How to Build a Better Book Club

S97heila DeChantal is a fellow book fanatic who lives in Brainerd, Minnesota.  She reviews books and frequently shares the antics of her book club on her blog, Book Journey.  It always looks like they’re having so much fun, I asked Sheila to share of a few of their activities, ideas for what makes a successful book club, and how to connect with books beyond the typical book club meeting.

Tell me a bit about your book club. Our book club, “The Bookies,” started in August of 2001.  I had worked with the same group of people for over 10 years and I thought it was sad that we hardly knew each other.  (Granted there were 300+ people working there and I did not want to know them all… ha ha!)  I put up a sign one day in July on the time clock with a book title – Dance Upon The Air by Nora Roberts, and invited people to join me at a local restaurant in four weeks to discuss this book.  Nobody said a word to me about it… I very well thought I would be at the restaurant alone but the day came, and two of my co-workers showed up and we discussed the book.  The next month, three came… and by the end of the year we had eight, currently we have 17 members.

When we first started the Bookies we had a few choice authors that we recycled through the group until finally we began to branch out… new authors… new genres….  Now we read all over the board, mostly fiction, but occasionally non-fiction and every October we read a classic.

What ways does your group get involved with books beyond the typical books- and-wine discussion? As the group became bigger I learned that the old ways no longer worked for us.  We were no longer at the size where casual book conversation at a restaurant table was going to work.  For one thing, it was harder to get everyone on topic. Also, in restaurants it became difficult to hear one another and I feared that our laughter or discussion might interfere with the other patrons’ experience.  We started meeting more at homes and only go to a restaurant occasionally.

It also became important to go beyond just the standard book discussion so we started cooking food that goes with the book.  At first we all brought something but, as you can imagine, it was way too much food.  Now we assign two people to main dishes, two people to sides, and one to dessert.  If we can make something that refers to the book, all the better.

Talk about getting into the spirit of a book!  The Bookies demonstrate their fashion sense and as well as their sense of humor by occasionally dressing up in era-appropriate clothing for their book club gathering.
Talk about getting into the spirit of a book! The Bookies demonstrate their fashion sense and as well as their sense of humor by occasionally dressing up in era-appropriate clothing for their book club gathering. In this case, it was in conjunction with their classic read Giants in the Earth (a prairie saga by Ole Rolvaag) and they met at an 1800s cabin owned by one of the members.

And, we dress up whenever we can.  The first time I mentioned dressing up I remember driving through town in a yellow taffeta prom dress afraid of being pulled over.  I was sure I would be the only one dressed up but when I arrived I was thrilled to see that most of us participated.  Last winter we read Garlic and Sapphires , about a food critic who dressed up differently to see how she was treated.  We also dress up frequently for the classic. When we reviewed Cleopatra, the Bookies were surprised to see their host dressed up as… well, Cleopatra.  Every July we have a Queen event where we dress up in formal wear, eat and compete for the royal throne (which is a toilet spray-painted gold and bedazzled).  You can find pictures for most of our crazy book club stuff on my blog under For Book Clubs Only.

We have had a few authors skype in and we have gone to movies together for books we have read.  Due to our busy schedules it is hard to get us all together to do anything that takes more than a few hours, although we try.

Is there an example of one trip or outing that you’ve done related to a book that you most enjoyed?  I am going to have to go with the “Wine and Words” event [a dinner and author event that raises funds for the Brainerd Public Library].  The Bookies filled two tables and had quite a presence at the event.  It was fun for us to dress up for real and not because we were imitating a book or era, although while I type this I think that could be interesting! It was fun to meet the authors.

Why do these extras? The extras have bonded us together as a group.  As the group became bigger I knew I had to do something to bring it above and beyond your average book club to hold their interest. Amazingly, it worked and it was not a one person thing; they all got into it!  We have had some very emotional reviews and by doing this, it does bring us deeper into the book.  Often I hear from people or receive comments on my blog that they are envious of our group and wish they could find such a group of book lovers.  As much as I love my group to my toes and think they are so AWESOME for what we do together – I think other groups could do this too.  Do not be afraid to add the little extras.  It may take a while to catch on but it is the extras that get people talking about the books outside of the group.  Start something new and I hope it catches like wild fire.

Any tips or examples for organizing book-related activities? Just go for it! My advice is think outside the box and pull in the extras that make the books come alive. If you can go somewhere as a group, even if it is a movie to expand the book, do it!  If you can actually visit a place mentioned in a book, don’t miss out! Last year we read a book centered around the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, MN.  We are trying to find a time when we can all go tour it as a group. One of the girls in our group is taking a trip to Italy this fall with her husband because of what she read in an Adrianna Trigiani book.  The books make us want to fully experience the settings.

Anything else you want to add? Our group now has a wait list.  Last year we decided we were just getting too big so we capped it.  I hate doing that.  I wish we could accommodate all book lovers!  There are other book clubs in town, in fact there are many!  I think the difference is the extras.  Our group has so much fun together that others want in on that fun.

My advice?  Dig into those books.  Be The Book.

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