Somewhere in a kitchen in Neukölln, Berlin, a bunch of expats gathered around a table for the launch event of my new book club. I’ve been wanting to start a book club for ages (years, maybe). Socialising with books! Talking about books! Drinking and books! These are all my favourite things. So I gathered a bunch of friends, took over my friend’s kitchen, and launched one myself. Here’s what I learned, from when I created it, until the end of the night.
A lot of people don’t want to buy a book.
And yes, I get it. Despite the fact I read like a maniac (compared to most people, anyway), I am still actually disinclined to buy books. I know, I know, I’m a horrible person, not supporting authors and the dying publishing industry etc, etc.. But I borrow books from my library, steal friends’ copies, or hunt through bargain bins for my next compelling read, rather than giving in to the temptation of spending all my hard-earned euros on crisp paperbacks (one day, maybe). Buying a fresh book is still an expense, and most book clubbers don’t want to shell out for a new book every month.
My tip? Choose a book that’s been around for a while, so there are second hand copies, library copies, or iBooks available to download. Or even go the extra mile and bulk buy a few copies online, to sell onto your friends, so no one has an excuse.
People will read the book!
I was certain while launching this book club that no one would read the book for the first meeting. In our modern life, it’s hard to find time to read, and I was convinced that no one would have been as passionate or excited about me as this. I also didn’t want to create a strict you-must-read-it book club, because I wanted it to be 90% social and 10% literary. I was ready for us to get together and spend 5 minutes discussing how no one had read it (“but next time, I promise!”) until we moved on to just having a good old chat. But I was surprised and impressed by the crowd who had read the book. More than impressed! And because of that, we managed to have a great, deep, and interesting discussion.
But, people won’t read the book.
Of course, some people won’t read the book. It was the first time, and we didn’t yet have a rhythm, and as expected, some people just didn’t, or couldn’t, read the book. Which was fine! As said, I didn’t want this to be a shamey, pretentious book club. I just wanted a group of book-loving people to get together and discuss things, and a book is a great prompt to start interesting discussions!
But I did want the people who hadn’t read the book to feel just as included and involved in the conversation as those who had. So before the book club I asked those who hadn’t read it to at least brush up on the plot on the wikipedia page. And I tried to steer the questions to the larger, ethical questions the book proposed, rather than focus on nuances of plot and character.
Being prepared with questions was helpful.
I found a list of discussion questions on the author’s website, which were helpful because they gave us a place to start the conversation. Having somewhere to start talking, and prompts to continue, gave the conversation a familiarity of answering discussion questions in school. The questions weren’t too difficult, but they allowed us to start a conversation.
A plot summary & cheat cheat could have been more helpful.
I noticed that as we were chatting, some of us instinctively looked towards the print out of questions, as if searching for a prompt or clue to steer their thoughts. Maybe if I was super organised I could have a list of the characters, themes, or major plot points so we could latch onto them when the conversation dried up.
Having a book that poses an ethical question is necessary.
The first book we read about for our book club was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. It’s a family drama dealing with themes of motherhood, family, race and class, and the central question posed throughout the novel was debatable whether or not anyone had read the book. We were able to share our own opinions and get into a healthy discussion
Alcohol was important.
I mean, this kinda goes without saying, right?
Food would have been a great addition.
Defs could have used some hummus though.
No one really wants to choose a book…
At the end of the night we discussed how to pick a book. No one wanted the entire responsibility of picking a book, for fear of picking a dud, I assume. I ended up grabbing a few suggestions from everyone and putting a poll on Facebook, which allowed everyone to have a say.
Starting a book club? Need a book to start with? How about mine?