What is involved in starting a good book club?
November 4, 2007 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Have you successfully started a book club or meetup?

For a while now I've fantasied about starting a book club or meetup focusing on political readings (likely modern, anything from Machiavelli forward) with the idea being that the group would meet a few times a month to discuss the readings.

I have some apprehension though. For starters I've never been in a book club or gone to a meetup. So I'm not even sure if my idea is feasible.

Also I have an ulterior motive for the subject: I'm in a graduate program focusing on political theory and I hope that such a group would be an extra little motivator for staying up on my Hobbes (or whoever.)

I guess my questions are pretty generic:

- How do you structure such a club?

- How do you pick a venue? (I haven't approached my department yet about hosting the group on campus, but I probably will before moving forward...)

- What should dictate frequency of meetings or the focus?

- Is meetup (the website) a good way to organize such a group?

- What pitfalls should I be aware of?

Any other thoughts or suggestions? (I'm in Chicago if that matters...)
posted by wfrgms to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've been running a book group for the past 11 years. We started by just getting together with some like-minded folks and going from there. We've never had very formal rules. We find that rules get in the way of discussion.

I don't know about the feasibility of meeting "several times a month". We've met once each month over our group's history. That seems about right. Sometimes it's too quick. Sometimes it's way too long. But mostly it's about right.

In our case, we simply rotate the meeting among various members' homes. In your case, finding a place on campus sounds like a good idea. Does your library have meeting rooms?

Things we've found work well:

* Rotating book selection among members so that everyone gets a chance to pick something.
* Asking everyone to come with at least one question in order to keep things moving if there's a lull.
* When the person who selected the book takes the initiative to ask more questions or to direct the conversation.
* When there's at least one person who does a good job of making the conversation go deep. We used to have a member who could do this (he was an English teacher), and since he left, we've felt his absence.

The biggest pitfall, in my opinion comes from people who want to dominate the conversation. We don't have any formal rules regarding who gets to speak when, and I'm glad, but there have been times that we've wished certain members would just shut up.

My book group is different than the one you're proposing, of course, but I think similar principles apply.
posted by jdroth at 11:01 AM on November 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There's some useful information in this related question.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:19 PM on November 4, 2007

Best answer: There have been several related questions asked before, including how do I start a book club? and how do we start a book club?.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:34 PM on November 4, 2007

You should also be wary of a completely open meeting. It sounds like what you want is a political theory reading group, not a metafilter meetup. Rather than organizing via website, you should solicit participation from your friends and colleagues in the program. If the group is successful, other interested readers will hear of it and join up. If you want to use the internet to organize it, think along the lines of evite.

I've had some success with these in the past, but never for longer than a semester or two at a time. I know of a feminist science studies group that's been going for four years, though. Since academics are the only ones interested in reading Ranciere's latest book on democracy or Wolin's Politics and Vision, their shifting schedules determine the longevity of the meeting. This may be rectified by a monthly group, where scheduling can happen well in advance and ignore weekly shifts by taking a weekend evening. Always sit down at the start of the semester and work out scheduling: being the first commitment on a person's calendar helps to keep conflicts down to a minimum.

In my experience, a set syllabus works as well as a rotating book selection, but if there's a very dissatisfying text it's important to step back and re-evaluate together. We had this experience in a post-colonialism and race group, and the result was a drastic shift in focus.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:55 AM on November 6, 2007

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