Build a Better Book Club

Tips from Kathie Collins and Paul Reali

WATCH: Kathie Collins and Paul Reali talk book clubs with Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson on WCNC’s Charlotte Today

Book clubs help to tap our natural desire to share and better understand what we’ve read. But with so many books being published and promoted, it can be hard to find even one person who has read what you’ve read and who wants to discuss it.

In a good book club, all members read the book before the meeting and are excited to talk about it with one another. It’s great to offer food and beverages, but try not to let the eating, drinking, and socializing interfere with the purpose of the gathering. Beyond that, here are our Top Five Tips for a better book club!

Create a club charter

One way to assure discussion of the book takes center stage is to create a charter: a set of agreements including:

  • When you’ll meet
  • How you’ll select books
  • Who will host
  • Who will lead the discussion
  • How much of the meeting you’ll devote to discussing the book

Appoint a facilitator for each gathering

It can be hard to both prepare your home for guests and prepare a thoughtful set of discussion questions. In our experience, it’s easier for everyone if you separate the hosting and facilitation roles. 

The best and longest-running book groups have rich discussions. Three things that help promote these are:

  • Facilitators that prepare thought-provoking questions in advance
  • Sharing the floor, that is, encouraging everyone a chance to talk, rather than allowing the extroverts to dominate
  • Going deep with the discussion

Prepare questions in advance

The facilitator’s job is to make a good conversation possible. The best facilitator tip is to do the least talking. Your job is managing the discussion, not providing instruction. That said, the facilitator still needs to be prepared to get things started and keep them on track. 

Some books have a reading guide in the back, but if your selection doesn’t, an internet search might turn some up. Simply search for the book title plus the words, “reading guide.” For example, Frankenstein Reading Guide yields results from universities, the publisher, school districts, and test preparation sites.

This site offers suggested games to play with your book club. These games include icebreakers, pair sharing, wordplay, and quizzes. Feel free to modify them for your club.

Ask deeper questions

Even if you find a reading guide to your book selection, these universal questions will promote deep discussions:

  • Who was the protagonist, and how did they change by the end of the book?
  • What do you think was the major theme of the book, and why do you think so?
  • What were some recurring symbols, and why do you think the author chose them?
  • How did this story touch me personally?
  • In what way is this story my story; or which character’s struggle resonated with mine?

Choose books deliberately

 Many book clubs just rotate selection among members, which produces an eclectic list. This can be a good thing, or not.

Another way to think about it is to provide some structure. For example, you might choose a theme for the year: classics, or classics by women, or classics from the Victorian era.

Or, you might have a genre year, say, all mysteries, picking a different type of mystery each month.

Or, you might have a different genre each month, planned in advance. January is literary, February is romance, March is science fiction, April is poetry, and so on. 

Don’t be afraid to try poetry, young adult, middle grade, graphic novels, or women’s fiction if you’re a group of men—genres and topics outside the expected.

Also, try mixing lengths. Read some of a short story collection. Read a novella. Take a very long novel like The Goldfinch and spread it over two months.

Book Recommendations for your Book Club