I was asked recently by a Goodreads/blogging friend, “How do you start up a book group? Do you have any specific rules?”
I’m sure there is an official book group handbook out there somewhere (it probably has Oprah’s seal on the front)…but here are my rules (and I made them up as I went along):
1. Ask a lot of like minded friends to join. I sent postcards to nearly everyone in my Relief Society. Only 10 women came to our first meeting. You must have die-hard readers, or people will drop out, or won’t read the book, or they will only come because there are refreshments. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but for those who are there to discuss a book, secondary chatter is forbidden and non-participants eaten.
2. You need to decide at the beginning WHAT you want to read: Fiction/Non-fiction/YA literature/LDS-Deseret Book literature. My group DOES NOT want to read Deseret-type/church books, nor are they YA readers. We read mainstream adult fiction/non-fiction, with a few exceptions. It's easier to start out all "on the same page" than to hear people complain about what you are or are not reading (been there, done that). We have a WIDE range of ages -- twentysomethings to seventysomethings -- so we have to appeal broadly.
3. Try to pick a book that you've read before, so you don't have any surprise objectionable material. For some book groups, this may not be an issue. For ours, it is. Occasionally, we’ve chosen a book without first hand knowledge of the content and we’ve done OK. On the other hand, reading a book beforehand does not ensure that the reader has an accurate memory of the book’s content. For example, one of the very first books we read was The Red Tent. I had read it a couple of years earlier while pregnant with my daughter. My memory of the book was about a community of women who went to “the red tent” during, pregnancy, delivery, monthly issues, etc. I had a very romantic memory of the book. Needless to say, I had forgotten that there were several graphic scenes that nearly split up our newly formed group. Luckily, we worked thru it. There were several who chose not to finish it, and didn’t come to the discussion. But, generally, it is wise to have read the book in advance.
4. Pick something readily available and has multiple copies at the library, so people don't feel obligated to buy the book (we're in a recession folks!). The more people that have access to the book, the more successful the discussion. I hate the excuse, "I didn't read because I couldn't find a copy.” Our library has book group “kits.” They come with 10 copies of the book and discussion questions. They are extremely helpful.
5. Please don't pick something only available in hardback -- again, the cost issue and access issue. The Help won't be on our "to-read" list anytime soon, because there are 50+ holds on it at our library system and only available in hardback. The only time we've made an exception to this rule was when we picked The DaVinci Code, and for some reason, enough people had copies, there were plenty to pass around.
6. This is not necessary, but I'm the unofficial book group leader -- so I assign months for every member to discuss a book. It eliminates the blank stares that plagued us when we first started, and the question, "whaddya want to read?" Fortunately, we have enough members that we usually pick one book a year. Then we all volunteer to host once a month. For those of us with small children it's more difficult to host, but I try to host during the summer months when school/bedtimes aren't an issue.
7. Have LOTS of yummy refreshments! Because, really, it’s all about the food!