Thoughts On A Book Club

About a year ago I started a book club. In the club are about 12 people from various parts of my life, who live in different parts of the country, and like reading. I had become a book recommendation machine to many of them, and I thought it might be a fun idea to try and start a virtual book club with all of them. It was. A year later I find myself finalizing the syllabus for 2016’s club and welcoming multiple new members and extremely excited to start this months book.

The club meets once a month via Google hangout for an hour where we discuss the book we read for the month. The books were chosen by each member secretly nominating 5 books, each member voting on which books they wanted to read, and me doing some slight back end curation to make sure there was a nice mix of genres and subjects. The result was the list here. The book club went very well, but we learned a lot about running it along the way. Below you will find a list of some of the insights that various members of our club had throughout the club. Hopefully some of you will find these bits of wisdom helpful in running or starting you own book clubs.

Andrew (Me):

  • A good book is not necessarily a good discussion book (see Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell rating).
  • You will never have a book that everyone likes.
  • If you don’t like something, make sure you think about why you don’t like it so that you can articulate it.
  • Do not be offended when people don’t like the book you put forth, just stop being friends with them… I joke. Mostly.
  • Discovering an incredible book with all your friends at the same time is an amazing feeling.
  • You will find people read books for very different reasons such as pure fun, escapism, exercising their imagination, and feeling smart.
  • Try to ask the quiet ones in the group questions to get everyone involved.

Favorite 2015 Book Club Book: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Why: The book is a tribute to the beauty of reading and writing and generated interesting discussion. I can’t think of a more fitting title for a book club read.

Will:

  • When making a joke suggestion to the list, ensure everyone is aware that it is a joke suggestion, or you may end up reading poorly written smut. (See 50 Shades of Grey rating).
  • No matter how good a book may be in its second half, if it takes 3-400 pages to get there, people will not finish it.
  • Sometimes, just picking a book with a really cool cover is enough to get people to read it.
  • The larger the group discussing a book, the shallower the discussion will tend to be.
  • It is best practice to carefully curate the length of the books to the reading speeds of the participants.
  • It is difficult to balance switching up genres to maintain freshness, and not straying too far away from people’s taste.

Favorite 2015 Book Club Book: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Why: I think that it has enough moment-to-moment action to keep the majority of readers invested, while still exploring large enough issues to give a group more to discuss than “REMEMBER WHEN THAT STUFF EXPLODED?” It definitely strikes an excellent balance between popcorn action and high level concepts, and would be a great addition to any book club.

Sean:

  • Make sure you have someone to lead discussions during book group or conversation can stagnate. If you can have prepared discussion points, all the better.
  • Google Hangouts works well for getting people in different time zones together (mostly)
  • Graphic novels are hard to do in a book club.
  • Have drinks (to loosen everyone up a bit) and snacks available. We are all in different time zones, so I suggested everyone always have some wine or craft beer during book club.
  • Finish off each week by have each member give an overall 1-10 ranking of the month’s book, with a brief explanation of why they gave it that rank.

Favorite 2015 Book Club Book: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Why: It had been a long time since I went on such a well conceived and executed adventure/treasure hunt. The book thrilled me from start to finish and got my mind working overtime trying to fathom the possibilities of the Oasis. Also, all the video game and cultural references were right up my alley. And lastly, there were plenty of topics to discuss in book club including anonymity and it’s affect on race/gender/age, virtual reality’s advantages and disadvantages, the myriad and possibly overdone 80’s references, and the book’s twists and turns.

Alex:

  • Having notes about your own reading experience helps add to the discussion, especially when you feel enthusiastic about something
  • How a book makes you feel is just as important as to how it makes you think
  • You can like a book based on it’s premise, but hate it for it’s execution
  • It’s okay not to finish a book, but it always feels better finishing a book you didn’t like than to not finish at all.
  • I will read almost anything, if there are others to share in my pain

Favorite 2015 Book Club Book: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Why:  Mostly because the book itself made me feel conflicted about the book itself. It caused me to take notes and evaluate my feelings as I proceeded through the book. When I got to the end, all I wanted to do was talk about it with someone else who read the book, whether or not they felt the same. I wasn’t searching for agreement, just discussion.

Hopefully some of you found this helpful. I will leave you with the declaration that this club has been barrels of fun and that I highly encourage anyone who likes reading to try and start their own book clubs. You will learn a lot about books, reading, your friends, and yourself.

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