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Running a Book Group

So you've got a group of friends who are eager to start a reading group together. Now you're faced with the basic question that all groups have to deal with when they first start out: How do we go from being a random bunch of people who like to read to an organized reading group?

The first thing you should decide is when you'll meet. Most groups find that once a month is ideal. This should be plenty of time to read almost any reading group selection and still allow your members time for personal reading. Meeting more often might be difficult with today's busy lifestyles, and probably won't allow people to finish the book. If your group does decide to meet this often, you might consider reading your books in sections and only discussing a few chapters at a time. Some groups find that every other month is better for them. If this is the case for your group, you can allow yourself the luxury of picking longer books.

You'll also want to set a specific time for your meeting. Do Sunday evenings work best for your group? Wednesday mornings? Whatever time you decide on, be sure to stick with it. Let your members plan their schedules around reading group, rather than trying to fit reading group in around everyone's schedule.

Unless you're sponsored by a bookstore or library, the next thing you'll need to decide is where you'll meet. The most popular option is to meet in members' homes, rotating turns at hosting. Your meeting time will help determine snack options for your group. Will your host be responsible for providing refreshments, or will everyone bring something? Will you discuss your books over potluck suppers or simple veggies and dip? Some groups choose to meet in restaurants. Be sure to find one that has tables large enough to spread your books out and that doesn't mind your group staying for discussion after you finish eating. Perhaps a little wine and cheese will enhance your discussion.

Another aspect of reading group you'll want to consider in advance is the format your meetings will take. Some groups find it helpful to hire a professional leader, at least to get started. Contact your local library or bookstore to find out if there are such people in your area. Professionals can help you pick books that your group will enjoy and will lead your discussion of the book based on questions they prepare.

If your group decides not to use a paid leader, you have several options. You might have one member (usually the one who chose the book) prepare some questions that will launch your discussion. This person may also get background information on the book or author to share with the group. In some groups, each member brings a couple of her or his own questions about the book. Search this site to find out if a reading group guide is available for your book. These are good sources of themes, character descriptions and questions to discuss. Each member should be given plenty of opportunity to express his or her opinions about the book.

Once you've answered the prepared questions, allow time for open discussion. One suggested rule might be that all comments must be based on the text. This is a useful way to get those members who tend to ramble back on the subject of the book.

An important consideration in any reading group is to have a basic structure that your group can depend on, but to allow for flexibility within the limits you set. What works for other groups might not work for yours. The most essential aspect of any reading group is that should be fun. Keep this in mind, and no matter what format your reading group takes, it is sure to last!