Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tips for Running a Book Club

As promised on Monday, I'm going to give you a few tips that might come in handy if you want to start your own book club.

First, you have a lot of planning to do and decisions to make.

How big will it be? Review Me Twice is essentially a two-person book club where we tell you about the books we read each week. Maybe you want a small group like us. Get a friend or few and keep it small. Or maybe you'd rather have a dozen or more people. Totally up to you (and them).

Age and/or education level. Age of your members is really only relevant if you're inviting minors whose parents might have a problem with certain content. If that's the case, be upfront about the books you're choosing and respect the parents' choices, even if you disagree. Having a common education level among the group is helpful: vocabulary, reading comprehension, reading speed... all of these could cause problems in a group with a wide range of education levels.

Sensitivities. This is difficult to explain concisely, but I'll try. Imagine someone in your book club is a former soldier with PTSD. Do you think you should choose a book set in a violent combat zone? Probably not. There's always the possibility that this person would be fine with it, so you could ask, or you could just read that book on your own time (if you were really interested in it) and choose something else for the group. This applies to a lot of different situations, so just consider others' situations and emotions when selecting your books.

Preferences. Unlike sensitivities, preferences do not need to be tiptoed around. If someone hates James Patterson and you choose a James Patterson book, they will survive. They might not have many nice things to say in your discussion, but they will be fine. Try to be considerate, though, and maybe don't choose another James Patterson book for a really long time. Unless you're starting a James Patterson themed book club, in which case that person should probably join a different book club.

Availability. Remember, everyone has to get their hands on a copy of each book you choose. If they all use e-readers, make sure the books are available via e-readers. If none of them have enough disposable income to buy every book you read as a group, be sure the library has enough copies to cover the group (and that they're likely to be available for everyone to get in time to read it before your group discussion of it). Cassy and I do quite a bit of researching every time we choose a book to review, to make sure we can both access it in a timely manner. (I'm telling you, online library catalogs are one of the greatest technologies of our time.)

Planning. Where will you meet? Someone's house, a coffee shop, a library, a bookstore, an empty classroom? Should you meet online instead? (If so, will it be synchronous or more like a discussion board or forum?) Will it change, or always be the same place? What day will you meet? What time? Will that change, or stay the same? How long will you go between meetings? (Will that be long enough for everyone to access and read the books before discussion? Remember your availability issues.) Will you only meet for book discussion or will there be intermittent meetings? Will you have food at the meetings? Who will provide it? What allergies does the group have? Other food restrictions? Does anyone have a pet allergy that keeps you from meeting at certain people's houses? Are kids allowed? If so, will an activity be provided for them to occupy their time and reduce interruptions? This is only a sample of questions you'll have to keep in mind when deciding all the details of your meetings. You might want to wait until you have all your members sorted out before you start making these types of decisions, because they will want to be a part of the process.

Purpose. This is what you need to decide before trying to recruit members. (Or, maybe you have a group of people already and you need to decide together what you'll be doing in this book club.) Will discussions be light-hearted and more social than anything else, or will you be sharing intense, academic discourse? The books you're going to read: trashy romances, scholarly works, teen fiction, horror, mystery, biographies, or a little bit of everything? (Hint: Review Me Twice is the latter. We want to read everything.)

Records. You might want to keep track of the books you've read as a group. I'm sure you wouldn't wind up repeating a book or something, but this ties in with the next bit of advice, which I'll get to in a second. You don't need to be as detailed or formal as we are: I have a beautiful, color-coded Excel spreadsheet for Review Me Twice, where I keep track of the books we've read, all the posts we write, who chose which book to review, genres, authors, and all sorts of other important things to make sure we...

Mix it up. Remember the hypothetical friend who hates James Patterson up in the "preferences" bit? That friend would really appreciate it if you put a bunch of space between the James Patterson selections, but everyone else probably would, too. You need variety! Just look at the archives for this blog. We've only been doing this for two months, and we've already covered non-fiction, graphic novels, biography, teen fiction (one about parent-child relationships, one about being between a rock and a hard place, and one about homosexuality), comedy, fantasy, and even a modernized rewrite of a classic myth. So keep things interesting and try to broaden your horizons. Cassy and I switch back and forth picking our books; maybe you'll want to pass around the opportunity to select the books for your book club, just to keep things fresh and interesting.

Respect. People have different opinions about things. (I know; newsflash, right?) It seems obvious now, but when you're in the middle of a discussion about a book you feel passionate about (one way or another) you might accidentally say something that sounds rude or demeaning or patronizing or any number of other negative adjectives. Be careful about how you say things, but also be sure to contribute your opinions. People go to book clubs to have fun, learn things, and grow (intellectually, emotionally, socially). So be nice and have a good time.

If you do start a book club, we'd love to hear about it! Tweet @ReviewMeTwice or email us at to tell us about it.

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