Book clubs: a how-to guide

Whenever I tell someone I participate in several book clubs, the answer follows more or less the same pattern:

a) the person does not read and finds it extremely weird that there are people who gather monthly to talk about books. The puzzled look on their face is usually followed by one or all of these remarks: “I would love to read, but…”, “how do you find the time to read?” “do you REALLY read the books you discuss?”

Let’s ignore this type for now.

b) the person likes to read, wishes to find people to discuss all the bookish stuff, but is reluctant to join because 1) has no literature background, 2) reads too slow, 3) their budget does not allow to buy so many books yearly, 4) does not like to talk in public.

Well, the good news is that there is a solution for all those issues!

  1. One of the best things about book clubs is the variety of people we can find in one event. The ones who studied literature and the ones who are accountants; the fast and the slow readers; the talkative type and the extremely shy. All these different people will have different perspectives, ideas, and comments which will result in a much richer discussion. Anyways, the discussions are never (too) literary; participants hardly speak about figures of speech, analepsis or if the text really is a stream of consciousness. If it is your thing, take it to the discussion. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just ask. Learning something new is also one of the best things about book clubs.
  2. The majority of book clubs pick one book to read per month. It is usually a short/medium one, depending on the number of days on that month, thus allowing all types of readers to finish it. However, if you don’t finish, you are free to join the discussion anyway. The conversations might even be the spark needed to end the book or to realize you should just leave it and try another time (or never again!). There are also book clubs that discuss general topics (for example, books about friendship) rather than a specific book.
  3. Borrow the books: from your fellow participants, friends, family or the local library. Suggest ones you already have. Participate in book clubs where you can choose what to read for each monthly prompt (a book that was written in the year you were born) or that have a general topic.
  4. You can just listen. And if you ever feel confident to share your thoughts, go for it.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

And, what about that first type, the puzzled one? If they are just judging, I politely ignore them. I also don’t see the point of watching football matches, but it does seem to spark joy to a lot of people. If that person truly wishes he/she had more time to read, but doesn’t, at the moment, for a variety of reasons, I keep sharing bookish stuff and talking about books and, maybe, one day they will join for an event.

There is a third type: the person who wants to create a book club and asks for help. I participate in a lot of them, but only created one with my work colleagues – it started well, we even had a name, but now is a book club of two: me and another colleague who keep reading the books and discussing during coffee/lunch breaks.

In any case, here are a few tips/questions to think in case you want to create your own:

  • Find people who might be interested to join (work colleagues, family members, friends, neighbors,…)
  • Do not have too many participants or else the discussion will be unilateral
  • Choose the periodicity (monthly, every two months, whenever suits you best)
  • Will you choose a topic/prompt, a specific book or just talk about you have been reading?
  • Define some common rules
  • Find a nice place (not too noisy) that has (or allows) food and drinks
  • Choose the time and day and stick to it (it is easier to create a community this way)
  • Decide who will be the moderator – the one introducing the book club, the book/topic, asking questions if no one talks, redirecting discussion if it is diverging too much or if someone is not following the rules
  • Define how you choose the next books/topics
  • Advertise the events
  • Give it some time (Rome was not built in a day)

If this sounded perfect to you, there are a couple of book clubs in Porto that you can try it out (all are free, but registration is advised):

Porto International Book Club (English) – monthly discussions about a topic; the last ones were about the seven deadly sins.

East European Book Club (English) – monthly events; each month a book by an East European author is discussed

Porto’s Female International Book Club (English) – monthly events where participants discuss a specific book written by women

Clube de leitura das Pandoras (Portuguese) – monthly events where the participants choose and read a book written by women or about women

Clubes de leitura Bertrand (Portuguese) – regular events where a specific book is discussed (sometimes with its author)

Clube de leitura FEUP (Portuguese) – the staff at the FEUP library suggests books for the FEUP community

I also share three challenges by bookish people who will help you read more or read more diversely (all these in Portuguese):

Uma Dúzia de Livros – in September they are reading books about new beginnings; they also gather in Lisbon, in case you are nearby.

Desafio Literature-se 2019 – reading a Bildungsroman or a Roman à clef is the challenge proposed by Mell Ferraz, a Brazilian booktuber.

Desafio Bookster 2019 – read to reflect, the proposal by Pedro Pacífico, a Brazilian lawyer and booktuber/bookstagrammer who reads daily, even if it is just 15 minutes.

Happy readings!

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