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How To Be a Book Groupie

Tips for Hosting a Book Group

Book groups are a great way for people to get together and flex their mental muscles. Choices for books can be from any era or genre, and can prove a welcome respite from the work, responsibilities and the mass media. At the very least, it's an excuse to drink some nice wine (in case you've run out of justification for that). Here's how to kick it off.

1. Put out the call
Talk to people you know (not just close friends -- unfamiliarity with one another's beliefs can actually stimulate conversation), and sound out those who'd be able to read a book by a given date and come chat about it. This step seems easier than it is. Everyone likes the idea of being in a book group -- until the night before the meeting! Remind people of this before counting them committed. Not to baby your guests, but arranging that the person who flakes has to wash your car might be a good way to ensure your group's viability. Pick your poison.

2. Select your book
Read book reviews and bestseller lists, cruise bookstores or simply isolate that classic you were never made to read in college, but always wished you'd gotten around to. When you're narrowing down your choices, err on the side of a shorter book, rather than a longer one. A 600-page tome is a pretty tall order for your book group's maiden voyage, and your goal is for this to resemble fun, not homework. Be pragmatic.

3. Invite your guests
Before you invite a dozen people, first imagine sitting at an overly large dinner table, trying to have one conversation, tablewide. It's useful to apply this analogy when determining the number of your book group's members. Five is a pretty reasonable number, so going up to seven makes sense, assuming that two people'll back out. Set a date a month or so in advance, which gives everyone time to read the book. For the meeting, choose a weekday evening (avoiding Mondays and Fridays goes without saying). Two or three hours is a good amount of time -- any longer, and you'll find someone gazing into space like you did in that Bronte seminar.

4. Plan your meeting
Think about fun ways to play upon the book's theme. Reading Edith Wharton? Make it tea party-style, and serve civilized glasses of cognac, with tumblers of bitters on the side. Tearing through some Tobias Wolff? Go northern/woodsy with mulled wine and s'mores. More obvious choices for refreshment and decor can call up your book's setting, or era, but more original options for food and drink can spark conversation by playing upon your book's tone and theme.

5. Develop some discussion questions
While, ostensibly, you and your gang have all read the same book, there are no guarantees that conversation will flow unprompted. Several days prior to your book group, circulate some questions to your guests. They can be of your own devising or, your book's publisher may have some preconceived “book group questions” posted on their website. Disseminating those amongst your book groupers-to-be insures that you're all starting to think along similar lines about what you've read. You might also want to prepare a little background information on the book and/or the author -- nothing too extensive, just a few written or spoken paragraphs to set the tone for your meeting.

On book group night, all the elements should be in place for an active, engaging book-related conversation. The primary pitfall to avoid: Sticking too closely to prescribed questions or themes. Don't worry about veering from the topics you thought you'd talk about. The most stimulating conversation will spring from the unpredictable twists and turns bred by your fellow readers' opinions. Encourage them by listening to them and voicing your own.

For further information, we recommend the following books:

The Reading Group Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Start Your Own Book Club
by Rachel W. Jacobsohn
Hyperion; ISBN: 0786883243
Paperback - 240 pages (revised edition April 1998)
>> Buy It Now: The Reading Group Handbook

What to Read: The Essential Guide for Reading Group Members and Other Book Lovers
by Mickey Pearlman
Harperperennial Library; ISBN: 0060953136
Paperback - 351 pages (revised edition March 1999)
>> Buy It Now: What to Read

The Book Group Book
Edited by Ellen Slezak
Chicago Review Press; ISBN: 1556524129
Paperback - 400 pages (revised edition September 2000)
>> Buy It Now: The Book Group Book

If you don't have the energy to start your own group, check our book groups page for current groups that may need new members. Happy reading!