Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How to start a great book group (like mine!)

(This is a cross-post from Marie's Book Garden)

Okay, so I guess that sounds pompous, since I helped start our book group...but it is great! Here's how we started our great book group:

A little over a year ago, my friend Kristin had the bright idea to start a book group and it didn't take too long to convince me. Mike and I were in a book group before we had children, and although I enjoyed it, I often felt that I had to shout to be heard. (It was a coed group.) Also, it seemed like the loudest people had their books chosen to be read.

So we each selected three female friends who were fun, vivacious readers and fully interested in engaging in lively conversation. We did not consider anyone who might hog the conversation or be pushy.

On the first evening we gathered, we discussed the following:
  • Personal introductions (name, hometown, family, occupation, hobbies, favorite types of books)
  • What each person hoped to get out of the group
  • Previous experiences with book groups, positive and negative
  • Frequency and time and place of meeting
  • Food and beverages
  • Book selection process
  • Book discussion (would we have someone lead the discussion or do reseach?)
  • Group size
  • Other items to consider (e.g., what to do if someone hasn't read the book, or should we have a name like my friend's group, the Wild Women's Literary Society?)
I know everyone made fun of me that first night, because I arrived with my list of questions for us to discuss. I like to approach such things in an organized way! (If you are wanting to start your own book group, you can e-mail me and I'll send you my detailed list of questions.) Last December we had our first holiday book exchange, and we did it Yankee Swap style.

We've been meeting for over a year now, and we've lost a few members along the way who were not able to make the commitment because of other things in their lives. We recently added three new members. Last night we had all of us here for the first time, perhaps ever, plus our three new members! We're all moms (of at least two kids), and one of us is a grandma. Two are married to Brits and one is a Brit. We are nursing professors,  lawyers, and marketing or publications professionals.

December's book was Bel Canto, which led to our best book discussion so far--first, because of the richness of the story and the writing, and second, because more people mean more perspectives. I had a much better appreciation for the book after hearing how others interpreted various plot elements. I love lively, illuminating conversation about books!

At the end of the evening, we exchanged our books. This year we drew names at Tina's suggestion, allowing us to tailor our choices to fit the recipient's taste. This proved trickier than initially thought because of our three new members. (The rest of us have gotten a pretty clear idea of each other's preferences.)

Caley opening her book

"I've never read this!"

The best part of our book exchange was that not one of us had read the book she received. Not one! And we are a prolific group of readers!
Here's what we received:
Tina: The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs (Kim didn't know if she'd read it or not, so she brought a backup: Breaking the Cycle of Low Self-Esteem!)
Nicola: The Closed Circle by Jonathan Coe
Michelle: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling (Caley took a calculated risk in choosing that one, but Michelle--whose first book group meeting was last night--was one of only three people in the group who have not read HP!)
Kim: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Kristin: Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
Gitte: Room by Emma Donoghue
Jolie: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
Caley: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriott
Me: The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food by Judith Jones (Kristin, who drew my name, very cleverly searched my blog to find out if I had read the book)
The Slipper Muses with our books
Until we come up with a better name...how about the Slipper Muses? The inspiration for that name--taking off on the Tenth Muse--is the fact that many of us bring our slippers to our meetings, making ourselves at home!

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