Starting a Book Club: An Interview

Happy New Year, readers! The inspiration to start new habits and hobbies in January is powerful, so I want to take this opportunity to provide a quick guide to starting your own book club. To get some help, I interviewed OPL Adult Library Specialist Taylor Eagan, who happened to start her own book club.

What motivated you to start a book club? What was your inspiration?
There are two reasons why I wanted to start a book club.

First, I love to read, but it's overall a solitary experience. Book clubs, on the other hand, make reading a social event! You choose a book, read it with the intention of sharing your thoughts and discussing it with your peers. I think of reading as a form of medicine: it relieves boredom, gives your brain a boost and decreases anxiety. When you share your experience with others, you get an opportunity to see how powerful books can be.

Second, I wanted a social experience that didn't involve spending money or going out. I know that may sound silly, but I'm 30 years old and it's difficult to meet both of those qualifications while staying social! With the help of the library, and occasionally sharing our own resources, our book club meets those goals perfectly.

How did you find book club members?
As a joke, I posted on Facebook, "Will someone please start a book club that meets at, like, 10 PM on Wednesday nights because that’s the only time I have available? Also, we only read magical realism short story collections or literary apocalypse fiction or Elena Ferrante, thanks in advance." I got almost 40 responses that night from friends who felt the same way! Voila! I had my book club (though we haven't read any Ferrante, opens a new window or end-of-the-world novels … yet).

For the first meeting, I picked a day, time and the first book. I used Facebook as the platform for invitations and meeting information. I sent about 30 invites and encouraged them to bring a friend. I tried not to get my hopes up, as I knew that the majority of people I invited wouldn't come; and I was right -- for the first meeting, I think there were six of us, and it was amazing.

How much thought do you put into your meeting space, time and duration?
I believe easy access and consistency are essential, so we meet at my house. No one has to go too far because my house is centrally located, and no one ever doubts the location because it doesn't change.

Meetings are very relaxed and naturally end around the two-hour mark. Usually one member will volunteer to lead the discussion, bringing along thoughts or questions to share with the group, and our conversations flow from there. Sometimes members volunteer to bring snacks. After we decide on the next book, some people stay longer and chat, and that's great! If they want to go home right away, that's okay too!

We meet once a month, with occasional longer periods in between for longer books. Our last book, “The Secret History, opens a new window” by Donna Tartt, was over 500 pages, so we gave ourselves more time. However, again, consistency is key to getting regular attendance.

How many members do you have? Do you have an ideal group size in mind?
There are seven of us who meet consistently, with a couple others who have expressed interest in attending. Originally, I wanted a LOT of people to come, but I learned fast that a large group would make everything more complicated - from finding space to coordinating schedules. Also, it's not always easy expressing your opinions. Book clubs bring up personal conversation topics, so a smaller group allows for more intimate and familiar discussions.

How do you select your titles?
I chose the first book, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, opens a new window” by Junot Diaz, because I thought that recent controversy surrounding Diaz and the book itself would make for good conversation. Since then, our book selections have all happened during our meetings. Usually, it happens naturally; someone will suggest a book or our conversation will lead to a recommendation. For example, our discussion of Diaz led us to another Dominican-American author, Julia Alvarez and her novel “In the Time of the Butterflies, opens a new window.” If you have the foresight, however, I recommend planning your books a few months ahead so that members can find copies with time to spare.

Is there anything you’d like to change or do differently going forward?
I wish my book club was more diverse in membership. As of today, we are all millennial white women. I think our conversations would absolutely benefit from a more multi-generational, racial and otherwise diverse membership. Everyone's experiences are welcomed and respected at book club!

The experience of discussing current reads with a mix of strangers and friends is truly excellent! If you’re interested in joining or starting your own book club check out OPL’s Book Club page, opens a new window.