Book Blog Memes / Bookish Discussions

Is Your Book Group in a Rut? Here Are Ten Helpful Tips.


Well, maybe it’s not in a rut but needs a little recharge. Maybe you are thinking of starting a book group and don’t know where to begin. What books do I pick? When and where should it be held? How do I keep the group going without it fizzling out?

I participated in a live webinar yesterday at work about recharging your book club (I like to call them groups) by Becky Spratford through RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Library Systems). She has a wonderful blog, RA For All where she focuses on readers’ advisory for library workers helping patrons find the right book. She had some great tips that I will put to use when my book group at the library reconvenes this week. Her presentation was aimed at library workers and those leading a book group discussion but any of the suggestions can apply to the less formal atmosphere. Visit her site if you would like to see the actual slideshow presentation. Here are a few great ideas I learned yesterday as well as some of my own:

1.) Read the book! Or attempt to read some of the book. I know it seems obvious but have an idea what it is about. Please! Yes I am that stickler who can’t stand it when people come to the group without even reading a single page. I’m realistic, though, because I understand life gets in the way and sometimes a whole-hearted effort is made but the book just didn’t gel. Just don’t be one of those who attends and tells everyone not to spoil it for you by discussing. Umm…?

2.) Discuss the book right away. I’ve found that once a group meets and food and drink start to flow, the book gets talked about just before everyone leaves or for about ten minutes.

3.) Come prepared. Have questions ready to discuss. There are many resources like LitLovers, Reading Group Guides and even off of the author or publisher page. Some questions can be found at the end of the published work, too.

4.) Author bios and background info. I guess this is in keeping with being prepared but I love finding out about the author, their inspiration, information on the cover art selected, how long it took them to write it, things like that. Again I usually discuss these details at the end of the book discussion.

5.) Choose one specific date. Schedules are crazy, I get it, but pick one date each month and stick to it. At the library we designate “the 1st Monday of the month”, kind of thing. When I’ve had book groups with friends there were constant changes due to scheduling conflicts and it became too crazy trying to accommodate everyone’s schedule.

6.) With that being said, delegate a book group leader. It’s easy to do this from a library perspective because I host the group, pick the questions, guide the discussion, etc. But I think this would work well with casual friends. One person should organize the book list, have questions ready, steer the group when need be, chose accessible and convenient locations. Otherwise, too many cooks and all that.

7.) I’m going with Becky’s wordage here but heartily agree to use Dictatorial Democracy when it comes to the book list. At the first meeting, everyone can list a few books they would like to read (or make a list ahead of time) and then vote. But then rig the ballot and manipulate results. You need to have discussable books. Even keep an under X page minimum. Now’s not the time to finally read War & Peace in a month. Unless your group really wants to.

8.) Have fun and be creative. Pick books that are also coming out as movies or are already on DVD. You can read and then compare. Choose refreshments or restaurants that tie in with the book’s setting. Chose a different genre each month. Read nonfiction, short stories, a collection of essays, memoirs, graphic novels, YA and middle grade books.

9.) Embrace the backlist!! Popular reads are not always the best choices (I’ll get to that next). Backlist means they can be found in paperback, which is cheaper. Sometimes not as many backlist copies are available at one time at the library but if it was once popular, maybe so. Choosing backlist books gives those popular books time to cool off and not ruin the hype.

10.)Pick Better Books. Here I completely agree with Becky about book selection and it didn’t dawn on me until I saw the webinar. These books are well-written, have been on winners’ lists, have 3-dimensional characters, ambiguous endings, unique style and can really create a heated debate. Their endings don’t wrap up neatly and the characters are messy. She urges groups to steer clear of plot driven novels (romance, mysteries, westerns) unless they are unique to the genre. Some examples she gave were: instead of reading The Martian, read Packing for Mars by Mary Roach. Instead of The Girl on the Train, try Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The elements and feel of the book will be the same but sometimes media sensations or current trends can be letdowns with all the hype. *Now I found this to be ironic because the first book at my library group this month is The Martian (I don’t select the books). I can see both sides. The movie is coming out and the publishing backstory is unique but again it’s nice to let some of those books calm down before tackling a discussion where everywhere you turn people are talking about them. Two books she highlighted that worked really well for book group were: Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell and The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. Again, visit her site for other recommendations.

I’m still learning when it comes to book groups and readalikes, but we are in or have been in a book group for one reason: we love to talk about books. If your group is only getting together to gossip, have a night out and take part in food and bev, then call it something else.

Ann from Books on the Table did a similar post this week and highlighted 10 books perfect for book group touching on all genres. Here is the link.

What tips do you have for book groups?

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.


7 thoughts on “Is Your Book Group in a Rut? Here Are Ten Helpful Tips.

  1. Oooh – my book club so needs to read this post! I haven’t attended my real life book club in months because the selections just do not sound interesting to me and I have so much to read already. We rotate hosts and the host chooses the book each month…which can lead to some really out there stuff. I wish we had a process where more people’s input is considered than just the host.

  2. These are great tips! Our book group is pretty new, and none of us have been in one before, so we’re just feeling our way right now. I think the key for us is finding a process that we can pick the best books for discussion while also getting to take turns choosing books. Only a couple of us spend a lot of time reading about books. The rest only seem to know about the popular books, which are not always the best.
    The other thing you said that is helpful, and I try to do, is write down a few questions before going to a meeting. It’s so easy to forget them once you get there!

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