How to start, run and host a book club

The book club I belong to started several years ago when I was enjoying a rare catch-up with busy friends. We were bemoaning the fact that we hardly got to see each other and felt we needed to have an excuse for a regular diaried get together.

book club books

Over a glass or two of wine we worked out the bare bones of what might work for us and although some group members have left after moving away and new people have taken their place, in principle the initial format has stayed pretty much the same which shows it was worth spending that time planning how we wanted it to be.

I was chatting with someone this week who wanted to be part of a book club and was thinking about starting her own and thought it might be useful to share some top tips for starting, running and hosting a book club.

It can be tricky deciding who joins your book club. You cannot generally just invite your whole friendship group! It sounds obvious but choose people who like reading and are willing to move out of their reading comfort zone and accept books they might not normally choose. That's the great thing about being part of a book club-you feel obliged to at least try and read the chosen book and often you might discover a real gem you would never have normally picked off the library shelf.

book club meme

Chat with the members about what they like to read and how often and what their favourite genre or book is. If they list all the Twilight books and you like historical novels translated from Italian it's unlikely your alliance will work.
The size of your group os obviously up to you but too small and it can leave shy members feeling exposed and too big means some people don't get to contribute. We went for 12 initially but it now hovers around 8-10 which is much better.

We take it in turns to host with members with smaller homes often choosing to host during the summer months so we can utilise garden space. Obviously this is still weather dependent- this is the UK after all - and as one of the members with a smaller home (and lots of people living in it!) I have previously used someone else's house but provided all the food and drink during a particularly wet summer.

You could maybe agree to meet during the daytime at a coffee shop or pub- it might be worth asking at your local venue of choice to check they are happy for you to meet there. They might even reserve tables for you and offer a discount on food or drinks.

Check out the facilities at your local community centre or ask at your nearest library - there might already be a book club running there that you could join. The Meetup website which has an app advertises book clubs so be brave and go along to your local one if you don't have any friends, neighbours or colleagues remotely interested in reading.

Decide how often you'd like to meet being realistic about other commitments and your reading speed. Be prepared to be flexible at busy times of year - we had two vicars in the original group so tended to avoid meeting during Advent and Lent when they were particularly busy. We also avoid the end of the tax year as one of our members is very busy with her job at that time.

We always discuss the next date at the meeting and with diaries/phone calendars on hand it's much quicker and easier to pencil in a date then than email round trying to find a date which suits everyone. At holiday time we play it by ear often missing months during the summer holidays and Christmas holidays even though not all of our members have school age children.

We originally planned to meet monthly but that didn't prove sustainable so we now meet around 5/6 times a year now with varying intervals. If we know we are likely to have a long gap before meeting again we will often choose two books to read instead of the usual one.

One of the first potential issues we spotted during our original discussions was that so many of our group worked long hours they wouldn't have time to eat before book club. As it is we can't meet until 8pm as many of them work long hours, with some of them commuting out of London.

We decided to incorporate a simple supper into our book club and actually I'm very glad we did as it makes for a really lovely evening as we get a nice meal made for us and chat over the dinner table. Sometimes we even discuss the book!

For us this is typically something like a lasagne, stew, curry or similar which busy book-lovers can hurl into the slow cooker before leaving for work, or make easily without too much effort or expense.

As I mentioned previously our book club has 10 members at the moment which is about the most you would want for a book club offering a sit down meal. We decided when some people moved away not to add any more. Usually at least two people can't make the date so we need to be able to seat and feed 8 generally. We have one vegetarian but we often choose to cook meat-free for everyone to save making two dishes.

So - if you want to include a sit down meal, make sure all members have enough space and chairs for your group and limit the group to what you can cope with.

dinner party panic meme

We all bring something - wine, after dinner chocolates, or sometimes the host will ask for a dessert or bread or other contributions. It works very well for us.

Many book clubs simply offer cake, biscuits, crisps or similar and although we like a glass of wine in the evening, I know other book clubs only offer tea and coffee or soft drinks. This is the sort of thing it is worth deciding among the potential members at the beginning so no-one feels coerced into cooking when they hate it, or wants more than a cuppa and a bourbon biscuit.

Decided how you are going to choose the books. We initially decided the host would get to choose the next book but in reality we tend to go on recommendations from members after a discussion over dessert. Usually these are based on books people have already read, or have been given as gifts.

We also check best seller lists and online book club lists for ideas and occasionally ask friends who are members of other book clubs about what they have recently read. We aim to read a variety of styles and although we mostly choose fiction we do occasionally read non-fiction.

We are sensitive in our choices taking into account our members personal circumstances and current life issues. We tend to choose lighter reads for summer holidays so you aren't grappling with something gritty other than sand on the beach.

Although we read books containing politics and other potential flash points our discussions always remain respectful of other people's views. We are a varied group and lively discussion is part of the fun but we'd like to stay friends!

Some book groups are very specific - I was a member of a Christian book group which read books which weren't always obviously Christian. Sometimes they had a Christian author or an author exploring some aspect of Christianity or made us think about ethos or ethics,  or was set in biblical times.

If you have a genre you particularly love maybe you could find others who share your passion for historical extra-terrestrial murder mysteries?


If you are the host it's often useful to steer and stimulate conversation and keep a mental track of who has commented. You can invite quieter members to offer their opinion if they seem unable to get a word in edgeways. Maybe ask if they agree with the last point or ask the room generally what they feel about one character or event in the book. A simple debate about "best and worst" bits will often jog shy members into sharing.

Some books actually have suggested discussion points for book clubs in the back or you could jot some down before people arrive. I often research the author or the book so I can share facts I've discovered.

We actually aren't too fussed if members haven't actually read the book and while some books inspire lots of chat, others only merit a few minutes. If this is the case, don't worry or try and force discussion. Maybe take more time choosing the next book and chatting about other books you have read and enjoyed.

Amazon Kindle

Real books or e-books?
We use a mix with some members preferring to read "real" books while some prefer the convenience of using an e-book reader. Of course the advantage of paper books is that you can share them although some e-readers now also have the option to loan books for up to 14 days. (click here to find out how to do this on an Amazon Kindle device)

Check second hand book shops and charity shops for books - there are a lot of "book club classics"  like The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, I Capture the Castle, The Rosie Project to name just a few, and and you'll often find them at bargain prices as there are only so many books you can keep on the shelf!

Don't forget to enjoy your book club. It's meant to be fun so don't panic if you don't always manage to read a book, or don't like or understand it. Pass it onto a friend or the charity shop and move onto the next book. I'll guarantee you'll love more than you'll hate.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post!

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