I belong to possibly the most outstanding Book Club in the U.S. I am not aware of any other book club which has been running continuously for 38 years. I joined 17 years ago and discovered a wonderful group of LDS women who devour literature with refreshing delight. They started it years ago when they all had young children, and now they’re all grandmothers and great-grandmothers. The same amazing woman, Bonnie Coop, has been at the helm all this time and keeps us informed of book signings, author lectures, and interesting reviews. She makes sure we all sign up regularly to review or host the event, and reminds us of our commitment to read each month’s offering. It takes a strong leader to make a book club succeed.
I love the friendships I’ve developed with this group, and even after moving from the core area, I still drive 35 minutes back each month to join the stimulating discussion. Book clubs also force you to read material you would never otherwise pick up; they expand your knowledge and your taste. Even if you don’t care for a particular book, you’ll gain an understanding of why others do. And you can engage in a friendly disagreement about a critic’s comments or the way an author handled a situation-maybe even argue about a character’s actions as these fictional people come alive for you. You’ll laugh together, share ideas, and come away enriched.
I’ve watched other clubs start and then fizzle out, so I’ve compiled 10 tips for anyone who wants to start one up, and keep it going.
1.Decide whether this will be an LDS club, a neighborhood club, a club at your work, or a club at your ward. Each has merits. While mine is entirely LDS, I also like the idea of a community club where you can mix and mingle with non-members. We spend enough time in meetings of “just us” I think, and it’s good to be a presence in your neighborhood. Many non-members have equally high standards when it comes to the moral themes and language of good books, and you can all agree on the boundaries of appropriate reading.
2.Decide on the genres you’ll be reading. Will you limit it to bestsellers and literary novels? Nonfiction and biographies? Classics? Romances? Or a mix? My club reads just about everything, though I don’t recall any of the espionage novels my husband enjoys, and we do little if any fantasy or sci-fi. We read LDS books on occasion as well. And maybe you’ll want to do only books by LDS authors. There are certainly plenty to choose from. If you’d like a wonderful site for LDS ebooks, check out www.mormonbooksandauthors.com. And by the way, you don’t need a Kindle to read Kindle books– there’s a ton of information online about how to read them on your home computer or laptop. Many ebooks are also available in paperback versions at CreateSpace.com-I just listed my newest 3 novels on there, and was thrilled with how inexpensive they are. Another good source for book recommendations is Goodreads.com. You’ll find friends on that site whose judgment you trust, who can steer you towards worthwhile books. Talk to others who belong to book clubs, and see which ones were popular with their groups as well.
3.Have the right number of women attending. Our club has 24 members, though only 15 or 20 are usually in town and able to attend. A much larger group becomes unwieldy for seating in most homes, and also for serving food. Too many women changes the dynamic for discussion as well; some don’t like to speak up when they feel the crowd is so large. You want it just intimate enough that women feel they’re among close friends. On the other hand, too few won’t work, either. Six or less can create a situation where one or two women do all the talking.
4.Consider a couples’ book club held in the evenings. I’m writing this as if only women enjoy a book discussion, but men are just as avid readers. Maybe you could expand it to include an occasional date night where you watch a movie based on a book you’ve read.
5.Let’s not forget to feed the body as well as the soul. Good book groups often serve snacks, a luncheon, or a light supper. My book club has a sign-up sheet for the year-and with two dozen members, your turn only comes around to serve a luncheon or do a review once every two years. Rarely does anyone attempt to do both on one day. It’s fun to make the food tie in with the book’s topic. We’ve enjoyed King Cake when reading a Louisiana story, and Italian cuisine after reading about Rome. When we read “Three Cups of Tea” I served lemonade, salad, and dessert in three teacups for each member. And when we read an Australian author, we had a luncheon of entirely Australian dishes. Our group jokes that we can’t decide if we’re readers who like to eat, or eaters who like to read. But this element of gathering is equally important, because you form bonds when you break bread with people, and this is when you share each other’s lives and grow close.
6.Make sure the book review isn’t just an unprepared free-for-all. The reviewer should share the author’s background, comments from critics, and then her own take on the book itself, with plenty of questions and lively discussion. It should run about 45 minutes.
7.This sounds obvious, but make sure the members understand that they really do need to read the book each month, not just show up for chatting and refreshments. If members don’t read, you can’t get a good discussion going. Yes, there will be times when life gets crazy and you didn’t read the book, or didn’t finish it. But those should be the exception. If people don’t take the commitment seriously, it becomes a club where people drop in and drop out, and soon will fall apart.
8.Don’t make it expensive to belong to your club. Utilize the library, used books online, and be willing to share a book you’ve finished reading so others can enjoy it without having to shell out money each month.
9.Consider reading the book of a local author, and have them attend as a guest. They can also sign your books!
10.Establish some traditions. For us, our December meeting is not a single review, but a gathering where half of us bring treats and half of us share a Christmas book we’ve discovered, often a children’s book.
I hope you’ll start up a book club, and that your daughters will follow your example. We all need to promote literacy, read from the best books, seek knowledge, and celebrate that which is “of good report or praiseworthy.”
Joni Hilton’s book, “FUNERAL POTATOES-THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is in LDS bookstores everywhere.
Her latest three novels, “JUNGLE,” “SISTERS IN THE MIX,” and “PINHOLES INTO HEAVEN” are all available on Kindle at amazon.com/author/jonihilton and at www.mormonbooksandauthors.com
Listen to The Joni Hilton Show, streaming live on AM-1380 Saturday mornings at 9 a.
Hilton has written 20 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music & The Spoken Word,” many national magazines. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California. She can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com, Twitter:@JoniHilton, and Facebook: Joni Hilton.