A new book group

Have you ever started a new reading or book group? What was your experience? We have found it challenging, so I give you our story and ask for your comments and advice.

120 C18 groupEstablished readers of this blog will know I moved to Devon just over a year ago. I had got the number of unpacked boxes down to 100, so I met with my daughter to discuss establishing a reading group in the area. I missed talking about books with friends and wanted to meet bookish people and to read books recommended by others.


  • We faced a number of questions:
  • How to get people to join us?
  • Where to meet?
  • How frequently?
  • At what time of day?
  • What books should we read?
  • How would we choose the books?

Initial practical arrangements

My daughter knows more people in the area than me because she has lived here for several years. And she was now engaging with other mothers at the school and pre-school gates. She approached various people and suggested meeting once a month, in each other’s homes, at 7.30. The host would provide refreshments but not a meal. We decided on the dates of the first two meetings.

From the start all members were busy women, and it has proved difficult to establish the right practical arrangements. After a few sessions of changing the date and time and meeting place Anna suggested we set the dates and books ahead and keep to it even if people’s commitments changed. By that time we had enough members to see us through times when readers were busy elsewhere.

Choice of books

120 GrassWe wanted our first books to signal the seriousness of our reading. Doris Lessing had recently died and she won the Nobel prize for Literature. We began with The Grass is Singing. For me it was a re-read and my goodness I had forgotten but was soon reminded the searing sterility of the marriage at the heart of the novel, and the connections Doris Lessing made between the oppression of women and of the Rhodesian native black population.

The second book was meant to be a contrast: The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. Our discussion about it showed that the group enjoyed up-to-date writing and could be critical. Our third book was Persuasion by Jane Austen.

Having read our three nominated books, the choice became dependant upon all members. We were, in the words of one member, ‘very polite’ about making suggestions for future reads. It quickly emerged that the group wanted variation: modern and older classics, lighter (but not too light) fiction, including translated fiction, as well as non-fiction and poetry. But nothing very long. When I asked group members last month about their observations for this blog most of their comments referred to the choice of books.

New members

Another decision we reflected on was whether to have a closed group or not. We know of groups that have fixed membership, new members only being inducted when people leave. One reason for this is that the group’s books are supplied by the library in fixed numbers. We decided to remain open, and so far haven’t used the library to supply our books.

Benefits of the group

120 Reading-GroupWhy would busy people join a reading group, especially when they are frequently unable to finish the book before the meeting? One reason is that having the book group allows them to prioritise reading, gives them a little more incentive to find time and space for the reading.

Here’s a list of books we have read so far:

  • The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
  • The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • Julie & Julia by Julie Powell
  • A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
  • Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
  • If only it were true by Marc Levy

And here are our plans for reading in the next few months:

  • Staying Alive edited by Neil Astley (a collection of poems, from which we will choose and say something about our choices).
  • The Bear by Claire Cameron
  • A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

And in December we will have a Christmas feast and plan for next year.

It is very hard to establish a reading group. We keep going even if only two of us turn up, and so far that has worked. We have to recognise the busy-ness of our members. We have had a good discussions even with only two people.

Please Comment

What books would you recommend for a reading group such as ours as it approaches its second year? How do you choose?

What difficulties have you experienced with a book or reading group?


Some on-line resources for reading groups

The Reading Agency supports Reading Groups for Everyone.

A site that offers lots of resources for organising a reading group is The Reading Club

A Book Club Blog: Book Club Girl

120 R Group fo logo 

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Filed under Books, Reading

6 Responses to A new book group

  1. I don’t belong to a reading group, but I have always liked the idea of it. I love reading the reviews on your blog – just wish I had (or made!) the time to read more of the books reviewed! 🙂

    • Caroline

      Ahh that ole problem – time. It’s a problem for our members too – reading the books and attending the meetings. We soldier on.Caroline.

  2. christine_a

    I was lucky enough to join a book club that was up and running and I do think one of the reasons for it keeping going is key members who faithfully turn up on the night so we always know there will be someone there (we meet in a pub). Our most key member has recently moved to New York so we too are at a bit of a turning point in the life of the group and have set up a Doodle Scheduler so that we can see how many people are likely to be coming. We have a mix of contemporary and classic, fiction and non-fiction. Here is the link to our blog with reviews on books we’ve read and enjoyed in the last year http://richmondbookclub.wordpress.com/

    • Caroline

      Thanks for these comments. We havent thought of meeting in the pub, but I will tell the group! I once joined a knitting group in a pub, which was ideal except there wasn’t enough light for me.
      And thanks for the link to the blog, which I will check out.
      I hope the group goes well from here.
      Best wishes

  3. Book clubs are a great way of reading books or genres that you wouldn’t normally consider. I belong to a book club which has informal yet lively discussion. A friend belongs to a different club where it is very formal, the questions are given out the month before and the book is read with these in mind. I haven’t experienced that style of club but think I prefer the informal. Each member chooses a book when their month comes around and leads the discussion. We ususally know books around 2 months in advance so that we can source them and still have the time to read them. We rate the books before the discussion and rate them again after. It is interesting that good scores never go down where bad scores occasionally go up. Some of the books we have read include Jasper Jones, Perfume, The Orphan Masters Son, Headlong, Anna Funda’s All that I am and also Stasiland, The Dinner, The Good Mayor and Swimming Home and numerous others but off the top of my head these were more than memorable and engendered great discussion.

    • Caroline

      Thanks irene for these observations and your list of books read. I agree about the informal discussion, but I have just joined another (more established) group which is led – in the choice of books and in the discussion. I get something out of both discussions. As always I think plurality in form and approach is a good thing.
      Interesting list of novels you have remembered. Stasiland made a big impression on me when it was published, but I havent heard much of it since.
      Thanks for your comments. Always welcome.

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