Secrets to hosting a successful book club
With summer winding down, most of us are looking for something to fill those long autumn days. How better to head into the cooler season than with great books and great company?
Whether you're a serious reader, or a can't-always-find-the-time reader, Berkshire County has book clubs for everyone. We asked a few local book group leaders to let us in on the secrets to hosting a successful book club.
Camaraderie and community are what people are looking for, said Alexander Geller, outreach librarian at Berkshire Athenaeum, which hosts "Libations with Librarians" on the third Monday of the month at Hotel on North.
And it's OK if you didn't read the book.
"You want people to relax at a book club," he said. "That's the No. 1 goal. You want something to build community."
Shy? Don't feel obligated to speak up. It's OK to just go and listen.
If you can't find a group that works for you or your schedule, go ahead and start your own. Jen Glockner, director of the Office of Cultural Development for the City of Pittsfield, started her own private book club in 2005 and it's still going strong.
She offers this advice for people thinking about starting one: "Just do it. Decide if it's going to be serious and if it is, say that from the beginning, and then just pick a group you're already associated with. People you work out with, the people in your neighborhood, families, parents of your kids' friends. It's a fun way to get to know them."
Amanda DeGiorgis, library director for Great Barrington Libraries, which together have five book groups, recommends working with your local library or bookstore to find other people.
"It is helpful if you can have a place to reach out to people and gauge an interest. ... Having the support of the library and bookstore helps too. If they supply the books and space, it's a win-win."
So you've got the friends, a space, a time, but how do you choose the most important component of a book club: the book?
"The hardest things about picking a book is what you're interested in might not be what everyone is interested in," Geller said. "What I was aiming to do was introduce people to voices they may not have read before."
Several ways he recommends finding books are talking to a librarian, staying up-to-date with New York Times Book Review and NPR's Book Concierge, and visiting Goodreads and Literature Map.
When it's her turn to pick, Glockner said, "I choose by what I see. I just have friends or family members that read. It's mostly word of mouth."
And don't get hung up on hosting. You don't have to put together a great spread to get people to come along. Glockner said the food isn't as important to her book group as the wine and good conversation (cheers!). Though, she said, there are some in her group who enjoy hosting and go all out when it comes to book club night.
DeGiorgis insists that food isn't the draw: "That's a bonus." Besides the "Bagels and Books" group at Mason Library, "the other groups don't have food and they're just as successful."
The final winning ingredient to a successful book club is the ability to stay on track and really have a meaningful conversation about the book.
"The point of the leader is to make people comfortable, and ask questions when things lag." Geller said. He cautions leaders to "have prepared questions and topics because it's easy to get lost in conversation."
We asked our book club experts which books could get your club off on the right page. Here are their suggestions:
Jen Glockner and her book group recommend the following favorites:
- "Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons," Lorna Landvick.
- "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer.
- "Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef," Gabrielle Hamilton.
Amanda DeGiorgis mentioned the following reads draw a crowd:
- "Underground Railroad," Colson Whitehead.
- "The Nightingale," Kristin Hannah.
Alexander Geller prefers not to make blanket recommendations. But if pressed, he suggests starting small. Choose a collection, like Roald Dahl's short story collections for adults, and pick a couple to talk about.
Keep the conversation going
If you're hosting a book club, be prepared with a few general questions to help stir the discussion.
- What was your initial reaction to the book?
- What was your favorite quote/passage?
- How credible/believable did you find the narrator to be?
- Which character did you relate to the most, and why?
- Did the book change your opinion or perspective about anything?
- Would you recommend this book to a friend?
What we're reading a book club
Monday, Sept. 18: Libations with Librarians Book Club with Berkshire Athenaeum at Hotel on North, "Blood, Bones & Butter, the Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef" by Gabrielle Hamilton with librarian Alex Geller, 6 to 8 p.m., 297 North St., Pittsfield.
Monday, Sept. 18: The Mystery Cook Club is reading "All The Missing Girls," by Megan Miranda, 5:30 to 6:45 p.m., Mason Library, 231 Main St., Great Barrington.
Wednesday, Sept. 20: 6:30 p.m., Hinsdale Public Library, 58 Maple St., Hinsdale.
Monday, Sept. 25: Bagels & Books Cook Club, "To The Lighthouse," by Virginia Woolf, 9 to 10 a.m., Mason Library, 231 Main St., Great Barrington.
Tuesday, Sept. 26: Book Lovers' Book Club, "People of the Book," Geraldine Brooks, 5:30 to 6:45 p.m., Mason Library, 231 Main St., Great Barrington.
Tuesday, Oct. 3: First Tuesday Book Group, 6:30 to 7:45 p.m., Lenox Library, 18 Main St., Lenox.
Wednesday, Oct. 11: Back to the Book Book Club, "The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars," by Dava Sobel, moderated by Charlie Haynes, 2 to 4 p.m., Lee Library, 100 Main St., Lee.
Thursday, Oct. 12: "Here On Earth," Alice Hoffman, 2 p.m., North Adams Public Library, 74 Church St., North Adams.
Monday, Oct. 16: "Relativity" by Daphne Kalotay. Berkshire Athenaeum has 25 copies available; available for download at bostonbookfest.org/one-city-one-story/ for free.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.