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How to start a book club: Tips and reading suggestions

A group of friends read books together. (Getty Images)
A group of friends read books together. (Getty Images)

Starting a book club may seem daunting, from choosing which books to read to keeping meetings regular and on track.

But Traci Thomas, creator of “The Stacks” podcast, says that discussing a book helps readers get more out of the story.

“Regardless of what you thought of it, regardless of what they thought, just hearing different opinions, different insights on characters or writing style, or even what happened,” she says.

Tips for starting and maintaining a book club

1. Aim for no more than 12 people at the beginning. And remember, not everyone will make it to every meeting.

2. For larger groups or virtual meetings, don’t be afraid to call on people to share so everyone has a chance to contribute.

“A lot of the most interesting and thoughtful opinions do come from people who are kind of quiet and sitting in the back and don’t want to say anything,” Thomas says.

3. To select books, either let the group vote each time or allow each person to choose a book once. Or combine the two ideas: When it’s a member’s turn to pick, they select three books and the group votes on those options.

“That way, you know for sure you’re going to be excited when it’s your month, but also everyone’s going to be excited,” she says.

4. Set your expectations early. Decide whether it’s mandatory to finish the book to attend the meeting, or if it’s OK for members who haven’t read the book to still join in.

“I personally think that people who don’t finish the book should certainly be able to come to book club because sometimes they have insight,” Thomas says. “Book club isn’t really always about the details of the plot. It’s usually about themes and ideas. If you haven’t finished you can still have thoughts about those kinds of things.”

5. Designate a ‘boss’ for each meeting, and change who that person is often. Whether it’s the person hosting the meeting or the one who selected the book, the ‘boss’ leads the discussion and brings questions to the group to start conversations.

6. Be open to whims of conversation leading places you may not have expected. Members making connections to their personal lives or to other works may spur insightful, exciting conversations.

“I have a great moment in our book club. We read ‘A Mercy’ by Toni Morrison, which is a  super challenging novel,” Thomas says. “All of a sudden one of the women in the book club brought up this topic about the Bible, and then I started riffing, and then someone else started riffing. And by the time we finished, we were like, ‘Oh my God. We cracked the entire novel. I’m getting chills thinking about it right now. I was so excited. It was such a thrilling experience.”

Book club recommendations

Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtGrace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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