What nobody tells you (but should) about joining a book club

It’s BookCon weekend, everybody! If you’re in the New York area TODAY, come check out HelloGiggles’ own Sophia Rossi talking about A Tale of Two Besties and other topics with fellow awesome human, Tavi Gevinson. Details here!

I’m not as young as I used to be. My thirtieth birthday is still a little more than two years off, but as I’ve entered my late twenties I’m starting to lose interest in the house parties and bars that characterized my early-twenties social life. I’m no longer all that into doing shots of cheap tequila or making out with strangers in some friend-of-a-friend’s guest bedroom. The last stranger I drunkenly made out with is now my pregnant spouse, and we’ve settled into a more stable social pattern that involves fewer nightclubs and more book clubs.

Book clubs are a staple of adult-lady socializing that often seems synonymous with a certain breed of comfortable, privileged, self-satisfied femininity, and in the heady punk rock days of my youth I would have told you that I would never become square enough to join one. But then I got older, mellowed out, and started flossing, and when my friends and I finished grad school, we decided to start a book club as a way of staying connected as we pursued a variety of paths in life.

Our book club is seriously one of the best things in my life. We only manage to get together every two months or so, because everyone lives in different parts of the state and has crazy schedules, but I look forward to those bimonthly meetings like I look forward to Girl Scout cookie season. And I want to help you have an amazing book club too! You can make it happen by following a few crucial ground rules.

Only book club with people you like a bunch

If there’s someone in the crew that drives you crazy, convincing yourself to attend meetings – not to mention read the book in the first place – will feel like pulling teeth. If your friend has invited you to join a book club with her and her other friend you aren’t into, don’t do it. You don’t realize how emotional a literary discussion can get until you’re about to throw a glass of Merlot in someone’s face because they said the prologue seemed unnecessary. (Am I speaking from experience? Whatever would give you that idea?) Start your own book club and only invite the people you genuinely want to see.

Set guidelines together

What kind of books do you want to read? Our rule is simple: we read books by women. Novels, poetry, nonfiction – it’s all good as long as it was written by someone who identifies as a lady. This doesn’t have to be your rule (although it’s awesome to expand the number of women on your bookshelf after you realize, as I did a few years ago, that you’ve been reading mostly dudes your whole life), but it’s nice to have some kind of common ground in mind to direct your reading goals. Do you want to read more history? Work your way through the classics you Cliff’s Notesed in high school? Develop a global perspective by reading only books published outside your home country? These are all valid options – or you can decide that you’re open to absolutely anything.

Take turns choosing books

This is the simplest and most crucial component of a good book club. No lengthy discussions about your next book choice; no complicated nomination and voting system. Just take turns. If you picked the book last time, someone else gets to pick it this time. Easy peasy. “But what if someone picks a book I don’t like / don’t want to read?” Excellent question, which brings me to…

Read books you don’t like!

Or at least, books outside the realm of what you would normally read for pleasure. Part of the point of a book club is to hang out with fun people and have an excuse for day drinking, obviously, but part of the point is to improve your mind, and you’re not going to do that if you stay firmly in your comfort zone. Even when you hate this month’s selection, power through it and ask yourself why you don’t like it – the answer will often lead to fascinating discussions and insights. I find that I enjoy book club more when at least one of us didn’t like the book. When we all loved what we read, the conversation gets a little repetitive: “Did you like the part when…” “Yes, totally! And what about when she…” “Loved it!” “Me too!” Yawn. Let’s get some controversy up in here.

Don’t have meetings at someone’s house

I know everyone likes a potluck, or at least everyone thinks they like a potluck, but actually there are lots of good reasons to have the book club outside the house. First, you always feel like you have to bring way more than you’re actually going to eat and you probably spend as much or more on ingredients as you would at a restaurant, plus you have to cook and do dishes or at least stop by the liquor store, and the person who does the hosting has to vacuum before and clean up afterward, and it’s exhausting. We did this for a while, but finally realized that getting together at bars and restaurants was lower stress and usually cheaper for everyone.

Break out the wine and beer, obvi

My book club changes our location every time, but we always visit a local microbrewery (usually one that serves snacks). We get to drink good beer, support local businesses, and have someone else clean up the glasses afterward.

For bonus karma points, choose books from small publishers occasionally

Indie authors will often send you signed copies if you write to them directly and tell them you’re reading them for book club – they get totally psyched about it! And if you can’t afford this month’s book, request it from the library instead of borrowing it from a co-book-clubber. More library requests means the library will buy more copies, which is good for the author. Support authors! We wouldn’t have book clubs (and thus a great intellectual-sounding excuse for socializing and day drinking) without them!

Finish the book, like, at least two out of three times.

You can do it, I swear!

Now go out and start those book clubs! They’re going to be great.

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