Building a Book Club that Matters

By Brenna Kehew Sculley

by ELYSIAN Magazine

A book club is a convenient excuse to host a party, maybe read a good book, and share good food, drinks, and fun with friends.

My book clubs have evolved from my youth. Post college, a group of fellow recent grads connected in our new neighborhood across town, having book club as an excuse to drink wine on a weekday at least once a month. That we were discussing memoirs, cerebral classics like The Crying Lot 49, and books essential to the cultural zeitgeist like Gone Girl made us feel like we were really adults – serious people having-grown up get-togethers. The mix of personalities and selection made for entertaining discussions and memorable moments. I think it was Infinite Jest that officially killed the club as work, moves, and responsible drinking habits curbed my zippy old book club, but for a long moment in time, it was a defining part of my friendships.

Further on into adulthood, I was in a new city, with a new baby looking to connect. I luckily fell in with a neighbor’s already established and thriving book club. The women were former principals, freelance writers, teachers, mothers, passionate and politically involved interesting individuals. I have learned so much from them and expanded my selection of books from my typical purview.

Now, I find myself in a new city again, looking for my literary people. So far I haven’t had any luck in finding a book club friend yet, but I’m still very new. I’m attending library events and reaching out to old friends in the area and am taking on the task of building a book club here myself. Making new friends can be a daunting task, and the older you get, the harder it can be. So, I am calling on the good vibes from my book clubs from years past to help me make the network I need.

Here are the tips I think make a truly lovely book club and I plan on utilizing:

  • Find a few friends, ideally a group of about 3 to 8 people. Three people is a start, but once you have more than eight people, it can be hard to coordinate schedules and space.
  • If possible, rotate hosts each month. That said, if someone’s house is more equipped to fit people and it is a person who loves to host, let them. For some people, hosting is a fun pleasure, and for others it is a stressful endeavor. Don’t force people to host who aren’t comfortable. It is fun to rotate and share the responsibility, but have grace and leave the rigid rules of rotation behind. I love hosting, so pass on those extra months to me!
  • The host for the month sends an email (or group text) announcing the date or the option of two dates and three choices of books. After a couple of days and receiving votes from group members, they will send the final email confirming the date and the book selection and announce what they will serve as a main course.
  • The fellow book club members then chime in what side/appetizer/drink/dessert they will bring to compliment the main.
  • It is fun to coordinate the food theme to the book, but not necessary.
  • Timeline of the book club:
    • Appetizer/Cocktail hour– just catch-up talk
    • Main – Book talk
    • Dessert – Ideas for next book, choose who wants to host next, and farewells
  • Let everyone talk.
  • Enjoy the discussion!

I am still connected with my book club from the past and try to read what they read so when I’m in town we can still connect. I have also tried virtual book clubs, especially during lockdown, which were fun and have a whole other set of tips and tricks for successful discussion. I am someone who just really loves in-person get-togethers, so I am excited to take on this challenge in the new year.

So, go forth and read. May you find or build the book club of your dreams!

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