Keep It Tight
No less than five members, no more than 10. Too few people and you may as well be lighting candles, laying out yoga mats and passing around hand mirrors. Too many, and it ceases being a bookclub and officially becomes a party. Unless, of course, that is exactly what you planned all along, you diabolical scamp.
Talk To Your Local Bookshop
Bookshops run their own clubs, but they’re also invaluable if you’re starting your own. Smaller independent bookshops will often have staff members who specialise in clubs. It’s worth making an appointment with them to see what they can offer you. Depending on the bookshop, some can even host your book club in their café, or hold mini presentations of new releases that might suit you for next month’s title. Some shops can organise discounts if your members buy a minimum number of books too. Just ask.
Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel
Find a day of the week that suits everyone’s schedules and doesn’t conflict with classes, jobs or band practice. First Wednesday night of every month; last Sunday evening—that sort of thing. Then stick with it.
Call the Shots
It’s slightly painful to say this, but democracy doesn’t always work. (See: most high school councils; Australian parliament circa 2011). Many book clubs roster members to nominate their Favourite Book of All Time each month, but this approach inevitably ends in heartache and horror. I’ve seen people bring in their sentimental favourites, all Disney-eyed and bushy tailed, then come out of the book club looking like Bambi after his mother got shot. Members will tear books to shreds, and everyone will leave, silently weeping and judging each other, thinking, “I thought you were my friend.” Favourite books will come up in conversation anyway, so don’t subject them to an intensive public flogging (unless you get off on that sort of thing). As the organiser, encourage everyone to use your mailing list to exchange book reviews and make suggestions, but call the shots and determine the reading list month by month.
Over 12 months, there’s plenty of room for both fiction and non-fiction. Choose books by Australian and overseas writers. Go for something completely different every time: new releases, classics, fantasy, memoir, science fiction, crime, travel, graphic novels, young adult, chick-lit and at least one book everyone was supposed to read in high school. (Revisiting these as adults is ridiculously good fun.) Change gears every month. Move from John Steinbeck to Tina Fey to Chloe Hooper to Virginia Woolf to Philip K. Dick to Jon Ronson to Anais Nin to Bill Bryson to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Aim for authors from different countries; include the living and the dead. And for the love of god, make sure you have an equal mix of female and male authors. No one wants a cock-forest or a period party.
Cast for Conflict
You’ll never please all your book club members, so don’t aim to. Don’t aim to please yourself either. Choose books for people to fight over, and ones you wouldn’t necessarily read otherwise. Divisive books like Helen Garner’s The First Stone, Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap or Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho—where a prostitute is killed by having her skull drilled open, before the protagonist has sex with the wound!—are divisive and great for book clubs. And they certainly get conversation going.
Everyone Has to Speak, Then All Bet Are Off
To kick things off, ask everyone to offer their brief assessment of the book, accompanied by a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Make sure everyone has their go, then let the wild rumpus begin.
This is book club, not a university tutorial. Good book clubs involve food and wine and swearing and perhaps even a festive fistfight or make-out session. Go to a restaurant or bar that isn’t rowdy, and get comfortable in your regular corner so you can laugh and spar without disturbing the other patrons. If you’re hosting the bookclub at someone’s house, make everyone bring a plate of food to share. Better yet, bring food inspired by the book’s location. (Unless, of course, the book is set in an Indian prison.) The sign of a good book club is when everyone goes home, equally intoxicated by literature and liquor.