Huffington Post blogger Claire Fallon recently lamented her failed book club experiences, identifying common dilemmas for readers. Namely, how do you take such an inherently private act as reading and turn it inside out? How do you encourage friends to share their feelings about deep—often dark—topics, finish books they may not pick up on their own and attend your discussions, month after month?
As Fallon notes, having a group leader who encourages and excites members about books is a necessity. When 10 different minds are deciding what to read and when to meet, it’s helpful if that leader is as much of a negotiator and peacemaker as a book lover. But even with the right leader, some of the best-laid book club plans can fizzle out. Here are five ways to offer life support to a wheezing, uninspired book club:
1. Look for books that give people something to talk about.
For true “reading introverts,” discussing literature in a group setting may never be as comfortable as lounging in that comfy chair at home with a book. But when friends get together to chat about a touching, controversial or life-changing read, even the quietest members can open up.
2. Keep everyone informed.
Having a passion for books and a master’s degree in literature does not go hand-in-hand with being organized, I can attest. If your leader struggles with planning meeting times, picking locations, sending group emails and keeping email addresses up to date, find a type-A member who will take on these responsibilities. Missed emails and bad timing lead to decreased participation more often than you’d realize.
3. Don’t apologize.
If the group reads a book that is a stinker (yes, it does happen) or simply has nothing worthy of discussion, pour another glass of wine and move on to next month’s pick. Don’t let a sucky book bog down your momentum.
4. Encourage cheating.
Given our complicated, time-strapped lives, there is no way every member is going to complete every book. Attendance, especially for a new group, is as important as book choices, and it’s easy to scare readers away by being too strict. Believe me, letting someone slide one month will motivate them to read the next month’s book more than scolding and group humiliation.
5. Occasionally pick a really good, really short book.
For May, a month filled with half school days, graduations and other social obligations, my mostly-moms-group is reading Love, Loss and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman. Mainly composed of sketches, the stylish and poignant book is a quick, nostalgia-inducing read. With everyone bringing a photo or drawing of her own favorite outfit to our end-of-the-school-year lunch, it promises to provoke a rich discussion even during the busiest of times.
Amy Bonesteel, an Atlanta-based freelance reporter and author, has contributed to Time, Atlanta Magazine and many other publications. She is in three book clubs, two of which she started, and is the founder of Book Club Rebel.