I’ve had the life-changing experience of being a part of some amazing book clubs. We’ve met foryears, growing our book shelves and our outlook on the world and those we share it with. Incredible relationships have formed. Unforgettable conversations have taken place. That being said, I’ve met plenty of people who’ve wanted to know what makes it work. I’ve heard stories about book clubs that have imploded and crumbled until eventually they fizzled out entirely.
I’ve read hundreds of novels in my day. But that’s not all I read. I love books on leadership, creativity, group dynamics, growth, inspiration, etc. And I’ve read enough of these to know, as well as have taken on leadership roles in almost every stage of my life, that cohesiveness and group dynamics are sometimes a pliable experiment.
With the knowledge I’ve gained through the years, my own book club experiences, and my observations having visited over two dozen book clubs as an author, I’m offering some potential reasons why you’re book club might be slowly dying.
If you want to resuscitate the life of your group, the following are worth a read…
Show me the Money
Somewhere along the way the focus of your group slipped off track. The ohs and ahs were in response to the elaborate food and wine selection, the upscale restaurant choice, even the over-your-head book you selected because you wanted to come across smart. A book club can derail when it becomes a show—all about the money and not about the content inside the book and the people in the group. I was asked to discuss THE FLOWER GIRLS with a thriving group in town. They meet up at a restaurant every month. This works for them. But it might not for your group. Find what works. Word hard to keep the focus where it belongs. The way I see it, a successful group shouldn’t care if you show up in Banana Republic attire or a pajama top your toddler smeared with bananas.
War and Peace Out
I love Wally Lamb. He’s been a huge inspiration for my work for years. However, I’d think twice before I’d choose I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE for my book club. I’m confident it would lead to a great discussion, but I’m also mindful how busy the women in my group are. It just wouldn’t fly. Women and yes, men, the length of a book matters. There are some fantastic lengthier reads out there. Ask your group how much they can handle. I know in my case there are women who show up each month that simply couldn’t get the book read. I think they’d see a 900-page book and say fuget about it before they opened the first page.
Anyone who has ever been in a group knows exactly who Opinion Opal is. She’s not a group killer per se, but she sure can put a bruise in a book club. When one person dominates most of the discussion it can sour the overall group experience and dissuade the more timid souls in the group from speaking up, especially if Opal is a bully-type. There are ways to help this situation. Select different leaders each month. Have the person who chose the book lead the discussion. Or, do it my favorite way and get with O.O. one-on-one. Understand where she’s coming from. It’s amazing how, once someone feels understood, they become more open to change.
Get me out Gabby
By the time book club wraps up not only do you know every single thing Gabby felt about all nine of the characters in the book, you also know what shoe size her four kids are, what kind of coffee her husband drinks, and her bra size. We can all have our Gabby nights, but if you find you’ve got a repeat Gabby in your group it can make members think twice about showing up to the next club. Book club questions are a real life saver when it comes to Gabby.
Okay, I get it. There’s nothing like having an excuse to get your friends together, drink wine, eat expensive cheese, and laugh until it hurts. But one thing I don’t get is book clubs that never read or discuss the book. I’ve visited enough book clubs to appreciate when the book launches into other stimulating discussions. That’s not what I’m referring to here. I’m talking about when members show up having no clue which book was to be read this month. If there’s an inconsistent understanding of whether or not members actually want to discuss the book that can rattle the core of a group that calls themselves a book club. If that’s your group, I give you permission. Right here and now. Call yourself wine lovers. Do it and be proud. But if you’re never reading or enjoying any kind of book discussion, don’t slap a label on something that can’t own it.
“Tuesday’s Gray and Wednesday Too….It’s Friday...”
Nothing like an inconsistent meeting time to throw a group into a complete tizzy. If members can’t circle a date on a calendar (listen to me, I’m such a ’90s chick with my calendar circling) or type a time in their iPhone, it’s not happening. We’re all too busy. Irregular or inconsistent meeting times could be what’s causing the dropouts.
Cookie Cutter Selections
If the last five books your group has read are about an Alzheimer’s patient I can guarantee one of two things is going to happen. Either you’re all going to get hyper-paranoid you’re in the early stages of dementia, or members are going to begin booking other events the night of the club, dissing the meeting. Variety is key. I’m not saying you have to hop from self-help to biography to memoir to psychological suspense. I’m only saying you should read my books. They’re unique and give you plenty to discuss (shameless plug). Seriously, variety helps. A wonderful plan for this is throwing several options for each month in a hat and letting the group decide the final vote.
Oh yeah, I said it. Before, I mean. And now again. Because the size of your group matters. It really does. I’ve read countless times, in leadership books, how six to eight people is the ideal group size for a discussion. This isn’t to say that if you have twelve you should immediately kick four members out. Because most of us realize there will always be no-shows. It also doesn’t mean your quaint group of four needs to recruit like the Girl Scouts on crack. (Scary image, I apologize). It’s simply good to know. And if you’re group is hurting, it could have to do more with size than you realize.
So, there you have it. Perhaps I didn’t list one of the reasons why you sense your group is struggling. I’d love to revisit this topic. Clearly, it’s something I feel passionate about. It’s because of the profound impact my book clubs have had in my life. I want that for you.
Feel free to reach out and let me know how it’s going.