It was the end of my sophomore year of college, and as an English major, I’d just finished reading my 10th, maybe 15th book of the semester. I’d lost count, along with the number of analytical words I’d written about each book. I was exhausted. Two of my best friends at school felt the same. We were three English students who were ready to jump into summer, psyched to relax and stop having to think about our next essay due.
At the same time, we were English kids. We loved reading and writing. While we were exhausted from the past semester, we didn’t want to stop doing what we loved just because it was summer. We just wanted to take a bit of the pressure off.
So we decided to start a book club. When else could we read the books we’d shelved (literally and figuratively) away during the semester, when our lives were overwhelmed with schoolwork? When else could we get together outside of our classes to discuss literature? Why not continue to do the thing we loved, but this time on our own schedule, reading what we chose?
Have a book you’ve heard about but never been motivated to buy or crack open? Is your friend Celia a publishing wizard who knows about all the next up-and-coming reads? Did you see the preview for a movie based on a book and wanted to read it first? Book club is the perfect motivation to get you reading what you’ve always wanted to.
Literature is always better in conversation. While reading is a personal experience, discussing your thoughts, questions and even concerns produces a more meaningful relationship with the work. Your discussions don’t always have to be academic-oriented; it’s about whatever interests you and the members of your group. Maybe someone will bring up something you never even considered when reading.
Because book clubs are focused on gathering and discussing shared material, they’re a great way to socialize with others. First, the book content gives you all the conversation material you need; no need to worry about awkward gaps in the discussion if you’ve all done your reading. Next, because you’re meeting regularly with the group, book clubs foster a schedule to connect with others. Whether you’re creating a book club with old friends or with some new ones, your meetings are a great space to catch up and share new ideas with one another.
Hanging out with friends usually means getting a bite to eat, grabbing a drink or even seeing a show. Those outings can get expensive, fast. Book club cuts the pricey costs with just a simple, one-stop purchase: the book. If you’re looking to save on your reading costs, digital options are sometimes cheaper than hardcovers, or try seeing if your local library has a copy.
Before you organize your first book club meeting and choose your book, it’s important to think about why you’re starting your book club and what you want to get out of it. Are you hoping to read a specific genre, or are you hoping to read a wide variety of books? How do you want your discussions to go — should they be more academically- and critically-engaged with the text, or is your book club more for socialization and casual conversation?
Choosing who you want in your book club is almost as important as deciding what kind of book club you want. Do you want people who share similar literature preferences as you, or are you okay having different tastes? Do you want to know everyone in this book club well, or are you open to acquaintances and friends-of-friends? How many people do you want in your book club overall? Is this a large space (more like 15 members) or an intimate group (closer to five)? Remember: the people you choose will frame what kind of book discussion you have, as well as determine the social makeup of the club.
You’ve decided what kind of books you want to read, what kind of discussion you want to have and what kind of people you want in your book club. The next step is actually inviting them to come! Reach out to your potential members individually, and make sure you communicate your goals of the club. They may have ideas and suggestions you love. If you’re hoping to get some acquaintances or new faces into the group, start by asking a few people you know, and then ask them to invite a few they might think are interested.
Some book clubs meet every month; others every two months and some every few weeks. The commitment is up to you. Think, reasonably, how long it’ll take you and the people you’ve invited to finish your books, with enough time to spare (life always gets in the way!). You don’t want to put pressure on the reading time, but you also don’t want too long between meetings. Choose a time period that works for your reading abilities as well as your life schedules.
Once you’ve figured out how often you want to meet, think about where you want to meet and at what time of day. If you all have space to entertain and live close by, you may want to switch off hosting. Maybe there’s a community room in a library nearby or a coffee shop that’s not too far. Just make sure there are enough seats and everyone can hear one another!
If you’re working with members who don’t live close enough to one another, virtual book club meetings are always an option. This offers extra flexibility in meeting times, along with both face-to-face or discussion board options.
At your first meeting, you’ll want to do introductions: not only to one another but also to the book club as a group. Make sure everyone gets to know one another and is comfortable speaking in the group. Then, reiterate the book club’s goals and intentions, from the types of books you want to read to the discussions you want to have. From there, you’ll want to pick your first book! You can offer a suggestion or pose it to the group and have members offer ideas before putting them to a vote or picking out of a bowl. Before leaving, make sure to set up your next meeting time and place so everyone’s prepared and can start their reading.
Like exercising, starting a new diet or studying, having a group of people with you along the journey keeps you accountable and all the more motivated. Book clubs are a great way to get you to start — and finish — the books you’ve always wanted to read and the books you never thought you’d try. You’ll not only get to read, but you’ll also be able to discuss what you’ve read, asking questions to your group and hearing their impressions of the shared material. You’ll learn that your best work friend has insightful thoughts on memoirs or your new neighbor has big ideas about the fantasy genre. The options for your book club are endless, but whatever way you choose, it’ll be sure to get you reading, talking and connecting.
Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.