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101 Ways to Run a Book Club

By Terresa Wellborn

“How do you start a book club?” a friend asked recently.

Any way you like. There are 101 ways to run a book club, and here are some ideas for starters. May they inspire you to start your own.

The Co-workers Book Club
When I worked for a publishing company, the staff held a monthly book club, reading novels from popular to obscure. No children, the occasional dog. It was casual, potluck style, and we’d vote each fall for next year’s book list. I have fond memories of lively discussions. Bonus points for getting to know my awesome co-workers out of office.

Mama’s Book & Recipe Club
A few years later, I joined a book club with other moms. Many of us met while attending home birthing class and now post-partum, needed a friend. In this club we found dozens. In those days I read the book club books during long hours tandem nursing twins. The hostess picked the book and (often matching) menu theme. The food was always extraordinary and always homemade…fondue, jambalaya, curry. We swapped recipes at the end. The club ran its course when the housing market soared: it was a good time to sell, our babies grew up, and most of us moved away.

Women’s Book Club for Children’s Books: No Required Reading
This book club changes things up: we focus on one genre, children’s lit…and sit back and relax while another member gives a presentation. Each month we cover not one book but dozens. Presenters pick theme + month of choice. In the past I’ve presented topics including poetry, art, and humor. We all end up adding titles to our “must read” lists, and linger afterward for discussion and dessert. This club has been running for fifty years and shows no signs of waning, thanks to founders Barbara and Pat.

Neighborhood Book Club
Another book club I currently attend is neighborhood-minded and informal. The host picks the book and decides the menu. At the end of the year we bring a favorite book for a white elephant exchange. Being new to the area, it’s been a great way to get to know my neighbors.

School Book Club
Last year my son’s school teacher ran a book club. Monthly meetings included a round table discussion of the book followed by themed treats and activities. My son’s favorite was a game for Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief (flag football with wet sponges as “lightning bolts” and lots of laughter). The result? My son fell in love with this series and has a new hero: Percy Jackson.

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As a book club devotee, I agree with Jorge Luis Borges that, “A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships.” Every book I’ve read has transformed me in some way; every book club I’ve attended? Likewise.

Basic tips:
Starting up: Ask friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, etc.
Calendar it: Keep it simple, the last Thursday of each month at 7pm for example.
Book ideas: Visit your local public library for Reader’s Choice lists, check out Goodreads, Google, etc.

Not necessary but nice:
Hand outs: The host/presenter can create a flier with quotes, character charts, time lines, and other recommended reading.
Record keeping: Keep a master list of books read, themes presented, etc.
Mix it up: Consider a themed meal to match the book(s); an end of the year celebration.

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“I require books as I require air.” -Sholem Asch

I can’t imagine life without books, much less book clubs. They’ve enriched my life immeasurably. My next book club venture? A Mother Daughter Book Club. That’s one I haven’t done yet.

Do you belong to a book club? We’d love to hear about it. What’s your favorite thing about it?

About Terresa Wellborn

Terresa Wellborn has been published in BYU Studies, Dialogue, and several anthologies including Fire in the Pasture, Monsters and Mormons, and Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry. She has a BA degree in English Literature and a MLIS degree in Library and Information Science. Her joys include her four children, books, and chocolate babka. She reads faster than she hikes, runs faster than she writes, and has often been mistaken for Miss Frizzle. When not on a mountaintop, she prefers to dwell in possibility.

2 thoughts on “101 Ways to Run a Book Club”

  1. The most recent book club I attended has drifted into a different time and space than intersects with my current circumstances, although I understand it continues to thrive. I got to know and admire and respect and love these women. Our club was at its strongest during a difficult time in my life; knowing I'd have one night of sanity and support every month gave me a lifeline I clung to.

    We rotated homes and genres monthly. That way, everyone discovered books we loved (and occasionally endured books we loved less) that we'd never have picked up on our own. It comforted us with familiarity and nudged us toward adventure as we pored over genres of all types.

    Usually, we all read the same book, but once in a while, everyone chose a different title by a single author. We then shared why we recommended (or didn't recommend) each story. Similarly, although we didn't usually focus on children's lit, we sometimes chose different titles from the full list of Newbery Medal winners and exchanged our thoughts on those.

    Another thing we found helpful was alternating months with heavy tomes — whether the weightiness registered in thematic elements or page count. During the year we tackled Les Miserables and Jane Eyre, for example, we spaced them several months apart.

    (Sigh. I miss my book club — but I've enjoyed recalling what a blessing it was in my life. Thank you for this post, Terresa!)

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