Inspired to start your own book group? Here are some ideas from a few longtime book clubs on how to make yours go the distance.
Mardie Rhodes, whose book club celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, says her group has guidelines to ensure that club members don’t spend all their meeting time in general chat.
Figure out and agree at the onset how often you want to meet, what kind of books you will read, what kind of refreshments you’ll offer when in-person gatherings are possible again and how structured you’d like the discussions to be.
Stick to the schedule
Have a firm date for meetings, said Karen Binder, whose group has met for 45 years. In their case, it’s the fourth Wednesday of every month. “We’re very committed, and everyone dances around that schedule,” she said.
Lee Kramer, of the longtime Seattle gay men’s book club PageBoys, said it’s important to have at least a few people who “really have the time and effort to put into it to get it going and keep it going.” He also recommends appointing moderators, to keep discussions from being dominated by a few people — “Some personality types just talk too much; that can put a damper on everyone else.”
Do more than read
Helen Harris, whose club is celebrating its 30th year, recommended that book clubs do other activities together: cultural events, travel, walks. “The book is just kind of the hook to get you in, but try to develop relationships outside of reading that book.”
Make sure there’s someone in your club who’s good with record-keeping, who can be tasked with keeping your book list up to date. (You think you’ll remember all of the books you discussed. You won’t.)
When first putting your club together, think about the mix of people. Be careful when starting a book club from an existing friend group — you might be too busy with ongoing conversation to talk about the book. If you pick members who don’t know each other well, you’ll start off more book-focused. (And you’ll have the joy of watching them become friends with each other, as the years go by.)
Attend every meeting
There’s enormous pleasure to be had in very small, intimate book clubs — such as mine, which has only four members — but it helps to make a rule that all members have to attend every meeting. (In my group, if someone can’t make it, that person is responsible for rescheduling. It’s a rule that’s worked for us for 31 years.) Otherwise you might drift away. Bigger groups can get by with 75% attendance; very intimate groups need more of a commitment.
Use your local library
Should you want a little help: Public libraries often have ongoing book clubs, as well as guidance and book recommendations for those who want to start their own.
Get your bookmarks ready
Book recommendation website Goodreads has list upon list of reader-submitted picks for book clubs, including these popular titles:
More thrilling book choices
Here are six riveting books that cover everything from missing persons to secret assassins to an Alaska mountain rescue.
‘Before She Disappeared’ by Lisa Gardner
Lisa Gardner releases her first stand-alone thriller in years, and it stand outs as a masterpiece of postmodern noir in the vein of Dennis Lehane.
Gardner is also at home in Lehane’s backyard of the working-class Boston suburbs, Mattapan in this case. The book introduces us to Frankie Elkin, a woman with more than her share of skeletons in the closet, who’s dedicated to finding lost souls — literally in the form of often long-missing persons. In this case, it’s a high school student who’s been missing for a year. Frankie peels back the dark layers to reveal the terrifying truth buried in this particularly insular community.
“Before She Disappeared” is a riveting stunner where the rare appearance of the sun shines down on what is certain to be one of the best thrillers of 2021.
‘Prodigal Son’ by Gregg Hurwitz
Gregg Hurwitz continues his Orphan X series with the most personal entry so far.
Assassin-turned-avenger Evan Smoak meets his (supposed) birth mother who gave him up for adoption, setting the stage for a secret government agency to turn him into their deadly play toy. That meeting sets Smoak on the protective trail of the downtrodden Andrew Duran, who had the additional misfortune of seeing something he wasn’t supposed to. And that places Smoak in the crosshairs of a deadly assassin team who’d like nothing better than to claim him as their trophy.
Six books in, this series shows no sign of tiring, and neither does Hurwitz whose manic writing energy is keenly on display. He’s simply the best all-out action writer in the business, to which he adds a shrewd sense of character.
‘The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence’ by Frank Figliuzzi
Frank Figliuzzi has lived the life of a typical crime-thriller hero, in this case rising to the level of head of counterintelligence for the FBI. He chronicles his exploits in “The FBI Way.”
Figliuzzi knows what makes real-life villains tick, and his anecdote-rich tale of climbing the Bureau’s ranks, and the bad guys he took down along the way, is told with fiction-like levels of suspense and intrigue. It’s almost like reading something by Thomas Harris, thanks to his agent protagonists Clarice Starling and Will Graham. In this book, though, the monsters that go bump in the night are real, and it’s left to men like Figliuzzi to keep us safe from them.
“The FBI Way” is an achievement in narrative nonfiction, a thrilling non-thriller.
‘Deep Into the Dark’ by P.J. Tracy
Troubled war vet Sam Eaton, just back from serving in Afghanistan, is a murder suspect simply for agreeing to help a friend. Good thing LAPD homicide detective Margaret Nolan is on the job. She knows all too well the price those who serve overseas must often pay.
Nolan refuses to take things at face value, a good thing, since little is as it appears to be, something that becomes abundantly clear as she assembles this jigsaw puzzle of a plot.
Tracy writes like a female Raymond Chandler, owning the modern streets of Los Angeles in this noir-steeped tale. At its heart, though, “Deep Into the Dark” features the perfect blend of social commentary and narrative tension, making it a read as entertaining as it is enlightening.
‘Alaska Mountain Rescue’ by Elizabeth Heiter
The latest in the terrific K-9 Alaska series, is a perfect amalgam of emotion and action.
Raised by parents who turned out to be kidnappers, Alanna Morgan attempts to erase the scars left on her psyche by helping others in the company of her St. Bernard therapy dog. Good thing he’s by her side when the woman who called herself Alanna’s mother breaks out of prison, leading to a reunion that brings Alanna’s life full circle. And that’s before the rugged and treacherous Alaskan wilderness becomes a character in its own right.
“Alaska Mountain Rescue” packs a punch on every page but features an emotional wallop that makes it truly stand out.
‘When Force Meets Fate’ by Jamison Hill
This is not a thriller per se. But Jamison Hill’s pulse-pounding narrative of his struggle to recover from a devastating car crash, which somehow leaves him with an even more devastating disease called myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, feels like a thriller.
He ends up bedridden, unable to feed himself or perform even the simplest of everyday tasks. A prisoner in many respects, but one who refuses to accept his fate and fights to escape. Hill’s book chronicles those efforts in a deliberate, painstaking and often agonizing fashion, taking us along for a hellish ride down a road we can only hope we’ll never have to travel ourselves.
Hill chronicles his heroic recovery with the skill and aplomb of a penner of page-turners, leading to a thrilling and inspiring tale par excellence.