20 Oct Book Clubbing It: How to Start & Moderate a Book Club
By: Julia Welzen
With the autumnal weather guiding us to cozy activities, you may be curious about joining or starting a book club as a way to reflect on your reading and develop social ties. The format lends itself well to online get-togethers in a socially-distanced world, and can easily pivot to in-person meetings when the time is right.
If you haven’t participated in a book club before, research them first – each one is different! Check out libraries (including HEPL’s book clubs), your neighborhood, or your workplace. Websites (like Goodreads) and some celebrities like (Andrew Luck, Reese Witherspoon, Jenna Bush Hager, and, of course, Oprah Winfrey) have built up online communities where you can participate in a discussion with people around the world. If you’re ready to dive in and start your own book club or begin moderating an existing one, here’s some points to consider:
- What kind of book club do you want to be a part of? Book clubs can be an extension of an existing organization or social group (neighbors, coworkers, faith organizations, etc.), but you can also start a book club without that ready-made network. It’s important to be upfront about the intent when reaching out to potential new members, so before you do any other planning, think about your purpose, how you will invite people to join, and how you will meet (in-person, online, or text-only). Some clubs are focused (like reading just historical fiction, self-improvement books, or books for English as a New Language learners) while others don’t limit themselves to a genre. Communicate clearly and be proactive about welcoming people to join in.
- Choose your titles wisely. Not every great book makes for a great discussion book. The key is finding a title with enough complexity in it to keep a conversation going, with perhaps a little debate, without overwhelming your members. It’s important to take a risk once in a while and select a book outside the comfort zone to keep the group fresh. Every publisher lists its recommended book club titles and a myriad of sites and blogs review suitable titles. That being said, not everyone will like every book. Some books will soar while others flop, and that’s ok – it can be part of the conversation! Watch for an upcoming HEPL blog post with ideas for choosing books for your club.
- Encourage the conversation, but don’t dominate it. Ask open-ended questions that spur conversation and focus on reflections about the book. There are no right or wrong answers. Encourage others to ask questions or pursue a topic they’d like to explore with the group. The conversation should fly among the participants, not be dominated by one or two people. Try to keep conversation on-topic, but if it swerves, listen, acknowledge, and be kind as you steer it back on track.
- Be flexible and read the room. Keep an eye on the crowd. Are people engaged or distracted? You may need to lay aside the prepared questions and improvise or change topics. Maybe someone’s body language tells you that they’re not ready, too shy to speak, or they’ve got non-literary things on their minds. Allow them their time, and encourage, but don’t pressure, anyone to speak. On the other hand, if people are showing interest – leaning forward, listening intently – keep it going!
- Follow up and stay connected! Develop an email list, Facebook group, or group text so you stay connected, share news, and send reminders.
- Allow the group to evolve. Over time, the interests, structure, and people in the group can change. It’s natural, and allowing the flexibility for change and growth can keep the group strong.