10 Things I’ve Learned from Running a Book Club (Especially helpful if it’s on a college campus)

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Thanks for sticking with SLSRSS during the March of silence, I missed you all!

I run a Book Club as a part of an on-campus organization. Although we’ve only read 2  books, we’ve had (or tried to have) 6 meetings. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up from running a successful and epically failing book club.

1. Pick a book that people are excited about.
This seems obvious but a book that seems like a good contender may not spark good conversation or participation.

My book club has read two novels, Carrie by Stephen King and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Perks had a group of 50 readers, none of which showed up to the discussions to actually participate in the book club, they just wanted the discounted price. Carrie was way more successful, but with a smaller group. 12 dedicated members came to read the cult classic and the discussion was off the chain.

I realize that a small book club of friends will run differently, but definitely pick a book that has people excited. Fiction books are usually the best option for participation purposes.

2. To gauge interest in the novels, have members fill out a survey.
We went into the Perks group just giving out novels to the first people to respond. Many of those people didn’t want to participate. Before reading Carrie we had potential members fill out a “interest survey”. It sounds a little cumbersome, but we really whittled down the list to those who wanted to participate and read. A lot of responses that came back were, “I’ve never read a King novel and really want to give it a try,” or “I’m excited to see what my peers have to say about certain points that I thought were shocking”. We let everyone into the group, but only those who were really excited took the time to fill out the survey.

3. Don’t discuss the same book more than once.
We split our books into two parts to discuss one part on each meeting time. Bad. Idea. People didn’t show up to the second date, even though we didn’t talk about the whole book. Interest is lost if the same activities are going on week after week.

4. Let conversation run organically.
Having a couple basic questions to start or spark conversation is always a good idea, but allowing the conversation to go how it goes makes for a more exciting and inviting discussion. Reading questions off a list and having people respond is too much like a restrictive High School English class. When there is free conversation, people feel more free to jump in and say their piece. When the conversation starts to lull, there’s a good time for the “moderator” to ask a pre-determined discussion question.

5. Be respectful of every opinion and construed meaning.
Just because someone interpreted symbolism differently than you doesn’t mean their interpretation is wrong. The point of novels is to appeal to a myriad of readers and each reader will bring their learned experiences into a novel. These experiences will lead to differences in meaning. And that’s okay. If you stop arguing about who’s right, you might find something interesting in the text that wasn’t apparent to you the first time around.

6. Food Helps.
Pizza, wine (if you’re of age and not campus affiliated), baked goods. All book club staples. And for a reason, no one wants to come to an event where you sit around for a couple hours with nothing to snack on.

7. Try new activities to spice up the club.
Reading the Hunger Games? Go try out your archery skills. Love the 80’s-90’s music in Perks? Invite a speaker who knows their stuff to come and talk to your group, or if you don’t have that capability, go do some 90’s karaoke. Reading Carrie? Volunteer at a local middle school to stop bullying. Switching up the activities and taking the book into a real life setting can inspire and have your members happy they joined, and come back next time around.

8. Talk to your members.
Is the meeting day not good for the majority but works well with your schedule? Do some searching to find the majority fit. Also seems like a obvious hassle, but if you’re hosting, setting up a Doodle poll with a lot of times that will work for you will give them options to make it work for them, too. The more people, the better the discussion.

9. Switch up the types of novels/books read.
If your book club is aimed at a specific genre, like an after-school 11th grade activity, switch up the kinds of YA novels read. Dystopian, science fiction, realistic, verse novel, etc. The list goes on and on. If your group allows for more variation, go all over the place to encourage new faces. YA, Non-Fiction, Mystery, Book-to-Movie, Thriller, the more the merrier. And it will keep your club from getting tiresome.

10. Leave the negativity behind you.
Some events won’t work. Someone may not like your book choice. You may have a whole tray of pizza uneaten. Shake it off and try again. Pleasing everyone is never going to happen. Take the criticism and the failures and use them to get better. The first discussion I had with a featured speaker had one attendee. I learned about advertising, we needed RSVPs and to remind members of the event earlier. I tried doing two discussions on the same novel, seventeen people came to the first, two to the second. I learned never to stretch a book out. We gave out free movie tickets with Perks, a lot of members used us to get the movie for free and didn’t bother participating in anything else. We made an interest survey. The more you fail the more you’ll learn and the more happy you’ll be when things go your way.

Remember, book clubs are all about having fun and having a good excuse to read. Having a relaxing time is key! Enjoy both your books and those around you and you’ll be a successful book club leader!

*Image courtesy of google and stockbridgelibrary.org

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About She Listens, She Reads, She Speaks.

A site, written by a young woman, who believes that the two simplest pleasures in life are literature and music. A once-in-awhile look into a folk-loving, pop-culture obsessed, book nerd's mind.
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