Choosing Books and Organizing Great Meetings
Once you’ve assembled a group or joined an existing one, you’re ready to begin. There are three simple elements to focus on:
- OUR LATEST RECOMMENDATIONS: Looking for the newest, most buzzed-about reading group titles? Look no further than our Reading Group Guide, which features our latest recommended books and the extras—like author interviews, historical overviews, and behind-the-scenes notes from the editing process—that will fuel your group’s discussion.
- (If you have trouble viewing the embedded document below, click here to view it on the Scribd website.)
- CHOOSING THE BOOKS: The books are the most important part of the meeting. One of the best things about reading groups is that they can introduce you to titles, authors, and genres that you haven’t tried before—you may discover a new favorite!
- Making a Selection: Not sure how to choose your first book? There are many ways to go about it. You can have each member of your group bring a “wish list” to your first meeting and vote on the suggestions—the title with the most votes wins. Some groups prefer to take turns choosing what to read. This way everyone gets to read a favorite. Or, you can leave it up to the discussion leader to choose.
- Focus: You may find it useful to focus your group around a specific type of book, such as fiction or memoir, or a subject, such as current events or history. Themed discussions not only help you to choose your titles, but they provide natural points of comparison and discussion. Consider focusing on a specific author’s books—either for one meeting or a series of meetings. You could have each group member read a different title and compare notes. Or focus on a specific subject or historical figure. You may find, for instance, that two biographies on the same person reveal very different aspects of that person’s life. Another simple way to choose books is to consult award lists like the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize and many others. Choose a few titles from the list to read, then compare the books and talk about why the selection committee might have chosen those particular titles. Keep in mind that the choices that touch on thought-provoking and even controversial themes and issues make for the liveliest discussions.
- Out of Ideas? If you’re having trouble making your selection, there are plenty of helpful places to turn. For personal recommendations, you can ask your local librarian or bookseller for his or her suggestions. Read one of the many publications in print or online that cover new releases and review books, like the New York Times, the New Yorker, Shelf Awareness, and many others. Subscribe to a bookstore’s newsletter or to a publication geared specifically to reading groups, like Reading Group Center News (subscribe at the top of the left sidebar column on this page).
- Online communities are also full of suggestions and reviews, like at Goodreads.com, Facebook and Twitter. The “FridayReads” community on Twitter and Facebook is a great example of people all across the world sharing their current reading selections on a weekly basis. There are also a seemingly infinite number of book lovers with their own blogs and tumblr accounts, where they share their reviews of books regularly. Here are some great book recommendation websites you can peruse online:
- Lastly, some of the best recommendations come from just asking around. What books have your friends, family or co-workers read recently that they enjoyed?
- Timing: There are no rules and groups can do what works best for them. Be flexible based on the needs and availability of your group. Titles should be chosen with enough time to allow all members to read the book and come up with questions for discussion. Some groups plan out their titles a year in advance; others simply plan a few weeks or months ahead; and some at each meeting. If it’s your turn to lead the group, consider distributing some supplemental material and discussion questions before the meeting, to allow members time to formulate their thoughts and opinions.
- SETTING UP THE MEETING: You’ve chosen your first selection, so now what? Here are a few simple things that will help your discussion run more smoothly:
- Choose a discussion leader: While a leader is not necessary, many groups find that having one provides focus to the discussion and helps to make transitions from one member’s comment to another’s. Often the person who suggested the book becomes the discussion leader, but your group can also rotate leaders, appoint a permanent group leader, or invite guest speakers—local teachers, librarians, booksellers, etc.—to lead discussions. There are even professional book group leaders for hire. Margot B. of Greenwich, Connecticut offers another perspective too, sharing a tip from her book club: “We have found that not having a leader not only keeps everyone in the group invested and involved, but also keeps everyone on equal footing and equally responsible for keeping things lively and moving.”
- Set a meeting time: Most groups meet every 4 to 6 weeks, and discussion tends to last 2 to 3 hours. You may find it helpful to designate a certain amount of time for socializing—either at the beginning or the end of the meeting—so that your discussion of the book can proceed uninterrupted. Of course, finding a day and time that works for everyone may be difficult—consider setting regular meeting days and times to allow members to plan ahead. But, do be flexible and don’t try to accommodate everyone’s schedule every time. Some groups are content as long as the majority of the members attend. Other groups have a meeting regardless of how many members can make it. Keep in mind that you can make your own rules and even discuss a book from a previous meeting.
- Pick a place: A popular meeting place for many reading groups is a member’s house. Often members take turns hosting the meeting to alleviate the pressure on one person. But there are plenty of other options as well. Your local bookstore or library may have a space that you can reserve free of charge for your meeting, as may your places of worship, community centers, or work places. If you are meeting with people you do not know, it may be best to choose one of these informal, public spaces—or a coffee shop, restaurant or bar—for your meetings until you feel more comfortable.
- STARTING THE DISCUSSION: Once you’ve taken care of the details, it’s time to focus on the discussion itself. Here are some suggestions for a lively, stimulating meeting:
- Come prepared: Ask each member to bring at least one question to the meeting to help generate discussion. Suggest that members mark up their books as they read—making notes of favorite passages, key scenes, and questions that arise. Background information can be equally helpful to have at hand during your discussion—author biographies, interviews, reviews, historical background, cultural information, etc. It is usually the group leader’s responsibility to provide these materials, as well as a list of potential discussion questions. Or delegate so that everyone is involved and shares the fun and responsibility of discovering information. Reading group guides, like those on our site (see the Reading Group Resources section in the left sidebar), often include everything you need to get started. Your local library and the internet are also good resources for this kind of information.
- Set the tone: The atmosphere of your group meeting is entirely up to you. The more creative you are, the livelier the discussion will be, and the more enjoyment you’ll get out of the experience. Does your group prefer to meet for a social hour before discussion starts? Would you like to meet more casually over dinner? Can you bring some of the cultural aspects of the book to your meeting? Consider the music, food, and customs described in the book and try to re-create some of that for your group. If you are reading a historical novel set in England, try meeting for high tea. If your book is full of references to a certain artist or composer, bring a sample of that person’s work and share it with your group. Experiment with new kinds of foods, sample a new restaurant, or take a field trip to a place that has some relation to the book you just read. Better yet, ask your local bookstore for a schedule of authors who will be in town in the coming months and plan to read one of their new books before their arrival. Then attend the event with your group. Most importantly, relax and enjoy the discussion.
- Find more tips for great meetings here.