First Rule of Book Club

by Stephanie Leigh Taylor, former Head Editor, INALJ British Columbia
previously published 5/5/13

First Rule of Book Club

Imagine if book clubs were run like Fight Club – if it’s your first night at book club, you have to talk.  There is little else worse than going through the work of setting up a book club, advertising it, booking a program space and shepherding a group through reading your selection only to have….nobody speak up.  Silence.  Crickets.  Muffled coughs, and the sound of the tumbleweeds bouncing through your book club meeting.  People staring wildly at you, mutely pleading with you to ask a question, make an observation, SOMETHING.  Or alternatively, a conversational train derails and suddenly the topic is grandchildren or vacation spots or politics.  How can we as library professionals offer our patrons an interesting book club, and more importantly, keep our readers coming back?

  • What to read?  Selections should be one level of complexity or challenge above what the group is used to.  It depends on what type of book club you have – is it come one, come all, or is your group a specific demographic?  Depending on what type of club you’re going for, your selections should obviously reflect your group’s interests; classic novels, Pulitzer winners, science fiction, legal thrillers, etc., as well as reading level and ages.  While you should be making selections, it engenders group interest to let the readers pick the club books.
  • While the traditional book club attracts adults of any gender, others may want to run a book club for kids, teens, boys, mothers, fathers, genre lovers, the unemployed, newcomers, movie lovers or the retired.  Don’t be afraid to mix it up a little – too long have book clubs been the province of middle aged wine drinkers!
  • Conversation.  Always, always, always read the book club selection; if you didn’t read it, how do you expect to lead a discussion on it?  Make notes, even if it’s only things like “Blargh I hate this character.”  Come to book club ready to make observations and connect with others over the book.  Tempers may flare, funny bones may be tickled, and that’s fine, as long as the group is still talking about the book.  Discussions should go on as long as they have to for everyone to say something about what you’ve read.

What to do if…

  • One group member starts dominating the conversation?

Now would be a good time to cut them off at the knees, so to speak, and let them know that while you value their contributions, others wish to speak as well.

  • No one is speaking up?

Here’s where your notes come in – use them for speaking points, observations, then go around the room for opinions or differing viewpoints, get the discussion going!  Depending on the book, there may already be a Book Club guide on the Internet, Google around and see what you find before the meeting.

  • An actual fight breaks out?

Call Security?  Separate the combatants and move on to another group member for their comments.  Send one to Time Out if you have to.

Remember to solicit feedback from your group members, and READ ON!

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular LIS jobs resource (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ has had over 20 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and now lives part time in Western NY and Budapest, Hungary. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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