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4 Ways to Host a Better Book Club

Book clubs are a great way to meet people, to actually fit some leisure reading into your schedule, and to learn. What’s not to like about taking the best parts of English class—reading and discussion—but trading tests and homework for lattes or cocktails?

Well, one thing comes to mind: It doesn’t always “work.” Between finding a time that works for everyone’s crazy schedules and picking books people will actually want (and have time) to read, it can be hard to start and sustain a successful book club.

If you’re having trouble getting your book club off the ground or looking for new ways to keep your current group energized, think outside the old-school rules. We’ve put four new spins on the traditional book club to help you host events that everyone will love to be part of.

Old Way: Read Books of One Topic

New Way: Rotate Through Each Member's Pick

Keeping the book club rooted in a genre (historical fiction, chick lit) or a subject matter (politics, religion, ecology) seems like a great way to gather a group of people with similar interests and provide them with engaging material. But I’ve found that it’s not always sustainable. After the umpteenth book on the same subject or with the same feel, your members will long for a palate cleanser and may even—the book club kiss of death—take a break from reading the books.

My favorite way to troubleshoot this fatigue is to rotate through every member picking a book he or she wants to read. I first experienced this approach at my book club in DC, where we read quite the eclectic mix: Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me?, Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, and Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple.

Now, does this mean you may have to read YA, even though you’ve sworn you never would? Well, yes, but remember that reading different books chosen by different people with different tastes will keep your book club fresh and exciting—not to mention open your eyes to topics and authors you may never have considered. And of course, in a future month, you’ll get to read exactly what you want.

Old Way: Have One Common Meeting Place

New Way: Try Different Restaurants

Now, I’m not totally knocking the old-school approach of meeting up in different members’ living rooms, but let’s be honest: That means the host needs to provide a meal (or at minimum, coffee and dessert), and—oh yeah—have a living room that can accommodate a group.

To make the meet-ups more fun (and feasible for those of us who live four roommates deep), pick a new bar or restaurant to meet at each time instead. Unleashing your inner foodie adds another fun element to the group, and you can even match the food to the story (book set in Spain—tapas!).

Just remember these quick caveats: Check out the restaurant at the time you plan to go and make sure it’s quiet enough that you’ll be able to have a discussion; make a reservation so you won’t have to wait for a table; and make sure the restaurant has a variety of price points, so no one feels they can’t join in due to the cost.

Old Way: Plan One Set Date Each Month

New Way: Use an Online Calendar

The old-school approach was to have one set date—the second Tuesday or the third Thursday of each month—at a specific time. But the truth is, most of us need more flexibility. And being rigid on the date and time may discourage members from beginning a book when they have a busy month coming up (which depresses turn-out before you’ve even started reading!).

The best solution I’ve found is to set a frequency of meetings (i.e. once a month) but use an online calendar like Meeting Wizard to poll everyone’s availability a couple weeks before. If you met in mid-March, send out a few different days in mid-April, and vary the start times by up to an hour to accommodate commuting or slightly different hours. Then, select the date with the greatest availability at least one week in advance so members can schedule accordingly.

Just don’t get too crazy with variance—if you generally meet for happy hour on weekdays, don’t throw in Saturdays and Sundays for good measure. You want to provide a sense of flexibility, not inconsistency.

Old Way: Follow the Reading Guides

New Way: Use Reviews and Opinion Sources to Start Discussion

Conventional reading guides at the end of books or on the publisher's website can help get the conversation going, but they can also feel a bit academic. On the flipside, just hoping the conversation will happen doesn’t always work. So what should you use to start things off?

I’ve found that reviews, articles, and other less-traditional sources are a great way to kick off discussion ideas. For example, instead of starting your discussion of Gone Girl with a reading guide (old-school) or diving right into the (polarizing) ending, you could begin with the article "Gone Girl: The Thinking Woman’s 50 Shades?” Another great trick for the books “everyone” seems to be reading: Search for the book title on Twitter. You’ll get a quick overview of the opinions and articles that are trending.

Just because book clubs have been around forever, doesn’t mean we have to keep hosting them the same way. Don’t be afraid to mix it up with some new ideas and see what works best for your group. Now, get reading!

Photo of friends talking courtesy of Shutterstock.