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How To

How To Reboot Your Book Club

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Tara Cheesman

Staff Writer

Tara Cheesman reads books. Sometimes she writes about the books she reads. It's all a bit arbitrary. Most of this reading and writing happens in a small brick house in the Pennsylvania city where she lives with her husband, two dogs and an ever-expanding library of books translated from languages she doesn’t speak or understand. She's currently considering getting a tortoise, because tortoises seem like good company. When not reading, writing or tending to her extensive collection of wooden pencils, Tara spends her time exploring cities in search of bookshops and art exhibits. She was a panelist at the 2015 PEN World Voices Festival and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Since 2009 she’s written the blog BookSexy Review. You can find her on Twitter @BookSexyReview. (Please feel free to tweet her your opinions on both books and pencils).

My Brilliant Friend by Elena FerranteLike most book lovers, I’ve dreamed of being part of the perfect book club. Five to ten people sprawl out in leather club chairs, glasses of wine within arms reach. Everyone has their copy of the book—Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend or Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant—with notes pencilled in the margins. We meet regularly. Over time a bond forms between members. The book club becomes an essential part of our lives. We grow old, friends forever.

I’ve never been part of a book club like that. I’ve never met anyone in a book club like that. Like unicorns and spacious NYC apartments (as seen on TV),  they are the stuff of myths and legends. Most of the book clubs I’ve been a member of go strong for six months to a year before they start to fade. People stop reading the books. Schedules don’t coordinate. Personalities clash. The reality is that even the best book club needs a reboot now and then.  Here are some ideas on how to reset yours.

Lower your expectations

You’re here to talk about books and share your love of reading, not find your soulmate or recreate the Algonquin Round Table. Don’t set the bar too high. If no one is finishing the book, choose a novella or short story for the next meeting. If you can’t keep the group on track for the full hour, spend 30 minutes discussing and 30 minutes socializing. Then try to increase the discussion time by 10 minutes at the next meeting.

Make it an event

I love sending out email invitations. Websites like Paperless Post have a huge selection (including some for free). They also let you send reminders and track who is attending. A little bit of formality helps get everyone’s head in the game.

Piggyback on a celebrity book club

Sometimes the most difficult part is choosing the book. No one wants to be responsible for a dud, so until everyone gets comfortable with each other let Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, or Emma Watson take the decision out of your hands.

Skip the Potluck

Alternating members homes and having everyone bring a dish doesn’t always work. How many times can you exclaim over Joanne’s artichoke dip or Linda’s chicken salad? If someone volunteers to host the meeting they should be responsible for the food. Members can bring bottles of wine, flowers, chocolates, even cookies—but leave the Tupperware at home.  Even better…

Meet Out!

Call ahead and reserve a table at your favorite coffee shop, bar or restaurant. Another option is to skip the food and beverages altogether. Bookshops and libraries are great places to meet.


the girl on the trainWhen our group read Girl On A Train, the hostess made up goody bags with corkscrews and mini bottles of Beefeater Gin inside. Everyone loved it! Tie-ins aren’t restricted to goody bags. If the outdoors plays a big part in the story, meet in the park. If the book contains a famous quote, print it on homemade bookmarks. Just don’t go overboard! And don’t do this for every book your group reads—but when an obvious tie-in presents itself, have fun with it.

Bring a Friend

While this can be a great way to recruit new members, my favorite plus ones are out-of-town guests whose visits just happen to coincide with our meetups. New people inject new life into the conversation.  

Think Outside of the Box

Don’t take the title “Book Club” too literally. Take a break from the assigned reading and host a Book Swap. Choose a magazine article to discuss. Have half the group read the book and the other half watch the movie, then compare. Read a book of poetry. Read a romance novel. There are no rules—the trick is to figure out what works best for your group.