How To Start A Great Book Club That Lasts

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I just moved to Northern California, and find myself sorely missing the book club I was a part of in New York City for seven years. (I can still Skype in, but it's not the same.)

Reading is one of the healthiest things you can do, and being part of a supportive group of people you see regularly is both a life extender and can prevent depression when you're hit by major life stressors. Put them together, and you've got a powerful wellness practice!

Many people tell me they want to be part of a book club, but either don't know how to get one started, or start one that inevitably devolves (people don't read the book, or life gets in the way). I thought I'd share the elements that I think make ours "sticky."

1. Choose readers.

People think joining a book club will be a good "commitment mechanism" to help them read more often. But in my experience, book clubs work better when their members are already avid readers: people who read anyway and who will read more than just the book club books.

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2. Set a book list for the year.

We have a tradition of meeting at the Brandy Library every year before Christmas. We play Dirty Santa to exchange gifts, and everyone brings at least two book suggestions and describes them. People raise their hands if the book sounds interesting to them, and we choose the 11 books that got the most votes. (Sometimes, we go back and make a consensus decision to balance the list if there's too much of one genre.) In some years, not everyone has a suggestion that makes the list. But this system tends to result in more enjoyable books for everyone.

3. Set a schedule.

Right after we've set our book list, we make our schedule for the upcoming year. We meet Sunday evenings once a month (but skip August). Everyone submits the dates they already know they're busy, and we don't schedule meetings on those dates (or over major holidays).

That's pretty much it!

Bonus tips!

Reach out to publishers. They'll often give book clubs free books, because they know that people looking for good reads ask for suggestions from people who are in book clubs. One year, we got free books for each of us for three of our selections.

Invite authors. Writers are really great about speaking to book clubs. We've had some authors attend live and others joined via Skype. This year, we hosted Madeline Miller, who wrote The Song of Achilles, and Cristina Alger, author of The Darlings.

Give back as a group. We threw a book swap party, invited other book clubs and our friends, sold tickets for it, and gave the money and remaining used books to a girls' literacy charity in India where one of our members had volunteered.

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