a voice, we would have to go with that title. Starting in September we are starting a new selection process so I am excited to see if that works better.

    The size of your group is important and we have a rule that before any new person can join, they must be approved by our entire group. This way if someone wants in our group but another person knows they don’t get along with them we avoid the turmoil. Our current members are the core group and we cannot jeapordize those relationships. So when people ask me I usually tell them that we aren’t taking new members right now, but I will check with the group. This gives me time to see if their membership will be welcome or not.

    I love the ladies in my group and wouldn’t want to disrupt our group in any way!

    • Great comment! I like how you said you do not make any decisions on your own, we do not either. All changes have been group discussed and voted on. Just because I think something would be a good idea doesn’t mean everyone would think it is 😀

  14. My book club solved the ‘social chatting’ issue by having a 45 minute happy hour before the discussion meeting, and some folks stay and chat afterwards. We have one of the private rooms reserved at a wine/bar restaurant. It’s a small, local, in-town establishment that is very accommodating to clubs and groups so it works out great.

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