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The Care And Feeding Of Book Clubs

08/21/2015 02:38PM ● Published by Aubray Onderik

By Diane Parfitt


         I love being in a book club. In fact, I love it so much that I’m in four different ones! I really did not start reading like I do now until I was a teenager. At that time, I read what I wanted to read, which usually was not one of the classics I was supposed to read for school. I mean, really, as a teenager who could relate to The Great Gatsby? But, oh did I love Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird.

         After a wonderful career as a nurse, which required reading lots of medical books, I found time to read books of my own choosing. I also found that a book club gave me a place to meet kindred spirits in this newly found love of reading and talking about good books. That’s what a book club should be all about… friendship, fellowship and talking about all sorts of books.

         Why am I in four book clubs? Shortly after our move to Fayetteville, I was invited to join a book club. Later, a friend wanted to start a new book club, so I helped her with that one and ended up staying in it. Often, we would read some of the same books as my other book club. However, everyone has different interests and experiences and can bring new ideas to each group. I really love that each has its own unique character.

         In 2003, I opened a book store. So many people say what a dream it must be to have a book store, to be surrounded by books every day. One of the things I wanted to do at my book store was to offer a place for book clubs to meet. Over the last 12 years, two book clubs have been started at the book store and are still going strong. I was invited to be a part of each one of them and how could I say no? So there you have the story of why I’m in four book clubs. I love all four of them and find myself looking forward to each one for different reasons. 

         What are some of the essential guidelines to starting a book club? I don’t think there are any firm, hard rules but here are a few suggestions to make it easier:

1.      Get together with a few friends who want to form a book club and ask each to invite another friend or two depending on how many people you want to have. If the group decides to expand, you can do this by nomination and a democratic vote after open and unemotional discussion among club members. If it is in someone’s home, you may want to limit it to 10 to 15 people.

2.      Rotate the meetings among members homes to share hostess duties. The host or another member can provide refreshments. If you meet at night and have coffee, make it decaf. We had some sleepless nights as we got older and realized we were drinking caffeinated coffee at 9:00 p.m.!

3.      Let’s talk sex! Should the book club be all women, all men or a mix? You can’t go wrong either way. Men’s and women’s choices in books can sometimes be a bit different, but a good book is a good book and there are some that just have to be read by all types of book clubs

4.      Selecting books is probably the most important issue.  Some book clubs focus on a specific genre, but most do not. In ours, we try to read a classic every year. All those books I didn’t like in high school are now great for discussion! The one caveat we all try to adhere to is if you suggest a book you must have read it. You need to like it enough to want to discuss it with your friends, which means you really need to read it before recommending it.

5.      Who picks the books? In some book clubs, the hostess gets to pick the book and lead the discussion. In other clubs, it is easier on the hostess if another member leads the discussion. Most clubs are more democratic and any member can suggest a title and all get to vote.

6.      How formal should the discussion be? That depends on each group. Some do a very formal presentation and then have discussion, while others go straight to the discussion. There are numerous sites on the internet with reading guides, critical reviews and discussion questions. Some background on the author and a member’s personal connection to events or places in the book will spice up the conversation.

      All of these are suggested guidelines, not hard and fast rules. The only hard and fast rules I have are that it should be fun, you should enjoy being with the group and every member’s contribution is just as important as everyone else’s.

         If you are still not sure how you want to organize a book club, you can check out the Cumberland County Public Library website. Or just call me. I’d love to help!

         Here are some all time favorite books for book clubs to read and discuss. You may have seen these listed in some of my previous articles but that’s because they are so good.

Far from the Maddening Crowd by Thomas Hardy

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

All the Light We Cannot See by Elizabeth Gilbert

Destiny of the Republic:  A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candace Millard


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin


Diane Parfitt is the owner of City Center Gallery & Books in downtown Fayetteville.

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