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The 7 Secrets To Starting A Book Club That Actually Sticks

August 31, 2021
Branded Content Editor
Image by mbg Creative / Penguin Random House
August 31, 2021

To classify as a good read, every book must meet a few metrics. First, it has to be a page-turner; something that engages our attention and imagination fully. But as the pages turn, it should also give meaning and a broader perspective. And lastly—a good read has to provoke conversation. It should leave us no choice but to phone a friend and beg them to read it too, just so we have someone to talk to.

And I imagine this is where book clubs originally came from—our intrinsic urge to bond over brilliant content. Somehow, plot lines, characters, and prose only get better when they're shared. However, despite our best intentions, not all book clubs are created equal.

Book clubs: An art form.

When we hear "book club," not all of us get excited. Some of us are reminded of our great aunt's book club, which was really just a covert opportunity to pour up the Chardonnay. Others have already passionately attempted a book club, only for friends to show up without reading the book. To be sure, creating a book club is no easy feat. Balancing books, conversation, and snacks is nothing short of an art form, and that's why I've created this guide to get you started. Between these steps, and exceptional titles from Penguin Random House, let's get you closer to that book club you've been dreaming of.

Step 1: Choose your group.

Let's say you just finished the memoir Unfinished by Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and after all that talk about self-discovery are inspired to start a book club (can't blame you). From personal experience, the starting point can feel like the greatest challenge. Instead of starting with the book you want to read, or the hors d'oeuvres you'd serve... Who are the people (or communities) in your life that would most appreciate a book club? It doesn't have to be just friends and family; your group could come together through a flyer in a community space like a coffee shop or yoga studio. Just think about the people in your life who love to converse and dive deep.

Image by Penguin Random House / mbg Contributor

Step 2: Land the logistics.

Once you have a good idea of who's coming, you can land the logistics of your book club. We tend to think book clubs must take place in somebody's living room, with the furniture arranged in a circle... But I prefer trendier, vibing places—like the lobby of a swanky hotel or a co-working space with great aesthetics. But nature is also a fan favorite. Why not spend the evening sprawled out on blankets in the park? You can even get creative and match your location to the theme of your book. Pair that evening in the park with Where the Grass Is Green and the Girls Are Pretty, a highly entertaining novel by Lauren Weisberger about sisters and their perfect lies—oops, we mean lives.

The Zoom fatigue is real, but hear me out. Another great location for your book club is the World Wide Web, and why? Because it's one less hurdle between your guests and their attendance. Once you figure out the location, next comes the time. Pick a day, time, and consistency that works with your group. If your group has a lot of moms—opt for nap time, or Sunday afternoons when they can get away. If your group is full of millennials with day jobs, make it a happy hour book club. In other words, cater to your audience.

Step 3: Set the ground rules.

Now that you've locked in your logistics, start thinking about the structure of your actual book club. For this, I recommend a loose agenda—set time for mingling, time to discuss the book, and more mingling to conclude. How much time you allot for each depends on whether you're a social butterfly or a professor of classic literature. Or the book you choose. Whereabouts, for example, is a novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri. And as it closely follows a woman coming to understand her place in the world—this novel requires time to do it justice.

Step 4: Pick your title.

Here comes the fun part! And sometimes the hardest. With all the amazing books to choose from—where do you start? You can always check out Today's Top Books by Penguin Random House as an ever-evolving source of inspiration, but here are my top recommendations for titles that get people talking:

  • For the book club that loves a good scandal—opt for The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller. This summer story is full of secrets, love, and lies, as main character Elle has to make a life-changing decision involving her beloved husband, and the passion that has been reignited with her childhood love.
  • Glennon Doyle called Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile, "one of the great memoirs of our time." And in your book club, you'll find out why, as this six-time Grammy winner opens up about faith, sexuality, parenthood, and music.
  • Share the suspense of Stacey Abrams' latest legal thriller, While Justice Sleeps. In this novel, a young law clerk finds herself in the middle of a mystery involving one of the most preeminent judges in America.
  • The conversations will be rich after reading Crying in H Mart, a memoir by the indie rock star Michelle Zauner. As she shares her life story growing up Korean American, we learn vicariously through her stories of family, food, grief, and endurance.
  • In the novel Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid, four celebrity siblings gather to throw a rager to celebrate the end of summer. But by the end of the party, the house is up in flames, and their lives are changed forever. It's one of those books you simply can't read alone.
  • Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann is another epic read for those who geek out on the craft. This novel offers big characters, Texas swagger, and a plot about struggling marriages while nodding toward classic mythology... In other words, it leaves plenty to dissect.
  • You're going to need the help of your book club friends to keep track of the narrative brilliance of Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto, a novel that combines a 2,000-person wedding, an accidental murder, and the bonds between a Chinese-Indonesian family.
  • For a book that will get everyone talking even before book club night, choose Northern Spy, a suspense novel by Flynn Berry. It's only thrills with this story, which follows the drama of two sisters who become entangled with the IRA.
  • Give your book club characters they'll fall in love with, like best friends Alex and Poppy, who star in the plot of People We Meet on Vacation, a romance novel by Emily Henry. As Alex and Poppy go on their annual vacation together one last time, we get to follow along and enjoy.

Step 5: Create an experience.

Image by Penguin Random House / mbg Contributor

Sometimes it's a killer charcuterie board you saw on Pinterest that's the real motive behind starting a book club, and that's ok. A good book club should provide layers of entertainment, from the book itself to the conversation to the nourishment. Think about the food and drinks that get people talking. If you have an audience that's passionate about wellness, serve up some plant-based snacks that you can bond over. Or, theme your food offerings with the book you're reading. For example, pair the sizzling romantic comedy While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory with heart-shaped snacks and heart-healthy foods.

Step 6: Hold space for conversation.

Soon, a room full of people will be looking to you, their fearless book club leader, for your take on the hit novel The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig. Learning how to facilitate meaningful, thought-provoking conversations is simply a part of the gig. But it's not your job to do all the talking. Your job is to pose the best questions possible, moderate, and occasionally chime in. Here's a starter pack of questions to get the conversation flowing:

  • Of all the characters in this book, which are you most like, and why?
  • What themes did you notice in the book? What did you learn from them?
  • What kind of feelings did you have while reading this book?
  • Share one part of the book that you loved, and one that you loathed.
  • What did this book make you think about?

Step 7: A few more secrets...

Obviously, it takes quite a bit of organization to get a book club on its feet. And while you have a lot of factors to manage, for the sake of there being a second book club meeting... Don't overmanage. Learn when to let go. Let your participants co-create the experience. If they offer the next book title, or to be responsible for snacks—let them! The mark of a great leader is one who inspires leadership in others.

Read, relax, enjoy.

This summer, we've taken our love for reading to new depths and new titles by Penguin Random House. We've explored the many ways reading benefits our brain. We've figured out how to create the perfect reading session and even determined the best, most unexpected places to take our book. But at the end of the day, nothing is better than sharing a good book with the ones you love. Keep that intention top of mind, and your book club will be perfect.

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