How to Start a Book Club in 10 Easy Steps

My husband (well, at the time boyfriend and eventually fiance) used to travel a lot for work while I was in grad school.  Sometimes I was super lucky and gto to go with him so that I could hang out with his boss’s wife, and my bff, Melissa (Boston! Miami! Seattle!  We’ve had pedicures all over this great country of ours!), but most of the time, I had mice and I had to stay home to tend to them.

Doing a mouse experiment is seriously exhausting.  They are tedious, they are long, and they are non-stop until the bitter end.  (Bitter for the mice, not so much for me…)  So, to unwind, I binged on movies.  And my drug of choice?  Romantic comedies, of course!

During one of those Seth-less rom-com marathons, I watched The Jane Austen Book Club… and my life was changed forever.  I absolutely loved the movie, but more than that, it sparked in me a brilliant idea.  You’ll never guess what it was!

I kid, of course, because it’s ridiculously obvious:

I was going to start my own book club!

While I love, adore, worship, and consume anything and everything Jane Austen wrote with a very happy heart, I realize that Pride and Prejudice isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea.  So I decided we’d read something else… and anything else!  I quickly sent out an email to some of my local girlfriends that I thought might be interested, asking them to join my book club.  And some of them did!

We met once a month-ish, took turns picking books, and read and chatted and ate and drank until I left the state.

I hear things may have continued even without me, but you can imagine that it’s hard for me to believe that a solar system could function without its sun…

(Seriously hoping The Big Bang Theory picks that line up for Sheldon to use… what a jerky, but hilarious, thing to say! ha!)

Anyway, that book club was such a saving grace for me.  Getting together with my friends, bonding over our shared experiences with the books we were reading as well as life in general and grad school in particular was awesome.  Jess, Stephanie, Ellen, Christine, and Alyssa were my lifelines and it was such a good way to de-stress and have fun in the midst of all of the things that were so stressful and un-fun (see description of mouse experiments above).

Since moving to Marshfield, I have really missed that book club.  I love having a group of good girlfriends and while I work (and play!) with a bunch of really amazing women (seriously, they are incredible— everyone deserves to have coworkers like this), I was really missing that piece of the puzzle that book club had become for me while I lived in Maryland.

So, in the midst of much hemming and hawing (not to mention all the whining about it being so hard to make friends in Marshfield) I decided to start a book club.

In a town where you don’t really have many friends, however, deciding to do something and actually doing something are two very different things.  So again with the hemming and the hawing, toying around with ideas, and dragging my awkward and nervous feet…

I thought about putting up flyers at the library, but not a ton of people my age use the library… I thought about posting an ad in the Pulse classifieds, but that’s internal to the Marshfield Clinic and I didn’t want to limit the book club to only people that work in the same place I do… I thought about advertising on Craigslit or MeetUp, but neither are as big in central Wisconsin as you might think for such a bustling metropolis and I was doubtful that I’d get much of a response…  So I procrastinated.  Until I figured it out.

And now, without further ado (because that was a lot of ado), I will share with you how I did it, in 10 simple steps.

How to Start a Book Club in 10 Easy Steps

1. Drop hints to gauge interest.  The best people to invite to a book club are, obviously, book enthusiasts… people who like to read.  And people you think you could be friends with.  So drop some hints in places you frequent, see if anyone expresses and interest, and start building a mental guest list.

Gauging Interest in Book Club

2. Choose a book.  Stop stressing about which book… just pick a book!  Pick something you’ve been interested in reading, or ask someone you’re planning to invite to pick something they are interested in reading.  There are a million and one different book club reading lists out there, and you could totally try one of those, but why not let everyone take a turn to pick– yourself included!  You’ll end up reading things you may not have otherwise picked up and that’s kind of fun!  Plus, everyone gets to feel like they’ve had input and like they can share their interests with the group.

3. Set a date.  True, it’s going to be hard to find a day that works for everyone, but it’s not going to happen for anyone unless you pick a date and time and get the ball rolling.  I ended up picking the second Thursday of the month for reasons described below in step number 5… it worked brilliantly!  The majority of the people I invited were able to come and the couple that couldn’t know that they have an absolutely commitment-free standing invitation, whether they’ve read the book or not!

4. Send an invitation.  Facebook, Facebook, Facebook!  So easy to capture someone in your Facebook web when you tempt them with a book club… and once you do you can send big, weird, group messages all the time.  Yes!  Seriously though, the event thing worked great.  I sent a message with the date, time, and location and included a link to the book on Amazon.  However you do it– send that invite with plenty of time for people to read the book.  No stress, low commitment is the best way to get people engaged and to have fun without feeling like it’s something else they have to do.

5. Engage spouses, significant others, and man friends who may not like to read.  Books aren’t for everyone, and as such, book clubs aren’t for everyone.  Personally, I like love stories… a lot.  So when I pick a book, it’s likely going to have an element of that going on and men, in particular, are often averse to such things.  So I was planning to invite a bunch of girls over and Seth was wondering what he was going to do.  Solution: Thursday night football!  Husbands, significant others, and man friends were sent invitations to what I like to call “Super Man Time Football Club” to coincide with our book club.  They were banished (with snacks) to the big tv in the basement and we stayed upstairs to chat about the book.  It worked brilliantly and it was super fun having everyone over with no one feeling left behind.  Rumor has it that Seth is thinking a foosball table in the man cave would really complete the experience 😉

6. Read the book. The second best part!  (Second only to talking about the book with other people that read it!)  Leave yourself lots of time so you don’t have to rush or stress as the date approaches and enjoy the heck out of it– because that’s the whole point!

