How to start a book club

by Leilani Chavez,

Posted at Jun 24 2009 06:50 PM | Updated as of Jun 25 2009 04:43 AM

MANILA - Sometimes, reading a book is not enough to satiate the mind and readers feel the urge to discuss certain phrases, sentences, and chapters with friends or fellow readers. But finding another person who reads the same book and who is willing to discuss it can be an ordeal.

Andrea Pasion-Flores, executive director of the National Book Development Board (NBDB), admitted that it is rare to encounter a group that extensively discusses a book. It is likewise difficult to come up with a book club that can satisfy the purpose.

“But it is possible,” she said during a seminar on "How to Establish Book Clubs." The activity is part of Book Matters, a two-month long program organized by the Ortigas Foundation Library, Lopez Museum, and Children’s Library to promote reading.

“[The purpose of the book club] is to enhance the reading experience. When you read the book alone, you get insights. But when you read together, you discuss the books and the experience gets enhanced,” Flores said.

Book clubs are good ways to encourage participants to read and share their thoughts. More than that, sessions tend to be informative and enriching.

Flores said the most basic requirement for a book club is simple. “You must love books. You must love to read. You must love sitting in the corner, just being quiet, finishing a book and then coming together talking about it.”

For readers who wanted to create their own book clubs, Flores gave the following tips:

1)    Determine your goal and your selling point.

Flores said book clubs should have a goal and a “selling point”, something that sets the club apart from other book clubs. In the case of NBDB Book Club, they only read Filipino authors in both English and Filipino.

“NBDB has an agenda. That is, for more Filipinos to appreciate more Filipino authors patronize books published by Philippine publishers,” Flores said.

The club also invites book authors to sit with the group during the discussions. “We always invite the author or authors. That’s what makes our book club different. In the case of anthologies, we invite several authors so the sessions become more like an office ‘kwentuhan’,” she added.

Flores said the presence of the authors gives the participants “the rare experience of getting a glimpse of the author’s creative process." Authors can also share writing tips for budding writers.

The book club's goals also depend on the interests of the participants. Flores pointed out that if the participants are into science fiction, they can put up a science fiction book club and read science fiction novels.

2)    Know your participants.

With her experiences from the NBDB Book Club, Flores realized that there are three types of participants: 1) the non-reader, 2) the moocher, and 3) the reader.

Non-readers are students or young professionals who are forced to attend or brought to the sessions by a teacher. These participants sometimes read the book assigned but most cannot afford to buy the title.

“In our experience, when we invite classes to attend the sessions in Filipino or English, the students cannot afford to buy a personal copy of the book,” she said.

Flores shared that sometimes, a class of 30 will only buy one book and have it photocopied or one student will read the book aloud while the rest listened. The club, however, doesn’t allow photocopied materials. “We don’t allow that [photocopying] because we also protect the copyright and the authors,” she stated.

Despite this, non-readers are a good bunch to have in book clubs when they get into the discussion even without reading the book, says Flores, and especially if the book interests them.

Meanwhile, moochers are participants who attend the sessions because of the food. Flores highlighted the importance of food during sessions since participants “tend to ask more questions and discuss deeper” if they are not hungry.

“The food doesn’t have to be grand. It can be coffee or tea and cookies. If you are a group of friends who get together once a month, it can be a potluck thing. But the idea is you must have something to serve,” Flores stressed.

On the other hand, readers are the best persons to have in a book club, according to Flores. “They are the ones who diligently read the book and [who are] specifically interested in dissecting the nuisances of the story, the novel. They are the ones who want to learn,” she shared.

In the NBDB experience, readers are mostly creative writing students or people who want to become writers. Although some participants read the books and have questions, some are too shy to raise their concerns.

“Being Pinoy, even if the person has read or appreciated the book, they are very shy—extremely shy—to give insights or ask questions,” she added.

3)    Pick a good book club moderator.

One solution to curing shyness among participants is to pick a good book club moderator.

“A good book club moderator must be an expert in his or her field and can dissect the book quite knowledgeably. A good moderator should understand the process of writing and people should be drawn to her or him,” Flores explained.

Moderators keep the sessions alive by asking questions about the book and engaging everyone in the discussion. Moderators also encourage participants to ask questions and authors in discussing their books.

Picking a moderator can be hard, Flores added, and it can also be based on the book and the author. For instance, when the NBDB Book Club discussed Ricky Lee’s "Para Kay B", they asked Danton Remoto to moderate the session.

“We thought he [Danton Remoto] would be the perfect moderator for Ricky Lee because Ricky and Danton are good friends. And Danton has expressed many times that he loved 'Para Kay B',” Flores clarified.

Flores suggested that members can switch roles in the club so everyone will know how to be a moderator.

4)    Be committed.

 The number one rule in both putting up a book club and being a participant is to be committed.

There has to be a committed member, or as Flores called it “rah-rah girl”, who will help you arrange the nifty details in a session like the schedule, the assigned book, and getting in touch with the participants.

“There must be someone from your group or your organization who will serve as the glue to help you. You must have someone there who is your rah-rah girl. Your person who is really committed,” explained Flores.

Participants, on the other hand, should be committed to reading the book and “reading it carefully.”

“A writer chooses each and every word in the story carefully and when you’re reading a book, especially literature, your task is to look for the meaning and significance of the story to be able to appreciate the book,” Flores said.

Flores further added: “I think you’re not being asked much [in book clubs] except that you devote some time reading.”

5)    Start with a small group of book lovers.

An ideal number for book clubs ranges from 8 to 12 members. “It is the ideal because apparently, a good number will ensure that everybody from the group gets to talk,” Flores said.

But organizers should remember that the members will not be always present at the sessions. Flores recommends inviting other groups for special books or topics since they too enhance the experience.

“For special books, special topics, we invite groups. Like, if we’re reading teen lit[erature] we invite lots of teens, sometimes its sci-fi (science fiction),” she added.

When the NBDB Book Club read "The Manila We Knew", an anthology of essays on pre- and post-war Manila, they invited a couple who used to live in one of the places mentioned in the book. The couple talked about their experience during those times and they were quite surprised that a number of youth were interested in the old Manila.

“They enhanced the experience as we talked about their own experience. So you can do those things, invite special groups to join and it may add to the experience,” Flores said.

6)    Choose the books to read.

The titles depend on the goal of the book club. Technically, participants can read any book they want to read and discuss, Flores said.

She suggests, though, that the first few books should be “really really good books with exciting wonderful stories.”

“You might want to start with anthologies and short stories,” Flores suggested. And then eventually moving one to longer or more stimulating titles as the book club gains ground.

A list of books to read would also be helpful and take consideration suggestions from other participants.

And of course, the key to a successful book club is a good discussion from the participants, even from those who came but haven’t finished the book.

“I suggest ‘wag kayong mahiya. Just go. And that experience alone might motivate you to finish the book especially if you know what the author is trying to do. You must also speak to bring out a very good discussion within the group,” Flores said.