I’ve had various people ask me about starting a book club and/or a reading group. Is there a difference between the two groups? What is the process? How to get started? Who to invite? I gave this some thought since I’ve always been part of a reading group in some form or fashion and had not given much thought to the group’s origin or formation. Either I was the leader of the group or an invited participant. As a former language teacher, I’ve been in reading group discussions from the educational perspective. The process was based on the language and/or literature curriculum that I had designated for the class. The reading discussions were assigned throughout the semester. And the participants were the students enrolled in my class as part of their degree plan, whether required or optional. On the other hand, I’ve also been an invited participant, to formal and informal groups, coming into an already established gathering of readers. So, to answer the initial questions, I have taken an informal perspective (as opposed to the formal perspective of designing a literature class discussion) of organizing a casual group of readers with the common interest of experiencing the literary world with others rather than alone.
Given that I’m an advocate and promoter of books and authors of color, my starting point will be that of organizing a casual reading group of multicultural books and/or authors. I made an initial search on the internet for book club and reading group guides and came up with several different good sources that mention similar key points for a successful reading group. I will touch on these points here with a cultural point of view. Three of the sites referenced for this post include, Reading Group Choices, Reading Group Guides, and About.com Bestsellers on How to Start a Book Club by Erin Collazo Miller. To join an established Latino reading group, with a focus on Latin@ authors visit Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club. This book club lists national meeting locations and times and lists the year’s selections. If you do not find a location near you, contact Nora Comstock to request guidance in starting a Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club in your area. Another wonderful Latino reading source is The Latina Book Club, which includes other Latino book clubs available. These last two sites will already have some of the details answered for the start of a reading group, for example, meeting schedule, ground rules, etc. Recommendations for book selections can also be found in the above referenced sites and at the Indiebound website, a community of “indie-conscious people” supporting local businesses, such as independent bookstores.
- Starting a reading group begins with gathering a group of reader participants. Perhaps you already have a few friends that share in your literary interests or you have acquaintances that expressed an interest in a reading group. Initiate the idea of a reading group, generate interest, and start recruiting. From the onset it is best to set a scheduled meeting location, time, and frequency. Ideally the handful of initial participants will be able to easily agree on the group’s meeting time. It is common to dedicate a month’s time to reading the selection before coming together for the discussion.
- Growing the reading group is best done through word of mouth. Each initial participant can reach out to his/her circle(s) of family and friends to generate additional interest and recruit members. Sources indicate that a group of 8 to 10 and up to 12 members is ideal for a successful discussion, keeping in mind that not all members will be able to participate at every monthly gathering. Another form of recruitment includes printed announcements posted at particular locations with “reader” traffic such as libraries, coffee shops, independent bookshops, etc. Also, utilizing social media is an opportunity in getting the word out about the new reading group. Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, and others can create enough interest to complete the group.
- Creating guidelines from the onset is essential. Participants and the reading group as a whole must be aware of the group’s expectations and common courtesies. These guidelines should be written down by the group’s founding member(s) before recruitment ensues in order to give perspective members a clear understanding of his/her commitment. Items to consider include, selection of group’s literary interest (i.e. genre, language, authors), how to select of books/authors, selection of discussion leader(s), respect for individual space, respect for diverse perspectives, member participation, engaged participation, food, drink, etc.
- Make initial book selection(s) and start gatherings. Once the meeting schedule has been decided, start meeting and inviting others. Allow for some flexibility in meeting as months come with a preset holiday, seasonal, school schedules that will invariably conflict with members’ routines. Looking ahead at the next month will give the group a heads up on possible conflicts. Choose a common form or two for group communications, whether an internet forum, email list, telephone tree, etc. each member is assured of “being in the loop” regarding meeting changes and/or upcoming conflicts.
- Lastly, don’t forget the primary reason for organizing a reading group… sharing the joy of books with others. Whether each member has a different reason for joining a reading group, the ultimate focus is reading good books, experiencing books with others, and sharing one’s perspective.
Enjoy gathering and sharing your love of reading, and always check back with Dulce for an enticing diversity of titles and authors, discussion leads, and topics.