How to Start a Book Club That’s a Joy, Not a Drag

Step one: Make sure everyone who’s there actually wants to talk about the book

Naomi Tomky
Forge
Published in
5 min readJun 24, 2019

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Credit: Leonora Hamill/Getty Images

“M“My wine club has a book problem” is a joke that, judging by the number of Etsy products upon which it’s emblazoned, absolutely kills among a certain subset of the population. You can buy versions of the line (“My book club only reads wine labels” or “My book club can read between the wines”) on totes, candles, socks, tea towels, and, of course, wineglasses.

And look, no one’s here to judge: Having a gathering to unwind with friends over a drink is a wonderful, necessary thing. If doing it under the guise of a book club is the only way to make sure it gets regularly scheduled, by all means, carry on.

But if you joined a book club with the goal of having a space to discuss books, it can be frustrating to find yourself in a room of people gossiping over wine. (Though a good snack spread never made anything worse.)

Having a book club that’s all about the books, though, can also come with problems. People get busy, get lazy, or forget to read the book, and suddenly, schlepping to meetings feels like a drag. Or dueling schedules make it impossible to nail down a time to meet, and the club stagnates into nonexistence.

I have some firsthand experience with this, though fortunately with a happy ending. When one of the clubs began losing steam, one member — who I now think of as our fearless leader — took charge with a simple but powerful move: She sent out an email asking people to recommit. If they wanted to stay in the club, they needed to read the book, RSVP, and come to at least some of the meetings. Some people were upset, or decided it wasn’t worth it, and left the club. Others (including me) were thrilled at the results. The book club was revived and reinvigorated, and has sailed smoothly since.

But aside from a strongly worded email, what is it that makes for a thriving, long-lasting book club? Is the secret in the book choice, the group size, or the meeting spot? Here’s what I’ve gleaned from my own time in various clubs, as well as conversations with fellow book club devotees over the years.

Appoint a leader

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Naomi Tomky
Forge
Writer for

Food and travel writer Naomi Tomky is the author of The Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook. Follow her on Twitter @Gastrognome and on Instagram @the_gastrognome