Friday, September 2, 2011

The Book Club Phenomenon

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 or 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!


Latayne C Scott said...

Debbie, what wonderful, practical suggestions! Thank you!

Patti Hill said...

Love the thought you've put into this, Debbie, especially donating the books to a shelter. Libraries also keep sets of popular books handy for book clubs. I'm sure donations there would be appreciated also. Thanks!

As for your refreshments for The Help. I'm a little surprised you didn't have chocolate pie. Hmm.

I LOVE my book club!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Love this. Going to tweet it.

Book clubs rock!

(And hysterical comment by Patti about the pie.)
~ Wendy

Melissa Hambrick said...

Yes to all of the above! We also have a special get-together around Christmas/New Year's, where we don't talk about a book, but we do a book exchange. Everyone brings a wrapped copy (new or used, just not their own) of one of their favorite books, and sticks a note inside about why that book is so special to them. We all take our turn picking a gift and get to experience our friends' favorites. And then, of course, we trade later in the year!

And, as you well know, I am a big advocate of the book club getaway! Even if you can only do an overnight slumber party, it is so much fun to stay up late with a glass of wine and a bunch of great friends, and eat, talk about books (and everything else) and maybe watch a book-related movie. We are reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro this month, so we'll be talking about it and watching the movie soon!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your post, Debbie. Last week my book club and I went to see The Help together. It was great. We're a small group, and it includes both my daughters, so I really love that. We'd read the book several months before, but the story was as fresh as if we'd just finished reading it. We all thought the movie was wonderful, and did the book justice.

In our club, we all bring something to contribute to the evening's snacks, and often try consider what goes with what we've read for that month.

Since we meet the 3rd Thursday of the month, we combine our Nov/Dec meetings to meet the first Thursday of December. We do an ornament exchange, but I really like Melissa's suggestion of exchanging books.

I hope you enjoy your book club as much as I enjoy mine.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Next we are reading 'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan' and will be going to see the movie together. Melissa, what a great idea for the book exchange.
Laura Jensen Walker has a book series titled 'The Getaway Girls' about a book club that goes on adventures based on the books they read. Great idea, if only... sigh.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I'm rushing in late on the discussion (had to go with some friends to get tattoos...none for me, though).

My favorite book club ever included men. It really rounded the discussion out and there was WAY less chit chatting. {sigh} I miss that group terribly.

Thanks for reigniting my desire for a book club!

Susanne said...

Great post. I agree with not leaving negative comments on Facebook. However, I think honest reviews need to be given on book review pages such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This is not to indicate the need for "mean" comments, but honest feelings of the book, not the author.

Our book club does not select a book unless it's review are mostly 4-5 stars and has over 50 reviews. This helps eliminate those books that are highly praised by just family members and best friends.