Keeping the book the star of your book club

Book clubs have a reputation. Conversation may start in the right direction, but staying on track isn’t always easy. There are, however, ways to ensure the book you spent so much time reading will be the star of the discussion.

“I think the book club needs to have the expectation that members actually read the book. Otherwise, it’s just a social gathering,” Karen Stroup told the AJC.

Stroup found her current book club in 2019. It meets about every six weeks typically at a bar or restaurant.

For Elisa Siegel, whose two book clubs meet in person or over video chat, a key component to keeping members engaged in book talk is to offer time to socialize.

“We usually have a 30-minute mingle time before we start so everyone can get socializing out of the way,” Siegel told the AJC.

Cobb County Public Library adult services librarian, Melissa White agrees.

“I set aside time for socializing after the book discussion so people can linger and continue conversations,” White told the AJC.

Having a set moderator come with prepared questions keeps the conversation going for this long-running book club.

Credit: Courtesy of Lesly Gregory

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy of Lesly Gregory

While working in time to talk casually helps, keeping a book club on track most often falls to the facilitator.

Having the same facilitator lead each meet-up at Stroup’s book club helps “keep us on track.”

“It’s nice to take the pressure off group members that may not feel comfortable leading a discussion or preparing questions in advance,” Stroup said.

Between Siegel’s two book clubs, moderation is handled differently. Her women’s book club is moderated by a paid facilitator while her couple’s book club is moderated by whoever is hosting that session.

“We always go around the room to see what people thought of the book and usually take a poll to rate the book,” Siegel said.

But, even with the best intentions to stay on topic, conversation isn’t always easy. When lulls appear for White, she uses the opportunity to bring a new voice into the mix.

“If somebody hasn’t spoken up at all, I may ask if they have anything to add and invite them into the conversation. Asking, ‘What do you think of the book?’ helps,” White said.

Cindy Getty, a current member of three different book clubs, finds that mutual respect is a great way to ensure conversation keeps going.

“It’s important to allow everyone to feel as if they’re being heard by allowing each participant an opportunity to share and contribute if they’d like,” Getty told the AJC.

Preparing questions in advance can also help maintain focus as long as they’re the “right type.”

“I believe that asking questions based upon situation, theme or character trait helps to personalize the questions,” Getty said.

“A list of questions is always a good start, but I think beyond understanding the theme or main characters, it’s important for people to discuss how the book made them feel,” Stroup said.

Book selection can also help drive conversation, but don’t try to always find something that everyone will like.

“I pick books where everyone will have something to say,” White said.

She has noticed that when some people like a book, but others don’t, discussion usually increases.

Carrying book selection can also impact conversation as people potentially step out of their reading comfort zone.

No matter how your book club is set up, there is one common side effect.

“The connections and shared experiences have been unexpected and wonderful,” Getty said about her time in all of her book clubs.

So, regardless of how much you talk about the book, maybe it isn’t the actual star, but rather the long-term friendships made possible by a love of reading.