Book Group as Dysfunctional Family

Book Group

My book group has grandmothers and moms with at-home or sometimes-at-home kids. We are psychologists, business owners, social workers. We have an attorney, an OB-GYN, an ex-investor relations pro who is, for the moment, retired.

There are a dozen of us in all and by disposition we can claim the opinionated and the outspoken , the quiet and the easygoing, the calm and the excitable. If not by personality, we are linked by our love of literature. And, (forgive me dear book club), despite a double-digit lifespan, we are dysfunctional. Just like many a fine family.

One time – I could not make this up if I tried – a bunch of us had dinner together pre-group and arrived at the house we were meeting at. The hostess came to the door, looked confused,  not to mention overdressed for our informal group, and said, “Is book group here? Tonight? I’m just going out.” A written and emailed listing of books and locations is a good idea. Although an email does go out highlighting the upcoming months in my group, I would like five bucks for every email that flows among us during the month: What’s the book? Where are we meeting?

So here is a heads up about things to consider if you are planning to join or start a book club. As a founder, you have an opportunity to set some precedents:

1. To follow a leader – or not.

The women in my group want a leader. Do not want a leader. Want a leader some of the time. That’s where we’ve found a comfort zone for those who really want to learn and those who are happy just to talk about the book. My friend’s group, which has been intact since 1980, has never had a leader. “We’re smart women,” she says. “We can talk about a book.”

2. Tone.

Loosey goosey, or it’s all about the book? Those who opt for leaders are likely to be all about the book. I know of groups, though, where women really join primarily for the camaraderie, and the book is secondary.

3. Reading required? Attendance expected or optional?

Be sure your group is on the same page. Different pages make for an unhappy plotline.

4. Size.

There’s a good reason that juries have 12 people. Twelve pretty much guarantees you’ll have eight, which works really well. One leader told us that the difference between 12 and 13 is like the difference between a table for six and a table for 12. It’s a tipping point in terms of intimacy, style, format, and the voice time each member gets.

5. Book selection.

You can use my group’s approach: a cacophony of “heard about” book titles that, after a lobbying period, are brought to a vote. If you have a leader, he or she generally makes the suggestions. My friend’s group rotates the responsibility the way it rotates homes. If the meeting is in your home next month, you make the selection and bring the books the month before. Fewer books than people because some read on Kindle and others listen to CDs.

6. Food.

Not to worry, it’s always good . For my group, it’s just desserts and, as I write, I am salivating for Anne’s blackberry cake which I know she is serving tomorrow night. I may not have loved the month’s selection, but I know the discussion will be sweet!

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