3 ways to get the most out of a book club

Book Club

In Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s character says, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.”

I’m cynical and antisocial enough that I can relate, but there is a significant exception: book clubs! Everyone should be in a book club. They’re awesome. Awesome, I say!

I’ve been in a book club with three good friends for a several years now. We met almost monthly when we all lived in the same state, but now that we’re all over the place, it’s down to two, maybe three meetings a year. The whole thing has been one of my absolute favorite parts of adulthood—things obviously slowed down when I got married and started a family, but one of the few constants in that timeframe has been that I occasionally get together with this small group of friends to discuss books.  

I feel like people have certain assumptions when they hear that someone is in a book club, like it’s exclusively a bunch of elderly women sipping tea and gossiping about the neighbors while not even really discussing the book. And I’m here to say that … well, OK, that’s actually sort of accurate. In the case of our book club, just replace “sipping tea” with “downing various IPAs” and “gossiping about the neighbors” with “talking about music.” But we also, you know, talk about the books!

These are three tips for getting the most of your book club.

  1. Members should take turns picking the book

As a rule, don’t choose books to read as a group. Once you’ve established your book club, if something special comes out everyone is excited about, that’s one thing—but don’t start out that way. Everyone can have their own impact on the group if they get a turn making a selection. It’s your chance to share a favorite author with everyone, or maybe you get to finally check out something you’ve had on the shelf for a decade and never got around to reading.

This also saves everyone from arguments about what will and won’t be read. Everyone gets a turn, and what they pick is what gets read. (The only time a member’s book should be flat-out rejected is if someone else has already read it.)

  1. You can add new members—but they have to catch up

When I joined my current book club, it had already been operating for a few months, and I had to pay some dues, so to speak. That obviously doesn’t mean anything negative like hazing, but what it does mean is that I read a book chosen by each member before I made my first pick. I highly recommend anyone out there in a book club follows that approach—you can join, but you have to show that you’re serious about sticking around.

I also slowly caught up and read the two books I missed out on by not being in the club from the very beginning. I didn’t read them right away, but it was important that I eventually caught up. A lot of the fun about being in a long-established book club is that you have a well of knowledge to draw from, whether you are referencing specific plot twists from older books or simply comparing characters from two different books. When a character in Snow Crash, for example, reminds someone of a character the Foundation Trilogy, it’s interesting to bring that comparison up to the group and have everyone understand the connection.

  1. Don’t take the fun out of it

When we discuss the book, you know what our book club does? We just start talking. That’s it! Don’t stress too much about bringing detailed questions to the group or printing out a bunch of stuff; just show up and get going. It might help to occasionally take notes while you read, or underline passages that stand out to you, but there’s no reason to take the fun out of things and get too serious.

Here’s a look at what my book club has read so far … and we’re always adding to the list.

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