SO YOU WANT TO START A BOOK CLUB
By Beth Schmelzer and Marcia Feliciano
Once upon a time there were two good friends who loved to read. Whenever Beth and Marcia got together, their conversations always included a chat about books they were reading, books they had read, books in untidy stacks that they looked forward to reading, and lists of recommended books.
When Beth moved to Annapolis, the “book chats” became more frequent, leading to the decision to start a book club. Starting a book club isn’t rocket science, but it is science in a way, as there should be good chemistry among the participants; there should be a certain degree of open-mindedness regarding book selections, flexibility regarding scheduling, and a willingness to let a member “slide” on occasion for not reading “the book.” We all know how life can get in the way of good intentions, and we should recognize the fact that not everyone will like every book choice. Just the same, the best discussions often come from the least popular titles.
To start, we each invited one book-loving friend to participate. Our first meeting was in February 2008 and we have met monthly ever since. Our group now consists of approximately 13 women who originally bonded over books while sharing a cup of tea or a glass of wine. We shared our thoughts about books by local authors who graciously came to our meetings to talk about and autograph their books. We talked about books of a controversial nature, non-fiction books, first novels, memoirs, mysteries, histories and more. At this size, we can fit in everyone’s house, and if we lose a few, we still have enough for a good book talk. The hostess of the month picks the book of the month. Hostesses and books are announced at least a month in advance so everyone has plenty of time to read each selected book. The group endeavors to be cost-conscious, selecting books readily available at local bookstores, libraries, on an e-reader or from Amazon.com. Sometimes books are obtained on a field trip to independent bookstores that are delighted to give a book club discount. The indie bookstores encourage the purchase of local authors such as Marcia Talley, Thea Lindauer, Stephanie Verni, Lucia St. Clair Robson, Erika Robuck, and Bill Eggert. Authors who can’t make it in person will sometimes do a conference call-in during a meeting to connect personally with their readers. Additionally, some writers will offer a Skype call. Contact information can be found on their websites. We even have plans to make a road trip to Boonsboro to visit Nora Robert’s Turn the Page Bookstore!
Meetings range from casual to elaborate, from silly to serious, and are mostly held in the evenings for no more than 90 minutes. Sometimes members who love to cook invite everyone for a dinner reflecting the type of food enjoyed by the characters in the book of the month, which we could call a literary feast. More typically, the hostess will provide a simple buffet of snacks, light appetizers, drinks and a small dessert.
Now in its seventh year, it should be mentioned that Beth and Marcia’s book club decided on a name reflective of our sense of humor and our location – the Annapolis Book Bag Ladies Book Club.
Beth, the unofficial secretary, records the books and hostesses in a journal so there is an ongoing history. In the summer, there is a potluck pool party meeting. In deference to the busy holiday schedules, the reading assignment is eliminated at December meetings and the group gets together at a local restaurant. In lieu of gift-giving, we have a “sock it to me holiday dinner” and everyone brings new socks that are donated to the local Lighthouse Shelter for the homeless.
We are still reading and discussing books, even when some members escape to Florida, the Bahamas or Hawaii. We also show up to support a member working on a play, going through chemo, having a daughter get married, burying a parent, celebrating a new baby, losing a job, or starting retirement. Starting a book club really is simple. Like the Nike folks say, “Just do it!” And if you need a little encouragement or a book list to get your group started, contact Beth at www.BESTBOOKSBYBETH.com or Marcia at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are glad to help anyone to start a book club!
This essay was previously published in Outlook by the Bay (Spring, 2014) in a different version.