Book Clubs Tips & Ideas
Reading a book is just the beginning. Talking about it is the very best part. With or without wine.
WHY JOIN A BOOK CLUB?
1. Meet New People. When I joined my local book club over twenty years ago, I was a young mom searching for ways to connect with other women in my town. While some like me are core members from day one, others have come and gone. Over the years, we’ve supported each other through life’s milestones. We’ve become close friends, developed through a shared love of reading. More recently, I’ve joined online book clubs to chat over Zoom with readers across the U.S. and Canada.
2. Broaden Your Interests And Perspectives. I love Historical Fiction. Yet, through our process of the monthly host picking our titles, I’ve expanded my depth and breadth in reading YA, Non-Fiction, LGBQT, Biographies, Cultural Fiction, and more. At each meeting, we bring our experiences and opinions to shape and share thoughtful discussions. And, while most of us are in the same general age bracket, I enjoy the perspectives which emerge from our group which has a twenty-year age span of generations.
3. Eat And Drink. “Book Club Without Cheese Is Just English Class” – source unknown. While a book discussion steers our evening meetings, great food and drink, alcoholic and non, enhances our gatherings. We try new appetizers and desserts and swap recipes. Nibbling on a vegan olive tapenade while sipping on a Peruvian wine choice breaks the ice to launch lively discussions.
4. Administer Self-Care. Joining a book club became my single, monthly effort in self-care. I carved out time from working full-time with two active boys in sports to read at least one book a month and attend one meeting. No hockey rinks, no baseball/lacrosse/baseball/soccer/football fields. Just me, a good book, and a cherished group of friends for three hours a month.
5. Up The Ante With A Slice Of Fun. From costumed meetings in October to movie-adaption nights to themed food, there are many ways to bring a book to life found on Pinterest and Recipes in The Book Club Cookbook.
TOP TITLES TO CONSIDER
Looking for a choice to stimulate great discussions for your club? I’ve fielded a poll among groups across the U.S. to develop a listing of Top Books for a Great Book Club Discussion (updated December 2021).
How does your group select titles? One club I had the pleasure of joining while in FL this year is very organized. They meet every other month, choosing three fiction, one non-fiction, one classic and one book set in FL or written by a FL author. Members submit recommendations in each category, including a “why I picked it” statement. The organizer then compiles all the suggestions, circulates out the long list and they come together to vote. My in-person local group lets the hostess for the meeting month make the selection.
TIPS & IDEAS FOR SUCCESSFUL MEETINGS
As you can see from my photos, my book club has a lot of fun pairing food choices with book selections and dressing up in costumes (our October hostess loves Halloween and always chooses great books for us and gets creative).
Pairing food and beverages to the book always add a touch of flair. Tons of ideas can be found in the compilation, The Book Club Cookbook, by Judy Gelman.
From twisting tornados and rainbow fruit salad, to tea sandwiches for a 100th anniversary party to celebrate the 19th Amendment, to grilled salmon and “nine men in a boat”, there’s plenty of ways to get creative with your meetings.
AUTHOR TALKS & DISCUSSION GUIDES
Connecting with readers is important for authors. In-Person, Zoom and Skype are great ways to connect with authors for any meeting. My group has been fortunate to Skype with Lisa See to discuss Island of Sea Women and to meet her in-person (pre-Covid) at an all-town read author appearance. She was amazing and so gracious with her time at each one.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Spring 2018
Author Talk – Janis Robinson Daly. One of my goals when my novel publishes in August 2022 is to meet with as many book clubs, in-person or over Zoom. If your club is interested in reading my upcoming historical fiction about women doctors in the 1900s, please fill out my form so I can get in touch with you to schedule and to coordinate with local bookstores and libraries for them to carry the book. Click here to download my Book Club Kit. Thank you.
Author Talk – Ashley Sweeney. For historical fiction fans, I’m happy to recommend Ashley Sweeney and her books: Eliza Waite, Answer Creek, Hardland. Ashley loves to chat with book clubs via Zoom or Skype or in-person in the Seattle or Tucson areas. Contact Ashley directly through her website.
Companion Materials – Barbara Probst. Probst writes strong women’s fiction anchored in an appreciation of the arts. Her first novel, Queen of the Owls, introduces readers to the beauty of Georgia O’Keefe’s painting masterpieces, along with personal dilemmas or privacy and ownership rights. Her second novel and winner of the Sarton Women's Book Award, The Sound Between the Notes, is a beautiful story of hopes and fears, doubts and courage, as women consider their second acts, which may well deserve an Encore. Probst adds to the colorful and lyrical readings of her books by assembling bonus materials as companion information.
Companion Materials – Martha Hall Kelly. With the release of Sunflower Sisters, Martha Hall Kelly put out some recipes for food items mentioned in the Civil War era book along with a cheat sheet of the numerous characters and discussion questions in a handy book club kit PDF. Very helpful!
The last installment in the Woolsey-Ferriday women series.
SHARING & CARING
- With roots in a local women’s civic group, at my group’s December meeting we collect items identified as in high-demand for our local food pantry. Giving back to our community which brought us together is a simple gesture of thanks.
- From a Facebook post in a reading group, I love this idea: When a member of their group passed away, they all purchased a copy of one of her favorite books and donated them to their library in her name so that other book clubs could read her favorite book with enough copies on hand for an entire group to borrow.
- From another FB post and another lovely idea: Read a book for a cause and make a donation to a charity that fits with the books theme. A few suggestions include: The Midnight Library = Suicide Prevention, American Dirt = Immigration Relief, Before We Were Yours = Adoption Agencies, The Answer Is = Pancreatic Cancer Research, Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek = Mobile Libraries.
VIRTUAL MEETINGS VIA ZOOM, FACEBOOK, LogMeIn, or SKYPE
Even the cat had a good discussion point!
- Check the Zoom website first and read through info put in place to tighten security measures since the explosion of usage has also increased questions around privacy, etc.
- Test ahead of time to make sure connections are working.
- Have each person make a list of their top opinions before the meeting and send them to the moderator. Circulate via email ahead of time to think about what you want to discuss
- Limit the time or make sure you’re set up for longer 40 minutes. The free Zoom version gives you 40 minutes. To extend your time, have everyone log off and then log back in with the same link; it generally works. Or, book two back-to-back sessions.
- Choose one person to serve as moderator is key to maintain order and make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. A round-robin approach works to make sure everyone who wants to speak gets the opportunity. Have the host pull up the discussion questions on her screen so everyone can see those at the same time.
- Log in a few minutes early.
- Have all attendees mute themselves except for the moderator and raise their hand to comment or pose a question…they have to be recognized by the moderator before un-muting themselves.
- Computers work better than phones.
- Activate the grid view so you can see everyone at once.
- The best audio is if no one in the group uses earbuds and instead uses the computer’s mic.
Making It Fun
- Have each member read a favorite passage. Dress it up – does the character have a signature item? Wear it.
- Drop off or send a book themed goodie to each member ahead of your call, even if it’s a bookmark.
- Try a phrase or word scavenger hunt – where does it say… First one to answer correctly wins a small prize.
- For a brief moment of levity, encourage all participants to have a spatula handy. When they want to comment, raise the spatula instead of their hand for attention.
THE HISTORY OF BOOK CLUBS
Does this description fit your book club? “A way for women to pursue truth, knowledge and an understanding of themselves and the world around them.” The observation is attributed to Margaret Fuller, the first American female war correspondent, a magazine editor and an all-around feminist renegade, who formed a literary circle of women in 1839. Read more about the evolution and power of book clubs in this March 2021 Washington Post article, “How women invented book clubs, revolutionizing reading and their own lives.”
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