I was thrilled when Heather from Age 30+…A Lifetime of Books agreed to be interviewed in regards to her book club. This is a MUST READ since Heather gives tips on how to conduct a good book club discussion.
How long has your book club been in existence? We got started back in May 2005, just over 4 years ago.
Does your book club have a name? Our name is “Storie delle Sorrelle” (Italian for “Stories of the Sisters”). We wanted a name that was unique but also reflected our purpose … and it had to sound cool. One of our members even had tote bags embroidered with our group name for us.
How many people are in your book club? Well, that depends. My official email list has 21 names on it but several gals haven’t made an appearance for over a year. I’d say there are 15 committed members.
Is your book club open to new members? How do new members end up in your book club? In the past we’d accept new members no matter how they came to us. Sometimes one gal would bring a friend, sometimes new people would find us through our blog (storiedellesorelle.blogspot.com), one gal I met in the book section of a thrift store. But new members didn’t join very often. Last summer we put the brakes on new membership though. Within three months we’d added 5 new people and we agreed that we all needed to get to know each other better before allowing anyone else to join.
When do you meet? Is it a set day every month, or do you work it out so it’s on a different day but convenient for everyone? To better accommodate conflicting schedules we do a weeknight meeting one month and a weekend meeting the next month.
What kind of books do you read? There are no rules as to which books we read.
How do you choose books? When we were a smaller group each person got to pick one book to read during the year. When we got bigger we had to come up with something new. Here’s how it works now. Three times a year members nominate one book each. Once we have a list of nominated books we all rank them in preferred order and I tally the results. The three most popular books are chosen for the next three meetings. To make it fair, if your nominated book was chosen this time you can’t nominate one the next time around. We’ve been doing that for a while now and it is working really well.
Which book generated the best discussion? We had a two-part meeting for THE POISONWOOD BIBLE because there was so much to talk about, a great discussion of THE GLASS CASTLE, and controversial discussions of MY SISTER’S KEEPER and WHAT OUR MOTHERS DIDN’T TELL US.
Do you invite authors to join your discussion when you discuss their book? How do you handle having the author in on your discussion if some or all of the members didn’t absolutely love the book? We’ve had one author visit us in person and another join us by phone. Both times there were members who did not like the book. The in-person meeting went very well as the author was genuinely interested in our opinions. The phone chat (which I missed) wasn’t such a hit; the gals said the author gave lots of one-word answers and didn’t seem very interested in being there. My suggestion for author chats is to encourage members to share two or three things they liked and two or three things they didn’t like about the book. That way the problem areas can be discussed (hopefully) without the author feeling attacked.
Do you have one person who moderates the discussion? Yes, that would be me. All the time. I’d love to share this responsibility but my club is spoiled and they buy me off with flattery. But seriously, every successful book club needs a dedicated leader even if it isn’t the same person for every meeting. Before every meeting I do the following:
1. Read the book (duh), preferably finishing at least a week before the meeting
2. Find discussion questions online and print them out
3. Research the author – What is his/her background? What other books has he/she written? Why was this book written? Etc.
4. Find any controversies or news-worthy info relating to the book – if it is really good, print out copies for the group
5. Send the Evite with meeting details and the hostesses chosen food theme, then follow up to make sure everyone relpies
Finally it is book club day! At the meeting I …
1. Get the discussion started on time
2. Keep the conversation on topic (very difficult at times)
3. Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak
4. Choose which discussion questions to raise and what background info to share
5. Close the meeting with reminders about the next book and meeting
Have you ever had a professional moderator moderate one of your meetings? No, but if that job ever comes up I’ll take it. If you want to pay me to moderate YOUR meeting I’ve got four years of excellent experience! And really, I SHOULD be getting paid, considering all the work I do. 🙂
How long does the discussion last? That all depends on the book but a usually discussion is at least an hour, maybe longer. We’ve had two that were shorter and many that were longer.
Do you eat food at your book club meeting? Of course we do! I’m Italian – it would be a sin not to have food. We don’t go overboard though. The hostess picks a theme and everyone brings something to share. Sometimes the theme matches the book but it doesn’t have to.
How do you decide where the meeting will be held? Several members love to host and others do not (like me). With such a large group there is never a problem finding a hostess. In the early fall we meet at an outdoor restaurant for Happy Hour – that’s something we all look forward to every year.
Is there anything else about your book club you’d like to share? Our group is fun and unique … we have 3 mother-daughter groups – sometimes we dress up to match the theme of the book – one member only does audio books – gals have called in on speakerphone so they wouldn’t miss the meeting while out of town … and there are so many more things I could share!
One final note … Running a book club is a lot of work but it can be very worth it. I’m moderating a panel at the Baltimore Book Festival in September all about starting and improving a book club. If you have any do’s or don’ts you’d like to share with me I’d love your input – I want this panel to be as helpful as possible.
A big thank you goes to Trish for allowing me to talk about my club on her blog today. Just as Trish is passionate about book blogging and the network it creates, so I am passionate about book clubs and the opportunities they offer. I’m always glad to have an excuse to talk about my club. Thanks Trish!
Thank you, Heather! Oh, how I wish I lived near you so I could join your book club…
Heather will be moderating a panel discussion on book clubs at the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday, September 26, 2009 entitled The Book Club Toolkit: Tools and Tips for Starting and Improving Your Book Club. It should be a great discussion! I will be on the panel, and we’d love to see you there!