In living rooms and libraries, bookstores and over the Internet, readers are coming together to discuss books. It’s an old idea that’s been popularized anew by Oprah’s Book Club, now nearly 2 million strong.
Consider: A single posting on a listserve for a Washington, D.C., neighborhood generated so much interest that four book clubs were formed.
“First I expected someone to say (they) had an opening’’ in an existing book club, said Sandi Branker, who filed the posting and led one of the clubs that started. “Most people said, I’d like to join a book club, too.’’
A book club can be a great way to get together with friends — or meet new people — and get some intellectual stimulation to boot. But creating one that clicks takes planning.
For instance, you don’t want a club that’s so big that people don’t get a chance to talk. Or one that’s too small, without enough voices. About 15 or 20 is good, said Carol Sheffer, president of the Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association.
Lining up members is the first step in forming a book club.
“Find a group of people that you’re comfortable with, not necessarily people you agree with on every issue, but people you want to be around,’’ said Kevin Ryan, vice president for social media at Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Diversity is key, Branker agrees. It helps keeps the discussion going.
If you don’t want to do an online posting like Branker did, public libraries can help, as can bookstores and word of mouth.
“In some libraries, the librarians take the initiative and form a book club,’’ Sheffer said.
Same goes for bookstores. Barnes & Noble, for example, has both online and in-store book clubs.
When Wendie Lubic of Washington, D.C., started a mother-daughter book club with a friend, “We wanted people who were friendly but who were going to be open to other people being there,’’ she said. “We wanted kids who really loved reading.’’
The club started when the girls were in fourth grade and continued until they graduated from high school last June. Now, with their daughters in college, the mothers keep the club going — for themselves. “It’s absolutely about keeping our relationship together,’’ Lubic said.
How often should the group meet?
As the daughters in Lubic’s group got older and their schedules busier, the group met less frequently. “We always set a calendar at the beginning of the year,’’ she said. “We rarely if ever changed a date.’’
Many book clubs set once-a-month meeting times — enough time to read the book, usually, and frequent enough to keep the connection going.
After you get the group together, picking books is the next step.
Will the group read only fiction, or will it focus on biographies, science fiction or some other genre?
“Often the leader picks the books, but most leaders are very accepting of suggestions,’’ Sheffer said. “Sometimes the clubs actually vote on it. It depends on the dynamic of the particular group.’’
At first, Branker’s group voted by e-mail on a list of books submitted by members, but she felt discussion would lead to better selections. So she began distributing a paragraph on each nominated book, and at a meeting the person nominating each book would explain why. Then the group voted.
“Everyone felt like we had more of a choice,’’ Branker said. “It was very democratic.’’
Some clubs allow the person hosting the next meeting to pick the book.
In its tips for getting started, Oprah’s Book Club offers a few other suggestions. Among them: “Simply take turns. Go alphabetically, by birthdays, or by whatever you decide. Whoever’s turn it is selects the next book to be read.’’
And if that doesn’t work, libraries or bookstores can make recommendations.
How the book is discussed varies.
Take online book clubs: Barnes & Noble has about 20 to 30 active ones on its Web site. Participants discuss the books on a message board.
“You can pose a question today and people will be able to interact with it days on end,’’ Ryan said. “You can participate in a book club 24 hours a day at your own convenience.’’
Sometimes authors visit the board.
However, many people like the social interaction of face-to-face book club discussions, “having that debate rather than answering a blog or something,’’ Sheffer said.
Branker’s club starts its meeting with a half-hour social gathering over dessert, coffee and wine. Conversation about the book follows.
To get it going, one member does a presentation about the author, including biographical material and other works.
“Somebody needs to start with asking the question to get the discussion rolling,’’ Sheffer said. “It should be some thoughtful provocative question.’’
Some books now provide author interviews and questions in the back of the book to help clubs get started. Online sites also offer points of discussion.
The most important thing, Sheffer said, is to be respectful of other people and their opinions.
“You’re not going to love every book,’’ Branker said. “It’s supposed to be that we should have differences.’’