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How to start a book club

Whether you’re debating the finer points of a Booker prize winner or getting together with likeminded fans to embrace, for the umpteenth time, a Terry Pratchett fantasy novel, a book club offers more than just some robust discussion, or a chance to natter over wine and cheese. You can make new friends, learn things, widen your horizons, perhaps even live a longer, healthier life.  

And if you think book clubs aren’t your thing, it might be taking a look at the astounding variety of clubs operating around Australia, both in person and online. Some are organised by libraries, others by neighbourhood groups. Some meet every week, others every month.  Some focus on the books of one author, others on a particular genre or theme – from queer fiction to crime, and even, at Brisbane’s Avid Reader, which runs a range of popular groups, a Good Sex Award book club, which tackles books such as Like Water for Chocolate and Testosterone Rex. Some libraries or other organisations also offer specific-language groups, such as the Chinese and Japanese clubs organised by the City of Melbourne’s library division.

It’s worth checking with your local libraries and bookstores to see if there’s a club that suits you, but starting your own is a way to connect with likeminded folk in your neighbourhood.

It’s easier to start a club than you think, and Nabo can help you make it happen.

How do I find members?

Take advantage of Nabo’s Group function to get things organised. Whether you want to create an online discussion group or a club that meets in person, it’s easy to do:

  1. Create the Group (and make sure you put it in the Hobby & Leisure Category) – you can find a step-by-step guide to creating a group here
  2. Reach out to your friends or interested neighbours to join the group (so there are some members already)
  3. Post about the group in the Suburb Hub and see if anyone else wants to join. Include details of where you are thinking of meeting (or the fact that you are planning an online group within Nabo) and the theme, if you have one. Your local bookshop or library might be able to spread the word about your group, too.
  4. Remember to enter the monthly draw to win your group a set of Book Club books thanks to Nabo partner Hachette Australia (starts April, keep an eye out for details coming soon)

When we surveyed members recently to ask how they use Nabo and what they like most, we were delighted to hear that Nabo has helped form several book clubs. “It helped me start a book club and we have been meeting once a month for over a year,” one member reported. Another told us of the long-term friendships that developed from a Nabo book club.  Others have used Nabo to spread the word about an existing book club.

Is there a limit to how many people should be in my book club?

“No, you can have as many as you like, particularly if it’s an online book club,” says Ella Chapman from Hachette, publisher of popular book club picks including Wimmera by Mark Brandi, acclaimed Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson and prize-contender The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop.  “However, book clubs are led by discussion so smaller groups, between five and 10, tend to work well. In a small-medium size group everyone gets a chance to speak and it remains one group discussion rather than the group breaking off into smaller groups.”

How should we pick our books?

Some groups plan out the year in advance, so all members know what books are coming up. Others decide a few months in advance, so they can include exciting new releases. Likewise, there are different ways to decide on which books will be discussed. One way is for all members to suggest some books, then a lucky draw is used to decided which books go on the list.

“Our top suggestion is a monthly rotation between members. Every month a different member will select a title so at some point everyone has their selection discussed. You’ll find yourself reading something you wouldn’t have necessarily selected for yourself and it adds more variety to the group,” says Ella Chapman.

“It’s always a good idea to think ahead and have choices locked in 2 months ahead of discussion so members can purchase a book or borrow from a library in advance.”

Jenn Martin, the Events and Programs Coordinator at Woollahra Libraries in Sydney, says she’s found it works well to make a list for the year and stick to it.
“This means all members can have the list and can read ahead if they need or want to – people read at different rates and have more or less time for reading at different times of the year, so it’s good for people to be able to plan ahead.  “
Martin, who will be hosting a free Woollahra Council Neighbour Day event called How to Start and Run a Community Book Club on March 25, says that members of the council’s six book clubs get together towards the end of each year to chose a list that suits the group’s interests. 
“I sometimes encourage groups to throw in a wild card, because it’s great to get people to read outside their comfort zone and I find that sometimes the books you least expect to enjoy are the ones you have enjoyed most.”

Keep in mind that for most book clubs, the book needs to be widely available, so that members can easily buy or borrow a copy. Some clubs also limit choices to paperbacks, or books under a certain price point.

There are lots of places to get inspiration for your list including best-seller lists, book prize shortlists and book review websites – places to start include Goodreads (the world’s biggest website for book lovers, with an audience of more than 65 million); Better Reading (independent book recommendations for Australia readers); BookBub (which alerts members to free and discounted ebooks, and rounds up a wide variety of recommended reading lists on the BookBub blog, including The Most Popular Book Club Books of the Past Decade); OurBookClub (which has a section dedicated to recommendations for book clubs) and LibraryThing (a way to catalogue your collections as well as themed chat groups). Jenn Martin also has reading lists on her blog, Girl in Library.

Or ask around. “Booksellers and librarians have excellent knowledge of best book club reads and will happily recommend!” says Chapman.

Where can we meet?

Some smaller book clubs meet in members’ homes. Others meet over a meal or drinks at a restaurant, café or bar. Libraries, community halls, churches and other public venues often have rooms available to rent for free or a subsidised fee. Some book shops are also happy to host meetings. Or you could have an online-only group on Nabo, and hold your discussions there. 

“It’s always worth contacting your local library to see if they are seeking community facilitators to help them run their book clubs – in exchange for facilitating, you might get a free room to hold your book club, and a librarian to help you promote it,” Martin says.

Do members have to buy every book we discuss?

Not at all. In fact, many libraries have book club kits, sometimes known as “book club in a bag”, available for borrowing. These will usually have 10-12 copies of the same title, plus resources such as author information and suggested topics for discussion. Check with your library to find out about fees, if any, and how to book a kit. 

“Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love and Lauren Groff’s Fate and Furies were really popular book club kits last year – both books are literary and compelling, both highly readable and with lots that can be discussed over the course of an hour” Jenn Martin says. “My pick for a new Book Club Kit title this year would be Idaho by Emily Ruskovich.”

Do I have to be a dedicated reader to join a book club?

“No, that’s the beauty of a book club! On average a book club meets every 4-6 weeks and you will be asked to only read one book in that time. You can read none or lots of other books outside of that time,” Chapman says. “Reading helps to reduce stress and create a healthier mind. You might find yourself reading for pleasure more once you join a book club.”

Remember, this is your book club, so you can create it to be exactly what you and your fellow members want.

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