If you want to join an existing book club, check with your local library. They often know about book clubs active in the area, even if they don’t organise groups themselves. The community development officer or the community centre coordinator associated with your local council may also know of existing groups. They may even help you set up a new group if you can’t find a suitable one.
A book club needs about eight members – not so big that everyone can’t have a say, but not so small that it collapses when a few people can’t come.
There are some advantages in starting a new group. It means you don’t have to fit in to someone else’s way of doing things, such as their choice of books. Your friends or your workmates are obvious places to start recruiting your own group. Try lending potential members a copy of this guide so they can see what is involved. Many reading groups also grow out of activities which bring people together for other reasons, such as baby sitting clubs, or sporting clubs or service clubs. Ask a couple of other members of a group or club that you belong to if they are interested, and if they are, see if they have friends who might also be interested. You could also put up a notice in the club rooms, or in the group’s newsletter. If you don’t belong to any groups or clubs you think might yield suitable book club members, think about other activities where you meet people – even talking to other parents when you are picking the children up from school could be a place to start.
The only requirement for membership is that potential members are interested in having a go at making such a group work. You don’t have to decide before you start recruiting exactly what books you are going to read, but it would help if you had some idea of peoples’ expectations. It’s not much good having a member who insists on reading War and Peace, when everyone else wants to read crime fiction. If you decide to use the reading guides outlined below, you could show one of these to potential members, so they can see if it is their sort of thing. Or you can indicate to potential members how ‘serious’ you expect the level of reading to be, to ensure they are comfortable with it. Groups don’t have to keep operating at the same level; some may decide after a while that they would like to try more serious writing, where others may at times like some light relief. Or you could plan for both. But willingness to try it out, and to share, are far more important than background or education.
Most book clubs meet once a month. Most meet in members’ houses, but the time and place of course depend on members’ circumstances. Most meetings last about two hours, counting time for socialising. Some groups are strict about having discussion first and chat afterwards; others go with the flow. It’s useful to decide in advance how the group wants to conduct its business – this is further discussed in a later section.
In bringing the group together, you may already have broadly decided on what sort of books you want to read; there are a number of categories suggested above, and others will have occurred to you. It’s probably a good idea to have a first meeting with the group to decide not just on the category of book, but on at least the first book, and on how subsequent books will be chosen. In the first session, you could map out a provisional list. This will help members decide if they want to buy the books – new or second hand; buy one among several members; or use a library. A first meeting can also be used to agree on how the group will run. This is further discussed below. Just because you have recruited the members, this doesn’t mean that you have to keep on doing all the work!
The need to buy a different book each month is an issue for some people. Passing one or two copies between members during the month may work, but some people read more slowly than others, or may wish to go back over what they have read just before the meeting. There may be logistical problems in passing books around. Some libraries will buy multiple copies of a book for the use of book clubs on the payment of a fee, so it is worth talking to your local librarian.
If you decide to use the reading guides from Reading for Fun, some of these issues are decided for you. Each of the Reading-for-Fun reading lists suggests ten books in a genre. All the group needs to do is to decide how quickly it wants to read them. It is possible to cover a genre for each meeting, with each member of the group reading a different book. But everyone can read the same book – perhaps starting at the beginning, as they are arranged chronologically – thus stretching the category over a longer period of time. Or half could read the first book, and half the second – the way it is done is completely up to the group. If the group is expecting to use a library to provide the books, it may prove difficult if everyone wants the same book at once, but library staff may be able to help with this, and most of the suggested books are also available second hand, and on audio tape or CD.