How to start a book club and not alienate people

Ah, book clubs, the best kind of club if you ask me because, while they often involve mild intoxication, they rarely ever involve twisting your ankle in sky-high heels, creepy dudes hitting on you, or holding your friend’s hair back as she pukes in the toilet.

I mean, unless your book club gets really rowdy.


In all seriousness, book clubs are great for the more introverted among us. They provide a wonderful excuse to get together with old friends, meet new ones, and relax in the comfort of someone’s home while discussing stories. What’s not to love?

Since not everyone has access to an established club, and since I’m an old time veteran of the book club game, I thought I’d give you newbies some advice on how to go about starting one yourself.

Step 1: Find some bookish friends

I’d start with people you know — the tried and true bookworms who will have no problem finishing a book every month. But don’t just limit your club to the same three people you always hang out with. Ask work pals or casual acquaintances. Making friends as an adult SUCKS and you’d be surprised how many people would be only too happy for an excuse to socialize of a Sunday afternoon.

My top tip — you want enough people to ensure that at least a few people will a) have actually read the book, and b) will show up. Aim for around five to seven people for your first few meetings (space permitting) and adjust accordingly.

Step 2: Ground rules

How often will you meet? Were will you meet? Will you take turns hosting? If so, is the host expected to supply the libations or should everyone bring a bottle and a bag of crisps? What kind of books are you open to? Fiction only? Some non-fiction? How about self-help or biographies? Should you limit yourselves to books under 300 pages?

These questions (and more) are probably things you want to sort out before your first meeting. Your book club friends are more than likely at least somewhat introverted (hey, I’m just speaking from experience) and would appreciate getting a proper heads-up for what to expect.

Step 3: Pick a book

Here’s the tricky part. No one wants to be the person who picks an absolute clunker of a book that the whole club hates. Differing opinions = good, universal dislike = bad. So nothing too weird and experimental right off the bat. And honestly, nothing too long. You may fly through a book every three days, but perhaps Susan needs the full month to get through one.

My advice here is to do a Google search for “book club books” and pick one that seems appealing to you. Yes, it might dent your book-hipster cred a little, but at least you’re probably going to pick something that’s accessible to everyone.

To be safe, select something that’s been out for a while and is available at your local library. Remember, not everyone can afford to drop the big bucks on books.

Step 4: Pick a time and place

Once you’ve decided who’s hosting, pick a time and a place. Doodle is a useful tool if you’re trying to wrangle multiple people.

You’ll never find a time that suits everyone. Just go with what works for the majority.

At the end of your first meeting, make sure the group knows who will be hosting next time. If possible, get them to commit to a date sooner rather than later. Too many good book clubs die because the host gets busy and never organizes the actual meet up.


Step 5: Have a few questions ready to prompt discussion…

Sometimes, especially in newer book clubs, it can take participants a while to feel comfortable actually discussing the book. Some people might feel embarrassed and others might not know where to start.

If you’re the host, it’s useful to have a list of prompts and questions to get the discussion flowing.

Start with some general questions:

  • What did you think of the book?
  • What did/didn’t you like?
  • What themes did you notice?
  • Which character did you most identify with?

For more, check out BookRiot’s comprehensive list of discussion questions to suit any book.

You can also ask more specific questions about the book itself. Lots of publishers actually create book club editions with a list of questions included at the back, which can be super handy for making you seem both smart AND well-prepared.

Step 6: …but don’t be THAT person

Nobody likes organized fun. If the conversation is flowing, just go with it! You don’t really need to ask Mary what she thought of the biblical allusion on page 176 if she’s busy gushing over how dreamy the hero is.

The prompts you prepare should facilitate discussion, not dominate it.

Step 7: SNACKS (and if you’re old enough, WINE!)

The only thing better than books is books and snacks (and optional-but-recommended booze). It is my honest opinion that the success of your book club rests on your ability to put out a good spread. Cheese, crackers, crisps, dips — all excellent book club snacks. The way to a bookworm’s heart is through their stomach, so prepare accordingly.

So there you have it! Go forth and start your book club. If you do start one, I’d love to hear about it (especially if you have an unusual, weird, and/or offensive club name!).

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