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Book Discussion Group Guide

Book club, book discussion group, reading group, book lovers’ club?  Whatever you call it, people all over are finding satisfaction in meeting with other book lovers to talk about books. Book discussion groups can provide opportunities for intelligent conversation and lead to deeper understanding of an author's work, and often lead to life-long friendships. They meet in private homes, libraries, bookstores, bars, and in cafés or restaurants. You can create a local club or join an online group or participate in community-wide reading programs.

How to Start a Book Club

Now that you’ve found some like-minded people, how exactly do you get started? Although there is no right way to run a book club, you will want to agree on some basic expectations.

Start by thinking about when you meet and for how long. It is best to stick with the same day and time once chosen. Everyone knows that this is book club time and can plan around it and you don’t have to spend time coordinating calendars every month.  Part of the fun of being in a book club is catching up with members each month, so save time in the beginning of the meeting to socialize.    Most groups meet for an hour or two, with one hour for the actual discussion. This can be dependent on the size of the group. You will want to leave more time for larger groups, so everyone has a chance to give their opinions.

So, what is that magic number? About 8 people is a good size to aim for. It's a small enough number to fit inside most homes or around a table in a cafe and gives everybody a chance to voice their opinions; and if one or two members can't make it to a meeting, or drop out altogether, there are still enough people left to form a good discussion. You will also want to talk about absences.  Does everyone plan to come every time or will the group grow or shrink during certain months?  If half your group doesn’t always attend, you may have room for a larger number of members. 

Find a happy medium. For your club to work, members need to make reading the books and attending the meetings a relatively high priority - but if somebody can't attend from time to time or doesn't finish the book, it isn't the end of the world.

The first meeting can be a good place to discuss how you want the club to function.  Having one person as the discussion leader helps make sure the conversation moves along.  But it doesn’t have to be the same person each week.  Do you want to rotate leadership?  Or do you have a natural leader, like a retired English professor or librarian? 

At that first meeting, you might ask everyone to bring one or two of their favorite books to share.  That way you will have a good sense of what they like to read and the types of books you might choose in the future.  You will want to hear opinions on how books get chosen, where you will get books from, or format preferences.  Are there members who only want an audiobook version or prefer to wait for the paperback to come out?  Does everyone want to purchase the book or will you borrow them from a library?

When everyone agrees to a certain structure, it can make for a more enjoyable experience. However, be sure to allow flexibility within this. Whatever format it takes, your book club will be a success if you remain focused on sharing books and having fun.

How to Lead a Book Discussion

A book club “leader” might play several roles each month.  It might be the person who organizes the group; making sure everyone knows the day and time and handling logistics.  Once your club is off the ground, logistics are easier and the leader may just be in charge of communication. 

The leader may also be the person to facilitate the discussions.  Most book clubs rotate this task, but not everyone is comfortable as the moderator, so be sure to take that into consideration.  To ensure everyone’s participation, consider starting each session by asking every member to briefly give their opinion of the book.  This provides a good jumping off point for longer discussions later.

A good facilitator is also prepared to redirect the conversation if it goes too far off topic.  You will want to have several new topics or questions for further discussion.  However, sometimes the best discussions start by talking about issues in the book, but veer off into more thought-provoking conversations based on personal experience.

There are lots of places to look for background information, particularly the author or publisher website. And libraries have access to several products like NoveList or Gale Books and Authors which can provide fascinating information about particular titles and authors. This research can make for a much more interesting discussion.  Watching a video of an interview with the author is another way to get some great background information.  Doing research on the time and place of a novel might provide interesting context. 

Besides background information, you will want to research some potential questions to get the conversations started.  You can find lots of generic questions with a simple internet search for “reading group questions.”  You might also look online at Early Bird Books, Book Riot or Reading Group Guides. To find reading guides for specific books, check out LitLovers or Book Browse. 

How to Choose Books and Where to Find Them

Where do you get ideas for titles?  And, how do you choose which title? It's unlikely that everybody will agree on every book choice every time. Encourage your members to treat new genres or authors with an open mind – one reason people join a book club is to expand their reading experience. Another thing to keep in mind is the balance between books that everyone enjoys reading and books that generate good discussions. 

One way to settle on a title is to ask every member to make a suggestion, follow that with open discussion, then have a formal or informal vote each month.  Or you can simply rotate the leadership, with each person taking a turn choosing a book and leading the discussion. 

There are plenty of ways to find great titles for discussion. Ask your local librarian for suggestions or the local bookstore owner. Many mainstream media outlets provide bestseller lists or book club lists, including The NYTimes Book Review, USA Today, Time, and Good Morning America.  Your local papers and TV stations may also have weekly columns for book lovers. 

Social media sites like Good Reads, LibraryThing and Litsy cater to self-described “book nerds” and can provide commentary about particular titles.  It can be fun to check out “Best of” lists or annual book awards like The National Book Award, The Edgar Award for mysteries or the Nebula Award for Science Fiction/Fantasy.  And be sure to check out publisher sites like Random House or Simon and Schuster.

Currently, many celebrities have online book clubs. A simple search for “celebrity book clubs” will yield a variety to investigate. It will be easy to find discussion guides for any of their titles, so even if you don’t join the club, the resources available can make finding a good book easy. 

The American Library Association has a guide for book clubs and Library Reads is a librarian moderated site which lists the top ten books published each month. Another library related publication, BookList, has transitioned their book club site to a new blog, called Booklist Blog, which also provides a free monthly newsletter.

One last way to get ideas and locate sets of books by author or title, is to use the Iowa Locator to discover the thousands of titles available from libraries across the state.  Or simply consult your local librarian.  Libraries across Iowa make sets of individual book titles available to Iowa book clubs and discussion groups through lending from library to library. A librarian can arrange access to a set of books for your group.


Whatever your reasons for participating in a book club and no matter how you participate, book clubs are a great way to expand your horizons and establish a sense of community with other readers.

Do you need more reasons to join a book club?

  • Reading is good for your brain. 
  • Book clubs are social and can be a place where lifelong friendships are forged.
  • Book clubs can help develop a reading habit and introduce you to books you might not have otherwise read.
  • Book clubs offer a way to reflect on our society today and provide a neutral place for different people from different walks of life to get to know each other and gain new perspectives.
  • Book clubs are not just about books, sometimes there is food (and wine).
  • Book clubs are fun!

Some of the above information came from Book Browse: Book Club Advice.

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