Book Group

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

If there is one thing I love more than reading, it's talking.

And if there is one thing I love more than talking, it's eating and drinking.

If you do all four with a bunch of friends, it is called Book Group.

And for most of my adult life I've been in one.

In my twenties, Book Group took place on a week night, straight after work. We rotated the venue among our apartments and shared houses, and everyone brought ready-made nibbles (the ubiquitous hummus and pita bread; hastily chopped veggies and peel-back-the-lid-dip) for a make-shift dinner. Generous glasses of cheap red wine and cigarettes played a prominent role.

In my early thirties, Book Group was still on a week night, but now we rotated houses and the change in venue gave members a chance to play hostess, with newly developed culinary skills and wedding booty (from the registry, not the bedroom) on full display. Sauvignon Blanc, Yes; cigarettes and carbs, No.

Now, as I hurtle towards forty, Book Group has become a daytime affair, energy and partners available for an early-evening-hand-off being in short supply. The wine has given way to coffee (it would be a worry if we were reaching for the corkscrew at ten in the morning), and I, for one, have waved the white flag in the battle against carbs, serving no fewer than three types of cake the last time I hosted.

After many years of eating, drinking and discussing, a few thoughts on successful Book Groups come to mind.

I offer them here, along with profound thanks to all the lovely women I've laughed and read with.

With the right set of friends, Book Group can be about so much more than books.

Happy Book Grouping.

1. Who
Books Groups work best when they are comprised of people who love to read. I once joined a newly formed group only to find that two of the four participants couldn't come up with a book recommendation. One actually suggested we broaden our scope to include magazines. That group didn't last long.

2. Size
Like a dinner party, I think that eight in attendance is the perfect number for a robust discussion. Of course, if you have the right people, four can be enough for a robust discussion, but eight guarantees enough points of view for variety, and not so many that people have to fight to be heard. In order to achieve a critical mass at meetings, a membership of ten to twelve is prudent - sick children, work commitments, and car repairs have a habit of preventing full attendance.

3. Frequency
It is no fun to turn up to Book Group and discover that no one (maybe including you) has read the book. Okay, it probably will be fun, given that you are getting together with friends (not to mention the food and drink), but it will not be Book Group. Therefore, meeting at realistic intervals is key. Six weeks between meetings generally allows everyone enough time to source and read the selection.

4. Choosing
Not every book lends itself to a meaty group discussion. If you are looking for options selected for that very quality, try the ABC's First Tuesday Book Club, hosted by Jennifer Byrne or National Public Radio's Diane Rehm Reader's Review. And, of course, there is always Oprah.

5. Hosting
Keep it simple. Recent meetings have spanned the spectrum from a sit-down lunch to a packet of Tim Tams. Do whatever feels right to you, but I can honestly say that the food won't make or break the discussion. (I believe I mentioned a conspicuous number of cakes above; this is a case of Do As I Say, Not As I Do. I am crazy when it comes to cake and my illness should be neither encouraged nor replicated.)

6. Cost
Books in Australia are pricey. Here are some ideas for keeping costs down:
  • Adopt a no-hardback policy.
  • Visit the library. Some libraries offer book groups the option of borrowing rather than buying by maintaining multiple copies of popular choices. The key with borrowing en masse seems to lie in reserving your group's selection early, as this ensures the greatest degree of choice.
  • Share. A benefit of the six-week interval is that it allows faster readers to to lend or borrow, reducing the overall number of books you need to buy.
  • If you are ordering books online, some distributors offer group discounts.
  • Some book shops offer group discounts.


  1. Although I don't always finish the book, I look forward to Book Club every time - It makes me feel like a real grown up & chatting & eating just make it even more enjoyable. I have read books that I would never have picked up & books that have become my favourites. Thank you to all my speacial Book Club friends. Sharon xx

  2. I'm inspired! Can't believe I've never been part of a book club. Thanks for the invite and I'm loving the first book. Great post - will be recommending it to a few people...

  3. Im rather jealous of Jane joining your book club - I like the sound of it. Would you consider interstate members who are never likely to show up ??!! xx

  4. Book Clubs are lots of fun. I look forward to our book club every time. I think also what makes a book club work is not to put pressure on members to read every book. This makes it too stressful. Love the blog Kate. Fiona T x


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