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The Beginning of a Book Club

For the last ten years I have wanted to be part of a book club.  So, like my usual self, I started one.
Maybe it was inspired by all the reading I was doing in school.  Or the fact that a recent book I read and blogged about called MWF Seeking BFF, the author went on a hunt for a best friend and found that being part of a book club really helped her socially to connect.
In book club creation and book sales, there exists ‘The Oprah Effect.’  In the six years Oprah had a ‘club’ the 70 titles featured sold upwards to 55 million copies.  Some book clubs are formed only to read these books and other recommend by Oprah.  Did I also want a little Oprah Effect?!

I think I’ve been hinting my interest of a book club to my closest friends for a while.  I began mentally noting those that responded positively to the idea.  With a handful of ladies into it, I braved the email invite to formally propose the club.
Then I realized, not ever being part of a book club, I didn’t know exactly what I was proposing.  Through my research I learned a few things.  Advice that is pretty obvious and basic, but the details that might be overlooked that will help with group dynamics and structure.
The methods of which a book club is ran differs greatly.  Being new to the book club scene, I was curious of options.  The Daily Muse highlighted four ways a book club can be reinvented, especially a new one or possibly a club that needs energized.  These were listed in Old Way, New Way included below.

  • Old Way: Read Books of One Topic. New Way: Rotate Through Each Member’s Pick
  • Old Way: Have One Common Meeting Place.  New Way: Try Different Restaurants
  • Old Way: Plan One Set Date Each Month.  New Way: Use an Online Calendar
  • Old Way: Follow the Reading Guides.  New Way: Use Reviews and Opinion Sources to Start Discussion

I found myself siding with the ‘new ways’ much more than the old.  Noted.
In an article by Monica Matheny called Tips for running a successful, sustainable book club, the author shares how she organizes her book club.  Many of these suggestions guided my formation process.

1. Number of members. You need enough regular members to allow for an absentee or two each time. It’s hard to have a good discussion with fewer than 4 or 5 people in attendance.
2. A regular meeting day and time. We have always met the first Monday of each month at 7:30 pm. That way we can reserve book club meetings on our calenders and schedule other things around them.
3. Rotating hosts. We move from house to house for each meeting. We don’t plan this too far ahead, because often we don’t know our schedules more than a month ahead of time.  Every one takes her turn when it works into her schedule.
4. Email reminders. It is the host’s responsibility to send out an email reminder to the rest of the group with details about when, where, and what book has been selected for the following month.
5. Keep food and beverages simple. Keeping hosting and food easy is important so that everyone is happy to host, and no one drops out because book club is too much work or hassle. This is supposed to be a relaxing, fun evening; we don’t want anyone stressing about the food they’re offering.
6. Rotating discussion leaders. We take turns leading the book discussion and do this on a volunteer month-to-month basis–just like the hosting.  Having someone do a little bit of homework about the author and book in advance makes a huge difference in the book discussion. Our discussion leaders simply read the highlights of the information that they find–no note taking or time-consuming preparation is involved.
7. Make a commitment to attend. If you want your book club to last through the years, the members must commit to attend regularly.  Even if we haven’t finished the book, we attend book club anyway. In our book club, there is almost always someone there who hasn’t read or finished the book.
8. Book selection. Our book selection process is very casual, too. Any of us who has read or heard about a good book brings it to a meeting and we discuss the possibilities during dessert.
9. Too busy to read? Go to a movie together. Because December is such a busy month for us and many don’t have time to read a book during the holidays, we often go to a movie together in January in place of a book club meeting. We usually are able to find a movie that is based on a book we have read.

Research complete, I set forth on my book club creation.  As a result, I’m thrilled to start with eight women.  Most all of who know each other at least from one connection or another.  I wanted to ensure that there was structure to the group, but not so rigid that I felt like I was creating class curriculum or school projects.  I wanted the gatherings to be fun and informative.  As a result, the club will meet once per month, discussing a different book.  We will take turns as hosts, with the host picking the book, date, time, etc.  The location can be either at the hosts’ home or another location of choice such as a park or restaurant.  The person who hosts provides snacks and leads the discussion.  Simple.
This past Saturday was our first official ‘book club’ meeting, and since I was the instigator of this club, I hosted.  While smaller in attendance, it was just about everything I could have hoped for.  We read the book, The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe.  Definitely a tear-jerker, especially toward the end.  The mother of the author, Mary Anne, is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the book follows the story.  

During her treatment for cancer, Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will spent many hours sitting in waiting rooms together. To pass the time, they would talk about the books they were reading. Once, by chance, they read the same book at the same time—and an informal book club of two was born. Through their wide-ranging reading, Will and Mary Anne—and we, their fellow readers—are reminded how books can be comforting, astonishing, and illuminating, changing the way that we feel about and interact with the world around us. A profoundly moving memoir of caregiving, mourning, and love—The End of Your Life Book Club is also about the joy of reading, and the ways that joy is multiplied when we share it with others.

Leading a book discussion around cancer, death, family dynamics and the process of dying isn’t what you’d think of as fun.  I was sure to wait for the deep topics till later in the book club conversation.  Really it took us about an hour to even start talk about the specifics of the book, as we were caught up chatting about of our own life happenings.
As we got into the book, we reflected upon what we had read, coupled with our personal life experiences.  What I discovered was that through books, and this book club, we were able to expose and explore parts of ourselves that may not come up in normal girlfriend conversations.  There was laughter, tears and even debates of religion, faith and the afterlife.  All while enjoying Whole Foods Bree cheese & crackers.
The gathering lasted a little over two hours, but flew by.  As the girls left, I felt a little bit more closer to each of them and excited for the following months books and meetings.  Starting this book club, I am realistic enough to know that it won’t have an impact globally like “The Oprah Effect.”  But I do hope that it provides attendees a safe space, to be vulnerable, to express their authentic selves through the avenue of reading and reflection.  Each club member coming from such unique walks of life, but brought together through the written word that can connect us all.  Finally, that as women we can forge even stronger bonds with each other that will last beyond the book clubs gatherings.
Okay, maybe those goals are lofty too.  I guess I am a dreamer, and perhaps that is why I love to read.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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