Tuesday night is bargain night at our local Regal Cinema. For just five dollars you can see first-run movies, so our book club decided we would read The Help and go to see the movie the following week. Other book clubs had the same idea, apparently. A friend told me that her book club read the book and arrived at the movie theater to find that the showing was sold out. We quickly spread the word to "purchase your tickets early."
That night, I arrived thirty minutes before the 7:05 showing and saw whole groups being turned away. I sneaked past them, glad I'd stopped by that afternoon for my ticket. Inside was pandemonium. A friend flagged me down and I sank into a seat beside her. There were coats and sweaters draped over rows of seats, reserving them for friends, people calling and motioning to friends who entered and stood bewildered at the happy chaos. Our book club was scattered all over the stadium seating. There were single seats here and there, but it didn't really matter whether or not you sat with your book club because you were sitting near somebody in a book club that night.
What an incredible phenomenon book clubs are! Twenty or thirty years ago, who would have thought that people would be excited to get together and discuss what they'd read? Since our club is new, I thought you might share suggestions about what works and what doesn't, and things to watch out for to ensure a healthy, long association. Here are a few suggestions of my own:
1. If possible, serve snacks that go along with the story. On the evening we discussed The Help, our hostess served pecan pie and peach cobbler. Southern desserts. Minnie would 've been proud. Just make sure it's not a hardship on the host/hostess and that the responsibility doesn't fall to the same people every time.
2. Remember that you're a book club first, and a group of friends second. Stay focused or the group will eventually lose direction and just become a social gathering. People who are serious about reading will drop away. Have plenty of fun, but make sure you read the book and come prepared to share your insights and opinions.
3. Most books include discussion questions. Use them. If the book you're reading is general fiction include the question, "What spiritual insights, if any, do you see. Do you think the author intended it?" Is there redemption, self-sacrifice or unconditional love? It is my humble opinion that the Creator of all talents, art and skills uses different forms of art to speak to people, whether or not the author/painter/sculptor/etc. realizes it. He's God and He can choose how to reveal Himself to us, and I have been touched by books and art that are not overtly spiritual.
4. Choose a variety of books. Broadening our horizons is good for us and you may be pleasantly surprised by a book in a genre you don't normally read.
5. If your group is too large break into smaller discussion groups and come back together at the close. With a larger group, you will get many differing opinions. In any event, the facilitators must be open and accepting, and able to keep the discussion on track.
6. Contact the author. Send a friendly letter or email (if it's a more approachable author) to introduce your group and say that you look forward to reading the author's book. Would they be willing and available to Skype a book club meeting, even if it is only for an introduction, or to be on speakerphone? It doesn't hurt to ask. If you feel comfortable, ask if the author would be willing to send bookmarks or a signed book for a giveaway or for your church library. Don't take it personally if they say no. They may receive many such requests.
7. Agree that if you didn't read the book, you remain silent during discussions. It's self-explanatory. Stay on topic.
8. Consider donating your books (as a whole) to a women's shelter or other group that otherwise could not afford them but would benefit greatly from the gesture.
9. Connect with an online group that specializes in book clubs such as www.shereads.org. or www.readinggroupchoices.com for interesting suggestions and great recommendations.
10. Post positive feedback on social sites but if you don't like a book, don't be critical. Keep it to yourself. Remember, it's somebody's baby.
These are only suggestions, and they will shift and change over the life of our book club. What suggestions do you have? What works for your club? What should a book club avoid or include? We'd love to hear from you!