"Don't lead with a gavel." - One of the things that I think makes our group work so well is that we are very much a democracy. Our discussions are very casual with each person speaking up and contributing as the conversation moves along. Many of the questions or topics that are on the facilitators list to discuss often come up naturally in this type of discussion and it seems to flow more organically.
"Put a limit on the size of your membership." - With the internet giving us the ability to reach a larger audience I see more book clubs with huge memberships, the problem with this is you have a different set of people showing up at each discussion and you lose out on the ability to draw from previous discussions. The ability to make connections gets lost with a large group. Making connections is one of the things that draws people to a book club, otherwise they'd just stay home and read by themselves. I've found that a maximum group size of 18 members works well. Since not every member is going to show up for every discussion, your group will still be large enough for a good discussion without being so large that it's hard for everyone to participate.
"Schedule your book selections at least three months in advance." - At the beginning of our club we had several people showing up not having finished reading the book. I found out that they were not able to get the book in time. Either they were waiting on it from the library or ordering it online and hadn't received it in time. This is when I started scheduling our books several months out. This way people can plan ahead, either getting on the library hold list early or purchasing it in advance. Also it gives people the flexibility to plan their reading around their own schedule.
"Be flexible." - Remember some people are more comfortable facilitating a discussion than others. Encourage people to facilitate discussions but don't make it mandatory. You don't want the same person facilitating the discussions, but you also don't want to scare people away by requiring them to do something they don't feel comfortable with. Everyone has different strengths, you may find that one member is great at leading a discussion while another member has a knack for selecting books with great discussion potential. Let everyone show their strengths and you may find you have a better group for it.
"It's not a test."- Don't focus to much on the questions as written. Let the discussion flow and use the questions when it starts to come to a lull. Many times the topics you had to discuss come up naturally. You'd be surprised at some of the insights that come up when you let the group flow naturally.
"Have other book related events." - Go to movies based on the book you've read together. Go to book festivals or book signings. Getting out to other events together helps build the connections you have with the members of your group and will help it to keep your group going strong.
" Change it up every once in awhile." - If your group regularly reads just literary fiction try a good science fiction novel like Kindredby Octavia Butler. If your groups regular thing is historical fiction try reading a biography like Cleopatra: A Lifeby Stacy Schiff. If it's non-fiction that your group reads try a graphic novel like Maus: A Survivor's Taleby Art Spiegelman. Doing this can open your group up to new genres and they may discover things they never would have considered on their own.
"Don't shy away from the hard stuff." - Don't let the length or the reputation of a book keep you from choosing it for your book group. Our group originally put a cap on our books of nothing over 450 pages and then it was suggested we read Shantaramby Gregory David Roberts, but at almost 1,000 pages it didn't meet our guidelines, so we decided to read it over two months and it ended up being one of the groups favorites. Some members that were hesitant to read One Hundred Years of Solitudeby Gabriel Garcia Marquez, claiming it's too hard of a book, but after reading it found they really enjoyed it. If you limit yourself too much you may find there are great reads you are missing out on.
" Pair some contemporary works with a classic." - Read a classic work along with a related contemporary work, either together or back to back. Such as, Mrs. Dallowayby Virginia Woolf and The Hoursby Micheal Cunningham. Doing this brings more understanding of each of the works and attracts readers to classic works they would not otherwise have read. (Look for next weeks blog on this topic)
"Have fun!" - Don't get so hung up on sticking to books. that you don't have fun. Relax and have a good time that's what it's all about. Happy Reading!