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You Can Do It! (If You Want To): An Introvert’s Guide to Joining a Book Club

Tracy Shapley Towley

Staff Writer

Tracy is a freelance copywriter, all-around ne’er do well, very-adult graduate of the University of Iowa, and occasional waterer of plants. Her hobbies include writing fiction, reading fiction, mixing together various flavors of soup, and typing letters to her friends on an old red typewriter that doesn't have a working period so all sentences must end in questions marks or exclamation points? She has read every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and has a lot of thoughts on them. Her old Iowa farmhouse is shared by her husband Sean, a pair of cats, a pair of dogs, and the ghost of Kurt Vonnegut.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of my favorite things:

  • Books
  • Reading books
  • Talking about reading books
  • The vegan chocolate chip cookies from my local co-op
  • Fiddle, my dog, who looks like a Jim Henson creature

photo by author

Here is a fairly comprehensive list of my least favorite things:

  • Meeting new people
  • Going new places
  • Icebreaker activities
  • Being sweaty

I’ve always wanted to be a person who goes to a book club, but there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to encounter at least one, if not three, of my least favorite things at a book club. Also, coffee makes me sweaty so you can count me out of any book club that meets at a coffee shop, and yes, Brad, I am aware that technically I can go to a coffee shop and order something other than coffee but come on, man, that is not a real option.

But, hey, good news! As I become more ancient in years, I have become more willing to put myself into awkward/uncomfortable situations and that has included going to several book clubs full of strangers congregating in new places! And I survived—but probably just because there were no icebreaker activities* involved.

And guess what? You can do it and survive, too—if you’d like to. Before I give you bunches of tips to try, let me make sure we’re all on the same page here: It is 100% fine if you do not want to go to a book club. If the idea of it makes your skin crawl and makes you nervous and you cannot imagine why you would want to talk to strangers about your beloved tomes, then don’t. Tell your nagging uncle or whoever to bug off, and then stay at home with your cuppa and reread your dragon tales, damn.

On the other hand, if you want a bump off your comfortable stool, then keep on reading, new friends.

Take Charge and Run the Dang Thing

I know, I know, I can hear/feel your scoffs all the way over here in flyover land but hear me out! What is the source of your fear about joining a book club? It is very possible that part of it is the fear of the unknown. What will the books be like? Where will you sit? Where will it be held? Do you walk up to people and introduce yourself or sit down and wait for them to come to you? What are people going to be talking about? Where are the fire exits?

If you’re in charge, you have a lot of these answers already. You can choose the book. Choose one you know well and feel passionately about. Set the club in a location you feel comfortable in, whether your home (the horror, I know, strangers in your home!), a coffee shop (just bring me some antiperspirant if you want me to show up), a library, the park, a treehouse, a space ship, whatever suits you. Stake it out in advance. Figure out where you’re going to sit. Get there really early, give yourself a name tag, and stand with a look of authority. People will come up and introduce themselves to you. Practice small talk in advance, or just stick with a few generic questions about the book. As people show up, introduce them to one another and they will start talking among themselves. Just smile and nod and no one will even notice your terror.

If your fear is not knowing what to expect, this may actually be the answer that works for you.

Stick With a Book Group That’s Already Totally Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you’re concerned that you will be less knowledgeable than other people, go to a book group that is totally out of your typical comfort zone. For example, I read very little science fiction so if I went to a science fiction book club, not only would I be introduced to a whole new world, but I would have a very valid excuse for having no idea what anyone was talking about.

I would have an excuse for not knowing the books other people loved. I would have an excuse to not understand the short-hand lingo those cool sci-fi kids use. I would have an excuse for saying/typing “sci-fi kids.” I would have an excuse for basically being a big dumdum about everything except the book in front of me. I could also compare it to other favorite books in different genres—so I’d be bringing a whole new flavor to the group too. Lawdy, they’d be lucky.

Recruit a “Friend” to Go With You

I can hear you thinking loudly at me again, “Duh, this is a stupid obvious tip because obviously if I had a friend who wanted to go I would have already asked them.” And I’m over here loudly thinking LET ME FINISH because that’s not what I’m talking about.

Unless you are a total hermit, you likely interact with some people. Coworkers? Churchgoers? Do you have a special rapport with the guy you buy your Slim Jims from at the gas station? Whomever you interact with, ask them to go to a book club with you. Is this weird? I don’t know, it depends on who the person is, but it will be two seconds of being uncomfortable while you ask them and then you get to go to an entire club with someone else.

Join an Alternative Book Club

There are a variety of really cool/weird/strange book clubs out there. On the not-strange side, we have online book clubs that allow you to talk to readers about books on Facebook, Goodreads, and various places throughout the internet. Book Riot has been known to pick a Riot Read once in a while and put it up for discussion. An online book club could be the right choice or it could be a stepping stone to get you confident talking about books so you can get to an actual book club.

Then you’ve got the Silent Book clubs, which are just what they sound like—a book club in which you show up, shut up, and read.

Over-Prepare and Then Prepare Some More

The more confident you feel about the what you’re going to be saying, the less worried you’re likely to feel. Check out reviews of the book. If it’s a classic, find out what all those snobby scholars think the theme is, or the important scenes are or whatever (I am a college dropout, can you tell). Are you going to steal these ideas? Hell no, you’ve got integrity! But knowing what people may say about the book lets you prepare how to respond to those things they might say.

If you’re afraid you’re going to boink it altogether and have nothing to say, we’ve got you covered there too with What to Say in Book Club When You’ve Run Out of Things to Say.

Remove Obstacles

If you still break out into a cold sweat thinking about going to a book club, dig deep into that lovely heart of yours and find out what obstacles still exist—and then crush them! Find a way to get them the heck outta yer way! Worried about not having time? Start a book club in a place you already go. Like, I take this monster dog of mine to the dog park. Hypothetically, if it wasn’t tundra time, I could put up a few flyers and gab about books with some fellow dog lovers. Get creative!

And there we go—you’ve got it! Plenty of ideas to get you started. If all else fails, just move to Iowa City and give me a call. I am also a stranger but I will meet you for a cup of coffee and we will awkwardly bark out random sentences about books at one another and call it a win!

photo by author

Fiddle thinks we should all work together to start Dog Riot so he can be a mascot.

*The last time I did an icebreaker activity was in a gen ed college class when I was in my late 30s and everyone else was in their late teens. The teacher-person asked us to give our names and our theme song. I said “Sister Christian,” and then after I said it and the next person was talking I realized that no one in the room probably knew that song so I blurted out, “I mean, it’s because it’s a ridiculous song—I’m not like a super Christian or anything!” No one cared. But still, a few moments later, I interrupted another student by blurting out, “To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being Christian, not that anyone who is Christian needs my permission or acceptance or anything, I’m just saying that what I really mean is that I’m not Christian but it’s fine to be Christian…Well, unless you’re like, an anti-gay Christian or…” and then I shut up because it was a statistics class, not a class about how complicated religious doctrine is, good lord, Shapley.