Monday, December 1, 2014

Hosting a Successful Book Club

I have to say that I am very proud of the book club I host.  It is amazing, I never have less than 20 people attending each month and can have up to 32 people discussing the title.  I can have over 50 people reading the title in any given month.
I began the book club almost 4 years ago, from the start we had a good turn out with about 10 regulars.  Gradually it picked up steam and then since January 2013 the club has been incredibly robust.  I have pondered what has made it so successful?

  • First, I have to give credit to the community.  I have an engaged community that are joiners.  Several of them attend other book clubs.  People in the community enjoy reading, they are joiners and they want to support the library.
  • Also, it seems that a long time book club in the community had run its full cycle and disbanded, my book club received several of these members.
I have no real control over the above elements--of course it could be argued that I have control over the first and I believe I do.  I am recognizing that I live in one of those great communities where a significant number people already have a sense of ownership and belonging.  My job is to continue to foster that sense and to reach out to those who are not yet involved.  So, it is important for me to understand why I have been so successful with this book club.  Specifically, I want to understand what I am doing that makes people choose to read the book, come each month and also tell their friends about the book club.  

Here is what I have come up with:

  • Each monthly selection is determined at the end of the previous year and published as a list.  This gives people the opportunity to know what is coming up.  I have one member that spends half the year up north in a small town in Yosemite.  She follows us along and while she is away.  I have another member that can only attend on alternating months because due to his busy schedule it takes him two months to finish a title, so it is important for him to know what is upcoming, so that he can get a head start.  I also have several other people that have conflicting schedules, but they enjoy reading along and if their schedule opens up they can attend.  
  • Although, I compile the list and the members do vote on what to read for the year.  This give the members a sense of ownership and control.  In the fall, I compile a list of about 30 titles, I search the internet for lists and think of books that I have read that might create an interesting discussion.  Once I find a title that might be interesting, I search the system's catalog to see if there are enough copies to support the book club.  This has become increasingly challenging because now I am searching for titles that have more than 50 copies.   Once the list is compiled, with a brief synopsis, I distribute the list and have people vote on their top 10.  I then tally the results and arrange the titles for the eleven months that we meet.   
  • I look for variety.  I always try to add titles from a variety of genres, fiction & non-fiction, teen books and even once a children's book.  This feature is highly appreciated, because people tend to read certain types of books and enjoy being challenged to read outside of their comfort zone. 
  • I provide a list of questions with the title.  I recognize that people want some guidance and what to know what is happening at the book club.  Quieter people will fill comfortable discussing the title because they have had time to organize their thoughts. I generally try for about 10 questions that cover not only the book but also bring in some personal connection to the title.  I either write my own questions or adapt published questions.  I find that published questions have too many parts for the purpose of the book club.  I also want to add the personal questions for two reasons, if someone hadn't finished the book, didn't like the book or even hadn't read the book, they can contribute something positive to the discussion.  And the second reason, is that by sharing that personal connection with others in the group, the group coalesces.  
  • I go for moderation.  I through out the question, and then let members discuss.  If I see that someone wants to say something or hasn't contributed, I will ask that person what he/she thinks.  And sometimes, I will add my own thoughts, stories to the conversation but I try to only do that to move the conversation alone.  For the most part everyone is very polite, take turns, build on the other's discussion and sometimes the discussion goes in directions that I never expected. 
  • I provide refreshment and when possible themed for the book.  I find that people really appreciate making the connection between their refreshments and the book we are discussion.  It also gives them the sense that I really care enough about the book club, to put special effort in the snacks.  
  • There is a book club display of the current title for anyone to check out.  I call it the Book Club Corner, but members know that they can pop into the library and pick up the title.  And more importantly, non-members can pick up a title with the questions and may choose to attend.  
  • I foster a safe environment. The safe environment is established with everything that happens above.  I support other ideas, try to balance the conversation, provide people with an expectation of what will happen. I know that I am successful, because people continue to come, feel comfortable with bringing in more to the discussion: for example, one member invited a couple of people who had direct experience with the topic of the book and once several occasions people have brought in newspaper articles, pamphlets, photos and other items to share with the everyone else.  
Below is the list of titles that the book club will be discussing in 2015. 

Tuesday, January 27—The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
In 1939 Nazi Germany, Death takes time out of his ever busier schedule to pay attention to Liesel, a foster child that finds meaning in life through the theft of books.  January 27, 2015 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  

Tuesday, February 24 — The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty   What if your husband writes a devastating letter to be opened only
after his death?  What if you stumble upon it while he is still alive? 

Tuesday, March 24 — Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children  by Ransom Riggs   A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A collection of very curious photographs.  It all waits to be discovered.  Read an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction with found photography.

Tuesday, April 21— Under Wraps Book Club   Select and
unwrap one or more selections for discussion at this month’s book club.

Tuesday, May 26 — China Dolls by Lisa See   Grace, Helen and Ruby, three very different women brought together by circumstances.  Follow their friendships as they try to succeed as glamorous nightclub dancers in the 30’s.   

Tuesday, June 23 — The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by
Gabrielle Zevin   On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of
a Victorian cottage is the motto No Man Is an Island, Every Book is a World.
A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

Tuesday, July 21 — Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talkingby Sue Kane   Although they are often labeled quiet, it is to the introverts that we owe many of our great contributions to society.

Tuesday, August 25 —The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood  
Two women, two eras, two stories of uncertainty trimmed in sadness laced with hope. 

Tuesday, September 22 —The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick   For 38 years Bartholomew has lived with his mother, but when she dies Bartholomew wonders how a man whose entire life has revolved around his mother, Saturday Mass & the library can learn to fly.  A humorous selection.   

Tuesday, October 27— Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafron   A tale of love, literature, passion & revenge in 1957 Barcelona.   

Tuesday, November 24 — A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki   Bullied by classmates,16-year-old Nao feels life is unbearable in Tokyo.
A diary is Nao’s only solace & will touch lives in ways she cannot imagine.    

December — No meeting — see you in 2016!  

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