10 Rules & Expectations for a Smooth Running Book Club

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Withing being too strict, you do need some structure around your book club discussions in order to ensure an environment that’s fun, fair and engaging. And as a member of a book club, you can contribute to that healthy environment by conducting yourself in a manner that is open and respectful.

Every group is different, but all of them have either explicit or implicit rules for book club. So, whether you are setting up a club and are looking for guidance, or you are a new member looking for how to meet expectations, we’ve got 10 suggestions here for how to meet and enforce rules and expectations for book club.

Top 10 book club rules.

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10 Rules for Book Club

Here’s your guidance for how to have a healthy, active book club.

1. You Need To Read the Book (…or Do You?)

Reading the selected book is an obvious “rule” for book clubs, otherwise what’s the point? And most articles suggesting rules for books clubs consider this a hard and fast one. But we disagree. We do think that you should make every best effort to read your book club book. However, there are times when it simply isn’t possible, because life intervenes. Or you gave it the ‘ole college try, but had to DNF it.

In that case, should you attend book club anyway? We would argue that you should. If social engagement and camaraderie is one of the reasons why your book club is so worth it, then attend for that alone. If you didn’t like and couldn’t finish the book…your insight on why you disliked the book is just as valid and valuable as the gushing of someone who loved it.

If you are new to a book club, be sure to ask about this issue as many groups have specific expectations around reading the book.

2. Come Prepared to Discuss the Book

It’s not enough to read the book and “like it” or “hate it”. You want to be able to participate a robust conversation about what made the book good (or weird, or a slog, or illuminating.) So, in advance of your meeting give some consideration to how the book make you feel and what you learned from it.

Check out our discussion guide archive (fiction guides, non-fiction guides) to see if we have a guide for the book. If we do, read it ahead of time and share it with your book clubbers. And even if we don’t have a guide for your particular book, you can use our list of 101 generic book club questions to prepare yourself with a few discussion prompts that are relevant.

And if you are the host of the group, we’ve got some tips for how to lead a book club discussion which will help keep the conversation flowing.

3. Make Sure to RSVP

…and to cancel that RSVP if you can’t make it. This is a simple rule of how to be polite in life. But, just to underscore it, if your club is being hosted in someone’s home, then they have likely prepared food or refreshments. If you can’t make it, they need to know. This is even applicable if you are meeting in a restaurant or library.

4. Practice Respectful Honesty

You and your book club friends will, at times, have very different takeaways from your reading experiences. And you should be honest about whether you liked the book (or not), how it made you feel, or the quality of your reading experience.

But reading is not a monolithic experience and should your group members share wildly different opinions, be respectful of them. Consider phrases like the following as segues for politely offering an alternative point of view:

“I hear what you are saying, and my experience was different because of X”, “I hadn’t thought of it that way”, “That’s interesting, my take on it was X”, “I think because I had this X experience in my life, it’s caused me to look at that issue from a certain point of view”, “I see what you’re saying, and I liked X other book for that very reason, but this book didn’t get there for me because of Y”.

5. Don’t Hog the Conversation

As an outspoken person, I am guilty of this and have to actively remind myself to shut my mouth once in a while. If you just nodded your head reading that sentence, then you need to practice it too. A good book club creates an environment where everyone participates and you are sucking all of the air out the room, that won’t happen.

6. Don’t Sit Out the Conversation

Conversely, if you are shy or unsure of yourself, you need to practice speaking up. Your book club friends like you, they want you there, and they want to hear from you. If you have some of the aforementioned conversation hogs in the group, have a quiet word with the group moderator and brainstorm some ways to make the discussion more democratic.

The most obvious way to do that would be to have a round-robin where everyone shares their opinion of the book. Or everyone can bring one book club question to share.

7. Determine a Fair Process for Which Books to Read

One beef that people have with their book clubs is that they don’t like how the books are being selected. If the book selections are too dictatorial, or limited in some way, then your group runs the risk of fracturing. And if it’s too loose-y goose-y, then members won’t know what to expect.

Have your group develop a democratic method for selecting books and make the process clear to every new member. Our article featuring 10 ways to select a book for book club will give you some ideas for how to do that.

8. Be Open to Books You Don’t Think You’ll Like

One main benefit of book clubs that that they will expose you to books and ideas which will not cross your path if you stay safely inside your wheelhouse. Be willing to read the suggested book even if you are unsure about it.

Be open to reading in a genre that you don’t normally read, or books that feature characters that are very different from you, or books on topics that haven’t previously interested you.

Sure, you may DNF the occasional book that doesn’t work for you. But overall, you reading life will be the richer for it.

9. Practice Active Listening

There’s a book by Kate Murphy called You’re Not Listening. In it she talks about how, despite constant digital communication, we’ve lost the art of listening to each other.

(At least that’s what I think the book is about. I was trying to listen to it as an audiobook and kept getting distracted. Hmm, I guess I wasn’t “listening”.)

Some good listening practices include: being fully present and undistracted, being empathetic and non-judgmental, quieting your own agenda, using active forward-leaning body language, paying attention to non-verbal clues, and asking questions.

10. Contribute to the Social & Friendship Aspects of Book Club

This is the most important book club rule if you value the social aspect of the group. And the majority of book clubbers do indeed highly value the social camaraderie of their group. Consider how you can actively contribute to making your own group as warm and welcoming as possible. This could manifest in many different ways, like:

Do some personal sharing during your meeting, make dates outside of book club with those you feel especially close to, reach out to members who haven’t been attending, bring a treat to share, or be quick to laugh.

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