How to Start a Book Club

Education, Home, Home & Family
on June 22, 2003

The book club Betty Kuhl joined nearly 30 years ago in Baker City, Ore., became an important part of her life and eventually inspired her to start a bookstore that her daughter now runs. I think book clubs are made for small towns. With the long winters here, a lot of people have nothing to do, says Kuhl, who never dreamed her book club would last three decades.

Kuhls club is an example of how readers can organize such groups to suit their needs, as well as their interests. Club members had little money, so they agreed to read any book by Willa Cather. That way, all members could get their reading material at the library instead of buying books.

Most of our members are not very affluent, and we couldnt afford to buy a book each month, Kuhl says, adding that the book club still agrees on an author rather than a single book, a choice that can widen the discussions and lead to additional reading following the meetings.

Ellen Slezak, editor of The Book Group Book, suggests anyone starting a book club should check first with the local library. Many libraries have book groups that anyone can join, or if they do not, most librarians will have suggestions, books, or material on how to get started.

Sometimes people will start out by going to a group at a library or a book store, then a few people from that group will peel off and start their own, Slezak says.

Or just start putting out feelers, she says. Talk to friends, co-workers, do an e-mail posting, and set up a meeting in a public place, or check out on-line book clubs, Slezak suggests.

Many libraries allow book groups to use their reading rooms for meetings, but Kuhl says members of her club found they enjoyed going to each others home more.

Once six to 10 people have agreed to join and a meeting time has been set, Slezak cautions that picking the right book is important and deserves some thought.

Picking a book thats too hard can mean no one will read it. Picking a book thats too easy means there is nothing to discuss, she says. A book that everyone loves can be the death knell for discussion, since good discussion comes out of opposing viewpoints.

The organizer should do some research and come to the initial meeting with a handful of suggestions for the first book. Read The New York Times Book Review, or call a librarian, Slezak suggests.

Some groups vote on choices, others rotate the choice among members. Then the person who chooses the book becomes the leader and comes prepared with some background stuffan author biography, book reviews, also maybe has sketched out a handful of questions, she says.

Kuhl has no doubt that she has benefited from nearly three decades as a member of a book club.

A book club can broaden peoples horizons, Kuhl says. Ive made some very good friends and sure have a much wider knowledge of books than I would have had.