7. Tame house beasts.  For me, this meant cleaning like a mad woman, hiding visible messes in closets and Seth’s office, and feeding my crazy dog two benadryl.  The cleaning and the hiding seemed pretty effective, the benadryl did not.  She may have cost us a member or two, but hopefully most everyone will see past the crazy into the cuteness that is my Curly girl and be willing to come back.

8. Prepare snacks.  Snacks and drinks for book club are super fun for me.  I especially love when I can make something that fits with the theme of the book.  (I’m a nerd.)  For example, we read a book by a local Marshfield, Wisconsin author, so I made Wisconsin-shaped cookies and marked the city of Marshfield with a cow sprinkle.  I also bought lots of Wisconsin made wine.  (Please remember that Wisconsin is not exactly known for it’s wine.  I now regret this purchase.  You live, you learn.)  But regardless of whether they are somehow based on the theme of the book or not, wine and snacks are always an excellent way to start and finish a book club.

9. Eat, drink, chat, and discuss the book.  The meat of the party!  The whole point, if you will.  Sit around in the comfiest positions possible, bring your book, and chat about what you liked, what you didn’t, take the tangents that lead you elsewhere and come back, and (some cheese to go with my Wisconsin theme) enjoy the friendships that develop!

10. Gather, rinse, repeat.  (Do you see what I did there?)  Keep it up!  Make sure you have the next book picked out and a date in advance.  Having a rule like “second Thursday of the month” makes it easy to shift the date slightly as necessary during different times of the year, but it’s kind of nice to have an idea of when it’s coming up– always another month, another book, and another meeting of the minds to look forward to!

Book Club

Last night was my first book club in this new town… and it was a smashing success!  And not only was book club a success, but so was Super Man Time Football Club!  I had a blast, and I have it on good authority that at least two of the other attendees did as well.  (Because they told me.)  But I’m pretty sure that everyone had a good time.  Everyone at least had good food.  (And someone else brought good wine, so we were saved from the Wisconsin atrocity I had over-purchased.)

The thing that was most striking to me was first, that no one else had ever been in a book club (that movie really made it seem like it was a thing everybody just does) and second, that everyone was kind of in the same boat as me, friend-wise.  What a revelation!  Guess what fixed both of those things: BOOK CLUB.

So whether you’ve ever done it before and whether or not you’ve already got a lot of established friends in your town, if you like to read and you’re looking for new ways to connect, a book club could be a great thing to do.

If you don’t like to read, or even if you like to read but want to supplement your book clubs with other such meetings of friends, here are some excellent ideas we brainstormed in our excitement last night (plus something we’ve already done once):

  • Game Night (Get everyone together to play board games– boys against girls?  So much fun!  Yes, this is the one we’ve done before.)
  • Romantic Comedy Watching Club (A chance to watch a romantic comedy with girlfriends once a month?  yes, please!  You know we’ll be starting with Love Actually.)
  • Pinterest Party (Each person brings enough materials for everyone to make one or two Pinterest crafts and then you all get together to make them– everyone leaves with one of each thing but only had to purchase supplies for one!  Genius!)
  • Cookie Exchange (Like the Pinterest party, but you bring cookies to share… and recipes!  Come with a boat load of chocolate chip, leave with a little bit of chocolate chip, sugar, molasses, gingerbread, pinwheels, spritzes, whatever…)
  • Shopping trip to Appleton (works best if you live in small-town Wisconsin, of course)

No matter what you decide might work for you, I hope you find a way to engage in your community.  This truly was this missing piece for me in Marshfield… I think I’m finally home.

6 thoughts on “How to Start a Book Club in 10 Easy Steps

  1. funny! A lot of your suggestions are what my book club does. There’s a men’s group (same time, different place), we do finger foods (but no wine), have a set date (4th Monday), etc. We have a fearless leader who keeps us on track (generally we go around the room talking about what we read that month and then second half is the book discussion), she won’t let us leave before we pick the book (we pick 2 months in advance so we always have 2 on deck– helps for people who only come occasionally) and all picks have to come in paperback (saves on cost).

    I have to admit I was a little intimidated– I thought everyone there would have degrees in literature and talk about themes and all that other stuff I forgot about from English class. Turns out it’s not scary at all– just a bunch of women all talking about the same book. I really appreciate reading things I wouldn’t have picked for myself and hearing what everyone else got out of the same book I read!

    1. Clearly, Alaska is ahead of the game once again! Your book club sounds great!

      I guess I was lucky in that you don’t have to feel intimidated when you’re the one who starts it… you just get to be nervous that everyone else is going to think you’re a nerd who tried to trick them in coming to an English class!

      People who love books, though, are going to be good people, I think.

  2. Hi Rachel – congratulations on getting your new book club going! Our Call To Action group has a book discussion group on the 2nd Sunday of each month from 10:00 – 12:00 in Ann Arbor. We take a number of months for one book so probably only get through 3 or 4 books a year.

    1. Thanks, Dad! I’d love to do a topic-specific book club like CTA does, too. I was thinking about a women’s interest group, but I think I’m going to keep this one going for now!

  3. Love love love this! Esp as I JUST this last month decided to start one and had it on my list this weekend to get going for a January launch. Love these ideas and the help. The one thing I’m still thinking through is for those with small kids- how to make it super easy to come esp if on a weeknight. Love the idea of a same-time men’s event, but if they bring the kids we all know who will wind up watching them….I’ve thought about seeing if some of the women with teenagers would want to have them do a group-watch thing..but logistics. So- still thinking on that but love your help here! If you are a nerd then I am also a nerd. Oh well, who said that was a bad word anyway!?!?

    1. I hadn’t even thought of kids! I guess not too many of us are quite there yet, but I imagine we will be someday and I’ll be looking to you for tips on how to deal! I just saw that you’ve got your first date set– congrats!!! You’ll have so much fun!

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