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Forget the Wine and the Attitude! Here’s What Starting a Book Club Really Requires

By Pat Skene December 21, 2016 Lifestyle

I have never wanted to join a book club. Oh, I know there are many excellent groups out there, whose members cherish their time together, but there are just as many dysfunctional book clubs that could turn any warm book-lover’s heart stone cold.

So how do you find a good book club? How can you make sure it’s the right one for you?

You could do what I did and consider starting a book club. Stay with me on this.

Too Much Opinion, Too Much Wine and Too Much Attitude

Book clubs are everywhere. But obviously, all book clubs are not created equal.

Some are very literary. Some are pretentious and snotty as hell. Some are competitive and pedantic, while others read only soft-porn chick lit and bodice rippers. Some club members want to sip wine and discuss the book, while others want to get drunk and turn every meeting into their personal therapy session. Who would want to get involved with all that? Certainly, not me!

Getting My Act Together

I love reading, discussing books and getting lists from other readers. So, I decided to form my own book club for women, with my own rules and guidelines on how it would work. Our club has now been in operation for one full year and the 12 wonderful women in this group are all still the original gang with no dropouts to date. And we have a blast!

Questions and Tips to Get You Started

It’s easy to do, so stick with me for the inside scoop on how to get your book club going. Consider the following questions to start. You won’t regret it.

Who and How Many?

Choose your demographic, determine how many members you want in the club and if you want only women or a mixed gender group. It should be noted that a more diverse age or gender group could present conflicting preferences in reading choices. My club members are all retired women.

Where Will You Find People?

Recruit members from your closest friends. Your main objective is to get like-minded people to join your group and a good recommendation is important. It only takes one disruptive person to ruin the dynamics of the group.

What Kind of Book Club Will You Be?

I believe the objective of any book club should be to enjoy a social event and promote discussion on a variety of stories that broaden both our minds and our reading lists. I prefer a club that is not meant to be serious, academic or scholarly. Fun is the key word here!

Where Will You Meet?

A good choice is to rotate houses from one meeting to another. But don’t get caught in the trap of one-upmanship where each month the hostess tries to outdo the month before. Keep it simple. I live in a condo and we meet in the lounge and bring our own wine. Easy peasy and no fuss for anyone.

When Will You Meet?

Determine the length of your meetings in advance and how often you will get-together. For example, we meet from 3:00pm – 5:00 pm, on the 3rd Wednesday of every month.

What Type of Books Will You Read?

Genres could include anything that is deemed of interest to the group. Guidelines might specify no porn, no politics and no exceptionally long books.

So, this should be enough to get you started with getting your book club juices flowing.

Next Steps in the Process

Now you need to work on sustaining the group and making sure it’s set up for ongoing enjoyment. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of book club dysfunction and then members start dropping out. And while we don’t want to get bogged down in rules, a few guidelines are necessary to keep the group engaged.

10 Club Rules to Live By

#1 – While you will maintain the role of overall organizer, each member should take turns recommending a book and facilitating the discussion about her choice at meetings. Leading the discussion should be very casual and easy-going in approach. No stress please!

#2 – Each member should have read, or be in the process of reading their recommended book. In other words, no blind referrals from a friend of a friend who read the book.

#3 – The club should post a list of titles for a minimum of three months in advance. This gives everyone lead time to source out selections and get on library lists, etc.

#4 – Members are required to read the books and openly share opinions at each meeting. If some find it difficult to finish reading the selection, encourage them to come to the meeting anyway. There shouldn’t be any pressure or guilt due to real time constraints.

#5 – Start each meeting with the book discussion before the chatter begins. Members should take turns offering their opinions of that month’s selection. The facilitator may need to control timeframes to move things along. Once all members have spoken, allow for some hangout time together.

#6 – Members will not necessarily like the same books as others in the club. Everyone should be open to reading books they wouldn’t necessarily choose. It is important to keep an open mind and respect the unique opinions and differing points of view. This is a critical aspect of maintaining the friendship and respect for each other in the club.

#7 – One person (usually the initial organizer) will take on the responsibility of communicating with the group. This could include email updates on reading lists, meeting summaries, absentee notices, etc.

#8 – Members who are away on vacation may choose to email their comments in to the organizer, who can read the opinion of the absentee person to the rest of the group. This is a good way to stay involved even when members are away.

#9 – Assigning individual ratings to each monthly selection is a fun way to summarize the group’s diverse reading experiences. A journal could be used to record the number of stars from 1-5 that each member gives the book. Important: Rate each book on its own merit. Don’t fall into the trap of rating a book by comparing one book to another.

#10 – Choose a name for your club by asking for suggestions. Then compile the list of names and circulate to the group for a vote.

The Bottom Line on Starting a Book Club

As the overall organizer – determine the kind of club you want and discuss the guidelines with everyone up front to manage expectations. Be casual and relax the standards, so your club members will also relax and enjoy the group experience. Ask for input and be open to change, while keeping to your original book club intentions.

As a member – Read the book, play nice, accept each choice gracefully and don’t dominate the discussion. Try to avoid feeling that each choice reflects your intelligence or level of sophistication. Respect each person’s opinion and don’t take it personally if some members don’t like your selection.

On a personal note, over the past year, my group, The Next Chapter Book Club, has formed new friendships, shared life experiences, read some fabulous books, learned a lot of new things, downed a few bottles of wine, laughed our asses off…and generally had one helluva time! A few members of our group do a wine pairing to the theme of each book, which is always fun.

I wish the same wonderful experiences for all of you who are looking to form your own special book clubs in 2017.

Have you ever thought about starting a book club? Are you in a book club? What experiences have you had? What rules would you add to the ones already suggested? How do you find your next great read? Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

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The Author

Pat is a Métis writer and author of several books for children. Her new picture book, Lights Along the River, will be published in early 2024. Her memoir will also be released next year. You can find many of Pat's short stories at She can be reached through her blog at

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