How to start a book group


How do I start a book group or reading group?

How do I find people to start a book group?

If you have a ready group of friends who you know will love to join in and read then you’re off and running. If there are only a few of you then you can either get each of you to bring another friend, or you can look around for other members. Good places to hunt are to put notices in libraries, book shops, local shops, work places, community spaces, schools, community magazines and local newspapers. Social media is also another brilliant way to find like minded people. You can join book groups on Facebook or simply post on your own timeline to see if anyone is interested. You need to decide what kind of people you’d like to be in a group with. Do you want all the same age group, gender etc?

Ideal size of a book group?

6 to 12, depending on how good everyone is at ensuring they all come. Ideally you want 6 to 8 there each time, but you might need to allow for some no shows.

How often should a book group meet?

This depends on just how busy you all are, but the general rule of thumb is monthly. Most people can manage to read one book in a month.

Why join a book group, what are the benefits?

You are introduced to authors and genres that you would never have normally chosen. We are all creatures of habit and tend to choose books based on our past experiences. By being told to read a novel or even a non-fiction book that we wouldn’t have usually chosen, it opens up our reading world.

Should I have rules for my book group?

Some groups are more serious than others and will stipulate that only people who have read the choice book can attend, but that’s really up to you. Others are far more social in nature, it’s all personal choice. What you do need to do is decide where you are going to meet and how you are going to choose the books. You might also need someone to organise getting hold of the books for you. You can choose to decide on a meeting date and place at the end of each meeting, or you can meet on a set day, say the first Monday in the month etc. It is important that you allow for the various different viewpoints. Some people might absolutely loathe a book that’s been chosen and so members must be careful how they express their views so as not to upset other members.

What’s the best way to keep in touch with my book group members?

This all depends on how you know each other and how tech savvy you are. The best options include an email group, social media – a private Facebook messenger group or Whatsapp group. You could set up a Slack group, but it’s often better to keep the communications on whatever channel the members use anyway.

What do you do if you can’t afford to buy the books for a book group?

Libraries will often be able to order in bulk copies for you, so you can designate someone in the group to do this. Or you can download the FREE MyVLF book group monthly read.

How do you choose what books to read in a book group?

Decide early on if it’s just fiction or non-fiction, or a mix of both. If you alternate hosts, then the host can choose each time. Or you can simply have a list of member names and work through taking turns. Some groups like to decide by committee, so each person can come up with a suggestion and then you debate which one the group will read. This can be an issue if one person’s suggestions are always rejected and can also result in the books becoming a little ‘samey’, ie as with your own reading habits, a group will graduate towards the majority’s interests and thus you are less likely to benefit from reading books you wouldn’t normally think of reading. Some groups like to read a certain type of book – ie by genre such as romance, or foreign writers etc. This is all up to your personal choice but remember that the idea is to be introduced to new and different writers so if you make the group too homogenous and narrow, chances are you’ll end up reading the same kinds of books you would have without the group.

Celebrities such as Ophrah Winfrey, have their own book picks and you can choose to follow one of those. Or book retailers often have promoted books (which they will also discount). Again, the only issue here is that you will tend to read mainstream titles and not some of the more obscure books that individuals might come across.

Libraries and book shops often have suggested reading for book groups, as well as their own reading groups, so you can utilise this. The disadvantage of following a library reading group is that the chances are the books will all be on loan – a tip would be to read their books the month after them.

You can of course do a mix of all of the above for some variety.

How do you know what to discuss at a book group?

Many publishers and authors will provide book group discussion points at the end of the book or online. There are also plenty of generic discussion topic lists you can download, including the MyVLF What are some good Book Group Discussion Questions?.

What do you do at a book group?

Each time you meet you decide on a book that the group will read and then you discuss it at the next meeting. There are all sorts of variants of this as it depends on the personalities and make up of the group. Some reading groups are really quite serious whereas as others are equally as social as they are reading groups. The key is to try and make sure that you really do read the chosen books as otherwise it becomes merely a social gathering.

What should you drink at a book group?

Whatever your group wants to drink is the simple answer. Some stick to teas and coffees, others always drink wine. It really is entirely up to you and your members and what it is you’d like to do. Bear in mind that if you are meeting in the day time, then non-alcoholic is more the norm. That’s not to say that you can’t have ‘special’ meetings at Christmas and other holiday times.

Do people provide food at a book group?

This is entirely up to your group and what time you meet. Some groups will meet out where food is available and buy their own, others meet at members’ homes and either biscuits or cakes might be provided by the host in turn, or members can take it in turns to bake/bring for each meeting.

Where should a book group meet?

That is entirely up to you and the people in your group. Some groups meet in the daytime, others in the evenings or at weekends and that in itself can determine the right space for you. Most importantly it needs to be somewhere that you can all hear each other talk and feel comfortable. Also bear in mind if you are creating a group from total strangers, you might not feel comfortable inviting them to your home and a public space might be better.

If it’s a daytime meeting then libraries, churches and other community spaces might be an option, or perhaps you have a café where you can all sit round and still be able to hear each other. Again, this can depend on the make up of your group. Going to a café will require spending some money so if budgets are tight, stick to free community areas, or perhaps go round to the group members’ homes. Some book groups are based in places of work and you can meet at lunchtime in the work canteen or shared space.

If your book group meets in the evening then you can also meet at your own houses. Sometimes one person will host all the meetings simply because their home is large enough (don’t forget to consider parking). Other groups will take it in turns. Again you need to consider the members of the group as some individuals might be unable to host the meetings for various reasons and it’s important not to make them feel awkward about this. Agree the meeting place framework early and that way everyone will feel comfortable. Some groups meeting in the evenings might also consider meeting in pubs, restaurants and hotels. Again this is a matter for budgets and personalities.

What should I do at my first book group meeting?

When you call the first meeting you will either need to give everyone notice to read a book, or get them to bring along the book they’ve read last to tell the group about, so that you have plenty to discuss. Make sure everyone is introduced to each other, and try to have a short list of questions you can ask people who you don’t know which will help you get to know them better – nothing serious or personal just questions like ‘who is your favourite author and what’s the last thing you read?’ Ask people what they’re hoping to get out of the book group.

Any suggestions to make a book group fun?

Celebrate special occasions. If you normally meet up in a community space in the day, why not have a ‘Christmas party’ and go out for a meal once a year?

Christmas time consider doing a ‘Secret Santa’. Either choose names of the group from a hat and then secretly buy a book for that person, or all just buy one book and put it in a sack and draw one out each.

What do I do if book group members aren’t reading the books?

Sometimes book groups run their course. If yours has been going for some time and members are starting to not read the chosen books, then it might be that their lives have got busier or that they’re losing interest. The best thing to do is to bring up the issue gently and ask if people want to still carry on doing the group. It could be a temporary lull, but if it’s turning into more of a social gathering than a reading group, the best way to shake up the dynamic is to introduce some new members.

Where can I join a book group?

If you don’t want to organise a book group then there are plenty of places to look for one.

Why not join in with the MyVLF Book Group?

We will provide a free book each month and then you can join us online with your cup of tea or glass of wine and we can discuss it in the MyVLF Café or you can arrange your own local meet up with friends and join in together.