Organizing a Reading Group
Reading groups are an enjoyable way to bring like-minded people together to discuss new ideas, insights, and inspiration through the books the members read together. Sucessful reading groups need a place to meet, a method for choosing books, and basic rules for discussing them. Use the guidelines below to organize a reading group in your area.
What is a Reading Group?Reading groups are a popular way to share individual insights and delight with friends and associates. The term "reading group" is commonly used to describe a variety of group styles. Groups can be small and informal, such as a few friends gathering together irregularly, or large and formal, such as a regularly scheduled seminar or lecture series. The common factor among all these groups is each participant's love of reading.
How to Find a Reading GroupThere are quite literally tens of thousands of reading groups across the nation. It's not unusual to find a reading group in your area.
How to Organize Your Own GroupYou'll be surprised how many people want to join a reading group. Before starting your group, write down some basic guidelines.
Goals for Your First MeetingYour first meeting is especially important. Group members might be meeting for the first time. Everyone will know that they are a group, meaning there should be rules and order, but none of that has been established yet. Reading groups are an opportunity to learn and grow in a manner akin to the popular philisophical duscussions found in ancient Greece — but they can quickly devolve into idle gossip without order. Here is a partial list of items you might want to consider for your first meeting.
Leading a Group DiscussionLeading or moderating a discussion is usually little more than giving everyone a chance to speak and providing topics to consider if the discussion slows down. Remember, the focus of your group is to give everyone a chance to enjoy their love for books, not simply to get through a list of questions. Some meetings will need every topic to keep everyone interested, others will only need one or two to get the discussion going and it will take on a life of its own.
The simplest way to prepare for a discussion is to use reading group guides like those found on this website or on the other sites mentioned earlier. However, you can create your own. The selected moderator for a book should keep notes as he or she reads. For example:
Watch for people who are having trouble getting a word in edgewise. Discussions can get fast-paced and some people have trouble interrupting with an idea or observation. Moderators are responsible for giving everyone a chance to participate.
Discussions are a form of debate. It's good to have different point of view, but watch closely for discussions that become too heated or start to tread on personal opinions. With rare exception, there will not be a right or wrong comment, interpretation, or observation.
Finally, moderators should be prepared to take feedback from the group members. Over time, moderators will receive a variety of negative and positive feedback. Managing a group of people is often compared to herding cats — it can be a difficult process. Work to improve your moderating skills so you can enjoy your participation with the group and ensure everyone else enjoys their participation, too.
Choosing a BookSelecting a new book can be exciting, but selecting a book previously unread by the group often means the book is unknown by the group. Group leaders should discuss with the group how to nominate new books. Groups will often need help finding books to consider. Leaders can take advantage of bookstores, libraries, and publishers, who often publish lists of books for consideration. Local newspapers will sometimes publish lists of books, or leaders can access large national newspapers (such as the New York Times or USA Today) to consider the lists they publish. Leaders should regularly update their lists of books to take into account new releases.
Remember to ask your local bookstore for volume discounts. Most bookstores appreciate reader groups for both the volume and frequency of book purchases they represent. If buying books online from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or direct from the publisher, remember to buy them far enough in advance that they can be distributed to the group in a timely manner.
Group ResourcesUse the following list of resources to help you organize and manage your reading group.
Enjoy Your GroupAbove all, enjoy your participation in the reading group! Reading groups are a wonderful way to meet new people and learn new points of view.