Ever fancied starting your own book club? Stylist's Jamie Klingler did just that, setting up London Book Club with @blonde_m after chatting on Twitter, and starting with Margaret Atwood's classic, The Handmaid’s Tale.
Over three years later and the group have read over 30 books together, have their own hashtag and learnt some valuable lessons along the way. Read on for Jamie's golden rules of book clubbing, and if you're interested in joining rather than starting one of your own, scroll to the bottom of the page for details on how to get involved.
1. Set up an easy way to communicate
We formed a secret group on Facebook. It’s a great way to invite people to all of the events and keep a record of recommendations and other fun book chatter. We moved the club from a mailing list on Outlook, which was difficult to keep up and maintain, and Facebook has been much more efficient.
2. Figure out a method of book selection
We find that varying our shortlist between fiction and non-fiction, classic and contemporary work has worked for us. Make sure you are really seeking out a wide array of titles. Selecting is difficult, but this is the most important part. Our rules are that it has to be available in paperback, no more than five people present can have read it previously and it should be under 500 pages. The people in attendance at the monthly meeting vote on the next book, and anyone can suggest titles for the shortlist.
We’ve had wonderful successes (notably The Interestings, Hons and Rebels, and The Art of Fielding) and meetings where everyone really, really hated the book chosen. The trickiest are those that are good or even great books, but don’t lend much in terms of a discussion. Look for complex characters or plots that the group will find relatable, frustrating or fascinating. The worst book clubs are the ones where no-one has anything to say. I’d rather hate it and want to throw it at the wall than have nothing to say!
3. Check reviews and book club notes
I highly recommend doing this. We use Goodreads and Amazon reviews to determine the shortlist, although you can’t always tell. Remember that most people join to read books they wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. We’ve read Polo and Goodbye to All That. We’ve also read The Luminaries and May We Be Forgiven. They were all great discussions and all books that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up otherwise (especially Polo - I'm still not convinced!)
It’s problematic if the books are so literary or difficult that you end up with four people in attendance rather than the typical 20 (usually, between eight and 15 people is the ideal amount for our group). We’ve previously had a sci-fi spin off group and a couple of special additional books for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, and when Testament of Youth came out, Lionsgate put on a special screening. Things like that really tap in to a smaller group’s interests.
4. Find a comfortable, quiet venue
The venue is incredibly important. For a while we were trying out different pubs and spots, and ended up finding our home from home at The Rugby Tavern in Bloomsbury about two years ago. Noisy pubs with loud music just don’t work - you need to be able to hear the other people in the group talk and you want it to feel intimate.
We found a quiet space with no room rental fees where people could get food and, more importantly, friendly service and wine. Lots of wine. They are happy for us to move tables around and get comfortable and chat long into the night. We meet the last week of every month and rotate days of the week to make sure that people can come occasionally if they have regular commitments on certain nights.
5. Find fun ways to kick off discussion
We use Twitter and Facebook while reading to start the chat and then on the night, we go around the room and everyone gives one word describing their take on the book. Some of these words may have become triple hyphenated sentences, but it gives you a barometer for how people feel and helps kickstart the conversation and debate.
6. Celebrate Christmas
Our Christmas Book Club is one of my favourite nights of the year. Everyone wraps up a favourite book and we have a little book Christmas tree and play a game trading books. This year I got Shotgun Lovesongs, which was one of my favourite books of 2014. And what could be a better gift than giving a book you love to your new friends (or by then, probably not-so-new book club friends).
7. Keep the wine flowing
This is self explanatory! You'll make lots of great friends who also love books.
London Book Club is happy to welcome new readers to the group. It meets monthly in Holborn and the next meeting is at the end of August to discuss Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join in and be added to the Facebook group
Images: Rex Features