I have recently finished running a book club at my place of work. I have been doing it for 5 years and over this time I have tried to come to the conclusion about the pros and cons of a book club. I remember someone saying to me after a couple of meetings that their wife goes to a book club but they just sit and eat cake and drink wine and don’t really discuss the book it’s just an excuse for friends to get together. This wasn’t why I set the book club up and it made me think was I wasting my time. For me the book club was about bringing like-minded people together to discuss books and discover books we would probably never have read otherwise. Sounds easy doesn’t it especially as I work in a library it should be a piece of cake (especially as cake is also popular with librarians). Well here is what I have learnt about book clubs over the last 5 years.
When I set out with the idea of the book club I wasn’t sure how many people would want to be involved. Although a lot of people enjoyed reading at work they may have already been involved with another book club or may not want the constraints of always reading a the book club choice. I put up posters and put a note in the staff newsletter and I was surprised at how many people were interested. They liked the idea and wanted to know more and this enthusiasm spurred me on to get things moving. The book club was for the library staff and I did think about opening it up to others but I wanted to see how it went first and what others thought. We had a good attendance for the first meeting and after that the numbers varied. There were a lot of people who wanted to be on the mailing list though and most of these did attend at some point.
Deciding on a title
This is the most difficult part of running any book club. For the very first meeting I was deciding on which book we would be reading and I felt the pressure. This was to be the first book we would read as a group and would set the tone for future meetings. Should I go for ‘worthy’ or book chart favourite, fiction or non-fiction, ‘classic’ or Chick lit. Decisions decisions. I remember strolling around Waterstones (which is not a bad thing to do) and looking around to see if anything jumped out. The wrong book choice could alienate some people from the start but I also wanted to pick something most people would never have read before. The book I decided on was ‘A Long Time Ago & Essentially True’ by Brigid Pasulka. I picked this because it had an interesting plot and even more interesting cover. The book proved popular with the group and the rest as they say is history.
For future titles we took it in turns to suggest a title. Whether we meant to or not we did seem to pick rather depressing stories but there were some great books chosen. On some occasions we had titles suggested by non members of the book club. We even read a book which was picked as the favourite ‘Environmentally themed novel’ by other staff members. The main thing was that it made us read books we probably would never have read if it wasn’t for the book club.
At the start I was blown away by the large amount of interest in the book club and lots of people seemed to be talking about it. Over the months and years it was tough to keep the momentum going and keeping people interested. We always opened the book club to all staff members and actively encouraged them to suggest books whatever genre. We did get some good responses but if I am honest it was a struggle to keep the interest. There were of course loyal members who rarely missed a meeting but some just attended occasionally. There were even times I was the only one there and that made it hard to maintain interest myself but I kept going. After 5 years of running the book club I realised that book clubs have a natural life span and for this book club it was 5 years. The people involved still love reading but they wanted a bit of freedom to read without constraints or just didn’t have the time to run or take over the running of it.
Being an avid reader and being a member of a book club is hard work especially if you are the organiser. When you are the organiser you have to read all the titles suggested. This can be good because you discover new authors and try books you may never had read before. It can also take away some enjoyment of reading. Knowing I had to read a book within a specific time scale meant I was reading to hit a deadline and not for leisure. It was a bit like studying A-Level Literature all over again. The books that I was buying for myself were just piling up and I was struggling to get around to reading them. I started having a summer break for the book club which did allow me to read some books that I wanted to read but then this made me want to read more books for myself. This was one of the reasons behind me stepping down from organising the book club.
What I have discovered & learnt
Book clubs are a great way to discover news authors and books as well as sharing your love of a particular book with others. They are a lot of work though especially for the organiser but I do think they are worth doing. Just be aware it will have a natural life span and it is right to end when this happens and not to carry it on for the sake of it. I felt guilty when I said I was going to stop organising the book club and I did hope someone would take over but at the same time it had come to the end of its life. I still love talking to colleagues about books and finding out their recommendations but without the pressure of reading within a certain time period. I maybe could have done more with the book club and publicised it more but I did what I could at the time and it seemed to work. After I finished the book club it was lovely to hear from people who had attended saying how much they had enjoyed being involved. This made me feel a little bit bad about stopping but it was nice to hear they had enjoyed it.
Tips for a successful book club
- Have a regular meeting. This can be monthly, quarterly etc.
- Try to plan ahead – not all your members will read fast so if you know what the next few books are going to be then publicise them as early as possible.
- Try different genres. It is too easy to stick to one genre. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and try something different.
- Have cake – I never brought food to a book club meeting and I think this was one of the biggest failings especially in a library. So bring cake to meetings.
- Be topical . This could mean reading seasonal books such as Christmas books in December, sort themed books during sport events etc.
- Pick books that are easily available – try to check there are plenty of available books in a local library or that it is not just in e-book format (not everyone has a Kindle).
- Share responsibility – Don’t leave it all down to one person to organise. Maybe share the responsibility of running it each meeting.
Well there you have it, my views on book clubs after running a work book club for five years. If you have read this and were thinking about starting a book club then I hope it hasn’t put you off. Instead I hope it has made you think about different aspects of a book club and will help you with yours in the future.
If you are looking for ideas for titles here is a list of all the books that we read at the book club.
A Long Time Ago & Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Portable Door by Tom Holt
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Guernica by Dave Boling
The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
Emma by Jane Austen
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland
Mystery Man by Bateman
Goodbye To Berlin by Christopher Isherwood
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
Lucky Jim by Kinglsey Amis
The Shadow of the Wind
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
Dune – Frank Herbert
Death Comes To Pemberley – P D James
Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbon
The Wild Things by Dave Eggers
French Revolutions by Tim Clarke
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Hobbit by J R Tolkien
The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Noughts & Crosses by Marjorie Blackman
The Bottle Factory Outing Beryl Bainbrdige
Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
Mountains of the Moon by I J Kay.
A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson
The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer
The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry
A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
list the books we have read