Tuesday, August 6, 2013

8 Explanations for Your Broken Book Club (+ Solutions)

Everything has a tendency to break at one point or another. I’m swooping in as the book club “Wolf” toda
y to clean up any messes. Is your book club threatening to crack in two?

No fear, the Book Club Wolf is here.

Here are eight reasons your book club might be faltering and some solutions to help…

The Books
I have no idea how your book club makes its selections but after partaking in several book clubs for years, I’ve come to understand the value of assessing a book’s conversation quotient. What’s a conversation quotient? The degree to which a book incites quality, enriching, and meaningful dialogue. Some books are fantastic but just don’t lend themselves to this type of discussion.

Solution:  Visit sites like Goodreads and bookmovement to read what people are saying about books. Ask friends what their book clubs have enjoyed. It’s worth these small acts to figure out if your group is reading books with optimal conversation quotient potential.

Books that have stirred engrossing conversations in book clubs that I’ve attended…
Gone Girl, Still Alice, Mudbound, Defending Jacob…to name a few.

Lack of Lead
This role need not be assigned to one person, but book clubs begin to weaken when no one wants to step up and begin asking probing, thought-provoking questions.

Solution:  Many authors have book club discussion questions listed on their websites or often if you Google discussion questions or the book title a dozen options will pop up for your club to explore.

This one is the hardest to pinpoint. But it happens. Eager Emma doesn’t mix well with Shy Cheryl. Hyper-opinionated Halle causes friction every time she sits next to super open-minded Opal. Hundreds of these group dynamics could be misfiring.

Solution: Invite new members. Discern commitment level. Break off into two separate groups within the same meeting (or not).

Lack of Commitment
Only two or three members show up.

Solution:  Change the meeting to daytime hours, or evening if you previously met in the day. Coordinate best times that would work. Write up a mini-questionnaire to get opinions on what would help strengthen the book club. Everyone likes to feel heard.

Hungry and Thirsty Members
Bowl of stale popcorn and water won’t entice many members.

Solution: I’m not suggesting you break the bank, but there are many ways to creatively tie in the theme when you provide a few light snacks (brownies are an inexpensive classic) and maybe a drink or two. I make a blueberry sangria whenever I host (because it’s yummy + cost effective).

Feed the troops. They’ll thank you for it and it will improve the overall experience.

Too Serious
Getting right down to business the second everyone walks in the door is sure to breed irritation. Book clubs are meant for discussing books. But let’s not fool ourselves, they’re also about socializing, and carving out time for our minds to relax + recharge.

Solution: Incorporate ways to lighten up the meetings. Gag gifts (possibly related to the book), icebreakers, discuss ideas of what each of you envision a book club to be, play background music and shut it off to help create a divide between socializing cocktail hour and time devoted to the book.

Not Serious Enough
It can get frustrating if you’re hoping to get into a hearty discussion about a book and the entire time is devoted to jabbing about Laura Lynn’s new dining room set.

Solution: Here’s another example where a print-out of discussion questions can help. And the music (see above). Assign everyone a month when they are to “lead” to help guide conversation. Allot an half hour, hour, or however long you all agree to visit before then transitioning into another room (this always works with my clubs…it’s a given when we move from the kitchen into the living room it’s time to go to the book).

Dominant Party
Mayday, mayday, we’ve got a book club takeover on our hands. She shows up extra early, brings sugar free snacks, then spends the entire evening interrupting everyone  and preaching her opinions to the group. She might as well be saying, “Off with their heads.”

Solution: Group dynamics 101. Do you kick her to the curb? Of course not. But, the Wolf says it’s essential to regroup your group. Begin a meeting addressing the interruption issue (without pointing fingers). Vary who hosts or leads the group and have other members demonstrate clarity over who is in the lead each week. And of course, there’s always direct confrontation which, when done well, I feel is always best.

So there you have it. Your bloody book club is all tidied up. Thanks to the this here Book Club Wolf. ;-)

Have you ever witnessed the fall of a group? Ever put thought into how to make it better? Did it get better? Worse? Why?

*photo by morguefile


  1. Excellent insights in to book club politics. As the founder of several clubs, I agree that you are spot on.

    As an avid cupcake baker, I always try to incorporate food from the book into the evening's treats. I'm never sure if the girls show up due to the food or the book.

    My only other advice is to stretch the limits. As the facilitator of a church-based book club, we read a few books which weren't overtly Christian but dealt with themes of spirituality. It made for wonderful conversation, even if everyone didn't agree. My secular group now is opposed to anything genre-based so they balked at my selection of The Age of Miracles, which had a sci-fi element. Every single woman loved it and its quirkiness. "I never would have chosen it, but I'm so glad I read it" was the common statement.

    Select at least a book or two that is outside of your norm. The goal isn't to have everyone love the book. The goal is conversation and a wider world-view.

    1. Informative post, Wendy! I've only attended two book club discussions in my life. I can't seem to find them in my neighborhood—one neighbor told me straight-up that the club is a guise for getting together and chatting—meaning: they barely read the books (no thanks).

      Anyway, I really like what Keylocke says, too: "The goal isn't to have everyone love the book. The goal is conversation and a wider world-view." Such an important aspect to keep in mind. If I ever find a club, I hope to keep that in mind.

    2. Nicole, Couldn't agree more about stretching. I read anything & everything. And I love what you wrote about the goal. You'll find it funny I have The Age of Miracles on my kitchen counter. Took it out from the library earlier this week.

      Barb, I'm going to write a post about starting a book club or how to find one. Yeah, I'm all about social hour but at some point I ache to get into the meat of the book. Connecting in this way is such a blast.

      I love knowing my God is big enough for me to keep an open mind.


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