So, you want to start an in-person book club. Good for you! And I mean that literally. It is GOOD for you to hang with people who share your love of literature. Research shows feeling connected can help people with everything from maintaining a healthy body mass to improving cancer survival. Plus, it’s fun!

Ok, first things first – choosing your members. Maybe you start with just you and your best pal. Maybe you and your best pal each pick one or two more people. Or maybe you start one with your tennis friends or people from your choir or gym. The one requirement is an interest in books. And don’t worry about getting the exact right combo of people. A book club will add and lose members over its lifetime, and that is just fine.

Once you’ve got your group, you need to pick a meeting place. Your house? (Every time?) Or group members take turns hosting? Maybe nobody is keen on hosting so you pick a nearby coffee shop or wine bar:) Most book clubs meet after work hours, but the time can vary depending on the groups’ schedules.

Next: the book! For the first meeting, you choose the book. Give everyone a good month’s heads up on the title so they can buy the book or grab it from the library. *Many libraries have special Book Club services where you can reserve a book for all of your members, so check that out!*

At the first meeting, members can discuss the parameters of future book choices. Do you want to read all fiction? Some non-fiction? Any genres to be avoided or encouraged? Some groups assign a theme for each month – Non-fiction, WWII, Poetry, Cookbook/foodie, Classics, Mystery, Autobiography/Biography, Books set in foreign countries, Thrillers – the possibilities are endless! Many times, members are surprised to find they enjoyed a book they wouldn’t have picked themselves, so try not to be overly narrow in your focus.

When it’s your turn to choose or suggest a book, do me (and yourself) a favor – don’t default to the “Best Sellers” as a rule. Don’t get me wrong, some Best Sellers are best sellers for their incredible plot and prose. Others, not so much. The way publishing works is, each season publishers decide which will be their “lead” books, the books they will heavily promote, submitting them to NYT, sending out 300 copies to industry professionals, pushing for them to be featured in book store end caps and tables, etc.( I cannot tell you how many times I saw the cover of “Lessons in Chemistry” in my feed, on my kindle, on end caps at Target.)

Instead, if you have the time, talk to a librarian or book seller. Ask them what THEY are reading. Many bookstores have a shelf with Staff Recommendations, with little index cards stating why they enjoyed a book. Online, Goodreads is a great place to learn about wonderful books that might be flying under the advertising radar. There are also book-tokkers and instagrammers who post their reviews on books they’re reading, and most do not get paid for their reviews so you can count on them being more honest than publishers trying to earn big bucks.

The last thing you may want to look for is books that have discussion guides either included in the back matter or on the author’s website. Good questions are vital for promoting interesting discussions. Otherwise, it devolves into two minutes of “I liked it,” and “I hated it” and the rest of the meeting spent on jibber jabber.

Penny’s view on Jibber Jabber (press the replay arrow button on left if it doesn’t show)

Some authors include related material besides discussion questions that can add to your Book Club experience. For MORE THAN A THIEF, I include a recipe for Penelope’s Peach Pie on my Book Clubs page. Which brings me to next week’s post: How to Host an In-Person Book Club, part deux!

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