It was our most lively book club debate. It also ended with the woman bursting into tears and running out of the room. Book club soon disbanded afterwards.

There’s a scene in an episode of The Simpsons where Marge goes to her book club. Everyone takes turns going around the room explaining why they didn’t read the book, and then all characters proceed to drink.

Usually when someone critiques the idea of book clubs, it’s scenes like this that come to mind. My problem–if you could call it that, it’s more of a concern, really—with book clubs comes from readers not caring too little about the prose, but rather, too much.

A couple of years ago, my friend Alice and I started a book club for our office. As we were the founders, we had the privilege—and pretty soon, the pain—of choosing the first two reads.

I chose Then We Came To The End, which I still list as one of my favorite books. I found it hilarious. Every flip of the page meant a new chuckle. Everyone else in book club—only half read it—found it boring. Alice’s choice didn’t fair much better: the Russian classic The Master and the Margarita. One half of the book club found it boring. The other half hadn’t even finished it in time. (In their defense, it is a dense Russian book.)

Hence the first problem—and, of course, the pleasure—of most book clubs formed amongst friends or coworkers: everyone has different tastes!

Some of us might like a good mystery, while others of us only read biographies. I prefer literary fiction, my best friend heads straight to Sci Fi & Fantasy (of course, you get both with Margaret Atwood, but that’s rare).

Choosing a book club book that will interest everyone is out right impossible. No wonder the ladies of Springfield drink!

Sometimes, of course, it’s these varying literary tastes that can open new doors and interests for us.

I, for example, would never have read Dune if it weren’t for a book club. I’ve been able to share Mary Gaitskill with men who claimed to only read John Grisham. For every book club person avidly against your pick, there’s usually one person who might be swayed.

That leads us to the concern I listed earlier—the over-caring, mixed with over-sharing. In this same book club, a member suggested we read One Day. Alice freaking loathed that book. She couldn’t critique it enough.

If the book had been a person, it’d have been reduced to tears—instead, the recommender was. It ended up that the woman had suggested One Day because she really, really related to its story: and with every complaint Alice lodged against the writing or the story, this woman felt like it was a complaint against herself.

It was our most lively book club debate. It also ended with the woman bursting into tears and running out of the room. Book club soon disbanded afterwards.

I would love to start another book club. But the obstacles seem to be mounting: my friends, as they grow older and get married and have children all while balancing careers, seem to have less and less time. I have less and less time. And, of course, I want to avoid the mistakes I made in my last one.

But how do you introduce members to different stories that we can all find interesting and provocative? And what do you do if someone so dearly loves, and so closely relates to a book others hate?

Dear RIFers, I turn to you for help. How do you conduct your book clubs? What are your secrets and suggestions for success? Don’t turn me into Marge Simpson at a book club, I’m begging you. (Though that blue hair is pretty neat.)

Photo Credit: Prixel Creative/Shutterstock.com

  • http://paulaljohnson.com/ Paula Johnson

    A few ideas that work for the book group I’ve been in for 15+ years.

    • Don’t hold monthly meetings. Meet every six weeks. More time to finish the book.

    • Make sure the title is available at the library.

    • For the meeting closest to December, choose a short, fun book like “The Clothes They Stood Up In” by Alan Bennett.

    • If a book is a hit, read another title by the same author the next year.

    • When possible, read a book by a local author and invite him or her to the meeting. (We’ve done this a few times.) Alternately, find an author who will attend your meeting via video Skype.

    • Do the occasional field trip to see a movie based on a book the group has read. (One good book and movie: “Cold Comfort Farm.”)

    • Once a year, read a children’s title or young adult book. Turns out that “Harriet the Spy” was just as charming as we remembered.

    • No shame in not finishing (or starting) the book. Stuff happens. Oddly, books I have hated before the book group meeting have drawn me in a few months later. No idea why.

  • laurag

    We set parameters for the book club. So the first book club it was always fiction and a girls only club. The one I’m in currently is books that have been made into movies. Instead of one person picking we do a vote and choose the next four books we will read. So everyone submits an idea or two, I compile them into an email with a brief summary of each book then we take about a week to vote. The top for will be our picks. I’ve found that having four books planned allowed people to skip a book if they aren’t excited about it or plan ahead and read ahead.

  • Silver’s Reviews

    My book club had the problem of people being upset that their book or suggestion was never chosen, and we also took too long to choose a book.

    Soooo….here is what we did to avoid any hurt feelings and to save time.

    1. Each Member gave an anonymous list of books they liked with a short summary.
    2. One member typed the books into an Excel Spreadsheet giving each book a number.
    3. At the end of each monthly meeting we reach into a “baggie” and pull out a number that corresponds to the book number on the Excel Spreadsheet.
    4. The chosen book is the book for next month.

    Problem solved, and everyone for the most part is happy. :)

    Elizabeth
    Silver’s Reviews

  • The Book Wheel

    Book clubs are so difficult for all of the reasons that you listed. I have a book club that I host every other month with another blogger and we like it SO MUCH MORE than in-person book clubs because only people who want to participate do, and because there are no in-person clubs, no one will be offended if someone doesn’t participate. Just remember that if someone doesn’t like the book, it’s not personal.

