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SALT LAKE CITY — Friends huddle together, seated on couches and folding chairs. The scent of a special culinary delight and the sparkle of laughter drift in the air. Smiles pass around the room, and on each lap rests a book.
About a year ago, a group of women in my family started a book club. From day one, it's been a blissful experience. I look forward to each one with great anticipation and, honestly, it's one of the funnest things. It's a perfect night away from the kids. I highly recommend it.
Many people become more consistent, more diversified and more satisfied readers after joining a club. If you are looking to start, join or improve a book club, here are seven tips for success:
1. A solid group of people
No book club can be successful unless it starts with a foundation of good people.
No book club can be successful unless it starts with a foundation of good people. If you are thinking of starting or joining a club, make sure the other members are ones you enjoy spending time with and, for the most part, have similar interests. A book club can only be as successful as its members are interested.
Generally, book clubs are women's groups, but they certainly don't have to be. It could be a couples club, a mother-daughter club, a men's club or a club for teens, etc.
2. Meet regularly, but not too oftenTime is a rare commodity and people have little to spare. To make a book club successful it is important to meet the needs of the group. Meeting too often will actually be a hindrance.
Our book club meets every other month. This schedule provides enough time in between meetings to not only read the next book, but ensures that we do not feel overstretched.
To make the club meetings easy to schedule and remember, decide the best day of the week and time to meet and stick to it as often as possible. At the end of each club meeting, discuss and decide on the details of the next (hostess, book, day, time).
3. Rotate hosting responsibilitiesSharing the hosting responsibilities guarantees that no one in the group feels overburdened. Plus, it is fun to visit everyone's homes and see what creative ideas they come up with for food, decor, etc. Or if your group prefers, you can meet at a restaurant and the hostess can pay for appetizers. But always remember that hosting does not have to cost a lot of money or be difficult.
Sharing the hosting responsibilities guarantees that no one in the group feels overburdened. Plus, it is fun to visit everyone's homes and see what creative ideas they come up with for food, decor, etc.
4. Be creative with food and atmospherePart of the appeal of a book club is, of course, eating. The food choice is completely up to the hostess. But for a more interesting experience, pull food ideas from the book. For example, when I hosted the book selection was "The Thirteenth Tale," and the main character loves to drink hot cocoa, while another character bakes. I served hot cocoa and homemade muffins. If your group likes to meet at a restaurant, try to pick one that ties into the book in some way.
I love to throw parties, and I've learned that the most important thing about a party is the atmosphere. When I hosted our first club meeting, I wanted it to be an extravagant celebration of books but not cost a lot of money. So I took every book I own and stacked them all over my front room and the food table. Then I put tea candles on top of all the stacks. The atmosphere was perfect.
Others in our group have also done wonderful things to make the atmosphere inviting and memorable. For example, making bookmarks to hand out, parting favors that tie into the book or music CDs with songs from the book, etc. Like the food, if you can tie in details from the book, then you will have a memorable experience. Be creative.
Bonus idea: For a fun change of pace, do a "read the book, watch the movie" night. Either go to a movie in the theater or watch it at the hostess' home. Afterwards, discuss the differences between the book and movie (if you go out, discuss it over dessert).
5. Book selection doesn't have to be complicatedAny good book can be a book club read. Libraries and bookstores often have suggestion lists or displays. Goodreads.com and other online resources also have lists for book club picks. I also have a growing list of good choices on the Book Matters blog.
For the most part, book choices should be within the styles that most of the group prefers, but it is important to branch out to different genres too. One of the benefits of being part of a book club is discovering new kinds of books. The hostess can choose the book for the club she hosts or the group can vote on a selection during its previous club meeting.
If your group is content sensitive, you may want to check online content websites (like ratedreads.com or squeakycleanreads.com or the Book Matters blog). You could also have one member of the group read the book early and screen it for unwanted material.
6. Engaging book presentation and discussionDiscussing the book is the essence of a book club. I find that a book takes on more depth and meaning after our book club talks about it.
For each club meeting, the hostess should prepare a short presentation and some questions and topics for discussion (many books include a reading guide, or one can be found online). The presentation portion can include details about the book itself (when published, history, success) or information from author interviews.
Members of the group can also come prepared with discussion topics, questions or favorite quotes from the book.
7. Elect a presidentEvery group needs a leader — even in a casual setting like a book club. I stumbled into this position for our group and soon, as a joke, became known as the "president." As a group, pick a president.
The president's responsibilities are simple but important:
- One: Send email notifications and reminders. Send an email after each club meeting to thank the hostess and to let everyone know the details of the next meeting (book, location, day, time). Depending on how often you meet, there should at least be a reminder two weeks before the meeting and then an RSVP email the week of the meeting. This ensures that everyone who wants to be there will be there and allows the hostess to plan accordingly. If a hostess needs to change the date of the meeting, she will contact the president, who can then send an email notification to the group.
- Two: Do a little research before each club meeting and have a couple of suggestions for the next book in case the next hostess does not already have one.
- Three: Be a resource for other members who have questions or need help with ideas.
The president can remain the same person or change yearly. Book clubs are a fabulous way to share books, stimulate the mind and foster lasting friendships. I hope you enjoy yours as much I enjoy mine.
Your pick: Comment here or go to book-matters.blogspot.com to share your favorite book club reads.
Next week: Books to read after the kids go to bed
Teri Harman writes and reads from home amid the chaos of three young children.
For more book reviews and book fun, visit her blog at book-matters.blogspot.com