  • http://www.LoveAtFirstBook.com/ Love at First Book

    I actually did a post all about how to host an online book club! Maybe that will help!

  • Genene Cote

    My experience is that the theory of a book club is far, far superior to the reality!!

  • LC

    Two books we all agreed we loved were Destiny of the Republic and The Poisonwood Bible. It’s difficult to get 20 women to agree on anything, but we all agreed on them and gave them the highest scores to date.

  • amy w

    I just came acorss this today. I host a book club at my home and we’ve been meeting for almost 7 years. We are pretty different from the others listed here.
    1. We meet every Tuesday night. Starting in January of 2013 I started making dinner for those that want to show up an hour early. There are married women who leave the husband to fend for himself and the kids so they can come eat dinner.
    2. We have a rotation list. I let the next person know that there time is coming up in a couple of months ( I like to give people time to think of a book.). Usually they will give me a couple of books they are thinking about and we’ll talk about them. I have a requirement that they need to have read the book before suggesting it. We’ve had a couple of stinkers that could have been avoided. Having the rotation list helps keep an order to things and people know when their turn is coming up. I have a few books on my “banned book list” as well.
    3. After the book is confirmed I send an email out with the book title and usually give at least a month to get the book.
    4. We read about 70 pages a week. This gives people time to read the section but not feel overwhelmed. It also allows us to get deeper into the book.The person leading the book is responsible for coming up with discussion questions and the reading assignments each week. I send out an email each week with the reading assignment so those that missed know what to read for next week.
    5. I also talk with the discussion leader about a group activity. Sometimes it’s a movie. We’ve had trips to the holocaust museum in DC, dinners out, whale watching, and an orchard.
    6. We read ‘Our Town’ and since it’s a play, we would read a section of the play ‘in character’ at our meeting and then discuss it. We’ve read a couple of mysteries and at the end of the night we go around and people can make guesses on who they think the murderer is. Since we meet weekly their answers can change each week based on what they read in the book. Agatha Christie books are good for this.
    7. We do take breaks between books (usually a week or two) for mental palette cleansing. We do a Christmas party the second week of December (always doing a book exchange) and take off until after the new year. Our first meeting back is just dinner and social time and then the next week we begin the discussion.
    8. We’re at about 8-9 people in the group and have many other come and go through the years. I try and keep it under 10 so we can have good discussion and no one feels left out. When we add a new person, I have an unspoken requirement that they have to be a regular attending member for 3-4 books before they are added to the rotation.
    We been doing book club this way since the beginning and it really works well for our group.
    -Amy

    • amy w

      sorry about spelling/grammar errors. Should have proofread. :(

    • dawnmomofreed

      you ban books??? wow just wow!! how very provincial of you

      • http://booksbobbins.blogspot.com/ AmyW_booksbobbins

        It’s mainly Nicholas Sparks books and the 50 shades of Grey books. Lol. No one wants to spend a month discussing a Sparks book. (I’ve read several of his books, I just don’t want us to spend a longer time discussing it then needed. There is no official list written down.

  • Melanie Lindsay

    Our book club, Readers Anonymous, has been going strong since March 2011, so almost 3 years. We have evolved over time, however, to account for different tastes.

    At first, we each submitted a book from any genre and drew a name at random out of a bowl. We trended heavily towards YA and sci fi, and not everyone liked that, so we changed.

    Then we set genres for each month of the year, and everyone still submitted a book that fit that month’s genre and we still drew out of a bowl at random. Then one month, we picked The Silmarillion. No one finished it on time and even though I finished it, it took 2 1/2 months! Even Tolkein enthusiasts agree it’s a rough read.

    So after that month we adjusted our selection process again. Now we set genres for each month of the next year at our November meeting. Then we have a voting process. Week 1 each person can submit a book, weeks 2-3 you vote and have 2 votes. Then the top 3 books go on to the final round for the last week leading up to book club and a winner is chosen. If there’s a tie at the cutoff time 5pm cst, we draw at random between the tied books. We do this a month in advance so at the January meeting, we will find out the book for February and begin the voting process for March. This method has seemed to work well for us since April 2012 and The Silmarillion meeting.

    Also, you can not rate the book unless you have completely finished it. Not even if you’re only 3 pages away because the ending might change your feelings. We’ve had people sit in the car and come in 5 min late so they could finish. :)

    Also, you must take the quiz, even if you didn’t read or finish. It’s just more fun that way.

    Finally, we have 3 members at any one time who take on more of the leading of the book club. Everyone takes turns hosting, and even if you host, others can pitch in with quiz, discussion questions, etc. it’s a join effort. We usually potluck food and drink, and have an optional read for December and have our holiday party. I love it and we have since had members move to Germany, Japan, Korea, and Texas, and we have a small branch in New Mexico, as well as one I’m about to start in Texas. We vote online and keep in contact and share book thoughts and sales online on our Facebook group. I love it and good luck to you because it’s one of my favorite parts of my life!

    Melanie

  • Margie

    My suggestion is to do Potluck book club. Each person reads whatever they would like. You meet and share ( kind of like blogging ) what you liked or didn’t like about what you read. This way you are learning about new books out there, you aren’t reading something you don’t care about and you are less likely to offend someone.